For many older adults, finding time to experience nature can be one of the greatest pleasures in retirement. And what better place to take in America’s splendor than one of our over 400 National Park Service sites?1 For over a century, generations of retirees have explored these stunning landscapes, marveled at the diverse wildlife, and discovered the physical benefits of a retirement spent in the great outdoors.2 But recent research suggests that the mental benefits could be even more important for retirees. Read on to learn more.
The Cortisol Connection
Have you ever had a stressful day? One that left you tired and irritable? Those feelings are most likely caused by the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol serves an essential purpose in the human body, by helping to regulate your mood, motivation, and fear. However, when someone experiences sustained stress, their elevated levels of cortisol may greatly increase their risk of heart disease, depression, and even negatively impact their memory.2 Luckily, multiple studies show that connecting with nature for at least 20 minutes each day may be correlated to significantly lower cortisol levels.3 But the benefits don’t stop after 20 minutes. In fact, longer durations spent in a natural environment, may further enhance feelings of peace and wellbeing as well as increased mental performance.4
A Thrifty Option
The American National Park system is considered by some to be one of the healthiest and financially smart ways to vacation in retirement. After all, of the 417 current National Park Sites, roughly 300 allow free admission.5 For those who want access to everything the National Park Service (NPS) offers, the Lifetime Senior Pass ($80) or the Annual Senior Pass ($20) are both a steal. Regardless of which you purchase, remember that:
The Senior Pass may provide a 50 percent discount on some amenity fees, such as those related to camping, swimming, and specialized interpretive services.
The Senior Pass generally does NOT cover or reduce special recreation permit fees or fees charged by concessioners.
There may be a service fee depending on how you purchase your pass. For more details, including the most recent ticket prices, visit the National Park Service website before planning your next trip.
A Prescription for Nature
Even though locations like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion are the most-popular destinations for retirees, many communities benefit from smaller parks and nature preserves as well. For those who haven’t hiked or camped much, these local areas can be a great way to get started. Even those with more than a few years of national park experience stand to benefit, both physically and mentally, from visiting one of their local wildlife areas. So, before you pack your bags and load up the camper, do yourself a favor and look into what your home offers. You may discover that one of the best ways to stay happy, healthy, and sharp is closer than you think.
As the head of the household, it’s up to you to make sure that your entire family’s needs are being met. In order to do that, you need to be extremely diligent when it comes to money management basics. This is not something that will happen by accident. Instead, you must plan for it and work toward it.
The first step is to set up your “office.” Gather all of your bills, a calculator, a pencil, and your checkbook.
I would also recommend that you grab an old binder that you can use to keep track of your financial data and a shoebox for storing paid bills.
Now you’re ready to begin:
Go through all of your bills, and pay anything that is due within the next week.
If you have bills coming due that you cannot pay, notify the company and ask them to set up a payment plan with you.
Print a copy of the chart “Paying Down My Debts” or make your own.
On the chart, list all of your debts, including any car loans, student loans, and credit card debt.
In addition, list the total balance left to be paid on all of these debts, and the percentage rate you are paying.
For now, leave the fourth column of the chart blank, and store it in your “Financial Data” binder.
2. Eliminate Joint Debt
Before we create a plan for paying down your debt, it’s important to consider some special circumstances that may apply to you as a single parent. I asked LaToya Irby, Credit/Debt Management Expert, to share her expertise on handling joint debt:
Wolf: Let’s say a single mom still shares a credit card with her ex. What should she do?
Irby: Ideally, she would want her ex to transfer his portion of any joint balances onto his own credit card. That way, everyone is paying for their own debt.
Wolf: What about leaving both names on the account, and agreeing to pay part of the amount due? Is that ever advisable?
Irby: No. If you’ve made an agreement with your ex to split the debt payments on accounts that include your name, and your ex-misses a payment, it’s going to hurt your credit. If the ex-fails to pay altogether, the creditors and collectors will come after you. Not even a divorce decree can change the terms of a joint credit card agreement. In the credit card issuer’s eyes, you’re just as much responsible for post-divorce accounts as before.
Wolf: What about situations when a couple’s divorce decree mandates that one individual must pay off the joint credit card debt, but that person fails to do it?
Irby: You can always file contempt of court papers against him/her, but in the meantime, your credit score suffers. So I suggest paying off the debt to save your credit. If you can’t afford to pay the debt, at least make minimum payments to keep a positive payment history on your credit report.
Wolf: What about other accounts, such as utilities and cell phones?
Irby: The safest thing to do, if you have a service in your ex’s name, is to turn off the account and reestablish service in your name.
3. Find Money to Pay Down Debt
Another thing we have to do before creating a plan to pay down your existing debt is to find money in your budget each month. To assist in this step, I contacted Erin Huffstetler, Frugal Living Expert.
Wolf: How much money do you think the average person can uncover just by being more intentional about spending and budgeting?
Huffstetler: The average person could easily uncover an extra $250 a month—and probably much more.
Wolf: What are the top 5 areas that you think people should look to first when they’re trying to cut their expenses?
Food spending (both groceries and eating out)
TV-related expenses (cable/satellite services, certainly; but also movie subscriptions and rentals)
Phone services (particularly extras like call waiting, caller id, long distance, and cell phones)
Miscellaneous spending (all those small amounts spent on coffee, vending machine snacks, and other indulgences)
Wolf: How can single parents, specifically, stretch their child support dollars and reduce child-related expenses?
Huffstetler: For single parents looking to stretch their child support dollars, creativity is the key. Look to children’s consignment shops and thrift stores to buy your kids’ clothes instead of department stores; sign them up for Parks and Rec-run activities instead of privately-run activities (which will always cost more); and don’t feel like you have to make up for being a single parent by buying them extra things—it’s you they need, not stuff.
4. Pay Off Your Debt
The next step is creating a schedule for paying down your debt:
Pay off the debts that charge you the highest interest first.Bob Hammond, author of Life Without Debt, recommends that you pay off the debts that are charging you the highest interest first since borrowing from those creditors is costing you the most money. “Concentrate on paying off the high-cost debts as soon as possible,” Hammond advises. LaToya Irby, Credit/Debt Management Expert, agrees. “Highest interest rate debts cost the most money, especially when those debts have high balances. So you’ll save money on interest charges when you pay off those high-interest rate debts first.”However, there are exceptions to this general rule. Irby notes, “If you’re likely to get discouraged because it’s taking a long time to pay off that high-interest rate debt, you can start with the lowest balance debt. Getting some small debts paid off will motivate you to keep going.”
Pay more than the minimum payment. Aim for paying more than the suggested minimum payment, in order to pay off your debts as quickly as possible.Miriam Caldwell, Money in Your 20’s Expert, shares this advice:
Choose one debt to focus on.
Increase your payment on that debt by as much as you can.
Once you have paid off that debt, move all that you are paying on it to the next debt you want to pay off.
You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can get out of debt with this plan!
Meanwhile, continue to pay the minimum balance due on all of your other debts.Record what you intend to pay toward each debt on the debt chart you made in Step 1.
5. Budget Your Monthly Expenses
Now that you know where you stand financially, and you’ve created a plan for paying down your debts, it’s time to make sure that you’re making any other necessary adjustments so that you can keep up with your plan. And this means creating a budget.
I know this can be intimidating, but I’m going to make a suggestion for you: Sign up for Mint.com. It’s a free financial software program available on the Internet, and it will basically do your budgeting for you. It will create a visual pie chart showing how much you’re spending each month on housing, gas, food, entertainment, and more. This way, if it turns out that you’re spending a lot more on food than you really should, you can begin to make the necessary adjustments to get your spending under control.
