National News

Bidding on bitcoin in a U.S. auction

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-06-27 02:00

The U.S. Marshal’s office is holding an auction, and those who wish to register are required to send the government $200,000 by wire transfer.

What's for sale? $18 million worth of bitcoins previously stored on the computer servers of Silk Road, an illegal drug website.  

Auctioning off invisible, virtual currency is just like any other U.S. Marshal’s auction, says Andy Schmidt, research director with CEB TowerGroup, a financial services research group.

“From a practical standpoint, there’s no difference," says Schmidt. "You’re breaking up an asset into lots to get the best possible price at auction.”

Schmidt says because this is bitcoin, and the assets to be auctioned were seized from an online drug marketplace, there’s a bit more mystique. But the sale is also just business, says Jaron Lukasiewicz, CEO of Coinsetter, a bitcoin exchange based in New York.

"The auction is a rare opportunity for someone who makes a particularly huge purchase of bitcoin to enter the space at a great price," says Lukasiewicz.

Which is exactly what Lukasiewicz notes several hedge funds are hoping to do.  

Andy Schmidt says it’s unlikely the auction will affect the price of bitcoin. But he says a sale run by the government may have a chilling effect on potential buyers who may not wish to register their names with the U.S. Marshal’s office. Especially after it accidentally leaked email addresses of parties interested in the auction.

Giving homes to the homeless without preconditions

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-06-27 02:00

Advocates for ending homelessness reported good news this spring: the number of homeless people in the United States has been doing down for years. It’s a trend that the Great Recession slowed, but did not stop. Advocates credit a strategy called “housing first”: putting people in apartments without pre-conditions — like becoming sober, applying for work, or treating mental-health disorders — and then supporting them with social services.

The strategy cuts against a widespread impulse. Few things are less popular than handouts for the “undeserving poor.”

“Who is more of a poster-child for the undeserving poor than a street homeless person with alcohol and drug addiction and behavior and health problems?” says Dennis Culhane from the University of Pennsylvania.

Culhane's research showed that  leaving those undeserving poor people on the street was really expensive. For instance, they got sick and showed up in ERs. A 2006 New Yorker story by Malcolm Gladwell made just this point, profiling a man Gladwell dubbed "Million-Dollar Murray."

“That has inverted the whole argument,” says Culhane. “The fact that they cost society something has now made their cause deserving." 

Turns out, it’s also easier for people to get off drugs and get their act together when they’ve got a roof over their heads.

Which, put in those terms, sounds like kind of a no-brainer.  

“Doesn’t it?” says Michael Banghart, executive director of Renaissance Social Services, an agency that puts homeless Chicagoans in apartments. “It’s kind of — duh, it sort of makes sense.”  

Still, Banghart admits it took him a few years to catch on. In a year-end review, he asked: Who ended up homeless again? Duh, said the data: people who got kicked out for substance abuse. "We said, 'That’s not working,'" Banghart recalls. "We’re creating homelessness again if we just say, 'You know, if you’re not clean you’re gonna go back to the streets.”'"

Since 2005, the number of chronically homeless people nationwide has fallen dramatically.

Pinpointing chronic-homelessness numbers for Chicago is difficult, but over a recent ten-year period, the city almost doubled its stock of permanent supportive housing, the destination for people served by housing-first approaches.  

Like many cities, Chicago now gives first priority to the most vulnerable people: people who are homeless long-term, those who are mentally ill, and those suffering from addiction.

Still, it takes initiative for someone to get housed. Documenting eligibility requires paperwork and months of meetings with doctors and caseworkers.

Mark Scrimenti got an apartment through Renaissance, though some of his friends are still sleeping in the park.  

"I can give ‘em information," he says. "And they’re all like, 'I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care.' But then wintertime comes and they’re underneath their blankets, shaking."

Silicon Tally: A hurricane shelter grows in Brooklyn

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-06-27 01:00

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

This week, we headed to Brooklyn, where we met up with Jim Garrison of Garrison Architects. Garrison is currently showing off his design for a post-disaster urban housing prototype .

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Everybody's working for the Marketplace Weekend

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-06-27 01:00

Well, here we go.

Marketplace Weekend. A brand new Marketplace show. Yes, it’s got part of the DNA you know, but hopefully a little something new.

Our goals are context and conversation. Where do you fit in the big news stories of the week? Why do they matter for the future? And how can we invite you to talk to us?

Yep. Backtalk. We want it!

This show does not start when I begin talking into a microphone, and it doesn’t stop when you hear me say “this is APM.” There are two key segments a week where we want listeners to participate – online and on the air.

The first is with personal finance. We’ll ask a question on the show, invite you to share your experiences, and then talk about them on the air. This week, we’re looking at the “Gray Economy.” Essentially, what you may have done to get by that was a little…outside traditional lines.

Next week, we’re going to talk about the fine print. Has it tripped you up? Helped you out? Weigh in on our site, record yourself and send it in, or tweet us @marketplacewknd.

