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Updated: 28 min 55 sec ago

Amazon's mobile card reader could be gold mine of data

Wed, 2014-08-13 13:02

Several companies, including Square and PayPal, have made it easier for small retailers to accept credit cards; they make card readers that plug into smart phones and tablets. Well, those companies have new competition from Amazon.

Sure, there is money to be made from processing mobile payments – a cut of every dollar.  But something else is driving Amazon’s decision to get into this sector - data.  The e-retailer already knows a lot about how we shop  – what we search for, what ads we click and what devices we use.

“Within Amazon’s world, they have a tremendous insight into our online behaviors,” says Colin Gillis, a tech analyst with BGC Partners. “But they don’t have access into our offline purchasing.”

Gillis says that, with this new product, known as Amazon Local Register, the company will collect new data on what we buy at stores and restaurants.  “That insight into our offline behavior will be useful to them,” he says.

Amazon wants to know what we buy regularly and how we pay for those items. In the future, the company could sell us those items.

According to James Cordwell, an Internet analyst with Atlantic Equities, Amazon - which makes less than a penny on every dollar of revenue - is under more pressure than ever to make money, and Amazon Local Register could help the company do that. “But over and above that,” he says, “it’s about further locking in third parties into its platform.”

R.J. Hottovy, an analyst with Morningstar, wonders if local retailers will be interested in that, even though the company charges less per transaction than Square or PayPal.

“There is going to be some reluctance on the part of small merchants to share any kind of data with Amazon,” he says. That’s because data that could benefit Amazon could hurt those small merchants in the long run. If Amazon sees that your business is doing well, Hottovy says, there is nothing to stop it from competing against you.

Yes, the #icebucketchallenge is raising money

Wed, 2014-08-13 13:02

Non-profits might want to add a bucket of ice water to their fundraising tool kits after the success of the viral “ice bucket challenge.”

The campaign, which is plastering social media, is drawing in big donations for charities that deal with the neurodegenerative disease ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. ALS causes its victims’ muscles to stop functioning such that they eventually lose their ability to eat, speak walk and breathe.

Here’s how the" ice bucket challenge" works: dump a bucket of ice water over your head in support of ALS sufferers. Or donate money to an ALS organization. Or both. Then challenge someone else to do the same within 24 hours.

"Marketplace" host Kai Ryssdal takes part in the Ice Bucket Challenge.

The national ALS association and its chapters have pulled in nearly $6 million in donations since late July, compared to just $1 million during the same period last year, as celebrities like Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake join the throng of Americans accepting the "ice bucket challenge".

“I wish I could take credit for this incredible viral phenomenon. I'd be a PR genius if that was the case,” says ALS Association spokeswoman Carrie Munk.

Instead, Munk credits a few individuals who themselves suffer from ALS with making the ice bucket challenge go viral. Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball player, is one of them. His father, John Frates, says his 29 year-old son got keyed into the challenge from a fellow ALS sufferer.

“It looked like it was just going to be for entertainment purposes around our family and friends. Then it morphed into hey, if you don't do this challenge, you better donate,” says Frates.

Sarah Durham, the president of Big Duck, a communications firm for non-profits, says other fundraising campaigns have had similar roots. Durham says Planned Parenthood appeared to benefit from an individual sending out an email that went viral a few years ago.

Durham says the charities that benefit from grassroots campaigns might scramble to catch up. “It can make it hard for non-profits because oftentimes they're reacting to something that's out there that they didn't get any lead time to plan for or prepare for,” she says.

But in fundraising, that's not a terrible problem to have. [View the story "#IceBucketChallenge Highlight reel" on Storify]

Why isn’t the American consumer spending?

Wed, 2014-08-13 13:02

Trying to get inside the head – or wallet – of the American consumer can be dizzying.

Data released by the Commerce Department Wednesday shows retail sales in July were virtually unchanged from the previous month and are at their weakest level since January.

One reason these numbers may be disappointing is actually because of strong car sales earlier in the year, says Chris Christopher, the director of consumer economics at IHS Global Insight.  

