The brighter side of a bad economy (5×8 – 10/22/10)

Does a bad economy keep more kids alive, learning landlording, the face of the construction sector, verdict reached in Juan Williams case, and mysteries of the back seat.


There’s nothing quite like starting your Friday reading a report on how kids die, but the weekly morbidity report — at least you don’t go to work every Monday morning with the task of writing a morbidity report by Friday — shows that maybe teen drivers are better than we give them credit for. Maybe. It says 16- and 17-year-olds are involved in fewer fatal accidents than previous years. The quick conclusion is maybe those anti-texting laws really do work, but the rate has actually been going down for years, the report says.

The report guesses that the comparatively good news is related to the bad economy. It says teens might be delaying getting their drivers licenses and/or they might be driving fewer miles because they’re less likely to be able to afford rising gasoline prices.

In Minnesota, the number of fatal accidents with teen drivers in ’07 and ’08 is half of what it was in previous years. Interesting takeaway: The rates in South Dakota and North Dakota are much higher than Minnesota.


Who hasn’t had this thought at one time or another? “I’ll buy a small apartment house and pay my mortgage with the rents.” MPR’s Madeleine Baran has the latest incarnation of landlord dreams: People are renting out homes they don’t want to sell at low value. The problem is there are a lot of things people don’t know about being landlords and the city of Minneapolis is tracking them down. A couple she profiled also provided a reality from the other side: what it’s like to be a renter:

Vargo also consulted with friends who own rental properties. He said the advice he received from one friend was surprising.

“She said, at wine group, ‘You don’t want to rent to poor people,'” Vargo said, adding that the woman encouraged him to increase the rent “to get a better quality tenant.”

“We were aghast,” he said. “That just sounded harsh.”

The couple had planned to rent the two-bedroom home for $700 a month, but after consulting with their real estate broker, increased the rent to $950. Vargo said he’s optimistic that they’ll be able to find a renter as soon as the renovations are completed.


The unemployment rate in Minnesota was released yesterday. It’s still 7 percent. The “construction sector,” we’re told is still in pretty bad shape. Two days ago I posted about a Fed analysis of the upper Midwest showing things improving with the exception of the construction sector. What is the construction sector?

It’s Larry Goodwin, in Itasca County.

Meanwhile, a pretty large group of kids are finding out what it’s like to be down-and-out. They slept in cardboard boxes last night at the State Fairgrounds, though they had it a lot better than most homeless people.


NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard has just posted her column reacting to the firing of Juan Williams. Her verdict: A good decision badly handled.

I’m not privy to the why this announcement was so hastily made. NPR could have waited until his contract ran out, or possibly suspended him pending a review. Either way, a more deliberative approach might have enabled NPR to avoid what has turned into a public relations nightmare.

An analyst analyzes that conclusion:


How do you know it’s time to clean out the back seat of the car? When you reach back there and find a dead body.

Bonus: A woman in China is going to marry her long-time lover: herself.


General Motors and Ford are profitable again, and sales of American cars are up 11 percent from last year. Would you be more willing these days to buy an American car?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: NPR fired Juan Williams on Wednesday night for remarks made on TV. CNN’s Rick Sanchez also lost his job last month for comments he also made on talk radio. Were the firings justified, and are mainstream journalists bending the rules to be more controversial in other media?

Second hour: This week the National Football League imposed huge fines and threatened suspension for players who make dangerous helmet to helmet hits. Midmorning explores their concerns about concussion particularly among young athletes who take longer to heal and may aspire to play in the NFL.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Vice President Walter Mondale in studio to talk about his book, “The Good Fight.”

Second hour: NPR’s Michele Norris, speaking in the UBS Forum with MPR’s Tom Crann about her new book, “The Grace of Silence.”

Science Friday (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: A conversation with inventors

Erno Rubik and Dean Kamen.

Second hour: The toxic legacy of uranium mining on Navajo lands and what the government’s doing today to clean up the mess.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – The Legislative Auditor has evaluated Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Development Fund. This is the money Xcel Energy is required to spend — nearly $20 million a year — in exchange for storing nuclear waste at Monticello and Prairie Island. The report will detail how effective the funding has been in meeting the state’s renewable energy boals. MPR’s Stephanie Hemphill will have a look.

Ambar Espinoza has the story of a quilt shop in Avon that turns into a music venue at night.

  • A dead body in the seat?

    Wow, my back seat is messy–but not *that* messy.

    And, thanks, Bob.

  • JackU

    I saw the GMA segment you have in #4 this morning.

    But considering how quickly the Fox deal was announced and their desire for exclusivity with their “talent” I wonder if both sides “rushed” this thing. I don’t think we’ll ever know. Williams currently has no reason to be anything but the injured party. NPR most likely just wants this whole thing to go away. As far as the ombudsman’s take that they could have suspended him is concerned I don’t think that would have worked. While he would no longer be appearing on NPR’s broadcasts he’d still be on Fox and the bashing of NPR would be merciless. (Not by Williams but by the usual suspects.) They would be giddy with the easy target. The way things were handled it was more painful initially but it will fade as Juan Williams becomes just another Fox News personality.

  • Heather

    I’m forwarding the story about the body in the car to my husband. Maybe he’ll quit teasing me about the junk I’ve got rolling around on the floor in MY car!

    Which, incidentally, is a 2006 Chevy HHR. I *love* this car! I’ve got a shade over 103,000 miles on it, and have not had a single problem with it. Routine maintenance only. And hopefully i did not just jinx myself!

    Thanks, Bob. Happy Friday.

  • Jeanne

    I’m even more confused by Juan Williams’ firing this week after reading NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard’s posting and the NPR Ethics Code.

    From Shepard’s explanation she states “Many have been troubled over the years by the dual role that Williams has played: balanced news analyst on NPR; more opinionated pundit on Fox.” First, I would like to know who the “many” is–NPR News managers, NPR listeners, or both.

    “Over the years” indicates this isn’t a recent problem, but an ongoing one. If that’s the case, why did NPR continue to renew Mr. Williams’ contracts over the years? Is this a case of wanting to have your cake and eat it too? Was Mr. Williams filling a quota for NPR? Hope that’s not the truth of the matter.

    In looking at the NPR Ethics Code. In Section V.3. “NPR journalists must get written permission for broadcast appearances or speaking engagements, whether or not compensated. Requests should be submitted in writing to the employee’s immediate supervisor, and copied to the Communications Division at Approval will not be unreasonably denied if the proposed work will not discredit NPR, conflict with NPR’s interests, create a conflict of interest for the employee or interfere with the employee’s ability to perform NPR duties. Supervisors must respond within seven days of receiving a request.”

    If Mr. WIlliams’ status as an independent contractor places him under these stipulations, then weren’t all of his appearances on Fox News subject to prior approval? If NPR had issues with Williams’ appearances on Fox, then why did they continue to give him approval to do so?

  • JackU

    @Jeanne: Based on his statements on GMA, Williams was on Fox before he was on NPR. If that’s the case his contract probably had some sort of accommodation for that relationship. It also seems from those statements that the accommodation was reached with a different NPR management team and the current team had some misgivings about it.

  • Jeanne

    @JackU, your posting may answer some of the questions regarding accommodations made to Mr. Williams’ contract with NPR. However, there is still no answer to the timing of his firing. If NPR had issues with his FOX News, or any other appearances, that they felt were not in alignment with their ethics policy, shouldn’t he and they been well aware of them?

    Back in my other life, when I worked as a manager in banking, I was told that no firing should ever come as a surprise to the person being fired (unless they’re delusional). Incidents are documented, you have a conference with the employee to discuss the matter, ask if the employee has needs (i.e., have they not had proper or adequate training), make a plan and set a date for the employee to ‘prove themselves’ worthy of continuing their employment there.

    And I’d managed exempt, non-exempt, contract, and union employees. It’s all handled the same way, with the exception of union employees, where a union steward becomes involved in the process and is present during meetings between management and the employee.

    With all of that said, someone is not telling the truth here. Either Mr. Williams’ has not been upfront about being talked to about his past ‘digressions’ (in the eyes of NPR), or NPR has never put Mr. Williams’ on notice about their views of the conflict of interest, or maybe it’s a mix of the two. I think many times employers who have employees who are in the public spotlight, as Mr. Williams is, like the prestige of having him associated with having him as a part of the team, but them do the quick bum’s rush when it’s not in their favor. And, maybe Mr. Williams’ gets an ego rush or another line on the resume with his work for NPR.