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More than five years after the crash, homebuilding is stuck at half its normal level. That's a big drag on the economy. And things aren't looking much better: A report out Thursday shows homebuilder confidence is at its lowest level in a year.

This severe slump in single-family home construction has been going on across the country. We haven't seen anything close to this kind of a long-term construction slump since World War II.

"This is a completely unprecedented collapse," says Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. "What we learned was that if you pump enough leverage into a housing market and then take it out very quickly, you can see collapses the likes of which you've never even imagined," he says.

Homebuilding remains a kind of sleeping giant. If it wakes up, it could create a lot of good-paying construction jobs and manufacturing jobs at companies making everything from windows to dishwashers to lawn mowers. When housing really recovers it can offer a real boost to the economy.

And last spring, it seemed like that boost was coming. "Things seemed to be coming back, and we were seeing a big pickup in house prices, and construction was picking up as well. Everyone got very excited," Shepherdson says.

But then mortgage rates went up. "And at that point things came very quickly to a jibbering halt," Shepherdson says.

To gauge the practicality of investing the long years of speculative writing that it takes to produce a first novel, I asked my agent, Kate Garrick of DeFiore & Company, to estimate the percentage of the first novels submitted to her she considers saleable. Her answer (like all these answers, via e-mail):

I'd probably qualify it a little by saying that I'm only looking for certain kinds of books at any given moment, but I tend to receive queries that cover the whole spectrum of publishing, and so it's absolutely possible a lot of the books I pass on for being outside my wheelhouse will go on to find homes.

That said: probably 1%? Maybe a little less.

This is a monster sold on a sigh. For all of the bombast, the buildings falling, and the brawling beasties, the moment when this Godzilla is most impressive, the moment he suddenly transcends his digital underpinnings and feels like a real presence, is one of his subtlest and quietest. During a lull in a battle among the skyscrapers of downtown San Francisco, the danger around him briefly subsides; his head droops momentarily, his body heaves ever so slightly downward, and he exhales quietly. The fearsome jaws, knifelike talons, and spiky plates on his back might scream world-destroying lizard god, but that sigh just murmurs, "I'm gonna need a minute here."

Godzilla is nearing retirement age, with nearly three dozen movies under his scaly belt, so as the franchise enters its seventh decade, it's fair to ask any director attempting to resurrect the series whether there's a good reason (apart from box-office grosses) to poke this particular sleeping giant. British director Gareth Edwards' answer to that seems to be that it's time for a return to the creature's sober, serious roots after decades of rubber suits and silly monster-on-monster action.

To that end, Edwards demonstrates a clear understanding of what made 1954's Godzilla such an enduring story. As was the case there, he's attempted to create an allegory about the dangers of militarized science, and one that foregrounds the human drama while the monstrous chaos unleashed by man's dabbling in nuclear power and weaponry goes down in the background. He centers the story on one family, the Brodys, whose fates are intertwined with a Japanese nuclear disaster and its subsequent fallout.

Bryan Cranston plays Joe, an engineer at the Janjira nuclear power plant, which early in the film is destroyed in a series of earthquakes mirroring the real-life Fukushima disaster. His wife dies in the accident, and he becomes a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist, trying desperately to prove that the official explanation for the disaster is a smoke screen. Fifteen years later, he's an embarrassment to his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a military ordnance expert now with a family of his own in San Francisco. Ford has to head to Japan to retrieve Dad after a run-in with local authorities, and his visit just happens to coincide with the earth starting its familiar rumbling again. Turns out Joe's theories aren't so crazy after all, particularly to Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), a secret government scientist studying a mysterious phenomenon at the Janjira site.

The characters don't quite escape the thinly drawn traditions of the standard summer blockbuster, but they are full enough to provide adequate personal stakes, especially with Ford's desperate attempts to reunite with his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son amid the carnage. Similarly, the allegorical underpinnings never quite match the grace with which the 1954 Godzilla interrogates scientific ethics in a militarized age, but they're present enough to provoke at least a little thought.

What Edwards is really after here is balance, not just of character and meaningful story, but also of spectacle. This is still a big summer tentpole, after all, and Edwards is committed to making a popcorn flick that thrills without sacrificing brain cells.

Edwards' only previous feature was the 2010 indie Monsters, which impressed its small audience with how effective a monster movie could be even if it barely had the budget to really show the monsters. Godzilla has the budget, but it maintains commitment to the notion that the unseen is more impressive than the seen: Godzilla doesn't appear until over halfway into the film (after one nicely executed bait-and-switch), and really doesn't take center stage until the very end.

When we do see him and the movie's other creatures — because this does still share some DNA with the later monster-vs.-monster iterations of Godzilla — it's most often from specific human points of view. They're partially obscured by goggles, by blurred binoculars, by smoke, by foregrounded buildings. Everything Edwards does visually creates a sense of scale as compared with humans, and when he does open Godzilla up to wide shots, it makes him all the more impressive.

Edwards' willingness to not always go over the top, to not try to be bigger than Godzilla, is what drives restrained moments like that labored sigh, or the stunningly executed paratrooper sequence teased in the poster, with troops falling from the sky trailing red smoke while the eerie Ligeti Requiem made famous by Kubrick's 2001 winds up the tension in preparation for another release.

This is exactly what big summer movies ought to aspire to: never short on dazzle, but unafraid to let us catch our breath once it's been taken away.

Where does Don Draper's formidable presence come from in Mad Men? From his impeccable style, sure, and from his brooding good looks, of course, but also from his stillness. A few drug-induced exceptions aside, Don is as restrained in movement as he is in his speech. The combination gives him an irresistible, if unsettling, allure; in meetings, it's his solid stare that holds your attention as much as his words.

Jon Hamm's stillness playing Don in Mad Men became particularly noticeable after I watched him in Million Dollar Arm, which, among other things, lacks a noteworthy performance to ground an otherwise loosely constructed film. Hamm doesn't play Don in Million Dollar Arm, of course, but he does play another salesman: the sports agent JB, who, after leaving a large agency to start his own business, is struggling to sign a big-name athlete and pay his bills.

In fact, Million Dollar Arm begins with a pitch from JB to a superstar NFL linebacker he hopes to represent. JB doesn't quite offer the same satisfactions as Don, though. He's something closer to Jerry Maguire in need of an editor, concluding his promise to secure countless riches with a supplication: "Will you let me help you do that?"

JB leads a hurried existence, rushing around LA in his Porsche convertible. Eventually he takes that energy to India, where, with the prospect of a billion new baseball fans on his mind, he hopes to save his career by converting Indian cricket bowlers into professional pitchers. To that end, he holds a contest called Million Dollar Arm, offering two finalists an opportunity to try out for the major leagues in the U.S. And when the winners, Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal), return with JB to LA, one of the first English words they learn is the essence of JB's way of life: hustle.

Looking at Hamm's previous roles, you can chart his range by whether his characters default to a smile or a stone-faced stare. If deadpan, he's Don — assertive, composed, unflappable. With a smile — which, unlike most things about Hamm, is generally strained and awkward — he flips: Now he's goofy and approachable, characteristics he used to great effect on 30 Rock.

Either way, he has presence. In Million Dollar Arm, he disappears. And he's not the only one: Between director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl), writer Thomas McCarthy (The Station Agent) and co-stars Bill Paxton, Alan Arkin and Lake Bell (who is good enough to make you realize how wasteful her love-interest-as-motherly-sidekick role is), there's a lot of potential talent subsumed here by plain studio fare.

Whoever you want to blame, Million Dollar Arm is a film that, like JB, is in a needless rush. This isn't the hurry of a tense thriller. Instead, with time to kill, the film resembles a long car ride, with McCarthy and Gillespie producing the closest approximations to excitement possible so no one realizes they're bored. The scenes in India stuff a series of montages in between jokes about animals roaming the streets and a brief, preposterous stop at the Taj Mahal. (A Disney movie isn't where one ought to search for nuanced multiculturalism, of course, and here, at least, both sides are reduced to stereotypes: America is baseball, luxury and cultural insensitivity; India is spicy food, crowded streets and poverty.) In other moments, when a montage is too clearly out of the question, the film resorts to sudden leaps in time: anything, that is, but a stop for breath.

In the end, Hamm is most affected — there's a strain to his performance that suggests something about JB, perhaps, but also strips the character of any charisma. As a result, Million Dollar Man may be the first hint that Hamm is unable to rise above mediocre material and demand our attention regardless (an essential feature of any leading Hollywood actor or actress). But before passing judgment, I'd like to see a film that lets him sit still and prove otherwise.

For those of us who have spent time arguing for increased ethnic and cultural diversity on television, the last seven days have felt like a fantasy fever dream.

This week, the big broadcast networks announced their schedules for the 2014-15 TV season during the industry's "upfront" presentations to advertisers. And there are 10 new series featuring non-white characters and/or show creators – numbers we haven't seen since the days when everybody was trying to clone The Cosby Show.

But don't think this change is about altruism or fairness. Some of the most successful shows on TV this season have had significant levels of diversity in casting. ABC's Modern Family and Scandal stand out, along with Fox's Sleepy Hollow and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

"We really do think ABC reflects the new face of America," said the network's entertainment programming head, Paul Lee, this week. "America has changed. It's the right thing to do now."

Let's overlook the fact that America has been a pretty diverse country for a while.

Now that network TV has agreed to make diversity a priority in its mix of new shows, they face the next challenge: not screwing it up.

Because nothing can reverse efforts to add diversity in television programming quicker than failure. Doesn't matter that most new shows fail; in an industry where success feels like a lightning bolt from above, failure can be hung on anything that deviates from what was done before.

Fortunately, I've got some ideas for how network TV can avoid fumbling away its progress by getting diversity on television right.

But first, a look at just how groundbreaking this coming TV season truly is.

ABC stepped up strongest, handing Grey's Anatomy and Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes their Thursday night, scheduling Rhimes' new show How to Get Away with Murder at 10 p.m. after her two hits. It's smart counterprogramming – rival CBS will have NFL football until the end of October.

But it also gives the most powerful black woman in scripted television her own night in prime time with two shows starring black women; Scandal and Murder (which features Oscar nominee Viola Davis). That hasn't happened, ever.

The alphabet network also has comedies featuring a black family (Black-ish), a Latino family (Cristela) and an Asian American family (Fresh Off the Boat). And they also picked up American Crime, from 12 Years a Slave screenwriter (and NPR contributor) John Ridley, who is black.

Fox has Oscar winner Octavia Spencer in a high school drama (Red Band Society), along with an animated comedy about American and Mexican families living along the border (Bordertown). The Butler director Lee Daniels helped create Empire, a drama set in a family-run rap music empire. NBC has a comedy featuring Office alum Craig Robinson and Alfre Woodard as the President in a new drama (State of Affairs); CBS has a summer series, Extant, featuring Halle Berry.

So here's a few rules to help them avoid screwing it all up when these shows actually hit air.

Rule #1: Don't define characters completely by their ethnicity or culture. You've likely seen TV shows where non-white characters are mostly a collection of jokes rooted in their ethnic/cultural heritage. Or where their most prominent traits are rooted in stereotypes about people like them.

The key to creating authentic non-white characters is to acknowledge and reflect their ethnicity or culture without completely defining them that way. Cosby's Cliff Huxtable was an upper middle class father raising kids with his lawyer wife.

But he was also a black man who talked about attending a historically black college, celebrated when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday was made a national holiday and had grandkids named Winnie and Nelson after the Mandelas. That's how real people of color live life – never completely defined by their culture but always a reflection of it.

Rule #2: Show us things we thought we knew in new ways. The Eddie Murphy sketch many people mention when talking about his amazingly successful time on Saturday Night Live is the piece where he dressed as a white man and discovered white people get everything free in New York City.

The skit was wonderful because it got at stuff we all know: the subtlety of modern prejudice, the suspicion that racism has just moved underground, the difficulty in understanding how someone of another race feels. But it presented those ideas in a fresh and funny way.

Rule #3: Earn the right to reference stereotypes. I once asked TV writer David Mills, who died in 2010 on the set of HBO's Treme, how to differentiate between a critically-acclaimed series like The Wire, which featured a lot of characters living down to the worst stereotypes about black and brown criminality, and a seriously backward series like Homeboys in Outer Space.

Mills said the quality of the show and the characters had to justify the stereotypes. Because characters on shows such as The Wire and The Sopranos were humanized and complex, they often confronted stereotypes even while echoing them.

Rule #4: Don't freak out if everyone doesn't get the joke, as long as they don't get it for the right reasons. One of the saddest elements of the recent controversy involving Saturday Night Live writer Leslie Jones' controversial Weekend Update skit was her immediate dismissal of critics as "idiots," "f—-ing morons" and "too f—-ing sensitive."

The fact is, critics had some good points about how the tone and delivery of her bit could have been adjusted to make it funnier and less stereotypical. But she was too busy defending her work to engage the conversation it started.

That was also the opportunity missed when Dave Chappelle decided to abandon his hit Comedy Central series Chappelle's Show amid concerns about stress and the notion that some white fans of the program took his satire of racial issues too literally.

Playing in this field will always have a high level of difficulty. Producers must make sure that when the people who don't get it speak up, they have good answers for their concerns.

And if they don't have answers, just be sure to listen and learn.


More than five years after the crash, homebuilding is stuck at half its normal level. That's a big drag on the economy. And things aren't looking much better: A report out Thursday shows homebuilder confidence is at its lowest level in a year.

This severe slump in single-family home construction has now been going on across the country for more than 5 years. We haven't seen anything close to that kind of a long-term construction slump since World War II.

"This is a completely unprecedented collapse," says Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. "What we learned was that if you pump enough leverage into a housing market, and then take it out very quickly you can see collapses the likes of which you've never even imagined," he says.

Homebuilding remains a kind of sleeping giant. If it wakes up, it could create a lot of good-paying constructions jobs and manufacturing jobs at companies making everything from windows to dishwashers to lawn mowers. When housing really recovers it can offer a real boost to the economy.

And last spring, it seemed like that boost was coming. "Things seemed to be coming back and we were seeing a big pickup in house prices and construction was picking up as well. Everyone got very excited," Shepherdson says.

But then mortgage rates went up. "And at that point things came very quickly to a jibbering halt," Shepherdson says.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin started vilifying the U.S., and state-controlled media took his cue, Michael McFaul was portrayed as one of the American villains. McFaul was the American ambassador to Russia from January 2012 to February of this year. He planned to leave just after the Sochi Olympics, which ended up coinciding with the Ukrainian parliament voting to remove President Viktor Yanukovych from office, which led to Russia's annexation of Crimea.

McFaul is a Russian scholar who has returned to his teaching job at Stanford University. He was the architect of the Obama strategy known as "Reset," which meant moving beyond Cold War hostilities and finding areas for mutual cooperation, such as enforcing sanctions against Iran and bringing Russia into the World Trade Organization.

McFaul served as a foreign policy adviser during Obama's first term. He joins Fresh Air's Terry Gross to discuss the crisis in Ukraine, Putin's increasingly authoritarian regime and his experiences as ambassador.

The U.S. housing market is strengthening after a tough winter, according to economists at a Realtors convention in Washington.

But even as the short-term outlook brightens, they remain worried about a long-term problem with "missing" young buyers.

"There really are serious issues in the first-time-buyer market," Eric Belsky, managing director of Harvard's Joint Center of Housing Studies, told the National Association of Realtors on Thursday.

He estimates that nearly 3 million more young adults are living with their parents compared with 2007 — before the Great Recession had settled in.

Many would like to strike out on their own now, "but their incomes just aren't high enough to make it work," Belsky said. "You have a very stressed group in their 20s."

Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors, said the trade group is expecting "steady improvement" for the housing market through 2015, but agreed that for many would-be buyers — particularly younger ones — getting a mortgage "is still tough."

One decade ago, the homeownership rate for young adults under age 35 was 43.6 percent. Today, the rate is just over 36 percent, according to U.S. Census data.

The U.S. housing market is strengthening after a tough winter, according to economists at a Realtors convention in Washington.

But even as the short-term outlook brightens, they remain worried about a long-term problem with "missing" young buyers.

"There really are serious issues in the first-time-buyer market," Eric Belsky, managing director of Harvard's Joint Center of Housing Studies, told the National Association of Realtors on Thursday.

He estimates that nearly 3 million more young adults are living with their parents compared with 2007 — before the Great Recession had settled in.

Many would like to strike out on their own now, "but their incomes just aren't high enough to make it work," Belsky said. "You have a very stressed group in their 20s."

Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors, said the trade group is expecting "steady improvement" for the housing market through 2015, but agreed that for many would-be buyers — particularly younger ones — getting a mortgage "is still tough."

One decade ago, the homeownership rate for young adults under age 35 was 43.6 percent. Today, the rate is just over 36 percent, according to U.S. Census data.

For a cake the Germans call "the king of cakes" and the Japanese call "the ultimate wedding cake," the baumkuchen doesn't really look like a cake or behave like one. But it more than makes up for its oddities with rich flavor, history and symbolism.

It resembles a hollowed cross-section of a craggy tree trunk, or a planet's rings, depending on how you make it. It can have up to 21 delicate, sugary stratums, which give it a light yet chewy texture.

The crowning quality of this specialty cake is the unusual method of preparation. To make the nearly paper-thin layers, a baker coats a spit with sponge cake batter, mounts it over a heat source — originally an open fire, today in a specialized oven — and bakes it rotisserie-style, rotating the spit slowly until the first layer is baked. This process is repeated 12 to 20 more times until the spit forms the cylindrical core of the cake. Once cool, the cake is sliced into rings and slid off the spit.

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The Federal Communications Commission announced last month that it would propose new rules. In a blog post, Chairman Tom Wheeler insists that the open Internet rules will help maintain what's called network neutrality. That is, making certain that your Internet provider doesn't give a faster connection to a service that can pay more.

"If I'm a church or a university, I can put my content online, when it travels to my users it will get the same treatment that, you know, CNN's content will get or the content of The New York Times," says Barbara van Schewick, the director of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School.

FCC Chairman Wheeler says he is dedicated to making certain everyone's content gets to consumers without interruption; but an initial version of the proposed rules suggested it might be OK for Internet service providers like Comcast to charge a content producer like CNN extra if it wanted to reach viewers faster.

"Once you start speeding somebody up, you're effectively slowing everybody else down," says Craig Aaron, head of Free Press, a consumer advocacy organization. He notes that it would currently cost the next Mark Zuckerberg about $50 a month for a broadband connection to start Facebook from a dorm room. But if Google wanted to get its own social media service to you faster, it has the deep pockets to step in front of the next Zuckerberg.

"Startups, innovators, people with something important to say, they are never going to get a chance to ride in that fast lane," Aaron says. "They're not going to be able to afford to do it, and that's going to put them at a tremendous disadvantage."

Word that Wheeler might allow companies to pay for faster service drew protest letters from major tech outfits such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo and eBay, and from major investors and venture capitalists.

It also brought protesters like Rain Burroughs to the FCC's front door.

"We have a lot of people driving by, honking their support," she says. "It's not a hard sell. We all want an open Internet."

Wheeler says he wants that, too. But a series of court decisions struck down previous FCC attempts to mandate network neutrality, saying that the agency was exceeding its authority.

However, Kevin Werbach, a professor at Wharton School of Business, says the most recent court decision, in January, ruled that the FCC did have the authority to regulate broadband; it was just going about it the wrong way.

"What the court said is, they had to allow for some degree of negotiation between the two parties, which might result in different agreements in different cases out of those negotiations," Werbach says.

Few people have actually seen what Wheeler is proposing. But the mere suggestion that he might allow companies to negotiate faster service prompted the firestorm of protests. And those protests may have changed the proposal that Wheeler is putting on the table.

It may include an option that public interest advocates like. It would reclassify broadband as a communications service — like the telephone, which the FCC already strictly regulates.

Craig Aaron of Free Press says that falls under what's known as Title II of the Communications Act. "What Title II would provide is the FCC clear legal standing — the ability to make rules that would actually hold up in court and a lot of leeway," Aaron says.

It would also produce even more resistance from Internet service providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, and also from many members of Congress, who all say too much regulation would discourage further investment in the Internet.

The FCC will vote Thursday to unveil its proposed rules and begin the process of debate. There will be two months for comment and then another two months for study and revision. It's likely to be a long, hot summer at the FCC.

The race between Rep. Mike Honda and Ro Khanna, two California Democrats vying to represent a Silicon Valley-based congressional district, is a classic example of a generational contest — a youthful challenger claiming to represent the future taking on a popular longtime incumbent.

Taking place as it does in the nation's high-tech mecca — a place that puts a premium on youth — the contest pitting the 72-year-old Honda against Khanna, a 37-year-old intellectual property lawyer, is naturally framed as a contest between the past and the future.

On the big issues like same-sex marriage, abortion, the Affordable Care Act and Social Security, there's not much difference between Honda and Khanna. Style is where they differ.

Honda, in his seventh term, is the unabashed progressive. Shaped like a fire hydrant and soft-spoken for a politician, he's a former school principal and local pol who describes himself, among other things, as a "voice for the voiceless."

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The death toll in the coal mine where an explosion hit in Soma, Turkey, keeps rising, and anger over the incident has spread around the country. Thousands of people staged protests after a speech from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that suggested such accidents are unavoidable.

Officials say at least 282 mine workers have died in the incident; that figure seems certain to rise, with around 100 more people still missing. The mine explosion is already being called the deadliest industrial disaster in the country's history.

Burials are being held today in Soma. As Reuters reports, "Loudspeakers broadcast the names of the dead and excavators dug mass graves."

The fate of workers still trapped in the mine is uncertain, but officials have said they aren't optimistic about bringing anyone else out alive. Rescue efforts have been hampered by fires inside the deep mine; it also contains lethal amounts of carbon monoxide, which is being blamed for many of the deaths.

Turkey's mine safety standards are the subject of a story by the country's NTV network today, which notes that emergency safe rooms, like the one that helped 33 miners survive for more than two months after a collapse in Chile, are not required in Turkey.

Anger over the mine disaster has sparked public protests, particularly after Erdogan made remarks Wednesday in which he compared the event to industrial accidents in nineteenth-century Britain.

He was quoted by Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News:

" 'I went back in British history. Some 204 people died there after a mine collapsed in 1838. In 1866, 361 miners died in Britain. In an explosion in 1894, 290 people died there,' Erdogan said on a visit to the grieving town of Soma, while choosing not to elaborate on how accidents in 19th-century Britain might be applicable to Soma's unfolding disaster.

" 'Take America with all of its technology and everything ... In 1907, 361 [miners died there],' he added. 'These are usual things.' "


Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that the U.S. is using surveillance drones to try to locate more than 270 kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria.

"We are now providing unmanned reconnaissance intelligence over Nigeria and we'll continue to do that," Hagel told reporters in Saudi Arabia at a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The Wall Street Journal reports: "The American drones will be flying over Nigeria along with a piloted U.S. reconnaissance plane as part of an effort that also includes more than two dozen specialists sent by Washington to aid the Nigerian government in the search."

Meanwhile, Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan has reportedly rejected a possible swap of Islamic militants for the return of the girls, who were abducted on April 15 by Boko Haram militants in the northeastern town of Chibok.

Jonathan has "made it very clear that there will be no negotiation with Boko Haram that involves a swap of abducted schoolgirls for prisoners," Mark Simmonds, British foreign office minister, told journalists in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, according to The Associated Press.

"The point that also was made very clear to me is that the president was keen to continue and facilitate ongoing dialogue to find a structure and architecture of delivering lasting solution to the conflict and the cause of conflict in northern Nigeria," Simmonds said.

This is the third in a very occasional series of posts in which we interview inanimate objects during fever dreams. This particular interview is with the purse that the internet will gleefully tell you was allegedly used by Solange Knowles to allegedly smack Jay-Z, the husband of her sister Beyonce, as was allegedly caught on alleged hotel security video.

So, how do you feel?

Famous, I guess.

Big week for you!

Big week for you.

For ... me?

Well, for you. [waves zippers] You know, all of you. You're having a lot more fun than I am.

What do you mean? You're famous! Being famous is fun!

You saw it. Did it look fun?

Well, I don't know that it looked fun, exactly —

Let me ask you a question: do you have a family?

I do.

Have you ever had a fight with them that you wouldn't want anyone to watch on video? Or, like, everyone to watch on video?

Well, we don't hit each other with purses, which I would think you would appreciate.

Hey, I do appreciate it. That's great. My kind, we have a long history of being used in combat. And we're delicate. And full of your precious things. But you didn't answer the question.

What was the question?

Are you serious? I'm a purse and I remember the question! I'm not sure you have enough to think about.

Oh, you asked whether I've ever had a fight I'm glad people didn't see on video. I would say ... yes.

Have you ever behaved in private, like in an elevator, in a way you're not super proud of?

I kind of feel like you're turning this interview around on me.

Well, I wouldn't want to do that.

You seem like a very opinionated purse.

Is that a question? I don't want to turn this around on you or anything. So go ahead, genius. Ask me a question.

Okay. Well ... what was the fight about?

I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to say. I can't even tell you who's in that video.

Why not?

Client-bag privilege. Do you know what women put in their purses?

Well ... I have a purse right now. So yes.

Would you like to continue this piece by explaining absolutely everything that's in it?

I ... no?

And fortunately, you don't have to, because of CLIENT-BAG PRIVILEGE. I'm saying. If they interviewed your bag right now, you wouldn't want it to tell everyone that there's still a bag from a filled prescription in it.

Well, that's true. I'm not famous, though.

If you became famous, you'd be okay with your bag giving it up as far as your prescriptions?

...I'm not sure my bag can talk.

Oh, you wish.

Wait. Are you talking to it right now?

I'm just saying, next time you stuff a blueberry muffin in there, you might want to put it in a plastic bag. Crumbs are a menace.

I never do that usually! That was like a year ago!

My point exactly.

You keep changing the subject.

What is the subject?

The subject is this elevator fight, and what it was about, because everybody is really curious.


It's just interesting. And it's been kind of rainy, and everybody likes the Met Gala, and this is sort of what we have instead of a royal family. In a way, it's a compliment!

Sort of in the same way picking a particular lobster out of a tank is a compliment.

Exactly! Wait.

No, I think I get it.

You have to understand, though, they love all this when it's positive. Being the quasi-royal family is not an accident. There's all this publicity, and they like it when it's friendly.

"That lobster was totally taunting me!"

That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that it's hard to convince people to feel sympathy for famous people who court all this bizarre attention up until it becomes unpleasant.

Believe me, you do not have to explain famous people to me, assuming that it was a famous person who was holding onto me in the video, which I can neither confirm nor deny. If you only knew the things I've seen and the money I cost. It's not so much sympathy as it is this feeling of ... what are you doing? I mean ... what, y'all have never seen people argue before? You've never seen family fights? Don't you watch The Real Housewives? I mean, who cares?

So "no comment" is what you're saying, sort of.

[snaps shut]


President Obama has issued an executive order authorizing sanctions against five people in the Central African Republican in connection with the country's sectarian conflict.

In a statement, the White House cited "[escalating] violence and human rights abuses," and noted that "[communities] that have lived together peacefully for generations are being torn apart along sectarian lines."

The president's executive order "imposes sanctions on five individuals – sending a powerful message that impunity will not be tolerated and that those who threaten the stability of the CAR will face consequences."

Reuters reports that the individuals include former CAR President Francois Bozize and four other men linked to violence and human rights abuses in the country.

"Also sanctioned were Nourredine Adam, a former minister of public security, and Levy Yakete, an 'anti-balaka' [anti-machete] Christian militia leader. Bozize, Adam and Yakete were blacklisted by the United Nations on Friday."

In a tit-for-tat sanctions dispute over the situation in Ukraine, a top Russian official said Tuesday that Moscow would stop supplying the U.S. with rocket engines used in military satellite launches and suspend operation of GPS ground stations in Russian territory.

The moves come after Washington banned some high-tech equipment sales to Russia as part of sanctions in response to the annexation of Crimea.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia's space program and a target of U.S. sanctions, says Moscow will only supply its powerful RD-180 and NK-33 engines if it is sure they will not be used for military launches.

But, he added: "We proceed from the fact that without guarantees that our engines are used for non-military spacecraft launches only, we won't be able to supply them to the U.S."

Rogozin also said that beginning June 1, 11 American Global Positioning System (GPS) stations on Russian soil would be shut down.

The "differential correction" stations provide a ground-based reference that makes GPS signals more accurate, so shutting them down would presumably affect GPS accuracy in some parts of the globe.

Moscow has its own version of GPS, a satellite navigation system known as GLONASS. The two countries had been working toward a reciprocal agreement to allow GLONASS stations on U.S. soil, but the deal has yet to be finalized.

The RD-180 is currently used as the first stage for the U.S. Atlas V launch vehicle built by United Launch Alliance, a consortium of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, and a pair of NK-33s — originally developed for Russia's scuttled N1 moon shot rocket — make up the first stage of Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares launch vehicle.

NPR's Corey Flintoff, reporting from Moscow, says "Rogozin also says Russia will not cooperate with a U.S. request to extend the life of the International Space Station beyond 2020."

Last month, Rogozin tweeted a suggestion that the U.S., which relies on Russia's Soyuz system to reach the International Space Station, should launch its astronauts "with a trampoline."

Ukraine says six of its soldiers were killed during an ambush by militants on Tuesday.

CNN reports the Ukrainian Defense Ministry called it a "terrorist attack." The network adds:

"The incident took place in the village of Oktyabrski in the Slovyansk region, about 20 kilometers from Kramatorsk, during 'a unit movement from the military base.' The location is in volatile eastern Ukraine.

" 'Our soldiers were attacked in an ambush. Terrorists attacked our land troops with grenades. The attackers were more than 30 people and set an ambush near the river,' the ministry said.

" 'After a long shootout, six soldiers of The Ukrainian Armed Services were killed,' the statement said.

"In another incident in eastern Ukraine, a separatist leader has been injured in a suspected assassination attempt, a spokesman said Tuesday, amid continuing turmoil in the wake of a controversial weekend referendum on independence."

In case you missed it, Europe's highest court has set a new precedent: Individuals in 28 European countries can now request the removal of search results they consider harmful. Is this ruling a big win for the individual? Or does this break the Internet?

Companies like Google already routinely field takedown requests for material that violates defamation or copyright, but this is different. The unappealable ruling Tuesday by the European Court of Justice requires search engines to consider takedown requests that are merely embarrassing or harmful.

"Data belongs to the individual, not to the company," said EU Commissioner Viviane Reding, who hailed the ruling. "Unless there is a good reason to retain this data, an individual should be empowered—by law—to request erasure of this data," she said.

Google Agrees To Change Display Of Search Results In Europe

Openness doesn't come naturally to China's Communist Party. After all, China is an authoritarian state where people have little right to know how they are governed. But Communist Party schools have been trying to change that over the years by teaching officials how to deal with the news media.

Earlier this month, Qin Chang, a host at Shanghai People's Radio, taught a class on the art of the press conference at China Executive Leadership Academy in Shanghai's sprawling Pudong district and I was invited to watch.

The students, dressed in dark jackets and windbreakers, worked for state-owned companies. Qin began by talking about a recent benzene spill in Western China. The first lesson for officials in that case, she said: don't wait for nearly a day to tell citizens their water is too dangerous to drink.

"Because they didn't handle the situation properly right off the bat, the first public news conference ran into huge problems," said Qin. "Within 24 hours, all kinds of discussion, opinions, rumors and even public distrust permeated the city."

The 'New' Communist Party

The leadership academy doesn't look like what you might expect of a Communist Party school. Instead of the sort of hulking, Soviet-style buildings the party has sometimes favored in the past, the main building here is a French-designed mix of angled glass and steel with a giant, patriotic red awning flanked by a long reflecting pool.

Qin's class this morning also includes a mock press conference.

"I don't want you to become props," says Qin, standing in a sleek conference room with ceiling cameras and flat-screen TVs. "I don't want you to just go along with the ideas of the government spokesperson. I especially hope that you guys can question, criticize and focus on the negative things."

But the first negative thing they focus on is me. I'm the only Western face in the room and I'm holding a long microphone.

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The world of finance gave birth in 2001 to a new buzzword: BRIC. The word is an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India and China. Jim O'Neill, an economist with Goldman Sachs who's been credited with coining the term, saw those four countries as turbo-charged engines among emerging markets, ones that would give Western economies a run for their money.

O'Neill says when he dreamed up the acronym 13 years ago, people didn't really focus on the potential importance of some of these countries.

"It sort of transformed ... the way, I think, many people thought about the world," he says now.

For a stretch, the fast-growing BRIC economies lived up to the hype. The four countries formed their own economic and political alliance. In 2010, South Africa joined the group.

But O'Neill considered it an interloper, saying South Africa isn't at the same level as the others. The four original BRIC countries were his babies, but like many children, they can disappoint.

"China is the only one of the four that's growing by more than I ever assumed, the other three so far this decade have been disappointing," says O'Neill, particularly Brazil and Russia. "I have joked that if I had to dream the acronym up again today, I'd just call it 'C,'" he says.

While the BRIC engines may be misfiring, other economies have been gaining speed. O'Neill has now come up with a new group of promising emerging markets.

He's coined them M-I-N-T.

"It stands for Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey," he says.

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Can corporations shift workers with high medical costs from the company health plan into online insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act? Some employers are considering it, say benefits consultants.

"It's all over the marketplace," said Todd Yates, a managing partner at Hill, Chesson & Woody, a North Carolina benefits consulting firm. "Employers are inquiring about it, and brokers and consultants are advocating for it."

Health spending is driven largely by a few patients with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, and those who need expensive treatments, such as organ transplants. Since most big corporations are self-insured, shifting even one high-cost worker out of the company plan could save the employer hundreds of thousands of dollars a year — while increasing the cost of claims absorbed by the marketplace policy by a similar amount.

And the health law might not prohibit it, opening a door to potential erosion of employer-based coverage.

"Such an employer-dumping strategy can promote the interests of both employers and employees by shifting health care expenses on to the public at large," wrote two University of Minnesota law professors in a 2011 paper that basically predicted the present interest. The authors were Amy Monahan and Daniel Schwarcz.

It's unclear how many companies, if any, have moved sicker workers to exchange coverage, which became available only in January. But even a few high-risk patients could add millions of dollars in costs to those plans. The costs could be passed on to customers in the form of higher premiums and to taxpayers in the form of higher subsidy expense.

Here's how it might work. The employer shrinks the hospital and doctor network to make the company plan unattractive to those with chronic illness. Or, the employer raises copayments for drugs needed by the chronically ill, also rendering the plan unattractive and perhaps nudging high-cost workers to look at other options.

At the same time, the employer offers to buy the targeted worker a high-benefit plan in the marketplaces. A so-called platinum plan could cost $6,000 or more a year for an individual. But that's still far less than the $300,000 a year that, say, a hemophilia patient might cost the company.

The employer might also give the worker a raise to buy the policy directly.

The employer saves money. The employee gets better coverage. And the health law's marketplace plan —required to accept all applicants at a fixed price during open enrollment periods — takes on the cost.

"The concept sounds to[o] easy to be true, but the ACA has set up the ability for employers and employees on a voluntary basis to choose a better plan in [the] Individual Marketplace and save a significant amount of money for both!" says promotional material from a company called Managed Exchange Solutions (MES). "MES works with [the] reinsurer, insurance carrier and other health management organizations to determine [the] most likely candidates for the program."

Consultant Benefit Controls, based in Charlotte, N.C., produced the Managed Exchange Solutions pitch last year. But Matthew McQuide, a vice president with Benefit Controls, said the company ultimately decided not to offer the strategy to its clients.

"Though we believe it's legal" as long as employees agree to the change, "it's still gray," he said. "We just decided it wasn't something we wanted to promote."

Shifting high-risk workers out of employer plans is prohibited for other kinds of taxpayer-supported insurance.

For example, it's illegal to induce somebody who is working and over 65 to drop company coverage and rely entirely on the government Medicare program for seniors, said Amy Gordon, a benefits lawyer with McDermott Will & Emery. Similarly, employers who dumped high-cost patients into temporary high-risk pools established by the health law are required to repay those workers' claims to the pools.

"You would think there would be a similar type of provision under the Affordable Care Act" for plans sold through the marketplace portals, Gordon said. "But there currently is not."

Moving high-cost workers to a marketplace plan would not trigger penalties under the health law as long as an employer offered an affordable company-wide plan with minimum coverage, experts said. (Workers cannot use tax credits to help pay premiums for an exchange plan in such a case, either.)

Half a dozen benefits experts said they were unaware of specific instances of employers shifting high-cost workers to exchange plans. Spokesmen for AIDS United and the Hemophilia Federation of America, both advocating for patients with expensive, chronic conditions, said they didn't know of any, either.

But employers seem increasingly interested.

"I have gotten probably about half a dozen questions about it in the last month or so from our offices around the country," says Edward Fensholt, director of compliance for the Lockton Companies, a large insurance broker and benefits consultant. "They're passing on questions they're getting from their customers."

Still, Fensholt said, "We just don't think that's a good idea. That needs to be kind of an under-the-radar deal, and under-the-radar deals never work." Plus, he added, "it's bad public policy to push all these risks into the public exchange."

Hill, Chesson & Woody isn't recommending it either.

"Anytime you want to have a conversation with an employee in a secretive, one-off manner, that's never a good idea," Yates said. "Something smells bad about that."

A small number of universities are starting to go against the grain, reducing amenities and frills in favor of keeping the costs relatively low.

Neil Theobald is the president of Temple University, which recently began offering students $4,000 per year in grants — if they promise to limit the number of hours they work during the school year and graduate on time.

Donal O'Shea is the president of the New College of Florida, the small honors college for Florida's state university system. There, costs have historically been kept to a minimum by not offering extracurricular sports and amenities.

Morning Edition's David Greene spoke with Theobald and O'Shea about the choices they've made, how they're pulling them off and why they think it is good policy.

Legend has it he said: "Well, hell, Sara. If you want to help artists, buy their paintings."

And so she did: almost 200 artworks, by more than 100 artists — a major collection, plus a traveling program to take contemporary American art around the country.

Trained in traditional, realist art, Roby, who died in 1986, wanted to preserve that tradition against the encroachment of Abstract Expressionism. The drips and dribbles of Jackson Pollock, the revolutionary slashes of Willem de Kooning were wow-ing the art world in the '50s, and elbowing Realism out of galleries and museums. So she and her advisors cruised artists' studios, and bought pieces hot off their easels.

In Raphael Soyer's 1980 oil painting Annunciation, a young woman leans against the wall near a bathroom sink. She is shoeless, one bare foot on top of the other. Another stands nearby, wearing a turquoise slip and holding towels.

Both women are pretty — with dark hair, pointed chins — they could be sisters. And they're pensive. The moment is intense. What's going on? "Annunciation." Has one told the other she's pregnant? Had an abortion? Made a mistake? The painting is realistic and mysterious — a puzzle to ponder.

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Terrible things are everywhere — and so is laughter. The documentary Stand Up Planet, premiering on TV May 14, features comedians in India and South Africa confronting very serious issues.

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