Highly trained dogs are part of the U.S. military's fight against improvised explosive devices, which are the No. 1 killer of civilians and troops in Afghanistan. The dogs can search places that high-tech equipment simply can't.
It's already happened. We humans have already met an intelligent alien. Not only that, we almost certainly had sex with them. And we did here, right here on Earth, not so many generations ago.
When I'm not hanging out on Marketplace Money, I'm over at the L.A. Times writing a column on consumer affairs. My most recent piece looked at the pricing of generic drugs. If you're like me, you probably figure that a generic is a generic is a generic. And the same generic from two different manufacturers will be priced pretty much the same because, well, they're the same drug. Apparently not.
In my column, I tell the story of a Southern California woman who went to a CVS story to fill a prescription for a generic antibiotic. She paid $4 and 30 cents. When she went in a couple of months later for a refill, though, CVS said she'd have to pay $165 for the same generic drug. But was it the same? Turns out not. The first time around, the drug was from one manufacturer. The second time around, it was from another. And the second manufacturer was charging a price 30 times higher than the first.
This is how I learned about what the drug industry calls the average wholesale price, or AWP. Jeffrey McCombs, a professor of pharmaceutical economics and policy at the University of Southern California, explained it to me like this:
"The AWP price is a made-up price. It's probably not real at all. I'm not sure that when it comes to the actual price that's paid by distributors or pharmacy chains, etc. are that different," says McCombs. "It's just like your hospital bill. There's no resemblance to reality whatsoever."
What's the takeaway here? It's this: Don't assume that just because you're buying a generic drug you're paying the lowest possible price. And if you don't like what you're being charged, don't be shy about taking your business elsewhere. A different drugstore might deal with a different manufacturer, and that can make a big difference for your pocketbook.
From the ‘hopped-up marketing department’ this news today: Wrigley, the gum kings, will be coming out with a new caffeinated ‘chewable pellet’ next month. Basically -- chewing gum with 40 milligrams of caffeine inside. Energy drinks, not to mention all the permutations of ‘latte,’ are all the rage. But will caffeine that consumers can masticate take off?
“If yesterday was a typical day, sixty percent of American adults in this country started off their day with caffeine,” says food marketing analyst Harry Balzer of the NPD Group. “That’s more popular than just about anything else we consume in the morning.”
And Balzer says people are trying to pump more caffeine into their bodies all day -- on the road, on the job.
“This country has looked for the easiest way to get caffeine into the body,” says Balzer. “And I would say the trends about caffeine have been about how to get it into your body outside the home. So I don’t think the market is saturated.”
Putting it into gum is kind of a no-brainer. But no major gum company has tried it yet. Wrigley has made a related product—with more caffeine -- for the military, to battle fatigue.
“Is it a surprise that we might find caffeine -- or anything -- in our gum?,” asks Balzer. “I think I can find cookies and cream in my gum these days -- because we like to try new things.”
Which is totally what Wrigley is banking on.
“The gum category has been in decline for a number of years,” says company spokeswoman Jennifer Jackson-Luth. “So Wrigley is really focused on restoring relevance, and getting people to think about functional, or what we call 'occasion-based' reasons, to chew gum.”
Translation: this is like half-a-cuppa coffee, without the wet. Pop one whenever your energy’s flagging.
However, the food police are railing against energy drinks: the potential health dangers of over-consuming caffeine and other ingredients, and whether companies are marketing these products to children and teenagers.
Wrigley’s new Alert Energy Caffeine Gum addresses these potential concerns. It will taste bitter, come in a hexagonal-shaped pellet twice the size of a normal piece of gum, and be packaged distinctly from gums that emphasize breath-freshening or flavor, such as Juicy Fruit. Its suggested price point is also higher -- $2.99 per pack.
Will it fly? Some self-confessed caffeine addicts considered the question as they were hanging out drinking at a coffee shop on the campus of Portland State University in Oregon.
“I think I would try that, I think it would be helpful,” said Ashley Hartz, sipping her chai latte. “I’m in law school, and so every little bit helps.”
But Carson Whitehead, who was nursing a vanilla latte, wasn’t so sure he’d try it. “I don’t think so - that seems too medicinal, almost just like getting a fix, like Nicorette gum, without the enjoyment of a cup of coffee.”
Harry Balzer at the NPD Group says most of us already consider caffeine to be like medicine. And we’ll take our ‘fix’ any way we can get it -- wet or dry.
The city of Philadelphia has announced plans to close 23 of its public schools. Several reasons went into the decision…but financial pressure and rising charter school enrollment are seen as key drivers.
But Philadelphia is not alone. In recent years, New York, Chicago and Washington D.C. have all done the same thing. These changes have a cost. In some quarters, the anger in Philadelphia is palpable.
“You will not, and I mean you will not lower the quality of my education,” says Paul Robeson High School student Totiana Myers.
Myers is one of the lucky ones. School officials pulled Robeson off the chopping block Thursday night. More than 10,000 students will likely be forced to switch schools. The closings are a move to shore up a $1.35 billion budget shortfall over the next five years.
