Later this morning we get new trade numbers. We know it’ll be a deficit, but how much? Lately, it’s been going up -- the previous monthly numbers showed the U.S. trade deficit hit a seven-month high. Imports outran exports by more than $48 billion.
Now, monthly numbers wobble around, but the general trend the last three years is up. International investment strategist Paul Christopher at Wells Fargo says customers abroad, especially in weak Europe, are buying less of our stuff.
“It’s just a lot of agricultural products, a lot of chemical products, and a lot of very sophisticated electronics,” Christopher says. “Those are the things the world demands when the world is growing.”
Conversely, things are picking up at home. Americans lately have shelled out for foreign cars and foreign consumer goods -- cellphones, medicines, clothes.
“As long as consumers and businesses are buying more and those import numbers are looking healthy,” Christopher says, “that’s also sign the U.S. economy is also going to be growing a bit.”
Of course the trade deficit is a bit of an ink blot test -- different people see different things. But in the short term, rising imports reflect a rejuvenated American consumer.
When immigrants marry American citizens, they don’t automatically become citizens too. If the immigrant is here illegally, that person generally has to return to their home country before applying for residency. But the Obama administration is changing the rules for a select few.
It’s potentially good news for people like 43-year-old Johnny Gomez. His wife, Margarita, is from Mexico, and she came here without documentation. They may benefit from changes regarding waivers for undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens.
“I’m a U.S. citizen. I’m applying for my wife’s waiver so she doesn’t have to be deported,” says Gomez. “If this doesn’t happen, she will be deported anywhere from six months to 10 years.”
The waiver would allow Johnny to start the paperwork here in the U.S. Margarita would still have to return to Mexico before getting resident status, but the wait would be reduced to days or weeks. To complicate matters, Gomez is in a tough economic situation.
“I used to have a business for about five years that I closed down due to the economy,” says Gomez. Now he works for the public health department in Ventura, California, where he makes half as much as he did with his computer graphics business. But financial difficulties alone are not enough to qualify for the waiver.
“He has to get a waiver approved, based on hardship. Unusual, extreme hardship,” says Ally Bolour, the immigration lawyer representing Gomezes. “Mere separation is not hardship. So, in Johnny’s case, they have a special-needs child. So the situation is severe.”
Gomez’s son is autistic. The child requires the constant attention of his mother, Margarita. She cries when she imagines life without her family. Without his wife, Gomez says he’d have to hire someone to take care of his autistic son. It’s an expense he can’t afford.
“If she is gone, I might have to seek government help and get on governmental assistance programs. Which is something I don’t want to do," he says. "I want to be able to fend for my own family, with my own job.”
Attorney Bolour says the waivers could help thousands of families. “Imagine you’re the sole breadwinner, and your spouse all of a sudden has to go across the world and perhaps [you're] separated for years and years and years. It destroys families,” says Bolour.
The fees for the waiver can add up to around $1,000; money that’s hard to come by for families living paycheck to paycheck. "Johnny is fortunate enough to have legal representation, but that’s not the norm. A lot of people don’t because they can’t afford it,” says Bolour.
The government begins accepting hardship waiver applications on March 4.
You can tell a lot about a place from a dinner party. In LA, the banter around the table gravitates around traffic and driving routes. In DC: beltway politics. And in Beijing and Shanghai, more and more dinner guests are asking each other: so what kind of air filter do you have?
Oliver Moore shows me an air filtration machine the size of a small refrigerator. He heads the Shanghai office for IQ Air. IQ Air machines have become air filtration status symbols in China. They’re efficient, they’re made in Switzerland -- synonymous with clean, alpine air -- and at $1,600 a pop, they’re not cheap. But when a toxic cloud the size of Alaska engulfed China’s eastern seaboard, price became irrelevant. People just wanted to breathe air that wasn’t full of carcinogens. "Instead of fifteen to thirty people contacting our office a week, it may have doubled and some cases tripled," says Moore of IQ Air's recent business in China. The company has sold out of its units in China. Orders are on a two-week backlog.
Bad air has also meant that other companies in China that formerly had nothing to do with cleaning up the air are suddenly shifting their business strategies. Sinotextile CEO Zhao Danqing opens up his company’s newest product: a plaid cloth facemask with a removable filter. "Last year when the air over Northern China started to get really bad, we produced a huge number of masks and launched an aggressive marketing campaign," Zhao says.
It was around the time when ‘PM2.5’ became a buzzword in China. The term refers to pollution particles small enough to enter your bloodstream -- the air over Beijing has been full of them lately. Zhao’s company, which typically makes underwear and sportswear, bought the trademark for the name PM2.5, and now, his masks are among the top sellers in China. Boxes of them line every open space inside the company’s office in Shanghai. "Two weeks ago when the air was really bad, our website crashed from all the traffic," says Zhao.
But for some, masks and filtration machines just don’t cut it. For around a quarter of a million dollars, you can buy a clean air dome to put over your backyard, giving it the look of a football stadium. Xiao Long sells those. "We’ve had calls from rich people who want to cover up their backyards so they can exercise on polluted days," Xiao says.
Xiao heads Broadwell Technologies. For years the company specialized in building covered domes so that sports fields could be used in the winter. He says he never expected his company’s big break would come when it entered into a joint venture with a California company to add huge air filtration machines to the domes. "We’ve received several dozens of calls a day from schools and government bureaus in charge of sporting events that want to buy our domes," says Xiao.
An international school in Beijing has bought two of Xiao’s clean air domes, and orders are piling up from other cities, he says. Just months ago, Xiao managed 40 people. He’ll have a staff of 200 handling all this new business come springtime. It’s an industry with a seemingly endless horizon in China.
As long as that horizon is obscured by charcoal gray smog.
Only in the world of American capitalism can you add four and five together -- and come up with the number one. That would be the math if reports of a merger between American Airlines, the country's fourth biggest carrier by passengers, and US Airways, number five, pan out. The combined company would be the biggest carrier in the world.
But is it possible this is a match not of love but of necessity? Last man standing. Two drunks holding each other up. There are so many choices of metaphors for this potential merger between American and US Airways.
Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with Hudson Crossing, offers another: “American Airlines is fine dancing by itself, but US Airways really needed to find a partner to dance with.”
Harteveldt notes that American has hubs in five major cities and flights to Asia, Europe and Latin America. But with hubs in smaller cities and less international presence, US Airways is not in the same position of strength. As both a wooer or wooed, Harteveldt says US Airways has been out of luck.
“Remember, US Airways tried to merge with Delta a few years ago, and that didn’t happen. United pursued US Airways, that didn’t happen,” he says.
Now it may be a case of love the one you’re with. Delta married Northwest and United got Continental. There’s no other big catch for US Airways or American. But American has been standoffish about the match. It’s turning itself around and expects to come out of bankruptcy -- on its own.
Yet mergers can have major financial pluses -- which could tempt American. Bijan Vasigh, professor of air transportation at Embry Riddle College of Business, says if you buy your competition, you have a powerful opportunity to set prices. Which can mean higher airfares and increased profits, because when companies combine there are opportunities to cut costs.
“Two airlines, they have two CEOs, two CFOs and two COOs,” Vasigh says.
If the merger between US Airways and American does happen, it will create a giant airline -- serving 167 million passengers. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to get a seat. Mergers can also mean fewer flights.
Forget the blizzard that's bearing down on New York City. It's Fashion Week in the Big Apple -- that seven-day runway-palooza during which those in the know tell us what everybody's going to be wearing this year.
Festivities begin today. And as we do for all things fashion, we turn to writer Kate Betts.
Betts says that lace and leather will be trendy this season, but she expects a lot of classic looks to return to the runway, targeted at working women and moms.
"There is the contemporary market, which is the new explosive market out there, and they are showing on the runways at the New York Fashion Show, but are charging only half as much as the designer price point," she says. "You can get a fashion forward dress for $400."
Betts says that designers like Tory Burch are at the forefront of this contemporary movement, and will prove succesful this year by going after that so-called working mom.
Like most of us, I've got a car. It's a blue Saturn SL2 that cost me about $12,000 when I bought it. A lot of times, I look at it and wonder: Should I keep it or unload for whatever I can get? It is after all my personal property. I've got the papers to prove it, and I can do whatever I want to.
