Marketplace - American Public Media

Syndicate content
Updated: 36 min 57 sec ago

Of borders and businesses: moving forward in Murrieta

Thu, 2014-07-17 10:18

If you look online for "Murrieta, California" this is what you find: footage of demonstrators and counter-demonstrators chanting, waving American flags, and in at least one case, people spitting on each other. 

But if you go to Murrieta, you also see a supportive business community that turns out for events like the ribbon cutting at a new family-owned Mexican restaurant, Mariscos Las Palmas.

Ribbon cutting at Mariscos Las Palmas on July 11, 2014 in Murrieta, California.

Lindsay Foster Thomas

About 30 business owners from the Murrieta Chamber of Commerce feast on ceviche and tostadas in the restaurant's parking lot. Efrain Buenrostro Barrajas, the owner, won't talk about the demonstrations. That's because it's an emotional issue in Murrietta, explains his son, Norbert Buenrostro.

"He just doesn't want to send the wrong message to people, to customers, thinking he's for it or against it. He is an immigrant, but we choose not to talk about it because it's so sensitive," says Buenrostro.

That's the attitude of many business owners here: Stay out of the fray and promote a positive image of the city.

But economist John Husing, who studies the region where Murrieta is located, says he's hearing something else from area business owners behind closed doors.

"They are looking at this as an absolute embarrassment for Murrieta. The best statement I heard made is: 'You really don't want to be in a place where people are spitting on each other.' This was not good for business," Husing says.

Murrieta is a relatively affluent city of just over 100,000 people. The Chamber of Commerce is aggressively trying to attract new jobs. Chamber President Patrick Ellis says, "It's always a concern when something happens that paints a black eye on the city. And you have to do the best you can to get through it."

Eleven days after the protests started, only a handful of people are left sitting under tarps outside the Border Patrol Station.  They have signs that say "Congress, Secure The Border" and "Immigrate Legally."

Demonstrators in Murrieta on July 11, 2014 across from the Border Patrol station

Lindsay Foster Thomas

John Henry, who is so keen to prove he's from Murrieta that he displays his driver's licence, says he is there because he is worried about immigrants.

"I'm out here today to show support for the border patrol guys and to also let the federal government know that we're not going to let them use our small town as a refugee camp. And that they're treating these people incorrectly," says Henry.  "They need to be brought to a facility that can properly help them. The facility here only holds 25 people, and they're putting 140 people into that area."

Henry thinks the message of what he calls "the rallies," has been distorted. He says things turned ugly in early July, thanks to outsiders coming in town. He's sympathetic to business owners' concerns, but he has his own economic worries.

Demonstrator John Henry speaks with Marketplace reporter Noel King

Lindsay Foster Thomas

"The majority of the people in this area - if you look at the demographics - that are unemployed are white males, ages 18 to 32," Henry says, describing the demographic category he falls into.  "Finding work around here is very hard. Especially when we have thousands of people migrating through this area."

For now, the buses have stopped coming in to the city. But immigration protests have sprung up in places like Oracle, Arizona, another town that may have to start thinking about its reputation.

For more on Murrieta’s business climate, visit the Wealth & Poverty desk blog on Medium: http://ow.ly/zi9v5.

Acid rain: what it takes to stop pollution

Thu, 2014-07-17 09:55

Sue Capone was a young biologist in 1984 when, amid a growing environmental crisis, she started work at the Adirondack Lake Survey Corporation in upstate New York. The corporation had recently been formed to study how seriously acid rain was affecting sensitive lakes and ponds in the mountains. It was her job to measure just how bad things were.

Capone found many lakes were crystal clear. They were beautiful to look at, but a sign that things were very wrong: Acid rain had killed just about anything living in the water, including the fish.

