with Kai Ryssdal

About the Program

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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As Amazon grows, so does its lobbying budget
Amazon just keeps growing. So does its spending on lobbying in support of policies it thinks will aid that growth. Filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission show the company is on track to spend $12 million lobbying this year, $1 million more than it spent in 2016. What's on Amazon's wish list?Click the audio player above to hear the full story. (07/21/2017)

For short sellers, a record stock market is troublesome
Today was a rare day in the red for the major indices. They were down just a little. One day, however, does not a trend make. That brings no comfort to short sellers, traders betting the markets are due for a fall. They're becoming scarce as stocks keep on going up. Ben Eisen wrote about the lack of short interest in the Wall Street Journal today and spoke with Kai Ryssdal. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation. Kai Ryssdal: Tell me first of all, just so everybody knows, what we're talking about: What is shorting a stock or an index? Ben Eisen: So short selling is basically taking the other side of a bet on the market. Most people put money into the market thinking that stocks will go up. But if you think they're going to go down, you can bet against the market. It's a practice that has sort of a storied role on Wall Street. A lot of short sellers have kind of taken down companies in the past basically by betting against the shares and, you know, hoping they'd fall. Ryssdal: And you say in this piece that we're at a four-year low in overall shorting in the market? Eisen: Yeah, this is just one measure of short interest, but it is actually a short interest on a specific ETF that tracks the broader market — Rsyssdal: Exchange Traded Fund, it’s a trading device, actually. Eisen: Exactly yeah. But it's pretty representative of what's going on as stocks kind of continue to hit record highs. It's become difficult to short the market and short stocks when stocks really just keep going up. Ryssdal: Can you explain the disconnect for me between what we see in the stock market, which is progress to the upside, versus what we see in the general economy, which is growth but sluggish, jobs are being added but not as much as we really need? How do you make those two make sense? Eisen: I mean, you really saw a surge in the stock market right after the election. There was a lot of movement higher in stocks based on, sort of, hope that policies would be put into place with the new administration that would get inflation going faster that would get economic growth going faster. Things like tax reform, infrastructure spending. These were things that for months traders were talking about as being sort of the reason stocks were rallying. Yet, we really haven't gotten that, but it hasn't exactly been ruled out yet, so hope is still there. And, you know, that's really what's supporting this for now it seems. And one other thing I did mention sort of as a tangent though is you do have corporate earnings, which is another sort of fundamental thing on which stocks rally, and they've been doing pretty well. So even though the economy isn't doing great, you're still seeing corporate profits grow. Ryssdal: With the caveat here that everybody ought to contact their own financial adviser before they make any investment decisions: What do you see in terms of people looking on the upside? I mean, do we see people piling money into the market even as the shorts are saying, "I don't know what's going on here?" Eisen: You're seeing a lot of money flow into the market. You know, weekly fund flow data — basically the amount of money that people are putting into mutual funds and exchange traded funds each week — really shows people just keep putting money into the market. And you know, I think that's one sign that people who may be held out from this rally thinking that stocks would go down are starting to believe that, OK, maybe stocks are going up. Ryssdal: And they go down, too. We have to say that, that's the disclaimer right? Eisen: Right, of course. And there is a sense in the market, too, that when everyone thinks that stocks can only go up, that's the time when they go down. A sense of complacency taking hold. So that's that's just the way it works. (07/21/2017)

Can the president keep his tax cut promise?
This week, the House of Representatives detailed a 2018 budget plan, a first step toward a tax code overhaul. But it'll be no small lift to get to the big corporate tax cut President Trump has promised. The administration wants to lower corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 15 percent. That’s going to be expensive. Click the audio player above to hear the full story. (07/21/2017)

U. S. Chamber of Commerce has a stern message for GOP lawmakers
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a shot across the bow of congressional Republicans in the form of a not-so-subtle message — don’t screw up tax cuts like you did health care reform, or else. Its letter explained that a year from now, the Chamber will be evaluating candidates based on their support for a "free enterprise system." It's a bit of an odd situation the Chamber finds itself in these days, having to twist arms when Republicans control the government. Click the audio player above to hear the full story. (07/21/2017)

Sharing water across borders can get complicated — and expensive
There's one thing that crosses the U.S.-Mexico border everyday, although you can't always see it: water.  The Mesilla Bolson is an aquifer that runs south of Las Cruces, New Mexico, to an area just northwest of Ciudad Juarez — the second largest city in Mexico. While there are laws regulating the appropriation of international river water, such as the Rio Grande, the same can't be said  for groundwater. And when you factor in the populations of two of the largest cities in the region, along with the many farms and orchards, the question of who gets what and how much can get pretty complicated.Laura Villagran is an investigative reporter for Searchlight, New Mexico. She reported on the Mesilla Bolson in a five-part series for the Albuquerque Journal. Villagran spoke to Marketplace Weekend host Lizzie O'Leary about her reporting. You can listen to their interview on the media player at the top of the page.  (07/21/2017)

Our unquenchable thirst for bottled water
It's summer, it’s hot and we’re thirsty for water. We have choices: There’s the water that’s provided for us by our local governments — tap water — and there’s the bottled water we pay for. And we pay a lot.The American bottled water industry made nearly $16 billion in revenue last year, according to the International Bottled Water Association. Bottled water also replaced carbonated soft drinks as the largest beverage group in the country following decades of growth.But there’s a question about whether Americans are getting a more healthful liquid from bottles than taps.“So if you are supposed to filter your own tap water, you could get a similar quality of what some bottled waters are selling,” said Nneka Leiba, director of Healthy Living Science at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a research and advocacy organization.In 2008, EWG researchers found that half of bottled water brands had the same chemical tracings found in filtered tap water. In other words, it's basically the same stuff. And for Leiba, that means the same health concerns.“There is so much difference between the quality of municipal water across the country. But there could be a similar difference in the quality of water from bottle to bottle.”It's pretty easy to research the quality of your local tap water (you should receive a yearly report from your water supplier) but it's much harder to figure out where an individual bottle of water came from.The tap water system isn’t perfect, but on the whole, what comes out of U.S. taps is good, Leiba said.So if the selling point isn't the water quality, then what is it? Tom Pirko, the CEO of Bevmark, a food and beverage consulting company, has thought a lot about how you sell something that you can already get for free. To hear Pirko’s take on the marketing of bottled water, click the audio player above. Related  Why buy water when you can have it for free? Flint is swimming in water bottles (07/21/2017)

