Marketplace - American Public Media

PODCAST: A $2 billion bank shot for the Clippers

Fri, 2014-05-30 06:14

Former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has reportedly won the bidding yesterday for the Los Angeles Clippers NBA franchise, with a $2 billion offer. Getting one of the world's richest people to replace Donald Sterling is a big win for the NBA.

On Monday, the EPA will set greenhouse-gas reduction goals for every state. And some states may be playing catch up.

The best advice for grads? Screw up.

Fri, 2014-05-30 05:15

It’s commencement season, AKA, the month of unsolicited advice.

Many a hungover student will struggle to stay awake in a rented gown, largely tuning out the platitudes doled out from a dais.

BINGO will proceed: believe in yourself, fail, thank your parents, follow your passion. And out into the world will go another crop of young people; smart, terrified, debt-ridden and clueless.

I’ve been mulling this over since Business Insider published this list of advice their reporters wish they’d gotten.

Thinking back on my own college graduation sixteen years ago, I can still feel my own fear. “Who am I? What am I supposed to be? Who is the devil who invented Jagermeister?” Believe it or not, I remember my commencement speaker, the brilliant cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

He walked to the center of the stage and spoke only briefly, with a simple message: find your own voice.

And then he played. I believe it was Bach, though that may be a trick of memory. But it was gorgeous.

What I didn’t know is that the next few years would be hard. I didn’t have a job lined up. I’d try acting, working in a bookstore, leading outdoors trips for kids, and a presidential campaign. It took me until I was about twenty-four until I thought maybe journalism was right for me. And even then, it was a maybe.  I didn’t know for sure until I was twenty-eight, carting around a load of grad school debt. And then, not a single newspaper would hire me. Not one.

But here is what I learned: uncertainty is okay, and the best stuff happens when you are picking yourself up after a fall. A job that helps you pay the rent and pay your loans is a good job. People will help you if you ask them. You will learn through osmosis. That is what my late stepfather used to call “the college of life.”

And yes (cliché alert!), your biggest successes will come from failure.

The actor Charlie Day gave a commencement speech at his alma mater, Merrimack College, and I loved it. 

I made my way to Marketplace after a truly terrible year. I’d been very sick with endometriosis, gone on medical leave and lost my job. I didn’t know if I’d ever work again.

And then an email from Kai Ryssdal popped into my inbox.

This is not to say that everything will work out. It often won’t. But in my imaginary graduation speech, I’d say this: give yourself permission to screw up, because it’s going to happen anyway.

And write thank-you notes. Your mother was right about that. 

How #YesAllWomen reignited the conversation about gender equality

Fri, 2014-05-30 03:00

What does the Isla Vista shooting in California have to do with gender equality you might ask?

Before going into full effect with his plans last Friday, the shooter left behind a 141-page statement where he described his plans to kill people and declare a war on women. According to the shooter's manifesto, romantic rejections by women sparked the 22-year old's rampage.

Dr. Wendy Patrick, business ethics lecturer at San Diego State University, joins Marketplace's Stacey Vanek Smith to discuss #YesAllWomen, the social media conversation that grew on Twitter. 

For NBA, courting Steve Ballmer could be a strategic move

Fri, 2014-05-30 02:14

The NBA hopes it's just made a game saving shot.

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer plans to buy the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion dollars. The deal -- which must still be approved by the NBA -- would come after the NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he would force current owner Donald Sterling to sell after he made several racist and vulgar remarks in a recorded call.

There's a photo making the rounds of Steve Ballmer at a playoff game earlier this month, with Commissioner Adam Silver in his ear. Wharton Business School Professor Kenneth Shropshire says it's easy to imagine Silver making his pitch to Ballmer right then.

"If you think about the kinds of people you would speak to, Ballmer would certainly be on your list to court," he says.

That's because Ballmer's worth $20 billion dollars, making him one of the richest people on the planet.

Only one of the richest people on the planet can afford to pay a record $2 billion dollars for an NBA team, a deal the league hopes is sweet enough to discourage Sterling from tying up the sale in court.