For 30 years now, Capone has been driving, hiking, and flying to dozens of mountain lakes to collect vials of water to take back to the lab for analysis. And she's surprised at how fast things have turned around. "Some of the classic, clear waters from the acid days are starting to look more cloudy," she says. "That's a very good sign."

pH levels, a measure of acidity, are improving. Now, when the state stocks fish in many lakes, they survive, and even thrive, to the joy of fishermen who found the 1970s and '80s depressing. It's a remarkable turnaround in since acid rain's discovery in the U.S. by a young professor at Dartmouth College named Gene Likens, just a half century ago.

"It was a great surprise," Likens said. "It was one of those 'a ha!' moments."

At the time, Likens and his colleagues were beginning a project to measure the health of a New Hampshire forest. It was like taking the vital signs of a patient, trying to get a baseline of health. Then, it rained, and he was shocked to find the rainfall's acidity was closer to vinegar than pure water.

"We didn't know how acid rain should be," he says. "We certainly weren't thinking about acid rain."

This was about to become his life's work. It would be nearly another decade before he would help popularize the term "acid rain" in his first academic paper. There was a lot of work to be done first.

Foremost, he had to figure out rain's normal pH levels. This was no easy task. He and some colleagues traveled to some of the most remote places on Earth, like the southern tips of South America and Africa, to measure rain as unadulterated by human activity as possible.

Their hunch was right. The rain falling in New Hampshire was way too acidic, and was well on its way to killing forests and lakes. He had another hunch: coal-powered power plants in the Midwest were the culprit, but he would need solid proof. Utility owners were skeptical.

Electric companies would tell him, "No, it's not going up my smokestack! No! What went up my smokestack didn't come down on your forest in New Hampshire," he said.

His team's first attempt at proving a connection between power plant emissions and acid rain was simultaneously rudimentary and ambitious. They'd follow smokestack plumes in small planes to see where they ended up. Before long, they developed more sophisticated tracer chemicals that proved the hypothesis.

Coal-fired power plants in the Midwest were emitting millions of tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere. The pollutants then blew east, falling as acid rain on the ecosystems of states like New York, Vermont and New Hampshire.

With the evidence in by 1972, Likens was ready to tell the world in his first academic paper on the subject.

"We thought long and hard about what the title should be," he says. In the end, they went with "Acid rain," which turned out to be a brilliant label. It clicked with the public.

"The idea that you could sing in the rain, walk in the rain, and then the rain was acid, really grabbed people," he said. "It had that impact. Branding, if you will."

A couple of years later, with another paper on the way, acid rain was now big news, featured on the front page of major newspapers. Likens became a celebrity among his peers.

"I had phone calls from literally all over the world. Scientists saying, 'What is going on? What is all this about?'"

Hundreds then joined the research effort, and by the 1980s, acid rain was a mainstream issue. Schoolchildren wrote papers about it. The PBS series NOVA devoted an hour to the crisis. It was the environmental crisis du jour, even ending up in "Captain Planet," the kids' cartoon.

Despite the public awareness, acid rain also felt intractable. Even with mounting evidence, politicians procrastinated by ordering more studies. And, even if there had been political will to solve acid rain, there was no guarantee that environmentalists and industry could get on the same page.

That was the state of affairs until the 1988 election, which placed in power politicians with serious interest in doing something about acid rain.

"It was like all the planets aligning," said Brian McLean, then with the Environmental Protection Agency. He was one player in a surprising group who worked together to get a new Clean Air Act proposed, written and enacted in mere months.

"The political, the interest groups, industry, environmentalists, and particularly political leadership coming together at an unusual time," McLean said.

The first big thing that happened: George H.W. Bush became president. Much more than his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, Bush wanted to prove a Republican leader could be serious about the environment. He ran on the issue.

At the same time, there was a big shift among Democrats. George Mitchell, a Democrat from Maine, replaced Robert Byrd, a Democrat from West Virginia, as majority leader. In that era, environmental politics was much more divided by geography than party. Maine was a victim of acid rain, caused in part by West Virginia coal.

