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How companies help workers with their mental health

Fri, 2014-10-10 02:00

It’s World Mental Health Day, a good opportunity to check in on mental health in the workplace. The CDC estimates that depression alone can cause 200 million lost workdays annually, costing companies as much as $44 billion every year.

Does that motivate employers to offer more mental health benefits? A 2014 survey from the American Psychological Association found just 45 percent of employees say they get help from employers to meet their mental health needs. But the APA’s Dr. David Ballard—who works with businesses closely—says company attitudes are changing.

“I think we’ve shifted from a lack of awareness and a lack of understanding to a desire to address it, but not always knowing how to do that,” he says

Case in point, Ballard points to the small Wooster, Ohio, company Certified Angus Beef, which may be on the cutting edge of mental health wellness.

Once a month, the firm brings in a clinical psychologist that staff can see on company time. On top of that, Certified Angus Beef offers employees and their family members up to three free visits a year.

“When we really looked at what people struggle with is all the stress, all the life stress,” says the company's director of human resources, Pam Cottrell. She says in three years, utilization of services has tripled.

Ballard says what he likes about the Certified Angus Beef’s approach is that it’s easy, and affordable. The company spends less than $10,000 a year on the benefit.

Graphic by Shea Huffman/Marketplace

A new designation for the San Gabriel Mountains

Fri, 2014-10-10 02:00

On Friday, President Barack Obama will declare 346,000 acres of forestland just north of Los Angeles as a national monument. 

Supporters hope the move will free up both federal and private money that they say is needed to take better care of the San Gabriel Mountains forest area, a popular recreation destination with millions of visitors a year.

"This national forest is one of the most visited places in the country,” says Daniel Rossman, who as chair of the group San Gabriel Mountains Forever has been working for more than a decade to get more resources for the forestland. 

Some who live near the forest have not wanted a monument designation, because they are concerned that it will come with restrictions, such as limits on land use. 

But Rossman says the designation is necessary, because the Forest Service has had trouble keeping up with all the trash and pollution that comes with so many visitors. 

"I’ve personally done clean-ups, picking up dirty diapers and old pieces of clothing,” Rossman says, adding that the mountains are responsible for 30 percent of the Los Angeles region’s water supply. 

California Congresswoman Judy Chu says the president’s executive action will circumvent the current gridlock in Congress.

The monument designation will not only bring more personnel and federal money to the forest, it will also allow for private fundraising, says Chu. 

“You can have a private-public partnership. And already we have non-profit and private donations that have been pledged,” Chu says. 

The Forest Service will be able to set the privately-raised money aside for the San Gabriel Mountains monument; Something it couldn’t do for a national forest. 

 

 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Judy Chu had been working on Congressional legislation for more than 10 years. Though she supports the change, she has not been advocating for it for that long.

 

Export-Import Bank reports $675 million earnings

Thu, 2014-10-09 12:38

The Export-Import Bank, also known as the Ex-Im Bank, announced today that it returned $675 million to the Treasury Department. Because it's a government agency, it's technically not a profit. 

So what is this government-run bank, exactly?

"We exist solely to help support U.S. jobs when U.S. companies are selling overseas," said Ex-Im chair Fred Hochberg in an interview with Kai Ryssdal.

That support comes in the form of loans to businesses large and small, which drew Congressional scrutiny this year. Republicans called Ex-Im Bank loans a subsidy on outsourcing U.S. jobs. Plus, they said, the bank is unnecessary in light of private sector funds for exporters.

While 98 percent of exporters seek private financing, Hochberg insists that the Ex-Im Bank has a role to play for those that remain. 

"We're Plan B," Hochberg said, adding, "We fill a gap when private sector is unable, unwilling, or market conditions are just too risky for them."

Even Boeing uses the Ex-Im Bank. Supporters say this is to keep up with similar export banks in other countries that would otherwise have a big competitive advantage. So while Boeing could easily survive without the Ex-Im, it makes keeping up with the Joneses (in this case, Airbus), that much easier. 

