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America's game of chicken

Mon, 2014-03-17 03:20
Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 04:06 Stacey Vanek Smith

Ariane Daguin demonstrates the proper way to carve a chicken. Daguin is the CEO of D'Artagnan, a company that supplies organic, free range chickens to grocery stores and restaurants.

Where’s the beef?

As a nation, we might really need to know that. For the first time in more than a century, Americans are eating more chicken than beef. Why is poultry taking flight?

"People are more conscious about health, and so they will eat red meat a little less often and white meat more often," says Ariane Daguin, CEO of D'Artagnan, which sells organic, free-range chicken to high end restaurants and grocery stores all over the country. Her business is growing 15 percent per year, a lot of that is thanks to rising chicken demand.

But a lot of the reason for the rising popularity of chicken has to do with beef.

"The real trade-off that we’re seeing in consumption is escalation in poultry and decline in beef," says Don Close, cattle economist with Rabo AgriFinance. Beef prices have skyrocketed and are expected to jump by as much as 15 percent this year. (Here's a look at why that's happening)

"We saw pretty heavy substitution on the part of consumers, substituting ground beef for ground chicken and thereby driving up the prices of those products," says Ricky Volpe, economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Chicken prices are expected to rise by about 10 percent this year. Even still, chicken will remain far cheaper than beef and pork. 

But even if beef prices come back down, Ariane Daguin doesn’t think Americans will go back to beef.

"It is not a trend," she says. "Trend means there is an end to it. There is no end to good food. People in America are more and more conscious that you are what you eat."

And right now, that’s chicken.

 

Marketplace Morning Report for Wednesday, March 26, 2014 Stacey Vanek Smith

Ariane Daguin prepares a chicken stew dish with one of her new Green Circle chickens, which have a vegetable-heavy diet.

Stacey Vanek Smith

Americans are eating more chicken than beef for the first time in a century. 

Stacey Vanek Smith

Ariane Daguin demonstrates the proper way to carve a chicken. Daguin is the CEO of D'Artagnan, a company that supplies free range, organic chickens to restaurants and grocery stores all over the country. Daguin's business is growing 15% a year.

by Stacey Vanek SmithPodcast Title: America's Game of ChickenStory Type: FeatureSyndication: SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond: No

PODCAST: Markets look past Ukraine

Mon, 2014-03-17 01:41

European Union foreign ministers today agreed to a package of measures to respond to moves to annex the Crimean region to Russia.  Twenty-one people will find their financial assets frozen in Europe and face bans on travel. Just who is on that list of 21 has not yet been released, but the White House just now named 11 people, targeted for sanctions, seven Russians and four Ukrainians.  And yet the financial markets seem less-than-perturbed by the news. How is it that investors can so easily shrug off a big global political event?

Plus, a new industry has sprung up in recent years: Websites that post nothing but mugshots. They're popular — people like to see other people in embarrassing moments — except with those who have their mugshots posted. In Chicago, the sites also wore out their welcome with the county sheriff. They seemed to be crashing his website. Some of them look like shakedown operations: Mugshots.com has a big "unpublish mugshot"  link right at the top of its homepage — for fees that start at $400. Late last year, those sites seemed to be crashing the Cook County Sheriff’s inmate locator site.  Automated systems were trying to suck the photos up faster than the county’s server could respond. Law enforcement across the country are trying to respond -- but with mixed results.

What deportations mean for U.S. businesses

Mon, 2014-03-17 01:00

Last week, President Barack Obama announced a review of his deportation policy, to sighs of, "here we go again" from the business community.

Business groups that support immigration reform say what they really need is the certainty an immigration bill would bring, so they don't have to worry about workers they thought were legal getting deported. "There's concern about, what would happen if they lost those workers someday.  Because if you're a small business owner your workers are your business," says Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA.

Jacoby says the deportation review could actually hurt chances for immigration reform this year by complicating already-tense negotiations between congressional Republicans and the White House.

Justmugshots.com and the business of embarrassment

Mon, 2014-03-17 00:19

A new industry has sprung up in recent years: Websites that post nothing but mugshots. They're popular -- people like to see other people in embarrassing moments — except with those who have their mugshots posted. In Chicago, the sites also wore out their welcome with the county sheriff. They seemed to be crashing his website. 

Around 4 o'clock on a recent Tuesday afternoon, the assembly line at Cook County jail gets started with processing inmates. In the next few hours, 263 people would pass through here.

At the photo station, a sheriff's deputy pulled up each man’s record on his computer, and snapped a couple of pictures to add.

Within hours, the photos were up on the Sheriff’s inmate locator website. Where they get picked up by for-profit mugshot websites: mugshots.com, bustedmugshots.com, justmugshots.com, and others.

Some of them look like shakedown operations: Mugshots.com has a big “unpublish mugshot” link right at the top of its homepage — for fees that start at $400.

Late last year, those sites seemed to be crashing the Cook County Sheriff’s inmate locator site.  Automated systems were trying to suck the photos up faster than the county’s server could respond.

“It is a very important part of our site,” says Ben Breit, the Sheriff’s communication director, who runs the website.  “I would argue that it is the most important part of our site.”

People use the inmate locator to find friends and relatives who have been arrested, he says.  “That is also the main conduit through which family and friends can register to visit those people.” 

The Sheriff solved the crashing problem, by installing a “captcha” — a prompt forcing users to type in a randomly-chosen bunch of letters and numbers, to prove they’re human. 

However, the websites still have the pictures.

Some states, including Illinois, have passed laws trying to outlaw the shakedowns. People whose mugshots got posted have filed lawsuits.  

The results have been uneven. Mugshot websites lean on the same legal principles as news media: Access to public information and the freedom to publish it.

