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Updated: 16 min 58 sec ago

Ahead of a close election, Israel's Netanyahu buys bread

Mon, 2015-03-16 11:26

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have a little trouble getting to sleep tonight.

On the eve of the country’s elections, early reports show him trailing in the polls.

He’s got a long record as a political strongman. He’s touted his foreign-policy credentials for months. And in a last-minute attempt to woo conservative voters, the incumbent today withdrew support for a plan that would have created a separate Palestinian state.

But these Hail Mary attempts to sway the election seem to indicate how out of touch the PM may be. For Israelis, it’s all about the economy, stupid.

“You talk to Israelis privately and many of them will feel that they live from month-to-month on credit-card debt,” says Kevin Connolly, Middle East correspondent for BBC. “You buy something with a credit card in Europe, it’s a one-time transaction. Buy something with a credit card here [in Jerusalem] and you’ll be asked if you want to split the cost of that sweater or new pair of shoes into maybe 10 or 12 payments.”

Connolly says the cost of living is very high in Israel, causing many people to turn to credit just to put food on the table. While economic woes have always been a big political issue, it would seem that Netanyahu got that memo a bit late; he now appears to be changing the tone of his campaign.

“He released some television footage … He was going around one of the big markets in Jerusalem buying bread. The signal was that he gets it on the issues of the economy,” says Connolly.

Still, it’s hard to know what impact this shift will have until Israelis go to the polls tomorrow.

The TARP police are still on call

Mon, 2015-03-16 10:22

TARP, or the "Troubled Assets Relief Program," was a major part of the bank and automaker bailout that Congress passed in the wake of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis.

The government's last major TARP holding — a stake in Ally Financial — was sold in December 2014.

That doesn't mean TARP is entirely over. 

SIGTARP, or the Office of the Special Inspector General for TARP, is headed by Christy Romero. SIGTARP has the legal authority to investigate and prosecute misuse of TARP funds. Dozens of scammers have already been prosecuted, and Romero says that so far her office has recovered $1.57 billion in taxpayer money.

American TP is getting more luxurious

Mon, 2015-03-16 10:20
662

The number of Chicago police officers accounting for nearly half of the abuse complaints leveled against the 13,500-member force from 2001 to 2006. Turns out, despite the high costs of lawsuits, very few police departments do this kind of number-crunching to avoid them. Many of the largest departments don't consistently track the spending or circumstances around these cases.

$1.4 billion

That's how much Americans spent on quilted, ultra soft, lotioned, scented and other "luxury" toilet paper last year, the Washington Post reported, and that number is on track to eclipse regular and budget TP spending in the years to come. It's an "affordable indulgence" and brands are embracing the trend with all kinds of new varieties and boy band pitchmen.

7.5 fluid ounces

The size of Coca-Cola's mini cans, which several nutritionists and bloggers have pitched in blog posts and articles as a "good snack," the Associated Press reported. Many of the post writers have worked with Coke in the past, or were paid to recommend the smaller-portion sodas. The company likens the practice to product placement, and the AP notes it comes at a time when cola sales are falling in the U.S.

30 years

That's how long ago America Online was just taking shape, reaching a million subscribers a year later. CEO Steve Case left the company more than a decade ago, and now he's a venture capitalist in Washington. Case sat down with Marketplace Tech at SXSW Interactive to talk about Facebook, the state of tech in D.C. and "the third wave of the Internet."

43.4 million

That's about how many digital cameras were sold last year, a 30 percent drop from 2013 and a new low for the decade. On his blog, Gigaom founder Om Malik traces the fall of the standalone camera and charts it along with the iPhone's rise.

American TP is getting more luxuious

Mon, 2015-03-16 10:20
662

The number of Chicago police officers accounting for nearly half of the abuse complaints leveled against the 13,500-member force from 2001 to 2006. Turns out, despite the high costs of lawsuits, very few police departments do this kind of number-crunching to avoid them. Many of the largest departments don't consistently track the spending or circumstances around these cases.

