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Scottish independence and the finance sector

Fri, 2014-08-22 09:34

In about a month, Scotland will decide whether it wants to become an independent country, or remain as part of the United Kingdom.

In 2008, the UK government had to step-in and bailout the Edinburgh-based Royal Bank of Scotland. It injected more than £46 billion into the bank, which had so many customers across the UK that it was considered too big to fail.

BBC Scotland's economics correspondent Colletta Smith has been finding out what Scottish independence could mean to one of the country's most lucrative sectors.

Twitter wants to choose what you see

Fri, 2014-08-22 08:16

Twitter wants to grow its user base by exposing its users to new content. Their strategy, if you haven't heard already: Inserting tweets into your feed from people you don’t follow. 

"For example, I may not follow CNN, but I may start seeing tweets from CNN in my feed because people that I do follow like CNN, and they’re engaging with those tweets," says Kurt Wagner, who covers social media at Re/code. "It enables them to target you more efficiently with ads," says Wagner.

Judging from a somewhat scathing initial response, Twitter could risk losing some users. Many people enjoy using Twitter because they’re able to filter the content that they’re most interested in seeing, says Wagner.

"I think that’s going to rub some people the wrong way," adds Wagner. "They’ll feel like they’re losing control over what they see."

PODCAST: Wyoming, the financial center of the universe

Fri, 2014-08-22 07:44

We turn to Wyoming this morning, where the financial world is parsing through Janet Yellen's keynote speech for hints to when the Fed might raise interest rates. Then, famously neutral, Switzerland has not joined in sanctioning Russia and as such, they aren't included in Russia's retaliatory ban on European food imports.

Why Europe loves Yellen's moves

Fri, 2014-08-22 07:25

This week, Janet Yellen is the star of the show at the Economic Policy Symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. That's where central bankers from all over the world converge to talk monetary policy...and possibly fly fishing techniques.

There aren't expected to be any major surprises from Yellen this year. The Federal Reserve is expected to stay its course with lots of stimulus and low interest rates.  

"I think everybody agrees, quantitative easing is essentially on auto-pilot," says Bill Stone, Chief Investment Strategist for PNC Wealth Management.

"Quantitative easing" is the Fed's now-famous policy of pumping billions of dollars a month into the U.S. economy. When the Fed first started the practice, central banks around the world voiced concern. But now Stone says Europe looks poised to take similar measures.

"Relative to Europe, we look like we’re kings in terms of economic growth," Stone says. "I don’t necessarily feel like anyone’s saying, 'You’ve stayed too loose too long,' anymore."

In fact, now Europe is worried the U.S. will taper the stimulus off too fast.

"There’s a real fear that the U.S. will raise rates more quickly and that they’ll see a money drain out of Europe," says Michael Farr, president of investment firm Farr, Miller and Washington

The worry is that if the Fed turns the spigot off and U.S. economic growth slows, we’ll buy fewer European goods, which would be a big blow to the struggling European economies.

Painkillers will be tougher to get this fall

Fri, 2014-08-22 06:59

Starting this fall, it will be more difficult to get commonly prescribed painkillers, such as Vicodin.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has announced a new rule that reclassifies drugs containing hydrocodone. That means most consumers will be forced to get their prescription in person — no more over-the-phone refills. 

Dr. Jeffrey Samet at Boston University says abuse of prescription painkillers is a devastating trend.

"It’s linked to addiction and transition to heroin use and people are dying from that," he says. "So, we need to do something."

The question is whether reclassifying the drug is too crude an approach.

The public health risk is clear: the CDC reports more than 16,500 people died from opioid painkiller overdoses in 2010. Mark Fleury, with the American Cancer Society’s lobbying arm, says when it’s harder to get pain pills because of addiction, it’s harder for people that really need pain pills to get them.

“A post-operative cancer patient who has some breakthrough pain from a surgery for example, you are in pain in the middle of the night and you really don’t want to get up and drive to a doctor’s office to get a prescription,” he says.

There is data that shows an increased risk for suicide when someone lives in chronic pain, Fleury says and regulators should use patient usage patterns to determine how easy it is to obtain pain pills instead.

Shocker: Rent is very, very high

Fri, 2014-08-22 04:35

The rent’s too damn high. You hear that from Los Angeles to New York.  A new report from the real estate website Zillow says the median rent in July for a condo, single family home or co-op was $1,318 per month.

Part of the problem?

“Rents really never had that reset that we saw in home values,” says Svenja Gudell, a housing economist at Zillow.  Demand increased after the housing bubble burst, she says, because many people lost their homes to foreclosure and had to rent.  

