National News

Crews Are Containing Western Wildfires, But More Bad Weather's Ahead

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-29 00:55

Firefighters are making good progress on a number of destructive wildfires burning in the West. In Washington, fire crews are hoping to contain the largest fire in that state's history within the next week.

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Ruling Against D.C.'s Gun Law Sends Local Officials Scrambling

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-29 00:55

A federal judge struck down the city's ban on carrying handguns in public. The latest ruling follows a Supreme Court decision in 2008 that overturned the city's blanket ban on handgun ownership.

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U.S. Aid To Rebels In Syria: Too Little Too Late?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-29 00:55

Washington Post reporter Liz Sly tells Renee Montagne that U.S. arms may be flowing to moderate Syrian rebels, but the aid seems to be too little too late to affect the course of the civil war.

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For Two Years, He Smuggled Photos Of Torture Victims Out Of Syria

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-29 00:55

The ex-military photographer known only as Caesar took some of the images, which show thousands of dead regime opponents. Syria says they're fake; U.S. officials say they may be proof of war crimes.

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A Compromise Deal On Overhauling The VA, But Will It Pass?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-29 00:55

House and Senate negotiators reached a compromise, $17 billion agreement to improve medical care for veterans. The deal comes in the final week before Congress leaves town for a monthlong recess.

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Ghost Cats And Musket Balls: Stories Told By Capitol Interns

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-29 00:55

Giving Capitol tours to constituents is a primary duty of Hill interns. They provide a great deal of information, but sometimes they're a little short on actual history.

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Zillow To Buy Rival Real Estate Site Trulia

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-29 00:55

Zillow has agreed to buy Trulia for $3.5 billion in stock. The two websites represent more than 60 percent of the total Internet traffic for real estate listings.

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Uber, Airbnb Under Attack In Spain As Old And New Economies Clash

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-29 00:55

The taxi and hotel industries are pressuring Spain to crack down on popular "share economy" apps and websites. Airbnb was recently fined $40,000 for failing to list rentals with a local tourism board.

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U.S. Accuses Russia Of Violating Nuclear Treaty

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 19:00

Calling the matter "very serious," an Obama administration official says Russia violated the pact by testing a ground-launched cruise missile.

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Judge Rules Against Sterling, Allows LA Clippers Sale To Proceed

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 14:41

A California judge gave the green light to the sale of the team, which Donald Sterling's estranged wife had arranged in May.

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Sandwich Monday: The Korean Steak Sandwich

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 13:54

For this week's Sandwich Monday, we try a sandwich with a cult following. It's the Korean steak from Rhea's Market and Deli in San Francisco.

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What's happened since Detroit turned off delinquent residents' taps

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-28 13:33

Detroit threatened residents behind on their water bills in March: Pay up, or we’ll shut you off. The story has been building up ever since. 

Here's what you need to know:

The threat applies to about half the city's water customers. Before declaring a 15-day moratorium last week, the city did turn off the taps on thousands of households, setting off protests, official condemnation from human-rights experts at the U.N., and grumbling from the judge overseeing the city’s ongoing bankruptcy case that the city already has enough public-relations problems.

It's a scare tactic, but it's working. Latimer says the residential shutoffs were always intended as a scare tactic, to combat what he calls "a culture that’s developed: 'Since you’re not cutting me off, I’m not going to pay you.' And what we’ve found when we shut residents off is that 60 percent are coming in and paying."

It's not just private citizens. Corporate customers— including both private companies and branches of the government— have also fallen behind on their bills, to the tune of millions of dollars. Why didn’t the city shut them down first? Officials say they have turned off close to 19,000 residential accounts, but could not provide a number for corporate customers.

Darryl Latimer, the Water and Sewage Department’s deputy director says he’s been going after corporate deadbeats, too. Often, they’re disputing part of their bill, and negotiating takes time. He says that paid off with Chrysler Group: The company gave Detriot a check for $2.9 million— and the city recognized that Chrylser no longer owns some of the properties that were in dispute. The Detroit Public Schools, he says, have paid off about three quarters of a $12 million tab.

Customers are reporting difficulties in dealing with the water department. Shea Howell, a volunteer with the People’s Water Board Coalition, says residential customers do not get similar treatment. "Many, many resident also have problems with their bills," she says. "They also have problems they’d like to talk with the water department about, and they can’t even get through on the water department’s service lines." She says customers report wait times of up to four hours on hold.