If you would prefer to create your budget the traditional way, allotting a certain amount of money to each spending category, I’ve created an online budget calculator you can use, which includes categories for child support and other details specific to your life as a single parent.
Finally, in taking a look at where your money really goes each month, it’s important to know approximately how much money you “should” be spending in each category. Generally speaking, your net spendable income (after taxes) should be allocated as follows*:
Child Care: 5%
6. Set Financial Goals
Now that you’ve worked out a plan to pay down your debt, and you’ve created a budget, it’s time to determine your needs moving forward.
Specifically, as a single parent, you need to ask yourself some questions, such as:
Do you need to file for child support?
Do you need to get a higher-paying job?
Is it time to think about going back to school?
Do you need to consider moving into a home/rental that would reduce your overall monthly payments?
Are there alternatives, such as taking on another job or splitting expenses with another single parent family, that you need to consider at this point?
One of the things that I want you to know is that the ball is in your court. You determine where this goes from here on out. But unfortunately, you can’t do that if you’re ignoring your financial health, right?
So the fact that you’ve come this far in the process of getting a handle on your finances tells me that you’re determined to make the changes you need to make in order to provide for your family’s future.
So go ahead and ask yourself these questions. So much of single parenting is learning to roll with the punches and be creative in the face of adversity. If, indeed, you need to make some pretty major changes, now is the time to do it. Don’t incur any more debt where you are. Be resourceful, follow through, and do what you need to do to turn your financial situation around.
7. Increase Your Net Worth
The next step is to determine your net worth and begin adding to it.
Determine Your Net Worth:
Your net worth is what you own minus what you owe. Programs such as Mint.com, Quicken, and Microsoft Money will calculate your net worth for you, automatically.
You can also determine your net worth simply by adding up all that you own, including all of your investments, the equity you may have paid into your home, the value of your car, and any other assets you possess; and subtracting what you owe in remaining debts.
Set Up a Savings Account:
Once you know where you stand, you’ll be ready to set up a savings account. You can do this through your regular bank, or begin investing in a mutual fund that pays interest.
Even if you can only afford to set aside $25 or $50 per month, it will begin to add up.
Before you know it, you’ll have an emergency savings plan in place, to protect you in the event that your car breaks down, or your home needs a major repair.
In addition, this regular savings will help you increase your net worth over time.
8. Become Even More Frugal
Unfortunately, all of the work you’ve already done in steps 1-7 will have little lasting value if you don’t change your attitude toward money. Now is the time to become even more frugal and learn to live within your means.
Stop imagining that more money is going to pour in tomorrow—through finally collecting on unpaid child support, winning the lottery, or getting a promotion. If those things happen, great! You’ll be even better off. But living as if they’re going to happen is causing you to spend money you don’t have.
Instead, force yourself to make purchases with cash only. Do not continue to pay outrageous interest payments toward credit cards for purchases you don’t absolutely need. You can get by without that new furniture, right? What else could you skip, in the interest of spending only what you have right now in the bank?
Try These Ideas:
Check Freecycle before you make another major purchase. Someone else may be giving away the very thing you’d like to buy!
When you’re getting ready to buy something specific, look for it on eBay first. I buy a lot of my clothes, new-with-tags, through online auctions!
Forget trying to keep up with “The Jones’s.” You already know your value; don’t get caught up trying to “prove” your worth to others by having “just the right” house, car, or appearance.
Do not use shopping, ever, to appease your emotions.
Finally, when you do go to make a big purchase, step back and give yourself a few days–or even a week–to think about it. There’s no reason to suffer through buyer’s remorse and try to justify to yourself purchases that you really can’t afford. Think it over carefully and make those purchases, when necessary, with cash.
9. Schedule Your Own Weekly Financial Check-In
Grab your calendar and schedule a weekly financial update meeting with yourself. This is an extremely important step in managing your personal finances, and it’s one that you need to continue each and every week. During your “meeting” time:
Pay any bills that are due.
If your bank statement has arrived, take the time to balance your checkbook.
Check the balances of your checking and savings accounts.
Update your debt list to incorporate any recent payments.
This is also a good time to write out your grocery shopping list and check what’s on sale at your local grocery store this week (either using the store’s Web site or the sales circular that comes in the newspaper).
Finally, also make note of any upcoming expenses you need to anticipate and plan for.
Picture it: 40 picturesque acres nestled in Wisconsin lake country.
That is the ideal getaway the grandfather of Chicago financial planner Tim Obendorf’s wife built around 50 years ago. Then the property passed to the next generation, with ownership shared by four people.
Now they are thinking about the next generation: 11 potential owners.
Without the right planning, that paradise could turn into hell.
As brothers, sisters, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents gather this summer at family homes to go hiking, canoeing or swimming, there will also be arguments over schedules, property taxes or mortgage costs, and upkeep duties, along with the thousand other matters that come with shared homeownership.
“Whenever a number of families are under the same roof, conflicts are going to arise,” said Jill Shipley, managing director of family dynamics for Abbot Downing, a division of Wells Fargo that handles high-net-worth families and foundations.
That is why Obendorf’s family has already logged a couple of family meetings. “It’s never going to be perfect, but you have to decide you value the place, more than the hassles of working through family issues,” said Obendorf.
It is not surprising that vacation homes have become a point of contention. Many vacation homeowners are baby boomers: They possess the bulk of the nation’s assets and are projected to hold over 50 percent by 2020, according to a study by the Deloitte Center for Financial Services. They are now beginning to retire as they hit their 60s and 70s.
The potential problems are plentiful: Is the place big enough for everybody? Who gets it on July 4th weekend? Do they split costs equally? Who cleans up, handles repairs, or stocks the fridge?
And the big one: When the owners eventually pass on – who gets the place?
How can families get the most out of shared vacation properties this summer, without either going broke or killing each other? Some tips from the experts:
Draw Up a Calendar
Just like season tickets for a sports team, some dates will be in high demand. So if the property is not big enough to handle multiple families at once – or, let’s face it, you just do not get along – pick your spots. “Establish a rotating lottery each year, and allow each family member to pick their respective dates,” suggests Kevin Reardon, a financial planner in Pewaukee, Wisconsin.
Write Down a Policy
Everyone has different opinions of what a getaway should be, so hash it out and put it all down on paper. One key item: Whether ongoing costs like property taxes, homeowner’s association dues and repairs are split equally, or allocated based on usage.
Create an Opt-out
A sure way to guarantee family resentment: One member being forced into an arrangement they do not want. If a family cottage is being passed to the next generation, allow an escape hatch that permits one member’s share to be bought out by their siblings. After all, not everyone might be able to use the property to the same extent, especially if they have moved far away.
Bring in a Pro
Siblings, of course, do not always get along. In fact, 15 percent of adult siblings report arguing over money, according to a new survey from Ameriprise Financial. To make sure everyone is heard, bringing in a trained facilitator is probably your best bet, advises Shipley.
Have the Discussion Now
“I have been in many family meetings where the kids ask, ‘I wonder what mom and dad would have wanted?'” says Shipley. So if you are fortunate enough that the family matriarch and patriarch are still around, arrange a family meeting and find out what they envision for the property in the decades to come.
Maybe they want it to stay in the family, as a legacy for the grandkids. Or maybe, because of family circumstances like far-flung siblings, it would be wiser to just sell the property and split the proceeds.
Set up a Trust
One way to take future financial squabbles out of the equation altogether: If families have the resources, they should create a trust to “fund the maintenance and ongoing use of the property in perpetuity,” says Shipley. “That is one solution to reduce conflict, and keep the property in the family for generations.”