“You have a couple months of good auto sales, and then even after those months, the discretionary spending is a little bit lackluster,” he explains. “[Consumers] take it a little bit easier on other items that are not necessities.”

In a word, consumers are cautious. Coming out of the recession, they’ve learned to budget.

“For example, three-quarters of consumers make a shopping list before heading to the grocery store,” ­­says Susan Viamari, who covers consumer insights for IRI, a market-research company. “By and large, consumers are sticking to the lists that they’ve made.”

It’s not just that shoppers are being responsible. Buyers have become passionate about finding deals, says Candace Corlett, the president of WSL Strategic Retail. Moreover, wage growth has been fairly anemic and consumers have made paying down their debts a priority.

“It’s a very good thing for shoppers,” she says. “It’s less good for our economy, which thrives on consumers overspending.”

Shoppers aren't all about making savings and having no fun: Corlett says the American consumer can still be tempted by products that are particularly new and exciting—and that the number of people walking around with new Apple products or fitness trackers is proof of that.  

How the Ebola outbreak affects Nigerian small business

Wed, 2014-08-13 12:29

The most serious Ebola warning to date has been issued in East Africa. Nigeria confirmed at least 13 cases of the disease last week, and Kenya is now a “high-risk” country for the spread of the virus.

"Ebola can spread through physical contact," says Tomi Oladipo, Nigeria Correspondent at the BBC. "There’s a lot of caution now."

Oladipo says people are a lot more reluctant to shake hands. Many public places, like gyms, are providing hand sanitizer to try and help prevent the spread.

Many small food businesses have been affected as well.

"In Nigeria, we’ve got this kind of roast beef, which is sold in skewers and made out in the open. It’s popular and a delicacy around the country," says Olidapo. "A lot of the sellers we’ve spoken to say their sales have gone down. Some of them would have maybe 200 customers a day and now they’re getting about 50."

Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

Sales tax holidays: A lot of hype for a little saving

Wed, 2014-08-13 11:33

Even though they are bad for state budgets and aren't necessarily good bargains, Americans love sales-tax holidays. Retailers like them too, because the tax holidays motivate consumers.

“It can be a pretty significant increase in traffic in the store and sales,” says Jim Sluzewski, a spokesman for Macy’s.

So why are tax holidays so popular?

“There’s absolutely a psychological impact here that is bigger than the money,” says Craig Shearman, spokesman for the National Retail Federation.

He says consumers generally hold out for sales offering at least 25 percent off.

“If retailers were to offer 5 or 10 percent off, consumers would laugh at them,” says Shearman. “But when shoppers can save that same 5 or 10 percent by virtue of not paying tax, it goes way beyond the amount of money involved.”

While consumers save money at the cash register, it’s really the states that pay.

“The first time I heard about a state tax holiday, I laughed until I cried,” says Verenda Smith, deputy director at the Federation for Tax Administrators, an association of state tax agencies.

There are 27 tax holidays this year.

“They’re expensive. They tend to distort the economy a little bit. But people love ‘em,” says Smith.

If tax holidays disappeared, would retailers lose much business?

Joy Hyrons, who handles accounting for Miller’s School Supplies in central Florida, says not necessarily.

“Well, to be honest with you, it probably wouldn’t make a whole lot of difference because the people have to purchase these items anyway,” says Hyrons.

What's behind no-interest medical credit

Wed, 2014-08-13 10:38

A bigger and bigger chunk of the money hospitals get comes from you and me, thanks to a rise in what are known as deductible health plans, in which consumers are spending more out-of-pocket for their own care.

With millions more newly insured under the Affordable Care Act holding those plans, hospitals are thinking hard about the best way to collect from us when we can't pay our bills. In some cases, that means no-interest payment plans.

Craig Froude, CEO of CarePayment, says business is booming for his company, which works for hospitals offering patients no-interest payment plans.

We will actually double in revenue in this year,” he says, “and we will probably double again in 2015.”

