The first of four current or former BP employees charged with crimes related to the 2010 Gulf oil spill has been found guilty of obstructing justice because he deleted text messages from his cellphone that contained information about the worst offshore spill in the nation's history.
NPR's Debbie Elliott tells our Newscast Desk that a federal jury in New Orleans convicted 52-year-old Kurt Mix on Wednesday.
Mix, she says, was involved in BP's failed attempt to stop the out-of-control well after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, killing 11 rig workers. In one of the deleted messages, Mix estimated a much higher rate of oil flow than BP had publicly acknowledged.
The jury acquitted Mix on a second, similar count. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
As The Associated Press writes, prosecutors argued that Mix "was trying to destroy evidence when he deleted hundreds of text messages to and from a supervisor and a BP contractor. Mix's indictment also accused him of deleting two voicemails from the same two people."
The wire service adds that "Mix's lawyers said their client didn't hide anything. He preserved other records containing the same information contained in the deleted messages, they told jurors."
Mix left BP in 2011.
It turns out that readers of all ages — from teenagers to seniors — have questions about the health law. We try to answer the latest batch.
I'm 15 years old, and I really want braces. If my mom signs me up for Obamacare, will it cover it?
It depends. Under the health law, pediatric dental coverage is one of 10 essential health benefits that must be offered to people who shop for plans on the health insurance marketplaces. Depending on the state, dental coverage may be offered on its own rather than as part of a regular health plan. If it is, you wouldn't necessarily get dental insurance coverage unless your mom buys a standalone plan.
Under the law, plans are required to cover only medically necessary orthodontia, says Colin Reusch, a senior policy analyst at the Children's Dental Health Project. States or insurers may define medical necessity differently. To determine whether you qualify, a dentist would generally refer you to an orthodontist to evaluate how misaligned your teeth are or whether you have difficulty chewing, for example.
"It's probably worth contacting a couple of plans his mom is considering and asking how they define medically necessary orthodonia," says Reusch.
Insurance typically pays 50 percent of the cost of braces; the total cost can exceed $5,000. For this kind of pricey care, your family might be better off with a standalone dental plan, says Reusch, because the deductible and out-of-pocket maximums will generally be lower than those of a standard insurance policy.
I'm on Medicare, but my wife is 63 and has no health insurance. Our income is $51,000, and we can't afford the health plan premiums offered in Oklahoma. My wife's income is $10,000 per year, and it's all Social Security. To avoid the penalty for not having insurance, can we file separately?
If you file separate income tax returns, your wife's income would be significantly lower and she might avoid owing a penalty for not having health insurance. But the financial ramifications of taking that step could be much more costly than the penalty itself, says Tara Straw, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The penalty for not having insurance next year is $95 or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater. Your wife could avoid owing the penalty if her income is below the threshold for filing a tax return ($10,000 for an individual in 2013) or if buying a plan would cost more than 8 percent of her income.
Our tax system favors married couples who file their income taxes jointly, however. In general, joint filers pay a lower income tax rate overall. What's more, if your wife files separately, her Social Security benefits will be taxed.
Some tax credits can't be used at all if a married couple files separately, including premium tax credits to buy health insurance on the state marketplaces. These are available to people with incomes between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($15,510 to $62,040 for a couple in 2013). While your wife's income alone would be too low for a premium tax credit, under your combined income she should be eligible.
"This is a good example of why we can't look at health care in isolation," says Straw. "At the end of the day they would probably lose money [if they filed separately]. You may solve one problem only to create another for yourself."
I will be able to keep the insurance available through my employer next year, but the deductibles and out-of-pocket limits in 2014 are frightening. Not only are some of my medications expensive, but my employer plan will be excluding coverage for 14 drugs. Is it acceptable under the ACA for me to purchase a prescription plan to stack with my employer plan?
There's nothing in the health law that would prohibit you from beefing up your drug coverage with a drug discount card or buying supplemental insurance like a dental, vision, accident or single illness plan, for example, says Anne Waidmann, a director in human resource services at PwC, a consuting and accounting firm. None of those types of plans count as health insurance for the purpose of satisfying the requirement that people have what's called minimum essential coverage starting in January. If you want to add to your existing coverage, you can.
If you have more questions, there's a decent change we've already come up with the answers. Check the NPR Affordable Care Act app here.
Now that the bipartisan budget agreement has cleared a critical Senate chokepoint and appears headed for the president's desk, it's a good time to consider some of the takeaways from the the past two weeks of congressional Sturm und Drang.
Here are five:
Congress still works, sort of.
Congress is capable of doing a federal budget the good-old fashioned way, which is also known as the regular order. Who knew? The last time that happened under a divided government with Democrats and Republicans each controlling a chamber in 1986, Ronald Reagan was still president. So we can be forgiven for our doubts it would ever happen again. Of course, it took a government shutdown and the threat of a default by the U.S. Treasury to get there, but Congress finally did. Still, we shouldn't celebrate too much. This is the way Congress is supposed to work.
