State Department Bans Travel To North Korea On U.S. Passports Starting Sept. 1

Tourists bow before statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il-Sung (left) and Kim Jong-Il, in Pyongyang last month. The U.S. will ban travel to North Korea starting Sept. 1.

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Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

A U.S. passport will only get you into North Korea for the rest of August, the State Department announced Wednesday.

In a notice posted to the federal register, the State Department said beginning September 1 U.S. passports will be invalid for travel to or within North Korea, with rare exceptions possibly granted to journalists and aid workers. The new rule will also apply to those currently in the country on U.S. passports; they were advised to depart in the next 30 days.

The State Department said the restriction is in response to “the serious risk to United States nationals of arrest and long-term detention.”

The notice served mostly to put an effective date on a ban announced last month by the U.S. government.

As NPR’s Michele Kelemen reported at the time, the State Department’s decision followed the death in June of Otto Wambier, a 22-year-old American who was visiting North Korea when authorities there arrested him. The North Korean government sentenced Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia, to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly trying to “steal a propaganda poster.”

In June of this year, North Korea revealed to American officials and Warmbier’s parents that his health had seriously deteriorated. He was sent back to the U.S. on June 13 comatose. He died six days later.

North Korea called his death a “mystery.”

Doctors in the U.S. who examined Warmbier’s brain said it had sustained “extensive loss of tissue,” though they said they saw no obvious indications of trauma.

A State Department official, Susan Thornton, in a call with reporters Wednesday, said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans this weekend to push China and other Asian nations during meetings in Manila to do more to isolate North Korea.

“We have seen significant steps taken by China to increase pressure on North Korea,” said Thornton. But, she continued, “we think that they can do a lot more.”

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Olympic Stadium In Quebec Turned Into Welcome Center For Refugees From U.S.

Montreal’s iconic Olympic Stadium, photographed in 2012, is now providing housing for newly arrived asylum seekers entering Canada from the U.S.

Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

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Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

Faced with a flood of asylum seekers traveling from the United States into Quebec, Canada, local authorities have repurposed Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and turned it into a refugee welcome center.

A spokesperson for PRAIDA, the local government agency that helps refugees, tells the CBC more than 1,000 asylum seekers crossed the border into Quebec last month. “In comparison, PRAIDA helped 180 people in July 2016,” the CBC writes.

The vast majority of the asylum seekers are Haitians who initially fled the devastating earthquake in 2010, and whose future status in the U.S. is unclear under the Trump administration.

The surge of refugees overwhelmed the YMCA facilities that are normally used to temporarily house new arrivals.

So the agency turned to the Olympic Stadium — specifically, to the area by the concession stands, the CBC says.

The first refugees to stay at the stadium were bused in on Wednesday, The Associated Press reports.

“Volunteers from the Quebec Red Cross helped set up the cavernous, concrete stadium for a temporary stay with cots and food in the rotunda,” the wire service writes. “The stadium was the main venue of the 1976 Olympics. It has not had a main tenant since the Montreal Expos left in 2004.”

The stadium will be hosting up to 450 people for several months, but cannot provide shelter permanently, given the event schedule, the AP says.

The Guardian reports on the transformation:

“It took just 24 hours for the stadium – built in the 1970s as a venue for the city’s 1976 Olympics – to be converted into a welcome centre where the asylum seekers will be sheltered and receive help in finding housing and completing paperwork related to their asylum claims.

“So far, 150 cots – arranged neatly into rows among the concrete walls of a windowless area … of the stadium – have been set up, along with access to showers and a cooking area.”

The Haitians who make up the majority of the new arrivals are in a precarious legal situation in the U.S. Tens of thousands of people fleeing the disastrous earthquake were given temporary protected status in the U.S. under the Obama administration; that’s not the same as asylum or refugee status, but it acknowledges a person can’t return to their home country safely.

The Trump administration extended that status for just six months — and urged Haitian refugees to “prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States.” The administration cited “Haiti’s success in recovering from the earthquake,” although Haiti continues to struggle with a number of crises, including an ongoing cholera epidemic, a nightmarish sewage problem and a catastrophic hurricane.

That helps explain why a sudden surge of refugees are leaving the U.S. As to why they’re entering Quebec, the CBC cites the large Haitian community in Montreal.

“Obviously, there is a stronger attraction to coming to Quebec for Haitians than in other provinces,” PRAIDA spokeswoman Francine Dupuis told the CBC. “They have the help of their community to get settled.”

But it’s not clear if the Haitian refugees arriving in Canada will be permitted to stay, the CBC reports. The challenge is fundamentally the same as in America: A government evaluation of just how bad life is in Haiti.

“Asylum seekers originally from Haiti who have crossed the Canada-U.S. border could be deported back to Haiti if their application is refused because Canadian authorities deem Haiti as a sufficiently safe country,” the CBC writes.

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Who Snatched My Car? Wells Fargo Did

A Wells Fargo Bank branch office in San Francisco. The bank acknowledges it signed up nearly 500,000 auto-loan customers for insurance they didn’t need.

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Wells Fargo is back in the spotlight for another scandal. This time, for signing up 490,000 auto-loan customers for insurance they didn’t need.

This comes less than a year after the bank generated a massive public outcry for opening millions of unwanted accounts for customers.

Customers who already had car insurance say they had no idea they were being charged for this insurance from Wells Fargo. And the bank acknowledges that tens of thousands of people wound up in default, which affected people’s credit scores, and thousands had their cars repossessed.

One of them was Michael Feifer.

One morning in February, he was heading off to his job in Maryland at a company that builds guitars. He walked to the spot where he’d parked his car, but it wasn’t there.

“I called the police,” he says. “I was livid. I thought somebody stole my car.”

Somebody had improperly made off with Feifer’s car. But it wasn’t a car thief. It was Wells Fargo bank. The police informed him of this when he called them. “That’s when I found out it was repossessed,” he says.

Feifer says he had no idea why the bank would repo his car. He says his payments were automatically taken out of his checking account.

“I’ve never missed a payment,” he says. “My insurance was current.”

So he called Wells Fargo and found out the bank had put another insurance policy on his car. Lenders do this when a borrower doesn’t have insurance. Wells Fargo calls it collateral protection insurance, or CPI.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, but Wells Fargo imposed this insurance on nearly a half-million people who already had insurance. The bank outlined the scope of the problems and its efforts to resolve them in a statement.

Right after Feifer’s car got repo’d, Wells Fargo told him he was marked as delinquent for not paying this insurance — which he didn’t want or need or even know about. “They said, well, you owe $1,500,” he says.

Wells Fargo is among NPR’s financial supporters.

Wells Fargo has been trying to repair its image in the wake of a massive consumer banking scandal. Part of that effort has been to improve the way the bank works with customers when they run into problems or have complaints. Feifer’s story suggests the bank still has a ways to go on that front.

“I showed up at that bank with my bank statements showing all the payments I made for my vehicle and my proof of insurance showing that I’ve never had a lapse in my insurance,” he says. “The people at the bank were like, ‘Well, you shouldn’t owe anything because it’s not your fault.’ They were just as confused as I was.”

Feifer says the branch employees were trying to be helpful. They called up the Wells Fargo department for him that deals with car repossessions to find out what was going on. They kept getting put on hold.

“We were probably on hold for a total of 2 1/2 hours while I was in there,” Feifer says. “I literally spent the whole day” at the branch. He says the employees were getting frustrated too. “They’re like, ‘This is ridiculous. You shouldn’t be on hold for this long.’ “

What Feifer didn’t know was that Wells Fargo had already been doing an internal investigation into complaints from lots of customers for the same insurance mix-up.

Feifer was eventually told to call back several days later. Then he was told there was no record of his prior calls from the branch. He said the person he spoke to on the phone wouldn’t let him talk to a supervisor. “She was rude to me, talking over me. I felt like she wasn’t willing to hear anything I had to say,” Feifer says. He says the Wells Fargo representative just kept telling him he had to pay the money.

Meanwhile, Feifer was told that the clock was ticking and his car would be auctioned off two weeks from the day it was repossessed. So, after much haggling with the bank, he paid about $600 to get his car back.

Feifer said he figured this was just some freak mistake. But when he heard this insurance issue affected hundreds of thousands of customers, “I was blown away,” he says. “I wasn’t alone in it and I felt like they’re preying on everybody, taking people’s money. I felt like they’re crooks.”

Wells Fargo says this was not a case of trying to improperly profit at customers’ expense, but rather just an embarrassing breakdown in processes and internal controls.

