The Boston Citgo sign, all 3,600 square LED feet of which has served as the backdrop to Red Sox games since 1965, is now officially a "pending landmark."

Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dalí spent much of the 1940s in the U.S., avoiding World War II and its aftermath. He was a well-known fixture on the art scene in Monterey, Calif. — and that's where the largest collection of Dalí's work on the West Coast is now open to the public.

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

The middle of summer is when the surprises in publishing turn up. I'm talking about those quietly commanding books that publishers tend to put out now, because fall and winter are focused on big books by established authors. Which brings us to The Dream Life of Astronauts, by Patrick Ryan, a very funny and touching collection of nine short stories that take place in the 1960s and '70s around Cape Canaveral, Fla.

When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last month, the seaside town of Port Talbot in Wales eagerly went along with the move. Brexit was approved by some 57 percent of the town's residents.

Now some of them are wondering if they made the wrong decision.

The June 23 Brexit vote has raised questions about the fate of the troubled Port Talbot Works, Britain's largest surviving steel plant — a huge, steam-belching facility that has long been the town's biggest employer.

Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

The trip over the Mediterranean included a breathtaking flyover of the Pyramids. Check it out:

President Obama is challenging Americans to have an honest and open-hearted conversation about race and law enforcement. But even as he sits down at the White House with police and civil rights activists, Obama is mindful of the limits of that approach.

"I've seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change," the president said Tuesday at a memorial service for five law officers killed last week in Dallas. "I've seen how inadequate my own words have been."

Mice watching Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness.

At least that's one premise of the Allen Brain Observatory, which launched Wednesday and lets anyone with an Internet connection study a mouse brain as it responds to visual information.

The FBI says it is giving up on the D.B. Cooper investigation, 45 years after the mysterious hijacker parachuted into the night with $200,000 in a briefcase, becoming an instant folk figure.

"Following one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history," the FBI's Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement, "the FBI redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case in order to focus on other investigative priorities."

This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.

Pages

S&P Lawsuit Puts Ratings Firms Back In The Spotlight

Feb 5, 2013
Originally published on February 5, 2013 7:17 pm

The Justice Department said Tuesday it could seek more than $5 billion in damages from Standard & Poor's, the nation's biggest credit ratings company, a day after it sued the company, alleging that S&P defrauded investors by giving triple-A ratings to risky subprime mortgage investments.

The ratings business got started a century ago, when John Moody set up a company to rate railroad bonds for investors. Over the years, Moody's, S&P and Fitch, their smaller rival, expanded into other kinds of securities such as corporate and municipal bonds.

Josh Rosner of the consulting firm Graham Fisher and Co. says the ratings companies owed part of their growth to the government. He says regulators such as the Securities and Exchange Commission required anyone selling a security to first get a rating from a designated ratings company. The problem was that the SEC was particular about which companies got designated to do the ratings.

"Until you were designated as a rating agency, it would be very difficult to demonstrate that you have been a rating agency," Rosner says. "So there was this circular logic embedded in the process of approving new entrants."

As a result, the ratings business became a kind of closed shop, an oligopoly dominated by a few big players. For years, the ratings companies made money by writing up reports and selling them to investors.

Economist Lawrence White of NYU's Stern School of Business says he believes the invention of photocopying machines changed that. Suddenly, ratings companies had to worry that investors could share illegal copies of the research.

"The rating firms were afraid that the [copy] machine would do to the rating business what the Internet would do to the recorded music business three decades later — destroy the business model," White says.

So the ratings companies made a fundamental change: Instead of charging investors for their research, they began charging the companies that issued the securities they were rating. It meant that the ratings companies were dependent on big Wall Street firms for revenue.

"So a major investment bank had a much more potent threat," White says.

The threat: If you don't give me a better rating, I'm going to take my business elsewhere.

That became a big problem during the housing boom. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday the ratings companies were so dependent on Wall Street money that they ignored warning signs about the mortgage meltdown.

"Put simply, this alleged conflict is egregious and it goes to the very heart of the recent financial crisis," Holder said.

In the years since the housing bust, Congress has tried to reform the ratings business. The Dodd-Frank financial reform bill seeks to encourage competition in the ratings business, but Rosner says the bill also seeks to lessen the role ratings companies play in the financial markets.

"Rating agencies do still have a business, do still have a foothold," he says. "The goal is to eat away at that over time."

Rosner says the reforms, however, don't go far enough. That hasn't been a problem so far because the market for mortgage-backed securities is still shut down. But if another housing boom occurs, he says, there's nothing to stop another flood of bad mortgage bonds from surging through the economy.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Just trust us, a similar refrain was heard in the run-up to the U.S. housing collapse when Standard & Poor's gave AAA ratings to risky subprime mortgage investments. Well, late last night, the Justice Department sued the company, alleging it had defrauded investors. And today, the department said it could seek more than $5 billion in damages.

As NPR's Jim Zarroli reports, Standard & Poor's is the country's biggest ratings company. And it grew powerful in part because of federal regulations.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: The ratings business got started a century ago in when John Moody set up a company to rate railroad bonds for investors. Over the years, Moody's, Standard & Poor's, and their smaller rival Fitch expanded into other kinds of securities, such as corporate and municipal bonds.

Josh Rosner, of the consulting firm Graham Fisher, says the ratings companies owed part of their growth to the government. Rosner says regulators, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, required anyone selling a security to first get a rating from a designated ratings company. But Rosner says the SEC was very particular about which companies got designated to do the ratings.

JOSH ROSNER: Until you are designated as a rating agency, it would be very difficult to demonstrate that you've been a rating agency. So there was this circular logic embedded in the process of approving new entrants.

ZARROLI: As a result, the ratings business became a kind of closed shop, an oligopoly dominated by a few big players. For years, the ratings companies made money by writing up reports and selling them to investors. But economist Lawrence White, of NYU's Stern School of Business, believes that may have changed with the invention of the Xerox machine. Suddenly, ratings companies had to worry that investors could share illegal copies of their research.

LAWRENCE WHITE: The ratings firms were afraid that the photocopy machine would do to the rating business what the internet did to the recorded music business, three decades later - destroy the business model.

ZARROLI: So the ratings companies made a fundamental change. Instead of charging investors for their research, they began charging the companies that issued the securities they were rating. It meant that the ratings companies were dependent on big Wall Street firms for revenue.

WHITE: So a major investment bank had a much more potent threat: If you don't give me a better rating, I am going to take my business elsewhere.

ZARROLI: And that became a big problem during the housing boom. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says the ratings companies were so dependent on Wall Street money that they ignored warning signs about the mortgage meltdown.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: Put simply, this alleged conduct is egregious. And it goes to the very heart of the recent financial crisis.

ZARROLI: In the years since the housing bust, Congress has tried to reform the ratings business. The Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Bill seeks to encourage competition in the industry. But Josh Rosner says the bill also seeks to lessen the role that ratings companies play in the financial market.

ROSNER: Rating agencies do still have a business; do still have a foothold. The goal is to eat away at that over time.

ZARROLI: But Rosner says the reforms don't go far enough. That hasn't been a problem so far, because the market for mortgage-backed securities is still shut down. But he says if another housing boom occurs, there's nothing to stop another flood of bad mortgage bonds from surging through the economy.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.