Marketplace

Marketplace®

with Kai Ryssdal

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Public radio's only national series about the global economy and finance takes a broad view of business, covering any story related to money — most of the world's stories are. Hosted by Kai Ryssdal.

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Do you plan on doing any work during the last week of December?
The last week of December is one of the least productive times of the year. Many workers use their vacation days to spend the time with their family in between Christmas and New Year. Others show up to work and suffer through their holiday hangovers while in the office. A survey of more than 1,000 workers found that 18 percent of people plan to work that entire week. The majority of them — 81 percent — plan to be “at least somewhat productive,” according to Robert Half, a human resources consulting group that conducted the holiday survey. Those spending the holiday with their families are not completely cut off from work either. Of those who are taking at least part of the week off, 64 percent plan to check-in with the office. However, for some there is no one at the office to check in with. A third of those surveyed are taking an entire week off. More than half of them, at 61 percent, say they are doing so because their company closes for the week. Four in five workers say their company pays them during the closure. Overall, just 15 percent of companies close during that week, according to the Society of Human Resource Management. There are benefits to shutting down for the week. For one, it can decrease overhead costs for items like electricity and heating. What’s more, a lot of business stalls during that week since a large portion of the workforce is out of office anyway. Calls and emails go unanswered and everything is on hold till the next year. Shutting down for the week also makes employees feel less guilty about taking the time off. Last year, the majority of U.S. workers did not use all of their vacation days. According to Glassdoor, just 23 percent of workers used all of their vacation days in 2016. By one calculation as many as 662 million vacation days were left on the table. Among the reasons why people don’t use all of their vacation days are having no money to go on vacation, too much work, being discouraged from taking time off by their supervisor, and feeling guilty over taking time off. Related Least productive workday of the year Working the holiday... by choice (12/18/2017)

How China is putting the global economy in its wallet
We've all heard this: China is going to be the key driver of growth in the global economy in the decades ahead of us. That means China is starting to write the rules for companies that want to a slice of the pie, especially as more Chinese consumers start defining the demand for products worldwide. Shaun Rein, the founder and managing director of the China Market Research Group, has written extensively about Chinese regulation, the country's approach to globalization and its economic power. His latest is "The War for China's Wallet: Profiting from the New World Order." He spoke with David Brancaccio. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation. Shaun Rein: I wrote this so that Americans could better understand the threat and the opportunities arising from China taking on a more muscular diplomacy globally as President Trump looks more at the United States and domestic issues. China is really filling in that power vacuum not just in Asia anymore, David, but they're also looking into South America, Africa, now even Western Europe. David Brancaccio: Well, how far is China going to take this? I mean, as you say, the U.S. administration is pursuing what the president calls America first, right? And that's often seen as a retreat from global institutions, and that puts Europe and increasingly China in the driver's seat on these globalization rules. Do you think China wants to upend the system and start with something more in its own image? Rein: China's looking to complement the system. So, part of it is they want to gain more power in institutions like the World Bank or the IMF, but they're actually building new institutions like the AIIB to rival the World Bank, and most importantly, they're looking at creating this initiative called the "One Belt, One Road," where they're looking to raise 1 trillion U.S. dollars to invest into infrastructure projects like roads, airports, subways, trains, all across the globe. So they've announced $55 billion worth of infrastructure investments into Pakistan alone. So they're going to gain a lot more influence with the Pakistani leadership than the United States right now, who's been accusing Pakistan of working with the Taliban over the last several decades. Related China wants nothing to do with America's trash China eases limits on foreign interests in financial firms Brancaccio: By the way, just so people are following this, the AIIB is China's idea of a like a World Bank, but for Asia. Rein: Exactly. And the real focus is infrastructure investment. So they'll look at Myanmar and invest 3 to 4 billion dollars in dams and in other railroad-type projects, and they're doing the same in Thailand, Malaysia, even going into Ethiopia. And so what you've seen right now is China has announced that they will allow Ethiopian Airlines to fly direct to about a dozen different mainland Chinese cities. So the key, David, is that China is using economic carrots and sticks to reward, punish other countries that are willing to follow it economically and politically. Brancaccio: It's not unheard of right, Shaun? I mean, the United States, certainly many countries have employed these kinds of techniques to win friends or to ostracize folks that are not playing nicely. Rein: Exactly. But there are some differences. So America used the Marshall Plan after World War II, or the Japanese did a lot of low-interest loans into Southeast Asia in the 1960s and '70s. And we all know that America uses economic sanctions against countries like North Korea and Iran. The difference though, David, is that China does it also with its allies. So it might take a country like South Korea one day — earlier this year, South Korea installed something called THAAD missile deployment, which was an American missile system. And this is something that China really didn't like. So what they did was they blocked tour groups from China to visit South Korea. In April of this year, the number of Chinese tourists to South Korea dropped 40 percent year on year, and really crippled the South Korean economy. So the difference between China and America is they'll do it not just against enemies, like Iran and North Korea in America's case, but they'll also do it with their largest trade partners. Brancaccio: So there's the Chinese government official China but also Chinese consumers are part of this discussion of who gets to claim a piece of China's wallet. Chinese consumers we know are partial to international brands, but it's my understanding from this book, increasingly interested in homegrown stuff. Rein: Yeah, in 2012, I run a research firm, we interviewed 5,000 consumers in 15 cities in China. And in 2012, 85 percent of consumers we interviewed said that they would prefer foreign brands over domestic Chinese brands. We did the same survey last year, and the results were quite different. Instead of 85 percent preferring foreign brands, we found that 60 percent of Chinese preferred domestic Chinese brands. So what we've seen in just the last five years is a major shift, where Chinese want to buy Chinese brands made by Chinese for Chinese. There's a lot of rising patriotism to buy companies like Alibaba or Tencent, and these are companies that are going to start to expand more and more into American shores in the coming years. Brancaccio: Is that change in sentiment ... what word should, I use, organic? Is it just people in China coming to that conclusion that they want to buy Chinese or is this being influenced by policy? Rein: Part of it is organic, but a large part of it is policy. The current President, Xi Jinping, who became president of China five years ago, has created something called the China Dream. He really wants Chinese to think about what does it mean to be Chinese, let's be proud of being Chinese, and let's not slavishly look to America and Western Europe for archetypes of success. And so when he started talking about this over the last five years, Chinese started to become proud again of Chinese culture. They shed sort of a chip on their shoulder that they've had since the end of the Qing Dynasty, and they feel that China's now about to take its place in the world as the rival superpower to the United States, and that translates to Chinese wanting Chinese brands. Brancaccio: Now, international companies have a huge stake in figuring out how to crack this, and which companies are doing better do you think, Shaun, which are doing worse in understanding where China is going? Rein: I think you see companies like Starbucks are doing really well. Apple's also doing very well. For both companies, China is their largest market out of the United States. Another great example would be KFC — over 50 percent of their global revenue comes from China. So these companies are keeping their core brand DNAs, but they are localizing to fit the needs of the Chinese consumers. So for instance, with Starbucks, in the United States, I believe about 80 percent of their sales are takeout. In China, about 80 percent of their sales are dining in, because Chinese like to go feel part of an American culture, feel like they're part of a globally sophisticated elite, and they're able to do that by having coffee. Luxury in a cup. Brancaccio: Before we go, I want to bring up something Shaun, I don't know if it's a sore subject, but I remember a couple of books ago, you wrote the book "The End of Cheap China." That was not embraced in China, that book. Rein: That book was actually banned in China. The Chinese government didn't like it because it talked about local corrupt officials that were protecting the red light districts and really stealing from everyday Chinese. So that book was banned in the country. Brancaccio: Getting any feedback on the new one? Rein: The state-owned media has gone quiet on me. When they first heard that I was writing this book, "The War for China's Wallet," they wanted to interview me and profile me. After they saw the advance media copies, they stopped returning my calls. So I'm expecting that this book is going to get banned, too. And I'll get a little bit of heat in the coming months. Brancaccio: What do you think, what's so controversial from the Chinese perspective about what you've just been talking about? Rein: I think that the government doesn't want people to know the framework that they punish other countries and companies if they don't follow what they want. So I mean, if you look at it, when Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize, China blocked imports of salmon from Norway. Overnight, that dropped from about 80 percent market share down to zero percent. (12/18/2017)

