A proton beam therapy center in Indiana is closing, and insurers are reluctant to cover the treatment for common cancers. But plans for three new proton therapy centers for the D.C. area are still on.
A Civil War-era law that encourages whistleblowers to turn in their employers has been successful at exposing corporate fraud.
It turns out the Secret Service isn't too good at protecting the White House. Maybe one reason is that we don't want it to be.
Viacom, the giant media company that produces channels including Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and MTV, has been dropped from the TV menu of one of the nation’s smaller cable companies.
Suddenlink Communications, based in St. Louis, says Viacom’s stations cost too much, and that it can’t pass that cost on to its cable customers.
Industry watchers say this is evidence of a growing trend. Smaller cable providers are opting out of expensive carriage deals with major content providers and risking the ire of customers deprived of popular channels. Some small cable companies are getting out of the TV business altogether and offering only broadband internet and phone services.
Suddenlink serves approximately 1.2 million customers in North Carolina, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana and other Southern states. Company spokesman Pete Abel says Viacom was demanding nearly 50 percent more in carriage fees in their renewal contract this fall. Abel says Suddenlink came back with a counterproposal: The company would "un-bundle" Viacom’s channels “which our customers could then pick, choose and pay for, at their discretion."
"So far, neither Viacom nor any of the companies we have made that suggestion to have agreed to do that,” Abel says.
Viacom sent a written statement to Marketplace:
“After five months of negotiations, Suddenlink abruptly stopped negotiating with Viacom one week ago.”
Viacom says it accepted Suddenlink’s final contract proposal for one year, but Suddenlink walked away from that offer.
Whoever is to blame for the blackout of Viacom channels on Suddenlink, the phenomenon of small cable companies changing or dropping programming represents a paradigm shift in the industry, says entertainment equity analyst Tuna Amobi at S&P Capital IQ.
“We’ve always said that something has to give, given the escalation in programming costs, which is translating into cable bills outpacing inflation by orders of magnitude,” Amobi said.
Amobi predicts more consumers will "cut the cord" in the future.
Last year, the pay-TV industry lost customers for the first time ever, shedding 167,000 subscribers, according to research by MoffettNathanson cited in the Wall Street Journal. Media analysts say this trend is partly driven by the big media companies themselves—whether content providers like Viacom, or cable service providers like Comcast—which insist on bundling big packages of preselected channels to consumers, and then increasing bills to cover the cost.
“Across the entire U.S., the advent of over-the-top services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon is where the paradigm shift of cord-cutting is occurring,” said Amobi. “This trend is going to continue and ultimately exert even more pressure, in terms of consumers dropping the high-priced cable bundles in favor of cheaper alternatives.”
The first diagnosed case of Ebola in the United States reveals a truth people in developing countries know all too well: There is little incentive for drug manufacturers to develop vaccines and drugs for diseases that affect the poor.
The simple reality is that drug manufacturers want to make money. To that end, Columbia economist Frank Lichtenberg says companies want to know two things: the number of potential customers and their ability to pay.
“If there are a million consumers and each of them would be willing to pay $1,000 for a drug, that translates into a billion-dollar potential market,” he says.
That is in no way the Ebola market.
“The total number of cases of Ebola in the world between 1976 and 2013 were less than 2,000,” says Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, the CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which last month committed $50 million to address Ebola.
What the Ebola outbreak reminds us all is that millions of lives are potentially at risk and there are few incentives for private industry to treat or prevent diseases like Ebola and malaria. That has left funding vaccines and medicines to philanthropies, federal governments and entities like the World Health Organization.
Desmond-Hellmann says the spread of Ebola forces people to ask whether that system is adequate.
“This epidemic is showing us how important it is for the world to have at the ready a response for such an epidemic,” she says.
The U.S. government has invested millions on Ebola over several decades, but it could take years—and quite a bit more money—to develop effective therapies.
So how do you get more money into research and development for these diseases and other public health concerns? USC health economist Joel Hay shares one idea that's being kicked around: “If you just had a tax on every pharmaceutical product sold, that money could be used for some more of these socially desirable goals,” he says.
The thing to remember is that this is a tricky market to regulate. And it’s trickier still for our government, which has a duty to keep people safe, but must find the right incentives to keep the drug industry in the game.
Reddit is a digital bulletin board of sorts, the self-proclaimed “front page of the internet,” where gazillions of users post, share and read about almost any topic area, or "subreddit," that you can conceive of and many that you honestly couldn't (or perhaps shouldn't).
“The content is 95 percent of the time relevant and interesting, which is really cool,” says user Colin Grussing, of his favorite subreddits, which mostly include entrepreneurship. “I don’t know if there’s any other site on the Internet that does that so well.”
Reddit has just announced that it raised $50 million from a series of investors, including top tech venture capitalists and stars like Jared Leto and Snoop Dogg.
The company will use the money to:
"... hire more staff for product development, expand our community management team, build out better moderation and community tools, work more closely with third party developers to expand our mobile offerings (try our new AMA app), improve our self-serve ad product, build out redditgifts marketplace, pay for our growing technical infrastructure, and all the many other things it takes to support a huge and growing global internet community.”
“I grew up with a computer, and many of my friends were people I met online,” says Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator and the lead investor in this round of funding. “I think one of the most fundamental societal transitions in the last 20 years is this idea that people connect to some of the closest people in their lives and have some of these important parts of their personalities get developed in online communities.”
But he also thinks Reddit’s passionate, highly engaged users will make the site a good long-term investment.
Like other large community sites, he says Reddit could make money in three ways.
“One, obviously, is with ads,” he explains. “Two is with charging users for premium features, and three is some version of commerce. That’s more in the experimentation phase, but where you let people basically spend money on the site and take part of that transaction.”
Altman and his fellow investors want to give 10 percent of their shares back to the community, because users have helped build the site, and, as he says, people treat a car they own better than a rental.
It’s a relatively simple idea, but one that’s very difficult to execute legally, says Lance Kimmel, a securities lawyer.
“I think Reddit really has their work cut out for themselves,” he says. “This stuff is really, really complicated.”
The Securities and Exchange Commission has shut down other companies' attempts to do something similar, says Kimmel.
In announcing the idea, Reddit admitted that it has been interested in a similar move in the past, but hasn't found the right legal avenue.
Its CEO recently floated the idea of giving users a cryptocurrency backed by shares, though Kimmel is skeptical about the legality of that approach as well.
Cable subscribers aren't the only ones cutting cords. Increasingly, smaller broadband providers have been getting out of the TV business altogether, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, or scaling back their offerings. The latest is Suddenlink, a smaller cable provider that just dropped Viacom's suite of channels, including MTV, VH1 and CMT.
A representative for small cable companies told the Journal that change in the cable TV market is going to "come from the bottom." Are small broadband providers key to upending the cable business model? Here's what you need to know:
Who are these companies?
Just about all metropolitan areas in the U.S. are claimed by just a few large broadband providers like Comcast, Cox and Time Warner, but about 14 percent of pay TV subscribers are served by a cable company with a million or fewer customers.
These companies — like USA Communications, a co-op in Shellsburg, Iowa — typically serve rural or small-town customers. Many eschew eye-catching new subscriber discounts used by larger companies in favor of straightforward price lists by community. These subscriber bases are small, sometimes only a few thousand customers.
About 915 smaller cable companies are represented by the National Cable Television Cooperative, which told the Journal that companies serving a total of 53,000 subscribers have gone out of business or dropped their TV offerings in favor of broadband. One provider in Missouri said only a fifth of its customers pay for TV anymore.
How do networks fit into this?
TV networks charge "carriage fees" to cable providers for the right to run their channels. Providers pay a fee per subscriber, often for a bundle of channels. Historically, cable companies have complained about rising fees and being made to carry channels their customers don't want.
