National / International News
It's the latest step in a growing controversy after thousands of homeowners said insurance companies lowballed damage estimates and insurance insiders called the appeals process "rigged."
The state's earlier ban on judges belonging to groups that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation now applies to youth organizations. Does this take judicial impartiality too far?
A trip to the local drug store prompted listener Paul Fuligni to wonder why razor blades are so expensive, such that they’re now often in locked containers or behind the counter at the drug store.
It turns out, lots of people have thought a lot about the pricing of razors and blades. There have been dozens of academic papers written about it and any good MBA student will have studied it.
“This tends to be called 'razors and blades pricing' or a 'two-part tariff',” says Richard Schmalensee, an emeritus professor of economics and management at MIT and the author of his own paper on razor blade pricing.
Companies woo customers with an inexpensive, maybe even below-cost product (like the razor handle) and then charge more a related good (such as the refill blades). It’s a way to lock customers into a product line, but Schmalensee says it’s also a way to charge higher prices for customers who use the product more often.
“The person who uses a new blade every day, that’s a person who values a close shave and that’s the person I, as the manufacturer, know would pay a high price,” he says. “And I’d be happy to charge them that high price.”
A slew of other products use the razors and blades model: Video consoles and video games, printers and ink cartridges, e-readers and e-books, and even in some ways, phone carriers who subsidize a cell-phone handset when purchased with subscription to their service.
However, there’s another reason why blades are so expensive.
“Razor blades are really, really difficult to make,” says Jeff Raider, the co-founder of Harry’s, a start-up that sells shaving products directly to customers through its website.
Raider says before he started Harry’s, he had no idea how complicated razor production would be or that there’s only a few companies in the world producing blades. He wound up purchasing a German factory in order to get the blades and quality he wanted.
“It actually starts with buying really fine razor steel,” explains Raider. “You have to grind steel so that it’s very sharp at its tip and very strong at its base. That gives it both stability and a really crisp cutting surface.”
The combination of strength and precision minimizes the risk of nicks or razor burn.
The metal is then heated and cooled, “actually changing the molecular composition of the steel,” says Raider. Next it’s ground at “specific angles that are proprietary to the razor blade manufacturer, in machines that the manufacturers actually make themselves.”
Because creating the blades is an intricate, complicated, expensive process with high barriers to entry, the few companies that make blades have an advantage: Without many competitors, they’re able to charge higher prices.
“Historically, the companies that have known how to make razor blades have been able to charge people vastly different prices for razor blades than the actual cost,” say Raider.
A little-known division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement has helped track down people who committed atrocities in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, and El Salvador.
How does the former governor square hawking a diabetes supplement program with a potentially serious run for the White House?
Researchers are developing technology to control the movement of cockroaches. Strapped with electrodes and sensors, these insects we often loathe could be used for disaster relief or surveillance.
A bill cracking down on human trafficking was supposed to be an easy one to pass, but that was before Democrats discovered the bill also contained language restricting abortion rights.
A real estate heir linked to two murders and a disappearance was arrested after an HBO documentary brought renewed attention to a case in which he was involved.
A surprising number of academically gifted, low-income students are not applying to the Ivy League universities and selective colleges they're sure to get into.
Cities across the country have paid out large sums for police misconduct lawsuits. Chicago, for one, paid out more than half a billion dollars over 10 years. However, many cities have not taken a step that seems like common sense: Looking for data that could help them avoid future lawsuits.
Police liability is Lou Reiter’s turf. He’s a former Los Angeles deputy police chief who trains police officials on “liability management,” and he’s been an expert witness for both plaintiffs and police departments in misconduct cases.
He says police departments rarely ask themselves: What could we have done to avoid this lawsuit?
"Most departments that I’m familiar with simply say, 'Oh it’s that wishy-washy court,'" he says. "Or: 'They don’t understand our problems. We’re not doing anything wrong.'"
So, they don’t ask, for instance: Is there one group of officers who are getting us into trouble?
In Chicago, law professor Craig Futterman found the answer to that was "yes."
Futterman, who runs the University of Chicago's Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project, has won some cases against police. For one such case, he got the numbers on whether some officers had an unusually-high number of complaints against them.
As it turned out, a relative handful accounted for almost half of all complaints, and they were almost never disciplined.
"There’s a small percent who have been allowed to just do this with darn near impunity," he says. "Despite the bills racking up, and despite all the complaints."
He also found that the Chicago Police Department had never run the numbers to identify those officers.
UCLA law professor Joanna Schwartz says this is not unusual. In fact, she says, Chicago keeps better records than a lot of places.
For one study, Schwartz asked 140 law-enforcement agencies — including 70 of the biggest ones — for information about police-misconduct cases. A common answer: We don’t know.
So, she asked the law departments, everybody. Which didn’t always help.
"Eighteen of the largest cities and counties," she says, "and these are cities that include San Diego, New Orleans— counties like Harris County, Baltimore County— they reported that they had no records in any government agency or office reflecting how much they spent in lawsuits involving the police."
One might think they would want to know: What do we even get sued for?
"You would think," says Schwartz. "And in other kinds of industries— certainly in medicine— there are risk managers who are tasked with doing that very thing."
She thinks if settlements came out of the police budget — instead of the general fund — departments might be more cost-sensitive.
China’s Premier Li Keqiang said this week the government is serious about cutting smog and will impose harsher fines on polluters. Keqiang's comments came after the online release this month of a groundbreaking — at least, for China — documentary on the country’s air pollution crisis, called “Under the Dome” (video).
The country’s environment minister compared it to Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” the book that paved the way for the U.S. environmental movement, but Chinese officials have been silent on the film since — and it’s even been taken offline in the country, presumably by government censors.
Still, China observers say this may be the country’s “Silent Spring” moment.
“The Chinese public has come to believe they have a right to a clean environment,” says Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum at the Wilson Center.
Like the early U.S. anti-air pollution movement, mothers worried about pollution's health effects have initiated much of the dissent, and big polluting industries are resisting change. Change in China is complicated by the fact that powerful local governments have little incentive to curb the dirty industries that fuel their economies, and often try to skirt the central government’s regulations.
A teacher who instills a love of books and writing has beaten out 5,000 educators around the world for a global honor.