National News

NFL Draft: Texans Pick Clowney; Manziel To Browns

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-08 22:20

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney went No. 1 in the NFL draft to the Houston Texans. Johnny Manziel lasted until the 22nd pick when he was taken by the Cleveland Browns.

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Report: Apple On Verge Of Buying Beats For $3.2 Billion

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-08 22:10

Apple is trying to acquire Beats Electronics, the headphone maker and music streaming distributor founded by hip-hop star Dr. Dre and record producer Jimmy Iovine, according to a published report.

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WATCH: Jordanian Journalists Destroy TV Set

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-08 16:36

A heated debate erupts on the set of a news discussion program, ending in a pile of debris.

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Oklahoma Agrees To Delay Executions For 6 Months

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-08 15:59

The decision follows last week's botched execution by lethal injection of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett.

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The nuances of the "1 percent"

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-08 15:33

Last week, we did a story about how likely it is that anyone in the United States will spend even a little part of their lives in the 1 percent. We got a lot of feedback —comments, questions and discussion about income inequality vs. wealth inequality, about the 1 percent vs. the 0.1 percent and about economic mobility. There's so much interesting stuff to talk about, we decided to dive back in to the issue and answer some of the questions you raised.

Q. The story looked at some new research by Mark Rank and Thomas Hirschl that suggests one in eight americans will make it in to the "1 percent" of earners for at least a year of their lives, to which Andrew Tong responded on Facebook: "Perhaps in income. But most certainly not based on net worth!" 

So what’s the difference between income and net worth?

Andrew brings up a good point. Rank and Hirschl's research looks at the 1 percent in terms of income. In this case “income” means the money a household makes in the course of a year, mainly through working a job and getting a paycheck.  (The data did also count money a family might have inherited in a given year. It did not include capital gains.) 

In dollar terms, a household would be in the 1 percent of earners today if it makes more than about $360,000 in a year. 

But as Andrew and others pointed out--- income is just part of the story. If you’re interested in the way economic resources in the U.S. are distributed, you have to look at income but also about wealth or net worth. That is, the total money you have in the bank, plus the value of your home(s), car(s), investments; minus all your debts.

To be in the top 1 percent in terms of wealth there is a much higher bar. You'd have to be worth more than roughly $8.4 million. 

Q. What do we know about wealth inequality versus income inequality?

@Marketplace So income inequality isn't so much the problem. It's WEALTH inequality.

— Sammy Saber (@SammySaber) May 5, 2014

The short story is that wealth inequality is growing right along with income inequality, especially at the very top. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that in the early 1960s, the wealthiest 1 percent in the U.S. had 125 times the wealth of a median household. In 2010, that ratio had doubled, reaching 288 to 1.

It’s worth noting that data on wealth and wealth inequality is harder to come by than data on incomes. The census measures income, not wealth. Tax returns don’t paint a full picture of a person’s net holdings. Surveys like the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances have trouble capturing the super-rich.

Part of what makes the work of Thomas Piketty and his colleagues Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman so ground-breaking is that they have developed new ways to measure private wealth and wealth inequality over time.  Their method involves taking tax returns, which record the income generated from assets (in dividends, interest payments or rental income), and teasing out the underlying value of those assets.

Q. Does the 1 percent even matter? Or, as Kevin Tyler put it on Facebook, “The 1 percent people are complaining about are probably only about the .01 percent!”

Yes, “We are the 99.99%" might have been a less catchy but more accurate chant for Occupy Wall Street. (Shout out to Carl Swanson for making this point on Facebook). 

That’s because the most intense rise in incomes the U.S. has seen in the last forty years isn’t among the top 1 percent, but the top 0.1 and 0.01 percent.  Check out this graph, that the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson built out of data from Thomas Piketty and friends’ World Top Incomes Database:

 Chart by Derek Thompson, Data from World Top Incomes Database

It’s also important to note that the kind of income the tippy top of the 1 percent is earning is mostly not the wage or salary kind that most Americans earn. It’s capital gains-- money made from investments in real estate or in the stock market. And that money is taxed at a lower rate than the plain old “income” you get from a pay check at a job.

There are also growing disparities within the 1 percent of households as measured by wealth (as opposed to income).  The rise over the last few decades in the share of total wealth these households own has been almost completely driven by a rise in the wealth of the top 0.1 percent (households with a net worth of more than $20 million today). Those at the “bottom” of the 1 percent have seen their wealth relatively stagnant.

And yet, as critical as the 0.1 and 0.01 percent are to our understanding of wealth and income inequality, we shouldn’t entirely ignore the plain old 1 percent. Even if people at the bottom of this percentile don’t always “feel” rich, it’s worth remembering that if your household makes more than $360,000 in a year—even just a single year—you’ve got things pretty darn good compared to 99 percent of the rest of America. 

Q.  What about economic mobility? How does the fact that one in eight Americans might join the 1 percent of earners for a year at some point in their lives fit in to the larger question of how possible it is to move up the economic ladder over the course of your life?

