National News

The World's Oldest First-Grader Is Honored By A Google Doodle

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-12 12:45

At age 84, Kimani Maruge put on a school uniform for the first time and went to school. Today's doodle pays tribute to his inspirational story.

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What makes medical debt detrimental

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-01-12 12:37

About 43 million Americans have overdue medical debt on their credit reports, according to a report released by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Julie Linsey, a part-time knitting instructor from Aurora, Illinois, is one of them. Hospitalized in 2005, she soon found herself in debt.

“It piled up a whole lot of bills and then the recurring, follow-up visits and prescription costs just really hit us hard,” she says.

When her doctor stopped taking her insurance, she ended up paying her bills out of pocket. Linsey says she faced "hundreds of dollars a month in bills." 

As the CFPB report highlights, medical debt isn’t the same as other debt. Many small collection agencies, with differing reporting and recordkeeping practices, try to collect the debt. In addition, medical debt is often involuntary. Someone could wake up after getting hit by a bus owing thousands of dollars.

Judith Fox, a consumer law professor at Notre Dame University, says consumers often think their insurance already paid a medical bill or don't realize a balance is due. 

“Sometimes [an] insurance company did pay for it, but they pay for it late and it goes to collection,” Fox says.

Lenders sometimes “park” unpaid debts on a report, even if they are beyond the statute of limitations. This means that the next lender to examine the report  will see an unpaid bill, even years after the fact. A Fox client who was trying to rent a new place ran into this problem.

“The landlord pulled up the credit report, and there was this old debt on there and they said: ‘Well, you’ve got collections, you’ve got to pay that or we won’t rent to you,’” Fox says. “Legally, they really didn’t have to pay it, but if they wanted to rent the apartment, they did.”

Inaccuracy is a widespread problem, according to Gail Hillebrand, associate director for consumer education and engagement at the CFPB.

“There are lots of smaller collectors, and they have a variety of practices. Some will put it on your credit report when it’s only 30 days late,” Hillebrand says. “It’s very hard to tell if you owe the money, when you owe the money, and how much of it you owe because of the intersection of the medical billing and what’s happening with your insurance company.”

Linsey had the same problem. Even after paying, it took time before the debt collectors updated their information and stopped calling her. “After a while I turned off my phone,” she says, with a sigh.

Until new rules are written, there’s really only one thing consumers can do: Keep a close eye on their credit reports.

U.S. State Dept.: Weak Government Has Slowed Haiti's Recovery

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-12 12:37

Five years ago, Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake. Haiti Special Coordinator Thomas Adams for the U.S. State Department tells Audie Cornish why the reconstruction has been achingly slow.

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Bored ... And Brilliant? A Challenge To Disconnect From Your Phone

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-12 12:18

Studies suggest we get our most original ideas when we stop the constant stimulation and let ourselves get bored. The podcast New Tech City is challenging you to disconnect — and see what happens.

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In South Carolina, Class Action Lawsuit Pits Foster Kids Against State

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-12 12:18

After years of high profile problems — including the death of five children and cries of inaction — the South Carolina Department of Social Services is facing a new hurdle. Foster care children in the state have banded together in a class action lawsuit to demand changes.

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Greeks Shun Mainstream Politics Without Great Alternatives

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-12 12:18

Many Greeks say they plan to vote outside the political mainstream in this month's election because they want an end to the corrupt, populist politics of the past. So they're reaching out to radical parties, including the leftist Syriza Party, which is expected to win the election, after holding just four percent of parliamentary seats in 2009

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Obama Announces Tech Proposals Ahead Of State Of The Union

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-12 12:18

On Monday President Obama called for new measures to protect consumers against identity theft and to safeguard students' electronic privacy. It's part of a weeklong series of technology-themed proposals as Obama prepares for next week's State of the Union address.

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Supreme Court Hears Arguments In Sign Regulation Case

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-12 12:18

The Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in a case challenging a town's right to limit the size of signs based on their content.

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Feinstein Proposal Would Lock In Anti-Torture Measures

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-12 12:18

The CIA's excruciating interrogations of suspected terrorists, widely seen as torture, are detailed as official acts in the Senate report released last month. Now Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who spearheaded that report, wants to prevent such acts from ever happening again. She's proposing legislation and administrative moves for which her Republican colleagues see little need and which activists deem too timid.

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'La Dolce Vita' Star Dies At 83

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-12 12:18

Swedish-born actress Anita Ekberg, who was best known for her role as Sylvia in the 1960 film La Dolce Vita, died in Italy on Sunday at the age of 83.

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Five Years After Earthquake, Haiti's Recovery Remains Uneven

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-12 12:18

Five years after an earthquake leveled Haiti's capital, killing more than 100,000 people and leaving millions homeless, Port au Prince is being resurrected. High-rises stand where previous buildings were reduced to rubble in the temblor. However, thousands of people still are without permanent housing.

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First College Football Playoff In New System Pits Ducks Against 'Bucks'

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-12 12:18

The nation's first official college football championship in the new playoff system pits the Oregon Ducks against the Ohio State Buckeyes on Monday night. Both defeated favored teams to play in Dallas.