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports the number of workers with deductibles has jumped from 55 percent to 78 percent since 2006.  

Froude says that's why hospitals are lining up outside his door.

“And so what we are really seeing patients are having to figure out how they are going to afford healthcare,” he says.

Hospitals do a good job getting money from insurers, but when it comes to what individuals owe, Fraude says it's just about 17 cents on the dollar. And that won't cut it as collections become a bigger part of the business.

“We're trying to get ahead of this curve because we want to be able to continue being financially viable,” says Melanie Wilson of North Carolina-based Novant Health.

Two years ago, Novant stopped offering a payment plan with a 12 percent interest rate and introduced a no-interest option. Wilson says collections bumped up 6 percent.

They see that we are not here to just make money,” she says. “We're here to do the right thing.”

Not all hospitals can go that route. Sandra Wolfskill with the non-profit Healthcare Financial Management Association expects some hospitals to keep using loans or credit cards with interest because those lenders give hospitals money up front.

"I think the hospitals that are financially stressed may be more inclined to go with the credit card option because it moves their cash flow much quicker,” Wolfskill says.

Patients often don't know what they owe until the bill shows up, she says, adding that hospitals need to find a way to make that stop.

How a blog with no advertisements makes its money

Wed, 2014-08-13 10:08

Designer Joy Cho's blog "Oh Joy!" gets about 550,000 page views a month. When it launched nine years ago, Cho says  she wasn’t quite sure what a blog was. She had always considered it to be an online diary.

"I had left New York and moved to Philadelphia with no job, and while I was interviewing, I had to start freelancing as a designer to make ends meet," says Cho. "In the meantime, a friend of mine had suggested starting a blog... I really didn’t think anybody would care about what I had to say. But as somebody who is very visual, who’s always collecting things for future reference, I thought 'OK, well at least I can put them online and I can share them with people if they decide they want to view them with me.'"

That was nine years ago. Since then, Cho’s blog "Oh Joy!" has blown up. And recently, she decided to stop putting advertisements on her site - the usual means of revenue for bloggers.

"I had ads on my site for a very long time. However, in the last several years, brands and bloggers have been partnering together a little bit more on sponsored content," says Cho. "I find it to be much more meaningful, much more interesting and much more creative. It’s a way to work with a brand in a way that benefits everybody."

One example? The Whimsy Pop desk

Casey Brodley for Oh Joy!

Cho has also found success in her line at Target and various collaborations with companies, including Miracle Grow, Office Depot and 3M.

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.

Amazon looks for data... at flea markets?

Wed, 2014-08-13 07:00

Amazon's newly released product for small businesses, Amazon Local Register, works just like Square — the little thing that the guy at the farmers market plugs into his iPhone to run credit cards. (Amazon’s is elongated. Call it...Rectangle.)

This is Amazon, so of course the product is a bit cheaper than the competition, with an introductory rate that’s about 35 percent less than what merchants pay Square. Even after that expires, Amazon’s rate will still be a little lower. 

The product may enjoy other advantages, says Will Hernandez, editor of the trade publication Mobile Payments Today.

"Amazon has a lot of name-brand recognition among consumers and even merchants," he says. "They’ve got some major clout." Amazon also has existing relationships with a lot of merchants — including a system that processes online payments.

Analysts aren’t sure how much money Amazon can make processing payments for artisanal soap or hand-roasted coffee, since it has to pay fees to intermediaries like Visa.  

"To process retail transactions, there's a cost to it as well," says Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at Retail Systems Research. "This just strikes me as a distraction." 

But Amazon can pull in something else it wants: data.

"It may sound almost absurd to think, ‘Well, what kind of information can you get, knowing that someone’s paying dog-walkers or flea-markets or whatever?’" says James Wester, research director for global payments at the tech-research company IDC. "But the fact of the matter is, that’s what data is about. You don’t know what the patterns are until you have all of that data."

School staffing up nearly 400%, but not with teachers

Wed, 2014-08-13 03:00

School staffing has shot up 377 percent over the past several decades, according to a report released on Wednesday by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. A huge chunk of that growth is the number of teacher aides — the Girl and Guy Fridays (sort of) of the classroom.

