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Washington's plan for getting the geese off the grass

Mon, 2015-05-11 02:17

The National Mall in Washington, D. C., has a fowl problem: Canada geese, and lots of them. These large migratory waterfowl are increasingly non-migratory thanks to relocation and hunting efforts. The roughly 3 pounds of droppings each can produce in one day can cause fish kills in ponds, and could even clog the newly-renovated reflecting pool.

"There's times of the year, when you walk over the Washington Monument grounds, there's not a place for you to put down a picnic blanket without feeling disgusting," says Michael Stachowicz, the National Park Service's turf management specialist.

That's why the government is asking for bids on a contract to have border collies (and their handlers) patrol the Mall. 

Stachowicz used to work for golf courses, and that's where he first witnessed how effective border collies are for humane goose population control. "They go in this crouch," Stachowicz explains, "it's really amazing to watch these border collies transform from a great dog into something that looks really predatory and wolf-like."

That stance, according to Doug Marcks, is called "the eye." The eye is basically the border collies' trade secret. It's part of the whole pantomime these dogs like to play with geese. And play is the key word—border collies are happy without ever actually grabbing the geese. They just enjoy terrorizing them.

Doug Marcks runs Geese Police DC, which is a franchise of the larger Geese Police company, based in Illinois. He and his two border collies Max and Bell drive around the D.C. area every day and make pit stops at clients—usually large, grassy corporate campuses and the like. After enough harassment, the geese fly away at the sight of Marcks's white pickup truck. And eventually they find a new place to live.

The NPS says the dogs will likely become a permanent fixture on the National Mall.

An "Empire" trend for TV ad buyers

Mon, 2015-05-11 02:00

This week, at the annual "Upfronts," TV networks will be showing off for advertisers. Among other shows, Fox will promote "Empire," which was the breakout hit last season. But "Empire" may get attention for another reason: An unusual advertising strategy. 

There are more than 14 minutes of ads on the average hour of network television. But "Empire" had closer to 10 minutes, thanks to a strategy of "limited commercial interruption." 

Billie Gold, VP of TV programming research at Carat, says this strategy makes the available ads more valuable—especially for launching a new product. 

Why isn't this strategy used more often? 

"Well, you can't do it all the time is the short answer," says Brian Wieser, senior analyst at Pivotal Research. "Because there's only so many advertisers willing to pay so much of a premium."

He says it's like the gold-plated Apple Watch of advertising—and there are only so many companies willing to pay that luxury price. 

Russia and China team up in agriculture

Mon, 2015-05-11 02:00

Agriculture makes up just 4 percent of Russian GDP, but that could change, as Russia announced last week the launch of a $2 billion investment fund with China to go toward agricultural projects. The two countries would cooperate on developing big swaths of arable land on each side of their borders. The partnership comes at a good time for Russia, which has been struggling since last year with sanctions from the U.S. and European Union. 

Russia answered sanctions from the West by saying, "Ok. We're not importing any food from Europe or the U.S." Now, Russia's hurtling toward a recession. William Cline, senior fellow with the Peterson Institute for International Economics says Russia’s under a great deal of pressure. 

At the same time, China has more than 1.3 billion mouths to feed. It's also under pressure to diversify its food and energy sources. Will Pomeranz, deputy director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, says Russia’s got food and plenty of oil and gas to sell. But to put this deal in perspective, “$2 billion is just not a lot of money,” he says.  

Russia’s agricultural output is more than $100 billion; China’s is more like a trillion. So Pomeranz says at best, this investment is really small potatoes. Or a modest beginning to a stronger partnership down the road. 


Debate over sleep holds up new trucking regulations

Mon, 2015-05-11 02:00

Nathan Brooks drives all over the country delivering goods as a long-haul trucker, and when I met him at a rest stop just outside of Laramie, Wyoming, he was about to start his favorite drive: back home to Alabama. Brooks has been a trucker for 27 years, and says the job is getting harder than it used to be.

“Everything is more expensive now. There is a lot more traffic on the road. And you are more likely to get caught up in some kind of accident,” he says.

