Dogs can catch a strange type of cancer through sex. Now scientists have decoded the DNA of the tumor and found that the cancer cells are a living fossil of an ancient dog that lived thousands of years ago. This cancer doesn't affect people, but the findings may offer insights into how tumors fool the human immune system.
I knew this wouldn’t be the easiest story. It’s not like you can just send out a mass email saying "I want to talk with rich people on national radio about the very thing that they don’t want to talk about with anyone."
But, that’s essentially what I did. I emailed my friends asking if they had ever had the experience of discovering that someone they knew was wealthy after already knowing them a good while. (For the purposes of this story, I defined wealthy as "never needing to work again if you don’t want to.") I explained that I'd had that experience and wondered, "How did I miss this? It seems like a pretty fundamental fact about that person."
I got a message back saying, “Sean, we used to know each other. I might be able to be of some service on your story. My contact info is below. Adam Blank.” Adam went to school with a close friend of mine. We’d crossed paths a few times almost twenty years ago. At first, I didn’t even know why he was writing to me. Turns out he’d inherited millions of dollars from his grandfather and his father. On the phone, he described himself as a “high net-worth individual.” He suggested we do the interview at his house.
Adam lives in Brooklyn. I live in Brooklyn. I don’t know any other people who live in Brooklyn, the way Adam does. As soon as I walked through his front door I started laughing.
"Conspicuous, is it not?" he said.
"It" is a three-story house with floor to ceiling windows looking out on a back deck and backyard. "It" has a garage. A garage. In Brooklyn. In most other respects, though, Adam is a lot like me. He had crappy jobs as a kid, worked in social services after college, and then in the film industry. In the league of the "stealthy wealthy," he’s about as stealthy as they come.
"You didn’t know I was wealthy because you never came to my house," he told me, in his home office, which has a door. "I don’t dress wealthy. If I had wealthy friends, you probably wouldn’t know me. My peer set is more like you, right? Writers, designers. So I can’t go, ‘Oh! Sean! Whaddaya think about private equity investing? How does it make you feel to have the money that you have?' Because it mirrors exactly how I feel about the money that I have."
As a result, he doesn’t tend to talk about his money overmuch. But it comes up. He told me about a casual conversation he had, with a casual acquaintance, years back.
"We were talking about our kids," said Adam. "And I said what schools they went to and he goes, ‘I don’t mean to be indelicate…’ basically saying ‘I’m going to be indelicate.’ ‘How in the hell do you afford sending your kids to school like that? You’ve got three of them.’ Which indicates a lot of things: he didn’t know that I had money, just based on our casual relationship. And then I had to deal with identity issues for this guy, who was, like, wanting something out of that."
In my adventures with the stealthy wealthy, I noticed a few commonalities among the folks I interviewed. For instance, none of them seemed to know the money was coming to them until it did, and all of them were thrown by it, to one degree or another. Probably the most unsettled among them was Burke Stansbury. He’s a political activist living in Seattle with his wife and son. He remembers the day his dad handed him a four-page printout of his investments, and trust fund, etc.
"I laughed," Burke told me, "More than anything it struck me as totally ridiculous that I would have that kind of money. The absurdity of why I, of all people, should have a million dollars coming to me, it struck me. Like I had never done anything to deserve that money."
Burke was 19 years old at the time. Not long after The Day of the Ledger, he went traveling in Mexico. Soon, he came to the belief that people are poor in the world because other people are rich.
"And because I had just realized that I was a millionaire," he said, "I saw myself on the wrong of that divide. That was a moment where I started to enter into pretty deep depression… because of feelings of shame and guilt around who I was, and my background."
"There’s very little resources for people to go and talk," said Jamie Traeger-Muney with Wealth Legacy Group. She describes herself as a coach and consultant for the wealthy, who draws on her background as a psychologist.
"You know if you say to someone, ‘Wow I just found out that I have a ten-million dollar trust fund and I’m really overwhelmed by it,'" she said, “That isn’t usually met with a lot of sympathy. People are usually like ‘Waaah-waah, I wish I was in your position."
