National News

A Smuggler Explains How He Helped Fighters Along 'Jihadi Highway'

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-07 12:59

Thousands of international recruits have crossed into Syria from Turkey to join the Islamic State. A Syrian man who helped smuggle those jihadis in explains how it worked, but says he's stopped now.

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Appellate Court Strikes Down Gay-Marriage Bans In Idaho, Nevada

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-07 12:56

The 9th Circuit Court issued its ruling after the Supreme Court gave tacit approval to three other circuit court decisions that overturned gay-marriage bans.

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When celebrities take over the fashion world

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-07 12:29

Celebrities have been selling fashion for just about as long as "fashion" has been a thing. According to fashion columnist Teri Agins, author of the new book "Hijacking the Runway: How Celebrities Are Stealing the Spotlight from Fashion Designers," the line between "selling" and "creating" keeps getting more fluid.

"Celebrities have actually taken over, and they actually now have their own brands. So they're actually competing with designers," said Agins.

Agins says the celebrity takeover of the fashion industry is a great way for said celebrities to monetize their brands and expand into a demographic that major designers overlook. A large part of the success of that strategy, she says, is being able to relate to the consumer, as Jessica Simpson did back in 2004. After her new line of jeans didn't sell terribly well, she launched a shoe line with the backing of Nine West founder Vince Camuto - ultimately creating a a billion-dollar business.

"It was a confluence of a lot of things," said Agins. "Even though she wasn't famous for being a singer or an actress - she was more famous for her relationships with Tony Romo,  and she had problems with her weight - that actually made her very relatable to consumers, because all women have either had problems with weight, or with relationships, and then she had the clothes that went with her look."

The strategy worked, and is causing fashion designers to rethink the way they design their clothes, says Agins.

"Last week in Paris, the Kardashians basically took over. Nobody remembers what was on the shelves at Chanel or Lanvin, we all just remember Kimye and the little daughter sitting in the front row at all these shows. This is a modern way to market," she said.

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.

In His Final Appearance, Landon Donovan Will Be U.S. Captain

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-07 12:25

Donovan holds the U.S. men's national team record with 57 goals. Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann famously left him off the World Cup roster, but this is a nod of appreciation.

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Voters Will Get Their Say On GMO Labeling In Colorado And Oregon

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-07 12:24

Similar measures calling for labeling genetically modified foods have failed in recent years in California and Washington, and Vermont is being sued for the labeling law it enacted earlier this year.

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Justices Skeptical Of Beard Rule In Inmate Religious Rights Case

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-07 12:20

The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of an Arkansas prisoner who says he must be allowed to wear a beard as part of his religious practice.

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'The Flash' And 'Gotham' Succeed By Taking Comic Book Stories Seriously

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-07 12:20

As The CW's new superhero series The Flash debuts tonight, NPR TV critic Eric Deggans notes the best new broadcast dramas of the fall season are based on comic book stories.

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LED Lights Shine In Nobel Prize; Now How About Your Home?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-07 12:20

The time has never been better to invest in LED lighting, with the price of LED bulbs — which use the Nobel-winning blue LEDs — now below $10 each.

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After Clogging The Streets, Hong Kong Protests Dwindle

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

The demonstrators still have widespread support, but many students have returned to class and businesses have grown weary of daily disruptions that have hampered their operations.

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The first electric cars weren't 'manly' enough

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-07 11:59

Today's energy world continues to be dominated by fossil fuels in cars, in planes and in power plants. One reason is that crude oil used as a transportation fuel packs an awful lot of energy in a tiny package. It's a concept known as "energy density," and it helps us understand why crude became king over time.

In the last four centuries, humans have gone through several so-called "energy transitions." Each step up has involved a superior product in terms of energy density – in other words, concentrated energy in smaller and smaller packages.

Let's start in 16th and 17th century Holland. The Dutch burned something called peat, which is moss, very dead moss. Peat played a big role in human development, says historian John McNeill of Georgetown University.

"They burned it in energy-intensive industries," he said. "Beer brewing. Glass making. Sugar refining."