Going forward, Emory University's Mike Lewis says the NBA would be psyched to have a deep-pocketed guy own the Clippers.

"You know they are sort of the New York Mets or the Chicago White Sox. They are the second team in that city. I think it's really attractive to the league to essentially have two really strong franchises in a major city like LA," he says.

Disposing of Sterling and the Clippers going deep into the playoffs -- for NBA owners that would be fantastic.

Bringing Bono on board might not be enough for Fender's slump

Fri, 2014-05-30 02:01

Bono and The Edge – the singer and guitarist for U2 – will join the board of directors at the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation.

Fender guitars are revered by musicians.

Brian Majeski, an editor at The Music Trades magazine, says Fender does “not need these guys to burnish their credibility with musicians or the music-buying public.”

But, across the industry, guitar sales are down 10 – 15 percent from their peak in 2008.

Perhaps the issue is not supply, but too little demand.

“Maybe this slump in guitar sales is a lot of kids aren’t learning to play the guitar because it’s hard,” says Jimmy Griffin, who manages Killer Vintage, a guitar shop in St. Louis.

Griffin says he never would have bothered learning the guitar if he knew that he could be a rock star with just two turn-tables and a microphone or a computer.

EPA's carbon rules may give some states a head start

Fri, 2014-05-30 02:00

On Monday, when the White House rolls out President Barack Obama’s biggest climate change initiative—proposed rules to limit the carbon dioxide created by existing power plants — there will be greenhouse-gas reduction goals set for every state.  And in terms of carbon emissions, states are, well, all over the map.

That's one way to count. Here's another: 

 The second one gives a clue as to which states are buring the most carbon-intensive fuel -- coal.

"You’ve got some states such as North Dakota or Wyoming where they’re nearly 100 percent coal, so they have very high emissions intensities," says John Larsen, an analyst at the Rhodium Group, an energy consulting firm.   

Meanwhile, Washington gets much of its power from zero-emissions hydro-electric dams.

Some of the variation depends on, yes,  the lay of the land. "It’s not just natural resources, in terms of rivers or sun or wind," says Ethan Zindler with Bloomberg New Energy Finance. "It’s also, 'Do you have an ample supply of fossil fuel nearby?' So, it's not shocking that Kentucky is heavily-reliant on coal for power-generation, since there is a good deal of coal locally available." 

And some places -- like California and some New England states -- already have programs going to carbon emissions.

That could mean a head start when EPA rules go into effect. "Some people will come to the table and say, 'Well, those states are going to be advantaged here,'" says Sara Hayes with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

However: Which states actually get a head start will depend on how the EPA writes its rules.

"There’s 25 states that already have energy efficiency savings plans in place," says Hayes. "People will come to the table and say, 'Those 25 states, they’re ahead of the game.' And others will say, 'Well a state that hasn’t done anything yet...'"  Will the abundance of low-hanging fruit be an advantage?  Until Monday's announcement, nobody knows. 


Brazil's drought creates a surge in global coffee prices

Fri, 2014-05-30 01:00

If you happen to be drinking your morning coffee right now you might want to take a few extra moments to savor it...

A severe drought in Brazil has hit its coffee-growing region hard in recent months, helping to push prices up and ruining crops in the world's biggest coffee producing country. 

So what does it mean for farmers in Brazil -- and for the price of your cappuccino?

The BBC's Katie Watson joins Marketplace's Stacey Vanek Smith to discuss. 

Silicon Tally: Twins in Space!

Fri, 2014-05-30 01:00

It's time for Silicon Tally. How well have you kept up with the week in tech news? This week we're joined by NASA engineer Bobak Ferdowsi, A.K.A. Mohawk Man .   var _polldaddy = [] || _polldaddy; _polldaddy.push( { type: "iframe", auto: "1", domain: "", id: "silicon-tally-twins-in-space", placeholder: "pd_1401399764" } ); (function(d,c,j){if(!document.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;;pd.src=('https:'==document.location.protocol)?'':'';s=document.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);}}(document,'script','pd-embed'));

Curveball: Do kids still read actual books?

