Marketplace - American Public Media

Healthcare expenditures are picking up again

Wed, 2015-07-29 03:00

When it comes to healthcare, it’s generally understood we have a spending problem. Namely, we spend too much.

A new report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services suggests expenditures are picking back up after a recent historic slowdown.

But even with the uptick, these numbers suggest the nation is making progress.

Cornell economist Sean Nicholson says he can see some good news tucked into this economic forecast.

“We should take some solace that we are seeing 5 percent projected increases,” he says.

In the 30 years running up to the Recession, the nation saw a 9 percent annual increase on average. According to this new report, over the next decade, we’re talking a 5.8 percent average.

So what’s changed?

Vanderbilt health economist Melinda Buntin says slow economic growth, higher insurance deductibles and new incentives that pay doctors and hospitals for valuable care rather than volume all are at play.

“What’s going on is that all of these things together are combing to create a climate in which different types of decisions are being made by thousands of decision-makers in the healthcare system,” she says.

This slowdown has gone on long enough that “I think we are seeing a new normal in healthcare,” says Buntin. “We can see it as evidence of a fundamental shift in the healthcare system.”

That said, the report points out prescription drug spending projections have risen sharply at more than 12 percent, the highest jump since 2002.

Evidence to Buntin that this shift will only last as long as the country keeps trying to control spending.

Should law schools pay if students don't get jobs?

Wed, 2015-07-29 02:00

Law school doesn't look like a great deal for many students. Tuition keeps going up, which means bigger loans to pay off.

But the job market for lawyers remains weak. At lower-tier schools, less than half of students end up with jobs as attorneys, according to a recent report from an American Bar Association Task Force.

Steven Harper, author of "The Lawyer Bubble," argues that those schools should be held accountable. The ABA task force proposes less-dramatic measures, like giving students more information about their prospective debt load. 

Click the media player above to hear more.

Poultry industry seeks ways to prevent more bird flu

Wed, 2015-07-29 02:00

Poultry industry groups and government officials continue a two-day convocation on bird flu in Iowa on Wednesday, trying to understand caused an outbreak this spring to reach such a dramatic scale that it cost Midwestern poultry farmers 48 million birds. They’re also evaluating how to mitigate a potential outbreak this fall when migratory birds, the virus carriers, take wing.

One of the tools poultry producers may consider is a vaccine. “We have a seed strain that appears to be fairly successful with reference to chickens," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a Congressional hearing last week. "It's now in the process of being tested for turkey.”

Another focus is biosecurity on farms. That might mean disinfecting delivery trucks that service multiple facilities, or keeping wild birds out of barns.

“These were all things that were done on paper, and whether or not they were done in practice is debatable,” says ag consultant Tom Elam of FarmEcon LLC.

Elan said producers may have gotten sloppy about biosecurity measures because they had gone so long without problems.

Elam doubts an outbreak in the fall would be as extensive as the spring outbreak. But he’s nevertheless glad the USDA is planning for a “worst case scenario” of managing 500 bird flu detections simultaneously — double the amount in the spring. The agency is adding 450 temporary workers in case of a large-scale fall outbreak.

Elam says the agency was too slow this spring to euthanize birds and to clean up infected facilities.

“Perhaps we saw those houses that weren't cleaned up properly responsible for spreading the infection to nearby farms,” he says.

The government response to bird flu is the subject of a Congressional agriculture committee hearing Thursday.

A low energy solution for drying clothes faster

Wed, 2015-07-29 02:00

Clothes dryers in the United States use about as much energy each year as the entire state of Massachusetts, according to an estimate from EnergyStar — which is part of the reason the Department of Energy is trying to develop more efficient home appliances.

Among those making significant progress is Ayyoub Momen, a staff scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Like most Americans, he owns a dryer. But he says he hates using it. He knows it's an energy hog, and it takes so long to dry anything.

Then, one day, he was thinking about ultrasonic humidifiers — a kind of portable room humidifier that uses high-frequency vibrations to turn water into steam without getting hot. And Momen thought: What if I use the same technology on a piece of wet fabric?

“The result was so amazing. It was like mind-blowing," he says. "In less than 14 seconds, I could dry a piece of fabric from completely being wet. If I wanted to do the same thing with heat, it’s taking somewhere between 20 to 40 minutes."

Momen’s current prototype looks nothing like a conventional dryer. It's basically a small circle of metal called a transducer that he plugs into a battery. He then douses a small piece of fabric in water and places it on top.