Newspapers run mugshots too. Matthew Waite, now a journalism professor at the University of Nebraska, built one of the first galleries when he worked at the Tampa Bay Times. He says the traffic to those pages was huge.

“It’s hard to argue that people aren’t interested in these,” he says.  “But the question is, how much can you exploit that interest for profit?  Is putting advertising on those pages untoward? That seems less of a problem to me than putting people’s mugshots online and then charging to have it taken down.”

Even the shakedown schemes are hard to outlaw, says Jeff Hermes, director of the Digital Media Law Center at Harvard.

“These activities are morally reprehensible,” he says. “But when you try to dig down to the level of what’s actually illegal, it turns out to be quite elusive.”

What has worked is shame. Google had inadvertently fueled the extortion racket: When you searched someone’s name, any mugshots showed up as top results:  A big incentive to pay for removal.  

Last fall, Google tweaked its algorithm. Mugshot results got exiled to the back pages.  Around the same time, when the New York Times did a big story on the mugshot racket, payment services like PayPal and American Express promised to stop doing business with mugshot-takedown companies.

Today, a lot of the sites no longer offer removal services. The exception, mugshots.com, is based in the British West Indies.

Justmugshots.com and the business of embarassment

Mon, 2014-03-17 00:19

A new industry has sprung up in recent years: Websites that post nothing but mugshots. They're popular -- people like to see other people in embarrassing moments — except with those who have their mugshots posted. In Chicago, the sites also wore out their welcome with the county sheriff. They seemed to be crashing his website. 

Around 4 o'clock on a recent Tuesday afternoon, the assembly line at Cook County jail gets started with processing inmates. In the next few hours, 263 people would pass through here.

At the photo station, a sheriff's deputy pulled up each man’s record on his computer, and snapped a couple of pictures to add.

Within hours, the photos were up on the Sheriff’s inmate locator website. Where they get picked up by for-profit mugshot websites: mugshots.com, bustedmugshots.com, justmugshots.com, and others.

Some of them look like shakedown operations: Mugshots.com has a big “unpublish mugshot” link right at the top of its homepage — for fees that start at $400.

Late last year, those sites seemed to be crashing the Cook County Sheriff’s inmate locator site.  Automated systems were trying to suck the photos up faster than the county’s server could respond.

“It is a very important part of our site,” says Ben Breit, the Sheriff’s communication director, who runs the website.  “I would argue that it is the most important part of our site.”

People use the inmate locator to find friends and relatives who have been arrested, he says.  “That is also the main conduit through which family and friends can register to visit those people.” 

The Sheriff solved the crashing problem, by installing a “captcha” — a prompt forcing users to type in a randomly-chosen bunch of letters and numbers, to prove they’re human. 

However, the websites still have the pictures.

Some states, including Illinois, have passed laws trying to outlaw the shakedowns. People whose mugshots got posted have filed lawsuits.  

The results have been uneven. Mugshot websites lean on the same legal principles as news media: Access to public information and the freedom to publish it.

Newspapers run mugshots too. Matthew Waite, now a journalism professor at the University of Nebraska, built one of the first galleries when he worked at the Tampa Bay Times. He says the traffic to those pages was huge.

“It’s hard to argue that people aren’t interested in these,” he says.  “But the question is, how much can you exploit that interest for profit?  Is putting advertising on those pages untoward? That seems less of a problem to me than putting people’s mugshots online and then charging to have it taken down.”

Even the shakedown schemes are hard to outlaw, says Jeff Hermes, director of the Digital Media Law Center at Harvard.

“These activities are morally reprehensible,” he says. “But when you try to dig down to the level of what’s actually illegal, it turns out to be quite elusive.”

What has worked is shame. Google had inadvertently fueled the extortion racket: When you searched someone’s name, any mugshots showed up as top results:  A big incentive to pay for removal.  

Last fall, Google tweaked its algorithm. Mugshot results got exiled to the back pages.  Around the same time, when the New York Times did a big story on the mugshot racket, payment services like PayPal and American Express promised to stop doing business with mugshot-takedown companies.

Today, a lot of the sites no longer offer removal services. The exception, mugshots.com, is based in the British West Indies.

Abercrombie? Aeropostale? That's so 2012.

Sun, 2014-03-16 23:50

The once-popular Aeropostale  is closing stores and has posted losses for the past five quarters. It's not alone. A raft of stores that target the youth market, including Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle, are also hurting. Retail anaylsts say a handful of factors are affecting sales.

First, Aeropostale has increased competition from fast-fashion stores like Uniqlo, Forever 21 and H&M. Young people seem to prefer European-inspired clothing to the logo-branded hoodies and T-shirts favored by teens in decades past. 

The electronics sector is also competing for youth dollars, with smart phones, tablets and movie and music purchases eating up a bigger part of the teen budget.

Finally, the shrinking labor market has hit teenagers, and their parents, hard. The Brookings Institution said this week that youth employment is its lowest since World War II.

Weekly Wrap: Hurray for Washington?

Fri, 2014-03-14 15:18

Kai spoke with Bloomberg Government's Nela Richardson and the Wall Street Journal's Sudeep Reddy in Washington, D.C.

 

And in Washington they begin:

 

Kai: Is it possible that Washington has decided to get the way out of the economy?

 

Nela Richardson: "At least with this emergency funding, I think there is some positivity. I say 'hurray for Washington!' for getting this done. Overtime pay... that's a whole different issue. It adds to President Obama's phone and pen strategy, trying to get as much done on inequality and raising income without asking Congress."

 

Is it working? Is President Obama getting traction income inequality? He's been raising the minimum wage for federal contractors, and now the overtime thing. 

 

Sudeep Reddy: He getting traction on this, not just nationally, but globally. The IMF was latest to sound the alarm on inequality around the world. It really is a defining issue of our time... But if the White House didn't have enoguh businesses and people annoyed by regulations and rules, they're on their way.

 

And what about pushback?

 

Nela Richardson: "'Here's a new set of regulations.' -- there's definitely pushback."

Sudeep Reddy: "These are ways to move the pieces around as we're going through a moderate growth approach to the economy. Nobody is really counting on big changes to the economy from Washington... This is really just to tread water, and tread water in a different way than we have been doing before.

 

The referendum in Crimea. Why is the market just watching this and saying, "Yeah, yeah, ok, fine'?

 

Nela Richardson: "The market feels pretty confident that the U.S. is isolated enough from the events in Russia and Ukraine... the worst case scenario is a stepping up of sanctions."

 

Sudeep Reddy: "It's impossible... to plan for an actual war in a region... but to plan for an economic war, to discuss sanctinos and all of the possibilities that come out of this, there are three or steps down the line that have to occur."

Top students turning down Wall Street life

Fri, 2014-03-14 14:26
Thursday, March 20, 2014 - 18:24 Mark Garrison/Marketplace

Princeton students study for midterms at a campus café

Wall Street is starting to lose a war it has long dominated: The battle for talent. Elite schools that once sent hordes of brainy undergrads to big banks aren’t sending quite so many these days. A growing number of America’s top students are joining tech companies to seek their fortunes, or choosing to improve others’ fortunes in the non-profit world.

There’s a snapshot of what’s happening nationally at Princeton University, one of Wall Street’s favorite hunting grounds. As one of the America’s most selective schools, the university has already done some of recruiters’ work for them by bringing the nation’s brightest to campus. Year after year, banks and consulting firms arrive on campus to make their pitch. Students don ties and pantsuits for interviews, and not just economics majors. The banks pull from across campus.

Any bank recruiter would love to snag senior Malik Jackson. Wall Street prizes Ivy League athletes and Jackson plays quarterback. That means there’s a front row seat reserved for him on the train that has long carried Princeton grads to banking.

But he’s not taking it.

He’s going back to his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida to teach middle school social studies via Teach For America.

“As a student body, we all have such distinct interests,” Jackson explains. “It would be a disservice if all those interests were only focused on one field.”

He’s one of a growing number of students resisting the lure of finance and choosing to work in the non-profit sector, a big change from years past.

“I saw just about everyone headed to banks and consulting firms,” says Wendy Kopp, who graduated from Princeton in 1989.

Seeing so many of her classmates students sucked into finance frustrated her. She felt their talents could be put to better use elsewhere. That led her to starting Teach For America, the non-profit which steers talented undergrads to teach in needy classrooms. The program has grown rapidly, drawing heavily from Princeton and other selective schools. Kopp is now CEO of Teach For All, a global network of educational non-profits.

Non-profits got a big assist from Wall Street during the financial crisis. Banks blew up, cut jobs, and students questioned working for the firms that wrecked the world’s economy. Occupy Wall Street grew popular on campuses. When JPMorgan’s recruiters came to Princeton in 2011, a group of Occupy protesters disrupted the meeting. It wouldn’t be the only such protest.

“When I was a freshman, a lot of my upperclassmen friends would tell me about how their friends were going into finance and consulting,” says junior Damaris Miller, one of the Occupy protesters disrupting that recruiting session. “I find that a lot of my friends are not.”

Among Princeton’s 2006 graduates, 45 percent with full-time jobs worked in finance, according the Princeton University Office of Career Services, which surveys where students land a few months after graduation. That number nosedived after the financial crash. By the time the class of 2013 had entered the world, only 24 percent of those with full-time jobs were in finance. (The University’s data include finance and insurance in one category.)

[Note: For the Classes of 2006-2010 there was a 3-month survey follow-up period following graduation. In 2011, the follow-up period was changed to 6-months after graduation.]

Figuring out what students want and how to get them there is the challenge for Pulin Sanghvi, who runs Princeton’s career services office. A veteran of both Morgan Stanley and McKinsey, he understands that today’s students aren’t as easily swayed by the giants of banking and consulting that have traditionally had dibs on elite graduates.

He says today’s students want jobs that have meaning to them. That can mean non-profits, but not necessarily. The day Sanghvi showed me around his offices, Kayak was there interviewing students. Tech companies and startups are scooping up many who might have gone to Wall Street. The percentage of grads finding work at tech companies is soaring as the numbers for finance sag.

“Many [students] are getting excited by the opportunity to disrupt industries, and create new enterprises, and build organizations that may create thousands of jobs,” Sanghvi says.

Part of the reason banks had such a tight grip on elite schools for so long was their hefty recruiting budgets. Many students who weren’t sure what to do just defaulted into finance. Now, they’re going elsewhere.

Plenty still go to Wall Street, of course. Those who are most certain about it gathered recently for an evening meeting of the Princeton Corporate Finance Club. Sophomore economics major Darwin Li is president. Though most undergrads do just one finance internship after junior year, he did his first straight out of high school. He’s now looking ahead to his third, and says he already has a summer offer from a hedge fund.

Li doesn’t come across as careerist or greedy, just genuinely passionate about finance. Someone who should be a banker.

“Growing up I’ve been very numbers oriented, competing in math competitions. I’ve had a very quantitative mindset. I played chess,” he says. “The thought process to accomplish those things is pretty much the same thought process used in a lot of financial fields.”

The campus doesn’t give the impression of disdain for students who go to work for banks. It’s more of a suspicion of those who seem to be doing it for the wrong reasons.

“I wouldn’t say that people are very antagonistic toward people who are pursuing careers in finance, but are more antagonistic to people who originally give the impression that they wanted to work for a non-profit and then switch over,” explains Prianka Misra, an associate editor of the student paper’s opinion section. “It seems like their intentions are entirely at odds with each other.”

Soon-to-be teacher Malik Jackson has no problem with friends going into finance, tech, non-profits or whatever, as long as they’re following a passion, not just a routine.

“You could be a company man and that is totally cool,” he says. “Or you could maybe start your own company. Or you could maybe just try to make the world better. There are so many ways to do it.”

Wall Street is freaked out about elite students passing it by. Banks are changing their recruiting pitch and work environments to compete. But it may be the students they can easily get are the ones who really want to do banking. That could be good for the banks. It certainly seems good for the students.

Marketplace for Thursday, March 20, 2014by Mark GarrisonPodcast Title: Top students turning down Wall Street lifeStory Type: FeatureSyndication: SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond: No

For-profit colleges and concerns over 'gainful employment'

Fri, 2014-03-14 13:38

The Obama Administration has unveiled proposed new regulations on for-profit colleges and vocational programs. They're known as the "gainful employment" rules because career colleges are supposed to prepare their students for gainful employment.

That means jobs that pay enough to pay off those sizeable loans so many students take on. This isn't the first time the administration has tried to crack down on the multi-billion dollar for-profit college business.

Here's a look at some of the numbers involved in the rulemaking:

841 Pages

The number of pages in the U.S. Department of Education’s new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which spells out new guidelines on for-profit colleges and vocational programs. A previous version of the so-called "gainful employment" rule was tossed out by a federal judge, so the latest draft is an attempt to be "as legally bullet-proof as possible," says New America Foundation policy analyst Ben Miller. 

$150 Billion

The approximate size of the federal student aid program. Career programs that don’t meet the proposed new guidelines could lose access to this huge source of revenue. 

30%

The maximum default rate for career programs eligible for federal student aid. Under the proposed rules, programs risk losing eligibility for federal student aid if more than 30 percent of their former students are in default after three years of leaving school, or if graduates have to spend more than 8 percent of their earnings (or more than 20 percent of their discretionary income) on student loan payments.

16%

The estimated percentage of programs that would fail under the new guidelines. Most of them are at for-profit colleges. Programs would have time to improve before becoming ineligible for aid.

60 days

The number of days the public has to comment on the draft regulations before they're finalized.

The 5 second rule actually works

Fri, 2014-03-14 13:34

The five second rule: The idea that if you drop food on the floor you can still eat it, provided you pick it up fast enough.   There's a study out of Birmingham, England on the topic. They tested toast, pasta, biscuits (the British kind), ham, dried fruit, and a sticky dessert, dropped on both smooth tiles and on carpeting for anywhere from 3 to 30 seconds.   The upshot?   Carpets leave less bacteria than tiles...and five seconds is basically alright.        Also, they found 87 percent said they would eat food that had fallen on the floor, with more than half of them women.

That extra hour of daylight finally comes in handy

Fri, 2014-03-14 12:21

Here’s an extended look at what’s coming up next week:

  • The Federal Reserve releases its Industrial Production report for February.
  • You attend a parade and drink green beer. You wonder, what did people do to celebrate St. Patrick's Day during prohibition? (You don’t think about this for too long.)
  • On Tuesday, the Federal Reserve begins a two-day meeting on interest rates and the Labor Department issues its Consumer Price Index for February.
  • Engineer Rudolf Diesel was born on March 18, 1858. He invented the Diesel engine (duh).
  • Here's something to get you cooking: Wednesday is National Poultry Day.
  • On Thursday we get a glimpse at the housing market. The National Association of Realtors reports on sales of existing homes for February.
  • And it's the first day of spring. Time to clean, like, seriously. Did it occur to you that we gained an extra hour of daylight just to help us get that done? Because it just occurred to me.

How many stars? Affordable Care Act user reviews

Fri, 2014-03-14 12:04

The deadline to enroll for Affordable Care Act health benefits is fast approaching. To get covered through state or federal health exchanges starting this year, most will need to enroll by March 31, 2014.

Maybe you’re on the fence about signing up for ACA insurance. Is it worth it? Will you be able to get the kind of coverage you need? Do medical offices know how to deal with ACA billing? Is HealthCare.gov a glitchy nightmare?

Smart consumers know to read up on any big purchase before buying, so we asked Marketplace listeners to give us their “user reviews” of being insured under the Affordable Care Act. Here’s what some of them had to say:

Jan in El Cajon, CA says she’s been pretty disappointed with what the Affordable Care Act has had to offer her 27-year-old daughter:



Jen in Collingswood, NJ says she’s generally satisfied with the affordability of the ACA plans, and hasn’t run into much trouble using her benefits:



And Cameron in Seattle, WA wishes the ACA offered drastically different coverage options than traditional plans, but she does appreciate how affordable it’s made her medications:



We also asked people to write their ACA user reviews on Facebook:

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If you have a review of what it’s like to be insured by the Affordable Care Act, please leave a comment below, join the conversation on Facebook or tweet us @LiveMoney. And for more information about the Affordable Care Act’s enrollment deadline and other important dates, visit https://www.healthcare.gov/what-key-dates-do-i-need-to-know/

A raft of weak economic data out of China

Fri, 2014-03-14 11:05

For three years in a row, there’s been weak economic data out of China at the beginning of the year. And each year, the best economic forecasters failed to predict how weak the numbers would be.