Thu, 2014-05-29 19:10
<a href="">View Survey</a>

The economic backdrop to Tian'anmen

Thu, 2014-05-29 19:04
Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 16:51 Catherine Henriette/AFP/Getty Images

One of the many demonstrations at Tian'anmen Square in the spring of 1989, which ended with China's military firing on and killing demonstrators on June 4, 1989. Protesters weren't only asking for democracy. They were also frustrated with hyper-inflation, low wages, official corruption, and a lack of economic opportunity.

Politically, China may not have changed much from 25 years ago, but economically? It might as well be a different country.

University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies Director Mary Gallagher remembers what it was like for Chinese workers in 1989. "There’s this big population in the cities, still working for state-owned companies, not making high wages, still having an iron rice bowl, and it’s creating all of these problems in the economy and it’s also reducing China’s competitiveness."

And then, the economic equivalent of a hurricane for these poorly-paid urbanites: hyper inflation. "While prices were going up at an average of about 7 percent a year in the mid 80s, in ‘88 there was a spike where it was more like 17 percent. So that kind of inflation hit hard," says Jeffrey Wasserstrom, University of California-Irvine history professor and author of "China In the 21st Century".

In a TV news reel from 1988, thousands of desperate shoppers at a Shanghai department store reach over each other to buy food. Up until then, prices were set by the government. But in 1988, the government began to systematically lift these price controls, allowing goods to be sold on the open market for the first time. Nobody knew when prices were going to rise, prompting waves of panic buying. “I’ve taken out all my money from the bank and I bought a bed," said one shopper to a Shanghai television reporter. "I don’t need one, but everyone is scrambling to buy one before the price of beds begin to rise.”

(Navigate to 2:45 and 5:35 to watch the footage of shoppers).

In 1988 China, prices were rising, salaries weren’t. Suddenly, many Chinese couldn’t afford many simple household goods. A song by musician Cui Jian captured the feeling of helplessness of the times: "I have asked you endlessly," the song goes, "when will you go with me? But you always laugh at me, for I have nothing to my name."

The lyrics seem to describe a boy, down on his luck, begging his girlfriend to leave with him. But others interpreted the boy as China’s young generation asking the rest of China –including the government – to join it. The song "Nothing to my Name" became an anthem to the demonstrations that later developed at Tian’anmen Square in 1989.

"I think generally Americans and the American media and the western media focused on the political issues more than the economic issues," University of Michigan’s Mary Gallagher said about the media coverage of the 1989 protests. Gallagher says framing the Tian’anmen demonstrations simply as students fighting for democracy ignores the fact that the rest of China’s population – many of whom were blue-collar workers – were protesting for better economic opportunities, too. "I think the general support the students got from the population was much more related to economic issues like inflation, like corruption, like failure to take advantage of opportunities. And people associated those things with political change."

But political change was too much to ask from China’s leaders. In the early morning hours of June 4, 1989, China's military turned on its own civilians, shooting and killing hundreds of people.

In the year following the Tian’anmen massacre, GDP growth plummeted, so did foreign investment. But it didn’t last long. China’s government sped up economic reforms, while keeping a lid on political reforms. This is often referred to as the unspoken deal China’s government made with its people after Tian’anmen: We allow you to make more money, you don’t challenge our authority.

University of California’s Jeffrey Wasserstrom says 25 years later, with China’s economy now slowing down, there are signs the Chinese people want to renegotiate this deal – it’s no longer clear that making more money is an option. "Now I think there’s a sense that if you’ve been left behind, maybe you’ll be permanently left behind," says Wasserstrom. "And also, with the rising concern with issues like food safety, and heavy polluted air and water, I think it’s not so clear to people anymore that they can assume their children will live better lives than they did."

"People are angry, but people are worried that if something changes, would anything get better?" asks University of Michigan's Mary Gallagher. "I don’t think people in China have much confidence in democracy right now, and looking around them they may feel particularly people in the cities and people in the middle class may feel that democracy could end up even worse. It’s a much more segmented society, and people who are wealthy and who are middle class have much more to protect. And when they think about democracy, they think about majority rule. And I think majority rule is scary to them."