I'm thinking about personal property, like my car, because I've been thinking about my great-great-grandfather. You see, he wasn't legally a person. He was personal property.
His name was Dick. He belonged to Edward Scruggs, a plantation owner who died in 1850 without a will. His probate filing listed his belongings: 11 plows, five bushels of wheat, 200 barrels of corn, 4,000 pounds of bacon. And several families of "negroes." There, at the bottom of the estate inventory, I found my great-great-grandfather with his mother and siblings.
The court created a trust fund for Edward Scruggs' youngest children. My great-great-grandfather was placed in that trust; he was valued at $550.
Today, he'd be worth about $12,000 -- the price I paid for my car.
Sometimes I wonder: did Edward Scruggs treat my great-great-grandfather the way I treat my car? Did he cut back food rations to save money -- the way I only buy a half-tank of gas? Did he put off fixing slave cabins -- the way I put off buying new tires? Did he figure how long he could keep his slaves in the fields -- the way I figure whether I can get another 10,000 miles from a 10-year-old car?
In the end, though, it doesn't matter. The Scruggs slaves could have slept on featherbeds, eaten their fill and dressed in silk. Their lives still would have been abhorrent.
The shame in slavery was not how folks like my great-great-grandfather were treated, it was in what they were.
They were commodities to be bought and sold, taxed and assessed. They walked and talked, lived and loved, but they were property nevertheless. Personal property.
Like my car.
The tax deal that Democrats and Republicans struck early this year delayed the so-called sequester -- the automatic spending cuts that affect all government agencies and program -- until March. If Congress can’t reach a deal before then, almost all areas of government stand to lose something in the range of 5 to 8 percent of their budgets.
Take Head Start, which helps kids prepare for kindergarten along with other services for low-income families. It would have to drop 63,000 children from its programs -- kids the Head Start staff already have relationships with.
"And now to have to say to some of them, 'sorry, [you] can’t come back, there’s this thing in Washington that made us have to lose the funding,'" says Yasmina Vinci, executive director of the National Head Start Association.
Along with cuts to Head Start, throw in reductions to most all other domestic programs, from the FAA to FDA.
“They’ll be less money for people who keep our food and our drugs safe, that worry about safety in the workplace, safety on the highway, monitoring of the weather,” says Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
The Pentagon is the government agency with the most to lose.
Army lieutenant colonel Elizabeth Robbins says the sequester would wipe out $46 billion from the Department of Defense accounts this year. Additionally, because Congress has yet to pass a new budget, they’re still operating at 2012 spending levels.
“We instituted a hiring freeze, we started terminating 46,000 temporary and term employees and we started planning to furlough our 800,000 civilian employees,” she says.
Already, two ships, the Truman and the Gettysburg, that were supposed to head to the Middle East and North Africa tomorrow are staying in port.
With all these cuts, it’s probably easier to summarize who’ll be spared: Social Security, part of Medicare, and some safety-net and veterans programs.
Detroit. The Motor City. Home of the Big Three. The birthplace of America's manufacturing past. And maybe the graveyard of it, too.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff was raised in Detroit. He left it, wrote for the New York Times, and then he went back home. His new book, "Detroit: An American Autopsy," details what he found there.
"Detroit built the American way of life, it built the middle class," said LeDuff. "Everything came out of coal and steel and rubber and cars -- and it went away. And now we still have coherent car companies, but we don't have the jobs, because those are gone. So what do we do with all the leftover people?"
The book details corruption of city officials and mismanagment of city funds, to the detriment of police officers and fire fighters who are left with little resources to support the population.
He said the city still has plenty of humanity left, though. LeDuff dismissed the suggestion the book is a form of ruin porn.
"I'm not writing about buildings, that's what people come here and do. They write about buildings and they take pictures of buildings and they seem to miss all the humanity that's here," he said. "We're living, breathing human beings who have dreams and children and wishes and hunger. That's who I'm writing about. I'm writing about how hard it is to get through this, but the fact is, we are. And we're fighters. So it's not ruin porn. It's about holding on."
LeDuff recounts going to the funeral of his niece, who died of a overdose, the day before Mother's Day.
"And I looked around that grave -- I saw my brother unemployed, my brother unemployed, my brother unemployed and my mom unemployed -- I looked at that and I said, 'What happened here?'"
