National / International News

Litvinenko: Russians 'still wanted'

BBC - Wed, 2015-01-28 02:16
British police are still investigating the death of Alexander Litvinenko and want to speak to two Russians suspected of his murder, an inquiry hears.

As numbers of homeless kids rise, resources fall short

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-01-28 02:10

On Katie Jeffery’s seventeenth birthday, her mom kicked her out of the house—She then spent four months living on the streets of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Jeffery stayed in hotels, friends’ places, cars, even a shed for a couple of weeks. All the while, she worked to finish up her final year of high school.

“Worst part is, nobody really noticed that I was homeless,” Jeffery says. “Because I showed up every day to school and did what I had to do.”

The number of students experiencing homelessness in the U.S. has increased 85 percent since before the recession, according to Department of Education data. But the resources available to help them have remained flat.

States with small populations—like Wyoming—have seen some of the biggest increases in homeless students, but have the fewest resources. In Cheyenne, there are shelters for adults living on the streets, but nothing for unaccompanied minors like Jeffery.   

“If I was a 35-year-old ex-con, there’s housing, there’s jobs. There’s no problem,” Jeffery says. “I’m a 17-year-old female who’s trying to finish high school and I was given a box of food and a blanket and told to stay out of trouble.”

Kids who, like Jeffery, are crashing temporarily with friends or in hotels, account for the majority of the country’s 1.3 million homeless students. But the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, only counts people sleeping on the streets or in shelters as homeless. 

“Eighty percent of the children who are identified by public schools are not considered homeless by HUD, and are not eligible for some of the critical services they need to get back on their feet,” says Barbara Duffield, policy and programs director for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

That’s why lawmakers have introduced a bill that would amend HUD’s definition to include the rest of these kids. Opponents say the change could mean fewer HUD services for homeless adults. But Duffield says prioritizing students makes sense long-term.

“By not paying attention to the urgency of child development now, we’re actually creating a system where adult homelessness is being perpetuated,” says Duffield.

Sponsors of The Homeless Children and Youth Act hope to see their legislation taken up by Congress this year. 

 

 

The Koch brothers' $900 million war chest

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-01-28 02:00

Even in the big-money world of politics, $900 million dollars is a striking amount. Some Washington watchers say the fact that the money will come from just a handful of people ought to raise concerns that the U.S. is teetering on the brink of becoming an oligarchy.

Big donors are a relatively rare breed. Data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that, in the 2012 election cycle, only about 0.4 percent of Americans donated more than $200 to a candidate, political party or political action committee. And, as the 2012 presidential campaign illustrated, the party that spends the most doesn't necessarily win.

Click the media player above to hear more.

How big banks turn prisons into profit centers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-01-28 02:00

Greg Cavaluzzi spent four years in federal prison, eating cold oatmeal and white bread for breakfast and bologna for lunch and dinner. So the first thing he wanted to do when he was released was to eat "something normal." When his parents picked him up from Fort Dix in New Jersey, he took them to Wendy's.

"We didn't really talk," he says. "We ate. We were just so happy to be next to each other."

He ordered two bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches, and paid for the meal with a JP Morgan Chase debit card featuring a photo of him in his prison-issued khakis, a backdrop measuring his height in the background. The cards are standard in the federal prison system for giving discharged inmates money sent by friends and family or earned at in-prison jobs.

Cavaluzzi's meal cost about $10. Or as Cavaluzzi puts it: "Everything. It was everything. I was used to making $10 a month."

He made that money as a librarian in prison, where wages start at 11 cents an hour. But those hard-earned dollars disappeared faster than he expected, and when he called Chase, he found out the reason was fees.

"It just seemed a little..." Cavaluzzi trails off. "It was sketchy."

The fees on prison-issued debit cards were agreed to in a 2011 contract with a branch of the Department of the Treasury, which provided the schedule of fees below.

It costs 45 cents to check your balance at an ATM, $1.50 if your account is inactive for 90 days, $2 to withdraw money at a non-Chase ATM, and $7.50 to replace the card a second time within a year.

The absolute numbers aren't radically high, but experts say even small penalties can be both more significant – and more insidious –for newly released prisoners, who tend to have less money and banking experience, and face many other barriers to reintegrating into society.

"It's bus fare to a job, it's a meal, it's a room for a night," says Karin Martin, an associate professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. She researches debt and fees in the criminal justice system. 

"There's this split mentality – on the one hand, we are saying we would like to re-integrate people, and on the other hand, we are having lots of policies that undermine their ability to reintegrate," she says.

Still, contracting with private companies that charge inmates for their services is hardly exceptional.

"The Bureau of Prisons contracts out all kinds of goods and service type things," says Jack Donson, who was a case manager in the federal prison system for more than two decades. "The institution has food vendors, vending machine vendors, halfway houses."

In all of these cases, companies have a (literally) captive market, and prisoners frequently complain about being overcharged. Though there is no competition for the business of prison inmates, there is typically competition for the contracts – as there are for most such contracts with the federal government – for sound economic reasons.

"When it comes to products or service that are somewhat standard, easy to describe, where the deliverables are clear and reasonably measurable, then competitive bidding is by far the most efficient method of procurement," says Steve Tadelis, a UC Berkeley associate professor of business and public policy who has studied government contracts.

A good example of this kind of standardized good or service is a pencil.

"If you're a government agency and you want to procure pencils, well there are gazillion producers of pencils," says Tadelis. An open competitive bidding process asks all pencil producers to make an offer and allows that competition to drive down the pencil price.

But a Center for Public Integrity investigation found that the contract with JP Morgan Chase – as well as a contract between the Department of Treasury and the Bank of America for financial services inside of prisons –were not subject to an open, competitive bidding process.

"When I hear 'no bid contract,' forget prison environment, that does surprise me a little bit," Donson says.

From an economist's view, Tadelis says, it could make sense to skirt competitive bidding, but only if the goods or services are complicated, evolving or difficult to describe.

"From what I've read and heard about these issues with the bank accounts and debit cards, I think it's pretty clear this looks a lot more like a pencil than a fighter jet or a complex IT system," Tadelis says.

Treasury's Office of the Inspector General is now investigating the contracts with JP Morgan Chase and the Bank of America and is expected to issue a report later this year.

Gregg Cavaluzzi now works at the Fortune Society, helping to find jobs for other newly released prisoners.

"Until these banks find a way to make money on the rehabilitation of people, and not the incarceration," he warns, "this will continue."

The Koch brothers' $900 million warchest

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-01-28 02:00

Even in the big-money world of politics, $900 million dollars is a striking amount. Some Washington watchers say the fact that the money will come from just a handful of people, ought to raise concerns that the U.S. is teetering on the brink of becoming an oligarchy.

Big donors are a relatively rare breed. Data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that, in the 2012 election cycle, only about .4 percent of Americans donated more than $200 to a candidate, political party or PAC. And, as the 2012 Presidential campaign illustrated, the party that spends the most doesn't necessarily win.

Click the media player above to hear more.

How big banks turned prisons into profit centers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-01-28 02:00

Greg Cavaluzzi spent four years in federal prison, eating cold oatmeal and white bread for breakfast and bologna for lunch and dinner. So the first thing he wanted to do when he was released was to eat "something normal." When his parents picked him up from Fort Dix in New Jersey, he took them to Wendy's.

"We didn't really talk," he says. "We ate. We were just so happy to be next to each other."

He ordered two bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches, and paid for the meal with a JP Morgan Chase debit card featuring a photo of him in his prison-issued khakis, a backdrop measuring his height in the background. The cards are standard in the federal prison system for giving discharged inmates money sent by friends and family or earned at in-prison jobs.

Cavaluzzi's meal cost around ten dollars. Or as Cavaluzzi puts it: "Everything. It was everything. I was used to making ten dollars a month."

Cavaluzzi made that money as a librarian in prison, where wages start at $.11 an hour. But those hard-earned dollars disappeared faster than he expected, and when he called Chase, he found out the reason was fees.

"It just seemed a little..." Cavaluzzi trails off. "It was sketchy."

The fees on prison-issued debit cards were agreed to in a contract with a branch of the Department of the Treasury in 2011, who provided the below schedule of fees.

Fees for JP Morgan Chase debit cards provided to newly released federal prison images

Department of Treasury

It's $.45 to check your balance at an ATM, $1.50 if your account is inactive for 90 days, $2.00 for withdrawing money at a non-Chase ATM, and $7.50 for replacing the card a second time within a single year.

The absolute numbers aren't radically high, but experts say even small penalties can be both more significant—and more insidious—for newly released prisoners, who tend to have less money, less banking experience and many other barriers to reintegrating into society.

"It's bus fare to a job, it's a meal, it's a room for a night," says Karin Martin, an associate professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who researches debt and fees in the criminal justice system. "There's this split mentality—on the one hand, we are saying we would like to reintegrate people, and on the other hand, we are having lots of policies that undermine their ability to reintegrate."

Still, contracting with private companies that charge inmates for their services is hardly exceptional.

"The Bureau of Prisons contracts out all kinds of goods and service type things," says Jack Donson, who spent 23 years as a case manager in the federal prison system. "The institution has food vendors, vending machine vendors, halfway houses."

In all these cases, companies have a (literally) captive market, and prisoners frequently complain about being overcharged. Though there is no competition for the business of prison inmates, there is typically competition for the contracts themselves—as there are for most such contracts with the federal government—for sound economic reasons.

"When it comes to products or service that are somewhat standard, easy to describe, where the deliverables are clear and reasonably measurable, then competitive bidding is by far the most efficient method of procurement," says Steve Tadelis, an associate professor of business and public policy at UC Berkeley who has studied government contracts.

A good example of this kind of standardized good or service is a pencil.

"If you're a government agency and you want to procure pencils, well there are gazillion producers of pencils," says Tadelis. An open competitive bidding process asks all the pencil producers to make an offer, and let's that competition drive down the pencil price.

But a Center for Public Integrity investigation found that the contract with JP Morgan Chase—as well as a contract between the Department of Treasury and the Bank of America for financial services inside of prisons—were not subject to an open, competitive bidding process.

"When I hear 'no bid contract,' forget prison environment, that does surprise me a little bit," says Donson.

Tadelis says, from an economist's point of view, it could make sense to skirt the competitive bidding process, but only if the goods or services are complicated, evolving or difficult to describe.

"From what I've read and heard about these issues with the bank accounts and debit cards, I think it's pretty clear this looks as lot more like a pencil than a fighter jet or a complex IT system," says Tadelis.

Treasury's Office of the Inspector General is now investigating the contracts with JP Morgan Chase and the Bank of America, and is expected to issue a report later this year.

Gregg Cavaluzzi now works at the Fortune Society, helping to find jobs for other newly-released prisoners.

"Until these banks find a way to make money on the rehabilitation of people, and not the incarceration," he warns, "this will continue."

A sign in the lobby at the Fortune Society, where Gregg Cavaluzzi now works as an account manager.

Stan Alcorn/Marketplace

That article you're reading might just be an ad

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-01-28 02:00

Did you realize the article you're looking at in your favorite magazine might actually be paid advertising? You may soon be seeing more of that in publications like Wired, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Their publisher, Conde Nast, announced this week that it will deploy magazine editors and digital video staffers to shape some of the paid ads in its print and digital editions. 

“Native advertising is all the rage,” says media consultant Ken Doctor at Newsonomics.

Doctor says Conde Nast's venture isn't the first of its kind. Time, Inc. has also deployed editorial staff to help develop paid content. But Doctor says the practice is still controversial.

“So, at WIRED magazine for instance, the new 3-D smart watch comes out, and you're expecting to get WIRED’s take on this,” he says. “But what if Samsung is actually paying to have their ad about the 3-D smart watch written by a WIRED staffer?”

Publishers' ad revenue has shrunk as more competitors pop up online. And Doctor says you can charge a lot more for native ads.

Media consultant Alan Mutter says readers need to be on guard. 

“We have to do more work than ever before to figure out what's real and who to believe,” he says.

Mutter hopes Conde Nast will help readers discern truth from spin by taking extra care to label its paid content.

Two in court over 1991 Payne murder

BBC - Wed, 2015-01-28 01:55
Two men appear in court charged with the murder of 18-year-old Nicola Payne, who went missing in Coventry in 1991.

Harris attacks BBC books coverage

BBC - Wed, 2015-01-28 01:48
Novelist Robert Harris calls on the BBC to give books more coverage "at a time when they're really fighting like crazy for a bit of space".

Djokovic surges into semi-finals

BBC - Wed, 2015-01-28 01:47
Four-time champion Novak Djokovic beats Milos Raonic in straight sets to reach the Australian Open semi-finals.

Florida cat crawls out of grave

BBC - Wed, 2015-01-28 01:37
A cat in Florida who was presumed dead after being run over appears five days later having somehow escaped its grave.

Obama, Apple and the tax issue

BBC - Wed, 2015-01-28 01:33
The astonishing success of technology giant Apple raises again the issue of where it pays its taxes.

Alibaba wants to give credit where credit is due

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-01-28 01:30
74.5 million

That's how many iPhone shipments Apple reported in its first quarter. As Quartz reports, that number beats last year's record by almost 50 percent, proving that bigger really is better.

4

The number of homes currently owned by Mitt Romney. According to the Boston Globe, Romney went on "something of a real estate spree" after losing the 2012 presidential election, buying a house in Utah and starting construction of two more while selling his condo in Massachusetts. Now Romney is taking steps to sell his lavish but yet-unfinished house in La Jolla, California, possibly in anticipation of another run at the White House in 2016. Romney's wealth was used to paint him as out of touch in the last election.

$2.00

That's how much JPMorgan Chase charges inmates using prison-issued debit cards when they withdraw from out-of-network ATMs. That may not seem like a lot, but it's devastating when considering someone like Greg Cavaluzzi, who only made $10 a month while in a federal prison. Plus, when newly released prisoners like Cavaluzzi have to deal with finances in the outside world, they tend to have less money, less banking experience and many other barriers to reintegrating into society.

$111,000

The average base salary of a physician's assistant, which Glassdoor just named the "best job of 2015," based on its troves of user-submitted data. This is the first time the website has released such a list, Forbes reported, and it was compiled by weighing current openings, average salary and other factors. PA is an especially desirable job because of its fairly high pay and low barrier to entry, compared to physicians.

$80

That's the maximum price for driveway-clearing service from Plowz and Mowz, a service Bloomberg calls "Uber for snowplows." The recent blizzard in the Northeast has put a spotlight on Plowz and other similar private plowing businesses.

300 million users

Ant Financial, an Alibaba owned company, will look into the spending and saving habits of their 300 million registered users to establish a new system of determining creditworthiness. As reported by the New York Times, the venture is called Sesame Credit Management, and will use primarily online data to assign a credit score from 350 points to 950 points. The system aims to address the difficulties many Chinese citizens face in building credit and receiving loans.

Real's Bale rules out Man Utd move

BBC - Wed, 2015-01-28 01:20
Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale rules out a move to Manchester United, saying he is "happy" at the Bernabeu.

Ambulance times 'worst on record'

BBC - Wed, 2015-01-28 01:18
New figures show the proportion of ambulances in Wales meeting the target response time for the most urgent calls are the worst on record.

Bubka to rival Coe for IAAF top job

BBC - Wed, 2015-01-28 01:13
Former pole vaulter Sergey Bubka will challenge fellow Olympic champion Sebastian Coe for the IAAF presidency.

Paralysed man's family demand answers

BBC - Wed, 2015-01-28 01:10
The family of a man left paralysed after being arrested receive an apology from the police watchdog for the length of its investigation.

Property sales reach seven-year high

BBC - Wed, 2015-01-28 01:06
Property sales across the UK rose by 14% last year to 1.22 million, the highest number since 2007, official statistics show.

Concern over NI courts budget cuts

BBC - Wed, 2015-01-28 01:03
The Lord Chief Justice says he has "significant concerns" about budget cuts to the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS).

What does your fridge reveal about you?

BBC - Wed, 2015-01-28 01:00
What the contents of your fridge say about you

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