Business

  • My Life as a Transgender Politician

    There's not much about me that isn't known. I've been involved in politics for many years—from supporting candidates to raising money—but when you file for office, you are no longer a citizen. You are a public figure. That changes the dynamics of everything in your life. I had to accept that once I filed to run for Aurora City Council, I would immediately become not only of local interest, but of international interest too.You can count on two hands now how many transgender people have run for office, but only need to use a couple fingers to represent how many have won. I knew this going in and I had to be ready for just about everything.Still, it's extremely rare that I receive negative comments. Almost never. Yes, there is sensationalism and small groups of people who have a problem accepting things they don't understand, but major changes in attitude have come in the last five or six years. Cable channels like Discovery, MSNBC, HBO, they started getting involved in transgender...
  • California: Covering Local News From Where?

    Offshoring work to India is hardly new. But PasadenaNow.com, until this week an obscure California online community magazine, has made news by taking the concept a step further. Editor and publisher James Macpherson has announced that he’d hired two reporters to cover Pasadena city government—from Mumbai and Bangalore. Starting Tuesday, the pair, including a University of California, Berkeley, journalism grad, will begin cranking out more than 28 stories a week between them. In exchange, one reporter will make $12,000 a year, the other $7,200, for covering budget battles and zoning meetings in a city of 146,000 best known for the Rose Bowl and Caltech.Hiring foreign correspondents in reverse makes good sense to Macpherson, 51, a longtime Pasadena resident. His two-year-old site, which gets 45,000 unique visitors a month, has yet to turn a profit, and until now his news coverage has consisted largely of press releases. But noting the wealth of material available online—city council...
  • Naughton: Obama's Tough Talk Backfires in Motown

    Nine years ago this week, Al Gore warmed up his run for the presidency by making a visit to Motown and speaking to the Detroit Economic Club. I covered that speech and recall that Gore was entering hostile territory. Detroit, an SUV boomtown in those days, was deeply skeptical of the vice president, who famously called for the death of the internal-combustion engine. But Gore, keen on endorsements from Big Labor and contributions from wealthy auto execs, changed his tune in Detroit. "Here in Motor City, we recognize that cars have done more than fuel our commerce," he rhapsodized. "Cars have freed the American spirit, and given us the chance to chase our dreams."My, how times have changed. This week, Sen. Barack Obama attempted to fuel his presidential run with a scalding speech to the Detroit Economic Club, castigating Motown's big wheels for driving our dependence on foreign oil. "For years, while foreign competitors were investing in more fuel-efficient technology for their...
  • TV: An Identity Crisis at the New CW Network

    Teen sleuth Veronica Mars knows how to crack a murder. Now she's fighting for her own life. "Mars" is among five or so series being considered for cancellation by the CW, the network launched this past fall with the merger of Warner Bros.'s WB network and CBS Corp.'s UPN. This week, series creator Rob Thomas will plead with network executives for a stay of execution. Veronica can be rehabilitated, he'll argue. If you don't like her Nancy Drew college act, we can tart her up in a "sexy pantsuit" and make her four years older, with a career as an FBI agent. Thomas hopes this new Veronica will appeal to network bosses who want a cop series as part of their lineup. "I'd be thrilled for her to come back in any incarnation," he says.Veronica's identity crisis mirrors the network's own. The CW borrowed most of its lineup from the WB, home of "Dawson's Creek" and "Felicity," and UPN, which counted African-Americans and women as its core audience. It was supposed to be the best of both...
  • Quinn: Dragged Down by Debt

    Claudie Harris, 54, of Kansas City, Mo., knows about living on the edge. She owes about$5,000 toward her late husband's medical bills. She's paying it, slowly, from the salary she earns as a housekeeper at a facility for the mentally ill. But that leaves her a little short. So, to get by, she's been taking payday loans, which are loans against her future earnings. "It's easy money," Harris says.People with shaky credit can borrow more easily than ever before—against houses, of course, but also against their paychecks and even their cars—whether or not they're in a position to repay. There are now some 24,200 payday-loan storefronts, up from 18,000 three years ago, according to Stephens Inc., a Little Rock investment bank—and more than 300 new payday outlets on the Internet. First American Loan Performance reports that subprime mortgages accounted for 16 percent of the market last year, up from 9 percent in 2000. Leverage like this puts consumers at much greater risk of delinquency...
  • Wolfgang Puck: I Want Animals to Be Happy

    I've been thinking a lot lately about how it's up to chefs like me to help everyone stay healthy. It's not just about reducing obesity and diabetes, though that's obviously a priority. It's about getting every one of us to eat the right foods. That means buying produce from responsible farmers who grow fruits and vegetables that aren't covered with pesticides or genetically modified. It means getting meat from ranchers who not only shun the use of antibiotics and growth hormones, but also raise their animals humanely in a free-roaming environment.I'm not going soft, or, heaven forbid, vegan. I'm just trying to be more accountable to myself, my customers and to those who are farming responsibly. And if it means being nicer to animals along the way, well, that's a big bonus. Why shouldn't cows and pigs feel sunlight on their backs, grass under their feet? Fish shouldn't be jammed into tanks too full for them to even think about swimming. They should be able to exercise their muscles...
  • The Rise of Boutique Hotels

    Boutique hotels are popping up in Asia's more cosmopolitan cities faster than construction cranes. Over the last couple of years, Hong Kong and Singapore have led the trend in the region. Now Shanghai is getting the boutique treatment, meeting the fast-growing demand among design-conscious travelers for a more intimate, personal environment. Within the space of a few months, at least three boutique hotels—generally defined as having fewer than 100 rooms and a hip décor concept—have opened their doors. The 30-room Mansion Hotel is a renovated French-style manor with private-club décor, evoking the swinging Shanghai of the 1920s. M Suites has a sleeker, more contemporary feel, and JIA Shanghai provides home-style luxury incorporating signature furniture pieces. "It's a very niche market, but it's growing tremendously," says Yenn Wong, the owner of JIA Boutique Hotels, which opened Hong Kong's first boutique hotel in 2004 and is now planning its third in Beijing. "For these travelers,...
  • The Club of Competitors

    If the reports are on target, Europe will grow faster than America in 2007—for the first time in six years. European Union countries created 2 million new jobs last year, cutting unemployment to its lowest since 1991. Better, growth is no longer confined to outliers like Britain, Spain or the Baltic mini-states. Europe's resurgence is driven by the behemoth at the continent's heart, Germany. After 15 years of malaise, the EU's traditional locomotive grew at almost 3 percent in 2006, roaring past such laggards as France and Italy. Years of restructuring and smart wage deals with the unions have made German manufacturers, especially exporters, über-competitive.The jury is still out over how much of this faster growth is temporary. But the process by which the German economy has shaped up is Exhibit A for what's going right in the EU these days. It's not a matter of any single smart policy or innovative wage deal. The key to Germany's broader revival is the way the EU has boosted...
  • Samuelson: Seeking Sense on Immigration

    Our stalled immigration debate needs more common sense and more common decency. America's immigration system is unquestionably broken. It encourages illegality, frustrates assimilation and barely aids the economy—exactly the opposite of what it should do. Senators are striving to craft something more sensible. But they will fail unless both liberals and conservatives discard some of their cherished ambitions.From liberals, we need more common sense. Their main position is to perpetuate a policy that guarantees rising U.S. poverty. Consider: From 1990 to 2005, the increase in the number of people living beneath the government's poverty line (now about $20,000 for a family of four) was 3,365,000; the increase in the number of Hispanics living below the poverty line over the same period was 3,362,000. Does anyone doubt that this coincidence stems mostly from immigration?True, much of it was illegal. But many liberals—along with the Bush administration and business groups—favor a...
  • Samuelson: The Upside of Recession?

    It's increasingly clear that much of our standard economic vocabulary needs revising, supplementing or at least explaining. The customary words we use don't, for one reason or another, fully convey what's actually happening in the real world. Let me illustrate with two basic economic terms: inflation and recession. There are also larger lessons.Start with inflation. You may have noticed that last week's release of the March consumer price index—the government's main inflation indicator—inspired much optimism. INFLATION FEARS RELAX, headlined The Wall Street Journal. Stock prices jumped on the supposedly good news. But if you actually examined the CPI report, you found that prices in March rose at their highest rate since September 2005 and that, over the past three months, they've increased at a 4.7 percent annual rate. Doesn't sound like retreating inflation, does it?What explains the discrepancy is "core inflation." That's the CPI minus food and energy prices. In March, core...
  • How Housing Developers Really Work

    At just past 10 a.m. one morning this week, auctioneer James Regan stood in the driveway of a large home in central Massachusetts, ringing a handbell. After reading aloud a foreclosure notice, he looked up at the 40 or so onlookers—realtors and clients, bankers, a few curiosity-seekers (including me)—and asked for someone to open the bidding on 2 Copperbeech Circle. The 5,381-square-foot home is still under construction; inside, the family room is missing half its flooring, and the kitchen lacks counters or appliances. A hundred yards away, a similar completed house sold for $2.3 million—but since then, the real estate market has softened and the developer building this neighborhood has run out of money. That led the bank to foreclose on this entire half-built cul-de-sac, and today the five properties—three partially built homes and two vacant lots—were being auctioned off, one per hour. “Do I hear $500,000?” Regan asks. A woman in a tan pantsuit raises her bid number, and the first...
  • Naughton: Big Labor Sure Isn't Dead in Detroit

    Last week in a crowded amphitheater at Chrysler’s Auburn Hills, Mich., headquarters, the carmaker’s CEO was having a hard time keeping the media on message. He was there, flanked by Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and United Auto Workers (UAW) President Ron Gettelfinger, to announce $1.8 billion in new factories Chrysler is building in suburban Detroit. But all the reporters wanted to talk about was DaimlerChrysler’s plans to sell off the ailing American automaker, which lost $1.5 billion last year as sales of its SUVs tanked amid soaring gas prices. CEO Tom LaSorda, who is in the unenviable position of trying to drive a car with a couple of blown tires and a FOR SALE sign in the window, finally ran out of ways of steering around the question. “Maybe you should ask him,” he said, pointing to Gettelfinger. “He’s my boss.”When it comes to the sale of Chrysler, the union is in the driver’s seat. For starters, Gettelfinger sits on DaimlerChrysler’s 20-member Supervisory Board, the...
  • Mortgages: Shift Your Home Into Reverse

    Reverse mortgages, which are designed to help older folks stay in their homes longer, have never been very popular. Sure, a 74-year-old with a $300,000 house could get a lump sum or credit line of $180,000 or monthly payments of $1,203 as long as she lived in the house. But then she'd pay as much as $14,000 in upfront closing costs and another $15,000 or so in monthly fees over the life of the loan, according to AARP. (You can find your own numbers at aarp.org/ money/revmort.)But with new lenders and underwriters moving into the market, expect these mortgages to get cheaper in the next year or two. In the meantime, folks can try to qualify for a less expensive, standard home-equity line first. Or they can try another new tack and get a mortgage from their kids. Circlelending.com, a Web-based company that helps arrange personal loans, has a new intrafamily reverse mortgage. For $3,999, the company does all the paperwork. Kids can loan their parents money against their inheritance....
  • College: Beating the Loan Sharks

    Here's more bad news from the college-costs-a-fortune department: student loans have lost their bargain interest rates, and, according to a new investigation of lending practices in New York state, your school's financial-aid office may be steering families to unnecessarily expensive options—and taking a cut from banks in return. Some advice on shopping for the best deal now:
  • Are 'Brainy' Toys for Babies a Waste of Money?

    You see them everywhere: harried parents hauling their little ones off to classes in Mandarin, gymnastics or classical violin. At home, they're filling nurseries with "educational" rattles and mobiles. It's all for a worthy goal: making the most of the first three years of life, when critical changes in brain structure determine whether little Madison or Matthew will one day enter the Ivy League. At least that is what a growing number of parents have been led to believe. Sadly, it may all be a waste of time and money.Thanks to what journalist Susan Gregory Thomas calls the "toddler-industrial complex," parents have become suckers for toys with "Einstein" or "genius" in their names. In her new book, "Buy Buy Baby," Thomas explains how a well-meaning 1994 report by the Carnegie Corporation led to the creation of a vast marketing effort aimed at parents of young children. The report, called "Starting Points," used neuroscience to make the case for more federally funded services for...
  • Quinn: How to Make Money on Climate Change

    So where's the money in climate change? Investors sense a tumultuous market in the making, if they can only hit it right. "Sometimes I feel like a fly on the wall, watching a new era unfold," says Rona Fried, editor and publisher of Progressive Investor, a six-year-old newsletter that follows the field. "We're almost past the final hurdle of 'Do we really have to change?' Yes, we do, and we're going to get there."Wall Street's own change in climate is nothing less than astonishing. Save-the-planet investing has suddenly, well, heated up. Four major investment banks—Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and UBS—have recently issued fat global-warming reports looking at stocks and industries likely to gain or lose. Investments in clean energy have more than doubled, to $70.9 billion worldwide, in just three years. In just six years, assets in U.S. "green" mutual funds have soared by 695 percent.Corporations can't afford to lag. Caps on greenhouses gases will almost certainly...
  • Ask the Pro: Selling Your Home

    It's a buyer's market, and you want to sell. How can you make your home stand out? TIP SHEET's Linda Stern asked Schwarz. ...
  • Family: Camp Finance

    Arts, crafts and archery may be fun, but how useful are they? A growing number of summer camps aim to give kids something they can really take to the bank: financial knowledge.Most of these camps use games, skits, fake paychecks and "moolah jars" to teach 10- to 18-year-olds how to buy low, sell high, appreciate deferred gratification and tell their assets from their debits. (Hint: "Assets feed you, liabilities eat you," according to Fiscally Fit Kids Money Camp in New City, N.Y., fiscallyfitkids.com.) Typical activities include micro-economies, where kids spend their paychecks on items they need and "win" when there's cash left over for wants, and field trips to businesses.Some camps to consider are moneysenseacademy.com in New England and Tennessee, the Funancial Summer Camps in Wray, Colo., run by the Young Americans Center for Financial Education, and themoneycamp.com, which runs camps in various California and North Carolina locales. There's one sleep-away contender: Wall...
  • Leading Lights

    No longer must chandeliers be stodgy, showy or crystal-studded. Today's fixtures are eye-catching and ultramodern and can work in any home, from a condo to a castle.Online retailer Inmod sells an assortment of its space-age Sputnik chandeliers. The chrome designs are both retro and modern. Higher-end models include handblown glass versions. The Ika Trio ($1,699) in red looks like three bundles of red-hot chiles (inmod.com).For the environmentally conscious, Neues Licht of Denmark uses fiber-optic cables in its energy-efficient Scintilla chandeliers. Crystal droplets hang from three tiers and are lit by a programmable light source that can change color ($2,550 to $5,100; neueslicht.de).Each handblown glass chandelier from U.K.-based Roast Designs is unique. These multicolored clusters of spheres look almost organic and are available in four sizes ($1,250 to $2,150; roastdesigns.co.uk). No one may ever want to get up to clear the table.
  • And the Beer's Better

    Home plate really means just that to some new apartment owners in San Diego, where the nation's first condo-overlooking-a-ballpark is going up. The Legend is a 23-story tower being built by Bosa Development inside the gates of Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres.Owners on two sides of the condominium will have views into the stadium. Those two-bedroom units have already sold out, at prices in the $800,000s. The penthouses topped $1 million, and only 68 units of the 178-unit building remain unsold, though it won't be completed until August. The seventh floor holds a clubhouse with a full field view for all residents, including those on the nonview side of the build-ing, where units start in the $500,000s.The concept may catch on. The city of Nashville is planning ballpark-view condos around a new 10,000-seat stadium for its AAA minor-league team, the Sounds. And in Minneapolis, many of the same development firms that worked on the San Diego project are considering a similar plan...
  • Medicine Man

    Pfizer's CEO talks about layoffs, regulatory issues and the public's unhappiness about drug prices.
  • Tub With A View

    Add amazing baths to the list of amenities now available at top hotels. At the Hilton Sydney, bath masters will fill your tub with Energy Sensation, a lime, mint and rosemary essential oil ($100; hiltonsydney.com.au). Or at the Hotel Arts Barcelona, try a soak with olive-oil-extract shower cream, which bathers enjoy while sipping freshly squeezed OJ ($157; hotelartsbarcelona.com).In a couple's bath at Aspen's Hotel Jerome, you and your mate can be served Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label and strawberries as you luxuriate in an oversize sunken garden tub fragrant with temple-tree oil ($150; hoteljerome.com). Couples visiting the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, can soak in the romantic Second Honeymoon bath of essential oils derived from rose petals, flowers and fruit ($130; ritz-carlton.com/hotels/singapore).There's also the Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong's Ultimate Champagne Bath. Surrounded by 99 roses and candlelight, guests relax in a seven-foot tub filled with Billecarte...
  • Samuelson: 'Boomsday' Is Approaching

    Cassandra Devine knows how to solve the coming "entitlements" crisis, preordained when the 77 million baby boomers begin hitting 65 in 2011: pay retirees to commit suicide, a program she calls "transitioning." Volunteers could receive a lavish vacation beforehand ("a farewell honeymoon"), courtesy of the government, and their heirs would be spared the estate tax. If only 20 percent of boomers select suicide before the age of 70, she says, "Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid will be solvent. End of crisis."OK, Devine is a 29-year-old fictional blogger in Christopher Buckley's new satirical novel, "Boomsday." Infuriated at the injustices awaiting her generation, she becomes an instant media celebrity with a gift for incendiary rhetoric. "Someone my age will have to spend their [sic] entire life paying unfair taxes, just so the Boomers can hit the golf course at sixty-two and drink gin and tonics until they're ninety," she tells one TV reporter.Her plan, once in cyberspace, incites...
  • Student-Loan Secrets

    As millions of high-school seniors ripped open college-acceptance letters last week, a brewing student-loan scandal was dragging in a growing number of schools, for-profit loan companies and government officials.In recent years, while college tuitions have soared and federal funding of student grants and loans have languished, the nation's for-profit student-loan industry has exploded into an $85 billion enterprise. Competition for students' business has become so frenzied that "it's become like the Wild West," says Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.Now a growing number of complaints has prompted investigations by Congress, the U.S. Department of Education and, most aggressively, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who has sent letters to 400 schools and is probing 100 institutions.Last month Cuomo announced plans to sue Education Finance Partners, a California firm, which he alleges has made illegal kickbacks to...

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