National News

The tricky business behind fake Hollywood money

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-03-10 09:32

Greg Bilson Jr. runs a company called Independent Studio Services or ISS. They make props for pretty much every movie and television show you’ve seen in the last 40 years, including 90210, CSI, and Indiana Jones.

One of ISS’s specialties? Prop money.

That made ISS the ideal company to work on Rush Hour 2. The premise of the movie is that two police offices, played by Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, chase a counterfeiter known for producing high grade counterfeit money. To prepare for the climax of the film, ISS created a billion dollars of fake money.

Bilson says, “it was fourteen pallet loads of $100 bills, stacked four feet high, solid.” That’s a lot of money, all of which was to be blown up in a casino.

The scene went well but as thousands of these fake bills rained down, many extras grabbed a few of these bills and kept them as souvenirs. Some of those extras tried to spend the money.

The federal authorities weren't too pleased about this. Secret service agents swarmed the set, shut down production, confiscated all the bills that were left, and then they paid Bilson a visit at ISS. He was essentially blamed for counterfeiting.

“Most people would look at this bill and kind of laugh” says Bilson. “It is a very bad picture of Ben Franklin, who we named ‘Franken,’ it says, ‘Motion picture use only’ on 15 different places, it [says], ‘In dog we trust.’ There are many many things that are different from the real bill, but it’s still not within the parameters of legal.”

Bilson has to operate under the counterfeit detection act of 1992. Essentially what this law says is that bills must be either 75% smaller than or 150% larger than the size of a real bill and one color, one side.

And that puts Greg Bilson and other prop builders in Hollywood in a tough spot. They have to skirt the line between these strict counterfeiting laws and producers' demands for this incredibly realistic money. And sometimes, these prop builders have trouble finding that sweet spot in the middle.

“Movie producers and films and TV shows are kind of wanting us to break the law all the time. So we have to keep within those parameters, or do it in a manner that is legal.”

Like other prop masters, Bilson isn't trying to dupe the public. He’s just doing his job.

Read the full story on Pricenomics.

Janet Yellen needs to work on her brand

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-03-10 09:29

According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that came out on Monday, just 14 percent of Americans know who Janet Yellen is and have an opinion about her, good or bad.

The rest of us don't know, or aren't sure, whether she's the most powerful person in the global economy.

So ... I quit.

(Just kidding.)

The cost of inefficient Social Security record keeping

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-03-10 09:29

The Social Security Administration keeps track of deaths in the U.S. with a death master file. The Inspector General at Social Security decided to give it an audit, after getting a call from a bank that went something like this: "Hey, a young guy just opened an account with us. But his Social Security Number says he was born in 1886."

“How do you have people who were supposedly born those dates, and yet there’s no death on the death master file?” asks Rona Lawson, Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Audit in the Inspector General’s office. 

Lawson says banks use the "death master file" to make sure dead people's Social Security numbers aren't being used fraudulently. The E-Verify program uses it to find undocumented workers. Lawson says 4,000 of those 112-year-olds were put through E-verify.

"I don’t know whether those 4,000 people got the jobs or not,” she says, tongue-in-cheek.

At least eight federal agencies use the "death master file," including the Department of Veterans Affairs and the IRS. Since the file isn’t 100 percent accurate, they could be paying out refunds and pensions to dead people. The Social Security Administration did respond to the audit, and says it doesn’t have the money or manpower to correct the "death master file."

One problem is shrinking budget appropriations from Congress, says Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“It’s a little hypocritical to insist on cutting the funding and then blame the program for not adequately dealing with recording people’s deaths,” Baker says.

Social Security says it’ll look into problems and report back to the Inspector General by the end of September.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Rona Lawson. The text has been corrected.


Why the stock market just dropped

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-03-10 09:29

On Tuesday, the US stock market opened by plummeting, with the S&P 500 dropping into negative territory for the year.


Scott Wren, senior global equity strategist at the Wells Fargo Investment Institute, points to two main factors: A rapidly strengthening dollar and fears that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates sooner than expected, stoked by comments by outgoing Dallas Fed president Richard Fisher.  

