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Congress rewrites No Child Left Behind

Thu, 2015-07-09 02:00

The House narrowly passed a bill Wednesday rewriting the federal education law known as the No Child Left Behind Act. No Democrats voted for the measure, which would significantly reduce the role of the federal government in setting education policy and allow federal funding to “follow” low-income students to other schools. 27 Republicans voted against the bill. Meanwhile debate on a bipartisan bill in the Senate is expected to stretch into next week. 

Many blame the 14-year-old education law for ushering in the era of high-stakes standardized testing as a way to hold schools accountable. Both the House and Senate versions of the bill would maintain annual testing in reading and math, but give states more flexibility in how they use test scores and how they deal with low-performing schools.

"Right now, under existing law, the federal government dictates how they need to respond," says Lanae Erickson Hatalsky with the centrist group Third Way. "Under this law, the states would get to dictate how they’re going to intervene in those schools."

Civil rights activists worry some states won’t do enough to make sure low-income, disabled, and minority students are learning.

"Especially among our most vulnerable students, we need to make sure that we know not only how they are performing,” but that states will step in when students are falling behind, says Leticia Bustillos with the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights group.

The Senate bill does address what many see as over-testing in schools. States and districts, which often pile on additional tests, could use federal funds to study how they assess students — and how often. The House adopted an amendment to its bill allowing parents to opt their children out of testing. 

Between two fern bars

Thu, 2015-07-09 01:59

That's how much Alan Stillman borrowed from his mother to short-lease a bar. That was in 1965, when a post-prohibition New York still lacked options for co-ed drinking — bars were mostly populated by men. Wanting to meet more single women, Stillman opened a bar with touches of home decor, and waiters dressed in red and white striped shirts. It was a huge success, and is credited with starting the trend known as "fern bars." Oh, and the name of that revolutionary establishment? TGI Fridays. The New Yorker has the story behind the growth of the franchise, and how it shaped a taste for sugary drinks.


That's how much one Greek — Christos Karantas, a freelance journalist based in Athens — budgeted for groceries this week. With bank withdrawals capped at $66 a day, Greeks like Karantas are paying a lot of attention to how much they spend on any given day. We've got the breakdown of what his weekly spending looks like while Greek banks remain closed. 


That's how many pharmacies Walgreens gained access to in the UK in its purchase of Alliance Boots, a European drugstore and healthcare products company. It's part of a larger plan to not only raise the profile of the store among people who need to get prescriptions filled, but also to increase visibility of other kinds of products — like food and cosmetics — that customers will buy while in the store.

3.8 percent

That's how much China's Shenzhen stock market rose on Thursday. The Shanghai Composite rose 5.8 percent. As the Wall Street Journal reports, it was the largest single-day gain for the Chinese stock market in six years. This followed a major tumble that forced a halt of trading by the Chinese government. Shenzhen recently became a haven for entrepreneurial tech companies looking to get away from state ownership. But with recent market activity bursting the boom, many of those same companies are now suffering the consequences.


That's how many accounts you can now prioritize in your Facebook newsfeed as part of an update for the iOS app. Mashable writes that it's one of several changes Facebook is rolling out to make the newsfeed more personalized.

Big stock market trouble in China

Wed, 2015-07-08 13:52

Ever since the Shanghai Composite index dropped back in June from a 52-week high, it’s been on a downhill spiral. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index was off another 5.9 percent on Wednesday.

The drop encouraged the Chinese government to step in and invest money into the stock market in hopes it would fix the problem.

“It’s really kind of dumb and futile,” says Andy Rothman, investment strategist at Matthews Asia. “What’s going to worry me more is if they start intervening in the economy in addition to the stock market.”

Rothman says the Chinese government’s response to the drop was not surprising — as its responded to similar crisis like this before. But if this decline continues, could it damage China’s economy?  

“Not many Chinese are actually invested in the market,” Rothman says. “There are only about 50 million active investors [out of] a population of 1.3 billion.”