They're the ones that help a teacher corral 25 kids on a playground, or run to the copier when there's a room full of kids to supervise. It's no wonder teachers love them.

Graphic courtesy of the Fordham Institute.

"Parents are positive toward aides because they give their kids more attention," says Robert Slavin, director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University, who has done research on teacher aides.

Aides are especially appreciated by parents of kids with special needs. Over the years, federal laws have empowered parents to make sure their kids are getting the education they need. Having an aide is often part of that plan, says Matthew Richmond, who wrote the Fordham report.

"So as those expectations have risen over time," he says, "I think that what you've seen is just an increase in number of personnel in order to help provide those services." 

Plus, Richmond says, because they're not certified, they're cheaper than teachers, and they're easy to find.

Slavin says, while aides might help teachers, they haven't had an impact on student grades. 

School staffing in the U.S. – what "non-teachers" actually do

Graphic courtesy of the Fordham Institute.

The Fordham Institute's study uses several different categories to classify non-teaching staff positions:

Teacher Aides – Staff members assigned to assist a teacher with routine activities associated with instruction.

School Administration – School administrators (principals and assistant principals) and administrative staff.

Student Support Staff – Staff that "nurture" students but do not provide or directly support instruction (psychologists, speech pathologists, etc.).

Guidance Staff – Guidance counselors.

Library Staff – Librarians and library support staff.

Instructional Coordinators – Staff that supervise instructional programs (curriculum coordinators, home economics supervisors, etc.).

"Other" Staff – Staff not included in another category (custodians, food service staff, etc.).

CORRECTION: The report from Fordham University incorrectly stated that staffing increased 500 percent. The increase was to 6.2 million from 1.3 million, a 377 percent increase. 

PODCAST: The biggest IPO

Wed, 2014-08-13 03:00

First up, Amazon has announced a new product called "local register," which is not unlike the plug-ins for tablets and smartphones that lets small businesses run a credit card. We take a look at how it works. Plus, school staffing has shot up nearly 500 percent over the past several decades, according to a new report. The data shows that a huge chunk of that growth is teacher aides. And Chinese Internet giant Alibaba is getting ready to sell stock, in what could be the largest IPO ever. More on what could be a $20 billion endeavor for the company.

A guide to the perfect tech company pitch

Wed, 2014-08-13 02:00

The NY Tech Meetup is a monthly gathering for members in the New York City's growing technology community. Over 40,000 people have subscribed to the group, which means its demo nights tend to sell out quickly.

Executive Director Jessica Lawrence estimates she’s seen about 360 demos in her time with the nonprofit, and regularly advises presenters on how to craft their pitches. Here are some of her top tips:

Be able to zero in on the problem your product is solving in one or two sentences.

“One of the biggest arts to a great pitch is helping the audience connect with your product immediately,” says Lawrence.

This often means summarizing the problems it solves and how it’ll make the audience’s lives better.

Show where an existing product is failing.

Sometimes, showing how your product will solve a problem is best accomplished by demonstrating the shortcomings of an existing product or services, Lawrence says.

Use stories to connect with your audience.

“You do want to connect with the people that you’re pitching to, you want to tell them some type of story,” says Lawrence.

A compelling anecdote about what led you to create the company can illustrate how your product solves the problems you’ve identified.

Use demonstrations to showcase technology.

Lawrence says demonstrations work well for tech products: “You’re not just talking about a service or a company talking about what they offer. You’re talking about something where you can show people what you’ve built.”

Have clear goals.

Having a clear goal in mind is key, Lawrence says. What's your next step?

“For some, it’s about finding employees or finding a co-founder,” says Lawrence. "For others, it’s more about getting users and feedback and exposing themselves to the community.”

Alibaba could become the largest IPO. Ever.

Wed, 2014-08-13 02:00

The Chinese Internet giant, Alibaba Inc, is shaping up to be the largest initial public offering ever.