So, with new politicians in charge, Boyden Gray on Bush's transition team called a meeting at the White House. Among those there was Dan Dudek of the Environmental Defense Fund. He was also an economist.

President Bush, Dudek said, "wanted to make good on his promise of being the environmental president. We said 'Hey! solve the acid rain problem! That will certainly quiet the critics.'"

Gray tells the story a little differently. "Well, we were already focused on acid rain, so I don't know if they tipped the balance on that," he said.

Either way, the environmental crisis was now a top priority.

Dudek had an idea he thought might just bring together Republicans and Democrats, environmentalists and industry. He pitched it to Gray at that meeting.

"You can do it in a novel way," Dudek said. "Set up a market."

Gray said it was that idea, a market approach, that "broke the logjam." Here, an environmental group was behind the kind of idea a Republican could get behind.

The idea was this: The government sets a limit on the amount of sulfur dioxide that can be released in a year. Power companies are told how much they can emit. It's up to them to decide how to get to those lower levels—maybe install scrubbers or switch to a a different kind of coal. If they cut more than their allowance, they could sell the excess to a power company struggling to meet its limit. It became known as: cap and trade.

It wasn't the kind of idea power companies were used to hearing from government. Gary Hart was with the big utility Southern Company at the time, and he first heard about it at a coal conference.

"And, I kind of casually walked over to the office after the conference and said, guys, you won't believe what I just heard," Hart recalled.

Southern Company, like many utilities, was initially fiercely opposed. It was fear of the unknown, he said.

But behind the scenes, Hart and his team watched the bills' drafts closely, calculating how much each would cost the company.

Meanwhile, Brian McLean at EPA was writing the White House's plan as fast as possible.

"That's all I did for five or six months, day and night, we worked on these things," McLean remembered. "We got it up there. I remember the first day we were outside and there was sun. I hadn't seen the sun in that many months."

It was July 1989. President Bush gathered members of Congress to the Rose Garden to unveil his proposed new Clean Air Act. By 1990, it was law.

And, it worked, better than even many supporters predicted. Some companies overcorrected so they could make money selling allowances. Emissions fell faster and more cheaply than planned.

The act called for emissions to be reduced by half. But today, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions are down more than 70 percent.

In the end, the program won over environmentalists who thought it was too lenient on industry, and an industry that expected it to be expensive.

And, Gary Hart said, it worked partly because all the sides more or less got along.

"People who you thought would be natural enemies like Southern Company and EPA, we were working together because we wanted it to work," he said.

That's not to say acid rain is completely solved. Forest ecosystems will take far longer to recover than lakes.

But with years of improvement, Karen Roy, the head of the Adirondack Long Term Monitoring Program, is thinking of scaling back the collection of lake samples. A basement conference room was nicknamed "the war room" in the 1980s. A map of the region still covers one wall, with pins in the lakes the team has analyzed the past three decades. Some of the pins have fallen out as the crisis abated.

"Would I have predicted we could have turned this around as a nation? No, I would not," Roy says. "Too many other things seemed to get in the way."

How companies like Microsoft should handle mass layoffs

Thu, 2014-07-17 09:43

Over the next year, Microsoft says it will be cutting up to 18,000 jobs, the biggest job cuts in the company’s history. The cuts are the result of the corporation re-aligning itself after it acquired Nokia in April.

Mass layoffs are very hard on workers, even the ones who are spared, but there are right ways and wrong ways to manage the process. We asked Sara Grant, adjunct associate professor at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at NYU and Robert Sutton, professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and author of the book, "Scaling up Excellence," for some thoughts.

Here are their suggestions about what managers and companies should do:

Set clear boundaries.

Companies need to be clear about how many jobs are getting cut, when people will know and how they will know. Rumors run rampant in times of uncertainty and it's important for companies to get out in front of the panic as much as they can. It's essential that companies honor these timetables, if they don't, there can be a feeling that the layoffs are never-ending.

