National News

PODCAST: Biting the hand that feeds you burritos

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-07-27 03:00

More on news that Fiat Chrysler will offer to buyback hundreds of thousands of Ram Pickup trucks. Plus, what to expect to from the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee briefing on Wednesday. And thousands  of workers in lawsuits in several states allege Chipotle’s “moral high-ground” doesn’t extend to its cooks, cashiers and managers. The cases against Chipotle are part of a national trend of workers turning to federal courts to recoup wages.

Republicans Stand Against Cuba Change Despite Public Opinion Shift

NPR News - Mon, 2015-07-27 02:51

Americans views of the Cuba embargo have reversed in the last 20 years. But Republicans are standing firmly against President Obama's policy change to open up relations with the island nation.

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Bobbi Kristina Brown, 22-Year-Old Daughter Of Whitney Houston, Dies

NPR News - Mon, 2015-07-27 02:40

Brown, who grew up in the shadow of fame and dysfunction, had spent six months at a hospital after being found unresponsive in a bathtub at her home.

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Major Flaw In Android Phones Would Let Hackers In With Just A Text

NPR News - Mon, 2015-07-27 02:01

A severe flaw in Android, the world's most popular smartphone operating system, would let hackers take over with just a text message.

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Underwater homeowners look for mortgage relief

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-07-27 02:00

JoAnn Henderson is the kind of person who greets strangers with a big hug. I met her in the kitchen of her home in New Carrollton, Maryland.   

Henderson bought her house in 2001. She refinanced a few years later, for a higher amount. Shortly before she retired from her teaching job, she started having trouble with the steep payments.

“You would miss a couple and then you’d pay and pay and pay," she says. "And then you’d miss a couple more. Yeah — I almost lost the house.”

Henderson got a loan modification, which dropped her interest rate to 3 percent. Now, she’s even got a rainy day fund.

“A tiny one," she says, laughing. "Not a big rain. A small rain.”

But what would really help Henderson is if the amount of her loan could be reduced in what’s called a principal reduction. Henderson owes more than $450,000 on her house, which is only worth $212,000, according to Zillow. She's underwater, owing more on her home than it's worth.

“It seems like principal reduction is a logical, no-brainer conclusion,” says Mitria Wilson, vice president of government affairs at the Center for Responsible Lending

Wilson says the improving housing market has cut the number of underwater homeowners from 15 million to 4 million.

“So, the number’s gone down significantly, but here’s the rub," she says. "The people who make up that 4 million disproportionately have lower-priced homes.”

That aren’t likely to appreciate. So those homeowners will stay underwater.

Mel Watt will be making the decision on principal reduction. He’s head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They guarantee many U.S. mortgages.

Watt is caught between homeowner advocates like Wilson, and people like Tim Rood. He's chairman of the Collingwood Group of financial advisers. Rood wonders where the money for principal reduction would come from.

“This money doesn’t come out of thin air," he says. "So, it’s going to have to come from investors or from taxpayers.”

In congressional testimony, Mel Watt has said he’s looking at ways to help borrowers, without hurting Fannie and Freddie.  

   

A kinder, gentler Gawker?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-07-27 02:00

The digital news and gossip company Gawker Media is expected to relaunch Monday, after a backlash over its handling of a controversial blog post. Two editors resigned in protest last week, after CEO Nick Denton removed a report alleging that a married media executive had tried to hire a gay escort.

Denton has reportedly told his staff the new Gawker will be 10 to 20 percent “nicer.” Analysts say the change reflects a bigger shift underway in digital media, where snark for snark's sake has lost some of its appeal.

Click the media player above to hear more.

Colorado workers sue Chipotle, part of national trend

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-07-27 02:00

Chipotle recently extended paid sick leave, vacation and tuition reimbursement to its hourly workers.

Still, tens of thousands of employees at Chipotle Mexican Grills around the country are not happy with the Denver-based fast casual poster child over how they are paid. Earlier this month, a court in Los Angeles approved a $2 million settlement with over 38,000 plaintiffs for allegations of unpaid overtime, rest breaks and minimum wage. These Chipotle employees and others in more lawsuits across the country have joined a national workplace trend: filing class-action lawsuits against their employer claiming unfair pay.

Brittany Swa 

Joe Mahoney/Rocky Mountain PBS I-News

Brittany Swa started working at a Chipotle in Centennial, Colorado, in 2010 as a crew-member. Swa ran the cashier, grilled meat and served customers at $14.50 an hour plus overtime at time-and-a-half. When she was promoted to apprentice manager a few months later, she expected to get more managerial training, but she said the only difference was making the daily morning bank deposit.

“It takes you like 15 minutes,” she says.

On top of that, she was now averaging 55-60 hours a week, she says, and she was now an exempt employee and couldn’t claim overtime.

“If they needed coverage, you’d be the one to cover, or someone calls in sick or they can’t come in that day, you gotta cover.”

Swa is one of the tens of thousands of plaintiffs in settled and ongoing lawsuits from California to New York suing Chipotle for unpaid wages either because they allege they were misclassified as managers or because they worked off the clock, cleaning the store and attending mandatory meetings.