Analysts with MorningStar are predicting the company could raise at least $20 billion, potentially making it one of the most exciting offerings for investors since Facebook.

“Alibaba is one of the biggest e-commerce companies in the world, not just China," says Dennis Hudachek, a senior analyst at, a financial services company. 

He says in 2013, Alibaba sold more than $248 billion in goods with some 231 million active users.

“Online shopping in China is expected to grow quite a bit in the coming years," Hudachek says. "It’s basically being pitched as a huge growth play, as well.”

Alibaba has the ability to hold investors attention well beyond the IPO, says RJ Hottovy, an analyst with MorningStar.

“One (way) is maintain its growth trajectories in China, which would indicate it is finding new customers in that region,” he says.

Hottovy says Alibaba might also keep investor’s attention if it can show growth in markets outside of China – say, for example, the United States.

Going public hasn’t been a completely smooth process, though. Alibaba has already pushed its IPO date back to September because the company and regulators wanted more time.

Gentrification summer camp in changing neighborhoods

Wed, 2014-08-13 02:00

Seven-year-old Tristan Singeltary has purple glasses and a matching lavender easter egg on her yellow t-shirt. She's really cute. And she's also happy to explain, to any interested parties, the complex problem that is gentrification:

Well, not exactly right, but it's a lovely thought from a smiley little girl. And after all, that’s why Tristan and her fellow campers are here at STEAM camp in Brooklyn. That's STEAM for "Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math"  - this year's theme is gentrification. And in case you're worried, another camper, sophisticated 10-year-old Ayanna Lee, nails it.

"Just imagine, you were in a house, you were struggling to pay the rent," she says.  "But you worked so hard to pay it. And then all of the sudden the landlord comes to you and says you’re being evicted – somebody is moving into this house. It’s like you did everything right and then something bad just happens to you."

Gerard Miller, community outreach coordinator with non-profit Neighborhood Housing Services of Bedford-Stuyvesant, who works with the kids one day a week teaching financial literacy, says if they learn the basics now, hopefully by the time they’re adults, they’ll have a say in the sometimes scary changes they see happening around them.

“People feel like the neighborhood that they’ve known is ceasing to be,” he says.  “Blocks in Clinton Hill, Bed-Stuy, that 15, 20 years ago, people didn’t want to move onto are now multi-million dollar blocks.”



Sally Herships

A shiny new building on a Bedford-Stuyvesant block has 9-year-old Xaavi Vericain excited, though his knowledge of architectural history and design may still need some work:

On a recent summer day, one of the camp’s co-founders, Clarisa James of DIVAS for Social Justice,  took the kids on a documentary expedition. They were exploring the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant to photograph gentrification in progress. And even if they couldn't provide a formal definition, gentrification as urban reality is something the campers are familiar with. Many of them are experiencing it first hand on their own blocks and in their own neighborhoods. When James points out a "for rent" sign on a newly renovated building, 12-year-old camper Kiyari Jaundoo takes notice.

"I could tell my mom about it," she says. "Because we’re trying to find an apartment."

"Why doesn’t your mother get a fifth job so you can still stay in your brownstone?" asks 9-year-old Xaavi Vericain. "She might get a lot of money to buy a whole house."

Lately, Miller has been discussing mortgages with the kids. They get pretty deep about debt and how it can impact their lives.

Says 10-year-old Ayanna Lee, of debt: "That’s like basically having no social life.”

“It’s because you might go broke and you might not have that much money," chimes in 12-year-old Alydia Wells. "Plus you owe a debt to yourself because you never got a life. You’re always going to have debt." 

"'Cause you’re going to owe your parents," says Lee, "and you can’t run away from your parents. The real lesson would actually be, to always be responsible if you have debt, because you can’t go blowing off your money [when] you owe somebody like $1,000 or $200 dollars, and you just spent it on a pair of Gucci shoes and ice cream."

Miller explains why he teaches at the camp: "When you talk about gentrification, you’re not really talking about the people who are moving in, you’re talking about the kinds of money that’s moving in," says Miller. "Not having a basic understanding of finances endangers you, because then someone else is making decisions that affect your life."

