Thanksgiving shopping creep, Gray Thursday, or whatever you call it, stores are opening their doors today. They are trying to get us to buy instead of falling asleep on the couch. And a lot of folks are grumpy about it. But why? A whole lot of other places are open too.
On my way to work this Thanksgiving, I stopped at the grocery store to buy some milk and a pumpkin pie. I stood in line for a latte at the coffee shop. People were working. People were buying.
“There’s a tremendous amount of commerce going on on Thanksgiving,” says Boston College professor Ellen Ruppel Shell. “For some reason people are outraged by the idea of retailers being open on Thanksgiving, but really it’s just more of the same.”
Restaurants are cooking. Airlines are flying. Movie theaters are popping popcorn. And that Ravens-Steelers game isn’t going to get played without a whole lot of folks hard at work. So, what’s the big deal about retail stores opening up on Thanksgiving day?
“Shopping is one of those things that is viewed as crass commercialism,” says Wake Forest University professor Roger Beahm. But, Beahm says Thanksgiving shopping makes some sense: Not everyone wants to watch football. For some folks, racing around Target is the perfect post-gorging activity.
“We are continuing to evolve as a society,” he says, “traditions change over time, and so we’re seeing a new tradition move into place.”
This evolution -- adding shopping to a list of Thanksgiving day traditions -- shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, says Joseph Goodman, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis.
"If Thanksgiving and apple pie are American, so is free market and shopping," he says. "What better way to celebrate to celebrate Thanksgiving, some people might say, then to celebrate the free market of America.”
Being American is also about doing what you want. Making your own call. Whether it’s buying a TV. Or sitting at home with family. Digesting. Cheering on your team. And dozing off.
Thanksgiving comes later than usual this year -- and retailers are panicking.
Going to work today -- not everyone is bummed about it.
Thanksgiving is, at least in name and spirit, a day to reflect on things for which we are grateful. Its origins date back to harvest-time celebrations of gratitude that past cultures have observed.
The modern iteration is a decidedly North American practice (remember, Canada celebrates their Thanksgiving in October). The holiday's importance in American culture has evolved from early colonial religious traditions, to an official civic holiday proclaimed by President Lincoln, to a symbol of American perseverence and freedom during the Great Depression.
Nowadays, it seems the best and worst of our economy is the defining characteristic of Thanksgiving, as the ever-expanding Black Friday that marks the start of the Christmas shopping season tends to dominate most discussion of the holiday. But getting out to shop is not the only economic legacy of Turkey Day. Here are a few business trends that owe either their existence, or at least a good chunk of their success, to Thanksgiving.
1. Black Friday. Might as well start out with the most obvious economic trend that's popped up around Thanksgiving. The day after Thanksgiving has become symbolic of consumer culture, and how reliant our economy is on that consumer behavior, as shoppers rush to get their Christmas shopping done and to take advantage of "big" discounts from retailers. Conventional wisdom tells us that the name, "Black Friday," refers to the idea that it's the day retailers start making profits, known as being "in the black." Some research has found the term actually originated from police officers in 1960s Philadelphia who disparaged the heavy traffic they found themselves in as shoppers crowded retailers.
But why did Black Friday start in the first place, and why that particular weekend right after Thanksgiving? The most likely explanation is that unlike other holidays, most non-retail employees have both Thanksgiving and the day after off, followed by a weekend, which increases the number of potential shoppers. As the decades wore on and the media became more fond of the seasonal story, Black Friday became the busiest shopping day of the year in 2005, stealing away the top spot from the last Saturday before Christmas. Now, Black Friday has become a beast all of its own, threatening to devour the holiday that begat it as more retailers are opening their doors on Thanksgiving itself.
2. Charity. As ugly as Black Friday can sometimes get, Thanksgiving does encourage some admirable economic behavior as well. The image of the Thanksgiving food drive is as common as the waves of shoppers, if not as flashy. Charities actually find the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons to be their busiest times of year; some food banks get 60 percent of their donations between September and December, and some even get so many volunteers that they have to turn some away.