But he countered, "We're still here, though. We're still here. And we're going to keep going."
Can an antidepressant lead to murder? Are doctors and drug companies trying to sell us happiness at too high a cost?
These are among the big questions swirling through Steven Soderbergh's new movie "Side Effects." Soderbergh, the director of “Erin Brokovich” and “Sex, Lies and Videotape,” has said this will be his last theatrical movie. The thriller -- which opens tomorrow -- includes love, betrayal, high finance and the omnipotent, but faceless pharmaceutical industry.
The premise of "Side Effects" is simple: A young woman who is suicidal and desperate is prescribed a hot new drug by her psychiatrist. Without giving anything away, it’s safe to say this character -- Emily Taylor, played by Rooney Mara -- experiences a lot more than dry-mouth and loss of appetite.
The movie is clearly intended to be more suspense story than cautionary tale about the drug industry. There are no scheming pharmaceutical executives who knowingly peddle dangerous drugs to make a profit. Instead, viewers are treated to a more subtle look at the complicated relationship between doctor, patient and drug company.
And screenwriter Scott Z. Burns says it all begins in the doctor’s office.
“There are a lot of interest at play in that office. There’s the interest of people who make products and doctors who are trying to make a living. It’s not solely just someone trying to heal you,” he says.
On one hand, Burns says you’ve got people in a rush to feel good.
“We’ve almost criminalized sadness and people want to appear happy,” says Burns.
And a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry eager to sell them a solution.
Taking a page from the marketing manuals for real antidepressants like Zoloft and Prozac, the movie producers cooked up their own pretend drug -- Ablixa.
So you’ve got the drug companies, the patients, now enter the psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks, played by Jude Law. As he seeks the best treatment for his patient, Banks gets advice from colleagues who have financial ties to drug makers. Banks himself has a $50,000 deal with a pharmaceutical firm.
For a reality check on all this, I took a real psychiatrist with me to see the movie.
“As a result of having seen this movie, I realized even though I am not staring the pharmaceutical company in the eye, it is someone who is always present in the minds of both me and my patients,” says Mahendra Bhati, who teaches clinical psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. Some of Bhati’s research is funded by major drug companies.
“It’s made me take a second look at myself and think more closely about my relationship to the pharmaceutical industry," Bhati says.
Movie co-producer Dr. Sasha Bardey -- a psychiatrist in New York -- says that’s the point. Bardey hopes "Side Effects" gets people thinking.
“Are we too dependent on these medications? Are pharmaceutical companies somehow guiding the behavior of psychiatric practitioners,” he asks.
In the real world, those questions are much harder to answer than how one little pill could lead a movie character to murder.
Microsoft has launched another barrage in its anti-Google ad campaign. It includes TV commercials, print ads, an online petition, and outreach via social media.
It’s all aimed at trying to get users of Google’s free internet services, such as Gmail, to think there’s something creepy about Google. The reason, according to Microsoft, is that Google uses information in emails its users send, to target them with advertising. An earlier version of its Scroogled campaign, in play before the Christmas holiday, focused on Google search display ads allegedly tilted to Google’s advertisers.
Microsoft has hired veteran Democratic political consultant Mark Penn to try and sharpen its marketing barbs. And the tone of this high-tech tussle is getting kind of ugly.
In its new ads and a consumer survey it commissioned, Microsoft claims that most Gmail users don’t know that Google scans their emails to target ads at them. Microsoft insists it only looks at your emails to stop spam.
One ad goes like this: “Email between a husband and wife, or between two friends, should be completely personal. But Google crosses the line…”
Another ad features an attractive husband-and-wife-emailing-team who are all bent out of shape as they lean over a computer: “Google uses my personal email to sell ads?,” asks the husband. “So I get Scroogled?”
The husband worries Gmail ads will get him in trouble -- we imagine, perhaps, ads pushing lingerie or online dating?
Casey Newton, a technology writer at CNET, says Microsoft’s message is clear: “’Google is not to be trusted.’ That’s going to be at the core of this whole Scroogled campaign going forward.” He says Microsoft is trying to undermine customer trust and loyalty in a range of Google products where it’s under serious pressure for market share from Google, including email, search, and even Office.
