National News

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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Gag rules: illegal, but alive and well

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-28 12:15

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA) "guarantees basic rights of private sector employees to organize into trade unions, engage in collective bargaining for better terms and conditions at work, and take collective action including strike if necessary."

Despite the NLRA, some companies still threaten their employees with lowering their pay or hours and even with termination if they discuss their pay with other employees.

"Gag rules are illegal," says Nancy Koehn of the Harvard Business School. "But there is no question that they are alive and well in America."

There are many disadvantages for workers who don’t know if they’re getting paid fairly or not, says Koehn.

"If you have no sense of what your pay is on some kid of latter of compensation across the organization, you have no sense of what kind of organization this is in terms of how they reward people for a job well done," says Koehn.

Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

International Court Rules Against Russia In $50 Billion Decision

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 12:13

Russia says it will appeal an unfavorable decision by a court in The Hague. The Permanent Court of Arbitration awarded $50 billion to shareholders of the defunct Yukos oil company.

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An Uneasy End To Ramadan In Gaza, Where Fighting Intensifies Once More

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 12:09

NPR's Emily Harris reports on the Muslim holiday of Eid in Gaza, where one where one family traces the course of three weeks of war in broken bread, temporary shelters and mourning for their dead.

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A Deal Between 'Dollar' Stores Raises The Stakes Against Wal-Mart

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 12:09

The slice of retail aimed at America's most budget-conscious consumers is consolidating. Dollar Tree is buying Family Dollar for $8.5 billion, a deal encouraged by activist investors Carl Icahn and Nelson Peltz. The new company will have 13,000 stores, making it a more formidable competitor — in size, at least — to Wal-Mart.

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Teacher Tenure Fight Spills Into N.Y., Where A New Lawsuit Brews

NPR News - Mon, 2014-07-28 12:09

A new salvo has been fired in the fight over teacher tenure. A group led by former TV anchor Campbell Brown filed a complaint in New York state court, arguing that tenure laws are preventing the state from providing every child with the "sound, basic education" its constitution guarantees.

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Taliban In Pakistan Derail World Polio Eradication

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

The militant group threatens to kill parents who immunize their children. As a result, polio has come roaring back in Pakistan. Eradication now hinges on whether the country can control the virus.

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Russia ordered to pay $50 billion to oil shareholders

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-07-28 12:03

There was more bad news for Russia today. The Hague, an international arbitration court, ruled the country acted improperly when it confiscated the assets of the oil company Yukos back in 2003.

The court’s ruling requires Russia to pay $50 billion to former Yukos shareholders but “there’s no likelihood that they will simply roll over and hand the cash over” says the BBC’s Andrew Walker.

Russia has already says it will appeal the ruling but Walker says shareholders of Yukos could fight back. They could get a court order to seize some of Russia’s commercial assets but that would likely take years.

The ruling probably won’t mean much to other companies with an eye to invest in Russia. Walker says Russia already has a poor reputation when it comes to creating a good climate for business.

“Investors that get involved in Russia are typically doing it because they think that the energy resources there are so large that there must ultimately be the potential to make money. “

Walker notes that tomorrow, EU officials will meet to consider sanctions against the energy, arms, and financial sectors in Russia.

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