What's next for Brexit?
It's being equated to a bitter divorce. Britain's departure from the European Union isn't expected until 2019, but in the second round of exit negotiations this week, things got heated. One of the most contentious parts of Brexit is the U.K.'s estimated $100 billion bill to leave the union. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson suggested that E.U. leaders can "go whistle" for the money.  In response, the E.U.'s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier said "I'm not hearing any whistling, just the clock ticking." Marketplace's European Bureau Chief Stephen Beard has more  on Brexit and what happens next.  (07/21/2017)

What does the uncertainty around health care mean for insurers?
It's been an uncertain time for health insurance providers. The back and forth debate in Congress over potential plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act has been an ongoing source of stress for consumers and insurers. The complexities seem never-ending — and tensions are running high, even within the Republican party.Medicaid has become a major point of contention, as Republican senators who have expanded Medicaid in their states want to defend their constituents against future cuts.Sen. Ted Cruz's proposed Consumer Freedom Option amendment, which would allow insurance companies to sell bare-bones policies provided they also sell comprehensive plans, has prompted criticism from insurers. CEOs from the advocacy group American Health Insurance Plans and insurance providers in the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association wrote a letter coming out against the amendment. Under the proposal, people could opt out of maternity or mental health coverage, for example, which could raise the cost of insuring maternity care or mental health to about the actual cost of service. Craig Hasday, president of Frenkel Benefits, an insurance brokerage and benefits consulting company, joined Marketplace Weekend's Lizzie O'Leary to discuss the ways that the health care debate affects insurance providers — and how that affects consumers. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.Lizzie O'Leary: What do health insurance markets look like in the U.S. right now? Craig Hasday: There's a lot of different components of the markets. I mean the vast number of people that have health coverage in the United States are covered by Medicare and Medicaid or by employer provided coverage and within that employer marketplace there's two segments — there's the small group marketplace and the large group marketplace. And the large group marketplace is largely self-insured. So when you look at coverage most Americans are actually through the employer covered by self-insured employers and there are no insurance companies.O'Leary: What does that mean self-insured employers?Hasday: So insurance means someone's taking risks. Someone is taking a premium and they're paying claims as they're presented. With self-insurance, the employer takes the place of the insurance company: they're taking risks. There might be stop-loss insurance, which is insurance to protect against catastrophic claims, but they're actually paying the claims and making the claims adjudication decisions.O'Leary: So when you think about where we are right now — you work with a lot of companies — what do companies come to you guys and say "this is what we want for our employees"?Hasday: I would say that, largely, employers want to provide the best benefits possible within their budgets. And the budgets vary widely by industry, by profitability of a company, but most employers are good stewards of insurance. Not all, I mean some you know try to get away with as little as they can. It's actually interesting, as the Affordable Care Act went into play there was a lot of consternation among large employers, but really large employers by and large figured out how to navigate around the Affordable Care Act and really not much changed. And you know one of the interesting discussions was regarding the repeal. And I was asked what would happen if there was repeal, what would happen and large employers, and quite frankly, very little. The large employers have largely planned around ACA. The rules would roll back to what they were, and they would eliminate some fees and taxes which they would not have to pay. But really the markets wouldn't really be disrupted for large employers, and for Medicare if there was repeal. The big issue with repeal is Medicaid. And that's a wildcard because so many people have come to rely upon Medicaid benefits.O'Leary: So what happens if there is just a strict repeal vote? You know these kind of votes that we saw repeatedly in the House? What happens then? Hasday: Well it doesn't look like that's going to happen at this point. But if there was a repeal it would roll back to the pre-ACA rules. The biggest issues in the rollback of the Affordable Care Act are people with subsidies, and that's going to have an enormous impact. People have subsidies who are paying very little for coverage. They're going to lose those subsidies and all but the very sickest are just simply not going to be able to afford coverage, it's just unaffordable. And we're going to create a situation where the insurance companies are not going to be willing to play. The variable that I think is going to come into play are the states because insurance provided by insurance companies is regulated by state law. As far as Medicaid goes, there are so many people in the country that have become so reliant upon Medicaid benefits, I just don't see that states that have expanded Medicaid are going to be able to roll it back without revolt.O'Leary: And that certainly seems to be the case with the senators from those states who said absolutely not.Hasday: Very clearly. The senators in states that expanded Medicaid understand the political realities of pulling back the Medicaid expansion, and they're going to have to find a way to fund it. Increase taxes, something, but I don't I don't think there could be a full rollback of Medicaid in the states that have opted to expand.O'Leary: If you could make tweaks to the ACA, what would you do?Hasday: I would definitely expand the coverage tiers, the premium tiers, from three to five. So right now under the Affordable Care Act, the difference in premium between the ones that pay the lowest cost are the ones that pay the highest cost is a maximum of three times. There's only three rate bands.. What it allows is the difference in costs between the youngest and the oldest citizens to be a wider spread of rates. Right now within the Affordable Care Act, we have a vast number of younger, healthier people who are opting out of the system. Part of the reason they're opting out is because they are subsidizing older Americans. If there were more rating tiers then the older people would pay costs which are more equal to the amount of benefits that they would consume. So increasing the rating tiers I think is important. I would unquestionably increase substantially individual penalty to not participate in coverage because one of the other problems with the Affordable Care Act is people would access the system when they needed benefits and then opt out. And that free-riding cost the insurance companies quite a bit.O'Leary: You study this stuff very closely, look into the future a little bit. Do we have any sense of what's going to happen in the next year?Hasday: I don't think the future is a year. I think we're looking at more like the five to 10 year time horizon. I think that we're going to be jockeying with chipping away at the Affordable Care Act. I think that even if the Republicans aren't successful in repealing or replacing the Affordable Care Act through the legislative process the Republicans are going to be able to substantially impact things. For example by not enforcing the individual mandate, which by the way is pretty weak anyway. I think that for the next few years we're just going to be stumbling through trying to keep equilibrium in the system. I'm a little worried, because you know one of the things that all of this political posturing does is create uncertainties, and insurance companies are very nervous about uncertainties. I mean they they're concerned about where that's going to lead, because the legislatures, federal and state, have the ability to take what's out there and mandate that insurance companies do certain things or apply political pressure to continue to offer coverage, or continue to offer some types of coverage. Insurance companies are very nervous, and if you've been watching the stock prices of insurance companies they've been moving quite a bit with almost every change in the Republican debate. I think the insurance companies are kind of trying to lay low, because they're not exactly sure what direction the health care in this country is going. I think that what they're trying to do is control the controllable.   (07/21/2017)

