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Shelling out for a BG takeover

Wed, 2015-04-08 11:00

Oil company Shell is teaming up with BG, a gas company. It’s just one of a number of mergers in the oil and gas business that are either being considered, or are in the works.

Shell will reportedly pay $70 billion for the company, one of the largest mergers in the industry since ExxonMobil.

The industry is under immense pressure to consolidate — but are some sectors under more pressure than others?

Click the audio player above to listen to the full story.

Watching the Apple Watch

Wed, 2015-04-08 03:00

Appointments for interested consumers to check out the Apple Watch start on Friday in Apple Stores. But a select few have already been wearing them. Musician Pharrel was apparently wearing one the other night while serving as a judge on NBC's singing show The Voice.

Editor-in-Chief of the website The Verge Nilay Patel has written a big feature about wearing the Apple Watch throughout the day.

Click on the multimedia player above to hear our conversation about whether you should invest in an Apple Watch. 

PODCAST: Death and taxes and more

Wed, 2015-04-08 03:00

Shell is buying a company once called British Gas for just under $70 billion. BG Group is a major supplier of liquified gas to North America, but it also increases Royal Dutch Shell's crude oil portfolio by nearly 20 percent. More on that. Let's turn to Chicago where we find  Lindsey Piegza, Chief Economist, Managing Director at Sterne Agee, to check some dominant themes in markets and the economy this morning. Plus, we read a little e-book called "As Certain as Death: Quotations About Taxes" days before the big filing day. 

Uber picks up more corporate business

Wed, 2015-04-08 02:00

An increasing number of workers are turning to Uber to get around. The ride-sharing company handled 47 percent of car rides expensed through the processing company Certify last month, up from 15 percent in March 2014. Rohit Verma, a professor at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration says since they’re not spending their own money, business customers are generally more focused on convenience than price.

In many cities in the US, using Uber  can be more convenient than hailing a taxi on the street. It's certainly more convenient payment and tip-wise. And finally, to use a buzzword loved by Silicon Valley, Uber can provide a seamless experience both for the user and the company: if a firm signs up for Uber Business, the worker doesn't even have to file an expense report. 

Click on the media player above to hear more. 


Matt Walsh on politics, comedy and Veep

Wed, 2015-04-08 02:00

Comedian and actor Matt Walsh was at SXSW Interactive in March to talk about VEEP, the HBO comedy series in which he stars.

Walsh is also co-founder of the Upright Citizens Brigade, an improv comedy troupe and director of A High Road, an independent feature film. He is currently working on his second film, A Better You, which he reportedly shot digitally in 10 days.

We caught up with him to talk about politics, comedy and how Veep portrays Washington DC.

How has the internet made your job as a comedian easier? Or harder?

Easier or harder. Well, I was recently talking with a screenwriter friend of mine. One of the interesting things about technology is things like Google and texting have really challenged plot devices. Like if you can imagine a film noir movie where people could just text each other? You would never tail someone, you would never meet them in an alley.

I had to get to a phone...

Yeah, exactly. You don’t run out after the press conference and get into a phone. And then in terms of being like an actor, I guess it makes you …. you kind of have to be engaged, I think, with your audience. I do twitter. I like twitter because it's mostly one way. You don't feel the burden of, oh, I have to get back.

What about twitter as a form of comedy? Does it have any similarities with improv?

It does in that some days I’ll just try to tweet something. For example, I’ll just start writing and not thinking about it and then I’ll go back and edit it. So you're sort of improvising your thought. Some people who are great at twitter, they have like 10 jokes banked in their drafts. I  never do that. Like I see, "Oh that’s a cool picture, and I’ll get rid of it and I am like, I did my homework today ... I am done with my twitter homework."

You have three young kids.

We have three young kids.

What’s funny to you about how they interact with technology?

Well, my son who is seven-and-half, Jude, because I work in Baltimore, he likes to text me on the iPad now, and because of that predictive texting, like if you start the world ‘he’ it'll sometimes say ‘hershey’ or ‘helium’ and then you can just guess. So it’s like, "Hi dad, how are you elephant balloon times square is the house ready boyfriend guerrilla."

Do you know what I mean? But it’s like two or three paragraphs. I think he thinks it makes  him sound smart. So he’s using all these big words and it’s like, "Holy cow! You wrote me five paragraphs." And then I read it and it’s sort of ridiculous.

I heard someone describe Veep as way more realistic than House of Cards when it comes to politics in Washington.


Which seemed like a great compliment and also moderately concerning.  

Yeah. People laugh and say, "Boy, your show is exactly like DC!" And I'm like, "That shouldn't be funny! That’s a really important business you guys should be doing." But again I think that is what comedy does. It reminds you of ... I always say politics is trying to push ideals and yet the reality is it’s like flawed people. You know, [they] get this bill, they are eating barbecued chicken or they are from downstate Illinois, and they are sitting on the senate oversight committee that wants to talk about the navigation on a drone and should we fund it for 2 more billion or not and they are like…

They’re like, "There's barbecue on that page…"

Yeah. They are just normal, flawed human beings. I mean basically we should have a dictator and we’d be all better off.

You heard it here first.


Taking the hydro out of hydropower

Wed, 2015-04-08 02:00

California is facing its worst drought in a thousand years, according the state’s energy commission. The Snowpack in the Sierra Nevadas, which Northern California counts on to replenish reservoirs, is 94% below average.  So what happens when there's less water for hydropower?  

Normally, hydropower fuels 15%, on average, of California’s energy needs, primarily in the northern half of the state.  (The state's Energy commission puts the figure at between 14% and 19%) So with less hydro? “It almost cuts it in half,” says Heather Cooley, director of the Water Program at the non-profit Pacific Institute.  She estimates hydropower's contribution dropped to around 8%. 

 This has meant that over the past few years, California has had to turn to dirtier energy sources to make up for the loss.

 “Generating this electricity from other sources increased greenhouse emissions by up to 8 %,” says Cooley.

Hydropower is cheap, so replacing it has also cost the state.  Cooley estimates Californians have paid $1.4 billion extra for their power over the last three years.  Robert Weisenmiller, chair of California’s Energy Commission, says these effects will persist into next year, costing Californians another $300 million. 

“We will have somewhat dirtier air, somewhat higher prices of power, but the lights will stay on,” he says. Blackouts are not in the cards. 

For farmers in the central valley, Weisenmiller says “it’s a double whammy – higher energy prices and...less farming.”  Some farmers will have to spend more on energy to pump groundwater. 

California’s aggressive move towards renewables has, however, cushioned the blow.  “Solar and wind has more or less doubled, two and half times between 2012 and 2014,” says Weisenmiller. Without that, he says, emissions would be worse. 

How much is that MBA paying off

Wed, 2015-04-08 01:00
$69 billion

 That's how much Royal Dutch Shell is paying for another huge natural gas and oil company BG group. BG provides a lot of the liquefied natural gas in America, and, once closed, this deal will be the second biggest ever, after Exxon's acquisition of Mobil in the late 1990s.


47 percent

 This is the percentage of car expenses for Uber, according to a company called Certify that processes expense reports for other companies. That's up from 15 percent March last year, thanks to the convenient app that eliminate the process of filing for reimbursements. A win-win situation for employees, companies, and of course, Uber.  


$200 million

 That's how much Nestlé, the Swiss food giant plans to spend in growing its flavored water production in America, according to the Wall Street Journal.Sales of water have grown rapidly and could overtake carbonated soft drinks by volume in the U.S. by 2017, according to the Beverage Marketing Corp. Nestlé is doubling down on this trend on launching more flavored version of its sparkling water, a healthier alternative to soda. 