Having close access to ultra-successful people can yield some pretty incredible information about who they really are, what makes them tick, and, most importantly, what makes them so successful and productive.
“Whenever you see a successful person, you only see the public glories, never the private sacrifices to reach them.” – Vaibhav Shah
Kevin Kruse is one such person. He recently interviewed over 200 ultra-successful people, including 7 billionaires, 13 Olympians, and a host of accomplished entrepreneurs. One of his most revealing sources of information came from their answers to a simple open-ended question:
“What is your number one secret to productivity?”
In analyzing their responses, Kruse coded the answers to yield some fascinating suggestions. What follows are some of my favorites from Kevin’s findings.
1. They focus on minutes, not hours. Most people default to hour and half-hour blocks on their calendar; highly successful people know that there are 1,440 minutes in every day and that there is nothing more valuable than time. Money can be lost and made again, but time spent can never be reclaimed. As legendary Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller told Kevin, “To this day, I keep a schedule that is almost minute by minute.” You must master your minutes to master your life.
2. They focus on only one thing. Ultra-productive people know what their “Most Important Task” is and work on it for one to two hours each morning, without interruptions. What task will have the biggest impact on reaching your goals? What accomplishment will get you promoted at work? That’s what you should dedicate your mornings to every day.
3. They don’t use to-do lists. Throw away your to-do list; instead schedule everything on your calendar. It turns out that only 41% of items on to-do lists ever get done. All those undone items lead to stress and insomnia because of the Zeigarnik effect, which, in essence, means that uncompleted tasks will stay on your mind until you finish them. Highly productive people put everything on their calendar and then work and live by that calendar.
4. They beat procrastination with time travel. Your future self can’t be trusted. That’s because we are time inconsistent. We buy veggies today because we think we’ll eat healthy salads all week; then we throw out green rotting mush in the future. Successful people figure out what they can do now to make certain their future selves will do the right thing. Anticipate how you will self-sabotage in the future, and come up with a solution today to defeat your future self.
5. They make it home for dinner. Kevin first learned this one from Intel’s Andy Grove, who said, “There is always more to be done, more that should be done, always more than can be done.” Highly successful people know what they value in life. Yes, work, but also what else they value. There is no right answer, but for many, these other values include family time, exercise, and giving back. They consciously allocate their 1,440 minutes a day to each area they value (i.e., they put them on their calendar), and then they stick to that schedule.
6. They use a notebook. Richard Branson has said on more than one occasion that he wouldn’t have been able to build Virgin without a simple notebook, which he takes with him wherever he goes. In one interview, Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis said, “Always carry a notebook. Write everything down. That is a million dollar lesson they don’t teach you in business school!” Ultra-productive people free their minds by writing everything down as the thoughts come to them.
7. They process e-mails only a few times a day. Ultra-productive people don’t “check” their e-mail throughout the day. They don’t respond to each vibration or ding to see who has intruded into their inbox. Instead, like everything else, they schedule time to process their e-mails quickly and efficiently. For some, that’s only once a day; for others, it’s morning, noon, and night.
8. They avoid meetings at all costs. When Kevin asked Mark Cuban to give his best productivity advice, he quickly responded, “Never take meetings unless someone is writing a check.” Meetings are notorious time killers. They start late, have the wrong people in them, meander around their topics, and run long. You should get out of meetings whenever you can and hold fewer of them yourself. If you do run a meeting, keep it short and to the point.
9. They say “no” to almost everything. Billionaire Warren Buffet once said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” And James Altucher colorfully gave Kevin this tip: “If something is not a ‘Hell Yeah!’ then it’s a no.” Remember, you only have 1,440 minutes in a day. Don’t give them away easily.
10. They follow the 80/20 rule. Known as the Pareto Principle, in most cases, 80% of results come from only 20% of activities. Ultra-productive people know which activities drive the greatest results. Focus on those and ignore the rest.
11. They delegate almost everything. Ultra-productive people don’t ask, “How can I do this task?” Instead, they ask, “How can this task get done?” They take the I out of it as much as possible. Ultra-productive people don’t have control issues, and they are not micro-managers. In many cases, good enough is, well, good enough.
12. They touch things only once. How many times have you opened a piece of regular mail–a bill perhaps–and then put it down, only to deal with it again later? How often do you read an e-mail and then close it and leave it in your inbox to deal with later? Highly successful people try to “touch it once.” If it takes less than five or ten minutes–whatever it is–they deal with it right then and there. It reduces stress, since it won’t be in the back of their minds, and it is more efficient, since they won’t have to re-read or re-evaluate the item again in the future.
13. They practice a consistent morning routine. Kevin’s single greatest surprise while interviewing over 200 highly successful people was how many of them wanted to share their morning ritual with him. While he heard about a wide variety of habits, most nurtured their bodies in the morning with water, a healthy breakfast, and light exercise, and they nurtured their minds with meditation or prayer, inspirational reading, or journaling.
14. Energy is everything. You can’t make more minutes in the day, but you can increase your energy to increase your attention, focus, and productivity. Highly successful people don’t skip meals, sleep, or breaks in the pursuit of more, more, more. Instead, they view food as fuel, sleep as recovery, and breaks as opportunities to recharge in order to get even more done.
Bringing It All Together
You might not be an entrepreneur, an Olympian, or a billionaire (or even want to be), but their secrets just might help you to get more done in less time and assist you to stop feeling so overworked and overwhelmed.
Want to lose weight? Improve your cardio? Lower your blood pressure? Then don’t buy a fitness tracker. In fact, some experts claim they can “do more harm than good”. Wondering why you might have wasted money on yours? Read on…
Now let’s just get one thing straight before we continue. I actually use a variety of wearable devices. I have an Apple watch which measures my daily activity, I use the Nike+ app when I go running and I use a Garmin & Strava for cycling. And it seems that I’m not alone with an estimated 20% of Americans wearing some form of tracker and around 3 million being sold in the UK each year. People use them in different ways and for a variety of reasons. Personally I want to monitor my performance and am fascinated with the data that they produce (I know, I’m a nerd). Consequently I love them all, so before you launch into a tirade along the lines of ‘this guy hates Fitbits’ in the comments section please remember not to shoot the messenger…
Now then, why have the boffins got such a downer on trackers? Well firstly, they pour scorn on the whole notion of the 10,000 steps. It seems that this has no basis in any robust scientific research. According to Dr Greg Hager who is a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University:
“Turns out in 1960 in Japan they figured out that the average Japanese man, when he walked 10,000 steps a day, burned something like 3,000 calories and that is what they thought the average person should consume. So they picked 10,000 steps as a number”
In fairness, that hardly seems very scientific. Unless you are an average Japanese man who is still living in 1960. A relatively small sample size, I’m guessing.
Just last week Prof. Hager pointed out that we we cannot have a ‘one size fits all’ solution and every individual needs a bespoke fitness plan which caters specifically for their needs. He goes on to say:
“I think apps could definitely be doing more harm than good. I am sure that these apps are causing problems. Without any scientific evidence base, how do you know that any of these apps are good for you? They may even be harmful”
Harmful? Seriously? Isn’t that pushing it a tad too far? Well in support of his claim, Hager states that someone with an underlying medical condition may not necessarily be capable of achieving the 10,000 steps and it could be detrimental to their health to try.
So, is Hager out there on his own in his thinking? Well, it seems not. A 2016 study of 800 people with activity trackers was conducted in Singapore which discovered that there were no health benefits to the research subjects when compared to a control group who didn’t use a tracker. What’s more, they even added a cash incentive to increase the number of steps they took. It made absolutely no difference.
