National News

A Father In California, Kids In El Salvador, And New Hope To Reunite

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-01 01:07

Unaccompanied minors surged across the U.S. southern border last year, fleeing violence in Central America. This year the Obama administration hopes to forestall a new wave with a quiet new program.

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Historic Vote May Determine Whether Greece Remains In The Eurozone

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-01 01:02

Greek voters on Sunday face a referendum on further austerity measures in exchange for bailouts. But the unstated question is whether Greece should give up the euro — the European currency.

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Buy A Meth House Unawares And Pay The Health Consequences

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-01 00:42

The residue from meth labs can cause health problems, but people aren't always told that the house they're buying is contaminated. An Indiana law requires disclosure but not mandatory testing.

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Benefits Of Sports To A Child's Mind And Heart All Part Of The Game

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-01 00:40

In NPR's most recent poll a majority of American adults say they played sports in their youth. Many say they encourage their kids to play, too, and see health benefits as well as life-long lessons.

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A Phys Ed Teacher Battles Tight Budgets And Childhood Obesity

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-01 00:39

Mindy Przeor founded an after-school program in Mesa, Ariz. to get elementary school kids up and running.

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Donald Trump Sues Univision For $500 Million

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-30 16:36

In the suit, Trump claims Univision is attempting to suppress his freedom of speech by dropping coverage of the Miss Universe Pageant, which Trump co-owns.

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Border Patrol Urged To Crack Down On Corruption In Its Own Ranks

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-30 15:49

The draft report by outside law enforcement experts says the agency needs more internal affairs investigators. It also calls for more transparency in investigations, especially shootings by agents.

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Jeb Bush's Wealth Skyrocketed After Leaving Governor's Office

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-30 14:53

Thirty-three years of tax returns — the most ever for a presidential candidate — show Bush earned $29 million since leaving office. He also paid an average tax rate of 36 percent over three decades.

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Peru's Pitmasters Bury Their Meat In The Earth, Inca-Style

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-30 14:39

Step up your summer grilling game by recreating the ancient Peruvian way of cooking meat underground in your own backyard. It's called pachamanca, and it yields incredibly moist and smoky morsels.

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U.S. And Cuba Will Formally Re-Establish Diplomatic Relations

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-30 14:29

The Obama administration will announce on Wednesday when they will open embassies.

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Communities Get A Lift As Local Food Sales Surge To $11 Billion A Year

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-30 13:42

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says local food is growing quickly from a niche market into something that's generating significant income for communities across the country.

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The secret work life of bees

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-30 13:37

The USDA estimates that honey bees are worth $15 billion a year in agricultural value. The bee is responsible for as much as one in every three mouthfuls of food that we eat.

Because of the honey bee’s importance, many agriculture officials and farmers are alarmed by something called colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon where bee colonies suddenly die off in huge numbers. In a new issue of New York Magazine, David Wallace-Wells explains why bees are dying off en masse.

“It’s a tough life,” Wallace-Wells says. “Imagine being transported around the country all year on a truck, never being able to eat a balanced diet, and being sprayed with chemicals all the time that are designed to kill you.”

Up to 90 percent of honey bee colonies are transported in trucks, as he describes, from one industrial farm to the next. Once they arrive, they’re let out of their cages so they can pollinate the local crops. Once they’ve done their jobs, they’re scooped up and sent to the next farm.

“They’re not well suited to this life. This is not what they were evolved to do,” Wallace-Wells says. “So all of these strange conditions that they’ve been put in sort of freak them out. Some scientists have found they respond to the stress by foraging earlier and earlier, which they’re really bad at. Then when they come back without much food, (and) the whole colony sort of freaks out and collapses.”

A Dozen Officials Suspended As Probe Into N.Y. Prison Break Widens

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-30 13:29

The house-cleaning of top administrators and guards at the prison where two inmates escaped comes as the FBI begins its own investigation into possible corruption and drug dealing at the facility.

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Ebola Returns To Liberia With A Mysterious Case Near Monrovia

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-30 13:27

A teenage boy tested positive for Ebola in a town outside the capital city. It's unknown where he caught the virus, and health officials are concerned the case could spark another outbreak.

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Debate Begins: New OT Rules Will Raise Wages — Or Kill Jobs

NPR News - Tue, 2015-06-30 13:18

The Labor Department plans to change a rule so that 5 million more Americans will be able to collect overtime pay. Business groups say the change will hurt hiring, but labor groups are applauding.

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Greece misses debt repayment deadline

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-30 13:08

The Greek love of drama was on full display today. As the minutes ticked down to a deadline for the repayment of a massive loan to the International  Monetary Fund, the Greek government sent a startling new message to its creditors: can we have another bailout, please? 

The creditors refused and Greece became the first developed country to fail to repay an IMF loan on schedule. This is not a default — at least not immediately — so Greece is not yet officially bankrupt. But its crisis is intensifying; its banks are shuttered, ATM cash withdrawals are severely restricted, more multi-billion euro debt repayments are looming and agreement between the country and its creditors seems as elusive as ever. 

