National News

Out There On The Ice: An Intimate View Of The Melting Antarctic Sheet

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 12:11

Two groups of scientists have reported that the melting of the giant West Antarctica Ice Sheet appears to be unstoppable. Oceans could rise several feet in the coming centuries because of its melting.

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Harvard's Kennedy School denies 'privilege class' story

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-14 12:08

The Harvard Kennedy School responded to reports that it has created an orientation class on "power and privilege" with a flat denial.

Doug Gavel, the school's Associate Director for Media Relations, told Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman that there is "false information in the media" about a class that administrators at the school were reported to have committed to scheduling for first-year students. Several media outlets picked up the story, first reported in New York Magazine's "The Cut" that, "In response to growing demand from student activists, administrators committed Friday to adding a class in power and privilege to its orientation program for incoming first-year students."

The story comes in the wake of a controversial essay on privilege written by a student at Princeton earlier this month. 

Here's the text of Gavel's email to Mitchell:

There appears to be false information in the media being conveyed by reporters who have not contacted Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) officials to verify the accuracy of the information.  Contrary to one article that has been picked up by others, the school is not planning to offer classes, coursework, or sessions devoted specifically to "power and privilege."  The school currently offers a number of opportunities for students to discuss and learn about issues of diversity.  Learning to have constructive conversations in the context of differences in race, gender, cultural background, political viewpoints and many other perspectives is important in any graduate school, particularly one dedicated to preparing its students to be effective leaders and policymakers. HKS examines opportunities offered to students to engage in these discussions, regularly assessing their effectiveness and value.  We look forward to continuing to work with our faculty and students to provide the most valuable learning opportunities in this area. 

Student Protests Force A String Of Commencement Speaker Shake-ups

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 12:00

Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, has bowed out as the commencement speaker at Smith College. Her withdrawal is just the latest high-profile commencement speech dropout.

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As More Speakers Get The Boot, Who's Left To Send Off Graduates?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 12:00

In a string of commencement-speaker dropouts, would-be honorary guests are being pushed out by campus protests. Meanwhile, schools are trying to boost their reputations and promote diverse ideas.

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Ras Baraka Rises To Mantle Of Newark's New Mayor

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 12:00

In Newark, the New Jersey city held its first mayoral election since Cory Booker left for the U.S. Senate. Ras Baraka won, and Sarah Gonzalez of WNYC explains how the mayor-elect plans to run Newark.

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'The New York Times' Announces Surprise Change Of Management

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 12:00

The New York Times has announced that Dean Baquet, the paper's managing editor, will replace Jill Abramson as the executive editor. Both Abramson and Baquet were named to their current jobs in 2011.

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American technology, Chinese pollution

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-14 11:58

It’s been dubbed by foreign media as "the Airpocalpyse" -- when smog levels in Beijing go beyond what monitoring machinery is able to read.

A hundred miles east of the city, along the swamp surrounding the Bohai Sea, the foul, gray, soupy air is even more airpocalyptic, thanks to a concentration of industrial plants. On an island shrouded in smog, Capital Steel produces 10 million tons of steel a year, and millions of tons more of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas. But Capital Steel’s Wang Xi insists a new revolutionary project could change this: “If it’s a success, we will take gases that are now burned and released as carbon dioxide and turn them into liquid fuel instead,” says Xi, pointing to a tower of tangled pipes and valves.

Capital steel has partnered with Chicago-based Lanzatech to build a pilot plant that will trap the mill’s carbon emissions. Lanzatech engineer Jason Bromley stands in front of a five-story column of pipes and tanks. Inside, a special water-borne bacteria feeds on carbon monoxide and, after fermenting for a half day, the concoction turns into ethanol. “You can chuck that straight into most cars," says Bromley, patting one of the ethanol tanks. "In fact, you can blend 10 percent in any car and most modern cars you can blend 20 to 30 percent.”

LanzaTech's pilot plant at Capital Steel's mill in Hebei province. Inside these tanks, carbon monoxide is mixed with bacteria, water, and other chemicals to produce ethanol. The process reduces the mill's carbon emissions by a third.

Rob Schmitz/Marketplace

If the pilot project is successful, it could someday cut the steel mill’s carbon emissions by a third, reduce the mill's particulate pollution, and manage to pump out 5,000 gallons of ethanol a day. The profits from selling the ethanol, says Bromely, would more than offset the cost of the project. At this stage, Capital Steel - known in Chinese as Shougang Group - is funding the joint venture in return for a license to use Lanzatech’s technology.

“Our value in that JV has come from providing the technology and the IP whereas Shougang group themselves actually put the real cash down themselves to build the plant," says Bromley.

It's American technology combined with Chinese funding – a potential template for cleaning up what’s becoming a global environmental mess.

At the Shangri-La hotel in downtown Shanghai, businessman Andrew Chung takes a breather in the lobby. He’s here to set up deals for U.S. clean tech companies. "There are many, many opportunities for U.S.-based companies to explore technology, expansion and adoption in a place like China, because there is such a strong demand for the technology. For the country’s survival," says Chung, who works as a partner at Khosla Ventures.

The venture capital fund was established by Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla. Half of Khosla’s $2.5 billion fund has gone to clean tech companies. A few of them operate in China, like Lanzatech and a green engine company from Detroit called EcoMotors, but Chung is surprised more American tech companies aren’t interested in China. "I think very few realize that the Chinese government is putting anywhere from $60 to 80 billion a year, every year, for the next ten years into clean tech related investments, versus the U.S., where the dollars are a fraction of that," says Chung.

