National / International News

The surprising complexity of moving money across borders

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00

People sending messages from the United States to relatives in the Dominican Republic have an array of cheap, instantaneous options, from Skype to email to new forms of phone call. 

People sending money, though, are still likely to begin at a place like Daysi Travel: A storefront in the mostly Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City selling cell phones at a counter in front and Western Union money transfers at a window in back. 

Edrizio de la Cruz used to come to a place like this between college classes and a night shift as a plane mechanic at JFK airport in order to send money to his Aunt Virginia in the Dominican Republic.

"That experience is relatively painful, because you have to take time out of your day, stand in line, fill out a form," he recalls. At the time, he would pay a fee of at least 10 percent, but what he calls the most painful part was on the other side, in Santo Domingo — waiting for a long-distance phone call with a numerical code, walking to the distant Western Union agent and waiting in an even lengthier line.

He recalls his reaction: "Oh my God. this is like... "The Flintstones.' " 

In the 15years since, this messaging part has become simpler. 

"The messaging part is now almost free," says Dilip Ratha, an economist at the World Bank who tracks remittances. "And yet, the average fee is still about 8 percent. Eight percent."

 Eight percent is significantly less than it was 15 years ago, but it still seems too high to Ratha.

"The true cost of sending money is definitely close to zero," he says. "Or below 1 percent."

"We hear so much about, you know, 'This is so important for certain countries, why can't it be for free?' " says Pam Patsley, CEO of MoneyGram, the second-largest money transfer company, after Western Union. 

Patsley says MoneyGram's fees average 5 percent, half of which goes to the 350,000 agents at cell phone stores, banks and travel agencies. MoneyGram's 2 1/2 percent has to cover not just the sending of messages, but the tens of millions of dollars it is spending each year complying with regulations to fight fraud and money laundering. It must also cover running the system that actually moves money across borders, collecting the cash from the New York travel agency that sent it and paying back the agent in Santo Domingo who received it. 

"Your receiver may have picked up their money within an hour. But we won't pay that receive agent or collect from that send agent until maybe eight hours later," says Patsley.

This is the part of the money transfer business that hasn't changed much. It still relies on a process that sends money from bank account to bank account, a chain of account-settling that involves more than 800 accounts in total for MoneyGram. 

It's this tangled web that Edrizio de la Cruz hoped to cut through when he started a company called Regalii right across the street from the Daysi Travel in Washington Heights. But instead of replacing the MoneyGrams and Western Unions, Regalii tries to partner with money transfer companies. 

"It's like: If you want to go to California, you can take a railroad and stop at like 20 different cities — or you can take a jet," explains de la Cruz. "We're not taking jets yet, money transfer, we're taking railroads."

Regalii rides the rails of the money transfer companies, but cuts out the last station — the Western Union agent in Santo Domingo — making it possible to pay his aunt's electricity bill directly, for a slightly lower fee.

Like many entrepreneurs in the remittances space, he's not trying to build a jet — a totally new way to send money across borders — but he is pushing for a slightly faster and cheaper train.

 Three facts about remittances:

1)  The amount of money sent in remittances each year exceeds the GDP of Sweden. (Remittances in 2015 are estimated at $586 billion, according to the World Bank; GDP of Sweden in 2014 was $559.1 billion.) 

2) Remittance fees have declined over the last decade, but the average total cost of sending remittances remains relatively high: 7.72 percent in the first quarter of 2015 according to the World Bank.  

3) Some countries are extremely reliant on remittances. Remittances made up 47.5 percent of Tajikistan’s GDP in 2012. (Haiti and Nepal are also high up on the list, with remittances adding up to more than 20 percent of GDP.)

The merch tells the mood

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00
Bumper stickers are so 2012. Today's campaign merchandise has moved way past the rear end of a car, or posters on a dorm room wall. Howard Belk, co-CEO and chief creative officer of global branding firm siegel+gale, says if you look carefully at the merchandise offered up by a campaign, you can tell how confident a candidate is feeling. Look no farther than Hillary Clinton.

“She’s got this great little onesie there," he says. "There’s kind of a wit and cleverness not only to the swag and the graphics on it, but even how they’ve named it." Clinton's merchandise, the "Future Voter" onesie, the "Think Tank" tank top or a "Hats Off to Hillary" baseball cap,  reflects a sense of confidence on the part of her campaign, Belk says.

“Hillary has essentially been coronated as the Democratic candidate – unless something really surprising happens,” he says. But on the Republican side, “it’s a dog fight,” he says.

Because the Republican field is so crowded, many candidates are afraid to be funny, Belk notes. After all, a poorly received joke could alienate potential voters. As a result, every coffee mug and lapel pin that could bare a candidate's name is being cautiously scrutinized, which can result in merchandise that can leave a little something to be desired.  But "I really like the stuff I’m seeing from Rand Paul," Belk adds.

"It’s unlikely that any of these folks will end up in retail or merchandising," says Scott Galloway, a clinical professor of marketing at NYU's Leonard N. Stern School of Business, of the candidates offerings, regardless of party affiliation. "These aren’t what I’d call an inspiring product mix."



It my @RandPaul swag in today!!! #standwithrand #RandPaul2016 pic.twitter.com/7NKtyFX36Q

— that liberty girl (@ladyliberty1215) April 21, 2015

For a campaign, lackluster products, or even merchandise that misses the mark, can mean more than the possibility of parody skits on late-night TV. Though millions are spent on ads, says Galloway, it's important that campaigns not overlook the power of the humble $30 T-shirt, which has the potential to prove that a consumer is authentically passionate about a candidate.

"Nothing says that more than wearing the name of someone on your person," he says.

Candidates are brands too, notes Jonah Berger, a professor of marketing at Wharton and author of "Contagious, Why Things Catch On."  “Consumer psychology drives the decisions we make, whether it’s from the milk we buy at the store to the person we elect for president," he says.

We’re more likely to support a candidate, Berger says, if our friends and family do. When it comes to what products candidates sell, all the campaigns could do better, he says.  So what does he think all that merchandise says about the candidates?
 The answer sounds a bit like what a cynical voter might say about politics in general.

"That’s a little tough for me, because I’m not sure there’s much variation."

The Patriot Act's new name

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00

On Sunday night Section 215 of the Patriot Act expired. The intelligence community, President Obama, and many members of Congress say this places the U.S. at greater risk of missing intelligence that could be used to thwart a terrorist attack.

But also on Sunday night, the USA Freedom Act advanced in the Senate. It's already passed the House of Representatives, so it's likely to be the successor to the expired provisions in the Patriot Act. The new bill would shift the responsibility of data storage from the NSA to telecom companies.

Tim Shorrock, author of "Spies for Hire," says the relationship between the NSA and telecommunication companies goes back to the 1950s.

"The NSA used to send a guy up to New York every morning to bring back the metal recordings that the telecoms had made of the telephone calls going to and fro, between the U.S. and foreign countries," Shorrock says. "And the NSA would go through those calls."

Schorrock says in times of crisis, U.S. telecom companies have been quick to comply with national security requests. "NSA leaders, directors just called the CEOs of these companies and said 'you've got to do this,' " Shorrock says. "And when there's an incident like 9/11, obviously you know, people react."

In fact, in 2008 Congress gave telecoms retroactive immunity for forking over customers’ data to the intelligence agencies. So, if the USA Freedom Act were to give telecoms more control, it might not change much in terms of citizens’ privacy. But one thing has changed — the country’s attitude toward NSA surveillance.

So what if one internet provider or phone company decides to take a stand and advertise its new role as the protector of privacy, keeping customer data safe?

That might not make much of a difference either, says Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"So if you’ve got a small ISP and it sits on top of AT&T or on top of Sprint, even if they couldn't get it from the little ISP or the little telecom carrier, they could go upstream and generally those records are available," Cohn says. 

And the award goes to ... Instagram!

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00

The Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Fashion Awards is tonight, and it will be giving its Media Award to Instagram. CEO Kevin Systrom will accept the award from presenter Kim Kardashian, who has more Instagram followers than anyone except Instagram itself. She announced she would be presenting via a selfie.   

Fashion and Instagram have a special relationship borne out of their shared visual foundation. 

“It is an entirely visual medium,” says Sucharita Mulpuru, retail analyst at Forrester Research. “Instagram is all about beautiful pictures. That’s one of the biggest selling aspects of any piece of fashion is the visual story you can tell about it, and the aspiration that represents.”

There are other similarly visual networks, notes Mulpuru, such as Pinterest. But Instagram users tend to check their accounts more frequently.

For users like Rachel Fuentes, the social network is a way to follow, discover and shop for fashion. 

“Instagram has become my one way of shopping,” says Fuentes, who follows local boutiques right on up to large brands like Nordstrom. “If I catch their Insta sale – which is an Instagram sale – and if it’s cute and if I like it, I will automatically purchase it.”  It’s much easier than going to malls or decentralized stores, she says. 

Fuentes doesn’t consider the photos she sees coming through her feed as ads, but rather simply as nice photos of models or outfits. 