As for how much it can spend on loans, Congress sets a budget for the bank, but doesn't allocate extra money for its operation. The bank is self-supported, from a portion of its earnings, like those announced today. Hochberg stressed this was another reason why the bank should be seen in an apolitical light.

"There are no Democratic jobs, there are no Republican jobs. There are jobs in every state that are dependent on exports." 

 

Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

The Weather Channel branches into 'weather adjacent' content

Thu, 2014-10-09 11:58

Sure, the Weather Channel still covers the traditional three to five day forecasts. But now, the company that has been on air since 1982 they also include anything that is “weather adjacent” to their content, says Claire Suddath, who wrote a piece about it called "The Weather Channel's Secret: Less Weather, More Clickbait" for Bloomberg Businessweek. 

"They refer to anything as nature, the outdoors, and climate – anything where you might be outside – that is part of what they consider weather now and they cover it," says Suddath."People are already coming to weather.com and using their app, but they need to get them to stay," says Suddath.

In an interview with Kai Ryssdal, Suddath says it's working. The Weather Channel app is popular with its users, and people no longer check the weather just in the morning - in fact, some of us are checking the weather up to 40 times a day.

"That means that what we’re looking for out of the forecast has changed," says Suddath. "Instead of the three day, five day outlook – which we do still use – we’re really looking for what are the next 15 minutes like, or the next few hours."

Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

Why women lag in winning federal contracts

Thu, 2014-10-09 11:49

It has been 20 years since the government set a goal of awarding five percent of federal contracts to women-owned small businesses – and not once has it met that goal.  

A third of businesses are now owned by women, and being a federal contractor can give business a significant boost. Having that relationship with a federal agency can open a lot of doors. Your business grows faster than other businesses. 

Still, Denise Barreto had another reason for signing up: "What motivated me to become a contractor on all levels for the government was the second I set foot inside of it and saw how it was run," she says.

Let’s just say she knew the government could benefit from her business sense and efficiency. Barreto got her first close-up look at local government when she was elected to her village board in Illinois several years ago. Her company is called Relationships Matter Now and it does strategic planning. It has landed some government work, but a federal contract has proved elusive.  Barreto says she has been in the federal system since 2012, and she has bid on eight contracts. She hasn’t won any.

It takes most people a while to get their first contract. An American Express OPEN study shows that in 2013 it took both men and women about two years and at least four bids before they succeeded.  Lynne Beaman is CEO of North Carolina company Highlands Environmental Solutions. She bid for the first time this summer, and recently found out she didn’t get the job.  Beaman says the whole process of certification and putting in a bid was byzantine. She thinks a lot of women prefer to take care of the business they already have rather than jump through a series of federal hoops to expand.  But she plowed on.

“We also have three children, two biological and one adopted from Russia,” she says. “So I feel if I could handle all the paperwork to get a foreign born orphan out of another country, then I can probably figure my way around this maze.”

She’s not discouraged by her rejection, and has other bids out right now.

Julie Weeks runs Womenable, an organization that supports female entrepreneurship. She says many government agencies are meeting their goal of giving five percent of contracts to women’s businesses, but the Department of Defense is missing the target. That matters because, Weeks says, “about two-thirds of federal spending is done by the Department of Defense.” So if the DOD misses its goal, the overall government goal won’t be met.

Weeks says it’s not that women-owned businesses don’t meet the DOD’s needs. Many make uniforms or do catering. I spoke to one woman who owns a company that bomb-proofs buildings. But Weeks says the DOD is a huge, complicated beast, and moving the needle is tough.

Denise Barreto says one reason few women get these government opportunities is they don’t know enough about them. She says government outreach needs improvement.  “I think having a real sexy website is good," she says, and "having an easy website that somebody can maneuver and understand is better. But nothing beats the opportunity for people to have face to face interactions with these decision makers."