In the UK, Hager also has support from Simon Leigh, a senior health economist at Nexus Clinical Analytics who has published several studies on fitness trackers in the British Medical Journal. He said:
“Dr Hager is spot on. A GP, endocrinologist or other fitness specialist would unlikely recommend 10,000 steps for most people. Especially given that the majority of those who download these apps are likely to be unfit and in need of improvement in the first place”
I understand what these guys are saying but surely in a population with rising rates of obesity, we need to encourage people to do some form of exercise and activity trackers can be a strong motivator in the right hands (or should that be on the right arm?). After all, surely it is better to do 10,000 steps a day than none at all? It beats lying on the sofa eating double cheese deep pan pizza and watching The Kardashians.
Surely it also depends on what you are doing on your journey of 10,000 steps. If you are having a brisk walk around the park with your Cockerpoo then that must have some health benefits. For you and the dog. However, if it’s a pub crawl around town on a Friday night followed by a stagger down to the kebab shop then I don’t think that counts. It’s really all a matter of balance.
Depending upon the type of tracker you use valuable personal information can be measured and monitored over time including heart rate, calorie consumption and sleep patterns. The aggregation of all this big / smart data can be of use to a medical practitioner, an insurance company or even the advertising industry. The implications of this are not only fascinating but have huge business potential.
A doctor could offer a prognosis on potential medical conditions saving both money and lives. Your insurance company could use your data to offer you improved premiums on health insurance in the same way that they use trackers for safe drivers on car insurance. And the ad industry can use programmatic to specifically target you with dynamic creative to offer you goods / services that are highly relevant to the individual (e.g. new running shoes in your size and favorite colors).
Dr John Jakicic from the University of Pittsburgh, seems to be of the same opinion as myself. In his studies, he found that fitness trackers could form part of a series of behaviours to encourage people to lose weight or improve fitness:
“we need to be careful about relying solely on these devices. However, there is a place for these, and so we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater in my opinion”
So are these trackers going end up gathering dust in the garage along with other defunct fitness gadgets such as the Ab-Cruncher and Thigh-Master? Well don’t be too hasty in ditching your Fitbit just yet. Accept it for what it is and use it accordingly. Figure out an optimum level of activity for your age, size and fitness level (if you are unsure, consult an expert or just Google it). Then simply incorporate it into your weekly workout schedule.
What do you think? Are these trackers really useless or do they have some merit? Do you own one and now feel cheated or does the technology really work for you? As ever, I am interested in your viewpoint.
In the healthcare industry, innovation is more than a buzzword. The right innovations in the right hands at the right time can, in fact, ensure life triumphs over death. From high-tech sensors and drones to bacteria-quashing light bulbs, technological advances are pushing healthcare into new, exciting directions, providing heightened levels of care and improving quality of life.
Consider these promising developments:
1. Ingestible Sensors
While wearable sensors continue to gain mainstream appeal, ingestible sensors could have a sizeable impact on healthcare and digital medicine.
Health systems are starting to implement ingestible sensors in patients to record medication adherence, which is one of the key components of improved health.1 The sensor—powered by gastric fluids and about the size of a grain of sand—communicates with a skin patch, which captures the medication and the time it was ingested along with personalized data such as heart rate, activity, and rest. This information is then relayed to a mobile app, where the data can be shared with healthcare professionals to help drive medication compliance and personalized treatment.
For individuals in remote locations or underserved communities, easy access to healthcare providers can be scarce or nonexistent. However, continued advances in telehealth are making remote point-of-care more accessible, more dynamic, and more personable than ever. Telehealth services, for example, offer video conferencing for live consultations, built-in dashboards for in-field data capture and analysis, and hardware to ensure orderly, coherent interaction between patients and healthcare providers.
While drones are known for delivering frozen yogurt and burritos, their most meaningful impact could come in the healthcare space. Consider these very real possibilities:
In remote areas, drones can deliver critical medical supplies such as blood or vaccines to enable treatment.
Following a natural disaster, drones can distribute in-demand medical supplies to first responders or victims.
On a medical campus, drones can transport medicine, blood, lab samples, or even organs from one unit to another to expedite care.
A researcher at the University of Illinois, meanwhile, aims to help elderly patients age in place by testing the use of small drones with manipulator arms to complete simple daily tasks such as bringing medication or cleaning a spill.2
4. Bacteria-killing Light
Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are the most frequent adverse event in healthcare delivery worldwide.3 Tech innovation is minimizing this problem.
Light fixtures providing continuous environmental disinfection technology are helping hospitals improve their infection-prevention efforts. One solution uses safe, 405nm visible light that reflects off walls as well as hard and soft surfaces to penetrate harmful bacteria in a given area and reduce bacteria up to 70 percent.4
5. Remote Patient Monitoring
With remote monitoring programs, digital technologies collect key patient health data such as vital signs, heart rate, and blood pressure, and communicate the information to healthcare professionals.
With such key data in professionals’ hands, health problems can be detected earlier, which can reduce hospitalizations and prevent manageable problems from becoming more severe ailments. Remote monitoring can improve patient outcomes and access to care, while also reducing costs—a key concern among the U.S. populace and healthcare systems alike.
Experience air travel at its best during the hectic travel season.
We all remember nightmarish winter travel stories from our favorite holiday movies. From rushing through crowded terminals to dealing with flight cancellations to losing luggage in transit, iconic holiday films remind us of epic travel blunders that arise during the busy holiday travel season. And while it’s tricky to dodge winter travel headaches altogether, there are some airlines that make travel during the holidays relatively smooth and pain-free. Whether you’re traveling with kids, seeking an airline with perks such as free Wi-Fi, elevated in-flight entertainment and cuisine or looking for a carrier with an easy rebooking process for weather-related delays, here are six top airlines for holiday travel.
Delta Air Lines
In the last few years Delta has quietly done a commendable job bringing its cabins up to speed. High-speed Wi-Fi is available on nearly all of Delta’s planes. Plus, the airline has consistently delivered a high on-time performance during the holiday travel season in recent years. And Delta has made great strides to enhance its in-flight entertainment and cuisine, as well as general customer service, with added amenities such as free doughtnuts or bagels and coffee for early morning flights in most major hubs. Plus, if you hold Silver Medallion status (or higher) with the Delta SkyMiles program, when there are empty seats, you can enjoy a complimentary upgrade to a first-class seat.
If you are going to endure a long-haul flight from the U.S. to Europe over the holidays, consider flying with Air France. The carrier has invested in upgrading its planes with tech-savvy entertainment systems that provide over 1,000 hours of on-demand programming. Also, Air France has a best-in-class premium economy cabin with spacious economy seats. Even better, If you fly in a business-class seat, feature films are available in high-definition, screens are an oversized 17 inches and you can enjoy delicious meal service with cuisine options developed by the Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud.
Cathay Pacific offers scheduled passenger and cargo services to nearly 200 destinations in Asia, North America, Australia, Europe and Africa. Seasoned international jet-setters praise Cathay for its impeccable airport lounges, superlative kid’s menu options (you can call in advance for any dietary needs) and innovative in-flight entertainment systems. And recently, the airline elevated its culinary offerings by partnering with celebrity chef Daniel Green to develop a vegetarian menu filled with options such as seared ahi tuna, edamame, butter lettuce and sesame soy ginger vinaigrette and Thai red vegetable curry in light coconut milk and Thai sweet basil, to cater to a variety of palates.