“This is the third year in a row this has happened. So why are we still being surprised by it?” says Andrew Batson, lead China analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics in Beijing.

He says part of the reason for the weak numbers is seasonal – the first few months of the year mark the end of the Christmas season, and China shuts down for Chinese New Year. But there’s a bigger, more important reason: “The momentum of the Chinese economy is much slower now than it used to be,” says Batson. “The second thing that’s happening is, essentially, the Chinese corporate sector is in a lot more financial stress than it used to be. Debt levels have shot up.”

Some blame China’s government for tightening up credit. But Anne Stevenson-Yang, director at J Capital Research, thinks it’s simpler than that. She says China’s economy is on life support.

“When you put more credit in, there’s a heart beat. When you don’t, there isn’t,” says Stevenson-Yang.  “So all those numbers are trending negative, and the question is: Is anyone willing to pump the machine again?”

So far, it’s not clear whether China’s central bank will loosen up credit. Economists say China needs to stop setting GDP targets – they put pressure on local governments to meet them by spending more. And one more thing, says Stevenson-Yang: China needs to accept it’s having a recession, and move on.

Middle class families fight over East Baton Rouge schools

Fri, 2014-03-14 11:01

Melissa O’Reilly is a bubbly mother of three who describes herself as a “stay-at-home mom, for now.”  

She’s a product of the East Baton Rouge Parish School System (EBRPSS.) She enjoyed it there. She was lucky enough to find spots in the system’s magnet and gifted and talented programs. So even though O’Reilly and her husband had heard about declining standards in the district, they took a chance, and sent their two kids to the neighborhood public school.

“We hoped for the best. We figured: We’re involved parents, we’re going to continue to be involved and hopefully that will carry them through," O’Reilly said. “We were really wrong. Fantastically wrong.”

O’Reilly says the schools were plagued by a lack of discipline, though she diplomatically declines to place blame on either teachers or students. Then one day, her daughter came home from the third grade.

“She was really upset,” O’Reilly said. “The kids were throwing desks. They were a lot bigger than she was. She was hit by one of the desks. It was a mess. The teacher had completely lost control.”

This year, O’Reilly sent her kids to private school.

East Baton Rouge Parish is shaped a bit like an anvil, with the Mississippi River snaking along the western side. At the top of the anvil are a handful of small cities. In the center, the city of Baton Rouge. And at the bottom, an unincorporated area known as “southeast.”

Baton Rouge and the unincorporated areas of the southeast share a number of things: most notably, a government and a public school system. Now, some residents of the unincorporated area want to leave that consolidated government and form their own town, St. George, with its own school districtThe movement to incorporate St. George has set up a battle over shared resources, race, socioeconomics -- and the parish's tax base. 

The St. George movement began as an attempt to carve out a pie-shaped slice of the EBRPSS and create a new, smaller district that supporters said would offer more local control and improve the lives of parents, teachers and students. O’Reilly says she felt torn when she first heard of the proposal.

“I’m not going to lie, I supported it,” O’Reilly said. “It was a devil’s bargain. Looking at it, I knew what would happen to East Baton Rouge Parish, and the negative consequences for them. But my kids are only going to be little once. They’re only going to get one education. And at the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for your kids.”

When the movement to create the school district ran into opposition in the Louisiana House of Representatives, a new movement was born -  an attempt to first incorporate the city of St. George, and then push for a St. George school system.

Trey Cook, Patty Cook and Christina Loewer at a meeting for volunteers who support the incorporation of St. George. They are trying to collect enough signatures locally to trigger a ballot initiative on the issue. (Photo: Noel King/Marketplace)

It didn’t take O’Reilly long to realize that her house is in Baton Rouge proper. The proposed new city, and its promise of a better school system, doesn’t apply to her family.

“Part of me feels left out,” she said, “like we’re standing on the beach while the boats are pulling away. And we’re like, please, take us with you.”

Dustin Yates is one of a core group of St. George supporters.  His group is trying to collect the 18,000 signatures needed to trigger a vote on the incorporation.  He says he thinks about people like Melissa O’Reilly “every single day.”

Yates is a father of two who works for the fire department.  He decided private school was the only option for his two children after spending a year teaching and coaching football at Woodlawn High School, in the district. He says he was troubled by the lack of discipline.

“I witnessed quite a bit of violence,” Yates said. “I always kind of felt safe because I have a physical presence and I’m just not going to be intimidated by a 17 year-old kid, but my heart did go out to certain teachers that did feel bound by the lack of discipline regulations in that school system.”

Yates just received next year’s tuition bill for his daughter, who is entering the first grade. He says private school runs him between $6,500 and $7,000 per year.

Private and parochial schools are popular options for East Baton Rouge Parish parents who can afford the tuition. At the heart of the current debate are middle class families. 

 Joshua Hoffpauir, another St. George supporter, owns a small architectural practice. He says the nature of his work means he can’t predict what his salary will be, year to year. Hoffpauir and his wife live next door to a public school, but Hoffpauir says according to the state’s grading system, it has always been ranked “D” or “F.”

“There’s only one family in our neighborhood that sends their kids to school there,” Hoffpauir said. “There’s 650 houses.”

Pro-St. George parents frequently use the term “local control.” For them, it means a smaller system where parents and teachers can hold children accountable more easily. At present, going to public school in East Baton Rouge Parish doesn't necessarily mean going to school close to home. Competitive magnet programs draw children from all over the parish. And in some areas, failing public schools have been taken over by the state. In those areas, parents have the choice of sending their kids to school elsewhere in the district. Frustrated parents say their children can spend hours on buses, and in some cases, must leave the house before 6 a.m.