Truckers like Brooks deliver 70 percent of our domestic goods, and there are more trucks on the road now than ever. But truckers only make an average of $38,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and many are paid by how many loads they deliver. There’s an obvious incentive to drive as much as possible—when I asked Brooks how long he’s on the road each day, he hesitated.

“You are going to get me in trouble now,” he says.

Nathan Brooks sits in his truck.

Miles Bryan

Brooks insists he stays under the federal limit of 11 hours of driving time a day, but answers like his make National Transportation Safety Board Chair Chris Hart nervous. Hart says that, since 2009, the number of trucking-caused accidents and deaths has been going up steadily.

“That [trend] is contrary to the general trend in motor vehicle accidents, which has been going down during that same time period,” says Hart.

One reason for that is fatigue—Hart says that fatigue causes 13 percent of trucking accidents, and contributes to more than half of them. In 2013, federal regulators introduced new rules for commercial trucking that reduced truckers’ weekly driving limits from 82 to 70 hours per week. More controversially, they also required truckers to take breaks at night.

“Humans are most likely to experience fatigue during the wee hours of the morning,” Hart says. “So we wanted two periods between 1:00 A.M. and 6:00 A.M. when drivers would have the opportunity to sleep.”

But those rules were suspended by a Congressional rider last December, thanks largely to the lobbying efforts of the American Trucking Associations, an industry group.

“Government shouldn't be telling people when to sleep,” says Chris Spear, the organization’s chief lobbyist. “That’s just not right.”

Spear claims that keeping truckers on the road at night is a win-win: they get clear roads and quicker delivery times, and we get truck-free commutes.

“It’s just a better time to work, but a lot of people don’t see that because they’re home in bed," Spear says.

The new trucking regulations are suspended until the completion of a congressionally-mandated safety study. Federal officials won’t tackle regulations again until October, at the earliest. In the meantime, truckers can hit the road any time they want. That is good news for Nathan Brooks, who couldn’t get back home fast enough.

“I have more trees in my front yard than there are in the entire state of Wyoming,” he says.



Pour one out for William Hung, American Idol is over

Mon, 2015-05-11 01:56
$2 billion

The value of the agriculture investment fund between Russia and China, which will go towards developing arable land on both sides of the border. But as some analysts point out, $2 billion is kind of small potatoes when considering the agricultural output of each country—Russia's is well over $100 billion, and China's is closer to a trillion.

$4 million

That's how much GlaxoSmithKline will give annually for the next five years to an institute aimed at finding a cure for H.I.V. and AIDS. Created in conjunction with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Qura Therapeutics will be co-owned by the pharmaceutical company and the school, and will have the right to commercialize any findings.

3 pounds

That's about how many pounds of poop a single Canadian goose produces per day. And it's a big problem for any place the geese call home. The grounds of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., for example, have lately been suffering from the negative effects of Goose droppings. Enter the border collie. Companies like Geese Police DC are being hired to patrol the National Mall with the dogs, who happen to enjoy scaring off the Geese without actually physically harming them.

70 percent

That's the percentage of domestic goods that are delivered by truck in the U.S. But as the number of trucks on the road has gone up in recent years, so has the number of accidents. It's why attempts have been made to regulate the amount of rest truckers get before they are allowed to hit the road, as 13 percent of trucking accidents are attributed to fatigue. But the American Trucking Association argues that regulating sleep isn't the answer, as allowing trucks to drive at night means clearer roads during the day.

10 minutes

That's roughly the cumulative amount of commercial time you'll watch during an hour-long episode of "Empire." Fox's smash hit set a new precedent for advertisers, as hour-long network TV shows generally have closer to 14 minutes of ads. The strategy makes ad time more valuable, and consequently, more expensive.

15 seasons

Speaking of shows on Fox, it was announced Monday that singing competition juggernaut American Idol will call it quits in 2016 after 15 seasons of star-making wins, celebrity judge feuds, and (lest we forget) William Hung.

Want a career in music? You might need to move south

Fri, 2015-05-08 16:54

Sometimes you chase your career ambitions thousands of miles away from home.

If you want be an actor, you move to L.A. If you want to make it in finance, you live in New York.