She says women need more chances to meet representatives from Washington in the flesh, at events around the country. That’s what finally landed Barreto her first small federal contract. Her path was unusual, but direct: she didn’t even have to put through another bid. Someone at a federal agency heard her speak at an event, introduced herself, and Barreto ended up with her first opportunity to streamline the government.

Greenpeace used Legos to attack Shell. And won.

Thu, 2014-10-09 11:38

The environmental group Greenpeace put out a video over the summer featuring an awesome Arctic landscape built entirely out of Legos. In it, a Shell-branded Lego oil rig spills, flooding artfully constructed Lego ice floes, and drowning adorable Lego polar bears and distressed-looking Lego eskimos. The message: Get Lego to “stop polluting our kids’ imaginations” by putting the Shell logo on toys.

Lego has now announced that when its “co-promotion” contract with Shell expires, the deal won’t be renewed.  

The video campaign, an inspired piece of brandjacking, borrows everything that’s awesome about Lego — the cuteness, the see-what-you-can-build-spirit — even the theme song from the hit Lego movie  … deconstructed a bit.

Greenpeace spokesman Travis Nichols says the video helped re-position people’s image of Greenpeace — its brand.

"When we’re talking about the Arctic, they might think, 'OK, I’m going to see a sad polar bear, or I'm going to see an oil rig.'  And with this campaign, you got to see these toys that you care about.”

Which are polar bears and oil rigs, but made out of Lego.

In other words, Greenpeace is doing with Lego what Lego has done with other franchises. The idea of borrowing power from another brand helped make Lego what it is today: the world’s number-one toy company. Fifteen years ago, Lego was a brand in decline. Then, it paid big bucks to put out a line of “Star Wars” Legos, and had a monster hit.

I asked Lego spokesman Roar Rude Trangbaek if there wasn’t some irony to getting attacked now for associating with another brand.

"That’s not the same," he said. "Partnerships or licensed products. That’s something entirely different. That’s not a co-promotion. This is a co-promotion."

Greenpeace isn’t a paying partner. What’s a brand like Lego to do when its brand power gets appropriated?

First, don't fight back by trying to get the video deleted, says Marc Fetscherin, a marketing professor at Rollins College and co-editor of the book “Consumer Brand Relationships: Theory and Practice.”  

"It could backfire in the social media, and you get an unwanted, huge media presence," he says.  That's called "the Streisand Effect" after singer Barbra Streisand, who sued to have a photo of her house taken off the Internet in 2003. The lawsuit brought more attention to the photo, and didn't reflect well on the singer.

However, Fetscherin says Lego doesn’t have to just play defense here. "I can imagine a lot of new opportunities for Lego," he says, to pursue a greener image. "Why not team up with Tesla, or any other green company?"

Neither Lego nor Shell will comment on the details of their agreement.

Who is Carl Icahn and what does he do?

Thu, 2014-10-09 11:21

If you follow business news, you've probably heard about "activist investor Carl Icahn."

He pushed Family Dollar to sell itself. (Eventually it did.) He pushed eBay to spin off PayPal. (Eventually it did.) And now he's pushing Apple to buy back more of its stock. (So far, it hasn't.)

But who is Carl Icahn? 

He's a 78-year-old man worth $23 billion, whose favorite sport seems to be arguing with CEOs. 

"Activism in general draws a person who does not shy away from the limelight or shy away from a fight," says Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at NYU's Stern School of Business.  

Icahn has been fighting for decades. 

"Oh, gee, he goes way back," says Donald Margotta, associate professor of finance at Northeastern University. 

In the 1980s, Icahn was known not as an activist, but as a corporate raider, using debt to acquire companies, often to break them up. 

"The corporate raiders were a little bit different [than today's activist investors] in that usually their objective was to acquire the company," says Margotta. "Whereas now people don’t really want to acquire the company, although they do want to break it up."