This is a really important question.  We love our rags to riches stories, but it's a mixed bag here in America. Rank and Hirschl’s research suggests that more Americans than you might expect jump in to the 1 percent of income distribution at some point in their lives, but very few stay there for very long. And it’s more than seven times more likely for a white person to reach the 1 percent than for a person of color. 

Then there’s the fact that Americans have a greater chance of living in poverty for a year than living for a year in the 1 percent.  In earlier research, Rank found that  40 percent of American adults will spend at least a year below the official poverty line. 

When it comes to overall rates of economic mobility, new research from Harvard economist Raj Chetty shows that it’s about as hard to climb the economic ladder in the U.S. as it was 20 years ago. The good news is that today most Americans will live in households with higher incomes than their parents (even after adjusting for inflation).  But that’s largely due to the rise in two-earner homes. 

And when you look at economic mobility in the U.S. compared to other industrialized democracies, we don’t fare so well.  It’s harder for Americans to climb in to a different part of the income distribution than the one their parents were in— say, from the bottom 20 percent to the top 20 percent.   If you were born in to poverty in America, the chances of escaping it are half as good as they are in a country like Denmark.  

House Lawmakers Vote To Reopen Benghazi Probe

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-08 14:50

On a largely party-line vote, Republicans and some Democrats approved the establishment of a committee to dig deeper into the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya.

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Latest Partisan Flashpoint: GOP Benghazi Fundraising

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-08 14:42

Raising money after tragedy isn't new. But the latest dust-up comes as both parties try to energize their grass-roots supporters with control of Capitol Hill in the balance.

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The Messy Legal Road That Led To Oklahoma's Botched Execution

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-08 13:19

Most of the country became aware of issues with the state's capital punishment protocols last week after Clayton Lockett's bungled execution, but his lawyers had been worried for months.

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If the housing market can't find its mojo...

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-08 13:11

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen feels alright about most of the economy, she told Congress’ Joint Economic Committee yesterday, saying that “many recent indicators suggest a rebound in spending and production is already underway.” 

But keep an eye, she advised, on one sector:

“One cautionary note though is that readings on housing activity, a sector that has been recovering since 2011 have remained disappointing so far this year and will bear watching.”

Stephanie Rizk didn’t need to hear it from Ms Yellen though. Two years after the housing market bottomed out, she can see it from the window of her house in Laurel, Maryland. 

“On my street there are three abandoned or foreclosed properties that are empty,” she says. “There’s a decaying speedboat in the back yard of one. I can’t do anything about that as a homeowner.” 

Rizk put her house up for sale last year because she wanted to move closer to work and school. The house didn’t sell, even after six months on the market.

“It’s really hard to sell a house when there are literally no neighbors because the houses are empty,” she says. Luckily, Rizk found renters. She and her family were able to move...but not buy. 

Buying a home new home was a whole other ordeal involving disputes over appraisals and stubborn sellers. “It was very frustrating,” she says.  

Chris Mayer, professor of real estate at Columbia School of Business says this is not terribly surprising. “Sales activity of new and existing homes have not recovered anywhere near the levels in a normal recovery,” says Mayer. 

Whereas we would expect to see maybe 2 million housing starts a month, says Mayer, we’re seeing less than a million.

Malcolm Hollensteiner, who directs retail lending and sales at TD Bank, says from his vantage point “the concern we have in the industry is that the first time homebuyer has not resurfaced during this recovery.” Rather, “In many markets, 30-40 percent of home buyers are all cash buyers – this means that a high percentage are investors instead of first time homebuyers.”

One reason for this is that Federal Housing Authority has increased the cost of loans for first time home buyers, charging more for mortgage insurance. 

“In typical years,” says Hollensteiner, “the FHA share of the first time homebuyer market was as high as 60 or 70 percent -- it’s dropped to the 30 percent range as of today.”

Another, less structural factor behind the current flatness of housing sales compared to last year is that “some sales a year ago were leftover foreclosures,” says Nicholas Retsinas, senior lecturer on real estate at Harvard Business School. “Some is left but a lot went by the wayside,” he says. Additionally, last year there were even more investors buying homes. Now that prices have risen modestly, “investors can’t find that low hanging fruit anymore,” further reducing sales.  

The problem for economists including those at the Federal Reserve is that when people don’t buy homes, they don’t buy a lot of other things. “When you buy a home one of the first things you do is go out and get new furniture, talk to contractors, supply companies,” says Columbia’s Mayer. And don’t forget the real estate agents and the lawyers.

In the past, economic recovery depended on this, depended on housing.

Retsinas says “if you go back to the last six or seven recessions, it was the secret sauce.” 

No longer, he says. It’s a smaller part of the economy now, and it’s just not recovering quickly.

“It still has some punch, but the punch may not be what it once was.”

If housing isn’t the main driver of the economy, what is? Retsinas says he doesn’t know. Maybe there isn’t just one, or maybe there just isn’t one. 