Chad Radford is a music editor for the alternative weekly Creative Loafing. He moved to Atlanta in 1999 from Idaho. And over the last 16 years, Radford has seen thousands of bands start, and end, in the Atlanta music scene.

He says that the music scene in Atlanta draws people from all over. 

"I do continually encounter people who move here just specifically for music," Radford says. "Everybody who is here in the music scene came from somewhere else."

To hear more about the Atlanta music scene, listen to the full interview using the audio player above.


Weighing the economics of airing a live car chase

Fri, 2015-05-08 13:48

Local TV news stations are apt to air live car chases — especially in California or Florida, where sprawling highway infrastructure makes for long and thrilling pursuits. 

For viewers, the possibility of seeing a dramatic ending live on screen is a huge draw — entire offices can come to a standstill when a big chase is on.

But newsrooms have to consider the high stakes of showing a potentially dangerous, or deadly, situation play out in real time. Just last month, for instance, a man involved in a car chase was shot by police on live TV in Texas.

Al Tompkins, senior faculty at the Poynter Institute, has been working in newsrooms for more than forty years.

"Once you've decided to go there, it seems to me you have to ask a series of questions of yourself," he says. "Is this so important that you're willing to air the worst possible outcome?"

Listen to the full story using the audio player above.

Why the jobs report only tells part of the story

Fri, 2015-05-08 13:00

April's non-farm payrolls report told us many things. Things such as the fact that 223,000 jobs were added in April — or that March wasn’t as good a month as we thought — and that wages are still just barely growing.

By many accounts, the monthly jobs report is really the best way we have of measuring what a healthy economy is supposed to deliver: jobs. Still, there is quite a bit more information economists wish they could glean from the jobs report.

Harvard economist Ken Rogoff says data from the jobs report is still just an estimate.

“They’re very volatile, they involve statistical sampling,” Rogoff says. “You know, they're not hard data, there's a lot that they don't pick up.”

Justin Wolfers, an economist at the University of Michigan, points out that jobs numbers come with a margin of error of 100,000, which is quite a lot. Moreover, he wishes the data had more specific information about the quality of jobs being created.

“You know, there are good jobs in retail and there are bad jobs in retail. Knowing a lot more about the details, what types of jobs are being created, would be tremendously helpful,” Wolfers says.

Because the jobs report is just a snapshot in time, economists don’t really know where the jobs are coming from. For instance, are jobs being created by employers on the supply side? Or are they simply a reflection of the fact that more people are entering the market? And perhaps most importantly, what are we benchmarking to?

 “We have this sense that we're not back to full employment, but we don't know where full employment will land,” says Diane Lim, an economist at the Committee for Economic Development in Washington.

“You know there are all kinds of things changing at the same time and economists have always faced this challenge that we can never run a perfectly controlled experiment and say, 'This is the cause, because we held all else constant,' because we can never hold all else constant,” Lim says.

One thing economists are wrestling with, according to Lim, is whether the current good numbers are simply a recovery from recession, or part of a longer-term growth trend.

Nokia's HERE maps drive a new battleground in tech

Fri, 2015-05-08 13:00

A bidding war appears to be in the works for a digital mapping business owned by the Finnish telecom company Nokia. The New York Times reports that Uber, the taxi and ride-sharing company, has put in a bid for as much as $3 billion for Nokia’s HERE. Also reportedly in the running is a group of German carmakers, including Audi and BMW, working with the Chinese search engine Baidu.

That’s a lot of interest in a business that isn’t exactly a household name.

“Nobody outside of the mapping industry has ever heard of Here,” says Brady Forrest, who runs the hardware incubator Highway1. “It’s, in my opinion, kind of a failed attempt at consumer branding.”

Yet Here is the biggest rival to Google Maps. Amazon and Microsoft use it. And if you’ve ever driven a car with a built-in navigation system, some 80 percent of them use Here’s data.

“Chances are you’ve used, and depending on the year, perhaps cursed at the system,” says Bryant Walker Smith, who teaches technology law at the University of South Carolina.

Uber wouldn’t comment on reports of its interest in Here. The company collects an immense amount of data about driving in major cities, says Roger Lanctot with Strategy Analytics, and wants to use it to build a logistics and shipping business.