The fees themselves are closely guarded secrets, but some estimates put them as high as $6 per subscriber for ESPN. The rising costs and ballooning bundles can put a strain on smaller providers, like Cedar Falls Utilities, who spoke out against the carriage system earlier this year.
Between high costs and low subscriber interest, it's easy to see why some smaller providers might be eyeing a broadband-only business model.
How are small providers making up for the lost programming?
These small companies are making up for programming by pushing à la carte streaming services. Earlier this year, Netflix inked deals with three small cable companies to put their services directly into set-top boxes, for example. One company, RTC Telephone in Georgia, promotes Roku's set-top box as a $5 add-on to its broadband service.
More rural cable companies, like BTC Broadband in Oklahoma, are also providing high-speed fiber internet, which could push customers away from pay TV and toward reliable broadband.
Over 1 billion people around the world are studying English. Now they have a new test to see how they're doing — and if you're curious, you can see how your language skills measure up.
The private sector added 213,000 jobs in September, according to an ADP payroll report out Wednesday morning. That's just ahead of expectations and a jump from the August report, which was revised down to 202,000 additions. Small businesses lead the way, with 88,000 jobs added to companies with less than 50 employees in September.
The government will release its monthly jobs report at the end of the week. As we wait for those numbers, here's what we're watching Wednesday:24
Wednesday is Chinese National Day, and one human rights group estimates "nearly two dozen" people have been detained in mainland China for their support of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. The government has been moving quickly to scrub images of the protest from the Internet and tamp down small bursts of solidarity from the mainland, the New York Times reported, and Amnesty International said at least 60 people have been brought in for questioning about their support.$1.5 billion
California's drought enters its fourth year Wednesday. An August study from the University of California at Davis estimated $1.5 billion in farm revenue has been lost, along with 17,100 jobs. A new report released this week linked climate change to many heat waves around the world in 2013, the Los Angeles Times reported, but could not draw a clear connection between human activity and the drought.45 percent
That's how high fees can get for families sending money to incarcerated loved ones through JPay, a private vendor that handles money transfers for 70 percent of inmates in the U.S. JPay is at the center of an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity exploring the heavy, hidden costs put on inmates and their families. The second half of the series, focusing on no-bid agreements between big banks and corrections departments, will run Thursday.
Federal health authorities are working hard to reassure the public they’re ready to contain the Ebola virus after announcing the first confirmed case of Ebola in the U.S. — a man who traveled from Liberia to Texas.
Health workers are now trying to find people the infected man may have come into contact with. Those contacts will be monitored for 21 days.
“You’ve having to monitor all of those folks this person has been in contact with. And then that may expand to, you know, if one of those people is sick then you expand to trace all of their contacts,” says Jeanne Ringel, director of the population health program at RAND Corporation.
All that monitoring takes a lot of people and resources. Federal health officials tried to get a head start.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent checklists to hospitals with advice on containing the disease and protecting staff. The U.S. started beefing up bioterrorism preparedness years ago, after the anthrax attacks in 2001.
Now, health officials say, all of that prep work is paying off.
“Our health system today is in much better shape than it was five or ten years ago to be able to identify and contain outbreaks like Ebola, even though that’s not exactly what we’re planning for,” says Dr. Paul Biddinger, chief of the division of emergency preparedness at Mass General Hospital.
Dr. Biddinger says he’s not surprised that an Ebola case showed up in the U.S. He’s been preparing for it for months.
First up, federal health authorities are working to reassure the public they're ready to contain the Ebola virus after the announcement that the first patient in the U.S. was diagnosed with Ebola—a man who traveled from Liberia to Texas. More on how prepared the U.S. is for this and other infectious diseases. Plus, students in suburban Denver were threatening to walk out of school today in an act of civil disobedience. One of the reasons: a proposal to de-emphasize civil disobedience from their history curriculum. The choice of day by the students may be strategic: Today's the day some parts of Colorado count heads in classrooms, which will determine future school funding. And Ford Motor Company warned about its future profits yesterday, a reminder that recall problems have not just been a General Motors issue. Ford stock fell more than 2 percent. For a long time, Ford owned Jaguar of Britain, but sold it at the height of the financial crisis. Under new management, Jaguar is showing new signs of life. But until now, Jag's been missing something.