How will technology change war?
Laser weapons mounted on ships or planes that can silently beam death to enemies. Electromagnetic weapons that direct energy at a target to cause pain, physical damage or destroy electronics. Autonomous lethal weapons that can make decisions about who and when to shoot. These are just some of the technologies that are being developed or are in use on real battlefields. Many nations are racing to develop new warfare technology. Where does the U.S. land? And what do these advances, which seem to be increasingly removing soldiers from the emotional side of battle, mean for the future of war? Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood spoke with Robert Latiff, a former Air Force major general and a current professor at George Mason University. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation. Molly Wood: How is AI being used in war? Robert Latiff: So there are just literally thousands and thousands of streams of data that come into the intelligence community every day — far more than a human could ever look at. And so yes, it's looking for patterns. Sometimes it doesn't even really know what it's looking for. That's where the deep machine learning concept comes in.  Wood: And what are the implications as people do get farther away from the battlefield, which it sounds like you're suggesting, what are the implications of being emotionally removed from war? Or is that even possible? We know that drone pilots often have very terrible PTSD. Latiff: They do. The upshot or the implications of that to me are really frightening. The enemy becomes nothing more than an icon on a screen. One of the examples I like to use is that a sensor can tell you where an enemy is and how many weapons they have and how many soldiers. What they really can't tell you is the state of mind of those soldiers. Whereas a soldier on the ground can assess what the state of battle is and whether to press an attack or not press an attack. So the human element on the battlefield is really important. Wood: On the topic of well-being, you've been thinking not just about the equipment used in warfare, but also possible advances in medicine for treating post-traumatic stress. Can you tell me about that and what it could mean for how people remember war and then the decisions they might make in the future. Latiff: Yes, I was actually able to talk to some of the people in the defense agency who are doing a lot of this research. And much of it is really good. You've seen new prosthesis that have come out that are mind controlled. The flip side of that is we know enough about the brain and how to get into it that anything you can read you can write. That you could actually change thoughts. Related Robot-Proof Jobs: Could your job survive a robot takeover? Spider silk, the newest fabric for military uniforms The economics of future technology ... explained with comics Wood: So if you were to change a soldier's thoughts, then they might not remember what happened in war and be all too willing to do it all over again? Latiff: That's correct. In fact, you can pretty much do that now pharmaceutically. And there's been discussion of giving soldiers drugs on the battlefield to make them forget. And a soldier without guilt is really kind of scary. Wood: So when you look at this changing global landscape of war, where does the U.S. sit? I mean, certainly we have a lot of guns and ships and nukes. But does that mean that we're still the biggest dog in the fight? Latiff: Well, we are the biggest dog. Our military budget by far — it's actually larger than the next eight countries combined.  Wood: But are we the smartest dog? Latiff: That's a good question. And I think the answer to that is not so much anymore. What is true is that the things that we begin, and then sort of move on from, other countries, like Russia, like China, react. And it turns out that in the case of AI, for instance, China is putting an enormous amount of money into artificial intelligence and probably will exceed if they haven't already exceeded the United States. So we're big, we spend a lot of money, we're good. But we're not as dominant as we used to be. (12/18/2017)

The GOP tax bill could be passed next week
Catherine Rampell from the Washington Post and Rachel Abrams from the New York Times join us to talk about the latest in economic and business news. With the news that the congressional vote on the GOP tax bill is coming next week, we break down what economists, tax experts and the Republican Party have to say. Today, Republican senators Bob Corker and Marco Rubio announced they will vote for the bill, leaving the Republicans with potentially enough votes to pass the bill by the end of December. We also discuss the impact of the tax bill on the national deficit. Plus, we talk about entitlement, reform and whether the Republican Party will be working on infrastructure next. (12/15/2017)

What happens when your designer-in-chief resigns?
The first chief creative officer at Diane Von Furstenberg left his job today. Jonathan Saunders lasted 18 months as the venerated fashion outfit's head designer. His two predecessors, who did not share the same title, didn't last much longer. The company also happens to have been without a CEO since November 2016. The troubles at DVF reflect the fashion industries larger struggles. Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal spoke with fashion writer Elizabeth Holmes to get a better sense of where the industry stands. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.Kai Ryssdal: Eighteen months does not sound like a long time for Jonathan Saunders to have been running a major fashion house. Elizabeth Holmes: He is the latest in a remarkable string of departures in the high-fashion world. Yes, it's a very quick turnaround. Ryssdal: Why is DVF specifically — I mean, they haven't had a CEO since 2016 — but why is the fashion world having such a tough time right now? Holmes: Well, you know, what remains to be seen is, you know, is this good for fashion, this constant churn that we're experiencing? And I think in the pro column is definitely this constant demand for newness, something that's new. They want something that's fresh, they want something that gives people a reason to open their wallets and buy something that they don't have in their closet, and a new name at a label definitely does that. The downside here is that to shoppers, it also telegraphs something when someone leaves. Right? That it's not working. People don't leave because it's working. It also makes shoppers kind of uncertain, and they think, "Wait a minute, you know, this is expensive stuff. Should I hold off on buying from this brand for a little bit until they kind of figure it out?" So you know, with people like Diane or Ralph Lauren or Oscar de la Renta, finding somebody to replace them when they are the name and the face, that is a really difficult thing. And, you know, obviously there was something that was not not going well with Jonathan. And they parted ways.Ryssdal: You know, when this story came up at our meeting this morning everybody — well not everybody — but the people who know fashion around the table said, "Listen, it's really hard for them right now. They have to meet all these new demands, and it's a constantly changing environment." And I said, "Look, it's changing for all of us, man. We've all got to do this." Holmes: I mean, yes, absolutely. I think the fashion world has the added pressure of, you know, there's a lot of places you can spend your money right now. Fashion is competing with tech. You know, if you spent a thousand dollars on a new iPhone, you know, that's perhaps a designer handbag that you're not going to buy. So I think fashion is feeling competition from a lot of different places right now coupled with, I should add, the long lead times, you know. They're working on cycles that are a year out. And so they're trying to speed up and keep up with the times, and I think they're feeling the pressure. Ryssdal: Yeah, just on that speed thing. How much of a problem is it for these houses that, you know, they show something on the runway and two and a half days later, you can get it, you know, not necessarily at Ross Dress for Less, but probably Target or something? Holmes: Well, certainly at Zara. I mean, I think that that continues to be a problem. You know, the luxury world says they need to build that anticipation, and they need that proper time to get the magazine editorials and to get on the racks and things like that. I think the shopper is increasingly less patient with that. They see something, they get excited about it, and if they're going to buy it, they want to buy it right away. And I think there's a reckoning that still is coming.Related Can subscription fashion services survive? Fashion Week is adapting to a changing economy Creative burnout hitting the fashion industry hard (12/15/2017)

The Trump administration to limit spouse work visas for H-1B immigrants
The Department of Homeland Security has announced plans to reverse an Obama administration immigration rule. This one applies to the spouses of H-1B visa holders. The H1-B, you may recall, goes to skilled workers, often in the tech sector. The Obama administration gave the OK for the spouses of some of these skilled workers to get their own legal jobs in the U.S. DHS gave notice yesterday that it intends to end that work authorization. Here’s why.Click the audio player above to hear the full story.  (12/15/2017)

Regulatory “Ping-Pong” no game for businesses
The Federal Communications Commission voted yesterday to get rid of Obama-era net neutrality rules that were just over two years old. It was a similar story over at the National Labor Relations Board, where some Obama-era rules that unions liked, and companies didn't, have gone away. Politics aside, this kind of big switch, when a new administration comes in and changes the composition of the commissioners at regulatory agencies, results in substantial regulatory uncertainty for big chunks of the American economy.Click the audio player above to hear the full story.  (12/15/2017)

RIP AIM, the instant messaging service that shaped our teenage lives
Under my bed, I have a box stuffed with high school memories, including a bright orange binder, labeled “Warning, this is not school-related."Inside, there are pages and pages of deeply meaningful conversations I had on AOL Instant Messenger, full of gossip, flirting and those tortured goodbyes. Like this one: [[{"fid":"316199","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_description[und][0][value]":"","field_description[und][0][format]":"full_html","field_byline_text[und][0][value]":"Sarah Menendez/Marketplace","field_migration_notes[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","attributes":{"height":1750,"width":3167,"class":"media-element file-default"}}]]Sweetnsour435 — that was me. In the early 2000s, AIM already had more than 36 million active users. Many of them were angst-ridden teenagers, unwittingly committing their first act of personal branding —picking a screen name. There was Dancechick3871, Baseballguy42, BeachBabeXOX. Twenty years after its inception, AOL Instant Messenger will officially sign off on today. There aren't many 20- and 30-something-year-olds who are still loyal to the service. In fact, most people probably think it died long ago. But not Barry Appelman. He's been logging into AIM to chat with his friends nearly every day for the past 20 years.You could say Appelman was one of AIM’s earliest adopters. He helped invent it.Back in the '90s, Appelman worked at AOL as a manger in development. He was the guy behind the buddy list — you know, that thing that told people which of their friends were online. But chatting on AOL back then was clunky and took a lot of effort. Appelman wanted to make it easier for AOL subscribers.“I sort of put my thoughts on paper and said, 'We need to do this as a stand-alone product for the internet,'” Appelman said.So, along with a small team, he started designing an instant messaging service. Behind closed doors. AOL didn't know about it."We built this in secret, in development, telling no one,” he said. And when AIM was introduced in 1997, it was with little fanfare and the company didn't embrace the service. Appelman said back then, offering a free messaging service, rather than a paid subscription, was considered less than a solid business idea. “There are very few people willing to say, ‘Oh, we should embrace this and toss all that old stuff that’s making us money,’” he said. "At the time, AOL's revenue and business model depended on people subscribing." Even after AIM exploded, after everyone from Wall Street traders to 10th graders were using it, Appelman said AOL didn’t make AIM a priority. His team tried to find ways to monetize the service, but advertising never really took off. Meanwhile, AOL itself was starting what would be its own long decline.But like so many tech pioneers, AIM helped set the stage for the companies that would eventually surpass it, said Karen North, a professor of digital social media at the University of Southern California.Related Steve Case on the internet's past and future Who are AOL's two million dial-up users? Former AOL CEO Steve Case on the web's 'third wave' “For example, they had a news ticker and stock tickers, they had the ability to do talk or do voice before Skype, they had file sharing for music,” she said.AIM also deserves some credit for social media’s emotional shorthand like “little acronyms like ‘LOL’ to emojis and profiles,” North said.Instant messaging was like the prep course for expressing yourself online. It’s where Soccerdude58, aka Patrick Duplessis, asked out his first girlfriend — in elementary school.“I was just so excited by her response because she said yes that I printed out the conversation and brought it to school and showed all my friends,” he said.It’s why no one in Beachbabexox’s house could get a phone call in edgewise. Dial-up was the thing back then and Gabrielle Carullo was always logged on.“OMG, all day long,” she said. “Literally, all day.”And it’s where Kate Cella, also known as XOXODance9312, mastered the art of an away message.With AIM permanently going away, “I feel, like, a little break in my heart, like a childhood loss or something,” she said.  Me too. (12/15/2017)

