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Deliver thy neighbor's Amazon order

Thu, 2015-06-18 16:17
3.5 million

That's how many packages Amazon ships every day, and shipping costs grew by almost a third last year. It makes sense that the company is looking at new ways to ship, and sources tell the Wall Street Journal that Amazon is planning its own sort of TaskRabbit or Postmates service, asking customers to deliver packages from retail stores to each other.

$80 billion

That's what power outages cost the U.S. in lost work. Like a lot of American infrastructure, the electrical grid is a marvel, but it's showing its age. It's susceptible to outages from severe weather, and those outages last longer than they do in other countries.

$14.75

That's how low Etsy's share price has hit since its IPO in April, falling by more than half. With the company now a decade old and in precarious new territory, we sat down with CEO Chad Dickerson to check in.

5.5 years

That's how many year's worth of wages it would take U.S. service workers to afford a home, on average— more than double the recommended 2.6 years. That's according to a new analysis from the Martin Prosperity Institute as reported by CityLab. In parts of Silicon Valley, it would take them up to 20 years to afford a home. In all, the report only found two metropolitan areas were homes were within reach of service workers: Anderson, Indiana, and Saginaw, Michigan.

1789

The year Alexander Hamilton become the country's first Treasury secretary at 34, creating America's first central bank, tax system and so on from scratch. That comes from Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow, who's Politico op-ed says making Hamilton share the $10 bill with a woman instead of replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 would be "correct[ing] one historic injustice by committing another."

Stephanie Savage and 'The Astronaut Wives Club'

Thu, 2015-06-18 13:00

In May of 1961, Americans huddled around their televisions as Alan Shepard completed a 15-minute space flight, making him the first American in space. His story isn't the subject of ABC's new mini-series "The Astronaut Wives Club." The show centers on his wife, Louise Shepard, and the other women whose husbands were part of NASA's Mercury Seven — the first American men chosen to go to space.

The mini-series is based on the Lily Koppel book of the same name, which Stephanie Savage brought to the television screen. Her credits include "Gossip Girl" and "The O.C."
 
"I feel like we have a real responsibility to tell something that is truthful to these people's points of view and who they were," she says. "At the same time, we've got to fit it into 10 episodes."  
 
As if that wasn't enough of a challenge, "The Astronaut Wives Club" is also about women's history, something that hasn't often been recorded extensively. That required additional focus on her source material for the show.

"The work that Lily Koppel did in her book is really important. She did a real oral history," Savage says. "She went out to women's homes all across the country, sat in their kitchens and took down their stories."

Inside Stephanie Savage's production company Fake Empire, founded by Savage and "The O.C." creator Josh Schwartz. (Bridget Bodnar/Marketplace) 

Savage also hopes that the show will encourage viewers to go out and research the history that "The Astronaut Wives Club" covers, even if it means important plot details are revealed to the audience too soon.
 
"Nothing would make me happier if people got curious enough to actually go online to and start looking and researching the Apollo 1 fire...That would be amazing to me if people would actually go through the trouble to figure that stuff out," she says. 
 
Savage acknowledges that the show is different from the series she's known for.
 
"I'd love to do something like this again," she says: telling the stories of strong women. "There are so many amazing untold women's stories, that I'd be happy to do one of these every summer for the rest of my life."

Astronaut Wives premieres Thursday on ABC at 8 p.m. 

Pope Francis: climate, economics, and values

Thu, 2015-06-18 13:00

Pope Francis released his much-anticipated encyclical, "Laudato Si'" ("Praise Be To You"), on Thursday, calling on all nations and all peoples to take action on climate change. He came down with the overwhelming majority of scientists, who say global warming is caused by the activities of man.

And he was pretty critical of two of those activities: capitalism and consumerism. The quest for too much profit, and for too much stuff, harms the planet, he said.

In going there, the pope staked out territory that most economists make a point of avoiding: a moral interpretation of our economy.

This isn’t the first time a major faith has put forth a moral interpretation of economic prosperity — even within the Catholic Church, from popes going all the way back to Leo XIII. 

Leo XIII wrote an encyclical titled “Rerum Novarum,” taken from the Latin for “of revolutionary change,” which was meant as a push back against some of the negative aspects of the Industrial Revolution. 

More recently, even Pope Benedict XVI wrote about the need for “adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth.”

“Consistently the popes have spoken that the marketplace is not God; that it’s not going to solve all of our problems,” says Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and senior analyst at the National Catholic Reporter.

Reese notes that economists tend to view their subject as “value free” — a matter of the efficient allocation of scarce resources— but that the Pope feels that approach isn’t addressing the needs of the poorest and weakest among us.

“The realm that he deals with, and the morality of life, is one that economics has struggled with," says Maureen O’Hara, a professor of finance at Cornell University. "I think that economics is beginning to rethink that a little bit.”

In talking about issues like climate change and the environment in terms of “values,” the pope is entering territory many economists tend to avoid.

“The closest we tend to get is things are ‘inefficient’," O’Hara says. “I think many people kind of feel that may not tell the full story, and that's where I think the pope is trying to blend both the pieces from the economics perspective and the moral perspective together."

O’Hara says she agrees with much of what the pope said in his encyclical, but not his opposition to trading carbon credits. Cap and trade, she says, can be an effective tool for reducing pollution.

What we talk about when we talk about the grid

Thu, 2015-06-18 12:08

What is the grid? It dates back to Edison and it gets power from plants to homes and businesses accross the nation. But it's also vulnerable and aging.

The Greeks are getting tired of crisis talks

Thu, 2015-06-18 12:07

Most Greeks back the government, but weariness is the mood. They are tired of the meetings, crisis talks, deadlines, and living up to the next critical moment.

In Central Athens, there isn't much evidence of the economic crisis. However, Nick Voglis, the owner of a sandwich bar, says, “If one person in Greece right now goes to the ATM, and tries to remove money and money does not come out, this place will go on fire. It will explode. There’s no doubt about that.”

There hasn't been a bank run yet, but since October, $33 billion has been withdrawn from the Greek banking system. Wealthy people are taking their money out and putting it overseas. The less well-heeled are taking their money out and keeping it at home. Marketplace’s Stephen Beard explains from Athens.

Fitbit goes public without breaking a sweat

Thu, 2015-06-18 10:52

Fitness tracker maker Fitbit went public Thursday, and was received surprisingly well. The stock went up 50 percent as soon as trading began, ending the day at $29.68 a share.

"We’re at a scale of revenue and profitability that we felt it made a lot of sense to go public," says Fitbit CEO James Park.

In 2014, the company reported $745 million in revenue — proving that people will spend a lot of money on wearable technology.

"There’s a lot of great things that we can do with the capital that we raise from the IPO. There’s a lot of advanced research and development that we can do on our products ranging from, more hardware to more incredible software to make people healthier," Park says. "We started investing in pretty significant sales and marketing campaigns. Fitbit is pretty much already synonymous with health and fitness tracking — we’re almost a ‘Kleenex’ of the category."

Mattel wheeling out miniature Tesla Model S

Thu, 2015-06-18 09:00

Tesla has now come to the middle class.

Mattel is out with the Hot Wheels version of the Tesla Model S.

You can get the 1/64th scale model for $1.09, red or silver.

The Hot Wheels Tesla Roadster, the first one in the series, is now a collectors' item that'll run 50 bucks.

When the power grid fails

Thu, 2015-06-18 06:05

The nation's system of power plants, utility poles and electrical wires is aging. And compared with other developed countries, it’s less and less reliable. Among the worst hit states: Connecticut.

Three historic storms hit the state in 2011 and 2012. Each time, more than 600,000 residents lost power for days. More than lights went out: household water comes from wells in the town of Marlborough.

“The well runs off electricity,” resident Cliff Denniss says. “And when you lose power you don’t have the pump working to push the water into the house. And you only get about two flushes out of the toilet. ..and when you’re out for a week it can get pretty tough.”