Both sides had to give up something to get a deal that could pass both houses. As part of a final pact, Democrats accepted a provision that requires newly hired federal workers to contribute more to their retirement accounts. Republicans accepted a change whose result will be slightly lower military pension benefits for early retirees. Both sides wound up splitting the difference to reach the ultimate discretionary spending level of $1.012 trillion for fiscal 2014 and somewhat higher amounts for the following two fiscal years. Democrats initial "ask" was for $45 billion more for next year; Republicans, $45 billion less. Who said compromise was dead in Washington?
Well, it appears dead on taxes and entitlements.
While the budget agreement takes a government shutdown off the table for two years, it did so without tackling the major drivers of the nation's worsening fiscal prospects — entitlements like Social Security and Medicare. Those are non-negotiable for Democrats so long as Republicans refuse to consider higher taxes and Republicans, so far, aren't going there. Even so, the agreement is being hailed as a much-needed confidence builder between the two parties. Of course, viewed cynically, it's just further proof that Washington still mainly operates on the principle of not doing the tough stuff today that can be kicked down the road until tomorrow.
Paul Ryan's the man.
In the modern era, being your party's losing vice presidential nominee often means a loss of stature in Washington. But Rep. Ryan of Wisconsin has managed to enhance his position in his party after the defeat of the 2012 GOP presidential ticket he shared with Mitt Romney. The loss hasn't stuck. Thus it was Ryan who inserted himself at a critical point during the government shutdown and offered his party a path off the ledge. The trust House Republicans accord Ryan resulted in nearly three-quarters of them voting for the agreement he negotiated with his Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. That's no mean feat these days.
Lamar Alexander and Susan Collins tempt the Tea Party.
Nearly all of the 12 Senate Republicans facing re-election in 2014 voted the same way on the procedural question of whether to allow the Murray-Ryan budget bill proceed to a floor vote — no. The two exceptions were Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. That could be considered gutsy in an environment in which Tea Party candidates will primary, at the drop of a tricorner hat, any incumbent Republican deemed insufficiently conservative. But lest anyone think Alexander was going wobbly, he said when the actual bill comes up for a floor vote, he would vote against it since it doesn't slow entitlement spending.
One is a winner of 39 "grand slam" tennis titles and has been honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom. The other is a two-time Olympic medal winner with Team USA.
Their inclusion, though, is also being seen as a message to Russia "for passing national laws banning 'gay propaganda' " and other actions it has taken that have angered those who advocate for LGBT rights, The Associated Press says. King and Cahow are openly gay.
In addition, the White House is sending a signal by announcing who will not be attending the games, NPR's Tamara Keith tells our Newscast Desk. "The delegation to the games won't include the president or the vice president or their wives," she says. "It also won't include any current cabinet members."
"This marks the first Olympics since the 2000 Sydney Summer Games that a U.S. president, vice president, first lady or former president has not been a member of the delegation for the opening ceremony, which will be Feb. 7 in Sochi," USA Today says.
While the White House says President Obama's schedule precludes him from going to Sochi, LGBT advocates are linking the decision to the Russian government's views toward gays.
Human Rights First "applauds the decision not to include President Obama and the first lady or Vice President Biden and Dr. Biden in the official delegation, a decision that sends a powerful message to the Russian government of the Obama administration's opposition to Russia's crackdown against human rights."
We wonder what everyone thinks about these decisions. Note, this isn't a scientific survey of public opinion. It's just a question.
"America is a large, friendly dog in a very small room," observed British historian Arnold J. Toynbee. "Every time it wags its tail, it knocks over a chair."
And Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca said, "The only things that the United States has given to the world are skyscrapers, jazz, and cocktails."
Opinions of America are like bellybuttons — everybody's got one.
As part of Project Xpat — an exploration by NPR — we asked Americans living abroad to tell us in 10 words or less how they would answer the 10-word question: What Do People In Your Host Country Think Of America?
Here are some of the responses:
"Has a limited worldview and is absolutely crazy about guns." — Andrea Eagleman, 33, New Zealand
"Americans: violent, no culture; but you: humble, kind and different." — Chantal Mpezo, 27, South Korea
"America, the land of optimism, excess, economic and political decline." — Yasmine Qureshi, 28, England
"Most find America delightful. Tourism dollars help quite a lot." — Brian Blakely, 30, Morocco
"Fashion labels, excess money, beauty, USA means beautiful country." — Renee Baker, 37, China
"Full of contradictions: confusingly progressive yet behind the times." — Thomas Mosley, 25, Spain
"A place to gasp at, but not to go to." — Holly-Nicole Nwangwa, 23, Japan
"Americans are very patriotic and all have guns." — Carly Erickson, 25, Italy
"Americans are aggressive, paranoid gun-hoarders who don't want social health care." — Towy Vaughn, 38, China
"Cheap iPhones, rap music and better movies exist in America." — Brenna Bethancourt, 28, Russia
"Gun-loving but fun-loving; hard working but spoiled and fat." — Anastasia Primbas, 47, Hungary
The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers - Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers - of NPR. @NPRtpj