National / International News

It's illegal to work in August...for Congress

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-22 13:39

We've all heard Congress is in recess more than it's actually in session, but there's more to the story.

It turns out Congress working during August is actually against the law.

Congress will recess for its summer break next Friday because the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 says it has to  according to the Washington Post.

In fact the House and Senate shall recess, "not later than July 31 of each year...to the second day after Labor Day."

Jeesh.

 

Inflation: A 'sweet spot' for consumer prices

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-22 13:39

The Labor Department released Tuesday its monthly measurement of inflation, called the Consumer Price Index. According to the report, prices inched up from May to June, but just barely. Overall, the CPI was up 0.3 percent last month. And if you take out volatile stuff like food and energy, as the Labor Department likes to do, prices rose just 0.1 percent.

Although inflation is still pretty modest right now, it doesn't always feel like it, says economist John Canally with the brokerage firm LPL Financial.

“Most of us drive past the gas station every day; most of us go to the grocery store and have to buy staples. On the stuff that we see every day, those prices tend to be rising at a faster rate than the rest of the price deck,” he says.

Meanwhile prices for stuff we don’t buy on a daily basis, such as a flat screen TV or a car, have actually fallen slightly in the last month. When you add all those trends up, inflation is sluggish. But so are workers’ wages. They're just barely keeping pace with inflation. Meaning, for the time being, businesses need to keep prices pretty low.

“It's really hard to get the price increases at the taco stand or at the burger joint or anywhere else to stick if people don't have enough money or enough wages to pay those price increases,” Cannally says.

With wages and prices at a sort of deadlock, the bogeyman of runaway inflation that we saw in the 1970s just is not a threat right now, says Mark Kuperberg, an economist at Swarthmore College.

“People need to chillax a bit about it - chill out and not worry so much,” he says.

While runaway inflation may not be a worry, we don't want to head toward deflation, either, warns Sarah Watt House, an economist at Wells Fargo Securities.

“We don’t want to see prices going down so low that nobody goes out and buys anything because they assume that prices will be cheaper tomorrow,” she says.

 We're trying to hang on to an economy where the prices aren’t too hot, aren’t not too cold, House says. “It’s the Goldilocks’ sweet spot.”

 

A 'sweet spot' for consumer prices

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-22 13:39

The Labor Department released Tuesday its monthly measurement of inflation, called the Consumer Price Index. According to the report, prices inched up from May to June, but just barely. Overall, the CPI was up 0.3 percent last month. And if you take out volatile stuff like food and energy, as the Labor Department likes to do, prices rose just 0.1 percent.

Although inflation is still pretty modest right now, it doesn't always feel like it, says economist John Canally with the brokerage firm LPL Financial.

“Most of us drive past the gas station every day; most of us go to the grocery store and have to buy staples. On the stuff that we see every day, those prices tend to be rising at a faster rate than the rest of the price deck,” he says.

Meanwhile prices for stuff we don’t buy on a daily basis, such as a flat screen TV or a car, have actually fallen slightly in the last month. When you add all those trends up, inflation is sluggish. But so are workers’ wages. They're just barely keeping pace with inflation. Meaning, for the time being, businesses need to keep prices pretty low.

“It's really hard to get the price increases at the taco stand or at the burger joint or anywhere else to stick if people don't have enough money or enough wages to pay those price increases,” Cannally says.

With wages and prices at a sort of deadlock, the bogeyman of runaway inflation that we saw in the 1970's just is not a threat right now, says Mark Kuperberg, an economist at Swarthmore College.

“People need to chillax a bit about it--chill out and not worry so much,” he says.

While runaway inflation may not be a worry, we don't want to head toward deflation, either, warns Sarah Watt House, an economist at Wells Fargo Securities.

“We don’t want to see prices going down so low that nobody goes out and buys anything because they assume that prices will be cheaper tomorrow,” she says.

 We're trying to hang on to an economy where the prices aren’t too hot, aren’t not too cold, House says. “It’s the Goldilocks’ sweet spot.”

 

What are companies doing with all that cash?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-22 13:39

It’s like an episode of  “Hoarders.” Corporate America can’t stop collecting cash. 

