Marketplace - American Public Media

Syndicate content
Updated: 43 min 25 sec ago

Giant African snails seized at Los Angeles airport

Mon, 2014-07-14 11:30

Straight from the wires of the Associated Press; customs inspectors seized a live shipment of 67 giant African snails at Los Angeles International Airport this month.

They took 67 snails with a total weight of 35 pounds. That is more than two pounds apiece. Of snails.

The mollusks apparently arrived from Nigeria.

Experts the AP spoke to say the species of snail is prohibited because, A: ew, but also, B: they pose a serious threat to agriculture, public health and the economy.

Giant African snails seized at Los Angeles airport

Mon, 2014-07-14 11:30

Straight from the wires of the Associated Press; customs inspectors seized a live shipment of 67 giant African snails at Los Angeles International Airport this month.

They took 67 snails with a total weight of 35 pounds. That is more than two pounds apiece. Of snails.

The mollusks apparently arrived from Nigeria.

Experts the AP spoke to say the species of snail is prohibited because, A: ew, but also, B: they pose a serious threat to agriculture, public health and the economy.

When is joining a bull market asking for trouble?

Mon, 2014-07-14 11:04

Wouldn’t it be great if the stock market was just more straightforward? When individual investors wait out an iffy market until stocks seem strong enough to buy, a decline could be imminent. Or, says James Angel, an associate professor of finance at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, "since there are still plenty of people still on the sidelines, it could be a sign that the great bull market is going to get even stronger.”

Angel notes that participation in the stock market is still far below where it was five years ago, which means there are still many investors left to start buying stocks again. And he says, figuring out exactly when the market will peak is, at its very easiest, difficult.

"When the market goes up it’ll often overshoot and go above the fair value of the market," he says. "And when the market goes down it’ll overshoot on the way down and often go below the fair value of the market. Calling the turning point is the hardest thing to do."

Scott Wren, senior equity strategist at Wells Fargo Advisers, says a flood of individual investors entering the market can be a sign a bull run is over, but that's not what's happening here.

“Money is starting to move in, but I would not agree – when you read some headlines out there that money is pouring in from retail investors – we’re not seeing that from our clients,” he says.

Wren notes while we may see more volatile trading, there’s only a slim chance of another recession in the next couple of years. He expects the bull market to continue through 2016 – though a little less bullish. Gregory Miller, chief economist with Sun Trust Banks, agrees that the market may continue its course, though tempered slightly.

“Now, the prospect of continued 20 percent annualized returns may be coming to an end,” he says.

If you are looking for a safe place to park your cash, says Miller,  look for stocks that are tied to the economy, like industrials.

The worst thing to do," says James Angel, speaking about potential individual investors who may only now be buying into the stock market,  "is to chase what was hot last year."

If a stock was really hot last year, notes Angel, chances are it’ll have cooled off by now. Instead of looking to the past, he says to focus on the future -- thinking about investment objectives, time horizons and risk tolerance, especially while interest rates are so low. 

"Right now," he says, "we’re in a low-return environment, so making sure you don’t do something stupid is the most important thing. "

 

Payback time for student-loan scams?

Mon, 2014-07-14 11:00

Here’s a handful of student loan numbers for you. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, current student loan debt is nearing $1.2 trillion. An estimated 7 million borrowers are now in default; behind on $100 billion in debt.

All of which adds up to a juicy market for companies looking to cash in on people with student debt troubles.

Today, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed suit against two student-loan debt-settlement companies.  The suits allege that Broadsword Student Advantage and First American Tax Defense tricked borrowers into paying upfront fees for student loan help the companies didn’t provide.

According to one of the filings, First American Tax Defense promised enrollment in a fake “Obama Forgiveness Program.”

Madigan said these companies run ads that entice people excited to call, “and what they really find out is that these are scam artists [who] want their money.”

In a 2013 report, the National Consumer Law Center found that  “a new ‘student loan debt relief’ industry has sprung up in response to the demand for borrower assistance and the dearth of reliable resources.” 

“There’s a lot of debt, it’s very confusing,” said NCLC attorney Persis Yu. “I think some borrowers are desperate and they are turning to places that look like they might be an easy fix.” 

She says many of these debt-settlement companies mischaracterize government programs as their own.

They charge borrowers as much as $1600 for services, like debt consolidation, that are available from the government for nothing.