Instead of acquiring entire companies, today's activist investors acquire large portions, and then leverage that portion through the media. 

"Since activist investors are only taking an ownership position and a portion of the company they also are reliant on other stockholders to have their viewpoint," says Don Steinbrugge, managing partner of hedge-fund consultant Agecroft Partners. "The more media attention they can get the more they can educate the other stockholders in what their position is."

The position could be to buy back stock, to split up the company, to seek an acquisition or a number of other strategies, but the underlying plan is to rally shareholders to force the CEOs hand, and then profit off any resulting increase in the stock price.

But for Icahn it seems to be about more than making money. He seems to want to set things right — as he sees it.

"He basically believes that corporate managers are, by and large, inept and self-serving," Margotta says. 

Apple CEO Tim Cook may be the exception. In his open letter, Icahn called Cook "the ideal CEO" and insisted "this letter is in no way intended as a criticism of you as CEO, nor is it intended to be critical of anything you or your team are doing from an operational perspective at Apple."

Except for that share buyback thing, of course.

Ben Bernanke used an alias during the financial crisis

Thu, 2014-10-09 11:00

What's in a name? A lot, apparently, if you happen to be one of the most powerful men in money.

Back during the financial crisis, then-Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke used an alias while planning the rescue of the global economy. Evidence in the AIG lawsuit introduced Thursday revealed Bernanke emailed with colleagues and others using the name "Edward Quince."

According to the Wall Street Journal, it's still unclear where Bernanke got his pseudonym, or why it was even used.

Everything is branding: Four more weird partnerships

Thu, 2014-10-09 10:44

Lego announced Thursday it will cut ties with oil giant Royal Dutch Shell today following pressure from Greenpeace, which released a viral video and gathered signatures to protest the partnership. Shell-branded Legos aren't as common as "Star Wars" or superhero themed kits, but the agreement dates back decades and it's reportedly worth at least $110 million.

Inspired by those strange bedfellows, we found a few more examples of corporate incongruity.

McDonald's and Play-Doh

Thanks to brand licensing, children can pretend to do chores with their own Dyson vacuum or Home Depot leaf blower, and plenty of other toys. But fewer products let kids turn processed, salty, artificially colored goop into McDonald's food.

The discontinued Play-Doh McDonald's Restaurant playset molded fries, burgers and milkshakes, using plenty of the best Play-Doh color: brown.

For what it's worth, McDonald's has a partnership with Lego too; the company produced Happy Meal toys and a miniature restaurant.

Electronic Arts Games and various weapon manufacturers

A screenshot of the \"Medal of Honor\" website, via Eurogamer.

Blockbuster video games trade on their realism: in settings, character models, physics, anything. That's especially true for war-related titles, some of which depict weapons and equipment specifically modeled after commercial firearms and real military gear.

Electronic Arts took the idea a step further in promoting "Medal of Honor: Warfighter" in 2012. The game's website featured links to buy the real-world weapons and equipment included in the game. One developer blogged about using the advertised gear. A knife company sold a "Medal of Honor"-branded tomahawk, with proceeds going to EA's program to aid the Navy SEAL Foundation and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

Critics bashed EA for advertising and licensing weapons, and the company rolled back the promotion. EA claimed none of their marketing partners paid for product placement, but were merely trying to give back to service members.

Susan G. Komen and KFC

We've told you about oilfield services company Baker Hughes making pink drill bits for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Not quite as strange, but certainly more ironic: KFC's 2010 "Buckets for the Cure" campaign.

The fast food chain donated 50 cents of each pink bucket sold to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and raised $2 million in the first week. But the idea of selling fried food to fight cancer was criticized by activists and roundly mocked. ABC called the effort "Eat a Breast to Save a Breast," and Stephen Colbert described it as "hypo-crispy."