Vietnam Says Video Proves China Rammed Its Ship

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-08 12:49

The footage is released by the country's coast guard as Beijing reiterates that it has the right to drill for oil in the disputed region.

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Size does matter for FedEx

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-08 12:34

Heads up if you buy lots of diapers, paper towels or shoes online. FedEx has announced starting next year all ground packages will be priced according to size.

Analysts believe this could mean a price spike on 30 percent of the company's shipments, primarily the bulky, lightweight stuff. Yes prices will go up, but people in the shipping business say there may be a way around me and my pillow retailer paying it, especially if cost – not speed – is the primary consideration.

Local couriers – and even USPS – are ready and willing says Kent Smith with Ursa Major Associates.

"Sophisticated ecommerce mailers will manage it in stride because they are not tied to a single deliverer," he says.

Another potential change to watch for: box sizes. Supply chain consultant Marc Wulfratt with MWPVL International says he expects to see companies tailor box size to the precise dimensions of what's being shipped.

"Today if you put an item in a box and it doesn't fill the full height they add air bags, paper. Well that space in the box is costing them money," he says.

by Shea Huffman

But when thinking about how this change will affect shipping items and online shopping, what items can you order, say from Amazon, that push the boundaries or are otherwise unsusal in terms size and weight?

In an attempt to answer that question, we put together a wish list on Amazon of things that are bulky, heavy and dense, or light, fluffy and compact. You can see a few selections below, but we are most certainly only scratching the surface.

The heaviest thing on Amazon

The honor for the heaviest item on Amazon famously used to belong to this three-quarter ton gun safe, but it has since been overtaken, as far as we can tell, by a 4.5 ton industrial-grade lathe, which Amazon will ship to you for free.

The most dense element on earth

Osmium has the highest density of any naturally occuring element and in certain forms, particularly the kind you can order from Amazon, it can become toxic when exposed to the air. Hazardous materials fees are included in the pricing.


What springs to mind when thinking of things that are light? Feathers of course. Certain packages of them are so light and small that its apparently not even worth if for Amazon to ship them on their own.

Our wish list is by no means exhaustive, so if you have any suggestions about light, heavy or unsually voluminous items you can find on Amazon, we'd love to hear about them.

And while we're on the subject, if anyone is feeling like making a generous contribution to public radio, there is a handy wish list available...

Mental Health 101: Program Helps Police Intervene In Crises

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-08 12:26

The intersection of law enforcement and mental health has been an issue in Connecticut since the Newtown shootings. One city is training its officers to better decipher delicate situations.

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13 Spliffy Jobs In The Marijuana Industry

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-08 12:20

With various forms of pot legalization sweeping the country, the weed buzzness is booming.

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Go to college, wash your own clothes. Right?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-08 12:04

When I was growing up in North Carolina, I'd heard about this, but it sounded like a myth.

According to The Charlotte Observer, however, the rumors were true: For more than 90 years, Davidson College, a liberal arts college in Western North Carolina, has offered students this perk: They've "washed, dried, folded, and ironed students' clothes for free."


Well, no more.

Davidson College's president says that starting next year on May 15, students will have to use washers and dryers themselves.

She's decided the $400,000 that  pays for the laundry service could be better spent on things like research. And keeping the library open 24/7.

After Stanford Divests From Coal, Activists' Hopes Turn To Harvard

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-08 12:03

Stanford University's decision to stop direct investments in coal mining companies is encouraging student-led divestment movements at other universities. Chloe Maxmin of Divest Harvard discusses her hopes following Stanford's announcement. Harvard University has the largest university endowment in the U.S.

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Spurning Putin's Calls For Delay, Ukrainian Separatists Forge Ahead

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-08 12:03

Despite Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent comments, separatists in some cities in eastern Ukraine say they plan to go ahead with their unofficial independence referendum on Sunday.

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New Rules Aim To Keep School Doors Open For Undocumented Students

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-08 12:03

The Obama administration is issuing new guidelines to keep states from barring the children of undocumented immigrants from attending public school. The Supreme Court has guaranteed these children free access to a public education, but some states appear to be denying it anyway.

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Keystone Pipeline Dispute Muddles The Path Forward On Energy Bill

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-08 12:03

An energy efficiency bill has stalled in the Senate, primarily due to disagreement over the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The dispute leaves an otherwise popular bill in limbo.

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Forecast Predicts A Shift Away From Employer-Sponsored Insurance

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-08 12:03

A Senate committee is grilling Sylvia Matthews Burwell, the nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services. If confirmed, she would oversee the next phase of the Affordable Care Act. A new forecast says the health care law will drive some employers to stop offering coverage to their employees, pushing employees onto the new government exchanges.

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Baffling, Boy-Swallowing Holes Close An Indiana Dune

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-08 12:03

A popular summer spot is closed indefinitely because of mysterious holes — one of which temporarily buried a boy — that open and close in less than a day. Scientists have no idea why.

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