Today's word of the day: eructation, a technical way of saying "burp."
Why did Marketplace devote the final 30 seconds of our show to burps?
Because of the Environmental Protection Agency, which is out with a new report on methane gas emissions in this country. The biggest source, you may or may not be surprised to find out, is not the natural gas drilling business, but rather the cattle industry.
Think about it for a second.
Hence... eructation. Belching cows. Or "bovine eructation," to be precise.
In China, where the Internet landscape is enclosed by the Great Firewall, Sina’s Weibo service was the closest thing to a free flow of information.
"It attracted celebrities, business people, political activists, dissidents, lawyers, ordinary people," says Chinese social media critic Jeremy Goldkorn. "It achieved much more mainstream popularity than Twitter ever did in the United States."
More than sixty million users sharing information about what mattered to them.
Not surprisingly, it quickly became political. "Tweeting something controversial or critical of the government would lead people to repost it and you’d get a popular bump by posting something that would attract eyeballs and something people would repost," says Goldkorn.
China’s authoritarian government was not thrilled. It censored Weibo, going so far as to threaten users with prison time if they spread what the Communist Party considered rumors, and that’s been bad for Sina's business.
But as the company prepares for Wall Street, China’s government may be the least of its problems. "Weibo has been a race car which has been driven by amateurs," says Michael Clendenin, Managing Director of the Shanghai-based RedTech Advisors.
Bad management, says Clendenin, has meant Weibo has lost customers to WeChat, a widly popular instant messaging service hosted by the company Tencent.
"If you look at Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent, the big three internet companies in China, there’s only one of those three that is in total attack mode on every front – and that is Tencent," says Clendenin.
Clendenin says Sina Corporation should be able to raise a half a billion dollars for its IPO, but he says the company’s slowdown and meager profits mean its Wall Street effort may prove to be too little, too late.
Connecticut is getting entrepreneurial with its healthcare exchange. AccessHealth CT has done so well that it started getting calls for help and advice from other states.
"And so we’ve had discussions with those states," says AccessHealth CT’s CEO, Kevin Counihan. "And it came to us that there could be a business model here."
Connecticut is now setting up a consulting business to help other states copy its success. The model is called "exchange-in-a-box," a term healthcare consultants at Leavitt Partners says they coined a few years ago in a white paper trying to market the concept to states.
Counihan and his team are going to sell three different kinds of "products." A state can really splurge and buy a premium package in which Connecticut handles everything, from the technology to sales and marketing to vendor management. The second model is more “stripped down,” says Counihan. States can pick and choose from a menu of services. Or they can simply license the Connecticut exchange’s technology.
"Connecticut seems to be looking for revenue," says Alan Weil, executive director at the National Academy for State Health Policy. "I don’t know how much they can earn, but it’s an innovative way to generate it."
The state healthcare exchanges do ultimately have to be self-supporting, says Counihan, and consulting revenue will help Connecticut’s do that. Many states want the help, including the ones that now regret letting the federal government run their exchanges.
"If they can simply tap into or buy the Connecticut technology without having to build their own from scratch, that saves them time and money," says Sabrina Corlette, project director at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms.
Dan Schuyler, senior director of exchange technology at Leavitt Partners, says using this "exchange-in-a-box" solution potentially cuts start-up times in half. "You could have a state-based exchange up and running in about 12 to 16 months, versus 18 to 24 months or longer."
Joel Ario, former director of the Office of Insurance Exchanges at the Department of Health and Human Services, says the idea of outsourcing their exchanges may hold a lot of appeal in conservative states, where the idea of hiring a lot of government employees isn’t politically palatable.
From Edward Snowden to credit card breaches at Target; the past couple of years have made Americans pose the question; can anyone keep their data safe anymore?
In her new book "Dragnet Nation", Julia Angwin tried to do just that: She conducted a series of experiments where she tried to hide herself from the giant that is U.S. surveillance. Her dodging-measures included quitting Google altogether and using a "burner phone" -- an anonymous, prepaid mobile.
Angwin said there is an emerging market for privacy protection companies. She said she had a hard time with the paid services that promised to opt her out from data brokers. She says attributing blame, however, is a harder question.
