Economy
12:46 am
Fri August 17, 2012

Low Mortgage Rates Boost 'Serial Refinancers'

Originally published on Fri August 17, 2012 12:35 pm

Refinance activity continues to boom, fueling the home-loan market. Low interest rates have created a class of "serial refinancers" — those lucky enough to borrow at lower rates — and given them new opportunities to spend their freed up cash.

Settlement attorney Robert Gratz never used to be on a first-name basis with his clients.

"In the past, our practice was such that you'd see people, and that was the end of it," he says.

Gratz now sees the same faces all the time, of clients refinancing again and again — these days in the mid-3 percent range.

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Planet Money
12:44 am
Fri August 17, 2012

Competing Against The Nicest Guy In Town

Hondo (left) and Dizz.
Chana Joffe-Walt NPR

Originally published on Fri August 17, 2012 12:36 pm

For more: Why does the government subsidize crop insurance in the first place? We try to answer that question in our latest podcast.

The federal government spends about $7 billion a year on crop insurance for U.S. farmers. Policies are sold by private companies, but the government sets the rates, so the companies can't compete on price.

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Europe
12:42 am
Fri August 17, 2012

Belgian Town May Sue Over Soggy Weather Forecasts

People enjoy a sunny day on the beach in Knokke, on Belgium's North Sea coast, in April 2011. This summer, the weather hasn't been as nice — and resort owners and officials are feeling litigious over a pessimistic weather forecast.
Nicolas Maeterlinck EPA /Landov

Originally published on Fri August 17, 2012 9:06 am

Parts of Europe are experiencing extremely rainy weather this summer. But some tourist towns in Belgium and the Netherlands say their season has been blighted too — not by bad weather but by bad weather forecasting.

The mayor of the Belgian seaside resort of Knokke says it's a crime that tourism there is down this year. He means that literally.

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The Two-Way
4:56 pm
Thu August 16, 2012

To Combat West Nile, Dallas Will Spray Pesticide From Planes

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, center, holds a news conference in front of a plane that will be used for aerial spraying in Dallas.
LM Otero AP

Residents of Dallas received this robo call today:

According to The Dallas Morning News, that's Dallas City Hall Spokesman Jose Luis Torres warning residents to stay inside this evening, because the city has decided to spray pesticides from airplanes.

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The Two-Way
4:50 pm
Thu August 16, 2012

South African Police Open Fire On Striking Miners, More Than 30 Killed

Police surround miners killed in Marikana, South Africa, on Thursday.
AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri August 17, 2012 5:03 am

Update at 7 a.m. ET, Aug. 17. Death Toll Increased:

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Shots - Health Blog
4:33 pm
Thu August 16, 2012

Global Smoking Survey Paints A Grim Picture

A man smokes a bidi on "No Tobacco Day," May 31, in Allahabad, India. These small, hand-rolled cigarettes are popular in India and Bangladesh because they are far cheaper than regular cigarettes.
Rajesh Kumar AP

Today we have a fresh look at smoking rates around the world, and the news isn't good.

A survey covering 60 percent of the world's population shows high rates of tobacco use in some countries, with more than 50 percent of men in Russia, China and Ukraine smoking between 2008 and 2010.

Although the statistics for women are better — only 11 percent of woman reported using tobacco — the number of people quitting is shockingly low, dropping below 20 percent in China and India.

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All Tech Considered
4:18 pm
Thu August 16, 2012

What's In Your Wallet? Wait, You Don't Need One

A barista processes a customer's payment using Square, a device that turns a mobile device into a card swiper. More businesses are using the devices to simplify credit card payments. Others are embracing technology that allows consumers to pay with their cellphones.
Jeff Wheeler MCT/Landov

Originally published on Thu August 16, 2012 4:39 pm

Most Americans pay with plastic or cash when they visit the grocery store, buy their daily coffee, or fill up the gas tank. But a growing number of large companies are trying to change that.

Google, Starbucks and Wal-Mart are among the many firms that are eager to replace consumers' wallets and stores' cash registers, with smartphones and other mobile devices.

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The Two-Way
4:16 pm
Thu August 16, 2012

United Nations Will End Observer Mission In Syria

With a political solution seemingly out of reach, the United Nations will begin recalling its military observers. They will, however, set up a political office in Damascus.

NPR's Michele Kelemen sent this report to our Newscast unit:

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The Salt
3:45 pm
Thu August 16, 2012

Coffee Is The New Wine. Here's How You Taste It

Samantha Kerr prepares coffee at Artifact Coffee in Baltimore, MD.
Maggie Starbard NPR

Originally published on Mon October 15, 2012 9:03 am

The "know your farmer" concept may soon apply to the folks growing your coffee, too.

Increasingly, specialty roasters are working directly with coffee growers around the world to produce coffees as varied in taste as wines. And how are roasters teaching their clientele to appreciate the subtle characteristics of brews? By bringing an age-old tasting ritual once limited to coffee insiders to the coffee-sipping masses.

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Europe
3:40 pm
Thu August 16, 2012

Raid In Russia Brings Underground Sect To Light

Gumar Ganiyev opens the gates of the compound where members of the Islamic sect he belongs to have lived in seclusion since the early 2000s outside Kazan, capital of the Russian province of Tatarstan, earlier this month.
Nikolay Alexandrov AP

Originally published on Thu August 16, 2012 4:41 pm

The recent headlines in the Russian press were sensational: Members of a reclusive Islamic sect were said to be living in an isolated compound with underground burrows, some as deep as eight stories underground, without electricity or heat.

Reporters have descended on the compound, on the outskirts of the city of Kazan, but have had only limited access and have not been able to confirm all the allegations by Russian officials.

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