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Updated: 11 min 45 sec ago

New York begins free universal pre-kindergarten

Wed, 2014-09-03 02:00

On Thursday, more than 50,000 4-year-olds in New York City get to go to full-day pre-kindergarten. The best part? It's free, in a place where early education is the most expensive in the nation, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.

It's an initiative of Mayor Bill de Blasio.  

So what are parents in New York thinking about the citywide universal pre-K program?

"It's about time!" says Mildred Warner, who studies the economic impact of early education at Cornell University.

She says preschool education makes kids more ready for school and less likely to drop out. As for parents, they have to skip work less often.

"It also increases productivity of parents at work, because they know their children are in a good, developmentally appropriate place," she says.

Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, says many working low-income families previously had to rely on family or neighbors for childcare, which can be unreliable.

He says for middle-class families, universal pre-K frees up money for them to buy more stuff, take more vacations, and spend more on a mortgage.

"You could maybe do some more saving for college," he says.

Barnett says for that, it's never too early to start.

How tech is changing reading at libraries

Wed, 2014-09-03 02:00

As part of our week-long series about tech and reading, we've already heard about how new gadgets are changing reading in school and how they're changing reading education at home.

Today we hear from Courtney Young, president of the American Library Association, on how they're changing libraries. From services libraries offer to the actual layout and contents of some brick and mortar library buildings, new tech has had an impact.

Young says that it's important for libraries to change with the times, but that one challenge for librarians is making sure patrons are aware of new services. Also, keeping up with high costs. 

Click the media player above to hear Courtney Young in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

Forget ketchup. How about foie gras mousse?

Tue, 2014-09-02 14:07

The line outside of “Hot Doug’s” hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Chicago stretches two blocks. It’s almost 10:30 a.m. - opening time.

Jamie Madison, 30, got in line more than two hours earlier in order to be the first at the door. For her, coming to Hot Doug’s isn’t just about eating a hot dog, it’s “the whole experience,” she says.

“My friends and I like to come here at least once a summer,” Madison says, correcting my use of the term “hot dog” to describe her meal: “Hot Doug’s is 'gourmet encased meats,' not hot dogs.” 

I stand corrected. 

Nova Safo

Hog Doug’s owner Doug Sohn also takes his encased meats seriously.  But not for much longer long: Sohn plans to retire from the hot dog business and close his shop in October

Sohn attended culinary school and applied that training to his sausage and hot dog enterprise. At his restaurant, you can order an elk sausage or one with escargot mixed in. Among the most popular items is the “Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Fleur de Sol.” 

“To me, a really good quality Chicago hot dog should be [as] satisfying and tasty as anything you would get in a three-star restaurant,” Sohn says. 

His philosophy has made him very popular. Sohn was recently inducted into the Vienna Beef Hot Dog Hall of Fame – an honor to which Sohn responded with something to the effect of: "I didn’t know there was a hot dog hall of fame." 

“If someone had said to me when I started doing this 14 years ago: 'Oh and at some point you… will have a book…and you’ll be sitting down and chit-chatting with Anthony Bourdain for his TV show'… It’s like, 'OK, and can I have some of that crack,'” Sohn jokes. 

Nova Safo

Sohn’s success has sparked a whole new niche industry within what was otherwise a staid part of the Chicago culinary scene.

“There’s no such thing as a hot dog franchise in Chicago, but there might as well be, because they’re all exactly alike,” says Mike Gebert, a journalist who has been writing about food in Chicago for 10 years, and who – for just as long  – has been waiting for others to imitate Hot Doug’s. 

“Finally, I think, it's what you see happening is we’re getting these… places that are trying a little harder, that’s got more exotic things on the menu,” Gebert says. 

Other restaurants are hoping to lure in some of Sohn's loyal customers. Other Chicago-area chefs have been experimenting with a wide variety of hot dog dishes.  For the adventurous hot dog connoisseur, there are now elk meat sausages, quail egg toppings, and a popular Japanese hot dog topped with seaweed salad and pickled ginger at “Ivy’s Hamburgers, Hot dogs and Fries

“Years ago, you could open up a new restaurant… and expect people to walk in. Nowadays, it’s a whole different market…Social media directs a lot of your customer base. You have to be on top of your game. You have to serve the best. There’s no other way,” says Ivy’s owner Tony Tzoubris. 

Nova Safo

There are so many restaurants jumping into the gourmet hot dog niche that Mike Gebert even wrote up a list for dejected Hot Doug’s customers searching for a replacement. 

