National News

This Famous Campaign Stop Is Actually A Mirage

NPR News - Thu, 2015-08-20 00:48

Robie's General Store is one of New Hampshire's most famous political stops, attracting nearly every on the presidential campaign trail. But don't try to actually buy milk and eggs here.

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Online Stars Feel Cheated As YouTube, Facebook Battle Over Videos

NPR News - Thu, 2015-08-20 00:47

Many popular videos on Facebook originated on YouTube, and YouTube stars say it means they're losing money. Facebook says it takes intellectual property rights seriously and is working on a solution.

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3 Firefighters Killed In Washington State Wildfire

NPR News - Wed, 2015-08-19 17:42

Officials say at least three others have been injured in a blaze in the north-central part of the state. About 530,000 acres have burned across the Pacific Northwest in the past week.

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Happy With Your TSA Experience? Press A Button. Angry? Press Another Button.

NPR News - Wed, 2015-08-19 14:46

Federal government agencies are experimenting with a new way to get customer feedback, and it involves four emoticons.

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Analysts See U.S. Border With Mexico As More Secure Than It's Been In 40 Years

NPR News - Wed, 2015-08-19 14:36

A study by the Migration Policy Institute finds that entry by unauthorized immigrants continues to decline, and about half are nabbed by U.S. authorities at least once.

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More Washington Drivers Use And Drive

NPR News - Wed, 2015-08-19 13:54

Does legalization of marijuana mean more drivers will have the drug in their system? New data from Washington state says yes, but does that mean pot has caused more accidents? The answer is not clear.

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So Long, Big Mac: Cleveland Clinic Ousts McDonald's From Cafeteria

NPR News - Wed, 2015-08-19 13:45

To encourage healthy eating, Cleveland Clinic will no longer tempt employees, patients and visitors to its cafeteria with McDonald's burgers and fries. The fast-food chain's lease isn't being renewed.

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Government Inquiry Into Clinton Emails Likely To Widen

NPR News - Wed, 2015-08-19 13:16

The FBI investigation into the Clinton email controversy could soon go beyond whether classified information passed through the private server she used as secretary of state.

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ISIS Beheads 81-Year-Old Scholar Who Tried To Protect Antiquities

NPR News - Wed, 2015-08-19 13:15

Archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad was killed in Palmyra, Syria, after he reportedly refused to answer ISIS's questions about where ancient artifacts were hidden.

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Oil prices are low, but some states see gas prices spike

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-08-19 13:00

First it was California. Now the latest spike in gasoline prices is in the Midwest, where drivers in Michigan are paying 23 cents a gallon more, bringing regular to $2.81 a gallon. How does this happen, when crude oil prices are at six-year lows? Not coincincidentally, there was a BP refinery breakdown outside of Chicago, the Midwest's largest. 

But refineries shut down all the time. It's when there's an unplanned outage at a major one that gas prices spike.

"And so that is sending a very big signal to the market that their supply chains need to adjust accordingly," says Mason Hamilton, petroleum markets analyst with the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

These markets in the Midwest are essentially saying, "Send us gasoline from somewhere else in the Midwest or the Gulf Coast—just get it to us!"

How much gas prices increase depends on a few things: "The tightness in the market, and the costs of acquiring those new supplies," Hamilton says.

And right now, the market is very tight. 

"The reality is that the demand for gasoline is up 6.6 percent for the latest four weeks compared to a year ago. So that's a big demand growth in this country and we haven't seen that in a very long time," says Steven Kopits, managing director of Princeton Energy Advisors.

That's pushing oil refineries to the limit, according to Guy Caruso, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He says right now, refineries are running at more than 90 percent capacity.

"And any time you're running that many industrial facilities at that high rate," he says, "you're vulnerable to disruptions or industrial accidents or breakdowns."

So why not build more refineries to handle demand? Caruso says for one thing, it's difficult to get environmental permissions. And secondly, it's not been a very profitable business. Until now.

In Arizona desert, big farms are springing up

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-08-19 13:00

When Wayne and Glenda Erwin retired to a quiet, barren corner of the Mojave Desert in Arizona, farming wasn’t on their minds. Mostly it was stargazing and protecting their schnauzers from rattlesnakes.  

Wayne and Glenda Erwin 

Will Stone/KJZZ

“They know to keep their distance whenever there’s an encounter," Erwin says, as he walked down to the edge of his property and pointed to their small well house.

Like most people living in this sparsely populated area, about 100 miles south of Las Vegas, the Erwins depend on an aquifer for their drinking water. But recently the demand for groundwater — a valuable resource in this northwest region of Arizona near the city of Kingman — has shot up.

“You can see some green down there, which is alfalfa, I suspect," Erwin says. "That’s where we first started noticing the well drilling.”

On the horizon, tractors peel through clouds of dust. Red Lake Valley doesn’t exactly strike you as the land of plenty. But in the last couple years, thousands of acres have been converted into farmland and dozens of large-scale agricultural wells have been drilled.

All that pumping is making people around here very nervous.

“Whoever’s got that water," Erwin says, "they control our destiny here, they really do.”

Look at California’s Central Valley, Erwin says, where aquifers are falling due to generations of pumping. That isn’t the story here in Kingman. Historically, farming never took off, mainly because pulling water out of the ground was too expensive. But with the historic drought in nearby California and the high price of commodity crops, investors are casting their sights elsewhere.

“The water table level is going to drop," says Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson, "There’s just no doubt about that.”

Johnson says the surge in agriculture is jeopardizing the economy of this already water-scarce region. If farms continue to mine groundwater, Johnson believes businesses will be reluctant to locate in the county.

A view of the Erwins' well house outside Kingman, AZ. 

Will Stone/KJZZ

“It’s their right to take the water," he says of the new farms. "If it works out as a model plan for them, a business plan that they can make money, they can pull the water."

"When it runs out they can go back, or go on to the next place,” he says.

Unlike Phoenix or Tucson, where groundwater is regulated, most of rural Arizona is basically the Wild West, with no restrictions on how much groundwater growers can pump. Kingman depends on some of the same aquifers as these farms. Some experts estimate the city could run out of water in as soon as 50 years.

So who are these farmers?

It turns out mostly out-of-state investors, including Bob Saul. He’s with Wood Creek Capital, a Connecticut-based investment manager.

At a public meeting this year, he told local officials and residents that he "represents a group of investors, mostly public pension funds."

Saul says he has closely studied the aquifers and disagrees with the doom and gloom projections. The untouched soil has vast potential for all sorts of crops, he said, mostly to feed the ever-hungry California dairy industry.

"When you are investing for institutions, you really have to use best practices," Saul says. "We are not in the business of trying to jeopardize anybody’s aquifer or their land base.”

Saul described his operation, Stockton Hill Farms, as probably “the most exciting farmland project” in the country. He says the whole enterprise relies on growing “sustainably,” not how it’s been done in much of California. 

“Now we have a chance in Red Lake to start over again, with brand new soils, brand new water resource, brand new systems,” he says.

And he is not the only one getting in on the action. A Las Vegas developer is also farming huge tracts of land. Despite opposition from some residents and elected officials, not everyone in Mohave County is against the farms.

Emmett Sturgill 

Will Stone/KJZZ

Emmett Sturgill owns a ranch in the valley and says he’s happy about this burgeoning farming community.

“The alternative, in my view, would be houses, and house tops, and dogs, and four wheelers, and people cutting my fences,” he says.

Sturgill has heard all the rumors — fears the aquifer will go dry, that this is a covert attempt to seize the water or send it to Vegas — but that doesn’t jibe with what he has seen so far.

“It looks to me like they’re trying to put farms together and sell the farms to other farmers to make money,” he says.

Sturgill says he isn’t going to worry about the water. That is, unless his wells start going dry.

Inflation barely moving, despite the Fed's efforts

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-08-19 13:00

Numbers out today from the Labor Department say consumer prices are moving at a crawl, up only two-tenths of a percent in the last year, and growing at the slowest monthly pace in three months. That low inflation certainly isn’t from lack of trying by the Federal Reserve, which has been keeping interest rates low, pumping trillions of dollars into the economy.

“They’ve printed all this money, right? And people aren’t spending it," says Anna Rathbun, director of research at CBIZ Retirement Plan Services.  "And they can’t make people go out and spend.”

But she warns there’s a risk if the Fed raises rates too soon.

“Because if they raise rates while the inflationary pressure is not there, and it’s too low, it could slip down and become deflation, and when this happens the Fed runs out of ammunition," she says.

The Federal Reserve is already trying to fight off global pressures, says Gennadiy Goldberg of TD Securities.

“The fact that we have a global supply chain has actually allowed us to be very sensitive to inflation in other places in the world,” Goldberg says. He adds that those pressures from countries like China and Brazil are pushing inflation down here at home, along with other factors.

And remember, a little bit of inflation is supposed to be a good thing, says Ted Peters, CEO of Bluestone Financial Institutions Fund and a former member of the Federal Reserve of Philadelphia.

“You need a little bit of inflation to give companies pricing power and for them to be able to increase their prices," he says. "And if they increase their prices and make more money, then hopefully they pass that along to their employees as well.”

But today’s minutes from the July meeting of the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee predict we won’t reach the Fed’s 2 percent inflation target anytime soon.  

Ashley Madison user information leaks

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-08-19 13:00

The website Ashley Madison promised its customers “discreet” affairs; a counter on its website boasts more than 38 million “anonymous users.” But many of those users aren’t quite anonymous anymore. The company confirmed a data breach last month and now hackers have publicly posted the oh-so-private information of many of Ashley Madison’s users.

John Kindervag, a security analyst with Forrester Research, says these kinds of hacks are almost inevitable, as there’s no shortage of targets.

“I don’t think cyber criminals are out there wondering, 'How will I ever get into certain companies?'” he says. “I think they’re just, like, overwhelmed, and go, ‘Well, we don’t have time to breach every company.’”

Michela Menting with ABI Research says, “I think it’s idealistic to say you can provide absolute privacy.”

She says that's a tough line to toe for companies that are premised upon privacy, such as Ashley Madison, but also less risqué businesses like health insurers, human resources departments, photo storage sites, etc.

“It’s maybe something [companies] don’t want to push forward: ‘It’s not a 100 percent secure. These are the risks. We can’t guarantee absolute protection,” Menting says. "They're difficult concepts to reconcile."

“These are illegitimate acts that have real consequences for innocent citizens who are simply going about their daily lives,” Ashley Madison said in a statement responding to the posting of user data. “Regardless, if it is your private pictures or your personal thoughts that have slipped into public distribution, no one has the right to pilfer and reveal that information to audiences in search of the lurid, the titillating, and the embarrassing.”

But just as credit cards and social security numbers have value, so does more sensitive information.

“It could be used to impersonate you; it could be used to embarrass you, to trick you into revealing even more information about yourself or scam you in some way,” says Susan Grant at the Consumer Federation of America.

Additionally, unlike a credit card number that may be easily replaced, Grant says, when personal information is leaked, there’s really no way to undo the damage. 

Tencent sends a $50 million direct message to Kik

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-08-19 12:51

Tencent, the company behind China's most popular messaging app WeChat, has invested $50 million in Kik, which is among the more popular messaging apps in the U.S. and Canada.

The move is an effort to enter the burgeoning North American market, which has been slower to adopt messaging apps, says Julie Ask of Forrester Research.

"This is just a giant chessboard that about 10 global players are trying to fill in," Ask says.

WeChat has about 400 million active users in China. It has become a platform for a wide variety of transactions, from online games, to e-commerce and mobile payments. It also connects users with brands to bring in advertising dollars. 

"The thing we're thinking about now is what you can build on top of chat,"  Kik's founder, Ted Livingston, said earlier this year at a public forum at the University of Waterloo in Canada.  "And really what we're looking at as a model for that is what's happening in China with WeChat."

Police Circulate Sketch Of A Suspect After Fatal Blast In Bangkok

NPR News - Wed, 2015-08-19 12:49

Thai police say the suspect's appearance suggests he could be from the Middle East or Europe. A spokesperson says that investigators think there were two other accomplices, according to Reuters.

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To Learn More, This High-Schooler Left The Classroom

NPR News - Wed, 2015-08-19 12:47

Nick Bain, 17, was in class one day when he calculated only "two-and-a-half to three hours" was actually useful instruction. So he decided to go out on his own to learn.

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In Search Of Salvation From Drought, California Looks Down Under

NPR News - Wed, 2015-08-19 12:40

Australia suffered through a truly epic drought. And it survived. But some of Australia's solutions — like a free market for water — may be too radical for the Golden State.

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Will Iran nuclear deal affect Persian businesses in L.A.?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-08-19 12:38

The nuclear deal struck between Iran and the U.N. Security Council is being hotly debated in Congress. In Los Angeles, business people in the largest community of Iranians outside Iran are talking about what an end to sanctions might mean for their businesses.

Walk down Westwood Boulevard and you can duck into a little market and deli called Tochal, where Todd Khodadadi is the manager. "We're in the Persian Square," he says. "It's the middle of the Persian community. Most of the businesses here have a Persian sign and, as we live in the United States, we have a sign in English, too."

The Persian Square, or Tehrangeles as some locals call it, is an affluent part of the city, with jewelry shops and travel agencies at most intersections. There’s even a Bravo reality TV series, "Shahs of Sunset," that follows a set of Iranian-Americans in Los Angeles. Khodadadi worked in computer software when he lived in Iran 15 years ago. Now he makes a living selling Persian stuff to the Persian community. 

A view of the Persian Square, also known as "Tehrangeles." (Andy Uhler/Marketplace) 

A lot of his products used to come directly from Iran. Now, the market imports similar products from other countries in the region that aren’t under sanctions. Todd says he can taste the difference. “The best saffron in the world is from Iran," he says, starting a list. "The best pistachio in the whole world is from Iran. Mulberry – the best one is from Iran. We have similar kinds from Afghanistan, but I can tell you the best one is from Iran."

Next door is Damoka, a three-story warehouse stocked to the brim with Persian rugs. The store's owner, Alex Helmi, moved to Los Angeles from Tehran 40 years ago to go to school. After he got his degree, he took over the carpet business from his father. He says he hasn't been able to import Persian rugs from Iran since the tightening of sanctions in 2010.

Damoka owner Alex Helmi (Andy Uhler/Marketplace) 

While Todd gets the goods for his market by dealing with other countries, Alex gets around his import problems by selling secondhand carpets. The most expensive one in the warehouse will still run a quarter-million dollars. "The Persian carpets are the treasures of the world," he says. "It's like diamonds or art."

But, what about his market share? Won't more people get into the business if they can suddenly import these rugs? Helmi doesn't think so. "There are not going to be more people doing it, but the people who are already doing it will have an open supply," he explains. "You see, right now whatever we sell, we cannot replace. But when the doors open up, hopefully we can replace them."

And there might be another opportunity for Helmi if trade restrictions are lightened. "So the price right now, as we speak, inside Persia is much higher than inside the United States. We might consider selling our carpets there," he says.

Persian rugs surround Damoka's walls. (Andy Uhler/Marketplace) 

Further along Westwood, young Iranian-Americans were snapping selfies next to a shop that advertises Persian pizza. Many people in the area tell me this is exactly the sort of thing you might see walking the streets of Tehran. A bookshop on the corner, here since the early 1980s, houses the Ketab Corporation. 

The storefront of  Persian restaurant Cafe Glace. (Andy Uhler/Marketplace) 

The company’s founder, Bijan Khalili, proudly explains that Ketab was the first company to start translating and publishing titles in Persian in America. “This company is a publishing company. Publishes Iranian yellow pages, Iranian pocket yellow pages.” He says he's published more than 500 titles. The company also provides communication and information to the Iranian community free of charge.

He says he ended up here because he wasn't a friend of the revolution in 1979.

Just then, the phone rang. It's a call from Iran. He settles the call in Farsi and then continues chatting. He's been in Los Angeles for almost 40 years now, but as he gets up from his desk and shouts some instructions to his employees in Farsi, it’s pretty clear – being from Iran translates to more than just a language or a zip code.

Ground Reopens At Site Of Killer Sinkhole in Florida

NPR News - Wed, 2015-08-19 12:10

A sinkhole engulfed a Florida man in 2013 and he was never seen again. Today, a new sinkhole has formed in the very same place.

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You Asked, We Deliver: A Portrait Of The World's Finest Panama Hat

NPR News - Wed, 2015-08-19 11:58

So here it is — only it turns out that it won't be 100 percent finished until someone buys this high point of haberdashery.

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