In the second segment, you get to vote a Marketplace reporter off the island! Okay, not exactly. It’s more like voting them ON the island.

Like a story you heard on Marketplace this week? Let us know. Then we’ll bring the reporter on to Marketplace Weekend to dig a little deeper. This week you’ve been sharing a lot of reactions to Washington reporter David Gura’s story on paid family leave. So we’ve got him back on to answer some questions, and share a few tidbits from his notebook that didn’t make it into his original piece.

If you hear a story you want to explore further, just let us know

Finally, radio is a team sport. You may hear my voice, or that of another Marketplace reporter on the air, but there’s so much more going on. A fantastic group of people has been working really hard to help get this show on the air.

Yeah, you hear their names in the credits, but here’s another special thanks to Raghu Manavalan, John Sepulvado, Candace Manriquez, Bill Lancz, Paul Brent, Deborah Clark, and our senior producer and my partner in crime, Dan Szematowicz.

Now let’s do it again next week.

Iraq's Ethnic Kurds See Opportunity In Nation's Chaos

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-26 23:36

As the Iraqi army crumbled before militants this month, the nation's ethnic Kurds are taking back long-sought areas and revisiting the dream of declaring themselves an independent state.

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A Century Ago In Sarajevo: A Plot, A Farce And A Fateful Shot

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-26 23:23

On June 28, 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand sparked World War I. NPR's Ari Shapiro takes a tour of the city and learns the improbable story behind that shot heard round the world.

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Clock Is Ticking For Aung San Suu Kyi's Presidential Bid

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-26 23:22

An unusual constitutional rule stands in between Myanmar's most famous political prisoner and the presidency. And despite popular protest, an amendment, at the moment, appears unlikely.

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As Pig Virus Spreads, The Price Of Pork Continues To Rise

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-26 23:21

Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus has killed more than 7 million piglets in the past year. There's no cure, but a vaccine that may protect piglets has been approved even though it's still being tested.

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Drink Up: NYC Ban On Big Sodas Canned

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-26 22:23

Big sodas can stay on the menu in the Big Apple after New York state's highest court refused Thursday to reinstate the city's first-of-its-kind size limit on sugary drinks.

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Wiggins Is No. 1, Napier To Miami In NBA Draft

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-26 22:13

The Cleveland Cavaliers used the first overall pick to select Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins. The Charlotte Hornets drafted Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier with the 24th pick and traded him to Miami.

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GM Stops Selling Late-Model Chevy Cruzes; Recall Expected

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-26 13:56

Some 33,000 Cruzes for model years 2013 and 2014 have been identified with a fault that could prevent their air bags from properly inflating.

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Howard Baker's Legacy: Political, But Not Partisan

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-26 13:33

At a time when Washington and its insiders are widely reviled, the late Senate majority leader will be remembered as a Washington insider who was widely revered.

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Why the Cruze recall won't hurt GM's bottom line

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-06-26 13:26

This story was updated at 6:15 p.m. PT on July 26, 2014 with details on the latest General Motors recall. GM is reportedly recalling more than 29,000 Chevrolet Cruze compact cars related to metal parts in the air bag assemblies.

This might sound like a broken record, but General Motors is preparing to recall some 29,000 cars.

The Chevy Cruze is GM’s most popular passenger vehicle, second overall to the Chevy Silverado truck.

So is this finally the thing that will put a dent in GM sales? Probably not, analysts say.

GM has recalled 20 million vehicles this year, and auto analyst Maryann Keller says much of the public isn’t listening anymore. They’re too saturated with recall news.

“Consumers in general just sort of glaze over when they hear these things,” says Keller. “As long as it’s not, you know, not affecting a car that perhaps is in their driveway. Or a car that they wanted to buy.”

That’s one reason GM’s sales have just chugged along. Keller doesn’t expect this time to be any different.

GM told dealers to freeze sales of potentially problematic Cruze inventory. But Morningstar analyst David Whiston says there’s recent proof that temporarily halting sales might not matter.

Just last month, “GM did a stop delivery order on their large crossovers, like the Buick Enclave, GM Acadia, Chevy Traverse,” he says.

And you know what? GM still did well. Really well.

“In May, it was GM’s best month of sales since August of 2008. So honestly, GM’s product is just outstanding right now in all vehicle segments,” he says.

The stop-sale order won’t really hit GM’s bottom line, but the timing is bad for somebody, according to Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst with AutoTrader.com.

Even if it’s temporary, “that hurts the dealers,” she says. “Because the bulk of a month’s sales occur at the end of the month.”

It’s not just the end of the month, it’s also the end of the quarter. Now’s the time some dealers are trying to hit sales targets to get bonuses from GM. It’s a tough time to not be selling GM’s most popular car.

Clashing Accounts Of Heart Attack Case Spark Reader Debate

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-26 13:08

Results trump courtesies when a person's health is on the line, some people said. No, others responded, saying that proper treatment also requires a human touch.

