National / International News
They caught the virus. Or had contact with a patient that put them at high risk. And they were flown out of West Africa for treatment — at a cost as high as $200,000 per person.
Stocks took a beating on Wednesday, with the Dow and the S&P 500 falling more than 2 percent before bouncing back slightly. Money flowed into safe haven investments such as U.S. Treasuries.
HBO has announced that starting next year it will offer its online streaming service HBO Go to anyone willing to pay, whether they have cable or not.
Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson says the move is an important about-face for entertainment giant Time Warner.
“The CEO [Richard Plepler] has promised that HBO wasn’t going to do this and now they’ve changed,” Johnson says. “I think that’s probably because there’s been a discussion behind the scenes about just what the lay of the land looks like.”
Access to HBO Go is widely shared, something Plepler has said he doesn’t mind. But last year HBO’s paid customer count was surpassed by Netflix, and Game of Thrones recently set a world record for piracy.
Johnson guesses HBO has been pressuring its parent company Time Warner toward this move for a while now.
“I think it’s kind of bad news for cable companies,” Johnson says. “By some estimates only like 3 percent of people are going to cut the cord next year, but those numbers are really growing fast for certain demographics and people’s behavior is really changing.”
Retail sales numbers released Wednesday from the Commerce Department suggest consumers spent slightly less in September than the month before.
There were some bright spots in the electronics category, and overall gains from the same period last year. Still, the headline numbers might give retailers some anxiety heading into the holiday season, says Georgetown University professor Marlene Morris Towns.
“I think that retailers are really, really, kind of struggling to get people in, to get people shopping,” she says. “I think they’re pushing to holidays on us faster and faster.”
But Towns is optimistic about consumer spending going forward.
It’s just that we have to take into account the economy’s new normal, says Susan Viamari, who tracks consumers and retail trends for IRI. “The new normal is going to be much more conservative mindset than what we saw before that proverbial bubble burst.”
Viamari says many consumers who cut back during the recession are keeping a tight grip on their spending.
Compare that with a decade ago, RBS Securities economist Omair Sharif says, when homeowners were pulling equity out of their homes or using credit cards to fuel shopping sprees.
“So it’s just a very different environment in terms of your ability to finance your expenditures,” he says. “It’s just night and day versus 2004.”
Consumers are largely limited to spending what they have, says Sharif, and he doesn’t expect that to change anytime soon.
You know how techies are all into disrupting businesses? Well, right now, there’s a lot of interest in the food industry. In Impossible Foods' case, its mission is to disrupt the $74 billion dollar beef industry.
“It’s egregiously inefficient,” says Patrick Brown, the CEO of Impossible Foods.
Brown is talking specifically about the big business of raising animals for food. He says, worldwide, animal farming is one the biggest consumers of water.
“It’s using 30 percent of the entire land surface of earth,” he continues.
And that land is being cleared to make room for cattle to graze and to grow feed crops, which brings us to Brown’s next point.
“It’s the biggest driver of biodiversity losses in the world,” Brown says. “Just to raise animals, to make cheeseburgers, it’s ridiculous.”
We've been using animals to make food for about 10,000 years, Brown says, and that technology is outdated. Take off the cultural veneer and you’ll see “livestock is a technology. We use it to take cheap plant biomass” and turn it into meat.
Or in layman’s terms: We grow and harvest tons of corn, grass and other plants and turn it into meat by feeding it to animals, which we then kill and package into chops and steaks.
Brown says we don't need to do that any more. We now know how to extract nutrients and proteins from plants, and use those ingredients to make meat without animals. Enter Impossible Foods, one of a handful of tech start-ups that wants to make animal products, from cheese to eggs and beef, from plants.
To show me what he’s talking about, Brown asks Beth Fryksdale, the food scientist in charge of making the plant-based meat.
“So I’m going to put the patty on the griddle here,” she says, plopping down two of Impossible Foods’ most recent burger prototypes. When the "meat" it hits the fry pan, it sizzles.
“You’ll notice we’ve got this nice transition in color from red to brown,” Fryksdale says, just like a real burger.
I glance over at the plate the patty was on and I see ... blood?
“Yup, it looks like blood although this is not blood from an animal, this is blood from plant,” Fryksdale says triumphantly.
“That’s the color of the 'heme' that I was talking about,” Brown interjects.
Heme is a substance found on the roots of bean plants. It gives meat its unique flavor. It’s naturally red, and when you taste the heme raw, like I did, it tastes like blood.
When the burger was done, I ate it. And If I’d tasted it at a fast-food joint, I probably wouldn’t have noticed a difference. At the same time, it’s not as good as the grass-fed burger that I get at my favorite restaurant, and that’s what Impossible Foods is going for.
Google Ventures invested in the start-up, and partner Andy Wheeler said while he’d like to go after that gourmet market, “it really is the mass-market opportunity that’s interesting.”
To get into there, Wheeler says, Impossible Foods needs to make its ground beef cheaper than the real stuff. And that’s a challenge. Right now, one Impossible Foods burger costs about $20 to make. Despite that, Wheeler says a bunch of events have made investors more bullish on food.