The song that defined China’s generation of ’89 ends with singer Cui Jian asking a question, interpreted by some to be posed to China’s government: “Why do I always have to chase you? Could it be that in front of you, I’ll forever have nothing to my name?”

This year, China’s government invited Cui Jian to sing at the New Year Gala on state television, a program watched by 700 million Chinese, six times the number of people who watch the Superbowl. Cui accepted, on the condition that he sing "Nothing to my Name".

The government wouldn’t let him.

Cui Jian's response to the government? We no longer have a deal.


Marketplace for Wednesday June 4, 2014 Image from China: Portrait of a Country, edited by Liu Heung Shing, published by Taschen

On June 5, 1989, a young couple waits beneath Jianguomenwai bridge on the fringe of Beijing's diplomatic area, as PLA tanks roll above them. The previous day, tanks moved on Tiananmen Square to quell student protests.

by Rob SchmitzPodcast Title The economic backdrop to Tian'anmenStory Type FeatureSyndication Flipboard BusinessSlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

Clippers sold to former Microsoft CEO for $2 billion

Thu, 2014-05-29 15:31

Former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has reportedly won the bidding for the Los Angeles Clippers NBA franchise, with a $2 billion offer. As Marketplace has reported, less successful teams in smaller markets have sold for just a fraction of that figure.

According to the Los Angeles Times, this sale would be the biggest in NBA history:

Ballmer, who was chief executive of Microsoft for 14 years, was chosen over competitors that included Los Angeles-based investors Tony Ressler and Steve Karsh and a group that included David Geffen and executives from the Guggenheim Group, the Chicago-based owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

A person with knowledge of the negotiations said the Geffen group bid $1.6 billion and Ressler at $1.2 billion.

Any sale would still need to be approved by league owners, who shot down Ballmer's earlier bid for the Sacramento Kings.

Clippers co-owner Shelly Sterling has chosen to sell the team five days ahead of an NBA hearing to take the team out of her family's hands. Her husband and former co-owner, billionaire Donald Sterling, bought the team for $12 million 30 years ago.

Thus, the man banned, chastised and fined for racist comments -- could be looking at a pay day of billions of dollars.

Read Marketplace's past coverage of the Clippers' regime change:

Clippers reportedly sold to former Microsoft CEO

Thu, 2014-05-29 15:31

Former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has reportedly won the bidding for the Los Angeles Clippers NBA franchise, with a $2 billion offer. As Marketplace has reported, less successful teams in smaller markets have sold for just a fraction of that figure.

According to the Los Angeles Times, this sale would be the biggest in NBA history:

Ballmer, who was chief executive of Microsoft for 14 years, was chosen over competitors that included Los Angeles-based investors Tony Ressler and Steve Karsh and a group that included David Geffen and executives from the Guggenheim Group, the Chicago-based owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

A person with knowledge of the negotiations said the Geffen group bid $1.6 billion and Ressler at $1.2 billion.

Any sale would still need to be approved by league owners, who shot down Ballmer's earlier bid for the Sacramento Kings.

Clippers co-owner Shelly Sterling has chosen to sell the team five days ahead of an NBA hearing to take the team out of her family's hands. Her husband and former co-owner, billionaire Donald Sterling, bought the team for $12 million 30 years ago.

Thus, the man banned, chastised and fined for racist comments -- could be looking at a pay day of billions of dollars.

Read Marketplace's past coverage of the Clippers' regime change

How campus safety could affect college choices

Thu, 2014-05-29 14:05

Campus safety is on the minds of many college-age women these days. Female students were among the targets in the deadly attacks last week near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

But even before then, sexual harassment and assault on college campuses were making headlines.

In the past couple months, the U.S Department of Education has published the names of about 60 schools its Office for Civil Rights is investigating for their handling of Title IX offenses, which involve sexual violence (see the full list here).

And the women's advocacy group UltraViolet has launched ad campaigns against Harvard, Dartmouth and other universities over their handling of campus assaults.

“Where we're coming from is just a place of acknowledging that many colleges have completely failed their students on this issue,” says UltraViolet co-founder Shaunna Thomas.

