Eight years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has a new flood protection system -- $14 billion of levees, pumps and flood gates built by the Army Corps of Engineers. Residents, though, don't think that will be enough. The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority - East, the local levee board, basically, says that as sea levels rise and wetlands down river get washed away, New Orleans will need more help.
And the agency knows exactly who should pay for it. It's suing 97 energy companies, saying they share the blame for the billions that New Orleans is going to have to spend to protect itself.
Trace a map of the Mississippi River south from New Orleans, and you see the land dissolve, from solid to a delicate lace. Zoom in real close on the delta, and you see thousands of sharp, geometric cuts.
"Look at these canals, I mean, they were just going the shortest distance between two points, with whatever's in the middle didn't matter, just cut across," says Dr. John Lopez, who studies the river delta for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.
In the 1930s, he says, oil and gas companies started plowing through the swamp to get what was underneath. First, you dug a canal wide enough to fit a barge with all the gear and workers. Then, you drilled down. But maybe you didn't hit quite the right spot.
"You might have a dense network of canals, but if you want to move over 200 feet you've got to dredge a new canal," Lopez says. "And that's why you see these spider maps of oil and gas canals."
This happened all over the swamp, with pretty much zero regard for the land. "For centuries, swamps were the equivalent of wasteland," Lopez says. "The terminology was almost interchangeable."
Then, around the 1970s, science proved the value of marshland -- as a habitat for all kinds of species, and for flood protection. The state listened, and passed regulations. But the damage was done.
Today the canals are still used -- for industry and recreation. Out on the water, we pass a barge ferrying equipment offshore. Hissing, clicking natural gas wells…the so-called Christmas trees of pipes, valves and knobs stick up from the water, just a few feet away from crab traps.
The landscape doesn't look damaged, but, Lopez says, "These canals are a lot wider than what they were dredged. They've eroded. That's about 200 feet right there."
Likely double its original size, he says. The canals let in saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico. That eats away the marsh. So when a hurricane swirls across the Gulf, walls of water now build, unchecked, and push in to New Orleans, 50 miles away.
"The loss of the buffer means that more water washes against the levee system, John Barry says. "Then we have to build larger stronger more expensive protection systems than we would otherwise have to do.
Barry wrote a history of Louisiana flooding, "Rising Tide." He's also vice president of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority - East. "At least for a few more weeks," he says.
Maybe only a few more weeks, because his agency is suing the energy companies, and Gov. Bobby Jindal has demanded it drop the lawsuit. Energy is Louisiana's largest industry.
Barry says the oil companies should pay their fair share. "I don't say the industry has done nothing. I do say it hasn't done anything like nearly enough."
Louisiana has a master plan for flood protection, but not the billions needed to fund it.
Some parts of the state don't want to wait. They're paying for the work themselves. And they say they need the oil companies' help. Southwest of New Orleans, watery Terrebonne Parish has its own system of flood gates.
Reggie Dupre directs the Terrebonne levee district. "We built this system on our own," he says.
The oil industry owns much of the land here. Dupre says the lawsuit could endanger key relationships. "I need right-of-ways and places to build mitigation," he says. "Well, I get free right-of-ways and very good cooperation from these companies."
And oil and gas companies are not to blame for land loss here, he says. It's the levees upriver that killed this marsh -- cut off the land's access to fresh water.
Louisiana politicians, scientists and lawyers are in for a long battle over that question. What is to blame for disappearing wetlands? And who will pay for protection as sea levels, and risk, keep rising.
Production assistance on this story provided by Nicholas Gremillion.
There's been a lot of talk this week about the U.S. and its allies staging a military intervention in Syria after increasing evidence of President Assad's regime using deadly chemical weapons against Syrian civilians. The debate over intervention still rages -- as does the civil war in that country. One weapon being used in the conflict is the power to shut down the internet. Mashable reporter Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai has been the latest on this story.
When we last checked in with government statisticians, they though the economy grew at an annual rate of 1.7 percent. Today, a surprisingly strong revision upward. Now, gross domestic product grew 2.5 percent from April to June, which helps build the argument that the Federal Reserve will ratchet back on its stimulus program. Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial in Chicago, tells Marketplace what this means for the economy.