Congress faces a deluge in fixing flood insurance
Last year, when Hurricane Matthew was spinning havoc in the Atlantic, Virginia Wasserberg’s house was spared gale-force winds, but the hurricane brought storm surge into her home. “The entire first floor of the home suffered about 18 inches of flood water,” said Wasserberg, who lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Much of the loss had sentimental value. “Some items that were irreplaceable — things that were given to us from family members that had passed away,” she said. “You’re not going to recover those items again.” But other things had clearly defined value, like furniture, electronics and appliances. Her family suffered more than $100,000 in damages. She and her husband rebuilt their home using a combination of personal savings, loans and payouts from the policy they had through the National Flood Insurance Program. For them, moving wasn’t an option.  “If you have a mortgage, like my husband and I do, and your house floods, and you don’t rebuild, you cannot collect the money from the flood insurance program,” Wasserberg said. “Then you will have to foreclose on the home and take the risk of running bankruptcy.”Since the storm, she’s made it her mission to educate the public on flood risk in Virginia Beach, starting a community Facebook page called Stop the Flooding Now. She has since learned her house will likely flood again.Among the laundry list of items Congress faces before year’s end is a Dec. 22 deadline to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program. It’s seen as an opportunity to bring reforms to the decades-old program, which has many widely acknowledged problems, including billions of dollars of debt.The NFIP grants up to $250,000 in coverage. It’s long been criticized for how it incentivizes homeowners to rebuild in vulnerable areas, often at taxpayers’ expense, or to the detriment of others who are covered by the program in less risky inland areas.“The problem is not that [homeowners] rebuild, but the problem is that they don’t face actuarially fair prices for insurance,” said Michael Greenstone, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago. “In that sense, the rest of us — the people who don’t live in those flood zones — are subsidizing people who want to live in flood zones.”He said the low NFIP premiums for homes in floodplains are insufficient to cover the program’s actual costs. Then, when disaster hits, taxpayers make up the gap.There have been efforts to end subsidies and impose market rates. In 2012, the Biggert-Waters Act stepped up rate increases for repeatedly flooded homes. It got a lot of pushback, however, and many of the provisions were repealed two years later.  “On paper it looked like an easy fix,” said Jeff Schlegelmilch, deputy director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. “You get the numbers to balance by decreasing the number of high-risk folks that you insure.”“What happened was that people ended up [having to pay] more too quickly, and couldn't keep up with the payments,“ Schlegelmilch said. “They couldn't sell their house. They couldn't transfer that wealth to anyone, which affected their own economic mobility.”Related The costs of Hurricane Matthew Many in flood zones don't carry flood insurance Flooding hits a handful of crucial businesses in one small North Carolina town Politicians in flood-prone areas have little to gain from forcing homeowners to pay more.“There's not a lot of political courage being on display here in Washington,” said Jimi Grande, senior vice president of government affairs with the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies. “There are some people, and some efforts, and some packages that would reform the program in a meaningful manner, but they tend to never win the day.”The House of Representatives has passed a new attempt at flood insurance reform. Among other things, it again proposes rate hikes for houses that flood repeatedly. Jerry Howard, CEO of the National Association of Home Builders, said rate hikes have to be gradual, because the market for private flood insurance just isn’t there yet.“It’s going to take time to build up the private sector presence in the marketplace,” Howard said.The deadline to reauthorize the NFIP has already been extended more than once, and it’s possible the Dec. 22 expiration will be pushed into the new year. Homeowners are anxious to know the future of the program so they can plan continued protection for their houses.“I’m retired, and our home is our most important asset right now,” said William Jennings, chairman of the flood committee for the Princess Anne Plaza Civic League, also in Virgina Beach. “It could be devastated and be worthless, especially if we can’t get flood insurance or if it turns out that the city is not able to engineer something to reroute the water around us or evacuate it from our area,” he said.In the meantime, Jennings said he recently got notification from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that his insurance rates would go up 18 percent annually until it reaches market rates.“I’m paying about $2,100 a year now, and that’s quite a surprise,” Jennings said. “Originally, it started out at $300.”The House’s proposed bill sets a $10,000 cap on annual premiums, an amount that Wasserberg of Virginia Beach said is too much for her to afford.“It actually raises the price of my flood insurance premium to being unaffordable for me at the price of my mortgage,” Wasserberg said.Regardless of whether the Senate keeps that in its version of insurance reform, she and her family are fed up with the headaches associated with flooding risks. They put their house up for sale last February.  “My husband and I have studied Virginia Beach and coastal Virginia, and we have made the decision that coastal living is not for us anymore,” she said. (12/15/2017)

Managing mental health in the midst of disaster
After a disaster, a major network of disaster counselors and mental health professional spring into action. Their task? Aid people with the sometimes long and invisible recovery that takes place following a traumatic event.It could be after a natural disaster, like a hurricane or wildfire. Or a tragedy, like a mass shooting or crime. Either way, there's an important personal recovery that needs to take place — and people whose job it is to help.Psychologist James Halpern was a first responder at both 9/11 and the Sandy Hook school shooting, which left 20 children dead. He's co-author of the book "Disaster Mental Health Interventions: Core Principles and Practices." He's also a professor emeritus and founding director of the Institute for Disaster Mental Health at SUNY New Paltz.Halpern joined Marketplace Weekend host Lizzie O'Leary to talk about the role of mental health professionals following a disaster.Below is an edited transcript of the conversation.Lizzie O’Leary: We are reflecting on the five year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting. That's something you responded to. Can you walk us through what happens as a mental health first responder? You know, in that case what do you do?James Halpern: I was with the families on the second day of the event. There was considerable fear and considerable chaos. We tried to provide some calm and safety. But they also asked us questions like, “How could this have happened to me? How could this have happened to my wonderful child?” And those are not real questions for us counselors. Those are cries or laments. What we can do is offer kindness and compassion and support. But some of the questions they asked, which had to do with how they supported their other children, were real questions. About whether or not the kids could watch these events on TV. And the answer is no. Whether or not it was good for those young children to be interviewed by the press. The answer is no. So, some combination of what might be considered crisis counseling and compassion and support.O’Leary: What sort of disasters have you responded to and do people like you respond to?Halpern: Sorry I'm laughing, but yeah, I mean disasters are so common and getting more common, it seems. You know, the United States, people don't appreciate, has the most extreme weather in the world. So in addition to the kind of floods and fires that are most typical, we have a hurricane season. We have a tornado season. We have a wildfire season that seems to be expanding. Of course, we've got earthquakes, explosions, transportation accidents, plane crashes, epidemics, anything that involves considerable human suffering beyond a person.O’Leary: Listening to the breadth of what you're talking about, what does it cost to provide mental health care for so many people in such a variety of situations? And who pays for that? Halpern: In the early stages of disaster, crisis counseling is typically free. There are 5,000 mental health professionals deployed around the country by the Red Cross. These are psychologists, social workers, mental health counselors, who give up their time and energy to provide that kind of pro bono service. There's also county, state, federal workers who, similarly, can be at shelters or family assistance centers. Now, over time some significant minority can develop long-term symptoms. And those folks are treated by professionals with health care, Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance. And depending on the nature of the disaster it can be supported by the federal government. For instance, if the disaster was a crime, like the Las Vegas shooting or 9/11, then there’s support from crime victims services for long-term care.O’Leary: You know, I'm thinking about Puerto Rico. I just came back from a trip reporting on the island and that’s a place with significant devastation. I would imagine that the kinds of mental health services required over time change dramatically as we move farther out from the event itself.Halpern: Most folks experience significant but transient symptoms. They're OK and don't need that long-term help. On the other hand, there's some considerable research from the gulf oil spill where it leads to long-term economic dislocation, job loss. You see significant depression that needs to be addressed. O’Leary: There’s a study from the National Institute of Mental Health that says it would have cost about $12.5 billion to provide what they call “comprehensive mental health care for 24 months” to the people affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Make the economic argument for me, the cost benefit analysis, of why that money is worth spending on mental health.Halpern: These are disaster survivors who certainly bear no blame for being in the middle of these kinds of events. They are suffering. There is job loss. And those treatments work. We can reduce, then, long-term problems in substance abuse, in family violence, and family conflict, and individual suffering. There's enormous benefit that we get when people are functioning effectively.O’Leary: Do you think as a country we have made any collective strides in understanding that mental health is something worth spending money on?Halpern: I think there is much less stigma now. It can be a struggle to find resources to cover those invisible wounds. I think easier, probably, to find resources for injuries and illnesses than for those invisible scars.O’Leary: Is it hard to find the people who need help, after all a disaster can scatter survivors all over the place?Halpern: Yes. I think that we could do better at providing more comprehensive screening, which would not be very costly. And there are, in fact, check lists where we can identify folks who are likely to have serious mental health problems.O’Leary: What's the impact on the people who do this work? I would imagine this is not easy.Halpern: There are of course the obvious physical hazards. But for all responders, including mental health counselors, there's listening to stories of trauma repeatedly, which can result in compassion fatigue. Or burnout. Or vicarious trauma, that you can begin to feel traumatized yourself just by hearing those stories secondhand. And, again, I think that that puts all responders at risk, and why it's so important for all of those responders, and all of us as counselors to have very careful self care plans. (12/15/2017)