Ayyoub Momen's current prototype only dries a small circle of fabric. As soon as the transducer is plugged in, the fabric starts sizzling without getting much hotter.

Emily Siner

The fabric sizzles and steams, and in about 20 seconds, it's dry. Momen says it uses barely any energy.

"This dryer technology has the potential to save somewhere [around] 1 percent of the overall energy consumption of the United States," he says.

Venkat Venkatakrishnan, director of research and development at GE Appliances, calls the technology a "big breakthrough."

"It is not very far-fetched, not very difficult to do," he says. "But it is not an idea that everybody thinks of, because there is a lot of science that goes into it.”

GE has partnered with Oak Ridge to help put the ultrasonic dryer on the market. They still have to test this technology on bigger batches of clothes and build a more sophisticated prototype. But, he says, "I think we are about four years away from being able to buy this dryer at a Home Depot or at Lowe’s or any appliance retailer.”

He doesn't know how much they'll cost yet, and people might not run out to buy what could be an expensive purchase. Still, Venkatakrishnan thinks consumers will be willing to pay more to dry their clothes much faster — and, of course, save money on their electricity bill.


A toilet for all techies

Wed, 2015-07-29 02:00

There's really no other way to describe them — the toilets of Japan are fabulous, and, high tech.

"Let's say you don't want to lift up the lid yourself, because it's dirty," explains translator Kaede Kawauchi. "Then you can just use the remote control to press a button and then it just kind of lifts up."

In Japan, toilets come with remote controls.

Toto has customers work with "advisers" to help figure out which product is right for them. (Sally Herships/Marketplace)

And at the Tokyo showroom of Toto, one of Japan's largest toilet manufacturers, you can have your pick. If Apple built a toilet store, this is what it might look like — white and shiny, but cleaner. Nariko Yamashita, who works in public relations for Toto explains a complex looking remote control — one with 22 buttons. 

Sally Herships

She presses one and a tube appears from under the seat spraying water. Not only do these toilets have built in bidets, you can also, says Yamashita, adjust the water temperature, get a water massage, or choose a specific flushing option depending on how much toilet paper you require.

But most U.S. consumers haven't been to Japan and don't know there's a whole wide high tech toilet world out there — The high tech toilet is something that has to be tried to be really appreciated, says Bill Strang, president of operations for Toto in the Americas.

So why haven't high tech commodes taken off in the U.S. yet? In Japan, Toto had a big leg up, says Strang. The Japanese love having options and Toto's Washlet is probably the best known model. It's a toilet seat with features like a drier for your nether regions and the option to play sounds in case you need some sonic camouflage for your toileting activities.

Sally Herships

The average price for a Washlet is around $600 but you still need a toilet and a tank. In Japan you can end spending as much as $2,700 on your toilet, and spend consumers do. Since Toto launched the Washlet in 1980 the company has sold 36 million units. Says Yamashita, 76 percent of Japanese households own one.

Even before the company went high tech it already was in the business of making toilets so consumers were familiar with the brand.

"I can tell you how this Washlet will work. I can tell you about the spray wand and how it's going to use a warm water wash to clean you off and how it will oscillate and pulsate and how if it doesn't hit the right spot you can move it around and get it to hit the right spot with that spray rinse ... I often say that I can tell you about the Washlet, but until you can actually test drive it and understand that experience you will then be able to say in your heart what it really brings to you in way of value," he says.

Says Strang, Toto's U.S. sales are increasing by 20 percent a year, so it's possible his pitch is working and that American consumers are now more carefully considering their commodes.

High-tech clothes dryers ... and toilets

Wed, 2015-07-29 01:23
48 million

That's how many chickens were taken out by the last bout of bird flu that swept the Midwest. And now, poultry industry groups and government officials have been meeting in Iowa to prepare for the next possible wave of the disease, as migratory birds, the virus carriers, will take wing in the fall.


That's how many buttons can be found on the remote control in Japan for ... a toilet. High-tech toilets have become popular in that country, but have yet to find a market in the U.S. But that may be changing. Toto, a popular brand, reports that U.S. sales are increasing 20 percent a year.

20 seconds

That's how quickly Ayyoub Momen, a staff scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, can dry a piece of cloth with his protoype for a clothes dryer that utilizes high-frequency vibrations to turn water into steam. The technology is being developed for a full-fledged appliance and has the potential to save 1 percent of energy consumption in the U.S.