What makes this unique? The scale of Detroit’s problems make it unusual, says Janice Beecher, director of the Institute for Public Utilities at Michigan State University. "What we don’t have in the water sector is a really clear policy for coping with something like this, so in some ways it’s a learn-as-you-go process," she says. "I do think it will go down as a case study in this sort of problem."

Residential shutoffs are due to resume next week.

An interesting campaign spawned from Twitter. Detroit’s water shutoffs also prompted some Twitter users to create an online platform where donors can directly pay off the water bill for a Detroiter in need.

If you know someone who could use assistance w/a water bill of $250 or less, we want to connect them to a donor here http://t.co/CEu7jojx51

— Tiffani Ashley Bell (@tiffani) July 18, 2014

You all are straight helping knock down water bills for folks. DIRECT. For ex: http://t.co/FDD6ZoRySZ #DetroitWater pic.twitter.com/CexEaON4uV

— Tiffani Ashley Bell (@tiffani) July 22, 2014

Three more accounts with 0 balances this morning #DetroitWater pic.twitter.com/HldO544JlE

— Kristy Tillman (@KristyT) July 23, 2014

Detroit turns off taps of delinquent residents, mainly

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-28 13:33

Detroit threatened residents behind on their water bills in March: Pay up, or we’ll shut you off. What made the threat especially noteworthy was that it applied to about half of the city’s water customers. Before declaring a 15-day moratorium last week, the city did turn off the taps on thousands of households, setting off protests, official condemnation from human-rights experts at the U.N., and grumbling from the judge overseeing the city’s ongoing bankruptcy case that the city already has enough public-relations problems.

Meanwhile, one question has come up repeatedly: Corporate customers— including both private companies and branches of the government— have also fallen behind on their bills, to the tune of millions of dollars. Why didn’t the city shut them down first? Officials say they have turned off close to 19,000 residential accounts, but could not provide a number for corporate customers.

Darryl Latimer, the Water and Sewerage Department’s deputy director,  says the residential shutoffs were always intended as a scare tactic, to combat what he calls "a culture that’s developed: 'Since you’re not cutting me off, I’m not going to pay you.' And what we’ve found when we shut residents off is that 60 percent are coming in and paying."

Latimer says he’s been going after corporate deadbeats, too. Often, they’re disputing part of their bill, and negotiating takes time. He says that paid off with Chrysler Group: The company gave Detriot a check for $2.9 million— and the city recognized that Chrylser no longer owns some of the properties that were in dispute. The Detroit Public Schools, he says, have paid off about three quarters of a $12 million tab.

Shea Howell, a volunteer with the People’s Water Board Coalition, says residential customers do not get similar treatment. "Many, many resident also have problems with their bills," she says. "They also have problems they’d like to talk with the water department about, and they can’t even get through on the water department’s service lines." She says customers report wait times of up to four hours on hold.

The scale of Detroit’s problems make it unusual, says Janice Beecher, director of the Institute for Public Utilities at Michigan State University. "What we don’t have in the water sector is a really clear policy for coping with something like this, so in some ways it’s a learn-as-you-go process," she says. "I do think it will go down as a case study in this sort of problem."

Residential shutoffs are due to resume next week.

Detroit’s water shutoffs also prompted some Twitter users to create an online platform where donors can directly pay off the water bill for a Detroiter in need.

Dollar stores adapt to an improving economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-28 13:33

There's really only one reason consumers shop at the dollar store. 

Joe Feldman,  Senior Managing Director and Assistant Director of research with Telsey Advisory group, says Family Dollar played around with its raison d'etre more than was wise: “One would think that a dollar store would be at an everyday low price." But, Feldman notes, its name notwithstanding, Family Dollar has been embracing a multipricing strategy - which wasn't a hit with consumers. 

“Maybe they’re not shopping at Family Dollar, they may be shopping at Dollar General,” he says, referring to one of the store's competitors.

The entire dollar store industry has slowed down this year. One reason — middle and upper middle class consumers can now afford to shop somewhere else.

Robert Campagnino, head of consumer research at SSR, says dollar stores have started selling higher-margin discretionary items which can prove to be problematic.  If there is a recovery, says Campagnino,  lower income consumers are not feeling it.

“So what’s happened when their consumer has been under pressure is that higher margin category has been where the sales weakness has been,” he says.

Even some staples are a hard sell. Like food, which Sandeep Dahiya, a professor of finance at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, says dollar stores have been increasingly getting into.

“The operations involved in selling something that has low shelf life is very different than selling soap. Soap doesn’t go bad... If that three pound chuck doesn’t get sold today tomorrow it will be thrown out,” he says.

Family Dollar says its sale means a good deal for shareholders, employees and shoppers. Joe Feldman says Dollar Stores, all of them, need to continue to make sure they have the right price.

What the Zillow-Trulia deal means for real estate

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-28 13:33

During the housing bubble, websites focused on the real estate sector sprung up like "for sale" signs in a hot neighborhood. Over the past couple of years, out of sight of the headlines, those companies have been merging and buying each other out. It's called "a roll-up," and it happens when a sector begins to mature.

In the last couple years, Zillow snapped up New York apartment site StreetEasy and HotPads. Trulia bought Market Leader and last month was rumored to be close to buying Realtor.com. Today came the biggest deal yet: Zillow said it agreed to buy rival Trulia for about $3.5 billion. The pair will create the proverbial 800-pound gorilla for online real estate. Part of the reason for the merger-mania is that when it comes to online real estate, bigger is pretty much always better.

"In internet-based economies, scale matters a lot," says Nic Retsinas, a professor of real estate at the Harvard Business School. "And as the two largest players in this marketplace, the possibility of them coming together gave them advantages of scale."

Together Zillow and Trulia will command more than 60 percent of online real estate traffic. That mega-market share is a big part of the reason we’re seeing this deal.

"As one company takes a leadership position, it amasses enormous capital," says Glenn Kelman, CEO of real estate site Redfin. "So you see Wall Street really rewarding the number-one player in the space and that gives them the capital to buy other companies."

The real estate market is recovering slowly, but the online real estate space is booming. Redfin is growing by 50 percent a year.

Growth is likely to continue as more people get online and the internet generation comes of home-buying age. "People do love to look at what their house is worth," says Richard Green, director of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate. "And, let’s face it, they want to look at what their neighbor’s house is worth."

Still, Green doesn’t think we’ll see many more mergers of this kind. He says most of the deals that could be done have been done.

It's Boom Times For Pop-Up Shops As Mobile Shopping Clicks

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 12:56

One-click online shopping is changing how we shop. Stores with leases as short as a day are proliferating — meaning a storefront can be a designer clothing store one day and a test kitchen the next.

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Sending 57,000 kids back to their home country costs

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-28 12:30

From October 2013 to June 2014, more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors have migrated to the United States, most from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. One solution for dealing with these children is to send them back home, a plan both President Obama and congressional Republicans endorse.

But with that many kids and toddlers being juggled around the system, that simple-sounding solution could actually create an even bigger strain on resources.

"Money would help deal with the influx now," says Esme Deprez, U.S Border Reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek. "We’re seeing shelters overwhelmed, we’re seeing processing centers that are run by border patrol agents completely overwhelmed, courts overwhelmed as well. The system is being stretched at every turn."

The White House has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funds, but Deprez says there is not a lot of hope that Congress will act.

"They’re going on break for five weeks on July 31," says Deprez. "So, even if they do pass separate bills in the House and Senate, we don’t know if they’re going to come to an agreement and reconcile the two."

If Congress were to approve the emergency funds requested, it would include $879 million to pay for the minors’ prosecution, deportation and to help expedite their court hearings.

"The bulk of the money would go to care for the newly-arrived children and the shelters," says Deprez.

Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

In Colo., An Effort To Ease Court Confusion Over Same-Sex Marriage

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 12:27

The Colorado attorney general has asked the state's Supreme Court to stop same-sex marriages.

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After 5 Weeks Of Haggling, Congress Inks Bipartisan VA Bill

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 12:25

Congress has reached a bipartisan deal to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, after nearly two months of tense negotiations.

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House Votes To End Full-Fare Rule For Airline Tickets

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 12:16

The airline industry and its unions support the bill, which would allow them to list ticket prices without taxes and fees. Consumer groups say that will lead to deceptive marketing.

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