That’s what you were thinking right? Me too.
"I know it’s a lot of fun sometimes to bash the wealthy," Traeger-Muney said. "But it’s sort of a lose-lose proposition. Because people go underground. They don’t use their resources in positive ways and… one of the most important things they want to do is be part of something larger than themselves, make a positive difference in the world. And when they’re caught up with the shame in the guilt and the hiding, it doesn’t allow them to move as freely and to use those resources to benefit the world in the ways they’d like to."
Burke Stansbury was lucky. He found a group called Resource Generation, which mainly helps young, wealthy people leverage their money toward the social causes they care about. He met other inheritors who were interested in issues of economic justice and wealth disparity. As a side benefit, Burke was able to take part in group-discussions about issues that his non-wealthy friends and co-workers would never be able to relate to. These days he’s a lot more comfortable talking openly about his financial situation.
"I call it my rich kids unpack their [expletive] group," said Rachel Schragis, another member of Resource Generation. "And I say to people ‘You are so glad that I have rich kids unpack their [expletive] group. ‘Cause otherwise I might wanna unpack it on you. And that’s not appropriate.'"
Rachel’s a graduate student, studying art and also teaching it in New York Public Schools. She also does "cross-class activist work" and designed a poster that became a totem of the Occupy movement. Artists who come from money aren’t rare birds. What sets Rachel apart is that she weighs her complicated feelings about her class privilege in the work itself.
"It’s okay to have a creative life that takes up a lot of my time,” she told me in her studio, "But if I’m going to do that, I have an obligation to be transparent about the economic realities that make that possible."
Still, Rachael said there are still times when it’s not easy to join a basic conversation – especially when people are commiserating, as people do, about not having enough money.
"At different points in my life," she said, "I would play along… and be like ‘oh I’m broke.’ And realized oh, that’s a game. When I mean I’m broke, I mean there’s no more in my checking account and I just have to transfer some more. That’s not what other people mean! They mean broke! And so sometimes you just have to like… not talk. Right? Like not say anything."
That new era in Washington, heralded by the budget deal we got last week, where compromise is on the table? It's about to be put to the test: Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says lawmakers will need to raise the debt limit come late February, or the U.S. won't be able to pay its bills.
After we hit the debt limit on Feb. 7, the Treasury Department can keep us solvent for a little while longer using what’re called “extraordinary measures.”
“The ‘X-date’ is when the extraordinary measures run out,” says Steve Bell, with the Bipartisan Policy Center. He pays close attention to that X-date, and how much cash the government has on hand.
If the government is robbing Peter to pay Paul, it would seem the government is living paycheck to paycheck. A better analogy? Maybe it is like the government is living payday loan to payday loan. (Of course, the government gets a much better interest rate than you’d get at a payday lender.)
Now, it is hard to say precisely when the government will come up short. On any given day, it doesn’t know for sure how much money is coming in and how much money is going out. But Bell says if history is any guide, “This is the worst possible time you could have this happen.”
It turns out February is a tough month budget-wise.
“Treasury is going to have a lot of payments going out relative to receipts coming in,” says Alex Gelber, who teaches public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. That is because a lot of Americans file their taxes in February – namely, Americans who know they are going to get refunds.
According to Rudy Penner, a fellow with the Urban Institute, on top of those payments, the government will cut a lot of other checks.
“They make a gargantuan number of payments,” he says.
There are interest payments, Social Security payments. In all, we’re talking about three to five million payments each and every day.
The agreement is aimed at ending five weeks of bloodshed that has claimed more than 10,000 lives. It is hoped the deal is a first step toward a broader peace agreement in the world's newest country.
A newly released video shows Richard Sherman was rebuffed by Michael Crabtree during the NFC Championship Game.
When you think of the healthcare marketplace, you think of options and choices.
But since the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, one thing's been clear: Options are not a given. Alabama is among a dozen or so states where every county has just one--or maybe two-- insurers. Experts are noticing a pattern: Folks in rural towns seem to have the fewest choices, and the costliest plans.
In Blount County, Ala., most people work at either the school board or at a chicken processing plant. On a recent Saturday morning, a handful of locals gather at a church to learn about their health insurance options.
Chris Mosley, a supervisor with Birmingham Health Care, tells them that here, as far as insurance companies go, it's slim pickings.
"In Blount County, if an individual is going to participate, they're going to have to buy either a bronze, silver, gold or platinum plan specifically from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama," he tells the audience. "Because as I say, the other competitor is not competing in your county, OK?"
In Alabama, Blue Cross and Blue Shield pretty much owns the health insurance market. In 64 of Alabama's 67 counties, it's the only insurer through the federal healthcare exchange. People in the other three counties also have Humana as an option. But, Mosley says, "Most people don't know about Humana. It's not a company that people are very familiar with."
Cynthia Cox, a policy analyst with the Kaiser Family Foundation, says most insurers under the Affordable Care Act are offering multiple plans to choose from. The issue is, it's usually just one company offering all the plans.
"Enrollees in these areas will be able to choose between different levels of coverage, but the bigger issue is the lack of competition," she says.
Mike Doonan, executive director of the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum, says that can have a profound effect on consumers.
"So the less competition there is in the marketplace, the less incentive there is for health insurance companies to keep their premiums low," Doonan says.
And Cox adds that where one insurer dominates, you see higher premiums.
"For example, a 40 year-old in an area with just one insurer might pay $20 a month more than if they were living in an area with multiple insurers," Cox says.
Access is tougher in areas with just one carrier. In rural New Hampshire, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is the only carrier through the exchange, and it just cut the number of hospitals in its network.
So why are rural areas being hit so hard? Well, because there are fewer people there.
But Mike Doonan, of the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum, says even in states where there's virtually no competition, there's one huge incentive to keep premiums affordable.
"They do want to attract people and get them enrolled," he says. "And if they do put their premium rates too high, then people are going to opt to pay the penalty."
Especially healthy people, he says.
Michigan’s Republican governor Rick Snyder announced a new plan today to shore up the bankrupt city of Detroit -- and it’s called "immigration."
Snyder wants the federal government to set aside 50 thousand employment-based visas -- known as EB-2s -- for skilled immigrants over the next five years, on the condition that they live and work in Detroit.
“Think about the power and the size of this program, what it could do to bring back Detroit even faster and better,” the governor said. “It’s outstanding.”
And it might be hard to get.
For starters, Doris Meissner of the Migration Policy Institute notes, “Immigration law is extremely specific and most visas have explicit statutory requirements.”
Meissner should know. She’s former Commissioner of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service.
She says the US grants roughly 40,000 EB-2s a year, though the number can fluctuate, and they are not geographically based. So setting aside 10,000 a year for Detroit alone would be new, raising questions of fairness.
“You could imagine putting together a program that is available to financially strapped cities all around the country, so that this wouldn’t just be for Detroit,” Meissner says.
Still, she thinks it’s a creative idea, and an example of how the overall immigration system could benefit from more flexibility.
Richard Herman is an immigration lawyer in Cleveland. He’s said for years that economics should drive more of immigration policy, steering high skilled immigrants towards cities like, “Detroit, Cleveland, Toledo, Youngstown. We’re dying out here. I mean, Cleveland used to be 950,000 people and now we’re down to 390,000.”
Herman says attracting skilled immigrants is not just good for the tax base. He says immigrants can help the industrial Midwest reclaim its old entrepreneurial spirit.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced that his office will not defend the state's ban on gay marriage. Steve Inskeep speaks with Victoria Cobb of The Family Foundation about her group's opposition to the move.
The Ralph Lauren-designed uniform to be worn by U.S. athletes during next week's opening ceremony at Sochi has been described as "hideously ugly."
After successful legal challenges, Medicare will soon begin to release data about how much it pays doctors. The details remain unknown, but three recent projects offer clues. Don't expect an app or website that will be easy for consumers to use.