“Cases of this kind are happening with increasing frequency around the country and are not unique to Chipotle,” company spokesman Chris Arnold says.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, federal lawsuits like this one have more than doubled in the past decade.

“It’s very confusing to figure out how to follow this law,” says Lorrie Ray, an attorney at Mountain States Employers Council.

The federal law was written during the Great Depression. Rules on when to pay overtime, for example, are complicated, and there’s a lot of room for error, Ray says.

“Plaintiffs’ attorneys, the employees’ attorneys, became aware that this was sort of lucrative ground for them to cover,” she says. “They started insisting that employers pay their clients for mistakes they’d made under the law.”

There’s another reason, according to Denver University law professor Nantiya Ruan, who is also helping with the apprentice overtime lawsuit against Chipotle. The modern-day workplace is different.

“We expect workers to be on call and working a tremendous amount of hours in a way that we hadn’t been in the '60s and '70s,” she says.

Chipotle has now settled lawsuits with workers in Maryland, California and Florida. In the coming months, wage lawsuits against the company in Colorado, Minnesota and Texas are pending class action certification.

Music-making and dysfunctional technology

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-07-27 02:00

As part of a series about music technology called "Noise Makers," we're talking to musicians about their favorite noise-making device. For this week's installment we talked with experimental composer Sabisha Friedberg ahead of her performance for the Issue Project Room. 

Sabisha Friedberg's music is planned very carefully. As she puts it, "if something is very well placed and thought out a kind of magic can happen."

Magic and unexpected occurrences are the focal point of her recent double-LP entitled The Haunt Variance. About the record, Friedberg says, "much of it is about things that seem to manifest as apparitions that one doesn't intend. It's the idea of a haunted space and entities that end up coming through the mechanics in the electronic equipment like phantoms that you don't expect."

Click the media player above to hear Sabisha Friedberg talk about working with imperfect technology to make music.

She remembers how this electronic equipment, specifically tape machines and frequency generators, "were my early toys, in fact. So, I played with disused reel-to-reel tape machines and the frequency generators I've inherited from people."

In her performances, Friedberg continues to revive instruments, and even sources her equipment from a Russian mechanic in Coney Island. Through her dysfunctional equipment and rigorous planning, Friedberg creates music with a controlled chaos and haunting ambiance.

More information on Sabisha Friedberg and her recent double-LP can be found at the Issue Project Room website.

 

Price of orange juice squeezes consumers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-07-27 02:00

Orange growers in Florida are having a tough time of it. The “greening” disease that’s been lowering yields for years is making this year’s crop one of the smallest in decades.

That’s translating into higher prices for orange juice — averaging $6.63 per gallon.

Consumers are drinking less, but still guzzle $3.2 billion worth of juice per year, says Jonna Parker of Nielsen research.

“It’s still a really, really big industry,” she says, but there's been a steady decline in sales over the last five years.

The size of orange juice containers is shrinking as well.

“Some of the brands out there have put the orange juice into the smaller, one-serving size” says LeAnna Himrod, who heads the Peace River Valley Citrus Growers Association in Florida.

She says beverage companies are responding to busy consumers who not only want convenience, but also something that feels fresh and healthy.

Consumers like DC resident Rob Parker, who worries about the sugar in off-the-shelf orange juice.

“I used to go through probably half a gallon every few days," he says. "Now, I only get fresh-squeezed, and that’s maybe once or twice a month.”

Growers are trying to keep back the greening disease in order to lower prices, and hopefully, bring orange juice back to the breakfast table.

Colorado workers sue Chipotle following nation trend

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-07-27 02:00

Chipotle recently extended paid sick leave, vacation and tuition reimbursement to its hourly workers.

Still, tens of thousands of employees at Chipotle Mexican Grills around the country are not happy with the Denver-based fast casual poster child over how they are paid. Earlier this month, a court in Los Angeles approved a $2 million settlement with over 38,000 plaintiffs for allegations of unpaid overtime, rest breaks and minimum wage. These Chipotle employees and others in more lawsuits across the country have joined a national workplace trend: filing class-action lawsuits against their employer claiming unfair pay.

Brittany Swa 

Joe Mahoney/Rocky Mountain PBS I-News

Britney Swa started working at a Chipotle in Centennial, Colorado in 2010 as a crew-member. Swa ran the cashier, grilled meat and served customers, at $14.50 an hour plus overtime at time-and-a-half. When she was promoted to apprentice manager a few months later she expected to get more managerial training, but she said the only difference was making the daily morning bank deposit.

“It takes you like 15 minutes,” she says.

On top of that, she was now averaging 55-60 hours a week, she says, and she was now an exempt employee and couldn’t claim overtime.

“If they needed coverage, you’d be the one to cover, or someone calls in sick or they can’t come in that day, you gotta cover.”

Swa is one of the tens of thousands of plaintiffs in settled and ongoing lawsuits from California to New York suing Chipotle for unpaid wages either because they allege they were misclassified as managers or because they worked off the clock, cleaning the store and attending mandatory meetings.

