On Tuesday, the World Health Organization held a briefing on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa endorsing the use of untested drugs. As information comes out about those affected by the virus, more is being learned about its origins and impact, partly thanks to an online tool called HealthMap.
The program uses algorithms to pull information off the web that could inform researchers about disease outbreaks. In fact, it identified the spread of a virus in Guinea nine days before the World Heath Organization announced the Ebola outbreak.
“HeathMap is essentially a data aggregation tool, organizing content from hundreds of thousands of sources,” says John Brownstein of the Boston Children's Hospital and co-founder of HealthMap.
The project sources material from all over the internet; including news, social media, and health ministry data.
In this particular case, the first public hints of the Ebola outbreak came from local media in Guinea — news stories of mysterious illnesses.
The tool, which has been around since 2006, has evolved to integrate real-time social media based data.
Of the project's strengths is the fact that the data collected provides a broader awareness of what’s happening at the population level.
The FBI is investigating possible civil rights violations after a police officer in suburban St. Louis fatally shot an unarmed teenager on Saturday. The death of Michael Brown, 18, stirred a night of unrest in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, where the incident happened.
Many of the costs these kinds of cases of alleged police misconduct can have on a community are impossible to quantify — in terms of loss of life, and loss of confidence in civic institutions.
"The greatest cost is loss of faith in the police department, which then cause crime to spiral out of control," says Dick Simpson, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
But there are also some very specific costs to a community, with dollar amounts attached. For example, a string of notorious police brutality cases in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, connected to one police lieutenant, John Burge, cost the city of Chicago more than $100 million, says Simpson.
The money went to court fees, lawyer fees, and multi-million dollar payouts to some victims.
As Tim Lynch, director of the Cato institute's Project on Criminal Justice, points out, all that money has to come from some place. “The tax payers of these various cities pay the costs,” he says.
The money usually comes through a city's general fund, says Professor Simpson. Meaning, if a city has to spend a lot on a big police misconduct case, “it diminishes the ability to provide services to citizens, and it raises their property taxes.”
According to a review of public records by the Cato Institute, American cities spent at least $347 million between 2009 and 2010 on settlements and judgments related to police misconduct. Lynch says the amount could be even higher. Many municipalities do not make information on lawsuits involving police misconduct publicly available.
It’s green lights and blue skies for Bitcoin, baby! The government’s attitude seems to be laissez-faire, states are giving it the thumbs-up, the Fed is shrugging its shoulders and saying it has no jurisdiction.
Which is why the CFPB’s recent memo of Bitcoin is such a buzzkill.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – I know, it even sounds like the nanny state – “We’re here to protect you from your own poor financial decisions…” (whatever) – the CFPB says that using Bitcoin and other virtual currencies is like “stepping into the Wild West.”
CFPB head Richard Cordray probably should have added, “and not in a good way” to that statement, because I’m pretty certain that most Americans would say that “stepping into the Wild West” would actually be totally cool (ten gallon hat, anyone? Fringed hide jacket? … Leather chaps?).
But several economists say that Cordray is right on the money (as it were). Virtual currencies look very similar to the money issued by banks during the Wild West, they say.
So, the Wild West – Buffalo Bill and Jesse James? Seriously?
Exactly. The Wild West is both a geographical designation and a period in time. It’s a romantic name for the American western frontier, created as America expanded in the latter half of the 19th century (1850-1900). In 1850, most of the area west of Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois was still unsettled, with the exception of Texas, and the rapid expansion across those lands to the Pacific Ocean over the next 30 years was something of a lawless land rush.
Did they even have a banking system back then?
Not at first. Congress made several attempts to create a national bank between 1781 and 1836, but without much success. It didn’t help that Andrew Jackson, who was president in 1836, believed that central banks were the spawn of the devil, pretty much, and only gold and silver should be used as currency. Boy, he would have hated Bitcoin.
So, what did they have?
Basically, from 1836 until 1865, they had a free for all. It was actually called the Free Banking period, and pretty much anyone could open and run a bank, so long as you had a certain amount of capital, a security deposit to back any note issuance, and enough silver or gold or whatever on hand to convert a banknote into that metal on demand.
No wonder Butch and Sundance went into the bank robbery business!
That’s right, hoss. Unlike banks today in the U.S., banks in the Wild West had to keep a fair amount of precious metal in their vaults. If they had vaults, that is. And many did not.