Marlborough went dark for a week in all three storms. Cliff Denniss’s wife, Dorothy, now fills the tub with water when a big one’s coming. Which she admits is not enough for a week-long outage.

“You don’t flush every time,” she says. “Trust me.”

Gas stations in town lost power to pump their gas. Cellphone batteries died. And perishable food … perished. Unless you ate it.

“I had filet mignon all week,” Dorothy Denniss says. “I just bought a brand new one, had it chopped up into steaks. It was in the freezer, we lost the power. I said ‘we have to eat this!’” 

In the average year, New England loses power for a total of three and a half hours, compared with four minutes in Japan. The U.S. fares worse than any other rich country. The cost – in lost work and production – is estimated at $80 billion dollars, more than Google makes in a year. 

The big culprit is weather — say, winds knocking tree limbs into power lines strung along streets. So in Marlborough, backup generators sell rather well.

“We’re still consuming electricity in ways we have done over 100 years in this country,” remodeling contractor Scott Welch says. “I think what we’re doing is antiquated.”

In fact, one joke told frequently in the business: if Thomas Edison came back today, he would recognize the power grid he helped create.

In 1882, Edison built the first electric “utility” system.

Edison's Pearl Street Station.

Courtesy:U.S. Department of Interior

“He invented a light bulb,” Virginia Tech energy historian Richard Hirsh says. “He also invented specialized generators to produce electricity. He developed the wiring system.”

Edison’s very first utility went up in Manhattan. Like a local drugstore, it was a local electric company, with generators and customers in the same place. But this local model lost out. Two of Edison’s rivals, Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse, developed long-distance transmission, to send power from big sources far away.

“Westinghouse transmitted power from a Niagara Falls hydropower plant to the city of Buffalo about 20 miles distant,” Hirsh says.

Long-distance electricity was more efficient and cheaper. So America ended up with a hub-and–spoke system of poles and wires.

And electricity changed everything.

“It allows you to heat, to cool, to illuminate,” Hirsch says. “In factories, it boosted productivity hugely. In homes, it enables people to do things at day and night in ways that people in the 19th century could only imagine.”

We became addicted to electricity.

But then, the grid aged, and investment didn’t keep up. Power failures have tripled since the 1980s.

 

Major Electric Grid Outages From Severe Weather, 2000 to 2014

Courtesy: Jordan Wirfs-Brock/Inside Energy

“An experienced electrical engineer, a field operator, once said to me, ‘the whole system is going to fall down some day, it’s just not going to happen on the same day,’”  says Larry Reilly, a former utility executive now with Rosewood Consulting. “That was really the philosophy of operating companies for a long time, to wait 'til failure.”

The electricity infrastructure, Reilly says, went up in a big hurry early on. “People were looking for the fastest, cheapest places to put facilities,” he said. “If we went back and had the ability to do it again, the system would have been designed a little bit differently, but of course, we don’t have that opportunity.”

A case in point: a 1920s substation in the Connecticut town of Branford, on Long Island Sound. It was built right at sea level. So it floods and fails with storm surges.

A substation in Branford.

Scott Tong/Marketplace

“I don’t know what was in the minds of folks as to why it went here,” local resident and journalist Marcia Chambers says. “The flooding of the street has long been an issue.” In two of the big storms –Irene and Sandy – one of Branford’s main Internet providers, Comcast, lost its power. Gone was the whole Comcast bundle: internet, TV, phone.

“The idea that companies are bundling everything and giving you a discount sounds really terrific,” Chambers says. “Except when it goes down.” 

Local cell towers also lost power. The town hospice saw its backup generator fail, so it had to move dying people. Electric wheelchairs could not recharge.

Why did so much of the grid go down?

“We found in Connecticut that half the utility poles were more than 50 years old, did not meet modern standards, and when faced with heavy wind began to snap,” Yale law professor Dan Esty says. He was state energy commissioner for all three storms. “A significant percent of the wires were not insulated, meaning that not only if they were knocked down there was a problem, but if a tree branch touched them they would arc and short out.”