“What’s making this possible is a lack of awareness of repayment options,” said Mark Kantrowitz, student financial aid expert from Edvisors.com.

He says the government should run an ad campaign of its own, so students with debt know what help is available for free.

If you are struggling to pay back your federal student loans, here are your options:

  • Direct consolidation: If you have multiple federal student loans you can consolidate them into one payment and extend the life of the loan to 30 years to lower monthly payments. 
  • Extended repayment: Borrowers with more than $30,000 in debt can extend the repayment period from the standard 10 years up to 25.
  • Graduated repayment: Borrowers who choose extended repayment can also set up monthly payments that start low and grow every two years.
  • Income-based repayment: Your monthly payment is pegged to your income and can be adjusted annually to account for income fluctuations. The term of the loan can also be modified to go beyond 10 years.
  • Income contingent repayment: Your payment based on your monthly income and any outstanding debt is cancelled after 25 years.
  • Pay-as-you-earn: For borrowers who took out loans after 2007 and have a family or financial hardship. This income-based plan offers the lowest monthly payment options of any income-based plan.
  •  
  • Source: Office of Federal Student Aid

 

How to spot a scam:

  • High-pressure sales tactics, like suggesting your interest rates are about to skyrocket, without debt consolidation.
  • Charging fees before debts are settled
  • Touting a "new government program" or suggesting they have special access to government programs
  • Claiming to represent the Department of Education or other government agency
  • Offers of discounted pay-back rates, gifts or special incentives
  • The hard sell, plain and simple

Source: Department of Education and Federal Trade Commission
 

 Correction: The previous version of this story misidentified Mark Kantrowitz as Mike Kantrowitz. Marketplace regrets the error.

Why HealthCare.gov is going to get a CEO

Mon, 2014-07-14 10:55

File this under one of the toughest jobs in America.

The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is beating the bushes for a CEO of HealthCare.gov, the site that became a punch line on late night TV last fall.

The Obama Administration wants to make sure the funny guys get material from somewhere else. New HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell hopes appointing a CEO to oversee the operation will make the jokes go away.

The first thing the CEO must understand? That HealthCare.gov is an online store that exists to sell a product, and that product isn’t exactly a "hot ticket."

Health insurance is “a grudge buy,” says Jon Kingsdale, the first executive director of the Massachusetts exchange, known as the Massachusetts Health Connector.

“Nobody likes to go down to their corner broker’s office on a Saturday morning, like they do a car dealer, and smell the print on the new 150 page explanation of benefits, [or] see how fast they can get it from $0 to $60,000 in claims.”

Of course the federal government’s “glitchy” website only made it harder for consumers to kick the tires on those insurance policies.

As last year’s fiasco proved, running a public exchange – which covers two-thirds of the states - is uncharted territory for Washington.

Kingsdale says it’s a more entrepreneurial enterprise than most anything else the government does.

“I used to shock my very liberal, left-leaning board of directors by reminding them if you want to talk about enrollment and getting people covered, you are basically talking about marketing and sales,” he says.

By announcing plans to hire a CEO, many think HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell understands this operation requires a business approach, with business savvy.

The new executive will work with state exchanges, consumers and insures.

Former White House advisor Kavita Patel says if HHS is going to call this person a CEO, Burwell must give the person the power of a CEO.

"As we saw with the rollout, people didn’t have the resources or authority to make the decisions they needed, and in the end, we suffered for it,” she says.

While Patel likes the idea of these management changes, it’s easy to see how the CEO could get buried in the federal government maze. 

He or she will run what’s called the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight - a bureau within the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, a division of HHS.

“Imagine taking a new start-up organization and putting it inside IBM. Something with 20,000 divisions, 200 senior vice presidents,” says Patel.

In a statement last month, Burwell said the CEO will have a “dotted line” straight to her.

In other words, this new management structure is supposed to help Burwell stay in the loop – poised to move if calamity strikes.

Leadership - though - is just one challenge facing the feds as we approach HealthCare.gov 2.0.

“Let’s say you are Aetna, Cigna, United, Blue Cross - they are in the middle of doing incredibly complicated bids right now for 2015, with lots and lots of open questions,” says Tom Scully, former CMS Administrator under George W. Bush.