How did summer get to be such a make-or-break season for Hollywood?
In our series Brought to You By, we dive into the stories behind ordinary seasonal items: that grill you fire up for the Fourth of July or the fruitcake that you dig into (or regift) over the holidays. Where did they come from, and why did they become so popular?  Summer is the season when Hollywood relies on luring movie goers away from their small screens and into theaters. That’s usually done with a big movie involving a strong shot of action, a lot of special effects and a vast budget — like this summer’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming” or “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”But it hasn’t always been this way.Jeanine Basinger, professor of film studies at Wesleyan University, began working in a movie theater in eighth grade. It was the late 1940s, the era of movie musicals like “On the Town” and “Annie Get Your Gun,” and she was an usher. She said 80 percent of Americans went to the movies once a week then, no matter the season — it was their main form of entertainment.“In the old days, the studio system rolled out movies,” she said. “I mean, let’s take MGM. In 1952 [it] put out a feature film every week, so for 52 weeks they rolled out 52 features.”By the 1970s, movie-going had plummeted. Not even the air conditioning could draw crowds. TV was keeping people home. Summers were seen as a cinematic wasteland.Until the summer of 1975."Jaws" was set around a July Fourth holiday, and it was released just as moviegoers were about to celebrate theirs. It was a smash. Viewers went back to the theater to be terrified again and again.“And all of a sudden people thought, 'Wait, we can re-think this,' ” Basinger said. “ 'We can put a big, exciting draw, a movie that needs to be on the big screen, in the summer.”A couple of summers later, “Star Wars” was released and became a worldwide hit – and people kept coming back to the theaters to see it.“It was kids in particular that drove the repeat viewings that knocked up the box office,” said Tom Shone, author of “Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Summer.”There were no videos, no DVDs. The only way you could relive the experience was by going back to the theater.related Same old action movies and sequels at the box office this summer Movie theaters find new ways to lure kids Summer movies are a bust at the domestic box office “I mean, I can speak as someone who kind of went back and saw it as many times as I could. It was just a compulsion,” Shone said.In the late '70s a “blockbuster” was any movie that had people lining up around the block. It was "Star Wars," but it could also be a more sober film, like “Kramer vs. Kramer.”These days, “a blockbuster has come to mean a very different kind of movie, one aimed at the younger market with a lot of special effects, spectacle, costing a lot of money, and it’s conceived as such,” Shone said.Because summer blockbusters can be so expensive to make and market, reaching the U.S. market is no longer enough for a movie.“It has to appeal to a huge global audience,” said Jason Squire, editor of “The Movie Business Book.” “That’s a very big change and a serious roll of the dice.” But, Squire said, Hollywood is willing to take the risk, because when the rewards are good, they’re enormous.Film studies professor Basinger said she wishes Hollywood would roll the dice in a different way.  “Maybe they need more little old lady movies and more challenging intellectual movies as well as blockbusters,” she said. (07/21/2017)

07/21/2017: When the company that used to be run by the Secretary of State sues the Secretary of the Treasury...
The Treasury Department has fined ExxonMobil $2 million for violating economic sanctions against Russia while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was running the company. On today's show, the BBC's Jonathan Frewin joined us to break down the controversy. Afterwards, we'll discuss Sears' new business relationship with Amazon, and then look at a possible cut in federal funding to an early earthquake-warning system. (07/21/2017)

