The conflict in Iraq is rooted in long-running ethnic and religious divisions. Middle East analyst Phebe Marr tells NPR's Scott Simon why political reconciliation appears nearly impossible.
The medical team helping Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl reintegrate into the Army says he is learning to make all the daily decisions he was denied during his imprisonment by the Taliban.
Retired New York Judge Frank Barbaro says he wrongly convicted a white man for a 1999 murder of a black man. He explains to NPR's Scott Simon why he now wants the conviction thrown out.
Separatists shot down a military transport plane, killing 49 people. This marks the deadliest day in the conflict between Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels.
There are as many opinions on what's "appropriate" as there are threads hanging from those forbidden cutoffs.
The largest and oldest house on San Francisco's oft-photographed "Postcard Row" had languished on the market since March.
The American desert was once filled with hidden treasures — Native American baskets, pots — but no longer. They've been looted. Now, a reverse burglary. Time to return the loot.
In this week's roundup, a federal court says warrantless cellphone tracking is unconstitutional and we look back on a weeklong series exploring just how much of our digital data is exposed.
Connecticut abolished capital punishment in 2012. But in May, a Connecticut judge sentenced Richard Roszkowski to death for three murders. The answer to the apparent contradiction is in the dates.
Afghans are choosing between two former government ministers in a presidential election that will be the first transfer of power by ballot in Afghanistan's history.
In a sea of national colors, one American soccer fan dons the red and white of the U.S. team. Even the youngest locals seem unimpressed.
We asked teenagers and young adults if the movie gets close to the reality of living through cancer. They said the loneliness, yes. The Hollywood hair, not so much.
Travel website Priceline just bought OpenTable for $2.6 billion. OpenTable, if you don’t know it, is an online restaurant reservation site. That might sound like kind of an odd move for Priceline, but it’s all about the future of travel… or, actually the past.
Remember travel agents?
You'd go to them before you booked at trip and they'd help you plan your itinerary and be able to give you insider tips, like the cool neighborhood to stay in or a cute bistro you should try. "The travel agent is making a comeback," says Steve Cohen, Vice President of Research at MMGY Global. Cohen says baby boomers and millennials are gravitating back to travel agents and away from DIY online bookings, because they're putting convenience and expertise ahead of pure price consideration.
To compete now, says Cohen, travel sites have to be a place where customers can research and plan their entire trip. "A very large percentage of travelers like to have most of their vacation planned before they ever get there," he says.
Right now on most travel sites, you can book a flight, hotel and rental car, but that’s still missing most of the trip and the money. "As much as 60 percent of a traveler’s budget is spent in their destination," says Henry Harteveldt, founder of Atmosphere Research Group. "Dining, shopping, entertainment, things like that. The online travel companies are saying, 'We've done a pretty good job tackling that 40 percent, let’s see how much of the rest of the budget we can sink our teeth into."
And they’re well positioned to do exactly that. Priceline already knows where its customers are going and when. With OpenTable, it will know what they like to eat. "They can start to make recommendations," says Douglas Quinby, Vice President of Research at PhoCusWright, a travel industry research group. "Well, we see that you like Italian, there's a fantastic 4-star Italian place that's got seating available on this night and we know you’re going to be in New York."
Perhaps most importantly profit-potential-wise, travel sites know where you live during the rest of the year. "It really turns them into this lifestyle utility that also could be used at home," says Harteveldt. "Something like, here’s a great new store that opened in your city."
Harteveldt points out we travel, on average, three times per year, but we explore the cities and towns we live in all year.
With Friday's announced $2.6 billion acquisition of OpenTable, Priceline adds another frontier to its vast booking empire. Priceline Group already owns booking websites kayak.com, booking.com, rentalcars.com, agoda.com, and, of course, priceline.com (well known for its commercials with William Shatner.)
When one company in an industry is purchased by an outsider, it can sometimes lead to interest or inquiry into the potential acquisitions of rivals. Here are some companies who 1) saw their stock prices initially boosted by Priceline's announced purchase of OpenTable, and 2) also have the financial muscle behind them to snap up some competitors:
Online review sites
Yelp is the 800-pound gorilla of review sites, valued at $4.5 billion since going public last year. But it has competitors like TripAdvisor, Citysearch and Local.com that all perform similar functions, but are not nearly as popular.
Some analysts suggest Yelp should consider buying one of them. Especially since Priceline's snatching up of OpenTable makes it less likely that Yelp will be acquired by a bigger company. Not that Yelp's finances were hurt by the news: shares in the company were up.
Coupon and deal sites
Same goes for Groupon, the massive discount coupon site. But Groupon has competition from smaller players like LivingSocial, ScoutMob, Savored and Happy Hours.
Electronic payment services
PayPal also saw an uptick in stock price after the OpenTable acquisition was revealed. The peer-to-peer payment system owned by eBay used to be the only one on the block, but now PayPal has a rival in Square. Smaller competitors like PayDragon, TabbedOut and BarTab are making inroads as well.
Food delivery services
Who you order your food from could be considered as personal as, well, food. A merger of big players already occurred in this business in May 2013, when GrubHub and Seamless announced that they were merging. That company's stock was initially way up on the news and is a giant among similar services like Delivery.com and Eat24.
The insurgent group ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) has been wreaking military havoc across Northern Iraq. In recent days the Sunni group has taken the major oil-trading hub of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, as well as Tikrit, and is moving south toward Baghdad.
