National News

Banksy Is Believed To Be Behind Eavesdropping Mural Near British Spy HQ

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 09:08

A telephone box near British spy agency GCHQ is now adorned with a trio of snoops, after a mural was added to a wall this weekend. The art is believed to be the work of street artist Banksy.

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Real estate flippers are back!

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-14 08:13

Some of the biggest players in the housing bubble were house flippers, people who'd buy a house, fix it up and sell it – sometimes at a huge profit. When the bubble burst, the flippers fled. But now they’re back, even in areas that have been overlooked by the big hedge funds and foreign investors. 

For example, take Prince George’s County, Md., which doesn’t have the glitzy condos of Miami Beach or new housing developments of Vegas that big investors like. But it does have lots of housing for middle and low-income families.

That's just fine for Rich Minor, who's been flipping houses for about 30 years. I meet him at his latest acquisition – a house in Bowie, Md.

As he shows me around, Minor explains that he laid low during the housing crisis. He was on one of the first flippers to come back to Prince George’s County in 2009, when you could buy foreclosures cheap. Now, there’s actually a lot of competition, because flipping is back, he says.

“It’s back, and it’s back with a vengeance now, because the deals are much harder to come by,” Minor says.

And even if you get a deal in Prince George’s County, it may be in a neighborhood that's a little dilapidated. That's one reason the big hedge funds and international investors aren't that common here.

“We’re not getting the big boys here, we’re getting the small fries,” says Anthony Sanders, a professor of real estate finance at George Mason University.

The small-fry flippers know they’re going to spend a lot to fix these houses up and that they can’t sell them for too much, because they’re still not in great neighborhoods. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of competition for fixer uppers, even if rough areas.

“On the open market, we don’t really have a ghost of a chance of acquiring any of these homes," says Maryann Dillon, executive director of Housing initiative Partnership, a non-profit which buys rundown houses, fixes them up, and sells them to low income buyers. "We cannot compete with investors who are all cash offers, who can close in a week or two weeks."

Dillon’s organization is able to buy some houses through a federal program that gives them first dibs over private investors.  But there are no such protections for the low-income buyers Dillon tries to help.  She’s seen people who’ve clawed back from foreclosure trying to buy a new house, but losing out to the flippers.


Percentage of total home sales to flippers

“They lost their nest egg during the recession. And now that things are coming back and there’s an opportunity to rebuild their wealth, they’re losing out yet again," Dillon says.

But at least they're just competing with the small flippers.

“These are not the big operations you find in Las Vegas or Phoenix," says Sanders, "where they’re going to the courthouse and buying up 20 properties, 30 properties and flipping them over the course of a couple months."

Sanders says, if you live in a place dominated by small-fry flippers, be thankful – it could be worse. 

Patients Often Win If They Appeal A Denied Health Claim

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 08:10

Obamacare set national rules for appealing a denied health claim — a process that used to vary by employer and state. Consumers should appeal more often, advocates say. Half the time, they'll win.

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Marketing the moon

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-14 08:06

Looking back, sending a man to the moon seems like an easy sell. But in the 1960s, NASA had to convince the American public that the space program was a good idea.

"In the 1960s, it was just a radical idea," says David Meerman Scott, co-author of "Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program." "Can you imagine deciding that we’re going to send 12 people to the surface of the moon and it's going to cost 4 percent of the national budget and 2 percent of the national workforce for a decade? So we had to sell it."

And unlike their Soviet counterparts, NASA allowed their success and failures to be public.

"They were selling it not only to the American people, but to the world," says Richardz Jurek, co-author of the book. "It was really the vanguard of real time communication happening with the whole world watching."

To keep Americans interested, NASA hired former journalists to run their publicity campaign. And NASA's publicity department had help from outside marketers, too. As Americans became more interested in the Apollo program's success, they became more interested in buying items associated with the astronauts.

Any company making something for the astronauts – from Stouffer's to Tang to Omega Watches, used the space program in ads to sell their product.

"The brilliance of what NASA did at the beginning is they focused on what we would call today 'brand journalism' in marketing speak," says Jurek.

Wikimedia Commons

Coke and Pepsi cans flown aboard STS-51-F in 1985  on display at the National Air and Space Museum.

Japan May Send Maglev Train Expertise To U.S., Without A Fee

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 08:06

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has spoken about the idea with President Obama, and Japan is reportedly willing to include billions of dollars in loans to help underwrite the expensive project.

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Ohio Ordered To Recognize Out-Of-State Gay Marriages

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 08:01

A federal judge put a "stay" on his ruling, though, which apparently means his order affects only the four couples who sued to have their names put on their children's birth certificates.

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French Police Deploy DNA Dragnet To Solve Rape Of Teen

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 07:46

Investigators say they've run out of leads in the September rape at a high school in western France and are hoping that a mass sampling of male students will produce a suspect.

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Deficit Forecasts Shaved, But Likely Won't Shrink For Much Longer

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 07:32

While the Congressional Budget Office has lowered its shortfall projections for the next few years, it warns that deficits will start rising substantially again unless policymakers act.

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The Grumpy Point: When A Man Turns 70

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 07:13

For many older men, life gets better and better — until it gets worse.

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Don't expect greenhouse gas emissions to change

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-14 07:12

A new UN report on climate change says greenhouse gas emissions rose faster from 2000 to 2010 than they did in the previous three decades, and the United States is one of the worst offenders.  

Part of the reason why is that the US and China still burn too much coal. In addition, emissions are rising faster because developing countries have joined the party.  

But don't expect things to change much: emissions are just too easy to ignore.

"Carbon dioxide is an odorless, tasteless, invisible gas.  So it’s very easy to emit it without us noticing much or caring," says Dale Jamieson, a professor of environmental studies at New York University.  

The report does say the cost of wind and solar power is going down.  But the US still needs to improve its power transmission lines. 

“There could be barriers and obstacles to getting the energy from where the sun is falling, for example, and getting it to large cities that need it,” says Union of Concerned Scientists senior climate scientist Brenda Ekwurzel.

Of course, we could always conserve energy...  

The report says tightening efficiency standards for buildings and vehicles can really help.

 

America's greenhouse gas record isn't getting better

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-14 07:12

A new UN report on climate change says greenhouse gas emissions rose faster from 2000 to 2010 than they did in the previous three decades, and the United States is one of the worst offenders.  

Part of the reason why is that the US and China still burn too much coal. In addition, emissions are rising faster because developing countries have joined the party.  

But don't expect things to change much: emissions are just too easy to ignore.

"Carbon dioxide is an odorless, tasteless, invisible gas.  So it’s very easy to emit it without us noticing much or caring," says Dale Jamieson, a professor of environmental studies at New York University.  

The report does say the cost of wind and solar power is going down.  But the US still needs to improve its power transmission lines. 

“There could be barriers and obstacles to getting the energy from where the sun is falling, for example, and getting it to large cities that need it,” says Union of Concerned Scientists senior climate scientist Brenda Ekwurzel.

Of course, we could always conserve energy...  

The report says tightening efficiency standards for buildings and vehicles can really help.

 

There's A 'Blood Moon' Eclipse Tonight, But Will You Be Able To See It?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 07:03

The weather may play havoc with the sky-watching on the East Coast, though much of the Midwest and West ought to get a good view.

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PODCAST: Warm reception for retail

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-14 07:01

Americans bought a lot of stuff last month. So much, in fact, that retail sales rose more in March than they have in any other month in the last year and a half. Eugenio J. Alemán, senior economist at Wells Fargo joins us to discuss.

Over the weekend, members of Congress fanned out across the country for a two-week Easter recess. You're thinking Mai Tais on the beach? "Probably not," says Riva Litman, a staffer with the House Republican Conference. "Especially not in Eastern Washington." In an election year, breaks from the Hill are a key time to drum up support - and money - back home.

And, in France, companies and labor unions have come up with a plan to give certain employees a daily rest from emailing, texting or other electronic communication -- an 11 hour rest. If approved by the French government the limits would apply to about a quarter-million consulting, software and other workers. The BBC's Hugh Schofield has been following the development and joins us to talk about it.

Search For Jet Goes Underwater; Oil Slick Also Being Analyzed

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 05:37

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared March 8. More than a month later, no traces of the plane or the 239 people on board have been found. The focus remains on an area of the southern Indian Ocean.