“I think most CFOs would not admit they’ve hoarded too much cash,” says John Graham, finance professor at Duke University.  

He estimates that  companies have about 50 percent more cash on their balance sheets than they did 10 or 15 years ago.

Is it time for an intervention?  

“They did just live through the financial crisis,” he says. “They think they're being prudent, you want to hold your cash, in case it becomes difficult to borrow down the road.” 

Non-financial companies — like Microsoft and Merck — had a total of $1.6 trillion in cash at the end of 2013, according to Moody’s.

“A lot of money is effectively just sitting there.” says Richard Lane, a senior vice president at Moody’s. “And, where it’s sitting increasingly is offshore.” 

It’s locked up overseas, mostly to avoid U.S. taxes.

“I don’t need Apple to save money. My local bank or credit union will handle it for me just fine,” says David Cay Johnston, a lecturer at Syracuse University’s College of Law. Corporate hoarding affects the economy. 

“What you’re not seeing them do with this cash is invest in new factories and research operations, which would create jobs and fundamentally grow the business,” Johnston says.

There are signs companies are loosening up a little. Apple just made its biggest-ever acquisition, spending $3 billion to acquire headphone maker Beats. 

And activists are increasingly pressuring companies to give more of their profits back to investors.  

In a recent survey of CFOs,  about half said their companies are going to invest in their businesses soon. But the other half? They’re not budging.

Why Boeing and Delta are dueling over the Ex-Im bank

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-22 13:39

You'd think a giant company that buys planes would have a half-decent relationship with a giant company that makes planes. And, for the most part, Delta and Boeing have been business buddies over the years. But now, these two big guns of American aviation are lined up on opposite sides of one of the biggest policy fights rocking Congress: The debate over the Export-Import bank.

Big companies tend to get their way in Washington because opponents are usually weak. Think Wall Street versus Main Street, or cable companies against subscribers. Those aren’t real boxing matches, they're more like Mike Tyson fighting your Uncle Stewart. But Boeing versus Delta is a real matchup, and it has observers in politics and business riveted.

Among other things, the Ex-Im bank uses American tax money to help foreign airlines buy Boeing planes. Those airlines are Delta’s competitors, and Delta doesn’t like the idea of American money going to them. Recently Delta’s CEO testified on Capitol Hill, flanked by uniformed pilots and flight attendants, to say this practice should stop.

Boeing says the Ex-Im Bank helps Boeing compete internationally and create more American jobs. And the company has benefited for a long time from the Ex-Im Bank's support. But now, with Delta in the ring and Ex-Im Bank skeptics gaining power in Congress, Boeing’s long and cushy ride with the Bank is encountering some turbulence.

Mark Garrison: Big companies tend to get their way in Congress because opponents are usually weak. Wall Street versus Main Street. Cable companies against subscribers. Those aren’t real matches. That’s like Mike Tyson fighting your Uncle Stewart. But Boeing versus Delta, that’s a fight.

Richard Anderson: I have a about 100 Delta employees here with me that have my back today.

That’s Delta CEO Richard Anderson testifying on the Hill, flanked by uniformed pilots and flight attendants.

Anderson: I’m here to talk about their jobs, because the Ex-Im Bank takes their jobs.

Anderson’s talking about the Export-Import Bank. And he’s angry because Boeing has long gotten what it wants from the Bank, which, among other things, uses American tax money to help foreign airlines buy Boeing planes. And those are Delta’s competitors. The airline doesn’t like the idea of American money going to them.

Veronique de Rugy: It puts a face on the usually unseen victims of these government deals.

Veronique de Rugy is senior fellow at the Mercatus Center, and thinks of the Ex-Im Bank as corporate welfare. In aviation or any industry, when equally powerful companies face off, the outcome’s hard to predict, totally different than when a whole industry goes up against a set of regulations. Tom Tacker is an economics professor at Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University.

Tom Tacker: I think it’s a big deal and it does make it more interesting.

It also puts the debate in the public eye. That matters, says UNC political scientist Frank Baumgartner.