"The data broker industry doesn’t have any incentive to accept opt outs," said Angwin. "There’s no law to require them to remove your name from their databases."
Angwin said that extreme surveillance can cause people to censor themselves.
"Once I know that they’re going to extrapolate one way or the other, I’m going to censor myself," said Angwin. "If I’m feeling scared to say things, or to be associated with a site, or I don’t want to click, like, on a WikiLeaks page, because maybe they would tag me somehow. I’m worried about that feeling."
Angwin said that kind of censorship is something Americans just don’t believe in.
"We want people to be able to say anything crazy that they want. That’s one of the foundations of this country."
The great Polar Vortex will descend on the Midwest and the Northeast again this week. Also descending on those regions? Last month's heating bill.
For lots of people it's not going to be pretty. Some bills are expected to top $400. There's the obvious reason: People burned more gas to stay warm. But there is another reason: Natural gas prices jumped, as much as 2,000 percent in some places. What happened to the natural gas boom, and the promise of cheap, abundant domestic energy?
It's true, the natural gas industry has delivered on its promise of abundant domestic energy. And for the most part it's also true that national gas prices didn't change much during the recent cold snap. They hovered around $5 to $6 per million British Thermal Units (BTU).
But, says Severin Borenstein, co-director of the Energy Institute at the Hass School of Business at Berkeley: "We've seen prices in the Northeast as high as a $100 per million BTU."
The reason for that crazy 2,000 percent jump is that even though there is lots of natural gas, there isn't the infrastructure to move it quickly enough when demand spikes.
"Because the pipeline capacity to get it into the Northeast isn't that large," Borenstein says. "Likewise, that can happen in the Midwest."
But even with improved pipeline capacity, natural gas prices are still susceptible to price spikes.
"The reality is natural gas is expensive to store," says Michael Levi, a senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations. And when large quantities of fuel can't be stored, it's difficult to smooth out prices over a long period of time.
Over the last few months, regional prices have spiked, but the national price of gas is also up over last year -- two-thirds higher.
"But the level we've reached," says Levi, "is still lower than what we would have had without this natural gas boom. It's still far lower than what people pay in Europe, it's extraordinarily low compared to what people are paying in Asia."
And he expects prices to moderate in the coming months.
Bad news seems to be the theme of the Affordable Care Act rollout. But Connecticut seems to be bucking that trend. The state has seen 55,000 people sign up for health care on the state's website, far in excess of the federal government's goal of 33,000. The state has been so successful in fact, that it's starting a consulting business to help other states with their own websites. The state's exchange, Access Health CT, is looking to either license or franchise the technology it used to create its website, making it much easier for states like Arkansas or Iowa to control their own health care policy while not having to hire a large staff.
While Connecticut's approach may be novel, it's not the first state to attempt to share successful projects and expertise with other states:
- In September of last year, Michigan and Illinois teamed up to share their Medicaid Management Information System (MMIS). Every state is required by federal law to operate the technology that supports the back end of their Medicaid program. As Illinois was looking to update its 1970s era system, the state realized that Michigan already had a federally-certified MMIS in place. Conversations went back and forth and both states realized that by pooling their resources, they could save a lot of money. Now Michigan runs the Illinois MMIS, and the states will save an estimated $263 million on operational costs over a five-year period.
- A non-profit called Results First is trying to get other states to implement the Washington State Institute for Public Policy’s approach to cost-benefit analysis. The WSIPP provides analysis and research to the Washington State Legislature, some of which has led Washington to focus more on crime-prevention and treatment programs. Results First, an initiative of the Pew Center on the States and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, is hoping to replicate the evidence-based policy approach in other states. So far, 14 states have signed up as partners.
- However, examples like Washington’s policy analysis and Michigan's MMIS are not typical. Instead, states commonly function as "laboratories of democracy," in the words of former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. So when a state legalizes recreational marijuana, other states are certainly examining the roll-out intently. At a National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C., Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said that about six other governors asked him for his state’s experience. So it looks like the success of legal pot in Colorado might determine if there's legal pot elsewhere in the country.
All of the changes to the nation's health care system have led to some broader discussions, including changing the way doctors and hospitals get paid.
That is, medical professionals are contemplating what would happen if they got paid for value instead of volume.
There's even legislation in Congress that would offer doctors an incentive to move away from what's called fee-for-service payments.
That's easier said than done.
Just ask Kavita Patel at the Johns Hopkins Community Physicians clinic in Washington: The changed pricing structure shows up as soon as Patel walks out of an exam room. First, she must instruct her co-worker to follow up with the patient in a few days. Then, Patel must make phone calls herself, at the end of a long day.
This is what non-fee for service care looks like. It's more coordinated, but it's more work. It's work Patel doesn't do with her fee-for-service patients.
"It's much easier for me to say, 'Sorry, can't help you, you need to make an appointment.' It's much harder to do the opposite. It really is," she says.
Many health policy people believe coordinated care is key to controlling costs. But here's the problem: Right now, almost all doctors and hospitals have an incentive to charge for everything from a surgery to the aspirin you're given after a surgery.
Instead, the government and private insurers want health providers to work within a budget. If they go over, they’ll eat some of the costs, and if they come in under, they’ll keep some of the savings. It may sound good, but Dr. James Weinstein, CEO of Dartmouth-Hitchcock health system, says here's what people have to understand.
"Going away from fee-for-service fundamentally means less money," Weinstein says.
That helps explain why doctors and hospitals talk about moving away from fee-for-service but aren't actually doing too much moving.
At Dartmouth, Weinstein says he's trying to run away from fee-for-service contracts as fast as he can. As he prepares for the not-too-distant future, executives hope to trim expenses by some $400 million over the next several years.
Less money, says Weinstein, means major changes to the business, and to the people who make that business go.
"Families rely on that health care facility for their jobs, for their pensions. The unintended consequences of this change has a human face that people don't see," he says.
But even with less money, shifting payment away from fee-for-service contracts requires upfront spending, to hire nurses, health coaches and social workers.
And then you have the tricky issue of what are called quality measures.
To qualify for bonuses, health providers have to meet certain benchmarks like lower readmission rates and patient satisfaction scores.
"I don't think we've invested in meaningful measures," says Harvard public health professor Ashish Jha.
Jha says right now we're spending too much time on quality measures just because they can be measured, not because they're necessarily the right metrics.
"If you have a patient who comes in with pneumonia, yes, you want to make sure that patient doesn't die, but one of the most important things is that patient can go back to work, play with their families and lead a meaningful life. Well, how do you measure all of that? That takes work," he says.
Jha and most other health policy people know moving away from fee-for-service – no matter how much it may make sense –isn’t going to happen fast. But it will happen.
As more health care providers experiment with new payment models, people will have to address a nagging question.
"If this is the best thing to do, and we are only doing [it for part] of the population, what does that say about the care we are providing to everybody else?" says Patel, the physician in Washington.
She says it means that probably everybody ought to get that kind of care. But in the next breath, Patel says it's just hard to do that.
It’s not so important what Thomas Jennings invented nearly two centuries ago in Lower Manhattan. In fact, many of the details of his patent he received were lost in a fire.
What we do know is that he developed a better way to clean clothes. Essentially, he improved dry cleaning with a method called "scouring." Jennings received his patent in 1821, and made history in the process.
Jennings is thought to be the first African American ever to receive a U.S. patent.
"He is the earliest that we have recorded," says Pat Sluby, a retired U.S. patent examiner and the author of "The Inventive Spirit of African Americans". "This is 44 years before the end of slavery."
Slavery, at this time, wasn’t even fully abolished in New York state. Yet, Jennings was undeterred.
"He was a very good entrepreneur and businessman," says Sluby.
Jennings’s work even caught the attention of Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist hero. Douglass wrote about Jennings after his death. He says that when Jennings became an adult, he started his own tailoring business, and saw a market opportunity for a better way to clean clothes.
Now, getting a patent wasn’t so easy for anyone in the 1800s.
"At that time, patenting was seen to be a God-given ability. And, people of color, black people, were seen to be genetically inferior," says Rayvon Fouché, director of the American studies program at Purdue University. "So the idea of a black person receiving a patent was completely confusing and unbelievable to most."
Jennings’s business and patent brought him success. As he got older and wealthier, he supported anti-slavery movements and organizations. It rubbed off on his children, especially his daughter, a schoolteacher named Elizabeth Jennings Graham.