Tzoubris says he hopes Ivy’s is on it. 

What a House majority leader brings to banking

Tue, 2014-09-02 13:34

Former House majority leader Eric Cantor will join Moelis and Co. as vice chairman and managing director. Though he lacks experience working on Wall Street, Cantor is still a prize hire for the firm, which donated to his campaigns when he was a candidate for office. 

Moelis wasn't one of Cantor's bigger donors, but "he was clearly in their sights," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. "He was important to them and, of course, they are now important to him."

Cantor will open the firm's Washington, D.C. office, which, says Jeff Berry, a professor of political science at Tufts University, is an indication of exactly why Cantor is so valuable. 

"He's not opening a Washington office because they see deals in northern Virginia and want to get close to them," Berry said. "He's opening a Washington office so he can open doors for the investment bank and help them with regulatory problems."

Cantor will start at a salary of $400,000 a year, and will get bonuses and stock options worth around $3 million more.

Moelis, which frequently advises on mergers and acquisitions, said in a statement that Cantor was hired to "play a leading role in client development and advise clients on strategic matters." 

Dennis Kelleher, the president and CEO of Better Markets, a nonprofit that promotes the public interest in finance, says Cantor's resume would indicate that mergers and acquisitions are probably not his area of expertise. 

"One could argue, it seems to me, that he wouldn't even be qualified to be an intern at most of the firms on Wall Street," Kelleher said. 

Angelo Mozilo really doesn't get it

Tue, 2014-09-02 13:34

Here's an object lesson in why we still have to do stories about the financial crisis, almost six years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers:

Bloomberg conducted an interview with Angelo Mozilo, the former chairman of the board and CEO of Countrywide Financial, the biggest of the subprime lenders, and one of the leading men linked to the greatest economic crisis since the Great Recession.

He's kept a relatively low profile since the beginning of the crisis, but, because of a civil lawsuit pending against his name, took the interview in order to express his confusion as to why he and his firm have been seen as villains.

"No, no, no, we didn't do anything wrong," he said.

What is 4chan?

Tue, 2014-09-02 13:34

When nude photos of actress Jennifer Lawrence and other female celebrities hit the Internet, one of the first places they surfaced was a message board site called 4chan. It's a complicated place: a home for snark, nastiness — and, in recent years, political activism. The Occupy movement owes a debt to 4chan. And if you've ever shared one of these LOLcat photos, so do you.

The site was created in 2003 as a forum where people could discuss various interests, like Japanese comics, each within its own discussion board. Soon, for topics that didn't fit elsewhere, another board emerged: /b/.

"People always said, ‘If it’s too off-point, or it’s too crude, or just too much for the rest of the site, take it to /b/,'" says filmmaker Brian Knappenberger, who has made documentaries about the political activism that eventually grew out of /b/, including "We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists."  

The /b/ board remains an anything-goes environment, and is not remotely safe for viewing at work. Knappenberger calls it "extreme free speech."

"There’s a lot of awful stuff on there," he says. "I would highly recommend no one going to /b/ at all.  And, of course, once I say that, everyone will want to go to /b/."   

One thing that allows 4chan to be so anarchic is that everyone posting there is anonymous.

"There’s no real community to 4chan," says Austin Wilson, an engineer from North Carolina who says he's an occasional user. "There’s just a bunch of different people who go to this website, and they don’t really know who any of the other people are."

There are things that grew out of /b/, some of which filtered out into the rest of the world. One was LOLcats.

Another was the political group that calls itself Anonymous, which is known for shutting down corporate and government sites, often to protest privacy breaches. The group adopted the Guy Fawkes mask for public protests, which went on to influence the Occupy movement.

Gabriella Coleman, an anthropology professor at McGill University, studies 4chan and Anonymous. Her book "Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy" will be published in November. She calls 4chan "the id of the Internet," and says it is full of contradictions.

"On the one hand, there is this value placed on privacy and shielding the self," she says. "But on the other hand, 4chan is an epicenter of violating people’s privacy by exposing people’s photographs."

Where business and 4chan overlap

Even if you've never visited 4chan or its notorious and popular /b/ image board, you've likely encountered their work elsewhere online, on your television, or even on the trading floor. Here are five of 4chan's biggest businesslike accomplishments, for better or worse:

They revived a pop star's career

The bait and switch is a classic internet prank, but it was perfected when folks began deploying Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" in the place of an "amazing video!" or "'Lost' spoilers!" and so on. "Rickrolling," as it's now called, was pioneered on 4chan in 2007 and quickly hit the mainstream. Astley enjoyed a career bump — probably because the song isn't half bad — even participating in a live Rickroll by interrupting the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. When 4chan founder moot (real name: Chrisopher Poole) made the "Time" 100 in 2009, Astley did the write-up.