That increased demand has pushed rents up 2 to 5 percent a year, Gudell says, “and incomes haven’t kept up with that growth.”

Zillow says if you compare the national median gross income and median rent, people signing a lease in June paid almost a third of their income to their landlords.

In some places, it’s worse.

“Right now we have over 900,000 very low income households in Florida that are all paying more than half of their income for housing,” says Jaimie Ross, president of the Florida Housing Coalition.  

Ross says they’re just one step away from homelessness.

Cities with the most unaffordable rent

Map created using data from Zillow research, showing U.S. cities with the highest share of income needed to afford median rent prices. (Graphic by Shea Huffman/Marketplace)

Political ads keep community papers afloat

Fri, 2014-08-22 03:57

For years now, newspapers and magazines have been dealing with a decline in advertising, including a drop in political advertising. There is an exception to that, however. Candidates still see value in periodicals that serve specific communities, including Spanish speakers and African-Americans.

“I think that many campaigns consider these as relatively inexpensive ways of reaching people that they may not be able to reach otherwise,” says Felipe Korzenny, who heads the Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication at Florida State University.

That makes these newspapers popular with local candidates, and no-brainers for national candidates who get a lot of bang for their buck.

“Newspaper advertising budgets are a rounding era in campaign budgets,” says Ken Goldstein, an expert on election ads at the University of San Francisco. Still, many newspapers are not eager to leave any money on the table, and they play up their ability to help advertisers target specific segments of the population.

“In some ways, newspapers were the Internet before the Internet was the Internet,” Goldstein says. In a way, micro-targeting, which is in vogue right now, started with these smaller print publications.

Chicago Defender publisher Cheryl Mainor is the first woman to run the paper in its 109-year history. The Defender, she says, continues to have a loyal readership among African-Americans in Chicago and around the country.

“We have been able to stand where others who are more generalized have fallen,” Mainor says.

The newspaper has covered and engaged with local politics from the very beginning. It was founded during the Great Migration, and Mainor says she expects there will be “a significant amount of political advertising” ahead of city elections in the spring. Aldermen see the paper as a way to reach their constituents, and state and national politicians know it is a way to reach specific voters — something that is hard to do with TV ads.

“When you place an ad in the publication that they read, that they trust, that they respect, and you’re asking them for their vote, now you’re actually talking to them,” Mainor says.

According to media analyst Ken Doctor, with Newsonomics, papers like the Defender are attractive for another reason. Campaigns spend a lot of time going after undecided voters, “but that voter who has made up his or her mind, but is not yet sure they are going to the polls, is equally important — mathematically equally important.”

And part of mission of the Chicago Defender has been, and continues to be, to get its readers to vote.

Silicon Tally: Pizza pushers

Fri, 2014-08-22 02:00

It's time for Silicon Tally. How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, we're joined by Cyrus Summerlin, co-founder of the latest in food technology: "Push for Pizza"

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Teaching theology... for profit?

Thu, 2014-08-21 13:55

For-profit colleges are not exactly known for leafy campuses or lofty philosophical discussions. Most of their marketing focuses on getting a practical degree — like business or medical assisting — in hopes of getting a better job.

But one for-profit university based in Savannah, Georgia, is venturing into new territory: offering theology degrees to aspiring clergy members.

At South University in Savannah, a handful of students are starting classes toward a new Doctor of Ministry degree. Among this pilot class of four students is Gregory Kinsey, of Green Pond, South Carolina.  Kinsey says he’s been a pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church for 15 years — but that's not his only job.

"I’m bivocational," Kinsey says. "I do work in a school system as an administrator, and I just wanted to enhance my ministry."

Kinsey says he likes the fact that this theology program draws students from a variety of denominations.

Robb Redman is dean of the College of Theology at South University. He says this for-profit college can also operate more efficiently, with fewer faculty and more practical classes like counseling, rather than biblical Greek. Redman says most seminaries depend on the whims of donors.

"There’s something kind of ... broken in theological education," he says, "so it seems like now is a good time to try out a different model. And I think the for-profit model points the way forward."

At close to $50,000, the Doctor of Ministry degree at South University costs about the same as many better-known, non-profit seminaries. And it's not clear whether the for-profit model will take off.

"I don’t think there’s enough money in theological education for a whole lot of providers to be able to do it and make money at it," says Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada.

