National / International News

Burning Money

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-13 09:33

What happens to money after it becomes too old and worn to be useable?

Until just a few years ago, most of it was sent to landfills. Now, as part of a recycling initiative at the Federal Reserve, hundreds of tons of shredded bills are burned each year to generate electricity.

Officials at the Federal Reserve in Los Angeles said that the program — which has increased the percentage of recycled cash from 30 percent to more than 90 percent since 2010 — has multiple benefits for the region.

“We’re able to divert the shredded currency away from landfills, we have done so at lesser cost to the Fed, and the County of Los Angeles now has an additional source of fuel,” says Deborah Awai, a group vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Deep within the Federal Reserve’s cash-processing facility in Los Angeles on a recent Monday morning, employees were loading bundles of currency into sorting machines that determine whether a bill is still fit enough to stay in circulation, is too old and worn, or is counterfeit.

The Los Angeles branch received 3.1 billion notes of currency in 2014. Good bills are set aside to await their return to circulation. Counterfeit ones are sent to the Secret Service. Lousy notes are shredded.

Nationwide, about 5,000 tons of currency are shredded annually. The shredded currency is recycled in various ways, including composting and manufacturing. About one-third is burned to generate electricity.

The Los Angeles branch burns more currency than any of the other 27 cash processing facilities in the nation.

The conversion occurs at the refuse-to-energy facility in the City of Commerce near Los Angeles. Five days a week, trucks back into the plant’s warehouse and dump garbage into an enormous pit inside.

Matt Eaton, a division engineer with the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, said that the facility receives about 100,000 tons of waste from various sources each year. The heat generates enough electricity from its steam turbines to provide power for 20,000 homes.

The approximately 535 tons of shredded money from the Los Angeles cash-processing branch only constitutes a minuscule percentage of the total waste the facility receives. Still, Eaton estimated that energy provided by the burned cash is enough to power 100 homes.

The money is also valuable because it acts as kindling for messier garbage.

“It does burn really well, and it helps support the combustion of some waste we get in that may be wetter or doesn’t burn as easily,” Eaton said.

He said the fact that the cash was recently worth millions of dollars doesn’t phase employees when it arrives.

“It’s treated like any other source of waste. People don’t come out running when we see the currency. If it wasn’t shredded, maybe, but because it’s shredded, no. It’s like any other waste,” Eaton said.

Fun Fact Friday: Uber might be ruining our economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-13 09:29

Kai sat down with Linette Lopez of Business Insider and Sudeep Reddy from the Wall Street Journal for a look at the week that was. Here's what else we learned listening to Marketplace this week: 

Fun Fact: There are rules to duplicating dollar bills, even on movie sets.

In preparing for the climax of the film Rush Hour 2, a prop maker discovered the legal implications in creating a billion dollars in fake money. In fact, there's a law that states, when duplicating dollar bills, they must be either 75 percent smaller than or 150 percent larger than the size of a real bill. The tricky business behind fake Hollywood money

Fun Fact: Millennials and women are responsible for our shift towards fresher foods.

Gone are the days of Chef Boyardee and Ramen noodles. Sales of some of the top brands at General Mills, Kraft, and the Campbell Soup Company have been slumping. Food analysts claim the change in consumption habits is due to recession-born millennials and mothers concerned about the additives and preservatives perverting their children's foods.  Why sales of packaged or processed foods are declining

Fun Fact: The Social Security "Death Master File" features more than six million people born before 1901 as still alive.

A recent audit by the Inspector General revealed the inefficient record keeping. This is problematic for many federal agencies that rely on this file for paying out refunds and pensions. The cost of inefficient Social Security record keeping

Fun Fact: The U.S. economy includes some 2.8 million temp workers -- a number much larger when you include people working in the "gig economy."

The gig economy, or “Uberification” of the labor force, in which companies hire locals to complete a quick task at hand, has in fact made it frighteningly easy for companies to offload jobs that would otherwise go to full-time staff. It's created a loophole for labor regulations that some feel is creating a speedy race to the bottom. Is the Uber economy bad for workers?

Fun Fact: We created this quiz to find out which Apple Watch is right for you. 

Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage this week to unveil updates of existing products and show off new products, most notably the Apple Watch, which ranges in price from $349 to more than a whopping $10,000. We created a quiz so you could determine which watch is right for you. Is it time for the Apple Watch?        

Modi makes Sri Lanka friendship plea

BBC - Fri, 2015-03-13 09:24
PM Narendra Modi says India and Sri Lanka must act like good neighbours, during the first official visit to Colombo by an Indian leader for 28 years.

'Progress made' at Stormont talks

BBC - Fri, 2015-03-13 09:23
Northern Ireland's first and deputy first ministers say they have been "making progress" on welfare reform.

Arts centre hit by major blaze

BBC - Fri, 2015-03-13 09:22
A fire breaks out at Battersea Arts Centre in south London.

Nato urges 'UK leadership' on budget

BBC - Fri, 2015-03-13 09:17
The head of Nato says he expects Britain to "show leadership" over meeting the alliance's 2% defence spending target.

Van Gaal working on Falcao solution

BBC - Fri, 2015-03-13 09:07
Manchester United are working on a solution to get the best from striker Radamel Falcao, says manager Louis van Gaal.

Tikrit: Iraq's city of palaces

BBC - Fri, 2015-03-13 09:04
Profile of the Iraqi city of Tikrit, known as the birthplace of two famous leaders: the medieval Kurdish Muslim commander Saladin Al-Ayyubi, and more recently, the former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

First 'successful' penis transplant

BBC - Fri, 2015-03-13 09:03
The world's first successful penis transplant has been reported by a surgical team in South Africa.

Ireland want to win, not entertain

BBC - Fri, 2015-03-13 08:53
Wales forwards coach Robin McBryde says fans should expect a tight game as his side and Ireland try to "wear each other down".

The upside of losing one's memory

BBC - Fri, 2015-03-13 08:53
The unexpected advantages of losing your memory

It's pi day ... with a twist

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-13 08:51

This is either incredibly geeky, incredibly cool or more likely a combination of the two.

Saturday is, as you've no doubt heard, "Pi Day." March 14th, 3/14, 3 ... 1 ... 4. Pi: 3.14

It is also 2015, which makes it 3/14/15. 3.1415 is Pi to the fourth decimal.

Here comes the cool part (and if you've read this far, thank you).

Saturday at 9:26 am, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is going to announce its admissions decisions. That's 3/14/15, 9:26.

Pi to the 7th decimal?3.1415926.

Pretty cool. 

Despite headwinds, tobacco industry is still thriving

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-13 08:45

When you’re in the tobacco business, controversy is all part of the game. And it’s been rough sledding for the industry this week.

First came the Institute of Medicine report pushing to increase the tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21. Today, a group of public health experts writing in the British medical journal "The Lancet" called for a tobacco-free world by 2040.

At this point, you could quickly stack up the public health arguments like matchsticks to condemn the $100 billion U.S. tobacco industry.

Every year, 500,000 Americans die as a result of smoking. Nine million are sick from their smoking. And then, Stanford professor Tom Glynn says the CDC estimates we’re spending $300 billion a year dealing with the fallout from smoking.

“When someone goes into a store and buys a pack of cigarettes, it costs the American taxpayer about $10 every time in lost wages, lost productivity and healthcare,” he says.

And market data shows fewer people are smoking – just 18% of adults. And those who do smoke are smoking less. That said, University of Michigan economist Ken Warner says profits are strong, companies have cut costs, and they have expanded into things like e-cigarettes.

“We need to be aware that the industry has been thriving throughout this tough period, and they’re thriving now,” he says.

But Warner says there may be a chink in the industry’s armor, he says he’s seeing manufacturers do something he hasn’t seen before: They’re raising prices.

“With an addictive product, you want to pick a price that is not only going to keep your smokers smoking, but in particular is going to encourage kids to smoke. So if I’m right about this, they are probably taking the view that the cigarette market is not going to be a terribly strong one a few decades down the line here,” he says.

Capitol Securities Management analyst Steve Marascia says he’s not ready to bet against big tobacco. 

“It’s a smart cat with nine lives, and it’s a product people still which people want,” he says.

Teach For America is getting fewer applicants

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-13 08:43

Recruiting teachers to work in low-income communities is not as easy as it used to be. 

Teach For America reports that it has received 44,100 applications this year for its program of training professionals and college graduates, and placing them in two-year teaching commitments at schools. The education non-profit says that less than 15 percent of those applicants will be chosen for its highly-selective program. 

Those numbers sound impressive until you consider Teach For America's recent past. The group's applicant pool ballooned tenfold in the last 15 years to a peak of 57,266 applicants in 2013. It has since declined 23 percent. 

The organization attributes its recruiting challenges to an improving job market, and more competition for college graduates and professionals. 

"We are looking for the same kinds of young leaders... that many of the top corporations and best places to work are looking for," says Massie Ritsch, a spokesperson for Teach For America. 

But the headwinds Teach For America is facing are not from an improving economy alone.

Sara Mead, a consultant with Bellweather Education Partners who helped author an internal study for Teach For America, says while the economy is by far the top reason, Teach For America also is battling negative perceptions. 

Some of the non-profit group's alumni have advocated for things like standardized testing and other educational reforms that Mead describes as "polarizing."

"Some of the critics of those changes have really focused on Teach For America in a negative way," Mead says. 

There are anecdotal reports that some professors have dissuaded their students from applying to Teach For America and that some recruiters have faced negative responses on campuses, says Mead. 

"We are definitely having to answer harder questions and more questions," says Ritsch. 

But those questions aren't about Teach For America alone. They are also about the teaching profession, as a whole. 

"Millenials tend to have a pretty poor perception of the teaching profession," says Tamara Hiler with the education think tank Third Way, who conducted a survey of college undergraduates. "They want to be entering careers that are going to be seen as sort of opening doors for them and a lot of times they see teaching as actually closing doors." 

Los Angeles is definitely ready for some football

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-03-13 08:43

That's how much the city of Chicago shelled out for expenses related to police misconduct from 2004-2014. About a fourth of that is tied up in attorney's fees, both for the plaintiffs and the police, who have been historically unwilling to settle.


The year the gender wage gap would close in Florida if it continues to narrow at the current rate, according to an analysis from the Institute for Women's Policy Research reported by the Washington Post. Florida would be the first state to close the gap. The last? Wyoming in 2159.


The last time Los Angeles hosted its own pro-football home game, the Atlantic's CityLab reported. LA is the largest city without a professional football franchise by a significant margin, and no less than 15 teams have been rumored or out-and-out threatened to move there since then.


"Mad Men" wraps up its seven-season run this spring, with the last batch up episodes starting in April. The Hollywood Reporter has an exhaustive oral history of the show, which propelled AMC from a minor movie channel into a prestige drama juggernaut. It's a great weekend long read.


The number of flavors available for the powdered alcohol product "palcohol." The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved the freeze-dried product on Thursday, which comes in vodka, rum, cosmopolitan, margarita and lemon drop flavors.

10 things we didn't know last week

BBC - Fri, 2015-03-13 08:41
What do mares look for in a stallion, and more nuggets.

'Extra spice' because of defeats

BBC - Fri, 2015-03-13 08:39
England's match against Scotland will have "extra spice" because of their defeats a fortnight ago, says coach Andy Farrell.

Weekend edition: The best of the week's reads

BBC - Fri, 2015-03-13 08:38
A collection of some of the best reads from the BBC News website this week.

Week in pictures: 7-13 March 2015

BBC - Fri, 2015-03-13 08:38
Some of the best news photos from the past week

Go Figure: The week in numbers

BBC - Fri, 2015-03-13 08:38
The week in numbers with our Go Figure images.