“It’s a very powerful batch of data, all of which revolves around location. So the more accurate location you have, the better,” he says.

Right now Uber uses Google Maps, leaving Uber dependent on a competitor. Not only is Google expanding its own logistics and delivery business, both companies are pursuing driverless car technology. So are the German automakers reported to be working on a bid for HERE.

“For driverless cars to work, they need to know where they’re going,” says Forrest. “For that, they need mapping data.”

Ethos Water ditches sourcing in California

Fri, 2015-05-08 13:00

Starbucks finally gets its head out of its coffee grounds.

We're having, as you might have heard once or twice, a heckuva drought out here in the West.

So Starbucks has decided it's maybe not a great idea to be using California water for its Ethos bottled water brand.

Mother Jones magazine reported a little more than a week ago that the coffee chain was using private springs up near the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Starbucks said today: yeah, no — we'll use Pennsylvania water for at least the next six months.

Weekly Wrap: Grexit and Brexit, jobs report and stock values

Fri, 2015-05-08 13:00

Joining Kai to talk about the week's business and economic news are Nela Richardson from Redfin and the Wall Street Journal's John Carney. The big topics this week: the Labor Department releases its monthly jobs report, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen comments on stock values, and the possibility of Great Britain and Greece withdrawing from the European Union and the Eurozone, respectively, continues to be debated.  



Landing a dream job right out of college

Fri, 2015-05-08 12:41

Lupita Carabes is a young woman just starting out in the workforce.

Carabes recently graduated from the University of Portland, majoring in Electrical Engineering with a minor in Computer Science. 

At a job fair this spring at her school, she stood out in the crowded field. Carabes is the first person in her family to get a college degree, and says that's just one of the reasons she's a quadruple threat in her industry:

"I am a woman, and engineer, and a Latina," she says. She recently accepted a job at IBM.

To hear more of Carabes' story, listen to the full interview using the audio player above.

The cost of stress in the police force

Fri, 2015-05-08 12:13

When it comes to what stresses police officers out, it's not the car chases, or the threat of getting shot at, or even killed.

Ask Cherie Castellano, director of Cop2Cop, a 24 hour hotline which fields up to 850 phone calls every month for stressed-out police officers, and she'll tell you — the worst part of an officer's job is secondhand trauma: exposure to murders, car accidents, seeing hurt kids. All the horrible things police have to deal with on a daily basis. But she says there's a close number two.  Some argue it may even be number one. And it happens after the car chases are over.

It's something Brian Higgins knows all about. 

"What frustrated me was all the other stuff, the administrative baloney," says Higgins, a police officer who served for 27 years and recently retired as chief of police for Bergen County, NJ.

For lots of cops, it's the stress that festers on the inside: administrative nitpicking, being micromanaged, charged with trivial offenses and being poorly managed that really bothers them. 

Higgins says as the son, and grandson, of a police officer, he was fully aware of what he was getting into when it came to the physical risks on the street.

"I expected this," he says, "chasing people, getting shot at. That's why I have a job with benefits, that's why they buy me a bullet proof vest, that's why they buy a gun, that's why they give me very good training because that's what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna chase people, I might get hurt."

Politics of policing

But what Higgins and many other cops say they don't want is to have to deal with is the inescapable politics of policing.  If you've ever seen the HBO police show, "The Wire" you know what he's talking about. The entire series, spanning six years kicks off when a detective, named Jimmy McNulty, makes his boss look bad — by accident. His boss begins a campaign to make McNulty's professional life a misery.

Pluck that bad boss out of the television. Plunk him down behind a real world desk, give him a uniform, a badge and an enormous, detailed rulebook with which he administers discipline and you have a living, breathing example of one of the problems Higgins is talking about.

"I had a buddy of mine [who] jumped into a river for a helicopter that went down, rescued two people and when the chief showed up, he was asked where his hat was," he says. "That's so frustrating, it makes you wanna just lash out."

"The evidence is pretty clear that the sources of stress tend to come mostly from administrative issues internal to the organization," says Robert Kane, director of the Criminology and Justice Studies program at Drexel University.