Aleshire is also skeptical about whether a largely online school can give pastors-in-training enough personal attention. But Aleshire acknowledges many seminaries are struggling with funding as church attendance declines - and that may create an opening for new models.

"There may be some niche programs and markets that might be able to work that out, as long as there aren’t too many competitors," he says.

South University is taking its theology program into several new markets. It launches online next month, and at campuses in five more cities in October.

Diplomats can't take the ice bucket challenge

Thu, 2014-08-21 13:33

Lawyers are why we can't have anything nice.

You know the ALS ice bucket challenge, right? If not, you should probably click here.

Anyway, what started out as an amazing viral awareness and fundraising campaign, is now getting lawyered up.

The Associated Press got its hands on a State Department cable that forbids Ambassadors and other high ranking foreign service officers from taking the challenge because federal ethics rules bar officials from using public office for private matter how worthy the cause.

.@StateDept bars US diplomats from taking ALS ice bucket challenge"
(Photo of cable below)

— Matt Lee (@APDiploWriter) August 21, 2014


SoundCloud to start including ads in content streams

Thu, 2014-08-21 13:33

SoundCloud, which has been dubbed “the YouTube for audio,” is going to start putting ads into its content stream. The question is how will the 175 million users who are used to an ad-free service respond?   

“I don’t think people expect things to be ad free forever,” digital music consultant Karen Allen said, because most consumers understand that tech companies have costs and need to make money.

“Either artists have to pay to upload their music, or fans have to pay to listen, or there has to be advertising,” Allen said.

Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, said SoundCloud is putting a clever marketing spin on its advertising announcement.

SoundCloud has implied “that the money that they’re getting from advertising is for altruistic reasons.”

He said SoundCloud didn't punch the “we need to pay our bills” angle. Instead, SoundCloud said the “majority” of the advertising money will go to the musician. That logic is working on James Peck, a musician who goes by the name of Memorecks on SoundCloud.  

“I think it’s going to be a good thing for the content creators,” Peck said.

But he added, SoundCloud must be  respectful of the indie music community that helped build up the site. The fear is that with money to be made, big music labels will put more music on SoundCloud.  

“So when labels start to come, what starts to happen is SoundCloud wants to make more money,” he said. It “offers them advertising opportunities like being pushed to the top of the page.”

As Peck said, the big labels often bring in a different crowd.

“You know you’ll have more of your 13-year-old female demographic coming in there,” he said.

Peck doesn’t hold anything against 13-year-old girls but he said, they could sorta kill the indie vibe.

Could $1 store + $1 store = monopoly?

Thu, 2014-08-21 13:33

Citing antitrust concerns, Family Dollar stores has rebuffed an offer of $9 billion from its competitor Dollar General.

But let’s review the issue at hand here: monopolies. Monopolies are bad (unless you're the owner) because they mean no competition, and the potential for just one company to control prices. But Rob Campagnino, head of consumer research for SSR, says the proposed merger doesn't represent any substantial antitrust concerns.

“They’re dollar stores – inherently they aren’t looking to raise prices," he says. "As a matter of fact, the pricing tends to be a race to the bottom."

Campagnino says the antitrust concerns that get raised generally revolve around large businesses that increase prices. "That's just not how these companies do business," he says. 

But for some consumers, the fear of a monopoly can depend on where they live.

"In very dense environments, where there’s a store every couple of blocks, you don’t worry as much because there are so many competitive choices,” says Scott Hemphill, a professor of antitrust law and intellectual property at Columbia Law School. But things can change as geography does.

"If you are a customer in a part of the country that’s close to Dollar General and close to Family Dollar, but not close to a Wal-Mart, then there’s a real concern that the firms that they merged would be able to raise their prices," he says. 

George Hay, a professor of law and economics at Cornell who held the position of chief of economic policy for the antitrust division of the Justice Department, says he thinks it’s highly unlikely there will be an antitrust issue with a dollar store. But, he says, that doesn’t mean companies shouldn’t be careful. You only have to take the case of the merger of United and Continental airlines. 

“The government passed on the merger and a group of lawyers brought a case on behalf of consumers who would be adversely affected," he says. "At the end of the day that challenge did not succeed, but it did cause problems.” Problems in the form of delays and legal expenses.

But Hay says Family Dollar Stores' antitrust concerns are probably just an excuse to let it go with a different offer. SSR's Rob Campagnino agrees. It's likely, he says, that the president of Family Dollar has planned to stay on in some capacity, but he wouldn't be guaranteed a spot based on Dollar General's offer.

"People," he says, "tend to like to keep their jobs."

