National / International News
The U.S. House passed legislation to approve the pipeline on Friday and the Senate is expected to take up the issue in coming weeks. President Obama has threatened a veto. In the meantime, a legal challenge over the route the pipeline would take through Nebraska has been resolved — for now.
A Paris neighborhood found itself at the center of a violent stand-off on Friday, with shoppers taken hostage at a local supermarket
Former CIA employee Jeffrey Sterling goes to trial next week on charges he violated his oath and leaked confidential information to reporter James Risen. But Sterling's legal plight is largely overshadowed by Risen's First Amendment arguments and media backlash to the Justice Department decision to subpoena him.
The U.S. Olympic Committee surprised everyone by tabbing Boston as its bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Robert Siegel talks with expert on all things Olympics, David Wallechinsky for some answers.
Melissa Block speaks with our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne, of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks, of the New York Times. They discuss the new Congress, Keystone XL Pipeline votes and terror in Paris.
Police in France have ended both of the hostage sieges they were facing in and near Paris. Three gunmen are dead, along with four of the hostages.
The Coast Guard has seen a spike in the number of Cubans trying to sail to Florida. The cause, it says, is a false rumor that the U.S. will soon change its policy toward Cubans who reach U.S. shores.
Patricia Anita young of Minneapolis to ask, in essence, "What's the deal with $2 bills?" She wanted to know why they're so rare, if they are worth more than $2 and if the government will ever stop printing them.
WHY THE TWO IS SO RARE:
It wasn’t too hard to find the definitive expert on Toms — that's the nickname of the $2 bill thanks to the portrait of Thomas Jefferson that adorns them. John Bennardo, producer and director of an upcoming film called, "The $2 Bill Documentary," has done hours of interviews and gathered tons of research, so we took Patricia's question to him.
John says Tom's story starts in 1862, when the federal government printed its first nationalized paper bills. The $2 was in that first printing, along with the $1 bill, but it took a while for paper money to catch on.
That's because a lot of folks made less than $15 a month before the turn of the century. Inflation slowly brought the value of paper money down, but then the Great Depression hit. "This was a time when our country did not have much wealth and a lot of things cost less than a dollar," Bennardo says. "So the $2 bill really didn’t have much of a practical use."
The economy recovered, but the $2 eventually found itself in a strange price point. It became the the perfect note for some rather nefarious purposes. "Politicians used to be known for bribing people for votes and they would give them a $2 bill, so if you had one it meant that perhaps you’d been bribed by a politician," Bennardo says. "Prostitution back in the day was $2 for a trick so if you were spending two-dollar bills it might get you into trouble with your wife. $2 is the standard bet at a race track, so if you were betting $2 and you won, you might get a bunch of $2 bills back and that would show that you were gambling."
The 'Tom' got kind of a dirty rep, and over the years as inflation brought the value of the single and the two closer and closer together it became even less necessary. "Imagine if we had a $25 bill," Bennardo says. "Which one would you use the 20 or the 25? You probably wouldn’t use both."
Folks didn't see much use for poor ol' 'Tom,' and in 1966 the government decided to stop making it. Ten years went by with no twos.
But here's the thing, the $2 bill saved the government a bunch of money. "It’s more cost-efficient to print twos instead of ones," Bennardo says. "You can print half as many twos and get the same dollar amount."
Today, for example, it costs about 5 cents to make a dollar … and it costs the same amount to make a 2. Since the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing presses upwards of 4 billion $1 bills a year, that adds up to a lot of ... coin.
In 1976, the Treasury decided it would take another shot at the $2 bill. It would order the Bureau to print a special bill for the country's bicentennial, with a big picture of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the back. "They made 400 million of them and half as many ones," Bennardo says. "They saved themselves a lot of money."
The bicentennial bills turned out really nice. A little too nice, actually, "The way it looked, it was just so beautiful that people said this is a collector’s item, this is worth something more than $2. I’m going to save this," Bennardo says.
Much to the government’s chagrin, people put the fancy new 'Toms' in drawers and keepsake boxes, and passed them down to loved ones. Again, 'Toms' didn't catch on, and they've been a cherished rarity since.