It was. Not only was there a risk that your bank might get robbed and you’d have to wait a long time to swap your banknotes for gold, there was also the danger that your bank might run out of precious metal because all your neighbors wanted to exchange their notes at the same time. And then there were the wildcats.
Yeah. Wildcat bankers were people who set up banks, often in remote areas “where the wildcats roam,” and then issued notes to the public without ever having any intention of paying them back. These scumbags would then skip town and leave the poor townspeople with a bunch of worthless scrip.
There are some crazy stories of bank fraud from way back then, including bankers displaying boxes of nails and broken glass and claiming they were full of silver dollars to gull the unsuspecting locals.
I bet those guys went to jail.
When they were caught, yes they did.
OK, so how is all of this similar to Bitcoin?
It’s similar because right now, we’re in a Free Banking period for electronic currency creators.
Anyone can set up an electronic currency company, and there are right now no regulations covering these ventures. Anyone can buy Bitcoin or Dogecoin or whatever, and anyone can accept payment in those currencies. Regulatory organizations are signaling their concerns, but so far they’re keeping their hands off. Then there’s the rhetoric that proponents of electronic currencies like to use. It reads a lot like the libertarian rationale behind the Free Banking reforms, which were conceived in part as an escape from a corrupt system dominated by special interests (doesn’t that sound familiar?).
So are virtual currency companies the new Wildcat banks?
Not necessarily. Most virtual currencies appear to have been set up for ethical reasons, and their founders and supporters want them to succeed. But that doesn’t mean they’re safe. If you are a Bitcoin user, you should be every bit as concerned as someone who put his money in an independent bank in 1850. The CFPB notes that virtual currencies are not backed by any government or central bank. This means that is those companies fail, you may not get your money back, you will have no recourse to a regulator, and there is no government organization that has insured your money with that company. If the company goes down, in other words, the chances are that your money will go with it.
What about bank robbers?
They may not wear Stetsons and bandannas, and use dynamite and a long fuse, but robbers exist in the virtual world, too. The CFPB says “if a hacker gains access to a consumer’s Bitcoin “private keys,” which are 64-character codes that unlock the consumer’s funds, the consumer can lose all their virtual currency. Fraudsters are also taking advantage of the hype surrounding virtual currencies to pose as Bitcoin exchanges, Bitcoin intermediaries, and Bitcoin traders in an effort to lure consumers to send money, which is then stolen.”
So, step into the Wild West if you wish. But bring a pair of six-shooters. And maybe a getaway horse.
The World Customs Organization, an international association of customs and law enforcement agencies, is out with its annual report on seizures of illegal goods and counterfeiting.
The product most likely to be counterfeited or illegally traded last year was pharmaceuticals, at a whopping 76 percent of all seizures.
The most counterfeited brand, on the other hand, was Nike. Followed by Apple, Rolex, Samsung and Adidas
BuzzFeed, the website that blessed us with the listicle revolution, just raised $50 million from some very prominent venture capitalists. That investment values the company at an estimated $850 million. To put this in context, the Washington Post recently sold for $250 million dollars. So, how did that valuation happen?
For one thing, BuzzFeed boasts that 150 million people visit it every month. By contrast, the New York Times gets 53.8 million visitors, according to comScore. But it's not just the number of visits that’s valuable, it's who those visitors are. Paul Sweeney, an analyst at Bloomberg Industries, said most of BuzzFeed’s audience is 35-and-under, a demographic that’s catnip to advertisers.
"It’s been harder and harder for advertisers to reach a younger demographic," Sweeney said. "The younger folks are the ones who are spending more time on the Internet, more time off of traditional media like newspapers, magazines or television."
A lot of BuzzFeed’s traffic comes from people sharing its stories on social media sites. Sweeney says that's a risky strategy. BuzzFeed’s audience would be decimated if social media sites excluded its content.
But investors are betting that BuzzFeed will grow beyond listicles, said Ethan Kurzweil, a venture capitalist at Bessemer Venture Partners. He said investors expect BuzzFeed to become a go-to-platform that offers all kinds of content from video to news and who knows what else.
"I assume they’re betting on a modern media tech company," Kurzweil said. "Sort of a modern People Magazine, ESPN all in one, all in one, all in one property."
In fact, BuzzFeed is using its newest round of funding to expand into movies, said Rebecca Lieb, an analyst at the Altimeter Group. She says don’t expect BuzzFeed to compete with 20th Century Fox or Paramount by making traditional films.
"I really don’t think that’s going to be the case," she said.
Lieb predicts BuzzFeed will redefine movies and create ones that cater to its digital-first audience.
Kinder Morgan oversees a vast network of oil and gas pipelines in North America. It's actually a family of companies and now they're consolidating. The "why" is complicated but the upshot isn't: the new corporation wants to spend more money acquiring even more pipelines. Because, it turns out, there's a shortage.
Kinder Morgan already operates or owns a piece of some 80,000 miles of pipelines in North America. Barbara Shook says its founder clearly wants more.
“Mr. Kinder kept talking about acquisitions and acquisitions and acquisitions during the conference call with analysts this morning,” says Shook, senior reporter-at-large with the Energy Intelligence Group. Disclosure: Shook owns shares in one of the Kinder Morgan companies.
She says the corporate restructuring will make it cheaper for Kinder Morgan to borrow money. That’s money Kinder Morgan can use to buy a precious commodity: other pipeline companies.
“We were caught short in terms of our transportation infrastructure for energy,” says Bob McNally, president of the Rapidan Group. He says the U.S. oil and gas boom changed everything – both the scale of the boom and where it’s happening.
“The parts of the country where we’re increasing production of oil and gas are not areas where we produced oil and gas before,” he says.
Think of all that natural gas in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Think of the Bakken Shale in North Dakota and Montana.
Paul Sullivan, an energy security expert at Georgetown University and the National Defense University, says there aren’t enough pipelines to move it all.
“I think the proof that there is need for more is the amount of oil that is moving by rail,” he says, adding that so much oil is moving by rail that corn and other agricultural goods are getting squeezed out. Plus, derailments have a devastating effect.
“Moving oil by rail is more expensive and it’s also less safe,” Sullivan says.
Which is why companies like Kinder Morgan want to lay the groundwork for more pipelines.
There’s a new front in Amazon’s battle with its vendors. Because of a reported pricing dispute, some of Disney's DVDs and Blue-rays are no longer available for pre-order on Amazon.com. Book publisher Hachette is in a similar position. Its spat with the e-commerce site has become highly public, with each company publishing scathing letters about the other side. (Amazon's here, Hachette's here, and a group of 900 authors supporting Hachette here).
If this were a Disney movie, some would cast Amazon as the bad guy, like the evil fairy Maleficent (OK, she's less evil this time around, but still). Others would say it’s a Captain America-esque hero, fighting for lower prices for consumers.
Physical discs of both new Disney films are currently unavailable for pre-order on Amazon, though they are available for pre-purchase through the company's instant video service.
But, says Ed Brodow, the author of Negotiation Boot Camp, Amazon’s tactics aren’t good or bad – they’re business. Amazon, like all companies its size, is flexing its muscle to get the best deals possible.
“That’s what people do in negotiation all the time, they use their leverage,” says Brodow. “Amazon has a tremendous amount of leverage.”
Wal-Mart employs similar muscle, says Michael Pachter with Wedbush Securities.
“Wal-Mart pays as low a price as anybody wholesale for any product that it sells, and it’s able to do so by exercising its market muscle,” he says. “Amazon is trying very hard to be Wal-Mart-like.”
Pre-orders are important for Disney because it will impact their first-day sales rankings, but Pachter doubts customers will miss the option much.
Not everyone agrees.
Amazon’s aggressive tactics risk its reputation with its customers, says Michael Norris, an independent publishing and media consultant.
“It’s really remarkable to me that a company that claims to be very consumer-centric finds absolutely nothing wrong with inconveniencing millions of consumers,” he adds.
The U.S. government is reportedly weighing options to evacuate thousands of civilians from Iraq's Yazidi religious sect, who are trapped in barren mountains in northern Iraq without food or water, imperiled by advancing Islamic State fighters. The crisis has put the Yazidis out of reach for humanitarian aid workers, who typically provide food, water and shelter to vulnerable people.
The humanitarian aid industry is growing, fueled by large-scale conflicts and natural disasters. Last year it took in a record $22 billion from donor governments, foundations, corporations and individuals. It employed more than 250,000 people.
Margaret Aguirre, the head of Global Initiatives for International Medical Corps, is one of them. The non-governmental organization moved offices recently, in part to save on rent, and Aguirre spent part of a recent day peeling layers of bubble wrap from framed photographs that will hang in her office. One, taken in South Sudan in 2012, showed a cluster of women, some with frightened children peeking from behind their backs, outside of an International Medical Corps clinic. Their homes had been bombed.
"It's said all the time, it sounds like a cliche, but when your home is bombed, you run," Aguirre said.
International Medical Corps' growth mirrors the growth of the aid industry. In 1984, when the NGO started work, it was comprised of a handful of volunteer doctors and nurses who traveled to Afghanistan to treat the wounded. Now, it employs nearly 5,000 people in 30 countries and will implement $300 million in program services this year alone.
Aid work as a growing profession
There are roughly 5,000 non-governmental organizations, according to Humanitarian Outcomes, a firm that researches humanitarian assistance. The sector is rapidly professionalizing.
"You can even get masters degrees in humanitarian assistance," said Abby Stoddard, a partner with Humanitarian Outcomes. "These could be technical specialists in water and sanitation or food assistance, logisticians, financial analysts. There's a whole raft of careers in international humanitarian aid."
Even so, aid work is often misunderstood as volunteer or charity work. Jessica Alexander, who has two masters degrees, and has done everything from managing camps for displaced people to working with former child soldiers, wrote a book called "Chasing Choas: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid", in part to clear up some of the misconceptions.
"People have come up to me at this point in my career and said, 'gosh, how can you afford to keep volunteering?'" Alexander said. "What they don't understand is this is very much a career and we're paid, and we're paid well, and we're paid with benefits."
As with any field, there's even a kind of career ladder, says William Easterly, who teaches economics at NYU and wrote the book "The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor." Easterly says he has seen a "huge increase" in the number of his students interested in pursuing careers in aid. Many of them will start in NGOs, where salaries are relatively low.
"They are small and operating on a pretty limited budget," Easterly said. "There's also a big phenomenon in NGOs of unpaid interns. Part of this is just supply and demand. There's a huge amount of young people who want to work in development and that's great, but there's just not enough jobs for them."
However, working for an NGO can offer young people a foothold to advance to the United Nations or World Bank, where salaries are higher.
An industry based in crisis
There is one large difference between humanitarian aid and other growth industries: An increase in the number of jobs, the amount of donations, and the demand for services usually isn't a good thing. It means more crises.
In addition to Iraq, there are humanitarian crises in Syria, South Sudan, the Gaza Strip and across Central Africa. There is even, according to the U.S. government, a humanitarian crisis on our border with Mexico, sparked by children and families fleeing Central America.
"We've been doing this for thirty years and I can honestly say there are more crises, there are more conflicts, there are more disasters," said International Medical Corps' Margaret Aguirre. "There are a lot of people in peril. It seems like there's a crisis everywhere."
We want to know whether or not the Affordable Care Act has changed your life in a negative or positive way.
We'll be talking about it all week online, and will feature some of your stories in next week's show.
The oil boom has brought all sorts of changes to western North Dakota. Billionaire Harold Hamm has had a big hand in it. His company, Continental Resources, is the biggest oil producer there.
Then there's Phil Hamm, who moved to Williston, North Dakota, before the oil industry arrived. He had a few things to say about the changes he's seen, when Todd Melby interviewed for his series "Black Gold Boom."
Todd Melby's series, "Black Gold Boom," is an initiative of Prairie Public and the Association for Independents in Radio.
Steve Jobs established Apple University to teach employees about Apple’s history and culture. Although the courses are not required, Apple’s new recruits usually do enroll.
“This training program is a lot more extensive than pretty much every other corporate training program that I've heard of,” says Brian Chen, technology reporter at The New York Times.
One class instructor compared the 11 lithographs of Pablo Picasso’s “The Bull” to the way Apple builds their devices, as a way to teach the class how to communicate at Apple.
“They like to start out with an idea and whittle it down as much as possible, until it speaks just clearly enough for the consumer,” says Chen. “It’s just a general way that they try to teach employees to think about communicating.”
Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.
Walker and Company CEO Tristan Walker had a hard time shaving. When he was 15, he tried a multi-blade razor and woke up with bumps and rashes on his face the next morning.
So, in 2013, Walker founded a company to solve problems in the health and beauty space for the African American community. Their first product is called Bevel, a shaving system designed specifically for men with coarse and curly hair.
“It’s razor bumps and razor burn. It’s a problem that 80 percent of black men and black women have, and it’s a problem that 30 percent of other races have.”
Bevel works through a multi-step process. You start by applying oil and then shaving cream with a brush, using a single blade razor, and finishing with a moisturizer. The starter kit costs $59.95, and 90-day replenishment kits cost $30 each. That’s a total of $150 for the products.
Tristan Walker knows this is a high price for a shaving kit:
“I reflect back on my experience of going to a retail shop, having to go to the ethnic aisle that’s not really an aisle, that’s really a shelf. Then I have to reach to the bottom of that shelf for a package that’s dirty. Like, that entire second-class citizen experience… it’s not great. Considering how much money we spend on these things, how much need we have for products that work, I think having a respect for the customer is incredibly important.”
Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.
Twenty years ago, there were just under 2,000 farmers markets in the U.S. Now, according to the USDA, there are more than 8,000.
That’s been great news for many farmers, including Chuck Eggert. He’s the Founder and President of Pacific Foods of Oregon. The operation is one of the most successful operations in the Northwest. Ebbert talked to us about some of the keys to that success, including the need for good soil.
“When you look at conventional soils, there’s very little organic matter, so when you go to pick it up, it’s almost like a dirt clod,” Eggert says.
The key to finding good soil, he adds, is to look for animals scavenging.
“Because they know there’s seeds and bugs there that they can live off of.”
Click the play button above to hear about Chuck Eggert and life on the farm.
Amazon has taken on a new opponent: Captain America. Try to pre-order a DVD or Blu-Ray of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," and you'll come up empty. More on why the movie is the latest casualty in a pricing dispute between Amazon and Disney. Plus, Brussels, home to the European Parliament, is seeing lots of lobbyists from the U.S. tech industry. They've descended to advocate against new online privacy legislation. And right now, the perseid meteor shower is going on -- The spectacle of shooting stars has long brought a sense of wonder to those who stay up to watch it. It's also brought cash...Sort of.
The Perseid meteorite showers return on Monday and you may not have realized it, but there are business links with these rocks from the sky.
Here's six things you might not have known about meteorites.
They brought us (some) gold.
Left to its own devices, Earth wouldn't have much of any iron-loving precious metals – gold, platinum, rare earth elements – at its surface. In fact, just about all of earth's original gold and platinum are all locked up in the earth's core, where they sank when the earth was first forming. The only reason we have much precious metal on the earth's surface is because meteorites deposited it from space.
They are different from meteors.
A meteor is the light given off by a piece of space rock as it travels through the Earth's atmosphere. A meteoroid is the actual space rock if it's less than a meter in size. If the space rock is bigger than a meter, it's an asteroid. A meteorite is a space rock that isn't completely burned up on entry and actually makes it to the ground. Read more here.
They are super expensive.
Fragments of the Chelyabinsk meteorite that exploded over western Russia last year sell online for $30 a gram (As of now, gold sells for $40 a gram). Other meteorites can sell for $1,500 a gram.
They can come from other planets.
If a comet or asteroid slams into another planet, it can knock chunks of that planet off and back into space. Sometimes those chunks can fall to Earth, becoming meteorites. That's why we have meteorites from the moon and Mars.
They may hold the key to space mining.
"The Holy Grail of asteroid science is if you can can relate a particular type of meteorite to a parent asteroid in space," says Donald Yeomans, who runs NASA's Near Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
If you can understand what types of meteorites contain what types of elements — whether metals or hydrated minerals — and you can figure out their signature, you can use that as a key to understand what an asteroid contains from a distance. That way you can figure out what of value is in an asteroid you're thinking about mining without having to visit it.
They have organic material in them.
Meteorites can even have several percent by weight of organic material — Amino acids, nucleic acids, carboxylic acids.
"How that organic material formed is a big question," says Conel Alexander, a cosmochemist at the Carnegie Institution for Science. "Some people think it formed in interstellar space before the solar system formed. Others think it was created in the disc of gas and dust from which the planets were forming. It raises the intriguing possibility that all solar systems would be seeded with prebiotic soup from which life emerged."
As of Monday, a search for DVD or Blu-Ray editions of the recent hit “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” for pre-order on amazon.com comes up empty. The superhero’s disappearance appears to be part of a pricing dispute between the online retailer and Disney, which produced the movie.
This isn't full-on war; more of a limited skirmish at this point. Captain America is available for pre-order through Amazon’s Instant Video service. Other Disney titles, like Malificent and Muppets Most Wanted, do show up in a search, but they’re not available for pre-order.