Esty blames state rules aimed at keeping customer rates low, which may have discouraged utilities from investing in reliability.

“We have an antiquated regulatory model that provided limited capital,” Esty says, “and resulted, I think, in systematic underinvestment in grid modernization.”

By the third storm, state lawmakers said enough. They started to consider big changes to the power grid. Esty’s wife had enough, too, by Superstorm Sandy.

“I came home after the first night in the bunker with the governor,” Esty says. “And on the second night, did grill on my outside grill and served my wife dinner by candlelight, and I think it was quite charming. On the third day she was grumbling a bit. And on the fourth day she asked me, ‘Who the hell is the commissioner of energy in the state of Connecticut?’”

At that point, Connecticut passed a law to finance more decentralized, or distributed energy. What’s that like? Take a look at Denmark’s system:

Distributed Generation in Denmark

From "The Smart Grid: An Introduction by Litos Strategic Communication"

 Marketplace is teaming up with Waze to look at transportation infrastructure across the U.S. Click here to find out how you can be a part of our series and report bad infrastructure on your own commute. 

PODCAST: The new face of the $10 bill

Thu, 2015-06-18 03:00

First up, we'll talk about what the Fed makes of your shopping habits — What we're earning and how we're spending it factors into what the Fed plans to do with interest rates. And with the announcement that a new $10 bill will feature a woman in 2020, we'll take a look at why Hamilton's face, and not Jackson's, is being replaced. And construction of an 18-story optical-infrared telescope was set to begin on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, but native Hawaiian activists protested the telescope would harm the environment and desecrate a sacred mountain. We'll talk about the controversy surrounding the $1.4 billion project.

So you want to fund a film festival

Thu, 2015-06-18 02:00

Have you noticed lately how every city seems to have its own film festival — And we’re not talking Sundance or Cannes. Most are small affairs, unencumbered by Hollywood royalty and studio execs writing big checks for small movies.  

How do all those festivals stay in business?

Putting on a film festival takes money. And funding is as all-over-the-map as the film festivals themselves.

In some places, like Toronto, the city pitches in $1 million a year.

"Towns and cities are highly aware of the potential tourism dollars it might bring," says Tamara Falicov, an associate professor in the Department of Film and Media Studies at the University of Kansas.

A lot of smaller festivals don’t have that kind of backing. "I recently read a survey that many, many festivals are barely surviving and they depend a lot on filmmaker submission fees," says Falicov.

Those fees range from $10 to $100-plus, and they are becoming more and more contentious.

Josh Welsh, the president of Film Independent, which puts on the LA Film Festival, says the non-profit spends a lot of the year raising money to put on the fest. It gets cash from philanthropic donors. It sell tickets. And, his organization, like many festivals, depends on corporate sponsorship, "that's a very significant piece of it." 

Companies see the film festival goers as an audience they want for themselves. 

Why egg prices have been climbing while chicken prices are falling

Thu, 2015-06-18 02:00

Avian flu has had a huge effect on the nation's turkey and egg operations; shrinking supplies and lifting prices for egg products, in particular. But farms that raise chickens for their meat — known as broilers — have largely been spared from avian flu.

And the latest monthly report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service says broiler prices are actually ticking down. The supply of broilers appears to be exceeding demand.

“You have two factors contributing to more domestic supply: increased production and a decreased amount of markets that can be exported to,” says Alex Melton, a poultry economist with the USDA.

A number of countries are spooked about avian flu and are limiting imports of U.S. poultry products. China and South Korea have enacted total bans.

“So broiler meat is impacted even if broilers have not been found to catch the virus,” Melton says.

It's still not clear why farms that raise the chickens we eat have mostly dodged the avian flu. Some experts speculate it could have to do with the producers’ biosecurity measures.

Carol Cardona, an avian flu expert at the University of Minnesota, says the short lifespan of broiler chickens could also play a role. She says they only live for about six weeks, compared to hens that lay eggs, which live about a year. Cardona says a lot of biosecurity mistakes can happen over that longer period.

