Mike Smith lives by himself in a small house in a small town in Kentucky, near the Ohio River. He makes about $1,000 a month, owns his house outright, and doesn't carry any debt. He suspects that his brother and at least one but maybe all of his three grown children have stolen money from him.
Over a period of about a year he made exactly six transactions that cost him over $100 — a property tax bill, an insurance payment, a couple big-ticket repairs. And there was the $109 he spent on a pet lizard, which he planned to use as an investment by breeding it and selling its offspring.
On today's show, we look at how people create their own financial systems from scratch.
Mike has thousands of dollars stashed around his house in different "accounts." Tamara Bullock and Patricia Hamilton are part of an informal savings club. Miguel Rada has a whole bank in his pocket — he takes deposits from some people and lends to others.
Mike's story comes to us via the U.S. Financial Diaries Project. (His name isn't really Mike Smith, by the way; the project gave him a pseudonym so he could remain anonymous.
Weeks before Minnesota's new sales tax law takes effect, online retailer Amazon is cutting its ties to members of its Associates program who live in the state. The new law requires businesses that have a presence in Minnesota to collect sales tax.
Amazon has taken similar steps in other states that have passed laws like Minnesota's, ending the contracts of people and businesses that are paid for sending customers to the retailer.
"Online retailers who have relationships with an associate or an affiliate like me and do a certain amount of business in the state of Minnesota, they have to collect sales tax," Carrie Rocha of Maple Grove, Minn., tells Minnesota Public Radio. "There's a very easy workaround for these businesses and that's to sever their business relationship with me, basically fire me. They don't then have to collect the sales tax."
In a letter to affiliates reprinted by the Twin Cities' Pioneer Press, Amazon informed recipients that their account "will be closed" and the company will not pay them for any customers referred to Amazon after June 30, "nor will we accept new applications for the Associates Program from Minnesota residents."
There are more than 5,000 Amazon Associates in Minnesota, the Pioneer Press reports.
The letter from Amazon says the change is a result of "the unconstitutional Minnesota state tax collection legislation" that will take effect on July 1. It concludes by saying Amazon will restore its ties after Congress approves the Marketplace Fairness Act. The Senate approved that measure in May, but it faces opposition from many other online retailers.
Faced with the threat of mutiny for what seems like the umpteenth time during his speakership, John Boehner moved to mollify fellow Republicans on Tuesday, saying immigration legislation would need the support of a majority of the House GOP before it could be brought to a floor vote.
After emerging from a meeting with House Republicans, following days of warnings by conservatives that the Ohio Republican had better not try to pass an immigration bill with mostly Democratic votes, Boehner sought to calm the roiling Republican waters.
"I also suggested to our members today that any immigration reform bill that is going to go into law ought to have a majority of both parties' support if we're really serious about making that happen," he told reporters waiting outside the meeting room. "And so I don't see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn't have majority support of Republicans."
The practice of bringing to a floor vote only legislation supported by a majority of the party is known as the Hastert rule. Denny Hastert, the Illinois Republican who was speaker from 1999 to 2007, mostly stuck to the practice of bringing to a vote only those bills with a "majority of the majority" supporting them. It was a good way to keep his political base in the House contented.
Boehner's words to the House GOP were meant to reassure Republicans opposed to provisions in the legislation the Senate is now considering — provisions that would create a citizenship pathway for people in the U.S. illegally.
In a clear shot across the bow of Boehner's speakership, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California said in an interview Monday that if the speaker let legislation reach the floor that a majority of House Republicans found objectionable, Boehner should be evicted from the speaker's office. Rohrabacher said:
"I would consider that a betrayal of the Republican members of the House and a betrayal of Republicans throughout the country. If Speaker Boehner moves forward and permits this to come to a vote even though a majority of Republicans in the House oppose whatever is coming to a vote, he should be removed as speaker."
That statement would be virtually impossible to spin, even in Washington, into anything less than a bald-faced threat.
In the past, Boehner has passed legislation most fellow House Republicans found odious, like the bill that averted the fiscal cliff. It passed in January with just 85 of 241 Republicans voting for it, causing the speaker to rely on nearly unified Democratic support for passage.