Virgin America has won many best-in-class awards for its quality customer service and tech-forward amenities, including in-flight Wi-Fi and an in-flight entertainment platform with a touch-screen TV and an on-demand menu that allows fliers to order a cocktail or snack from their seat any time during a flight. Even better, Virgin Atlantic offers guests the ability to stream Netflix, making Virgin Atlantic the only airline to offer this service. If you’re willing to splurge (or you’re traveling with younger globe-trotters with picky preferences) Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy cabin boasts a wide selection of complimentary snacks, from candy to chips to fresh fruit and other select British goodies.
If you’re heading to Australia to ring in the New Year with youngsters in tow, Qantas offers plenty of family-friendly perks. Kids have their own designated areas within airport lounges, a welcome amenity kit and their own entertainment channel. Meanwhile, adults can pick from more than 1,500 entertainment options on Qantas’ Airbus A380 and Boeing 747 planes, making the nearly 24-hour flight from the East Coast much more comfortable. Plus, Qantas offers service to Australia and the Pacific from hubs in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Dallas and Honolulu. What’s more, you can enjoy a complimentary wine tasting on long-haul flights, thanks to the airline’s Sommelier in the Sky Program.
Flying with Etihad Airways during the holidays (or any time of year) affords a lavish air travel experience. You can enjoy excellent cuisine, in-flight Wi-Fi and a top-notch entertainment system, regardless of which class of service you select. Plus, you’ll have access to more than 120 movies and 300 TV shows. If you’re looking to spring for the penultimate form of holiday travel, try the three-bedroom Etihad apartment in the sky, known as The Residence. Inside the first-class suite, guests can enjoy a private living room, a bedroom and shower room, as well as the service of a Savoy-trained butler, a gourmet in-flight chef and a concierge team, among other perks.
More than 13 million people received cash assistance from the government in 1995, before the law was passed. Today, just three million do.
“Simply put, welfare reform worked because we all worked together,” Bill Clinton, who signed into law welfare reform, or the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times in 2006. Clinton hadcampaigned on a pledge to “end welfare as we know it” and today it is all too apparent that he succeeded.
The law replaced AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) with TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families—“temporary” being the key word). It stipulated that people could receive no more than five years of government benefits in a lifetime, though states could set their limits lower and many did, with some instituting a two-year lifetime limit. It required a certain percentage of welfare recipients in states to be working, and said that those who couldn’t find jobs would have to participate in community service or get vocational training. Those who didn’t work or volunteer would eventually be kicked off the welfare rolls.
The law also changed the way the federal government handed out assistance. TANF is administered through so-called block grants to states, which then can spend it any way they want to help low-income families, with little federal oversight. If states spend the money on cash assistance, they have a number of rules they have to follow, but they’re also free to spend it on something else entirely; Michigan, for instance, spends much of its block grant on college scholarships; Texas spends much of its on foster care, according to H. Luke Shaefer, a University of Michigan professor and a co-author of $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America.
“There’s this this crazy notion that we retrenched welfare—what we really did was reorient it towards people who are working when they are working, and away from people who are struggling at the very bottom,” he said. The original welfare program cost around $30 billion in today’s dollars, he said, while the government now spends twice as much on that on the Earned Income Tax Credit, expanded in the 1990s to incentivize the poor to work.
If nothing else, these policies were an effective way to reduce the number of people on welfare rolls. People on the left and right agree that they helped change a program that was in need of reform. But there were real human costs too: Those who didn’t find jobs, who weren’t working, who lived in states trying to reduce their cash-assistance programs, were left to struggle on their own.
The number of families with children who reported that the only benefit they received was SNAP grew 143 percent between 1996 and 2006.
Today, in large part because of welfare reform, the safety net—the set of government efforts to come to the aid of the country’s citizens when they are down on their luck, much of which has existed since the Great Depression— is thin and getting thinner. And this thinning goes beyond welfare, which gives needy families cash support: On April 1, between 500,000 and one million childless adults will lose access to food stamps (officially known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP). This is the belated consequence of a rule that was part of Clinton’s welfare reform, which stipulated that childless adults can only receive three months of food stamps if they aren’t employed at least 20 hours a week or in a training program. For years states received waivers for the rule, but in many states, governors have chosen not to ask for extensions for this year.
Few states have cut their assistance to the very poor more than Arkansas has. In 2014, there were seven families on TANF for every 100 families with children in poverty in Arkansas, down from 40 out of every 100 poor families in 1995, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (In Minnesota, by contrast, that fell from 89 out of 100 poor families who received benefits in 1995 to 41 out of 100 in 2014.) The number of welfare recipients in Arkansas dropped to just 9,901 in September of 2015, from more than 63,000 in 1995. And a single-parent family of three receives just $204 a month from the state of Arkansas, one of the lowest cash benefits in the nation. Arkansas hasn’t quite gotten rid of its safety net entirely, but it’s gone as far toward that end as any place in modern America. And it may go further yet.
* * *
At a church in downtown Little Rock, the city’s homeless, mentally ill, and long-term unemployed stream in from all corners to get a something to eat. They climb the dark staircase and wait in line for a Styrofoam cup of soup, a cup of potatoes and beans, a few Saltines, and a slice of bread.
They include a woman named Stacy, who didn’t want to provide her last name.
Before she lived on the streets, she worked as a registered nurse for 20 years. But a series of events—she declined to specify—knocked her out of steady work and into homelessness, and getting back on her feet is hard. The only public assistance she qualifies for is food stamps, but on April 1, that will end.
“They’re shutting off the only benefit I have,” she says, straightening the pink bandanna that covers her dark hair.
The knowledge that her benefits will be ending equips her with little that she didn’t already have. She’s been trying to find a job, but it’s hard with nowhere to sleep, no cash coming in, no steady meal. She needs to renew her nursing license but doesn’t have the resources to do so; even finding money for a bus pass is tough. A nearby church gives them out sometimes, but recently, they’ve run out, she says.
This dilemma is a common one facing people in many states, including Arkansas, which have high poverty rates but little assistance for people trying to get out of poverty.
Governor Asa Hutchinson, Republican, could have asked for a waiver to the SNAP requirement that adults like Stacy work after three months, but he decided not to, he told me, in a phone call. The state’s unemployment rate, currently at 5.7 percent, had decreased enough that he believed there were enough work opportunities in the state, he said. If someone still can’t find a job, they can always volunteer, he said.
“They still have the opportunity to contribute to a local food bank or some other local nonprofit,” he said. “That contribution brings dignity, it is helping the community, it is giving back, and that seems a good balance to me.”
So why doesn’t someone like Stacy just do that and avoid losing her food stamps? For one, finding a place to volunteer or work can be very hard for those who don’t have phones, mailing addresses, or work clothes. Many do not have the education or wherewithal to find a volunteer position. And for those who want to get more education to find work, the job-training opportunities in Arkansas are insufficient in helping people get the skills they need to find permanent work, said Tomiko Townley, the SNAP and Older Adult Outreach Manager at the Arkansas Hunger Alliance.
“The reality is that the majority of employment training programs in Arkansas, are things like job search training,” she said. “They’re very limited, not super skill-oriented opportunities.”
The consequences of a dialed-down safety net might not be so dire if the state were thriving, but that’s not the case. Arkansas consistently ranks at the bottom of the nation’s poverty rankings: In 2014, nearly one in five people lived below the poverty line ($23,834 for a family of four), making the state 48th richest in the nationincluding the District of Columbia. (Only Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico were poorer.)
But poor families don’t receive much assistance from the state of Arkansas. Under TEA, the state’s version of TANF, families can only receive two years of government assistance in a lifetime, though the national limit is five years. Those receiving TEA must work or volunteer 35 hours a week, although the federal requirements are only 20 hours a week.