But Newton thinks Microsoft may be misreading consumer sentiment here.
“Privacy is an issue that often misleads companies,” he says, “because consumers will always tell you that they want the maximum amount of privacy. And yet we find over and over again that they’re willing to give up at least part of it for a really good service, especially a free service.”
Newton says consumers are used to tech giants going after each other on the airwaves. But usually the ads are kind of clever. Like, a PC nerd talking ‘robot’ at a cool Mac guy who can’t get a word in edgewise. Or Android Samsung users bragging on their smartphones as iPhone owners wait on a seemingly endless line for the latest upgrade of their inferior phones.
But the new Microsoft ads? They’re not particularly clever or subtle, says technology analyst Whit Andrews at Gartner. They’re straight-ahead attack ads, akin to what flooded the airwaves before the last election.
“Very few people react positively to being told that their friend,” in this case Google, “is not somebody that they should trust,” says Andrews.
Microsoft spokesman Stefan Weitz says the ads are “provocative.” He adds: “In order to break through a lot of the media, especially for a topic like this, which in some cases is difficult to get your head around, we have to be able to put something out there that people can latch on to, they can be intrigued by it, then they can come to the site and learn more about it.”
Gartner’s Whit Andrews points out one potential downside for the software giant. He says the Scroogled campaign acknowledges an unspoken truth about the battle between Microsoft and the Google Galactic Empire. “Even the idea of using the word ‘Scroogle,’” he says, “we’re admitting that Google is already a verb. And let’s face it, Microsoft is not.”
Google says in a statement that its scanning of emails is strictly robotic -- no Google human ever looks at them -- and yes, it does use paid advertising to keep Gmail free.
The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that American Airlines and US Airways are in the final stages of a putting together a merger which could be announced as soon as next week. The combined airline would be the largest in the world.
The government reported this morning that worker productivity fell at the end of last year at the fastest pace in two years -- about 2 percent. Analysts say companies are hiring more and therefore don't have to lean so hard on their current workers.
A new report from the United Nations finds corruption is on the rise in Afghanistan and it's costing the country billions of dollars. The report says fully half of all Afghans are paying bribes.
The world's largest online retailer, Amazon.com, announced this week it will make its own virtual currency: Amazon coins.
And finally, to a job opening in Scotland. They're looking for someone to live on an uninhabited island for six months of the year according to the Daily Mail. They'll pay you about $35,000. Although the only store on the island is a gift shop...so bring your own food and drinking water. The internet connection is also said to be spotty.
Amazon is known for selling just about everything, from unicorn meat to uranium ore. This week, the retailing giant said it will soon offer its own currency, called the Amazon Coin. Customers can buy the coins and then use them to purchase apps for the Kindle Fire.
“I think there’s a potential for a win-win-win here,” says University of South Carolina retailing professor Karen Edwards.
App developers win because Amazon Coins can be spent within apps, offering them a new revenue stream. Amazon wins because it stands to attract the most talented app developers. And consumers win because Amazon is giving away tens of millions of dollars worth of the currency.
Amazon might be the biggest online company to toy with the idea of virtual money, but it’s not the only one. Facebook developed its own coinage to pay for online games, but saw limited success. Last year, Facebook axed the idea.
Analysts say Amazon is in a better position, because there’s a huge market for the Kindle Fire, Amazon’s mobile device. If Amazon Coins are successful, there’s a potential snowball effect -- that’s what happened for BitPay. Business boomed after a giant blogging portal began taking its virtual money.
“Once WordPress decided to accept BitCoins, a lot of companies came on board following their lead,” says Tony Gillippi, the company’s founder.
Expect to see the Amazon Coin released this May.
American Airlines and US Airways could announce a merger as early as next week, according to the Wall Street Journal and several Dallas-area news outlets.
If the two combine, it would create the world’s largest airline, joining United, Delta and Southwest as the nation’s remaining major carriers.
“One reason airlines merge, like companies in any industry, is to control a little more market power,” says Seth Kaplan of Airline Weekly.
Since American and US Airways only compete directly on a handful of routes, Kaplan says it’s possible airfares overall could remain steady.
