Marketplace - American Public Media

Spending $100 million to break down AP class barriers

Tue, 2015-04-28 02:00
High school students across the country are nervously cramming for Advanced Placement exams, which begin next week. But, there won’t be nearly as many minority and low-income students taking the tests as there could be.

According to the College Board, which runs the AP program, in 2013 about 15 percent of graduating seniors in the U.S. were black. But, black students made up only about 9 percent of AP test takers. That same year — the latest for which reliable comparisons are available — low-income students made up 48 percent of the high school population, but only about 28 percent of AP test takers.

Access to advanced high school courses is only part of the problem. The majority of high schools in the U.S. offer some AP classes. The larger problem, experts say, is participation.

“There are about 650,000 missing students per year — low-income students and students of color — who would participate in advanced courses in their high schools if given the opportunity to participate at the same rate as other students,” says Reid Saaris, president of Equal Opportunity Schools, a non-profit that works with schools to increase that opportunity.

EOS is among a group of education and business organizations spearheading a $100 million spend aimed at getting more under-represented students into AP and International Baccalaureate classes. The initiative, announced Tuesday, aims to identify and enroll 100,000 new students during the next three years.

Research shows high-achieving minority and low-income students are often overlooked when it comes to AP and IB programs. Saaris cites several reasons, including perceptions by educators that certain students are not "right" for advanced classes, and a lack of information among parents and students about AP or IB.

Natalie Rodriguez Jansorn, director of strategic initiatives for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which is helping fund the $100 million project, says students who participate in AP courses are more likely to enroll in college, and succeed when they get there.

“In particular, we know that there are a significant number of low-income students who are not even being invited or encouraged into AP courses," she says.

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Japan's trade negotiations may be troubled by currency

Tue, 2015-04-28 02:00

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is visiting the U.S. this week, and on his agenda: negotiations for a trade deal between the U.S. and Japan, along with ten other countries. One potential sticking point is the way Japan handles its currency. For the last few years, Japan has pumped more currency into circulation, saying it wants to flight deflation.

“But everyone knows that behind that is definitely a business community that’s has complained for many years that the value of yen too strong,” says Scott Seaman, a senior analyst with the Eurasia Group.

Many Japanese exporters would prefer a weaker yen, so Japan goods become cheaper relative to competitors in other countries. That is why this a trade issue, says Eswar Prasad, an economics professor at Cornell.

“Some people in the U.S. are concerned that by opening U.S. markets, and by tolerating other countries' policies that drive down the values of their currencies, the U.S. might lose out,” he says.

Audio for this story is forthcoming.

Japan's trade negotiations may be troubled by currency

Tue, 2015-04-28 02:00

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is visiting the U.S. this week, and on his agenda: negotiations for a trade deal between the U.S. and Japan, along with ten other countries. One potential sticking point is the way Japan handles its currency. For the last few years, Japan has pumped more currency into circulation, saying it wants to flight deflation.

“But everyone knows that behind that is definitely a business community that’s has complained for many years that the value of yen too strong,” says Scott Seaman, a senior analyst with the Eurasia Group.

Many Japanese exporters would prefer a weaker yen, so Japan goods become cheaper relative to competitors in other countries. That is why this a trade issue, says Eswar Prasad, an economics professor at Cornell.

“Some people in the U.S. are concerned that by opening U.S. markets, and by tolerating other countries' policies that drive down the values of their currencies, the U.S. might lose out,” he says.

Audio for this story is forthcoming.

GDP in Portlandia

Tue, 2015-04-28 01:56
9 percent

In 2013, about 15 percent of graduating high school seniors were black, but only 9 percent took some kind of AP exam. That same year, low-income students made up 48 percent of the graduating class, but only 28 percent of AP test takers. Enrollment in AP classes, or lack thereof, is said to be a large contributor to these numbers. A new $100 million initiative announced Tuesday aims to positively influence participation.

22.8 percent

That's how much Portland's GDP has grown since 2008, far outpacing similarly sized eastern cities. Bloomberg reports a lot of commerce is heading west, with jobs, wages, home prices and the number of young people all on the rise.