Meanwhile, Amazon’s separate, ongoing war with book publisher Hachette has gotten more intense. For months, Amazon has been declining pre-orders on Hachette books, raising prices, and withholding fast shipping. A group of 900 authors took out a two-page ad in Sunday’s New York Times asking Amazon to cut it out. Amazon pre-sponded on Saturday with an online letter of its own, making a case for itself.
Amazon also had a quick spat with Warner Bros. in May and June. For a few weeks, "The Lego Movie" and other Warner titles were not available for pre-order while the two companies worked out a contract.
Colin Sebastian, an analyst with RW Baird, says Amazon’s aggressive tactics suggest that the company is exploring a big question: Who owns the customer? The creators and distributors, or the retailer?
“The media companies and the book publishers and Disney are perhaps afraid of the answer to that,” he says.
He thinks Amazon is following a playbook that Wal-Mart created. “As a supplier, if you don’t negotiate with Wal-Mart, they will not stock your products,” says Sebastian.
Another analyst, Neil Doshi, with CRT Capital, wonders if the Disney negotiations are more complicated than just DVDs: Right now, Netflix has an exclusive deal with Disney for subscription-based streaming of its movies.
Maybe, Doshi says, what Amazon really wants is leverage in a negotiation for that kind of content.
“They are pushing very aggressively on the digital front,” says Doshi. “Digital provides much higher margins than physical goods."
Which could bring the story full circle: Maybe this is why the Captain America movie is still available from Amazon as a download? Incidentally, a Blu-ray of Captain America can be found on Amazon by those who look hard — a Chinese-subtitled Hong Kong edition, available now, not just on pre-order.
The trade publication Home Media Magazine was the first to report the Disney/Amazon story.
This article was updated at 12:37 P.M. on Aug. 11, 2014
Dayton’s Mad River well-field is on a grassy island in the middle of one of the city’s three major rivers. Phil Van Atta, head of Dayton’s water treatment operation, says the wellfield, where the city pumps up groundwater from the Great Miami Buried Valley Aquifer, is one of his favorite places. The shallow sand and gravel aquifer in some places lies just feet below the ground, and its 1.5 trillion gallons of freshwater is constantly recharging from the rivers and rainfall.
“We’ve got loads of capacity now,” he says. “We would love to see more demand, more industry come in. Not just to increase their demand for water, but also so there are more jobs available to people in this area.”
Dayton’s population has stagnated in recent years due to the foreclosure crisis and loss of industry. In Dayton, both crises hit years before they tore apart the national economy. But now the city may be on the cutting edge again. As states like California face major water shortages, city officials here sense a business opportunity.
Almost all local jurisdictions draw from the Great Miami Aquifer, and Dayton’s water treatment system serves 400,000 in the city and surrounding Montgomery and Greene Counties. The self-filtering, self-recharging freshwater supply, along with the rivers, once made Dayton attractive to water-intensive industries in the 19th century.
Mills, factories, and countless little breweries lined the river before Prohibition, and Dayton was a hub of innovation and wealth. The airplane, the cash register, the self-start automobile ignition, and the pop-top soda can were all invented here. But now, that’s just a distant memory.
“We lost all the GM plants and the Delphi plants and the parts plants associated with those plants,” says Van Atta, turning his truck onto the gravel road that makes a loop around the island.
Tens of thousands of jobs evaporated — the final blow was when GM left in 2008. “That was a big hit on our water demand,” he says.
Now, dozens of out-of-use wells dot this island; Van Atta says they rotate them in and out of use following a reduction in demand of over 25 percent since 2008.
And yet, Dayton is betting that water will be the key to turning things around.
'We're running into limits'
U.S. census numbers reveal that in recent years the population has been virtually flat or shrinking in places like Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan, where there’s tons of water. The biggest areas of growth are in the west and southwest, where water scarcity is a growing emergency. Parts of Texas have seen the worst droughts on record for four years and counting, and California’s facing much the same.
“We’re running into limits,” says Peter Gleick, the head of the Pacific Institute, a nonprofit research organization in Oakland, California. “The Colorado River no longer reaches the sea in an average year because humans use all of the flow. We’re over-pumping groundwater aquifers in the western U.S...In the past we’ve sort of assumed enough water would always be available, and I think we can no longer assume that’s going to be the case.”
The parched conditions affect everything from food prices to energy spending to the intensity of wildfires. Climate change means this is probably just the beginning.
“Some of these southwestern cities that not only have water scarcity problems, but are gonna start to see more and more costs for energy, for cooling, more and more uncomfortable extreme heat days,” he says. “In that kind of situation I think it’s possible that we may see a change in the kind of migration we’ve seen over the latter part of the 20th century, maybe back to some of these population centers in the midwest and in the east.”
“Back to the midwest” — that phrase is music to Karen Thomas’s ears. Thomas is the head of water marketing for Dayton.
“We have an abundant water source,” she says. “We don’t believe that we would have to worry about water.”
The water in the vast underground aquifer is usually out of sight, but it’s up to Thomas to make it visible, and sell it. Efforts in the last few years have included a “Take Back the Tap” campaign to encourage citizens to use Dayton tap water rather than bottled water. Officials have also reached out to companies in water-stressed areas, pushing Dayton as a cheap alternative.
Thomas thinks this is what could put Dayton back on the map.
“Water is a public good, but it’s also a commodity,” she says.
An economic development team in Dayton has conducted talks with several food processors, manufacturers, and beverage makers that could use an inexpensive and abundant supply of water. Companies that choose Dayton would face little of the regulation placed on water diversions in the Great Lakes basin; here, if you can drill a well, you can drain it.
“If they’re looking for water, this would be a great place to relocate to,” says Thomas.
You can't make beer without water
Dayton’s water pitch may sound like something out of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie, but it’s not all that far-fetched.
“You know people turn on the tap and they think water’s free, they just assume it’s gonna be there,” says Peter Kruger, master brewer at Bear Republic brewery in California, north of San Francisco.
“There was a period in early February where the governor listed 17 cities in California that were within a hundred days of running out of water,” he says, “and our brewpub in Healdsburg was one of those towns, and our production brewery in Cloverdale was another.”
In the brewing industry, water isn’t negotiable — most of it is used for cleaning equipment and of course for the beer itself, which is why Kruger is nervous. I called him to hear about the work they’re doing to conserve, but he says they are actually considering a move.
“We have talked about other locations for a brewery that are not as water-stressed as California is.”
They’ve looked at Pennsylvania, Wisconsin — and yes, even Ohio.
But Karen Hobbs, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, is not on board with the idea.
“These are difficult economic times. But the troubling part about marketing water resources I think is that it tends to devalue that asset,” she says.
Hobbs thinks clean water in the Great Lakes region comes too cheap. Where she lives in Chicago, almost 2 billion gallons of water a day leave Lake Michigan for use in homes and industry, and drain into the Chicago River, never to be returned or recycled.
Plus, the midwest is not immune to the effects of climate change, like drought or huge storms and floods, which can affect water quality as well as quantity. She says before companies just move to where the water is, they should work harder to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
“There’s lots, lots of low-hanging fruit in terms of improving water efficiency and increasing conservation that companies and individuals can take,” she says.
But Peter Kruger says Bear Republic Brewery is doing a lot of that already.
“Traditionally breweries have used anywhere from 10 to 15 gallons of water to make one gallon of beer,” he says. “Our ratio now is down to 3.5 gallons of water to make a gallon of beer.” They get their water from the Russian River, which has been dramatically low; the company is now putting its own money into sinking a well to access groundwater at the edge of town.
Still, the brewery's water use may not be sustainable in the long run. Kruger says he’d hate to leave beautiful sunny California, but this year has been a reality check.
“Water is really gonna be the challenge our kids and grandkids deal with,” he says. “As there are more people there’s not gonna be more and more water, there’s gonna be less and less clean water. That’s anywhere. That includes Ohio or, you know, the wettest place in the world.”
Betting on a future where water is king
Some people in Dayton believe they’re walking on a liquid gold mine: people may have lost jobs, people, and whole industries, but the Great Miami aquifer is still here.
Though not entirely unthreatened: In the 1980s, the drinking water in Dayton was found to be contaminated with dangerous levels of industrial chemicals. A 1987 fire at a Sherwin Williams paint warehouse had to be allowed to burn for days on end to avoid dousing the plant’s chemicals directly into the aquifer near the wellfield.
Following the fire, Dayton and the surrounding municipalities that use the water system passed stringent drinking water protections that incentivize industry to keep chemical contaminants away from the wellfields. Still, today the city sometimes cleans up industrial chemicals including trichloroethylene (TCE) from the water before it’s sent to the tap.
Now, a handful of local manufacturers are pushing to reduce some of those protections, saying the chemical limits treat smaller businesses unfairly. The city says reduced demand on the wellfields has shrunk the area in need of active protection, and has put forth a controversial proposal to reduce that area by 40 percent.
Even as a public debate over water gets underway, Dayton leaders aren’t concerned about the future water supply. Karen Thomas’s message for master brewer Peter Kruger? Come and get it.
“To be able to turn the faucet on, to get a cup of coffee, to flush your toilet, to take a shower, and the water’s there and it’s clean, why not love water?” she says. “Especially Dayton water!”
Lewis Wallace is WYSO’s economics reporter and fill-in morning host. Follow him @lewispants. A version of this story was originally produced for WBEZ Chicago's Front and Center, which is funded by the Joyce Foundation: Improving the quality of life in the Great Lakes region and across the country. For more stories on regional and global water scarcity, go to WBEZ's After Water tumblr.
A couple years ago, Ben Davis was flying home from Christmas with his family and came across an early version of a smart watch in the SkyMall catalogue. He was intrigued by the bluetooth connection that allowed the watch to receive calls, but the men’s version was too traditional. It looked like any other watch.
“The ladies version was kind of a far-out, kind of spacey bangle,” says Davis, an art critic in New York. “You couldn’t tell exactly what it was when you looked at it.”
So he bought it. Like the Prius owner who wants people to know they’re driving a hybrid, Davis wanted people to see and talk about his cool new toy — and he says it worked. He used to demo the watch at parties.
As tech companies build up hope that “wearables” – smart watches, fitness trackers, and the much-hyped Google Glass – will become an integral part of consumers’ everyday lives, they’re realizing the devices are in need of a makeover.
“If you’re not a techie or an early adopter, people are very discerning about what they’re willing to wear every day,” says Dan Ledger, a principal with Endeavour Partners.
Google has tapped designer Diane von Furstenberg to design frames for Google Glass and Tory Burch recently created jewelry to disguise the Fitbit. Apple hired a former Burberry executive ahead of the launch of its long-rumored iWatch. Intel has similar plans for a fashionable smart bracelet, produced in collaboration with Barneys New York, The Council of Fashion Designers of America, and fashion retailer Opening Ceremony.
“I think the companies who are really succeeding in this are saying let’s start from scratch and let’s design a product that doesn’t look like a gadget,” says Ledger, citing products like the Activité.
After design, the next problem for device makers will be figuring out how to keep people using the product. In a recent report, Endeavour Partners found a third of people abandon their wearable device after six months.
Davis doesn't wear his watch much any more. It never really worked like he'd hoped.
Brussels is home to the European Parliament, but it's also hosting lots of lobbyists for the U.S. tech industry.
Walk down the street near Parliament and you'll see office blocks that are home to lobbyists representing the likes of Facebook, Google, and other tech companies.
They've set up shop because many U.S. tech companies oppose strict new online privacy legislation that members of the European parliament are considering.
"It's gotten a bit out of hand. Very, very emotional," says Jean-Marc Leclerc, director of the digital economy policy group for a trade association called Digital Europe. Among its members: Apple and Microsoft.
Leclerc says there were "thousands of amendments, night votes. It really went crazy."
Why was it so crazy? The EU is considering an online privacy bill that would give consumers the right to have personal data erased. There would also be new limits on online profiling.
The tech lobby says the legislation would hurt commerce and innovation on the Web, and would also create mandatory data reporting requirements that would be a burden for business.
But all this tech lobbying leaves privacy advocates in Brussels feeling outgunned.
"I think it's the second biggest center of lobbying in the world outside Washington, D.C.," says Joe McNamee, executive director of European Digital Rights.
He says members of the European Parliament don't quite know what to make of the U.S. tech lobby muscle: "It was quite new in the European context and policy makers in the European Parliament were taken by surprise."
Some members of Parliament say they understand U.S. tech companies have to lobby here because they have a lot at stake.
"I think it's inevitable that business will lobby," says Claude Moraes, a member of the European Parliament representing London.
He says bring it on. We're not naive. We can handle it. But he does draw a line. Moraes says some of the 4,000 amendments to the privacy legislation were taken word-for-word from lobbyists.
"There were certainly accusations of amendments being cut and pasted and I think that's where the line is crossed," he says.
Moraes can expect even more lobbying this fall, when members of the European Parliament return from their summer break to continue working on the online privacy legislation. Final votes aren't expected until next spring.
Graphic by Shea Huffman/Marketplace