And most of those investors, Rothman says, have about 15,000 U.S. dollars in their bank accounts.

Click the media player above to hear more.

Toxic algae bloom endangers Washington livelihoods

Wed, 2015-07-08 13:05

Tokeland, Washington — Tom Petersen’s 50-foot crab boat is sitting idly in the Port of Willapa Harbor, a tiny coastal inlet 40 or so miles north of the mouth of the Columbia River. On a normal early summer day, Petersen would be selling Dungeness crab to canneries, big-city buyers and even fresh off the back of his boat to locals and tourists. And he’d be making good money doing it. With crab selling at up to $10 per pound, Petersen could be making thousands of dollars a day.

But for the past few weeks, Petersen and all the other commercial crabbers who fish this 38-mile stretch of Washington’s coast have been forced to pull up their crab pots. And they’re not alone. Commercial and recreational razor clamming has been shut down in Oregon and parts of Washington, costing local economies millions of dollars. 

Tom Petersen sits in his 50-foot boat

Ashley Ahearn/KUOW/EarthFix

The unusually warm water and sunny weather this spring contributed to a giant bloom of algae that releases a toxin known as domoic acid. It gets into the food chain via filter feeders like razor clams that can then be eaten by crabs, marine mammals, birds and humans. Too much of the toxin can induce seizures, short-term memory loss and even death.
The epicenter of the algae bloom appears to be along Washington’s southern coast just north of the mouth of the Columbia River.   

And as Peterson can attest, the impacts on the multimillion-dollar commercial Dungeness crab fishery have been severe. He was out on his boat, Gail Force, checking his pots when he heard the news that his fishing area was closed.

“It had been a really slow winter season, and it was just starting to shape up. And about noon that day I got the report that they were closing our season down,” Petersen recalls.
“I felt like throwing up. I was sick to my stomach.”

In Washington, the Dungeness crab fishery is worth more than $60 million a year. Oregon’s is roughly the same size, and California’s is even more valuable — close to $200 million annually.

“Dungeness crab is the single most valuable species fishery on the West Coast,” says Larry Thevik, vice president of the Washington Dungeness Crab Fishermen’s Association and a crabber for 45 years.

“If we have more of these episodes, it’s going to be pretty devastating,” Thevik says, adding that he does not disagree with the state’s decision to close 38 miles of the Washington coast to Dungeness crab harvest. “We wouldn’t want to err on the wrong side of the public safety issue and have someone get ill and have that translate into a market crisis.”

Commercial and recreational razor clam harvesting has been closed in Southern Washington and all of Oregon. Dan Ayres, the coastal shellfish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, says it was not easy to turn people away from the beaches in early May, but the risk was too high.

“Razor clams tend to bind the toxins in their fat tissue, and they hang onto it for a long time,” Ayres says, adding that the concentrations of domoic acid found in some razor clam samples were more than 10 times above action levels. Oysters and other filter feeders can also be contaminated, though they tend to pass the toxin through their systems more quickly than razor clams.

A sign advertising crab in Tokeland 

Ashley Ahearn/KUOW/EarthFix

Ayres estimates that the lost revenue from the razor clam closure since May could total more than $9 million for Washington’s coastal communities. Commercial razor clam diggers are out roughly $250,000, he says.

“These are small business men who are living somewhat on the edge, and it’s tough for them,” Ayres says.

Petersen stands next to hundreds of his crab pots, piled high and dry on the shore near the dock. Several other boats are tied up nearby, but there’s not a soul to be seen in the marina, which would normally be bustling this time of year, Petersen says.

He’s hoping that the bloom will subside and he and his crew can get back out on the water, but if the toxin levels don’t go down, he could be looking at six months with no crabbing. Petersen’s been doing this for 40 years. He’s paid off his boat. He’ll get by, he says, but his two young crewmen are collecting unemployment.
“One of them’s trying to make house payments. The other one’s got kids they’re trying to raise, and they’re just all standing on the sidelines now,” he says, looking out over the quiet harbor.