Could self-driving wheelchairs be autonomous tech’s next big thing?
Elizabeth Jameson sure hopes so. “I'm a quadriplegic which means I can't use anything to navigate a wheelchair by myself,” said Jameson, who learned she had multiple sclerosis in her mid-30s. “I don't have the use of hand or arms, so I can't use a joystick to do anything with my power wheelchair.” As companies from Uber to Ford to Tesla scramble to perfect self-driving car technology, others hope companies also set their sights elsewhere, on using that technology to create self-driving wheelchairs. Roughly 18.2 million people, nearly half of all adults living with a physical disability, find it “difficult to or cannot walk a quarter of a mile,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a recent op-ed for Wired, Jameson said self-driving wheelchairs would provide newfound independence for people who can only “dream of mobility.” She joined Marketplace Weekend host Lizzie O’Leary to talk about her hopes for driverless technology. Below is an edited transcript of the conversation. Lizzie O’Leary: Do you remember the moment when you thought, “Oh my gosh, maybe self-driving technology could could actually help me out” and then decided to write about it? Elizabeth Jameson: I now use a technology where I can operate my wheelchair using my neck. I find it really hard. I’ve been reading about automated pods that deliver pizza that’s going on right now in San Francisco. And I was thinking, “Pizza? God, I would like self-driving technology to get me around.” And I was thinking, “Gee, maybe it’s a missed opportunity for people who are elderly and disabled.” O’Leary: In the essay you wrote for Wired, you mentioned a couple of places — notably MIT and Cyberworks — that are working on self-driving wheelchairs. What are the biggest barriers that you see as a consumer, for you to get one? And for other people who might want one, to get one. Jameson: Barriers —money. Companies need money. I just want to encourage the tech industry to not forget the growing number of people who are elderly and disabled. O’Leary: When we have these conversations about self-driving cars, you know, we have seen some mishaps. People are worried about the technology. Does that worry you when you think about the potential for an autonomous wheelchair? Jameson: I don't worry about that because all these prototypes have to go through FDA approval. That means clinical trials involving safety. So I don't worry about that. We're talking about maybe two miles an hour at the most. I'm stuck and I would love to have the freedom to move. O’Leary: I think people will listen to this and perhaps not understand the difference between a power wheelchair, which is what you use and what many people in America use, and what an autonomous wheelchair would provide. What, really for you, are sort of the key differences? Jameson: A power wheelchair is battery operated and you need someone to operate it. And if you're a quadriplegic — I can't access it. I don’t have use of my hands. I sit in this wonderful wheelchair, but I can’t go anywhere with the wheelchair. An autonomous wheelchair means I could go places within my house and hopefully, in my dream world, I can go down the street and get a cup of coffee. If investors are willing to put money into developing other prototypes, we can hopefully limit the cost. So that we're not buying new wheelchairs, we’re investing in new technology which will be attached to current wheelchairs. And in the future, we could go to Starbucks or the local coffee shop. But right now, I'm not looking for that. I want to go to my kitchen and see my husband at dinner.   (12/15/2017)

"Star Wars" economics: What it takes to turn a planet into an insane superweapon
What does it cost to replace large parts of a barren ice planet with a big ol’ gun? It’s actually a lot less than you’d think. Ahead of opening weekend for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Washington University assistant professor Zach Feinstein ran the numbers on Starkiller Base, the planet-turned-superweapon from 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He pegs the price tag at $9.315 quintillion. That’s a fraction of what he estimates the Death Star would have cost, and it’s mere pocket change for “Star Wars” studio Disney, surely. In his day job, Feinstein’s an engineer specializing in financial modelling, and on the side he applies those skills to all kinds of fictional worlds. We talked with him about the economics of “Star Wars” a couple years ago, when he used American defense spending to suss out the cost of building both Death Stars, and the economic fallout from blowing them up. This time Feinstein turned his attention to the new trilogy, wherein the evil First Order carved out an entire ice planet and replaced its equator with a weapon that absorbs nearby stars from one end and fires a deadly laser out the other. Here it is in action. Ouch. It’s about five times the size of the Death Star, and much more deadly, taking out a whole planetary system in minutes. Starkiller Base would be many times more expensive — and if the First Order had built it from scratch, with all other things being equal, costs would run into the sextillions, Feinstein wrote. But since we see human characters in “The Force Awakens” running around on the surface of the planet, along with trees and other Earth-like features, we can assume the planet and its atmosphere could sustain life before the bad guys showed up and started digging. Without the cost of an artificial atmosphere, Starkiller Base is more akin to a giant building, or a submarine, instead of a space station, according to Feinstein. With that in mind, Feinstein got to $9.315 quintillion, or less than five percent the cost he calculated for the Death Star. A steal! Much easier to absorb the cost of it getting blown up. Chalk this one up for the First Order: Apparently, they could manage a budget better than the Emperor could. (12/15/2017)

What's next for Brexit?
British Prime Minister Theresa May must be feeling more than a little punch drunk over Brexit — Britain's exit from the European Union. A week ago, she was hailed a heroine in Parliament for pulling off the first stage of the exit negotiations. Then, only days later, she suffered a humiliating parliamentary defeat when a number of pro-EU supporters voted against her during the passage of an important bill. The next day in Brussels, she was applauded by other EU leaders, some of whom earlier in the week had been bitterly criticizing her. So what is going on with Brexit? For more, Lizzie O'Leary spoke with Stephen Beard, Marketplace's European correspondent.  (12/15/2017)