The way that Arkansas treats its poor is not exactly a break with tradition, Ernie Dumas, a long-time Little Rock political columnist and historian told me. Arkansas was poor when it was settled, and generations of politicians “entertained no notions of progress or what it might take to improve services to people or the need to elevate them,” he told me. In the early part of the 20th century, Arkansas was already among the poorest states in the nation; it also had the lowest taxes in the nation, so funds for substantial anti-poverty initiatives were not available. Then came floods, drought, and the Great Depression, and a re-commitment to the belief that the state shouldn’t interfere to help its residents, he said.
Bill Clinton legitimately wanted to help the poor when he was governor, Dumas said. Dumas remembers seeing Clinton around town, always talking to people about their lives and how he could improve them. When he ran for president, Clinton frequently talked about visiting welfare offices in Arkansas and meeting recipients. But the welfare reform bill he signed, which had been pushed by a Republican Congress, left many in his home state without public help.
After welfare reform, Arkansas had a “golden opportunity” to improve life for people in poverty, Rich Huddleston, the executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, an advocacy group that counts Hillary Clinton as one of its founders, told me.
Instead, “it has been a total disaster for the state,” said.
The state focused on reducing the welfare caseloads by disqualifying people, rather than on helping people get a job, he said. For many people, the hoops to jump through to get on TEA are so confusing that they don’t apply at all. By law, the state is supposed to assess recipients when they apply for TEA and refer them to a service that can help them find a job, go back to school, or get vocational training. But in many cases, Huddleston said, people get referred to services that don’t exist in their area of the state.
Raquel Williams knows how difficult it is to go through the process of applying for and receiving TEA. A year ago, Williams was steadily employed in Texarkana, Texas, in a state unemployment office. But when her husband, an EMT transporter, couldn’t find work, he convinced her to quit her job and move with their children to Little Rock so he could find a job there. She had trouble in her job search from the start, but their problems multiplied when he was shot on December 26. He survived the shooting, but can’t work and can’t walk. So Williams started looking for a job.
It seems like this should be easy: Even on her toughest days, she is well-dressed, neat, and affable, and seems like the type of person who would be someone else’s boss. She has work experience. But she hasn’t found a job, and the family has no money coming in. So she applied for TEA.
Right away, Williams told me, she felt as though the system was not there to make her life any easier, let alone help her find work. She had to bring them all sorts of paperwork before they would begin helping her; proof that she wasn’t getting child support from the father of her first child, proof that her husband wasn’t receiving disability, proof that she was a resident of Arkansas, that she had children, that they had Social Security numbers.
“Might as well have given them a blood sample,” she told me.
Weeks after applying, she had an interview, where she was told that she and her family could receive $247 a month, but that she would have to start volunteering 35 hours a week almost immediately. She could get compensated for the gas money she used getting to the volunteering position, she was told, but only at the end of the month.
Between volunteering, taking care of her kids, and tending to her ailing husband, she’s found the time to apply for jobs, though she’s had no help from the TEA office in looking for work and hasn’t had many bites. She wants to go back to school, but since her GPA is low from a previous try at college, she’s unlikely to get scholarships and she’ll have to pay for it herself.
Often times, she wonders why she goes through all of it for a mere $247, which isn’t nearly enough to pay the family’s $650 rent, gas, and heat. She kicks herself for following her key principles of Faith, Family, and Work—if she had just left her husband and stayed in Texas, if she had lied on a job application that asked if she smoked, if she had just kept the old job, she would have been fine. Now, she says, she’s stuck.
“The program is designed to keep you in a rut,” she told me. “It’s not built to empower anybody.”
It’s true that there are few support systems in place once people start working to help them stay employed and prosper. Many of the people who do find jobs end up in low-paying ones with no room for advancement, Huddleston said. There just aren’t very many good jobs in Arkansas for people without a college education, and the state hasn’t invested in programs that would allow people to get a college education or other sorts of training that could help turn jobs into upwardly-mobile careers. And, anyway, Huddleston said, Arkansas public schools have struggled so badly in the past few decades that many TEA recipients wouldn’t be qualified for college even if they could afford it.
“To say that it had anything but an impact on the caseload would be misleading in Arkansas, just because of the challenges we had,” he told me. “The challenges of isolated rural areas, the state of the economy, what jobs paid here—it made it really difficult for folks to get off welfare and earn an income they really needed to support their families.”
* * *
This crisis isn’t unique to Arkansas. As H. Luke Shaefer and Kathryn J. Edin document in $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, welfare reform created a class of extremely poor people, neither working nor receiving help from the government. Researchers call these people “disconnected,” and nationally, one in five single mothers were disconnected by the mid-2000s. The number of families with children who reported that the only benefit they received was SNAP grew 143 percent between 1996 and 2006.
“The transition to a work-based safety net is incomplete, and we have a big hole in the bottom,” Shaefer told me. “For folks at the very bottom, it’s leading to very bad outcomes.”
Between 1996 and 2011, even as the welfare rolls were shrinking and more one-time recipients were moving to work, extreme poverty was increasing. During that time, the number of families living on $2 a day or less rose 150 percent, to 1.65 million.
Living in extreme poverty has very real consequences for families, Shaefer said. Reduced TANF access in states is associated with higher food insecurity, increased child homelessness, a jump in foster care placement, and more juvenile detention, according to soon-to-be-published research by Shaefer and colleagues. Not having access to cash means people can’t pay the rent and then become homeless, and homelessness leads to stress, which can hurt people emotionally and physically. Families are often forced to sell their food stamps, their plasma, their bodies, to get access to cash to survive on, he said.
Welfare reform had big goals of moving people to self-sufficiency by training them to work. But it did little to create job opportunities or the types of programs that help people stay in jobs once they get them. Instead, they’re on their own.
“The idea that it’s a program that promotes work is a myth,” Shaefer said.
States only spend about eight percent of their TANF funds on work-related activities and supports, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. They spend 34 percent on “other areas.”
Even if those programs existed, that type of job training is rarely effective, said Jacob Klerman, a senior fellow at the research firm Abt Associates. Many of the people who need training come from bad schools and lack basic reading, writing, math, or science skills. The job training programs the government often makes available are just a few weeks long, which doesn’t prepare people for middle-class jobs, and certainly doesn’t make up for years of abysmal basic education. And it’s nearly impossible for poor people to attend longer training—much less a four-year college—because they need to be doing something to earn money to pay for living expenses, given that they likely don’t have savings or families with any wealth at all.
“We’re just not very good at job training. It’s a hard thing to do,” he said.
Of course, there are people for whom welfare reform did push them off the dole and into employment—or at least for whom welfare reform coincided with a growing economy that enabled them to find work. According to Shaefer and Edin, nearly 75 percent of low-income single mothers were employed by 2000, up from 58 percent in 1993. But even those that did find jobs weren’t necessarily lifted out of poverty, but were instead often kept there by low wages, just-in-time scheduling, and not enough hours.
“We’ve had partial success, but the problem is the winds blow against you,” said Timothy Smeeding, a poverty expert who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Wages and jobs have been getting worse, and you can find a job in many places, but not everywhere. Working yourself out of poverty is much harder.”
Still, if the problems with welfare reform span the country, some states are nevertheless making it worse than others. They’re able to do so because the program is set up as a block grant.
In 2010, Arizona reduced the time limit to 36 months from 60 and terminated child-only cases, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Its caseload fell 66 percent between 2006 and 2014. States including Kansas, Michigan, and Indiana implemented similar changes and saw similar drops in the numbers.
“The safety net has been shredded in many different ways,” Liz Schott, one of the authors of the report, told me.