Thomas believes her group has helped steer prospective student away from Dartmouth. But the school points out that the UltraViolet campaign was launched after the applications deadline this year and had no bearing on a 14 percent decline in applications, which it attributes instead to a host of factors, including demographic changes

Application and enrollment levels rise and fall for all sorts of reasons, according to Peter Lake, director of the Center for Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University College of Law. Lake, an expert on campus safety, says it would be difficult to single out the role campus safety is playing.

“Everyone is watching to see just how sensitive consumers of higher education are to safety issues,” says Lake.

Liya Tessima, a high school student in St. Paul, Minnesota, says safety didn’t influence her choice of schools. She’s headed to St. Olaf College this fall. The school is located in a rural part of Minnesota, and Tessima says she thinks she will feel safe there. But that didn’t lead her to choose St. Olaf’s over more urban schools, where crime is more prevalent.

"I never really considered it that way," she says. Tessima notes that St. Olaf’s biology department was its greatest selling point for her.

Annie Baxter

Tessima’s friend Kweh-ley Paw will go to a big urban school, the University of Minnesota. Paw is nervous about campus safety. She says her parents are, too.

“So they're going to let me come home whenever I feel like it,” she says.

Nevertheless, Paw says she hasn't checked out the university's reputation for handling assaults.

Several groups are pressuring college ranking services like the Princeton Review to factor campus safety into their rankings. The Princeton Review says not all that information is public and there would be no uniform way to report it.

Correction: An earlier version of this story failed to note that the UltraViolet campaign began after Dartmouth’s application deadline. The text has been corrected.

The fight for Hillshire, as measured in hot dogs

Thu, 2014-05-29 13:52

Everyone wants a bite of the hot dog.

On Tuesday, chicken producer Pilgrim's Pride began the bidding war for Hillshire Brands with an offer equivalent to $6.4 billion. Hillshire is a brand best-known for their Jimmy Dean sausages and Ball Park hot dogs. Tyson Foods, another meatpacking distributor, relished the opportunity to beat them on Thursday with their own offering of $6.1 billion.

What I wanted to know: What are they offering in... meat? How many hot dogs and whole chickens could Tyson foods buy with that $6.1 billion?

Approx. number of Ballpark Hot Dogs:


Approx. number of Tyson Family Roaster Chickens: 


Tyson's going to need to purchase another 300 million hot dogs if they want to match the Pilgrim's Pride deal. 

High-end designers turn to 'alpha-sizing'

Thu, 2014-05-29 13:33

There's a new trend called "alpha sizing," in which designers are doing away with numerical sizes in favor of "small," "medium," "large," "extra large," and the rest.

The reason, according to the Wall Street Journal: Alpha sizing makes manufacturing easier, and it also makes things easier for those of us who shop online.

Consumers won't buy two sizes, then return one of them. It's the athletic apparel approach to designer fashion. 

Recent data suggests men seem to prefer it as well.

Why does everyone want Hillshire these days?

Thu, 2014-05-29 13:30

There is a bidding war afoot for Hillshire Brands Co., which you may know as the maker of Jimmy Dean sausages and Ball Park hot dogs. Meat processor Tyson Foods swept in with a bid of $50 a share Thursday, topping a recent offer from rival Pilgrim’s Pride Corp.

Which has us wondering: Why does Hillshire suddenly seem to be King of the Prom?

1) Diversification. Turns out, meat processors like Tyson Foods and Pilgrim’s Pride have one thing on their minds. “The main driver of all these offers that are being made to purchase Hillshire right now is the increasing price for beef, pork, chicken,” says analyst Hester Jeon with IBISWorld. These protein companies are heavily commoditized, with low margins, and historic volatility, according to senior analyst Robert Moskow of Credit Suisse, which has investments in this sector.

2) Moving up the value chain. Hillshire, with its portfolio of value-added prepared foods (like Jimmy Dean Sausage, Egg, & Cheese Croissant Sandwiches) offers a range of products with higher profit margins.

