Marketplace - American Public Media
Marketplace from American Public Media is the premier business news show on public radio. Hosts Kai Ryssdal, Ben Johnson, Lizzie O'Leary and the Marketplace team deliver news that matters, from your wallet to Wall Street. Online at Marketplace.org.
Updated: 31 min 27 sec ago
America is known for it's large trade deficit with China. But the United States does have a surplus of one particularly smelly export — trash. Erica Phillips of the Wall Street Journal wrote about this unusual trading relationship in her piece "Oh, Scrap: China, the Biggest Buyer of America’s Trash, Wants No More." Erica talked with Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal about China's changing attitude towards American scrap. Kai Ryssdal: We should say here, just to remind everybody, we are the biggest waste producer in the world. Erica Phillips: Correct. Ryssdal: OK. Where does it all go? Phillips: Well, myriad places, but the story I wrote about dealt with our recycling, which, you know, curbside stuff gets collected every week ideally by a municipal program of some sort. A large portion of that gets actually packed down into bales and shipped on container ships to Asia, where it gets turned into consumer goods that come back here to the U.S. So kind of a circular economy happening. Ryssdal: And the story is now that China, which has been the recipient of so much of our recyclable scrap over the past number of years, has said in essence, "We don't really want it anymore." Phillips: That's right. This is a huge wrench in the whole system. So plastic, paper, goes over to China gets made into cardboard and toys and things like that. But China, it just so happens, is becoming a much more prosperous economy, and they've got a lot of stuff of their own — packaging that comes with things that their own residents are buying and consuming. They've decided, "Actually, you know what, world? No more scrap coming our way. No more paper or plastic. We're done." Ryssdal: So what are we going to do with it all? I mean, you set a scene down at the Port of Long Beach, where it's just piling up there. Phillips: Yeah, actually in the L.A., Long Beach area, I've talked to folks who are having to rent out a whole 60,000-square foot warehouse just to stick their bales of cardboard and plastic for the time being until they figure out customers maybe in other countries, or potentially the U.S. industry for using scrap material to make into new goods, starts building up things back up again. related Carting New Yorkers' trash to landfills is expensive. One solution: Make less of it. Why Pittsburgh is buying $1,200 garbage cans Ryssdal: Yeah. There is also a global trade deficit story actually in this, in that you say in this piece, container ships that come over here from China full of toys and computers and whatever it is, they would otherwise go back empty were it not for this scrap we've been sending. So, there is a little bit of, it's very circular. Phillips: Yeah, every month about — and I track this — the L.A. and Long Beach ports bring in about 750,000 20-foot-equivalent containers filled with, well filled with stuff, and on the back route, going back to Asia where it's all primarily coming from, a lot of times there's just not anything to really put in there because we're consuming it all or sending back the containers to basically get refilled with the next round of stuff. But without that destination on the back haul, that all kind of breaks down. Ryssdal: The amount of time that the folks down at the port of Long Beach and Los Angeles can let that stuff pile up in their warehouses is finite, right? When are they going to run into serious trouble and need to do something with it? Phillips: There is quite a bit of space here in the good old United States. Stuff is piling up, but they're finding another place for it. At least this one company I spoke to that's getting the 60,000 square-foot warehouse, he doesn't anticipate that he's going to need it for longer than six months. He's getting a short-term lease, so ideally, they're going to find other customers, they're going to figure out where that stuff's going to go. Ryssdal: The other fix to this, obviously, is that we just waste and discard less stuff. Phillips: We waste and discard less stuff, or we put stuff on the curbside, the recyclers pick it up and it ends up in a landfill. If this 60,000-square-foot warehouse, for example, fills up and it ends up not having anywhere to go, it's probably going to go to landfill.
Tim O'Reilly, founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, says financial markets are almost like rogue artificial intelligence, but it doesn't have to be that way. Then: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai finally says no, you actually can't take away a broadcast license (Mr. President). Finally, "The Lego Ninjago Movie" producer Daniel Lin answers our Make Me Smart question.