Scully says the CEO must understand what it’s like to develop new insurance policies, and how to get consumers to buy them. Someone, he says, who knows the industry inside and out: “You are probably going to know when someone is coming crying screaming at you, or whether they are crying wolf, or have a real problem.”

Kingsdale, the former head of the Massachusetts exchange says here’s the thing: HealthCare.gov is here to stay.

He says that means the federal government must do things like "enhance the consumer experience", and hold insurers' hands - or keep their feet to the fire.

“As the exchange matures from the start-up to this more commercial, entrepreneurial phase, this is a chance for the Obama Administration to show that the government can learn from the private sector,” he says.

Kingsdale says the more HHS accepts that it’s running a unique online store, serving as middleman to frequently overwhelmed shoppers and frequently frustrated insurers, the more people get insurance.

Which, he says, is the whole point. 

PM – ACA CEO                                  7/10/14                                                GORENSTEIN

Host Lede: File this under…one of the toughest jobs in America.

The federal Department of Health and Human Services is beating the bushes for a CEO of healthcare.gov, the site we all know that became a punch line on late night T.V. last fall.

TAPE: Joke from Colbert Report

The Obama Administration wants to make sure the funny guys get material from somewhere else.

New HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell hopes a CEO to oversee the operation will make the jokes go away.

From the Health Desk at WHYY, Marketplace’s Dan Gorenstein has the story.

DG: When you think about it…healthcare.gov…is an online store that exists to sell health insurance.

Kingsdale: It’s a grudge buy.

DG: Jon Kingsdale was the first guy to run the Massachusetts exchange – the Connector.

Kingsdale: 2:40 nobody likes to go down to their corner broker’s office on a Saturday morning like they do a car dealer and smell the print on the new 150 page explanation of benefits.

DG:  Of course the federal government’s “glitchy” website only made it harder for consumers to kick the tires on those insurance policies.

As last year’s fiasco proved; running a public exchange – which covers two-thirds of the states - is uncharted territory for Washington.

Kingsdale says - really - it’s a more entrepreneurial enterprise than most anything else the government does.

Kingsdale: 3:33 …I used to shock my very liberal, left-leaning board of directors by reminding them if you want to talk about enrollment and getting people covered…you are basically talking about marketing and sales.

DG: By announcing plans to hire a CEO, many think HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell understands this operation requires a business approach, with business savvy.

Which makes sense since this person will work with state exchanges, consumers and insures.

Former White House advisor Kavita Patel says if we’re going to call this person a CEO though, we’ve got to give them the power of a CEO.

Patel: 4:36…as we saw with the rollout, people didn’t have the resources or authority to make the decisions they needed and in the end we suffered for it.

DG: While Patel likes the idea of these management changes, it’s easy to see how the CEO could get buried in the federal government maze.

Not to get too deep in bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo, but this CEO will run what’s called the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight…a bureau within the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid…a division of HHS.

Patel: :14… imagine taking a new start-up organization and putting it inside IBM. Something with 20,000 division with 200 senior vice presidents.

DG: In a statement last month, Burwell said the CEO will have a “dotted line” straight to her.

In other words, this new management structure is supposed to help Burwell stay in the loop – poised to move if calamity strikes. (flat)

Leadership - though - is just one challenge facing the feds as we approach healthcare.gov 2.0.

Scully: 14:56 let’s say you are Aetna, Cigna, United, Blue Cross, they are in the middle of doing incredibly complicated bids for 2015 right now, with lots and lots of open questions.

DG: Tom Scully was a top HHS official under George W. Bush.

Scully says the next CEO must understand what it’s like to develop new insurance policies – and how to get consumers to buy them.

Someone, he says, who knows the industry inside and out.

Scully: 8:06… you are probably going to know when someone is coming crying screaming at you or whether they are crying wolf, or have a real problem.

DG: Jon Kingsdale – the former head of the Massachusetts exchange – says here’s the thing; healthcare.gov is here to stay.

He says that means the federal government must do things like ‘enhance the consumer experience’ and hold insurers hands…or keep their feet to the fire.

Kingsdale: 6:!2… As the exchange matures… from the start-up to this more commercial, entrepreneurial phase, this is a chance for the Obama Administration to show that the government can learn from the private sector.

DG: Kingsdale says the more HHS accepts that it’s running a unique online store…and has a role as middleman to frequently overwhelmed shoppers and frequently frustrated insurers…the more people get insurance.

Which, he says, is the point.

