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The top financial concern: just paying the bills

Mon, 2014-11-17 02:00

 A survey out today shows the overall financial picture for Americans improving, but that still hasn’t translated into actual prosperity.

According to the November Financial Security Index, compiled by Bankrate.com, the number one financial concern among Americans isn’t job security, or the housing market—it’s pocketbook issues like just being able to pay bills.

“And it has been to an increasing extent each year,” says Brian McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com.

“This year, 41 percent of Americans cited that as their top priority. That’s up from 36 percent last year and 32 percent in 2012.”

One explanation for the concern about paying bills is that even as economic indicators like unemployment improve, incomes remain largely flat.

“People have jobs, but both the hours and the wages are not what they might hope for,” notes Steve Fazzari, an economist at Washington University in St. Louis.

On the positive side, the Bankrate survey showed that American’s feelings about job security and net worth are both improving.

Tory Burch talks business and social responsibility

Fri, 2014-11-14 15:06

Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal talks to fashion designer Tory Burch about her new book, "Living in Color," her clothing line and her foundation for female entrepreneurs. 

On the success of her line:

I think we hit a place in the market that there was a need.  It was a pretty simple idea. It was designing beautiful clothing that didn’t cost a fortune. It was something that I was personally missing and then we found out it was a wide space in the market. I think, you know listen, we’re never patting ourselves on the back. We’re always looking forward and evolving and thinking of what we could be doing next.

Burch with her mother, Reva.

Courtesy:Tory Burch

On social responsibility:

I was told never to talk about business and social responsibility in the same sentence and I went the opposite of that.

The foundation has always been a part of the conversation and the storytelling and the idea. When we were finally able to launch the foundation, it has turned out to be so extraordinary for the company.

Any millennials we interview, it’s such an important part of the interview process. They want to be working somewhere where they’re making a difference.

Burch with her son Sawyer in the Bahamas.

Courtesy:Tory Burch

On the importance of having women in business:

I think women are part of the answer to the economy and we have to bring men and boys along for the conversation.

Women are great entrepreneurs. They’re great business minds.

Burch with her three boys at Machu Picchu.

Courtesy:Tory Burch

Nike dominates basketball shoes. Adidas wants in.

Fri, 2014-11-14 14:20

There's nothing quite as motivating as a good rivalry. Think about Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Coke and Pepsi, Ford and Chrysler.

Nike and Adidas are two of the biggest sports brands in the world, yet there is one area where Adidas is a decided underdog: basketball.

Scanning a public court in Manhattan, it’s clear Nikes are the preferred shoe at a weekend pickup game.

“I collect basketball shoes,” says accountant Lester Narcisse, after finishing a game in Nikes. “I still have my Jordans, the first ones. I still have a brand new pair, in the box.”

“I haven’t worn anything but Nike’s in 10 or 15 years,” says Thomas Smith, an online retailer. “I like Adidas, too, though.”

That’s a spark of good news for Adidas, but Nike has a very high share of the basketball shoe market – well over 90 percent, according to data from SportsScanInfo.

But in recent years, Adidas has been making a push to try to take on Nike on the hardwood. They made basketball a priority a few years ago by becoming an official sponsor of the NBA, says Chris Grancio, the general manager for Adidas’ global basketball division.

“But I would say as a brand that has aspirations to be the leading basketball brand in the world, we haven’t grown fast enough,” he says.

To get that growth, the company wants to build shoes around some of the league’s biggest players, though choosing the right players can be as uncertain a process as picking stocks is for investors. Adidas signed megastar Derrick Rose back in 2012, but he’s been plagued by injuries.

So this summer, Adidas got particularly aggressive, signing four of the top six picks in an especially strong draft class: Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Dante Exum, and Marcus Smart.

“Knowing that we’ve got half the starting point guards in the NBA now wearing Adidas and the fact that we’ve got five or six or eight guys that we think could be not only All Stars but could be really special players, that has to be part of our approach,” says Grancio. “There is no silver bullet for us.  We have to be continuously be looking for the next great player.”

