National News

Russian native finds asylum in Los Angeles

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-24 08:25

Daniyar Aynitdinov came to the U.S. from Russia on a work and travel program six years ago. At the time, he was studying to be a petroleum engineer at Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas. Aynitdinov is gay, and in the past few years Russia has instituted laws curtailing rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. He was granted asylum this year.

He's settled now in a rented room in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. He spoke to Marketplace Weekend from his room, where he reads from a diary he kept before he came to the U.S. He writes that he had high hopes of becoming an actor in Los Angeles. Now, years later, he's performing in Hollywood.

Click the media player above to hear Daniyar's full story.

The Gene For Sweet: Why We Don't All Taste Sugar The Same Way

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 08:10

We know that a gene can determine how strongly we experience bitter flavors. Scientists wanted to know if this was also true for sweet. Their study shows genetics may affect our taste for sugar, too.

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It's Pie And Beer (And Pioneer) Day In Utah!

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 08:04

Friday honors the arrival of Mormon settlers at Salt Lake Valley in 1847 while non-Mormons celebrate Pie and Beer Day. And 37 other states also celebrate these unique holidays.

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Two Teachers Hailed As Heroes In Louisiana Shooting

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 07:48

Teachers Jena Meaux and Ali Martin survived the attack, but both reportedly suffered gunshot wounds.

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Carnations, Coffee And Denim: A Look At Kenya's Top Ten Exports

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 07:41

Those jeans you bought at Walmart? They might have been made in Kenya. Here's a look at the country's leading exports.

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Housing is up and down, but mostly up

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-24 07:00

With summer, the housing market has been warming up. According to the National Association of Realtors, existing home sales were up 3.2 percent in June, on top of strong sales in April and May, to a level not seen since early 2007. June’s new home sales figures were disappointing, with sales down 6.8 percent month-to-month.

Overall, though, it’s been a good first half of 2015 for housing, according to research firm RealtyTrac’s mid-year market report. In fact, the housing market has hit multiple benchmarks not seen since the housing crisis in the late 2000s, including: most homes and condos sold; most price appreciation; and fewest foreclosures and distressed properties sold.

RealtyTrac Vice President Daren Blomquist says investors (often paying cash for distressed properties) are exiting the market, making more room for regular folks trying to buy a home to live in.

“More buyers using low down-payment loans are coming back, and that includes the traditional first-time buyers who've never bought a home, and it also includes the boomerang buyers,” Blomquist says. “They're people who lost their home during the last housing crisis. They're coming back to the market, and typically they're going to use a low down-payment loan as well, because they're not moving up, they don't have equity to bring to the table.”

Blomquist says these buyers are taking advantage of favorable loan products now available from the Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But he says the rise in buyers without a lot of cash or equity to plow into a home purchase shouldn’t pose a danger to the economy, since mortgage underwriting standards, as well as employment and income verification have been tightened substantially since the housing crash.

Blomquist says home builders may see promise in the improving sale and price trends, and in coming months he predicts they’ll be breaking ground on more single-family homes and condos. Thus far in the recovery, the hottest market for builders has been multi-unit rental properties.

But Blomquist says the market recovery, though broad-based, is still tentative. “I think this market is still very interest-rate sensitive and fragile,” Blomquist says, “and if we see interest rates go up, the kind of boom we were seeing in the first half of the year could quickly disintegrate,” as homes become less affordable with higher interest payments. 

Mortgage rates are low right now, averaging just over 4 percent for a fixed-rate, 30-year home loan. But borrowing costs could start rising as the Federal Reserve tightens interest-rate policy.

Well-Off Baby Boomers Know How To Binge Drink, Too

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 06:39

Think binge drinking, and college students downing cheap beer from red cups come into mind. But healthy affluent adults over 50 are more likely to drink dangerously than their peers.

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Anthem To Buy Health Insurance Rival Cigna

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 06:00

The $48 billion deal would create the nation's largest health insurer by enrollment.

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Too Good To Be True: TV Reporter Was In On Magicians' Photobomb

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 05:37

Both Sky News and journalist Ashish Joshi have confirmed that the report never aired on the channel, deflating some of the buzz about a magical stunt.