We're going to take a detour here to the not-too-distant future to see what technologies might shake up the economy and help determine the future of our species. Kelly Weinersmith is a biologist and her husband, Zach, does comics, "Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal" among them. Their new book is called "Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin Everything." It's sort of a layman's explainer mashed up with a comic book. The Weinersmiths spoke with Kai Ryssdal. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation. Kai Ryssdal: So I'm going to start with this “Soonish,” the title. Kelly, it seems appropriately vague so as not to get you into any trouble. Kelly Weinersmith: Well, we were very noncommittal about when these technologies were going to come to fruition, and a big theme of the book is that it's really hard to predict that kind of stuff because technology doesn't always make stepwise progression. Sometimes you have big discontinuous leaps, which make it really hard to predict. And then there's things like economics that can get in the way that you didn't necessarily think about when you were the engineer starting the project. Ryssdal: So let's talk about some of these things in the book. The first couple, and you put it in one section, is the universe soonish. You talk about space travel, you talk about asteroid mining. The interesting thing for me on this one, Kelly, was this section is all economics. Kelly: Yeah. So that was an interesting thing that we didn't necessarily anticipate going in was just how important economics is for a lot of this stuff. And at the end of the day, if the technology doesn't have a market or the market isn't working the way you anticipated it was, then the technology isn't going to work out. And so there's all sorts of market forces that can sort of mess with an engineer or scientist’s plans. Ryssdal: And also, Zach, I mean, if we go asteroid mining for all these rare metals and we bring them all back to Earth somehow, we flood the market and the price falls. And where's the incentive there? Zach: Yeah, and it's unpredictable. That's what's interesting. I mean, so in terms of how humanity is doing, if you found an asteroid full of platinum, which you probably won't, to be clear, but if you did, you would probably crush the market. Humanity might be better off because we'd have a cheap catalyst, but you know, this stuff doesn't happen if there's no good market. You know, you have to have people willing, for asteroid mining, maybe to spend $100 billion to do it. There has to be a pretty pretty good risk assessment. Ryssdal: What do you think about Elon Musk and all that he's doing in this area of technology? Kelly: Well, that is a fascinating question. He's clearly doing amazing things to make access to space very cheap. He didn't return our calls, and we would have loved to have talked to him about that. So he's clearly the leader in this area and he wants to get to Mars sometime soon and set a colony up out there. That could be an entire different book, but the implications of that and what it's going to mean when we have people on Mars, and they're so far away that you can't talk to them quickly or reach them for years. Ryssdal: One of the things you guys point out in this book is that we are not keeping up with our technological advances, and you talk about robotic construction and how we have the technology to do a bunch of this stuff and we're just not. Zach: Robotics has been one of these fields that we've been very excited about for a long time, and it just seems to never quite come. So we actually found a paper about robotic construction about the experiments Japan did with it in the '80s and '90s. Japan is a very aging culture. The average age in Japan was, like, 46 now, quite old. And so the idea of a robot labor force is quite appealing. At least in the papers we found, it seemed like it was kind of a wash. So you can kind of imagine that you have a construction worker, and you give him this robot that's supposed to help. And it helps by the time he knows how it works. But by the time you get there, you've lost all this time training yourself on a new machine or dealing with the robot's deficiencies. So there's a great deal of appeal here. I say that as someone who's staring down the barrel of homeownership shortly. Yeah, I like the idea that a robot swarm just makes the house materialize for the cost of parts. Whether that will happen soon and what the economic implications are that's kind of a scary question. Ryssdal: Kelly, when you sat down to think about what's realistic and what's not with some of these technologies, and we're going from bioprinting to basically chips in our brains to robotic construction, all that stuff, what was your over-under on on how realistic they are? Did you say, "This one is promising but not realistic, we're not putting it in there"? Kelly: Well, for all the technologies that you listed, people have been working on them for quite awhile, and there, you know, there were people we could find online like for bioprinting, for example, who had managed to print blood vessels that looked promising, like they could maybe one day provide nutrients to a liver, for example. It had to be far enough along that we could see that progress was being made. And then, you know, our gut had to tell us there was some chance that it would that it would work out, but we could be wrong.
Call it "enticing" or "incentivizing." Call it "begging" or "groveling." What’s clear is the bidding war between cities and states to host Amazon's second national headquarters is racing to its deadline Thursday. The offers of tax incentives, subsidies, favorable zoning, job training and all the rest are piling in. A few billion here, a few more billion there. Amazon promises to bring with it 50,000 mid- to high-paying central-office jobs and a whole lot of steel and glass square footage. But how much are 50,000 jobs really worth? Click the audio player above to hear the full story.
The contentious fourth round of NAFTA negotiations concluded in Washington, D.C. today without a deal in sight. Trade reps from Canada and Mexico rejected outright a number of hard-line protectionist policies proposed by U.S. negotiators, proposals which Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland described diplomatically today as "unconventional." Could these seemingly irreconcilable sticking points on President Donald Trump's bold trade agenda derail NAFTA altogether? Click the audio player above to hear the full story.
Work comes with rules; what to wear, how much vacation you can take, how to behave and in some cases what you can post on social media. This month on Marketplace Weekend's regular segment on jobs and the work place, Ask a Manager's Alison Green tackles your questions on relationships at work. What issues can arise from office friendships? For people in leadership positions, is it appropriate to be friends with your staff? And when it comes to romance, what are the do's and don'ts? Also, in light of the allegations around Harvey Weinstein, how should workers and managers navigate issues around unwanted advances and sexual assault? You can email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, leave a voicemail at 1-800-648-5114 or contact us using the forms below. If we use your question, one of the show's producers will be in touch.
The Senate is pushing ahead on a budget vote this week. That framework would move the GOP a step closer to the tax overhaul it has promised. The Senate plan allows for as much as $1.5 trillion in tax cuts over the decade. Those cuts could blow a $2.4 trillion hole in the budget, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates. There are a few on the right who are sounding the alarm about national deficits and debt. Republican Sen. Rand Paul in an interview today said he is prepared to vote no on the budget if leaders don't agree to cut billions in spending from the plan. But most of the deficit hawks have gone quiet — or are now singing a different tune. Click the audio player above to hear the full story.
It's been almost two months since Hurricane Harvey covered southeast Texas with 50 inches of rain, left hundreds of thousands of residents with flooded homes and disrupted lives. As of October 16, about 870,000 households had applied for direct financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and about 300,000 have been approved. Only U.S. citizens or legal residents are eligible for those direct deposits of relief funds from FEMA. The more than half a million undocumented people living in greater Houston have to find financial relief in other ways. Ingrid is the name of a Honduran woman who came to Houston 12 years ago, and Marketplace is not using her last name because she has yet to obtain U.S. citizenship. Shortly after arriving, she met her husband and started a family. Like many people in the sprawling apartment complex where she's staying in northwest Houston, she was displaced by Hurricane Harvey. Ingrid found the un-flooded, one-bedroom apartment through a friend. It's where she and her four children — ages 12, 10, 6, and 3 months — will be living for the foreseeable future. She said that on the night that Harvey made landfall in the Houston area, she woke up to the sound of water rushing into her old apartment, and knew they had to get out. “We lost everything that night and tnext day," Ingrid said in Spanish. "We walked to the car and slept there for a while because we didn’t have any other place to stay.” The flood came at a particularly tough time for Ingrid. Her husband was deported back to his home country of Mexico just a week before the storm hit, after he was stopped for a traffic incident. “My life right now isn’t easy,” Ingrid said. Ingrid took photos of her flooded apartment before her family fled for safety. They slept in her car for days until they found an un-flooded apartment. Filipa Rodrigues/ for Marketplace After a disaster like Hurricane Harvey, undocumented people like Ingrid are eligible for some government assistance — basically emergency food and shelter. But they can’t get things like FEMA cash assistance — up to $33,000 per household — or low-interest government loans to rebuild homes. If a family is mixed-status, with parents or guardians who are undocumented, but with children who are U.S. citizens, then the household can apply for FEMA funds on behalf of the kids. That's the case with Ingrid, whose children who were born here, so she gave it a shot. “I filled out an application with FEMA but they still haven’t responded," Ingrid said. "They haven’t sent me anything. They’ve told me nothing. I don’t have any idea what happened with that application. I’ve been to various organizations but none of them helped me.” The FEMA application doesn’t require Ingrid to declare her immigration status, but she said she’s still worried about being targeted by immigration authorities if she applies for any aid from the government. Still, she said she's willing to take the risk to help her children. At a pop-up FEMA office down the street, more than 30 people crammed inside to speak with agents, fill out forms and get updates on their application statuses. There were a couple of interpreters inside to help the majority Spanish-speaking people waiting, but the atmosphere was chaotic and everyone seemed frustrated. Right after Harvey hit, nonprofits set up shop in shelters to help undocumented people and Spanish speakers. But with shelters now closed, help is harder to find. A group called United We Dream identified several families in dire need of help, and Ingrid’s was one. They connected her to a nonprofit that raised money online for Hurricane Harvey relief. Dona Murphey is chair of that group, an advocacy organization called Pantsuit Republic. Murphey said she felt great about writing a $5,000 check for Ingrid, but there were some snags. Ingrid doesn’t have a bank account, and no official U.S. identification. Murphey agreed to help her get the check cashed. “So, she took that $5,000 check and went to some check cashing place and they told her, ‘we declined it, but we can’t tell you why.' It bounced in the system and now she’s locked out of the system.” Murphey said she and Ingrid tried ten check cashing stores and none would take it. So Murphey's group took back the check, and, after a week of wrangling, gave Ingrid $5,000 in cash. Murphey said, for her, it underscores the constant challenges for the undocumented community. “Everything that could go wrong, did," Murphey said. "And I think that many of us take for granted that are so easy and take so little time and thought and energy for anybody else is just so impossible for her. A week or so after our interview, Murphey called with an update about Ingrid. Ingrid let Murphey know that she sent some of the $5,000 cash to Honduras, to pay for a breathing machine for her sick mother. Ingrid also told Murphey she went to a FEMA office in Houston to check on the application for her kids. Ingrid was ill at the time, and said a worker told her to come back when she wasn’t sick. Apparently Ingrid refused to leave, and someone called the police. Ingrid has given up on getting money from FEMA, Murphey said. "She said she’s not going back. And she said she doesn’t want anything to do with this, anymore." Murphey said Ingrid will have to rely on friends and charity donations, instead. related Houston is trying to get buyout offers to homeowners quickly Disaster rebuilding help is on the way ... eventually Hurricanes Irma and Harvey are causing an insurance adjuster shortage
In its tax framework, the GOP leadership has promised to keep some of the most popular personal deductions, including the charitable deduction. But the value of that deduction could be limited by other changes to the tax code. To explain, let's start with a tradition that you, dear public radio supporter, are likely familiar with: the pledge drive. A few times a year, member stations around the country ask for donations, often touting their tax deductability. Of course, people donate money to all causes because they support the mission of the organizations. But doing good isn't the only reason people give. "We know tax incentives are, in fact, really important," said Jeff Moore, chief strategy officer at Independent Sector, which represents nonprofits. The group sponsored research from Indiana University's Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and "one of the really interesting things we found is just how responsive givers are to tax incentive," Moore said. Take tax incentives away, and some folks would give less, billions less, according to that Indiana University study. And that’s exactly what the GOP framework could do — take those tax incentives away. Here's how: The Republicans want to double the standard deduction and eliminate a lot of other write-offs. related Tax brackets and why you shouldn't fear a raise Why so much of the U.S. tax code is social policy How Americans really feel about taxes "That proposal is likely to greatly decrease the number of taxpayers who itemize their deductions," said Jon Bakija, an economics professor at Williams College. Fewer itemizers means fewer people who get a tax incentive to donate to charity. Under the GOP tax framework, the only people who’d be left to take the charitable deduction would be the wealthiest taxpayers. That raises concerns about the social engineering of charitable giving, Bakija said. "If the rich are more likely to donate to the Heritage Foundation and the middle class is more likely to donate to the Sierra Club, this is going to affect which of those organizations get funds," Bakija said. "It’s not that United Way is for or against tax reform," said Steve Taylor from United Way Worldwide. But the plan as it's been proposed is the wrong way to go about encouraging more giving, he said. "Whether you are wealthy or middle class or low income, that shouldn’t matter if you are taxed on your donations to charity," Taylor said. Many charitable organizations, including his, are pushing for a universal tax deduction for charitable giving, a write-off anyone could take. But that would cost money. And it isn’t currently on the list of tax breaks that Republicans seem most interested in paying for.
The Senate is expected to take up a budget framework this week. If it passes, the GOP will be one step closer to the tax overhaul it so desperately wants. President Donald Trump promised yesterday in a Rose Garden press conference with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that the tax plan is on track. But the outcome of the pending budget vote is far from predictable. Click the above audio player to hear the full story.
The Senate Banking committee meets today for another hearing about the Equifax data breach. With the major credit reporting agencies woven deeply into the fabric of our financial system, what can Congress actually do here? Click the above audio player to hear the full story.
Not long ago natural gas – the fuel that probably gave you your hot shower this morning – was being hailed as the clean “bridge” fuel, because it polluted less than other alternatives. For some purposes it still is, such as when it replaces diesel fuel in buses. But in our homes, some now believe natural gas should be phased out in favor of electric appliances, for climate reasons. “We are going to need to stop using gas appliances like gas water heaters, and gas space heaters and start using more energy efficient electric appliances,” said Rachel Golden, a senior campaign representative at the Sierra Club. There is already a trend to convert from gas to electrical power. One out of every four homes in the U.S. is all-electric, according the most recent survey from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The trend is strongest in the south. Golden points out that electricity is increasingly made with clean solar and wind. “Right now people understand the benefit of having an electric vehicle, and soon I think they will also understand the benefits of having all-electric homes,” she said. Related Excess solar power in California? Pay Arizona to take it Can America weather a cyber attack on its power grid? When it is burned, or particularly if it leaks out unburned, natural gas contributes to climate change. Dan Thomsen, a contractor who specializes in air quality, said it probably wasn’t optimal to put combustion appliances inside living spaces. Thomsen and several others recommended a type of heating and air conditioning known as heat pumps. He believes the future is electrification of homes. Mauzy Heating Air & Solar, a heat pump vendor and installer in San Diego, also praised heat pumps, but said the company has seen no uptick in sales. It recommends them for people who have solar systems on their roofs, because that electricity is paid for. Sean Armstrong of Redwood Energy, which specializes in all-electric construction, recommends heat pumps for many more situations than just solar homes. He installs them in affordable apartment buildings across California. “A refrigerator uses more electricity for heating and cooling than a heat pump in an apartment,” Armstrong said. But gas utility companies say natural gas helps keep energy affordable. Many people struggle to pay utility bills and cannot risk them going higher. Gabe Harris, a principal gas analyst with Wood MacKenzie said a switch to electricity for heat or the hot water heater may cost you.“The truth is it is still more expensive than gas in most of the uses that we use it for right now,” he said. When people switch from gas to electricity, sometimes they have to increase the electrical service to the circuit breaker box, another cost. Harris agrees electricity is getting cleaner. But he said putting up wind turbines and solar farms takes fossil fuel, too. They require a lot of concrete, and the energy for making and pouring concrete comes from fossil fuels. Still studies show wind and solar farms tend to make up for that fossil fuel use not too long after they start operating.
Two dozen people zigzag through Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, footsteps crunching on pavement and gravel. A local blog called The Urbanist organized the tour about the history of this neighborhood — the location of Amazon’s first headquarters. In a few years, the view around HQ1 has morphed from low-slung warehouses to tall, modern apartment buildings and cranes that poke out of construction sites around every bend. “It looks like a millennial paradise,” said Seattle resident Anthony Bridgewater, who took the tour. Cities across North America are sending their best pitches to Amazon to host the company’s second headquarters. Seattle is among the cities making a bid, but the city’s residents are split between those who are wringing their hands over the company’s possible expansion in a different location, and those who say “no thanks.” Related Walmart vs. Amazon: Which will win the retail wars? Seattle increasing affordable housing through a bargain with private developers Seattle’s recent changes are dizzying. Just two metrics: in 10 years, the population has increased over 20 percent and the median home price has increased around 50 percent to $730,000. The region is home to a lot of Fortune 500 companies, all driving growth, though Amazon is Seattle’s largest employer. Pam Carter has lived in Seattle for decades. She and her husband recently moved across town after selling to developers who put up a five-story apartment building. “Our house no longer exists,” she said. The tour passes one high rise. Carter remembers when it went up. “You suddenly couldn’t see the Olympic Mountains. And I hated that,” Carter said. Sometimes she gets lost without landmarks in sight, she said. Terry Franguiadakis moved to Seattle in the '90s. “We felt like it was an empty city,” he said. “There was a lot of parking lots. It was kind of desolate.” Now it gets more vibrant every year, he said, with good restaurants, people living in the city and milling around the streets. “I think it’s great,” Franguiadakis said. But, the city wasn’t prepared for the boom, especially not in the housing market, said Ethan Phelps-Goodman with the organization Seattle Tech 4 Housing. Amazon’s next host should get ready quickly, so low- and middle-income people don’t get priced out, he said. “You're going to need to build abundant housing to go along with all those jobs that are going to stream in, not just for the Amazon employees, but for the restaurant workers, and the baristas, and the security guards, and the many, many jobs that will be created by all the new wealth,” Phelps-Goodman said. According to Amazon, the company’s presence is a boon to Seattle’s economy, and the company gives back to the local community through philanthropy and volunteering. The company will announce the location of its second headquarters next year.
Belgian researchers have identified a vulnerability in the way most of us connect wirelessly to the internet. The weakness even has a name: Krack. If exploited (and luckily that has not yet happened, as far as anyone can tell), information like our credit cards, passwords, basically anything we type is at risk for being seen and stolen. For businesses trying to keep their data and yours safe, this opens up a whole new front in the cybersecurity war.
My Economy tells the story of the new economic normal through the eyes of people trying to make it, because we know the only numbers that really matter are the ones in your economy. Today’s installment is from Irwin Kwan, a user experience designer in Massachusetts. There are a couple things you hear, especially from people who advocate financial independence. You know, have six months expenses, make sure your expenses are less than your income. And we have that covered. All the costs of health care and disasters — like, God forbid, someone in my family gets cancer, and we have to start paying regular expenses — you don’t know what those costs are. You just know that they’re high. And it’s so high compared to almost anything in your life that you have to pay for. My wife, when she was younger, she had to take an ambulance ride. It was five minutes long, the ride. And the bill from the hospital was over $10,000. She had to fight her insurance to try and get that reduced and reduced and reduced over time, until they finally agreed to a reasonable amount. Your health is really important, and all of this stuff is really important. But you feel like there’s this weird disconnect between the way you pay for insurance and the direct value you get of it. I guess it’s pretty timely, because open enrollment season for insurance is coming up, right? And every year, your employer contacts you and is, like, “these, these, these, these, these things have changed on your insurance." As I get older, I’m going to have to start check-listing these things off. And making sure “this is now covered, that’s not covered anymore... Do I want to do that?” I’m pretty fortunate and I’m worried. I can’t even imagine what people [do] who struggle to get health insurance and then have to struggle to pay for it. It doesn’t seem sustainable. There seems like there has to be a more efficient way.
The White House released a paper today laying out the argument that a corporate tax cut will give a $4,000 boost to the average household. The studies being used to back up its assertion come from reputable places like the Kansas City Fed and Harvard, although there are plenty of other studies that say otherwise. The merits of the corporate tax cut and who it benefits is setting up to be a battle of the academics over some complex models predicting how companies might behave. So what does recent history tells us companies do? And why does the White House think this time will be different?
Social Security benefits will rise 2 percent in 2018 for approximately 61 million older Americans who rely on the benefit. The annual cost-of-living adjustment is based on the third-quarter Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners and clerical workers. The COLA hasn’t been as high as 2 percent since 2011; it rose 0.3 percent this year and didn't increase at all in 2016. Low inflation in recent years has helped seniors financially, since many are on fixed incomes. But the rate of inflation in the health care sector has exceeded overall consumer price inflation in recent years. And that’s a challenge for older Americans, who typically spend a greater percentage of their annual budget on health care than younger people. Annual CPI calculations may also fail to capture a significant driver of health care inflation — the introduction of new, high-priced drugs, medical devices and procedures that can’t easily be compared to a similar health care expenditure in the previous year’s CPI data.
Over the past week, Northern California has seen some horrific fires blaze across its neighborhoods. One of the remarkable things about those fires, in addition to their speed and the scale of the destruction, is what buildings burned and where those buildings were. The Tubbs Fire, which hit the city of Santa Rosa, has burned more than 35,000 acres. It was 70 percent contained as of today, according to Cal Fire. However, many of the homes that burned down were not on the official maps that show the places most at risk of wildfire in the area. Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal spoke with Doug Smith, staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, about his article on Coffey Park, a neighborhood in Sonoma County, and how its residents had every reason to believe their homes were not at high risk of wildfires. To hear the interview, click on the audio player above.
Ira Belgrade had been a Hollywood talent manager for decades when his wife, who was also his business partner, died suddenly from Lyme disease. “I fell apart, my business fell apart,” Belgrade said. “How was I going to tell my 2 1/2-year-old, 'Now we’ve got to move, you can’t have that bedroom anymore'? I didn’t want to do that.”That’s when Belgrade decided to turn his detached home office, which had once been a garage, into a two-bedroom rental apartment known as an "accessory dwelling unit," granny flat or backyard home. “And that would absolutely help me pay my mortgage,” Belgrade said.But when he brought this idea to the city for permits, it said no. Under Los Angeles’ strict regulations, Belgrade’s lot was too small, the unit was too close to the main house and it needed covered parking. “So I just said 'F 'em, I’m doing it,' ” Belgrade said. “And I did, and it worked out great.” That is, until someone reported him. After an inspection and fine, Belgrade was told to get legal, he’d have to make changes to the tune of $50,000. That left him in limbo until he heard about a state lawmaker pushing reform in Sacramento. Turns out, planners had begun to see backyard structures — from converted garages to full freestanding houses — as a solution to the housing crisis. “There’s a lot of free land in the city, and it’s in people’s backyards,” said Dana Cuff, director of UCLA’s CityLab. The think tank has been studying the issue for a decade. LA has miles and miles of single-family homes, each with a backyard. By relaxing backyard homebuilding rules, Cuff says cities can boost affordable housing stock without spending any money. And families can turn their garages and backyards into sources of income. “Basically, it puts the growth of the city in the hands of individual property owners, so they get the benefits,” Cuff said. Cuff wrote the California bill to relax those tough requirements and fees for backyard homes. It became law this year. And while local zoning and safety laws still apply, it’s much easier to become a backyard landlord. There are critics, of course, including those who worry increased backyard home development will increase traffic and exacerbate parking problems. Valid concerns in LA, but backyard homes should pop up gradually, giving time for communities to respond, Cuff said. Meanwhile, the private sector is taking notice. “There couldn’t be a better time to get into this,” said Alexis Rivas, CEO of the company Cover, which designs, builds and installs prefabricated backyard dwellings. It placed its first home last week. “It’s a huge market,” Rivas said. “There’s over half a million single-family homes in Los Angeles with backyards that have potential for a structure like this.” Rivas plans to produce 150 homes per year from his LA factory. He said a one-bedroom backyard home ranges in price from about $100,000 to $400,000, depending on the design and materials used. Rivas isn’t the only one who sees a business opportunity here. After waiting seven years, Ira Belgrade said his backyard home was the first in LA legalized under the new law, and now he’s started a consulting business to help others get their backyard homes approved. The company is called YIMBY LA, or Yes In My Backyard Los Angeles.“I know what it did for me,” Belgrade said. “I know how it helped me.” The process still takes some time, money and know-how, Belgrade said. But with the law finally on his side, it’s much easier than his first time around.
Colin Kaepernick — the football player who started kneeling during the national anthem to protest social injustice — has now filed a grievance against the NFL, accusing its teams of colluding against him. He opted out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers in March, and no team has signed him despite a strong season last year. That's led to speculation in the sports community that he’s been blackballed by the NFL because of his political activism. In August of last year, Kaepernick said he refused to stand for the national anthem because of racial inequality that exists in the U.S. "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick said. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder." Back in September, hundreds of football players, coaches and NFL owners engaged in their own forms of protest (which included kneeling) after Donald Trump called on NFL owners to fire football players who do not stand during the pledge of allegiance. The NFL is bound by a collective bargaining agreement, which mandates that Kaepernick's case be handled through arbitration. It'll be up to Kaepernick show evidence of collusion and prove that the teams actively conspired against him. It’s not enough to point out that he’s a talented player and hasn’t been signed — the collective bargaining agreement actually says that explicitly. Kaepernick and his team have to meet a higher level of proof. Kaepernick’s hired Mark Geragos, a high-profile lawyer who said in a tweet that they filed a grievance after exhausting all other options with the teams. Geragos & Geragos official statement on @Kaepernick7 who we are proud to represent pic.twitter.com/c0Jr1ugNV1 — Mark Geragos (@markgeragos) October 16, 2017 Related The NFL vs. Trump: Can you be fired for a peaceful protest? The First Amendment won't protect you from saying something your company doesn't like NFL players lobby Congress for criminal justice reform