That's how much Baltimore resident Michael Ghebru says he lost in liquor and food when his store, Doc’s Liquors, was looted during the riots surrounding the death of Freddie Gray. Some 50 rioters, including customers that Ghebru recognized, tore through his store in April. And due to laws about liquor stores in residential neighborhoods, he would also be out of luck when it comes to collecting insurance for his business from the city of Baltimore.

Lebanon copes with garbage crisis and sustainability

Tue, 2015-07-28 13:52

Something stinks in Lebanon. For a week, 3,000 tons of garbage per day have piled up on the streets, left to rot in the heat wave while Beirut sorts out problems with waste disposal.

The trash crisis prompted demonstrations and protests, and some residents burned garbage in the cans, sending toxic fumes into the already reeking city.

The government has reportedly come to an agreement to start picking up trash again, but even the solutions seem unsustainable. Waste is carted to new locations, shifting trash problem from place to place. 

Behind the week of stench in Beirut is a road closure blocking Lebanon's Naameh  landfill — an overflowing disposal ground that was initially supposed to be a temporary solution. 

Brooke Anderson, a Beirut-based reporter for the BBC, says that part of Lebanon's trash problem is rooted in other systemic issues, including a lack of clean drinking water and a real recycling program. 

"The tap water doesn't taste good enough to drink, so everyone drinks bottled water," Anderson says. "The bottles pile up.... It piled up very quickly."

Combine the extra-high amount of waste with a lack of a well-running recycling program, and the garbage problem grows and overflows into streets, slowing traffic and disrupting business. 

For now, government-contracted Sukleen is back on the streets picking up the heaps of trash and carting it to undisclosed locations, but people in Lebanon are eager to find more permanent and sustainable solutions to an ongoing problem.

How did Volkswagen conquer the world?

Tue, 2015-07-28 13:00

Volkswagen's very public goal has been to be the biggest car maker in the world. And it reached that goal in the first six months of this year, selling 5.04 million vehicles and moving past Toyota.

If you think of Volkswagen’s car brands as if they were part of a stock portfolio, it would be pretty diverse. And that’s a good thing, says Thilo Koslowski, vice president and automotive practice leader at Gartner. 

"As a large company that owns multiple brands, it is important that you have to have a balanced approach,” he says, “a premium brand and volume brands.”

For Volkswagen, that volume brand is Volkswagen. Audi, another Volkswagen brand, has had very healthy profit margins. And, “a company like Porsche, which is also branded within the Volkswagen group, has the highest profit margin of traditional auto manufacturers that is out there,” Koslowski says.

But just because a car company is number one in sales doesn’t mean it’s making money, Steven Szakaly, chief economist with the National Automobile Dealers Association, says.

“Realistically it doesn’t really mean anything in terms of profitability, popularity of models,” he says.

Szakaly says Volkswagen’s aggressive global push adding factories and brands could work against the company: “A large system that produces a large volume of motor vehicles is also very expensive to run and it’s also very expensive to maintain.”

But that global expansion got it to number one. Mike Austin, editor in chief of, says the company’s sales in China have been a major plus. In Europe, of course, it’s a slam dunk. On the other hand, he says the company is struggling in the U.S.

“They only have about 30,000 units so far this year,” he says. “It’s one-sixth the size of Toyota in terms of sales.” He says Volkswagen and Toyota are so close, it’s anyone's game for the next six months.

Microsoft hoping for a revival with Windows 10

Tue, 2015-07-28 13:00

Microsoft is rolling out its new operating system, Windows 10, tomorrow. Analysts say the company is hoping for a smooth deployment that might mend fences with customers and businesses still bitter about the last big update in 2012.

Microsoft is giving the new operating system away for free as an update, a first for the company, trying to lure back consumers who gave up on Windows for mobile devices, says David Johnson,  a principal analyst at Forrester. 

“Microsoft faces an uphill battle here to win tablet users back to the Microsoft platform, and phones back to the Microsoft platform," he says. "So it’s by no means certain.”

Windows 10 aims to synchronize the PC and mobile experience, says Darren Hardman, COO for North America at Avanade. But he knows Windows 10 won’t send consumers flocking to buy Windows phones. Avanade is a Microsoft partner that helps deploy Windows software and other tech for large corporations.