“We need the support of parents,” Kathrin McGregor said.  She teaches fourth and fifth grade at Shenandoah elementary school. “How can you have that when they are 30 or 40 minutes from the school? How can you bus children around the town and expect parents to come to the school when their child is exhibiting inappropriate behavior? Kids know they can get away with it.”

EBRPSS Superintendent Bernard Taylor counters that argument with one of his own: The sheer size of the school district is what allows it to offer magnet and gifted and talented programs, as well as programs for children with special needs.

“The benefits that their children receive, these magnet and gifted and talented programs, are because we’re a district of this size,” Taylor said. “With 42,000 students, every dime that we get for every student, accrues a benefit to another student.”

If there is a bright spot in the public school system, it is the well-regarded magnet and gifted and talented programs scattered throughout the district. Parents and students on both sides of the debate speak highly of arts, science, math, language and engineering programs. Students must test into gifted programs; spots in magnet programs are chosen by lottery. If St. George incorporates, EBRPSS will be a significantly smaller district, and magnet programs will be harder to fund, a fact that has made a lot of students and parents, including many who live in the unincorporated area, nervous.

Madeleine Juneau is a sophomore at Baton Rouge Magnet High School.  During a tour of her school’s new radio studios, she spoke glowingly of her teachers, her advanced science classes, and, perhaps her favorite part, the school’s classical ballet instruction.

“If you have less students, they won’t have as much funding for all the programs they have that make [the school] as well-known,” Juneau said. “So, yes, I do think Baton Rouge High will definitely go downhill.”

Those fears are shared by some parents whose children have special needs. Pediatrician Jennifer Hogan’s two young sons are on the autism spectrum. Hogan lives in the unincorporated area. She started her sons in private school, but found the level of attention, teacher expertise, and diversity of the student population in the public schools suited her sons better. She admits she’s afraid of the unknown.

“Some neighbors and friends say the schools can be so much better, but I don’t know who is going to be running the school system,” Hogan said. “I’m pretty happy with the way things are right now, with where my kids are in the public school. I don’t need it to change.”

Some are troubled by the demographics of the proposed new city.

Belinda Davis is a member of “One Community, One School District.”  That’s an advocacy group that opposes the St. George movement.  She has three sons in magnet programs and she points out that St. George would be wealthier and whiter than the city of Baton Rouge. Davis says she’s troubled by the implications, not just for East Baton Rouge Parish, but for other areas around the country that are grappling with how best to educate children from differing socioeconomic environments.

Belinda Davis is with One Community, One School District, a local advocacy group that opposes the movement to incorporate St. George. (Photo: Noel King/Marketplace)

“Our state’s accountability system makes it so that it is easier for us to draw lines, isolate kids in poverty from other kids, so we can have successful school districts,” Davis said. “Even if this is not motivated by race, and not motivated by income, it has consequences for both of those things that cannot be denied. Even if residents in the southeast are not being motivated by a desire to get poor black children out of their schools, that is exactly what’s going to happen.”

Proponents of the incorporation are sensitive to those charges, which they call a desperate attempt to distract from the real issues.

“Just because I was raised in the southern part of the United States, doesn’t mean I’m a racist because I want something better for the middle class,” Dustin Yates said. “It just means I want something better for my family. Color does not interject itself into my thought process whatsoever.”

Here, as in much of the country, race is a delicate issue. For years, the state resisted orders to desegregate the public schools. These days, in many quarters, there’s great sensitivity to anything that might suggest racial discrimination. There’s also clear discomfort about the kinds of kids who are perceived to be at the center of behavioral problems in school. Parents here speak of “children who aren’t getting enough support at home.” Some say that’s coded language, which refers to a small percentage of African-American children from troubled homes in poor areas.

Clay Young owns a local marketing and PR firm. He lives in the unincorporated area, but doesn’t want to take a position on the incorporation. Young is African-American and describes himself as “upper middle class, but not rich.” He sends his two children to private school and volunteers with less fortunate children in the community.

“Any child in the right environment can learn,” Young said. “No matter where he or she comes from. But children who come out of households where there is not structure, don’t know structure. And they tend to go into environments and cause chaos. And so you’ve got parents who are both white and black, who are nervous about putting their kids in environments where there will be chaos. People don’t really want to say that because it’s not PC, and you sound like a racist or an elitist.”

Young says until parents in the area can speak honestly about the kinds of environments their kids are growing up in, finding common ground will be difficult. He also sees the push for St. George as, for the moment, largely theoretical.

Clay Young lives and works in the unincorporated area of East Baton Rouge Parish that would become the city of St. George. (Photo: Noel King/Marketplace) 

“So much of what we’ve talked about is in theory,” Young said. “You still have to build school buildings. That’s going to take some time. You have to build a city on paper, and then you have to really build a city.”

The implications of the incorporation go beyond demographics and hurt feelings. Baton Rouge and the unincorporated area share a tax base and are on the hook together for a thicket of other costs. There are economic implications if the wealthier area leaves the consolidated government.

A 2013 study from economists Jim Richardson, Jared Lorenz and Roy Heidelberg of Louisiana State University’s E.J. Ourso College of Business estimated that if St. George incorporates, spending per pupil in EBRPSS would fall. Much of the money that funds public works and city-parish maintenance comes from retail sales taxes, and many of the large retail centers, including the massive Mall of Louisiana, are in the unincorporated area. The two areas also share legacy costs like post-employment health benefits for city-parish employees, and the cost of a billion-plus dollar overhaul of the parish sewage system.

The study found St. George’s incorporation could result in a $53 million shortfall for the city-parish budget.

Lionel Rainey III, a spokesman for the committee to incorporate the city of St. George argues the fears have been overstated.  