3. Turkey. It's no surprise that the turkey industry owes its success to "Turkey Day," as millions of the birds are served up all at once. Farmers and meatpackers actually stockpile turkey just for Thanksgiving so they can meet demand. It goes a bit deeper than that too; like many livestock animals that are raised on an industrial scale, turkeys as we know them today wouldn't exist without the selective breeding techniques that made them genetically-engineered (in the old-fashioned sense) to please human palates. This is especially true for turkeys, as since the wild variety of the birds don't have much of the coveted white meat on them, humans have bred domesticated turkeys with breasts so large that they can't actually reproduce naturally.
4. TV Dinners. Thanksgiving is also responsible for another famous bit of food culture -- the frozen, pre-packaged meal -- or so the story goes. According to marketing industry legend, the Swanson brothers found their food company overstocked with about 260 extra tons of Thanksgiving turkey in 1953. Needing to do something with the leftovers, the company looked to employees for suggestions. Salesman Gerry Thomas, inspired by the aluminum trays airlines had started using to serve in-flight meals, suggested the idea of dividing the the turkey into cheap, frozen meals. While the company didn't invent the process of flash-freezing the food, it was their bright idea to attach their marketing campaign to the lastest craze sweeping the nation: Television. Thus, Thanksgiving gave us the TV dinner -- if you believe the story.
5. Bars' busiest drinking night. The day after Thanksgiving is the year's busiest shopping day, and the night before is the year's busiest drinking night, at least according to bartenders. Mostly anecdotal evidence points to Thanksgiving Eve as the biggest drinking night of the year, bigger even than New Years Eve or St. Patrick's Day. Restaurants and bars do report a big jump in business the night before the holiday, so there might be a grain of truth to the night's reputation. It makes sense when you consider that unlike other holidays, nearly every American has Thanksgiving off (unless you work retail or food service) and nobody wants to cook the night before Thanksgiving, making that particular Wednesday night a perfect time to relax. It's not just bars that have caught on to the trend, though, as many police organizations ramp up anti-drunk driving measures that night as well.
Black Friday is upon us and this year is technically the shortest holiday shopping season possible. That's because Thanksgiving falls on the latest possible Thursday this month of November.
And that's making retailers nervous, says Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial.
"It's one of the reasons they've got a bunch of retailers opening on Thanksgiving Day," says Swonk, "so some people won't enjoying Thanksgiving, they'll be out shopping."
She says that even though most consumers shop for gifts between December 15-25, retailers are still worried.
"It will be the most promotional and sales-oriented holiday season we've seen really since about 2008," she says.
Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial, spoke with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio. Click here to listen to the full interview.
Food concession company Aramark is expected to launch its roadshow next week, as it prepares for what could be a $1 billion initial public offering. The purveyor of hot dogs in stadiums and on college campuses is heavily leveraged and some wonder if it is really a billion dollar business.
University of Florida finance professor Jay Ritter doesn't know if he’s ever eaten an Aramark hot dog. But if he did, it was probably at the stadium where the Gators play football.
"I’m sure I have although," he adds. "I’m more focused on the game than who owns the concession stand."
Ritter is an IPO specialist. He says, while Aramark’s hot dogs may not be memorable, what’s noteworthy is that it’s one of only a few companies to go public three times.
"There have been three other companies that have gone public, then gone private, gone public, gone private and then gone public again," Ritter says.
One reason Aramark is going public this time is debt -- the company is carrying nearly $6 billion.
Which, according to supermarket guru Phil Lambert, "It’s larger than probably it should be."
Debt is one of the company's problems, but, Lambert says, another more entrenched issue for Aramark is that people are eating out less and skipping the concession stand altogether.
"People just aren't willing to spend that $10 for a hot dog anymore," he says.
Millions of people will head to the movies this weekend. It's one of the biggest opportunities for blockbusters and movie studios to rake it in. But it's also a time when some people will try to bootleg new movies. With good cameras and audio equipment becoming smaller and more powerful all the time, the issue is becoming an even larger concern for the film industry.