BUT ARE $2 BILLS ACTUALLY RARE?
The answer depends on what you consider rare.
There are roughly 1.2 billion $2 bills in circulation right now, and they are still being printed. 75 million came off the press in the last 18 months, but in that same time, around 3 billion new 'Georges' have come into the world. Out of the $1.2 trillion worth of coins and bills in circulation right now, less than 0.001% are Toms.
"When you compare that to other notes that’s rare," Bennardo says. But you can get twos at almost any bank, you just have to ask.
And there’s a small subculture of $2 ambassadors who do just that. In his film, Bennardo interviews several people who get stacks of bills at a time and spend them, trying to keep the two alive. They keep up demand enough for the Federal Reserve to keep ordering them more, even if the number is small.
John says 'Toms' always get a reaction. Some people think they're fake, but usually they bring a smile. In fact, he says, sometimes a Tom will get you more than that.
"If you start tipping waiters and waitresses and valets, they’re going to remember who you are and the next time you come in if you keep doing it, you’re going to get better service. This has been proven to me several times when I use them. It’s a way to get remembered, it’s a way to stand out.”
SO, HOW DOES THE GOVERNMENT DECIDE HOW MUCH OF A DENOMINATION TO PRINT?
“The Secretary of the Treasury can say, at any time, ‘I want a hundred million more $2 bills in circulation,” Bennardo says. “That can happen, but generally, it doesn’t work that way.”
Instead, most printing is based on a calculation of supply and demand. “The Federal Reserve has all kinds of tracking data they accumulate, he says. “They put together their print order annually and they put that through to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing who makes the money.”
One of the main bits of tracking data the Federal Reserve relies on to determine demand is called “destruction.” “Whenever you spend any cash and deposit it at the bank, the bank looks at it to determine whether it’s fit to return to circulation or not,” Bennardo says. “If you’ve folded up the bill or crumbled it or written on it or if it’s worn out, they’ll replace it.”
John says the banks then send the bills to the Federal Reserve where special equipment is used to test them. “They have a machine that checks them for fitness,” Bennardo says. “Just like a vending machine can check to see if a bill is real, they have more advanced machines that can tell you if a bill is fit or not fit to return to circulation.”
These days, the lifespan of a $1 bill is approximately 18 months, but because people generally put them away and don’t spend them, a $2 bill lasts around six years.
Since less 'Toms' need to be destroyed, less 'Toms' are made.
THE BEST $2 BILL STORY WE COULD FIND
Myrta Gschaar recalls her parents’ saving $2 bills and half-dollar coins in a drawer at her childhood home; her mother earned many of them as a seamstress at a women’s underwear factory on Spring Street.
When her husband, Robert Gschaar, proposed to her at a restaurant on Wall Street in the late 1980s, he did not have an engagement ring to offer. He was a history devotee, and this would be the second marriage for them both. That night he pulled a pair of twos from his wallet, giving one to her. He explained that as long as they carried these twos, they would be united.
Four years after the Sept. 11 attacks, her husband’s remains had yet to be found. A special property recovery unit at the Police Department notified Mrs. Gschaar that it had recovered personal items of Mr. Gschaar’s at ground zero. The items were a wedding ring and a wallet containing a neatly folded $2 bill.
Martin Pistorius spent more than a decade unable to move or communicate, fearing he would be alone, trapped, forever. NPR's new show Invisibilia tells how his mind helped him create a new life.
A recent study finds that middle-aged women who spent more time cooking were more likely to have metabolic syndrome. Researchers say the message should be "cook healthfully," not just "cook often."
Capitalism seems to be working in Sony's favor.
Yesterday, we talked about how the FBI still thinks North Korea was behind the hack of the studio over its film, "The Interview."
Today, according to Bloomberg, Sony says the film is doing better than expected since it was delayed, and then released, on Christmas Day.
Our best guess is that between online sales and rentals, plus factoring in the international market, Sony will bring in about $60 million from the movie. The reported budget to make the film was $44 million.
Because the marketing budget was inevitably curtailed after the movie was originally pulled from big-name theater chains, that means the company will just about break even.
What else did we learn this week?