Frank Baumgartner: In the fights that aren’t fair, nobody even knows about them. They’re done within the boardrooms or the committee rooms without any fanfare and the status quo remains what it is.

But with Delta in the ring and skeptics in Congress, Boeing’s long and cushy ride with the Ex-Im Bank is hitting unusual turbulence. I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

Guest house landlady was stabbed

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-22 13:35
A guest house landlady in Bridlington who was found dead in one of her rooms died from a single stab wound to the chest, police say.

Tajik spy charge academic freed

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-22 13:31
An academic working for a British university has been freed after being held for over a month in Tajikistan on suspicion of spying.

White flags stump New York police

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-22 13:26
Authorities in New York are investigating who raised two large white flags on the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge early on Tuesday.

MH17 remains 'still at crash site'

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-22 13:24
The search for victims of the Malaysia Airlines crash in Ukraine must go on as only some 200 bodies have been recovered so far, Dutch officials say.

Appeal over burned body in archway

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-22 13:16
Police appeal for witnesses to the unexplained death of a man whose burned body was found under a railway archway in north London.

Glass Or No Glass? That Is The Grill Lid Question

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-22 13:10

Would you be a better cook if you could see your food on the grill without lifting the lid? We take a peek under the hood of an innovative glass-top grill that claims to help prevent the dreaded burn.

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Pop Quiz: 20 Percent Chance Of Rain. Do You Need An Umbrella?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-22 13:08

What does a 20 percent chance of rain or snow actually mean? Interpreting probabilities in forecasts can be hard even for mathematicians and meteorologists — never mind the average person.

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Airlines suspend flights into Israel

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-22 13:07
US and European airlines suspend flights into Israel's Ben Gurion airport after Israeli police confirmed that a rocket landed one mile away.

VA Nominee Steps Before Senate Committee

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-22 12:53

Robert McDonald, President Obama's nominee to run the Department of Veterans Affairs, is appearing before the Senate for his confirmation hearing. He faces the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

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VIDEO: Litvinenko death inquiry announced

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-22 12:51
The government announces a public inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB officer poisoned with radioactive polonium in London.

Near Crash Site, Stories Of The Jet Cleave Closely To Russian Version

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-22 12:50

Following the downing of the Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine, local residents have been talking about the event — but the picture is being distorted by a propaganda campaign in local media.

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University Would Study Health Issues In Polluted New York Town

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-22 12:49

A plant in Tonawanda heats coal into material for the iron and steel industries, releasing toxic chemicals into the air. Residents have long blamed the pollution for several health problems.

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Turning a new leaf can prove elusive in tobacco-built South

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-22 12:44

His mentor sat in a hospital bed, dying. 

Glenn Hayes walked into the room, and saw his old friend batting his hand in front of his face, as if waving away a persistent fly, and muttering. 

“What are you doing?” Hayes asked. The man, startled, smiled sheepishly and said “I’m biddin' tobacco!” 

The two men had spent decades as tobacco buyers for large companies. Though they didn’t smoke, they had lived and breathed the crop since childhood. And it was time to say goodbye. 

Hayes, born in 1936, had already said goodbye to his career in the tobacco industry when he retired in the '90s. But even by then, tobacco was already submitting its long farewell to many small towns peppering the belt from Kentucky to the coast - some it had sustained for centuries.

“We would get up before day. Before I went to school that morning, when I was 9 or 10-years-old, we would lay tobacco out for our parents to grade that day,” says Hayes. “And when we came in we’d tie it and stick it up; had to be done.” 

Hayes has come to the South Carolina Tobacco Museum in Mullins, South Carolina. Mullins was once the tobacco capital of the state, its warehouses once numbered 41, and $120 million would flow through this small town each fall in the early '80s. While tobacco is still grown in the state, a visitor from Charleston would likely now see more golden leaves on display in the museum than in roadside fields during the two hour drive.

“My first job was driving a mule when I was 8 or 9, and I thought I was somebody,” Hayes remembers in a drawl and with a chuckle. “We didn’t get paid, we had four families on the farm, and we divided the crop up – 25 acres of tobacco – and we all helped each other put in. About 80 percent of our income came from tobacco.”