All of that military action is causing jitters in financial markets around the world, as well as driving up world oil prices. Another financial impact from ISIL’s rapid advance—the group is getting a lot richer.
Reports from the region, quoting the Iraqi provincial governor, say ISIL fighters raided Mosul’s central bank as they took the city. They may have stolen $425 million or more. They reportedly looted other banks’ vaults of cash and gold bullion as well.
“For this organization, this is a major windfall,” said Rick Brennan, a retired Army officer and senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation. Brennan said that will buy a lot for ISIL: “arms, ammunition, paying for foreign fighters, increasing salaries. It enables them to transform themselves from just an insurgent group, to almost having a small army, which is something that we haven’t seen before.”
ISIL is rumored to pay its fighters well, to provide death benefits to the families of fallen soldiers, and to pay both more, and more regularly, than the armies of Iraq and Syria, said Austin Long, a professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, who was an advisor to the U.S. military in Iraq.
“Every war takes finance, and they’re quite good at extracting finance to fund their war,” Long said of ISIL, whose activities he’s been following since the mid-2000s.
“These guys are good businessmen, they made a lot of money from seizing various legal and illegal enterprises,” said Long. “They kept very good, detailed records. They had very sophisticated ways of not only taxation, but also stealing cars and reselling them in Kurdistan, where they knew they could get better prices.”
ISIL forces have overrun oil pipelines and export facilities in Iraq and Syria, and smuggling that oil is one source of revenue for the group. But ISIL is still not considered capable of attacking or seizing Iraq’s major oil fields, which are defended by the Iraqi government in the South, and the Kurds in the north.
And Raad Alkadiri, senior director at UpStream Research/IHS Energy, says that even with hundreds of millions of dollars at its disposal, ISIL would be hard-pressed to actually operate oil production facilities, or find the technical workers it would need to do so. And even if ISIL could get significant oil-pumping and refining underway, the group would not easily find customers in the region or outside it, who would be willing to transport or purchase any oil it tried to export.
Rep. Raul Labrador, who was swept into Congress on the 2010 anti-establishment wave, is throwing his hat in the ring to replace Eric Cantor.
The Wall Street Journal's Sudeep Reddy and Redfin's Nela Richardson sit down with Kai to discuss this week's events for our Weekly Wrap:
Conflict in Iraq:
"The makrets clearly don't care. The markets clearly haven't cared about a whole lot for a while... They're certainly on the watch for any trouble out there. You've seen potential trouble in Iraq, you've seen potential trouble in Syria, you've seen potential trouble in Russia and Ukraine, and the markets have been able to brush that off pretty easily...though it's clear that this situation is worse and doesn't have a very clearly outcome any time soon," says Reddy.
Rising oil and gas prices:
"We've seen gas prices be basically pretty stable and high and now with this uncertainty they're about to become unstable and higher," says Richardson.
Eric Cantor's defeat:
"The environment is certainly marginally worse. The big question is whether anything will get done in 2015," adds Reddy.
"We lost a deal maker... There are three potential scenarios: there's a 'good' solution where the debt ceiling is extended with the budget, there's a 'will do' sollution where it's just extended for short term, and then theres this catastrophic -- not a solution -- where you see this kind of thing where markets go crazy and we don't know what happens next," says Richardson.
Future of price-rises:
"Growth. It takes growth to produce some price increases and we just haven't seen it," adds Richardson.
As part of our series "This Week's Must-Read," poet David Lehman recommends a book for those still surprised by Eric Cantor's political upset.
The beloved musician had a slight frame, an almost feminine voice and a late revival after a promising start and years of neglect.
Amaya Gaming, a Canadian company, is buying Oldford Group, the parent of popular sites like PokerStars. Amaya is the smaller of the two, but it’s the acquirer. And, one of the biggest selling points for the $4.9 billion deal is that many top officials from Oldford will be leaving the combined company completely.
This could bring sites like PokerStars back to the U.S., and bring back memories of the era from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, when online poker was a free for all, and sites like PokerStars were making players like Chris Carlson rich.
“I started making so much money from playing online that I left my really paying, secure job to play professionally. And, I played most of my hands at PokerStars,” he says.
But in 2006, the Justice Department said a 1960s era law banned many online gaming transactions. Sites like PokerStars started operated in a kind of gray market. And, started crossing some lines, such as, “incorrectly coding the transactions so they were not obvious to the credit card issuers as gambling transactions,” says Mark Hichar, chairman of the gaming law practice group at Hinckley Allen.
PokerStars allegedly labeled some as golf purchases. There’s another way to put this, he says, “Fraud and money-laundering.”
That was the accusation against top officials at PokerStars and other sites on a day in 2011 that became known as Black Friday. PokerStars quickly left the U.S. Popularity in online poker plummeted.
Later that year, the Justice Department ruled that states can legalize online gambling, after all. New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada did, but kept PokerStars out, while its officials remain indicted or under suspicion. That’s why it’s a big deal they’re leaving the combined company.
“Given that this deal basically results in the removal of all those entities from PokerStars as a corporate entity, it seems as if New Jersey regulators won’t have any objection to PokerStars now entering the market,” says Christopher Grove, editor of Online Poker Report, who adds this deal could be the start of a new era of online poker in the U.S.