"Well, we characterize her as the first Rosa Parks," says Calvin Butts, pastor at the legendary Abyssinian Baptist Church, where both Thomas Jennings and his daughter were members.
In 1854, Elizabeth Jennings was looking for a streetcar—horse-drawn in those days. She got on the first one that came, and, after a struggle, was forcefully removed because she was black.
With the same spirit that led her father to file for a patent, the younger Jennings sued.
"It was amazing that she could bring litigation against a white-owned company and win," Butts says.
It went all the way to the Supreme Court, with none other than attorney Chester Arthur, future President of the United States, winning the case for Jennings.
Reverend Butts often tells her story to his congregation. Outside the Abyssinian Baptist Church, there used to be a mural showing Elizabeth Jennings’ story. He says children who saw it were amazed.
"And, that just opened up their eyes to a whole new part of history, particularly in New York," he says.
But for her father, Thomas Jennings, it’s that first patent that is his lasting legacy. When Frederick Douglass wrote about Jennings' patent, he pointed out that although it was well known that Jennings was a black man of "African descent," these letters recognize him as a "citizen of the United States."
From the Marketplace Datebook, here’s a look at what’s coming up Wednesday:
- In Washington, the Commerce Department reports on sales of new homes for January.
- A Senate Committee discusses "Retirement Savings for Low-Income Workers."
- His name is synonymous with jeans. Levi Strauss was born in Bavaria on February 26, 1829. Did he have any idea what a fashion statement jeans would become?
- And singer-songwriter Johnny Cash was born on February 26, 1932. The man in black would have been 82.
After nearly three years, U.S. Congressman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) is expected to unveil his plan to overhaul the nation’s tax code on Wednesday. While the details are not expected until then, two elements caught the eye of Roberton Williams, a fellow at the Urban Brookings Tax Policy Center: lower top income tax rates and eliminate loopholes.
“It neither changes the amount of revenue we bring in, nor does it change who pays taxes, the rich, the poor, the middle class,” he says.
What Camp’s plan does do is lower the top rate from nearly 40 percent to 25 percent, and collapse seven existing tax brackets into two, 10 percent and 25 percent. There’s also a surcharge on on earned income over $450,000 a year.
How does Camp plan to pay for these changes? George Washington Economist Joseph Cordes says that “the many ‘tax loopholes,’ tax expenditures that are in the code currently, would have to be scaled back or eliminated,” he says.
The problem according to Cordes is that many exemptions, like the home mortgage deduction, are politically popular and could be a difficult pill to swallow on Capitol Hill. Either way, he says this is a serious proposal and potentially the start of something.
For the Sina Corporation – which runs Weibo – its upcoming initial public offering was a case of better sooner than later, Marketplace's Beijing correspondant Rob Schmitz says.
"Weibo has only been around for five years, and it enjoyed incredible popularity in its first few years, but in the past year and a half, it’s had a host of problems, starting with the government."
Not only does China's government routinely block Weibo, but under Xi Jinping’s new administration, the government has begun to arrest Weibo users based on what they've been posting. The government also established a new law: If a user posted what the government considered to be a rumor, and it was re-posted more than 500 times, that user could be sent to prison.
"While all this was happening, a formidable competitor to Weibo – an instant messaging service called WeChat - quietly began taking away Weibo users, and now WeChat, which is run by the company Tencent, is the hottest social media platform in China," says Schmitz.
Sina announced today it would be investing more money into new products that would presumably compete with WeChat, and it does have financial backing from China’s – and the world’s – largest Internet company, Alibaba. But Schmitz says the biggest problem for Sina is how to make Weibo profitable long-term.
"It hasn’t figured out a way to make much ad revenue off the site and with all this competition from WeChat and a government crackdown on Internet users in China, long-term growth could be a problem."
So far this has not been a good year for Bitcoin. In fact, today appears to be a terrible day for Bitcoin's most prominent exchange, Mt. Gox. The website was recently hacked and criticized for not plugging a long-open security hole. And news of another apparent theft from the site this week has many expecting Mt. Gox to file for bankruptcy.