But will any of the airlines’ current hub cities go away, as Memphis did in the Northwest/Delta merger?
“We’re talking about cutbacks in the range of maybe 3-5 percent,” says FareCompare.com CEO Rick Seaney. “I don’t think there [are] any cities that they both wouldn’t like to have in their portfolio.”
The combined carrier would likely keep the American Airlines brand, sport its sharp new livery, and keep its headquarters in Ft. Worth.
The cost of corruption in Afghanistan has spiralled, with 50 percent of Afghans admitting they have bribed public officials in return for favors and services.
According to a new UN report, Afghans paid nearly $4 billion in bribes in the last year, a rise of 40 percent compared to 2009. That’s twice as much as the country’s total tax revenue.
The BBC’s Bilal Sarwary says Afghan president Hamid Karzai has pointed the finger at foreign contractors, but admits that corruption is a major problem within the government.
UPDATE (1:15 pm EST): Productivity fell at the end of last year at the fastest pace in two years -- about 2 percent. Analysts say companies are hiring more and therefore don't have to lean so hard on their current workers.
Economists had expected a drop in productivity of anywhere from 1 percent to 2 percent to cap off a year in which productivity increased -- but at a mediocre pace.
Patrick Newport, U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, predicted productivity to rise by 1 percent for all of 2012. That compares to 0.7 percent in 2011. Productivity rose more strongly immediately after the recession, in 2009 and 2010. The 50-year average of productivity rise since World War II is approximately 2 percent per year.
These days, you can see improved productivity everywhere -- including at this reporter’s local latte bar, Jola Café, in Portland, Oregon.
As the barista calls out for "a hemp latte and a chai" to his co-worker at the espresso machine, he touches out the order on an iPad mounted on the counter. Then he swipes the customer’s credit card. Tia Ribary, a business consultant here for a morning meeting, signs with her finger. There’s no need print, tear, sign, or store the receipt.
“They email it to me,” says Ribary. “It makes it easier to send the receipt to my bookkeeper. I don’t have to scan it, I just forward the email.”
Using smart machines to do more work with less human labor -- that productivity engine keeps humming along at a steady pace in the U.S.
But economist Patrick Newport says overall productivity gains have slowed in the past two years. And here’s why: Companies massively downsized during the recession, then made the workers who were left on the job do more. Productivity initially rose as the recovery took hold, but only temporarily.
“Companies were working their existing workforce to the bone and getting more work out of them,” says Newport. “But that strategy no longer works, because workers are tired. And on top of that, we’re seeing an increase in hiring.”
Companies are finally adding new workers to spell their overworked legacy employees. But economic growth has all but stalled: we’re not making a lot more widgets, or lattes. So productivity is falling right now. What's more, new employees require training from more experienced workers. Newport says the time spent on training and ramp-up also supresses productivity gains, at least in the short term.
The Chinese New Year starts this weekend. It's the biggest celebration in China's calendar and a bit like Thanksgiving in the U.S., the entire country shuts down for a long weekend of food, fireworks and family time. Millions of single people have to endure endless questioning from their family as to why they're not yet hitched.
In a basement canteen of an office tower in downtown Beijing, I meet some of them. Groups of young women huddled over large bowls of noodles who look depressed when I ask them about the impending Chinese New Year holiday. Like Ding Na who is almost 30-years-old and comes from China's northeast.
"I'm under lots of pressure," she tells me. "My sisters and my relatives all ask me why I'm still single. When they call me, I'm scared to pick up the phone."
It's a common story across China where twenty-somethings, especially young women, face a strict societal deadline to marry by their early thirties. In the offices of Baihe.com, one of China's biggest dating agencies, I meet consultant Zhou Xiaopeng. She describes to me just how unbearable it can be for single women at this time of year by asking me to picture a scene where people sit around a table:
"Chinese people love to get together for dinner" she explains. "On New Years Eve, everybody is sitting in pairs, your brother with sister-in-law, your sister with brother-in-law, and so on. If you're the only one left behind, you can imagine the pressure and frustration."
But while many will face another year of uncomfortable questions, others have come up with a quick-fix solution. Singletons are going online to hire fake partners to take home for the holidays.
