National News

As Teens Are Buried In Ceremony, Israelis React To Unearthed Recordings

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-01 12:10

After finding three Israeli teens dead in the West Bank, the Israeli government has released a recording of an emergency phone call placed during their kidnapping. It has also begun a campaign of air strikes aimed at Hamas.

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U.S. Bounced Out Of World Cup By Belgium, Ending Team's Run

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-01 11:15

Belgium beat the United States by scoring two goals in extra time. The U.S. made a late run, but the clock ran out and the U.S. is coming home.

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As banks prepare for end of draw, consumers should too

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-01 11:09

It’s not every day that five government agencies, including the Federal Reserve and the FDIC, all come out with the same warning on the same day. That’s what happened this morning, and it amounted to a collective "watch out" to banks over homeowners ability to pay back lines of credit in the next few years. 

Back in the early 2000s, right up to 2008, a lot of people took out lines of credit on their homes – this is where you can borrow money and use your house as collateral. They’re known as HELOCs (Home Equity Lines of Credit).

“Anybody who had a breath, any house still standing, seemed to be eligible for these kinds of loans,” recalls Nicolas Retsinas, senior lecturer in real estate at Harvard Business School.

HELOCs can typically last 10 years in what’s called a “draw period,” where people can continue to draw on the line of credit. After 10 years, they can’t draw any longer and they have to start paying back the principal. Starting about now, 10 years have gone by. Now it’s time to pay up.

“This is another bill coming due from the lending binge of the early 21st century,” says Retsinas. A bill that, according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, now totals around $218 billion, of which $199 billion will be due by 2018.

If homeowners haven’t been paying down the principal, the change in bills may be substantial when they have to start doing so.

“We’re seeing that payments can go up 100 percent or even 200 percent or higher,” says Bob Piepergerdes, director of retail credit risk at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Given median incomes are lower than they were in 2007 and unemployment is higher, some borrowers may experience problems paying up. 

“There is some risk of repayment so we’re asking institutions to evaluate where their borrowers are,” says Piepergerdes. And then he needs them to prepare accordingly

“The good news,” he says, “is that institutions have taken action.” The guidance put out by different agencies “is really to set forth the expectations of what we would like to see institutions do from a risk management stand point, but the institutions have been preparing for this for as long as we’ve been talking about it.”

JPMorgan Chase, for example, says it’s stocked up on reserves and is reaching out to customers. 

“We are looking for ways to limit payment shock for our customers by being hyper-focused on communicating options to them,” the bank, which holds $49 billion in HELOCs, of which $29 billion will require higher payments through 2017, said in a statement. “We want to make sure customers are making enough of a payment so when they go into the repayment period of the principal it’s a step up not a leap up.” The bank estimates that more than half of the $29 billion will refinance or pay off before payments jump higher.

Overall, the largest lenders have reduced exposure by 20 percent through refinancing. 

Homeowners would be advised to dig out their old loan agreements and look at the fine print, says Bob Davis, Executive Vice President at the American Bankers Association. “That’s one thing consumers ought to do right now, they ought to look at the payments they may have to make,” Davis says, “and if they want to change the loan arrangement and pay off their home equity line of credit by refinancing, they ought to be aware of their access to credit and whether their credit rating will allow them to.”

FTC Alleges T-Mobile Charged Customers Millions In Bogus Charges

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-01 10:57

The Federal Trade Commission alleges the company profited from scams against its customers. Its long phone bills, the FTC says, made it nearly impossible for customers to understand the charge.

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State Of The Painkiller Nation: Wide Variation In Prescription Rates

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-01 10:53

Abuse of narcotic painkillers is a national problem. But it turns out that where you live can make a big difference in how likely you are to get a prescription for the medicines.

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What you need to know about charter schools

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-01 10:36

Every year, hundreds of new charter schools open in the U.S. – largely in low-income, urban neighborhoods. This fall, Sejong Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota, will be one of them. The Korean-immersion school for kids in kindergarten through sixth grade will be located just a few miles from the nation's very first charter school, which opened in St. Paul in 1992.

A big idea behind charters, which now educate roughly 2.5 million kids in the U.S., is to try out concepts that traditional public schools typically wouldn't, like focusing on the outdoors, Korean language immersion – or even yoga.

Sejong Academy's founders hope their curriculum will appeal to a big population of Korean adoptees in the Twin Cities. Plus, they think non-Koreans might like learning another language. Board chair Grace Lee, herself Korean-American, thinks Sejong will offer richer cultural lessons than your typical public school might.

"I think of course a lot of schools will say, 'Oh, we promote global diversity.' But how are they demonstrating that? Are they just having some ethnic food at an open house, or something like that?" she says.

The real battle between charter schools and their traditional counterparts is far more pitched. One of the contentious aspects is that the roughly 6,500 charter schools in the country are public schools, and they get taxpayer dollars. But they're run independently, meaning that in many states they are not subject to the same rules and regulations as are traditional public schools.  Each school is overseen by a so-called "authorizer," which approves the school's charter and makes sure the school meets its performance goals.

Charter advocates  include  lots of average parents as well as some very big guns like the Gates and Walton Foundations, which funnel millions of dollars to organizations that support charter schools.  They believe there's greater flexibility in charters than in the traditional system. It's easier to hire and fire teachers – and open and close schools.

"That is the secret ingredient to chartering, the fact that if the school isn't performing well, it can be closed," says Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. She says each year, about 500 charters open and 150 or so close. The authorities who oversee them, called authorizers, might pull the plug due to low enrollment, poor performance or mismanagement.

Opponents, often local school boards and powerful teachers unions, say charters leech money from the traditional school system. They also complain that  charter school teachers, who tend to work in poor districts, aren't in it for the long haul. 

"I think schools that serve in high poverty areas, the revolving door of principals and teachers is really a disservice to students," says Dennis Van Roekel, president of the nation's largest union, the National Education Association.

Lots of charter schools are operating with mixed results. A recent study by researchers at Stanford University found that about a quarter of charter schools studied achieved better outcomes on reading measures than traditional schools. But nearly a fifth of the charter schools did much worse.  For math, an even greater share of charter schools were underperformers.  

"I think the evidence tells us that the best charter schools are exceptional schools, and that the worst charter schools are extraordinarily bad," says Jack Schneider, an education expert at the College of the Holy Cross. "And the vast majority of charter schools are more or less equivalent to traditional public schools."

Andrea Springer is about to test her luck. She's Korean-American and is considering sending her kids to the Korean immersion charter school in St. Paul that opens this fall.

"We've stayed away from what I view as traditional public education because I think as a child I was pretty bored or the teacher was dealing with behavior problems versus teaching us," Springer says.

Springer also likes that her kids could learn Korean at the charter school without her having to nag them with workbooks.

But Springer does have some reservations about sending her kids to a start-up charter.

"It's the first year, so you get nervous, 'Do I want to be the test batch parent?'" she asks.

Even as charter schools remain controversial, demand for them appears to be strong. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools says hundreds of thousands of kids are on charter school wait lists.

For Sale: South Dakota Town With Bar, $399,000

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-01 10:12

The prairie hamlet of Swett — population 2 plus a dog — comes with 6 acres, a house, three trailers, an old tire shop and a Volvo semi. If you don't have the money, no Swett.

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5 Things To Know For The U.S. Vs. Belgium Game

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-01 09:48

Two key questions are whether the U.S. can strike early, as it did against Ghana, and whether Belgium can pull away late, as it has in all its games so far in Brazil.

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Where charter schools are popular

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-01 09:29

To hear more about the growth of charter schools in the country listen to the Marketplace on-air story.

Facebook's Newsfeed Study: Was It Ethical Or A Violation Of Privacy?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-01 09:22

In 2012, Facebook changed its users' newsfeeds without their knowledge for research. Host Michel Martin learns more about the study and why some people aren't happy about it.

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What The Supreme Court Rulings Mean For Unions, Religious Freedom

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-01 09:22

Host Michel Martin speaks with Supreme Court correspondent David Savage, and labor economist Steven Pitts about the high court's rulings on public employee unions and contraception.

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Musicians protest movie studios recording overseas

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-01 08:45

Hollywood has been dealing with the problem of runaway production for years.  A growing number of film and television productions are being lured away from Los Angeles by tax credits.

One group of show business employees is speaking out about it. The American Federation of Musicians recently held a protest outside the Los Angeles offices of Lionsgate, the studio responsible for, among other blockbusters, "The Hunger Games".  The musicians work in film scoring. They’re upset with Lionsgate for accepting millions in tax credits to film in the U.S., but then score those films overseas.

Marc Sazer is a violinist and a member of the American Federation of Musicians. He’s worked for decades in film and television. “The major studios have longstanding relationships with the American Federation of Musicians,” said Sazer. “Fox, Universal, Columbia, Paramount and Disney, when they produce domestically, they score their films with us.”

Lionsgate is not considered a major studio. Technically, it’s a mini-major studio. But Sazer and the other members of the musicians' union argue that Lionsgate is at the same level as the major studios. Last year it generated $2.7 billion in revenue, millions of which came in the form of tax credits.

“We’re trying to bring attention to the fact that companies are taking our tax dollars and then taking our jobs overseas, which depletes our social compact," Sazer said. "It also depletes our cultural equity, because it undermines the livelihoods and the sustainability of our musical culture.” Lionsgate did not respond to a request for an interview.

In an outdoor amphitheater in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains, the Pasadena Symphony is tuning up for a rehearsal. Hundreds of empty chairs face the stage. Peacocks outnumber audience members.

“We have about half of the orchestra on stage, some early birds, some will whisk in at the last minute,” said trombonist Andy Malloy. He’s worked in film and television since he got his first gig on "Laverne and Shirley".

Film and TV gigs used to make up 75 to 80 percent of Malloy’s income. “My guess, if there are 60 musicians here, easily 40 to 50 people do recording work as well," he said.

According to the union, total earnings of its members have fallen by half since 2007. During a recent protest, Malloy and his colleagues delivered a petition to Lionsgate headquarters. At the time, they singled out one film in particular, "Draft Day" starring Kevin Costner.

The score to "Draft Day" was recorded at a studio in Macedonia called F.A.M.E.’S. Laurent Koppitz, the founder of F.A.M.E.’S, is a musician himself, originally from France. He was working at a classical music record label in Paris when he visited Macedonia for the first time. “I discovered a country that was really interested in attracting investors and doing business,” said Koppitz.

Koppitz was able to get a loan, fix up a recording studio and audition more than 100 classical musicians. That was six years ago. Nearly all the jobs he gets are low-budget productions, accompaniment on pop albums, Bollywood films and video game music.

“Ninety-nine percent of what we do is independent projects,” Koppitz said. Some of them turn famous. 

Koppitz was surprised when he came across news reports that F.A.M.E.’S was taking jobs from American musicians. He says he can’t compete with the quality of studios in Los Angeles. And that was not his intention. Kopitz started F.A.M.E.’S to make live orchestras affordable to those with small budgets, who might otherwise use pre-recorded or electronic music.

So when a low-budget production hires his musicians, that, he says, is an example of the good aspect of globalization: more musicians get work and more productions have live music.

But if large studios hire him simply because he’s cheaper, then he says they are coming to Macedonia for the wrong reason. “When you go for the wrong reason, like 'Oh, it’s cheap,' it’s not very nice for anybody because it takes the job here which is a problem,” he said

That problem Koppitz said, is the bad aspect of globalization. 

Older Adults Are Fatter Than Ever, Increasing Their Risk Of Illness

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-01 08:25

There's good news and bad news about aging boomers, a Census Bureau report finds. They're drinking less and voting more, but they're also heavier, which could mean less independence later.

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European Court Upholds France's Burqa Ban

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-01 07:00

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that France's ban on face-covering veils was legitimate, and did not violate a Muslim woman's freedoms.

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Why don't we count all the unemployed?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-01 06:32

Lesley Perkins is a human resources management consultant who’s been unemployed for about 3 1/2 years.

“I feel forgotten and ignored by our society,” she says.

Perkins also feels ignored by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.  It only counts you as unemployed if you’ve “actively looked for work” in the past four weeks.  But Perkins isn’t sure what that means.

“Is it actually filling out a job application or is it actually going to networking functions and trying to connect with people there?” she says.

I was confused, too, so I called Jim Walker, a Bureau of Labor Statistics economist.  He says the Bureau will count you if you send out a resume as you’re surfing websites.  Or hand someone a resume as you’re networking. People who aren’t so active in their job search aren’t counted in the official jobless numbers.  But the Bureau still keeps track of them.  They’re labeled the “marginally attached.”

“People who just say 'Well, I’m not working. I would want a job but I’m not looking right now,'” says Walker.

The Bureau gets its numbers by talking to real people. It surveys 60,000 households, asking people if they’re working or looking for a job.  Justin Wolfers, a labor economist at the University of Michigan, says part of the confusion is you can be counted as unemployed, even if you don’t get an unemployment check.

“One part of the government says you’re not unemployed in the sense that they’re not going to pay you benefits. But another part says 'No, no, we’re definitely going to count you as unemployed,'” he says.

Wolfers says the Bureau’s system isn’t perfect.  But it’s about the best we can hope for, because there is no easy way to measure unemployment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VA Offers Doctor's Appointment To Man Who Died In 2012

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-01 06:25

A Massachusetts woman got a letter saying that a Veterans Affairs hospital was ready to see her husband, a Vietnam veteran who died of a brain tumor nearly two years ago.

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Thousands Rally In Hong Kong To Call For Democratic Vote

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-01 05:16

Activists are threatening to blockade the city's financial district unless China allows a free and fair vote to elect Hong Kong's leader.

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Skimpier Health Plans Could Impose Big Out-Of-Pocket Costs

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-01 04:42

Insurers and some Democratic senators say people should have a cheaper option on the health exchanges. But those plans may leave people with painfully high copays and deductibles if they get sick.

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More workers get crammed into less space

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-01 04:00

More people have jobs than before the Great Recession started, but office workers are cramped into less space than before. A lot of office space went empty during the recession, but a report from the real-estate information company Reis shows that only about half of that space has filled back up. 

It’s normal for office space to come back more slowly than employment, partly because offices often shrink more slowly than the workforce too.

"As you go into a recesssion and companies start to lay off employees, often-times the size of their physical footprint can’t shrink in accordance with that," says Ryan Severino, an economist at Reis. "So there tends to be a little bit of a mismatch."    

In other words, when companies bring back workers, a lot of them already have a bunch of extra space to put those people.  

Even when companies don’t have extra space — say, they were able to get out of their old lease and take a smaller space — increasing the footprint comes after hiring the people, and not until the old space gets tight.

"When you start doubling-up that office space, and start hearing complaints, you’re going to start planning," says  Susan Wachter, a professor at the Wharton School of business. "But you need to know the people are on board, and that you’re gonna need that space. And then, that too takes time." Budgeting for a move, for example, doesn't happen overnight.

This recovery has seen even less pickup of office space than previous cycles. Wachter also notes that open layouts, which require less space per employee, have become more popular.

France's Former President Sarkozy Taken Into Custody

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-01 03:55

Suspicions about Nicolas Sarkozy's fundraising activities also touch on late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi and the heiress to the L'Oreal fortune.

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