National News

States change rules to avoid SNAP cuts

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-03-13 11:53

The long-awaited Farm Bill that passed earlier this year promised to cut $8.6 billion out of SNAP – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as food stamps – over the next decade. It did so by restricting a practice known as “heat and eat,” which many in Congress saw as a loophole.

Now at least six states are getting around SNAP cuts by tweaking their “heat and eat” programs.

Here’s what more than a dozen “heat and eat” states realized years ago: Give people nominal heating and cooling assistance – even $1 a year – and SNAP recognized them as paying utilities, whether or not they actually did. That’s an expense which triggered more in food stamps.

The new Farm Bill raised that minimum level of help to $20. That was bad news for 70-year-old Barbara Skinner in Philadelphia.

“There was nothing that I could really do about it.” She says. “So I just left it in the hands of God.”

Without “heat and eat” Skinner would eventually lose most of her remaining food stamps.  (And remember, SNAP benefits already fell last year when the stimulus ran out).

And while we don’t know if God intervened in this case, Republican Governor Tom Corbett certainly did.

“I was elated,” Skinner says. “If I didn’t have the benefits of SNAP, if I wanted to buy a pair of stockings for church or something, it would be a hardship.”

Corbett and the Democratic governors of New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Montana and Oregon have all said to Congress: “We’ll see your 20 dollars” – boosting heating assistance to avoid cuts in SNAP.

Now, by spending about $19 million in mostly federal low-income home energy assistance, these states say they’ll preserve $951 million in SNAP benefits. (Though federal projections may differ, as the story is still unfolding.)

As for criticism that the loophole has returned, “there’s nothing loophole-ish about it,” says Connecticut Governor Dannell Malloy. “They wrote a law. And we acted accordingly to protect the families of Connecticut.”

Antihunger advocates say they’re thrilled states are taking action to preserve “heat and eat” programs at a time when they say SNAP benefits don’t go far enough. Whether or not recipients pay utilities separately from rent, they say the roughly 850,000 low-income households that benefitted from “heat and eat” in the past still have great need.

“Governors are doing what I would do too, if I had the fiduciary responsibility. But it’s sneaky,” says Norm Ornstein, with the American Enterprise Institute.

Make no mistake, Ornstein is a SNAP supporter. He believes the program is underfunded. But he says these workarounds by some states just give fodder to those who want to damage or eliminate the program.

“Congress will be tempted the next time around to set the bar much, much higher,” he says. “And in the process of setting the bar much higher they may hurt needed food stamp recipients, and they may hurt people who need additional heating oil assistance.”

Not long ago House Republicans tried to cut $40 billion out of SNAP. That’s a much different picture than the $8.6 billion in cuts states are unraveling now.

Herbalife's high profile investor war heats up

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-03-13 11:46

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating a company called Herbalife. It makes supplements.

Now, the FTC investigates companies all the time, so that's not such a big deal.  But that there has been a very public war going on between the company and one particular investor who has bet against it. 

That investor is a hedge fund manager named William Ackman. He bet more than a billion dollars that the stock price would fall and has been doing everything he can to... make the stock price fall. He's waged a very public campaign against Herbalife, claiming it's a pyramid scheme.

But the public hasn't paid attention: the company's stock has gone up this year. So the FTC investigation news is good news for Ackman.

When the regulators are done with their probe, we'll have more insight into the central question people have about this fight: is Ackman's campaign an unfair smear or a well-deserved takedown?

Alarms went off at Target during the security hack

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-03-13 11:44

Bloomberg Businessweek had a headline this morning: "Missed Alarms and 40 Million Stolen Credit Cards Numbers: How Target Blew It." 

Their story investigated the Target hack, where up to 70 million people had their credit card numbers stolen from the retailer's servers. One of the nuggets the article uncovered: The company had the latest, greatest software to protect them from hackers -- but when the software set off an alarm, Target ignored it.

It sounds sort of crazy, right? The burglar alarm goes off and they hit snooze?

Anthony Di Bello of cybersecurity firm Guidance Software  says it’s more complicated than that. He says computer networks at large retailers and financial organizations are constantly getting hit with malware.

“There’s an indication that this isn’t just a small number -- a 100 or 200 -- this is 10,000-20,000 attempts against a network every day,” he says.  

And an alarm goes off every time.

Sometimes it’s clear that the hack is serious. But there are a lot of false alarms. For example, when a company installs new cybersecurity software, it can take months of fine tuning to make sure it works well with others, says Cameron Camp, a cybersecurity researcher at ESET.

The malware detection tool that first sounded the alarm was installed by Target six months before the hack, according to Bloomberg. Camp says the bigger problem is that when companies aren’t sure how serious an alarm is, they aren’t structured to make decisions quickly.  