5.7 million square feet

Speaking of the West Coast: that's how much office space Google, Linkedin and others proposed for Mountain View, California earlier this year, more than double the development the city had planned for the next 20 years. Silicon Valley is headed for a space crunch, the Wall Street Journal reported, with tech companies expanding far faster than city planners anticipated, and public infrastructure strained.

$1.49

That's the price for the new Fritos taco at Taco Bell, one of several new items the Mexican fast-food chain is experimenting with, Quartz reported. Along with several Fritos tacos, the company is launching new breakfast tacos and other dishes to try and replicate the goofy, viral success of the Doritos Locos Taco.

2017

That's the year by which Tyson promises it will end its use of human antibiotics. As reported by the NY Times, the announcement is considered the final step for the company toward goals it has articulated for some time.

How one high school is closing the AP gap

Tue, 2015-04-28 00:12
If anyone knows the halls and classrooms of Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Eastvale, California, it's Adan Esperza.

He’s been the head custodian at Roosevelt for nine years. Esperza's son and daughter know these halls, too. They're students at the high school — good students. Esperza, who was born in Mexico and didn't finish college, has big ambitions for them.

Earlier this year, he received some unexpected letters from the school.

"They said, 'Congratulations, your kid has been chosen to take AP courses at Roosevelt for next year,'" he says.

Esperza says the Advanced Placement courses students can take for college credit hadn't really been on his radar before then.

“I was actually proud to have two of my kids nominated for the program,” he says.

The letters were part of a broader effort by the school district to get more students into AP courses, especially overlooked low-income and minority students who have the skills to succeed.

Esperza has been at the school for many years, walks past AP classes every day and has kids with good grades. And yet, it took a letter from the school letting him know his kids were AP material.

Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Eastvale, California is working with Equal Opportunity Schools to reflect their diverse student body in their AP courses. (Courtesy of Eleanor Roosevelt High School)

Here’s how Jeremy Goins, the principal at Roosevelt explains that discrepancy:

“What it showed me," he says, "Is, 'wow,' even our own families, we don't necessarily advise them properly all the time. We look past that because our systems are in place, and that's the way it's always been done.

About 3,800 attend Roosevelt High. About half of them are Hispanic. But when it comes to AP classes, there are more white and Asian students than there are Hispanic and black students. Those groups are under-represented.

“Sometimes, we don't have systems to catch those kids that have a lot of potential, that aren't necessarily in the group of kids that typically take those high-achieving classes," Goins says.

To start catching those kids, Goin’s district brought in Equal Opportunity Schools, a non-profit that works with schools to help identify kids who are being left behind and help close the so-called participation gap.

"There are about two-thirds of a million missing students per year, who are low income, African American students, Latino students, who could be successful in AP classes, IB classes — the toughest classes in their school, if given that chance,” says Reid Saaris, EOS executive director.

But parents, like Esperza, aren't always aware of AP opportunities. Teachers don't think of some kids as "AP material." And many low-income and minority kids don't see themselves as AP kids.

“They may take a look in an AP class and say, 'That doesn't look like there's anyone who looks like me in there, I don't really belong,'" Saaris says.

EOS uses data to help change those perceptions, without trying to point fingers.


Federal Way school district in Washington increased the number of low-income and minority students taking advanced classes, while keeping exam pass rates stable. (Courtesy of EOS Schools)

"The conversations around race and class and assumptions, aren’t as hard as [you] might expect when you bring data to the table,” Saaris says. “Because it can be less about assumptions and more about what the data says.”

To get that data at Roosevelt, EOS staff surveyed all the students in the school, about their hopes and ambitions, and about whether they feel challenged in their classes.

They were asked questions about grit and perseverance. Teachers were asked which students they thought could succeed. Then EOS bundled up all that information, along with grades and test scores, and created a profile for each eligible student It looks almost like a baseball card, with a picture and performance stats.

Joelle Carreon is a 10th grade student at Roosevelt. Her card, she says, had five stars, "which meant that five teachers from this campus were encouraging me to take an AP class.”

Before he got his card, 11th grader Christian Esplana was already very involved in extracurricular activities. He had good grades and was planning for college, but he had never taken an AP class.

