National / International News

In prison you get health care. When you're released ...

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 12:05

People in prison are sick. A recent report found the nation spends more than $6.5 billion every year on healthcare services for the men and women who are incarcerated. But right now, much of that care stops as prisoners are released.

And many prison officials believe that’s part of the reason why so many former inmates keep coming back.

The Affordable Care Act could interrupt this cycle beginning in January as several hundred thousand former inmates become eligible for healthcare.

Miguel Rodriguez has been in and out of prison for more than 30 years, usually for selling heroin. And after every release, it’s been the same story.

“Go to the corner, to go sell and get high,” he says. And then land back in prison all over again.

When he was released for the last time a couple years ago, Rodriquez, now 53, was suffering from Hepatitis C, congestive heart failure and asthma.

“I couldn’t walk from here to that window," he says. "It would take me half hour to walk one block. That’s how my health really was.”

Rodriguez has been in and out of the hospital six times, the emergency room 10 times. He’s had a pacemaker and bypass surgery. And because he can’t pay, hospitals have eaten those costs, which get passed on to the rest of us.

Dr. Ingrid Binswanger of the University of Colorado says the Affordable Care Act might catch people like Rodriguez before their health hits rock bottom, and their healthcare costs skyrocket. 

“We could potentially treat those conditions before people need to be hospitalized or go to the emergency room,” she says. 

Under the new health law, nearly half of all inmates who leave prison next year - some 300,000 - will be eligible for health insurance, primarily through Medicaid.

Historically, many states have barred low-income adults without children from signing up. Under the ACA that restriction now goes away.

“There has been nothing in my career that has been this exciting as this moment,” says Dr. Emily Wang,  a primary care physician who teaches at Yale Medical School and treats former inmates.

Wang has seen that simple access to care – particularly for substance abuse or mental health – can help ex-cons find their footing. And save money in part because this patient population is so expensive to treat.

“Individuals that are released from prison, they are 12 times more likely to die even in the first two weeks following release," she says. "They are more likely to be hospitalized, they are more likely to go to the emergency department.”

Wang says about 85 percent of prisoners have some kind of health problem.

This helps explain why a large chunk of prison budgets goes towards healthcare, running into the billions every year. New York state spends about $74 million dollars annually just on medications.

“What the public generally doesn’t know is that we are essentially cycling people with mental illness, substance abuse problems through our jails and prisons and back out again,” says Jack Beck with the Correctional Association of New York, which monitors prison conditions.

Behind bars, Beck explains, inmates get treatment; they get meds, their chronic conditions in check. When they get out, all that goes away.

And Dr. Wang says that’s when taxpayers get slammed.

“Because you are paying for the care now," she says. "You’re paying for the cost of their care, when they are using the emergency department, when they are hospitalized for conditions that are preventable.” 

Wang says the next step is to get insurance to former inmates as soon as they hit the streets.

That may not be as easy as it sounds. 

“Nobody is really responsible, no agency, for what happens to ex-offenders when they leave,” says Donna Strugar-Fritsch, a prison consultant with Health Management Associates, who works with local governments.

Strugar-Fritsch says many states are still putting systems in place to simply make sure inmates walk out of prison with Medicaid cards. And even for those who are insured, there is a shortage of treatment programs for substance abuse and mental illness.

But in states expanding Medicaid under the ACA, there’s momentum to deal with these knotty questions. Bottom line: it costs a lot more to keep someone in prison than it does to provide them with the kind of healthcare and services that might keep them out.

Miguel Rodriguez, who says he has stopped taking heroin, goes to an out-patient substance abuse program several times a week. And soon he will have Medicaid.

“Now I can make my doctor’s appointments, I can get my medications,” he says.

But insurance is a tool, it’s no guarantee. For his coverage to work, Rodriguez must do something he’s never been able to do, take care of his health.

New Year's at Applebee's: $375 per person

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 12:05

You now have less than a day to make your New Year's Eve plans. For lots of people there's not much to plan -- those that like to avoid crowds, they'll be watching the ball drop in Manhattan from the comfort of their couch.

But if you want to watch the ball drop in person, the Applebee's in Times Square has a deal for you: $375 gets you into the restaurant, with an open bar and a buffet.

If spending New Year's at an Applebee's surrounded by lots of drunk people isn't your idea of a good time, perhaps you'd like the $85 four-course dinner at 80 Thoreau in Concord, Mass. It starts with foie gras torchon and duck prosciutto, a departure from the normal menu.

"This is set up more like a tasting-menu style," says Vincent Vella, the maîtres d' and co-owner of 80 Thoreau.

This is a big New Year's for restaurants, says David Adler, the CEO of Biz Bash media.

"There are a lot of people going out for New Year's Eve, especially because this is such a long holiday week," he says. The proliferation of foodie culture has made New Year's a night for chefs to showcase their talents, he adds. And because it's a special night, people will spend a little more than they normally would.

For those who aren't in the one percent, but want to party like they are, you could take a cruise on the Lady Windridge in Fort Lauderdale.

"If you want to have a wonderful party on a boat, then come to Windridge and you will get just exactly what your dreams are all about," says Kathleen Windridge, the owner of the yacht.

She normally rents it for private parties and corporate events. The New Year's tickets are $175 for a four-hour cruise, with open bar and a buffet.

"We finished being sold out today. So we are very, very fortunate," says Windridge.

New Year's is also a night for non-profits to raise money through charity events. In Los Angeles, Ron Lynch, a comedian and voice on the TV show "Bob's Burgers," is hosting a live show at the Steve Allen Theater, a portion of the proceeds going to the non-profit Trepany House.

"It's only $20," he says. "We tried to make it as cheap as possible and still try to make a little money."

The show will feature comedians from "Mr. Show" and "Community." Members of Cee Lo Green's band will close the show with a dance party.

Why you acting crazy, Twitter?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 12:05

Twitter’s stock has gone for quite a ride in the past week.  It swung from $60 a share up to almost $75, and then right back down again.  Does Twitter need mood stabilizers? Only a trained medical professional can answer that question.  But if it does, it’s not because of the volatility of its stock.

You see, volatility is as volatility does, as they say.

“What you’re seeing is just the uncertainty and volatility of the underlying economics feeding through into the price,” says Scott Clemons, Chief Investment Strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman. 

The price of any stock is based on two things: How much money do people think the company will make in the future? And how much is that worth to investors?

For a company like Twitter, which hasn’t made money yet, estimates vary wildly.

“Some analysts think Twitter is the best thing since sliced bread, other analysts can look at it and say, 'Remember MySpace?,'” says Clemons.  For a newly-floated company like Twitter, “the valuation is more a matter of faith than it is of analytical observation.”


This time of year is usually volatile.

"So many people are on vacation – there’s fewer market players," says Eric Parnell, founder of Gerring Wealth Management.

Basically, stock trading is like a crowd of people all talking at once – voices usually get drowned out. But if there are just a few people in the room, voices – and trades -- carry.  

Also, the end of the year is a good opportunity to lock in gains (or losses, if you need to book some) and “position yourself” -- both from a tax perspective and in terms of strategy for the new year.

Many money managers try to position themselves this time of year in stocks that have been hot during the previous year – “it’s really for appearances,” says Wells Fargo Advisors Senior Equity Strategist Scott Wren.

Lastly, Brown Brothers Harriman’s Scott Clemons adds, a lot of people take care of their big philanthropy this time of year.  So they might give a bunch of shares to a charity, which will then immediately sell them and cash out.    


Volatility might be scary if you’re invested in a stock and you’re watching it bounce all over the place, but in general it’s not a bad thing.  In fact, “It’s an opportunity,” says Wells Fargo’s Scott Wren.   “You want volatility , you want the market to have some pullback because it gives you opportunities to invest cash you may have on the sidelines.”

But it turns out, Twitter notwithstanding, volatility, as measured by a metric called the VIX, was just at a low for the year.  That could mean investors are either being timid, or, as Eric Parnell believes, it’s a sign of complacency.

"Extreme calm can almost be a sign of bad things to come," he says. "It’s always good to have people on guard and show caution, it means people are acting with good discipline."

In a year with strong double-digit gains in the market and "no meaningful correction," it has Parnell eyeing the horizon. 

Wells Fargo Advisor’s Scott Wren also expects volatility to pick up in the next few months.

"There are high expectations for 2014 that economic growth will accelerate to a new level," he says. "We don’t see that and I think there will be some surprises."

Swiss bank account holders, time to fess up!

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 12:05

If you have a hidden Swiss bank account, now’s probably the time to admit it. Dec. 31 is the deadline for famously-secretive Swiss banks to sign up for non-prosecution deals with the U.S. government, in exchange for passing over detailed account information about their American clients.

“The Justice Department and the IRS have always looked at these cases as if you come clean and you come forward before we get your name, you can avoid prosecution,” says Jeffrey Neiman, a lawyer who helped prosecute the government case against the Swiss bank UBS. 

In 2009, UBS agreed to identify its American customers and pay the U.S. $780 million to settle charges it helped Americans avoid taxes.

But owning up isn’t as easy as writing a heartfelt apology to the IRS. 

“Americans with undeclared assets are going to file eight years of amended tax forms, eight years of delinquent other forms and they are going to have to pay whatever tax is owed," says Neiman.

Eight years of tax forms. Big penalties. It sounds like a lot. But failure to report could be a whole lot worse.

“You’re risking jail,” says Neiman. And losing a big chunk of your account value.

So, let’s weigh the odds. Just how likely is it really that the government will track you down? 

“You know the thinking now is that it’ll probably come out, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but before too long,” says James Hines, a law professor at the University of Michigan.

Swiss banks don’t want trouble with the U.S. government any more than the rest of us. They’re likely to hand over your account information if it keeps them off a prosecutor’s to-do list. Which is why lawyers think the best thing hidden account holders can do is, fess up.

Will Volgograd attacks scare off Olympic tourists?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 12:05

Two suicide bomb attacks in the Russian city of Volgograd have raised questions about the country’s security and preparedness to host the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

“I think a lot of people in Russia are in shock” says the BBC’s Artyom Liss, based in Moscow. “Most people are just concentrating on the day-to-day but there is a very palpable sense of unease, certainly here in Moscow and in other parts of Russia as well.”

Volgograd is about 600 miles to the Northeast of Sochi. The state-controlled media have regularly assured its audience that the insurgency was under control and that the Sochi games would be “the safest Olympics in history.”

Russia was already expected to spend about $50 billion on the games and it’s expected they’ll boost security but some analysts have suggested Putin used security funding to keep watch on his political enemies rather than fight terrorism.

"A lot of the security experts are saying this amount of money and this amount of resource and effort could have been better spent trying to infiltrate those extremist cells and trying to tackle them."

With six weeks until the games are scheduled to begin, it’s too soon to say if the attacks will reduce attendance at Sochi.


Procession kicks off Hogmanay events

BBC - Mon, 2013-12-30 12:04
A torchlight procession through the centre of Edinburgh has kicked off the city's official Hogmanay celebrations.

VIDEO: Second deadly blast strikes Volgograd

BBC - Mon, 2013-12-30 11:46
At least 14 people have been killed in a suicide bombing on a trolleybus in the Russian city of Volgograd.

Jane Austen explains monetary policy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 11:31

This final note: It is a fact, universally acknowledged, that if you combine Jane Austen and economics, I can't resist it.

We don't know exactly what was going on at Citibank over the holidays, but we're delighted that their strategist Steven Englander decided to explain monetary and fiscal policy using Austen quotes.

In his argument for Fed transparency:

"I don't approve of surprises. The pleasure is never enhanced and the inconvenience is considerable." 

To justify quantitative easing:

"A large income is the best recipe for happiness."

And for entitlement reform:

"People always live forever when there is an annuity to be paid them."

Those are from "Emma", and "Pride and Prejudice." (H/T Business Insider, for finding the note.)

Sinkhole opens in ground by village

BBC - Mon, 2013-12-30 11:28
A large sinkhole measuring about 160ft (49m) wide appears in a village in the Peak District.

Al-Jazeera journalists held in Egypt

BBC - Mon, 2013-12-30 11:27
A team of four Al-Jazeera journalists is arrested in Egypt's capital, Cairo, for allegedly holding illegal meetings with the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Gales and rain cause travel chaos

BBC - Mon, 2013-12-30 11:11
Bad weather continues to cause travel disruption after heavy rain and winds of almost 80mph and flood warnings for parts of Wrexham and Camarthenshire

Body found in missing boy search

BBC - Mon, 2013-12-30 11:05
Police searching for teenager Adam Pickup, who went missing in Manchester on Saturday, say they believe they have found his body.

Passenger charged over ferry arson

BBC - Mon, 2013-12-30 11:04
A man is charged with arson and affray after a fire broke out on a North Sea ferry and six people had to be airlifted to hospital.

Official In Charge Of Creating Steps Down

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 10:59

Michelle Snyder, who was responsible for the problem-plagued website, will retire from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

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Rural ambulance times 'need rethink'

BBC - Mon, 2013-12-30 10:56
A health minister says the death of a 26-year-old man in Norfolk highlights the issue of rural ambulance response times.

Al-Qaida's Receipts: From 60-Cent Cake To A $6,800 Workshop

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 10:55

Receipts left behind in Timbuktu show how the terrorist network tracks its expenses, The Associated Press reports. From minor amounts spent on food to much more spent on meetings, al-Qaida records expenses much like a multinational corporation would, the wire service says.

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Egypt urged to free Al-Jazeera staff

BBC - Mon, 2013-12-30 10:37
Broadcaster Al-Jazeera demands the release of four journalists arrested in Egypt for allegedly holding illegal meetings with the Muslim Brotherhood.

At Long Last, Female Ski Jumpers Can Go For Olympic Gold

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 10:34

The event makes its debut in Sochi after a fight that landed in a Canadian courtroom and endured years of setbacks. At trials in Park City, Utah, on Sunday, ski jumper Jessica Jerome, 27, became the first woman to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

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Report Details NSA's Alleged High-Tech Tricks For Snaring Data

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 10:13

The NSA's Tailored Access Operations division uses everything from modified USB plugs to fake cell towers to access targets' data, according to German magazine Der Spiegel. The agency's elite TAO unit focuses on producing high-quality and hard-to-gain intelligence, Der Spiegel reports.

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A year in China: bad air, bad debt

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 10:05

As we look at the biggest stories of 2013, what stands out to Marketplace China Correspondent Rob Schmitz is the idea of "forced transparency" in two specific areas of China: bad air quality and bad debt.

AIR QUALITY. Some people may have first started paying attention to the air pollution in China during the 'airpocalypse' in Beijing earlier this year, along with this month's bad Shanghai smog. And that has shifted focus to the hard truths of China's economic growth. Lung cancer deaths are up, and so is frustration from everyday Chinese who must live with the heavy pollution. 


BAD DEBT. Then, there was an interbank lending crisis in China in June.  China’s credit bubble got too big, and the "shadow banking" industry posed a huge threat to the world's second-largest economy.  Schmitz says there is "tons of bad debt" in China's economic growth model, which is built on the premise of, "borrow, borrow, borrow; and build, build, build."  For years, China could hide it. But like air pollution, it's now out there for all to see.

"We'll see more events like this in 2014, where the government can no longer hide from its own people," Schmitz says, "because the fallout from 30 years of economic growth at all costs is becoming more and more obvious to everyone here."

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