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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...