They locked down at least one high school

Several 4chan users have seen criminal charges after threatening bombings or shooting sprees on the site. One post threatening a massacre shut down a Washington high school before investigators tracked the source to Sweden. Hoax shooting threats have also been traced back to 4chan users in Michigan and Australia.

A Wisconsin man was sentenced to six months in prison for threatening to detonate nuclear bombs at several NFL stadiums. The man's lawyer reportedly argued for leniency, saying of 4chan: "There's this odd community of people who go on this website. He's the poster boy of what can go wrong."

They (indirectly) created a profitable blog network and TV show

LOLcat is one of the best-known internet memes and maybe the quintessential one. The phenomenon was born on 4chan through a weekly ritual called "Caturday," but it had more legs than a typical image macro, spawning a successful blog network called Cheezburger and even a short-lived Bravo reality show following their employees.

Further, LOLcat's success cemented internet culture's fascination with cats and predicated the torrent of feline-related memes that have followed.

They tanked Apple's stock

Years before Steve Jobs' real death, someone used CNN's citizen journalism platform iReport to spread a rumor that the Apple founder had been rushed to the ER with heart problems. The hoax, which reportedly originated on 4chan, was enough to spook investors and Apple stock briefly dropped by 10 percent, even more than it would dip the day after Jobs' actual death in 2011.

They put hackers "on steroids"

We could dedicate a whole list to the exploits of Anonymous, the loose collective of hackers that was born on 4chan and dubbed in one early, alarmist news report as "hackers on steroids."

These days, they're generally considered activists, though their causes — like their membership and methods — are fluid. They've taken down many, many websites and published many, many people's personal information, including addresses and social security numbers, in various protests. Some Anonymous affiliates have also stolen government data and, most recently, fingered the wrong Missouri police officer in the shooting of Michael Brown.

What would it mean if Dollar General went 'hostile'?

Tue, 2014-09-02 13:34

There’s a bidding war in the dollar store space. The target is Family Dollar, the stores with the mostly red logos. The courters: Dollar General, with the bright yellow letters, and its green-logo competitor Dollar Tree.

Dollar General, already rejected by Family Dollar, has increased its takeover price to $9.1 billion. If this fails, word on the street is it could pursue a rare hostile takeover.

At this point, Family Dollar has turned down the highest-priced offer.

“Just like in a family, if two families are trying to negotiate over marriage, and somebody comes with a slightly higher dowry, but you think the marriage might be better — or she’s actually in love with somebody different — you might not take the highest offer,” says Michael Goldstein, finance professor at Babson College.

At issue is the rejecting company’s board of directors. When the board says no, an acquiring firm can go around it. That’s what’s known as going hostile.

“What you’re doing at that point is you’re making an offer directly to the shareholders,” says former investment banker Donna Hitscherich, now at Columbia Business School.

By now, the acquirer is hostile to the board, yet making nice with the shareholders.

“The shareholders are the owners of the company,” Hitscherich says. “It’s their capital that’s been committed. So if they determine to sell, they can do that.”

The acquirer offers shareholders a certain number of dollars per share. If enough shareholders agree to sell, the takeover goes through.

There are risks. In a hostile case, a would-be takeover company is flying half-blind.

Securities lawyer Bill Caffee says, in a friendly deal, the two firms exchange lots of information and research.

“And if you’re going hostile, obviously you’re not,” Caffee says. “You’re just kind of shootin’ into the wind. And looking at their public filings and saying, ‘We think it’s worth X dollars and here we go for it.’”  

Also, if word of a hostile takeover leaks out, hungry investors can push up the target’s stock price.

Since that’s how deals are valued, that ups the acquisition price.

Commerce Sec. Penny Pritzker on our export economy

Tue, 2014-09-02 11:07

American cities exported $1.4 trillion in goods and services in 2013, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. That includes everything from manufacturing to secondhand goods, scrap, mining and agriculture.

Two states benefit most in dollars and in number of jobs from the export economy: Texas and California. That may not be a surprise, given the vast area and population in both places, but some of the cities showing growth from exports may be: Kansas City, Missouri; Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit. 

