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Updated: 44 min 52 sec ago

Tallying the Secret Service's "comedy of errors"

Fri, 2014-11-14 02:00

That's how many people have gotten over the White House fence since 1973, the Washington Post reports. An investigation found many layers of security failed on September 19, the report found, allowing a man to hop the fence, run through the White House lawn and into the East Room before he was detained. An agent with an attack dog was taking a personal call without a radio on him, for instance, and several others overestimated various barriers and didn't react in time as a result. One congressman called the incident "a comedy of errors."

2.9 percent

The annual increase this year for in-state students at public four-year colleges, falling under 3 percent for the first time since 1975, Vox reported. Growth is slowing down, but school is still more expensive than ever; the College Board found tuition at public four-year schools is three times higher than it was in the 1980s, when adjusting for inflation. A lot of those hikes happened during the recession. Meanwhile, family income has fallen or stayed flat.

1 percent

That's how many engineers at Facebook, Google and Twitter are black, and 3 percent are hispanic. The vast majority of employees of these and other companies in Silicon Valley are men. Bloomberg talked to dozens of women and people of color working in tech about their experiences. Employees talked about feeling isolated, with far more incentive to try to fit in with the status quo than to push for more diversity at work.


The Energy Department projects that the national average price per gallon of gas will continue to drop throughout the end of the year to $2.80 in December. That’s especially good news for low-income drivers, who generally have to commute much more to work.

2 bounces

Don’t be fooled by decoy answers on this week’s Silicon Tally—2 bounces is how many times the Phillae Space Probe bounced before landing safely on the surface of a comet. But you already knew that, so why not take our quiz to test your knowledge of the week in tech news?

50 Starbucks

That’s how many Starbucks exist in the Netherlands. Consider this as you’re sipping your Chestnut Praline latte: On Friday, the European Union authorities accused the Netherlands of cutting Starbucks a deal (i.e. tax breaks) when the green mermaid announced it would move its European headquarters to the UK.

The big economic impact of data about the weather

Fri, 2014-11-14 02:00

NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, says it was the target of an Internet-based hacking attack “in recent weeks.”

The federal agency, which operates the National Weather Service, is being tight-lipped about the details of the attack and its subsequent decision to take down some of its websites in response.

The “impacts were temporary and all services have been fully restored,” NOAA said in a written statement. The agency also said the incident did not compromise its ability to offer forecasts to the public.

But, according to the Washington Post, there was a disruption of some weather data, including information provided to European weather forecasting counterparts. Such weather data is critical to a number of industries and government operations, all of which rely on raw data provided by the National Weather Service.

"Most airlines have their own weather prediction and monitoring operation,” but rely on NWS raw data, says Ross Aimer, a retired United Airlines pilot and aviation consultant. Cockpits inside more modern airplanes also have satellite weather images beamed in, Aimer says.

The outage, which reportedly occurred in October during the hurricane season, also exposes the reliance on government weather data for disaster planners.

“We see a storm coming ... and all the information you can have prompts decisions about when you evacuate, where do you move people to, what places will be safe and what places will be inundated,” says Gary Cecchine, a senior policy analyst at RAND Corporation.

In Chicago, for example, forecasts help determine when to open the water gates into Lake Michigan to prevent flooding. 

Falling gas prices are a big help for the low-income

Fri, 2014-11-14 02:00

In a surprising reversal from previous forecasts, the U.S. Energy Department is now predicting that the average price of gasoline will remain below $3.00 a gallon next year.

That’s a 44-cent drop from its previous outlook, and especially good news for the working poor since the vast majority of workers (both above and below the poverty line) commute to work by car.

With gas now selling for $2.85 a gallon at a gas station, just outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Jesse Foster says he’s paying $10 less to fill his tank than he was even a few weeks ago.

“Yeah, it’s a lot of savings,” says Foster, “because I drive a Suburban. So it’s real good news.”

It’s particularly good news if you work for minimum wage. Since poorer commuters spend a greater percentage of their income on gas, any relief at the pump creates a ripple effect of benefits.

“Which might mean that you don’t run out of healthy foods,” says Margaret Simms, director of the Low-Income Working Families Project at the Urban Institute. “It also means that maybe you can pay a bill that you had to skip this month because you had to put gas in your car.”

Simms also points out that any data the government has on commuters treats both low and high-income drivers the same, which might present a false picture since many low-income workers drive less fuel-efficient cars.

The Energy Department projects that gas prices will continue dropping for the remainder of the year, with a national average of $2.80 a gallon expected for December.

Volkswagen deal revs up union hopes in the South

Fri, 2014-11-14 02:00

This week Volkswagen laid out a plan to recognize the United Auto Workers at its Tennessee plant, though it’s not quite what the union was hoping for.

The UAW has been desperate to organize one of the foreign-owned plants in the South as it rebuilds its membership rolls. And the South is where so many of the auto jobs are these days.