I did a quick search on Taobao, China's most popular online shopping website, and when I typed in 'renting a fake boyfriend for Chinese new year' dozens of ads popped up. There was one from a man offering his services for 52 RMB an hour, about $8 an hour, to spend time with a single women's relatives. For 500 RMB, he would spend the night if he gets his own bed and for 600 RMB, he would be willing to sleep on the couch. But lower down in the ad he makes it very clear that sex is not an option.
I was intrigued to find out what sorts of people were willing to hire themselves out, so I phoned one of the men offering to work as a fake boyfriend over the Chinese New Year. I spoke to Li Le, a 24 year old man businessman from China's central Hebei province. He sounded a little embarrassed and told me it was the first year he had attempted to work as a fake boyfriend. But he insists he is not doing it for the money.
"It's an exciting thing to do," he told me. "I might find people who share my interests and it would make both of us happy."
Thirty women have contacted Li so far, but he says it's tough to find someone who trusts him enough to invite him home for Chinese New Year.
President Obama is meeting with House Democrats today to rally support for several items on his agenda, including immigration reform.
Lawmakers are still trying to work through some disagreements on the issue, such as whether a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants should be contingent on tighter border security. One industry that is closely following the negotiations is the U.S. agriculture sector.
"The agriculture industry has been a big proponent of immigration reform," says Stephen Keppel, economics editor for Univsion News. According to Keppel, 75 percent of all farm workers in America were born in Mexico and 53 percent of those are undocumented.
If Congress takes the path of mass deportations, it would be a crushing blow to the farming industry and the economy at large, Keppel adds:
"There are some estimates that it would cost maybe $285 billion to deport all undocumented immigrants. It could cost the economy $2.6 trillion over the next 10 years," he says.
This final note today, in which we learn once again that timing truly is everything.
A German man -- Phllip Lupke, by name -- has won a 10,000 Euro gift card from Apple. Seems he's the guy who bought the 25 billionth song on iTunes. Twenty-five billion times 99 cents or so is a pretty good business model.
It's also created something of a problem for Apple. It's been sued by the hedge fund manager David Einhorn, who's upset with how long its taking the company to give some of the $45 billion in cash it's sitting on back to investors.
This week, we're asking folks in the tech world about a great shift, from an Internet of webpages toward an Internet of interconnected objects: the Internet of Things.
A D.C. area company called SmartThings sells kits that let you rig all sorts of stuff around the house up to smartphones and tablet computers -- sump pumps, jewelry drawers, you name it. SmartThing's CEO Alex Hawkinson says the inspiration came from a rustic mountain cabin, a deep freeze, and burst pipes.
"Everything thawed out and started rotting and we didn't discover it until quite a time later, and it drove us crazy that we didn't know that that had happened. So we started the company on the basis of, you know, how do we take the available bandwidth that's in the air -- your iPhone's connected, your Kindle's connected -- and make it possible for simple sensors to connect up so you could see an event like that from anywhere," says Hawkinson.
Hawkinson says the hook-up allows you to make everyday, "dumb" objects suddenly intelligent. And what happens when more and more objects get connected? Imagine a sprinkler that doesn't go off when it rains, a water pump that monitors its own leaks, a car that "talks" to the road.
"We think this is the third epoch of the web, we call it the 'physical graph'," says Hawkinson. "It crosses all the parts of our life. The implications range from security, to efficiency -- we think 30+ percent of the energy use in the world is wasted based on lack of intelligence."
To hear about other ways the Internet of connected things could change your everyday life, click on the audio player above.
iPad home videos -- what's worth recording, where, and how? Janell Burley Hofmann, a Cape Cod mother-of-five with strong opinions about how to behave with technology, says it's all about the small moments:
"I'm in my daughter's first grade classroom and they are doing a presentation on holidays around the world, and the teacher has pre-recorded them on video. A dad takes out his iPad and starts video-ing the video of his son. This memory that he's capturing here is of his child on a screen. So, I'm really thinking, what are we trying to capture here? I look back at my kid's videos when they were babies -- it's not those formal things that I like to look at, it's those one or two minutes of life, of them wrestling on the couch cushions or playing out in the yard with the dog. Those are the things that I think really capture life. I really feel like that's what we're missing," says Burley Hoffman.
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