Answer the question, "Why?"

Companies need to explain why the layoffs are happening and try to help people make sense of the situation.

Give people some control over the process.

Employees need to have some kind of say in the process and feel like their voices are being heard. Voluntary buyouts are one way to achieve this.

Treat departing workers with respect.

This is crucial. People in management needs to be in the office physically when layoffs are happening. They should be compassionate and present Hiding in their office during this time is not a good idea.

Provide laid off workers with support.

Companies should provide résumé help, wih other advice and support to employees who are leaving. Most importantly, they need to give workers a fair severance package.

Listen to dissenters.

There's often a temptation for companies to punish people who speak out during times of turmoil, but those conversations should be encouraged. Employees need to feel like they're part of the process.

Let people mourn.

Workers are saying goodbye to friends, lunch buddies and supervisors. They're often taking on more work. Be sensitive that the workers who stay will have mixed emotions and need support and time to process a big layoff.

Provide a clear vision for the future.

Employees need to feel like the company has direction. Do this by providing a clear vision to workers about where they are headed and where the company itself is headed.

Would a Marketplace by any other name smell as sweet?

Thu, 2014-07-17 09:09

Retailers spend a lot of time thinking about what the shopping experience is like for customers, and how that reflects on the store’s brand. They think about the signature decor of the store, they think about lighting and they think about overhead music –and they think about the store’s scent. In fact, scent is something they’ve thought long and hard about.

“If [retailers] don’t connect and make it a comfortable, welcoming place to shop, and to spend their money, consumers will go somewhere else” says Andy Kindfuller, CEO of ScentAir. His company creates signature scents based on what he calls “brand attributes.”

Kindfuller is adamant that these aren’t perfumes. Their scents are dispersed through a space with the company’s equipment. They’ve worked with medical waiting rooms where the goal was to create a calming atmosphere, with a hotel whose lobby now subtly smells like cookies and tea, and a sport stadium that smells, as Kindfuller says, “like victory.”

ScentAir works closely with their client’s marketing team as they devise a scent. When it comes to actually creating the fragrance, Kindfuller says it really does boil down to a team of folks in a room with a whiteboard.

“The perfumers that we use, use up to 10,000 different ingredients... what’s amazing is they can identify those 10,000 just by smell and so we will often create a fragrance that can have several hundred different notes.”

Kindfuller and his team even made a scent for Marketplace. We've been having our staff try them out today.

 

Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal:

 

Marketplace reporter Krissy Clark:

 

Marketplace reporter David Weinberg:

<a href="http://marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/what-does-business-smell-like">View Survey</a>

Would a Marketplace by any other name smell as sweet?

Thu, 2014-07-17 09:09

Retailers spend a lot of time thinking about what the shopping experience is like for customers, and how that reflects on the store’s brand. They think about the signature decor of the store, they think about lighting and they think about overhead music –and they think about the store’s scent. In fact, scent is something they’ve thought long and hard about.

“If [retailers] don’t connect and make it a comfortable, welcoming place to shop, and to spend their money, consumers will go somewhere else” says Andy Kindfuller, CEO of ScentAir. His company creates signature scents based on what he calls “brand attributes.”

Kindfuller is adamant that these aren’t perfumes. Their scents are dispersed through a space with the company’s equipment. They’ve worked with medical waiting rooms where the goal was to create a calming atmosphere, with a hotel whose lobby now subtly smells like cookies and tea, and a sport stadium that smells, as Kindfuller says, “like victory.”

ScentAir works closely with their client’s marketing team as they devise a scent. When it comes to actually creating the fragrance, Kindfuller says it really does boil down to a team of folks in a room with a whiteboard.

“The perfumers that we use, use up to 10,000 different ingredients... what’s amazing is they can identify those 10,000 just by smell and so we will often create a fragrance that can have several hundred different notes.”

Kindfuller and his team even made a scent for Marketplace. We're having our staff try them out today.

 

Microsoft: biggest job cuts ever

Thu, 2014-07-17 07:00

Microsoft announced it will be cutting up to 18,000 jobs over the next year; the biggest job cuts in the company’s history. The layoffs are part of a plan to re-align itself after its acquisition of Nokia in April. 

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella broke the news in an all-staff email, saying the layoffs are necessary to streamline the company. 

"We plan to have fewer layers of management, both top down and sideways, to accelerate the flow of information and decision making. This includes flattening organizations and increasing the span of control of people managers," Nadella writes.

The move comes as Microsoft tries to shift more of its business toward cloud and mobile computing, as well as become more efficient.

“People view Microsoft as being sluggish," says Colin Gillis, a senior tech analyst at BGC Financial. "The new management want to change that and change the culture. We’ll see how this works."

Gillis says two thirds of the workers losing their jobs are former Nokia employees who became part of Microsoft after the companies merged. According to the announcement, the layoffs will mostly be complete by the end of this year.  

 

Microsoft: biggest job cuts ever

Thu, 2014-07-17 07:00

Microsoft announced it will be cutting up to 18,000 jobs over the next year; the biggest job cuts in the company’s history. The layoffs are part of a plan to re-align itself after its acquisition of Nokia in April. 

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella broke the news in an all-staff email, saying the layoffs are necessary to streamline the company. 

"We plan to have fewer layers of management, both top down and sideways, to accelerate the flow of information and decision making. This includes flattening organizations and increasing the span of control of people managers," Nadella writes.

The move comes as Microsoft tries to shift more of its business toward cloud and mobile computing, as well as become more efficient.

“People view Microsoft as being sluggish," says Colin Gillis, a senior tech analyst at BGC Financial. "The new management want to change that and change the culture. We’ll see how this works."

Gillis says two thirds of the workers losing their jobs are former Nokia employees who became part of Microsoft after the companies merged. According to the announcement, the layoffs will mostly be complete by the end of this year.  

 

The bad code that hacked its way into the Nasdaq

Thu, 2014-07-17 05:00

A new article in Bloomberg Businessweek explores what looked a few years ago to U.S. officials like a massive cyberattack directed against one of the big American stock exchanges, the Nasdaq market. 

Reporters have been piecing together the hunt -- not for Red October -- but for the origins of dangerous software that was somehow hacked into Nasdaq's computers. The bad code has long since been eradicated.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Michael Riley, the malware was discovered by the FBI in late 2010, tracked by the National Security Agency, and determined to likely be Russian in origin.  

Click the media player above to hear Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Michael Riley in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio.

PODCAST: Microsoft's big firing

Thu, 2014-07-17 03:00

First up, more on the motivation behind Microsoft's announcement that it will layoff as many as 18,000 employees by the end of the year. Plus, a new report from Bloomberg Businessweek looks at malware that was hacked into the Nasdaq computer in 2010, most likely by Russians

PODCAST: Microsoft's big firing

Thu, 2014-07-17 03:00

First up, more on the motivation behind Microsoft's announcement that it will layoff as many as 18,000 employees by the end of the year. Plus, a new report from Bloomberg Businessweek looks at malware that was hacked into the Nasdaq computer in 2010, most likely by Russians

That perfect 'Seinfeld' episode about cable companies

Thu, 2014-07-17 03:00

Even though I got it, I never really got the "Seinfeld" Plaza Cable gag fully until I moved to New York City.

In my first apartment, I remember that even getting the cable installed and trying to start to pay the cable guy real money every month felt like an epic right of passage. That 1996 episode of television -- airing a decade before I even came to the city -- became, like so many "Seinfeld" depictions, a chrystalized experience in an ever-changing city. Watching it now nearly ten more years later, it remains pitch perfect. Just watch this and tell me you can't relate. I dare you. 