“The plants are located here. It’s important for us to organize them,” UAW president Dennis Williams said at a ceremony establishing a local chapter in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The UAW’s southern strategy appeared to be snuffed out in February when workers at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant voted down union representation. This was at an automaker that had been welcoming to the union.

Instead of trying its luck elsewhere, the UAW has tried a side door. It started a local chapter even without recognition from Volkswagen.

The UAW has called this week’s policy change at Volkswagen a “step forward.” But it still doesn’t accomplish the Detroit-based union’s ultimate goal.

The policy allows for multiple unions to have different levels of representation. And no one would get exclusive bargaining rights. For that reason, some Republican politicians who had been campaigning against the UAW are cheering.

“I think it’s a victory for the workers, for Volkswagen and for Chattanooga, in particular,” said Gerald McCormick, majority leader of the Tennessee state house.

Republicans have fought to keep the UAW from getting a foothold in the region because they see the union as damaging to the business climate.

The union could use a big win to go into other plants with a head of steam.

“We’re talking to Nissan workers, we’re talking to Mercedes workers. We talk to BMW workers,” UAW secretary Gary Casteel said during the organizing push. “Which one of those has the amount of interest from employees that we would start an organizing drive? We’d have to assess that.”

But Casteel points out that the UAW has a long history in the south, just not in the big multinational plants.

Membership has even grown in recent years, but labor attorney Cliff Hammond says they’re small shops.

“I don’t think people really appreciate how difficult it is to—even in Michigan, Ohio—win a big plant, let alone down in the South where you don’t have your grassroots,” Hammond said.

And despite inroads at Volkswagen, no one is counting this week as the momentum-shifting win the UAW has been looking for. 


Gwynne Shotwell and Franklin Leonard talk creativity

Thu, 2014-11-13 15:15

 To celebrate Marketplace’s 25th anniversary, we hit the road with a series of live events across the country. The final stop on the “How I Learned…” tour brought us back to Los Angeles, where we talked about creativity in business with Gwynne Shotwell, the President and COO of SpaceX, and Franklin Leonard, founder and CEO of The Black List.

Leonard on the business of The Black List:

I think of what we do less as a business than as a mission.

We see our role as identifying and celebrating great screenwriting and facilitating that writing making it to the screen. I think it’s an ongoing process for us in terms of making it a viable business. I think we have something that sort of functions now, there are a lot of other things we want to do with it. But really the mission is far more important for us that the business model is right now.

Shotwell on the mission of Space X:

We have these crazy audacious goals. The company was founded fundamentally to change the value proposition of human transport into space. Really what we’re focused on now is doing a great job for our customers but building up enough revenue and having enough money to develop the capability to take people to Mars.

But would Shotwell go to Mars, if she had the chance? That’s a different story.

Well, I don’t like to camp. Early on, Mars is going to be camping. I think there are people far better suited to do that than me. But when the first Holiday Inn Express shows up, maybe I’ll go.

I’d love to go to space. I would love to peek out a giant window and look back at the blue marble. There’s no question, I’d love to do that. But that’s different from an eight-month trip in a bus with the same hundred people, not stopping by 7-11 for a Slurpee. You’re on that bus and you’re headed to mars. And what happens if you get there and you don’t like it? It’s eight months back. There’s no Uber back. Well you can get back on the spaceship and go back.

Bill Youngblood/Marketplace

Leonard says he learned a lot about creativity in the workplace from some of his previous jobs:

I’ve never been one to be so dogmatic about ‘Oh well the way things have always been done is the way things should be done.’ I think I’ve probably brought a lot of different approaches from previous jobs into the environments and jobs I have now and said, ‘well what if we do things this way? Why aren’t things done this way?’ And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes there is a reason things are always done this way.

All kids are really creative. I’ve never met a child who is not creative. On some level, as we get older we take certain things for granted, assume certain things, assume things are impossible, and that things can only be done a certain way. I think a lot of it is getting back to being more childlike and sort of allowing yourself to believe that anything is possible.

Obama expected to announce immigration reform soon

Thu, 2014-11-13 13:42

President Obama is expected to make an announcement as soon as next week on immigration reform that will protect up to 5 million undocumented immigrants. To find out more, Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal talked to Michael Shear, White House correspondent for the New York Times.

To sum it up: If you are in the U.S. illegally but have a child who is a citizen, you may be able to apply for deferred action, which means you will not be deported. This may also provide a work permit. And of course, some people will be exempt, especially if they have a criminal record.  

“I think a lot of people would say, these folks are largely employed anyways," Shear says. "These are mostly people who have been living in the country for many years – five, 10 years in some cases. They hold down jobs, but they’re holding these jobs in kind of a hidden way. Or in a way that they’re constantly looking over their shoulders, having to worry about a deportation proceeding if they’re caught."

Additional components to the plan include expanding opportunities for immigrants with high-tech skills and adding extra security to the southern border.

“The idea that the administration puts forward is that if you bring these folks out of the shadows in that respect, allow them to sort of hold these jobs in an above-board way, it actually helps the economy instead of  [hurting] it,” Shear said.