1 percent

 The quit rate for disabled Microsoft employees hired in food service, transportation and events. Now the tech giant is expanding its efforts to hire more diverse workers by recruiting people with autism for 10 full-time positions.



 The median pay bump MBAs enjoyed after earning their degree and earning their degree, according to a Bloomberg survey  People who switched fields after getting their MBA saw an even bigger raise.


54 percent

 That's how many non-working people said they're staying out of the workforce for family reasons, according to a poll New York Times, CBS News and Kaiser Family Foundation. The Upshot explores the work/family balance in Silicon Valley, where the tension can be most severe.

Curiosity changed Brian Grazer's life

Tue, 2015-04-07 13:43

Academy Award-winning producer Brian Grazer worked on films like “Apollo 13” and “Splash” but he’s also behind hit TV shows like “24” and most recently, “Empire.”

Grazer says much of his success comes from an expert ability to ask the right questions, and he’s put together a book with some of his best conversations. Called “A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life,” Grazer's new book isn't so much of a how-to guide as it is a how-to-ask-the-right-questions guide.

When he was young, Grazer’s grandmother praised him for his curiosity and knack for asking good questions. “And I realized I should apply that to every part of my life,” he says. “It made me more than a nobody, it made me someone who was knowledgeable about a lot of different subjects.”

Grazer went on a quest to find experts he could learn from.

“Every two weeks, almost as a religion, or like a religion, I would go meet somebody who was an expert in any of those areas just to ask questions and dig inside what could be the truth of what they’re doing,” he says.   

Early on, he was able to make his way into the office of legendary studio executive Lew Wasserman.

“He went into his office and got a pad of paper and a 2H pencil, and said put the pencil to the paper and it has more value than it did as separate parts,” says Grazer.

Grazer took Wasserman’s advice and not long thereafter, he wrote “Splash.” 

'Blue-collar aristocrats' thrive in German economy

Tue, 2015-04-07 11:07

In a sprawling chemical plant in the town of Leverkusen, in northern Germany, Bayer trains thousands of students every year to become future employees.

Roger Heps, 19, is one of those trainees. He’s learning to run the plant where the primary ingredient in aspirin is manufactured. Heps is in a classic German apprenticeship. It includes on- and off-the-job training, while he studies at a technical college.

Germany’s tracking system divides children up at a young age, placing them on different paths; some students are selected for eight years of university prep school, others for six years leading to an apprenticeship instead of college.

The German apprenticeship system provides for a well-trained workforce, but also gives many young Germans a ticket to the middle class. Youth unemployment in Germany is currently 8 percent, half of what it is in the United States.

Students at Bayer get paid for their work, learn trade skills and are very likely to be hired by the company.

Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH

Companies and the German state cover the cost of students’ training, but students at Bayer also get paid about $1,200 a month.

Since Bayer hires 90 percent of the people it trains, Heps is optimistic he’ll have a good job at the end of his third and final year of training. When he does, he could be earning a starting salary of more than $60,000.

Blue-collar aristocracy

Freider Wolf teaches political science at the University of Heidelberg, one of Germany's most prestigious institutions. He says the 60 percent of Germans who choose the apprenticeship program over traditional college have become the country’s “blue-collar aristocracy.”

"If you can support yourself on industrial income — buy a house, drive a big car — why do you necessarily have to go to university?" Wolf says. "[These workers] are highly skilled and the education they receive is attuned to the needs of these industries."

Freider Wolf, political science professor at the University of Heidelberg.

Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH

Wolf says while there are “intellectual snobs” who look down on young people going to technical colleges, for the most part these future craftsmen are very well respected.

“For the competitiveness of the German economy, they have much more impact than the political scientists we're training here [at university],” he says. “The problem now is that all ways of education compete for a limited number of young people."

Lessons for America

Comparatively, Nancy Hoffman, vice president of the Boston-based nonprofit Jobs for the Future, says the U.S. doesn’t have a strong history of vocational education.

“We don’t have a tradition of employers thinking long-term about building a pipeline of young professionals,” she says. “We have a screen for employees which is, ‘Do you have a four-year college degree?’”

Since the 1970s, Americans have seemingly stigmatized vocational education. Hoffman says in large part that was because of America’s racial history.

"Vocational education was the place where you dumped all the kids who couldn’t do anything else and unfortunately a lot of those kids turned out to be black and brown kids,” Hoffman says. “So, not only did you have a working class stigma but you had a stigma of, ‘You’re sending all of our minority kids to these schools.'”

Instead, says Hoffman, the U.S. should consider adopting a system similar to the German model, something that allows young people to be in a mix of work and school.

Related: Obama proposes free community college plan

“They may turn out to be philosophers and sociologists, but they may also turn out to love engineering and IT,” Hoffman says. “We provide very few opportunities for young people to have that kind of experience."

But American employers have traditionally been slow to invest in apprenticeship programs. In Leverkusen, Beyer apprentice Heps says he is passionate about what he's learning, and he knew he wanted to work here from an early age.

"It started in seventh or eighth grade, and I noticed it was fun to get to know the chemical elements and see the reactions. That was when I decided to work here," he says.

Inside the Beyer complex in Leverkusen, Germany.

Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH

Even though he’s 19, he’s not concerned about changing his mind.

“I'm working at the chemical plant and they are changing the work every week. There's so much going on,” he says.

In the United States, the German model is slowly catching on. Eleven states, including Massachusetts, Virginia and California, are trying to introduce on-the-job training for students in some schools.

This is the third story in a series from WGBH's "On Campus" team, examining higher education in Germany as it compares to the U.S.

Greeks talk reparations while Germans talk euro debt

Tue, 2015-04-07 11:03

Greek officials say Germany should pay the country 278 billion euro — approximately $300 billion — in reparations for its actions during the Nazi occupation of World War II. The claim was announced to a parliamentary committee by a deputy finance minister of Greece’s center-left government.

This is the first time Greece has issued a firm figure for reparations it is demanding; previous Greek governments and parties have also called for World War II reparations from Germany.

Meanwhile, Greece is seeking $7.2 billion in additional emergency bailout money by late spring in order to meet its financial obligations and avoid a default. Greece is negotiating to obtain that tranche in exchange for more specific commitments to Greek economic reform; for its part, Greece wants relief from debts and austerity measures required by the European Union and International Monetary Fund, in order reduce unemployment and poverty and spur economic growth.

The claim for World War II reparations includes the costs of death and destruction, looting of gold and architectural treasures, and a forced loan the Germans extracted from the Greek national bank in 194 — which was used in part to fund Germany's North African campaign.

Reparations payment by Germany would more than offset the 240 billion euro international bailout Greece has received.

“The German war debt reparations is really a separate issue. It’s not part of the current negotiations to keep Athens afloat," says Jan Randolph, an expert on sovereign risk at IHS in London.

Plus, pressing Germany for compensation may not be possible under international law. Reparations were paid by Germany and accepted by Greece and other countries decades ago, under international agreements and treaties in 1960 and 1990.

Andrew Hilton at the Center for the Study of Financial Innovation in London says launching this claim now offers a “publicity” opportunity for Greece’s center-left ruling party.

“It keeps a nice warm glow in the hearts of the Greeks back home. But there is a legal case for it. Greece was not compensated properly after the war, it was a very brutal occupation,” he says.

However, raising the reparations issue now has angered major political figures in Germany. And Greece needs Germany’s cooperation to get more bailout money, and also gain more policy flexibility to maneuver out of the punishing austerity regime adopted by previous governments.

Randolph says Greece’s strategy appears to be to try to gain sympathy and support from other indebted countries that might also resent German power. But so far, it’s not working.

“Countries like Portugal and Ireland that have been through the bailout, they've taken the harsh medicine," she says. "They’re out now, and they don’t see any reason why Greece should be a special case.”

Shipping firms' departures sink Port of Portland

Tue, 2015-04-07 11:02

It’s a weekday morning and a tangle of trucks idles outside a container yard in Portland, Oregon.

The situation is a mess.

Inside a barbed-wire fence, large metal shipping containers are stacked three, even five high. Outside, trucks from around the state are jockeying to get in. Those that can’t are blocking the road.

“Here’s not normal. This is very un-normal,” says Ron Lobdell, one of the many truck drivers waiting in line to drop off a container and pick up another load. “It’s been backed up like this pretty good.”

Normally, Lobdell would be taking containers to the Port of Portland for their journey to Asian markets, but that’s not happening so much any more. That’s because just weeks ago, South Korea-based carrier Hanjin Shipping officially left Portland. The carrier complained it was taking too long to load and unload its ships because of a nearly three-year long, local labor dispute between union members and their employer.

Hanjin accounted for about 80 percent of all the business at Oregon’s only international container port. Now, most of the goods that were heading through the Port of Portland need to travel more than 170 miles north, to the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma.

But that’s proving to be a challenge, says David Braman, the general manager of Mitchell Brothers Truck Line.

“Well, right now just the chaos that’s going on and nobody really knowing how they’re going to their freight moved from point to point," he says.

With Hanjin gone, businesses here have two options to move containers, by rail or truck. But recently, Braman says have been so packed, they’re leaving containers behind.

And, the sudden change in shipping options means there’s also a shortage of trucks.

“We’re getting inundated with phone call after phone call from people looking for rates,” he says, referring to shipping rates, as in how much it’s going to cost a company to truck its containers to and from Seattle/Tacoma.

Trips to Puget Sound shipping terminals can be four times as costly and take three times as long as a trip to the Port of Portland.

“Something’s going to get left behind and we’re all in that same predicament," he says "There’s nobody here that’s up to this speed yet.”

South of Portland, deep in the Willamette Valley in the “grass seed capital of the world,” Shelly Boshart Davis points to a forklift as it whizzes by and into a container backed up against the biggest barn you’ve ever seen.

“This right here, it’s going to go to Japan," she says. "I can just tell by the loading style."

Davis is the vice president of International Sales for Bossco Trading in Salem, Oregon. And for years, Davis has relied on Hanjin to ship grass straw from the Port of Portland.

“We are just one of 13, 14 exporters that bail up the grass straw that’s left behind in the field and we bail it, press it, containerize it and ship it to Japan and Korea for cattle feed,” she says.

Agriculture is a $5 billion industry in Oregon — and about 40 percent of what’s grown in the state is sold outside the country.

Davis says it takes her trucks a day and half to do what they once did in a day, her whole system of moving straw through the ports has been disrupted.

“And so it just logistically is much more of a nightmare for us,” she says.

With Hanjin now gone, the economic fallout may not be limited to the companies already shipping goods. Many in the business community worry it will be also harder to attract new companies to this part of the Pacific Northwest.

One way to ration water: raise the price

Tue, 2015-04-07 11:01

California is in the fourth year of one of the worst droughts in the state's history. California Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered cities to cut water use by 25 percent, but how do you achieve that?

One way would be to change the economics of water use, or in plainer terms, raise its price. But that's harder to do than you might think, especially in California, the land of propositions.

Still, as of July 1, the price of water in Southern California is going up. The Metropolitan Water District, which brings water into Southern California from Northern California and the Colorado River, is charging penalties to utilities in the Los Angeles region that exceed their allotments. The cost of that extra water could be four times the current rate.


One pair of Rand Paul flip flops, please

Tue, 2015-04-07 11:01

Rand Paul officially declared his candidacy for president this afternoon, as you might have heard.

To that end, he needs to raise money. Well, there's a store already up on his campaign website, where memorabilia and trinkets abound.

You can get a pair of Rand Paul socks for $15, and "Stand with Rand" car mats for $70. Other items up for sale include an eye chart, an autographed copy of the constitution and an NSA spy cam blocker.

And —  doesn't seem his campaign staff really thought this through — Stand with Rand flip flops, for the low, low price of just $20.


Also, because "that day" is almost upon us:

If you're young, ambitious, like working with numbers and are looking for a job, the Internal Revenue Service wants you.

Bloomberg reports only 650 of the 37,000 people who collect, process, enforce and refund our taxes are under the age of 25.

More than half IRS employees are over 50-years-old.

Microsoft plans to hire workers with autism

Tue, 2015-04-07 11:00

Aaron Michael Cohen says he was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome when he was a child, and says it’s given him very specific skills.

“Well, I’m good at math and I’m also good noticing patterns,” he says.

Cohen has put those skills to work. Now 27, he’s a data analyst in the IT department at Freddie Mac and looks for irregular patterns that signal a problem with company computers.

These are the types of skills that make Cohen very popular in the tech world. It’s no wonder Microsoft is now reaching out to the autistic community for potential hires as part of a pilot program.

“This is a smart move on Microsoft’s part,” says Ramon Llamas, research manager for IDC.

He says Microsoft is getting a two-for-one deal: it gets some nice PR and finds essential workers.

People with autism fall across a wide spectrum. Some have unique skills, like Cohen, including attention to detail, which is essential for programming tasks like coding.

“Even if a code is off by one space, or one period, that could throw the entire code and it can throw the entire program off,” Llamas says.

Microsoft might have to make some adjustments. Workers with autism may not like the open-plan office, where everybody can hear everybody else. But, if they’re happy, they’re loyal.

“They’re far more likely to stay as long as they’re getting the right kind of understanding and are in the right kind of culture,” says Samantha Crane, director of public policy at
the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

Microsoft isn’t giving interviews about the program yet because it is still in the pilot stage. But in a blog, the company says the disabled workers it has already hired have a quit rate of only one percent. Microsoft plans to start the pilot program in May, with about 10 candidates.

Quiz: What’s the word on 8th graders?

Tue, 2015-04-07 08:53

National vocabulary scores for 4th and 8th graders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading exam rose between 2011 and 2013.

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Hospitals innovate to keep patients from coming back

Tue, 2015-04-07 05:44

Mary Knight is in the lobby of Elyria Medical Center in, Elyria Ohio.  She was admitted three days earlier because of difficulty breathing, and she was waiting for her husband to pick her up. Knight explained she has asthma and a lung disease called COPD.  In her hands is a packet from the hospital containing 30 days of free steroids and antibiotics.

“And then they also gave me a prescription for Cingular which is going to help with the asthma,” Knight said.

Every patient with a diagnosis of COPD at University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center leaves with that packet.  It’s one of the ways they are trying to keep this fragile group of patients from landing back in the hospital and driving up their readmission rates.

The government thinks sick patients are coming back to the hospital too soon. So a couple of years ago, the department of Health and Human Services decided to give hospitals a financial nudge in the right direction – by penalizing the hospitals’ Medicare reimbursements if the number of patients who came back to the hospital within 30 days exceeded the national average. 

It’s supposed to encourage hospitals to find ways to keep patients healthier.  The result is that hospitals are spending lots of money to find ways to keep patients from coming back – but there’s no consensus about what’s best for patients.

Wei Jen Chang, a hospitalist at UCSD who has studied the problem of readmission rates in patients with COPD, has done research that suggests it’s not the quality of care in the hospital that’s critical to keeping COPD patients healthy. It’s what happens and doesn’t happen after they leave.

“Not having good follow up, not being compliant with their medications, not having appropriate oxygen therapies…” Chang said, citing common problems that occur after discharge.

Chang and his team have lobbied his hospital for money to hire coordinators to follow up with their COPD patients and help them get outpatient services, but so far they’ve been unsuccessful.

“As it turns out, even if you are making a difference in the lives of patients for the better you may not be making a difference for the better in your hospital’s bottom line,” Chang says.

At Metro Health Medical Center in Cleveland, officials have done something similar to what Chang hopes to do. They hired a half dozen staff to identify patients at risk for readmission and guide their outpatient care. As a result, they have managed to reduce their readmission rates by 20 percent, said Alfred Connors, Metro Health’s chief of medicine.

“We can make quite a difference in the readmission rate,” says Connors “It’s clearly better for our patients – so we should do that.

But the question is what are hospitals willing to invest to do it? It’s clear that hospitals want healthier patients.  It’s less clear how much of their own financial health they’ll need to sacrifice to get there.

PODCAST: A Matzo empire leaves New York

Tue, 2015-04-07 03:00

Airing on Tuesday, April 7th, 2015: Today we get an updated picture on consumer credit - that is, how much Americans borrow, not counting mortgages. A preview on that. Plus, Vice President Joe Biden is speaking at a conference hosted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development today. Traditionally, HUD has partnered with private business and nonprofits to build housing for people without much money, and the need for these kinds of public-private partnerships is on the rise while funding for them is harder to come by. Plus, an estimated 40 percent of domestic matzo--unleavened crackery bread central to the Jewish celebration of passover--is produced by a single, family-run business that has been operating out of New York's Lower East Side since practically the dawn of time. But it's moving out of New York this summer. 

Starbucks CEO wants us to Learn Together, too

Tue, 2015-04-07 02:02

Since last summer, Starbucks has been paying for college for some of its employees. Now that program is going from Tall to—what shall we say—Grande?

CEO Howard Schultz has just announced that the Starbucks education money for online degrees through Arizona State University will now kick in for the early years of college, not just the last two. It's just one of a number of projects at the company that are more about social change than coffee, tea and muffins. A few weeks ago, the company tried to foster a national discussion about issues of race that proved controversial.

Click the media player above to hear Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz talk about expanding the company's education initiative, as well as the lessons learned from the previous campaign.


A group of Atlanta educators caught cheating

Tue, 2015-04-07 02:00

Eleven educators in Atlanta’s public school system were convicted last week in what’s being called the largest cheating scandal in American history. The group included teachers, testing officials and school administrators in the state of Georgia.  

The cheating was discovered through an unrelated data analysis by state officials in 2009. They examined standardized tests from schools across the state and found that an overwhelming number of Atlanta’s public schools reported tests where the wrong answer was erased and replaced with the right answer.  

“What the takeaway is, as state prosecutors just proved, is there was a district wide conspiracy to  cheat on these standardized tests,” said Rose Scott, a reporter and co-host of A Closer Look on WABE, Atlanta’s NPR station.

It’s still unclear, said Scott, whether teachers influenced students to change test answers or changed the answers themselves. “It’s a combination of both according to state officials and state investigators,” she added.

The analysis was fair overall, said Scott, because the state officials had not singled out public schools in Atlanta.

“But when the data came back, it showed that there was a high number of wrong to right erasures,” she said.

The cheating has raised other questions about the Atlanta public school system - for example, 80 percent of the students in it are at or near the poverty level, said Scott.   

“A huge percentage of them need additional resources for taking this test, but those additional resources did not mean teachers changing answers just to pass them on to the next grade or teachers changing answers to meet a high standard that was set by the district to begin with,” said Scott.


Alcoa faces pressure to cut cost

Tue, 2015-04-07 02:00

Alcoa reports earnings this Wednesday. The aluminum manufacturer is hoping to boost earnings by producing less aluminum, or smelting. Increased competition, especially from China, is pressuring Alcoa to reduce costs, close smelting plants and focus on more sophisticated finished aluminum products. This part of a strategy to compete against China, which once produced 5 percent of the world’s aluminum. Now it produces 50. And it’s being exported. 

Click the media player above to hear more.