School transportation cuts still affect families

Thu, 2014-08-21 13:33

The School District of Philadelphia is facing a budget shortfall of more than $80 million. Among the cost-saving measures being voted on: the District wants to stop giving free bus passes to high-school students who live within two miles of school.

Previously, students who lived more than 1.5 miles from school got free bus or train passes. That difference of half a mile could impact thousands of students, according to the District.

Paying for your kid’s trip to school can definitely add up. Before Thursday’s vote in Philly, public school mom Helen Gym, an advocate, worried about more parents paying bus fare for their kids.

“It’s $2.25 each way,” says the co-founder of Parents United for Public Education. Multiply that by two trips a day over a school year and she says a family, “would have to pay $810 dollars a year, per child.”

That’s the full cash price Gym is quoting, but even reduced token fares add up to hundreds of dollars out of parents’ pockets.

Still, the idea of state and district cuts to transportation support is hardly new. In fact, Michael Griffith with the Education Commission of the States says most transportation cuts came from the recession, and have waned.

“But they’re not going back to the levels before the recession,” he says. Griffith says states and districts want to put money back into other areas first, like teachers.

“So they’re looking to replenish those areas that were cut that directly impact student learning,” he says, “and there really isn’t the money available in most districts to go back and to put it into programs and areas like transportation.”

Marguerite Roza with Georgetown University says it’s all about trade-offs. She studies public education resource spending and says higher transportation spending in and of itself isn’t necessarily the goal.

“If you’re not spending the money on transportation, then you get to spend it on something else,” she says. “So is the higher transportation spending bringing greater student outcomes or is it bringing lower student outcomes ‘cause that means there’s less spending on math.”

Though, when subsidized school transportation goes away, families may have to do more math to get through it.

California's wells are going dry now, too

Thu, 2014-08-21 12:27

Water supplies are dwindling in California as the state’s historic drought drags on this summer. So, farmers in the state’s multi-billion dollar agricultural industry are looking for water below ground instead. Groundwater is being pumped at record rates, and some of it is being sold for record prices.

In a good year, California’s farmers get most of their water from the state’s vast network of rivers and reservoirs. But in a drought, groundwater makes up 60 percent of the state’s supply. It’s a lot like an underground reservoir – and it’s drying up in many places. 

“When the water is gone, all the farming is gone,” says Billy Grissom, a Central Valley farmer and rancher who lined up to speak about groundwater at a recent Merced County public meeting. 

Many farmers in the region are relying on groundwater from wells on their land this year. When that happens, the groundwater levels drop, much like having too many straws in the same glass. So Grissom has had to deepen his wells.

“I had to add 40 feet,” he says. “I have the bill right here from Shannon Pump.”

Grissom is one of the lucky ones. It’s tough to get an appointment with companies that drill water wells because they’re booked up for months.

“A lot of people’s wells are going dry,” says Merced County supervisor Deidre Kelsey. “We are over-drafting the groundwater, and it is agriculture.”

Groundwater pumping doesn’t have to be publicly reported in California. There’s virtually no regulation of it, unlike in other western states. So, often, farmers don’t know how much their neighbors are taking until the water starts drying up.

At this public meeting, county supervisors are hearing about a case that’s on the record because the groundwater is being sold.

“This is common practice,” says Steve Sloan, one of two ranchers looking to sell up to 4 billion gallons of groundwater. Under California law, he owns the groundwater under his property. On today’s water market, it could make him millions.

“Water exchanges, water transfers have been done for over 30 years,” he says. “This is how we survive collectively as an ag industry in California.”

The water will be sent 50 miles away to a water district on the other side of the Central Valley. Farmers there are in even worse shape – they are looking at ripping out almond orchards, says local water manager Anthea Hansen.

“We’re in crisis mode,” says Hansen. “I have trees I need to keep alive. We don’t need large quantities of water to do that. “

Hansen is trying hard to make her case at this public meeting, but many farmers in the region don’t want to see water flowing elsewhere.

“What’s going to happen when you take this much water out of an aquifer?” asks Mike Gallo, a neighbor of Sloan’s. “We’re on the same aquifer. I don’t know what it’s going to do. Nobody knows what it’s going to do.”

The federal referee in the sale is the Bureau of Reclamation and the agency has approved it. Under current law, there’s little that local county officials can do.

In the big picture, water sales can help even out the economic impacts of the drought, according to experts.

“One of the ways to deal with shortages is to let water start moving, let the markets start moving water and that actually increases your economic efficiency,” says Jeff Mount, a geologist and senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California.