But Steven Englander, global head of G10 foreign exchange strategy at Citigroup, is less certain. He points out that interest rate fears have been significant since late February, when Fed vice chair Stanley Fischer told CNBC a rate hike this year was highly probable. "We've gotten used to thinking of a zero interest rate as normal," Fischer said. "It's far from normal."

As for the dollar, it did rapidly strengthen overnight, but the initiating event is a bit of a mystery. "Why this sort of realization hit the market at around 8 p.m. New York time or 8 a.m. Asia time is a bit of a puzzle," says Englander. "Because I've checked with colleagues and there's no real news." 

An article in Bloomberg suggested a slump in the Euro and Yen was prompted by a sell-off the New Zealand dollar, or "kiwi," after threatening letters were sent to dairy producers there. 

"The little kiwi that roared?" asks Englander. "I don't think so."

But when it comes to the origin of a market move, it's hard to definitively rule any explanation out.

University Of Oklahoma Expels 2 Students Seen As Leading Racist Chant

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-10 09:23

Saying they had "created a hostile learning environment for others," University of Oklahoma President David Boren expelled two students who have been identified as the leaders of a racist chant.

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Neighbors Surprise Man By Using Sign Language; Hearts Melt

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-10 09:04

The story of how Istanbul residents learned sign language to create a special day for a neighbor has turned a Samsung ad into an international viral hit.

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The Accidental Hunter: For One Outdoorsman, Roadkill Is His Only Red Meat

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-10 08:32

When a car hits and kills a deer or other creature, Jeff Potter swoops in and recovers the meat, then feeds it to friends and family. No one has ever gotten sick, he says.

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For returnees to Mexico, English is a lucrative skill

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-03-10 08:31

For almost ten years now, more people have been leaving the U.S. for Mexico than immigrating here. Whether they’re leaving voluntarily or not, some experts estimate that over a decade, half a million young adults between 18 and 35 have returned to Mexico after living in America for five years or more. Returning home isn’t always easy, but it has created some opportunities for bilingual employees and the businesses that hire them.

When you walk down Padre Mier, one of the main drags in downtown Monterrey, you’d be hard pressed to avoid hearing someone speaking English.  It turns out those English speakers are increasingly working in one particular industry: call centers. There are at least nine on this particular street.

Now, Monterrey’s a big city — Mexico’s second-largest, but it’s still surprising to learn there are more than 30 call centers here. Big American companies outsource to Mexico to provide billing, technical and sometimes even direct sales support.

Juan Jose Cruz says his first job in Mexico was at Hispanic Teleservices. He spent most of his teenage years as an undocumented immigrant in Virginia. He’s now 26 and decided to move back to Mexico about five years ago. Cruz is from Guadalajara, but like many Mexicans that return home, he landed in Monterrey and started looking for a job.

“I was like, ‘OK, I can speak English and nobody speaks English down there.’ But I was completely wrong, you know?”

It turned out that there were lots of English speakers in Monterrey. And there was also lots of work in the call centers.

Omar Solis also returned to go back to college. He says he was pleasantly surprised with this particular job market, too.

"It tends to pay more than any other typical Mexican job without having any sort of formal qualifications," Solis says. "Any sort of diplomas or formal education. However, where I think there was a bit of a difference there, was just the way I speak."

Bill Colton, the President and co-founder of Global Telesourcing, says that’s exactly it. His company has had a call center in Monterrey for about eight years. He says about 95 percent of the people they hire spent their formative years in the U.S. and you can tell when you’re on the phone with them.

“Our employees speak English not just well, but they speak it natively,” Colton says

Mexicans who have lived in the U.S. can give better service because they’re essentially Americans and understand the way American consumers think, Colton says, therefore they’re worth paying a little more.

Juan Jose Cruz says there’s not a lot of glory working in a call center – it’s the pay that attracted him.

“They were like, ‘Oh, do you want to come work for us? We offer this salary.’ It was like, whoa that’s a big salary for Mexico. They were paying like 20,000 pesos.”

That’s 20,000 pesos a month or about $17,000 a year. That’s significantly more than the $13,000 most Mexicans earn annually.

