National News

New York's Top Judge Calls For Overhaul Of State's Grand Jury System

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-17 13:01

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman called the system a "relic of another time," and said prosecutors have been unable to shake a perception that they are not objectively presenting cases to grand juries.

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Princeton Gifted Rare Books Valued At $300 Million

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-17 12:55

Audie Cornish speaks with Paul Needham, the Schiede Librarian at Princeton University, about the gift from the late philanthropist and alum, William Scheide.

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Judge's Decision Leaves Immigrants In Legal Limbo

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-17 12:06

A federal judge in Texas has blocked the start of President Obama's controversial executive action on immigration. Now some unauthorized immigrants are waiting to see what happens to new programs designed to temporarily protect them from deportation.

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Greek Finance Minister Becomes A Hero Back Home During Bailout Talks

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-17 12:06

Once again, Greece and Europe are at an impasse. The new Greek government wants to replace the existing bailout program, but its Eurozone partners have rejected that idea. The negotiations have been difficult and at times contentious. But the flashy Greek minister at the center of the storm has become a hero back home.

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Haiti Government Cancels Carnival After 18 People Die In Accident

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-17 12:06

More than a dozen people died during Haiti's celebration of Carnival when a power line came into contact with people on a float in the capital, Port au Prince. Some died of electrocution, others died in the ensuing panic, say officials.

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Despite Recovery, Many Find Home Loans Still Hard To Get

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-17 12:06

The housing market and the economy are both well on their way back from the Great Recession. But housing advocates say banks, stung by the housing crisis and its fallout, remain reluctant to lend.

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After Sandy: Insurance Claim Battles Cost Homeowners, Taxpayers

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-17 12:06

More than two years after Superstorm Sandy flooded homes in New Jersey and New York, legal battles still rage over insurance claims to repair the damage. But insurance is not playing by the rules.

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EU-Greek Drama Deepens As A Deadline Approaches

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-17 12:01

Greece has threatened to quit the euro if an agreement over its debt isn't reached. There were hints that a deal with the new Greek government could be worked out. But turmoil looms if the talks fail.

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Swiss Village + West Virginia + Mardi Gras Feast = Fasnacht

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-17 11:54

Isolated in the West Virginia wilderness, the tiny town of Helvetia clings to its distinctly Swiss character and foodways. It all culminates with a pre-Lenten festival where food takes center stage.

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Some Thoughtful Words — And Many Unanswered Questions — After Chapel Hill

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-17 11:51

Here are some of the many powerful essays we've come across in the wake of this terrible tragedy.

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At His Villa, Pakistan's Musharraf Awaits Trial And Holds Court

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-17 11:35

Pakistan's former military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, faces charges of treason and murder. But in an interview with NPR, he says he has no regrets about returning to his homeland to face trial.

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For Congressional Committees, It's All In The Name

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-17 11:34

A Senate Judiciary subcommittee dropped "human rights" and "civil rights" from its name last month, sparking some controversy. But does the congressional name game even matter?

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The blueprint for Oscar winners

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-17 11:00

Months before any cameras roll, sets are built or lights are set up, Alex Hillkurtz is making the movie.

As a storyboard artist, Hillkurtz sits down with the director to create a detailed blueprint that's used throughout production, drawing the major beats of the entire movie.

"Storyboards are kind of a comic book version of the film," Hillkurtz says. "I'll do little thumbnail sketches, I'll flesh them out a little bit and basically I'll come up with a stack of drawings that represent all the camera angles for any given scene."

And the storyboards dictate more than just where the camera should sit. Hillkurtz is one of the first people to apply the specific, movie-making craft to the script and the director's vision, so his work can have ripple effects on every aspect of the production.

He's done this for dozens of movies, including "Argo," "Vanilla Sky," "Anchorman," "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," "Almost Famous" and most recently "Unbroken," which is nominated for three Academy Awards. There's no award for storyboarding, but that's why Hillkurtz is the first in our series of unsung heroes of the Oscars.

 

Reduced To Her Knees, Marathoner Finishes Race In A Crawl

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-17 10:21

Kenyan runner Hyvon Ngetich didn't win the Austin Marathon, despite leading for most of the race. Now she's being celebrated for the way she crossed the finish line.

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Landlords have the upper hand in many rental markets

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-17 10:11

The vacancy rate for apartment rentals is at an historic low nationally, while demand is high. That puts landlords in a strong position.

Renters ... not so much.

“We're just sitting ducks in the rental market,” says Charlie Blasky, a 28 year-old renter in Minneapolis.

Blasky says his landlord gave notice in January that his rent would go up this spring if he and his wife renewed their lease on their one-bedroom apartment. Blasky says the cheapest option, a 12-month lease, would push the rent from $795 a month to $875, a 10 percent increase. That didn’t appeal to Blasky, who found the landlord to be inattentive to complaints about problems like noisy neighbors.

“Sure I could try to haggle,” says Blasky. “But when everyone's trying to rent, what's to stop the landlord from saying, 'Yeah right. I've got someone who will pay that and won’t argue about it.'"

“Clearly, the pendulum has swung in the favor of landlords,” says Ryan Severino, senior economist with the real estate research firm Reis.

Severino says there's a squeeze on apartments in many metro areas around the country, in big coastal cities and as well as metros like Minneapolis, Detroit, Knoxville and Omaha, to name but a few. Low vacancy rates in those cities are pulling the national average down to about 4 percent, by Severino's measure, a level last seen — and only briefly — during the dot-com boom-and-bust days.

Severino says the reasons for the dynamic are clear: More people are renting these days. Despite low interest rates, mortgages are harder to get post-housing crisis. Meanwhile, the supply of rentals is low. That’s partly because apartment construction stalled during the economic downturn.

“It's like economics 101. You have growing demand, and you have more or less static supply,” he says.

Severino says that makes it a great environment for landlords to raise rents.

“Landlords are rational, self-interested actors like anyone else,” he says.

Jeff Arnold understands that. He manages a building in St. Paul, Minnesota. with 57 studio apartments. Like landlords in many cities, Arnold has been raising rents, and he's become a lot choosier about his tenants.

“Ten years ago, back when we were offering a free month’s rent as an incentive, I'd sometimes be a little more willing to overlook if they had a small collection item or something like that,” Arnold says. “Now I'll look at that and say, 'You know, I think I can probably find someone better.'”

His father, Bob Arnold, the owner of the building, says tenants with bad credit should work hard not to “mess up” once they land a place.

“Because then you can establish a track record. When you come up against a choosy manager, you made some mistakes but now you're better,” he says.

Bob and Jeff Arnold both say when vacancy rates were higher, tenants could get away more easily with making late rent payments so long as they came up with some money. Today, Jeff Arnold says he wants to be compassionate if someone loses a job and pays rent late — but only up to a point.

“I might work with them for a month,” he says. “But if they can't clean up their act and get me something within that time, in this kind of market, hey I’m going to find someone new.”

A Minnesota tenants' rights group, HOME Line, tries to help renters understand that reality. Mike Vraa, the managing attorney, gives renters legal advice if landlords boot them out unjustly. Vraa also helps renters understand when they don't have grounds to object.

“After two, three, four years they think the place is theirs forever as long as they don't mess up. But it's just not the case. It's a temporary, renewable, or nonrenewable agreement,” he says. “We give people bad news about that all the time. It's not just renewable just at your whim. The landlord is involved, too.”

That’s one reason Charlie Blasky wants to stop renting and eventually own. But first he has to save some money, which is hard to do as a renter. He’s leaving the apartment where rent’s going up. But his new apartment isn’t any cheaper. He just thinks it’s a better value.  

“Rent is going up everywhere. It’s harder to put that money way for a down payment on a house,” he says.

One bit of hope for renters, apartment construction is picking up nationally. That should increase supply and thereby loosen up rental markets.

As He Returns From Season-Long Suspension, Alex Rodriguez Says 'Sorry'

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-17 09:59

The legendary slugger was suspended for doping and denied that he did anything wrong for a long time. Now, in a hand-written letter, he's tells fans he takes "full responsibility" for his mistakes.

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Many Parents Aren't Sold On Later School Start Times For Teens

NPR News - Tue, 2015-02-17 09:59

Just half of parents say schools should start later so teenagers can get more sleep, a survey found. But most of the parents also weren't aware that pediatricians have called for a start of 8:30 am.

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You too can have a Nobel Prize

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-17 09:56

We're well past Nobel Prize season, but there's Nobel news to pass along.

If you've got a spare $150,000 lying around, you too can have a Nobel of your very own. Well, you can have the prize that Simon Kuznets won in 1971 for  his "empirically founded interpretation of economic growth which has led to new and deepened insight into the economic and social structure and process of development."

Or in laymans terms, growth and inequality, which is the economic thing that's going on right now ... 45 years later.

Kuznets's son consigned the medal to an auction house out here in California; you've got eight days left to find that $150,000.

Texas ruling makes immigrants' future uncertain

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-17 09:47

A federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked President Obama’s executive order on immigration on Tuesday. The order would have granted a temporary reprieve from deportation to around 4 million people currently in the U.S. illegally.

Going from illegal to legal status gives undocumented workers an average 8 percent increase in wages, and would add some $210 billion to the nation's GDP over 10 years, according to the White House Council of Economic Advisers (pdf). Pro-immigration advocates say the more people who sign up for the program, the greater the economic boost will be. Opponents say the supposed economic benefits are overstated.

The judge’s ruling might yet be overturned, but critics of the ruling say it may already have altered the economics of immigration reform. They fear that some people who might qualify for the reform will now be reluctant to come forward and sign up.  

West Coast ports resume loading and unloading

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-17 09:42

After a weekend shutdown, ports on the West Coast were back in business on Tuesday.

The White House dispatched U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez to San Francisco to try to broker a deal between  dockworkers and shipping companies. They've been locked in a contract dispute that for months has slowed the flow of cargo and caused ripples throughout the global economy.

But, even when a deal is reached, port officials say it could take weeks to clear the backlog.

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