I’m DG for Marketplace.

eBay and Sotheby's join forces again

Mon, 2014-07-14 09:00

eBay and Sotheby’s want you to buy more high-end stuff (from them, of course). So, they're marrying Sotheby’s cache and eBay’s technological know-how.

eBay is creating a new marketplace where it will stream some of Sotheby’s New York auctions, so customers can bid online. The idea is to reach new, younger consumers, who'd never go to an auction.

“You’ve got millennials who are starting to make  some money, and they’ve grown up around this technology, and would find it silly to go somewhere to do something like this,” says Paula Rosenblum, a managing partner with RSR Research.

Sotheby’s can just piggy back on eBay’s existing technology, the question is: What’s in it for eBay? 

“There’s never any harm from having a venerable brand like Sotheby’s sprinkle some of its pixie dust, hopefully, onto eBay,” says Sucharita Mulpuru, a retail analyst with Forrester Research.

Mulpuru says eBay wants to attract more affluent consumers to its site. But they won’t be able to use PayPal for their new paintings and purses - at least not right away.  

 The two companies tried a partnership a dozen years ago, but it didn’t work. They're hoping this time will be different.

What brings people to cities with unhappy residents?

Mon, 2014-07-14 04:00

Happiness happens where it's warm. According to a new study by Harvard Professor of economics, Ed Glaeser, Southern cities like Charlottsville, Virginia, Lafayette, Louisiana, and Naples, Florida, are among the happiest in the country.

"Though Rochester, Minnesota, also ranks way up there on our list," Glaeser says.

Then there are the glass half-empty metropoli. Glaeser notes that some cities in the Rust Belt, like South Bend, Indiana, and Erie and Scranton, Pennsylvania, have had high levels of self-reported unhappiness as far back as the 1940's. In their boom years at least, he says workers there were paid high wages, but no longer. Today he notes, for some workers in the Rust Belt the payoff comes in the form of cheap housing. But city residents aren't driven entirely by happiness, says Glaeser.

"They’re willing to take other compensations for being a little less happy," he says.

New York also registers as an unhappy city. Glaeser says some workers there trade high salaries for happiness.

Kelly Goldsmith, a professor of marketing at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, says when it comes to making decisions, we're just no good at making happiness a priority.

"You say to yourself, all right, I’ve got this job offer from Goldman Sachs. I know I’m going to be working like 16 hours day. I know I’m never going to see my kids and I know when I visited there and when I talked to the people that worked there – they said they were miserable. But what do we tell ourselves? We say, that’s not going to happen to me," she says. 

But Goldsmith notes, we’re not idiots – we’re optimists, even if there's no real hope to cling to.

"We’re naïve in that we think that we’re strong enough to overcome situational detriments to our happiness," she says.

Cassie Mogilner, a professor of marketing at Wharton, says residents of different cities might report happiness differently.

“I'm actually from California, where the norm is to talk about the wonderful things of one’s life and to rose color everything including their own well-being and happiness,” she says.

And she notes, the conclusion that people are being financially compensated by lower housing costs, or by being paid to live in in unhappy places, could be an over reach. It's possible, says Mogilner, that there's another way to think about factors like choosing a higher paying job, or a lower mortage, which could provide the ability to raise a family.

"These are things people are choosing in order to be happy, not instead of being happy."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PODCAST: Sotheby's and eBay team up

Mon, 2014-07-14 03:00

Second time's the charm? After a failed joint venture back 2002, eBay and Sotheby's are trying a second partnership to take advantage of the middle luxury market. Plus, more on why GM is choosing to pay for claims related to faulty ignition switches with cash instead of insurance. Also, the signature sound of a racecar might be about to change. That's because of a new kind of electric vehicle set to debut during the Formula E World Championship, which will feature exclusively electric racing cars.

LA Smog: the battle against air pollution

Mon, 2014-07-14 02:16

When we see photos of Beijing shrouded in a veil of thick smog, we’re horrified. How can the Chinese live with such terrible air pollution?

One answer is: Americans did. Back in the 1950s and '60s, people in Los Angeles breathed some of the dirtiest air in the world.

Los Angeles still has smog, of course, but it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be. How did the city get its act together?

