National News

What If Hillary Clinton Doesn't Run?

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-07 08:49

Some Democrats think the party has a strong bench in the event Clinton declines to run for president in 2016. Not everyone is convinced.

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A Fairy Tale Gone Wrong: Spain's Princess Accused Of Fraud

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-07 08:45

Spain's royal family, which used to face little criticism, is increasingly becoming a target over its spending habits during Spain's economic woes. The king's youngest daughter, Infanta Cristina, and her husband have had their mansion confiscated are now facing allegations of fraud.

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Stumped by the debt ceiling? Here's an explainer

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-07 08:24

Q. WHAT IS THE DEBT LIMIT?

It is "the total amount of money that the United States government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations, including Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salaries, interest on the national debt, tax refunds, and other payments," the Treasury Department explains.

Basically, Congress appropriates money for projects and programs, then lawmakers have to give the executive branch permission to pay those bills.  

Q. OK. BUT WHAT IS THE ACTUAL DEBT LIMIT (IN DOLLARS)?

$17.2 trillion. 

After it expires on Friday, February 7, 2014, the Treasury Department will use what are called "extraordinary measures" to keep the government solvent for as long as it can. The government can move money around. It can defer investments in certain intragovernmental accounts, better known as trust funds.  These include the Thrift Savings Plan, for government employees; the Exchange Stabilization Fund; and the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund.

The department already suspended sales of State and Local Government Series (SLGS) nonmarketable Treasury securities "until further notice." 

Q. WHEN DO THESE "EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES" RUN OUT?

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew predicts this will happen by the end of February.

"At different times of the year, these extraordinary measures provide more or less of a cushion depending on variables that we cannot control," he says. In February, Americans are beginning to file their taxes, and the Treasury Department is cutting a lot of refund checks. 

The Bipartisan Policy Center tracks this closely, and it predicts "approximately $198 billion of extraordinary measures will be available at this time."

Q. I'M HEARING PEOPLE TALK ABOUT AN "X DATE." WHAT IS THAT?

The "X Date" is when those "extraordinary measures" run out. At that point in time, the government will no longer be able to pay its bills. 

The Bipartisan Policy Center forecasts that will fall between February 28 and March 25. It is hard to be more specific, because you can’t know in advance how much money the government is going to take in and how much money they government is going to pay out.

Q. WHAT WOULD HAPPEN THEN?

Who knows?

I'm only half kidding.

The government, which makes millions of payments every day, wouldn’t be able to make good on all of them. It could default on Treasury bonds. Economists and investors predict that would lead to a huge downturn.

Q. COULDN'T THE GOVERNMENT PRIORITIZE PAYMENTS, JUST PAY SOME BILLS BEFORE OTHERS?

The Treasury Department has maintained that this would be both impossible and legally dubious. As New York magazine's Kevin Roose notes, "The problem is that there aren't really any less-important things included in the Treasury's regular payment schedule. It's all stuff like food stamps, Social Security, military pay, unemployment benefits, and federal worker salaries. So these choices would be really, really painful."

Q. WHY DOES THE U.S. HAVE A DEBT LIMIT?

"Congress used to approve borrowing project-by-project," Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall-Genzer explains. "Eventually, that incremental budgeting got too cumbersome."

The first limits on borrowing were imposed during World War I. The Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917 set a $15 billion limit on government bonds.

"That set the precedent for giving the Treasury Department a cap," says Donald Ritchie, who runs the Senate Historical Office. In 1939, Congress set a limit on debt of all kinds.

"This measure gave the Treasury freer rein to manage the federal debt as it saw fit," the Congressional Research Service says.

Q. HAS IT ALWAYS BEEN SO CONTROVERSIAL?

Until the 1970s, it wasn't, really.

Amendments to the Second Liberty Bond Act "were not partisan," says Richard McCulley, an historian with the Center for Legislative Archives. "They were supposed to help the Treasury Department manage the federal debt. ... That has morphed into this incredible headache for the Treasury now."

Q. HOW MANY TIMES HAS THE GOVERNMENT RAISED THE DEBT LIMIT?

"Since 1960, Congress has acted 78 separate times to permanently raise, temporarily extend, or revise the definition of the debt limit – 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democratic presidents," the Treasury Department says.

According to the Senate Historical Office’s Donald Ritchie, this is always "a burden on the majority party."

"Nobody likes to increase the debt limit, even though it reflects what they have already authorized and appropriated," he says. "They don’t like to do it. They never have liked to do it. But you have to. It’s a responsibility – the fiscal responsibility – of the federal government."

Taliban Say Captured 'Military Dog' Is Being Well Cared For

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-07 08:17

The Taliban say they were feeding the dog kebabs and keeping him warm with blankets. The militants released a video showing the captured dog with a group of armed and bearded men.

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Dealing with unemployment after a lifetime of work

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-07 08:13

Now for an actual human being behind the government statistics on the labor market that were released today. Last fall, we spoke to Maureen Cunningham, who at 51 recently moved to Florida, when her husband retired. Before the move, she'd arranged to keep doing a version of old job from the new location. But now she's stuck looking for work again and we wanted to check in.

"I've worked my whole life, and to suddenly not be working is hard."

Click play on the audio player to hear the full interview.

U.S. Diplomat's Leaked Phone Call Gets Poor Reception

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-07 08:08

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the use of a distinctly undiplomatic term in regard to the EU was "totally unacceptable." Meanwhile, the U.S. accused Russia of leaking the phone call and Moscow said the recording showed Washington's meddling in Ukrainian politics.

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Sochi Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony: As It Happened

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-07 08:00

Large-scale pageantry opened the Sochi Olympics Friday, in a symbolically rich Opening Ceremony that was marred by an early and highly visible mistake — one of five massive Olympic rings failed to fully appear.

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Maker Of $1,000 Hepatitis C Pill Looks To Cut Its Cost Overseas

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-07 07:53

The U.S. recently approved a drug that can quickly cure hepatitis C in many patients. But its high price means the treatment is out of reach for millions of people in the developing world. Now the pill's manufacturer is talking with Indian producers to reduce the treatment cost to $2,000. But critics say the price drop won't be enough.

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Maker Of $1,000 Hepatitis C Pill Looks To Cut Its Cost Overseas

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-07 07:53

The U.S. recently approved a drug that can quickly cure hepatitis C in many patients. But its high price means the treatment is out of reach for millions of people in the developing world. Now the pill's manufacturer is talking with Indian producers to reduce the treatment cost to $2,000. But critics say the price drop won't be enough.

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American WWII Bomb Unearthed, Defused In Central Hong Kong

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-07 07:51

The 2,000-pound bomb was too big to explode in place — usually the safest option. Instead, it had to be dismantled after some 2,200 residents were evacuated from surrounding apartment buildings.

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Shadow of corruption allegations hangs over Sochi Olympics

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-07 07:50

The facilities for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia cost an estimated $50 billion to build.  Some experts at the Carnegie Moscow Center, a public policy research group, are among those claiming that process was riddled with corruption.  With the Sochi Opening Ceremony due to start today, Steve Rosenberg, one of the BBC's senior correspondents in Russia, joined us to help explain.

Click play on the audio player above to hear more.

Jury Awards Nearly $17 Million In Grain Bin Deaths

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-07 07:19

Two Illinois teens were killed when they were sucked under corn in a grain bin where they were working. A third worker was trapped for six hours. NPR and the Center for Public Integrity told their story in an investigative series about the lack of regulation at such facilities.

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Should community college be free? A Twitter chat roundup

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-07 06:51

This week my colleague Kate Davidson did a story on the governor of Tennessee wanting to make community college or technical school free for all high school graduates. If the proposal goes through, Tennessee will be the only state to offer associate’s and technical degrees for free. 

In an interview with Marketplace, David Baime with the American Association of Community Colleges said that  this measure may make more students want to enroll in community and technical colleges.

"So when a message is sent out loudly and clearly that for qualified students community college is free," says Baime, "We think that it could make a big difference in terms of people's willingness to enroll in our institutions."

What Governor Haslam is proposing is not a new concept. California provided free junior college for years and the City University of New York didn’t charge fees until the 1970s.

The recent buzz around this issue got us thinking. Should students have to pay for community college?

We asked the question on Twitter and here’s what you told us:

@MPWealthPoverty @MarketplaceAPM small charge to cover some costs; easy to get scholarship programs for those who can not afford tuition

— Joanne Reiter (@JoanneReiter) February 5, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty There are careers that #CommunityCollege is perfect for and only has the training for. #Free will get more skilled workers!

— Ja'Net Adams Speaker (@JaNetAdamsSpeak) February 5, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty @Ketchcast I attended a CC for 2 years. Helped me knock out some gen elects; mostly that I needed to mature more. #USNavy

— Erik Newcome (@ErikNewcome) February 6, 2014

.@MPWealthPoverty @MarketplaceAPM all public colleges should be free. Not just community college.

— Brian Ecker (@Brian_Ecker) February 6, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty The revenue hit should instead be put to increase completion rates and subsidize loans.

— Jason Inofuentes (@tnofuentes) February 6, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty Yes!!!! Responsiblity!!!!!

— Jennifer Heffner (@writewitch) February 6, 2014

When your safety net ... disappears

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-07 06:43

The size of Janet Zipper's weekly lifeline: $579.

But at the end of December, Congress took no action to renew emergency jobless benefits. The unemployment checks stopped coming, and Zipper started letting friends and family pay for her trips to the supermarket.

"At first, I felt embarrassed. And then I thought, well you know I need help," she says.

Zipper is 49 and lives in suburban New Jersey. She isn't a victim of downsizing. But the bank where she used to work as a systems administrator switched its computer operating system. Out of a job, Zipper learned the OS she knows so well is becoming obsolete.

"Those skills that I had before that were very popular, paid well, are no longer in such demand," says Zipper.

Since the New Year, Zipper has applied for food stamps, and gotten a foreclosure notice.

Olga Calhoun is also fighting to stay in her home, a rental in Queens. She's been without work since last spring.

When I caught her on the phone, Calhoun had just applied in person for a job as a bank teller.

"I gave them the resume. They said they'd call if they have an opening," Calhoun says.

But she's not hopeful. Calhoun is 64, and thinks companies don't want to hire older workers. To make ends meet, she reluctantly started drawing social security early.

Calhoun also kept busy, emailing the members of Congress. She can't understand why anyone would block extended jobless benefits.

Don't they have the same problem in their state," Calhoun says, "What about the people in their state that voted them in?"

So far, there's not much momentum in Congress.

Things are looking a little better for Janet Zipper. After signing up for classes in another operating system, she found out she was eligible for a state program that supports workers who are learning new job skills.

Now she's getting a weekly check - the equivalent of her old unemployment benefit - for six more months.

Much-Needed Snow Arrives In The Nation's West

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-07 06:12

Parts of Oregon and Washington got up to a foot of snow earlier in the week and could get 6 to 12 inches more. Colorado, which has suffered its worst "snow drought" since the 1980s, could also get a big dusting.

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Super Bowl leftovers: This week's Silicon Tally

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-07 05:56

It's time for Silicon Tally. How well have you kept up with the week in tech news

This week our guest, Molly Mulshine, a tech writer for the website Beta Beat, takes the test.

Play along at home, below.

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Biden: 'No Obvious Reason' He Shouldn't Run For President

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-07 05:20

"That doesn't mean I'm the only guy that can do it," the vice president tells CNN. "But if no one else, I think, can, and I think I can, then I'd run." He's far behind former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a recent poll of Democrats. Biden said he'll decide by summer 2015.

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What's Wrong With Getting Help On A 'Personal' Essay?

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-07 05:18

The organization that hands out Rhodes Scholarships says application essays — which are often heavily edited by family, advisers and universities — no longer reflect a student's true "values and aspirations." In a new rule, the organization says that help is no longer allowed.

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Dogs Do Their Doodies And Salmon Swim Home Magnetically

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-07 04:45

Last month, there was word that dogs use the magnetic field to decide which way to face when they do their business. Now there's research that indicates Chinook salmon have an "inherited magnetic map" that lets them navigate thousands of miles of ocean waters and rivers.

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How much personal debt is too much?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-07 04:34

The Federal Reserve will release a monthly consumer credit report today. Some wealth advisors compare the report's level of detail to that of a doctor's exam. 

"It is a blood workup, if you will, on the state of the nation's collective credit health," said Manisha Thakor, founder and CEO of Money Zen Wealth Management. "A whole array of different data points on well-being are being assessed." 

During and after the recession, Americans rushed to pay down their debts, but data shows debt levels have begun to tick back up. Thakor warns that a debt load that exceeds a third of take home pay can land people in hot water.  "Debt is a four letter word," she said. 

Nicolas Abrams, a certified financial planner with AJW Financial Partners, agrees. 

"When you start getting over 30 percent, you're getting to where the majority of your income is going toward paying debt, which means you don't have money for discretionary items, food, [or] clothing," Abrams said. 

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