Ask a Manager: Should you let loose at the office holiday party?
December means lovely celebrations with your family — and also, sometimes, at work. When you factor in gift-giving and holiday parties, you start to realize that there's whole universe of etiquette this time of year.Thankfully, our regular guest Alison Green, who writes the blog "Ask a Manager," is here to help guide us through any holiday faux pas. Marketplace host Lizzie O'Leary went to Green for some holiday-related work advice. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.  Lizzie O'Leary: All right, our first question comes to us from listener Laurin Arnold in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. "Is it OK to give my manager and her manager a present for the holidays? What about a holiday card?" I guess we call this "gifting up." I hate the word "gift" as a verb. But anyway, Alison what's the etiquette here?Alison Green: So etiquette says no on the gift. The etiquette rule is supposed to be that, at work, gifts should flow downward, not upward, meaning that your manager can give a gift to you, but you should not give a gift upward. And the reason is the power dynamics in the relationship. Because otherwise people may feel pressured to buy things for the person who signs their paychecks, and it's not OK for managers to benefit from their positions in that way. That said, a lot of people do ignore this rule. And if you're in an office where everyone else is giving gifts to the boss, that can feel kind of awkward to be the only one who doesn't. So it's not a cardinal sin to do it, in that case, if you want to. But if you don't see others doing it, I would resist the urge since your boss might feel awkward about it, too. But a card is great. You can stick to a card or maybe bring in some baked goods. Food is always pretty safe to bring in, especially if you're bringing it for your whole team to share.O'Leary: I want to stick with the card thing actually because we got a question about greeting card etiquette, and I want to read that one to you. Megan Feth wrote us saying, "I'm a person that sends over 250 holiday cards a year. Our family is constantly moving, with my spouse's job (a military family), and this is a way that my present and past co-workers, as well as friends and family, can keep in touch. Should I ask my office manager for a list of home addresses for my co-workers for the cards to be mailed? Should I personally ask the co-worker for the address? Or should I just leave the cards on their desk? Our office is made up of 25 employees. I'll let you know that when it comes to mailing things, I'm a bit of an old soul, so correct mailing etiquette is huge for me." OK, so clearly Megan is someone who really cares about holiday cards, and it's very important to her. How would you handle this?Green: I would stick to leaving the cards on people's desks, because not everyone will feel comfortable giving out their home addresses, let alone, I think, having the office manager give it out on their behalf. And really, this is more of a work thing than a social thing, even though it feels kind of social. So it's OK to stick to passing them out at work rather than sending them in the mail. That said, since Megan moves around a lot, and she mentioned she likes to send them to former co-workers to stay in touch, certainly when she leaves that job, she can ask people one on one if they would be up for sharing an address as she can stay in touch. And then they have the choice to opt out.O'Leary: Yeah, I mean, we did get a comment from someone who, I think, heard a teaser trailer for this segment, and said, "Oh, my God, I would be so weirded out if my office manager gave out my home address." So, you know, people think of their offices in so many different ways. And clearly, I could see that being something that kind of freaked somebody out a bit.Green: Yeah. And you got this really easy way right there to distribute cards at work by doing it in person or leaving them on people's chairs. And that's really the way to go.O'Leary: I want to go back to gifts for a moment. We got a bunch of different questions about what to do if somebody unexpectedly gives you a present. You have that moment of like, uh, thank you. And maybe it's someone you don't even know very well. How do you deal with this?Green: Yeah, that can feel really awkward. I don't think it needs to. It really is OK to just give a sincere thank you. I think at work there is a divide between the gift-givers and the non-gift-givers, and this is a context where most people aren't terribly upset if their gift isn't reciprocated, especially since gifts at work tend to be small ones. It's usually the person receiving it who feels weird about it. If it will make you feel more comfortable, it's pretty easy to follow up with something small, like a card, or a gift card for the local coffee shop, or cookies. You don't have to do that. But if it's going to bug you, that's a good way to go. And again, there's an exception here. If the gift came from your boss, you can accept a gift from your boss with no guilt about not reciprocating.O'Leary: Let's move on to holiday parties, which is an incredibly fraught topic for so many reasons. But I want to handle some of those sort of banal ones first. Let's say you are not that into holiday parties. You know, work is work; it is separate from celebrating for you, but you work in an office where people are really into it. How do you handle this? How do you survive it?Green: I hear from so many people at this time of year who really don't want to attend their office holiday parties. I think this one is really common. Attending is often a good career move. The thing that can help, if you're really dreading it, is to realize that you can just stay for a short while. You know, go, be seen by your boss and any other key players, and then duck out early. You'll get the points for showing up, but you can be home and in your pajamas before the event is even over, if you want to. Which is what I would want to do. And you know, it's a couple of hours one night a year, and sometimes people end up enjoying themselves more than they think they will. I know that I've gone to office holiday parties telling myself, "I'm going to leave after an hour," and then ended up staying longer because it did turn out to be kind of fun. So you never know.O'Leary: What about the flip side? You recently wrote about this. You know, someone who is really into parties, but the office party is really awful.Green: Yes. Some offices just aren't into holiday parties. You can always suggest something low key. You know, a potluck during the workday. And maybe people will be into that. But I think if you are a socializer who finds yourself in an office of people who aren't, in some ways you're getting to experience being in the minority that introverts themselves are usually in in most offices. And that can be an interesting shift in perspective.O'Leary: We are obviously in this massive moment of re-evaluating work, particularly for women, but for everyone really. And holiday parties are kind of right in the middle of that. There have been these high-profile examples of companies saying, you know, you could have a two-drink ticket, or there won't be any alcohol, or the guidelines will be, you know, very strict. This is a real thicket. What do you think are maybe some sort of mental guidelines for people to keep in mind when they are going to one of these parties, or, if you're the boss, you know, for planning and throwing one.Green: Yeah. I would stick to one drink, two at the most. You know, alcohol lowers your inhibitions, and you don't want to lower your inhibitions at a work event. We have inhibitions around our co-workers for good reason. And I think, too, if you brought a date, make sure that they know that this is a work event, not a social one, and that neither of you should be drinking very much. You don't want to have to deal with a drunk date or have to apologize for their behavior at work the next day. On the boss side of it, I think, make sure that you're not making the event really focus around alcohol. Traditionally a lot of companies have thrown these very alcohol-soaked events, and then, surprise, there's problems. So I think, you know, make it focus around food, or socializing, or games, or something where drinking isn't the main attraction.O'Leary: Is it necessary to have sort of a conversation about this stuff beforehand or send the email out to the company? Or is that treating your colleagues like children?Green: I think it depends on what you know about the people who work for you. You know, if there have never been any problems, and you know that the people who work there are conscientious and responsible, it's a risk, I think, but it's probably a pretty educated risk to figure that you're going to trust people to behave like adults and to keep an eye on what's going on at the party. And if you see problems, to be forthright about intervening and dealing with them. On the other hand, if you know that you work with people who overdo it at happy hours, and if there's been problems in the past, it's worth addressing it up front.  (12/15/2017)

From garment factories to corporations: How Asian women are dealing with workplace harassment
Over the past year, powerful men in the U.S. have faced consequences over claims of sexual harassment in the workplace. But is there change going on in the rest of the world? Women across different national, ethnic and occupational lines are dealing with exploitation on the job.Karishma Vaswani, the Asia business correspondent for our partner broadcaster the BBC, has been talking to women in a cross-section of Asian countries about what is now a growing global consciousness about the treatment of women at work. She spoke with host David Brancaccio about what she's discovered about places like garment factories, along with corporate environments. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation. David Brancaccio: Here in the U.S., among the most vulnerable groups of people, apparently, are people who work in the fast food industry, where many of the workers are not in power. The boss is especially powerful. What are you seeing in places like garment factories? I know you've been making some inquiries, for instance, in Cambodia.Karishma Vaswani: The garment sector is hugely critical for Cambodia's economy. It's the third biggest sector in the in the economy. Notwithstanding that, what's happened as a result of women being the main employees in this sector has been that they have documented incidents of exploitation, of harassment on the factory floor. Sexual harassment is costing the Cambodian economy something like 0.5 percent worth of GDP in 2015, down to things like loss of productivity, people taking time off work, not wanting to go back to the factory where they're facing these sorts of issues.Brancaccio: And also you're seeing this in the more developed, richer economies of Asia, for instance, Japan?Vaswani: The Japanese case is really quite interesting, because as we know, with the Japanese economy, they've been trying to include more women into the workforce as part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Abenomics program to increase productivity, increase economic growth. The problem with that has been that Japanese culture by and large has kind of seen the women in charge of the home, or in this very subservient role where business is often done over drinks in the evening, and it's largely a man's world. They end up plying men with drinks after hours. Now you have a situation where women are entering this very male-dominated world in Japan. It's very uncomfortable for senior women within the Japanese corporate environment. Brancaccio: So widespread problems, you and non-governmental organizations and others are documenting, but is there any sense that a period of reckoning is coming to some of these countries on this issue of workplace culture?Vaswani: I do think there is something that is happening, mainly in the professional environment, in the office space environment. But still for the women out in the paddy fields or in the garment factories or out in the marketplaces, it's still very much the same thing — that they are in positions of weakness. They are often the main breadwinner for their families and they cannot let go of these jobs even if they wanted to quit. Related Workplace harassment and the bystander effect How women pay an economic price after sexual harassment No, complimenting a woman won't be considered sexual harassment (12/15/2017)

5 things you need to know about bitcoin
In the past few weeks, we've seen the price of bitcoin rise dramatically, climbing thousands of dollars in just days, and sparking a lot of conversation. But what is bitcoin, and how does it work? Marketplace Weekend spoke to Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood about the cryptocurrency — here are five things you need to know: 1. What is bitcoin? Bitcoin is an encrypted digital currency, sometimes called a cryptocurrency, and it’s a global payment system. It’s built on top of a technology called blockchain, which is essentially a virtual ledger that keeps track of every transaction. One of the reasons it’s interesting is that no one person, computer or entity controls bitcoin, and the ledger is publicly distributed, so in theory, anyone can track the transactions to verify that they’re real. At the time of our recording, 1 bitcoin is equivalent to $16,532.60.  2. Who owns bitcoin? Right now, mostly speculators and investors have bitcoin, and there aren’t very many of them. Financial analysts actually estimate that only about a thousand people own 40 percent of all the bitcoin in the world. It’s a little hard to estimate how many people own bitcoin — when you own it, it’s assigned to your digital bitcoin address, which is really just like an encryption key. And one person can have several addresses. But best guess is that between 2 to 4 million people own a least some fraction of a bitcoin, and that number may be as high as 15 million people. 3. Why is bitcoin so volatile? That is basically the single enduring question of the whole bitcoin story. One reason might be because so few people control so much. Any move by one of these bitcoin whales, or maybe even a group of them, can have a huge impact on the supply and price. It’s utterly unregulated and has no real infrastructure to speak of. It might be better now that it’s trading on actual exchanges like the CME, but prior to that you could have entire bitcoin exchanges get hacked or go down overnight and lose the records of bitcoin ownership and throw the market into complete chaos. And we can’t forget the very high likelihood of fraud and manipulation on some exchanges. It might get bad press because it’s used to pay off hackers in ransomware attacks and everyone might sell. Bitcoin is basically brand new and suddenly worth tons of money and you should assume that anything and everything will happen. 4. How real is bitcoin ... and what makes bitcoin real? Bitcoin is real as a financial asset because people say it is. But as a cryptocurrency, it’s real because there’s a finite number of bitcoin — there’s a record of each one that’s created, or mined. And there’s this digital record of all the transactions in the block chain. So actually compared to something like a hundred dollar bill, which has a serial number but can disappear for years after that and then show up all covered in powdered cocaine, bitcoin is pretty real. 5. What’s the future of cryptocurrency? This is a good place to note that bitcoin is not the only cryptocurrency built on blockchain technology and it won’t be the last. The tech enables all kinds of things to happen. A common example is a smart contract, or a self executing contract between two parties which automates transactions. The easiest example would be if someone used say, Ether, a cryptocurrency that runs on a network called Ethereum, to pay for a package. Their side of the contract would communicate with Fedex’s tracking system and when and, only when the package was delivered, it could trigger payment to the merchant. It can of course get way more complicated from there. The future is really less about Bitcoin — or any individual currency — and more about this decentralized, computerized ledger technology that can potentially have a huge impact on all kinds of financial transaction. It requires no middlemen, and no gatekeepers and no profit takers … just computerized, traceable, verifiable transactions. This is something that is sometimes actually called the Internet of Agreements. (12/15/2017)