Josef Ackermann, one of the most famous businessmen in Europe, has resigned as chairman of Zurich Insurance under highly unusual circumstances. The move was connected to the apparent suicide of the company's chief financial officer, Pierre Wauthier.
"The unexpected death of Pierre Wauthier has deeply shocked me," Ackermann said in a statement. "I have reason to believe that the family is of the opinion that I should take my share of responsibility, as unfounded as any allegations might be."
Reporter Jo Fahy has the latest on the story from Zurich.
Aurora De Ines and her husband look over labels in the soup aisle at the Super A grocery store in Los Angeles.
"We do try to buy the product that has less sodium," says De Ines.
She always reads the nutrition facts on the back of prepared foods. Even so, "If it says healthy, it does catch 'your eye," De Ines admits.
"Rich in anti-oxidants." "Low-fat." "All-natural." Today’s shoppers are seeing more and more “health-conscious” food labels.
One brand riding that wave is Campbell’s Soup Company, which reports earnings today. But the green “Heart Check” label on its soup cans is now the subject of a class action lawsuit.
Brands like Progresso and Campbell’s have special labeling that’s backed by the American Heart Association. But even those soups don’t pass the Heart Association’s standards for low-sodium foods. The lawsuit alleges that misleads consumers.
"Consumers expect when they see a heart healthy label, that it’s something they can trust is better for them," says Bob Goldin, a food industry analyst with Technomic.
"The word healthy, natural. I do think they’re overused, and they mean different things to different people."
Goldin says the key is make sure consumers don’t see nutrition claims as marketing slogans, and that “heart healthy” means what it says.
Onion prices in India have jumped 400 percent. If you’re make a lot of curries, that’s a bad thing.
The Indian onion shortage won’t cramp the market here; that’s a good thing.
“Onions are at the core of my cooking, and pretty much everybody’s cooking,” says Jesse Cool, California chef and author of the cookbook "Onions." “Jokingly, when people ask the question what are the three vegetables you have if you are stuck on a desert island? My first is always the onion.”
Lucky for Cool, and the rest of us, an onion shortage in the U.S. is unlikely.
Wayne Mininger says, in his 28 years with the National Onion Association, he’s never heard of a situation where shoppers couldn’t get a hold of onions.
“People may have to pay more for an onion, but they can get an onion, any day for the year, virtually in any market,” he says.
Canada and Mexico are ready to ship extra onions when we need them.
Mininger says we eat an average of 20 pounds of fresh onions a year and another pound or pound and a half of dehydrated onion, like onion power and onion flakes.
I ask him what one thing he wishes everyone knew about onions.
“There’s an onion for every occasion,” says Mininger, “there’s an onion available in every season, there’s an onion for every application.”
Every application except one: Futures trading. Turns out onions are the one vegetable you can’t trade.
Fast food workers walked off the job on Thursday in dozens of cities, continuing their push to unionize and to get higher pay. They're asking for double what the federal minimum wage is right now-- an increase to $15 an hour.
That request was met with this full page ad in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal. A picture of a robot making pancakes with the words: Why robots could soon replace fast food workers demanding a higher minimum wage.
Michael Saltsman was one of the folks behind the ad. He's the research director at the Employment Policies Institute, a think tank that studies issues around minimum wage and is partly funded by the restaurant industry. The photo in the ad, of a "robotic chef" that a company in Japan has been developing, complete with handkerchief tied around his robot head, is not just a stunt to get attention, says Saltsman, but a “very tangible consequence of a $15 minimum wage.”
Saltsman argues that because the profit margins at most fast food places are relatively low, if restaurants raised wages, something would have to give. And since we seem to like our fast food cheap, what would most likely give is jobs. Less stuff would get done by people, more by robo-chefs.
This potential side-effect of raising the minimum wage is fairly widely accepted, says Saltsman. “I've even seen very staunchly progressive economists like Dean Baker basically acknowledge that yeah, at that level McDonald's would be laying people off.”