People lived the crop’s ups and downs together, which Hayes says connected them in a way that’s rare now.

“I remember a farmer comin' to me one time, he said 'I got an awful crop, Glenn, I can’t help it,' and it wasn’t a good crop. But I wouldn’t’a told him that for nothin' in the world. He’d worked just as hard as the next man. If you could stretch a grade you did, if you could help him out you did," says Hayes. "We all did that.” 

Hayes's old friend Jimmy Daniel, who worked at a warehouse and is now passed away, put it this way in one of the museum’s archival recordings:

“It was hard work, like anything is. And if the farmer fared good then I fared good. If he catch the devil then I caught the devil too.”

Explains Reggie McDaniel, curator of the museum: “If the bids weren’t good and the tobacco was not good and the farmers didn’t get A1 top prices, the warehouse suffered along with the farmers. If the farmer 'caught the devil,' the warehouse 'caught the devil' too... That just means it all filters down, 'We all are taking a diminished return here.'” 

Hayes has become a painter in retirement, and often depicts scenes from the farms of his childhood – every detail corresponding to a memory and reflecting the vibrant role tobacco once played. 

In some paintings, his 9-year-old self is lifting sticks, holding bundles of tobacco ready to cure in a barn. In others, his middle-aged self is walking through rows of 300 pound piles of tobacco leaves, bidding as he goes.

Many of the paintings hang in the Tobacco Museum, whose rooms full of artifacts include hundreds of colorful unopened packs of cigarettes made by long-defunct companies, war bonds from WWII sponsored by Lucky Strike, a pioneer-era kitchen and a pre-WWI quilt made of flags, many of which came from countries that no longer exist.  There’s also a 100-year-old rebuilt tobacco barn inside the museum; it still smells warmly of tobacco. 

“It’s got a sweet, earthy smell,” says Reggie McDaniel, curator of the museum. “My dad used to say it smells like college.”

Why’d he say that?

“...‘cause it pays for your college!” McDaniel says with a laugh.

Tobacco marked the calendar and tobacco marked the social life.

“We had well-known orchestras and band leaders for one warehouse, the next warehouse would be square dancing and more country fare, and the third warehouse would be what we call beach music today for the African American community.”

Part of economic growth is what economists call "creative destruction." As new industries emerge, old ones die. There are booms and busts and growth moves from place to place, disrupting old ways of doing things and creating new ones. If people are lucky, they can move with it. 

But not everyone, and certainly not every place, can get out of the way. 

Mullins, South Carolina couldn’t get out of the way. 

Mullins, South Carolina caught the devil.  

It now has the highest unemployment rate in the state.

The devil might’ve been in Mullins all along.

Tobacco is addictive and deadly. It killed 100 million people in the 20th century.  As people began to realize that, smoking declined, and government subsidies were withdrawn. Tobacco farming became mechanized and then shifted overseas along with other industries like textiles. The population has been declining for 25 years now.

Antonio Williams is hanging out under a pecan tree in a lot full of rubble and weeds. They say it used to be a small mall before it was torn down. Sometimes people come here for daywork. Right now a few kids are running around, and a few old men are sitting on milk crates drinking. 

“The jobs are limited, all the textiles and companies have left and there’s no incentive for people to stay here,” he says. “It’s not for a young person here. My son is 17-years-old, he got a scholarship, A-B honor roll student, and I just wanna get him up outta here.”

When Hayes retired, he retraced his old auction route through south Georgia and eastern North Carolina, the border belt of Tennessee and Kentucky. “And when I went back to some of these small towns that had tobacco markets, and when these markets left they didn’t have anything left but a little town. They dried up. It’s sad to describe it like that but that’s how it was. You felt bad for ‘em.”

McDaniel, the curator and a descendant of one of Mullins’ founders, is steadfast. “We have a newspaper that was established in early days, and the motto on the front of the paper was ‘Pull for Mullins or pull out, no room for town knockers.’ So even though everything’s not perfect and flawless, we love our little town and it’s part of what we’re made of.”