A new company called PirateEye is helping the situation by installing a technology that uses lasers and sensors to find camera lenses in the audience and alert the theater. Brian Dunn, CEO of PirateEye, says the technology originated for use in the military to detect snipers, but his company adapted it for use in movie theaters. He tells Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson of one example of catching somebody real-time in a theater in the Bronx trying to bootleg a movie.
"A guy showed up at Friday at 11 o'clock for the first show and pulled out his camera and we captured the evidence and New York City police arrested him."
Dunn says the company is testing other practical applications of PirateEye beyond catching bootleggers, such as using the technology for testing audience reactions, demographic analysis, and developing applications to make pre-show advertising more relevant.
Brian Dunn, CEO of PirateEye, spoke with Marketplace Tech Ben Johnson. Click on the audio player above to hear more.
When it comes to this week's holiday shopping plans, we seem to be looking at another Year of the Tablet. But that isn't the only shopping trend this year centered around gadgets. Smart devices like Wi-Fi capable smoke detectors and home-locking systems that talk to your smartphone are popping up everywhere.
Lindsey Turrentine, CNET editor-in-chief, says these not-so-essential stocking stuffers may be seem frivolous, but they are easy to use and can help get even the least tech-savvy person more connected with gadgets.
Lindsey Turrentine, CNET editor-in-chief, spoke with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson. Click on the audio player above to hear the full interview.
Terry Gibbons is a nurse who's worked many a Thanksgiving caring for patients. Then, to allow more time to help with her elderly mother, she took at job a big department store chain near her home in Rochester, Minnesota. She thought it would be alright since we would get Thanksgiving off at least. She even invited guests for the big meal at her home. But, unfortunately for Gibbons, retail needs got in the way.
"I was signed up for a shift that I was not available for," she says. "The one and only day I will have my entire family."
But not everyone is unhappy about working on Thanksgiving. Phyllis Concorda from North Wildwood, New Jersey will also be working on Turkey Day.
"I for one in this economy am happy to be working on Thanksgiving," says Concorda. "Some of us, not all of us, who are working get holiday pay, so for those of us who don't have any entertaining to do," she says "it's a great opportunity for many of us to make this extra money."
Terry Gibbons and Phyllis Concorda spoke with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio. Click on the audio player above to hear the full interview.
It's supposed to be a time of thanks, not regrets. But if you had bought all the stocks listed in Japan's Nikkei Index last Thanksgiving, the return by this morning would have been 71 percent.
Today the key index in Tokyo went up another 1.8 percent to get very close to a six year high. Some of this was optimism projected from New York where the S&P 500 hit a record high of 1808 yesterday.
The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes says all the easy money as a result of quantitative easing in the country has been pushing down the value of the yen.
"A weaker yen means bigger profits for Japanese companies, cheaper products for Japanese exports, and so that has boosted confidence the Japanese economy is going to continue improving and that profits are going to increase again next year as they have this year."
The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes spoke with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio. Click on the audio above to hear the full interview.
Bad weather leading up to today’s Thanksgiving holiday has been snarling travel at one of the busiest times of the year for the country’s airports, but many of them have come a long way toward making our time in the terminals a lot less stressful.
"There's more awareness of that passenger experience," says Julia Bradley Rayfield, a senior designer with Gresham Smith & partners whose specialty is airports and other "high-abuse" interiors. "There’s been a realization, I think, that there was revenue there if people spent a little more time in the airport and enjoyed themselves while they were there."
A report from the Global Gateway Alliance says 80 percent of the country’s major airports have spas and museums and about a third have nap rooms. More local restaurants are popping up in terminals to compliment other forms of local flavor, including live music at Nashville International or the putting green at the airport in Palm Beach.
One driving force is that federal funds for airport maintenance are strained, according to Chris Oswald with the Airports Council International.
