National News

Don't blame millennials. Blame the middle-aged!

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-07-17 02:00

There's a common refrain about the sluggish housing market these days that goes something like: "Those darned young folks just aren't buying houses like they used to."

Well, that diagnosis isn't quite right, according to a new study from Trulia, the online real estate firm.

Trulia Chief Economist Jed Kolko says if you look at the data, "18-to-34-year-olds today look about as likely to own a home as 18-to-34-year-olds did 20 years ago, once we adjust for the big changes in demographics."

Kolko points to demographic changes like the fact that today's young adults are much less likely to be married or have kids than their counterparts 20 years ago. When you look at the young adults today who still are married with kids, he says they are buying homes at the same rates as they did in 1997.

But there is a generation where homeownership really has declined since the rise and fall of the real estate market in the 2000s, even when you adjust for demographics.

"The 35-to-54-year-old group was more affected both by the housing bubble and by the foreclosure crisis," Kolko says.

Graphics from Trulia, depicting adjusted homeownership rates for 18-to-34 year olds and 35-to-54 year olds compared to a demographic baseline. The demographic baseline is a depiction of we'd expect to happen with those demographic if the recession, or any other behavioral changes, didn't occur. (Graphics courtesy of Trulia)

Of course, even that generation might not be gone from the housing market forever. Amy Gerrish, 36, lost her home outside of Phoenix, Ariz. to foreclosure in the early days of the real estate crash, and then reluctantly became a renter.

She knew it would take at least three years after the foreclosure to be considered for a home loan again.

"As soon as that date started coming up, we started looking," she says.

She now is a homeowner once more.

We reached out to listeners on Twitter to ask about their experience with the housing market. Here are some of the responses:

[<a href="//" target="_blank">View the story "Middle-Age Homebuyers" on Storify</a>]

Facebook wants to know what you're watching

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-07-17 02:00

Let’s face it, we use our smart phones for just about everything, including watching television.

This fall, TV ratings giant Nielsen and Facebook will join forces to follow what we watch on our mobile devices.

Dorie Clark teaches corporate and personal branding at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. She says the new tracking system is a "necessary evolution."

“People are consuming far more video on their smart phones, on their I-Pads,” says Clark. “And if we want to make smart decisions about how to allocate marketing dollars, we need to know what they’re watching and where.” 

But there could be privacy concerns.

A Facebook spokesperson says the new system can’t be used to identify individuals. Even though Facebook and Nielsen announced the partnership last year, recent controversy over Facebook manipulating content to influence users’ emotions as part of a survey worries privacy advocates.

Jeff Chester, Executive Director of the Center for Digital Democracy, for example.

“It’s just one piece of a much more disturbing picture that’s emerging as Facebook links with these powerful market research companies to understand what we do and when we do it,” says Chester. 


That perfect 'Seinfeld' episode about cable companies

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-07-17 01:00

Even though I got it, I never really got the "Seinfeld" Plaza Cable gag fully until I moved to New York City.

In my first apartment, I remember that even getting the cable installed and trying to start to pay the cable guy real money every month felt like an epic right of passage. That 1996 episode of television -- airing a decade before I even came to the city -- became, like so many "Seinfeld" depictions, a chrystalized experience in an ever-changing city. Watching it now nearly ten more years later, it remains pitch perfect. Just watch this and tell me you can't relate. I dare you. 

The weird 4-hour appointments, the long hold times on the phone, the grumpy dude in the van -- it's all there. Kramer as the everyman is exactly as he should be: Incredulous at a seemingly arbitrary and faceless organization, righteous in his indignation, and happy to "stick it to the man," even when the man is of course a real person with real feelings.

It is actually really elegant how the roles are flipped. The cable guy becomes the powerless person waiting around as his blood is brought slowly to boil. Kramer is what we percieve the cable company to be: Snickering behind a peephole and messing with us while taking advantage because there's really not much we can do about it.

This has been an interesting week for media and cable companies. Rupert Murdoch's $80 billion bid for Time Warner is almost just a rumble behind the awkward sound of that customer service call between an Engagdget editor and a Comcast customer service agent. In a veritable monster mix of smash hits, it's the latest and greatest viral example proving the cable company is pretty much the worst at dealing with its customers.

Comcast is currently on a full court press for its unprecedented merger with Time Warner Cable -- Which, by the way, just sent me the most rediculous letter congratulating me on my newly-reduced-but-still-more-than-I've-been-paying rate. And at the same time from Reddit to The New Yorker, the company is also this week's modern stand-in for Seinfeld's Plaza Cable. 

The fact that the jokes are still relevant is what's really disturbing. In "Seinfeld," the cable guy apologizes through the door, and Kramer, moved, rolls back the deadbolt. They hug. What could be better? A truce between customer and company, a promise to do better, and a regonition of the humanity and hardships on both sides.

I think I prefer the TV show to real life. "Seinfeld," at least, has a happy ending.

Israel, Hamas Begin Humanitarian Cease-Fire

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-17 00:36

The two sides agreed to the pause following a request by the United Nations so that supplies could be delivered to Gaza. The latest round of fighting is in its 10th day.

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Palestinian-American Teen Beaten In Mideast Returns Home To Florida

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-17 00:26

Tariq Abu Khdeir, 15, who relatives say was beaten by Israeli authorities, returned home to Florida late Wednesday. He says he will never think of freedom in the same way again.

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Physicists Crush Diamonds With Giant Laser

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-16 23:34

It's not a plot from a Bond film: Zapping diamonds could tell researchers more about the insides of giant planets.