The museum helps. One of Mullins’ last two remaining warehouses – a towering, cavernous space – holds an extensive antique mall. McDaniel praises the local cuisine at places like Webster Manor: “If you leave Mullins hungry it’s your own fault.” But for now, Mullins has more charm than visitors.

“The story of Mullins is the story of lots of small towns in the tobacco belt,” says Eldred Prince Jr., professor of American History at Coastal Carolina University in Conway and author of "Long Green, The Rise and Fall of Tobacco in South Carolina".

“Nobody – no sensible person – would lament the loss of tobacco as a substance. It has a lot to answer for in the illness that it has caused,” says Prince. “On the other hand, the culture that it inspired and created, there are some valuable things.”

To have entire towns working on the same thing, winning or losing together. And sharing work.

“We’ll go over and help you today at your farm and tomorrow you can come over and help us. 'Swapping work' it was called, it built neighborhoods like that.”

Of course, plenty of southern towns survived and even thrived after tobacco. They replaced tobacco fields with a Boeing plant or an auto manufacturer, or in many cases turned to tourism.

“We’re very much part of the sun belt here,” says Professor Prince. “But Mullins is still in the shade.” 

Turning a new leaf is elusive in tobacco-built South

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-22 12:44

His mentor sat in a hospital bed, dying. 

Glenn Hayes walked into the room, and saw his old friend batting his hand in front of his face, as if waving away a persistent fly, and muttering. 

“What are you doing?” Hayes asked. The man, startled, smiled sheepishly and said “I’m biddin' tobacco!” 

The two men had spent decades as tobacco buyers for large companies. Though they didn’t smoke, they had lived and breathed the crop since childhood. And it was time to say goodbye. 

Hayes, born in 1936, had already said goodbye to his career in the tobacco industry when he retired in the '90s. But even by then, tobacco was already submitting its long farewell to many small towns peppering the belt from Kentucky to the coast - some it had sustained for centuries.

“We would get up before day. Before I went to school that morning, when I was 9 or 10-years-old, we would lay tobacco out for our parents to grade that day,” says Hayes. “And when we came in we’d tie it and stick it up; had to be done.” 

Hayes has come to the South Carolina Tobacco Museum in Mullins, South Carolina. Mullins was once the tobacco capital of the state, its warehouses once numbered 41, and $120 million would flow through this small town each fall in the early '80s. While tobacco is still grown in the state, a visitor from Charleston would likely now see more golden leaves on display in the museum than in roadside fields during the two hour drive.

“My first job was driving a mule when I was 8 or 9, and I thought I was somebody,” Hayes remembers in a drawl and with a chuckle. “We didn’t get paid, we had four families on the farm, and we divided the crop up – 25 acres of tobacco – and we all helped each other put in. About 80 percent of our income came from tobacco.”

People lived the crop’s ups and downs together, which Hayes says connected them in a way that’s rare now.

“I remember a farmer comin' to me one time, he said 'I got an awful crop, Glenn, I can’t help it,' and it wasn’t a good crop. But I wouldn’t’a told him that for nothin' in the world. He’d worked just as hard as the next man. If you could stretch a grade you did, if you could help him out you did," says Hayes. "We all did that.” 

Hayes's old friend Jimmy Daniel, who worked at a warehouse and is now passed away, put it this way in one of the museum’s archival recordings:

“It was hard work, like anything is. And if the farmer fared good then I fared good. If he catch the devil then I caught the devil too.”

Explains Reggie McDaniel, curator of the museum: “If the bids weren’t good and the tobacco was not good and the farmers didn’t get A1 top prices, the warehouse suffered along with the farmers. If the farmer 'caught the devil,' the warehouse 'caught the devil' too... That just means it all filters down, 'We all are taking a diminished return here.'” 

Hayes has become a painter in retirement, and often depicts scenes from the farms of his childhood – every detail corresponding to a memory and reflecting the vibrant role tobacco once played. 

In some paintings, his 9-year-old self is lifting sticks, holding bundles of tobacco ready to cure in a barn. In others, his middle-aged self is walking through rows of 300 pound piles of tobacco leaves, bidding as he goes.