"Airports themselves are finding themselves under a lot of pressure to find ways to diversify their revenue streams and make themselves as successful a business entity as they can," he explains.
Oswald's favorite new feature is usually free -- he says the airport observation deck is making a comeback.
Millions are expected to shop this Thanksgiving weekend, but not everyone has big screen TVs and tablets on their shopping list. Hannah Trafton, a college junior in Milwaukee, Wisconsin has more practical items in mind.
"A Tupperware set, a hand mixer, a vacuum, new sheets for my bed, towels, a rug..."
Trafton geared up for Black Friday with detailed lists and a plan of attack of which stores she's planning to go to and at what time.
"My parents think I am being ridiculous," she says. But as a former retail employee, she says she knows the benefit of shopping this weekend.
"Right now I can take a little bit of my check and get a lot more, than taking that same amount and going to the store right before Christmas."
Hanna Trafton spoke with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio.
A U.S. bankruptcy judge has cleared the way for a merger between U.S. Airways and American Airlines’ parent company, AMR. The ruling Wednesday okayed an anti-trust settlement with the Department of Justice. The merger is part of American’s plan to get out of bankruptcy after two years and repay creditors. The corporate deal will result in the world’s biggest airline.
It may be the last U.S. airline merger in a long time. The industry has now whittled itself down to four carriers that will dominate about 80 percent of the domestic market -- Southwest, United, Delta and the new "American Airlines Group." Mike Boyd, president of the consulting firm Boyd Group International, says after a decade of intense consolidation, he expects the industry to enjoy a little stability.
"The crazy people are gone," he says. "Fuel prices, they’re high, but they’re stabilized. There’s not a lot of excess capacity coming online. So the airline industry, financially, has a pretty healthy future."
So what should passengers expect? Higher prices, according to some analysts. However, Darryl Jenkins, chairman of the American Aviation Institute, insists that won’t be due to fewer airlines.
"I think this is one of the great myths that consolidation in and of itself will force ticket prices up," Jenkins says. "What’s more likely is if we see the price of jet fuel going up again, that will have a tremendous effect."
Also, expect a few glitches, technical and otherwise, as American and U.S. Airways merge. Jenkins says there are hundreds of thousands of decisions and changes to be made when two big airlines marry. There are bound to be some problems.
When America West took over U.S. Airways in 2005, for example, the online reservations system and check-in kiosks malfunctioned. Customers got angry. Adam Pilarski, senior vice president at the consulting firm Avitas, says that was "a textbook example of how not to do it."
If the American-U.S. Airways merger suffers too many problems that adversely affect business, Pilarski says, that could invite rivals to pounce. "If the competitors sense blood in the water, if they sense that the new airline is not doing well, they may try to gain market share, they may try to enter new markets," he says. "They may perceive them as being weak and this is the time to strike."
The two airlines are expected to officially merge on Dec. 9. Shares of the new company will trade on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol AAL.
We’re coming up on two months since the government started signing folks up for the new Obamacare health exchanges, and let’s just say it hasn’t been the smoothest rollout in American history. If you look back a bit, there are a few times the government has pretty successfully managed to enroll a huge number of people. Like Social Security, and Medicare. So what’s so different this time?
First of all, and most obviously, this time it’s all about the website. In the fall of 1936, when the government wanted to get everybody over 65 to sign up for Social Security, the only way to connect with them was the Postal Service.
Then, they invented a whole new system to identify all of us – the social security number. Everyone’s information was stored in a cavernous warehouse in Baltimore.
“They had, you know, millions and millions of pieces of paper and numbers to keep track of, but they had people to do it, they had enough expertise to do it,” says Ed Berkowitz is a history professor George Washington University. “I don’t think we quite have that luxury today in terms of manpower because the government is very constrained in its operations.”
Also, it was easier to identify everyone who was over 65. With healthcare today, it’s tricky to figure out which Americans don’t have insurance. For Social Security, you didn’t get a choice – it was law and you had to sign up. 30 years later, signing people up for Medicare was a little more complicated. But still way simpler than Obamacare is. Ted Marmor is an emeritus professor at Yale who was part of the government team that rolled out Medicare.
