Also: Tens of thousands take to streets of Tunis for funeral of slain opposition leader; car bombings target Shiites in Iraq; EU leaders try to reach budget deal; Bush family's emails are hacked.
This final note today, in which I opine against the use of storm names that The Weather Channel dreams up.
One would hope the sheer commercialism and profit-driving motivation would be clear enough. But in case it's not, two examples from the Weather Channel's own website should seal the deal.
One, they say, "In today's social media world, a name makes it much easier to reference in communication."
In other words, storms need a Twitter hashtag?
And two, the next storm name after Nemo is Orko. Which, and correct me if I'm wrong, is a character from the Masters of the Universe cartoon franchise.
From Pennsylvania and New Jersey north through New York State and into New England, blizzard and storm warnings are up. By the time the storm is over on Saturday, some places may have 3 feet of new snow.
Also: Geico's spokeslizard writes an advice book; Amazon patents the sale of used e-books; and a Stephen Colbert interview gets interesting.
For many years, Bart Narter has been a good friend of Marketplace. As a banking analyst with a company called Celent, he's helped us explain what's going on with the financial industry. But at the age of 51, he just left his job only two-years after being diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.
On his making his decision to leave work:
"I was diagnosed with Parkinson's in December of 2010, and continued to work but notified my employer that I would not be able to work forever in the role I held. We developed a succession plan and I stepped down when both we had a successor in place and I felt that I really couldn't continue to do the job I was doing at the level it needed doing... One of the major symptoms of Parkinson's is tremors, and I'd get tremors in my left hand which makes it difficult to type. The company made accomodations by providing me with speech recognition software, but it's still not quite there yet and made it very difficult to keep up."
On coping financially with illness:
"[I] have private disability insurance which provides me 100 percent of my income for three months, 80 percent for the next three months, and then 40 percent from that point forward. That's going to be enough for me to live on... So far it hasn't been that hard. I'm very good at compartmentalizing. So far, I'm on full salary, so it hasn't hit financially yet. I think the scariest thing is actually contemplating the fears of inflation because this kicks in until I'm 65 and it's a fixed amount."
The search for former Los Angeles police officer Christopher Jordan Dorner, who's suspected of killing a police officer and two other people, has stretched across a large area. It's feared he's intent on killing more officers.
The British government has ordered the country’s food industry to test all processed beef products. The move comes after one of the UK’s biggest food manufacturers found horsemeat in some of its ready-to- eat meals and withdrew 180,000 of them from sale.
The Findus frozen food company discovered that some of its beef lasagnas were in fact 100 percent horsemeat. The meals were manufactured by a supplier in France where there is no cultural taboo against eating horses and horse meat is widely consumed as a cheaper alternative to beef.
This is not the first time horse meat has hit the headlines in Britain. Last month frozen beefburgers were also removed from many British supermarket shelves after equine DNA was detected.
Alistair Driver, political editor of Farmers Guardian magazine, says the scandal has lifted the lid on the whole business of cheap food, where costs and corners have been cut:
“It seems to be the trading of ingredients across the continent from one trader to another, from a manufacturer to a trader…that’s all about just cutting costs and trading these cheap products,” says Driver.
Ironically horsemeat is considered healthier than beef as it’s leaner. But some safety concerns are emerging. Samples of the lasagna are being tested for bute, a painkiller given to horses which is harmful to humans. There’s no evidence that the U.S. food chain has been affected.
The Northeast is facing snowstorm Nemo. Canceled flights, school closings, worries about shortages and power outages, and long lines in stores. We called up Jeff Klein, owner of Marshall's Country Corner in Bernardston, Mass., to find out what his customers are up to.
"I am a store owner and I do count on the weather reports for business. Being Western Mass., snowstorms do affect us a little bit. This one obviously made a lot of people panic. People were coming out in droves thinking that we'll be out of power for a bunch of days. In Western Mass., I think they take care of the roads pretty well. There are a lot of great plow drivers out there. We're cleared up usually in 24 hours. So yeah, I'm pretty jaded," say Klein.
Klein says people are buying the essentials -- milk, bread, ice (!), batteries, flashlights, lots of food.
"There's a lot of panic, which I don't think is needed," says Klein. "When the weather people report something this major, which is great 24 hours ahead of time, so people get ready so they don't panic in an emergency, it definitely spurs the economy around here. But also, weathermen are only 50 percent right half the time, so right now how much do we really predict on snow."
"I predict the next couple of days to be quite slow because everyone's stocked up on their grocery goods. We're selling a lot of food, so people won't tend to grocery shop the next couple of days because they're going to be so loaded up and full," adds Klein.
We are keeping a focus this week on the Internet of things -- going beyond websites, to what some see as a new network of intelligent objects, devices that communicate with each other. We've heard from artist Will.i.am about how this sort of thing might change music. Also from a company called SmartThings and the CEO of Cisco, about how smart devices in the home could revolutionize everything from reading electricity meters to kitchen appliances. Today it's something even closer to the heart: How medicine could be transformed by smart devices.
Dr. Anthony Jones, who works for Philips Healthcare, a company that designs machines and software for hospitals around the world, says a nurse could check on you four times a day, or there could be networked machines that send data on your vitals in a constant stream to a master control.
"If I now have a continuous monitor, and I have that data going up into a central repository, I can write algorithms and put some intelligence into that repository that allows me to look for trends," says Jones. "So part of what the Internet of things will allow is much more sophisticated, much more continuous monitoring."
Done right, this new era of monitoring could also help keep you from going into the hospital in the first place. Advances in wireless and medical tech will go even further still, according to Ed Price at Georgia Tech's Institute for People and Technology.