Officer training for mental health in short supply

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-30 13:00

It’s no coincidence the newly appointed head of the Cook County Jail is a clinical psychologist. Like other jails around the country, Chicago has a large number of inmates who have a serious mental illness, so corrections officers end up dealing with a lot of mental health crises.

To Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, keeping people with mental illness in jail is like sending preschoolers to a college calculus class: they just don’t belong there.

“As opposed to running mental health hospitals, as opposed to having community resources,” he says, “we’re going to take this group of people [and say] — 'Let’s see, where shall we put them? Let’s put them all in jails.'”

As sheriff, the jail is ultimately his responsibility. Jails are designed to hold people for short stretches, Dart points out, after they’ve been charged with a crime but before they’ve been convicted.

“It presents obvious challenges to all of us to take a population that wasn’t meant to be in this environment,” he says.

Cook County Corrections Academy cadets

Alisa Roth

I visited the Cook County corrections academy recently, on one of the last days of the cadets’ training. After a short review of concepts like different kinds of mental illness, and how to reassure inmates that officers are there to help them through their crises, the cadets get to practice what they’ve been learning. Dart is one of loudest voices in what’s become a national conversation about mentally ill in the criminal justice system.

He points out that Chicago closed half of its public mental health clinics in 2012. And he regularly tallies the number of mentally ill inmates in Cook County on his Twitter feed. (On June 4, for example, he tweeted that at booking, 39 percent of inmates self-reported having a mental illness.) It’s because the jail is now a de facto psychiatric hospital that Dart thinks all corrections officers need to be trained on how to deal with mental illness.

Sherie Yarbrough, a corrections officer who has been working with mentally ill inmates since she started with the department in 2000, is teaching one of the sessions. She explains the scene to a team of three cadets, two men and a woman.

“I’m having a problem with the detainee, his name is Bruno,” she says. “Bruno is about to jump. I don’t know. I called the CIT [Crisis Intervention Team] unit in because I can’t talk him down. So hopefully you can. Alright? If you don’t, he going to fall and break his neck.”

Another corrections officer, Angel Garcia, is playing Bruno. He has a big bushy beard, and he’s wearing a black ski cap. Standing on a chair in the corner of the classroom, Garcia/Bruno starts to shout at the officers. 

Officer Angel Garcia

Alisa Roth

“Stay right there,” he says. “Don’t come up these stairs!”

He’s a pretty good actor, and he actually manages to look a little wild-eyed as the cadets approach him.

“What’s going on, man? What’s going down?” says one of the cadets. “My name is Officer Downs. I’m here with Officer Salas.”

Before Downs can introduce the third cadet, though, Garcia/Bruno interrupts.

“Well, Officer Downs, well guess what?” Garcia/Bruno shouts. “It’s about to go downs. I’m serious, man. I’m about to go downs this cliff right here. I’m gonna jump…”

This goes on for a while. Downs keeps trying to calm him down, and Garcia—as Bruno—gets more and more upset. Finally, the woman cadet, Salas, starts talking, and Garcia/Bruno starts to settle down a little. When it’s all over, Yarbrough, the veteran officer, debriefs the cadets, talking them through what they did right and what they did wrong.

“We have to use everything that’s in our arsenals,” she says. “Sometimes male detainees respond to female officers differently. When she started talking to him, he calmed down a little bit.”

When Yarbrough started working in the jail more than a decade ago she said there was no special training on how to deal with mentally ill inmates. And it was terrifying.

“I didn’t know what to do,” she remembers. “I was scared of the inmates, I was scared I might lose my job. I was…I didn’t want to make any bad decisions, didn’t want to tell anybody to do something wrong.”

The training she helped with today is supposed to help these new cadets be better prepared than she was. Ultimately, the idea is to improve outcomes for inmates with mental illness by stopping a suicide attempt or by having officers use force less frequently.

Officer Sherie Yarbrough 

Alisa Roth

Carl Alaimo is a psychologist who’s in charge of mental health training at the academy; he used to run the jail’s mental health services. He says educating officers makes a huge difference in how they respond to mentally ill inmates. Take an inmate who refuses to get out of bed, say, or leave his cell.

“Normally that’s considered disobedience,” he says. “‘You’re not listening to me.’ But in the case of a trained officer, they’re going wait a minute, maybe something else is going on here."

A handful of states, including Indiana, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, have opted to provide mental health training for correctional officers. And more and more counties and states are beginning to follow their lead.   

“It’s not as widespread as we would like it to be. It’s fairly sporadic,” says Ron Honberg, of the advocacy organization, the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI. The training represents a real about-face for corrections officers, he says. “It really sort of flies in the face of their traditional training. They’re taught to keep their distance, they’re taught to speak in a way that calms the person down, they’re taught to reassure the individual and it becomes a win-win proposition.”