“It’s easy to make the case to an older American in 1966, ‘you know what, you’ve got hospital insurance now that you’ve already paid for,’” says Marmor. “And this is going to be done under the auspices of the Social Security Administration, in which there was considerable public trust.”
The Social Security Administration used the whole apparatus they’d built over the previous 30 years to construct the new Medicare program. There were leaders who were experienced, everybody knew what their job was, and Marmor says there was a clear chain of command.
“Now just contrast that with the apparatus since March of 2010 and now. Do you have any comparable sense of that?” asks Marmor. “No, you don’t because it isn’t here.”
During the Medicare rollout, there were Social Security offices all over the country that people could just walk into and ask a question. We actually do have something like that today. Problem is, there’s just two. And they’re both in Connecticut.
Officials at the Connecticut healthcare exchange say the enrollment centers in New Haven and New Britain are the only storefront locations in the country specifically for helping people enroll in Obamacare. Sure, around the country there are navigators and application counselors. You can call them up or find them at health fairs. But Ted Marmor says it’s not the same as having a well established location in every town, like the Social Security offices back in the day.
For Jermaine Monk, who came to sign up at the New Haven enrollment center, the hardest part was creating a password that had enough numbers and symbols to satisfy the state’s website.
“I think it worked fine,” says Monk. “It actually didn’t take as long as I thought. I thought it would take maybe four hours or something.”
Of course, it’s not as easy other places, especially in states that aren’t as on board with the whole exchange thing. Jonathan Oberlander, who’s a health policy professor UNC Chapel Hill, says that’s a key difference between the Obamacare rollout and the big ones of yesteryear. Social Security and Medicare were federal programs through and through.
“And one of the Achilles Heels in Obamacare is that its success depends on the cooperation of states that want the law to fail,” says Oberlander.
He says as much as the current rollout has been bungled, when you compare it to Social Security and Medicare, this one was just a lot harder from the beginning.
Helaine Olen says:
"Coming out against financial literacy is like coming out against apple pie. What on earth could be wrong about learning about your finances, right? But in fact, what I learned when I looked at it very carefully, that financially literacy had simply become a very personal way of attempting to solve what is essentially an economic and polical problem. Which is that the financial marketplace has become extremely complicated in the last 30-40 years. And at the same time, our ability to keep up financially has fallen behind, with income stagnantion and inequality"
"I think these efforts are helpful, but I think they miss the bigger point, and the bigger point is this: We've been thrown out there, almost defenseless, and we're being told, 'you can master all of this.' And some people can, but many can't, and many can't because of things that aren't their fault. We need to look at the financial structure"
Dan Kadlec says:
"Long-term, I think people need to be able to fend for themselves. This notion of 'just-in-time' education sounds nice, but it's really more problematic than teaching financial education. The time to learn about mortgages isn't when you're sitting down to sign the document, that would be just-in-time. The time is when you start thinking about buying a house, so that you know what houses you should even be looking at. The long-term solution: Start [teaching financial literacy] in Kindergarten, make it mandatory through 12th grade. Teach it as either part of other courses or as a standalone course, but teach it every year and build year after year as you do with any other subject."
What do you think? Leave a comment or vote!
There are a few news stories you can pretty much guarantee to see during the holiday season these days. Ones about air travel anguish, fried turkey fiascos and desperate parents battling tooth, nail and sometimes fist over this year's hot toy. And nearly every year for the past two decades, one of those hot toys has been some incarnation of Elmo. There's been Rock ‘n Roll Elmo, Chicken Dance Elmo, Hokey Pokey Elmo, TMX Elmo, Let’s Rock Elmo and the one that started it all (for better or for worse) Tickle Me Elmo. All of them have been blockbuster sellers, and Quartz writer Roberto Ferdman says they all make a big statement about the current status of the toy industry in America. Ferdman wrote an article for qz.com titled, "From Tickle Me Elmo to Big Hugs Elmo: nearly two decades of Christmas toy dominance." He says Elmo's appeal is still somewhat of a mystery, even to toy industry experts.