“We all see that obesity is a huge problem and people are getting more concerned with health,” Wheeler says.
And more people are concerned about sustainability. Traditional food companies have been slow to address these concerns, Wheeler says. Investors see an opportunity, and they think advances in science have made food more of a tech play.
“So the company may be starting with a ground beef product, but the core technology they’re developing around food science is really applicable to a really wide range of potential foods,” Wheeler says.
The idea of synthesizing real food is an age-old dream, says Michael Pollan, a food journalist and activist.
Think: Tang, non-dairy creamers and Cool Whip. But he says what’s new this go-around is that techies are on a mission.
“Which I think is distinct, and I think it’s political,” Pollan said. “These companies aim to shrink animal agriculture because of their environmental footprint.”
Pollan applauds that effort, but “I think you run into some of the limitations of Silicon Valley thinking when it comes to culture, which is the pleasure of eating meat is not simply a sensory pleasure,” he says. “Meat connotes prestige all over the world. Will fake meat offer that pleasure?”
And while this new crop food techies are using plant-based nutrients, instead of, say, artificial chemicals like they did decades ago. Pollan says there are reasons to be skeptical.
“Foods that we’ve been eating for tens of thousands of years have kind of proven themselves out and we are talking about introducing some novel foods and so we need to be careful,” he says.
But he says, that's not so say we shouldn’t do it.
Pollan says, we make processed foods for all kinds of reasons. We make it for convenience, taste and to make money. And so why not make it to save the environment?
As tax revenues increased and spending cuts took effect, the deficit dropped to 2.8 percent of GDP — in dollar terms, the lowest level since 2008.
The National Basketball Association will run an experiment this week to test the premise "Less is more." A preseason game pairing the Brooklyn Nets with the Boston Celtics will have just 44 minutes of play, instead of the usual 48.
NBA officials mentioned “our schedule” as one motivation behind the experiment. That is: Lots of games often means lots of injuries. Maybe shorter games could mean less wear and tear on players’ bodies.
Then again, maybe not, says Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College. "If for instance, it’s the case that LeBron James, out of a 48 minute game plays 37 minutes, we don’t know if he’ll play proportionately fewer minutes" in a shorter game.
In other words, the coach is already asking himself: "How many minutes can I play LeBron without worrying too much about injury?"
"If that number's 37," says Zimbalist, "it could still be 37 in a 44-minute game."
There is the possibility that fans — and TV networks — would prefer shorter games, says Glenn Wong, who teaches sports management for the University of Massachusetts business school.
"Two hours is something that fits well in terms of fans — and in terms of TV slots," Wong says. Typical NBA games last significantly longer. "I think there’s a certain trend toward reducing the length of the game."
In particular, the final minutes of an NBA game can drag. The 44-minute game would also cut one of three mandatory ad breaks in the fourth quarter. But what slows down those last minutes, really, is part of how the game gets played. The NBA's own website lays out how teams use intentional fouls to stop the clock.
"You can just keep fouling people, and fouling people, and fouling people and extending this," says David Berri, a sports economist at Southern Utah University, "and hope something’s going to happen."
A 44-minute game doesn't address that problem.
"I think you could say that the game in terms of actual chronological time is too long, and you could take steps to address what’s actually making it go longer," Berri says. "But just giving people less product — that just doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense."
American soldiers found chemical weapons in Iraq as long as a decade ago, left over from Saddam Hussein's war with Iran, according to a New York Times investigation. Some U.S. troops were injured by the shells. Both the discoveries and injuries were kept secret.
This comes against the backdrop of deepening American involvement in the region, where we've already invested close to $2 trillion in Iraq alone.
John Nagl helped write the Army and Marine Corps' "Counterinsurgency Field Manual." In a new memoir he details the cost of the wars - both in terms of money and, in his view, credibility - through the lens of his own life. A retired Lt. Col. and Pentagon official, Nagl served in Iraq twice.
"There clearly is another war happening in Iraq right now," Nagl said, referring to the 1,600 troops on the ground as military advisers, plus the supporting planes, ships, and intelligence officers.
"I don't think it's going to be as big for the United States as the last Iraq war was, or my first Iraq war was. But the implications of the war and the necessity of to get it right is just as big as it was the last two times.
Nagl's new book"Knife Fights," catalogs what he sees as the costs of the second Iraq war through the lens of his personal experience in the region:
Nagl deployed to Iraq in first Gulf War
Nagl deployed to Al Anbar province, Iraq
NYT Magazine cover story: Prof. Nagl’s War
Saddam Hussein captured.
Nagl returned to Washington, DC to work in office of Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz. Co-authored the U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual with Gen. David Petraeus.
Iraq Surge: U.S. sends additional 20,000 troops to Baghdad and Al Anbar Province
Official end of U.S. combat mission in Iraq
Rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria
Read an excerpt from "Knife Fights" below:
This is a book about modern wars and how they affect the lives of young men and women. It is a tale of wars that needed to be fought and wars that were not necessary but that happened nonetheless, at enormous cost in blood and treasure. It is also an intellectual coming-of-age story, that of both the author and the institution to which he devoted most of his adult life, the American military. It is a book about counterinsurgency and its journey from the far periphery of U.S. military doctrine to its center, for better and, some would argue, for worse. It is also, then, a book about America’s role in the world, and specifically about when and how we use military force abroad in the name of national security.