“We take full responsibility for our failure to appropriately manage the CPI program and are extremely sorry for any harm this caused our customers, who expect and deserve better from us,” Franklin Codel, head of Wells Fargo Consumer Lending, said in a statement. “Upon our discovery, we acted swiftly to discontinue the program and immediately develop a plan to make impacted customers whole.”

Consumer advocates, though, say this latest debacle shows that the bank still has serious and systemic problems.

“What we are seeing here is a colossal failure of management on behalf of Wells Fargo,” says Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

He says that once again vast numbers of customers are getting products they don’t want pushed on them without their knowledge. And on top of that, he says, when customers complained, it took too long for Wells Fargo management to figure out the problem and fix it. “They are not investing the necessary resources for consumers who have problems to service those customers who they talk about in glowing terms,” Rheingold says.

Going forward, Wells Fargo is setting aside about $80 million for remediation and says customers will start getting letters and refund checks later this month. Class action lawsuits are being filed on behalf of customers. The bank has no comment on those.

But a spokesperson says Wells Fargo is very sorry for Feifer’s experience and that he will be part of the remediation effort.

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1 Dead, 1 Missing After Explosion, Building Collapse At Minneapolis School

Gas explosion rocks Minnehaha Academy; 3 critically injured, 2 unaccounted for.

— Aaron Lavinsky (@ADLavinsky) August 2, 2017

An apparent gas explosion and partial building collapse at a private school in Minneapolis has left one person dead, nine people injured, and one person unaccounted for, according to the local fire department.

Fire Chief John Fruetel told reporters rescue teams are “still consider it a rescue at this point,” meaning they believe the missing person may be alive in the rubble, The Associated Press reports. But he called the situation “precarious” and said the building might collapse further.

School officials announced on Facebook that all summer program students and staff are “are accounted for and safe.” It’s not clear who the victims were, but contractors were reportedly working on the building at the time of the explosion.

Tim Nelson of Minnesota Public Radio reports that rescuers are still sorting through rubble:

“The blast leveled the center of a building at the upper school at Minnehaha Academy.

“School spokeswoman Sara Jacobson says classes were not in session, but there were students and staff in the building at the time: ‘The students who were here on site were practicing basketball in the gym … at the far northern side of the building,’ [she said.] ‘The explosion happened in the middle of the building. They certainly could feel the rumble, but there was no impact to them personally.’

“At least three of the injured were initially listed in critical condition and four others in serious condition following the blast.”

view looking east at Minnehaha Academy explosion site

— bengarvin (@bengarvin) August 2, 2017

Minnehaha Academy is a private, Christian college prep school, located on the banks of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. The explosion happened at the academy’s Upper School campus, for students in grades 9-12.

The Associated Press has more on the apparent cause of the explosion:

“The Minneapolis Fire Department says a gas explosion caused the blast and partial building collapse Wednesday at Minnehaha Academy. Fire officials say contractors were working on the building at the time.

“Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Tyner … says three people were rescued from the roof, and another person initially believed missing was found unhurt.”

A custodian for the academy, who is in his 80s, is believed to be among the missing, according to Minnesota Public Radio and The Star Tribune.

The Star Tribune reports that the explosion involved a gas leak:

“The natural gas supply from CenterPoint Energy was cut off, and the utility has ‘well-trained, experienced crews on site who are coordinating with local emergency officials to secure the area,’ said company spokeswoman Becca Virden. ‘We will conduct an investigation to determine the cause.’

“Along with the blast taking out a significant chunk of the building, walls still standing had their window frames popped out.

“According to city of Minneapolis records, Eagan-based Master Mechanical Inc. was issued a permit on June 7 for ‘gas piping and hooking up meter’ at the address.

“Ryan Larsen, a financial officer with the company, said, ‘We’ve got people on the site there. They are figuring it out.'”

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Ambush Hits NATO Convoy In Afghanistan, Killing 2 U.S. Service Members

An American helicopter hovers over a NATO convoy struck by a suicide bomb Wednesday. The Pentagon says the attack, which unfolded near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, killed two U.S. service members.


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Two U.S. service members were killed Wednesday when a NATO convoy came under attack outside the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, according to the Pentagon. It was not immediately clear how many people were wounded in the violence, which unfolded near an American base.

The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying a militant carried out a suicide attack with a truck packed with explosives.