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Thai Prosecutors Seek Indictments Against Scores Of Alleged Human Traffickers

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 05:16

Charges have been recommended for more than 100 people after the discovery of mass graves containing the remains of migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar.

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Police Identify Louisiana Theatre Shooter As 59-Year-Old 'Drifter'

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 04:34

Police say John Russell Houser unloaded at least 13 rounds inside the theater, killing two people and then himself. Police said they still don't understand Houser's motive.

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Anthem To Buy Cigna, Creating Largest Health Insurer By Enrollment

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 04:06

The combined company would have an estimated revenue of $115 billion and cover 53 million people in the U.S.

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Obama Says His Biggest Frustration Has Been Inability To Pass Gun Laws

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 03:48

President Obama spoke about gun control just hours before a gunman opened fire in a Louisiana movie theater. Obama said that he will keep trying to pass gun safety laws in his remaining 18 months.

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PODCAST: Housing sales for June

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-24 03:00

The June report for new home sales is out today - we'll talk about what to expect. Plus, we'll talk about what to make of recent movement in the Chinese stock market. And President Obama arrives in Kenya on Friday for a three-day visit. It's his first trip to the country where his father was born since he was elected. The visit is bringing a mini-economic boost for some Kenyans.

Report: Officials Seek Criminal Inquiry Over Clinton's Use Of Private Email

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 02:57

The New York Times reports that two inspectors general want the Justice Department to investigate whether classified information was mishandled.

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Obama's Roots A Source Of Pride — And Discord — In Kenya

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-24 02:14

When President Obama was elected in 2008, Kenyans rejoiced. U.S.-Kenya relations have had ups and downs since then. Kenyans now eagerly await Obama's first presidential visit to his father's homeland.

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Affordable housing for teachers in short supply

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-24 02:00

Jennifer Marlar teaches seventh grade language arts at Jackson Hole Middle School in Jackson, Wyoming, but she doesn’t live anywhere near the tourist town’s shopping district or ski area.

“It just makes the most sense, financially,” Marlar says.

Instead, she commutes one hour — over a sometimes-treacherous mountain pass — from her home in Driggs, Idaho.

“It’s brutal,” says Marlar. “And that hour feels like eternity.”

Marlar makes $70,000 a year. That’s well above the national average teacher salary of $56,000, but it’s not enough to buy a home in Jackson, a swanky resort town south of Yellowstone National Park. The median home price there is nearly $1 million. So, when Marlar’s daughter Aniston starts preschool in Idaho, she’ll likely leave her job in Jackson.

“I’ll probably have to resign there and try to get work on this side so that I can be a part of my community that I live in,” Marlar says.

Renting or buying a place to live is becoming less affordable across much of the country. That’s hit low-income Americans hardest, but increasingly, it also means middle-income earners that hold key jobs — like teachers — can’t afford to live where they work. It’s a problem facing all high-cost communities: big cities, wealthy suburbs, and tiny resort towns like Jackson.

Teacher Jess Tuchscherer works in Jackson and lives here in a converted barn. The tour of his place only takes a few seconds.

“Well, this is the living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom — and that’s really it,” says Tuchscherer. “It’s not very big.”

Tuchscherer rents the barn for about $1,000 a month. He loves his job and the winter recreation opportunities here, but knows this isn’t a long-term gig.

“I can’t buy a home here, so therefore I can’t really stay here,” Tuchscherer says. “It’s great, but I can’t raise a family in this house.”

This is a huge problem here. That’s why Jackson just put up its first-ever affordable housing units for teachers.

“If we fail to house the people that work here, then we will not have a quality workforce, we will not have a quality system of education, and we will suffer in all respects,” says Anne Cresswell, of the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust, which partnered with the school district to build the homes.

The three-bedroom homes were sold to local educators for $403,000 each, but were appraised at closer to $650,000. Cresswell’s group has developed similar housing for hospital workers and national park employees.

“Affordable housing is as basic to the essential infrastructure in Jackson Hole, Wyoming as any other road, water or sewer project is,” Cresswell says.

It’s a solution communities from Baltimore to Los Angeles are trying out. A National Housing Conference report shows teachers can’t afford median-priced homes in one-third of the 200 metro areas it surveyed.