$1.4 billion

That's how much Americans spent on quilted, ultra soft, lotioned, scented and other "luxury" toilet paper last year, the Washington Post reported, and that number is on track to eclipse regular and budget TP spending in the years to come. It's an "affordable indulgence" and brands are embracing the trend with all kinds of new varieties and boy band pitchmen.

7.5 fluid ounces

The size of Coca-Cola's mini cans, which several nutritionists and bloggers have pitched in blog posts and articles as a "good snack," the Associated Press reported. Many of the post writers have worked with Coke in the past, or were paid to recommend the smaller-portion sodas. The company likens the practice to product placement, and the AP notes it comes at a time when cola sales are falling in the U.S.

30 years

That's how long ago America Online was just taking shape, reaching a million subscribers a year later. CEO Steve Case left the company more than a decade ago, and now he's a venture capitalist in Washington. Case sat down with Marketplace Tech at SXSW Interactive to talk about Facebook, the state of tech in D.C. and "the third wave of the Internet."

43.4 million

That's about how many digital cameras were sold last year, a 30 percent drop from 2013 and a new low for the decade. On his blog, Gigaom founder Om Malik traces the fall of the standalone camera and charts it along with the iPhone's rise.

Canada proposes tougher standards for oil tankers

Mon, 2015-03-16 09:46

North America has seen four oil train disasters in the last month. Trains carrying crude oil have derailed and caught fire. Even before these events, Canadian authorities toughened standards for railroad tank cars. Now they’ve proposed even tighter rules.

Thicker steel walls will be required for tank cars, as well as shields on top and outer thermal “jackets” to protect in case of fire.

Chris Barken, professor and executive director of the University of Illinois Rail Transportation and Engineering Center, says the changes will “make it much less likely to overheat and suffer a thermal tear, such as we’ve seen in a number of these recent accidents.”

Thinner-walled cars were blamed for a Quebec disaster two years ago that killed 47 people. Of the cars that derailed, 94 percent spilled oil that burned.

Canada plans a 10-year phase-in of new tank cars, which strikes some critics as too slow. Critics also say the current oil train safety conversation is too narrow. It’s a complex issue and they want it to include issues of train speed, tracks, bridges, insurance coverage and routes.

 

A question for the Fed: What inflation?

Mon, 2015-03-16 09:42

The Federal Reserve meets Tuesday for two days, and many market watchers expect more clues about when the central bank will raise interest rates.

But the Producer Price Index released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday suggests that there might not be much inflation to combat. It dropped unexpectedly by 0.5 percent, which could mean that interest rates aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

SxSW Interactive: Robot petting zoos and a bionic man

Mon, 2015-03-16 09:33

Marketplace host David Gura checked in with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson to get the latest on this year’s South by Southwest Interactive conference.

“Brands come down here to gain visibility among a really large media audience: actors, venture capitalists, music fans,” Johnson says.

It makes sense that established brands — as well as startups — would want to make an impression at SxSW.

“There have been some big things launched here, like Twitter many years back – now a public company with a market cap of $30 billion or thereabouts,” says Johnson. 

According to Johnson, the interactive portion of SxSW is really about “an exchange of ideas.”

What are some of the prominent topics at this year’s SxSW Interactive? Johnson says privacy and virtual reality are getting a lot of attention. And a robot petting zoo

“But one big idea this year is bionics. And more broadly, when and how our bodies will actually merge with technology,” says Johnson. 

Hugh Herr of MIT’s Media Lab Center for Extreme Bionics, presented at SXSW as part of the IEEE's "The Future of Identity" series, and wore what he called the "world’s first powered ankle foot prosthesis."

Johnson says, consumers won’t necessarily see any of the bionics at this year’s SxSW any time soon. But that doesn’t mean big companies aren’t listening to conversations about the future of bionics.

“The more those discussions happen they get closer to reality,” Johnson says.  