It took decades. Los Angeles had its first real smog attack during World War II, a smog strong enough that some people suspected a Japanese chemical attack. But it wasn’t until 1975 that the U.S. required new cars to have catalytic converters, “the key piece of technology that allowed everything to change,” according to Mary Nichols, chairman of California’s Air Resources Board. In between, there were frustrating years of scientific research, industry denial, politics, protest and an unwavering attachment to the automobile.

Los Angeles, like Denver and Mexico City, is a natural pollution trap. The surrounding mountains combine with temperature inversions to trap dirty air. Early on, smoke and fumes from steel and chemical plants, oil refineries and backyard trash incinerators - legal until the late 1950s - plagued the city.

As did pollution from automobiles. Los Angeles County had more than a million vehicles on the road as early as 1940. Just 10 years later, that number more than doubled as the post-war LA population and economy boomed. City leaders, including the Chamber of Commerce, realized that air pollution threatened tourism, real estate and agriculture.

“They’d promoted Los Angeles as this clean, healthy place,” said historian Sarah Elkind, author of "How Local Politics Shape Federal Policy: Business, Power, and the Environment in Twentieth Century Los Angeles." So in 1947, the county established an Air Pollution Control District, the first of its kind.

No one, however, blamed the automobile at first. “People did look at tailpipes, but auto exhaust was clear and the smog was brown, so it didn’t seem like there was a direct relationship between those two things,” Elkind said.

“It took about 10 years for there to be concrete laboratory-proven evidence that the hydrocarbon emissions from tailpipes, when exposed to sunlight and nitrogen oxides, turned into photochemical smog.”

Arie Haagen-Smit, a biochemist who had been studying the flavor of pineapples at the California Institute of Technology, not only made that discovery, but fought hard to convince politicians, regulators and industry that cars were the biggest smog culprit in Los Angeles.

The oil and automobile industries pushed back on his research. Chip Jacobs, co-author of “Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles,” says a turning point came when the oil industry-funded Stanford Research Institute sent a member to Caltech to discredit Haagen-Smit’s findings.

“The best thing that happened to LA lungs was when the man from SRI came in and smeared his reputation,” Jacobs said. Haagen-Smit was furious, and vowed to prove industry wrong. He redoubled his research efforts. By the mid 1950s there was no doubt among scientists that cars were a primary factor in LA’s smog crisis.

That doesn’t mean the public believed it immediately, or that car owners were willing to cut back on driving. Or that the auto industry sprang into action.

“Los Angeles had no influence over the auto manufacturers,” Elkind said. Plus, smog wasn’t yet a national problem. “It was very easy to dismiss smog as a quirk of LA geography.”

Automakers were slow to respond, wary of any change that would add cost to their vehicles. “It’s like the stages of grief,” said Nichols. “At first you deny it. Then you fight against it. And finally you grudgingly accept it, embrace it and move on.” That process took almost two decades.

James Lents, former executive officer of California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District, says Californians started agitating for change as the science became stronger and smog’s public health dangers became clearer. On bad days, parents kept children out of school, emergency rooms overflowed, athletic events were canceled.

Local doctors were beginning to talk about possible connections between lung cancer, heart problems and smog. In 1954, as many as 6,000 people showed up to a protest meeting in Pasadena. Los Angeles’s pollution czar volunteered to sit in Haagen-Smit’s plexiglass smog chamber to prove ozone’s danger. He got bronchitis.

“It was just a toxic atmosphere,” said Jeff Slade, who grew up in Beverly Hills. “I was thinking, 'what could you compare it to today?' And I think you’d have to look at cities like Beijing. It hurt, literally hurt, to breathe.”

Slade’s mother, Afton Slade, was president of Stamp Out Smog, a women’s activist group based in Beverly Hills. It was one of many anti-smog groups that sprouted in Los Angeles County during the late 1950s and early 1960s. They influenced public opinion and pushed politicians to do something about the crisis.

Stamp Out Smog had Hollywood connections and a flair for the dramatic. “So they did flashy things,” Slade said. His mother presided over a media event at the Ambassador Hotel in 1964 with a birthday cake marking 21 years of smog. It had a skull and crossbones on top in frosting.

“The press just loved this kind of thing,” Slade said. They also loved it when the women brought their kids to rallies wearing gas masks, a bit of political theater that became fairly common at smog protests.

These rallies and media events were among the earliest “environmental” protests in the U.S. The word “environmentalism” wasn’t really in the vocabulary yet. Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” had just recently introduced a scary new thought – that technological progress could kill us. By the early 1960s, California demanded the first anti-smog controls on cars.