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High Court Ruling Sends Abortion Clinics Scrambling To Adjust

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-26 12:42

The Supreme Court has struck down a Massachusetts law that requires a buffer zone around clinics offering abortion services. Advocacy groups on both sides of the issue offer their reactions.

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Obama Asks For $500 Million To Train, Equip Syrian Rebels

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-26 12:34

The appeal is part of a larger $65.8 billion request sent to Congress to fund overseas operations. A White House statement says "moderate" rebels would be vetted before being funded.

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Island's answer to China-Japan dispute: Tourism

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-06-26 12:20

If you took an actual pin and pressed it into a world map, the hole it would make would dwarf the size of the tiny speck of an island of Ishigaki in the East China Sea.

The lush paradise is 88 square miles of jungle and white sand beaches. It's 150 miles off the coast of Taiwan, and although it’s part of Japan, it’s 1,000 miles away from Tokyo. It’s surrounded by coral reef and turquoise water – making it one of the best diving spots in Asia.

Tour operator Anichi Miyazato prepares a group of foreign tourists for a dive. In the distance, a fleet of Japanese coast guard ships loom over fishing and tour boats in Ishigaki's tiny harbor. They're here to patrol a chain of islands the Japanese call the Senkaku – and the Chinese call the Diaoyu – just 100 miles away.

"We have to protect our nation, our land, our ocean," says Miyazato when asked about the dispute. "Please go away, Chinese military!"

But it seems the Chinese military is here to stay. Just two weeks ago, a Chinese fighter jet flew less than 100 feet away from Japanese air force jets above the disputed islands. Late last year, China’s government declared the airspace over the islands as its exclusive area to protect, requiring other aircraft to identify themselves.

The U.S. responded by flying two B-52 bombers through the area, unannounced.

Below, among the sugar cane fields and palm trees of Ishigaki island, tour operators watched the escalation, worried about how it would impact their business, and wondering when the first shot would be fired.

"Personally, I think it's inevitable," says tour operator Mike Quinn, one of the few Americans on the island. "The first time a missile is fired or the Chinese overrun the Senkaku islands, a lot of tours are going to be canceled, it's going to affect the bottom line, big time."

For tiny Ishigaki, it's the ultimate China conundrum -- bracing for an invasion by China's military while courting an invasion of Chinese tourists.

Ishigaki's bustling new airport -- complete with runways that can accommodate jumbo jets -- just opened last year. There are already flights to and from Taiwan. As of now, Ishigaki isn't on the radar of the world's fastest growing tourist population in mainland China. But Hirohito Kakazu, who plans tourism for the island's government, would like to change that.

"Japan's population is shrinking and domestic tourism to the island will decline," says Kakazu, "so we need to develop tourism from elsewhere -- that's why we built a new airport."

Kakazu is working on establishing routes from mainland China. A charter flight from Shanghai is planned for the fall.

"If there were a plane from Shanghai, it would only take a couple of hours and then suddenly you're surrounded by nature, fresh air, you can catch and eat fresh fish, and you've got some of the best diving in the world," says Ichiro Ohama, president of the local entrepreneur’s club. "These are things you can’t find in China -- and it's just two hours away!”

It's that proximity to China that has defined local attitudes in Ishigaki. Older residents who were born here see China as an old friend -- the island is part of Okinawa, known to many here as the Ryukyu islands, which has maintained close historical and cultural connections with China.

Shigeo Arakaki owns a noodle shop on the island -- he's a retired assistant to a member of Japan's parliament. He'd like to see a more diplomatic approach to resolving the dispute.

"I think Japan and China should explore how to jointly develop the islands rather than fight over them," he says over a cup of tea.

At the moment, this solution doesn't look likely.

"China is becoming more aggressive and they're invading our territory," says Ishigaki mayor Yoshitaka Nakayama. "These are Japan's islands, and by international law, that's a fact. This is non-negotiable."

Japan's government is considering the construction of a military base on Ishigaki, and it's hired local fishing boats to help patrol the disputed islands and ward off Chinese vessels. Still, back on his boat over a coral reef, diving tour operator Anichi Miyazaki says sharing the islands might not be such a bad idea.

China and Japan could combine forces to build something on those uninhabited rocks that would attract tourists. Maybe a theme park?

"I don't know… Disneyland?" asks Miyazaki, breaking down into giggles. Miyazaki says everyone on this island is a businessman -- and war is never good for business.

Senate's Immigration Reform Bill Is Declared Dead At One Year Old

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-26 12:17

The Obama administration is backing away from plans to loosen deportation guidelines. On the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Senate's passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill, reform advocates concede any changes in immigration laws likely won't come until 2017.

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A Century From Archduke's Death, Spotlight Turns Back To Bosnia

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-26 12:17

Bosnia has been buried in historic floods and paralyzed by political dysfunction. Now, locals in Sarajevo are frustrated that the world has only begun focusing on the region for the upcoming anniversary of Archduke Franz Ferdinand's assassination, which helped trigger World War I.

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