But there are caveats. Groundwater is being dramatically over pumped in many parts of the Central Valley.

“You also have to do it in ways that don’t harm other parties,” says Mount. “And if you start drying up your neighbors' wells to sell water to somebody else, then you are causing harm.”

Some counties have taken matters into their own hands and effectively banned the sale of groundwater outside county lines.

California lawmakers are looking at regulating groundwater for the first time. Two bills are being considered in this legislative session and would have to pass by the end of August.

As waters rise, Mekong rice farmers switch to shrimp

Thu, 2014-08-21 12:00

It’s the rainy season here in Tran De. About a dozen field workers have squished out into a green paddy that goes on for more than two and a half football fields.

They chatter in Khmer as they bend low and pull young rice plants from their monsoon-soaked beds, and toss them into piles for replanting.

“I was born in this area, I’m from this area,” says a 64-year-old farmer named Minh. “I learned from my father and my grandfather, from the time I was a kid, how to grow rice.”

Minh is renting the land to grow his crop. “Rice is good,” he says, “you can always eat it. It’s reliable.”

At least right now it is.

Things will change when the dry season starts in January. That’s when farmers here usually start raising a rice crop, typically relying on fresh water they pump or channel in from some branch of the Mekong River.

But the dry season has been getting dryer. And the South China Sea - less than a mile away - is rising and pushing up into empty river and stream beds.

What little fresh water there is goes salty. So does the soil.

Once that happens, rice farmers like Minh know their crops are history.

“This village is affected by saline intrusion,” he explains. “During the dry season, people here can’t do anything with the land. They just leave it, go somewhere else and work, or try to find some work locally.”

If Minh risked planting a dry season crop, he could earn more than $2,000.

But he won’t take that chance. Instead of fighting saline intrusion, he’s found a way to hedge his bets and make some money off climate change.

He’s gone and bought himself a shrimp farm.

So has another farmer, named Sung. Standing beside two shrimp ponds out behind his house, Sung fires up what looks like a system of small spinning steamboat paddles.

They’re adding oxygen to an opaque brown pool.

This salty water is killing off the region’s rice, while the shrimp, somewhere down at the bottom, are loving it.

They can earn Sung in a year more than four times what an average rice farmer brings home.

“In a good year,” Sung says, “I do two crops. If it hits, I get $4,720 from these two ponds. This is the only thing I can do. Growing rice is not very profitable.”

With very few choices, explains Tim Gorman, a Cornell grad student researching how peoples’ lives in the Mekong Delta are being changed by global warming, some farmers are turning away from rice.

“The biggest option to people here in these areas affected by saline intrusion,” Gorman explains, “is to abandon rice altogether and switch to saltwater shrimp.”

This has been a “winning strategy” for many people in the area, Gorman observes. “Just driving around here you can see that there are big new houses, you see some nice new cars. And so you have some people who really have made a lot of money from growing shrimp, which is primarily exported to markets in Europe, Asia, and the US.”

Shrimp farmer Sung isn’t doing quite that well. He’s helping his daughter pay for college, but there’s no fat new Mercedes in the driveway.

That kind of money goes mostly to big-time farmers. Some people earn tens of thousands of dollars a year in the shrimp trade. With the lure of five and six-figure profits, plus faltering rice crops killed off by rising seas, Gorman says some folks are even taking hammers to the very gates and dykes set up to protect the area from the ocean.

“People are actively manipulating the infrastructure,” he says, “sabotaging the infrastructure, to allow salt water to come in. Not just during the dry season, but all year, so they can switch from freshwater rice farming to saltwater shrimp farming.”

Shrimp is no sure bet, either. Seeds, antibiotics, aeration systems, start-up costs - kilo for kilo, it’s way more expensive to raise than rice. A few sick ones can take out a whole pond.

Sung says he’s gone bust before. “In a bad year, all I have left are the whites of my hands!”

That’s the risk for most farmers here - rice, shrimp, or anything else.

But more and more, those who can afford it are moving away from rice and putting their money down on a changing climate.


Christopher Johnson is a reporter for BURN: An Energy Journal from SoundVision Productions with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

What is a superfood?

Thu, 2014-08-21 12:00

We think we know what superfoods are. Nutrient-rich, high in vitamins, they're fruits and vegetables with extra oomph that seem to have benefits beyond plain healthy eating.

In a recent Nielsen survey commissioned by Bloomberg Businessweek, 75 percent of consumers said they can manage their health through nutrition. One third say that they can use food to replace some medicines.