The weird 4-hour appointments, the long hold times on the phone, the grumpy dude in the van -- it's all there. Kramer as the everyman is exactly as he should be: Incredulous at a seemingly arbitrary and faceless bureacracy, righteous in his indignation, and happy to "stick it to the man," even when the man is of course a real person with real feelings.

It is actually really elegant how the roles are flipped. The cable guy becomes the powerless person waiting around as his blood is brought slowly to boil. Kramer is what we percieve the cable company to be: Snickering behind a peephole and messing with us while taking advantage because there's really not much we can do about it.

This has been an interesting week for media and cable companies. Rupert Murdoch's $80 billion bid for Time Warner is almost just a rumble behind the awkward sound of that customer service call between an Engagdget editor and a Comcast customer service agent. In a veritable monster mix of smash hits, it's the latest and greatest viral example proving the cable company is pretty much the worst at dealing with its customers.

Comcast is currently on a full court press for its unprecedented merger with Time Warner Cable -- Which, by the way, just sent me the most rediculous letter congratulating me on my newly-reduced-but-still-more-than-I've-been-paying rate. And at the same time from Reddit to The New Yorker, the company is also this week's modern stand-in for Seinfeld's Plaza Cable. 

The fact that the jokes are still relevant is what's really disturbing. In "Seinfeld," the cable guy apologizes through the door, and Kramer, moved, rolls back the deadbolt. They hug. What could be better? A truce between customer and company, a promise to do better, and a regonition of the humanity and hardships on both sides.

I think I prefer the TV show to real life. "Seinfeld," at least, has a happy ending.

Students experiment in zero-gravity

Thu, 2014-07-17 02:00

This week, a group of students are heading to NASA's Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program. True to its name, the program puts particpants in a plane that flies up and down, approximating zero gravity so the young scientists can do their work. 

Ish Sanchez, who is studying Mechanical Engineering at San Jose State University, is one such student participating in the program. He says being in an environment without gravity is profoundly different from the typical human experience.

“Your whole outlook on life -- up until the point when you experience zero gravity -- is completely shifted,” says Sanchez. “There’s no up and down, there’s no side walls. The mere act of pushing a button can send you off in another direction.”

The group wants to study particles created in potential in-space manufacturing or asteroid mining operations — The experiment will cut some carbon fiber rods and observe the different particle trajectories from cutting in zero gravity.

Though after this round of experiments, there may be a failure to launch -- The program is being cancelled due to budgetary constraints after this flight.

Students experiment in zero-gravity

Thu, 2014-07-17 02:00

This week, a group of students are heading to NASA's Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program. True to its name, the program puts particpants in a plane that flies up and down, approximating zero gravity so the young scientists can do their work. 

Ish Sanchez, who is studying Mechanical Engineering at San Jose State University, is one such student participating in the program. He says being in an environment without gravity is profoundly different from the typical human experience.

“Your whole outlook on life -- up until the point when you experience zero gravity -- is completely shifted,” says Sanchez. “There’s no up and down, there’s no side walls. The mere act of pushing a button can send you off in another direction.”

The group wants to study particles created in potential in-space manufacturing or asteroid mining operations — The experiment will cut some carbon fiber rods and observe the different particle trajectories from cutting in zero gravity.

Though after this round of experiments, there may be a failure to launch -- The program is being cancelled due to budgetary constraints after this flight.

Don't blame millennials. Blame the middle-aged!

Thu, 2014-07-17 02:00

There's a common refrain about the sluggish housing market these days that goes something like: "Those darned young folks just aren't buying houses like they used to."

Well, that diagnosis isn't quite right, according to a new study from Trulia, the online real estate firm.

Trulia Chief Economist Jed Kolko says if you look at the data, "18-to-34-year-olds today look about as likely to own a home as 18-to-34-year-olds did 20 years ago, once we adjust for the big changes in demographics."

Kolko points to demographic changes like the fact that today's young adults are much less likely to be married or have kids than their counterparts 20 years ago. When you look at the young adults today who still are married with kids, he says they are buying homes at the same rates as they did in 1997.