A drugmaker used “The Wizard of Oz” to sell OxyContin
After Purdue Pharma brought its blockbuster painkiller OxyContin to market in 1996, the company began an aggressive marketing push to convince doctors to start prescribing the drug for moderate pain, like arthritis.  Purdue’s marketing efforts worked: Within five years, OxyContin became the most frequently prescribed brand name narcotic to treat moderate to severe pain in the country.  By 2004, OxyContin also quickly became one of the most abused pharmaceutical drugs in U.S. history, playing a major role in America’s opioid epidemic, which has impacted millions and kills more than 90 people each dayAt the heart of Purdue’s sales tactics was an unusual marketing guide, based on the children’s classic "The Wizard of Oz."  Marketplace obtained a copy of a Purdue Pharma sales document, called “IF I ONLY HAD A BRAIN…”  It was stamped "Training & Development," and sent out to the “Entire Field Force” from the sales department on November 4, 1996.  In the document, Purdue offers its sales reps a step-by-step guide to convincing doctors to prescribe OxyContin.That step-by-step guide was built on "The Wizard of Oz," complete with munchkins, Auntie Em, Dorothy, and the Yellow Brick Road.Here’s how it begins:In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy had a clear-cut objective. She knew exactly what she wanted - to get back home to Kansas. Who would help her? Only one person could give her what she wanted: The Wizard. According to the munchkins, the Right Approach (how to accomplish this task) was to take the Yellow Brick Road. The attention-grabber was Dorothy’s painting-the-picture of her Auntie Em. Turns out that Dorothy knew that the guard also had an Auntie Em. That got them inside. Toto eventually grabbed the Wizard’s attention by pulling down his curtain. Then Dorothy knew that she had to “ask” for what she wanted.As doctor’s scheduling demands are getting tighter, you need to more effectively plan your presentations.The strategy was adapted from “How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds Or Less,” a 1985 business communication guide by Milo O. Frank. He was a Hollywood agent.Put simply, Frank writes that while having a clear objective is important -- the Tin Man needs a heart, Scarecrow needs a brain, etc. -- defining how they’re going to get there is equally as important.Which is this:Have a Well-formulated Approach: A single thought or sentence that will best lead you to your objective…“Delayed absorption, as provided by OxyContin™ tablets, is believed to reduce the abuse liability of a drug."As Marketplace has reported in our story “How one sentence helped set off the opioid crisis,”  that sentence, “Delayed absorption is believed to reduce the abuse liability of a drug” turned out to be highly misleading, and helped create an aggressive and misleading marketing campaign that helped fuel the national opioid epidemic. Purdue has made over $35 billion in sales from OxyContin since it began marketing the drug in 1996, according to data from IQVIA.By using this sales approach, the last line of Purdue’s training memo read, “A pot of gold awaits you ‘Over the Rainbow'"!Below, you can read the full document, with references to the Dorothy, Auntie Em, the Wizard, the munchkins — and, that pot of gold. (12/15/2017)

Labor ruling says employees can only have one boss
The National Labor Relations Board has overturned a 2015 law that made it easier for contractors and workers at franchised businesses to form unions and collectively bargain with big corporations. The 2015 NLRB ruling said contract workers at a recycling center were jointly employed by a third party staffing firm and the business they worked for. Sharon Block was a member of President Obama's NLRB. She's now executive director of the labor and worklife program at Harvard Law School. “What the Obama board did was try to apply the proper legal standard, but in a way that fit the way that our economy and our business relationships work today,” she said.The latest ruling found that workers can only be recognized as employees when a firm has what the NLRB calls, direct control, over workers. A contractor doesn’t fit this new test. “Nobody likes to have two bosses," said Matt Haller, spokesperson for the International Franchise Association. "Yesterday’s ruling helps clarify where responsibility lies: direct and immediate control." Paul Secunda, labor law professor at Marquette University, said this ruling could limit the ability of workers to collectively bargain. “Think about trying to organize a McDonald's store," he said. "You’re organizing 10 employees against a local franchisee, as opposed to organizing tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of employees against the corporate parent in Illinois. There’s a huge difference.” The NLRB has a history of shifting decisions according to which party is in control.Related HR is not there to be your friend. It's there to protect the company Why unions are so worried about right-to-work laws Graduate students win recognition as employees   (12/15/2017)

Health insurance ads were up this year despite a slashed budget
Today [[Friday]] is the last day to enroll in Obamacare insurance plans. Earlier this year, the Trump administration slashed the Affordable Care Act advertising budget by $90 million, so many people assumed there would be far fewer TV ads encouraging people to sign up. But it turns out there’s been 51 percent more insurance commercials compared to a similar time last year. So what’s going on?Click the audio player above to hear the full story.  (12/15/2017)

Want to build social capital? Throw a dinner party.
Marketplace's David Brancaccio spoke to Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newnam about their book "Brunch Is Hell: How to Save the World by Throwing a Dinner Party," and their rules for creating the best dinner party. Click the above audio player to hear the full story.  (12/15/2017)

Net neutrality is gone, so now what for consumers?
The Federal Communications Commission has voted today to take some reins off the internet. In a 3-to-2 party line vote under the Trump appointed Chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC scrapped net neutrality rules that were put in place in 2015 under the Obama administration. Those rules generally prohibited internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast from charging more for higher quality, faster service, or access to specific internet content. Now that those reins will be off, how might consumers be affected? The wireless cellphone service industry may be a good one to look at for clues.Click the audio player above to hear the full story.  (12/14/2017)

The financial services industry is more diverse than a few years ago – but not in the top ranks
The financial service industry has become more diverse in the recent years – overall – says a new government report. There are more women and minorities. But looked at more closely, the number of women in top positions has stayed the same – around 29 percent. How can things change?Click the audio player above to hear the full story.  (12/14/2017)

Disney-Fox deal makes CEO succession tougher
The Walt Disney Co. has agreed to buy most of 21st Century Fox's entertainment assets in a $52 billion deal that will reshape the media landscape. If the megamerger goes through, the already huge Disney will become an even bigger Hollywood player and digital streaming competitor. Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger was set to retire in 2019. He now says he'll stick around until 2021 to oversee the integration. The company's had trouble lining someone up to fill Iger's big shoes — and the Fox deal only makes those shoes even bigger. Click the audio player above to hear the full story.  (12/14/2017)

These days, the holiday magic happens in warehouses
Holidays, Brought to You By is our series about all the stuff that’s become part of the culture and of the economy. Where did they come from and who thought of them?Holiday shoppers can take their time agonizing over every little detail before hitting the "buy" button, but once an online order makes it to a warehouse worker like Natalia Andrade, the clock starts ticking.Nineteen-year-old Andrade spends her day speeding through a maze of products at a large warehouse outside Los Angeles. She grabs things like candles, socks and lipsticks, juggling nearly 25 different orders at once. Her best time?“My best time is seven minutes, depending on how much each order is asking for,” she said.Andrade is what’s known as a “picker” at AMS Fulfillment Services, which handles the business of more than 50 manufacturers.Like many fulfillment centers, AMS goes into overdrive during the holiday season. Shipments to consumers more than double, which has meant longer than normal hours for Andrade.“It was stressful,” Andrade said, referring to recent shift. “People were crashing into each other because we were all in the same aisle, going back and forth, pulling from the bins.”AMS operates five fulfillment centers in Southern California, each about the size of five football fields. For comparison, Amazon’s biggest distribution center could house 28 football fields.“This time of the year, everything has to click right,” said Ken Wiseman, CEO of AMS Fulfillment. Wiseman has added an overnight shift, and most of his 300 employees are working overtime.“It’s their way of also earning extra money for the holidays,” he said. “Our employees on overtime can often outperform someone just coming in and trying to learn all the skills for the job.”When Wiseman started his company 15 years ago, almost all of the orders went to brick-and-mortar stores and shipments were rarely urgent. Now, about 90 percent of orders end up on people’s doorsteps, and those people want their plush robes and cedar-scented candles pronto. “Companies like Amazon have raised the bar in terms of speed and delivery expectations,” Wiseman said.Those companies have also helped push online shopping into the $400 billion range annually, making up about 10 percent of all retail sales, which include food, gas and cars. And warehouse workers? Their ranks have doubled over the years to about a million in the U.S. today, said Dan Wang, a technology analyst with Gavekal.“They’re augmented by different types of technologies like high-speed conveyor belts, different types of robots, different devices that tell them where they should be any particular time,” he said.But, Wang said, warehouses still depend mainly on people. And you can see that dependence up close at staffing firms like Atlanta-based ProLogistix, which just expanded into Long Beach, California. The firm opened a new office to support nearby warehouses, and with current demand for workers at triple normal levels, Robin Doran, a vice president of operations at ProLogistix, has not been wasting any time recruiting workers. On the opening day, she assessed 24-year-old Jesus Garcia, who had to prove to her he could operate a forklift.“'Cause I could easily tell her that I have four years of experience just 'cause I want that $14 an hour job, and then they send me there [to a warehouse], and I’m over there trying to learn it while I’m working,” Garcia said.During his test, Garcia operated the machine like a pro, never even looking down at the controls.“Someone who’s skilled in his position has a lot of choices these days versus years ago, when we had way too many people and not enough work,” Doran said. “Now, it’s the complete opposite.”Doran said competition is forcing warehouses to offer workers more — things like free transportation, flexible hours and higher pay. According to ProLogistix, average pay is up 7 percent this year to just over $12 an hour.“We are spending nights and days and weekends finding folks to be ready to go to work,” Doran said. “We’re just trying to get ahead of it.”Not too much time left for that.And once the holiday madness ends, Doran and others may have only 24 hours to put their feet up, because come Dec. 26, many of those plush robes and scented candles will be on their way back. Related Holiday jobs changing to keep up with online demand Tech in retail, from the good to the gimmicky (12/14/2017)