Breaking the rules

In many cases, says Kane, police officers are weighed down with many more rules than other professions. Following all of them, he says, can make it very difficult for officers to do their jobs.

"Whether they wear short sleeves or long sleeves in their uniform, the position of their name plate or their badge. In many police organizations, a lot of these little nitpicky things are called 'white socks violations,'" he says.

There are so many rules, Kane says, it’s almost impossible to do the job without breaking some. From the seemingly trivial, to bigger issues, like when it's ok to pull out your gun or taser. The problem is so widespread cops have a saying about it, "I'd rather be judged by 12 than carried by six." Which translates into: police officers would rather be judged by jury of twelve, than be carried by six pall bearers at their own funeral.

"They know they're breaking the rules, but in their minds it's a rule that's worth breaking," Kane says.

Officers, he says, are much more willing to risk a rule violation than place themselves at risk.

"In their minds, they’re telling you, 'I could get killed out here and I’m going to use the tools of my trade in ways that I think are best for me and my colleagues,'" Kane says.

Keeping people happy

Jon Shane, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says part of the administrative stress officers cope with also stems from the way they're hired and promoted. Something he witnessed firsthand during his 16-year tenure on the Newark, N.J. police force from which he retired as a captain.

“I certainly watched people get promoted into positions that they clearly did not have the knowledge, skills or abilities to do," he says.

Politics, says Shane, are to blame. Often, chiefs are appointed by politicians. So, there's the inherent pressure of keeping your job. You need to be sure the politicians are kept happy.

"You’re told how you’re going to do your job. You’re going to be told who gets a summons and who doesn't," he says. "So we have speeding problems on this street, but on this street you have several council members who might be speeding. You're not going to set up an enforcement operation on that street, you're going to go to another street where no one is likely to complain."

Shane says that expectation of loyalty moves right down the ranks. Captains have to keep chiefs happy, lieutenants keep captains happy, and so on. He says this means departments officers can be hired based on loyalty, and not because they're the best candidate for the job.  And all of this, he says, can breed cynicism, and ethics can start to slip away.

"Because the sentiment is, 'nobody really cares,'" he says. "'Look at the people above me, what they're doing. If they're doing those things, nobody is going to care what I'm doing down here.'"

Stressed out

All of the stress cops face on the job, says Shane, can drive some of them to drug and alcohol abuse, suicide and even excessive use of force.

If the idea that workplace stress can cause such an extreme response seems shocking or surprising, it's not as counter intuitive as you may think, says Dr. George Everly, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and a specialist in stress, trauma and human resilience, who's worked with cops for decades.

“I’ve heard it for 30 years," he says. "What is stress? It is arousal. It is a survival mechanism."

Officers, Everly says, are the thin blue line "between innocent, law abiding people and those who would do them harm."

The military aside, he notes, it's hard to find many comparable professions where every day work is done in a landscape of potential violence.

“There are few jobs that have those weights in them," he says.

When you think about what stress is — the fight or flight response and what police do — it makes sense.  “In the context of violence it is predictable that you would escalate the violence,” he says.

A broken system

To those who question the connection between workplace stress and cops lashing out, Everly says, people who haven't done the job simply have no idea what they're talking about.

"Like me offering an opinion about being an astronaut," he says. "Those people need to get out of their offices and get out on the street."

But it's between the street and police department where cops are getting squeezed. Higgins says police officers have less and less discretion about how they do their jobs, which exacerbates existing stress even further.  

"Sit in your car, walk your beat, shut your mouth and only do what the book allows you. In the business world you'd leave your job," he says.

But, he notes, often times police can't. Except for the top jobs, like chief, they're stuck. If you to move from one police department to another, because of the complex chain of loyalties, you have to start from the bottom. The current focus on problems with individual officers, Higgins says, is ignoring a bigger problem: the system is broken.

"If it was the subject, who waved the gun around you'd have certain groups who'd come out and say they had mental health, why didn't we ask why was he waving the gun, I get that," he says. "But there's nobody asking about the cop. 'Why did the cop react this way?'" 

Your Wallet: Crazy transaction fees

Fri, 2015-05-08 10:10

In next week's show, we're talking about transactions.

Have you ever looked at a bill or a receipt and thought, "15 cents for what? What's a landing fee? A $2.95 convenience fee ... why?"

We're putting together a collection of crazy transaction fees or charges, and we want yours. 

Take a picture of your bill or receipt, put it on Instagram and tag us @marketplaceAPM. You can also send us pictures on Twitter @Marketplace and @MarketplaceWKND or Facebook.

Please don't forget to cover up your personal info.

The big business of fruit arrangements

Fri, 2015-05-08 06:46

Tariq Farid is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Edible Arrangements, the fresh fruit arrangements company.

Farid was 11 years old when he and his family moved to the United States from Pakistan. As a young boy, Farid worked several different after-school jobs to help his family make ends meet. His entrepreneurial spirit kicked in at the age of 17, when he borrowed $5,000 from his parents and bought a small flower shop in East Haven, Connecticut.

He began his first Edible Arrangements inside his flower shop and says his customers loved them. That’s when he knew he was onto something.

"In 1999, it was Easter — we sold about 28 arrangements and it took us all day to make them because we had no tools, we used to cut everything by hand. But customers would call back and say 'hey, this was a great hit,'" says Farid.  

There are now close to 1,200 Edible Arrangements stores in 14 countries.

PODCAST: Got jobs?

Fri, 2015-05-08 03:00

Airing on Friday, May 8, 2015: There's fresh-out-the-oven jobs number today. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. economy added 223,000 new jobs in April. And the employment rate hit a seven year low at 5.4 percent. Next, we check in with our partner at the BBC on the re-election of British Prime Minister David Cameron. Lastly, we look at the increasing impact smartphones have on the police force. 

New police monitoring app offers direct line to ACLU

Fri, 2015-05-08 02:00

A new app from the ACLU of California promises to allow anyone to record video of officers and have it automatically uploaded to the agency's server. 

The app also offers a function to alert other app users nearby if there's an incident with police that someone believes requires more witnesses. 

The ACLU of California launched the mobile app for Apple and Android phones last week. The group says it has so far been downloaded 40,000 times, more than a similar app from New York's ACLU, which has been available for several years.

Peter Bibring, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of California, says the app's relative popularity has to do with high profile police use-of-force incidents in recent months that have been caught on phone cameras.

 "We've seen...incidents where officers took a cellphone and deleted video, and so this provides some measure of protection against that," he says. 

Bibring says this ACLU app isn't the first of its kind, but it's been tweaked to be more specifically geared towards documenting incidents of misconduct. The app allows for longer video recordings than previous versions. It also has a library of information about citizens' rights in documenting police officers in public places. Bibring says the ACLU gets questions regularly about what those rights are. 

"It's not a brand new trend, but it's absolutely a growing trend," says Jocelyn Simonson, who teaches law at NYU, and has research that will be published in the California Law Review in early 2016 that looks at the growing trend of citizens' oversight over police in public places. 

"Part of what we're seeing is a change in the recognition that filming police officers is an important thing," Simonson says. 

But the ACLU's app may be going in the wrong direction, says Christine Cole, executive director of the Crime & Justice Institute at the Boston-based group Community Resources for Justice, a non-partisan think-tank that focuses on social justice issues. 

"This tool actually exacerbates the divide and makes it feel like us versus them," Cole says. Nevertheless, she says, police and communities must both learn to deal with increased scrutiny on camera. 


A preview of the eurozone meeting on Monday

Fri, 2015-05-08 02:00

The seemingly endless Greek debt crisis lurches towards another crunch moment on Monday. Eurozone finance ministers will decide whether to release around $8 billion in bailout money to the government in Athens .

The ministers and Greece’s other creditors insist that before Athens gets any more cash, it must toe the line on austerity. But the Greek government is digging in and refusing to impose the spending cuts and reforms that have been demanded.

The Greek finance minister claims he can meet a big debt repayment next week with or without the bailout cash. But a payment five times bigger falls due on the 20th July. If Greece hasn’t reached agreement with its creditors by then, that really could bring this interminable crisis to a climax.