"If you've got chronic blood pressure issues, maybe there is blood pressure sensor in your seatbelt in your car," says Price. "Obviously there is no time for a human to analyze all that data, but an algorithm in a computer can look at all your data for your blood pressure and trigger when there is an event that needs to be noticed by care providers."
And the health care reform law plays a role here, as doctors and health care companies get new incentives to make people well and keep them that way.
"Electronic devices [and] tele-medicine will be a key part of that," says Price.
This week, Twitter bought a company that's good at tracking online buzz -- in other words, what's getting written about, tweeted about, photographed and shared. Twitter's purchase of the research company Bluefin for an undisclosed amount is about gathering the sort of social media info that can be used to extract more money from advertisers.
But as Slate Tech Blogger Will Oremus explains, Twitter plus Bluefin is also about a strange habit we've picked up. When the TV goes on, the tablet or smartphone doesn't go off?
"That is going to sound crazy to a lot of people out there. They'll say, 'how on earth could you be reading Twitter and watching TV at the same time?' But, about a quarter of the people out there listening are going to be going, 'oh yeah, I do that all the time,'" says Oremus.
According to Oremus, TV advertisments have been a very lucrative business for a very long time, yet advertisers are still very much in the dark about how their ads are working. With the Bluefin acquisition, Twitter may be able to finally answer that question.
The global positioning system that guides car and handheld navigation devices was first set up by and for the U.S. military. Russia has its system. China and Japan have ones that don't yet cover all the earth. But a project to end Europe's dependence on American GPS could run up against a budget ax.
The European Union is taking a hard look this week at its longer term spending and its civilian-controlled Galileo navigation system could take a hit. Galileo is so far costing three times what was projected.
"There has been a lot of discussion within the European Union as to why Europe needs this. European politicans feel that this is a way for Europe to sort of stand on it's own two feet, to be autonomous, to not rely on the American GPS system," says Cyrus Farivar, senior business editor for the tech publication Ars Technica. "At the same time, a lot of people are worried about the ever mounting cost of this program that seems to be burdened with promising too much and under-delivering."
The plan called for 30 satellites for Europe's GPS. It only has four working now. Unlike the American GPS, Europe's is under civilian, not military, control.
A storm poised to dump up to 2 feet of snow from New York City to Boston and beyond beginning Friday could be one for the record books, forecasters warned. Residents scurried to stock up on food and water and road crews readied salt and sand.
Most people aren't born knowing how to be smart with money. That's something you learn, often just a little too late. So how do you teach young people financial literacy before they run up their credit card bills, or take out too many student loans? One way is to get them where they live -- on their phones. Mindblown Life is a new mobile phone app. It's designed to help high school and college kids learn how to manage money by playing a game. You can create your own avatar and have it go through life making financial decisions about spending and saving, choices we've all had to make. Jason Young is one of the creators of the app.
"I would say that Midblown Life is really the next step in a journey that began during my sophomore year, winter break. I had gone home for Christmas as usual, but that Christmas was a little bit different from your typical Christmas. The day after Christmas my family was evicted," says Young. "My mom had purchased her house using a variable rate mortgage. And when the interest rates began to rise, she could no longer afford to make the payments. But beyond that, in trying to actually keep our home, she accumulated tens of thousands of dollars of credit debt. I always knew we had money troubles, but I had no idea it had gotten to that point."
Young says he helped create the app because financial literacy is a skill that has to be practiced. He says games are good at getting people to practice skills over and over again.
"The beauty of games is you have accelerated time. So you get to, first of all, see the consequence of your actions. Instead of having to wait, say, 30 years, you get to see it in a few hours. So you know that not saving, not establishing an emergency fund, resulted in you getting evicted when you had an emergency come up and you couldn't pay your rent," says Young.
Some of the emergency situations that players face using the app include getting robbed, having your car break down, and having your house catch fire. Young says the app helps players understand the importance of financial literacy and learn that money is only a contributing factor to overall happiness.
Most of us panic or try to remember how much canned food we have when we hear words like these: "We're going to have basically two storms coming together, merging into one much larger storm."
That's meteorologist Stephen Strum, with Frontier Weather. But the bad storm is good for some businesses, says Evan Gold with Planalytics, which studies the economic impact of weather.
"This is great news for The Weather Channel," he says. Gold describes The Weather Channel as reality TV, and big storms like these are the products it sells. This year the channel is even branding blizzards.
"The Weather Channel has started to name the storms." Gold says.
Meet Nemo, that's what The Weather Channel is calling this one. Gold says the bigger the storm, the bigger the audience and the ad revenue.
"They are definitely about trying to help people understand and manage the impact of weather, but they are a media company first -- they are in business to make money," he says.
The Weather Channel didn't respond to requests for comment, but during Hurricane Sandy, it got more primetime viewers than any cable news show.
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.
At its closest approach, the office building-sized asteroid will be only about 17,200 miles above the surface of our planet. That's far nearer to us than the moon, and even closer than some weather and communications satellites. Some people think this near miss should serve as a wake-up call.
Congress likes to say it doesn't do earmarks anymore. And while that may be true, it's also a fact that targeted provisions are still useful in moving legislation — even critical legislation like the bill that pulled Washington back from the fiscal cliff last month.
Houses of worship are still trying to recover from the damage done by the superstorm last fall. The government has encouraged them to apply for aid, but it's not clear whether they'll qualify. For some, even disaster relief would break down the boundary between "church and state."
The legendary rapper is responsible for some of Latin hip-hop's most danceable music. His lyrics also advocate for the Puerto Rican independence movement.