So I called said progressive economist Dean Baker to get his take. Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a group that is partly funded by labor unions. So you can imagine that Baker and Saltsman don’t always see eye-to-eye.
In this case however, just as Saltsman predicted, when I ask Baker if we woke up tomorrow and fast food restaurants had doubled worker pay tomorrow it could lead to more robots, and fewer people working fast food joints, he concurs. “I'm sure you would see a lot of jobs lost,” he tells me. “It’s hard to believe you’d have that happen overnight and not have some serious disruptions in the labor market.”
But that’s only part of the story, Baker argues. Even if there was, let’s say, a 20 or 30 percent drop in employment at these places (Saltsman told me he projects there could be up to a 27 percent drop), the remaining workers would still “take home twice as much pay. They're still way better off,” says Baker.
As for the workers that might lose their jobs, Baker says it would be painful in the short term, but he thinks over time the economy would adjust and other jobs would open up for those workers.
And besides, in the future, robots will probably take many of these jobs anyway. So, Baker argues, it's good for the whole economy if the jobs that are left pay a higher wage.
Heat, sweat, and, now, activists are unavoidable facts of life for members of Congress in August. An army of interest groups has been pushing various causes this month.
Opponents of President Barack Obama’s health care law are demanding it be defunded. And an unusual coalition of the left and right -- including local police, business groups and church leaders -- is pushing for immigration reform. Their ad campaign cost $400,000, and its organizer Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, says you ignore August at your peril.
“Bills will either get closer to the finish line or die on the rocks of despair during the August recess," he says, pointing to nearly 50 immigration roundtables his coalition held this month. “We think we have won the August recess.”
That kind of win-lose talk reminds some Congress watchers of a politician’s campaign.
“That’s the kind of thing you used to hear only from candidates," says Allan Lichtman, an American University history professor. "So you now have a lobbyist keeping score to see who wins in terms of wielding influence as opposed to getting elected.”
Lichtman says a lot of the interest groups active this August hired Washington political operatives to advise them. They set up war rooms and rapid response teams. August is one big business opportunity for the old Washington hands, who want to impress and attract future clients, according to GOP strategist John Feehery.
“What they’re doing here is, like anything else, they’re trying to build a resume," he says. "They’re trying to build their case that -- why other people should hire them.”
So they can win August.
Talks over a major telecoms deal are on again.
The British cell phone giant Vodaphone has resumed negotiations over its stake in America’s biggest mobile operator, Verizon Wireless.
Verizon has been chafing to buy Vodaphone’s 45 percent stake for years. The U.S. company wants the freedom to expand its network, make new acquisitions, and run its business without constantly deferring to a large, secondary partner.
In the past, the stumbling block has been the price. Verizon has offered around $100 billion for the stake, while Vodaphone has insisted on much more since its Verizon shares have provided a large and reliable stream of revenue.
Suddenly, the two sides seem ready to do a deal. Verizon would need to borrow tens of billions of dollars to finance the purchase, and the pressure is on the company to borrow that money now before interest rates rise further.
And selling now may seem sensible to Vodaphone. Chris Green, an analyst with the consulting firm the Davies Murphy Group, says Vodaphone may be worried about the long term value of its investment in America’s mobile market.
“There’s uncertainty over the future of mobile phone network revenues in the U.S., as competition and consolidation increase in the marketplace,” says Green.
That competition is already taking its toll. Verizon's share price has fallen 14 percent since April.
You may have to wait longer for your Egg McMuffin or iced coffee this morning. Thousands of fast-food workers in about 35 cities are planning to strike, as their call for higher pay, which started in New York last fall, goes nationwide.
Workers at McDonald’s, Popeye’s, Taco Bell and other fast-food chains are demanding $15 an hour -- twice as much as many now earn.
"The strike among fast food workers is a very strange type of strike," says Gary Chaison, a professor of labor relations at Clark University.
He says that's because it cuts across many companies and employers, meaning the franchisees who own the bulk of fast-food restaurants. The strike is being bankrolled by the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, at the cost of millions of dollars. SEIU President Mary Kay Henry says even though the workers aren't dues-paying members, supporting them is a good investment for the union.
"These workers need to make a living wage," she says. "At the SEIU, we believe in improving conditions for all workers."
"This is a very smart idea for the unions," agrees Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California, Berkeley. "Unions are going back to their roots. They’re speaking for the dispossessed, the most vulnerable."
Shaiken says that idealism is great for the union’s image. But will the strikes work for the workers? Chaison doesn’t think so.
"The times may not be right for increasing wages, particularly if it’s seen as possibly jeopardizing jobs," he says.
Workers risk being fired if they walk off the job during a shift, so many join the picket line on their day off. Though the protests have gained momentum and scope, just a tiny fraction of fast-food workers is taking part.
The National Football League has agreed to pay $765 million to settle a lawsuit with over 4,000 former players over head injuries.
Dan Kaplan, NFL writer for the Sports Business Journal, says that even though most league watchers expected a larger settlement, this is still good news for many who were suffering from debilitating head injuries and will now be able to get the care they need instead of having to wait for litigation to be completed.
"Most of it -- $675 million -- will be direct benefits to the players and the families of players," says Kaplan. "This is the good news."
Kaplan says that if you factor in payments from insurance, this won't be a huge blow to the NFL. But in terms of a blow to the NFL's public relations, that's another story.
Many fans may be upset with the arrangements of the settlement. However Kaplan says based on some recent press conferences, that might be changing.
"You could already start to see that storyline changing from the NFL did this to these guys and won't give them a penny," says Kaplan. "To now, they're happy together."
A recent study out from the National Institute on Reitrement Security has some unnerving statistics for the future of this country. Statistics show too many people won't have nearly enough saved when they retire, and it's something the slow economic recovery isn't fixing on its own.
Only 42 percent of private sector workers between the ages 25 and 64 have any retirement coverage in their current job. That means roughly 38 million workers in the U.S. do not have any retirement account savings at all.
"To me, that spells worry," says Marketplace's economics guy Chris Farrell. "We've created tax incentives to get people to participate in their 401(k), we've reduced the number of options in a 401(k), realizing that too much choice was overwhelming... Despite all of this, we still don't have enough people saving enough money for their retirement."
So what should we do? Farrell advocates using a "toxic word in Washington, DC: mandatory savings."
Farrell says countries like the U.K., Australia, and Israel already have mandatory savings plans for moderate income workers. In Australia, an employer has to set aside 9 percent of an employee's earnings currently, and will soon have to set aside 12 percent. Employees can choose to put more money in the mandatory savings plan, and often do at around 3 percent.
In this country, "the policy elite is starting to talk about mandatory savings," says Farrell. "You don't like the word 'mandatory,' you've got to come up with something better. The existing system is not working."
The idea of controlling objects -- even other humans -- with only your brain is a Holy Grail of tech innovation. And what researchers did at the University of Washington this month sounds pretty amazing. Using non-invasive technology to record and stimulate brain function, a researcher at one end of campus controlled the physical actions of someone at the other end of campus. Researcher Rajesh Rao was the mind controller in this experiment, and tells Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson how he did it and what his findings means for the future.
Below, watch a video of the experiment.Video of Direct Brain-to-Brain Communication in Humans: A Pilot Study
This final note today, in which, if I have anything to say about it, you will hear the word "twerking" for the first and last time.
That's what Miley Cyrus was doing the other night at the Video Music Awards. Go check it out on YouTube if you need reminding. Just remember, you can't unsee things like that.
Cyrus pointedly used a big foam finger in her...dance, I guess you could call it. The foam fingers you see at sports events. Anyway, the guy who invented the foam finger told Fox Sports today: "I would say that she certainly misrepresented its intent to encourage team support."
Yes she did.
For law enforcement, therapists, and first responders, one big challenge is simply getting in touch with a person who might be in a dangerous place, emotionally or otherwise. These days warning signs are popping up more and more on social media. That's why Toronto nurse Ann Marie Batten is working with Canadian police and case workers to stage so-called "Twitterventions." When a red flag goes up online, people who watch for them are getting in touch with Batten, who then Tweets at the person in need.