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Obama: 'If We're Going To Be Connected, Then We Need To Be Protected'

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-12 12:18

The president is calling for new measures to protect consumers against identity theft and to safeguard students' electronic privacy.

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New York City ID Program Could Open Up Doors — And Privacy Concerns

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-12 12:18

New York City launched the largest municipal ID program in the country on Monday. All New Yorkers age 14 and older may apply, regardless of immigration status. Officials hope the new photo IDs will help undocumented immigrants and the homeless better navigate city services.

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For Cuba, Hostile Relationship With U.S. No Longer An Alibi

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-12 12:18

The U.S. rapprochement with Cuba seems to be on track. On Monday, the State Department confirmed that Cuba has kept its pledge to release 53 political prisoners and a top state department official is moving ahead with her plans to visit the island next week.

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Young Egyptian's Suicide Reverberates Among Activists

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-12 12:18

The suicide last year of a well-known Egyptian activist shocked Cairo and highlighted the hopelessness of many amid the country's turmoil and stagnation.

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Texan winks, plays 'let's make a deal' with customers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-01-12 11:55

A furniture dealer in Houston — arguably the center of the American oil industry — is offering quite the deal: If a customer spends $7,000 or more at his store, he'll refund the money if oil is going for $85 per barrel or more by Dec. 31, 

Current forecasts put crude somewhere between $50 and $75 by the end of the year. 

So, you know, caveat emptor.

Donating A Single Rollerblade Is Not Going To Help Disaster Victims

NPR News - Mon, 2015-01-12 11:47

Yet that's what someone gave after the Haitian earthquake. A staffer at one nonprofit offers a plan to discourage unuseful donations from individuals and corporations and get what's really needed.

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Auto shows are in the business of creating a buzz

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-01-12 11:44

More than 750 cars are on display at Detroit's annual auto show, which opened for media previews Monday. It is one of the largest auto shows in the country – setting up the exhibition space takes months, says Rod Alberts, executive director of the North American International Auto Show, which is the Detroit show’s official name. Lighting installation alone took two weeks.

Yet for all that work, no cars are available for sale. So what’s the point?

A primary goal, Alberts says, is to help auto manufacturers get media attention for their new cars. David Cole, a former professor of auto engineering and chairman of AutoHarvest.org, says manufacturers also use auto shows to see what upcoming offerings resonate with the public.

 

Farmers, big oil fight over railroad access in Dakotas

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-01-12 11:42

Railroads and rail shippers are trying to figure out how to prevent a repeat of last year's troubles in the Dakotas.

When demand and bad weather joined to make a perfect storm, farmers had a lot of trouble getting railroads to ship their crops to market. There was too much competition for locomotives and crews between South Dakota farmers and oil producers in North Dakota.

“Agriculture was derailed by big oil interests," says Dennis Jones, a corn farmer in Bath, South Dakota. "We were basically shoved off the tracks.”

South Dakota farmers produced a bumper crop in 2014, and the North Dakota oil fields were going gangbusters, too, Jones says. The railroads couldn’t ship everything, so they had to make a choice, according to Jones.

“The railroad got paid a lot more for shipping oil," he says. "Grain cars were unhooked so the locomotives could hook onto oil and pull more oil."

The railroads say they didn’t favor oil over agricultural products. They say last year’s shipping problems were caused by one of the most severe winters in decades. But it is true that they can charge more to ship certain things, if there’s competition and those products could be shipped another way, such as by truck or water.  

“The railroad can set any price they want to, anywhere, anytime, and they do,” says Denver Tolliver, director of the Upper Great Plains  Transportation Institute at North Dakota State University. 

If shippers think the railroads are charging too much they can complain to the federal Surface Transportation Board, he says. But not many do, because it’s a complicated, expensive and slow process.  

It wasn’t always this way. 

Railroads and their rates used to be tightly regulated. But they were deregulated in the 1980s, after railroads were devastated by a growing trucking industry. 

“There was a time when you used to have what’s called' standing derailments,'” says Frank Mulvey, a semiretired economist who spent about a decade at the Surface Transportation Board. “The railroad infrastructure was so badly deteriorated that trains that weren’t even moving, standing on tracks – waiting on tracks – would fall over.”

Some railroads went bankrupt, Mulvey says.  Those that were left improved tracks and bridges, and became viable, strong companies – strong enough to turn back recent attempts at re-regulation.

“The railroads have been very, very successful as a lobbying organization,” Mulvey says.

One railroad, BNSF, spent more than $2.5 million dollars on political contributions during the 2014 elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The railroads say they can provide good service without more regulation. 

So far, so good this year in the Dakotas. There’s still a lot of oil being shipped out of North Dakota. But it’s balanced by falling demand from farmers, like Jones, who won’t ship their corn at today’s low prices.

“You’re selling corn today at below the cost of production," Jones says. "It would be suicidal almost – financial suicide – to sell it below your cost of production."

Farmers won’t ship their corn until prices go up, he says.  The railroads say they’ll be ready for the corn shipments, even if they start this winter. BNSF says it's added snow-removal crews and equipment and heaters on some rail switches.

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