“That can really put communities at a disadvantage for attracting high quality teachers, nurses or police officers who are unwilling to remain committed to extremely long commutes,” says Janet Viveiros, senior research associate at the National Housing Conference.

And, in many communities, the problem is only getting worse.

“There’s not enough affordable housing as there is and many communities are losing the affordable housing that already exists,” Viveiros says.

Bringing teaching talent to high-cost communities is hard, and will get even harder in the future. The National Education Association says half of the country’s teachers will likely retire in the next five to seven years.

Kenyans hope to cash in on Obama visit

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-24 02:00

During his first trip to the country as president, Barack Obama is expected to discuss ways to fight regional terrorism with Kenya’s leaders and speak at the “Global Entrepreneurship Summit” in the capital, Nairobi.

Kenyan businesses are prepping for his visit, and that of the thousands of diplomats and conference-goers expected to descend on Nairobi for the summit.
 
“I’ve been having so many many clients coming in,” says David Meeriah of Nairobi’s Capital Limo Services. He says his fleet of luxury cars is fully booked, and  he’ll make enough in the next few days to pay salaries for the next three months.  

Kenyan tour operators like Hamadi Durogi of Wildcat Adventure Safaris are banking on those who won’t go home right away.

"We’ve seen like a 40 percent increase in business and also in inquiries," he says. His company, like many others, offers an "Obama Safari" with a stop in the hometown of the President’s father.

Smaller vendors are flooding the capital with Obama-themed t-shirts, hats, and posters. They’re hoping the his visit will bring back tourists frightened away by recent terrorist attacks.

“Since the President of the United States is going to be here," says Durogi, "it’s going to be proof enough that Kenya is very very safe.”

He, and others in Kenya's tourism industry, are hoping the economic boost will last long after the President’s departure.

Kenyans hope to cash in on Obama visit

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-24 02:00

During his first trip to the country as president, Barack Obama is expected to discuss ways to fight regional terrorism with Kenya’s leaders and speak at the “Global Entrepreneurship Summit” in the capital, Nairobi.

Kenyan businesses are prepping for his visit, and that of the thousands of diplomats and conference-goers expected to descend on Nairobi for the summit.
 
“I’ve been having so many many clients coming in,” says David Meeriah of Nairobi’s Capital Limo Services. He says his fleet of luxury cars is fully booked, and  he’ll make enough in the next few days to pay salaries for the next three months.  

Kenyan tour operators like Hamadi Durogi of Wildcat Adventure Safaris are banking on those who won’t go home right away.

"We’ve seen like a 40 percent increase in business and also in inquiries," he says. His company, like many others, offers an "Obama Safari" with a stop in the hometown of the President’s father.

Smaller vendors are flooding the capital with Obama-themed t-shirts, hats, and posters. They’re hoping the his visit will bring back tourists frightened away by recent terrorist attacks.

“Since the President of the United States is going to be here," says Durogi, "it’s going to be proof enough that Kenya is very very safe.”

He, and others in Kenya's tourism industry, are hoping the economic boost will last long after the President’s departure.

UN says Syria donors aren't paying their pledges

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-24 02:00

Syria’s civil war is now four years old, and there is no end in sight. A variety of international efforts to halt the bloodshed have stymied some of the world’s most seasoned diplomats.

One group of people losing out most from this grinding war are Syria’s refugees. Of the millions displaced by the war, about 4 million people have left Syria entirely. Most of them have fled to Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says that it’s again facing its recurring problem: donors don’t pay what they promise

UNHCR has only received about $1 billion of the nearly $5 billion it needs to provide basic assistance to Syrian refugees.

“Our income keeps growing but the problem is our needs keep mushrooming,” says Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson for UNHCR.

She says only 23 percent of this year’s funding goal has been delivered so far. And winter is coming.

A quarter of the people who have fled Syria live in tiny Lebanon, which per capita has the highest number of Syrian refugees — today, a quarter of its population.

“It is always the case that funding received does not match the needs on the ground,” says Dana Sleiman, spokesperson for UNHCR in Beirut.

Sleiman says UNHCR proceeds with its plans whether the funding is there or not, because they have no choice. “If and when funding does not come through, the repercussions are severe,” she explains.

So severe that more and more Syrian refugees are again risking their lives on sea voyages to Europe.

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