The differences among states has meant that the ability of the very poor to survive can depend on where they happen to live. When Amanda Ellis, an Arkansas native, moved from Minneapolis back home to Arkansas and told the state welfare office how much she’d received in TANF benefits from the government of Minnesota, they laughed in her face. The simple act of moving with her son meant that the amount of benefits she received dropped from $437 a month to $162.
“I came back, and I was being told, ‘You’re not going to be able to get on your feet that easily here,’” Ellis, a slight woman who is so shy she covers her mouth when she talks, told me.
Bouncing back after she arrived in Arkansas in 2011 was a daunting task. With almost no money, she and her son stayed in shelter after shelter after she got on TEA and started volunteering. Her welfare counselor wanted her to find a job right away, but she pushed back and said she wanted to go to school. She eventually went back to get certified as a pharmacy technician.
That was difficult: Public transit in Little Rock is lacking, and Ellis doesn’t have a car, so she would take two buses to get to class.The day I met her, her son had missed the school bus in the morning and she had to take three buses just to drop him off at school.
Ellis recently started a job as a pharmacy technician at Walmart. She has an apartment and has finally achieved a degree of stability. It wasn’t TEA that helped her achieve these things, though. It was disability benefits, something that few other single mothers could access. Her son is autistic, and though he’d been denied disability benefits in Arkansas, a counselor had approved it in Minnesota. The disability payments helped her get an apartment and go back to school, she told me. Steady monthly payments are what other people, such as Raquel Williams, might have gotten, had welfare still existed.
* * *
Of course, people on the left and right agree that welfare was flawed and that some things needed to be changed. The concern is just that the reforms went so far in requiring people to work, and not far at all in helping them do so.
Rather than learn from welfare reform, though, states are moving forward with further rules and regulations that make the process of receiving benefits a rough, even humiliating, experience. Arkansas, for example, just became the latest state to require drug testing for all welfare recipients, a costly proposition that nets few abusers. Governor Hutchinson also wants to add work requirements for low-income people who are benefiting from the state’s Medicaid expansion.Other state legislatures are trying to make it more difficult for governors to get waivers that would allow food-stamp recipients to continue to receive benefits. North Carolina, for example, passed a law in October prohibiting the state from getting waivers for federal time limits for food stamps.
“There’s a lot of talk and a lot of movement now that we see, particularly from Republicans, that it’s time to extend what we did to TANF to other programs,” says Schott, of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The end of food stamps for childless adults is one more example of this. States like Arkansas are acting to ensure that those people who have no other benefits except food stamps lose those benefits unless they find a job, but they are most often the people who will have the hardest time finding work.
Tomiko Townley, the Hunger Relief Alliance case manager, knows what this will mean for single, childless adults in Arkansas. On April 1, thousands of Arkansans will go to buy food, swipe their card, get an error message, and have no idea why they aren’t receiving help anymore. They’ll turn to food pantries and soup kitchens, who will be overwhelmed by the demand.
And then, they’ll disappear off the government’s rolls, just as the welfare recipients have. The numbers of people receiving food stamps will drop, and thousands more people won’t be able to eat, or survive. But to the policymakers who look for a shrinking welfare program, the changes will be considered a success.
LOS ANGELES—Despite the star power of Leonardo DiCaprio and director Martin Scorsese, the 2013 hit movie “The Wolf of Wall Street” took more than six years to get made because studios weren’t willing to invest in a risky R-rated project.
Help arrived from a virtually unknown production company called Red Granite Pictures. Though it had made just one movie, Red Granite came up with the more than $100 million needed to film the sex- and drug-fueled story of a penny-stock swindler.
Global investigators now believe much of the money to make the movie about a stock scam was diverted from a state fund 9,000 miles away in Malaysia, a fund that had been established to spur local economic development.
The investigators, said people familiar with their work, believe this financing was part of a wider scandal at the Malaysian fund, which has been detailed in Wall Street Journal articles over the past year.
The fund, 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB, was set up seven years ago by the prime minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak. His stepson, Riza Aziz, is the chairman of Red Granite Pictures.
The 1MDB fund is now the focus of numerous investigations at home and abroad, which grew out of $11 billion of debt it ran up and questions raised in Malaysia about how some of its money was used.
Investigators in two countries believe that $155 million originating with 1MDB moved into Red Granite in 2012 through a circuitous route involving offshore shell companies, said people familiar with the probes. This same money trail also is described by a person familiar with 1MDB’s dealings and supported by documents reviewed by the Journal.
The story of how “The Wolf of Wall Street” was financed brings together Hollywood celebrities with a cast of characters mostly known for their connections to the Malaysian prime minister. It detours through parties in Cannes and aboard a yacht, and spending on such embellishments as a rare, million-dollar movie poster and an original 1955 Academy Award statuette.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has issued subpoenas to several current and former employees of Red Granite and to a bank and an accounting firm the company used, according to people familiar with the subpoenas.
“Red Granite is responding to all inquiries and cooperating fully,” said a spokesman for the company, based in West Hollywood, Calif. He said it had no reason to believe the source of its financing was irregular.
The 1MDB fund and Mr. Najib’s office didn’t respond to questions about Red Granite. In the past, both have denied any wrongdoing. Representatives of Messrs. DiCaprio and Scorsese didn’t respond to numerous requests for comment.
The film grossed about $400 million and was nominated for five Academy Awards, including best picture. There is no indication any profits from it flowed to 1MDB or Malaysia.
The movie, heavy on depictions of Wall Street debauchery, wasn’t distributed in Malaysia after authorities there demanded more than 90 cuts to comply with local morality laws, a Malaysian official said.
Red Granite Pictures was set up in 2010 by Mr. Aziz, the Malaysian prime minister’s stepson, now 39 years old, and Christopher McFarland, a Kentucky businessman who is 43.
Mr. Aziz had worked in finance in London, left to travel and ended up in the U.S., he once told the Hollywood Reporter. Mr. McFarland, called Joey, invested in various ventures and moved to Hollywood to try to make movies, people who know him say.
The two were introduced by a mutual friend: a peripatetic Malaysian businessman named Jho Low, who became a fixture on the party circuit in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York starting in 2009. Mr. Low gained media attention for a lavish lifestyle that brought him into the orbit of celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.
Mr. Low knew Mr. Aziz from the U.K., where both had studied, and forged ties to Mr. Aziz’s family, including Prime Minister Najib. In Malaysia, Mr. Low, whose full name is Low Taek Jho and who is 34, played a role in setting up the fund that became 1MDB.
Messrs. Aziz and McFarland worked for a time out of L’Ermitage Beverly Hills, a luxury hotel owned by a company Mr. Low founded. The aspiring movie moguls later set up an office on Sunset Boulevard that they filled with Hollywood memorabilia.
These included a poster for the 1927 Fritz Lang science-fiction film “Metropolis,” a rare original that cost $1 million, said people familiar with it.
Red Granite burst on the scene in 2011 by throwing a million-dollar beach extravaganza at the Cannes film festival with fireworks and performances by Kanye West, dressed all in white, and Pharrell Williams. A few months later its first movie was released, “Friends With Kids,” starring Adam Scott and Kristen Wiig.
“They definitely came off as high rollers when they started,” said Howard Cohen, co-president of Roadside Attractions, the distributor of Red Granite’s first film.
In the insular movie business, many were surprised to find the high-energy but inexperienced Mr. McFarland overseeing dealings with filmmakers. “Joey is their mouthpiece, and Riza—he said maybe 20 words to me,” said Charles Wessler, a producer of a later Red Granite-backed film.