“You have silos: Over here is the C-suite, and over here’s the IT guys, and once a week you have a meeting,” Camp says.

He says most companies don’t have a Chief Information Security Officer in the C-suite and there isn’t a direct chain of command when urgent cybersecurity issues come up. That’s because, traditionally, the IT department was thought of as a "glorified garage" or "where the mechanics kept the engines running."

Of course technology’s role in business has changed dramatically. But the corporate structure hasn’t caught up. Camp expects that articles like Bloomberg’s Businessweek will help bring that change about.

“Security is a business imperative now because it costs you a lot of money when it’s done wrong for whatever reason,” he says.

Colin Powell's Vintage Selfie Is A Must See

NPR News - Thu, 2014-03-13 11:39

The former secretary of state and decorated general told Ellen DeGeneres to eat her heart out with a self-portrait he took 60 years ago.

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New Climate For Drug Sentencing, Guidelines Expected To Change

NPR News - Thu, 2014-03-13 11:32

The issue of drug sentencing reform has been getting historic traction in recent months, crossing ideological lines. Attorney General Eric Holder backed the "All Drugs Minus Two" proposal Thursday.

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Obama: If You 'Work More, You Should Get Paid More'

NPR News - Thu, 2014-03-13 10:47

Announcing he intends to change the rules governing overtime, President Obama said Americans have "spent too much time working more and making less."

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Top 5 Ways Asparagus, A Rite Of Spring, Can Still Surprise

NPR News - Thu, 2014-03-13 10:44

Did you know how fast these green shoots, the season's iconic vegetable, can grow? Or that they come in male and female versions? Or that what we eat in the U.S. is mostly now grown abroad?

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Paparazzi photographer caught in the act!

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-03-13 10:39

Giles Harrison has been a celebrity photographer for 17 years. He studied journalism at California State Northridge before dipping his toe into the paparazzi life. He is now the founder and head of London Entertainment Group, a photo agency that has photographers in New York, Miami, Las Vegas, Jamaica, London, Philadelphia, Canada and France. The company syndicates over 1,000 images each month.

We followed him around for our series, "You Hate My Job".  Here's what he told us about the biz:

11 things we learned from Harrison:

1)    Paparazzi photographers love Jamba Juice. Jamba Juice is like a light bulb to a moth for celebrities, so Harrison often scopes them out. He also jokes that celebrities whose photos aren’t worth much are colloquially referred to as “Jamba Juice money” in the paparazzi biz (looking at you, Zach Galifianakis.)

2)    Dylan McDermott works out in jeans. (Watch the video above for proof!)

3)    Kanye West believes paparazzi photographers are better seen than heard. In fact, he’d prefer neither: "Kanye West comes over to the photographers and says, ‘You know what? Don’t speak to me now, don’t speak to me ever,’" Harrison says. “Well, I’m sorry, that’s not the way of the world. You can’t sit there and order everybody, ‘Don’t say a word to me ever.’ It doesn’t work like that.”

4)    Obviously, a parazzi photographer can make good money. Why else would they do it? But we didn't know how much. Harrison says he makes something in the range of “high six figures” running his agency.

5)    It’s not all about the big shot -- it’s about sets of photos. Harrison says he made over $150,000 on a series he took of Prince Harry outside of a Venice Beach restaurant. It was just after those naked pictures of him partying came out. Harrison keeps the rights to his photos, and can sell them to different publications for years. He’s made up to $250,000 on one set.

6)    New York and L.A. paparazzi have a coastal beef. “New York is a whole different thing, because celebrities can’t get away from it,” Harrison says they all get a bad name, “when you have the New York paparazzi calling Suri Cruise a brat because she doesn’t want her photo taken."

7)    The paparazzi minor leagues can be tough. “When I first started in this business, I was making $50 a day and 25 percent commission. To make matters worse, that $50 was being taken out of my commission,” Harrison says. “Then I got to the point where I was making more money than I could spend, and I used that to hire other photographers.”

8)    Some paparazzi photographers have their own agents. Harrison has one. The agent negotiates all of the deals for Harrison’s pictures and keeps a cut. That way, Harrison is able to focus on what he really loves - being a “field op.”

9)    A picture of Kim Kardashian in a bathing suit can make you almost twice as much as most Americans earn in a year. Harrison says $80,000, easy, for one magazine cover. 

10)  Some celebrities love the paparazzi (even if they pretend to hate them). “Paris Hilton will tweet the paparazzi when she’s going to be somewhere,” Harrison says. And according to him, she’s far from alone. “Yesterday, Joanna Krupa from Real Housewives of Miami and Gretchen Rossi from Real Housewives of Orange County were going to a restaurant in Beverly Hills and the photographers were waiting... because they told the photographers what time they were going to be there. Celebrities who do that have no right to complain because they are complicit to what’s going on.”