“What you have with the layers being hit versus the broilers is an odds game,” she says.

The broiler price declines play out at the wholesale level first — grocery store chains and fast food companies see prices drop before we do.

But Bruce Babcock, an economist at Iowa State University, expects the declines will trickle down to consumers.

“I bet we'll see some reduction in the retail price of chicken in the next six months,” he says.

Babcock says that could steer more consumers to chicken, and away from pricier meats, like beef.

 

Why the $10 bill, not $20, will get a woman's portrait

Thu, 2015-06-18 02:00

The Treasury Department is asking for public input to help decide which historically-significant woman will appear on the $10 bill. The agency announced that it will unveil the new paper currency design with a portrait of a woman by 2020.

The move comes after a popular online campaign to put a woman on the $20 bill. The $10 bill won out, instead, because it has already been scheduled for a refresh, as of 2013.

"I like to think of our paper money as pocket monuments," says Susan Ades Stone, executive director of the Women On 20s campaign. "By putting women on our paper money, it's a way of showing the world that we are committed to gender equality."

Click the media player above to hear more.

Many Marin workers can't afford to live in Marin

Thu, 2015-06-18 02:00

Commutes can be long for people who have jobs in expensive real estate markets like Marin County, a suburban enclave just north of San Francisco. And there are economic forces driving the long drives.

Consider the commute of Phillip Thomas, a communications technician for the County of Marin. His department maintains things like jail security cameras and radio equipment for fire departments. On a recent foggy morning, his drive to work took 55 minutes. “I was pleased about that,” he says.

“Pleased” because, even though 55 minutes is twice the national average for a one-way commute, Thomas's trips often take even longer — up to 80 minutes. Thomas lives in Solano County, some 30 miles from where he works in Marin. He says he'd love to live closer to his job, but when he's looked for homes in Marin “the housing prices are just too high.”

Thomas earns more than $80,000 a year. In Marin, where the median price for a single family home is around $1 million, he wouldn't qualify for most home loans. So he drives in from somewhere else, just like most of his coworkers.

Depending on which Census survey you look at, between about 40 and 60 percent of the workforce in Marin commutes in from another county. Thomas says for him, that means more time on the road and increased frustration. “I hate traffic,” he says. “But most of all it is a few hours out of the day that I don't get to spend with my family. And I like my family.”

Beyond those personal costs, long commutes might also have impacts on the communities that workers like Thomas drive into each day to serve, says Thomas Peters, president of the Marin Community Foundation, which funds and advocates for more affordable housing in Marin County.

“You've got people that are making absolutely critical contributions to the life and quality of life for individuals and families in Marin,” Peters says.

He argues that expensive places like Marin can benefit from having more of the pre-school teachers, the home health care workers, the MRI technicians that work in the county, able to live and raise their families there too.

“It’s true at a cellular level and its true at a social level — there's a real payoff for diversity,” Peters says.

On a more practical level, Peters warns that ultimately workers who can't afford to live in Marin may get so fed up with their commutes that they find jobs elsewhere, closer to home, leaving critical middle and low-income service jobs difficult to fill.

Despite bird flu, chicken prices are about to fall

Thu, 2015-06-18 02:00

Avian flu has had a huge effect on the nation's turkey and egg operations; shrinking supplies and lifting prices for egg products, in particular. But farms that raise chickens for their meat — known as broilers — have largely been spared from avian flu.

And the latest monthly report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service says broiler prices are actually ticking down. The supply of broilers appears to be exceeding demand.

“You have two factors contributing to more domestic supply: increased production and a decreased amount of markets that can be exported to,” says Alex Melton, a poultry economist with the USDA.

A number of countries are spooked about avian flu and are limiting imports of U.S. poultry products. China and South Korea have enacted total bans.

“So broiler meat is impacted even if broilers have not been found to catch the virus,” Melton says.

It's still not clear why farms that raise the chickens we eat have mostly dodged the avian flu. Some experts speculate it could have to do with the producers’ biosecurity measures.

Carol Cardona, an avian flu expert at the University of Minnesota, says the short lifespan of broiler chickens could also play a role. She says they only live for about six weeks, compared to hens that lay eggs, which live about a year. Cardona says a lot of biosecurity mistakes can happen over that longer period.

“What you have with the layers being hit versus the broilers is an odds game,” she says.

The broiler price declines play out at the wholesale level first — grocery store chains and fast food companies see prices drop before we do.

But Bruce Babcock, an economist at Iowa State University, expects the declines will trickle down to consumers.

“I bet we'll see some reduction in the retail price of chicken in the next six months,” he says.

Babcock says that could steer more consumers to chicken, and away from pricier meats, like beef.

 

On Hawaii, a big telescope stirs conflict

Thu, 2015-06-18 02:00

Spiritual and cultural values are clashing with scientific and economic considerations on the Big Island of Hawaii, where protesters want to stop development of a $1.4 billion observatory called the Thirty Meter Telescope.

The mountain of Mauna Kea rises almost 14,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, making it popular with astronomers. But the mountain also has religious and cultural importance for native Hawaiians. For two months, protesters have camped out on the mountain to block construction of the 18-story observatory. They consider Mauna Kea sacred; it is the burial grounds for their ancestors.

"It's also our watershed for the whole island of Hawaii," Kealoha Pisciotta says. "There are seven aquifers that are fed by the summit of Mauna Kea."

The people behind the telescope project have vowed to protect the aquifer, and promise to remove all liquid waste from the mountain.

"The Thirty Meter Telescope is, I think, the biggest jump forward in terms of observing capability for exploring the universe that we've had going all the way back to the first telescope that Galileo used," says Mike Bolte, an astronomy professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

The Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory is a consortium of two universities (University of California and CalTech) and four countries (Canada, Japan, India and China).

Construction of the telescope is expected to create about 300 jobs. About half that many people will staff the observatory once it's running. And the project has funded a workforce development program to help train engineers and computer specialists.

"That's to make sure that local folks have the opportunity to get these jobs at the observatory," Bolte says.

The island of Hawaii is currently dependent on the tourist and military industries. That's one reason that banana farmer Richard Ha supports the project.

"It's another industry," Ha says. "The Thirty Meter Telescope will bring $26 million annually into our economy."

Young people often have to leave the island to find work. Ha says, "If we could get more employment, the young folks would be able to stay home."

Earlier this week, protesters chanted outside the headquarters for the Thirty Meter Telescope in Pasadena, California.

Activist Pua Case said the Hawaiian culture is more valuable than the jobs and money the telescope would bring.

"We need to find our people better jobs, that their grandchildren will be proud of them for," Case says. "Not jobs that have destroyed our Hawaii and our way of life."

A legal challenge of the project is headed for Hawaii's Supreme Court.

The best part of waking up ... is caffeine

Thu, 2015-06-18 01:52
$10

The Treasury Department announced Wednesday that it will mint a new $10 bill in 2020. But this time around, the bills will feature the face of a yet-to-be-chosen woman. With recent campaigns to get a woman's face on the $20 bill, we take a look at why it will be Hamilton, and not Jackson, who is replaced.

1.2 gigabytes

That's how much wireless data American smartphone users consume each month, on average. That's a lot more than anyone used back in 2007, Wired notes, when AT&T offered "unlimited data" plans to get customers in the door and trying out the then-new iPhone. Now those plans have come back to bite AT&T, which was hit with a $100 million fine from the FCC Wednesday for throttling data.

55 minutes

That's how long it takes Phillip Thomas, a communications technician for the County of Marin, to drive to work ... on a good day. That's twice as long as the national-average for a one way commute, and Thomas says his drive can take as long as 80 minutes. His problem is not unique — many workers in Marin find themselves priced out of property ownership in an area where the median price for a single family home is $1 million. In fact, 40 to 60 percent of the workforce in Marin commute from elsewhere.