But there is a generation where homeownership really has declined since the rise and fall of the real estate market in the 2000s, even when you adjust for demographics.

"The 35-to-54-year-old group was more affected both by the housing bubble and by the foreclosure crisis," Kolko says.

Graphics from Trulia, depicting adjusted homeownership rates for 18-to-34 year olds and 35-to-54 year olds compared to a demographic baseline. The demographic baseline is a depiction of we'd expect to happen with those demographic if the recession, or any other behavioral changes, didn't occur. (Graphics courtesy of Trulia)

Of course, even that generation might not be gone from the housing market forever. Amy Gerrish, 36, lost her home outside of Phoenix, Ariz. to foreclosure in the early days of the real estate crash, and then reluctantly became a renter.

She knew it would take at least three years after the foreclosure to be considered for a home loan again.

"As soon as that date started coming up, we started looking," she says.

She now is a homeowner once more.

We reached out to listeners on Twitter to ask about their experience with the housing market. Here are some of the responses:

[<a href="//storify.com/Marketplace/middle-age-homebuyers" target="_blank">View the story "Middle-Age Homebuyers" on Storify</a>]

Facebook wants to know what you're watching

Thu, 2014-07-17 02:00

Let’s face it, we use our smart phones for just about everything, including watching television.

This fall, TV ratings giant Nielsen and Facebook will join forces to follow what we watch on our mobile devices.

Dorie Clark teaches corporate and personal branding at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. She says the new tracking system is a "necessary evolution."

“People are consuming far more video on their smart phones, on their I-Pads,” says Clark. “And if we want to make smart decisions about how to allocate marketing dollars, we need to know what they’re watching and where.” 

But there could be privacy concerns.

A Facebook spokesperson says the new system can’t be used to identify individuals. Even though Facebook and Nielsen announced the partnership last year, recent controversy over Facebook manipulating content to influence users’ emotions as part of a survey worries privacy advocates.

Jeff Chester, Executive Director of the Center for Digital Democracy, for example.

“It’s just one piece of a much more disturbing picture that’s emerging as Facebook links with these powerful market research companies to understand what we do and when we do it,” says Chester. 

 

That perfect 'Seinfeld' episode about cable companies

Thu, 2014-07-17 01:00

Even though I got it, I never really got the "Seinfeld" Plaza Cable gag fully until I moved to New York City.

In my first apartment, I remember that even getting the cable installed and trying to start to pay the cable guy real money every month felt like an epic right of passage. That 1996 episode of television -- airing a decade before I even came to the city -- became, like so many "Seinfeld" depictions, a chrystalized experience in an ever-changing city. Watching it now nearly ten more years later, it remains pitch perfect. Just watch this and tell me you can't relate. I dare you. 


The weird 4-hour appointments, the long hold times on the phone, the grumpy dude in the van -- it's all there. Kramer as the everyman is exactly as he should be: Incredulous at a seemingly arbitrary and faceless organization, righteous in his indignation, and happy to "stick it to the man," even when the man is of course a real person with real feelings.

It is actually really elegant how the roles are flipped. The cable guy becomes the powerless person waiting around as his blood is brought slowly to boil. Kramer is what we percieve the cable company to be: Snickering behind a peephole and messing with us while taking advantage because there's really not much we can do about it.

This has been an interesting week for media and cable companies. Rupert Murdoch's $80 billion bid for Time Warner is almost just a rumble behind the awkward sound of that customer service call between an Engagdget editor and a Comcast customer service agent. In a veritable monster mix of smash hits, it's the latest and greatest viral example proving the cable company is pretty much the worst at dealing with its customers.

Comcast is currently on a full court press for its unprecedented merger with Time Warner Cable -- Which, by the way, just sent me the most rediculous letter congratulating me on my newly-reduced-but-still-more-than-I've-been-paying rate. And at the same time from Reddit to The New Yorker, the company is also this week's modern stand-in for Seinfeld's Plaza Cable. 