“The elected officials finally believed that cars were a big part of the problem and were going to regulate them, in spite of what the automobile manufacturers said,” James Lents said.

The 60s produced a dizzying series of changes, in California and the nation. In 1963, Congress enacted the first Clean Air Act, a tacit acknowledgement that smog had become a national problem. Two years later, it called for the first national emissions standards for cars.

In 1966 the California Highway Patrol began random roadside inspections of early smog devices. A year later Congress gave California permission to set even stricter emission standards than the federal government’s.

In 1969 the Justice Department sued automakers for conspiring to delay anti-smog devices, a lawsuit ultimately settled out of court. Then, Congress enacted the law that has set the framework for U.S. air pollution regulation, the Clean Air Act of 1970.

“It wasn’t until the Clean Air Act in 1970 that you had a law that said, 'we’re going to set an air quality standard based on a public health measurement, and then the government will go out and take whatever action is needed to reach those limits,'” Nichols said. “But that was a shift, and it was based on growing populist opposition to how bad the air was.”

California still has some of the worst air in the country. But “worst” isn’t as bad as it used to be. Ozone levels in Los Angeles are just 40 percent of what they were in the mid-1970s, and that’s with more than twice the number of cars.

In the end, the air got better not because people were willing to change their behavior, but because technology improved, according to Lents. “My belief has been that humans are very innovative,” he said. “My experience was if you pushed them a little bit, they find solutions. They just don’t like to do it because it takes time and costs money and they don’t like to push ahead.”

Lents said fighting air pollution is an ongoing battle. As the science gets better, the more is learned about air pollution’s dangers. The “goal posts” move and air quality standards get higher.

In the past few years, scientists have grown increasingly alarmed about so-called “particulate matter” pollution, which embeds deeply in the lungs and is linked to serious heart and lung problems, including an increased risk of lung cancer. Los Angeles was ranked fourth for particle pollution in the American Lung Association’s latest “State of the Air” rankings. Now California regulators are struggling to bring particle pollution under control, along with ozone.

“We don’t meet federal ambient air standards in Los Angeles,” Nichols said. “We’ve brought the levels way, way down to the point where we don’t trigger actual health alerts very often, but I’m not satisfied with that.”

Nichols says by 2030 California needs to “move people and goods” with zero emissions technology. That gives the state 15 years to get its act together. Can it do it again?

European court ruling continues to vex Google

Mon, 2014-07-14 02:00

In the wake of the European Court of Justice ruling that Google had to address individuals' “Right to be Forgotten” online, the company has already had over 70,000 takedown requests. Google has begun dealing with requests and pulling things down, including links to articles in British publications, while others were brought back after uproar. 

 One major issues is that these thousands of takedown requests are targeted geographically.

“When a request is granted to have a search result de-linked from someone’s name, that delinking will only take place in the localized Europe-based versions of the Google search engine,” says Jonathan Zittrain of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

According to Zittrain, both the ECJ decision and the Facebook experiment are two sides of the same coin — In both, the question is tinkering with online streams of content. In the case of Facebook, people objected to the idea that humans are hand-tweaking the feed, which is essentially what the ECJ decision asks for more of from Google.

Says Zittrain: “There’s going to be many hands on that tiller for search results, and we might have been better off with the roulette wheel.”

Women led air pollution protests from the start

Mon, 2014-07-14 02:00

Ask Jeff Slade if his mother was a “typical housewife” and he’ll say, “There was nothing typical about my mother.” Karenlin Madoff will tell you the same about her mom. She wasn’t a housewife, she was “a force of nature.”

Both Madoff’s and Slade’s mothers were clean air activists in the 1960s, when “clean air activist” wasn’t really a thing. But those 1960s “housewives” had plenty of sisterly company in the cause. In fact, American women had been agitating for clean air well before they could vote.

“Women’s activism was critical in getting the conversation started,” says historian David Stradling, author of “Smokestacks and Progressives: Environmentalists, Engineers and Air Quality in America, 1881-1951.”

For decades, coal smoke “had been seen as a sign of progress,” Stradling says. “But by the beginning of the 20th century, women are beginning to complain in an organized fashion about the effects of smoke on their home and on the health of their children. So they begin to redefine smoke as problematic.”