FTC changes its procedures for challenging mergers

Mon, 2015-03-16 08:31

The Federal Trade Commission has announced changes to the way it challenges mergers it believes are anti-competitive or bad for consumers. The new rules come as the commission faces criticism from Republican lawmakers, some of whom are pitching legislation that would press the FTC to rely on federal courts instead of its own in-house system.

Under its old procedures, when the FTC views a merger as anti-competitive, it typically goes down two different paths: It asks a federal judge to issue a preliminary injunction -- which essentially freezes the merger-- while it also holds a trial in its own in-house administrative court system.

Under the new rules, if the FTC’s request for a preliminary injunction is denied, merging parties can request to withdraw from the administrative proceeding -- a request which will now be automatically granted. This allows the parties to be able talk to the commission, which they can't do when the case is ongoing, and gives them the opportunity to try to settle or convince the commissioners to abandon the administrative case altogether. However, the FTC retains the option to re-start administrative proceeding if it believes it's in the public's interest.

This approach means companies will get a faster resolution to their cases, says John Coffee,  a professor at Columbia Law School.

“This is a big victory for the corporate community,” he explains. “Mergers need to be resolved in the near term. If they stretch on for a year without being resolved, many of the benefits are lost.”

The cost of keeping social media sites in check

Mon, 2015-03-16 08:27

Facebook has a new set of "community standards" — the rules governing what you can and cannot do on the platform. It's nearly three times as long as the previous version thanks to more detail about, for example, what kind of nude photos are acceptable. 

Rebecca MacKinnon, director of the New America Foundation's Ranking Digital Rights project, says it's in part a reaction to criticism that Facebook has clamped down too much on free speech, from photographs to pseudonyms of anonymous protesters. 

Twitter, in contrast, has taken flak for being too permissive of bullying.

"Twitter is a much easier place to kind of drop in, drop a little bomb, and go away," says Fatemeh Khatibloo, analyst at Forrester.

Jonathon Morgan, a data scientist who co-authored a report on the use of Twitter by the terrorist group ISIS, says the difference between the two social networks' approach to free speech is more about being different products than having different philosophies.

Advice to would-be 'Jeopardy' contestants

Mon, 2015-03-16 08:27

If you ever find yourself on the "Jeopardy" stage in front of Alex Trebek and you're totally stumped, what's your best Hail Mary guess?

Well, someone has gone through every Jeopardy episode between 1984 and 2012, He looked at close to 200,000 clues and found that one has been the answer, or question in this case, 216 times.

The answer is, "What is China?"

Based on this analysis: You'd be wise to "focus on science, literature, history, and geography." And the most common final Jeopardy category, at least recently, is "word origins."

An environmental movement is awakening in China

Mon, 2015-03-16 07:51

China’s Premier Li Keqiang said this week the government is serious about cutting smog and will impose harsher fines on polluters. Keqiang's comments came after the online release this month of a groundbreaking — at least, for China — documentary on the country’s air pollution crisis, called “Under the Dome” (video).

The country’s environment minister compared it to Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” the book that paved the way for the U.S. environmental movement, but Chinese officials have been silent on the film since — and it’s even been taken offline in the country, presumably by government censors.

Still, China observers say this may be the country’s “Silent Spring” moment.

“The Chinese public has come to believe they have a right to a clean environment,” says Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum at the Wilson Center. 

Like the early U.S. anti-air pollution movement, mothers worried about pollution's health effects have initiated much of the dissent, and big polluting industries are resisting change. Change in China is complicated by the fact that powerful local governments have little incentive to curb the dirty industries that fuel their economies, and often try to skirt the central government’s regulations.