Click on the multimedia player above to hear more. 

In the Great Lakes State, Flint pays a high price for water

Fri, 2015-05-08 02:00

The plight of the bankrupt city of Flint, Michigan has long stood as the poster child for post-industrial job loss and blight in the U.S.

On top of all Flint’s struggles, providing clean drinking water has become one the biggest problem facing the struggling city.

U.L. Brown has seen a lot of changes since he moved to Flint from Arkansas back in 1965.  One thing he’d never seen however was his drinking water change color.

On the kitchen table in front of him set several gallon jugs. One is spring water bought in a store, the other two come from his tap and have slight shades of brown and green.

"This is the water that I buy,” Brown said, pointing to a jug of clear water. 

“This is the water that comes from our faucet.  You wouldn't want a drink of that water, you wouldn't want your kids to drink that water."

Like many residents in Flint Brown’s been told by the city that the water is safe for drinking.  Still, he claims it just doesn't taste like fresh water.

For decades Flint bought its water from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DPSW), which draws from Lake Huron. Last year Flint’s 30-year contract with Detroit ended, and the rates went way up according to Flint’s Emergency Manager Jerry Ambrose.

“Using round numbers, the cost of purchasing water from Detroit, was somewhere around a $1 million per month,” Ambrose said.

For a city facing a crippling budget deficit, a million-dollar water bill was too much to swallow. So, the city switched to its backup source, the Flint River.

Shortly after the switch last summer,  the city was forced to send out two boil advisories for high levels of E. coli and other bacteria.  Ambrose says measures have since been take to insure the water is safe.

"Is the water so unsafe that it is a total disservice to our citizens? Our answer is, 'no.'"

But, with the average house paying $150 per month for water, many residents feel they deserve better.

Pastor Alfred Harris represents the Concerned Pastors for Social Action, a citizens group urging the city to go back on Detroit water, until the new 80-mile Karegnondi pipeline to Lake Huron is complete next year.

"We're paying exorbitant fees for water, that's really not safe,” Harris said.

“I believe the health of the people should be everyone's main concern. The health of the people no matter what it costs.”

Flint emerged from 41 months of state receivership last week. And with the new pipeline, the city will have an opportunity for both fresh water and a fresh start.

Kitchen appliances are back in fashion

Fri, 2015-05-08 02:00

Mother’s Day is coming up. People scrambling to grab a gift often head straight to the small appliances section. But those appliances aren't just for moms. People in general are cooking more at home, they’re entertaining, they’re devouring cookbooks and food blogs. Kitchen electrics make up a $7 billion industry. But the products are a lot different than they used to be. Except, of course, when they’re not. Confused?

Let’s start with coffee. Because in the world of small appliances, the coffee maker is king. Mary Rodgers, marketing director for Cuisinart, says her company just launched a new coffee/espresso maker.  It’s elaborate; it has a milk tank, a frothing wand, a steam control dial. Retail price? $600.

At the same time, simpler coffee makers like the French press are making a comeback, thanks to coffee shops. But it’s not just coffee makers. Small appliances now either do five things at once, or one simple thing, like something your grandmother used.

Debra Mednick, a home industry analyst with The NPD Group, says it’s part of a back-to-basics movement. To a lot of home cooks, she says, what’s old is new again. Sorry, not old… retro.

“We’re seeing products that are very traditional, or that go way back, that don’t necessarily have innovation,” Mednick says.

Like the slow cooker. Or KitchenAid’s stand mixer, which has barely changed since the 50’s.

“We are seeing evidence of products that have become popular that actually require some work,” she says.

Take meat grinders. Mednick says people today want control over their ingredients, they want to know where their food comes from. Beth Robinson, public relations manager for KitchenAid, says people want to be creative and have an easier time in the kitchen.

Toast is easy, right? Not with artisanal bread. So KitchenAid this year launched a $500 toaster with longer slots to fit those oddly shaped slices. Robinson says people will pay, especially if it’s pretty, “or if they want some really great functionality, they will spend $500 for a toaster.”

Now that the microwave isn’t taking up all the counter space, there’s room for that powerful new pulverizer, formerly known as the blender.