“Absolutely we expect for the clients to continue using multiple sources of brands and devices — that’s just the world we live in," Hardman says. "And I think we’ll be successful, both Microsoft and Avanade, if we’re helping our clients support interoperability across devices into a strong Windows platform.”

Alan Lepofsky of Constellation Research says the focus in Windows 10 on allowing users to move "seamlessly" from device to device reflects a changing Microsoft that’s more responsive to consumers, and to the reality of how businesses use technology.

“I think we saw a decade of Microsoft a little bit stagnant," he says, "and I think in the last two to three’s a new Microsoft.”

The Fed and your feelings

Tue, 2015-07-28 13:00

Consumer confidence is one measure of how we feel about the economy – and our confidence was way down in July. 

You might think the Federal Reserve, which is meeting this week on interest rates, would be concerned with how we feel. But while feelings are important, on their own, an economy they do not make.  

“Consumer confidence is a low-ranking indicator to policymakers at the Federal Reserve,” says Richard DeKaser, corporate economist for Wells Fargo & Company.  “The Fed’s primary focus remains on two indicators: the labor market and inflation.”

That is, of course because the Fed is legally obligated to deal with the labor market and inflation.  DeKaser says consumer confidence tends to follow these things, not predict them. And when it comes to feelings about the future,  he says “people say one thing and then do another.”

“Consumer confidence measures don’t have  such a strong link to economic performance,” says Carl Tannenbaum, senior economist for Northern Trust.  “They don’t lead the way you think they might.”

But, he says “ignore them at your peril.” Just because the Fed doesn’t parse them , doesn’t mean your feelings aren’t important.

“We should care about feelings because consumers have been excellent predictors of recession,” says Lynn Franco, director of Economic Indicators for the Conference Board, a key source of consumer confidence data. “They can give us advance notice of when the economy is heading south.” 

Consumer expectations tend to be a little ahead of the game when it comes to the bounce back from a recession, Franco says. She says consumer confidence is also "a good indicator of people’s willingness to buy.” 

Northern Trust’s Tannenbaum says the Fed does pay attention to our feelings on some level, because they reflect how the Fed's message is being received.

“When the Fed communicates with the public, they’re figuratively trying to put their arm around our shoulders and assure us that what they’re doing will be something that pleases us all,” he says. 

So consumer confidence is, in a way, also a sign of how well we feel the Fed is doing its job. 

California leads in lowering health insurance premiums

Tue, 2015-07-28 13:00

Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee is wearing a big smile these days.

"We've turned expectations on their head and delivered affordable rates for all Californians," he says. "That's a big deal."

Lee is excited because for two years in a row, premium increases on California's healthcare exchange are about 4 percent - well below the 10 percent increases California consumers paid in the years running up to the Affordable Care Act.  That ranks among the top performances compared to other states that have released rates, according to industry group Avalere.

California does have an edge.

Insurers want to play in this lucrative pool, with two new companies signing up earlier this month. The state embraced Obamacare, giving Covered California a lot of authority most states declined to give their exchanges. That includes negotiating directly with the insurers.

Lee chalks up a chunk of their success to this power. But this is negotiating with a twist.

"Health plans in California win by enrollment, and what we want to do is help them win, get people enrolled in the plans that get them the care they need," he says.

The secret sauce, says Lee, is rather than pound premium prices down like hamburger patties, the exchange shares data with companies.

The goal is not to find the lowest price, but the right price. That means urging companies to come in around the same premium, so nobody gets rich, but nobody loses their shirt either.

Kaiser Permanente's Bill Wehrle says when he's come in too high, he's been told to "sharpen his pencils" or risk losing business.

"It's never something you want to hear," Wehrle says. "But it's certainly important to know, because it does force us to go back and figure out whether there's anything more we can squeeze. And I don't want to get into details, but that's happened."

Covered California says this kind of back and forth has shaved $200 million off of insurance premiums this year.

While rates will go up for many, 20 percent of consumers will pay less, most between 1 and 4% less.

Covered California looks at these results and thinks the federal exchange,, should follow suit.

"I don't see the federal government being in a position to actively negotiate with insurers," says Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Levitt says it's hard to imagine the federal government getting approval to negotiate on behalf of 30-some states.

But he does think could standardize plans, another essential ingredient that's helped keep rates down in California. While the ACA requires basic benefits for all plans, Covered California goes a step further and standardizes things like deductibles and co-pays, what Levitt calls bells and whistles.

"It's a classic strategy for companies to add bells or whistles to their products and get consumers to pay more," he says.