NATO’s Resolute Support mission in the country confirmed an assault on its convoy but did not offer further details. “We are working to gather additional information as quickly as possible,” the coalition said in a statement.

As NPR’s Tom Bowman notes, the Taliban rose to prominence first in Kandahar Province in the 1990s, but in recent years, U.S. and Afghan forces have largely pushed the militant group from the area.

“The last American combat deaths in Kandahar were in 2014,” Tom says, “but during the past year, the Taliban have made inroads once again in Kandahar.”

The Pentagon is considering sending nearly 4,000 more troops to the country to train their Afghan counterparts, joining a U.S. contingent that currently numbers roughly 8,500.

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One Million Malnourished Children At Risk Of Cholera In Yemen

A girl is treated for a suspected cholera infection last month at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen.

Hani Mohammed/AP

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Hani Mohammed/AP

More than a million malnourished children are living in areas of Yemen hit hardest by a cholera outbreak, according to a new analysis by Save the Children.

The report notes, “Malnourished children have substantially reduced immune systems and are at least three times more likely to die if they contract cholera.” This analysis suggests that the country’s raging outbreak could escalate. It is already the world’s worst in a single year since records have been kept, Oxfam said on July 21.

In just three months since the outbreak started, Yemen has reached more than 360,000 suspected cases, according to Oxfam. This week’s report from Save the Children has a considerably higher figure, at more than 425,000 suspected cases.

That’s more than the previous record of 340,311 in Haiti in 2011 – over the course of a full year.

“Cholera causes violent diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration severe enough to send a person into shock in a matter of hours,” Rina Shaikh-Lesko reported for NPR. It is straightforward to treat, with oral and intravenous rehydration the primary therapy.

But the country has been hit by nearly three years of war, which has shattered its health and sanitation infrastructure.

A boy rinses a bucket as he and others collect water from a well that is allegedly contaminated with cholera bacteria, on the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen.

Hani Mohammed/AP

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Hani Mohammed/AP

Oxfam says the war “has destroyed or damaged more than half the country’s health facilities as the cholera outbreak rages on.” And as Save the Children writes, “vital public servants such as health workers have not been paid for nearly a year.”

Oxfam lists measures that would help it treat the disease:

“We need a massive, well-coordinated effort to get clean water, decent sanitation and simple things like soap to people to keep them safe from disease. We need an end to country entry restrictions of supplies and people so that we can get on with the job.”

UNICEF director Anthony Lake was clear when asked by The Associated Press about how to end the disaster: “Stop the war,” adding that players inside and outside Yemen should play a role in doing so.

Shiite Houthi rebels swept down from their northern stronghold in 2014 and seized swathes of territory. In 2015, a Saudi-led coalition began an airstrikes campaign to support the internationally recognized government the Houthis pushed out of the capital. The fighting and airstrikes have continued since.

The U.S. provides support to that Saudi-led coalition, including intelligence and midair refueling. It also sells billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia.

Lake told the AP that a lack of resources is holding back efforts to escalate the fight against the disease.

“In the areas where we are working effectively, both the number of cases and the fatality rate are going down,” he said. “So it’s a race between us and the rains and the continuing destruction and the fighting — and of course, you always hope you will win.”

Oxfam says it fears that the total number of people infected will eventually top 600,000.

It’s worth noting that the disease has spread across the entire country — the World Health Organization says that suspected cholera cases have been detected in 21 of the 23 governorates.

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Episode 471: The Eddie Murphy Rule

Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy on the set of Trading Places.

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Archive Photos/Getty Images

Note: This episode originally ran in 2013. It contains some explicit language.

On this show, we talk to commodities traders to answer one of the most important questions in finance: What actually happens at the end of Trading Places?

We know something crazy happens on the trading floor. We know that Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd get rich and the Duke brothers lose everything. But how does it all happen? And could it happen in the real world? Also, if you’ve ever wondered what ‘futures’ are, this episode is for you.

We also discover some ways the movie lives on, not just in the culture of commodities trading, but in the laws surrounding it. The “Eddie Murphy Rule” has entered the congressional record.

This episode comes with a stamp of approval: When we first ran it, one of the writers of Trading Places liked it so much he wrote us a letter.

Today’s special guest co-host is Roman Mars, host of 99% Invisible. (Check out their episode on the design of U.S. currency.)

Music: “The Marriage of Figaro – Overture” and “Celestial.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts or PocketCast.

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