Jump ahead 60 years. Now, smog was the problem. Michelle Madoff was a young mother in Pittsburgh, married to a heart surgeon. She’d developed asthma after moving to the polluted city from Canada. So she decided to take action.

“She started hosting meetings in our living room,” her daughter says. “My mom said she went into the kitchen to get more drinks for people who were in the living room, and that’s when they voted her president of GASP.”

GASP was short for Group Against Smog and Pollution. What sounds like a clunky, if not obvious, name for a clean air group probably sounded both new and aggressive back then. So did women’s activist groups like S.O.S. or Stamp Out Smog in Los Angeles.

Afton Slade, wife of a Beverly Hills ad man, joined with other well-to-do women in that city in the late 50s to start protesting Los Angeles’ notoriouisly bad air. Another group of women in Pasadena, dubbed themselves the “Smog-A-Tears,” a spoof on Disney’s Mouseketeers.

“There they are dressed up in their little June Cleaver, you know, the pearls and the dress and so forth, wearing gas masks,” says historian Nancy Unger, author of “Beyond Nature’s Housekeepers: American Women in Environmental History”.

Unger and Stradling say women in both the Progressive Era and the 1960s were often ignored if they started talking about technical solutions or specific legislation to combat air pollution. “Those weren’t seen as women’s realms,” Stradling says.

They were more accepted if they “stayed within the issues that women are expected to speak on - children, health, cleanliness of the home, aesthetics of the city and moral standards.”

Women realized that. So sometimes they played the gender card. Housewives dragged their kids to anti-smog marches. They partnered with male scientists and politicians.

Slade’s mom went straight to the top. She consulted with Arie Haagen-Smit, the pioneering chemist who connected the dots between smog and cars in Los Angeles.

“My mom was on the phone all the time, I remember that, with Dr. Haagen-Smit,” Slade says. “So here she was, on the one hand, working with the Caltech scientist who really isolated the reasons behind ozone, and on the other hand, bringing her children to demonstrations with gas masks on.”

Stradling says today, the ranks of environmentalists are filled with both women and men. But today’s activists still get some of the same pushback the “anti-smoke” ladies got in 1900. They “continued to be assailed for not understanding the economic repercussions of environmental regulations,” Stradling says. “And that’s something that persists to this day."

Who needs insurance? GM paying victims on its own.

Mon, 2014-07-14 02:00

General Motors says it will settle claims stemming from its defective ignition switch with its own cash, not through liability insurance. Why would an insured company pay millions of dollars — and maybe more — out of pocket?

Well, there are lots of potential reasons.

First, there’s precedent for creating compensation funds with your company’s own money, according to Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute, an industry-funded group.

“BP, in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, was completely self-insured,” says Hartwig. “Generally speaking, what it paid, and what it continues to pay, is completely out of its own pocket.”

It’s common for companies to self-insure when they get to be the size of GM, according to Peter Viscardi, senior advisor with Hanover Stone Partners LLC, an insurance risk management consulting firm.

“Many of these companies have assets greater than insurance companies. Their balance sheets are strong enough to absorb a certain degree of losses on their own,” Viscardi says.

These big companies, like BP, often set up captives: wholly owned insurance subsidiaries. A trade publication called Business Insider describes GM as largely self-insuring prior to bankruptcy. Big companies can also purchase insurance on top of their in-house resources.

GM won’t disclose the exact terms of its coverage, though a spokesman says it has insurance.

Experts say there are several reasons why GM might not draw on outside insurance to pay for the ignition switch compensation fund.

The claims arose over a long period of time. If GM didn’t inform its insurers about potential liabilities while renewing policies, there could be consequences for the automaker. Also, it’s unclear which liabilities remain post-bankruptcy.

But a lot of it comes down to expedience.

Insurance companies scrutinize claims for extenuating circumstances like, “Was the driver speeding? Was the driver impaired?” Hartwig says.

Kenneth Feinberg, the director of GM’s compensation fund, has explicitly said those factors won’t be considered now.

Not tapping insurance means GM can expedite the compensation process, lessening what analysts see as a bigger risk: further damage to its reputation.

Host: General Motors says it will pay victims of its defective ignition switch with its own cash … not through liability insurance. Why would an insured company pay out of pocket? Kate Davidson explains.

