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Three deals of acquisitions and investments that were rumored over the past week, and that are all now confirmed, have something in common — none of them involve companies owned by major record labels. All involve technology companies or insurrectionists to entrenched industry leaders. One noted below, Tencent, holds such power in its home country that all three major labels agreed to let it broker their deals in that country.

Lyft is unveiling a new education program for drivers, offering access to discounted GED and college courses online. The move is an interesting experiment in the gig economy, where a growing class of workers receive zero benefits from a boss and yet competition for their time is fierce.

Many Lyft drivers see their work for the company as a stopgap measure, a flexible way to make money while they try to build a career.

The retail economy in rural America has been rough for decades. But where thousands of stores have closed in recent years, Dollar General is thriving, sometimes at the expense of local shops. Dollar Generals are discount stores that sell goods from hand tools to hot dogs. They're reshaping the retail landscape in small towns. And making lots of friends — and enemies — in the process.

On their first day of trading, bitcoin futures surged past $18,000, adding to a streak for the digital currency that began the year at just $1,000 and has nearly tripled in value over the past month alone.

Reuters reports that bitcoin futures, traded through the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), saw January contracts, which opened at $15,460 in New York on Sunday evening, leap to a high of $17,170 during Asian hours.

If you usually ring in the holiday with a freshly cut evergreen, your reality this Christmas could very well be a scrawny Charlie Brown tree instead — or you may wind up paying more for a lush Fraser fir.

This year, there is a tree shortage. Most growers blame the tightened supply on the Great Recession, says Valerie Bauerlein, who covered the story for The Wall Street Journal.

Labor Abuses After Harvey

Dec 10, 2017

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Gaming The Tax Code

Dec 9, 2017

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The House and Senate have approved bills that would overhaul the nation's tax code and spent this week trying to patch those bills together. The legislation promises to be enormously complicated. Some tax experts say it presents huge opportunities to game the tax system. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

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Republicans call their tax bill the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. But critics say maybe it should have been named the Tax Cut and Robots Act.

That's because it doesn't create new tax incentives that specifically encourage companies to hire workers and create jobs, some employers and economists say. But it does expand incentives for companies to buy robots and machines that replace workers.

Republicans say that lowering taxes will boost the economy and spur job creation. But critics say that the tax legislation would create an imbalance favoring machines over workers.

Updated December 9 at 11:50 am ET

"The Defense Department is starting the first agency-wide financial audit in its history," the Pentagon's news service says, announcing that it's undertaking an immense task that has been sought, promised and delayed for years.

Of the tally that is starting this week, chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana W. White said, "It demonstrates our commitment to fiscal responsibility and maximizing the value of every taxpayer dollar that is entrusted to us."

The U.S. economy added 228,000 jobs in November, according to the monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate remained steady at 4.1 percent, unchanged from October.

"Employment growth has averaged 174,000 per month thus far this year, compared with an average monthly gain of 187,000 in 2016," the agency's acting Commissioner William J. Wiatrowski said of the report.

How Reagan's Tax Cuts Fared

Dec 8, 2017

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Sheryl Connelly has a crazy job. She's in charge of looking into the future for Ford Motor Co. The automaker is trying to predict how people my age — from Generation Z — will use cars.

"I have two Gen Zers at home," Connelly says. "So my 16-year-old daughter is thrilled, actually. Her car is ready to go. As soon as she has her license, it's in the driveway. And so she sits in her car and she listens to the radio and she loves her car."

That's definitely not me.

Bryan Singer, the director best known for the X-Men series of films, is being sued over an allegation that he raped 17-year-old boy during a party 14 years ago.

Singer has denied the accusation.

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The country's first private high-speed rail service is opening this month in Florida, promising to transform congested South Florida highways by taking as many as 3 million cars off the road.

A bankruptcy judge has granted struggling retailer Toys R Us permission to pay millions of dollars in bonuses to executives after the company argued it was necessary to motivate its top brass during the critical holiday shopping season.

Republicans in Congress are on the verge of fulfilling their longtime dream of eliminating the federal estate tax, and they could do it in a way that is even more generous to heirs than previous repeal efforts.

Bills passed by the Senate and the House recently would reduce or scrap the taxes heirs now pay on estates larger than $5.5 million. And the bills would do so without repealing the so-called "stepped-up basis" provision.

High-ranking U.S.-based Volkswagen executive Oliver Schmidt has been sentenced to seven years in prison and ordered to pay a $400,000 fine for his part in a decade-long diesel-emissions cheating scandal.

Airlines including American, Delta and Alaska have announced restrictions on so-called smart luggage because the lithium-ion batteries found in many of these suitcases pose a fire risk.

These kinds of bags have proliferated in recent years, including motorized suitcases you can ride and one pitched as an autonomous "robot companion" that follows you around.

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This year, the price of the digital currency bitcoin has gone up more than 1,200 percent. A single bitcoin is now worth more than $13,000.

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NPR's Uri Berliner is here with us now to talk about it. Hey, Uri.

When Republicans launched their tax push this fall, they said, here's the plan: We are going to lower taxes for people and companies. And part of the way we're going to pay for that is by getting rid of loopholes and special deductions and lots of little perks hiding in the tax code.

Today on the show: What happened to that plan, and what it says about the way our tax code works.

Two months ago raging wildfires in Northern California destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, intensifying an already chronic homelessness problem in the city of Santa Rosa.

The GOP tax plan is inching closer to final passage, with lawmakers preparing to hammer out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. And there are some significant differences on everything from personal tax brackets to deductions for mortgages and children to the requirement for individuals to have health insurance.

A massive corporate tax cut is at the center of the Republican tax overhaul, in both the House and the Senate bills.

But as lawmakers race to iron out the differences between the two bills, they will have to deal with a wrinkle that could greatly weaken many of the benefits for corporations: the corporate alternative minimum tax. The House bill would scrap it, and the Senate bill would keep it around.

The Trump administration has been eliminating some protections that allow more than 300,000 people to live and work in the U.S. under what is known as temporary protected status. Many could face deportation when their status expires.

An estimated 50,000 of them work in the construction industry, concentrated in areas like Texas, Florida and California that are recovering from hurricanes and wildfires and where labor shortages in construction are especially acute.

Then he got an idea, an awful idea. The Grinch got a wonderful, awful idea.

I know just what to do, the Grinch laughed in his throat. All it will take is a few keystrokes.

But of course he didn't actually muse. Because the Grinch in this case is a bot. It's automatic. It doesn't snooze.

Online scammers with an arsenal of cyberbots are stealing Christmas by buying up the most popular toys of the season and selling them for a hefty markup on third-party sites such as Amazon and eBay.

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