Chung says many U.S. companies are hesitant about China, mostly due to concerns about losing control of their intellectual property. And some have an outdated perspective on the country, something Chung witnessed firsthand at a recent White House roundtable on manufacturing he attended.

“One of the folks on the roundtable who was a C-level executive of a very well-known U.S. equipment company, basically said to me, ‘Well don’t they manufacture very simple things in China? Are they gonna be able to get to the level of quality that you need?’ I just was stunned and speechless. I kind of thought, ‘Hmm, well where you have been in the last decade?’”

Chung says this attitude that American technology is far superior to what the Chinese can do is a dangerous one. Despite his work putting U.S. and Chinese partners together, Chung says one of his biggest worries is that if the US government and its corporate interests don’t move quickly enough to fund clean tech start-ups, those American start-ups will have no choice but to take their ideas elsewhere.

Want a raise? Drop a warm puppy into your boss’s lap

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-14 11:56

That warm and fuzzy feeling you get sitting in a comfy chair could make you more generous.

So says a new book by Dr. Thelma Lobel called Sensation: The New Science of Physical Intelligence. 

Lobel says she first realized sensations impacted her decisions when she and her husband were trying to sell their apartment in Tel Aviv, Israel.

"We pretty much decided what was the price we were going to ask," she says, "and then they served a lot of hot coffee. And I remember holding a warm cup in my hands all the time. Without noticing it, I went down in the price. I didn't know why I did that."

Lobel's studies later revealed that it wasn't just warm and soft sensations--not necessarily from beverages, either--that made people perceive others as nicer. Cold and hard sensations, she found, have the opposite effect. To that end, the physical copy of her book feels soft on the front cover and rough on the back--an exercise in what she calls "embodied cognition."

"All the things in the environment--the things that we see, the texture of the things we touch, the temperature of the things we touch, the colors we see, the things we smell--they all influence our behaviors, thoughts, emotions, decisions...without our awareness."

Russia's Energy Giant Turns Up The Heat On Ukraine

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 11:49

Gazprom, the energy company, has dramatically raised the price it charges Ukraine for natural gas. Despite its weak, ailing economy, Ukraine must now pay far more than any other Gazprom client.

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Bill Clinton Says His Wife's Brain Is Just Fine, Thank You

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 11:16

The former president said Republican strategist Karl Rove's recent remarks about Hillary Clinton's health are "just the beginning" of the attacks that are headed her way.

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Unrest Breaks Out In Vietnam Over Island Dispute With China

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 11:08

Mobs in Ho Chi Minh City targeted Chinese-owned factories, setting some on fire. Meanwhile, the Philippines says China is building an airstrip on the disputed Spratly Islands.

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'New York Times' Replaces Jill Abramson As Executive Editor

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 10:48

Dean Baquet, the paper's managing editor, will become The Times' first African-American executive editor. Abramson's departure was reportedly related to "an issue with management in the newsroom."

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Neuroscientists Hack Dreams With Tiny Shocks

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 10:15

Small electrical pulses make people feel that they can control their dreams, the hallmark of lucid dreams. But researchers are far away from inducing powers like those seen in the movie Inception.

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Debate: Is Death Final?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 09:54

The idea of an afterlife has fascinated humans for millennia. In a recent Intelligence Squared debate, two teams faced off over the concept of life after death from a scientific perspective.

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For The Win(e): U.S. Passes France As World's Top Wine Consumer

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 09:22

French wine consumption fell 7 percent between 2012 and 2013, while U.S. consumption grew by 0.5 percent, a report finds. Still, the French drink six times more wine per head than Americans.

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In A New Twist To A Poignant Tale, Oscar-Winning Director Found Dead

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 08:32

Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul won an Oscar with his first documentary, a poignant story about an American singer who was famous in South Africa for decades and didn't know it.

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Greenwald On NSA Leaks: 'We've Erred On The Side Of Excess Caution'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 07:50

Journalist Glenn Greenwald says he and his team weighed the public's interest against the potential harm to innocent people when deciding how many of Edward Snowden's leaked documents to make public.

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Kids Hurt After Bounce House Soars High In The Air

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 07:50

Two children were seriously hurt in upstate New York after the inflatable playhouse they were in was sent high into the air by a strong gust of wind.

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PODCAST: Fixing infrastructure and American jobs

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-14 07:49

President Obama heads to New York's Tappan Zee bridge today. The crumbling, sixty year old span across the Hudson River will be the backdrop for a speech on America's infrastructure. Barring action from Congress, a federal fund for road, bridge and transit construction and repair is expected to run dry in August, something the adminstration argues could cost up to 700,000 jobs. Marketplace's Krissy Clark breaks down that number.

Meanwhile, Cisco Systems is viewed as a sort of barometer for the tech industry, and when it announces its profits on Wednesday, Silicon Valley will be paying attention to the company's latest push into the "Internet of Things," aiming to link cars, machines, devices and everything in between.

And, we now know once-disgraced mortgage giant Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have made enough money to hand more than $10 billion back to the U.S. Treasury for last quarter.  That's where the US Treasury says it has to go, given the taxpayer bailout five years ago. But with all things Fannie and Freddit, this is controversial. Marketplace regular Alan Sloan is senior editor at large at Fortune Magazine and joined us to discuss.

The 2014 Club Sandwich Index

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 07:12

To some, the traditional doubledecker delicacy is an example of excess. To others, it's pure excellence.

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