So in California, here's the trade-off: Consumers have fewer options, but it's easier to shop, because they are comparing based on price and networks of doctors and hospitals.

But if the goal of Obamacare is to get lots of people to sign up, Avik Roy, with the Manhattan Institute, questions the approach.

"Some consumers might want a different range of copays and deductibles," he says. "These things can't be done if the government is preemptively limiting the range of products they can choose from."

It's a classic free-market versus regulated market argument. The question for the Obama administration is: Does it want to enter a fight over limiting consumer choice in the name of lower healthcare costs?


Twitter's earnings report in one tweet

Tue, 2015-07-28 13:00

Twitter reported profits on Tuesday afternoon. Turns out it's doing pretty well; revenue is up 61 percent. No news on a full-time CEO. Boom.

140 Characters.

Not counting the bit after "boom."

Rio de Janeiro adapts as it prepares for the 2016 Olympics

Tue, 2015-07-28 13:00

The Summer Olympics will be coming to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016, but is the city prepared for it? Since the country won the bidding process, it has undergone all sorts of economic changes. Juliana Barbassa, author of "Dancing with the Devil in the City of God: Rio de Janeiro on the Brink," has been covering Rio de Janeiro's evolution as it prepares for an influx of visitors and worldwide attention. 

Barbassa grew up in Rio and returned in 2010. As she tells Marketplace, she'd noticed that Brazil had transitioned from political instability and economic difficulty to an effervescent country that was evolving.

“As a journalist, this was a big story. Brazil had always been the country of the future and now it looked like the future had arrived…or was arriving, and I wanted to be there to cover that story,” Barbassa says.

The country has been preparing for the Olympics by building transportation systems, adding hotel rooms and expanding capacity at stadium, she says. However, these changes are benefiting the already wealthy west side, and ignoring the needs of the working class and poor, Barbassa adds.

“I feel like those events were...promoted to the Brazilian population as ways of showing the world that we’ve made it," she says. "That’s what people wanted. What they had not known (was) the sheer financial cost of building all that infrastructure,” she says. 

Just a few years ago, Barbassa says, Rio de Janeiro was once an optimistic place with economic opportunity, but it is now stagnant. Inflation rates are ticking back up and the president’s approval ratings are very low, and “there’s a deep ambivalence about hosting these big events in the country that Brazil is today,” she says.

Lions, and Tigers, and Bears! Well, just Lions

Tue, 2015-07-28 12:43

Yelp is good for a couple of things — finding restaurants in your neighborhood, locating the nearest free Wi-Fi. Now, it would seem public shaming could be added to that list.

Walter J. Palmer, a dentist from Bloomington, MN, was on a safari hunt in Zimbabwe when he shot a lion with a bow and arrow, according to the StarTribune. Palmer had paid $54,000 for a professionally guided hunting trip. Unfortunately for both him and his prey, that lion turned out to be the beloved Cecil, a resident of a national park who was part of an Oxford University research project.

As our colleagues at Minnesota Public Radio reported, Palmer said he had no idea of the lion’s importance in a written statement released Tuesday. His guides allegedly lured Cecil out of the park, and then removed his collar.

In the statement according to MPR, Palmer also apologized for the killing, writing “...I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion."  

But that hasn’t halted the vitriol of the internet, with Yelp users taking to Palmer’s dentistry page to voice their frustrations. 

"You should pay for what you have done, and you should financially pay to support Lion Conservation!" says user Charmie P. in one review. 

PODCAST: Emergency Grexit

Tue, 2015-07-28 03:00

How far did Greece go in planning to possibly give up the euro? More on that. Plus, we talk to Lorena Ascencios, head wine-buyer at Astor Wines & Spirits, about corkscrews for our on-going Pro Tool series.

Why simple is best when it comes to corkscrews

Tue, 2015-07-28 03:00

Lorena Ascencios

Justin Ho/Marketplace

As part of our series called Pro Tool: Tools of the Professional, we're looking for those must-have devices in the possession of anyone in the workforce, be they a hair dresser, dancer or writer.

The fourth item in our series? A bottle opener. 

Professional: Lorena Ascencios, wine buyer at Astor Wines & Spirits in Manhattan. 

Pro Tool: Waiter's corkscrew

Why it's a Pro Tool: "It kind of looks like a pocket knife, you can fit it in your pocket. It's discreet and it's small and it fits just about anywhere ... But ultimately the most important aspect of this is the wine in and of itself. "

Click on the audio player below to hear Ascencios explain how to open a bottle of wine with the waiter's corkscrew — and why you may not want to pop the cork. 