Farmers are seeing this trend and turning over crops to accomodate demand for once-unappealing wintry vegetables.

"I know we are not supposed to speak of kale on this show," said Venessa Wong, who reported on the findings for Businessweek. But she did anyway (listen in the audio player above), because its growth has been explosive.

"In 2012, about 2,500 farms harvested 'the k-word,' which is up from fewer than 1,000 in 2007," Wong said, adding, "Farmers are indeed very in touch with what people want to eat right now."

And far and away, 'the k-word' is the thing that people want to eat. But Brussel sprouts, spinach, chard and arugula are also showing a 10-20 percent boost since 2009.

With marketing buzz galore and significant public interest, the CDC journal Preventing Chronic Disease tried to define superfoods.

The produce selected may surprise you: tomatoes, carrots, strawberries, oranges, even iceberg lettuce. Wong notes that there are good reasons for their inclusion, but on a scale of defining a superfood, less trendy veggies stand out.

"The most nutrition dense food are watercress, Chinese cabbage, beet greens, spinach, so things that don't get as much buzz as the pomegranates, the quinoas," Wong said.

And the fact that the most super of foods aren't among the supermarket bestsellers is hardly a surprise.

"As much as people believe in the power of food," Wong said, "half of people surveyed by Nielsen said that they weren't willing to give up taste for health."

Kai's K-Word Chips

(1) Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

(2) Trim kale and toss with olive oil.

(3) Bake until crispy.

(4) Season with salt to taste.

(5) Eat 'em while they're hot.

The flop that is 'Expendables 3'

Thu, 2014-08-21 11:59

To be blunt, "Expendables 3" was a major box office flop on its opening weekend. Part three of the action-packed franchise was the only one to have a PG-13 rating, rather than the usual R.  Although their intentions were to target a younger demographic and broaden their potential audience, the film only grossed approximately $15 million.

"The problem with this movie, and it’s been the problem with this whole series, is that it has this idea that the thing we really want is the great action stars all together, giving us movies they don’t make anymore," says Wesley Morris, critic at Grantland. "But there’s kind of a reason we don’t make those movies anymore. And this movie is just plowing forward. It’s so bad."

Case in point, says Morris, the proposed spin-off of the Expendable's series, in which the leads will all be women, is called "ExpendaBelles."  Actress Sigourney Weaver was offered a part.

"She, perhaps smartly, said no," adds Morris.

PODCAST: Bank of America settles for $16.65 billion

Thu, 2014-08-21 07:47

News broke Thursday morning that Bank of America will pay $16.65 billion for misleading consumers by dressing up faulty mortgages ahead of the economic crisis. David chats with New York University Professor Lawrence White about what that means for B of A. Then, Mesirow Financial's Susan Schmidt joins us ahead of the big convention in Wyoming to help predict when the Federal Reserve could start raising interest rates.

After that, we turn our attention to Africa, where an Ebola outbreak is causing devastating loss of life. Kate Davidson looks at the economic impact on Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

Finally, Globalist Editor-in-Chief Stephan Richter stops by the Marketplace studios to deliver another quiz, this time on poverty.

If you give a kid an iPad...

Thu, 2014-08-21 02:45

As iPads and other technologies make their way into more classrooms, unforeseen consequences are also on the rise. There's the need for more IT workers. There's the need for  bigger security budgets. And now, there's this: The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education over a policy that lets some kids take their school-issued tablets home, while others cannot.

Students who qualify for the free and reduced lunch program can bring the iPads home. The district website indicates other students may do so if they pay a fee.

“Students whose parents choose not to or can't buy this expensive device — they don't get to take it home,” says Laura Rotolo, staff counsel with the ACLU of Massachusetts. “They are at a distinct disadvantage in relation to the other students.”

Rotolo says the iPads must be provided to all kids for free if they're a core part of the curriculum. 

The school district’s superintendent, Joseph P. Maruszczak, could not be reached for comment.

“I do think it is something that school districts, state legislatures and school boards need to consider in the future because there is an equity issue,” says Scott Himelstein, director of the Mobile Technology Learning Center at the University of San Diego. 

Himelstein believes technology can ultimately give more equal access to education. But he says there will be growing pains — and more legal questions — along the way. Even when schools give all kids devices, he says, issues may arise if students lack equal access to broadband at home to complete homework assignments. 

“Case law is slowly evolving in this, these things are being tested nationwide,” Himelstein says.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has asked the Mendon-Upton school district for a report on its iPad policies. It's due by the end of the month.