" I remember one analyst in particular going through what exactly is so appealing to pre-schoolers about (Elmo). You know, Elmo is like a pre-schooler, Elmo can speak, Elmo is warm and fuzzy and nice so parents like Elmo. And then I spoke to another analyst who said that if anybody says they know why Elmo's really popular, they're probably making it up."
This final note might be a bit worrisome for Sriracha lovers.
Sriracha, the hot chili sauce, is produced at a plant in Southern California. The factory has now been partially shut down under a judge's order.
Residents who live near the plant complained of heartburn, asthma and nosebleeds that they said were caused by the spicy smells coming from the Sriracha plant.
The city and the factory owner -- Huy Fung foods -- are trying to come up with a solution that works for people who live there and for those who love to buy and eat the spicy red stuff.
Check out our exclusive interview with the founder of Sriracha where reveals why he prices his sauce the way he does.
The Obama adminstration has delayed yet another element of the Affordable Care Act health care law. The White House says that an online marketplace for small businesses to buy coverage, called Small Business Health Options Program or SHOP exchanges, will be delayed until next November.
Marketplace's Lizzie O'Leary asked our health care reporter Dan Gorenstein to answer some questions about Obamacare so that we all have something to say when our Thanksgiving dinner conversation turns to the topic.
Q. Who does this rule apply to?
A. Small businesses, according to the ACA. That is: "For 2014, the SHOP Marketplace is open to employers with 50 or fewer full-time-equivalent employees (FTEs). You may qualify for tax credits if you use SHOP."
Q. How big a deal is this delay?
A. "Small businesses are still going to be able to use the shopping qualities, checking the prices if you will, of the different insurance policies that are offered ... but they aren't going to actually be able to enroll online."
Q. Why do it?
A. Capacity: "They're trying to prioritize things ... the SHOP exchanges are a lower priority, frankly, than making sure that consumers can go online and use healthcare.gov."
Q. So what about healthcare.gov? How is that going? Will it be able to handle 50,000 users at a time (as promised) on Dec. 1?
Q. Will the IT folks for healthcare.gov be working on Thanskgiving?
A. The administration says tech workers continue to work around the clock to monitor and upgrade healthcare.gov, including on Thanksgiving.
The second Hunger Games film, "Catching Fire," opened last Friday. It earned almost $160 million over the weekend, a record for a November release. And adults are lining up to see the movie, right next to teenaged fans.
I'll be one of them. I read the Harry Potter books and the Hunger Games series, saw the movies and loved every minute of them. But why are so many adults, like me, attracted by entertainment aimed at young adults? Tom Adams thinks he knows.
He says, “Grown ups want to be kids.”
Adams is research director, US Media, for IHS. He read the Harry Potter books with his kids, saw those movies and the first Hunger Games movie.
He explains, “One of the greatest ways to forget that you’re a 55-year-old is to go into a dark movie theater and have an amazing story about young adults told.”
David Levithan is vice president , publisher and editorial director of Scholastic. He published the Hunger Games books. The books focus on struggles against oppression. A very adult theme. Levithan says there’s another reason for the adult appeal of the Hunger Games and Harry Potter movies. They used big, older stars.
He says, “Once the franchises established themselves they knew they could get incredible talent, which does have appeal both to the teens and adults.”
But Levithan says these movies are firmly marketed at the teen audience. They just happen to appeal to adults, too. Same with the books. Elizabeth Chandler is co-founder of Goodreads.com. She followed the progress of the Hunger Games series.
She says, “We noticed that the same number of 32 year olds are reading the book as the number of 15 year olds.”
Chandler says it boils down to this. Whether you’re talking about Hunger Games, the Twilight series, or Harry Potter, if it’s a great, gut wrenching story, people will read it.
The Obama administration is making moves that would limit the political campaigning of certain tax-exempt groups. Proposed Internal Revenue Service rules would impact 501(c)(4) groups, much discussed in the last election cycle. Political operatives on both sides use them to spend big money from anonymous donors. If the rules go into effect, so-called dark money may have to find new ways into politics.
How? Let's imagine a hypothetical donor, say, Count Dracula. (Feel free to imagine him as a Democrat or Republican, whatever fits your own political bias.) Imagine the Count is American and has been quietly funding a 501(c)(4) helping politicians who support tax breaks for fang maintenance and tariffs on garlic. If these new rules go into effect, Dracula could try shifting his money to a Super PAC.
“I would expect that they might be a more popular target for big donors who don’t fear media scrutiny,” says Sheila Krumholz executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a groups that tracks money in politics.
Super PACs disclose donors. That’s fine if you’re Sheldon Adelson or George Soros, two billionaires who publicly support causes on the right and left, respectively. But vampires are not big on daylight. Donors who want to give secretly would have to find other ways to give under the new rules.
Many election law observers expect the new rules would mean publicity-averse donors would move their money through 501(c)(6) organizations. These are trade groups, such as chambers of commerce. Political operatives could even try to work through more obscure sections of the tax code. Using a lesser-known vehicle like a 501(c)(19) group — typically used by veterans organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars — only sounds far-fetched until a clever election lawyer finds a way.
“A few years ago, nobody thought you could use a 501(c)(4) in a campaign context,” says Rick Hasen, election law and political science professor at the University of California-Irvine. “So it’s possible that you could try to use another one of these organizations.”
Count Dracula could also form an LLC, which might allow him to secretly fund a political group. Donations have always had a way of getting around new rules.
“Money will find its way into the system one way or the other,” says veteran election lawyer Ken Gross, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
But let’s be careful not to say Dracula’s bad just because he wants to give anonymously. If you read the book, you know he made a fine roast chicken and generously shared his brandy. Not a bad guy to have around.
Libertarian critics object to many campaign finance regulations on free speech and privacy grounds. They point out that people may have good reasons to want to give anonymously, such as fear of harassment tied to their political views. There’s a fear that excessive regulations hinder political participation.
“It’s a bad thing to get carried away and make it hard for people to engage in political speech,” says Bradley Smith, a former Federal Election Commission chair and founder of the Center for Competitive Politics, a group that’s broadly skeptical of campaign finance regulations.
These rules are just a proposal at this point. The battle over them could last long enough to try the patience even of the undead. And if Dracula were a big money political donor, the loudest and most sinister laugh might come from his election lawyer. A complicated fight over campaign finance rules is great for the legal business.
Mark Garrison: We don’t wanna pick on either party. So let’s use a fictional character, a fan of dark money. Yup, we’re dragging out the organ and Count Dracula. You’re welcome. Feel free to imagine him as Democrat or Republican as fits your own bias. Let’s say the Count is American and has been quietly funding a 501(c)(4) helping politicians who support tax breaks for fang maintenance and, I dunno, tariffs on garlic. If these new rules happen, he could try a SuperPAC.
Sheila Krumholz: I would expect that they might be a more popular target for big donors who don’t fear media scrutiny.
Sheila Krumholz is with the Center for Responsive Politics. SuperPACs disclose donors, which is fine if you’re Sheldon Adelson or George Soros, billionaires publicly spending big on both sides. But vampires, not big on daylight. UC Irvine election law professor Rick Hasen says donors would look for other ways to give secretly.
Rick Hasen: One possibility is the activity will just shift to (c)(6) trade organizations, even (c)(19) veterans organizations.
501(c)(19)? I’ll be honest, I had to look that one up. It sounds pretty far-fetched, political operatives using some VFW post.
Hasen: Well, a few years ago, nobody thought you could use a 501(c)(4) in a campaign context and so it’s possible that you could try to use another one of these organizations.
Count Dracula could also form an LLC, which might allow him to secretly fund a political group. Veteran election lawyer Ken Gross says donations have always gotten around new rules.
