National News

FCC caps rates for prison phone calls

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-02-12 10:55

This week the FCC adopted new phone rates for people in prison, jail or detention centers. Under the new rules, interstate collect phone calls can cost no more than 25 cents per minute and  debit or pre-paid phone calls can cost no more than 21 cents per minute.

Before the rate caps, an interstate call could cost as much as $17 for a 15 minute call.  Under the new rate caps, a 15 minute call would be about $3.15.

"This is essentially the federal government putting its foot down on a system that’s been broken for a decade," said Leah Sakala, a policy analyst with the Prison Policy Initiative.

Sakala said the prison phone industry preys on people who can’t afford it.

"This is a market that profits from exploiting communities who are the most economically vulnerable," said Sakala.

Sakala claims that the more notable phone companies  used to profit from  the prison phone industry, but were bought out by companies  owned by investment banks.

Below is a rundown of how much certain compnies charge in fees for calls from prison:


 The Los Angeles Times reports that the prison phone market brings in over $1.2 billion every year.

 Today's prison phone market, which brings in $1.2 billion annually, is dominated by two little-known phone companies. Global Tel-Link, based in Atlanta, and Securus Technologies of Dallas, both backed by private equity firms, make up more than 80% of the market, according to Standard & Poor's.

The phone companies insist it simply costs more to provide inmate phone services, which require security features such as call screening, restricting phone numbers and blocking three-way calls.

 "All the real work to allow an inmate to make a call happens before the call is even accepted," said Stephanie Joyce, counsel for Securus. Securus and other companies charge fees to initiate a call, add funds to an account or receive statements, partially to help recoup those costs, Joyce said.

Securus Technologies said the new caps on phone charges will cost them over $10 million in revenues.  

In an interview with Bloomberg BNA, Securus Technologies CEO Richard Smith said he's unsure of what the real impact will be: 

 “Securus is committed to providing high end security features that one third of all the prisons in the U.S. require and we will continue to fight for prisons and jails to fight for the prices that they deem are necessary to support their own prisons and jails."

The U.S Court of Appeals denied a bid to stay the FCC's new rate caps.

Judge Dismisses Assisted Suicide Case Against Pennsylvania Nurse

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 10:15

Barbara Mancini was charged with assisting her father's suicide by providing him with a lethal dose of morphine. A judge's decision in her favor is the latest in a series of developments signaling a reluctance of courts and state legislatures to criminalize medical care that may hasten death.

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Scientists Say Their Giant Laser Has Produced Nuclear Fusion

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 10:01

Researchers from California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory say they've figured out how to get their laser to squeeze hydrogen atoms together to make helium atoms, releasing energy in the process. It's an important step in the decades-long quest for fusion energy.

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Justice Thomas: Americans More Race Conscious Now Than In '60s

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 09:44

Speaking to university students in Florida, Clarence Thomas also said that "the worst I have been treated was by northern liberal elites."

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Global Military Spending Set To Rise In 2014

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 08:28

For the first time in five years, worldwide military spending is expected to go up, with China and Russia leading the way. The U.S. military budget is facing pressure, but the $600 billion in annual spending is roughly the same as the next 14 countries combined.

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Weekly Un-Innovation: There's Nothing To See Here

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 08:16

Forget high-tech gadgets that are supposed to make your life easier. Today, we're writing about ... Nothing. Pim de Graaff, a copywriter from Amsterdam, creates handmade black wooden blocks called Nothing to remind you that you already have enough stuff.

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Let's Weather The Storm: Share '3 Things To Do When Stuck Inside'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 07:50

Millions of Americans may be mostly stuck inside the next couple days because of the ice and snow storm that's rolling across much of the eastern half of the nation. Everyone has ideas about great things to do to ward off cabin fever. Please tell us yours.

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The High Cost Of Treating People Hospitalized With West Nile Virus

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 07:25

Most people who are infected with West Nile virus never get sick. But some of those who do can wind up in the hospital, or suffer permanent disability. A Texas outbreak in 2012 may have made West Nile one of the more costly diseases in the state that year.