The fact that the jokes are still relevant is what's really disturbing. In "Seinfeld," the cable guy apologizes through the door, and Kramer, moved, rolls back the deadbolt. They hug. What could be better? A truce between customer and company, a promise to do better, and a regonition of the humanity and hardships on both sides.

I think I prefer the TV show to real life. "Seinfeld," at least, has a happy ending.

California farms pumping water to make up for drought

Wed, 2014-07-16 13:27

This is the third-driest year in California in at least 106 years. The drought has led state officials to clamp down on water waste, like open hoses. Fines can hit $500. 

The drought is having its biggest effect on California’s mammoth agriculture industry. A report from UC Davis’s Center for Watershed Sciences pegs losses at $2.2 billion this year. 

“There will be some pockets of deprivation, poverty,” says Josué Medellín-Azuara, a UC Davis researcher who worked on the report.

Four hundred square miles of farmland has been fallowed—mostly lower-value crops like alfalfa. More than 17,000 seasonal farm workers are affected.

“It takes people to provide nutrients for those crops. It takes people to even insure those crops. It takes people to truck those crops to market,” says Bruce Blodgett, executive director of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau.  

The drought’s impact could be far worse, though. 

Farmers in the Central Valley have managed to find another source for 75 percent of the water they normally get from state and federal reservoirs. They’re drilling deep into underground aquifers, pumping out enough water to cover 7,800 square miles a foot deep.  

“I’m fortunate enough to have a well for groundwater, but it’s caused our electric rates to probably triple,” says Thomas Ulm, a farmer in Modesto. 

Ulm’s farm is getting only half the reservoir water it’s usually allocated, so he’s relying on his own well to keep his almonds, walnuts and grapes growing. 

His neighbor just drilled a well, too. All this drilling and pumping is unregulated and, “Eventually, of course, you run out of water,” says Robert Glennon, a professor at the University of Arizona, and the author of “Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It.” 

If the state’s groundwater is like a giant milkshake glass, “what California is allowing is a limitless number of straws in the glass,” he says. “That’s a recipe for disaster. It’s utterly unsustainable.”

Especially when this drought could last another year, or another 50.

 

Pardon my (economic) language

Wed, 2014-07-16 13:27

Apparently, and this kind of stands to reason, the use of profanity by CEOs varies with economic conditions.

Bloomberg actually went through and did a word search of earnings call transcripts for the past 10 years. Profanity peaked in 2010, dipped a bit, shot up again in 2012 and has been declining ever since.

I know you want to know what the words are, but I really need my job.

There's a chart that'll give you the details, though:

A screenshot of Bloomberg's graphic on CEO cursing. For more detail, see the full graphic. (Courtesy of Bloomberg)

Dallas Fed Chair: Time to lose monetary "beer goggles"

Wed, 2014-07-16 12:35

"The punch in that punch bowl is still 108 proof," says Dallas Federal Reserve Bank Chair Richard Fisher. "Things look better when you have a lot of liquidity in your system."

He's calling on Washington to end the taper and rasie interest rates, something he believes will happen by October.

Chairman Fisher gave a speech on monetary policy today at USC Annenberg and stopped by Marketplace to chat afterwards.

Here is a link to his full speech, titled " Monetary Policy and the Maginot Line (With Reference to Jonathan Swift, Neil Irwin, Shakespeare’s Portia, Duck Hunting, the Virtues of Nuisance and Paul Volcker)".  Listen to his full conversation with Kai Ryssdal in the audio player above.

ON THE AIR

KBBI is Powered by Active Listeners like You

As we celebrate 35 years of broadcasting, we look ahead to technology improvements and the changing landscape of public radio.

Support the voices, music, information, and ideas that add so much to your life.Thank you for supporting your local public radio station.

FOLLOW US

Drupal theme by pixeljets.com ver.1.4