Messrs. Aziz and McFarland next turned their attention to “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Mr. Low, the Malaysian financier, made a key connection: He knew Mr. DiCaprio and introduced him to Red Granite, according to people familiar with the introduction.
Mr. DiCaprio had long been interested in a movie based on the memoirs of a penny-stock operator who went to prison for fraud, Jordan Belfort. But the actor and other boosters couldn’t find a studio that believed a film so expensive and potentially offensive would find a big enough audience.
Red Granite was willing to take the risk.
Shooting began in August 2012. Three months later, when Mr. DiCaprio had a birthday, the Red Granite principals forged a closer tie to him with an unusual gift: the Oscar statuette presented to Marlon Brando in 1955 for best actor in “On the Waterfront.” People who described the gift said the statuette had been acquired for around $600,000 through a New Jersey memorabilia dealer.
Mr. Aziz, asked about Red Granite’s financing in a 2014 New York Times interview, identified the main investor as a businessman in Abu Dhabi named Mohamed Ahmed Badawy Al-Husseiny. “There was no Malaysian money,” he said.
Mr. Al-Husseiny is an American who then headed Aabar Investments PJS, which is an arm of an Abu Dhabi sovereign-wealth fund known as IPIC. The state-owned firms did business with 1MDB. For instance, IPIC guaranteed some of the Malaysian fund’s bonds.
In connection with the IPIC guarantees, 1MDB reported in corporate filings that in 2012, it sent $1.4 billion to Aabar as collateral.
Investigators believe this money never got to Aabar in Abu Dhabi but went instead to a separate, almost identically named company that Mr. Al-Husseiny had helped set up in the British Virgin Islands, called Aabar Investments PJS Ltd., said people familiar with the probes.
The investigators believe about $155 million of this money then flowed to Red Granite Capital, a firm Mr. Aziz had formed to fund the film company.
Documents reviewed by the Journal show three transfers to Red Granite Capital: of $60 million, $45 million and $50 million in 2012.
The $60 million and $45 million transfers were booked by Red Granite Capital as a loan from the British Virgin Islands company that had a name almost identical to Aabar Investments.
Most of the $50 million moved to Red Granite from that same British Virgin Islands company, via intermediaries, the investigators believe.
Among the intermediaries, according to people familiar with investigations and the person familiar with 1MDB: Telina Holdings Inc., a company that had been set up in the British Virgin Islands by Mr. Al-Husseiny and his boss, Khadem Al Qubaisi.
Representatives of the two men, who have been removed from their posts in Abu Dhabi, declined to comment.
A November 2012 loan agreement from Telina Holdings, reviewed by the Journal, shows the $50 million was to fund “The Wolf of Wall Street.” This loan has been repaid, said people familiar with it.
The spokesman for Red Granite said it “has been repaying and will continue to repay all of its loans in accordance with their terms.”
It isn’t clear to whom Red Granite could repay the $105 million loan. The British Virgin Islands firm that extended it was liquidated last June.
“Red Granite had no reason to believe at the time that the source of Aabar’s funds was in any way irregular and still believes the loan to be legitimate,” said the film company’s spokesman.
Once “The Wolf of Wall Street” was in production, Messrs. Aziz and McFarland were sometimes on the set and involved.
On Dec. 31, 2012, around the end of filming, many of those involved celebrated New Year’s festivities in Australia and then flew to Las Vegas on a rented jetliner in time to celebrate it again, according to people familiar with the trip, who said the celebrants included Messrs. Aziz and Low, “Wolf of Wall Street” stars Mr. DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, along with singer and actor Jamie Foxx, an acquaintance of Mr. Aziz. A representative of Mr. Foxx declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Mr. Hill didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Six months after the movie’s debut, Messrs. DiCaprio, Aziz and Low attended the Brazilian World Cup and spent time on the Topaz, a 482-foot yacht owned by Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, chairman of the Abu Dhabi sovereign-wealth fund IPIC, according to people familiar with the excursion. Sheikh Mansour, who is also deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, didn’t attend, they said.
The success of “The Wolf of Wall Street” established Red Granite as a player in Hollywood. It went on to produce “Dumb and Dumber To,” a sequel to the 1994 Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels comedy, and another comedy, “Daddy’s Home,” with Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. It is planning to bring out a film about George Washington.
Investigations of 1MDB “will not affect our ability to move forward with the exciting projects Red Granite is developing,” the firm’s spokesman said.
Written by Bradley Hope, John R. Emshwiller, Ben Fritz of The Wall Street Journal
In a blow to one of the last viable models of newspaper distribution, New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority has signed off on a plan to stop “hawkers” from handing out free daily newspapers in the city’s subway system. The proposed move, approved Wednesday by the MTA board, threatens to significantly diminish the papers’ visibility at a time when traditional newsstand sales have all but evaporated.
For more than a decade, two free newspapers — amNewYork and Metro New York — have competed for the attention of New York City commuters across the vast underground network, and to do so, they’ve relied on armies of vocal vendors who peddle their products and ensure that any rider who wants one, and presumably many who don’t, gets a copy.
But on Wednesday the MTA boardapproved a proposed licensing agreement that would do away with the hawkers in exchange for lifeless newspaper racks. The non-exclusive agreement, valid for up to six years, would allow for the installation of uniform racks at approved locations throughout the subway system and would prohibit amNewYork and Metro from distributing their papers in the subway by any other means.
An MTA spokesman confirmed with International Business Times that, per the agreement, hawkers will no longer be able to hand out the papers in subway stations or even outside subway entrances. Officials for the agency have long criticized the hawkers, who they say create safety hazards by interrupting the flow of commuters and leaving bundles of newspapers unattended. The MTA said discarded newspapers have led to an increase in track fires.
It’s unclear if the papers’ parent companies have signed the agreement or if they plan to push back. A representative for Newsday LLC, which owns amNewYork, declined to comment. Representatives for Metro International did not respond to repeated requests.
John Murray, vice president of audience development for the Newspaper Association of America, said it’s not uncommon for newspaper companies to reach compromises with city agencies and municipalities over distribution methods, even to their own detriment. While an outright ban on newspaper hawkers would likely stir the ire of free speech advocates, newspaper companies, many of which are already struggling to make ends meet, are typically not eager to enter into pricey court battles. Agreements like the one the MTA is proposing ensure that they are still given access, but restrict the means by which they can distribute.
The loss of the subway hawkers, whose vocal pleas for readers have become a familiar sound to tube-bound New Yorkers, would likely have a negative impact on the papers’ circulation numbers, which in turn could affect advertising rates. AmNewYork boasts the highest daily circulation of any tabloid-sized paper in the city, with an average of 335,900 copies distributed each weekday, according to its 2014 media kit.
“The hawkers are still very valuable, in particular for free-distribution newspapers,” Murray said. “In many cities without the hawkers, the distribution is below that critical mass and you don’t have the scale that you need from a business sense.”
“You don’t generate an audience as large with racks,” he added.
With the proliferation of smartphones, tablets and e-readers over the last decade, New Yorkers have plenty of ways to keep themselves occupied during their subway commutes. But broadband connectivity remains spotty or nonexistent in many parts of the underground system, and in many ways New York’s 5.5 million daily subway riders remain one of the world’s largest captive audiences.
In that controlled environment, the two free dailies have proved surprisingly resilient, even as the mobile revolution has decimated many of the city’s newsstands. Offering bite-size, mostly aggregated news, amNewYork and Metro demand very little brain power, which is an obvious fit for half-asleep New Yorkers trudging into work at 5:30 in the morning. Somehow, playing Crossy Road at that hour just doesn’t cut it.
Written by Christopher Zara of International Business Times