“What that actually reminds of me is exactly what Nike did about 20 years ago,” says Victor Matheson, a sports economist at the College of the Holy Cross. “Nike wasn’t a player at all in the soccer markets around the world and they started to make a concerted effort in about the mid-1990s to become a  big player worldwide in soccer and they started to try to sign the top stars and the top teams around the world.”

Mathesons says the roles were reversed back then; it was Adidas who was dominant in soccer, Nike was the underdog. This World Cup? They were neck and neck.

Going back even further, signing a megaplayer worked for Nike in basketball, too.

“The biggest piece that threw Nike into basically national prominence was the Air Jordan,” says Matheson of Nike’s deal with Michael Jordan.

Everyone wanted to be like Mike – and they still do. Air Jordans are owned by Nike, but on their own, they're still are nearly half of the basketball shoe market.

“You want your brand associated with top players,” says Jack Plunkett, CEO of Plunkett Research. “You want your logo seen on those top players.”

Rocket science, it is not. But Plunkett says endorsements work, so Adidas is making the right moves.

“I think Nike’s so far ahead, though, in some ways that they’re presenting a huge challenge to the industry,” he says. “I mean I would hate to be in a position of taking Nike on head on.”

But he’s not saying Adidas shouldn't try.

“I know they’re a global brand with great financial power and they’re smart people. I just think it’s a big challenge for them.”

Your Wallet: Making Thanksgiving work for you

Fri, 2014-11-14 13:05

This week, we're discussing how you make Thanksgiving work, financially. 

We want to hear about your holiday budget, how you pick a turkey, whether you have plans for your leftovers. 

Let us in on the secrets of your Turkey-day economics. 

Send us an email, or reach us on Twitter, @MarketplaceWKND

Tech IRL: Do you go to the bank?

Fri, 2014-11-14 12:56

This week, we took an informal survey by asking people in the financial district of LA "When was the last time you went to the bank?" 

Lizzie O'Leary and Ben Johnson, Host of Marketplace Tech, go to that place where apparently a lot of you aren't going.

Listen to the full story in the audio player above.

Balancing work and life in 4 quadrants

Fri, 2014-11-14 12:51

When we talk about transitions in our daily lives, often it's a question of finding 20 minutes in a busy day to do the thing you love most. It's about transitioning from work life to home life, navigating the way we spend our personal time. 

The whole work/life balance question. 

It's a phrase that comes with baggage: questions about work/life balance can have a gendered element to them, implying that women are somehow supposed to ask for a raise, pack lunch for the kids, and take a bubble bath, all in the same day. Or these questions oversimplify the idea of balance, putting things on a since axis where work makes you unhappy and only "life" -- as in life outside of work -- brings you joy. 

Business coach Lauren Bacon sees things a bit differently. She considers work/life balance on a matrix with four quadrants, a customizable gauge of happiness and energy. 

 

 

Twitter's 'junk' rating is not as stinky as it sounds

Fri, 2014-11-14 11:01

On Thursday morning, Standard & Poor’s handed Twitter a corporate credit rating of "BB-." That's "junk" territory, and Twitter's stock spent the day falling nearly 9 percent. Who wants to own "junk," right? But should a label scare investors away?

"Junk is kind of a colloquial term," says Thomas Lys, a professor of accounting and management at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. "Probably the more professional term is 'non-investment grade.'"

The word “junk” oversells things, according to Lys. "If the headline read 'S&P rates Twitter Below Investment Grade,' people wouldn’t be jumping quite as much at the headline as 'junk,'" he says.

Basically a “junk” credit status means a company’s debt is high compared to its earnings.

"The rating agency is less certain that Twitter is going to make its debt payments," says Robert Neal, an associate professor of finance at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business.

On the scale of junk credit ratings, BB- isn't as stinky as, say a C, but it’s smelly enough that some investors will stay away.

"Many institutions, like pension funds, are restricted — they can only invest in investment-grade bonds," says David Kass, a clinical associate professor at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Fewer investors and the lower credit rating mean Twitter will pay more to borrow money — from those lenders out there willing to hold their nose. And today the company's stock price regained half of what it lost 24 hours before.