Fun fact: CNN has a doomsday video ready to broadcast when the world ends. The video shows a band playing "Nearer, My God to Thee." Then the screen goes black. Yes, it's as creepy as it sounds. CNN's ready for the apocalypse Fun (and kind of gross) fact: Fresh scallops should still be twitching when you cut them ... and you can eat them raw. That's according to Rod Mitchell Browne, the owner of a seafood business in Portland, Maine. Restaurants shell out for high-priced scallops Fun fact: Hundreds of polar bears gather in the town of Churchill, Manitoba for seven weeks out of the year. But scientists say the polar bears could be gone in a matter of decades. A polar bear capital fears a bearless future Fun fact: The movie “Selma” tells the story of Martin Luther King Jr. without using the actual words from his speeches. The King estate has a vise grip on the intellectual property of King's speeches, so the movie studio side-stepped the issue altogether. Why 'Selma' can't show video from Martin Luther King Jr.'s speeches
While thousands of companies exhibited their products at the Consumer Electronics Show, the massive tech industry gathering in Las Vegas that comes to an end Friday, about a dozen received outsize attention.
They were the drone manufacturers displaying all manner of consumer drones – most of which were about the size of a basketball or slightly smaller. What they had in common was a desire to appeal beyond the hobbyist, to the consumer who may want a new way of taking photos of themselves or others in action.
Nixie, which was shown off during Intel CEO Brian Krzanich's keynote address, was a standout. It's a wearable bracelet drone that can unfurl, boomerang out to take an aerial selfie – or a "dronie" as Krzanich put it – then fly back. The product won the $500,000 grand prize in Intel's 2014 Make It Wearable contest.
You can view the Nixie demonstration at the 57-minute mark in the video of the keynote below.
Drones are projected to bring in more than $100 million in 2015, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. That's a 50 percent increase from last year. And more companies are entering the market.
"We sold 15,000 units via Kickstarter. so it's been pretty big," says Reece Crowther, product designer for a palm-size drone called Zano, which is expected debut in the U.S. this summer and cost $300. The Zano drone can follow you around, taking photos and video.
"We developed [the technology] with the intention of being used in law enforcement, military applications," Crowther says. "Zano is a consumer version of that technology."
Almost all the drone makers at CES are trying to pull in consumers with small models crammed with sophisticated sensors and guidance systems. On the other end of the spectrum is Chinese manufacturer Harwar, whose drones are $15,000, the size of a microwave — although they weigh only 5 pounds — and can fly to 15,000 feet.
"For us, it's more focused on high-end commercial use," says Frank Yang, a Harwar spokesman. "So they'd be used for ... firefighting, border controlling and public security. And also natural gas pipe-leaking detection."
Interest in their drones had been high, Yang says, with some CES attendees approaching the company about distribution. One ranch owner wanted to buy a drone from Harwar's exhibit booth, but went home empty-handed, Yang says.
One of the challenges for the company is that the FAA is still drawing up the rules for big drones – the ones, like Harwar's, that can fly high and could pose a danger to other aircraft or people on the ground if they come crashing down.
Jim Williams, who heads the FAA office in charge of unmanned aircraft, spoke on a CES panel about future regulation of drones. He says the agency is trying to figure out how much regulations the drones require.
"There already is a graduated level of certification required based on the risk. We plan to fit unmanned aircraft into that same risk-based approach that we have for manned aircraft," Williams said during the panel discussion.
That could mean requiring a drone operator to have a pilot's license or making sure the drones have sophisticated communications equipment, such as transponders. But the little guys, like Zano, don't have to worry about those requirements, because the FAA considers them hobby aircraft.
That doesn't mean there are no rules. Even hobby aircraft must adhere to certain FAA regulations. They must be flown below 400 feet, avoid areas around airports, not be used for commercial purposes and be kept within the operator's sight to prevent it from interfering with other aircraft.
"You don't want to be flying in urban areas. You don't want to be flying over the top of a lot of people," says Gordon Cockburn of Hobbico, one of the biggest makers of radio-controlled toys and now drones.
"So what we suggest is that you fly in open space, near nature, over the ocean," Cockburn says.
Or, you could fly a drone they way they did at CES: in small areas surrounded by nets.