When a small, dusty, and empty plot of grass is spotted, 10-year-old  Xaavi Vericain is asked how much money he has.

"A lot," is the answer.

And how much does he think the land costs?

"A lotter."

The campers seem to be grasping the basics quickly.

Gawker Media faced with anonymous trolls

Wed, 2014-08-13 01:00

On Monday, the staff at the Gawker Media site Jezebel wrote a group post criticizing their parent company for refusing to address issues with Kinja, the comment system for the company’s blog network.

In the post, the editors detailed the efforts of an anonymous commenter who was posting graphic .gifs depicting sexual violence in the comments section of many posts.

Click the media player above to hear Erin Ryan, News Editor at Jezebel, in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson

The burner accounts -- a feature added when Gawker’s sites revamped their comment system -- in theory allow people to write about things happening in their companies without going on the record. But that’s not always what’s happening.

The fundamental problem with these images being posted, argues Ryan, is that once a reader has seen the image, they have seen the offending content in its entirety. This, she argues, is emblematic of a broader issue with the internet.

“People who want to make women feel bad for one reason or another have an anonymous forum with no consequences,” says Ryan.

As it stands, Gawker Media has banned image uploading in comments, and the company says it’s working on a longer term solution.

Healthkit is a symptom of tech's rush into health care

Tue, 2014-08-12 13:48

There’s already a lot of buzz building around the iPhone 6, which is expected to be announced in September. Word is that Apple will use its newest phone, and the accompanying release of iOS 8, to make a big push into mobile health. 

The tech giant is reportedly trying to team up with healthcare providers and mobile app developers to track everything from our blood pressure to how many steps we take in a day.

Apple’s not the only company getting into the space. Health care is becoming a hot spot for tech companies. Two of the biggest factors driving tech companies into health care are the smartphone, which is basically a mini computer in your pocket, and the proliferation of cheap sensors, said Dean Sawyer, CEO of Jointly Health

"For example, there’s one patch we’re using called Vital Connect," Sawyer said. "It captures your heart rate, ECG, your respiratory rate, your posture, all from one patch and it’s sending that data out continuously."

Advances in artificial intelligence also make it easier to crunch that data. In Jointly Heath’s case, it uses data to predict when patients with chronic illnesses will get sicker, so doctors can treat them before they land in the hospital. 

Everyone from health care providers to insurers love this because hospital treatments are so expensive, said Michael Chui, who leads research on the impact of information technology for the McKinsey Global Institute.

"The real opportunity here is really around trying to control healthcare costs," he said. 

Chui said the promise of controlling costs is driving demand for this kind of technology among health care providers.

"When we looked at the potential for using big data and other technologies to try to control those costs, we think that up to $300 to $400 billion annually is at stake," he said. 

There’s just as much money to be made as saved. Sawyer of Jointly Health said in his little corner of the market — the "remote patient monitoring space" — there's a projected $18 to $20 billion just over the next four or five years."

Then there’s the job of securing all that data flying around. It’s creating another opportunity for tech companies.

Europe faces produce glut after Russian ban

Tue, 2014-08-12 13:48

Fancy an apple? The Warsaw government hopes so. It’s asked the U.S. to buy apples now that Poland’s farmers have been shut out of their biggest export market: Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has banned most food imports from the EU, the U.S. and other western countries in retaliation for sanctions imposed on Russia over Ukraine. That’s left European farmers, in particular, with the headache of offloading their unwanted produce.

Last year European farmers sold $16 billion worth of food to Russia, which is 12 times what the U.S. supplied. Peter Kendall, a British farming industry spokesman, worries that the EU is losing one of its best customers for milk, butter and cheese.

'They’re taking away a market that takes 300,000 tons of dairy products from the European Union a year. This could have really very damaging impacts," Kendall says.

The answer could be that European farmers will  have to try to sell their surplus produce at a decent price abroad. However, the U.S., Australia and other countries that export to Russia have also been sanctioned and they’ll have their own surpluses to sell.