Comments he made in a recent ABC News interview caused the latest bout of concern among Republicans. The speaker described revising the nation's immigration laws as his "top priority." That led some in the GOP to surmise that he would do anything to get a bill passed, even one most of them didn't like.
There were at least two other things worth noting about Boehner's Tuesday comments. One, he prepared the ground for the argument that Democrats would be to blame if immigration legislation should fail in the House.
Some Senate and House Republicans have argued that for any legislation to pass, it will have to have strong border enforcement measures clearly in place before any individuals now in the country illegally get the chance at citizenship. Democrats have generally balked at going as far on border-enforcement features.
"... I just think the White House and Senate Democrats ought to get very serious. We know that border security is absolutely essential, that — if we're going to give people confidence that we can do the rest of what's being suggested. And I frankly think that the Senate bill is weak on border security. I think the internal enforcement mechanisms are weak and the triggers are almost laughable.
"And so if they're serious about getting an immigration bill finished, I think the president and Senate Democrats ought to reach out to their Democrat — Republican colleagues to build broad bipartisan support for the bill."
Secondly, Boehner didn't rule out the possibility that he could break the Hastert rule on a later immigration vote. If the House does actually somehow pass an immigration bill and the Senate does too, he seemed to say, who knows?
"We'll see when we get there," Boehner said.
Google has filed a legal motion asserting its "First Amendment right to publish aggregate information about FISA orders," asking the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to remove the gag order that keeps the company from issuing that information. Google and other big U.S. tech companies have been under fire after it was reported that they allowed the National Security Agency to mine customer data, in a government program called PRISM.
"FISA court data requests typically are known only to small numbers of a company's employees," says The Washington Post, which first reported the story. "Discussing the requests openly, either within or beyond the walls of an involved company, can violate federal law."
The court filing comes one week after Google asked the U.S. government's permission to provide the public with information about the national security requests it receives. As in that case, Google is seeking to publish general statistics about the court's orders, which would include the number of users or accounts in question.
"FISA court data requests typically are known only to small numbers of a company's employees," The Post reports. "Discussing the requests openly, either within or beyond the walls of an involved company, can violate federal law."
In today's carefully worded request for a declaratory judgment, Google was mindful not to say it has received such requests, saying that it wanted to reveal information about "FISA requests that may be or have been served upon it, if any."
Google hopes to add that information to its Transparency Report, where it lists government requests about users' information.
The FISA court, comprising 11 federal judges, is believed to have refused very few of the government's requests to conduct electronic surveillance.
"It may be that they grant more than 99 percent of the requests," journalist and author Tim Weiner told All Things Considered co-host Melissa Block last week, "but they look at them."
Large Internet companies such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and others have issued public statements saying that claims that they provide the NSA with "direct access" to users' data are untrue.
Those claims stem from classified documents leaked by former government contract employee Edward Snowden, who reiterated his views yesterday in an online chat hosted by The Guardian newspaper, which first published the NSA story.
In the request Google made last week, its chief counsel, David Drummond, explained to Attorney General Eric Holder that the search and advertising giant "has worked tremendously hard over the past fifteen years to earn our users' trust."
Update at 7:10 p.m. ET. ACLU: 'Step In The Right Direction'
After we published, the ACLU got in touch with this reaction to today's news, calling it "a step in the right direction":
"We welcome Google's effort to force greater transparency, but the public is entitled to know even more than the limited information Google wants to share," says ACLU attorney Alex Abdo. "At a minimum, the public should know the statistics relating to the government's use of PRISM and the FISA Amendments Act, not aggregated with other data, and it should know which specific provisions of FISA the government has relied on to require Google to disclose customers' Internet data and email."
On Saturday, Iran elected Hasan Rowhani as its new president in a vote watched by people around the world. NPR's Morning Edition Host Steve Inskeep was reporting from the country last week and joined CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront to discuss what they saw on election day:
Yesterday, Burnett was back in the United States and spoke with Inskeep and the Carnegie Endowment's Karim Sadjadpour about what Rowhani's nomination means: