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PODCAST: Port strike averted, the fiscal cliffhanger continues

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This morning president Obama urged dockworkers and management at more than a dozen ports to work things out before a looming deadline. AND THEY DID. Fifteen-thousand unionized longshoremen threatened to strike at midnight Saturday, over a pay dispute. That would have shut down major ports from Maine to Texas — some 40 percent of container shipping coming into the US. But we got the basic news just moments ago that the parties have reached deal. Looks like the strike is averted.

Yesterday we reported new home sales continue something of a hot streak. Today the data show existing homes in November were selling at their fastest clip in two and a half years. The increase surpassed economists’ expectations, by a good bit.

For the past two years, we’ve had a little break in our paychecks that many of us probably take for granted: The social security payroll tax was reduced in 2011 to stimulate the economy. It’s already been extended twice. But as lawmakers focus on extending income-tax breaks, our payroll tax holiday seems to have reached its end.

Last week the iPhone went on sale in Brazil. And that is nothing but a giant headache for Apple. Because, you see, 12 years ago a cell phone company called Gradiente filed a request for the trademark. And Gradiente’s Brazilian iPhone — the one now on the market — runs the Android operating system of Apple’s nemesis, Google. One Brazilian telecom analyst suggests the likely outcome: Apple pays Gradiente a considerable sum of money to pack up its iPhones and go away.

The fiscal cliff deadline might be causing drama here at home, but how is it affecting markets abroad?

We’ve told you about the energy boom unfolding in the northern plains states. It’s why the U.S. is now forecast to be the world’s biggest oil producer within a decade. Not surprisingly, the boom is affecting the economic and education choices of young people. Reporter Jack Healy is based out of Denver. And he headed north to the vast plains of eastern Montana for a story in this week’s New York Times. Jack, good to talk with you.

Most charitable foundations follow a time-worn formula: They take a big pot of money, usually bequeathed by some rich guy, and invest it for profit. Then they take those profits and donate to charity. Great system … unless you aren’t actually earning a profit. Alex Goldmark reports on how foundations are turning to something called “Impact Investing” as a solution in tough times.

And finally, speaking of charity, in this holiday season, news that the spirit of gift-giving has been alive and well in the South Pacific. A paper published this month in the journal Anthro–zo-os says wild dolphins off Australia have been doing something odd: They’ve started bringing presents to the researchers who study them. Eels… squid, that kind of thing. House-cats do this sort of so-called “interspecies food sharing,” but it’s never been seen in the wild. Scientists are at a loss for a clear explanation, but one theory is less-than-flattering: The dolphins see us humans as incapable hunters, and they’re offering a helping fin.

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