So how did such a major player in the Bitcoin market take such a tumble? To understand, it helps to start at the beginning. Mt. Gox began life as an online platform to trade Magic cards. Yes, those magic cards. In fact, the name of the site is an acronym that stands for "Magic: The Gathering Online Exchange." It was started by an unemployed hacker named Jed McCaleb. In 2010, McCaleb switched the site's function to handle Bitcoin-to-U.S. dollar trades. Over the next year, Mt. Gox became hugely popular, leading to the sale of the site to Tokyo-based hacker Mark Karpeles in 2011. Under Karpeles' leadership, Mt. Gox became a trusted entity in the world of Bitcoin.
Also, President Obama is set to announce a pair of manufacturing innovation institutes in Chicago and Detroit on Tuesday. The public-private partnerships come with $140 million in federal grants, plus millions in private funding, to develop the next generation of manufacturing technologies and workers. Back in the day, Chicago was such a huge manufacturing town, it was nicknamed "city of the big shoulders."
President Obama is set to announce a pair of manufacturing innovation institutes in Chicago and Detroit on Tuesday. The public-private partnerships come with $140 million in federal grants, plus millions in private funding, to develop the next generation of manufacturing technologies and workers.
Back in the day, Chicago was such a huge manufacturing town, it was nicknamed “city of the big shoulders.”
But Richard Longworth with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs says the Chicago area lost 65,000 manufacturing jobs from 2006-2012. (More recent federal data puts the area’s manufacturing job loss close to 95,000 jobs over the last decade.)
“This new digital tech manufacturing center will be important,” Longworth says. “It will spin off companies, these companies will provide jobs. It does not solve the problem of the mass employment that we have lost.”
Bill King is chief technology officer for the new Digital Lab for Manufacturing in Chicago. He says in an era of cloud computing, mobile computing, and supercomputing, workers need new skills. And the center will help train them.
“There are other countries that are investing heavily in automation, data technologies for manufacturing, smart manufacturing. So this is a horse race, and this digital manufacturing institute will help us be competitive,” he says.
The initiative doesn’t stop at Chicago city limits: the center has 40 industry partners and plans to offer tools and training to schools and colleges across the country.
For some culture watchers it feels like there's a discernible lack of pre-Oscar buzz surrounding this year's Academy Awards ceremony. Is it possible that the Sochi Olympics have us distracted? Or that, with the one-two (-three?) punch of the Super Bowl, the Golden Globes and the Grammy Awards we've hit 'peak TV?'
As we approach the Academy Awards, we've assembled a list of how the most-nominated films have done at the domestic box office:
- American Hustle | 10 Academy Award nominations | $142 million at the domestic box office
- Gravity| 10 nominations | $268 million
- 12 Years a Slave | 9 nominations | $48 million
- Nebraska | 6 nominations | $16 million
- Dallas Buyers Club | 6 nominations | $24 million
- Captain Phillips | 6 nominations | $106 million
There was a time when Moviefone was the very essence of high tech: Dialing 777-FILM to get movie times and buy tickets.
I'm sorry to have to tell you that the New York Times reports that after 25 glorious years, Moviefone is shutting down. It is perhaps the very definition of what Joseph Schumpeter called creative destruction.
AOL, which bought it for a kind of amazing $388 million, 15 years ago, is going pull the plug pending a rebranding. Whatever "rebranding" might mean.
Michael Moser is a Certified Cicerone and auctioneer at Skinner's auction house. Simply speaking, he knows beers.
Moser is the one behind Skinner -- the first brick-and-mortar auction house to sell beers.
Premium wines, we've had. But auction-worthy beer? At first, Skinner's patrons were dumbfounded:
"You know you're standing up there and you kind of switch gears from wine to beer, and you see a lot of puzzled looks from person to person, and eyes widening at the prices we were achieving," says Moser.
"I kind of connected the dots. Actually one of the beers we were offering, Midnight Sun M, was one of the first beers that really caught my eye in the secondary market. I saw someone had bought it for a pretty penny and figured while we're doing wine, why not throw some beer in it?"
And the cost of a single bottle of beer of Midnight Sun M? $1,200-1,800.
According to Moser, auction-ready beers are able to age up to 20 years or more in a bottle. That means bidders raise their paddles for stouts and sours.
But unfortunately for me, not for hops.