3) Pressure to move fast. Hillshire was planning to acquire packaged-foods company Pinnacle Foods Inc. Its suitors probably want to intervene before that happens, as Pinnacle isn’t an attractive investment for them.

4) Taxes? Hillshire is approaching the two-year anniversary of becoming a new company (it grew out of the old Sara Lee). Long story short, two years after a spinoff there’s less of a threat of tax penalties should the new company be bought.

The Googlers inventing the future: mainly male, white

Thu, 2014-05-29 13:28

In the face of mounting pressure, Google has released some data on the diversity of its workforce, after years of claiming the information was a trade secret. The data came with the caveat from the company that "we're not where we want to be when it comes to diversity.”

Google is not alone in its lack of diversity —  the company’s mostly white and mostly male staff, especially among the ranks of engineers and executives, is in line with national trends in the U.S. tech sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

So how does that lack of diversity affect the tech industry? Here’s one story to consider.

Not long after Arielle Zuckerberg was hired last year as senior product manager for Humin, a San Francisco start up, she was in a meeting talking about the design of the company’s mobile app. At the time, Zuckerberg was one of only three female engineers, and the only woman on the executive team.

Zuckerberg says in the meeting, the guys on the team were excited about a new feature in the works that let a user add a contact to a phone, just by knocking on the phone while it was in his or her pocket.

Well, make that—his pocket.

“I brought to the attention of the execs that women don't carry their phones in their pocket—they carry them in their purse,” Zuckerberg recalls. 

It's the kind of obvious but potentially fatal design flaw that could make an app not so exciting to half a company’s potential customers. A segment also known as: women.

For Zuckerberg, this was a painfully simple insight. “But to the execs,” she says, “it was like—‘Oh, wow, I never thought of that.’” 

Innovation "blind spots" are what Catherine Bracy calls these moments. She recruits engineers for tech non-profit Code for America, based in Silicon Valley—a place, Bracy says, with little diversity and many blind spots. 

“You assume that you have all the knowledge you need to solve all these problems, and you don't realize that your world is so small,” Bracy says. “Innovation happens when you have different types of people in a room together having arguments but coming out with better solutions and better ideas.”

There's lots of research showing that diversity helps a company innovate and profit, says Vivek Wadhwa, a tech entrepreneur and fellow at Stanford Law School. He points out that while engineers and executives at google and other tech companies are mostly white and male, their customers are not.

That imbalance raises an important question for Wadhwa: “If technology developers don't understand anything about their audience,” he wonders, “how will they develop better technologies?” 

Why the GDP got revised downward

Thu, 2014-05-29 13:24

The Bureau of Economic Analysis issued a revision Thursday morning of its estimate for Gross Domestic Product growth in the first quarter of 2014, and the revision made the economic picture look much worse. 

Instead of growing at an annualized rate of 0.1 percent, the bureau announced the economy actually shrank at an annualized rate of one percent. So how do you just not catch an economic contraction until months later?

“When we produced our first estimate last month we didn’t have complete data for the quarter,” explains Brent Moulton, associate director for National Economic Accounts at the Bureau of Economic Analysis in the Commerce Department. 

And why didn’t they have complete data? 

“Most of these data come from surveys of businesses, some from administrative records, but most from surveys ,” says Moulton.  “It takes time to get responses.”

The BEA comes up with more and better estimates over time as it gets more data.

“They don’t get all the pieces of it right away,” says Joseph Gagnon, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.  “So there’s an advance estimate, then a preliminary estimate, then a final estimate, and at each point along the way they get more reports in and more data.”

And that’s not the end of it – GDP can be updated even years later as new businesses report back records. But back to the latest GDP estimate: Why did it shrink when jobs, unemployment, and the stock market didn’t? 

Two reasons.  Over the nasty winter the economy slowed, and that tainted the monthly data early in the first quarter. That dragged the estimate down, even though the monthly data at the end of the quarter showed pretty good numbers overall.  “By March the numbers were coming in strong again, but by that point the weakness was essentially baked into the cake,” says Christopher Low, chief economist with FTN Financial.