Peat, though, doesn't burn as long or as hot as what came later: Coal.

In the late 18th and 19th centuries, coal-powered steam engines took ships and trains farther. Coal also brought new industrial possibilities, like turning iron ore into steel.

"Coal has an energy density [worth] a couple of multiples of wood, charcoal, peat," McNeil said." You can't, for example, do metallurgical work with a peat flame. You can't get it hot enough. Coal, you can.

Then, oil was found. Once again, the new fuel offered a higher energy payload for its size and weight. Ever since, oil-based gasoline and jet fuel have dominated much of our energy lives.

Because of carbon pollution, of course, some car drivers instead are driving on electric batteries, which by energy density, are an inferior product. But history shows technology doesn't always equal destiny.

Let's go to 1900. The Old Car Festival at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan is America's longest-running antique car show.

There are plenty of gas-powered cars from that era. There's also a 1902 car that runs on steam... 

 

..and an electric car from 1903...

Yes, electric cars go back that far, and they are so quiet you can't hear them over the noise of the festival.

So why did electric vehicles lose out a century ago? It's probably not for the reasons you'd think.

Curator Matt Anderson of the Ford Museum says electrics weren't manly enough for the times.

"Electrics were thought to be the ideal 'women's car,' if you will," he said. "You don't have to crank it, so it doesn't require as much physical strength to get it running and operating. They're much cleaner than a gasoline automobile, they don't emit the kind of fumes or exhaust we associate with those cars."

Which sounds great. Except consumers back then didn't want that. They wanted a messy adventure machine.

"It made noise, it broke down," David Kirsch, an automotive historian at the University of Maryland, said of the gas-powered car.

"It was relatively easy to fix," he said. "So a man could take his girlfriend out into the woods and do what they will. And if he were very lucky the vehicle might break in a way that he could fix it."

Masculinity, displayed.

Kirsch's point is that culture becomes an important wild-card in technology history. It was back then, and could be going forward in ways we can't predict.

Today, with car sharing, Uber, Zipcar-ing and more automated driving, the nature of travel is slowly changing. Like a century ago, new people are placing new bets on rival fuels. And energy density may not necessarily be the deciding factor this time, either.

Why you may not know if your data has been hacked

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-07 11:52

The latest data breach was a big one. Hackers got into JPMorgan’s computer network, and the bank says that has put 76 million households and 7 million small businesses at risk. 

Because it is a public company, JPMorgan is required by law to tell federal regulators about anything that could affect its share price, and that is what it did. JPMorgan notified the Securities and Exchange Commission last Thursday. But other companies don’t have to notify the government when their servers get hit.

When it comes to data breaches, the U.S. has a confusing patchwork of laws. It may surprise you there is no overarching federal law.

“From the very beginning of digital technologies and the Internet, the federal government took the view of 'keep its hands off,'” says Fred H. Cate, who heads the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University.

So, the states stepped in. California was the first to pass a data breach notification law. It has been on the books there since 2003. Forty-six states followed, along with Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, and each one has a different law with different requirements.

“I think that everyone assumed that once you got a bunch of conflicting state laws, congress would step in and provide some clarity by providing a single federal law,” says Cate.

That hasn’t happened. Proposals have been held up in Congress, and an executive order President Barack Obama signed last year is voluntary.

Tina Ayiotis, who teaches law at The George Washington University, says after a string of high-profile attacks at Home Depot, Target and JPMorgan, we are starting to suffer from “breach fatigue.”

“At this point, the pain is not enough to really make it so that it becomes a priority,” she says.

What could change that, says David W. Opderbeck, a professor at Seton Hall University School of Law, is a cyber-attack on infrastructure, “like a power grid or a water supply, or the markets shut down for a few days.”

“When that kind of thing happens, then maybe we’ll see some action,” he says.

Until then, the action continues to be at the state level, keeping lawyers, consultants and compliance officers busy, and consumers confused.

'Twin Peaks' is just the latest cult TV comeback

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-07 11:20

Not to be outdone by Netflix's latest volley in the Screen Wars, Showtime gave its own surprise announcement Monday. The network will air new episodes of "Twin Peaks" in 2016, a full 25 years after ABC pulled the plug.

The move is unusual in some ways — typically only war horses like "Dallas" come back back after that long of a break — but it's far from the first cult hit to get a second chance on a new network. In fact, with the rise of premium channels and streaming services, it has become a low-risk way attract an audience — albeit with mixed success. Here are four more recent revivals and how they did.

Arrested Development

Probably the highest-profile resurrection on this list, if only because the fourth season of "Arrested Development" become the "Detox" of groundbreaking sitcoms. Before Fox canceled the show, its characters dropped references to HBO, Showtime and a potential movie. The rumors churned for seven years before Netflix released 15 new episodes all at once in 2013.

The new "Arrested Development" played with the binge-able format by focusing on one or two characters per episode and slowly revealing the plot as their storylines intersected. Some critics loved this puzzle box style of storytelling, but others were lukewarm, even calling the season a "noble failure." But that hasn't stopped even more speculation about a fifth season.

Friday Night Lights

After successfully adapting the nonfiction book "Friday Night Lights" into a movie, Peter Berg developed a TV version that would let him explore more ideas left out of the movie. But after a successful first season and a panned, shark-jumping second, the show was on the chopping block at NBC.

DirecTV swooped in, offering to help bankroll more episodes, which would air first on satellite, then later on broadcast. NBC agreed, and the show bounced back for three more critically-acclaimed seasons. DirecTV also brought back the Glenn Close legal drama "Damages," but only "Friday Night Lights" has gone down as an all-time classic.

The Killing

Against all odds, "The Killing" was actually brought back from cancellation twice. After huge success with "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad," AMC tried adapting the Danish series "Forbrydelsen" in 2011. The dreary crime drama started strong but lost viewers quickly, limping into a second season before being canceled.

After renegotiating contracts, AMC resurrected the show for a third season last summer before canceling it again. Netflix picked "The Killing" back up for an abbreviated final season in August, but most critics weren't interested by then. The streaming service did something similar with Cartoon Network's "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" this spring, giving the show a send-off after Lucasfilm's sale ended the series abruptly.

Why education tech needs to get student privacy right

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-07 11:14

Like everything else these days, education runs on data. Our kids data.

Every digital move they make in school, on homework websites, and apps can be tracked. And it's not always clear where that information is going or how companies are using it.

Parents want better protections; the multi-billion dollar education technology industry wants to keep growing.

So today some big name ed-tech providers announced a voluntary privacy pledge.  It says ed tech companies won't sell a kid's data. They won't use it to target specific ads to specific kids.

"We are aware that policy makers and education leaders and parents are looking at this issue," said  Mark Schneiderman with the Software & Information Industry Association, "this is the industry effort to show that industry is aware of those questions."

At least part of the industry.

Microsoft, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Amplify and several other companies have signed the pledge. Notably absent on the list are classroom giants like Google, Apple and Pearson.  
"Thankfully for Houghton Mifflin, we’ve been 100% in alignment with the pledge and all the different parts inside the pledge document," said Bill Bowman, Vice President of Information Security for the education company.

Same story for Amplify—and the rest of the pledges.  They’re already doing all these things.

So what’s the point?

"You can look at this glass half full,  or glass half empty," said Joni Lupovitz, Vice President of Policy for the advocacy group Common Sense Media.

She says its good for an industry to adopt a list of best practices. It might pressure ed-tech companies that aren’t protecting student data to do more.

There's also the glass half empty bit. "A lot of this they will be required to do under California law," said Lupovitz "And, it's a private pledge, it doesn’t have the same teeth or enforcement."

Lupovitz the industry needs the trust of parents and teachers.

It’s the only way to keep the booming industry booming and bring the real promise of tech to the classroom.

 

"Twin Peaks" returns to a TV landscape it helped create

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-07 11:14

It’s been almost 25 years since Americans first saw the opening credits to "Twin Peaks," David Lynch’s strange and violent TV series set in a small town in a Pacific Northwest forest. It debuted on ABC in 1990 and captured a staggering audience. More than 34 million viewers tuned in to watch Special Agent Dale Cooper search for Laura Palmer's killer.

Now Showtime has announced it will produce a third season of "Twin Peaks" in 2016. Creators David Lynch and Mark Frost will pick up the story 25 years later.

After "Twin Peaks" ended, Lynch followed it up with the feature film "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me." The opening credits appear in front of TV static until  someone smashes the screen with an ax.

“Some people took that as David Lynch saying, 'I’m never going back to TV,'” says Greil Marcus, a critic who wrote about "Twin Peaks."

Back in 1991, Lynch worked in a television industry wildly different than it is today.

“People would look you right in the eye and say, 'I don’t watch television.' And that was supposed to be shorthand for 'I’m too smart to watch television,'” says Los Angeles Times critic Mary McNamara.  

"Twin Peaks" helped change that. Lynch was a highly regarded filmmaker, and the huge audience he attracted watched TV in a new way.

“When 'Twin Peaks' originally aired, it created — in a lot of respects — the concept of watching a television show closely and analyzing it for clues,” says Indiewire TV editor Liz Shannon Miller.

The show found a new audience in young people on Netflix, making a revival more attractive to studios. And "Twin Peaks" had planted a seed.

“A show like 'True Detective' would obviously never exist without David Lynch moving into television,” Marcus says.

Because it's airing on Showtime, Lynch is free from many of the constraints he faced in the '90s.  Showtime says it’s giving Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost carte blanche. That seed that Lynch planted has grown into a Lynchian forest of new TV shows with dark themes and mysteries that aren't always revealed.  Now Lynch will return to the forest.

 

Eating Comfort Foods May Not Be So Comforting After All

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-07 11:04

It's tempting to seek out the mac and cheese or a pint of ice cream after a terrible, horrible, no good day. But fresh research suggests such comfort foods might not be mood boosters after all.

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Why you always see the same ad while binge-watching TV

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-07 09:59

I recently curled up with some back episodes of "Scandal," ABC’s rather addictive show about crisis manager Olivia Pope, who often works for and is generally in love with the president of the United States. 

Toward the end of season three, there was some high drama with the first family, right before a big live interview  – when we paused for a commercial break.

An instrumental version of Billy Joel’s “My Life” played and this took over the screen:

At first, I barely noticed Larry or the blue-eyed woman in ads for the prescription eye drops Restasis, but both ads and a handful of others kept rotating through every commercial break across nearly four straight episodes.

“That’s a very common experience these days,” says Jim Nail, an analyst with Forrester Research. “That when you’re watching TV programs that are streamed either from the network streaming app or some other service, that you see the same ads over and over and over again.” 

Nail says part of the problem is that the services and advertisers haven’t caught up with the way viewers binge-watch shows online – seeing Larry a few times in one episode isn’t a big deal, but, as I found out, string a few shows together and his presence can become irritating. 

Nail says a bigger reason for the repetition is that there’s still a shortage of online advertisers. That's because ratings and demographic data about digital audiences doesn’t yet mirror the kind of data available for television audiences.

“There aren’t enough advertisers comfortable buying [online] to follow the model of broadcast television, which is 17 minutes of commercials an hour, which means 34 advertisers, give or take,” says Nail.

In contrast, an online show might only have a handful of advertisers, which keeps Larry and his online peers busy.

The growth in online video content also means lots of work for Larry, says Larry Chiagouris, a marketing professor at the Lubin School of Business at Pace University.

"You've got this volume of video that's just extraordinary," says Chiagouris.

Digital video advertising dollars are also climbing — 20 percent in 2013 — but "the amount of video that's available to be sponsored is probably five times that." 

While there’s tons of content available online these days, Anna Bager, with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, notes that the amount advertisers actually want to buy is still relatively small.

In other words: Larry has standards. He probably doesn’t want to be next to someone’s shaky homemade YouTube videos.

“The inventory is scarce so advertisers tend to want to buy all of the inventory,” she says. This can include sponsorships, where ad spots might be sold to one or a limited number of advertisers.

However, Bager and Chiagouris agree there’s another reason for at least some of the repetition. Advertisers want to make sure their message gets through to distracted viewers who might be checking email, clicking around the internet or generally trying to avoid ads.

“Advertising is usually annoying, I think we kind of know that,” says Bager. “We may be incredibly annoyed with Progressive because their ad keeps showing up and it’s kind of an annoying ad in general, but when we want to buy insurance, we know that Progressive is an insurance company.”

Similarly, viewers might remember Larry and decide to open an account with Merrill Edge if they’re in the market for a similar product in the future.

Of course, they could also retain negative feelings toward Larry and decide to go with one of his competitors instead.

"I think generally advertisers instinctively believe that over-exposure to the same ad, the same night, with the same hour -- things like that -- run the risk that people are just going to feel completely bombarded and their attitudes will turn negative," says Forrester's Nail.

Debate: Does U.S. Military Intervention In The Middle East Help Or Hurt?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-07 09:31

As the U.S. presses on with airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, two teams tackled the motion "Flexing American Muscles In The Middle East Will Make Things Worse," in the latest Intelligence Squared debate.

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What you need to know about the AIG trial

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-07 08:39

There's a star witness in a big trial today.

You've heard of him: Timothy Geithner. The case: AIG shareholders, including former CEO Maurice R. Greenberg, are suing the Feds, saying they feel cheated by the terms of the bailout in 2008.

Didn't Henry Paulson testify yesterday?
Yup. Then-Treasury Secretary Paulson testified. He said the AIG bailout deal was "punitive." AIG made risky bets, he said, and its shareholders deserved to be punished for them. The key was to send a message to Wall Street: "Just so you know, we are not the Santa Claus of easy bailouts. If you come and ask for one, the terms will be harsh." Okay, that's a made-up quote.

So why does this testimony matter?
Because Paulson was not the key player in regards to details of the AIG bailout. Geithner, then-head of the NY Fed, was. He's the big witness this morning, says Columbia law professor John Coffee, and the guy Greenberg's lawyer (one David Boies) really wants to grill.

Oh yeah, the bailout.
Recall: in the fog of the banking crisis, the Feds realized AIG was in big money trouble. Why? AIG was the insurance company for banks that bought risky subprime loans. If those loans defaulted, AIG was on the hook. (five-dollar word: credit default swaps).

What's the AIG shareholder beef?
The Feds were overly mean, they say, and they punished us too harshly. Or, in legal-speak, they took control of AIG without "just compensation" - a Constitutional no-no.
The details:

  •  In return for $192 billion in loans, we got hit with a 14 percent interest rate. Beltway loan sharks.
  •  The feds took an 80% stock share in the company.
  •  We got these harsh terms, but the banks got paid back 100 cents on the dollar for their risky investments. How come only we sat in the barber chair for the haircut?

What do AIG shareholder want?

Led by former CEO Greenberg, they are suing for $40 billion in compensation.

What's the counter-argument against AIG?
We needed to punish you, because you took bad risks. But we needed to save the banks because the financial system was on life support. That's the job of the Federal Reserve.

What role did Geithner play?
He ran the NY Fed, which engineered the details of the whole bailout.

Geithner argues – in his recent book, "Stress Test" – that the government had no choice. If they hadn't bailed out AIG, it would be ruined the economy. His NY Fed has also been accused of hiding the terms of the 100% payments to the banks that bought AIG default insurance.

How could Geithner's testimony impact?

“If the evidence that comes out in the case shows that there was a big misfire at the fed, then congress may react and change the way that the Fed does business,” says Georgetown finance professor Jim Angel.

Public reaction to the government's bailouts of large financial institution during the financial crisis was so negative says Angel, that when congress passed Dodd-Frank it reduced the fed’s ability act. New restrictions, he says, could be key in a future crisis.

Why do we care, again?

In litigation, there's this thing called discovery where each side has to "open its kimono" to the other.  Lawsuits are all about getting to the bottom of things. And observers are hoping that this lawsuit could get to the bottom of the financial crisis. Angel says “There’ve been a lot of studies of the financial crisis, but do we really know what happened?”

His answer: not really. He hopes this lawsuit could reveal facts that we don’t know, we don’t know about how the crisis and the bailout of AIG occurred, as well as a potential answer to the “Watergate question” -  what the Fed knew and when it knew it.

That sounds pretty exciting, but John Coffee, director of Columbia Law School’s Center on Corporate Governance, isn’t so sure he agrees with Angel.

“I don’t think you’re going to learn dramatically new information," he says. "You may hear snippets, emails anecdotes that support both sides." 

There are two opposing points of view on how the government handled AIG’s bailout, notes Coffee.

“One side said it was done to prevent financial contagion and panic. The other side says it was done to achieve a backdoor bailout of large banks you wouldn’t dare to fund directly and publicly,” he says. 

Coffee’s opinion: the court won’t decide to oversee or restrain financial regulators. Those new regulations, he says, already exist – thanks to Dodd-Frank. But Georgetown’s Angel takes a different view.

The numbers for October 7, 2014

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-07 08:13

The International Monetary fund is dialing back its predictions of global economic growth for 2015, revising its projection to 3.8 percent, down from 4 percent a few months ago. In its World Economic Outlook report, released Tuesday, the IMF blamed sluggish growth in part on the Eurozone, which it warns has a much higher probability of re-entering recession than it did earlier this year.

Tempering expectations further, the Wall Street Journal notes that the IMF's predictions are often "overly optimistic."

Here are some other numbers we're watching Tuesday:

300 lumens per watt

LEDs are able to give off far more light for the amount of energy they use — compare that figure to 70 lm/W for fluorescents and 16 lm/W for incandescent bulbs. That efficiency won the blue LEDs inventors the Nobel Prize in physics Tuesday, CNET reported. It's a break from past years, which awarded much larger and abstract discoveries like universal expansion and the Higgs boson.

77

The number of travelers stopped by stepped-up exit screenings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in countries most affected by Ebola. President Barack Obama said Monday the U.S. will reexamine its practices here and abroad, the Washington Post reported, as several Republican lawmakers push for travel bans.

1984

The IBM Model M keyboard has been around 30 years, and for many tech writers, IT professionals, programmers and even the guy who created "Minecraft," it's still the standard to which all other keyboards are measured. The Verge has an extensive piece exploring the Model M's history and enduring popularity.

Inflation to a twenty-something

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-07 07:00

As Marketplace celebrates its 25th birthday this year, we are looking at the surprising, sometimes delightful and sometimes destructive ways that prices have changed during that quarter century.

And like many of the twenty-something variety, we decided to mark the occasion by taking a selfie...of our spending. Enter the Consumer Expenditure Survey.

Rather than looking at costs and pricing, the CE looks at how much consumers spent, on average, on any given item or service that year. It's compiled from two sources: the Interview Survey, and the Diary Survey. The former checks in with consumers on quarterly basis, monitoring larger expenditures (like rent and costs related to vehicles), while the latter asks people to keep a spending diary over a shorter period of time to catch smaller, day-to-day purchases.

Together, they create a picture of the spending habits of consumers during a given year. Among other things, the CE is used to revise the Consumer Price Index by looking at goods and their "relative importance." And as we've explored elsewhere, putting together that "basket of goods" that determines inflation is a tricky process that some feel hasn't been handled well in the past.

Regardless, looking at CEs from two years provides interesting comparisons of how much and where we spend our money.

So now that Marketplace is in its twenties, how does our spending compare to a twenty-something from 1989?

Adjusted for inflation (think 2013 dollars), here's how much income consumers 25 to 34 years of age made versus how much they spent on rent, food, alcohol, clothing, and shoes in 1989 and 2013.

It's worth noting that the CE gets incredibly specific. For example, this same age group spent $174 on "cereals and cereal products" in 2013, whereas their 1989 counterparts spent $233 in the same category. Amounts spent on health insurance are also available ($601 in 1989, $1,334 in 2013), which will be an especially interesting comparison to revisit when the CE for 2014 is released, as the Affordable Care Act will have been in effect for this demographic.

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