With the capture of the drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera over the weekend in Mazatlan, so ends the reign of one of the most successful drug traffickers of all time. It was his master of supply chain management that made him a success in the underground drug economy.
Tim Fernholz, economics writer for Quartz, compares El Chapo to Steve Jobs:
"His life’s work has been to build the Sinaloa cartel into the world’s most efficient drug business, with billion-dollar revenues to rival Western blue-chip companies; he earned comparisons to CEOs for mastering the art of supply chain management, exploiting the massive demand for illegal drugs in the United States and Europe. …
"But it’s precisely this level of sophistication that has experts predicting the Sinaloa cartel will survive its mastermind’s detention; if Guzman is the Steve Jobs of coke, he probably groomed a Tim Cook to take his place."
Click on the audio player above to hear more.
One of the first European counties to show some welcome economic growth after the financial crisis was one of the very smallest -- Estonia.
Its younger citizens are exceptionally savvy when it comes to all things digital and it’s become a haven for business start-ups. But lately that early growth has slowed. And many are now starting to wonder if the new digital wealth can be retained as entrepreneurs take their ideas abroad.
Technology has been a huge factor in some of the big protest movements over the past couple of years -- think Twitter and Instagram in Tunisia, Iran, and Egypt, or Facebook in Brazil.
A new app joined the pack this week in Venezuela, where protests have gotten serious: Zello.
The Zello app allows users to send person to person voice messages among a group, like a walkie-talkie, but on a smart phone. Private messaging systems such as Zello are becoming more popular as protestors realize the drawbacks of worldwide social networks like Twitter.
Zello CEO Bill Moore said that while the publicity the app is getting around the protests is good for his company, it’s not going to directly impact revenue.
"There are 53 million users who have registered for Zello around the globe, and the majority of those users use the free app. We also sell for businesses, a subscription where they use it to replace two-way radio for a private network," said Moore.
The app has been blocked for CANTV users, the state-owned television service in Venezuela. Alexey Gavrilov is Zello’s chief technology officer. He told CNN that the company is taking measures to avoid the blockage:
"We just released an update to the Android application which changes the IP addresses and makes it much harder to block them, and we also submitted updates for iOS and BlackBerry... So people with Android can already use Zello again in Venezuela."
Moore said the recent use of the app points to an age-old issue with communication.
"It’s an old problem with communication: That it can be used for good and for bad, and there must be bad guys that use Zello for communication," said Moore.
Moore said the company occasionally hears from the FBI or a government who needs help identifying a "bad guy" who uses Zello. He said the company isn’t able to provide much help because they don’t save a lot of information.
Some degree of normality has returned to streets of the Ukrainian capital – Kiev- after last week’s bloody turmoil. Businesses have reopened in the city. People have gone back to work. But across the country, there is real anxiety about what happens next – not least on the economic front.
"The budget coffers are nearly bare, the gas bills are rising quite dramatically, foreign exchange reserves are quite low, the currency is under pressure. The current course is untenable," says Nick Redman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Ukraine needs help. Russia promised the Yanukovich government assistance – in the shape of a $15 billion loan and cheap energy. But Russia denounced the revolution as a coup and, after ponying up $3 billion of the package, it now says it wants to know more about the new Ukrainian government’s economic plans before handing over more.
David Dalton of the Economist Intelligence Unit is doubtful about Russian intentions.
"It doesn’t look very promising…that they’re going to carry on handing over the money. I think it is very possible that the Russians will cut off the cash and scrap the energy deal,” says Dalton.
International help is at hand. The U.S. said today it’s ready to give financial support. The European Union and the International Monetary Fund have stepped up too. There is talk of a $20 billion bailout -- but with strings attached.
"The main thing isthat Ukraine needs to reform. And that’s what it hasn’t been doing for the last 20 odd years,” says Ian Bond of the Centre for European Reform. Hesays Ukraine mayhave to scrap fuel subsidies, tighten controls over public spending, and shake up its system of governance in return for EU and IMF support. These are the kind of measures that heavily indebted countries in the eurozone were required to undertake.
Ukraine could soon be getting a foretaste of the tough medicine the EU and the IMF prescribe when helping countries stave off default. With that in mind, the White House said today:
"Our help will make Ukraine’s reforms easier."