PODCAST: Doing the numbers on police misconduct

Mon, 2015-03-16 07:46

The FTC is changing the way it fights mergers it doesn't like, cutting back on challenges in its own internal court and relying more on federal injunctions. We check in with Marketplace's Tracey Samuelson on what the rule changes could mean for pending, controversial mergers. Then, China has reportedly passed Germany to become the world's third-largest arms exporter. That hardware is primarily going to equipping African and other Asian armies, many of them at odds with the U.S. and its allies. Finally, police misconduct trials and settlements can be hugely expensive, but departments keep surprisingly little data on suits and frequent offenders. Dan Weissmann investigates.

Quiz: Swarms of small colleges

Mon, 2015-03-16 06:38

The closure of Sweet Briar College, a women’s college with about 700 students, put a spotlight on small schools.

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Former AOL CEO Steve Case on the web's 'third wave'

Mon, 2015-03-16 03:57

This week Marketplace Tech is exploring South by Southwest Interactive, the tech-oriented event that draws tens of thousands of people to Austin, Texas. That audience comes to talk about what’s next in tech and to pitch their ideas.

Steve Case is no exception. The Billionaire and AOL CEO turned venture capitalist is here to advocate for tech hubs outside of Silicon Valley. We sat down with him to talk about the past, present and future of the Internet.

Twenty years ago, AOL had just hit 1 million subscribers. That feels like centuries ago, not decades ago.

It was a long time ago. I agree with that. And we had actually been at it for more than a decade at that point. We started AOL 30 years ago this year. At the time only 3% of people were online, and they were only online an hour a week. It’s also worth remembering it wans’t until 1982 that it was even legal for people to connect to the internet. The first wave of the internet in the 70s and 80s was restricted to government use and university use, so scientists and educators and bureaurats could use it, but real people couldn’t.

What’s shocked you about the way the online world has changed since you first got in the game?

Well actually, what shocked me the first time was it actually took longer than I thought for the idea to take hold. PC manufacturers didn’t want to build in communications modems, because they thought, “Most people don’t want this, so why would we add that?”

Every start up needs a true believer

Every concept needs a tribe of true believers.

Speaking of which, talk to me about Washington

Well Washington, actually, is emerging very quickly as a hot startup center. It was not true 30 years ago when we started AOL in Virginia, across the river from D.C., and now you see the debates around net neutrality and other things, and the government role is heating up again. I think key parts of our economy are going to require more interaciton with the government as a regulator and a customer. The government spends more money on learning and health than any other organization. It’s going to require a different kind of entrepreneur.

You mention net neutrality. How do you feel about that issue? Where do you come down on it?

I think it’s important. AOL could not have been possible without breaking up the phone company. The key ruling there said that companies like AOL could connect to the telecomm system. Up until then, they couldn’t.

Is Facebook the next AOL?

In some ways it is, because our core was always people. Facebook has taken that baton and developed a strategy with a broad global footprint that’s really been quite impressive.

It seems like they’re trying to build a place where you go to do everything. In the early days it seems like AOL was similar. You were going into a space that was controlled by one company, even if there was plenty of community within that space.

That’s partially true. Our strategy was really to be the internet and a whole lot more.

Were most of your users getting outside of it?

In the early years the vast majority of the use was custom services that were exclusive to AOL. Over itme the broader internet services got more traciton. But even when I stopped running the company 15 years ago, the majority of the services used were the services that were part of the AOL package of unique services.

Tell me about the third wave of the internet.

The first wave was 1985 to 2000. That was really building the internet. And the second phase, over the last 15 years, has been building on top of the internet. But the next phase, the third wave, is going to be integrating the internet more seamlessly and pervasively in our everyday lives.

We’re asking a lot of people what they’re here to pitch. What’s your pitch?

It’s really what we’ve been talking about. I think there’s a new wave of innovation that’s about to break. And it’s going to be around this third wave of the internet, which is disrupting sectors like education and healthcare and energy. If you’re an entreprenneur in St. Louis or Des Moines or Minneapolis or Pittsburgh, you’re gonna have great opportunities to build companies on the back of these trends, but you need to know what battle you’re gearing up for.

And, because we couldn’t resist...

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