It won't be easy for ISIS to create its own currency

Fri, 2014-11-14 11:00

Apparently the leader of ISIS, the so-called Islamic State, has been doing some sovereign financial planning. He is aiming to get his self-declared caliphate into the currency business.

Announcements on jihadi websites say ISIS plans to mint gold, silver, and copper coins — to be the currency used throughout the extensive areas it now controls in Iraq and Syria. The coins will reportedly be based on the Islamic dinar used in early Islamic times, specifically during the Caliphate of Uthman in the year 634.

There are some logistical hurdles for ISIS, like acquiring enough precious metal, minting and distributing the coinage, mandating that people in its zone of control use the coins and not other currencies (U.S. dollars, euros, Iraqi and Syrian dinars, etc.).

And then there's the problem of having the currency shunned by the global family of nations, along with international banks and corporations — as proceeds of terrorism and money laundering.

Former Treasury official Ted Truman, now at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, says it would be a "weird, difficult system to manage."

“Prices of bread and so forth would go up and down with the price of copper or gold or silver on the global market," Truman says. "A unit today would buy one loaf of bread, and tomorrow, half a loaf of bread."

That could spread panic and hoarding,  because people wouldn’t know how much food or gasoline those coins would purchase on a day-to-day basis. 

And then there's the problem of trade: It's based on systems of credit and banking, not the exchange of precious metals and coins, says Fariborz Ghadar, director of the Center for Global Business Studies at Penn State University. This is crucial for ISIS, Ghadar says, which does plenty of trade in black-market oil, weapons and food using international currencies such as the U.S. dollar.

“Imagine somebody wants to buy wheat from a trader in Iraq and wants to use it in Damascus," Ghadar said. "Does that mean then you have to put gold in a truck and ship it and exchange it for the wheat that’s coming. And then what happens if on the middle of the road, somebody steals your gold?”

Creating a gold-and-silver based currency has another drawback for ISIS. The value of the coins would be set by the global metals markets — in New York, London, Tokyo and other international financial hubs. This is exactly what the self-declared caliphate says it’s trying to avoid. Its intent is to isolate its citizens from the ‘tyrannical’ global financial system that has ‘enslaved and impoverished’ Muslims, according to online communications from ISIS explaining the new currency plan. Having a precious metals-based currency might bind the self-declared state even tighter to global finance.

Patrick Heller, a numismatic expert and owner of Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Michigan, says minting its own coins could serve a useful political purpose for the militant group, which is governing, providing services and administering justice in territories it controls.

"It's brilliant," said Heller. "ISIS is trying to pretend it's a government. And one of the things that governments do is set a monetary standard, and issue coins and even currency."

Truman speculates that even if the new coinage doesn't end up being adopted as an effective means of day-to-day commerce in ISIS's sphere of influence, it could have a morale-boosting effect. He predicted that ISIS sympathizers around the world would buy and collect the new coins — decorated with images of shields and spears, mosques and minarets — as a way of showing support and expressing their religious affiliation with the group. 

Pimco co-founder got a $290 million bonus last year

Fri, 2014-11-14 11:00

If you need a reminder that you picked the wrong profession, this is your story.

Legendary bond trader Bill Gross, left his firm, Pimco, a couple of months ago. But according to Bloomberg he left with plenty of money in his back pocket. The report, which Pimco denied, said Gross got $290 million as a year-end bonus last year.

Two-hundred ninety. Million. Dollars.

How your car's computers can spy on you

Fri, 2014-11-14 11:00

A group of major car-makers has come out with a set of consumer privacy protection principles. In essence, they promise to place limits on the ways their cars will spy on us – and who will get the information the cars collect.

The document includes rules for geolocation (where you are), driver behavior (how fast you drive, whether you’re wearing a seat belt and your "braking habits") and personal information, including — this is right there in the document — biometrics. 

Of course, modern cars already collect plenty of data.

"Anyone who's taken their car to a dealer knows that there's a port the dealer plugs into, and it gives them all kinds of diagnostic information," says Jules Polonetsky, executive director of the Future of Privacy Forum, which has issued a white paper about privacy and connected cars.

"But that data used to be in your car. You went into the dealer— he had to plug in," Polonetsky says. "That wasn’t being sent anywhere."

Now that cars can connect directly to the Internet, there’s more data to float out there – and some of that data is already floating.

"You’re driving along and advertisements will come up for certain hotels that we use," says Lori Rectanus, author of a Government Accountability Office report on location-based services in cars

"We look at that and we go, ‘How did they know that?'" she says. "'How did they know we would be interested in that?’"

The GAO did not find GPS navigation companies selling consumer-location data to advertisers, according to Rectanus. But they could. Or they could get hacked.

The point is: They know where you are, and that's enough to raise concerns, says Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Lee Tien.

"Somebody might say, 'Wait a minute. I drove to my oncologist's. I drove to Planned Parenthood. I drove to this location at this time when there's an AA meeting,'" Tien says. "There's lots of things about location that people would rather, often, keep private."

What if the car has a video camera that could record what you — and your passenger — are doing and saying?  Think about who you tend to be in a car with: "Parents with children, co-workers, colleagues, friends, family," Tien says. "A lot of conversations, a lot of activity [take place] inside the car."

There’s also the question of how you drive: Should your car have the ability to issue you a speeding ticket?

The new privacy principles don’t impress Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who has pushed for federal legislation to protect privacy in cars. "The principles do not provide consumers with a choice, whether sensitive information is collected in the first place," he says.

After all, if you don’t want anyone to track you through your phone, you can always turn it off.

How your car's computers could expose you

Fri, 2014-11-14 11:00

A group of major car-makers has come out with a set of consumer privacy protection principles. In essence, they promise there will be limits to the ways their cars will spy on us and who will get the information the cars collect.

The document includes rules for geolocation (where you are), driver behavior (how fast you drive, whether you’re wearing a seat belt and your "braking habits") and personally-identifiable information, including — this is right there in the document — biometrics. 

Of course modern cars already collect lots of data.

"Anyone who's taken their car to a dealer knows that there's a port the dealer plugs into, and it gives them all kinds of diagnostic information," says Jules Polonetsky, executive director of the Future of Privacy Forum, which has issued a white paper about privacy and connected cars.

"But that data used to be in your car. You went into the dealer— he had to plug in," Polonetsky says. "That wasn’t being sent anywhere."

Now that cars can connect directly to the Internet, there’s more data to float out there.

Some of that data is already floating. "You’re driving along and advertisements will come up for certain hotels that we use," says  Lori Rectanus, author of a Government Accountability Office report on location-based services in cars

"We look at that and we go, ‘How did they know that?'" she says. "'How did they know we would be interested in that?’"

Rectanus says the GAO did not find GPS navigation companies selling consumer-location data to advertisers. But they could. Or they could get hacked.

The point is they know where you are, and that's enough to raise concerns, says Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Lee Tien.

"Somebody might say, 'Wait a minute. I drove to my oncologist's. I drove to Planned Parenthood. I drove to this location at this time when there's an AA meeting,'" Tien says. "There's lots of things about location that people would rather, often, keep private."

Or, he says, what if the car has a video camera that could record what you — and your passenger — are doing and saying?  Think about who you tend to be in a car with: "Parents with children, co-workers, colleagues, friends, family," Tien says. "A lot of conversations, a lot of activity inside the car."

There’s also the question of how you drive: Do you want your car to be able to issue you a speeding ticket?

The new privacy principles don’t impress Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts who has pushed for federal legislation to protect privacy in cars. "The principles do not provide consumers with a choice, whether sensitive information is collected in the first place," he says.

After all, if you don’t want anyone to track you through your phone, you can always turn it off.

Aasif Mandvi's cross-cultural journey

Fri, 2014-11-14 09:53

Best known as a contributor to "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," Aasif Mandvi usually reports satirical news pertaining to the Middle East – under the title "senior Muslim correspondent" or even "senior foreign-looking correspondent."

Mandvi was born in Mumbai, moved to England a year later and then to Florida as a teenager. He's written a collection of personal essays called "No Land's Man" that explore his cross-cultural identity and acting career.