4.5 miles

That's the gap between the 210 and 710 freeways in the Northeast Los Angeles suburbs. At some point the two roads were supposed to connect, and a tunnel linking them has been controversial for decades. It's another case study in our series on infrastructure, "The Weak Link."

$1.4 billion

That's how much will potentially be spent on a new observatory located on the Big Island of Hawaii. But plans for the Thirty Meter Telescope are controversial, as the building site — the mountain of Mauna Kea — has deep cultural importance for native Hawaiian, not to mention its role as the main watershed for the island. But the team behind the telescope promise to be environmentally conscious, and some Hawaiians welcome the economic boost the project could bring to the area.

190 milligrams

That how much caffeine is in an iced coffee from Caribou, and it's the strongest of the major chains — compare it to Seattle's Best's measly 45 milligrams. The Washington Post's Wonk blog has gathered up everything you need to know about coffee in 19 charts. Need an even stronger coffee data buzz? Here's a map of all the major coffee chains in the U.S.  

L.A. installs water pipes that can survive disaster

Wed, 2015-06-17 13:58

Los Angeles water officials say we have a lot to learn from the Japanese when it comes to protecting water infrastructure from natural disaster. Japan has severe earthquakes, and for almost 40 years the Kubota Corporation, a competitor of Caterpillar, has made quake-resistant ductile-iron water pipes. Underground water pipes can break in an earthquake, cutting off water supply to streets and sometimes entire neighborhoods.

 Two years ago Los Angeles became the first city in the U.S. to install them. They’re designed so they don’t pull apart at the joints when the earth moves. Engineer Craig Davis, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s earthquake expert, says the pipes have withstood a 9.0 magnitude quake in Japan. “This pipe has survived 10 feet of ground movement and it hasn’t even leaked. So that’s very significant.”

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power lowers a quake-resistant water pipe in downtown Los Angeles. (Credit: Vanessa Smith)

Los Angeles is testing the pipe in five locations around the city. The pipe is almost double the cost of conventional water pipe, so quake-proofing the entire city would be prohibitively expensive, but also probably unnecessary. Some parts of Los Angeles are much more prone to liquefaction than others. The idea, according to LADWP’s Marty Adams, is to use the Japanese-made pipes in the most critical and vulnerable places, including streets serving hospitals and key civic buildings. “When we have a pipe coming in for replacement, we’ll ask if it should be earthquake resistant.”

The city has over 7,000 miles of pipe and has already replaced some of the oldest, most corroded pipe with new, regular ductile iron pipe that’s “almost hermetically sealed” so the soil never touches the pipe, according to Adams. Last summer a 93-year-old water main under Sunset Boulevard ruptured and flooded part of the UCLA campus, becoming “the poster child of infrastructure needs,” Adams says.

A BMW is surrounded by water on Sunset Blvd., near the campus of UCLA after a water main rupture in 2014. (Jabin Botsford/Copyright © 2014. Los Angeles Times. Reprinted with Permission.) 

LADWP officials say quake-resistant pipes will help limit the number of water main breaks in "The Big One." Davis and Adams are acutely aware of what can happen to water infrastructure during an earthquake. They both were working for the department in 1994 when the Northridge quake hit. The city had to repair more than 1,500 breaks, Adams says, and according to the state Office of Emergency Services, over 48,000 homes were cut off from running water. Davis says the quake "changed his whole understanding" about infrastructure vulnerability. "It's essential we have a seismic resilience program."

Marketplace is teaming up with Waze to look at transportation infrastructure across the U.S. Click here to find out how you can be a part of our series and report bad infrastructure on your own commute. 

L.A. installs water pipes that can survive disaster

Wed, 2015-06-17 13:58

Los Angeles water officials say we have a lot to learn from the Japanese when it comes to protecting water infrastructure from natural disaster. Japan has severe earthquakes, and for almost 40 years the Kubota Corporation, a competitor of Caterpillar, has made quake-resistant ductile-iron water pipes. Underground water pipes can break in an earthquake, cutting off water supply to streets and sometimes entire neighborhoods.