Before he retired from the Navy Dental Corps, Dr. Larry Williams used to help sailors quit using tobacco. One reason he says they start smoking, chewing or dipping is peer pressure.
"The imagery, the socialization, the context of being able to be with people your own age and talk about things" is key, he says. But tobacco use trumps rank, and users can end up crowded together, forced to forget protocol for the tiniest of whiles.
"It’s the one opportunity you have," Williams says, "in the smoke deck, or the smoking area, that you can go as an E3 and stand next to an E6 and talk to them and learn things that other people might not be able to pick up."
Members of the military use tobacco more than civilians. Depending on the division and age groups you look within, Williams says, usage rates can be as high as 32 percent. In the military, tobacco can be hard to avoid. Take one of Williams' colleagues, a sailor working in a medical clinic, who alerted Williams that he was about to start smoking.
“I looked over at him and said, 'why?' And he said, 'Well, everybody else in the office smokes, and when the senior chief goes outside to smoke, they all go with him and they leave me behind to take care of all the work in the office.'”
Williams was raised on a tobacco farm. It was the experience of seeing relatives die from tobacco-related illnesses, like emphysema, lung disease and cancer, that steered him to his eventual career, he says. He's now a consultant to the National Development and Research Institute looking at the effectiveness of tobacco policy and cessation programs in the military.
Tobacco use, notes Williams, harms the health and readiness of troops and costs taxpayers billions.
“If you’re a smoker, your hospital stays are 20 percent longer," he says. "You have a double risk of postoperative infection from any surgery that you have.”
The defense department spends $1.6 billion a year on tobacco-related expenses, like treating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
A discounted risk
Despite the numbers, members of the military get discounts on all kinds of products at military base stores, including tobacco—which the military sells a lot of. In the last year numbers were available, the Army and Air Force sold just under $400 million worth.
A new provision in next year’s spending bill for the Defense Department would eliminate that discount.
Williams says he also wants the discount ended. However, he says, doing so could be difficult.
“The profits from tobacco sales on the base—those are used by MWR—morale, welfare and recreation. It helps pay for the day care centers. It helps pay for the gymnasiums, for the clubs,” he says. So "any sale of tobacco is sort of a benefit. And that’s one of the things we need to remove—is any association between profits from items that cause health issues should be removed and that money come from another source."
The military has been struggling for years with how to address tobacco, but it keeps getting caught up in politics, says Erika Sward, assistant vice president for national advocacy at the American Lung Association. Sward calls the problem the "iron triangle."
"When the military has tried to do something," she says, "Congress has stopped them because of tobacco industry’s lobby and pressure."
"There’s a law that prohibits the Veteran’s Administration from making its hospitals tobacco-free," she says. "There's a constant back-and-forth between the tobacco industry and Capitol Hill."
Sen. Richard Durbin, chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, included a provision in next year’s Defense Department spending bill that would end the military’s discount on tobacco products. He notes that, according to DOD policy, tobacco may only be discounted 5 percent.
But via an emailed statement he said, "In practice, these discounts are much greater. A study comparing cigarette prices at 145 military retail stores and their nearest Walmart found that the average discount on Marlboro Red brand cigarettes was 25.4 percent."
Will removing discounts change habits?
When tobacco is cheap, people buy more.
"We know that one of the greatest ways to reduce tobacco use across the board," says Sward, "is to increase the price. But when the military is subsidizing the cost of tobacco use, or undercutting local prices, as a result it means that cheaper tobacco products are more available and more people are likely to use them among military personnel."
An amendment to the spending bill, introduced by California Rep. Duncan Hunter, would prevent restrictions on sales of any products currently in stock at base stores, including tobacco.
Hunter declined an interview request, as did all but a few of the 53 of the 62-member Armed Services Committee who voted in favor of the amendment, effectively opting to continue the discount on tobacco.
Southern Mississippi Rep. Steven Palazzo, who served for eight years in the Marine Corps Reserves, and a member of the Armed Services Committee, cast his vote with the majority.
“What’s next? Are they going to not allow you to eat a cheeseburger?" he questioned. "Hey, caffeine is bad for you so no more coffee? No more Krispy Kreme doughnuts? You’re talking about a lance corporal in the United States Marine Corp that just got through two weeks of hellacious fighting—seeing his buddies basically blown to pieces in front of him in Fallujah and he wants to come back to the fort operating base and have a cigarette?"
Palazzo says he knows ending the discount isn't the same as removing tobacco products from base stores altogether, but he says doing away with the discount would represent "a slippery slope."
Besides, he says, why single out one product? Especially given the kind of work that soldiers do.
"The availability of tobacco products in a combat zone is not the threat. The threat is the bullets coming from the enemy," he says. "But you know, we’re not going to ban war, so why would we ban tobacco products for our military?"
A question Senate isn't currently facing. However, the issue of the military’s discount on tobacco products is expected to come before legislators this fall.
Students in suburban Denver plan to walk out of school on Wednesday in an act of civil disobedience. One of the reasons is to protest a proposal that would, among other things, de-emphasize civil disobedience from their history curriculum.
If the students wanted to make a point, they couldn’t have picked a more significant day to do it. That’s because every year on October 1, Colorado schools count up the students who show up in order to figure out how much state funding each school district will get.
One school principal went on Facebook to ask students to show up to class on so-called “count day,” because anywhere from $4,000 to $6,000 in per-pupil funding from Colorado state is on the line.
“In the past, school districts have done everything they can to get kids to attend” on count day, says Michael Smith with the Denver-based national group Education Commission on the States. “So, they’ll have pizza for free, or they’ll have activities. They will send out notices to families.”
Nationwide, about half of school district budgets come from state funding. But only a minority of states use a single count day. It’s attractive because it requires less paperwork. But Jane Urschel of the Colorado Association of School Boards says her members want a different method.
“Years ago, we had two count days," she says. "So, it’s been an issue whether this is the best way. We know we need to make better policy on that” Urschel says.
Among other options is to count up the average number of students in school during the whole year, which is the most popular option among states.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It's also National Physical Therapy Month, National Pharmacists Month, Down Syndrome Awareness Month and more than a dozen others. Other months of the year are similarly crowded. One online calendar lists more than 30 “months” for May alone.
How do all these months get scheduled?
It may have escaped your notice that October was Lupus Awareness Month. That’s “was,” past tense.
Lupus Month is now in May, but in 1994, when Duane Peters started working for the Lupus Foundation of America, it was October.
"We noticed that over the years the month became very crowded," says Peters, who is now the organization's senior communications director.
He won’t say breast cancer was the only big competitor, but that disease did lock up a lot of corporate support, which created awkward conversations.
"Certainly it would behoove us," he says, "not to put a company in that position where they say, 'Gee whiz, we already do something for breast cancer. We like lupus, we want to support it, but... '"
In 2003, the Lupus Foundation started looking seriously at May. It took years: first to decide, then to switch.
Other months are more straightforward. I asked Pam Paladin, who runs marketing for the American Association of Orthodontists, why October was National Orthodontic Health Month.
"As it turns out, the week following Halloween is generally the busiest week for orthodontists for emergency appointments," she says.
Caramel apples — not so kind to braces. Be aware.
But what about all those commemorative days?
Sure, you'll spend October being aware of all sorts of stuff, but if you're wishing there were more to commemorate in a more arbitrary way, the month is full of many obscure holidays. In fact, you could spend every single day in October celebrating something. Some of these days are more official than others, but no matter. We assembled the list with some help from Marketplace's professional datebook-er Michelle Philippe, who also reminded us that October is American Cheese Month.