'The Sims' and various record labels

The life simulation video game series "The Sims" theoretically offers limitless possibilities for product placement, but EA — the company of the branded weapons for charity — have kept the games marketing partnerships both restrained and deeply strange. Sims can wear clothes by H&M and Diesel, sure, but far weirder is the "Sims 3: Katy Perry's Sweet Treats."

The expansion pack adds outfits, decorations and locations inspired by Perry's album "Teenage Dream," and Perry recorded a version of her song "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F)" in the game's made-up Simlish language.

Perry isn't the only artist to rerecord a song for "The Sims" either. High-profile acts like Matt & Kim, My Chemical Romance, Soulja Boy, Depeche Mode and many more have had songs "translated."

The boom-and-bust story of a crop called guar

Thu, 2014-10-09 10:14

A little-known plant that has been an ingredient in foods for decades has taken on outsize importance in the fracking world over the past few years - and it has created huge swings in its commodity price and in the fortunes of farmers. 

Ever since the 1950s, the guar plant has been the source of the guar gum additive the food industry uses to thicken foods or keep various ingredients smoothly mixed together. It’s in everything from frozen pizza to ice cream, egg white substitutes and baked goods.

“Guar is what we call an emulsifier,” says Calvin Trostle, a professor of agriculture at Texas A&M and a guar expert.  “Guar is somewhat like a soybean plant. It has pods up and down the main stem."

Guar gum is not only a common food additive, but also an important ingredient in the fracking process (the hydraulic fracturing of underground rock to release oil and gas deposits). 

Crop specialist Calvin Trostle, Texas A&M University, adjust branches on a guar plant that contain maturing seed pods.

Courtesy of Calvin Trostle

In the last 40 years, multiple companies including Halliburton, Baker Hughes, FTS International and others have tried to create a synthetic substitute for guar gum, but they’ve failed to develop anything as effective for hydraulic fracturing, according to Trostle. 

With guar gum as its only option, the  industry has demanded more and more of the stuff. 

“The demand for guar exploded, literally mulitiplied by five, ten times, caught the suppliers’ side by surprise, and basically created a drastic shortage,” says Dennis Seisun, a guar market analyst and the publisher of The Quarterly Review of Food Hydrocolloids. (Hydrocolloids are substances that form a gel when mixed with water.)

As fracking and the demand for guar boomed, so did the price of the commodity, 98 percent of which comes from India and Pakistan. A couple of years ago, the price peaked at about 35 times what the cost of the plant product was just a few years earlier. 

Seisun, who regularly visits India and the region where guar is produced, says that’s been an economic boon for farmers there. There is now a futures market set up for guar, and farmers are able to hold back part of their crop yield to wait for a better price. 

Some farmers in the U.S. wanted to get into the guar business, too. 

“Last year, it was kind of like a revolution,” says Curtis Erickson, a north Texas farmer who was one of many spurred to plant guar because of its exploding price. “We knew we could plant it and farm it and make money at the end of the day. And we were very excited.”

Texas farmers grew about $20 million worth of the plant, based on what a Texas-based raw guar processor had contracted to pay them. The processor was the only one in the U.S. that could handle raw guar. 

But as demand soared, India and Pakistan guar suppliers managed to catch up with increased supply. And oil companies, which were paying high prices, stopped hoarding guar. 

The price plummeted. 

The Texas-based guar processor, which had promised the farmers a set price for their guar, could not pay. And the farmers are now stuck with a crop they can’t reclaim, and which they couldn’t sell anywhere else in the U.S. even if it was returned to them. 

“There’s a lot of farmers that I’m aware of that borrowed money last year to farm the guar on,” Erickson says “And since they didn’t get paid back, they in turn couldn’t pay their banks back.”

“And then the bank will come looking to collect somehow,” Erickson says. 

The farmers have taken their case to court, and the Texas guar plant is now bankrupt. 