“It felt good knowing that I'm at a level that AP students are,” he says. “I have doubted myself before, but now I feel confident."

That's EOS's goal — to build that confidence, because research shows kids who take rigorous courses in high school have a better shot at getting into college, and a better chance of succeeding once they get there.

To get the word out, Roosevelt also held presentations about AP and “AP Rush Days" where potential students could talk to current students about the work load and other questions.

When it came time for registration? Counselor David Sánchez says it all paid off.

“I think because of their awareness, the conversations we're having with them, is much more, 'I've heard of these AP classes, I want to try it, I want to push for it,'" he says.

Next fall at Roosevelt, there will be 700 new spots in AP classes, and a 15 percent increase in the number of Hispanic and black students who registered for AP courses.

And, one of those students will be the daughter of Adan Esperza, the school’s head custodian.

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Interactive by Dan Hill and Cindy Santini

On the ground from Kathmandu, Nepal

Mon, 2015-04-27 13:36

Aid workers from all over the world are flying to Kathmandu, Nepal to provide services for those affected by Saturday's devastating earthquake.

Blackouts and scarce supplies are challenging, but the main concern is drinking water. If that shortage isn't addressed quickly, the government is concerned it could lead to the spread of disease, especially since people are already spending late nights out in the open. That, in turn, would present a whole new problem for authorities and aid agencies that are coming in.

The airport is packed with flights bringing workers, as well as commercial planes that have added trips to bring supplies into the region, and people out.

The BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder is in Kathmandu, where much of the city was reduced to rubble.

"There are a lot of agencies on the ground," he says. "You can see them and identify them, but the scale of the problem is quite big, so of course, it’s never going to be enough…certainly not now."

There was a lot of political turmoil in Nepal in the past decade, and the region was not equipped with a disaster management plan. That’s why the government was very quick to accept that this was too much for it to handle.

Majumder is staying in a hotel, but he says no one is sleeping in their rooms because there have been a number of aftershocks that are frightening. He and the others in town are sleeping near exits, by the pool, or in the hotel lobby.

Service Info: It's like Yelp...but for refugees

Mon, 2015-04-27 13:04

In its work providing relief for refugees around the world, the International Rescue Committee has two daunting crises on its hands at the moment: the European migrant crisis and the situation in Syria.

IRC President and CEO David Miliband says in the aftermath of the latest tragedy involving migrants at sea, “European attention has been dragged back to what is a problem that hasn’t just occurred in the last three weeks. Obviously (those events) — 700, 800, a thousand people dying in the space of two days — refocused attention.”

He says the options in Northern Africa are limited, causing many people to move to Europe for a better life. Miliband believes that Europeans are not standing together on the issue — “Italians and Greeks are being expected to handle it on their own more or less, rather than as a united European response,” he says.

When he speaks to high level officials about getting Europe to join forces on the migrant issue, he says he often gets three responses: That they regret the end of the Mare Nostrum program last November, led by the Italian Navy, which saved thousands of migrant lives at sea. That it's very tough to tackle this issue at the source. And that the EU’s bandwidth is stretched as it is dealing with the euro crisis and the Ukraine confrontation with Russia.

As for hands on work, the IRC currently has over 2,000 workers in Syria and in neighboring countries focusing on health, education, and on some protection for women and girls. It's releasing a new website for refugees to find out about, and rate, resources to ease the transition to life a new country. “The refugees from Syria are educated people; they are tech-savvy people. Until now, there’s been no proper tech platform for them to find out what services are available to them. The IRC and US government are creating, for the first time, a kind of "Yelp for refugees" in Lebanon,” says Miliband.

The platform is called Service Info and will allow refugees to add comments on services, like, “This supermarket treated me well. This hospital treated me well.” That kind of feedback will improve the quality of services, as well as broadcast the services that are available, he says. 

Currently Service Info is being piloted in Lebanon, a country of 5 million people — with 1.5  million of those who are refugees. It's the equivalent of Germany’s population moving to America.

Miliband left politics to take the position as CEO at IRC. Of this shift, he says, “I feel I’m helping people whose lives are affected by breakdown of politics, because what is a civil war other than the failure of politics? Now I’m out of politics. I’m at the other end of the telescope. What I always say to people is that the humanitarian sector can stanch the dying, but it takes politics to stop the killing and you need both.”

Chipotle goes GMO-free, except for the meat

Mon, 2015-04-27 13:00

Chipotle has proudly announced that its menu is now entirely free of genetically-modified organisms, the result of a two-year effort. To get enough GMO-free cooking oil — in this case, sunflower-seed oil — the company had to recruit a North Dakota supplier to plant acres of non-GMO sunflowers.

However, the project has not reduced the Chipotle menu’s “GMO footprint” to zero. Far from it.  

Most genetically-modified crops end up as food for animals, including the cows, chickens and pigs that end up in Chipotle burritos. Those animals mostly eat corn and soybeans, which overwhelmingly come from genetically modified seeds.

Rounding up a supply of animals raised on a GMO-free diet "would be very, very difficult to do, short of going to organic meat," company spokesman Chris Arnold says. "And if we wanted to make that switch, you’ve got another tremendous price premium and an enormous supply constraint."

Chipotle already has problems with supply. The chain maintains “humane treatment” standards for the animals that end up in its burrito bowls — but it can’t always get enough. Right now, that means no carnitas at some Chipotles.

Organic meat would be a much tougher problem. Catherine Greene, an economist with the United States Department of Agriculture, calls the supply of organic beef "extremely limited." 

As in, last time USDA ran the numbers, in 2011, it was 0.3 percent.

Even when demand goes up and price follows, supply doesn't immediately follow that. Farmers have to use organic practices for three years before they can sell the product as organic.

"That’s a pretty long time to commit to using organic production systems without tapping into the organic premium," Green says.

That’s a big disincentive, and when farmers do switch, there’s a long lag: the three-year transition period, plus the two years or more it takes to actually raise a cow for slaughter.

Meanwhile, the corn chips and tortillas at Chipotle are reliably GMO-free.

Why in the world do airlines overbook tickets?

Mon, 2015-04-27 13:00

As part of our I’ve Always Wondered series, we answer questions and explain some of the economic mysteries brought to our attention by our listeners. Here, we turn to a question from Lamonte Freerks, who asks “I would like to know why airlines see the need to overbook planes, thus at times bumping paid passengers.”  Marketplace’s Sabri Ben-Achour wondered the same thing recently.

Destination: Irony. Temperature at destination: Cruel

The irony was not lost on Danielle Sharp as the announcement came on over the loudspeaker at 5:30 a.m. at Newark airport.

“United, Flight 3454, is now boarding.”

Danielle Sharp was most definitely not boarding. Though paid and checked in for a trip to Oklahoma, her ticket had also been sold to someone else.

“The flight is overbooked, so we’re just sitting here waiting. The flight is leaving in 15 minutes and we’re just stuck here,” she says when reached at the airport. “It’s really stressful and aggravating. I got here at 3 a.m. for a 6 o'clock flight.”

Why would an airline do this? How hard is it to count the number of seats on a plane and not sell more than that?

“I have no idea,” Sharp says, resigned. “But it’s obvious they care more about their money than they care about us, 'cause they wouldn’t inconvenience us like this. It’s about a buck.”

Yes … and no. 

Why do they do it?

“Contrary to what popular perception may be, airlines are not evil,” says Samuel Engel, who leads the Aviation Practice at consulting firm ICF international. It’s not an accident that airlines overbook their flights, and it boils down to one simple reason: “Some passengers don’t show up.”

In fact, some passengers are almost always not going to show up. 

“So if you know that’s going to be the case, you’re setting yourself up for flying with empty seats and wasting them,” says Engel.

But wait, if people don’t show up, aren't the airlines then just selling the same seat twice and making gobs of money off of the poor jerks who are left behind when people actually do all show up?

No, says Engel, because the airlines “don’t get revenue for a seat that goes empty.”  It’s true someone has paid for that seat, but in most cases that person will end up being given a free flight by the airline to accommodate them if they were just running late, for example.

“Some passengers will just not show up because they didn’t want to take the trip, but more cases than not, they arrived at the airport 15 minutes late 'cause there was traffic and they missed their flight and the airline is going to accommodate them on another flight.” 

The guessing game

So if airlines didn’t overbook, they would lose money, so they actually put a lot of effort and money into guessing exactly how many people won’t show up on a given flight. 

“Virtually all airlines these days have fairly sophisticated revenue management systems,” says Peter Belobaba, a research scientist at the International Center for Air Transportation at MIT. Revenue management system means really complicated computer models. 

These models predict a lot of things: how many seats should the airline sell for cheaper to people who buy earlier? How many can it get away with setting aside in order to charge higher prices for last-minute business travelers? How many people won’t show up? In the event everyone with a ticket does show up, how many people will accept a voucher for free miles in order to take a different flight?

For the no-show predictions, “those systems have large historical databases of no-show rates on previous departures of the same time of day and in the same markets, used to build forecasts,” says Belobaba.

With the advent of big data, airlines can feed even more information into their models.

“People returning from a long weekend are more likely to show up as compared to people who are starting their trip for business. How long ago you bought your ticket, has it been ticketed, those all can be correlated with no show behavior,” says Belobaba.

The cutting edge models, says ICF International’s Samuel Engel, also take into account the competing fares at any given moment from competitor airlines. If every airline is eyeing what one another is doing, things can get quite complicated.

“It’s a field of very happy geeks mired in the data balancing the statistics and economics trying to make better decisions,” says Engel.

They are actually pretty good at guessing

It turns out, those models work pretty well.

“If you look back, you’ll see the U.S. airline industry has reduced the denied boarding rate almost in half in the last 15 years,” says Engel. “In 1999, 0.2 percent of passengers were denied boarding. Last year, it was under 0.1 percent.  And only 1/10th of those were 'involuntarily denied boarding,' where passengers did not choose to take a different flight” in exchange for a voucher or incentive.

United Airlines, whose flight Danielle Sharp was bumped off of, says much of the 1/10th of 1/10th of one percent of involuntary denied boarding is due to grounded planes and not overbooking. The outliers usually occur when there is an unexpected disruption, like weather, a problem at an airport, or some other factor.

Maybe it’s a good thing

Many analysts argue that overbooking keeps ticket prices down.    

“If you look historically when airlines were running with half their seats empty, fares were much much higher than they were today,” says Engel. “The nice way to look at all this is, the more effectively airlines can fill their seats and generate revenue with the seats they have, the better it is for all of us.”

Well, not all of us. 

“I’m tired, I want to take a nap, and we’re stuck here,” says Danielle Sharp, still stranded.

While customers who voluntarily give up their seat in exchange for a ticket voucher are, all things equal, usually happy about it, customers who don’t volunteer and are forcibly bumped from a flight are not.  

So in those cases, the airlines pay up — in cash. Government regulations actually require them to (you can see how they’re calculated here).  

As Sharp waited in front of the desk in front of the gate she would have boarded on, the ticketing agent entered a few keystrokes into her computer with confident finality, and turned to Sharp with a resolution.

“We’ve got you on another flight later today, and you’re getting $1,100.”

Consternation transmogrified into joy, and Sharp burst out into laughter. Oklahoma must have seemed very far away indeed.

“Thank you lord! That is a blessing!”

Remittances play a big role in Nepal's economy

Mon, 2015-04-27 13:00
Roughly 30 percent of Nepal's GDP comes in the form of remittances, money sent home by Nepalese working abroad.

Personal remittances, received (% of GDP)widgetContext = { "url": "http://data.worldbank.org/widgets/indicator/0/web_widgets_3/BX.TRF.PWKR.DT.GD.ZS/countries/1W-NP-KG-MD-HT-AM", "width": 600, "height": 225, "widgetid": "web_widget_iframe_aa0e17da47b3e93c1ee29e1e7a38f643" };Data from World Bank

Every day, around 1,000 Nepalese board flights for countries in the Gulf, North Africa and Asia; others go overland to India. They find jobs, most often, in construction or the services sector. And then, many send money home.

Dilip Ratha is the manager of the Migration and Remittances unit at the World Bank.  He says remittances are crucial.

"At the very poor level," he explains, "it is really a lifeline that provides people with food, with shelter and with education and business investments."

Remittances have helped reduce Nepal's poverty rate, but there is a possible downside to so many young, able-bodied men working outside of the country.  When it is time to rebuild damaged and destroyed homes and businesses, some analysts suggest Nepal may face a shortage of labor. On the other hand, money being sent home to the country will now be all that much more important.

What Corinthian Colleges' failure means at for-profits

Mon, 2015-04-27 13:00

Corinthian Colleges Inc. announced Monday it would close all of its colleges and cease operations. The for-profit college operator's closing is the end of a long struggle between federal authorities and the for-profit college industry, which has been accused of profiting from student loan debt.

Corinthian had high prices and its degrees sometimes left students with high debt, but few job prospects. And the school recruited poorer students — those most likely to qualify for federal financial aid, says Christine Lindstrom, Higher Education Program Director of the U.S. Public Interests Research Group. 

"Colleges like Corinthian have been violating the spirit of federal aid programs for at least a decade, if not more," Lindstom says.

Lindstrom says Corinthian received roughly $1.4 billion each year in federal money through its students' financial aid packages. 

Corinthian's troubles took a turn for the worse in June 2014 when the government put a 21-day hold on its funds after the school failed to provide proof it wasn't inflating its job placement statistics. That forced the company to begin to cut back its operations. 

But even as Corinthian crumbled under federal pressure, other for-profit colleges and universities began to change some of their practices. A proposed "gainful employment" rule, currently held up in court by lawyers for the lobby representing for-profit colleges, would jeopardize for-profit colleges' access to federal money if graduates used more than a certain percentage of their income to service their student debt.

"Colleges have, in anticipation of it going into effect, already made changes to end some of their worst performing programs," explained Pauline Abernathy, vice president of the Institute for College Access and Success. 

If the regulation goes into effect in July as planned, it would mean that for-profit schools would have to ensure that graduates find well-paying jobs to offset large amounts of college debt.

The White House unveils its new china

Mon, 2015-04-27 13:00

The guy who runs the world's third-largest economy, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, is in Washington today for talks with the President and a speech to Congress.

There's a state dinner Tuesday night at which the White House will unveil the new state china service — that's china, small-c, as in fancy dishes.

The description of the china from the White House's protocol office:

"A fluted band of the Kailua Blue color, framed by a textured gold rim and a simple gilt inner line, appears on all pieces of the service except the service and dinner plates.

A similar fluted band of color — in a matte gold finish — was selected for the wide rim of the large service plate. This plate is related to the gold-rimmed service plates acquired in 1955 by the Eisenhowers, to supplement the 1951 Truman state service, and the service plates in the 2000 White House Bicentennial service, now referred to as the Clinton State Service."

The White House Historical Association picked up the tab, total price not disclosed, but the Bush Administration's state china cost $493,000.

Sizzling summer nights: Working in a bacon factory

Mon, 2015-04-27 13:00

Do you remember your first job? It might have been radically different from the career you ended up with.

Rita Carbonari works in the development office of a liberal arts college, but in the early 1970s she worked the night shift in a bacon packing factory.

“My friends and I would go to the beach every day, and about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I’d go home, take off my bathing suit, put on a big heavy sweatshirt, warm pants and I’d spend the rest of the evening in a refrigerated bacon packing factory,” she says.

Carbonari worked her way up to being a weigher, where she controlled the speed of the line.

One day while she was working on the line, a chunk of bacon got caught in the slicer. It was tough to see just how large the machete-like blade was.

“I was poking my finger in there trying to get that bacon out of the way, and one of the supervisors came up and asked what I was doing," Carbonari says. "And he said, ‘Oh, well this is what happened when I did that.’ He held up his hand and he only had three fingers!”

She never poked her fingers into the slicer again.

The essential role of surgery

Mon, 2015-04-27 03:00

When we think about a global health crisis, we often think about specific diseases. But a new report out Monday in the Lancet challenges that view.

Authors point out a lack of adequate, timely and affordable surgical care resulted in a third of all deaths worldwide in 2010, or nearly 17 million lives—HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined for less than 4 million.

This paper reflects the shifting attitudes towards addressing global health problems. In a concrete way, we now have numbers that help get our arms around the essential role surgery plays.

First, the Lancet Commissioner on Global Surgery, which had input from 110 countries, found that 5 billion people don’t have access to surgery when they need it. Only a tiny sliver of all surgeries occur in the poorest countries.

The bottom line is that many easily treatable conditions effectively become death sentences. For example, 90 percent of maternal deaths could be averted—That’s 100,000 women a year. In the past, a lot of time and money has been devoted to a particular disease like malaria or TB.

But Dr. David Barash, Chief Medical Officer of the GE Foundation, says through combating Ebola, governments, philanthropists and industry are learning that tackling one disease in isolation is limited. Barash says what’s needed is a more robust public health infrastructure.

The awareness of what happened with Ebola really catalyzed everyone’s thinking that ‘Yes, it’s about the system, we need to invest in the system. Industry needs to be a part of that. Foundations need to be part of that. Academics need to be part of that,” he says.

Barash is optimistic this report will lead to action in part because it sets targets.

To improve global access to by 2030, 143 million more surgeries are needed each year, the health workforce must double, and there’s even a price tag: $350 billion.

Of course, the real hope is if you build infrastructure for surgeries, that same infrastructure will serve the public well during the next epidemic.

PODCAST: Aid in Nepal

Mon, 2015-04-27 03:00

An update on aid after the earthquake in Nepal. Plus, President Obama is due to report to Congress today, the initial recommendations of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. What’s at stake for military personnel and for the federal budget? And just a few years ago, the Tennessee Valley Authority made waves with plans to complete at least three mothballed reactors. After billions in cost overruns and a slowdown in power demand because of the economic downturn and increased efficiency, TVA says the single reactor being completed this year will be enough.

The situation in Nepal

Mon, 2015-04-27 02:00

Aid workers have begun arriving in Nepal following Saturday's devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake. The death toll is reported at almost 4,000; that number is expected to grow.  This morning, we reached Sanjaya Dhakal, a reporter for the BBC in Nepal, on a line from Kathmandu.

Click the media player above to hear Sanjaya Dhakal describe current conditions in Nepal.

Powerful aftershocks were reported through the weekend. And as concerns grow over waterborne infections and diseases that could afflict survivors, aid workers are stressing the need for basic amenities  from the ground. Here are some of the numbers coming out of Nepal:

-Unicef is reporting that almost a million children in the area are in need of assistance.

-A cargo plane carrying about 70 aid workers was dispatched by the Pentagon on Sunday.  

-China also sent a rescue team of 62. A similar offer from the Taiwanese government was turned down, raising questions about how the power dynamics between bordering countries may play out in this situation. Nepal has historically served as a mid-way haven for Tibetans fleeing China into India.

 

Nuclear renaissance ebbs at largest public utility

Mon, 2015-04-27 02:00

The nation’s largest public utility is quietly scaling back expansion plans for nuclear power. Just eight years ago, the Tennessee Valley Authority was leading a nuclear renaissance, with plans to restart work on a handful of mothballed reactors. But splitting atoms to make electricity has become less attractive in the last few years.

The energy sector’s appetite for nuclear power has always ebbed and flowed. The plants are attractive because they create so much power in one place, but they’re also highly regulated by the federal government. They take many years to build and almost always cost more than anyone predicts.

And now there’s less demand for power.

“At least in the cases that we looked at, the need for a large base-load plant really doesn’t show up over time,” TVA vice president Joe Hoagland says of the utility’s new Integrated Resource Plan.

The new power predictions mean TVA will only finish Watts Bar Unit II, slated for completion later this year, after delays that span decades and cost overruns in the billions of dollars. Hoagland says demand just hasn’t picked up since the recession, and not just because big industrial customers went out of business—though they did. Consumers are more energy conscious, he says.

“The most obvious example of that would be the shift from incandescent lights to compact fluorescents,” Hoagland says.

Compounding the economic shift is the abundance of natural gas.

Richard Myers of the Nuclear Energy Institute says no one expected that the shale gas boom would be such a game changer.

“The volumes of gas that they found just truly blew everybody’s mind,” he says.

Utilities like TVA have been adding natural gas power plants, which are cheaper and more flexible than nuclear. But Myers figures nuclear’s time will still come.

“I think the new plants are going to get built when they’re needed, where they’re needed,” he says, noting that one in five U.S. households is powered by nuclear reactors.

Environmentalists who want to curtail the use of nuclear power in the U.S. agree with the assessment that the energy form will live on.

Don Safer of the Sierra Club says considering nuclear’s roller-coaster history, he figures it’s just a matter of time before the building boom resumes.

“It’s not over ‘til it’s over,” he says.

 

Why car insurance rates vary wildly by state

Mon, 2015-04-27 02:00

A new report from InsuranceQuotes shows that North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Maine have at least one thing in common: drivers there pay the least for auto insurance. In North Carolina, insurance rates ran 41 percent less than the national average. Highest was Michigan, where drivers paid more the double the national average for car insurance. There is a method to all of this insurance madness.

Next time you're in your car driving down the road, take a look at the billboards. Do you see a lot of ads for what are known as ambulance chasers? That might explain a thing or two about your insurance rates.

Robert Hoyt, who teaches risk management and insurance at the University of Georgia, says your state's legal environment has a lot to do with it. In other words, how likely drivers are to sue each other. Hoyt says when they're setting rates, insurance companies track all of this, even how often juries decide to award for damages.

Also, state laws factor in.

"The states that have the highest auto insurance costs do happen to be the no-fault states," he says. No-fault means your insurance company covers your injuries.

Laura Adams, senior analyst with InsuranceQuotes, says often it's just a matter of population density.

"The more cars, the more accidents that happen," she says.

She says that's why people in urban areas pay a lot more for car insurance.

 

Proposal would cut military pension and add a 401(k)

Mon, 2015-04-27 02:00

As it stands today, servicemembers who advance through the Department of Defense are entitled to a pension of 50 percent of their income at retirement after 20 years of service. But a new proposal making its way through Congress would lower that to 40 percent and add a 401(k) savings account. 

Some veterans' groups, like the Military Officers Association of America, oppose the change and say the 20-year pension is an incentive for top officers to stay in the service.

"We're concerned that the commission's blended retirement benefit would fail to provide the necessary draw to retain those service members," says Col. Mike Barron, deputy director of government relations for MOAA. 

But the report from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission suggested this plan as a way to both save costs and increase incentives for servicemembers who don't make it to 20 years. Other, more controversial proposals—like overhauling the TriCare health system used by servicemembers—are stalled.

Todd Harrison, Senior Fellow for Defense Budget Studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, says it's clear that the 20-year pension isn't a good incentive, because only 17 percent of servicemembers get to that point.

"They are pushing out some of their best people with this inflexible, industrial age career model," Harrison says.

Harrison also notes that not all veterans' groups oppose the change; others, like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, support it.

Why car insurance rates vary wildly by state

Mon, 2015-04-27 02:00

A new report from InsuranceQuotes shows that North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Maine have at least one thing in common: drivers there pay the least for auto insurance. In North Carolina, insurance rates ran 41 percent less than the national average. Highest was Michigan, where drivers paid more the double the national average for car insurance. There is a method to all of this insurance madness.

Next time you're in your car driving down the road, take a look at the billboards. Do you see a lot of ads for what are known as ambulance chasers? That might explain a thing or two about your insurance rates.

Robert Hoyt, who teaches risk management and insurance at the University of Georgia, says your state's legal environment has a lot to do with it. In other words, how likely drivers are to sue each other. Hoyt says when they're setting rates, insurance companies track all of this, even how often juries decide to award for damages.

Also, state laws factor in.

"The states that have the highest auto insurance costs do happen to be the no-fault states," he says. No-fault means your insurance company covers your injuries.

Laura Adams, senior analyst with InsuranceQuotes, says often it's just a matter of population density.

"The more cars, the more accidents that happen," she says.

She says that's why people in urban areas pay a lot more for car insurance.

 

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