Colton says the biggest reason employees in Monterrey quit is not because they don’t like the work or aren’t happy with the salary. It’s because they’re going back the U.S.

“Based on what their life situation is and where they think they can best achieve their next objective, they’re very comfortable picking up and moving across the border one way or the other because they’re truly bicultural and comfortable in both countries,” Colton says.

For some, it’s a little more complicated than that. Undocumented immigrants still can’t legally work in the US. So, as long as there’s a market for these returnees in Monterrey, there could be more Mexicans returning home for work than coming up to America. And as long as that’s the case, the call center business in Mexico will continue to grow.

Hillary Clinton Will Address Her Use Of Private Email While In Office

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-10 08:21

Instead of using an official account, Clinton routed her email through a server in her house in New York. She'll discuss the arrangement Tuesday afternoon.

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Quiz: Why lawmakers may not feel your pain over student debt

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-03-10 07:49

Open Secrets examined financial disclosures of members of Congress and found 47 who listed student loan debt.

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In world of health data, enemies may become friends

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-03-10 07:27

Sharing patient information is a key to improving patient health. That’s a mantra in health care these days, but it is much harder to pull off than you might think.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell’s recent announcement ushering in paying doctors and hospitals based more on quality than quantity makes exchanging this data more valuable by the day from a business perspective.

And while there’s money to be made and customer satisfaction to be gained, many doctors say still say they aren’t getting the information they need to help their patients.

Dr. Neal Weinberg says sharing that data is essential to helping a person be well.

“Not having immediate, accurate information in one chart can lead to complications for the patient, they could die, they could be pretty sick and end up back in the hospital with other problems,” he says.

That seriousness helps explain why doctors and hospitals around the country have begun to share information. For example, the Penn Medical System uses 600 servers to exchange patient data with surrounding providers including some competitors.

But Chief Medical Information Officer Dr. Bill Hanson explains there are real world limitations that cap Penn’s ability to share more than they do.

“There’s sort of a yin/yang of the desire to exchange information and protect information. There are also the politics of working with competitors,” he says.

We’ve been hearing about these issues — technical kinks, patient privacy and collaborating with competitors — for a while now. New data shows more than half the groups who are trying to better manage care — through what are called Accountable Care Organizations — say they can’t get timely patient data. And if those folks, who have every economic incentive to get that information, can’t, there’s a serious problem.

University of Michigan Professor Julia Adler-Milstein says she’s focused on finding ways to cut through the challenges. There’s too much at stake, she says.

“You need complete information to ensure that care is safe,” she says. “You need complete information to ensure that care is effective. You need complete information to ensure that care is efficient and not wasteful.”

Given the potential to improve health and lower spending, Adler-Milstein says we must learn which challenges are really blocking up the data. One problem, she says, is that electronic health record companies are making it difficult to connect with other health record companies.

“We don’t have good empirical data on that but you just can sort of hear the chorus of complaints from anyone you talk to about how hard it is,” she says.

Adler-Milstein says one solution is to create a consumers’ report of sorts for doctors and hospitals to show which electronic records companies make sharing easier.

Dr. Ira Nash, an executive with North Shore LIJ Health System on Long Island, says change the idea that doctors are in charge of all this stuff.

“You want the patients in the middle. They are the consumer. We exist to serve their needs. Why should we own the data,” he says.

By its nature much of medicine is guesswork. But when it comes to patient data, Michigan’s Adler-Milstein says, some of the guesswork goes away.

Wild Day In Madison Likely To Be Another Win For Gov. Walker

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-10 07:01

The latest protests in Madison could reinforce Walker's law-and-order image, at least with Wisconsinites who voted for him — and Iowa Republicans who will be voting for president early next year.

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Who Takes 3,000 Photos Of NYC's Doors?

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-10 06:48

In the mid1970s, photographer Roy Colmer cruised the streets of New York City. The result: A very particular perception of doors.

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Iran Calls GOP Letter 'Propaganda Ploy,' Offers To 'Enlighten' Authors

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-10 05:50

Iran's foreign minister says the letter suggests U.S. lawmakers "not only do not understand international law, but are not fully cognizant of the nuances of their own Constitution."

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