While the price of guar has declined, it’s still about three times higher than it used to be. But since the U.S. historically has had little to no supply chain for processing raw guar, Seisun says India and Pakistan will remain the major suppliers. 

“Competing with costs of production in low-cost areas like India and Pakistan have always presented a problem. And I don’t see that source of supply is going to be very different in the near future,” Seisun says. 

Meanwhile a few Texas farmers, including Erickson, have planted a small quantity of guar again this year. Erickson says he wants to be ready, in case the guar market in the U.S. bounces back. 

The numbers for October 9, 2014

Thu, 2014-10-09 07:47

The same hackers who stole contact information from 83 million JPMorgan Chase account holders last month also targeted a dozen more financial institutions. The Obama administration has been getting briefings on the breach since this summer, the New York Times reported, and national security officials and banks have been conferring over several IP addresses attributed to the attackers.

ETrade, Fidelity, ADP, Bank of the West, HSBC, Citigroup and Regions Financial are some of the institutions targeted by the addresses. The government is reportedly troubled by the lack of an apparent motivation for the hacks.

As we look out for more breaches, here's what we're reading — and numbers we're watching — Thursday.

4206

The number of words in activist investor Carl Icahn's open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook. In short: Icahn praises Cook and several new products but (still) believes the company is undervalued and wants it to buy back more stock. Apple stock should be trading at $203, Icahn wrote, double its current value. So far, the letter has helped: at about noon eastern time shares were up 1 percent.

$16,353

The average pay gap between Hispanic and non-Hispanic employees in the high-tech sector, USA Today reported. Similarly, blacks and Asians in the industry earn $3,656 and $8,146 less than whites, respectively. 

1 million

How many signatures Greenpeace nabbed in a petition for Lego to end its long-standing promotional agreement with oil company Royal Dutch Shell. Lego bowed to pressure from Greenpeace — which also made a viral video showing a cute Lego arctic community ravaged by oil — and agreed not to renew the partnership, the Wall Street Journal reported.

PODCAST: Like cars? Head to Paris

Thu, 2014-10-09 03:00

The clothing company Gap, which also owns Old Navy and Banana Republic, is unfashionable right now--at least to investors. Its CEO announced his retirement, and since that news broke, the markets have been unkind to the company's stock. Plus, President Obama will be in California today. He's scheduled to deliver a speech on the economy. But the president's not making many campaign speeches ahead of the midterms. His role is to motivate donors more than voters. We look into the change in tactic. And if you like cars, Paris is a good place to be right now. The city is hosting the Paris Motor Show, one of the biggest events of the year for the global auto industry. More than 270 companies from 21 countries are showing off their latest products. A report from our friends at the BBC takes a look at a few of them.

Want to save money? Call your cable company.

Thu, 2014-10-09 02:00

Most of us have cellphone, pay-TV and credit card bills, but few of us realize that simply calling companies and asking for a better deal can save a substantial amount on those bills. 

“Many times customer reps are empowered to provide you with something,” says Tony Giorgianni, a money advisor with Consumer Reports. “It costs companies five times as much to acquire a new customer than it does to keep an old one.”

So, it is a factored-in cost of doing business to provide discounts or other incentives for customers who call and ask. Companies know that most customers won’t ask, so it’s a small price to pay to hang onto those who do. 

In fact, a recent survey by CreditCards.com found that only 23 percent of credit card  customers called to ask for better terms. But, when they did, most got better interest rates or waived late fees. 

Matt Schulz, a senior analyst with CreditCards.com, says even he was surprised by the survey’s findings. So he understands that most customers don’t realize they have the power to get better deals. 

“And that’s kind of understandable. Given that in the depths of the recession, all we saw in the headlines was credit limits being slashed and accounts being closed and all that sort of thing,” Schulz says, adding that banks are competing for customers again, as the economy recovers. 

Consumer Reports’ Giorgianni points out that consumers have leverage in any industry where there’s competition. 