“At some level, it does make some sense to think about ways to economize,” says Kate Shaw, executive director of with Research for Action, a nonprofit that studies education policy.
Charter schools have fueled declining enrollment in Philadelphia’s public schools filling their own classrooms with more than 55,000 students. Shaw says closing half-empty schools as a way to consolidate resources is gaining traction nationwide.
But it’s a nuclear option.
“When you have a situation in which a school district doesn’t have enough money, has chronically low performing schools and is dropping enrollment, there is no good solution to those problems,” she says.
Mary Filardo with 21st Century School Fund in Washington D.C. says shuttering dozens of schools can provide some savings -- maintenance and laying off personnel.
But long-term, you can’t count on it.
“It’s not a clean sort of, ‘oh, if you close this school somehow you save all this money for it.' If you keep the children, obviously you are going to keep paying for the education of these children,” she says.
And while it’s easy to focus on buildings and spreadsheets, Filardo says you can’t forget the kids -- where they end up matters.
And in Philadelphia, the reality is many of these students will be moving from one school in trouble to another.
America is slowly getting back to work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today that the number of non-farm related jobs in this country grew by 236,000 in February, and unemployment fell a little to 7.7 percent.
“Regardless of what’s going on in Washington, we’re seeing significant growth in the private sector of the economy. And that really is the big story,” said Bernie Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group in Princeton. “I think Americans are just generally more confident that this economy is real. That it’s sustainable. That it’s growing. Companies are therefore willing to ramp up employment.”
One of the bright spots is construction. Builders added 48,000 jobs last month.
That’s good news for another one of the professions hardest hit by the recession: architects. At the height of the recession, about 30 percent of all architecture jobs disappeared.
“Our profession is one of the lead indicators for both a downturn and a upswing. It seems like we’re the first ones to start laying off people, and we’re the last one to start hiring people,” said Paul Hanlon, a commercial architect in Minnesota who was out of work for almost four years during the recession.
His luck finally changed last month and his new job could be a good omen for other people looking for work. The Architecture Billings Index, a leading economic indicator of construction activity, has been rising steadily over recent months. It shows the strongest growth seen since November 2007. In particular, residential construction is up. Typically, that means business for commercial architects will improve in the next year.
“We’re a little more encouraged that times are going to get better, moving forward. That we’ve really seen the bottom and we’re starting to claw-out of that now,” said Kermit Baker, chief economist with the American Institute of Architects.
But that light at the end of the tunnel has come too late for some.
“A lot of my friends have actually segued out of the architecture profession,” said Hanlon, the Minnesota architect.
The recession forced many professionals to rethink their chosen career paths.
“They’ve struggled. They’ve tried. They’ve walked the pavement. Mailed the resumes. And they’ve simply given up,” said economist Baumohl.
Instead, Baumohl said many workers from all fields are getting retrained. Folks pack into vocational schools to learn new skills.
“There’s just no room for many of these schools to get new students. It’s quite extraordinary,” said Baumohl. “There’s also a lot of construction going on to build more vocational schools because the demand is just so high.”
Constructing more vocational schools? That means more work for architects.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the economy added 236,000 jobs last month, beating analyst expectations. The unemployment rate fell from 7.9 percent to 7.7 percent, its lowest point in four years. While construction, healthcare, tourism and retail were all pockets of strength, government hiring lagged behind.
Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, joined Marketplace Morning Report host Jeremy Hobson to break down the report and discuss the sequestration.
And, while more consumers want to buy food from small, local farms, those types of growers are having a hard time getting start-up money.
Heart disease, diabetes, cancer -- any of these chronic diseases can mean some seriously major drug bills.
So many people affected by HIV must have been relieved to hear that earlier this week, doctors announced that a two-and-a-half-year-old baby from Mississippi had been cured of the virus that causes AIDS. She was only the second person known to have been cured since the global pandemic erupted more than three decades ago.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1.2 million Americans are currently infected with HIV, which costs an estimated $400,000 to treat over a lifetime. How does the uncertainty of living with the disease and paying for life-saving medication play into financial choices? Leonardo Momplet, 35, has been HIV positive for nearly eight years.
"I've had to cancel appointments and I've had to cancel procedures because I know I can't afford to pay for it and I don't want to be in a position where I'm drowning from medical bills. You really have to choose. I might have all these things that are wrong with me, but the ones that aren't life threatening I have to push aside," says Momplet. "Keeping me alive costs a whole lot more money than I'm making."
Before his diagnosis, Momplet says he was a poor manager of his money, which he attributes to having immigrant parents. He has experienced working low-wage jobs and having to figure out how to get treatment for HIV without health insurance.
"HIV has taught me to budget, it's taught me a lot of things," he adds.
To hear the rest of Momplet's story, click play on the audio player above.
Times were different when he signed the law in 1996, the former president writes in The Washington Post. Today, he says, the act that defines marriage as between a man and a woman discriminates against same-sex couples who have become legally married.