October 9 — Leif Erikson Day
October 13 — National Kick Butt Day. Not to be confused with the anti-smoking Kick Butts day. Also happens to be Columbus Day.
October 16 — Take your Parents to Lunch Day and National Feral Cat Day
October 24 —National Food Day, kind of a catch-all. Not to be confused with...
October 25 —National Greasy Food Day
October 31 — National Breadstix Day. There's conflicting information on this one, but you should probably give your trick-or-treaters bread anyway.
If you were around during the '80s, you probably remember the Indiana Jones movies—the swashbuckling archaeologist traveled the world digging up ancient treasures.
If you were to go looking for a real-life, present-day Indiana Jones, you might get someone like Michael Toth. He travels with his teams around the world using modern technology—lasers, high-tech cameras—to unearth treasure. It's centuries-old writing that appears in very faint form on manuscripts called palimpsests. Along the way, they've discovered everything from lost languages to some very mysterious fingerprints.
You’re not discovering ancient manuscripts; you’re working to read what’s buried in them. Tell me a little about the work you do.
We work on a range of manuscripts—the earliest copy of Archimedes work, David Livingston’s diaries—and we use spectral imaging to reveal that text which is not seen by the naked eye.
Why isn’t that text visible? We’re talking about two different layers of writing here, right?
That is correct. It’s usually on parchment. And they’re written initially with an ink made out of the galls of oak trees, and that’s been scraped off and overwritten. And in doing so, it’s preserved that text underneath it.
And the process you use is something called spectral imaging. Tell me about that and what kind of technology is involved in that.
So we shine lights on the object to bring out that ink which responds best to, say, the ultraviolet in the case of iron gall, or a modern carbon black ink in the infrared.
You and I met in the Sinai Desert, when you were working at Saint Catherine’s Monastery to look at some of the ancient manuscripts that have been held in the library there for over 1,000 years. Tell me a little about the work you’ve done at Saint Catherine’s and some of the things you found.
Some are historical texts. Some are medical or mathematical texts. We’re still assessing what is underneath this rich trove and, ultimately, are going to make this available to the world.
Do you have a favorite moment of discovery?
Oh, yes. The work on Abraham Lincoln’s draft of the Gettysburg Address. And as we were imaging it, at the bottom, on a blank part of the paper, the ultraviolet light came on and there’s gemlike glow at the bottom. And we said, “Hey, we’ve gotta look at this,” and we saw a thumbprint. And then on the back three fingerprints. As if someone was holding that paper, which is folded in thirds, as if it’s in a coat pocket, had held it up to read.
And is it Abraham Lincoln’s fingerprints?
We don’t know. We know there’s enough of the whorls and loops to be able to assess the fingerprint. But of course there was no FBI fingerprint lab, much less West Virginia back then. So they are working with various forensics experts to try to assess that compared to other documents.
It took 12 innings, but the Kansas City Royals won the American League Wild Card game over the Oakland Athletics 9-8.
Rabia, which Islamic State militants had held since this summer, was reclaimed by peshmerga fighters in a bloody urban battle. But ISIS fighters advanced on the Syria-Turkey border despite airstrikes.
This is about a movie that is, as they say, coming soon to a theater near you.
If that music doesn't provoke a Pavlovian response that sends you running for your old Game Boy, let us get to the point: There will be a Tetris movie.
The head of the company making the movie, Threshold Entertainment, also made the "Mortal Kombat" series.
But in case you're wondering how a game that's all about bricks will translate to the big screen, Henk Rogers, managing director of The Tetris Company, says: "There's much more to Tetris than simply clearing lines." The Tetris Company owns the rights to the game that debuted three decades ago.
"We have a story behind Tetris," Threshold's Larry Kasanoff promises, adding it'll be "a very big, epic sci-fi movie."
Applying to the program for immigrants illegally brought to the U.S. as children provides a work permit and prevents deportation, but costs $465. Mexico is helping some of its citizens with that cost.