British pig farmer Jim Leavesley is bracing himself for an influx of pork from Canada and Brazil.

“If you have something like only 5 percent extra supply into the market,” says Leavesley, “this can have a devastating effect upon the whole of the price paid across the whole of the European herd.”

Consumers may be licking their lips at the prospect of lower prices, but they shouldn’t, warns meat industry spokesman Mick Sloyan: Farmers still have to make a living.

"They stop producing if prices go too low and then, subsequently, prices rocket," he says. "So, seeing prices going up or down all over the place really isn’t in the interest of consumers.”

The European Commission has just unveiled a potential solution: They have plans to prop up peach farmers affected by the Russian sanctions. The EU will buy 10 percent of their crop and withdraw it from sale.

So, with peach mountains and milk lakes looming, Europe could soon be adding to its agricultural reserves.


The murky world of military aid

Tue, 2014-08-12 13:48

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Tuesday the U.S. government is “working with the Iraqi government, the Iraqi security forces, to get military equipment to the peshmerga."

Members of that Kurdish militia have been asking the U.S. for more aid, to help them fight Islamic militants. So far, the peshmerga have received some “light weapons,” but they say they need more of them, and bigger ones too.

When it comes to arming Kurdish fighters, the U.S. government has options.

“There are a number of ways,” says Todd Harrison, senior fellow for defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “It depends on how quickly and how quietly we want to arm them.”

One way is above board. Many countries effectively write checks for weapons payable to the U.S. The government shoulders the risk. According to Douglas Ollivant, a senior national security fellow with the New America Foundation, the Defense Department works with the State Department, and lawmakers get involved.

“It’s all there,” he says. “It’s all transparent. Then, of course, there are other agencies who do things differently.”

Ollivant is referring to one agency in particular: the Central Intelligence Agency.

“Normally speaking, the Defense Department deals with governments, and the CIA deals with non-state actors,” explains Stephen Biddle, a professor of political science and international affairs at The George Washington University.

The Pentagon regularly brokers weapons deals with other state governments, including the Iraqi central government, but Iraqi Kurdistan is an autonomous region.  The Defense Department may not want to deal with a militia.

“As far as we can tell, yes, the CIA is now committed to provide weapons and ammunition directly to the peshmerga,” Biddle says. That has been widely reported, but a CIA spokesman declined Marketplace’s request for comment.

According to Biddle, if the CIA is involved, it does have the wherewithal to get weapons from U.S. allies, even international weapons dealers.

Harrison says we’re talking about weapons that are probably worth a few hundred million dollars altogether. In all likelihood, the CIA has money set aside to pay for stuff like this.  But, Harrison says, there is no way to know how much.

“We can’t see directly what the CIA receives in terms of its total budget,” Harrison notes. That is classified.

The Defense Department also has some budgetary flexibility. The Pentagon has $85 billion for what are called “overseas contingency operations.”

'Sup: The new Yo?

Tue, 2014-08-12 13:48

A dispatch from the Marketplace Desk of What Could Possibly Go Wrong.

From the website Business Insider, this item: a new app called 'Sup, as in "what's up?"

Anyway, you send a 'sup to a friend. If they accept your 'sup it turns on the camera on their phone and you can see what they're doing for 10 seconds.

Again, what could possibly go wrong? I know I say that a lot, but this time I really mean it.

Chocolate fried chicken: A taste test

Tue, 2014-08-12 13:45

When Umami Burger founder and CEO Adam Fleischman announced he was stepping down to work on his next venture, fans of the Los Angeles-based burger chain wondered what exactly he had up his sleeve.

The answer was chocolate fried chicken – a surprise after a steady fare of burgers and pizza.  

ChocoChicken opened earlier this summer in downtown Los Angeles. Fleischman credits Keith Previte and Sean Robins with the idea – the pair of entertainment producers came up with the recipe and convinced Fleishman to invest.

Kai Ryssdal got a taste: