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Amazon offering refunds on all hoverboards

Amazon offering refunds on all hoverboards

Amazon is now offering full refunds on any hoverboards sold on the site, including in the U.S. and Canada. The refunds are a response to the rash of fires and falls that have plagued the popular two-wheeled balance boards.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission praised Amazon’s decision on Wednesday and said it expects other retailers and manufacturers to do the same. The CPSC has been investigating hoverboard safety issues since December.

Because of “the increasing number of serious injuries and emergency room visits associated with these products,” the commission announced that it is expanding its investigation into hoverboard falls and injuries, which may be caused by design flaws in the boards.

“At first glance, it is easy to believe the risk of falling off a hoverboard is an obvious one and to dismiss those injuries as user inexperience or error,” said CPSC chairman Elliot F. Kaye in a statement. “However, I am concerned, for example, that the current designs of these products might not take fully into consideration the different weights of different users, potentially leading to the units speeding up or lurching.”

Videos of kids, parents and celebrities falling off hoverboards filled social media after the holidays. Though most injuries seemed mild, the CPSC warns that some falls can be serious and life-altering, and recommends all users wear safety equipment.

The CPSC is already investigating at least 39 reports of hoverboards smoking or bursting into flames, often while charging. The agency believes the fires may be related to lithium ion batteries overheating. So far, CPSC is investigating hoverboards made by 13 manufacturers.

While they wait for a definitive finding from the CPSC, more than 30 colleges have temporarily banned the kitchy transportation devices. A pair of industry groups announced they are working on creating safety standards for hoverboards.

In December, Amazon started offering refunds on some hoverboard models sold in the UK. It also stopped selling certain hoverboard models around the world. Most recently, the online retailer has emailed some customers in the U.S. who purchased the boards and offered refunds. Anyone interested in returning their hoverboard can contact Amazon customer service.

Even though it’s offering refunds, Amazon still sells a number of hoverboards on its site.

The secret to getting into Harvard: Be nicer

The secret to getting into Harvard: Be nicer

What’s the secret to getting into Harvard? Be a nicer human being.

You know things need to change when the most elite colleges in the country feel compelled to “reduce achievement pressure” on American high-schoolers.

Harvard University released a report Wednesday that outlines how colleges should revamp the admissions process to do three things: take the pressure down a notch, level the playing field for students across races and incomes, and promote concern for the common good. It’s endorsed by 85 top institutions.

The report says that the college admissions process is contributing to a societal problem by appearing to focus more on personal success rather than concern for others and the public good.

It recommends that colleges change their recruiting strategies, rewrite essay questions, and make standardized tests optional. As a result, Yale has committed to add a question to its application that asks students to reflect on the contribution they’ve made to their family, community, or the public good.

“We don’t want students who do things just because they think they have to in order to get into a good college,” said Stuart Schmill, Dean of Admissions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The report also outlines how a student can meet this new definition of achievement – without stressing out.

Avoid a ‘brag sheet.’

Don’t feel pressure to list more than two or three extracurricular activities.

Forget the service trip abroad.

Admissions offices should not be impressed with “high-profile or exotic forms of community service” that have “little meaning” to the applicant, the report said.

Tackle a community problem.

Work with a group to clean up a local park or address bullying at school.

Volunteer with a diverse group of people.

Deepen your appreciation for diversity by working with students that don’t look like you, rather than for them.

Help out your own family.

Caring for a younger sibling or finding a job to help bring in additional income for your family should be valued more than “stints” of service, the report says.

Don’t overload on AP courses.

Students should not be penalized from taking fewer advanced placement courses. Some people benefit more by taking one or two.

Remember, Harvard isn’t the only ‘good’ college.

Be more concerned about whether a college is a good fit, rather than a perceived elite status.

Spike Lee blames Hollywood studios for #OscarsSoWhite

Spike Lee blames Hollywood studios for #OscarsSoWhite

Spike Lee says the outcry over an absence of minority Oscar nominees is a “misdirection play.”

“This goes further than the Academy Awards. It has to go back to the gatekeepers,” the Hollywood studios that determine which movies to make, Lee said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Wednesday morning.

The acclaimed filmmaker said “we need the Rooney Rule,” a reference to the National Football League requirement that football teams interview at least one minority candidate every time a senior position opens up.

The rule applies to head coaching and senior operating positions. It has “increased the number of minority coaches and executives in the NFL,” Lee told George Stephanopoulos.

“We can’t go to that old tired well – ‘Well, we can’t find any qualified candidates’ – that’s B.S.,” he added.

For the second year in a row, members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences nominated an all-white slate of actors in major categories. The omission of minority actors has caused a torrent of criticism on social media – and some soul-searching in Hollywood.

Lee, who has long criticized the academy, said earlier this week that he would not attend the awards show in Los Angeles in February 28. He told Stephanopoulos that he’d be watching his beloved New York Knicks play the Miami Heat instead.

Lee had sold his tickets for that night, but “I bought my tickets back,” he said.

Speaking on “GMA,” Lee emphasized that he never called for a boycott of the Oscars. “All I said was we’re not coming.” Asked whether he wants others to follow his lead, Lee said, “Do you.”

“Everyone else can do what they want to do,” he said, adding that he’ll support the show’s host Chris Rock either way.

Lee’s focus is on what movies get made and what actors get hired to be in those movies. He invoked a show-tune from the Broadway hit “Hamilton,” “The Room Where It Happens,” with the lyrics “I wanna be in the room where it happens, the room where it happens,” where key decisions are made.

“We’re not in the room. We are not in the room,” Lee said, describing the place “where they have these green-light meetings quarterly, where they at the scripts and look at who is in it and decide what we’re making, what we’re not making.”

The Oscars, on February 28, will air on ABC.

Russia in crisis: Some things matter more than money

Russia in crisis: Some things matter more than money

Millions of Russians have fallen into poverty as collapsing oil prices and Western sanctions pushed the country deep into recession.

But Russian officials have a message for them: “It’s not all about the money.”

Speaking to CNNMoney at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Russian deputy prime minister Yury Trutnev acknowledged the economy was in crisis but said: “People have very different values in Russia.”

“Money is not the most important thing for people in Russia, the country is more important than money, that’s why the government has very high level of supportpeople understand it,” he said.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and strong anti-West rhetoric have proven costly. The country has also been slammed by low oil prices. Half of Russia’s government revenue comes from energy exports.

The economy shrank by nearly 4% last year, and the International Monetary Fund expects a further contraction of about 1% this year. The ruble has crashed, pushing up inflation.

Sanctions imposed on Moscow over its role in the crisis in Ukraine have severed investment flows into the country and cut Russian companies off from European and American finance. And a Russian embargo on most food imports from the West has pushed prices even higher.

Inflation hit 12.5% in 2015 while real wages kept dropping, leaving many people much worse off.

Official statistics show that over 20 million Russians, roughly 14% of the population, are now living in poverty. That compares with 16 million in 2014.

But Trutnev claimed Russians weren’t feeling the economic misery.

“The president and the government enjoy unprecedented level of support perhaps the sanctions are not affecting the Russians as they were intended to,” he said.

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Stocks rally as oil surges for second day

Stocks rally as oil surges for second day

TGIF! Friday started with a bang after a turbulent week.

Asia shares skyrocketed with Europe following higher in early trading. Energy shares have jumped after oil had its best day in months, and U.S. stock futures are indicating a higher open.

European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi’s pledge to continue do what it takes to help Europe’s economies on Thursday seems to have done the trick, for now.

Here are the five things you need to know before the opening bell rings in New York:

1. Oil: U.S. crude oil also continued its rebound, climbing to over $31 a barrel the day after it posted its biggest one-day percentage gain since late October.

2. International markets overview: European markets are up by more than 2% in early trading, led by shares in London and Paris. Asian markets were buoyed by the Nikkei which jumped 5.8%. The Hang Seng closed up 2.9% while shares in Shanghai closed 1.2% higher.

3. Stock market movers – Starbucks, Xilinx, Antofagasta: Starbucks is down 3% in premarket trading on the back of disappointing revenue numbers released on Thursday. Chip maker Xilinx jumped 9% in premarket trading on talk it might be a takeover target after unveiling stellar results. Chilean miner Antofagasta is up 7% in early London trading – the biggest mover of the commodity plays in the FTSE 100.

4. Earnings and economics: Before the opening bell, GE, Legg Mason, Sotheby’s, Citizens Financial and Sun Trust will report earnings.

The Eurozone Purchasing Manager’s Index came in lower than expected, indicating that Europe’s economies are starting the year slowly. The data might be more ammunition for the ECB to boost stimulus in March.

Finally, Wall Street will be watching for new data on existing home sales for December, which come out at 10 a.m. ET.

5. Thursday market recap: The Dow Jones industrial average ended 0.7% higher, while the S&P 500 closed up 0.5% and the Nasdaq was unchanged.

IBMs sales have fallen for 15 straight quarters

IBMs sales have fallen for 15 straight quarters

The last time IBM’s sales rose, “The Artist” had just won the Oscar for best picture and the New York Giants were celebrating a Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots.

Since then, IBM has rattled off 15 straight quarters of sales declines. Big Blue said Tuesday that its fourth-quarter sales fell 8.5% from a year ago.

Just over a year ago, IBM was predicting that its profit would reach $20 a share by the end of 2015. Well, we just finished up 2015, and IBM posted earnings of just $14.92. It’s no wonder IBM abandoned that $20 target in the third quarter of 2014.

It’s a remarkable slump for the 104-year old company. And it’s only going to get worse.

IBM predicted that a strong dollar would weigh heavily on earnings, forecasting that its profit would be about $13.50 per share this year. Wall Street analysts had expected earnings of about $15 a share.

The company was ill-prepared for its customers’ sudden warm embrace of cloud computing. Why buy big, expensive IBM mainframes and servers when you can pay Amazon or Microsoft to house all your data for you – for cheaper?

Over the past several years, IBM has attempted to shift its strategy. It is now a major cloud player, racking up $10.2 billion in cloud sales last year. And it has poured millions of dollars into big data analytics, mobility and security. IBM said sales of those “strategic imperatives” grew by 26% in 2015.

But steering a ship as big as IBM takes a lot of time – and patience that many investors don’t have. Shares of IBM are already down 7% this year, after falling 15% last year and 13% in 2014.

Yet IBM’s most prominent shareholder is sticking by the company, for now anyway. Warren Buffett announced in November that he has lost $2 billion on his IBM investment, but he said he was confident that the stock’s plunge is only “temporary.”

IBM’s executive leadership says it expects that its strategy will pay off soon, but Wall Street analysts aren’t expecting IBM’s sales to grow for at least another couple years.

“As we’ve said, this transformation will play out over time,” said Martin Schroeter, IBM’s chief financial officer, on a conference call with investors. “We are more and more encouraged that the strategy is right and that we’re executing to transform IBM.”

Jamie Dimon gets first raise in two years

Jamie Dimon gets first raise in two years

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon got his first raise in two years last year, even though many shareholders had objected to his pay package.

Dimon received $27 million in 2015, up 35% from the $20 million he received in both 2014 and 2013.

Dimon’s base pay stayed unchanged at $1.5 million, and his cash bonus actually decreased to $5 million from $7.4 million the year before. But his stock bonus more than doubled to $20.5 million from $11.1 million in 2014.

About 38% of shareholders opposed Dimon’s pay in a vote at last year’s annual meeting.

In addition, two influential firms that advise shareholders on corporate pay proposals, ISS Proxy Advisory Services and Glass Lewis, supported plans that would have stripped Dimon of his chairman title.

But the plans failed and Dimon weathered the criticism. And earlier this month, JPMorgan reported record net income of $24.4 billion, up 12% over the previous year. JPMorgan is the nation’s largest bank by assets.

But shares of JPMorgan rose less than 6% throughout last year, and are down 16% so far this year.

Penthouse denies reports print magazine is shutting down

Penthouse denies reports print magazine is shutting down

Penthouse denied reports that the magazine is folding and said it will continue to have all the nudes fit to print.

Several news outlets reported late last week that the porn magazine was shuttering its print operations to go all-digital.

The New York Post followed up Tuesday night with a story saying that Penthouse managing director Kelly Holland was scrambling to piece together a “last-minute buyout” to save the print edition.

Holland says none of it is true.

Yes, Penthouse is launching a new digital format, an upgrade to its current web offerings. And it is true that the magazine laid off all of the more than 20 employees in its New York City offices last week as it relocates to Los Angeles.

But Holland insists that nobody at the company said that Penthouse will do away with print.

“One news outlet picks it up and gets it wrong,” she told CNNMoney. “Then everyone picks it up and gets it wrong.”

The first outlet to pick up the story was CNBC, which stated in its lede: “Penthouse Magazine is throwing in the towel on its print edition.” The Wall Street Journal also on reported Friday that Penthouse is “ending its print edition after 50 years on the newstand and will now only be offered in digital format.” On Wednesday morning, The Guardian had it wrong.

The “tsunami of misinformation,” as Holland put it, stems from what she concedes was a “possibly weakly crafted press release.”

The press release was disseminated on Friday by General Media Communications, a subsidiary of FriendFinder Networks that publishes Penthouse.

The press release’s title stated, “PENTHOUSE MAGAZINE GOES DIGITAL!”

It went on to explain that the publication “will be released in digital format and that future issues of the magazine will be available electronically through subscription.”

Nowhere in the release does it say the magazine is ceasing publication of its print edition.

“There was just this jump,” Holland said of the initial reports. “Staff layoffs, digital – it can only mean that print is going down.”

“Perhaps the press release should have said, ‘Penthouse launches a digital platform in conjunction with its print publication,'” she added.

Holland said she doesn’t have a public relations army to “systematically make corrections” to all the false reports, so she’s corrected the record as reporters have called.

Most of the earliest reports remained unchanged in the days that followed. By Wednesday evening, the Wall Street Journal had added an update under “Corrections & Amplifications.” CNBC had not corrected its story. A CNBC spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.”

Both outlets drew a connection to the overall decline in print pornography, including Playboy’s well-publicized decision to do away with nudes.

That comparison particularly grates on Holland.

“What’s happening to us has nothing to do with Playboy’s swan dive off the cliff,” she said. “In my humble opinion, the worst brand debacle of the decade was removing nudes from Playboy.”

As for Penthouse’s future, Holland said there are “ancillary reasons” to keep the magazine on the newstands, such as “the gravitas of the printed page.”

But she’s not delusional.

“Are we going to end print? Yeah, some day we’re going to,” Holland said. “When? I don’t know. But right now, we’re committed to publishing the magazine.”

Opinion: Big business must refugee crisis

Opinion: Big business must  refugee crisis

Nadia was a happy teenager living with her family in Iraqi Kurdistan. Then ISIS invaded her village. Her mother and six brothers were killed in a massacre and she and her three sisters were enslaved.

After months of unspeakable brutality, Nadia escaped and found a way to Germany. She never viewed a roadblock as a dead end. She found a way through, even as she faced the most daunting crisis of her young life.

I met her recently at a restaurant in New York. Her courage left me speechless.

As the world’s business leaders gather in Davos for the World Economic Forum, Nadia is on my mind.

What would happen if big companies showed some of Nadia’s courage and determination? What would happen if they summoned the spirit of innovation and ingenuity to solve the greatest humanitarian crisis of our lives? What if – to borrow a word from Silicon Valley – we could “hack” the refugee crisis?

That’s what I’m asking business leaders to do in Davos this week.

As people of a free world, we have a moral obligation to the 60 million people who, like Nadia, have been kidnapped or forced from their homes. People who need food, shelter, and opportunity, and have risked their lives to escape something that makes their childhood nightmares now seem like distant dreams.

But it’s not just people who can help. Businesses – and the hundreds of thousands of people they represent – have a major role to play.

At Chobani, the food company I founded in the United States, we have hired hundreds of refugees in the past five years, and they are some of the most talented, dedicated people I’ve ever met.

Refugees haven’t just helped build our business; they’ve helped improve our community. The same is true of former refugees like Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Intel co-founder Andy Grove, or WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum – some of the world’s most innovative and successful businesses simply wouldn’t exist if they had been turned away in their time of need.

This year, I launched Tent, a personal foundation focused on helping refugees and bringing together the private sector to help end the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

Tent has conducted research that shows that refugees’ contribution to society far outweighs the costs. Germany’s Commerzbank estimates that refugees will help boost the country’s economic growth next year to 1.9% from 1.7%. They are more likely to do jobs that others may not, and add skills that fill gaps in the labor market.

The private sector has a powerful incentive to find new solutions to a crisis that cannot be solved by governments and goodwill alone. We can move faster, think bigger, and modernize approaches to relief and resettlement that haven’t changed since the 1940s. We can do what entrepreneurs do best: hack the way we handle this problem.

Some business leaders have stepped up. Airbnb is offering travel credits to relief workers on the ground. LinkedIn will run an innovative pilot project in Sweden that uses data to match refugees with job openings by comparing the skills they have with the skills employers are looking for. Other companies are providing refugees with free computers, access to online education, and packages filled with essentials like soap and sunscreen.

These actions have inspired us to launch the Tent Pledge and the Tent Challenge. The Tent Pledge asks companies all over the world to step up and do more. We’re asking them to provide refugees with job training, employment opportunities, and the kind of direct assistance that experts have identified as a priority – everything from blankets and water, to debit cards and Internet access.

I’m so proud to announce that our founding partners include Airbnb, Ikea Foundation, MasterCard, LinkedIn, UPS Foundation and Western Union – and we have more on the way, with the aim to enlist 100 companies by May.

The Tent Challenge will provide grants to entrepreneurs and other individuals who are using data and technology to come up with the most innovative solutions to the refugee crisis. The hope is that we can then replicate these solutions on a much larger scale.

Refugees like Nadia who have seen the worst in humanity deserve to see our best. At stake is an entire generation of men, women, and children who just might grow up to change the world.

Let’s help them succeed by changing theirs.

Hamdi Ulukaya is CEO and founder of Chobani and the Tent foundation. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

The party is over: Wall Street bonuses are down

The party is over: Wall Street bonuses are down

Cue the world’s tiniest violin. It looks like bonuses are going to plunge for Wall Street bankers, brokers and traders.

Goldman Sachs disclosed in its fourth quarter earnings report Wednesday that its total compensation expenses, a figure often referred to as the bonus poll, fell 12% in the last three months of the year compared to the same period in 2014.

Compensation expenses were flat for the full year. And where’s that little Stradivarius comes in handy. The average compensation for a Goldman Sachs employee in 2015 was $344,511.

Still, Wall Streeters typically expect their bonuses and salaries to rise pretty dramatically. And when you consider that Goldman actually increased the number of its employees by 8% in 2015, the average compensation per Goldman worker fell last year.

But the new reality is that Goldman and other big banks simply can’t afford to keep paying huge bonuses to its workers at a time like this. Stocks were flat last year but it was an extremely bumpy ride.

In a massive understatement, Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein referred to 2015 as “a year characterized by uneven global economic activity.”

Goldman’s compensation news comes one day after rival Morgan Stanley said that its compensation expenses shrank 28% in the fourth quarter.

For the year, Morgan Stanley’s compensation costs were down 10%. And that’s despite the fact that the firm’s total headcount rose 1% last year.

During a conference call with analysts on Tuesday, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman explained that the lower bonuses were in part due to the impact that market volatility was having on its business.

“As a management team, our number one priority is to control what we can control, given market realities,” he said, adding that Morgan Stanley is looking to do even more belt-tightening with a program somewhat ominously called Project Streamline.

Other big banks are cutting back on bonuses as well.

JPMorgan Chase chief financial officer Marianne Lake told analysts last week that compensation “has come down across the trading businesses” – with a big chunk of the declines in the bank’s bond trading division.

And then there’s U.S. Bancorp. CEO Richard Davis said in a conference call with analysts after its earnings report last week that it was not going to pay out 100% of its bonus pool in 2015 – the first time that’s happened in his 10 years as CEO.

“I’m okay with that, because we live and die by the sword, and our guys are amazingly competent and capable,” Davis said. “And when we have great years, we pay them out handsomely over 100% of target and when we don’t, we don’t.”

Based on how this year has started, it’s not looking promising for banker bonuses in early 2017 either.

You get $500K. But first you have to move to Ohio

You get $500K. But first you have to move to Ohio

Ohio has a message for women- and minority-led startups: Move to the Buckeye State and you have a real shot at getting funding.

Leading the charge is Cleveland-based JumpStart, a nonprofit that invests in young tech firms.

“Part of our focus is to accelerate opportunity for women and minority entrepreneurs in Ohio,” said JumpStart CEO Ray Leach. It now wants to expand that mission nationally.

JumpStart has launched a $10 million seed fund that will solely invest in women and minority-led tech startups.

The Focus Fund will invest in about 20 companies in less than three years – ideally young companies with five employees or less. JumpStart will also take equity in the startups, although it would not disclose how much.

Each startup will get $500,000 in funding. The catch: Entrepreneurs will have to move their headquarters to Ohio to score the money.

“We do require them to move Ohio, but they don’t have to stay for any particular period of time,” said Leach. “Having said this, we believe once they come to Ohio they will not see any need to leave.”

Ohio already has some strong pockets of innovation. Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland all have vibrant startup ecosystems, fueled by top-notch accelerators and a growing pool of VC money and angel investors, said Leach.

Healthcare IT, biotech, cleantech and wearables are some of the hottest areas.

“Ohio has invested nearly $500 million in the last five years to advance its entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Leach.

Public-private partnerships, like the JumpStart Focus Fund, are part of that effort.

JumpStart, founded in 2005, has invested in 85 early-stage tech firms in Ohio. 35% of those have women or minority founders.

That amount of diversity in its funding portfolio is unusual, given that 95% of venture capital funding in the U.S. goes to male-led startups, said Leach, who’s also a member of the National Venture Capital Association’s diversity and inclusion task force.

Leach said the Focus Fund is the largest seed fund of its kind to focus entirely on women and minority-led tech startups. (The state of Ohio is providing half of the investment, while JumpStart will provide the other half.)

JumpStart is moving quickly to find the right firms, and it expects to make the first investment in the next 90 days.

“We know there are great innovators who will bring their expertise, talents and relationships to advance Ohio’s entrepreneurial economy,” said Leach. “It is also our hope that Ohio will be better recognized as one of the most dynamic entrepreneurial states in the country.”

He also hopes that the Focus Fund will set an example for the VC industry as a whole.

“We have a long way to go to embrace diversity in this industry. But you have to start somewhere,” he said. “We want to see a ripple effect of what we’re doing in Ohio to happen across the country.”

Is Charles Koch a closet liberal?

Is Charles Koch a closet liberal?

This interview was published in partnership with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the U.S. criminal justice system. Bill Keller is The Marshall Project’s editor-in-chief.

One of the more improbable mixed marriages of the past year or so joined the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, powerhouse bankrollers of right-wing candidates and causes, with the ACLU and other champions of liberal values in an alliance to push for reforms of the criminal justice system.

Charles is the brother with the passion for this subject, and Mark V. Holden, senior vice president and general counsel of Koch Industries Inc., is the man who speaks for him. The Marshall Project’s Bill Keller, engaged Holden in a correspondence on the Koch doctrine of criminal justice. The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

The Marshall Project: Let me start with a big, broad question. Critics across the ideological spectrum say the criminal justice system is “broken.” But they don’t always mean the same thing. What do you see as fundamentally wrong with the way the system works today?

Mark Holden: The fundamental problem with our current criminal justice system is that it is a two-tier system. The wealthy and connected experience dramatically better treatment than the poor, and guilt and innocence are often irrelevant. That is immoral, constitutionally dubious, and fiscally ruinous. We spend more than $250 billion per year on our entire criminal justice system, including over $80 billion a year on incarceration, which is three to four times more than we spend per capita on public primary and secondary education.

As Harvard Professor Bruce Western has noted, the current system creates barriers to opportunity for the least advantaged and has produced a “poverty trap” — a cycle of poverty, despair, and incarceration “at the very bottom of American society.” One extremely troubling example of this is that experts and commentators, including Judge Alex Kozinski and Judge Jed Rakoff, have observed that innocent people now plead guilty to crimes they did not commit. None us can or should be comfortable with that.

Another fundamental problem is that since the start of the War on Drugs, there has been a dramatic shift in the balance of power in our system away from judges to prosecutors. For instance, we aren’t sure how many federal criminal laws there are, but estimates are that there are somewhere between 4,500 and 6,000. Given this explosion in the number of statutory crimes, the advent of mandatory minimum sentences, and the prosecutor’s control of the grand jury process, prosecutors now have too much power and have, in many instances, become prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner.

We also need to fix our indigent defense programs so that the promise of Gideon v. Wainwright and the 6th Amendment right to counsel are a reality for all defendants whenever they are charged with a crime that could lead to loss of liberty, including misdemeanors.

In addition, we need to allow judges to make determinations based on the facts of the crime and the individual before them to ensure that the punishment fits the crime. We should reject the labels “soft on crime” and “tough on crime,” and instead be smart on crime and soft on taxpayers.

For those who are incarcerated, especially non-violent offenders, the prison experience should be about reform, rehabilitation, and redemption rather than revenge, reprisal, and retribution.

And finally, we need to reform how we allow individuals to reenter society after serving their sentences. Currently, there are tens of thousands of government-imposed restrictions on ex-offenders that limit their ability to get a meaningful job, housing, student or business loans, credit cards, and vote. We make it difficult for people to turn their lives around once they have a brush with the law. This creates hardships for the ex-offenders and their families, and leads to the increased human and societal costs of recidivism and reincarceration.

The Marshall Project: What principles should govern reform of the system?

Holden: We should be guided by the Bill of Rights, first and foremost. Four of the ten amendments in the Bill of Rights deal with criminal justice issues – the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendments. Our Founders were sending us a message that the greatest threat to liberty would come through the criminal justice system. It should be a very high bar before the government can take away someone’s life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness.

We also need to recognize that everyone is worthy of and capable of redemption. With 97% of those who are imprisoned reentering society at some point, it is in all our interests to ensure that offenders are provided training and programs while in prison that make them better people coming out than when they went into prison.

In the United States, the poorest and the least educated among us make up the vast majority of those who are imprisoned. That was true back in the 1980s when I worked in a prison during my college days in Worcester, Massachusetts, and it remains true today.

We should make sure that we have quality education programs in impoverished communities and that there are real employment opportunities in these communities. Many of the issues that end up being handled through the criminal justice system could potentially be avoided if there were educational and vocational opportunities in all of our neighborhoods and communities.

The Marshall Project: My first reaction to these initial answers was, I could imagine Bernie Sanders incorporating much of this language into a campaign speech. My second was, this does not sound like a way to cut government spending; by the time you’ve paid for adequate indigent defense, treated the drug addicts you’ve spared from incarceration, and provided quality education to the poorest communities, haven’t you consumed all the money you saved by shrinking prison populations – and then some? How does that square with Mr. Koch’s politics, which, as I understand them, rest on a bedrock belief in less government?

Holden: I have not heard Senator Sanders lay out a comprehensive approach to criminal justice reform similar to what we at Koch have been discussing. As we all know, the issues that need to be addressed in our system were created in a bipartisan manner. In fact, when Mr. Sanders was in the House of Representatives, he voted in favor of the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill that led to many of the over- criminalization and over-incarceration issues that now need to be addressed.

You are correct that Koch favors less government intrusion into people’s lives, particularly at the central federal government level. Our point of view on criminal justice reform is completely consistent with Charles Koch’s classical liberal views of limited government and expansive individual liberty.

We need to downsize the criminal justice system because, among other reasons, it is a prime example of a ruinous failed big government program that has wasted trillions of dollars and ruined untold lives over the past 30-plus years. Left, center, and right all agree on this, and it is the rare example where even the left doesn’t think that the solution to a failed big government program is more government.

We believe that if changes to the criminal justice system are made consistent with the principles laid out in my prior response, billions of dollars wasted on incarceration and other aspects of the system would be saved and it could free millions of people from poverty.

Indeed, a Villanova University study concluded that “had mass incarceration not occurred, poverty would have decreased by more than 20 percent, or about 2.8 percentage points” and “several million fewer people would have been in poverty in recent years.”

The Marshall Project: You’re right that Senator Sanders has not (at least not yet) offered a comprehensive plan on criminal justice. I meant that he would be very comfortable with your general theme, that we have one justice system for the rich, and another, far shabbier one for those less well off.

I’ll come back to the politics of this later, but two quick points of clarification. First, I know that Charles Koch prefers that term “classical liberal” to the terms often applied to him, “libertarian” or “conservative” (sometimes with a prefix like “arch-“). Perhaps you can briefly explain the difference. And where else, besides incarceration itself, would you like to see the government cut spending on the criminal justice system? Police? Courts? The Department of Justice?

Holden: As Charles Koch has explained, “A classical liberal is someone who wants a society that maximizes peace, stability, tolerance and well-being for everyone. One that opens opportunities for everyone to advance themselves, that opens it to innovations that improves people’s lives and a society in which people succeed by helping others improve their lives. And that’s what I’m working for.”

In contrast, the term “libertarian” can have many different meanings and interpretations, including those who believe in no government, no national defense, and/or extreme individualism above all else and at the expense of others. Thus, Charles does not consider himself a libertarian, but a classical liberal.

With regard to where else spending can be cut, we believe the entire criminal justice system has unprofitable spending and waste associated with it. For example, law enforcement should be allowed to focus on dangerous offenders, rather than focusing heavily on low level alleged offenders, drug addicts, and people with mental health issues. If this were to occur, it would reduce spending and waste in the entire justice system – from arrest, pretrial, trial, incarceration, and reentry – because there would be fewer offenders in the system.

The Marshall Project: Can you give me some examples of criminal offenses that you think should be handled with civil or regulatory penalties?

Holden: If you haven’t already done so, you may want to check out @CrimeADay on Twitter, which offers numerous examples of criminal offenses and penalties that should probably be handled with civil penalties and should not even be crimes in the first place. Because the human, societal, and fiscal costs of a criminal record are so dramatic (felony or misdemeanor), we believe that criminal law and criminal punishment should be reserved for behavior that poses a threat to safety and security.

Generally speaking, we believe that the criminal law should focus on activities that involve violence, fraud, theft, and/or intentional destruction of property. And we should strive to use the least amount of force necessary to bring about compliance by the individual.

To read the rest of this interview, go to The Marshall Project.

This interview was published in partnership with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the U.S. criminal justice system. Sign up for their newsletter, or follow The Marshall Project on Facebook or Twitter.

This plastic toilet could save lives

This plastic toilet could save lives

Everybody poops. But not everyone has access to a toilet.

“It’s shocking that this basic necessity is unavailable to nearly half of the world,” said Jasmine Burton, founder and president of Atlanta-based Wish for WASH.

Burton, 23, was a freshman at Georgia Institute of Technology when she learned that as many as 2.5 billion people don’t have access to a toilet.

It bothered her even more that this sanitation problem disproportionately affects women and young girls.

“Young girls in the developing world frequently drop out of school because there isn’t a toilet,” she said. “It angered me as a woman in higher education and as a product designer.”

Just 18 at the time, Burton channeled her feelings into a mission: She would design a toilet.

While at Georgia Tech, she collaborated with three other students to invent an inexpensive, eco-friendly mobile toilet that could convert waste into renewable energy. They called their sanitation system SafiChoo Toilet.

Made of plastic, the toilet is designed for sitting or sqatting, which is a common practice in some countries. It can be placed directly on the ground, or it can be elevated by adding an attachable base. It can also function with or without water.

The system features a waste collection unit (that can go above or below ground), which separates the waste into liquids and solids. There’s also a manually-operated bidet that can be attached.

Burton said these features are intended to help curb contamination and the spread of diseases.

The SafiChoo toilet costs about $50. “That’s the highest price point we want it to be,” she said

In 2014, Burton and her team won first place and $25,000 at the Georgia Tech InVention competition, the nation’s largest undergraduate invention competition.

“We didn’t think we’d win because products at the contest were always high-tech with super sexy designs,” she said. “Ours was a simple toilet.”