Driverless cars can't figure out kangaroos
There's been a lot of talk about how driverless cars will navigate city streets, where pedestrians affect traffic flow. But what about the "pedestrians" of suburban and rural areas? Animal-related car accidents are a real concern for driverless car makers. And so far, engineers have been able to adapt cars to deal with creatures like deer, moose and elk.But they haven't cracked the code when it comes to kangaroos, which account for 80 percent of animal-related accidents in Australia. That's because kangaroos are much trickier — faster and more shape-shifting — than other animals that wander onto roads. If car makers don't figure out a solution, they could be missing out on a huge market.Marketplace Tech's Ben Johnson spoke with Pedro Domingos, a computer scientist at the University of Washington, about this gap in machine learning and how far away the industry is from solving the problem. Below is an edited excerpt of their conversation:Ben Johnson: Deer, moose, elk — these computer vision systems are not terrible at recognizing some of those familiar, at least to North America, animals, right?Pedro Domingos: They're not terrible partly because people saw this was a problem and they've worked hard on it to detect these animals. Deer and moose, they're bigger and they move slower.Johnson: And why are kangaroos particularly difficult?Domingos: They can jump quickly across the road and in front of the car. They're low. And they also change shape as they hop more than a deer does, which makes it harder for even a state of the art computer vision system to understand that yes, this is a kangaroo and not a wind-blown plastic bag.Johnson: Can you see a possible future where companies start employing ecologists or something like that so that there's a software package that gets plugged into the self-driving car technology that has all the animals that are unique to that region?Domingos: I think cars that get deployed in different countries and environments will have to be trained for those environments. Having said that, the reason we have self-driving cars today is because of machine learning. It's not because somebody programmed into the car what to do. In fact, nobody actually knows how to program a car to drive. The car watches the person drive and learns to do the same.Johnson: We should ask this though: Are you humans really any better at avoiding chaotic-behaving, unpredictable animals than driverless cars are?Domingos: Humans really suck at driving. Except, compared to machines, we're brilliant. In some ways we're not set up for driving — we have only one pair of eyes, etc. But we're really good at the type of sensory motor control that it takes to drive a car. The exception to that is when we impair ourselves by getting drunk or talking on the phone. Having said that, I think cars could become so much better at driving than humans that maybe human driving will be outlawed.Related Can Pittsburgh keep its workers from being replaced by smart machines? What happens to abandoned cars Let's build infrastructure, but we better make it smart (07/21/2017)

Amazon's new social media network wants you to start making impulse purchases
Amazon has just announced a new social network for shoppers who are looking to scan around for new items, but may not have something specific in mind.The service, Amazon Spark, is a feed for Prime users that looks a lot like Instagram, where users can share stories, pictures and ideas that include stuff to buy. Marketplace's Molly Wood joined us to talk about the overall effectiveness of social media and whether Amazon can get you to make a spontaneous purchase.David Brancaccio: All right, so what do we know? Are social networks good at getting people to buy stuff?Molly Wood: That is a little bit of the conundrum for me here. Social networks are very effective at delivering advertising, and they make a lot of money doing that for the most part, — and I'm talking Facebook, Instagram — which Facebook owns — and even Pinterest. There is, though, not a lot of evidence that people shop a lot through social networking, and that includes even Twitter.Brancaccio: Yeah, I know. I mean, I see Uncle Frankie has just bought some kind of widget. I'm not sure I immediately whip out the credit card and buy it because he said so on social media. Wood: Yeah, and that's what I think is interesting about Amazon Spark is that it's not your friends. Certainly, if a friend of mine bought something really cool on Instagram or Facebook, I might be more likely to check that thing out because it's my actual friend. What Spark is trying to do is sort of use the power of the Amazon reviews so that if you see a post from someone, and it amounts to a product review, you might be more interested in buying that thing. But again, it's not your actual friends. And to me that feels like a big drawback, because at the end of the day, even if these are real people, it feels like a feed full of ads.Related What an Amazon-Whole Foods store may look like Amazon's company culture: innovative or punishing? Brancaccio: Wait, the penny's finally dropping for me here. Of course you go to a place like Amazon if you're looking to get a good price and looking to buy something specific, but you don't just kind of go browsing. "I'd like to spend some money today, maybe I'll find something entertaining on Amazon." But this is a little bit of a test of, "maybe we could persuade someone to do an impulse [buy]."Wood: What you've seen with Amazon, if you've watched — they've made all these sort of quirky little moves that are ultimately ways to get people to buy more things. They have those dash buttons that you would put all over your house. Even their devices — the Amazon Echo has a built-in shopping list with this idea that you'll use it to order things. And I think that this Spark feed is definitely in that vein, because the biggest drawback to using Amazon or any on-demand service over retail is that you don't just discover things, you don't browse. In fact, browsing on Amazon, frankly, as a user experience, is terrible. And so I think they are trying to create more ways for you, like you said, to have an impulse moment on Amazon. Right now, I might impulse buy a couple of USB cables, but probably not the cowboy hat or a trailer.Brancaccio: You are our senior tech correspondent. That is what I would expect you would be shopping for. (07/21/2017)

For companies, bad reputations come at a cost
It seems that the adage, “there’s no such a thing as bad publicity,” is not exactly true — at least when you are a hiring manager or recruiter for a company with a bad reputation. A new survey from CareerBuilder found that 71 percent of U.S. workers would not apply to work at a company with negative press. The survey of 3,462 full-time workers further broke it down by gender, revealing that 79 percent of women and 61 percent of men would not apply to a company that had a bad reputation. On the other hand, positive press and positive reputation led to better morale, a boost in sales, more job candidate referrals from current employees, more job offers being accepted and lower employee turnover, according to the 2,369 HR managers who were also surveyed. "In today's 24/7 news cycle and social media world, earning and maintaining a good reputation can be a challenge," said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder. "It's easier than ever before for job seekers to research potential employers. Employers that value transparency and take a proactive approach to issues or complaints will have a better chance of securing trust and loyalty and maintaining a positive reputation that can strengthen their recruitment and retention strategies." It’s a different story when it comes to current employees. CareerBuilder found that while negative publicity might repel potential candidates, just 6 percent of employees have left a company because of bad publicity. But that’s not always the case. Most recently, Uber paid a price for its bad reputation when a number of its employees left after a series of scandals rocked the company and led to the ouster of its CEO Travis Kalanick. Since February, the company has lost more than a dozen high-profile executives and managers. Uber also fired more than 20 people after launching investigations into past allegations of sexual harassment. Replacements can be difficult to come by, according to CNBC. The network reported that according to numbers provided by LinkedIn the amount of people viewing and applying to positions at Uber fell by 15 percent after the sexual harassment allegations. That’s not to say that a bad reputation means no one will work for you. About 82 percent of millennials, it turns out, are willing to work for a company with a damaged reputation, according to a 2014 report by Corporate Responsibility Magazine and Alexander Mann Solutions. Many millennials might not exactly have a choice considering that many of them entered the labor market around the time of the Great Recession. Having less experience and fewer job opportunities makes it more difficult to be choosy when it comes to applying. “More experienced workers are less likely to take a job with a reputationally challenged company,” found the report. Unsurprisingly, there is one thing that makes working for bad companies easier: money. That same study found that in order to go work for a company with a bad reputation, women would require a 60 percent increase in pay, while men would settle for a 53 percent increase. Would you go work for a company with a bad reputation? Tell us in the comments below. Related Who’s the boss? When employees' needs come first Here's how Uber's many scandals came to a head (07/21/2017)

The sci-fi market is shifting, and it's not just "Doctor Who"
When Jodie Whittaker was announced as the next actor to play the title character in long-running British sci-fi series "Doctor Who," it felt like a big shift for some people. Every Doctor before Whittaker has been a man. But for others, this made sense; science fiction, as a genre, is starting to appear more inclusive.But "Doctor Who" is just one corner of the science fiction market. We're also seeing more diversity in film, like Ava DuVernay's upcoming treatment of "A Wrinkle in Time," which is a re-imagining of the 1963 novel by Madeleine L'Engle.   But is all of this anecdotal, or is it a real shift in the science fiction genre? Marketplace Weekend host Lizzie O'Leary spoke to writer Tananarive Due, who writes and teaches speculative fiction (the broader term for sci-fi, that includes sub-genres like horror and fantasy). The follow is an edited transcript of their conversation.Lizzie O'Leary: Is this a real shift in the science fiction business?Tananarive Due: I really do think it's a shift in the business. It won't be a straight line. There will still be movies that miscast and make mistakes and end up as hashtags that people boycott. But I think, for the most part, there is a real growing awareness of groups who have been traditionally sidelined in books and film, you know. And that's changing.O'Leary: Where is that coming from? Is it a bottom-up thing, you know, from fans, from people who go to conventions. Is it top-down from studios or publishing houses that realize they've ignored a section of the market?Due: You know, my sense is definitely that it's bottom-up. There's some top-down, maybe in TV where Nielsen ratings show that black and Latino households are watching more TV. But what's happening, I think, is mostly bottom-up, that we have the advent of social media, which cannot be overstated. It's no longer just a private conversation with you and your friends. It can become a national movement. And there's a lot of leadership emerging, as well, among artists like Ava DuVernay, you know who is very much a leader in everything from women getting roles, women directing. And that incredible inclusivity she has in what I saw in the teaser trailer for "A Wrinkle in Time."O'Leary: Take me back to when you were starting out as a writer because you have a tremendous body of work now, but what was it like trying to break through?Due:  Well I was very very lucky that I started sending out my work in the wake of Terry McMillan, where the publishing world woke up and said, oh, black people read. So I would have probably had a tougher time breaking in to say, speculative fiction, say science fiction, fantasy and horror of that era, but because black writers were so hot during that time, commercial houses were publishing my work, which you know a lot of those were horror novels. So it was great.O'Leary: When I was growing up, it felt like that was sold to white boys. And and that was the audience. How do you think we've seen the market shift. Or has it?Due: Well, it depends on whether you're talking about books, for example, which has become very female-driven in terms of the readers, or movies where I still think there is that demographic, that target demographic. But also when you have a Jordan Peele come out with a movie like "Get Out," that blows away the box office, that really helps other creators get a little ammunition in the meeting, you know? Because, before you were trying to pitch it based on, oh, remember a long time ago that one movie. Whereas, "Get Out" is a really fresh example, and it made money, and that's what obviously executives care about. So yeah, publishers are going to more readily look at your work as something that will potentially make them money.O'Leary: You also teach writers. What do you tell them about trying to get their ideas, you know, seen, read, heard?Due: Well it's great to get your name out there. Social media is very helpful in terms of finding audience and building rapport with audience. But you know, one of the things even in these great times, I would say bounty and plenty, I tell all my writing students not to necessarily count on writing for a living. It's that uneasy relationship between art and commerce. And if you have a job that pays your bills, and your free time can be all about your art on no one else's schedule, where you don't have to bend it this way or that because, you know, you think maybe it'll be more marketable that way. Write your truth, and I really think in a lot of ways, that's what brings writers the greatest success.  (07/21/2017)

Sears is hoping Amazon deal will turn around its fortunes
Sears has inked a deal with Amazon that it hopes will boost its flagging sales. Amazon will begin selling appliances by Kenmore — one of Sears’ flagship brands. But there could also be a downside for the struggling department store chain.Click the audio player above to hear the full story.  (07/21/2017)

GE’s latest earnings are a last-chance showing for its CEO
General Electric is expected to report its second quarter earnings before the markets open today [[Friday]]. [[Update with earnings news.]] It’ll be longtime CEO Jeffrey Immelt’s last chance to seal his legacy at the company before stepping down at the end of the month. GE’s stock has earned the distinction of being the worst performer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average during Immelt’s tenure. The challenge of boosting profits and GE’s many divisions will fall to incoming chief John Flannery.Click the audio player above to hear the full story. (07/21/2017)