Twitter has hired the former CEO of Ticketmaster. What can the head of a ticketing behemoth offer a social media company that's yet to go public? In a word -- commerce. Ticketmaster's Nathan Hubbard helped his old employer dominate online. So his new job could be to help Twitter turn a big user base into some dollar bills. Marketplace Tech reporter Queena Kim has the latest on the story.
Hitting the road or friendly skies for a Labor Day Weekend getaway? You're not alone.
The holiday, which many celebrate as the unofficial end of summer, is a popular time for Americans to take a vacation. But if you don't like crowds, you probably shouldn't head to the City by the Bay.
Hotel search website trivago reports that San Francisco is the most popular destination for travelers looking to head out of town for the historic holiday. Rounding out the top five: Orlando, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New York City.
Not only will you have to battle crowds in popular destinations like New York and Altantic City, but finding cheap accommodation in those cities might be tough as well. Trivago says a standard double hotel room in the U.S. will cost an average $132 over the Labor Day weekend. But in cities like Milwaukee, Ocean City, Md., New York and Key West, Fla., trivago says hotel prices are exceptionally steep. In Milwaukee, hotel prices for the long weekend average around $358 -- in part because the Wisconsin city will celebrate the 110th Anniversary of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles. While inKey West, the 4th annual Key West Brewfest will take place.
If you've got an itch for one last summer hurrah, but are hoping not to spend a fortune on accommodation, trivago says great hotel deals can be found in the South and Midwest over the long weekend. In Savvanah, Ga., hotels can be found for an average price of $122 and in Williamsburg, Va., a standard double room will set you back $125/night.
One state Labor Day travelers might want to explore if they're seeking affordable accommodation is Florida, where Daytona Beach, Orlando and Tampa rank among the top cities with relatively low hotel prices.
There are two schools of thought going on here, says Nancy Koehn of Harvard Business School.
"One is one that we've heard a lot about in the tech sector," says Koehn, "perks for scarce, often engineering talent as a way to recruit and keep them. But the second are companies that really put the employee at the top of their priorities as a way of building business and encouraging satisfied, advocating customers."
The perks we're talking about are those you hear about at tech companies -- free snacks and air hockey tables -- but also more serious options like a day care center at Campbell's Soup, or S.C. Johnson's concierge service and fitness center.
Koehn says there really is data to back up how successful this tack can be.
"If you look at some of the measures around this: employee productivity, turnover, engagement numbers -- those numbers are higher for those companies than for competitors in their respective classes," she adds. "This is all in great contrast to buy low, sell high, and eat your workers up to do that. These companies way out perform the Dow, the NASDAQ -- by 8 to 1 ratios in some cases."
We asked our Twitter followers today what their best #jobperk was. Add your own -- tweet us @marketplaceAPM.
[View the story "What's the best #jobperk you've ever gotten?" on Storify]
To me, Twitter is a cardiogram of the passion of the live moment. So I'm excited to announce I've joined the flock as Head of Commerce!
— Nathan Hubbard (@NathanCHubbard) August 27, 2013
Analysts say it’s a logical move for Twitter. After all, the social network is kind of like Santa Claus. It knows what you’ve been doing; it knows when you’re awake.
For instance, he says, you might tweet about the hiking trip you’re planning next week, and Twitter could point you to a company selling outdoor gear.
“The challenge for Twitter is, how are you going to make money off these commerce companies?” she says. “How do you become like Google?”
Mulpuru says Twitter has experimented with sponsored tweets and partnered with companies like American Express for special offers. E-commerce consultant Sallie McKenzie says Twitter will have to prove to retailers that it can help them find customers.
“And to consumers, Twitter’s really going to need to prove that it’s really a fun and interesting and easy place to shop,” McKenzie says.
The challenge, analysts say, is to do it without annoying users who are already tired of ads. As Twitter tries to become a bigger player in e-commerce, Mulpuru says you can expect to see more experimentation in your feed.
“We’ll see a lot of things thrown against the wall,” she says. “And we’ll see if anything resonates.”
And if it does, Twitter might be able to turn its millions of users into hundreds of millions of dollars.