Will Twitter's midlife crisis bring a fancy new CEO?

Tue, 2015-07-28 02:00

The pressure is on Twitter's interim CEO, Jack Dorsey ahead of the company's earning reports. Many are wondering whether Dorsey's is fully committed to his role after his other company, Square, reportedly filed for an IPO confidentially. We talk with Will Oremus, Senior Tech Writer at Slate, about Jack Dorsey and the once and future challenges of the company. 

Click the media player above to hear host Ben Johnson in conversation with Will Oremus.

"I think this is a rare case where a new CEO might actually have a chance to make a difference," says Oremus, due to the fact that the company is in a transitional period. "In startup years, Twitter's kind of having a midlife crisis. It went through the big early boom years. It started to mature and make money, but now it really has to grow into something much bigger if it's going to satisfy investors."

The dual challenges facing Twitter are to grow advertising and users, says Oremus — Falling short of expectations after its IPO that Twitter would be the next Facebook, the company is now wanting to focus more on reach than number of active tweeters. 

In light of this shift, Oremus points to Twitter's new initiative, Project Lightening, as a potential opportunity to pivot Twitter from a ubiquitous social media site to more of a media platform. Project Lightening allows users to "to follow events and then you'll see tweets curated by human editors with the help of software so you won't have to be a pro Twitter user to log in and see what's going on."

With anxious investors, a revolving door of CEOs, and a need to re-think Twitter's role in the digital media sphere, Oremus says, "the Twitter board really wants someone who can put his whole life into this role." 

While Oremus says the challenge of ousting Dorsey is that he is such a popular figure within the company, Twitter has to do some serious soul searching to overcome the ghosts of Twitter past and re-position itself for a new Twitter future. 





For gay rights groups, victory could come at a price

Tue, 2015-07-28 02:00

Since the Supreme Court same-sex marriage ruling a month ago, gay rights advocates have been shifting the conversation to discrimination. A new bill in congress, introduced late last week, would ban discrimination based on sexuality or gender identity.

At the same time, same-sex marriage opponents have been talking about religious accommodations for those who don't want to participate in same-sex marriages, such as bakers who do not want to make wedding cakes for gay couples.

These developments come at a critical moment for gay rights advocates. There are concerns that they might have trouble fundraising, now that their biggest battle is over.

"Marriage equality is such a galvanizing issue, and people came to us and said 'I want to be a part of that movement,'" says Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois.

Since the Illinois state legislature legalized same-sex marriage two years ago, Cherkasov says fundraising has gotten tougher. "We have to work harder right now for every single dollar that we raise," he says.

"There's palpable fear across the LGBT movement that people are going to think ... that somehow the fight is over," says Matt Foreman, program director at the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund. The San Francisco-based foundation is one of the top donors to the LGBT movement.

Foreman expects fundraising will drop after the marriage victory. The question is by how much.

"There's a lot of work going on ... to try to figure out how to sustain our movement," Foreman says. "One is research into what motivates both current and prospective donors."

The Washington D.C.-based Freedom To Marry is one of the groups to which Foreman's foundation gives money. A few weeks after the same-sex marriage ruling, the group's founder, Evan Wolfson, announced that he is shutting down the organization, which, by its own estimate, had raised almost $60 million during its existence to campaign for same-sex marriage.

"There's been some admiration for the idea of an organization being able to say: 'We achieved our goal. We're going to shut down. We're not just going to muddle around and try to figure out what else we can do,'" Wolfson says.

But he is quick to say that while shutting down is the right move for his group, because its one goal was same-sex marriage, other gay rights groups should continue to address other areas of discrimination and to be sure they are getting their message out.

The day of the same-sex marriage ruling, many gay rights advocates not only celebrated the ruling, but pointed to other discrimination as their next battle front. Cherkasov, of Equality Illinois, has a similar message.

"In the majority of the country, it's legal to fire a gay person the morning after he gets married and brings a picture of his husband to his desk," Cherkasov says.

Whatever the cause, pivoting to other battles is important if a movement and the organizations connected to it are to survive, says Douglas McAdam, a professor of sociology at Stanford University, who has spent decades studying political and social movements.