Mandvi describes the journey to his birthplace:

There’s this little children’s theater where I first discovered my bug and penchant and proclivity for performing and acting. I went back after all these years and the place had burned down. The book, you know, is called "No Land’s Man" and I keep searching for a home and ultimately realize that the metaphor of the open field is really the home that I've been searching for.  

On working for "The Daily Show":

"The Daily Show" has put me in front of millions of people. It has allowed me to speak into the zeitgeist in a way that very few other jobs could have. There’s very little downside to being on "The Daily Show." It’s been a great opportunity for me.

I don’t think of myself as a comedian. I think of myself as an actor who does comedy. Even on "The Daily Show," I feel like that person that I play is a character who happens to have my name but he also has a team of very funny Ivy League-educated Jewish comedy writers that go around with him wherever he goes. 

On using his cultural identity as a drive for creative work:

What is it to be a South Asian American man? That question is constantly in my work and will continue to be and actually becomes my source of power now.  

5 ways to make a city more walkable

Fri, 2014-11-14 09:23

For about half a century, American cities and suburbs were built as car towns – with long stretches of road. And sometimes without sidewalks. But lately, things have been changing. Americans are seeking more intimate city spaces and putting a high premium on good public transportation. Millennials don't seem to want to buy cars, or drive much. In their quest for more walkable cities, they are teaming up with some unlikely allies: Retirees.

As the baby boomer generation ages, more and more of them want to remain at home – and remain independent. A whopping 63 percent of boomers don’t intend to move, according to a recent study from the Demand Institute, a nonprofit think-tank devoted to consumer issues. And the aging population is soaring – a joint project from Harvard University and the AARP predicts that by 2030, there will be 73 million adults over age 65 living in the U.S. 

Aging Americans increasingly ask for walkable cities. It's one of their top priorities, according to Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president of the AARP. What the AARP wants, it frequently gets. The organization is the eighth-largest lobbying group in the U.S. – its members are consummate voters, and more importantly, LeaMond says, "tend to be participants in the community. They come to community meetings, they're very involved." 

The AARP and the World Health Organization have focused on building more livable communities for the aging population through their Age-Friendly Cities and Communities program. Cities can adopt elements of a WHO-approved checklist to make communities safe and engaging for people who are aging. Many places have come a long way toward addressing infrastructure issues and community engagement, according to Tori Goldhammer, a Washington, D.C., occupational therapist who specializes in aging-in-place and fall prevention.

Yet investing in more walkable cities can be relatively affordable.

"There are many places where there's a lot of construction underway, and they're already making changes to the physical environment, and ensuring that it's done in the right way often doesn't add very many costs," LeaMond says.

Even when modifications are pricier, the investment can pay off.

"The more walkable a community is, the more the value of the property is going to be higher, and so there is an incentive for communities to look at this in more than just safety and mobility of its residents," LeaMond says. 

To better understand the importance of walkable communities, Lizzie O'Leary took a walk in the Washington, D.C., Eastern Market neighborhood with Goldhammer and a very special guest: her dad, Buck O'Leary.

On their walk they found these five factors that help make a city walkable:  

1. Keep sidewalks well-maintained

Sidewalk cracks, uneven bricks and tree roots are tripping hazards, especially when they're wet or icy. That’s one reason personal-injury lawyers exist. Slips and trips happen all the time on uneven sidewalks, according to occupational therapist Goldhammer. “Anything greater than a one-quarter inch in change of height can present a trip risk for anybody,” she says. Updating sidewalks that have undergone ordinary wear and tear would prevent injuries and make it easier to get around. 

2. Provide lots of outdoor seating

When you’re out for a stroll, it’s nice to be able have a seat, take a break, relax. Many communities that are participating in the AARP and World Health Organization’s Age-Friendly Cities initiative have made a lot of progress in this area. For instance, the New York City Department of Transportation says 1,500 benches will be installed by 2015 through its CityBench program. 

3. Allow enough time at crosswalks

The Beatles may cross the street with a bit of swagger, but for many people it’s not so easy. Crosswalks can become hazardous for people rushing across them and frustrating for drivers waiting for them to clear. “There might be six lanes of traffic and [it takes] 22 seconds to get across the street, and it’s really very difficult,” Goldhammer says. 

4. Turn on the lights

In addition to being a major crime deterrent, a lack of sufficient lighting (also known as darkness) makes it more difficult to see those cracks in the sidewalk. Once shrouded in darkness, potential hazards that aren’t a big deal during the day become exponentially riskier.

5. Build plenty of clearly marked bike paths

It's not always this adorable when someone gets side-swiped by a Huffy. Cyclists need their own lanes to ensure they have enough space to ride safely. And in the context of age-friendly cities, bike lanes also keep bikes off sidewalks, making both the roads and the walkways safer for everyone.

PODCAST: Phoneless phone tapping

Fri, 2014-11-14 08:41

Federal agents reportedly have the technology to spy on mobile phones without ever involving phone companies.  This revelation from the Wall Street Journal today involves the US Marshall's service using light airplanes with devices that trick cells phones into linking with the plane instead of the phone company's cell phone towers. We talked with  Devlin Barrett, the Wall Street Journal reporter with the scoop this morning.  Plus: Volkswagen is laying out a plan to recognize the United Auto Workers Union at its only U.S. plant--the one in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It's not quite what the union was hoping for. WPLN's Blake Farmer reports. Finally: Augusta National sees itself as a very exclusive golf club, indeed. Two years ago, it refused admission to no less than Chief Executive Officer of International Business Machines. Ginni Rometty is female and until recently, Augusta National didn't admit women. Now there is a report the IBM CEO has been let in.

Silicon Tally: Bounce with Me

Fri, 2014-11-14 02:30

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, we're joined by David Banks, co-editor of the blog Cyborgology.

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Tallying the Secret Service's "comedy of errors"

Fri, 2014-11-14 02:00
36

That's how many people have gotten over the White House fence since 1973, the Washington Post reports. An investigation found many layers of security failed on September 19, the report found, allowing a man to hop the fence, run through the White House lawn and into the East Room before he was detained. An agent with an attack dog was taking a personal call without a radio on him, for instance, and several others overestimated various barriers and didn't react in time as a result. One congressman called the incident "a comedy of errors."

2.9 percent

The annual increase this year for in-state students at public four-year colleges, falling under 3 percent for the first time since 1975, Vox reported. Growth is slowing down, but school is still more expensive than ever; the College Board found tuition at public four-year schools is three times higher than it was in the 1980s, when adjusting for inflation. A lot of those hikes happened during the recession. Meanwhile, family income has fallen or stayed flat.

1 percent

That's how many engineers at Facebook, Google and Twitter are black, and 3 percent are hispanic. The vast majority of employees of these and other companies in Silicon Valley are men. Bloomberg talked to dozens of women and people of color working in tech about their experiences. Employees talked about feeling isolated, with far more incentive to try to fit in with the status quo than to push for more diversity at work.

$2.80

The Energy Department projects that the national average price per gallon of gas will continue to drop throughout the end of the year to $2.80 in December. That’s especially good news for low-income drivers, who generally have to commute much more to work.

2 bounces

Don’t be fooled by decoy answers on this week’s Silicon Tally—2 bounces is how many times the Phillae Space Probe bounced before landing safely on the surface of a comet. But you already knew that, so why not take our quiz to test your knowledge of the week in tech news?

50 Starbucks

That’s how many Starbucks exist in the Netherlands. Consider this as you’re sipping your Chestnut Praline latte: On Friday, the European Union authorities accused the Netherlands of cutting Starbucks a deal (i.e. tax breaks) when the green mermaid announced it would move its European headquarters to the UK.

The big economic impact of data about the weather

Fri, 2014-11-14 02:00

NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, says it was the target of an Internet-based hacking attack “in recent weeks.”

The federal agency, which operates the National Weather Service, is being tight-lipped about the details of the attack and its subsequent decision to take down some of its websites in response.

The “impacts were temporary and all services have been fully restored,” NOAA said in a written statement. The agency also said the incident did not compromise its ability to offer forecasts to the public.