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For Second Night, Valparaiso Fire Spreads Misery In Chile

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 05:36

At least a dozen people were killed and more than 2,000 homes destroyed by a large fire that wreaked havoc Saturday and Sunday in the city of Valparaiso. Some 10,000 people have evacuated their homes.

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Dozens Dead, Scores Injured After Bomb Blast In Nigeria

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 04:25

The explosion at a bus station near Abuja is thought to be the latest in a string of such attacks by the extreme Islamist group Boko Haram. More than 70 people were killed. More than 120 were injured.

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In China, a city's water, poisoned

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-14 03:54

Millions of people in the Chinese city of Lanzhou scrambled to buy bottled water this weekend after the city’s water supply was contaminated with Benzene. Levels of the cancer-causing chemical in the city’s tap water were discovered to be 20 times China’s national limit.

All of this comes as China is coming to grips with the environmental damage caused by decades of unprecedented growth. Lanzhou officials are blaming two explosions – one of them 27 years ago, the other 12 years ago – at oil refineries in the area.

They say these explosions caused oil to slowly seep into the groundwater, and that this sudden rise in levels of Benzene shows the decades-old oil is now contaminating the city’s water supply.

“Nearly 80% of chemical industry is built in densely populated city areas,” said Du Sha of Greenpeace China, “So this type of data shows that currently the chemical industry raises the high risk to the public health. The government should take more prevention and more supervised measures to manage these chemical industries.” 

Many residents of Lanzhou say the local government should have informed the public much earlier than they did about the water contamination. The state media is now reporting that city officials waited nine days to tell the public that their water was contaminated. The Lanzhou government now says water quality in the city is returning back to normal.

 

 

In Ukraine: Pro-Russia Occupiers Defy Deadline, War Fears Grow

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 03:35

A deadline set by the Ukrainian government passed without gunmen leaving sites they have seized in the eastern part of the country. But the prospect of Ukrainian troops moving in is rattling nerves.

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'This Was A Hate Crime,' Police Say Of Kansas City-Area Killings

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-14 02:50

Frazier Glenn Cross, also known as Glenn Miller, is accused of killing three people Sunday during attacks on a Jewish community center and a Jewish retirement home.

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Earnings' fate when Easter's late

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-14 02:27

Easter the holiday is sacred, of course. But Easter the shopping season is also sacred:

"Easter is one of the biggest consumer holidays for retailers," says Kathy Grannis with the National Retail Federation. "We're expecting about 16 billion dollars to be spent on everything on candy to decorations and even new apparel."

With one small detail: just a little bit later than usual. Easter is almost a month later than last year. It's one of those movable holidays, lunar calendar and all.

But quarterly earnings do not follow the lunar calendar. Easter was in Quarter 1 last year, and this year it will be in Quarter 2. So Quarter 1 earnings – and March earnings for that matter – were lower this year compared to last. Rite Aid and Walgreens have already reported that the late Easter has reduced their front-of-store sales for March. But Easter wasn't canceled. It was just pushed back – along with those earnings.

"When financial analysts fail to recognize the shift in the holiday on the calendar, they proclaim Q1 as being burdened with poor results, and then of course Q2 everyone looks like a genius," says Mark Cohen, professor of marketing at Columbia Business School.

Do people really make that mistake? "Believe it or not they make that mistake all the time," he says.

Although this year, for many retailers, Q1 looks bad because it legitimately was bad. "The weakness of the retail economy was a direct outgrowth of a very tough holiday season," says Cohen. There was extreme discounting in Q4, and while that did manage to boost business, it did so at a tremendous price. So the late Easter helped make earnings less than stellar, "but it's not the main reason."

On the plus side, the late Easter might actually be quite helpful. Michael Polzin, with Walgreens, explains "there's a better chance of warm weather, so that helps with things like easter egg hunts, decorations; it's easier to get into the spirit of a holiday if your little girl doesn't have to wear a coat over her Easter dress."

Easter often coincides with the start of the sales season for everything from apparel to patio grills, so there may be a small bump just by virtue of people getting out and about and feeling more like spring.

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