Elizabeth Coffman, a college professor in Chicago, found out the power of the call recently when looking for a better price on her cellphone plan. She has a family plan with several cellphones on it at a price of $300 a month.

“We have called both the cable company and the cellphone company, because our charges were too high, and said we were going to go to another company if we couldn’t lower them. In both cases we were successful,” Coffman says. 

But, it has been a while, and she decided to contact her cellphone company again, just as other carriers were offering discounts and incentives to win over customers. The result: a more than $100 per month price reduction, saving her more than $1,200 a year. 

Carol Helton of Cape Coral, Florida had a similar story with her cable company. About six months ago, she called her cable company to complain about raised fees. 

“I mentioned that I keep getting mailers from their competition and I was thinking about switching. They put me through to their ‘retention specialist.’ Not only was she able to take off the new charges, she was able to give us a lower rate than we had been paying,” Helton wrote in response to a Marketplace questionnaire on the Public Insight Network. 

Sometimes, success isn’t immediate. Sharon Forrest of Atlanta, Georgia, says she called her phone company three times and had to wait for her bill to increase, before she could get them to reduce her payments. 

“I learned not to take for granted that the company will make the changes they promise. I learned to persist,” Forrest wrote. 

Giorgianni says persistence is important. If you call and don’t get the answer you want from a customer service representative, hang up and call again later. A different representative might be more helpful, or might know of a deal or promotion that the first one didn’t. 

Most importantly, Giorgianni says, remain happy and positive. If a company thinks they still have a way of keeping you a happy customer, then they’ll try to do so. But if they think you’re so angry that they’ve already lost you, they’ll have little incentive to try. 

AT&T pays a price for cramming

Thu, 2014-10-09 02:00

Two major federal government agencies and the country's state attorneys general have settled a case with AT&T in which the wireless carrier will pay $105 million dollars for cramming.

If you don't know what cramming is, you're not alone, and that's part of the problem. In this case—the biggest in history according to the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission—it's about AT&T allowing third party companies to hit its customers with fraudulent charges.

Click the media player above to hear FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

$80 million of the settlement will go through a program the FTC has set up to reimburse customers who suffered the charges.

Inside the Paris Motor Show

Thu, 2014-10-09 02:00

If you like cars, Paris is a pretty good place to be right now. Not for driving—the traffic is terrible there pretty much any time of the year.

But if you like checking out the newest innovations in car design, there's a festival for petrolheads at the Paris Motor Show. More than 270 companies from 20 countries are showing off their latest vehicles.

BBC reporter Theo Leggett has this report from inside the show.

The president as fundraiser-in-chief

Thu, 2014-10-09 02:00

President Barack Obama is making a series of economic speeches around the country, and the latest comes Thursday in Santa Monica, California. 

All this speaking means the president hasn't been doing a lot of campaigning for Democrats in close red state races. 

“When you look at the approval ratings for President Obama in most of these states, he’s in the low 30s,” says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. 

Sabato says the president is helping Democrats more by staying out of sight and raising big money. 

Who still loves him? The party’s base. 

“There are a lot of very affluent Democrats and liberals who are willing to pay money to see the president,” says John Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College.

The White House doesn't have numbers for how much President Obama has raised for Democrats. When asked, The Democratic National Committee wouldn't provide one, either. 

The Center for Responsive Politics does keeps track of fundraising reports, though. It says the Democratic Party has raised almost $600 million so far this year.

Most seniors aren't saving enough for retirement

Thu, 2014-10-09 02:00

Despite recent gains, older Americans still aren’t saving enough for a comfortable retirement, according to a new survey from Interest.com. There's a personal finance rule of thumb that says seniors need at least 70 percent of their pre-retirement income once they quit working.

In 2013, seniors in only two places met that threshold: Nevada and Washington D.C.