Secondly, business investment in inventory – a particularly volatile indicator, says Gagnon – turned out to be lower than expected.  When the BEA did its initial estimate in April, it only had two months of inventory data.  The missing months, when they finally arrived, showed that businesses had cut down – temporarily – on their inventories more than people had guessed.  That dragged down the estimate of GDP growth into negative territory.

It’s also worth pointing out that GDP didn’t actually shrink by one percent; it shrank at a rate that if  continued over the entire year would amount to one percent. 

If you’re curious why GDP shrank but jobs, unemployment, and the Dow didn’t, just remember that “GDP doesn’t answer all questions,” as Brent Moulton with the BEA says.  It measures all economic output – manufacturing, services, exports, imports, all of it.  That can change in the short term without jobs or stocks being created or lost.  GDP remains, says Joseph Gagnon, “our best measure of economic activity.”

10 facts about Bitcoin (before it gets boring)

Thu, 2014-05-29 12:46

You can now pay your Dish Network TV bill with Bitcoin.

Andy Schmidt, Research Director with CEB TowerGroup, says one of the biggest knocks against crypto-currencies is that so far they’ve mostly been used for one-time transactions, not standard recurring payments. But, he says, Dish's move to accept dull, normal everyday payments will get more people using these systems more and more often.

Before Bitcoin becomes totally boring, here are five of our favorites – the weirdest/best/most random things you can buy using cryptocurrency:

  1. Space! Billionaire Richard Branson now takes Bitcoin. So hop aboard a Virgin Galactic craft and shoot off into the starry skies in a shiny space rocket. Maybe you'll get lucky and get a seat next to the Winklevoss twins.
  2. Thank god! It's about time. Bitcoin now buys us Beef Jerky. Chew on that. 
  3. Do you really, really love Bitcoin? Make it official.  Let the world know how you feel by proclaiming your love for Bitcoin in permanent ink on your body
  4. Hiding from the Fed? Hacking the NSA? Now you can use Bitcoin to safeguard your privacy in the brick and mortar world by paying for vertical blind replacement slats!
  5. All this mining for coins is exhausing.  Don't you wish you had a squishy pillow nest to sink into after mining for Bitcoins all day? Now you do!  Thanks to you can pay for your new sectional sofa with Bitcoins!

Five alternatives to Bitcoin
If the dark and shadowy world of Bitcoin isn't dark and shadowy enough, here are some alternatives. But, Schmidt says to keep in mind that most cryptocurrencies are basically variations on a theme. There's an algorithm involved and typically only a set number of coins.

  1. DarkcoinThe darker currency that values privacy. Its website says it's secure, decentralized and anonymous.
  2. Zerocash. This currency, still in the works, is a collaboration from MIT, Johns Hopkins and Tel Aviv University. Its makers say that Bitcoin has a privacy problem – payments can still be traced to users and every transaction is publicly available for everyone to see. Stay tuned!
  3. Aurora coin. A currency specifically for the people of Iceland.  It works like Bitcoin, but because Iceland ran into so much  (ahem) trouble during the last financial crisis, it's not allowed to engage in mining invisible currency.
  4. Latium.  The website for this new cryptocurrency says it's a new dawn, plus it's giving away coins free.
  5. Dogecoin. It has a cute dog for an icon and its tagline is "favored by Shiba Inus worldwide." It also has a NASCAR sponsorship.

You can look for more interesting and unusal things to buy and services to book with Bitcoin here.

Those big summer sequels may stop, one day

Thu, 2014-05-29 12:28

Wesley Morris has a question: Why does “big summer blockbuster” always mean “big summer sequel?”

“There’s another 'Transformers' movie,” says Morris,  film critic at Grantland.  “Everything is ‘another.’ It is either a sequel or part of a franchise, which is technically a sequel.”

Morris says that gargantuan franchises like Spiderman and Transformers have been safe bets for film studios in recent years. But this summer might see that trend changing.

“I think people are going to be ready for something new. And something original. The [negative] response to "Amazing Spider Man 2" has been really heartening, at least for me. It’s interesting to see moviegoers get a point where they are getting fed up with the idea of being expected to go see something because it’s starring a superhero, or based on a comic book."

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