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker joined Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal to dig into the findings. 

What kinds of jobs are being created by exports?
Of the goods jobs, 88 percent of them are manufacturing jobs that are created. Those are good jobs. But in general, the exporting jobs that are being created pay 13 to 18 percent more than the average job. We're very excited about that, and 1.6 million Americans have new jobs since 2009 because of exports. 

I ask this question against the backdrop of an economy growing at 4.2 percent on an annualized rate, we learned last week...
Isn't that exciting?

It's great news, but here's the thing, to your report: You can't export your way to growth, right? Because everything we export, somebody else has to buy. With the dollar at highs and with slowdowns in Europe and Asia, how confident are you that this export-led growth can continue?
I am confident. We have doubled exports to over 30 countries around the world. There are a lot of countries that want our goods and services, and one of the things we want to do is help our companies export, because that'll continue to support the kind of GDP growth we've been seeing. 

One of the things that happens when exports are a topic of conversation is that the Export-Import Bank comes up, that government agency that helps finance exports for a lot of American companies. There's a great political brouhaha right now in Washington over whether to renew the charter when it comes due. Why do we need the government to be helping in this way?
It's absolutely imperative that we reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, and I'll tell you why. Sixty other countries have export-import banks. The Export-Import Bank over the last five years has supported the creation of 1.2 million jobs in the United States. We can't afford not to have this tool in our tool chest. 

Speaking of who is doing these jobs, last time we spoke [January 2014], I asked you about the prospects for immigration reform. You said you were confident it would be done in the first half of this year. I'm going to give you the opportunity for a Mulligan here, Madam Secretary. 
Well, the reason for supporting immigration reform has not gone away. First of all, we have a moral responsibility to deal with the 11 million undocumented individuals living in our country. But we also have an economic opportunity that comes with immigration reform.

If you look from a more technology and STEM standpoint, we know that over 50 percent of students in most STEM fields that are getting a master's or Ph.D. are immigrants. So this is crazy. We're educating all these terrific young people, they're here in the country. If they want to stay, why shouldn't we encourage them to stay? It would be good for our businesses, too. They need this kind of talent. I know where we're at, but I believe that pragmatism and the reality will win out [...] and that we will get some kind of action on immigration reform. 

I won't ask you to speak for your boss, but do you anticipate that action to be executive action from the White House, most likely after the election?
Well you know what, since you hang out with my boss, I'll let you ask him that question. 

Narendra Modi's 100th day as prime minister

Tue, 2014-09-02 10:56

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi marks his first 100 days in office today, a period that offered high hopes for a pro-business administration.

"His election was indeed a time of great optimism, and I would say that not much has changed. A lot of that optimism continues to be," says Sruthijith KK, editor of Quartz India. "There is some concern that he hasn’t done enough, but there are enough indications that he is laying the groundworks slowly and steadily to be able to then leapfrog and do much bigger things."

KK says Modi plans to put a think tank in place to help figure out how the economy needs to be structured, and the different ways the states and central government can share revenues. However, that plan has not been established yet.

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.

Eric Cantor gets a new job...on Wall Street

Tue, 2014-09-02 07:00

Former House Majority leader, Republican Eric Cantor, lost a June primary to a Tea Party conservative in a surprise upset. 

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, two thirds of former members of Congress end up in the lobbying business. Cantor, however, is doing something slightly different.

He will be vice chairman at boutique investment bank Moelis and Co. He will also be a managing director, and a member of its board. 

What, though, will he be doing?

“Strategic counsel,” according to the firm’s announcement. Cantor comes from a real estate law background, so he won’t be bringing a deep expertise in mergers and acquisitions, for example. But politicians do, it turns out, have skills.

“A politician is a very smart hire,” says Jeanne Branthover, managing partner with Boyden Global Executive Search. “Politicians are very strategic, they’re always looking into the future and looking at what should we do, what shouldn’t we do, what should our image be, our message, our brand."

A politician like Cantor also brings a Rolodex.

“When you think about an investment bank, so much of what they do is wealth and connections, and politicians are connected at very high levels and very important circles,” says Branthover.

“Money is a commodity, access and influence are not,” says Josh Crist, managing director at Crist Kolder Associates, an executive search firm. “Guys who have grown up on the investment side can access money, but may not be able to open the doors that a guy like Cantor can.”

So, for example, if Company A wants to expand by taking over Companies B and C, they might lean on Cantor to work any connections there.

“He’s seen C level, board level access for years given his fundraising responsibilities,” says Crist.