11)  There's a  Starbucks with a valet. (It’s this one.)

There's so much more, I just want to reveal all of it. Watch the video above for the EXCLUSIVE, BEHIND THE SCENES LOOK!

Video produced by Preditorial

Director: Rick Kent

Producer: Mimi Kent

Camera: Anton Seim, Zachary Rockwood

I'll take math and science for $200

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-03-13 09:41

From the Marketplace Datebook, here’s a look at what's coming up Friday:

  • In Washington, First Lady Michelle Obama delivers the keynote address at a summit on childhood obesity.
  • He won the Nobel Prize in Physics. Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879.
  • And sticking with the math and science category: You need it to solve some of life’s geometry problems like the area of a circle or the volume of a cylinder. What is Pi? Tomorrow is Pi day.

As Vote In Crimea Nears, Kerry Has Words Of Warning For Russia

NPR News - Thu, 2014-03-13 09:30

The crisis in Ukraine continues. On Sunday, there's a referendum in Crimea about whether to split from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation.

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A Major In Coffee? UC Davis Might Be Brewing One Up

NPR News - Thu, 2014-03-13 09:21

The California university is already famous for its wine and beer programs. Coffee seemed like a natural next step. It's new Coffee Center aims to break down the science behind the perfect cup of Joe.

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What's Holding Up Ukraine Aid Bill In Congress? Anger Over IRS

NPR News - Thu, 2014-03-13 09:18

Republicans say that to get the measure passed new IRS rules that make it harder for tax-exempt groups to veer into politics must be withdrawn.

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When Bad Things Happen To Planes, Flight Codes Get 'Retired'

NPR News - Thu, 2014-03-13 09:16

Malaysia Airlines says it will stop using codes associated with its missing Flight MH370 as a "mark of respect" for the plane's passengers and crew. It's a long-standing industry practice.

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Forget Speed-Reading. Here's Speed-Writing

NPR News - Thu, 2014-03-13 09:10

With apps like Spritz and Spreeder, speed-reading is all the rage. But maybe the solution is writing faster: Decide important things. Write those. Understand?

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What the numbers behind unemployment really mean

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-03-13 09:00

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 315,000 Americans filed new claims for state unemployment benefits last week. It’s the lowest weekly jobs number in three months, but it's also not the entire story.

Economists tend to more closely monitor and ascribe more value to employment numbers in monthly summaries from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The most recent report shows the U.S. economy added 175,000 in February, which pushed the unemployment rate to 6.7 percent.

Jobs data is subject to revisions, and it is probable that figures for the week that ended on March 8 will change in subsequent reports. It is especially likely because there has been so much bad weather across the U.S.

Cooper Howes, an economist at Barclays Capital, says “claims data have been volatile dating back to last fall.” In a note to investors, Howes stated:

“Factors such as computer system upgrades, seasonal adjustments related to moving holidays, and severe weather all potentially complicated the interpretation of the previously steady downward trend."

Democrats, led by President Obama, continue to call for an extension of long-term unemployment benefits, which expired on Dec. 28, 2013. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 3.8 million Americans have been out of work for 27 weeks or more.

Many Republicans have signaled they are open to reinstating those benefits, but they continue to call for the costs to be offset by cuts elsewhere. As of yet, the two parties have failed to agree on a way forward.

Statins Might Not Cause Aching Muscles, But Diabetes Risk Is Real

NPR News - Thu, 2014-03-13 08:00

An analysis of research on the cholesterol-lowering drugs shows that most side effects are no more common with them than with placebo drugs. But statins can raise the risk of diabetes.

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FootGolf: A New Sport Explored In 19 Questions

NPR News - Thu, 2014-03-13 07:11

Innovative athletes combine the elite sport of golf with the popular sport of soccer. Et, voila! FootGolf.

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Holder Backs Reduced Sentences For Some Drug Traffickers

NPR News - Thu, 2014-03-13 06:55

The attorney general has endorsed a proposal to shorten sentences of nonviolent offenders in an effort to cut federal spending on prisons.

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Advice For Eating Well On A Tight Budget, From A Mom Who's Been There

NPR News - Thu, 2014-03-13 06:46

Learning to garden and cook with cheap, healthful produce helped JuJu Harris survive while raising seven kids on public assistance. In a new cookbook, she shares her tips for struggling moms.

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Debate: Should The President Be Able To Order Citizens Killed Abroad?

NPR News - Thu, 2014-03-13 06:06

In the latest Intelligence Squared debate, two teams face off over the constitutionality of targeting terrorist suspects abroad — particularly when those individuals are U.S. citizens.

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