“Trying to sell, posting something that looks like an ad, it’s a turn off,” says Marlene Morris Towns, teaching professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.  “You can have unknown people who end up being the biggest social media celebrities because they’re relatable or represent a lifestyle, as opposed to someone paid to do an airbrushed photoshoot.”

The authenticity factor and the focus on the image allow brands to advertise without demeaning themselves by advertising. 

“It gives luxury brands who have struggled with social media a way to maintain the integrity of their brand but also reach a much larger audience,” Morris Towns says. Instagram users can see posts from exclusive fashion events, which mass markets brands even as it emphasizes their exclusivity.

At the same time, Instagram has become something of an equalizer, says Gretchen Harnick, professor of fashion marketing at the New School. “It’s really allowing startups to have a voice right alongside of bigger brands.”

Instagram followers are recipients of this kind of brand promotion by choice, which is advertising gold.

“There is definitely a gain in the fashion industry from Instagram,”  Morris Towns says. “I think it has done wonders for brand awareness and people actually engaging with the brand.”

And they do engage.  Gucci, for example, has 4 million followers on Instagram. Nike has 16 million.

 

And the award goes to ... Instagram!

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00

The Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Fashion Awards is tonight, and it will be giving its Media Award to Instagram. CEO Kevin Systrom will accept the award from presenter Kim Kardashian, who has more Instagram followers than anyone except Instagram itself. She announced she would be presenting via a selfie.   

Fashion and Instagram have a special relationship borne out of their shared visual foundation. 

“It is an entirely visual medium,” says Sucharita Mulpuru, retail analyst at Forrester Research. “Instagram is all about beautiful pictures. That’s one of the biggest selling aspects of any piece of fashion is the visual story you can tell about it, and the aspiration that represents.”

There are other similarly visual networks, notes Mulpuru, such as Pinterest. But Instagram users tend to check their accounts more frequently.

For users like Rachel Fuentes, the social network is a way to follow, discover and shop for fashion. 

“Instagram has become my one way of shopping,” says Fuentes, who follows local boutiques right on up to large brands like Nordstrom. “If I catch their Insta sale – which is an Instagram sale – and if it’s cute and if I like it, I will automatically purchase it.”  It’s much easier than going to malls or decentralized stores, she says. 

Fuentes doesn’t consider the photos she sees coming through her feed as ads, but rather simply as nice photos of models or outfits. 

“Trying to sell, posting something that looks like an ad, it’s a turn off,” says Marlene Morris Towns, teaching professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.  “You can have unknown people who end up being the biggest social media celebrities because they’re relatable or represent a lifestyle, as opposed to someone paid to do an airbrushed photoshoot.”

The authenticity factor and the focus on the image allow brands to advertise without demeaning themselves by advertising. 

“It gives luxury brands who have struggled with social media a way to maintain the integrity of their brand but also reach a much larger audience,” Morris Towns says. Instagram users can see posts from exclusive fashion events, which mass markets brands even as it emphasizes their exclusivity.

At the same time, Instagram has become something of an equalizer, says Gretchen Harnick, professor of fashion marketing at the New School. “It’s really allowing startups to have a voice right alongside of bigger brands.”

Instagram followers are recipients of this kind of brand promotion by choice, which is advertising gold.

“There is definitely a gain in the fashion industry from Instagram,”  Morris Towns says. “I think it has done wonders for brand awareness and people actually engaging with the brand.”

And they do engage.  Gucci, for example, has 4 million followers on Instagram. Nike has 16 million.

 

Supreme Court Sides With Immigrant Caught With Pills In His Sock

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-01 12:53

The court ruled Monday that a law requiring the deportation of immigrants who violate any kind of drug regulation did not justify deporting a man who was caught with Adderall in his sock.

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Intel Makes Biggest Bet In Its History

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-01 12:48

The chipmaker is purchasing a smaller chip manufacturer, Altera, for about $16.7 billion in cash.

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A new era in cancer treatment?

BBC - Mon, 2015-06-01 12:42
Results from clinical trials have had cancer specialists talking of this being a "game-changing" moment and a "new era" in cancer treatment. Are the claims justified, and what about the cost of the new drugs?

A 92-Year-Old Ran Her 16th Marathon And Broke A Record

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-01 12:39

When Harriette Thompson signed up for her first marathon, she planned on walking. But when everyone else started running, she figured she might as well run, too.

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Beyond The Birds And The Bees: Surviving Sex-Ed Today

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-01 12:30

Sex education conjures images of teenage giggles and discomfort. But Bronx-based teacher Lena Solow is more than happy to talk about the topic.

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American Freelance Journalist Released By Rebels In Yemen

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-01 12:20

Casey Coombs was one of a number of Americans being held in Yemen, according to the U.S. State Department.

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Chinese dog-eating festival outrages foreigners

BBC - Mon, 2015-06-01 12:12
International campaign targets Chinese festival

As The Arctic Opens Up, The U.S. Is Down To A Single Icebreaker

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-01 12:12

Melting ice means more of the Arctic is accessible to exploration and shipping, and countries are racing to establish a presence. But they still need heavy icebreakers, and the U.S. is falling behind.

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VIDEO: 'Cancer drug gave me more time'

BBC - Mon, 2015-06-01 11:56
Cancer patient Vicky Brown says she is ''extremely fortunate'' to be offered cancer drug therapy for advanced melanoma as part of a new trial.

Australia dual citizenship change

BBC - Mon, 2015-06-01 11:41
Australia plans to remove citizenship from dual nationals suspected of terrorism

Just how do national days get on the calendar?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-06-01 11:36

Have you thought lately about how excellent you are? Well start thinkin’ about it—because at Marketplace today, we’re recognizing National Say Something Nice Day. So thanks for being you.

There are random and off-beat national days almost every day of the year.  This prompted one of our podcast listeners, Katie Rowles, to send a question all the way from Australia for our series, “I’ve Always Wondered.” How do these days get declared? Who’s in charge of the list of days?

We start with International Talk Like a Pirate Day, one of the days Katie mentioned in her question. It’s celebrated across YouTube each September 19, and it turns out a couple of guys declared the day a few years ago because, well, they’re fond of talking like pirates.

But just to narrow it down, we’re focusing on today, Monday, June 1. It’s a pretty busy for random national days: There’s Go Barefoot Day, started by an organization that gives shoes to underprivileged kids. The woman behind Pen Pal Day is a pen pal enthusiast out of Chicago. And of course, Say Something Nice Day — Mitch Carnell of Charleston, South Carolina, is behind that one.

“Because once you say something, it’s out there, you can’t call it back,” he says. Carnell submitted his idea back in 2006 to Chase’s, the yearly almanac that acts as a sort of loose gatekeeper for national days and months.

But not all national days are listed in Chase’s — the more extensive resource is the website nationaldaycalendar.com.

“There’s a couple ways it can happen," says the site’s co-founder, Marlo Anderson. “Of course, a company or an individual can just declare it, and a lot of people do.”

Point being, really anyone can make up a national day, and there’s no accreditation process or government agency. Though Anderson says they don’t approve just any old day that comes across their desk.

“In the last year we’ve received over 10,000 requests for national days,” he says.

Out of the 10,000, he says they typically take about 20 to 25 days each year. They’ll focus on iconic items over brands — say, National Coffee Day as opposed to National Starbucks Day (which, as far as we know, hasn’t been declared). And they look for things everyone can enjoy or be a part of.

The most common request they say no to?

“You know, it’s my girlfriend of three months and she’s changed my life forever, can I have National Heather Day ... that’s a very very popular thing,” Anderson says.

But most of these national days are recent inventions that have spread around on social media. As far as we can tell, only one of the June 1 celebrations goes back to before the internet: National Heimlich Maneuver Day.

“I do not know who wrote the article on it that made it come about,” says Dr. Henry Heimlich. He’s 95 and living in Cincinnati. Heimlich published an article about his life-saving maneuver on June 1, 1974.  “Immediately lives were being saved.”

At some point, a day was declared, though he’s not sure exactly how. Heimlich is pretty amused to learn that he’s now competing with National Hazelnut Cake Day.

“I guess people could choke on that too,” Heimlich says, laughing.

Well, hazelnut cake might not be for everyone, but it’s your day — go celebrate! Take off your shoes, say something nice, help out a choking neighbor, and meanwhile, start polishing up on talking like a pirate.

Cattle Drive Saves Hundreds Of Cows Stranded By Texas Flooding

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-01 11:30

A herd of cattle is safe Monday, thanks to cowboys and volunteers who worked to move some 500 cows and calves that were threatened by the rising Trinity River.

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Ex-Georgia head gives up citizenship

BBC - Mon, 2015-06-01 10:52
Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili says he is giving up his country's citizenship as he becomes governor of Ukraine's Odessa region.

In 'Eating Lab,' A Psychologist Spills Secrets On Why Diets Fail

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-01 10:49

Diets will rarely lead to significant or sustainable weight loss, Traci Mann argues in a new book. Instead, she suggests trying proven mental strategies for reaching your "leanest, livable weight."

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Republican Graham launches 2016 bid

BBC - Mon, 2015-06-01 10:47
Senator Lindsey Graham underlined his foreign policy experience and taunted Hillary Clinton as he launched his White House run.

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