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Amid A 'Shimmering' Tension, A Walk Through Israel And The West Bank

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-16 23:32

Journalist Paul Salopek's journey from Africa to South America takes him to Israel and the West Bank, where he notes the physical beauty of the landscape stands in stark contrast with violence there.

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Skimping On Sleep Can Stress Body And Brain

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-16 23:31

Too stressed to get seven hours of solid shut-eye tonight? Prepare to be even less resilient tomorrow. Stress disrupts sleep, which feeds depression, anxiety — and more stress, scientists say.

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Gunmen Temporarily Shut Down Kabul Airport

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-16 19:00

Kabul Police Chief Mohammed Zahir Zahir later said four of the attackers were killed and that the attack was halted without any civilian or police casualties.

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Obama Unrolls New Sanctions Against Russia

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-16 16:02

President Obama delivered a whirlwind news conference Wednesday, discussing a series of foreign policy issues from Afghanistan to Ukraine. Obama also announced a new round of sanctions against Russian banks, energy companies and individuals for what he sees as interference in Ukrainian affairs.

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Federal Judge Declares Death Penalty Unconstitutional In California

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-16 14:52

Systemic delays create a system that is arbitrary, a federal judge in Orange County decided. Death penalty advocates, however, say delays are a bigger problem for victims' families.

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This Dirty Little Weed May Have Cleaned Up Ancient Teeth

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-16 14:07

Turns out that for 7,000 years, snacking on nutsedge may have helped people avoid tooth decay. But at some point, the root it lost its charm. By the 1970s, it was branded "the world's worst weed."

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Lotteries Take In Billions, Often Attract The Poor

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-16 13:39

Americans wager nearly $60 billion a year on lotteries. Revenues help states, which use the money to provide services. But researchers say the games often draw low-income gamblers who are on welfare.

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U.S. Sanctions Major Russian Banks And Energy Companies

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-16 13:33

The Obama administration announced new sanctions Wednesday that go well beyond any previously imposed in its dispute with Russia over Ukraine. It's not clear whether Europeans will match them.

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California farms pumping water to make up for drought

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-07-16 13:27

This is the third-driest year in California in at least 106 years. The drought has led state officials to clamp down on water waste, like open hoses. Fines can hit $500. 

The drought is having its biggest effect on California’s mammoth agriculture industry. A report from UC Davis’s Center for Watershed Sciences pegs losses at $2.2 billion this year. 

“There will be some pockets of deprivation, poverty,” says Josué Medellín-Azuara, a UC Davis researcher who worked on the report.

Four hundred square miles of farmland has been fallowed—mostly lower-value crops like alfalfa. More than 17,000 seasonal farm workers are affected.

“It takes people to provide nutrients for those crops. It takes people to even insure those crops. It takes people to truck those crops to market,” says Bruce Blodgett, executive director of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau.  

The drought’s impact could be far worse, though. 

Farmers in the Central Valley have managed to find another source for 75 percent of the water they normally get from state and federal reservoirs. They’re drilling deep into underground aquifers, pumping out enough water to cover 7,800 square miles a foot deep.  

“I’m fortunate enough to have a well for groundwater, but it’s caused our electric rates to probably triple,” says Thomas Ulm, a farmer in Modesto. 

Ulm’s farm is getting only half the reservoir water it’s usually allocated, so he’s relying on his own well to keep his almonds, walnuts and grapes growing. 

His neighbor just drilled a well, too. All this drilling and pumping is unregulated and, “Eventually, of course, you run out of water,” says Robert Glennon, a professor at the University of Arizona, and the author of “Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It.” 

If the state’s groundwater is like a giant milkshake glass, “what California is allowing is a limitless number of straws in the glass,” he says. “That’s a recipe for disaster. It’s utterly unsustainable.”

Especially when this drought could last another year, or another 50.


Pardon my (economic) language

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-07-16 13:27

Apparently, and this kind of stands to reason, the use of profanity by CEOs varies with economic conditions.

Bloomberg actually went through and did a word search of earnings call transcripts for the past 10 years. Profanity peaked in 2010, dipped a bit, shot up again in 2012 and has been declining ever since.

I know you want to know what the words are, but I really need my job.

There's a chart that'll give you the details, though:

A screenshot of Bloomberg's graphic on CEO cursing. For more detail, see the full graphic. (Courtesy of Bloomberg)

Militias Clash At Libyan Airport For Fourth Day

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-16 12:54

The Tripoli airport has become a battleground between rival groups. The United Nations pulled its personnel out of the country earlier this week due to concerns about violence around the country.

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Visa Makes Big Move To Boost Consumer Spending Online

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-16 12:45

Ever try shopping on your smartphone and decide you don't want to put in your credit card number? Visa says it's a big problem and came up with a tool that combines improved security and convenience.

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Dallas Fed Chair: Time to lose monetary "beer goggles"

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-07-16 12:35

"The punch in that punch bowl is still 108 proof," says Dallas Federal Reserve Bank Chair Richard Fisher. "Things look better when you have a lot of liquidity in your system."

He's calling on Washington to end the taper and rasie interest rates, something he believes will happen by October.

Chairman Fisher gave a speech on monetary policy today at USC Annenberg and stopped by Marketplace to chat afterwards.

Here is a link to his full speech, titled " Monetary Policy and the Maginot Line (With Reference to Jonathan Swift, Neil Irwin, Shakespeare’s Portia, Duck Hunting, the Virtues of Nuisance and Paul Volcker)".  Listen to his full conversation with Kai Ryssdal in the audio player above.

Patients With Low-Cost Insurance Struggle To Find Specialists

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-16 12:11

A Houston internist who supported the Affordable Care Act now finds that many of her patients who bought less expensive coverage have trouble getting the specialized care they need.

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