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Months after a girl took the company to task for its female toy figures, Lego has released the Research Institute, a play set created by a "real-life geophysicist, Ellen Kooijman," the company says.

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ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:

From the studios of NPR West in Culver City, California, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Eric Westervelt.

In a finance move you might have missed this week, Dollar Tree bought up Family Dollar. It's a marriage made in cheap, plastic goods heaven, at a time when dollar stores can provide a glimpse into the disconnect between an improving economy and stagnating wages.

Both the United States and Europe announced new economic sanctions this week against Russia for its role in the conflict in Ukraine. Among other things, Western companies will no longer be able to sell Russia new technologies to develop its oil fields.

The move comes at a time when oil exports have become more important than ever for the Russian economy.

President Obama says the sanctions are meant to send a strong message:

We know you don't miss a single NPR headline, but just in case you did, here's our weekly look back at what we covered in digital culture, and what we recommend from our friends across the mediascape.

Sales incentives helped U.S. auto sales rise in July, as major auto companies reported selling more than 120,000 more vehicles than the same month last year. GM retained its spot as the U.S. sales leader.

Sales of passenger cars rose by nearly 5 percent this July compared to last year, with sales of light trucks even higher, at 13.4 percent, according to data released Friday by research firm Autodata Corp.

GM sold 256,160 vehicles last month, beating Toyota's 215,802 and Ford's 211,467.

Public pension funds have been doing something new in recent years — investing in hedge funds.

Hedge funds are often secretive investment firms led by supposedly supersmart fund managers. Though, sometimes they implode spectacularly — think Long-Term Capital Management. Another prominent firm, Galleon Group, recently got shut down for rampant insider trading.

Touting rosy U.S. economic news that has come out this week, President Obama said America's recovery from a debilitating recession is well underway. But he also said the economy "could be doing even better" if Congress were working harder.

Citing the 200,000 jobs created in July – continuing a six-month streak of at least that level – Obama noted that it was "the first time that has happened since 1997."

Updated at 3:15 p.m. ET.

When Jordan Smith got her tab after breakfast at Mary's Gourmet Diner in Winston-Salem, N.C., she was pleasantly surprised to find a 15 percent discount — for "praying in public."

A bittersweet YouTube video is making the rounds this week showing cacao farmers — some of the most impoverished in the world — enjoying chocolate for the very first time.

Treading water in July is really fun — if you happen to be in a swimming pool.

But if you find yourself stuck in the part-time labor pool, drifting is disappointing.

On Friday, the Labor Department reported that while employers hired 209,000 workers in July, the growth rate was not strong enough to push part-timers forward.

The nation's unemployment rate moved up a bit in the month of July, to 6.2 percent, as more Americans who'd been sitting on the sidelines started looking for work, according to the latest monthly report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nonfarm payrolls increased by 209,000 jobs, a bit less than economists had expected.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Copyright 2014 Minnesota Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.mpr.org/.

The coal industry made its presence known in Pittsburgh this week for public hearings on President Obama's controversial plan to address climate change. A key element is rules the Environmental Protection Agency proposed in June. They would cut greenhouse gas emissions — chiefly carbon dioxide — from existing power plants. The national goal is 30 percent by 2030, based on 2005 levels.

For a while there, China was the American farmer's best friend. The world's most populous nation had so many pigs and chickens to feed, it became one of the top importers of U.S. corn and soybeans almost overnight.

This post is part of our Weekly Innovation series, in which we explore an interesting idea, design or product that you may not have heard of yet. Do you have an innovation to share? Use this quick form.

Updated at 4:20 p.m. ET.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 317 points today, closing at 16,563, wiping out the index's gains for the month of July.

The Nasdaq fell 93 points, closing at 4,369. The Standard & Poor's 500 fell 2 percent to 1,930.

It was the worst daily decline since April and the first monthly drop since January.

Robin Koval is making a career of her changed tobacco habit.

"I'm a child of a smoker — my father was a heavy smoker," Koval says. "Really typical to the way the story goes, I started smoking when I was 15."

Now she is president and CEO of Legacy, a foundation devoted to preventing tobacco use.

Send Your Dearly Departed Dog Into Space

Jul 31, 2014
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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Our last word in Business Today is all dogs go to space.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Commercial flight is an industry still in its infancy, though, for several years humans have been able to blast off in the afterlife.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Copyright 2014 WFAE-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wfae.org.

At the Metropolitan Opera, drama is usually onstage. But for the past several months, it's been in the newspapers.

Contract deadlines for 15 of the 16 unions at the Met in New York are set to expire at midnight tonight, and negotiations will likely go down to the wire. A lockout shutting down the world's largest opera house seems imminent.

Management wants concessions from the unions to offset dwindling ticket sales. Union employees think they're being asked to pay for unchecked spending.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

It's a good time to be a whiskey maker, and craft whiskeys are all the rage, with names like Bulleit, Redemption, Templeton and George Dickel.

Five years after the Great Recession ended, where are we with this recovery?

On Wednesday, the Commerce Department and the Federal Reserve both answered by saying, in effect:

We're in a sweet spot — growing at a decent rate with good reason for optimism.

Or as the Fed blandly put it, "economic activity will expand at a moderate pace."

President Obama, speaking on the economy in Kansas City, Mo., was more effusive.

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