"The standard thing is for an advocacy organization that achieves its goal to kind of rebrand itself," McAdam says, adding that there are plenty of cautionary examples throughout history of organizations that don't.

For example, the main goal of the women's suffrage movement of the early 1900s was the right to vote. Once that was achieved, "the movement did not identify new goals to continue to mobilize people and motivate fundraising," McAdam says. It took decades more before women's rights were being talked about again, in terms of equal pay and other discrimination, he says.

Evan Wolfson is optimistic about the gay rights movement's future. He says the good news is that gay advocacy groups are now in a better position for the battles ahead than when he started Freedom to Marry in 2001.

"The marriage conversation has brought many more people into our work, and into our movement, and into the discussion. So there are even more people to reach out to and help them understand why we need to keep going and do the next step and the next step," Wolfson says.

Those new people, he says, can be the source of new fundraising.

Homes and trucks: friends forever?

Tue, 2015-07-28 02:00

Tuesday morning brings Ford’s quarterly earnings report, as well as the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices. The two events have a stronger economic link than one might think, because home building affects the Big Three automakers’ big time moneymakers, pickup trucks.

If builders are busy, they’re also confident enough about the future to upgrade to pickup trucks like the Chevy Silverado, Ford F-150 and Dodge Ram that haul lumber and supplies. And with home building on a post-crisis upswing, it looks like beat-up trucks are getting traded in.

“Pickup trucks got older and now for people who are users and put a lot of wear and tear on the trucks and a lot of mileage on the trucks, there’s a replacement cycle,” says auto analyst Maryann Keller.

There could be room for more growth in home construction too. According to housing economist Michael Carliner, there could be a 20 percent jump in single-family home construction from this year to next.

“We’re still building at a rate that’s well below what the underlying fundamentals would dictate,” he explains.

A further uptick in housing starts could put money not just in pockets of construction workers, but ultimately auto workers too.

Sports broadcaster takes note of the Special Olympics

Tue, 2015-07-28 02:00

First Lady Michelle Obama was in Los Angeles this weekend to speak at the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics World Games. Boasting more than 6,500 athletes, it’s the biggest sporting event in the city since the 1984 Olympics. And officials say it’ll pump more than $100 million into LA's economy. And it could be an economic boost for others, too.

I went down there to check it out and found that the Uytengsu aquatic center was almost at capacity when I got down to the USC campus. Australian swimmer, Kieran Corry, had just gotten out of the pool after helping his 4x100 relay team win its heat. He's from Salamander Bay in New South Wales, Australia. He's been swimming since he was five and started competing a while ago.

“It’s a lot different from what it was like when I was about nine or ten," he tells me. "We're a long way from home but we've been here for a little while and it just feels great to be competing."

Corry is 23 now, and says the games have grown up with him. "I remember the last ten years of competition and Special Olympics has become a lot more recognized," he says. "A lot more people are aware of what we are and what we do. Lots more than what it was when I started out." 

He also tells me it wasn’t cheap to get his team over here. And it’s not like sponsors were knocking down doors. "We did a lot of fundraisers back home and got some funding from some local businesses in Australia," he explains. "It was enough to get us over here.”

Athletes from 177 countries will compete in events this week. And ESPN took note. The sports broadcasting body has a studio on site and produces a daily highlight segment.

Vicki Michaelis, a professor of sports media at the University of Georgia, says ESPN might be trying to get a foothold on any part of the Olympic market — one that’s been dominated by NBC. Michaelis knows a thing or two about that Olympic market. She was the lead Olympics reporter at USA TODAY for 12 years.

“When you see some of the athletes that are front and center — Michael Phelps, Abby Wambach, Michelle Kwan — these are Olympic athletes that are very marketable, and I think this is a way for ESPN to grab some of that share, as well," she says.

"I think what they're seeing is that there is an untapped market," she tells me. "And I think that across sports we're seeing that this message of acceptance and inclusion is something that everyone in sports needs to embrace and realize that this is where the audience wants sports to go." 

Michaelis says at the end of the day, disabled or not, these athletes are just competing. "These are athletes and they have compelling stories, and that is what audiences love about sports," she explains. "When you look at the Olympics, it's all about the stories and how those athletes and teams got there. Those are the things that fans remember from the Olympics."

ESPN isn’t alone in entering the Special Olympics World Games marketplace. There’s a lot of corporate good will to be had here. Toyota, Coca-Cola and Disney are out in full force, too.

The games wrap up on Sunday, August 2nd.