 Two years ago Los Angeles became the first city in the U.S. to install them. They’re designed so they don’t pull apart at the joints when the earth moves. Engineer Craig Davis, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s earthquake expert, says the pipes have withstood a 9.0 magnitude quake in Japan. “This pipe has survived 10 feet of ground movement and it hasn’t even leaked. So that’s very significant.”

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power lowers a quake-resistant water pipe in downtown Los Angeles. (Credit: Vanessa Smith)

Los Angeles is testing the pipe in five locations around the city. The pipe is almost double the cost of conventional water pipe, so quake-proofing the entire city would be prohibitively expensive, but also probably unnecessary. Some parts of Los Angeles are much more prone to liquefaction than others. The idea, according to LADWP’s Marty Adams, is to use the Japanese-made pipes in the most critical and vulnerable places, including streets serving hospitals and key civic buildings. “When we have a pipe coming in for replacement, we’ll ask if it should be earthquake resistant.”

The city has over 7,000 miles of pipe and has already replaced some of the oldest, most corroded pipe with new, regular ductile iron pipe that’s “almost hermetically sealed” so the soil never touches the pipe, according to Adams. Last summer a 93-year-old water main under Sunset Boulevard ruptured and flooded part of the UCLA campus, becoming “the poster child of infrastructure needs,” Adams says.

A BMW is surrounded by water on Sunset Blvd., near the campus of UCLA after a water main rupture in 2014. (Jabin Botsford/Copyright © 2014. Los Angeles Times. Reprinted with Permission.) 

LADWP officials say quake-resistant pipes will help limit the number of water main breaks in "The Big One." Davis and Adams are acutely aware of what can happen to water infrastructure during an earthquake. They both were working for the department in 1994 when the Northridge quake hit. The city had to repair more than 1,500 breaks, Adams says, and according to the state Office of Emergency Services, over 48,000 homes were cut off from running water. Davis says the quake "changed his whole understanding" about infrastructure vulnerability. "It's essential we have a seismic resilience program."

Marketplace is teaming up with Waze to look at transportation infrastructure across the U.S. Click here to find out how you can be a part of our series and report bad infrastructure on your own commute. 

California says Uber driver was employee

Wed, 2015-06-17 13:00

  The California Labor Commission has ruled that a former Uber driver was an employee during her time with the company. Uber filed an appeal yesterday. But this probably won’t be the last battle fought on the front lines of the so-called gig economy.   “Got a car? Turn it into a money machine.” So says Uber’s website. Sounds tempting, huh? But Uber drivers pay for their own gas and their own insurance. They don’t get paid for waiting time.  

“And that is, of course, one of the reasons why Uber has been so successful is because they don’t carry these costs,” says Gerald Friedman, chair of the economics department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Friedman says the ruling could set a precedent for millions of independent workers around the country, “and it’s going to encourage suits like this in other states.”

He says over the years, the independent contractor workforce has grown, partly because employers don’t have to pay things like overtime or health benefits.

John-Paul Ferguson, who teaches strategy at Stanford’s business school, says if Uber drivers are considered employees, that means higher labor costs, and ultimately, “We would probably see that passed on as slightly higher prices to end customers.”

But that won’t kill Uber’s success, Ferguson says. It’ll just give them less of an advantage over regular cab companies. As to how this ruling might affect other app-based services like Airbnb or TaskRabbit?

“There’s going to be a lot of careful parsing of how different firms have treated the people who are using their apps to provide services to people,” he says.

Ferguson says it’ll probably depend on what kind of contracts exist between the firms and the service providers.  

   

The bond market does what it wants

Wed, 2015-06-17 12:58

Here's a reality check of sorts on the breathlessness with which we all — and by we, I mean us too — greet pronouncements from the Federal Reserve.

The bond market heard Fed Chair Janet Yellen speak today, and couldn't have cared less.

The often quoted 10-year Treasury note closed at a yield of about 2.3 percent — right smack where it opened before Yellen said a word.

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