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How your mortgage is related to the debt ceiling

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-02-12 06:46

Two pieces of important economic news happened Tuesday.  The House of Representatives voted to raise federal borrowing authority, known as the debt ceiling (the Senate is expected to pass the measure.) Second, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen announced that the Fed would continue to slowly relax economic stimulus.  

The effects of those actions are still ricocheting around the economy, affecting everything from treasury yields (many went up) to your mortgage (still low, but went up too).  Let’s unpack the economic Rube Goldberg Device and see how.


The Debt Ceiling and Treasuries

Now that the debt ceiling is all but officially raised, it's very likely the government can keep paying its bills at least for the next 13 months.  So Uncle Sam isn't about to become a deadbeat.  As a result, investors became a little less worried about buying one month T-bills.  (One month T-bills are when you lend to the government money for a month.)  It’s easy to see why – let’s say Uncle Sam had become a dead beat, he would have run out of money in about a month.  So a one month treasury bill would be pretty scary.

But that didn’t happen.  So, reassured, investors went back to buying one month T-bills and in doing so, they bid the price up, allowing interest rates to fall to the lowest level in three weeks.  


The Fed and 10-Year Treasuries

The opposite effect happened with 10 year treasuries – which are among the most important treasuries because they are a benchmark for many other interest rates in the economy.  Interest rates on ten year treasuries rose.

That’s not what happens in many other countries.  If you were crisis-rocked Greece a few years ago, and you suddenly looked more stable, investors would have told you “Phew!  Alright, you’re safer now, so you can lower the interest rate you’re offering and we’ll still invest with you.”  But the opposite effect happened here.

To understand why, you need to understand that U.S. treasuries, in general, symbolize safety.  It’s like going into a bunker or a cave to weather the end of the Mayan calendar.  Even when we had debt ceiling crisis .....which could have affected treasuries, people still wanted longer term treasuries.  That’s because even if Uncle Sam missed (or more likely in the case of the debt crisis not being lifted, delayed) an interest payment, long term treasuries were still safer than markets, which would have completely flipped out if Uncle Sam had defaulted.    

But the news yesterday told investors that the world was a little safer for them.  The House moved to raise the debt ceiling, and the Fed maintained a steady hand. 

So if the world of investing looks a little safer, and the economy ten years into the future (the life of ten year treasuries) looks bright, investors  won’t run to the safety of U.S. treasury notes.  As a result, those notes are a little less in demand, and yields rise to compensate.      


If mortgages are tied to treasury rates, does that mean my mortgage is rising too?

That’s right, they did, just a touch

Your mortgage, like many other loans of similar maturity, is related to the yield on government securities.  That’s because in a crude sense, government securities compete with your mortgage... and your car loan, and your student loan.  A bank can loan to you, or it can loan to Uncle Sam.

Uncle Sam is always the safer bet.  So if the returns banks get from lending to Uncle Sam go up, well, they’re going to go up for you too. 

But mortgages, and treasury yields, are still lower than they have been for several months.  Again, the explanation is best thought of in terms of safety.  Many emerging markets over the past several months have had problems, ranging from mild to major.  That has pushed investors to US bonds over the past several months, keeping yields down. 


Belgian Proposal: Terminally Ill Kids Could Choose Euthanasia

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 06:41

Belgium already allows adults to choose euthanasia and a bill that looks set for approval this week would allow terminally ill kids under 18 to make the same choice. But some lawmakers and the Catholic Church are strongly opposed.

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PODCAST: Living in the 'state' of Silicon Valley

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-02-12 06:33

Timothy Draper has a crazy idea. The noted tech venture capitalist is pushing a ballot initiative to break California into six separate states

Plus, now that the House of Representatives voted to raise federal borrowing authority, investors signaled increased interested in buying one month T-bills, which lends money to the federal government for one month (which in turn caused interest rates to fall to the lowest level in three weeks).  In other words, markets felt more secure in investing in the shorter term. 