Ken Gross: Money will find its way into the system one way or the other.
But let’s not say Dracula’s bad because he wants to give anonymously. He may have good reasons. Bradley Smith is a former Federal Election Commission chair, who now chairs a group skeptical of campaign finance regulations.
Bradley Smith: It’s a bad thing to get carried away and make it hard for people to engage in political speech.
These rules are a proposal. The battle over them could last long enough to try the patience even of the undead.
That’s actually Dracula’s election lawyer. A complicated fight is great for the legal business. I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.
These are tough times to be a cabdriver. For more and more riders, black is the new yellow; they prefer summoning an Uber towncar with a smartphone, over calling for a taxi. Ride-sharing has expanded to dozens of U.S. cities. But taxis aren't going down without a fight.
Imagine 60-hour workweeks, waking at 3 a.m. to spend your whole day navigating Los Angeles traffic, hoping to make $150, tops. That's what Frances Nazarian does. She's driven a cab for over a decade. She needs the money to help put her youngest daughter through Princeton.
She says she has the best job in the world. "I've had days when I think I'm on 'Candid camera' because everyone who gets in my cab is going on an $80 or $100 ride," she says.
But ask what she thinks about ride-sharing services like Uber. "Well, obviously, I think they suck," she says.
Nazarian says in her house, Uber has become a four-letter word. "My sister called and she's like 'Have you heard of Uber?' I was like, 'Your sister drives a taxi and you're calling and saying how great Uber is? Could you just shut up?'''
Nazarian says business is slower since ridesharing came to town, but that's not what bothers her. She says it's the unfair competition. The likes of Uber don't have nearly as many regulatory hoops to jump through. Unlike taxis, they can raise their prices during peak times. And they can pick and choose which rides they accept and which neighborhoods they go to.
"I guarantee I could get on the Uber app right now and call from where we are right now, South Central, and not one Uber driver would take that call, or Lyft or Sidecar," she says. "Basically they want to work in the most affluent areas of town."
Uber has been advertising for drivers in Los Angeles, promising they can make up to $60,000 a year. That's twice what Nazarian brings home. So, would she ever consider switching over?
"Oh no. I'm so happy. I'm content with what I do," she says. But the taxi industry isn't so content.
Ridership has been declining all over the country, anywhere from 10 to 30 percent in cities where services like Uber have entered the market. Yellow Cab LA - by far Los Angeles' largest taxi company - has 15 percent fewer calls coming in, after four years of double digit growth.
"Does that mean we're in dire straits?," says William Rouse, general manager of Yellow Cab LA. "Absolutely not. But it a cause for concern. We watch trends just like everybody else."
"This organization in one form or another is an outgrowth of my family's business," says Rouse, who just ended his term as head of the national trade association that represents taxis. "And we've operated every hour of every day since 1937."
When Uber came to town last year, Rouse focused his attention on trying to convince regulators to ban ride-sharing -- what he calls "bandit taxis." It didn't work. California became the first state to regulate the services in September.
With few legal options left, Rouse has now turned his focus inward. "We're committed to problem solving and improving the product and going out and marketing like we never have to rebuild the business," he says.
A quarter of Yellow Cab's calls now come from a sleek mobile app that looks suspiciously like Uber's. But not all drivers are allowed to pick-up customers who use the app. First they have go through classes to improve customer-service skills.
It seems to be a direct response to the perception that, get in a taxi, and you'll be met by a scowl, ride Uber, and the driver will ask what you want on the radio and hand you a chilled bottle of water.
As difficult as it is for him to admit, Rouse says ride-sharing is making taxis better.
"I'm not going to go and say that companies that go in and break the law have helped us," he says. "But at the same time it is a good thing for companies to peel back the onion, look at the product, and improve their product."
So would Rouse ever ride Uber, even just to know better what he's up against?
He says he came close when he was away on a business trip recently. Then he decided he'd better stick with the local taxi.