Many of the paintings hang in the Tobacco Museum, whose rooms full of artifacts include hundreds of colorful unopened packs of cigarettes made by long-defunct companies, war bonds from WWII sponsored by Lucky Strike, a pioneer-era kitchen and a pre-WWI quilt made of flags, many of which came from countries that no longer exist.  There’s also a 100-year-old rebuilt tobacco barn inside the museum; it still smells warmly of tobacco. 

“It’s got a sweet, earthy smell,” says Reggie McDaniel, curator of the museum. “My dad used to say it smells like college.”

Why’d he say that?

“...‘cause it pays for your college!” McDaniel says with a laugh.

Tobacco marked the calendar and tobacco marked the social life.

“We had well-known orchestras and band leaders for one warehouse, the next warehouse would be square dancing and more country fare, and the third warehouse would be what we call beach music today for the African American community.”

Part of economic growth is what economists call "creative destruction." As new industries emerge, old ones die. There are booms and busts and growth moves from place to place, disrupting old ways of doing things and creating new ones. If people are lucky, they can move with it. 

But not everyone, and certainly not every place, can get out of the way. 

Mullins, South Carolina couldn’t get out of the way. 

Mullins, South Carolina caught the devil.  

It now has the highest unemployment rate in the state.

The devil might’ve been in Mullins all along.

Tobacco is addictive and deadly. It killed 100 million people in the 20th century.  As people began to realize that, smoking declined, and government subsidies were withdrawn. Tobacco farming became mechanized and then shifted overseas along with other industries like textiles. The population has been declining for 25 years now.

Antonio Williams is hanging out under a pecan tree in a lot full of rubble and weeds. They say it used to be a small mall before it was torn down. Sometimes people come here for daywork. Right now a few kids are running around, and a few old men are sitting on milk crates drinking. 

“The jobs are limited, all the textiles and companies have left and there’s no incentive for people to stay here,” he says. “It’s not for a young person here. My son is 17-years-old, he got a scholarship, A-B honor roll student, and I just wanna get him up outta here.”

When Hayes retired, he retraced his old auction route through south Georgia and eastern North Carolina, the border belt of Tennessee and Kentucky. “And when I went back to some of these small towns that had tobacco markets, and when these markets left they didn’t have anything left but a little town. They dried up. It’s sad to describe it like that but that’s how it was. You felt bad for ‘em.”

McDaniel, the curator and a descendant of one of Mullins’ founders, is steadfast. “We have a newspaper that was established in early days, and the motto on the front of the paper was ‘Pull for Mullins or pull out, no room for town knockers.’ So even though everything’s not perfect and flawless, we love our little town and it’s part of what we’re made of.”

The museum helps. One of Mullins’ last two remaining warehouses – a towering, cavernous space – holds an extensive antique mall. McDaniel praises the local cuisine at places like Webster Manor: “If you leave Mullins hungry it’s your own fault.” But for now, Mullins has more charm than visitors.

“The story of Mullins is the story of lots of small towns in the tobacco belt,” says Eldred Prince Jr., professor of American History at Coastal Carolina University in Conway and author of "Long Green, The Rise and Fall of Tobacco in South Carolina".

“Nobody – no sensible person – would lament the loss of tobacco as a substance. It has a lot to answer for in the illness that it has caused,” says Prince. “On the other hand, the culture that it inspired and created, there are some valuable things.”

To have entire towns working on the same thing, winning or losing together. And sharing work.

“We’ll go over and help you today at your farm and tomorrow you can come over and help us. 'Swapping work' it was called, it built neighborhoods like that.”

Of course, plenty of southern towns survived and even thrived after tobacco. They replaced tobacco fields with a Boeing plant or an auto manufacturer, or in many cases turned to tourism.

“We’re very much part of the sun belt here,” says Professor Prince. “But Mullins is still in the shade.” 

Tree Planted To Honor Beatle Is Killed By Beetles

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-22 12:43

A pine tree planted in Los Angeles in memory of George Harrison is one of several brought down in Griffith Park by an infestation.

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