“St. George is not leaving, they are not building a wall,” Rainey said. “They gain nothing from having Baton Rouge go down. They will operate as sister cities.”

Rainey says the St. George movement is following the lead of cities like Sandy Springs, Georgia, which incorporated in 2005, and set about privatizing many government jobs.

“This is a more responsible form of government, a more modern form of government,” Rainey said. “It’s a smaller form of government that is not going to be a hiring agency. The goal for the city of St. George is to have less than twenty employees and not to be saddled with millions and millions of dollars of pension and retirement benefits that you have to pay.”

Others worry that, after so many years as one community, St. George will simply be viewed as a more desirable place to live. Some Baton Rouge residents, including Melissa O’Reilly, are concerned the value of their homes might drop.

“If the St. George community goes through, we expect to see our property value drop pretty severely,” O’Reilly said. “It may not happen overnight, but once that community is established, why would somebody want to buy my house in a failing school district when they can go two neighborhoods over and be in a great school system?”

For many people, the worry is far from immediate. For O’Reilly, it’s real. With their third child about to enter kindergarten, private school could run her family up to $30,000 a year. She and her husband have decided private schooling is not sustainable. They’re moving seventy miles away, to Mandeville. It’s a pretty town, on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain. And then, there are the public schools.

“They’re fantastic,” O’Reilly said. We’ve already gone on a tour of several of them. And they’re fantastic. They’re great.”

Banning 'bossy' and the language behind leadership

Fri, 2014-03-14 10:33

I’ve definitely been called bossy.

I’m a first child, an older sister to three half-brothers, the kind of sibling who made her brother complete concocted ‘challenges’ to win badges (and my approval). Climb a tree, run around the block under a certain amount of time, etc.

I was definitely a smart-ass. And probably a little bit of a showoff.

Then, like most girls, I entered the confusing world of puberty, intra-girl competition, and the messages society sends your way growing up: Be pretty. Be thin. Get boys to like you. Don’t scare them or you won’t be popular.

But, because of a strong mother and excellent teachers, the messages were also: Get good grades. Be independent. Stay true to yourself. Stand up for what you believe in.

Which brings me to Sheryl Sandberg’s Ban Bossy campaign, which already has celebrity support from people as inspiring as Beyoncé. And if you don’t think girls adore her, watch this video of her surprising kids at a Harlem school:

The idea is that bossy is a dog-whistle word, gendered to imply that women shouldn’t be leaders or people who speak out. That the same thing we value in men is considered irritating from a woman.

Language is vital to who we are, and how we make our way in the workplace and in the world.

But over-focus on language can obscure some of the mechanics of other aspects of prejudice or subtle discrimination. For example, what’s the best way to hire and mentor young women? How do you ask for a raise?

BanBossy.com, to its credit, has tips for employers, parents and teachers. And it’s opening a conversation about how characterizing a girl’s behavior in puberty can affect her development when she becomes part of the workforce.

But by banding together to ban words, do we run the risk of letting language have too much power?

How feeling rich helps the economy: An explainer

Fri, 2014-03-14 10:17

The wealth effect is what happens when we are richer, or we feel richer.

And what happens when you feel (or are) richer: you spend more!

(Or that’s the theory.)

If you get paid more money, or you pocket a windfall, you may well go out and splurge a bit. And that money that you spend will juice the economy: the more stuff you buy from a store, the more money that store makes. Then the store owner goes out and buys more stuff from the manufacturer, or maybe buys another company, or maybe hires some more people, who then feel richer and go out and spend more, and so on.

So clearly there's a wealth effect if we are richer. But what about if we just feel richer?

This happens when asset prices rise. Assets being the stuff we own, like our stock investments or our property. Say the value of your portfolio goes up, or Redfin tells you your house is worth $200,000 more than last month. You haven't actually made any money at this point, but you are richer on paper. Which means you might feel richer. Which means you might go out for a steak dinner instead of a Chipotle burrito, or you might buy a new Mercedes, instead of a second-hand Corolla.

I say might, but this kind of thing happens all the time: the stock market goes up, or the home market booms; people look at their investments, see they're worth more and then they go out and spend a bunch of money. That is the wealth effect in action.

It's great for the economy, but it can be really bad for the spender. Why? Because asset prices move both ways, and the price of your shares or your home can fall just as far and as fast as it rose. And if you haven't realized the gain, by cashing in your stocks or refinancing or selling your home, any purchases you made when you were feeling rich were made with money that you didn't really have.

And when that sinks in, you'll be left badly needing a drink.

Problem is, you may not be able to afford it.

Voices: How much data sharing is too much?

Fri, 2014-03-14 09:00

One of the ongoing conversations at the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival involves questions and concerns around data and data collection.

How are we trying to use data to live a better life with the help of wearable devices?

How is the government is collecting data and what does that mean about our privacy?

The topic even manifested itself in real-time data from Twitter input into a machine that made custom Oreo cookies. SXSW attendees may be more savvy than the average social media-ite, but they still ask themselves the same questions of when to share data on their activities, and when it's best to keep it to themselves.

VJ Tucker, from a startup called Curious Science, thinks very carefully about what content he adds to the Facebook universe:

"I have a group of friends that can't go to SXSW Interactive and enjoy seeing the panels that I see, so I usually aggregate together all my quotes from the day and put them up... I only try to only put content out there that I feel is compelling to other people. So I don't live tweet everywhere I'm at or anything like that just because it feels like noise in the world instead of anything that's concentrated and compelling."

Southby volunteer Leslie Hales says she uses the typical social media platforms -- Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter -- but she deliberately avoids tagging her location:

"I'm not really on the location grid just because I feel like it's just too much...I don't know if I want everyone knowing where I am every second of the day."

In fact, location sharing came up with visitors and locals alike, as evidenced by SXSW volunteer and Austin-ite Alan Navarro, who says he does not see the benefits of tagging where you are on social media:

"I just don't see that there's a reason for me to put out where my location is online. There's not a real insentive to do that, so I just leave it alone."

Luciana Caletti of the Brazilian startup Love Mondays does not mind adding her location to tweets, as it makes sense to her to highlight the fact that she is at SXSW. She adds, however, that attending Edward Snowden's skyped-in appearance is giving her second thoughts on where her data is going:

"All this data being collected...so far it's fine, but if it falls into the wrong hands in the future, you never know who is going to be in charge of the country. So I am starting to be a bit more concerned."

'Big Men' filmmaker chronicles oil boom in Ghana

Fri, 2014-03-14 08:54

In 2007, oil was discovered off the coast of Ghana.

The follow up questions -- what happens next to the Ghanaians who live there, and the Texas oil company that first put a drill in the ground --  is the subject of a new documentary from Rachel Boynton called “Big Men.”


Filmmaker Rachel Boynton.

Courtesy of Rachel Boynton

Ghana had never had oil before. Kosmos Energy, the oil company that made the discovery, was a start-up – this was their first well.

"It was this crazy important moment for the company and also for the country as a whole," says Boynton.

She documents the scramble for all parties involved to make a profit from the oil. She has an amazing amount of access to the oil company’s CEO and Ghanaian government officials. 

“The thing that’s holding it together is really this idea of everyone out for himself,” Boynton says.

Boynton also films in Nigeria where oil has been a part of the economy for decades.

“When you’re telling a story about new oil in a country, a lot of people are going to want to know well, what happens to the country?”

She talks to Nigerian rebels who intentionally damage the pipelines to protest misappropriation of oil profits. 

“I was really fascinated by how freely people would talk about ‘wanting to be big’” she says, about the title of the documentary. “They were giving voice to something that I see all the time in America, but that people don’t talk really talk about quite so freely.”

The negative side effects of an oil boom are easy to see in Nigeria. Boynton recounts wading through burning oil sludge there. The fires are sent intentionally by two men who were paid to do it – Boynton finds them and speaks to them.  

“I realize over the course of this interview that they live in this town, where they’ve set these fires. And you gotta understand, this town has been destroyed by these fires. There’s smoke everywhere, it’s absolutely toxic to live there. The land is destroyed. And I say to these guys you know, you live here, did it ever occur to you that you might be shooting yourselves in the foot?”

One of the men answers,

“I don’t really think I’m shooting myself in the foot because, you know, if I shot myself in the foot and somebody paid me money for it, and I didn’t die, that’s alright with me."

BP signs deal to get back in the game

Fri, 2014-03-14 07:34

BP has inked a big deal with the Environmental Protection Agency. Beginning next week, the global energy company will be allowed to bid on leases to drill for oil on territory controlled by the U.S. government, including the Gulf of Mexico. 

In 2012, on the heels of the Deepwater Horizon spill, BP was barred from doing business with the federal agencies. Since then, it has continued to operate ten rigs in the gulf.

“The region is extremely important,” says Matthew Jurecky, the head of oil and gas research for a consulting firm called Global Data, noting he wasn’t surprised the BP ban was lifted, because he always assumed it was “temporary and conditional.”

“They’ve been one of the top producers, responsible for many of the largest projects in the gulf,” he says.

In 2010, four billion barrels of oil poured from one of BP’s deepwater wells into the gulf. Since then, the company has paid more than $3 billion in fines and penalties.

“After the oil disaster, BP’s bottom line was hit quite hard,” says Christopher Knittel, the William Barton Rogers Professor of Energy Economics at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

According to Knittel, the timing of this announcement isn’t coincidental.  In New Orleans next week, at an event in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is scheduled to auction off lease rights to millions of acres off the gulf coast.

“I imagine BP will use this as an opportunity to expand operations,” Knittel says. The company has committed to spending $40 billion in the region over the next decade.

In the administration agreement BP signed with the EPA, it has agreed to more monitoring. Among other things, it will have to hire independent auditors to oversee its operations. 

BP can now bid on leases to drill for oil on government land

Fri, 2014-03-14 07:34

BP has inked a big deal with the Environmental Protection Agency. Beginning next week, the global energy company will be allowed to bid on leases to drill for oil on territory controlled by the U.S. government, including the Gulf of Mexico. 

In 2012, on the heels of the Deepwater Horizon spill, BP was barred from doing business with the federal agencies. Since then, it has continued to operate ten rigs in the gulf.

“The region is extremely important,” says Matthew Jurecky, the head of oil and gas research for a consulting firm called Global Data, noting he wasn’t surprised the BP ban was lifted, because he always assumed it was “temporary and conditional.”

“They’ve been one of the top producers, responsible for many of the largest projects in the gulf,” he says.

In 2010, four billion barrels of oil poured from one of BP’s deepwater wells into the gulf. Since then, the company has paid more than $3 billion in fines and penalties.

“After the oil disaster, BP’s bottom line was hit quite hard,” says Christopher Knittel, the William Barton Rogers Professor of Energy Economics at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

According to Knittel, the timing of this announcement isn’t coincidental.  In New Orleans next week, at an event in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is scheduled to auction off lease rights to millions of acres off the gulf coast.

“I imagine BP will use this as an opportunity to expand operations,” Knittel says. The company has committed to spending $40 billion in the region over the next decade.

In the administration agreement BP signed with the EPA, it has agreed to more monitoring. Among other things, it will have to hire independent auditors to oversee its operations. 

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