The book largely takes the form of a memoir, which feels somewhat self-indulgent to me—I was very much more shaped by than shaper of the events this book relates. But my hope is that following the arc of my own learning curve will be the easiest way for a reader to understand the broader story of the American military’s radical adaptation to a world of threats very different from those involving nuclear weapons and Soviet tanks massed at the Fulda Gap that I studied at West Point a generation ago. Following that arc will also help to explain why, after decades of responsibility for the lives of American soldiers, I have recently shouldered the responsibility to prepare another generation of young men for a life of service far from the battlefield, in the classrooms and on the playing fields of friendly strife as the ninth headmaster of The Haverford School.
The U.S. military changed quickly after 9/11—not quickly enough from the perspective of those we lost and had injured, but quickly indeed by the standards of very large, hierarchical institutions. Some say the military in fact has changed too quickly, embracing counterinsurgency with a fervor that has had unforeseen negative consequences. I do not take that view. This book is not a pep rally, not a victory lap around counterinsurgency’s successes in Iraq, and certainly not in Afghanistan, where they have been thinner on the ground. But as the historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., liked to say, the right question is often “Compared to what?” Any intellectually serious reckoning with America’s post-9/11 wars has to contend with what the alternatives were once the decision to invade Iraq had been too hastily made and too poorly implemented. In the wake of mistakes there are sometimes no good choices; in both Iraq and Afghanistan, counterinsurgency was the least bad option available.
I had the rare opportunity to be involved in both the theory and the practice of war, helping write doctrine and also living with the consequences of implementing doctrine in the field as an officer responsible for the lives of America’s sons and daughters. The bulk of my combat experience was in Iraq, and Iraq is central to the story this book tells. But the shadow of Afghanistan hangs over all of it, even the Iraq story.
The first post-9/11 consequence of the American military’s pre-9/11 focus on large, conventional combat operations wasn’t the failure to see the Iraq War for what it was. First there was the Afghan campaign of the fall of 2001, a campaign conceived of and initiated by the CIA because the American military had no plan on the shelf that spoke to such a situation. The Afghan campaign’s initial success at scattering America’s enemies allowed us to make the mistake of immediately pivoting to Iraq, sinking us into the morass of two ground wars in Asia when one would have been more than enough.
Focusing on Iraq meant taking our eye off the ball in Afghanistan and Pakistan, allowing the Taliban and Al Qaeda to regroup and gain strength, blinding us to the true nature of the situation there until it was almost too late.
If Iraq was the midterm, Afghanistan is the final exam. It’s a lot harder than the midterm. And while we eked out a passing grade on the midterm, after a horrible start, the final grade remains in doubt, an incomplete. We’re unlikely to know the answer for some years to come, but the Afghan end state is important for the future of the region and for America’s place in the world—a world that is likely to be roiled by insurgency and counterinsurgency for decades to come.
The story begins in a very different place and time, a time when the Soviet Union had just been tossed into the dustbin of history, its internal contradictions rendered unbearable after its own painful war in Afghanistan. America stood unchallenged as the world’s only superpower for the first time in history, but Saddam Hussein had misread American determination to enforce the international security regime it had created in the wake of the Second World War. For the first time since Vietnam, the United States deployed the full weight of American power abroad. It was a heady and unsettling time for a young man who had studied war but never seen it.
The largest nurse organization in the country, National Nurses United, is asking President Obama to take executive action and mandate “uniform, national standards” at all U.S. hospitals to help protect healthcare workers confronting Ebola.
"We know that without these mandates to health care facilities we are putting registered nurses, physicians and other healthcare workers at extreme risk," the letter says. "They are our first line of defense. We would not send soldiers to the battlefield without armor and weapons."
The group says those standards should include protective equipment like Hazmat suits and hands-on training to protect nurses and other hospital workers, even at the smallest of hospitals. And there are 5,000 community hospitals in the U.S.
Dr. Dennis Maki, a disease control expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says it takes at least half a day to train people in the protective garb alone. “I’ve just gone through Ebola training in my own hospital for putting the garb on and off this week, and I can tell you that’s a very complex undertaking.”
Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, says proper Ebola training and equipment at every hospital in the U.S. will probably cost in the tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars. But not every hospital worker needs in-depth training.
“I think every hospital person certainly needs to know something basic about isolation,” Jha says. “And then probably every hospital needs a small number of staff who can stabilize and manage that patient for the short run.”
Jha and Maki say it’s unreasonable to expect that small community hospitals be able to care for Ebola patients long-term. Large medical centers have more staff and resources to safely care for them, they say.
The CDC says it is reaching out to hospitals to help them prepare for Ebola cases. The agency is investigating exactly how two healthcare workers at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas contracted the disease.
Graphic by Shea Huffman & Tony Wagner/Marketplace