But, according to the Washington Post, there was a disruption of some weather data, including information provided to European weather forecasting counterparts. Such weather data is critical to a number of industries and government operations, all of which rely on raw data provided by the National Weather Service.

"Most airlines have their own weather prediction and monitoring operation,” but rely on NWS raw data, says Ross Aimer, a retired United Airlines pilot and aviation consultant. Cockpits inside more modern airplanes also have satellite weather images beamed in, Aimer says.

The outage, which reportedly occurred in October during the hurricane season, also exposes the reliance on government weather data for disaster planners.

“We see a storm coming ... and all the information you can have prompts decisions about when you evacuate, where do you move people to, what places will be safe and what places will be inundated,” says Gary Cecchine, a senior policy analyst at RAND Corporation.

In Chicago, for example, forecasts help determine when to open the water gates into Lake Michigan to prevent flooding. 

Falling gas prices are a big help for the low-income

Fri, 2014-11-14 02:00

In a surprising reversal from previous forecasts, the U.S. Energy Department is now predicting that the average price of gasoline will remain below $3.00 a gallon next year.

That’s a 44-cent drop from its previous outlook, and especially good news for the working poor since the vast majority of workers (both above and below the poverty line) commute to work by car.

With gas now selling for $2.85 a gallon at a gas station, just outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Jesse Foster says he’s paying $10 less to fill his tank than he was even a few weeks ago.

“Yeah, it’s a lot of savings,” says Foster, “because I drive a Suburban. So it’s real good news.”

It’s particularly good news if you work for minimum wage. Since poorer commuters spend a greater percentage of their income on gas, any relief at the pump creates a ripple effect of benefits.

“Which might mean that you don’t run out of healthy foods,” says Margaret Simms, director of the Low-Income Working Families Project at the Urban Institute. “It also means that maybe you can pay a bill that you had to skip this month because you had to put gas in your car.”

Simms also points out that any data the government has on commuters treats both low and high-income drivers the same, which might present a false picture since many low-income workers drive less fuel-efficient cars.

The Energy Department projects that gas prices will continue dropping for the remainder of the year, with a national average of $2.80 a gallon expected for December.

Volkswagen deal revs up union hopes in the South

Fri, 2014-11-14 02:00

This week Volkswagen laid out a plan to recognize the United Auto Workers at its Tennessee plant, though it’s not quite what the union was hoping for.

The UAW has been desperate to organize one of the foreign-owned plants in the South as it rebuilds its membership rolls. And the South is where so many of the auto jobs are these days.

“The plants are located here. It’s important for us to organize them,” UAW president Dennis Williams said at a ceremony establishing a local chapter in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The UAW’s southern strategy appeared to be snuffed out in February when workers at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant voted down union representation. This was at an automaker that had been welcoming to the union.

Instead of trying its luck elsewhere, the UAW has tried a side door. It started a local chapter even without recognition from Volkswagen.

The UAW has called this week’s policy change at Volkswagen a “step forward.” But it still doesn’t accomplish the Detroit-based union’s ultimate goal.

The policy allows for multiple unions to have different levels of representation. And no one would get exclusive bargaining rights. For that reason, some Republican politicians who had been campaigning against the UAW are cheering.

“I think it’s a victory for the workers, for Volkswagen and for Chattanooga, in particular,” said Gerald McCormick, majority leader of the Tennessee state house.

Republicans have fought to keep the UAW from getting a foothold in the region because they see the union as damaging to the business climate.

The union could use a big win to go into other plants with a head of steam.

“We’re talking to Nissan workers, we’re talking to Mercedes workers. We talk to BMW workers,” UAW secretary Gary Casteel said during the organizing push. “Which one of those has the amount of interest from employees that we would start an organizing drive? We’d have to assess that.”

But Casteel points out that the UAW has a long history in the south, just not in the big multinational plants.

Membership has even grown in recent years, but labor attorney Cliff Hammond says they’re small shops.

“I don’t think people really appreciate how difficult it is to—even in Michigan, Ohio—win a big plant, let alone down in the South where you don’t have your grassroots,” Hammond said.

And despite inroads at Volkswagen, no one is counting this week as the momentum-shifting win the UAW has been looking for. 

 

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