In Congress, a move to save an earthquake early warning system from budget cuts
Experts have been building an early warning system for earthquakes up and down the West Coast, but President Trump’s proposed budget would cut all federal funding for the project. Now, as Congress digs into the budget, there are Republicans and Democrats fighting to save the program and get it up and running before another big quake hits.   An earthquake warning system consists of sensors spread throughout a region. When seismic waves trigger some sensors, they send a signal to others farther away. People could get a few seconds notice — enough time to take cover or pull over.After a big push in the past decade, the system is finally in beta testing in some locations around the state. Thomas Heaton, an engineering seismologist at the California Institute of Technology, has worked on this idea since 1985. “It's running right here in my office, and it has been running in my office for about 10 years, and I run it in my home,” Heaton said.The sample earthquake scenario he pulled up on his computer showed a map of California with seismic waves radiating from the epicenter of a quake. Alarms rang, and an electronic voice called out a verbal warning, “Earthquake. Earthquake. Moderate shaking expected in six seconds.”How such alerts would be sent to the public still needs to be ironed out, with some hoping warnings could be sent to mobile phones located in soon-to-be affected areas. Heaton said a full rollout along the West Coast would take about 1,200 sensors. So far, there are 800 installed, half of which are in Southern California. Limited public rollout of the warning alert system has been planned for next year, but that depends on continued federal funding. The roughly $10 million the U.S. Geological Survey gets for the program would be wiped out under Trump’s proposed budget.“If it goes through, there will not be an early warning system,” Heaton said. “I'm pretty confident about that.”[[{"fid":"312572","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]":"Thomas%20Heaton%2C%20director%20of%20the%20Earthquake%20Engineering%20Research%20Laboratory%20at%20Caltech%2C%20sits%20in%20front%20of%20the%20prototype%20of%20an%20earthquake%20early%20warning%20system.","field_description[und][0][format]":"full_html","field_byline_text[und][0][value]":"Jed Kim/Marketplace","field_migration_notes[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","attributes":{"height":400,"width":720,"class":"media-element file-default"}}]]Los Angeles has already spent millions of dollars on its own to install its warning system sensors.  “We’re going to raise our own money and try to get this done, even if the federal government doesn’t help,” said Jeff Gorell, the city’s deputy mayor for public safety.But LA can’t fund the full estimated cost, $16 million a year, to cover California and the whole Pacific Northwest. Lucy Jones, scientist emerita at USGS, where she helped get the early warning system going, said earthquake warnings need to come from the federal government, because research centers don’t want to own the system.“The universities have uniformly said 'We don't want the liability of releasing these messages,'” Jones said.The proposed federal cuts are getting pushback from Congress. A House subcommittee voted last week to keep funding at current levels. The funding proposal has more votes ahead in the House and Senate. What actually shakes out of the budget approval process is anyone’s guess, but California Rep. Ken Calvert, a Republican from Corona who chairs the subcommittee, said it has wide support.“It’s one of those rare moments we have bipartisan agreement,” Calvert said. “We’re moving ahead.”Related Should oil companies be liable for earthquake-related damage? How one infrastructure project impacts the economy L.A.'s biggest vulnerability lies under its streets (07/21/2017)

The "Illuminati of cheese" is filling fast food chains with cheesy dishes
"Got Milk?" is arguably the dairy industry's best ad slogan ever. But how about "Got Cheese?" That do anything for you? Americans are eating record amounts of cheese — 35 pounds of it per person each year on average. But diary farmers still have plenty left over, and there's a huge surplus of the base product, milk, too. Enter Dairy Management Incorporated (DMI), a quasi-government trade group whose mission is to find a use for all that extra milk, cheese and butter. Their answer? Fast food chains like Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, McDonald's, Burger King and Domino's. DMI is placing food scientists at these chains to create cheese-based dishes, and it's working. From Pizza Hut's cheese-stuffed crust to Taco Bell's Quesalupa, fast food menus are filling up with cheesy items. Clint Rainey wrote about the story for Bloomberg Businessweek and Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal talked to him to get all the delicious details. Click the audio player above to hear the full story. (07/20/2017)

Workers are seeing wage gains, even in some of the lowest-paid jobs
We haven’t seen much in wage gains out of recent jobs reports from the Labor Department. The most recent one, for June, showed average hourly wages, as reported by employers, up just 2.5 percent over the past year, not much better than inflation. But another measure of income from the Labor Department, based on a survey of American households, is telling a more upbeat story. That report, called “Usual Weekly Earnings of Wage and Salary Workers,” showed median earnings up 4.2 percent, compared to the second quarter one year ago. With prices only going up about half as fast, that means people have more purchasing power. And after years of anemic wage gains, the lowest-wage workers — the bottom 10th — are now sharing these gains. Workers are now in demand at every level of the job market, especially service sectors like hospitality and health care that don’t require more than a high-school education.Click the audio player above to hear the full story. (07/20/2017)

Will the GOP learn from the health care battle as it gears up for a tax fight?
In a bid to avoid the legislative fiasco that was the attempt at Obamacare repeal, the GOP has tried to take a more deliberate approach to its next big priority — tax reform. The White House said it has held "hundreds of listening sessions" on the topic, and Politico reports that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn have been meeting behind closed doors with CEOs, businesses and tax experts. But tax reform remains a heavy lift for Republicans. Here’s why. Click the audio player above to hear the full story. (07/20/2017)

How voice-activated speakers are lending a virtual hand to parents
Smart speakers, those voice-controlled devices reminiscent of “Star Trek’s” multitasking computer, are finding a place on kitchen counters and in living rooms. They can play music, answer questions, control lights and, in the case of Amazon’s Echo, place shopping orders. Turns out they are lending a virtual hand to parents, too. More than half — 57 percent — of smart speaker owners with children recently surveyed by NPR and Edison Research said that entertaining kids was a reason for wanting the voice-activated devices.Amazon introduced the first smart speaker in 2014 and has since dominated the market. More than three quarters of smart speaker owners surveyed use Alexa (Echo’s digital assistant), according to the NPR and Edison report. Google Home is Echo’s biggest competitor. Apple and Alibaba will launch their own versions this year, while several others are in the works.  Statistics suggest that smart speaker ownership is growing even within households; 42 percent of owners have more than one device, the study said, and 45 percent plan to buy another.So how does a talking robot amuse the kids? We asked you to share your experiences and here’s what you told us., the questions kids ask are entertaining the adults: Kruse, our colleague over at APM Reports, knows all about those conversations: thought that digital assistants were unsuitable babysitters: about entertaining the other family members who might get bored and destructive if left to their own devices? (We’re talking quadrupeds here.) If predictions bear out, we’re going to see a lot more smart speakers. The market is expected to soar over the next several years, with market size jumping from about $400 million in 2016 to more than $13 billion in 2024, market research firm Global Market Insights reported in June. The company predicts the market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of more than 50 percent from this year to 2024. Gartner, an information technology research company, estimates that 75 percent of U.S. households will have a smart speaker by 2020.  Related   Cayla, the connected doll, is a spy and must be destroyed Artificial intelligence could soon eclipse touch screens (07/20/2017)

The Trump hotel: gold, glitz and lawsuits
When it comes to President Trump's business dealings, there are still a lot of unanswered questions, including whether the president is breaking the law — and violating something known as the emoluments clause — by receiving payments from foreign governments. Not directly, but by way of their business at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., which opened last year on the historic site of the Old Post Office and is still operated by Trump's company. And that's not the only headache the flashy new hotel is causing. Since Trump was elected, the hotel has become a magnet for the powerful and the curious. And that's led to complaints from others in the business that the president's place has put them at a competitive disadvantage.The hotel, just four blocks from the White House, is pure Trump. It's grand and gaudy with a nine-story atrium. Gold, marble and crystal are everywhere. Lawrence Bruckner, a Trump supporter from Thompson, Illinois, took it all in over lunch recently."There were some wonderful people there and the chandeliers, and we had a senator sitting beside us there,” he said. Like lots of people, Bruckner didn’t really come for the food or expensive liquor (you can get a crystal spoonful of Hungarian wine for $140). He was drawn to the hotel by the celebrity of Trump. And that’s a problem for the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia. They’ve filed suit against the president. “The president’s hotel, by virtue of it being the president’s business, provides an unfair playing field to his business over that of other competing businesses,” said Karl Racine, the attorney general for the district.For example, Racine said, the Embassy of Kuwait moved an event from the Four Seasons hotel to the Trump hotel. And he said the Trump hotel may be taking business away from other hotels and city-owned facilities, including the convention center.In spite of the Trump hotel's celebrity, "It’s a pretty modestly sized hotel in a very large hotel market," said Heywood Sanders at the University of Texas at San Antonio, who follows the hotel and convention business. "The Trump hotel has 263 rooms in a city hotel market that has over 31,000 hotel rooms available,” Sanders said.Related Mar-a-lago has cyber security weaknesses Trump's trips are expensive. Can Congress step in? How does any work get done when the president is sued? And it's a market that just happens to be one of the strongest in the country right now. People flocked to Washington, D.C. in the first half of this year, starting with Trump’s inauguration and the protests that followed. The average room rate for D.C.’s downtown core was $242 a night last year, Sanders said. Average room rates for this year aren’t available yet. “In 2017, we’re really doing well," said Elliott Ferguson, the president and CEO of Destination DC, Washington's convention and visitors’ bureau.He said the market is strong enough that there are 16 more hotels in the pipeline. That means everybody who’s already in the game is doing what they can to stand out in the crowd. “They’re going to employ every single option to remain competitive. And sometimes that does not mean reducing your rate and other times it might,” Ferguson said.That rate can easily top $600 a night at luxury hotels like the Four Seasons, the Willard InterContinental and the Trump hotel.No one’s complaining about losing customers to the Trump hotel — at least publicly. Business is one thing. Dissing the president is something else. Washington Attorney General Racine said legally, it doesn’t matter how much of an advantage the Trump hotel might have over a competitor.“So long as it’s adversely impacted in a manner that is unfair, that makes the level playing field not fair and just, that’s enough,” he said.Even though sometimes the Trump name is a disadvantage.Back at the Trump Hotel, Mike Olson, a health care executive from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, said he went to a business dinner here recently.“I had the sea bass," he said. "It was OK at best.”Olson said, as far as staying at the hotel? Not likely.“I hope Trump does very well," he said. "I hope he’s a successful president. But I just have some trouble at this point supporting his businesses.”At this point, that’s not a problem. He’s got options. Thirty-one thousand of them. (07/20/2017)

When a big carbon emitter is the main economic driver in town
If you’re driving around West Jefferson. Ala. looking for a place to eat, you won’t find much. The Alabama Rose, a restaurant that pops up on a phone search, actually burned down a few years ago. But it’s still where 78-year-old Arthur Graves lives.Three decades ago, Graves bought the restaurant and the house next door on his salary from Alabama Power, which owns the Miller power plant. The plant is three miles away from his home, across the Warrior River. He retired as a boiler operator making $20 an hour. It was a good way to make a living, he said, and in West Jefferson, “it was the only option, really. Unless you wanted to fish and hunt for a living,” he said.The Miller power plant is the biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the U.S., according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity, based on 2015 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data (the most recent available).  The Center for Public Integrity recently analyzed EPA data that showed that the Miller power plant  produces 19 million metric tons of greenhouse emissions a year. That’s based on information the company filed with the EPA.But in this small town, where the plant plays an outsized role in the small town's economy, many residents near the plant, like Graves, don’t seem concerned. Graves’ son and nephew went on to work for the power plant. And he still depends on it for his income. “I’ll draw a pension from the power company and my relatives and I, a lot of us depend, we would not want to see the power company in trouble,” he said.Jamie Smith Hopkins, a reporter with the Center for Public Integrity, said people care about things that affect their jobs or their health now – not the long-term consequences of carbon emissions. “It's not something that you can necessarily see in the same way that you can see the economic impact, which is really important on a day to day basis,” she said. Federal regulations have prompted Alabama Power to curb other toxic emissions.“At plant Miller we’ve made close to $1.4 billion in investments related to meeting environmental regulations,” Michael Sznajderman, a spokesman for Alabama Power said.Those regulations cover air pollutants like sulfur dioxide and mercury, which the plant has reduced significantly over the past decade. But in March, President Trump signed an executive order reversing the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which aimed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.“And one thing you don’t want to do,” Sznajderman said, “is spend tens of millions or hundreds of millions or more trying to essentially meet a target that does not exist.”Climate change isn’t something that worries residents in West Jefferson. Bobby Beckman owns the West Jefferson convenience store, and his business thrives on plant workers who come in daily to buy food and beer and cigarettes. He also rents furnished units for outside contractors who work at Miller. “If something does happen to this planet, I won’t be around to see it,” he said.Related Businesses will keep cutting carbon despite the US withdrawal from the Paris accord Climate alliance states have significant leverage (07/20/2017)