The win enabled Burton to pilot SafiChoo (which means clean toilet in Kiswahili) at a Kenyan refugee camp. She also launched Wish for WASH, the parent company of SafiChoo.

John Zegers, director at Georgia Center of Innovation for Manufacturing, contacted Burton after her InVention competition win. “We thought it was a great product that needed a little bit more development,” he said.

The Center gave a grant to Georgia Tech to develop a SafiChoo prototype and helped Burton’s team find an Atlanta-based manufacturer.

Zegers said he hopes that Wish for WASH is able to keep the toilet a Made in America product.

Burton is currently living in Lusaka, Zambia, as she tests the toilet there. The company is also running an Indiegogo campaign to support the Zambia pilot.

She hopes to begin selling the toilet to U.S.-based customers and to NGOs in 2017.

“It’s amazing when you see how many people have never used a toilet before and what [the SafiChoo Toilet] could mean for them,” she said.

What will it take for stocks to go UP again?

What will it take for stocks to go UP again?

Anyone with money in the market can tell you what’s been going on with stocks since January 1: down, down, down.

Hardly anyone is buying stocks.

To turn this selloff around, investors need oil prices to stabilize.

Oil and stocks are locked in an intense tango. In the past month, the correlation between stocks (S&P 500) and crude oil prices has spiked to 96%. That’s highly unusual given that over the past decade that correlation is 0%.

No doubt oil is driving the wild market swings and needs to calm down for markets to turn around.

However, another key factor at play is that the usual “bargain buyers” aren’t jumping in during big selloff moments. Those are the big buyers who have longer-term horizons.

Sovereign wealth funds are among those buyers. They know that stocks are likely to be higher years from now, and they are able to wait out the volatility.

But sovereign wealth funds are under pressure, too. Many of these funds were built on oil fortunes. As oil prices plummet, these fund are acting a lot more conservatively than in the past.

“The large decline in oil prices that we have seen since mid-2014 has resulted in [some] countries withdrawing a substantial amount of money from their sovereign wealth funds, as their public finances and economies have deteriorated,” wrote Capital Economics in a note this week.

In fact, oil has become a bigger market mover now than China.

If anything, the China story is a proxy for oil. China’s economic slowdown reverberates around the world because the world’s second-largest economy is no longer buying as much oil, aluminum, copper, etc. That only sends commodity prices down further.

There’s little sign of a bottom yet for oil. Crude oil fell below $27 a barrel Wednesday for the first time since since 2003.

A look at the biggest loser stocks this year is like a roll call of Big Energy players: Marathon Oil (-43% year-to-date), Williams Companies (-43%), Consol Energy (-42%), Anadarko Petroleum (-40%). The energy and materials sectors are both down 15% since the start of the year.

It’s became almost a game for experts to slash their predictions as low as possible. Some now say it could go to $10 a barrel.

Eventually, oil producers will stop drilling. But right now, OPEC and American companies believe it’s better to keep pumping – even at a loss – in order to maintain their market share.

On top of that, Iran has returned to the market after many international sanctions were finally lifted in recent days. Now even more oil is flooding the global market.

“I do think we’re near a bottom, but we’re probably not going to move up much over the next three or four months,” says Mike Lynch, president of Strategic Energy and Economic Research. He has followed the energy market for four decades.

Until then, markets are likely to fall further.

Iran: We can work with Saudi Arabia

Iran: We can work with Saudi Arabia

Iran is ready to talk to Saudi Arabia – or at least so it says.

Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif said his country has “always been open to a dialogue” with the Saudis. “It takes two to tango, as they say,” he said at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“I believe our Saudi neighbors should come to their senses and understand that they have a much better future in cooperation and collaboration with Iran,” Zarif said.

The two countries have been engaged in a diplomatic spat over Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric and the subsequent torching of the Saudi embassy in Iran.

Saudi Arabia then cut diplomatic and commercial relations with Iran, and an array of its regional allies followed suit.

“We believe that Iran and Saudi Arabia can be two important players who can accommodate each other, who can complement each other, in the region,” Zarif told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

“The Saudis are panicking that there may be a slight opportunity that tensions between Iran and the West would reduce,” Zarif told Amanpour.

The snub is particularly painful for Iran, as it came just as Tehran was preparing to rejoin world markets following its landmark nuclear deal.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are both important players in OPEC, and the prospect of deeper divisions in the cartel helped drive oil prices even lower this year.

Speaking in Davos, Zarif said the nuclear deal between Iran and the international community showed that diplomacy works – and should be used to overcome regional problems in the Middle East.

“If we can resolve something with countries that were hostile for at least 37 years, then there is no impediment in resolving regional issues between countries and peoples who call each other brothers and sisters and who are bound by the same religion,” he said.

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