What’s in a name, anyway? A lot, if you’re a budget negotiator, especially one who’s promised not to raise taxes -- and must avoid the "t-word" at all costs.
"We try not to call bad things by their names," says Anatoly Liberman, who teaches linguistics at the University of Minnesota. "The word fee is more marketable than the word tax."
But Liberman says they really mean the same thing. But surprise, surprise -- politicians don’t always say what they mean. The deal they’re reportedly coming up with would replace some of the automatic sequestration spending cuts with revenues from fees, not taxes.
John Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, says there’s a reason taxpayers can swallow a fee better than a tax.
"A fee is something you pay in order to get something from the government," he explains. "Arguably you get some kind of government service as a result of paying the fee.”
For example, the negotiators are reportedly considering a hike in airline fees to pay for security. Semantics can come in handy when Congress is as closely divided as it is now.
"It’s in the interest of both sides to come up with a really good set of euphamisms to be able to give themselves political cover in order to do what they want to do," says Ross Baker, who teaches political science at Rutgers University.
And that goes even if they reach just a modest agreement, which Baker says is about all we can expect.
We got a big upward revision in the third quarter's gross domestic product number today.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis now says GDP growth was 3.6 percent in the quarter, not 2.8 percent, as previously estimated. But before you go popping champagne and buying boats, there's a caveat.
We've been growing, yes, but maybe not in the right areas. That could come back to bite us next quarter.
The surge in growth came from businesses building up inventory -- more than $116 billion of it.
“They were stocking up,” says economist Stephen Buckles of Vanderbilt University. “They thought that spending was growing a bit faster than it actually did. So they increased production and they didn’t sell all their increased production.”
That’s the catch. Increased production is good, but then you gotta sell the stuff.
Randy Kroszner is an economics professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. He says to think about those businesses like a family stocking up on frozen dinners.
“And you put a lot of those into your freezer,” he says.
But suddenly your kids aren’t eating as much as you expected. You’re stuck with shelves of Swedish meatballs.
“Next quarter you’re not going to be buying as many, because you can just draw down all those in your freezer, cause you had so many stocked up,” Kroszner says.
Doug Handler is Chief US Economist with IHS Economics. He says GDP will probably look pretty weak in the months ahead, as companies try to sell off those inventories without buying more from producers. But he says just as today’s headline number overstates the strength of the economy, those weak numbers in the near future will probably understate it.
“If you really want to get a gauge of what’s happening, you need to subtract out these inventory changes here,” he says. “You still eat one frozen food dinner per night here, and that’s in fact what’s important.”
So, eat up, America, because there’s a lot of frozen fare to get through.
The old boss will be the new boss once again. Former New York City police commissioner Bill Bratton has been tapped to be the next police commissioner.
Bratton headed the police force in Los Angeles in between his stints in the Big Apple. His is one of a handful of names on the perpetual short list for big city police chiefs.
“We usually look at a handful of individuals. And sort of move them from one place to another,” says Maki Haberfeld, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
She has written books on police leadership, and has met lots of promising leadership candidates. Haberfeld says, “There are females. There are minorities. The list is long.”
But if the list of good candidates is so long, why do the job searches focus on just a few names?
“It’s all about the political connections,” says Haberfeld.
In the most political of cities -- Washington DC -- a woman is chief of police. But that’s just one city.
“Unfortunately, we are still very much behind other professions, including the military,” says Haberfeld.
Others believe the list for a new police chief is short because there aren’t many qualified candidates.
“So the population of people who might go for a job like New York are probably only coming from about 200 large police departments across the country,” says Jack Greene, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University.
Even if candidates have the leadership and law enforcement skills, they may not have the political savvy. Or they might not want to move to another city. Or, they may fear that moving will risk their current pensions.
As a result, Greene says, “There are only a handful of people who have really-big city police experience.”
And while politics can be a factor in who gets the job, political savvy is also a job requirement.
“Police commissioners, police chiefs, have to have a pretty strong ego, and a pretty large ego, because there’s almost a crisis du jour in these places that have to be managed and have to be dealt with both administratively, but also politically.”
It's no secret that soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have played video games during down time on bases. But for a number of soldiers, the gaming may continue at home, long after their tours of duty are over -- and not for recreational purposes.
With record numbers of soldiers committing suicide and suffering from a host of mental health issues after returning from the battlefield, the military has been investing in all sorts of ways to help veterans with mental illness. As part of our series Mind Games: Mental Health and Virtual Technology, Marketplace Tech looks at how virtual reality simulations are being used to treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dr. Skip Rizzo of the University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies has been working on a 3-D virtual reality headset called the Oculus Rift. Soldiers put on the Oculus Rift and go through a kind of therapy called prolonged exposure that predates the invention of video games.
"What we do with virtual reality is instead of relying exclusively on the hidden world of the imagination, we put people in virtual reality simulations of combat environments, and the clinician is actually the 'gamemaster,' if you will -- they control all the settings," says Dr. Rizzo, describing the experience a soldier has wearing the Oculus Rift. "A person is driving in a Humvee and it go hit by an IED, well they might start having that person drive down a roadway 5 or 10 times without the IED going off, but then the clinician will say, 'Okay, I'm going to introduce the IED and I want you to keep narrating what was happening right before.' And then they hit a button -- boom! The IED goes off, and the user goes through the thing that they've been avoiding."
Video of Oculus Rift Development Kit Running PTSD Therapy System
If that sounds like "Call of Duty," or most other war RPGs, Rizzo admits to the influence.
"The original version of the virtual Iraq or Afghanistan exposure therapy system was derived from the game 'Full Spectrum Warrior.' We had access to the archive content and were able to extract a street out of the game, and were leveraging game technology."
But, Rizzo says, the therapy patients wearing his virtual reality headset are hardly playing a game.
"But, in the end, it's no longer a game, because in a game you have unlimited lives, your mission is to kill things. In this environment, it's about exposure to the things that you've been haunted by," he says. "This is a tool to extend the skills of a well trained clinician that understands how to deliver prolonged exposure, and over time, people start to go through scenarios that they never thought they could get through, and they start to feel a sense of empowerment. And, you see the reduction in PTSD symptoms in the other treatment, but then once someone has gotten over the hurdle there, all the sudden, you check on them one month, six months later, you see a continued drop in the symptoms, because they're basically continuing to heal."
If you or someone you know would like more information about where to seek Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy for PTSD can be found online for locations in New York City, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles.
The option of a smaller engine size and the car's sleeker design are two features analysts say are geared toward helping the Mustang appeal to buyers overseas.
The exchange rate of Bitcoin, the digital currency whose value has sharply risen this year, took a hit following a government ban. Chinese citizens are not forbidden from using the currency.
Today, China's central bank officially barred Chinese banks from offering services connected to the virtual, digital currency Bitcoin. The government also issued a new set of regulations for Bitcoin exchanges in China.
Bitcoin is a currency that transcends political boundaries, but China is quickly becoming Bitcoin's biggest market when you consider that the world's biggest Bitcoin exchange in Shanghai. China, of course, is home to a lot of speculators, and at the moment, the returns on Bitcoin are better than investing in China's booming property market. But it's not without its dangers – and that's where the People's Bank of China -- or the PBOC -- comes in.
"I think the comments we've seen from the PBOC are positive insofar that it is a measured approach and it's not shutting down something that's completely not understood, that they recognize that it does have potential, that they just want to limit it at the beginning at least," says Zennon Kapron, head of Kapron Asia and an expert on all things Bitcoin.
The way to regulate Bitcoin would be to target the Bitcoin exchanges, where you exchange Bitcoin for either a physical good or another currency. And the People's Bank of China did announce that it would require licenses from Bitcoin exchanges inside of China, they'll be required to file trading records and to take measures to prevent money-laundering risks.
In October, a Bitcoin exchange registered in Hong Kong shut down over night, taking more than $3 million worth of people's money along with them. Police finally caught the suspects, but it showed how dangerous investing in this digital currency can potentially be in China – part of the reason China's central bank is cracking down on Bitcoin.