Cantor raised $1.4 million over the past two years, including $5,200 for his own campaign from his new boss, the founder of Moelis and Co, since April 2013.

PODCAST: Facebook targets India

Tue, 2014-09-02 03:00

First up, there's a lot of data this week. The most recent indicator is the Small Business Jobs Index. It seems small business hiring has slowed slightly. Today, we talk about the prospects for economic growth as we head into the fall. And when Eric Cantor was in congress, he was well-liked on Wall Street. The former House Majority Leader raised a lot of money from folks in the financial services sector. Soon, he'll join their ranks. Plus, Facebook says eighty-one percent of its "daily active users" are outside the United States and Canada. The social media giant is huge in India. It has well over a hundred million users there. And, it's growing. India could surpass the U.S., as Facebook's top market as early as next year. As it focuses on expanding in emerging markets, Facebook has a new advertising tactic, and it involves the strength of cell phone signals

 

 

 

Has the rise of the e-reader changed how we read?

Tue, 2014-09-02 02:00

All this week, Marketplace Tech is taking a closer look at technology and the ways in which it influences how we read.

Already, Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson has spoken with Marketplace's LearningCurve reporter Adriene Hill on how tablets are being used in schools as education tools, and author Jason Boog about his new book, "Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age." 

But how has technology changed the way adults read? Well, as you might expect, the answer is complicated. 

Click the media player above to hear Marketplace Morning Report guest host David Gura in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

The benefits of developing an Ebola vaccine

Tue, 2014-09-02 02:00

This week, the National Institutes of Health begins testing an Ebola vaccine in humans. Given the need to quickly stem the deadly outbreak in West Africa, global health officials hope to push a vaccine to market.

While there's currently a market for an Ebola vaccine, it’s small, and Ebola isn’t a disease that keeps popping up year-after-year. 

“It’s not all about economics,” says Dr. Carlos Del Rio, chair of the Department of Global Health at Emory University. He says developing the vaccine is also about building good PR for a company. “There’s a value to that publicity, right?”

Right, says Kenneth Kaitin, director of the Center for Drug Development at Tufts University. But Kaitin says there is also the potential for a huge payoff, especially for smaller companies. 

Think of it as a pharmaceutical version of “Cap and Trade.”

“A program that the FDA put in place several years ago gives a priority review voucher to any company developing a product for a neglected or tropical disease,” says Kaitin.

Ebola is a perfect exampleThat pharma company can sell the voucher to another drug maker. The “golden ticket” gets the purchaser a fast track to federal regulators for any other drug in its portfolio.

One voucher recently sold for more than $67 million.  

How Facebook helps advertisers target ads in India

Tue, 2014-09-02 02:00

The social media giant Facebook has well over 100 million users in India, a nation that could overtake the U.S. as the top Facebook market as early as next year.

To capitalize in emerging countries like India, Facebook is now providing advertisers with data on cell reception and connection. The information helps match ads to user technology. For example, Coca Cola could send a video ad to people in cities with 4G LTE, or turn it into a text ad for people in rural areas where connections are spotty and data networks are limited.

It’s a way to help advertisers better reach the population they’re addressing, says Anne Nelson, who specializes in international media development at Columbia University.

This is important because most users in places like India are on pay-as-you-go data plans, says Nathan Eagle, the CEO of Jana, a mobile marketing platform.

“Advertising for most people in these emerging markets ultimately is taking money out of their pockets,” he says.

With over a billion potential Facebook users in India, that's probably not the best way to make a first impression.

 

Can tablets really help kids learn to read?

Mon, 2014-09-01 19:15

Can tablets and apps help children learn to read? It feels like a simple question, but the answer is complicated.

For starters, technology is moving fast, and there hasn't been time for solid scientific consensus to develop on whether and how devices like tablets should be used to help children improve their reading skills.

That hasn't stopped school systems around the country from buying in, and we heard this week about tablets in schools from Marketplace's LearningCurve reporter Adriene Hill.

But beyond schools and teachers, what about parents who want their children to have top notch reading skills in a changing environment?

Jason Boog is the author of "Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age." Boog says that there is some agreement in the scientific community on a few important points.

Click the media player above to hear Jason Boog in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

One thing neuroscientists seem to agree that kids shouldn't be playing with tablets and smartphones until they're over two years of age. Another is that whatever apps or technology we use to try and improve our kids' reading skills, there is no real alternative for a real human being reading with and to a child. 

 

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