07/20/2017: The line between free speech and propaganda
In Paris, 25 senior economists and public officials from about two dozen countries recently met behind closed doors to talk about how the world economy is doing. One of them: Diane Swonk from DS Economics. She shared some good news (the rest of the world seems to be doing better) and bad news (these gains have caused negative undercurrents in political elections).  Afterwards, we'll look at how companies are trying to find allow free speech, while blocking propaganda from terrorist organizations like ISIS at the same time. (07/20/2017)

The cost of repealing — but not replacing — Obamacare
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has released its calculation of the costs and benefits if Congress repeals the federal health care law, but doesn't replace it. About 32 million people would be uninsured by 2026 and premiums would double. On the other hand, the federal deficit would drop by $473 billion. Marketplace's Dan Gorenstein joined us to talk about the possibility of another repeal-and-replace plan in the cards and the future of Medicaid. Below is an edited transcript.David Brancaccio: What are we hearing from the GOP after this CBO score? Dan Gorenstein: Well, honestly — even before this pretty brutal score came out — there was lots of talk about how repeal now and how replace later was going nowhere. So while it’s virtually impossible to say anything with certainty about this bill, David, I think it is safe to say the score from the CBO pretty much guaranteed "repeal first and trust us, we’ll come up with something great" is actually dead. Like, dead, dead.David Brancaccio: So that's repeal, only. Not replace for now. But we see that Bloomberg News is reporting today that a new CBO score is expected perhaps later today on a repeal-and-replace plan that's still somehow out there?Gorenstein: Yeah, while earlier in the week there were plenty of obituaries being written about the Senate bill, it is still alive — you can call it a zombie bill or a Lazarus bill depending on your perspective. That new CBO score will give everybody a slightly better sense of the number of people who lose coverage, what happens to premiums and how much money [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell has to play with. Last night, I was talking to a source who told me that one idea being discussed is to give states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare $200 billion to help ease the pain of ending this expansion and making deeper cuts to the program. Now that may sound like a lot of money, but the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities did the math, and when you add it all up between reductions to Medicaid and less generous subsidies — that’s a $1.2 trillion hit to low- and moderate-income Americans. Getting the $200 billion would mean signing onto a plan that cuts benefits by a trillion dollars. Related Here is where the U.S. Congress buys its health insurance CBO director worries some Americans don't know what to believe anymore Three global ideas that could make U.S. health care better (07/20/2017)

Digital platforms expected to lift Visa’s third quarter earnings
Visa is set to report third-quarter earnings today after market close and all signs are pointing to good news. The company’s investment in digital platforms is contributing to growth. Visa Checkout, for one, has more than 20 million enrolled accounts and other initiatives are expanding globally. But they’re not the only digital pay app in the game. Click the audio player above to hear the full story. (07/20/2017)

Disability rights advocates sue Uber over inaccessibility
Uber’s whole value proposition is that it’s cheaper, quicker and easier. But this week the ride-sharing service was accused of being not so easy for people who are disabled. The group Disability Rights Advocates, filed a class-action lawsuit against Uber. The suit argues the company discriminates against New York City riders with disabilities because it doesn’t offer enough wheel-chair accessible vehicles. Click the audio player above to hear the full story. (07/20/2017)

Sorry Spotify, country music is still a radio industry
Over on the Billboard Country Charts, a song called "In Case You Didn't Know" by Brett Young is sitting at the No. 2 spot. Young is relatively new to the country music scene, and just last year, he went out on a radio tour across the U.S., as many new country artists do. The radio tour is a right of passage for new singers in the industry. After an artist signs a deal with a label, they travel around America, visiting upwards of a hundred radio stations. The singers meet with radio program directors, trying to convince them to add their songs to the rotation. The tour is exhausting, but the artists do it because even in this age of online music streaming, traditional radio is the way to become a star in the country music world. Emily Yahr wrote about the country music radio tour for the Washington Post, and Marketplace's Adriene Hill spoke to her about what keeps the tradition going. Click the audio player above to hear the full story. (07/19/2017)

Republicans shift gears to tax reform and ways to pay for it
Tax reform is like health care reform in at least one important way: If Republicans want to pass it without Democrats, they can’t raise the deficit too much over the long term. But tax experts who have analyzed the GOP’s main proposals say they would add trillions of dollars to the deficit. Click the audio player above to hear the full story. (07/19/2017)

Tech issues loom large in U.S.-China talks
The U.S and China began talks in Washington today about trade and other issues. The talks — billed as an "economic dialogue" — have a couple of clouds hanging over them. Like North Korea and steel, which, the U.S. complains, China produces and sells too cheaply. But there are other issues. Chinese companies want access to U.S. markets and vice versa. One big concern of American tech companies: new hoops for firms that want to play on China's digital turf.Click the audio player above to hear the full story.  (07/19/2017)

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