Thawing? Two Koreas Hold Highest-Level Talks Since 2007

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 06:10

Little is known about how the hastily arranged meeting went. Reports from the border village of Panmunjom say the two sides' representatives appeared to behave cordially toward each other. But upcoming U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises could ratchet up tensions again.

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Republican Faulconer Elected Mayor In San Diego

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 04:45

City Councilman Kevin Faulconer will fill the seat vacated by disgraced former Mayor Bob Filner, a Democrat. Filner left office after less than a year following sexual harassment allegations from more than a dozen women.

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'Crippling' And 'Paralyzing': Southern Storm Is Wicked

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 04:00

The National Weather Service is not holding back on its warnings about the ice and snowstorm that is hitting the Deep South and will move into the Mid-Atlantic later Wednesday. Forecasters warn of "impossible travel conditions" in Georgia and dangerous roads elsewhere. Thousands are without power.

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Shanghai Warms Up To A New Cuisine: Chinese Food, American-Style

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 03:32

Chinese immigrants adapted their cuisine over time to appeal to American palates. So Americans looking for familiar dishes in China won't find many. But a new restaurant in Shanghai hopes to change that — offering expats a taste of home and introducing locals to foreign treats like fortune cookies.

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Cornell Pair Introduce American-Chinese Food To Shanghai

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 03:32

Two Americans open Fortune Cookie, a restaurant that serves Chinese-American food in Shanghai. The owners believe there is a market among expats nostalgic for their hometown takeout. A Chinese customer says Westernized Chinese food lacks the subtly of the original cuisine.

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The 'state' of Silicon Valley

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-02-12 01:49

Timothy Draper has a crazy idea. The noted tech venture capitalist is pushing a ballot initiative to break California into six separate states

The plan, which has just been announced and is on no ballot yet, would turn Silicon Valley into a state unto itself (image via TechCrunch): 

 Draper said that California is "ungovernable" and as a constituent, he doesn't feel like he's getting a very good service for the amount of money he gives to the government.

"We pay the most for education and we're 46th. We pay among the most for prisons and we are among the highest recidivism rate," says Draper. "So we have a failed state."

Draper believes the solution to this issue is to create something new.  He said creating "Six Californias"would allow those "states" to cooperate with each other but still have to compete with constituents. He said this way, states would have no choice but to improve. While it may sound similar to a secessionist movement, Draper wants to make it clear that he never has and never would support a secessionist movement in California.

"I always have felt that it's best to try and improve something by being in it. Than it is by trying to throw grenades at it," says Draper. 


House lifts debt ceiling. What does it mean?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-02-12 01:27

The House of Representatives voted 211-201 to pass an increase to the government’s borrowing limit. Here’s what you need to know.

What happened? We officially hit the debt ceiling a few days ago, and since then the Treasury has been moving money among accounts to keep the country solvent. Those “extraordinary measures” could hold us over until about Feb. 27, according to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. After that, the U.S. might not be able to pay bills it already incurred. The House is going on a recess tomorrow, and with a snowstorm heading to Washington, lawmakers decided they wouldn’t wait until that deadline.

What did not happen? There had been talk of attaching strings to an increase – everything from administration approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project, to changes to the Affordable Care Act, to rolling back changes to military pensions that were part of a budget deal in December. None of those strings was attached.

What does it mean? So long as the bill passes the Senate, the U.S. will continue to pay its bills until March 2015, which is only 13 months away but is a long time in the cadence of Washington. 

At Last, New York Fashion Week Brings 'Good News For Real People'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 00:39

Wearing oversized sweaters, sensible shoes and loose-fitting suits, the models on the runway this year look downright comfortable. New York Times Style Magazine editor in chief Deborah Needleman says these styles are "much more about comfort" than they have been in the past.

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The Full-Fat Paradox: Whole Milk May Keep Us Lean

NPR News - Wed, 2014-02-12 00:38

Two recent studies add to the growing evidence that consuming dairy fat may actually fend off weight gain. Experts say it may be time to revisit the assumption that when it comes to dairy, fat free is always best.

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