A win-win proposition for both the inmates and the officers, since an appropriate response by the officer can keep volatile situations from escalating. And, sometimes an officer who is reassuring instead of threatening can convince an inmate to get treatment. Better outcomes that can mean less time in jail or prison, less violence, and—for the correctional facilities—fewer lawsuits. 

Roth's reporting on mental illness and the criminal justice system was supported by a Soros Justice Fellowship

Facing huge debt, Puerto Rico weighs its options

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-30 12:59

Puerto Rico's legislature plans to vote on a budget proposal on Tuesday that would cut hundreds of millions of dollars in spending, in an effort to stave off a looming debt crisis that is larger, by several factors, than the one that bankrupted the city of Detroit.

Unlike Detroit, the U.S. territory cannot declare bankruptcy, because it is treated like a state under federal bankruptcy law.

Still, Puerto Rico's governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla told The New York Times, and then the world, that the commonwealth can no longer pay its debts, which total more than $72 billion. He wants to delay debt payments and negotiate more favorable terms with creditors — in essence, what bankruptcy would have facilitated. 

"This has been a slow motion crisis since 2006," says Juan Carlos Hidalgo, a Latin America policy analyst at the Cato Institute. "The Puerto Rican economy has entered a death spiral, investment is flowing out ... and the cost of getting new debt has risen significantly."

In recent years, Puerto Rico has tried to slash its way out of the problem by making spending cuts. It recently raised its sales tax, and previously had cut some corporate taxes to encourage companies to locate to the island.

Still, the territory's problems persist, because of the magnitude of its debt load in relation to its struggling economy. Unemployment is near 14 percent. This has caused a lot of Puerto Ricans — who are U.S. citizens — to relocate to the mainland, plummeting real estate values on the island and worsening the economic malaise.

"Poverty is already very high. Very few people have jobs," says Barry Bosworth, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who thinks the U.S. government will eventually have to intervene in order to find a more permanent solution to Puerto Rico's problems.

"They need some oversight" to renegotiate debts in an orderly way, says Bosworth, "and frankly, some financial relief from the current situation that they've gotten into."

"The question is, who pays?" asks Brad McMillan, chief investment officer for the Commonwealth Financial Network, a wealth management company.

Debt holders in the U.S. could be on the hook, including many Americans who may not realize that they hold Puerto Rican debt in their mutual-fund portfolios. It is very likely that debt holders will eventually have to take a write-down on some of the debt, or renegotiate interest rate terms that are more favorable to Puerto Rico, Bosworth says.

"So there can be a solution that works for Puerto Rico, in writing off some of the debt...and also works for the investors as a whole," he says.

Londoner crowdfunding cash for Greek bailout

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-30 12:59

Here's the latest entry in "Hey, let's see if we can crowdfund this thing." 

There's a new account on Indiegogo called the "Greek Bailout Fund" set up by Thom Feeney, a 29-year-old from East London.  

Courtesy Indiegogo

Here's an excerpt from the page

"[1.6 billion euros] is what the Greeks need. It might seem like a lot but it's only just over [three euros] from each European. That's about the same as half a pint in London. Or everyone in the EU just having a Feta and Olive salad for lunch."

The thing is getting some traction.

Nearly 443,000 euros have been pledged so far — 1.4 billion to go.

Of course that's just the payment that was due today.

University of Phoenix to shrink enrollment

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-06-30 12:59

One of the biggest colleges in the country is about to get a lot smaller. The University of Phoenix has announced plans to close programs, shrink its enrollment and introduce new admissions requirements for students.

The entire for-profit college industry has been under pressure for years now, as lawmakers, regulators and student advocates have pushed back against a business model that left many students deep in debt — often without degrees to show for it.

When the University of Phoenix was founded in 1976, every student had to be at least 25 and have a full-time job, says spokesman Mark Brenner. Then about 10 years ago, Phoenix ditched those requirements and started recruiting as many people as possible. Enrollment swelled, but so did complaints of abusive recruiting tactics, outsized student debt and dismal graduation rates.

Now admissions standards are coming back.

“We’re looking at ways to provide the right diagnostics to make sure that the students that are coming to us have the best chance to be successful,” Brenner says.

Brenner would not elaborate on the new requirements, but says students who aren’t deemed college-ready will be offered remedial training. Phoenix will also close some campuses and retire most of its associate degree programs. 

The university is preparing for the new “gainful employment” rule taking effect July 1, says Ben Miller with the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. Career education programs will have to prove their graduates earn enough to afford their loan payments, or risk losing access to federal student aid.

“Phoenix knew a lot of its associate degrees would not fair well under gainful employment, and so it closed them down rather than suffering the reputational risk of having failing programs,” Miller says.

Students are also demanding a better return on their tuition dollars, says Corey Greendale, who tracks the for-profit college industry at First Analysis.

“There are so many forces that are causing institutions to focus on outcomes,” he says. “A lot of this would be happening, I think, regardless.”

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