 

There’s precedent for creating a compensation fund with your own money, says Robert Hartwig. He heads the Insurance Information Institute … an industry funded group.

Hartwig: BP in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster was completely self-insured. Generally speaking, what it paid, and what it continues to pay, is out of its own pocket.

Risk management consultant Peter Viscardi says a lot of companies self-insure when they get to be the size of GM.

Viscardi: Many of these companies have assets greater than insurance companies. Their balance sheets are strong enough to absorb a certain degree of losses on their own.

They often set up captives … wholly owned insurance subsidiaries. GM won’t disclose the terms of its coverage … though it says it has insurance. Still, there may be reasons not to use it. Robert Hartwig says insurance companies scrutinize claims:

Hartwig: Was the driver speeding? Was the driver impaired?

Not tapping insurance means GM could lessen what analysts see as a bigger risk: more damage to its reputation. I’m Kate Davidson, for Marketplace.

 

 

Apple trademarks store layout, genius idea dries up

Mon, 2014-07-14 01:00

Another one of my genius ideas has just bitten the dust.   

A headline hit the news wires that that Apple can have a trademark on the layout of its stores. Obviously, Apple has a trademark on the fruit-shaped logo that’s on its stores. Now, a court in Brussels says that the design of the store itself is a trademark, meaning it’s a sign: If you see a retail layout with a lot of white and glass, flat tables with electronics gear and a Genius bar, then that tells you it’s an Apple store -  not a lingerie store, a plumbing supply store, or a Samsung store.

It turns out Apple already had a trademark on its store layout in the U.S. This is sad for me because I had a fabulous concept that was going to make me rich. What about setting up a Genius Bar that serves drinks? It would feature, wait for it, the Apple-tini. (Note to Apple lawyers: that’s a joke, just a joke. My grandfather owned a bar in Brooklyn but I have no plans).

The story of the Apple store is interesting because it highlights the different ways people can protect their creations in an economy increasingly driven by intellectual property. Apple’s store layout isn’t an invention, so it wouldn’t get a patent. Apple’s store layout is not a tangible expression of a work of authorship, like a book, a photograph, or a song which could get copyright protection. In America, a trademark is a phrase, a design, or words that distinguishes Apple stores from another store. And these things can be worth a fortune.

At the dawn of the Internet when I was hosting Marketplace, I got sick and tired of the overused metaphor to describe the emerging web. It was “information superhighway” just about every time. Every innovation was an “onramp to the information highway,” or a glitch was a “broken down truck on the information superhighway.” So I asked Marketplace listeners to suggest an alternative metaphor.

Back then, one (genius) listener had a fabulous suggestion. Instead of the information superhighway, why not call it the ELVIS: The Electronic Linkage for Video and Information Services? So I mentioned this listener suggestion on the radio, as a joke.  Ha, ha, one Marketplace listener wants to call the information superhighway the ELVIS instead.

And as night follows day, Marketplace received a cease and desist letter from Elvis Presley’s lawyers, warning us that this would violate the King’s intellectual property. At one level? Give me a break, this wasn’t a going concern we were calling The ELVIS, it was a line in a listener response segment of a radio show. On the other hand, maybe they were smart to write the letter, because calling the Internet The ELVIS was the kind of very clever idea that could have had legs. Mind you, this was in 1994 - way, way before people were pumping video through the Internet. That was a listener with some serious foresight.

What are other creative ways people have used intellectual property law?  The top NBA draft pick from a couple of years ago, Anthony Davis, got a copyright on his unibrow. Obviously he didn’t invent the concept of eyebrows that flow together, so he couldn’t patent it. He didn’t compose the unibrow symphony, so copyright wouldn’t work. But when it comes to distinguishing himself from other sports figures, the “basketball guy with the unibrow” was judged to be a way to distinguish his brand from the competition.

Take the quiz below to see if you can guess which signature sayings and brands are trademarked. var _polldaddy = [] || _polldaddy; _polldaddy.push( { type: "iframe", auto: "1", domain: "marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/", id: "is-it-trademarked", placeholder: "pd_1405330315" } ); (function(d,c,j){if(!document.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=('https:'==document.location.protocol)?'https://polldaddy.com/survey.js':'http://i0.poll.fm/survey.js';s=document.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);}}(document,'script','pd-embed'));
ON THE AIR
Blues, Etc.
Next Up: @ 11:00 pm
World Cafe

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