National News

A Christmas Day movie about sleaze on Wall Street

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2013-12-25 05:36

This Christmas Day will be a day to celebrate obscene wealth, moral decay and massive corruption on Wall Street. At least, according to Hollywood.

Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ opens on big screens on December 25 -- just under the wire for Oscar consideration. The black comedy stars Leonardo DiCaprio as penny-stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who went from filthy-rich to federal prison for stock fraud in the 1990s, and then wrote a memoir of the same name about it.

It’s not hard to guess from the tone of the movie trailers which stereotypes ‘The Wolf” will trade in, as one character tells Belfort to “move the money from your client’s pocket into your pocket.”  

For people in high finance, ‘The Wolf’ will be yet another reminder that Wall Street equals ‘corruption’ and ‘excess’ in the popular culture.

That’s OK, says Max Wolff. He’s a strategist and economist at ZTWealth in Manhattan.

“It jacks up people’s sense of self-importance and influence,” says Wolff. He plans to see the movie, and says his friends in finance will too. He thinks they’ll take solace in the fact that the movie is set way back in the 1990s -- not in the 2000s, of recent bubble-bust-bailout memory.

After the movie, he says, “they’ll talk endlessly to each other about how unrealistic it is, and that will be part of a bonding exercise in the industry."

Simon Rosenfeld, senior vice president at Meridian Capital Group in New York, briefly sold stocks off a script early in his career. That’s what the unscrupulous boiler-room brokers working for Jordan Belfort are depicted as doing in 'The Wolf of Wall Street," though Rosenfeld says he was never asked to do anything illegal.

Rosenfeld soon switched from stock-broking to the commercial mortgage business -- which he says would be zero-percent interesting to watch on the silver screen.

“They’re not going to choose to make a movie out of the boring mundane daily activities of what goes on in the mostly-legal world in this industry,” Rosenfeld says.

He’s also looking forward to seeing the new Scorsese flick. He says he doesn’t mind when Hollywood depicts a few colorful crooks plying their trade on Wall Street.

To compete for students, colleges roll out the amenities

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2013-12-25 05:29

This story starts with Tempur-Pedic mattresses, those high-end memory foam jobs. Every bed in the University of Kentucky’s Central Hall has one.

“I think of my old mattress as sort of a bad dream, and my new mattress as a sort of fantasy dream,” says Tolu Odukoya, a sophomore biology major at UK.

Last year he lived in one of the oldest dorms on the Lexington campus, in a tiny room with bunk beds. The communal bathroom was down the hall. Now he’s in a $25 million complex that opened in August, built and managed by a private developer.

Sophomore Noell Conley lives there, too. She shows off the hotel-like room she shares with a roommate.

“As you walk in, to the right you see our granite countertops with two sinks, one for each of the residents,” she says.

A partial wall separates the beds. Rather than trek down the hall to shower, they share a bathroom with the room next door.

“That’s really nice compared to community bathrooms that I lived in last year,” Conley says.

To be fair, granite countertops last longer. Tempur-Pedic is a local company -- and gave a big discount. The amenities include classrooms and study space that are part of the dorm. Many of the residents are in the university’s Honors program. But do student really need Apple TV in the lounges, or a smartphone app that lets them check their laundry status from afar?

“Demand has been very high,” says the university’s Penny Cox, who is overseeing the construction of several new residence halls on campus. Before Central Hall’s debut in August, the average dorm was almost half a century old, she says. That made it harder to recruit.

“If you visit places like Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama,” Cox says, “and you compare what we had with what they have available to offer, we were very far behind.”

Today colleges are competing for a more discerning consumer. Students grew up with fewer siblings, in larger homes, Cox says. They expect more privacy than previous generations -- and more comforts.

“These days we seem to be bringing kids up to expect a lot of material plenty,” says Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and author of the book “Generation Me.”

Those students could be in for some disappointment when they graduate, she says.

“When some of these students have all these luxuries and then they get an entry-level job and they can’t afford the enormous flat screen and the granite countertops,” Twenge says, “then that’s going to be a rude awakening.”

Some on campus also worry about the divide between students who can afford such luxuries and those who can’t. The so-called premium dorms cost about $1,000 more per semester. Freshman Josh Johnson, who grew up in a low-income family and lives in one of the university’s 1960s-era buildings, says the traditional dorm is good enough for him.

“I wouldn’t pay more just to live in a luxury dorm,” he says. “It seems like I could just pay the flat rate and get the dorm I’m in. It’s perfectly fine.”

In the near future students who want to live on campus won’t have a choice. Eventually the university plans to upgrade all of its residence halls.

For An Injured Vet, A True Homecoming On The Horizon

NPR News - Wed, 2013-12-25 04:06

Since returning from Iraq, Jerral Hancock, a single father of two, has been living in a poorly constructed mobile home with doors and hallways too narrow for his wheelchair. When a group of high school students found out, they decided to do something about it.

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When Is Cinnamon Spice Not So Nice? The Great Danish Debate

NPR News - Wed, 2013-12-25 03:00

Cinnamon swirls are beloved in Denmark, but recent testing by the Danish government found many of these rolls had more of the spice than allowed by European health guidelines. Now bakers may have to change their time-tested recipes. Too much cinnamon? Yes, there is such a thing.

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No Rest For Ye Merry NBA Players This Christmas

NPR News - Wed, 2013-12-25 00:23

Pro sports have become almost part and parcel of major American holidays. The NBA's Christmas Day lineup this year has grown to a whopping 13 straight hours of nationally televised games.

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Why We Hold Tight To Our Family's Holiday Food Traditions

NPR News - Wed, 2013-12-25 00:22

We asked for stories of the holiday food traditions your family cherishes. And we learned that many of you are reviving special dishes this year to pay tribute to your heritage and ancestors.

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Detroit Needs Money. Can A 'Grand Bargain' Save The City's Art?

NPR News - Wed, 2013-12-25 00:21

As the city tries to emerge from bankruptcy, the artwork in the Detroit Institute of Arts — a collection appraised at more than $850 million — might wind up on the auction block. But a federal judge mediating Detroit's bankruptcy has a plan that just might keep the art in the city — and reduce cuts to retirees' pensions.

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How House Speaker Boehner Survived A Roller-Coaster Year

NPR News - Wed, 2013-12-25 00:17

Speaker of the House John Boehner's year began with members of his own party trying to oust him from the speakership. Thus began a year of rocky relations with the Tea Party wing of the House Republican caucus. But by year's end, Boehner was firmly in control of his gavel.

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What's In Store For Commuting's Future? (Hint: There's Hope)

NPR News - Wed, 2013-12-25 00:16

Students thinking about the road ahead for transportation imagine everything from flying cars and hovercraft to crowdsourced car design and driverless vehicles. A key part of planning, says one expert, is that changes must not only make life better for commuters, they must also be done in a way "that this planet can support."

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All Thousands Want For Christmas Is Electricity

NPR News - Tue, 2013-12-24 23:12

A half-million utility customers — from Maine to Michigan and into Canada — lost power in an ice storm last weekend. One utility called it the worst storm during Christmas week in its history. Repair crews were working around the clock to restore service.

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