National / International News
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.
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 cadetsAlisa 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 GarciaAlisa 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 YarbroughAlisa 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.
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.
Here's the latest entry in "Hey, let's see if we can crowdfund this thing."
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.
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.”
President Obama proposed Tuesday to expand overtime eligibility to salaried workers. Currently, fewer than one in 10 workers qualify, but the proposal would boost that to four in 10.
Under the current rules, salaried workers making more than $23,660 a year are ineligible for overtime pay, under federal law. The White House plan would boost the threshold to any worker making up to $50,440.
The change affects nearly five million workers, according to the Labor Department. The affected workers include those in many sectors, such as law, public relations, professional services, retail and manufacturing, says Ross Eisenbrey of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.
Most of the affected workers are women, says labor economist Daniel Hamermesh, emeritus professor at the University of Texas-Austin. He expects employers to respond by partially cutting back overtime hours for affected workers.
The upshot is, labor will get more expensive, he says. And some overworked Americans will work less. The White House bills this change as “middle-class economics.”
“Will this by itself make us walk away smiling and thinking that all is well with the labor market? No,” says Paul Osterman of the MIT Sloane School of Management. “But it’ll contribute to that.”
Correction: The audio version of this story misstated Ross Eisenbrey's name. The text has been updated. We regret the error.
The State Department will release another set of emails from Hillary Clinton's time as secretary of state on Tuesday. The email issue may dog the Democratic candidate for her entire campaign.
It's popcorn time, and the TV and film industry doesn't like it.
Popcorn Time is one of many new programs that allow users to stream movies without paying for them, causing serious concern in the movie industry (Netflix says piracy has become one of its biggest competitors).
When users log onto Popcorn Time, they can stream a bunch of old and new movies and TV shows. They can watch any of the titles with just one click, or swipe of a finger. There's now even a Popcorn Time app so users can watch stuff on tablets and phones.
But streaming any one of those movies or TV shows like this would be illegal, says lawyer Michael Schlesinger, who works for the International Intellectual Property Alliance.
Schlesinger, whose trade group tries to shut down apps like Popcorn Time, says in the industry, the effort to end piracy is often called “a game of whack-a-mole.”
Popcorn Time is an especially hard mole to whack. The people running Popcorn Time are spread out across the globe and tend to remain anonymous. There are also multiple versions of the Popcorn Time program. One iteration claims to be run with “love by a bunch of geeks from all around the world.”
Robert English, in Canada, claims to be one of the geeks. We tracked him down via his Twitter account. English has been quoted all over the place, and he downplays Popcorn Time's importance, saying it isn’t the first, and won't be the last, streaming site out there. “The content is already out there, for the most part,” he says, “We don't add anything new. So I don't think we make much of a difference.”
One big differences between Popcorn Time and other pirate sites is that even if it is shut down, it can quickly pop back up again. The program is open source, which means the code is public. Anyone who downloads it can modify the code and become the author of their own version.
English says he thinks Popcorn Time is legal, and he is not worried about people streaming stuff for free. He says, “I'm sure piracy hurts everybody, but I'm sure everyone still makes a lot of money.”
This is a pretty common sentiment for people born anytime after, say, the early 80s. Millennial Michael Krynski is 29. Here's how he sums it up: “We're like the Napster Generation. We just expect things to be available online. Everything we're looking for.”
Krynski runs a blog all about how to stream content for free. Most of his readers are under 30, and he says, “They have money, but they don't want to give money to companies that are still in this old school distribution model.”
What is really scary for the movie industry, and streaming sites like Netflix, is that Popcorn Time is sleek and user-friendly. You are not poking around some back alley of the Internet, fending off viruses. Popcorn Time has big pictures of movies, and a nice design. It looks kind of like Netflix. And it has new TV shows and movies, some still in theaters.
So what are the repercussions for streaming something on Popcorn Time? Joseph Gratz, a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property, says, “Well, certainly the copyright infringement police aren't going to come and get you.”
However, Gratz says, the movie and TV industry does sometimes send threatening letters, and a few people have been caught and had to pay settlements—hundreds, even thousands of dollars. But it is a lot of work to track down illegal streamers. And programs like Popcorn Time are working on ways to anonymize users, making them even harder to track.
Kate Bedingfield, with the Movie Picture Association of America, says, “I don't think anyone thinks we are going to eliminate piracy entirely.” She says right now the industry is focusing on improving its streaming services. That is why it supports wheretowatch.com. The site tells you where to stream movies legally. Bedingfield says there are now over 400 legal options to stream movies and TV in the United States.
But the competition is stiff. These services have to be better than free. Out on the seven seas of the Internet, that is a pretty hard pricing model to beat.
It's easy to get overwhelmed by the English and their social tea traditions. What time are they each at, anyways? But don't fret. The Salt is here to offer guidance.
On the verge of missing a loan payment, Greece is one step closer to the possibility of quitting the euro, analysts say. And, they say, the crisis poses a danger to the eurozone itself.
The officials are off the job while authorities continue their investigation of the break out. The surviving escapee says the two prisoners conducted a dry run the night before they left.