“When I first started crabbing I got on with this old sea dog and he told me, ‘Tom,’ he says, ‘You gotta really work hard. Every day you miss is a day you’re not gonna make up.’ ”

This story came to us via EarthFix, the public media collaborative that covers science and the environment in the Pacific Northwest.

Fed minutes reveal looming interest rate hikes

Wed, 2015-07-08 12:59

Just to bring it back home with all the global news of late: the Federal Reserve released the minutes of its most recent meeting today.

I'm just going to quote them, because Fed minutes are some good reading, I'm here to tell you.

"Members thus saw economic conditions as continuing to approach those consistent with warranting a start to the normalization of the stance of monetary policy."

Or, in other words, interest rate hikes are coming before the end of the year.

Why the government keeps a helium reserve

Wed, 2015-07-08 12:58

Congress is again asking questions about the nation's federal helium reserve — yep, such a thing exists — after a critical audit in April.

Sure, helium is used in balloons, and can make your voice sound funny if you inhale it. But there are so many other uses for helium.

“Computer chips and fiber optics are some big uses now," says Tim Spisak, a senior adviser at the Bureau of Land Management, which runs the reserve. "MRI is a big use.”

The reserve was first dreamed up about a hundred years ago for the military. Today, Spisak says, private industry uses about half of the helium to cool the magnets in MRIs and purify silicon.

“It is crucial, because we have no alternative,” says Moses Chan, a professor of physics at Pennsylvania State University who uses helium in his lab. 

Chan says 20 years ago, he paid $2 for a liter of helium. Today’s price: $8. 

Martha Morton, director of research instrumentation at University of Nebraska, Lincoln, works with huge magnets and uses helium to cool them. Morton says helium production isn’t keeping up with demand. And ideally, "I would like to see at least some helium reserve just to balance out price spikes,” she says.

But Congress has told the Bureau of Land Management to get out of the helium business by 2021, selling what’s left in the reserve.

Why not to freak out about the NYSE trading halt

Wed, 2015-07-08 12:57

Try not to freak out too much about Wednesday’s New York Stock Exchange outage. First, it’s over, though many questions remain as to what happened and what NYSE is doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But more importantly, stocks were still bought and sold all day, even while the NYSE halted trading.

Think of it like a time when you had a broken faucet at your house. You clearly didn’t die of thirst. You went to another sink and had a drink of water. Stock markets work something like that. There are 11 exchanges (not to mention dozens more private trading venues). If one is down, orders to buy and sell can be filled at other exchanges.

And at the end of the day, Marketplace will still do the numbers. We promise.

China's stock market fall hits small investors

Wed, 2015-07-08 12:53

Shanghai's old town — with its narrow alleys, pungent street food and tiny single room homes — may be being swept away by new development, but enough of it remains to sustain a vibrant community.

And in the early part of this year, much of the gossip among the shop owners and stall holders centered on the goings on, and the money to be made, not far away on the other side of the dirty old Huangpu River, at the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

"I hadn't done any stock market investments before," Lin Jinxia tells me, "but I was influenced by all the talk."

Lin lives at the top of seven flights of stairs, the landings of which are littered with dusty old bicycles, in a tiny apartment with her husband and her four-year-old son.

They're migrant workers who arrived from Fujian Province five years ago and, through hard graft in their shop selling buttons to a bustling garment industry, they've saved themselves a tidy fortune.

Then in May this year they plowed a large chunk of it into the stock market, investing more than  200,000 RMB ($32,000) into four stocks.

It seemed a sensible enough spread with picks from the electronics, fashion and car-sales industries. But the timing was terrible.

They all tanked, collectively standing now at just half of their original purchase price, amounting to a combined loss for Lin and her husband of 100,000 RMB.

"I've lost so much of the money that I've worked so hard for," she says. "Now I'm having to save and cut down on my spending. We don't earn much. It was all money from our hard work."

In China, unlike in the European or U.S. markets, individuals make up around 80 percent of the investors.

Many of them are new and inexperienced, often following whim and rumor to make decisions, and so the market is arguably more vulnerable to quick turnarounds in herd behavior.

Having been marching share prices up the hill for well over a year, on June 12 the crowd suddenly veered back down again, and three weeks later almost a third of the value — $3.2 trillion — had been wiped away.

'I knew there were risks'

Chen Zhihui's small tailors shop can be found down a passageway close to Lin Jinxia's home.

And like his neighbor, he too acted on the advice of all those who had, until recently, been making nice, fat paper profits, not realizing he was entering the fray at the worst possible moment.

"To me, personally, I knew there were risks," he tells me from his tiny workspace with his sewing machine whirring away beside us.

He bought stock in just one company, 10,000 RMB's worth of a Chinese steel-maker, only to find his shares suddenly trading at around half their original value.

And while his losses are relatively small, Chen is well aware that in almost every other shop and home in this district and beyond, there are others in a similar predicament, or fearing that they soon might be.

"If everyone lost 5,000 RMB, it could add up to a big amount," he says.

For many analysts, that explains why the Chinese government has been so keen to stop the market sliding any further.

Economic impact

Once it saw a buoyant stock market as a key part of its strategic shift to a consumer society with rapidly increasing share ownership having the twin benefits of both recapitalizing the country's big debt-laden firms and, at the same time, making the small punter feel richer.

Now the Communist party faces the frightening prospect of the very opposite effect; as savings vanish into thin air, millions of investors are simultaneously tightening their belts with potentially chilling impacts for the Chinese economy and beyond.

For now, it is only the late arrivals to China's stock market binge that have been burned, with the recent, sharp depreciation in value still comfortably outweighed by longer term gains going back a year and more.

But the slew of measures the authorities have unleashed in the past few days are part of an attempt — perhaps futile — to stop things getting any worse.

It has been criticized by outside observers as dangerous political meddling in the workings of the markets and their ability to put a proper price on risk.

But then, it could be argued, that exact same charge could be levelled at the attempts to pump up the markets in the first place.

Politics not economics

Some analysts dismiss the fear that a full-blown stock market collapse could precipitate a wider economic shock.

"The stock market is too small, too tiny, completely irrelevant," Chen Long, China economist at Gavekal Dragonomics tells me. "It accounts for just 5 percent of Chinese household wealth, and anyway the market is still up on where it was last year."

Much more could yet be wiped off the value of Chinese shares, it would follow, before anyone needs to panic, least of all the government. So perhaps, if this view is correct, Beijing's actions are motivated by the need to contain the political fallout, rather than the economic.

In the middle of an already tricky slowdown in GDP growth, the last thing it needs is hordes of mom and pop stock traders taking to the streets. And so far, at least, that part of the strategy might be working with little sign of any anger.

Despite her already heavy losses, Lin Jinxia's plan is to hang onto her massively devalued stock in the hope it rises again. "I believe the government will come up with the right strategies," she tells me.

Confident investor

Liu Changrong is a restaurateur, selling noodles, pork chops and sticky rice a block or so from Chen, the tailor.

He is either canny or lucky, or both. "You just need to buy at the right point," he tells me.

He did exactly that, buying 200,000 RMB worth of shares in a large Chinese conglomerate last year and then selling them all in May, just below their peak.

He made a very nice profit indeed, coming out more than 50 percent ahead. You might think that would be a good place to call it a day.

But despite the cautionary tales of his neighbors all around him, he's still confident the government will turn things around.

"When the market improves, I'll get back in again," he tells me as he puts a big pan of water on to boil.

Apple and Microsoft: A sad week in tech

Wed, 2015-07-08 12:52

MarketWatch obtained a report from Slice Intelligence that states Apple watch sales have dropped by 90 percent. While Slice’s numbers have yet to be verified or confirmed by Apple, that’s a pretty huge and unfortunate decline.  

Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson explains one of the red flags that indicates the watch isn’t doing so well. 

“The company is not giving us a data point on the actual watch sales, which is kind of a departure from the usual. The company usually says, ‘Oh, and by the way, we sold 70 million iPhones this quarter or over the last two days,’ and so that I think is sort of telling,” he says.  

There’s not only the issue of how many watches are being sold or not, but also how many are being returned.

“I’ve talked to people who’ve said there’s an unusual number of returns coming into Apple stores. So I think that this is looking like a tough sell for the company right now,” Johnson says. 

One of Apple’s biggest competitors, Microsoft, is also having some problems. Microsoft has laid off an additional 7,000 to 8,000 of its employees.

“A lot of these people are coming from the phone division … you remember that there was a much larger number of folks laid off earlier. This is about Microsoft, I think, kind of refocusing. It’s about the larger mission of the company right now, trying to figure out what its core values are,” Johnson says.

Despite long-term success of Microsoft’s tablets, the company hasn't figured out how to make its phones as successful. Johnson says Microsoft is “trying to figure out how to make the Windows phone something people want.”

In this respect, it seems like Apple and Microsoft have a similar problem on their hands (or wrists).

People of Athens remain calm during debt crisis

Wed, 2015-07-08 12:48

After bailout talks between Greece and its creditors broke down last weekend, the European Central Bank froze financial support to Greece's banks. The Greek government has instilled a 60 euro limit (roughly $66) on withdrawals from cash machines.

But according to Marketplace’s Stephen Beard, it’s hard to tell that Greece is in a borderline-dire financial situation by looking around the city of Athens.

"You don’t see any serious signs of social stress," Beard says. "You don’t see fist fights in the street or anything like that, but there are tell-tale signs of trouble."

One of those tell-tale signs becomes apparent quickly for anyone visiting Athens, just as one would leave the airport.

"The government has made the subway system free," Beard says. "I guess because they know that people are strapped for cash since the banks are closed and I guess also to mollify [citizens] … before the anger boils over."

PODCAST: The story of climate change

Wed, 2015-07-08 03:00

More on the tumble in the Chinese stock markets today. Plus, Members of the U.S. House call DHS’s focus on climate change as a national security risk “misplaced” and want an explanation of that strategy at a hearing Wednesday. The session speaks to the many ways climate change has been framed — economic, political, religious, etc. We look at how and why that has come to be. New data show primary care doctors are seeing slightly bigger raises from commercial insurers than higher-paid specialists. We put that in context, as insurers look to control spending by keeping more of the care focused in primary care, rather than with expensive specialists who love to administer expensive tests.

A hearing on 'misplaced' climate focus at DHS

Wed, 2015-07-08 02:00

Climate change and national security are on the agenda in Congress Wednesday, at a hearing of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency.

The hearing, “Examining DHS's Misplaced Focus on Climate Change," showcases the political side of the issue, and while the scientific community’s consensus on climate change is now clear — it is real, and it is caused at least in part by human activity — there continues to be rancorous debate in Congress and many state legislatures on this issue, and on whether actions to reduce carbon emissions should be undertaken.

Meanwhile, climate change is creeping into a lot of cultural realms in America.

NASCAR’s going green, with solar-panels and LED lights at the track. Other pro sports like football and hockey are touting their sustainability initiatives and efforts to reduce carbon emissions as well.

Environmental discourse has invaded the Pentagon, where Marc Levy of Columbia University’s Earth Institute (he is a witness at the House hearing) says national-security planners now view climate change as “a life-and-death question. It’s not a green issue, it’s not a tree-hugger issue. It affects our security, our core interests as a nation.”

University of Michigan law professor David Uhlmann, a former federal environmental prosecutor, says the Supreme Court reshaped the legal landscape in 2007 with a decision that led the EPA to issue regulations based on the principle that “climate change and greenhouse gas emissions in particular, were endangering public health and welfare.”

Now, says Levy, it’s not so much environmentalists or celebrities driving the change, as “the big multinationals, the military and the Catholic church,” which he says have a long enough time horizon, and enough money and people at risk, to make change on climate change happen.

Subway suspends relationship with Jared Fogle

Wed, 2015-07-08 02:00

Subway and Jared Fogle have been linked for two decades through hundreds of commercials. 

In one, Fogle recounts his weight-loss story, which the sandwich  chain originally highlighted, sparking a long and lucrative relationship: "I knew I needed to make better choices about my health and change the way I ate. So I walked into a Subway and made a plan," Fogle says. 

Now, that relationship appears in jeopardy. Subway suspended, but did not permanently sever, its relationship with Fogle after authorities raided his Indiana home Tuesday in what Subway said was an investigation connected to the child pornography charges against a former employee of Fogle's charity.

The charity is focused on battling childhood obesity. Its former executive director, Russell Taylor, was arrested two months ago. Fogle cut all ties with Taylor. 

"Jared has been cooperating, and continues to cooperate, with law enforcement in their investigation of unspecified charges, and looks forward to its conclusion," Fogle's attorney Ronald Elberger said in a statement. 

But the damage may already be done. Jared Fogle and his weight-loss story have been tied to Subway's image. Now the company has to perform a balancing act. 

"Subway has been doing very well, and a lot of it has been about their healthy positioning. And I think Jared has been a part of that image," says Barbara Kahn, professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania. "You certainly don't want to abandon someone inappropriately, but  in this particular case, the accusation is a particularly bad one for a brand to be associated with."

Khan says it's better for Subway to walk away, whether or not Fogle faces any charges himself. Other marketing experts have come to a similar conclusion.

Subway has already removed all mention of Fogle from its website.

Subway suspends relationship with Jared

Wed, 2015-07-08 02:00

Subway and Jared have been linked for two decades, through hundreds of commercials. 

In one, Jared Fogle recounts his weight-loss story, which the subway-chain originally highlighted, sparking a long and lucrative relationship: "I knew I needed to make better choices about my health, and change the way I ate. So I walked into a Subway and made a plan," Fogle says. 

Now, that relationship appears in jeopardy. Subway suspended, but did not permanently sever, its relationship with Fogle after authorities raided his Indiana home Tuesday in what Subway said was an investigation connected to the child pornography charges against a former employee of Fogle's charity.

The charity is focused on battling childhood obesity. Its former executive director, Russell Taylor, was arrested two months ago. Fogle cut all ties with Taylor. 

"Jared has been cooperating, and continues to cooperate, with law enforcement in their investigation of unspecified charges, and looks forward to its conclusion," Fogle's attorney Ronald Elberger said in a statement. 

But the damage may already be done. Jared Fogle and his weight-loss story have been tied to Subway's image. Now, the company has to perform a balancing act. 

"Subway has been doing very well, and a lot of it has been about their healthy positioning. And I think Jared has been a part of that image," says Barbara Kahn, professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania. "You certainly don't want to abandon someone inappropriately, but  in this particular case, the accusation is a particularly bad one for a brand to be associated with."

Khan says it's better for Subway to walk away, whether or not Fogle faces any charges himself. Other marketing experts have come to a similar conclusion.

Subway has already removed all mention of Jared from its website.

Greek Prime Minister strikes a foreboding tone

Wed, 2015-07-08 02:00

The deadline is now Sunday for Greece to work out a financial rescue with its creditors — an emergency, 28-nation European Summit has been convened for that day. 

Speaking before the European Parliament on Wednesday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras talked of his desire to keep Greece in the European Union. But there was another distinct tone to his speech. 

"The sense that the Prime Minister gave in his speech ... is rather one of greater foreboding, because he spent a very long time dwelling on the mistakes of the past. He said these programs, these bailout ideas, have been running for five years. The Greek people are exhausted with austerity and they can’t take anymore," says independent reporter John Psaropoulos of The New Athenian. “It’s almost as though he’s setting up the stage for a failure on Sunday."

 Click the media player above to hear more.

When messing with gear leads to music

Wed, 2015-07-08 02:00

As part of a series about music technology called "Noise Makers," we're talking to musicians about their favorite noise-making device. To kick the series off, Hrishikesh Hirway of the Song Exploder podcast, talks about what he's learned from interviewing musicians from bands like U2, Spoon, and the National.

In his podcast, Hrishikesh Hirway invites artists to break down a song layer by layer and tell the story behind its composition. This behind-the-music perspective often reveals how musicians arrive at the final mix from a moment of inspiration; a trajectory sometimes instigated by equipment.

"Every artist approaches how they get into a song differently," Hrishikesh says. "For some, it starts with lyrics, some it starts with the melody, but for a lot people it starts with just messing with gear. Messing with a guitar that they have or trying an instrument they’ve never used before because it opens up their brain up to ways that they haven’t been used to.”

While this could lead to avid collecting of guitars and synths — and in many cases it does — Hrishikesh believes that "it doesn’t really matter what the equipment is that you use" because "it’s really about the ideas you build into it.”

This is certainly the case for Nick Zammuto of the band the Books, who ditched instruments all together to cut a new path ... literally. Zammuto created a "drum machine" by scratching indentations into the locked groove of a vinyl record where the needle rests after the record ends. Hrishikesh says Zammuto described this record technique as "a blank canvass for him rhythmically." 

But in order to turn the silent loop of vinyl record into a music making device, Zammuto had to employ some geometry. By using a protractor to measure the 360 degree circumference at the center of the record, he was able to divide it into custom templates for different time signatures. 

He even played the sound through a corrugated PVC pipe to give it an extra special quality.

So noise makers are more than those obnoxious plastic hands at parties or sports games. Musicians are also noise makers who build novel ideas into seemingly commonplace objects, instruments, and equipment. 

Scratch Edition from Nick zammuto on Vimeo.

Bird flu is winding down but bakers still feel a pinch

Wed, 2015-07-08 02:00

The bird flu crisis is winding down, with no new cases reported since June 17th. But for bakers, there's still a big egg crisis.

Many buy liquid eggs by the bucket. Those pails are harder to come by and are far more expensive lately. That’s because commercial egg operations have been hit hardest by the bird flu. Some that produce eggs also have equipment to break them, so that bakers needn’t do so by hand. With fewer of those operations running, liquid egg is at a premium.

That’s prompting John Lupo, a wholesale baker in White Bear Lake, Minn., a Twin Cities suburb, to stockpile buckets of liquid eggs. His bakery, called Grandma's, sells baked goods to places like grocery stores, coffee shops and corporate food services.

“We're trying to get as far ahead as we can, buying from every source that is willing to sell us. We're worried they'll be rationing,” he says.

Lupo says in early April he was paying about $26 for a 30-lb. bucket of eggs. Now he’s paying more like $90 a pail. That’s driving his costs up dramatically, since he burns through about 30 buckets a week.

Theoretically, Lupo could buy cartons of whole eggs, which haven't had quite the same price spike as liquid egg products. But he says it’s not practical to crack more than 30,000 eggs a month by hand.

“Impossible," he says. "We just simply couldn't crack them fast enough and then you have to deal with the issue of the egg shells in the product. That would be a food safety hazard."

John Lupo at Grandma’s Bakery in White Bear Lake, Minn.