Errol Morris' new docuseries "Wormwood" was sold to Netflix as the "everything bagel"
Director Errol Morris is known as a leader in the documentary field, directing works such as "The Thin Blue Line" and "The Fog of War." His newest project is a six-part docuseries on Netfilx called "Wormwood." It uses documentary and dramatized re-enactments to tell the story of Eric Olson's 60-year quest to learn the truth about his father's death. In 1953, Eric's father, Frank Olson, was a CIA operative and biochemist, and as reported by the police, he either "jumped or fell" out of a hotel window. "Wormwood" is out on Netflix Dec. 15.Morris sat down with host Kai Ryssdal to discuss the new film and his decadeslong career. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.Kai Ryssdal: I don't want to give away anything in this story because it is well told, and I'll be honest here, I'm not a murder mystery kind of guy, but it's a well-told story. Do you think by the end of it Eric Olson has closure?Errol Morris: I don't know. That's a question best addressed to him. I think not, and I'm not even sure I know what closure would be in this case there. I think he's looking for something that may be unattainable in this life, some absolute truth, some absolute vindication, and maybe a level of recompense. But life, as we all know, is incredibly unfair and often there is no closure to anything. Except, except, and you can edit this all out please, I always thought that in the Garden of Eden, Adam may asked God about closure: "What about closure?" And God thought for a moment and said, "How about death?" Do you like that? That's closure for you.Ryssdal: I'm going to use a word here, and I'm going to, I just want to see how it runs by you: Docudrama. Does that do anything for you?Morris: Mm, not so much.Ryssdal: Really? OK. Well, it seems to me you kind of tell this in a docudrama kind of way, right? There's a whole bunch of documentary filmmaking going on here, but then you roll in actors and dramatic storytelling and dramatization of these events. Why did you do it that way?Morris: Well, in answer to your first question, there's a problem with nomenclature. When you're creating something new and something different, what are you supposed to call it? I'm not sure. There are elements of a lot of different things in "Wormwood." I sold it originally to Netflix as the everything bagel. You get everything except raisins. Ryssdal: What was the elevator pitch? I don't even know if you deal with elevator pitches, right, because you're making documentaries, but what was the pitch to Netflix?Morris: What is this documentary thing? "You're not in the entertainment industry because you're making documentaries." "I don't think you know about elevator pitches because you're making documentaries." Why don't we go on from there?Ryssdal: I'm trying to be deferential to your experience as a, I don't want to say a hard nose, but as a serious documentarian, right? And now you've gone to Netflix, which is known not necessarily for its documentaries, but for its more entertainment-focused programming, and I'm curious about that.Morris: Actually, Netflix is becoming known for its documentaries. Ironically, although, it probably was not set up to promote the documentary form initially, it has played a very significant role in promoting and financing documentary. I am not sure anyone else would have paid for it, and I'm very fortunate to have had Netflix. I'm creating period drama here. Hiring actors, shooting all kinds of diverse material. It was in a way the most difficult project that I have ever been involved with, and no one even knew if it would work out. No one knew whether you could combine drama and documentary in this way.Ryssdal: How do you think it turned out? I liked it. How did you think it turned out?Morris: Well, I liked the fact you liked it. I think it turned out well. I think it's my best — do I call it a movie? My best film? My best series? It's my best something.Ryssdal: I was interested to see in watching this thing that you, and let's back up here and say you're the guy who invented this thing called the Interrotron, which when you're doing, you know, documentary interviews lets the interviewee look straight at the camera but also be seeing your face. It's a whole machine you invented. In this one though, you put yourself in the frame during your keystone interview with Eric Olson, and I wonder why?Morris: I got tired of the Interrotron. I got tired of doing things in the same way. I still use the Interrotron, I'm still fond of the device, but this was an opportunity to do something different. One of the things that I like about documentary, and I'm not sure I like anything about it, but if there was something that I liked about it, it's that you can reinvent the form every time you make one. That I do like. You don't have to do things the same way. You can create something utterly different. I did it in many, many films, particularly 'The Thin Blue Line" in the past, and I believe I've done it again with "Wormwood."Ryssdal: I think it's interesting you say you don't like documentaries.Morris: Interesting in what way?Ryssdal: I mean, you're, if not the, then certainly one of the foremost documentarians of this generation, and now it turns out you don't like the form.Morris: Ironic, no?Related Forget tax incentives. Here's why Netflix is investing in Hollywood For producer DeVon Franklin, Christian films merge his passion and his faith (12/14/2017)

What tech companies are saying about the repeal of net neutrality rules
The Federal Communication Commission voted today to roll back net neutrality rules put in place during the Obama administration. In a 3-to-2 vote along partisan lines, the agency ruled that internet providers are no longer required to treat all internet content equally and can deliver some content faster than others. Ajit Pai, who was appointed to lead the FCC by President Donald Trump, said that the decision would encourage competition and spur innovation. “I think it means better, faster, cheaper internet access,” he told Marketplace earlier this week. “If you talk to smaller providers in particular, and I've spoken to many of them from Minnesota to Montana over the past week, they have said that these heavy handed regulations stand in the way of them building a business case for deploying internet infrastructure, especially in rural and low income urban areas.” Critics of the FCC’s decision worry that with net neutrality rules overturned large internet service providers like Comcast or Verizon could begin charging different rates for certain internet content or even begin selectively slowing down data delivery. Small businesses that depend on traffic to their websites and online sales are concerned that this might increase their costs and stifle competition — the opposite of what the FCC says it hopes would happen. Internet providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon have promised not to block and throttle content. Here is what companies on both sides had to say about the FCC’s decision:Internet Association President & CEO Michael Beckerman issued the following statement:“The internet industry opposes Chairman Pai’s repeal of the 2015 Open Internet Order. Today’s vote represents a departure from more than a decade of broad, bipartisan consensus on the rules governing the internet. Relying on ISPs to live up to their own ‘promises’ is not net neutrality and is bad for consumers. Let’s remember why we have these rules in the first place. There is little competition in the broadband service market — more than half of all Americans have no choice in their provider — so consumers will be forced to accept ISP interference in their online experience. This is in stark contrast to the websites and apps that make up Internet Association, where competition is a click away and switching costs are low.The fight isn’t over. Internet Association is currently weighing our legal options in a lawsuit against today’s Order, and remains open to Congress enshrining strong, enforceable net neutrality protections into law.”https://twitter.com/netflix/status/941373853216915456https://twitter.com/netflix/status/941374671261331457Brad Smith, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer, tweeted:https://twitter.com/BradSmi/status/941388055067295744Steve Huffman, Reddit CEO, wrote a post saying:"It is disappointing that the FCC Chairman plowed ahead with his planned repeal despite all of this public concern, not to mention the objections expressed by his fellow commissioners, the FCC’s own CTO, more than a hundred members of Congress, dozens of senators, and the very builders of the modern internet. Nevertheless, today’s vote is the beginning, not the end. While the fight to preserve net neutrality is going to be longer than we had hoped, this is far from over.Many of you have asked what comes next. We don’t exactly know yet, but it seems likely that the FCC’s decision will be challenged in court soon, and we would be supportive of that challenge. It’s also possible that Congress can decide to take up the cause and create strong, enforceable net neutrality rules that aren’t subject to the political winds at the FCC. Nevertheless, this will be a complex process that takes time. What is certain is that Reddit will continue to be involved in this issue in the way that we know best: seeking out every opportunity to amplify your voices and share them with those who have the power to make a difference."https://twitter.com/amazon_policy/status/941400320185421825https://twitter.com/kickstarter/status/941414765162721280"Today's misguided vote to gut Net Neutrality protections threatens creativity, innovation, and free speech. We remain committed to supporting an open internet for everyone," Kickstarter spokesman told Marketplace.Jon Zieger, general counsel for Stripe, tweeted: https://twitter.com/jzieger/status/941374357468676096Bob Quinn, AT&T Senior Executive Vice President of External & Legislative Affairs, issued a statement saying:“For more than a decade, under both Republican and Democratic Administrations, AT&T has consistently made clear that we provide broadband service in an open and transparent way.  We do not block websites, nor censor online content, nor throttle or degrade traffic based on the content, nor unfairly discriminate in our treatment of internet traffic. These principles, which were laid out in the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order and fully supported by AT&T, are clearly articulated on our website and are fully enforceable against us.  In short, the internet will continue to work tomorrow just as it always has.  Despite the existence and the enforce-ability of all of these commitments, we have, since 2010, also repeatedly called for a non-Title II legislative solution that would make these consumer protections permanent. We continue to support a legislative solution and will work with any interested members of Congress to achieve that solution.”https://twitter.com/comcast/status/941378767511015425David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Comcast, wrote:"This is not the end of net neutrality.  Despite repeated distortions and biased information, as well as misguided, inaccurate attacks from detractors, our Internet service is not going to change.  Comcast customers will continue to enjoy all of the benefits of an open Internet today, tomorrow, and in the future.  Period.Consumers will remain fully protected.  We have repeatedly stated, and reiterate today, that we do not and will not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content.  These fundamental tenets of net neutrality are also key components of our core network and business practices – they govern how we run our Internet business." U.S. Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President and Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley issued the following statement:“Today’s FCC vote to undo the 1930s rotary-phone era regulation of the internet will restore certainty to the private sector and encourage investment in the broadband infrastructure necessary to power emerging technologies that contribute to economic growth. The Restoring Internet Freedom Order passed today is simply a return to the regulatory framework that allowed for a thriving internet, before the FCC placed it under unnecessary public-utility-style treatment. While we don’t support Title II regulation of the internet, the U.S. Chamber strongly endorses net neutrality principles and the rights of consumers to access their favorite legal online content and websites. We encourage Congress to provide long-term regulatory certainty by enacting legislation that permanently preserves net neutrality and prevents federal agencies from stifling innovation through outdated and overly-burdensome regulatory regimes on our nation’s communications and technology industries.”Related 5 things you need to know about net neutrality Net neutrality explained: "Imagine internet is pizza ..."   (12/14/2017)

Disney to take on Silicon Valley with Fox merger
The Walt Disney Company is set to buy movie studios and a package of TV and cable businesses from the Murdoch family's 21st Century Fox in a deal worth more than $52 billion. Some of the properties Disney will acquire include Twentieth Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox Television and FX Productions, which house shows like "The Simpsons" and major franchises like "X-Men."  One of Disney's primary motivations behind the deal: getting into the streaming game.  “Last month, [CEO Bob Iger] was grilled by equity analysts, and he said that streaming direct to consumers is now Disney's highest priority. Here's how you win streaming, because you're fighting Netflix and Apple and Amazon and Google — the real monsters. You win by controlling the content,” said Erik Gordon, a professor from the University of Michigan. “So one of the rationales for this deal is for Disney to add the Fox content. If Disney can hoard enough content, it probably can beat even the Silicon Valley monsters.” And some of its most valuable content is sports. The media conglomerate already owns ESPN sports channels, and would snag Fox Sports regional networks in this merger. “This is going to give really Disney unprecedented power and leverage in their negotiations with the Comcasts, the Direct TVs, the Verizon Fioses,” said Rich Greenfield, an analyst with BTIG. Disney, which plans to launch two of its own streaming services devoted to sports programming and Disney and Pixar content, will also have a larger stake in Hulu, a company that's already a joint venture between Disney, 21st Century Fox, Comcast and Time Warner. “With the backing of Disney, the cash flow and the production capabilities, it will be more substantial in the next couple of years,” media analyst Hal Vogel told Marketplace in an interview. Back in September, Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” became the first streaming service to win a best series Emmy.The merger is expected to not just give Disney more content, but to also allow it to fortify its distribution capabilities. “If this deal goes through, the antitrust problem is that Disney will control more content that it can distribute through its own distribution channels, and block out other distributors,” Gordon said. "It also will control more distribution, and it can use that to distribute its own content and block out other content producers. It could be a win-win for Disney and maybe a lose-lose for competitors.” Related Why would the Murdochs want to sell part of 21st Century Fox? Disney is cleaning up with Marvel Can Netflix afford more big gets like Shonda Rhimes?   (12/14/2017)

Disney announces deal with Fox
The Walt Disney Company has announced it's purchasing a movie studio and a package of TV, sports and other businesses from the Murdoch family's 21st Century Fox. The deal is worth more than $66 billion in stock and debt. Click the audio player above to hear the full story.  (12/14/2017)

This holiday season, some companies are rethinking that open bar at the office party
Office holiday party season is here. Traditionally the idea has been to relax and let your hair down with colleagues. But people have been known to get a little too relaxed at these things … and with allegations of sexual harassment dominating the news, some companies are making changes this year. Orin Knopp is CEO of an audio visual firm in Manhattan called Presentation Products. He said his staff is young and they always look forward to their holiday party – complete with an open bar. But this year he’s nervous about the event. Because of all the news stories about harassment, Knopp said he recently asked his HR consultant to advise his company’s party planning committee. The staff is 85 percent male. And he knows from past experience of holiday bashes that “people drink more than they normally would.” He said if anything or anyone were to cross a line, it could happen at the office party.One way to cut down on possible fallout is to avoid serving alcohol. Andrew Challenger is with outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas. Its annual survey last month found that the number of companies planning to offer booze has dropped from 60 percent last year.“Less than half of companies are planning to serve alcohol at their holiday parties this year,” Challenger said.Others are rationing cocktails by issuing drink tickets. New York HR consultant Corinne Jones said two of her clients have canceled their parties. They’re giving each employee a share of the money that would have paid for the event. Another client is bringing in a minder to keep an eye on the festivities.“They’re hiring one monitor to kind of walk around to make sure they’re checking out areas that aren’t frequently trafficked, like hallways and things of that nature, just to make sure if anything’s going on, they can intervene,” Jones said.Knopp wishes he’d thought of that. Patrolling the hallways is usually his job. He wants his employees to enjoy their party.“But at the same time it’s our responsibility to make sure everyone understands there’s a line drawn in the sand of respect and you should never cross that line,” he said.He’ll just be relieved when the whole thing is over.Related Workplace harassment and the bystander effect No, complimenting a woman won't be considered sexual harassment "SNL's" Claire from HR nails workplace harassment, but she won't be part of your training (12/14/2017)

What tech can — and can't — do to prevent and put out wildfires
This year has been a terrible one for wildfires. Millions of acres in Montana, Oklahoma, Florida, Texas and North Carolina and South Carolina have been damaged. There was the fire in California that killed 44 people and burned thousands of homes and businesses in wine country in October. And now, Los Angeles has entered its second week of the Thomas fire.Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood talked with Brandon Collins, a research scientist at University of California, Berkeley's Center for Fire Research and Outreach, about how its lab is using technology in fire research. Below is an edited excerpt of their conversation.Molly Wood: What tech is helping with understanding fires?Brandon Collins: One of the more recent ones is LiDAR, and that is short for light detection and ranging. It's a sensor, it's called an active sensor, that sends light pulses, usually from an aircraft, that penetrate the forest canopy, and the time that it takes for those light pulses to hit something in the forest and bounce back up to the sensor has been related to the height of the vegetation that it's hitting. So what it's allowed for is a really neat characterization of forest. And from a fire standpoint, really trying to describe the arrangement and the quantity of fuel in the forest — it's kind of weird sometimes to think about trees and shrubs as fuel, but from a fire standpoint that's really what they are.LiDAR Fly-Through of Klamath from Marketplace on Vimeo.Wood: And I have to assume there are some drones in there, too.Collins: Yeah. The drone stuff is really on the experimental side of things, but it kind of looks promising. We've been able to fly pretty close to the tops of tree canopies and from a detailed standpoint been able to map the vegetation or the fuel. And we're going to follow that up by running the same flights again one year after doing prescribed burning. We can look at how fuel and vegetation was consumed in those prescribed fires. And then one other application we've had with drones is to sample the smoke that we've generated in doing prescribed fires. We actually had a crew that was flying their drone right into the plumes of smoke. It was, I think, at least successful from a sampling standpoint to gather the information.Wood: And then how much of the work is predictive? Do you gather a bunch of data and try to figure out what a fire is going to do then?Collins: We do, and we're not great at it. The complexity of fire is something that I feel like we're only learning more about, and learning that we're having less predictive capability lately. We're seeing some behavior of fires that we just can't flat out, at least with some of the existing models that we use, we can't predict. Our fire behavior prediction models were built in wind tunnels, largely with known fuel beds. And so we've really kind of existed at a small spacial scale.Wood: Firefighting seems to be a job, obviously, where people on the ground is really important, despite being incredibly dangerous. Do you see that changing? Do you see firefighting robots in the future?Collins: No, frankly. I mean, someone might tell you something different, but I don't. I just think there are too many factors that have to be made with a really local and onsite, at-that-moment type of decision that I'm not sure we can program into some kind of other technology.Related Median home prices are up in areas with the biggest risk of natural disaster Rising costs from Western wildfires may make policies harder to get in fire-prone areas The $2 billion question: Spend on fighting fires or preventing them? (12/14/2017)

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