“Cases of this kind are happening with increasing frequency around the country and are not unique to Chipotle,” company spokesman Chris Arnold says.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, federal lawsuits like this one have more than doubled in the past decade.

“It’s very confusing to figure out how to follow this law,” Mountain States Employers Council attorney Lorrie Ray says.

The federal law was written during the Great Depression. Rules on when to pay overtime, for example, are complicated and there’s a lot of room for error, Ray says.

“Plaintiffs’ attorneys, the employees’ attorneys, became aware that this was sort of lucrative ground for them to cover,” she says. “They started insisting that employers pay their clients for mistakes they’d made under the law.”

There’s another reason, according to Denver University law professor Nantiya Ruan, who is also helping with the apprentice overtime lawsuit against Chipotle. The modern-day workplace is different.

“We expect workers to be on call and working a tremendous amount of hours in a way that we hadn’t been in the 60s and 70s,” she says.

Chipotle has now settled lawsuits with workers in Maryland, California and Florida. In the coming months, wage lawsuits against the company in Colorado, Minnesota and Texas are pending class action certification.

Twitter is the sincerest form of flattery

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-07-27 01:42
$105 million

That's the record-breaking fine that Fiat Chrysler has been ordered to pay for failing to correctly carry out safety recalls. Not to mention an agreement in which the company will offer to buy back vehicles with defective suspension. As Forbes reports, the fine far outdoes the previous record holder — Honda Motor's $70 million payout for defective airbags.

9 months

That's how long it would take the average San Francisco resident to pay off his or her credit card debt, according to a new study. And in spite of being infamous for its high cost of living, San Francisco actually came in at the lowest end of the credit burden spectrum when it comes to major metropolitan areas. Cities in the South tended to fare much worse, with San Antonio residents needing 16 months to pay off credit card debt.

25,000

That's how many Digital Millennium Copyright Act notices Twitter received last year — complaints that someone has tweeted copyrighted material. Usually complaints are about video or photos, but now Twitter is responding to users claiming others have stolen their jokes. Mashable has called attention to a couple of tweets that have been hidden, due to what the blue bird deems as stealing from the "copyright holder." It's a tough battle to pick though, as other users have taken to copying multiple jokes to test the limits of the site's policing capabilities. 

$6.63

That's the average price of a gallon of orange juice. The higher cost is being blamed on one of the smallest orange crops in years. But aside from a change in price, the orange juice industry is also experimenting with smaller packaging in response to consumers who want their dose of Vitamin C to go. 

Moderate Muslims Counter Islamic State Propaganda With Own Media Strategy

NPR News - Mon, 2015-07-27 01:09

The group, based out of Indiana, hopes its series of web videos will help to dispel the propaganda that they say has hijacked their faith.

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Beneath Alaskan Wildfires, A Hidden Threat: Long-Frozen Carbon's Thaw

NPR News - Mon, 2015-07-27 01:08

As millions of acres of forests burn across the state this summer, there's growing concern about what impact that might have on permafrost — and how melting permafrost might affect climate change.

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A Scientist Deploys Light And Sound To Reveal The Brain

NPR News - Sun, 2015-07-26 23:57

Try to look inside the brain and you're not going to get very far. But photoacoustic imaging may be a solution for the shortcomings of conventional imaging. It uses lasers to make the brain sing.

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Senior Senate Republicans Rebuke Cruz After He Criticizes McConnell

NPR News - Sun, 2015-07-26 23:31

The drama came as the Senate defeated a procedural vote to repeal President Obama's health care law and took a step toward reviving the federal Export-Import Bank, both amendments on a highway bill.

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Bobbi Kristina Brown, Whitney Houston's Daughter, Has Died, Says Family

NPR News - Sun, 2015-07-26 17:41

A representative for the Houston family has said the daughter of the late entertainer and R&B singer Bobby Brown has died, about 7 months after she was found face-down and unresponsive in a bathtub.

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Fiat Chrysler Hit With Record $105 Million Fine For Safety Defects

NPR News - Sun, 2015-07-26 15:51

The automaker admits it failed to promptly recall vehicles with defects, including ones that could cause drivers to lose control. The company will also buy back some cars from owners.

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A Day Of Triumph In A Time Of Change: Cuba's High Holiday Explained

NPR News - Sun, 2015-07-26 13:47

It's been 62 years since Fidel Castro launched the attack that began the Cuban revolution, and the country still marks the date. As tensions cool with the U.S., what does July 26 mean to Cubans today?

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For Many Syrian Refugees, Life Must Begin Again In Lebanon

NPR News - Sun, 2015-07-26 13:28

The war in Syria has displaced more than 4 million people. Many of them are women and girls who fled across the border into Lebanon — where tensions are growing between the refugees and their hosts.

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What Does California Ruling Mean For Migrants Held At Detention Centers?

NPR News - Sun, 2015-07-26 13:06

A federal judge in California has ruled that immigration authorities improperly detained women and children who tried to enter the U.S. illegally. Immigrant rights activists are praising the ruling.

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