Annie Baxter/Marketplace

Some commercial bakers are experimenting with egg substitutes out of fear that the liquid egg shortage lasts a couple years. A firm called Hampton Creek is optimistic that will goose its sales. The company has figured out how to make egg-intensive products like cookies and mayo using plant based ingredients instead.

“You can imagine that given the issues around avian flu, food manufacturers, large restaurant chains, big retailers are even more interested in what we're doing,” says Josh Tetrick, the company’s chief executive. 

But for a baker like Lynn Schurman in Cold Spring, Minn., egg substitutes pose their own problems. She dreads having to change the ingredient labels on the hundreds of baked goods she provides to places like grocery stores.

“We'll have to be constantly monitoring the labels to make sure they are accurate for what we're producing,” she says. “Not any fun.”


Why primary care doctors are getting paid more

Wed, 2015-07-08 02:00

In healthcare, you can pretty much guarantee that specialists earn more than primary care doctors. That’s what makes a new article in the journal Health Affairs noteworthy.

Researchers found that in 2013 and 2014, commercial insurers started paying primary docs a bit more — a 2 percent increase — while specialists like orthopedists took a hit of 4 percent.

The report says insurers spend nearly twice as much on an orthopedist as on a primary care doc, and those costs increasingly are picked up by the consumer thanks to high-deductible health plans.

University of Pennsylvania economist Robert Town says insurers want to shield consumers from that exposure.

"Insurers want two things. They want low costs and they want happy customers. They can keep consumers happy by directing them to primary care and only see specialists when they really need to see specialists,” he says.

Whether it works or not, you can see insurers strategy: Get primary care doctors to act like gatekeepers. That alone makes these doctors more valuable, thus the bump in pay, even if it's modest.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Kathy Hempstead says this approach is a hallmark of this new era.

There should be more emphasis on prevention and wellness, and there should be less emphasis on expensive tests and procedures,” she says.

Hempstead, lead author of this report, says the real test for this primary-care-focused approach is whether it will work for people who are really sick and need the expensive tests and procedures.

I now pronounce you ... graduate and graduate

Wed, 2015-07-08 01:36

That's the number of times the Google search algorithm showed job ads for higher-paying executive positions to women in a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University. Contrast that with the 1,852 times men were shown those same elite jobs. But as the Washington Post reports, it's not as simple as blaming the algorithm for the sexist search results. Companies placing the ads may have specified interest preferences for users being targeted, for example. 

21 percent

That's the percentage of people who majored in theology and religious studies that married someone who received the same degree. In fact, a look at the U.S. census shows that a surprisingly high percentage of people marry someone who majored in the same area as themselves. Priceonomics has the breakdown of the 50 most common majors and who kept their wedding vows within their quad, so to speak.

121 percent

That's how much more associated Nike was with the Women's World Cup than Adidas. The brand won big with the huge viewership for the game, and it wasn't even an official sponsor of the FIFA World Cup. But as Fortune reports, its sponsorship of the U.S. women's soccer team helped it win big on social media.

2 percent

That's how much more pay primary care doctors received in 2013 and 2014 from insurers. Contrast that with a 4 percent decrease for more specialized caregivers like orthopedists. But that doesn't mean they're necessarily making more. High-deductable health plans mean that even though insurers spend almost twice as much on, say, a visit to the orthopedist, patients are picking up more and more of that cost.

$1 billion

That's how much Disney has agreed to invest in its two Anaheim parks — Disneyland and California Adventure — in exchange for a 30-year extension of its tax exemption. As reported by Bloomberg, improvements will include a parking garage, road improvements and new attractions.

Greece crowdfunding campaign fails to reach goal

Tue, 2015-07-07 14:09

You know that Indiegogo campaign to crowd-fund the European bailout to the tune of €1.6 billion

Yeah ... it didn't quite get there.

Courtesy Indiegogo

It topped out yesterday and closed with €1.9 million in the bank. 

About 108,650 people contributed, which is kind of amazing. 

No word on whether any of them were named Angela Merkel.