Mike Sante, managing editor of Interest.com, says many federal workers in the District of Columbia retire with government pensions. Nevada may be harder to explain, but he suspects the predominance of union workers in Las Vegas may be part of the reason.

“Union membership tends to mean that they still have traditional retirement plans,” says Sante.

American seniors are inching closer to meeting that retirement “rule of thumb," however. They now earn close to 60 percent of pre-retirement income.

Americans 65 and over earn about 60 percent of what pre-retirement Americans ages 45-64 earn. That's a 10 percent jump from 2005.

Sante contends those gains are partly due to the fact that more seniors are staying on the job longer. Many can't afford to retire at age 65.  

Sante says the survey is aimed not at seniors but “everybody who’s working in their 30s, 40s and 50s.” 

He says, “When you’re still in your 30s and 40s, even in your 50s, you can still save a significant amount of money and have a big impact on your quality of life after you stop working."

Drill for the cure

Wed, 2014-10-08 13:24

October is, as you may know if you watched an NFL game in the past weekend, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Pink whistles, pink cleats — pink everything, practically, makes an appearance in support of the cause.

Also, which we saw in Salon today, courtesy of the oilfield services company Baker Hughes, one-thousand pink drill bits.

Which is great, I guess, but doesn't the pink get scraped off when the drills start drilling?

And, aren't there all kinds of carcinogens in oil?

Tell us what the economy feels like to you

Wed, 2014-10-08 12:45

It’s doing better by lots of measurements — but people don’t feel it. Which is part of what Obama is out stumping for through November.

The data says the economy’s doing better — much better. But does it feel better? How’s your economy doing? 

Tell us your story above, we might include it in the show.

Frack that! Oil tries to own a word that rallies critics

Wed, 2014-10-08 12:10

Few industries have bigger branding issues than the oil industry with fracking.

Not least of those issues: The word itself, which is short for hydraulic fracturing and near in sound to a four-letter word that's taboo on the radio. Activists have long exploited that connection — the Natural Resources Defense Council’s page on drilling is headlined "Don’t get fracked!" — and industry PR types have advised against using the term at all.

Pennsylvania has been a particularly hot battleground. Drilling has exploded, and so has opposition to the oil and gas wells popping up all over the state — and the pollution and truck traffic they create. 

In the heat of election season, an industry group there has introduced an ad that touts fracking’s contribution to jobs and lower energy costs — and which, in its punch-line, makes an effort to reclaim the word.

"Fracking’s a good word," says a middle-aged man collecting his mail. "Fracking’s a good word," says a woman on her front porch. "Fracking rocks," says a teenage girl on an elliptical machine. 

The ad started running in late September, commissioned by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the beginning of a larger campaign called “Rock solid for PA." 

"Some people will try to use that word in a negative connotation," says the group's president, David Spigelmyer. "All we’re trying to do is shine a light on the fact that there’s a lot of good that comes out of that technology. That’s all."

David Masur has noticed the ads. He's director of PennEnvironment, a non-profit that opposes fracking.  "It’s been highly entertaining," he says.

He thinks it means he and his allies are winning in the court of public opinion. "There’s something funny," he says, "when companies like Exxon Mobil and Shell and Halliburton and BP are saying, ‘Man, we’re just getting creamed by the local non-profit group.’"

But maybe it could work? It did for Obamacare.

"Obamacare is very interesting," says Tim Calkins, author of “Defending Your Brand” and a marketing professor at Northwestern University.  "It did start out as an attack on the program, and now supporters use it just the same as everybody else. In a way, it’s actually very smart."

However, Obamacare had a charismatic, witty spokesman who could get on TV, for free, whenever he wanted. 

Without that, says Calkins, "it's going to take a lot of money, if you're going to get in front of people and get them to re-think a word," he says. "Especially when you've got a word that has such deep-set associations around it."

He gives the industry credit for trying. "I don't know if this initiative is going to work," he says, "but at least they're looking at it, and taking action, and they've certainly got to do that."

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