National News

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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San Diego County Explains 'Offending Words' In Fire Message

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-14 06:50

Fire officials hope they've seen the worst of a fire that has burned 1,550 acres. They also say they'll get to the bottom of a message in an alert stating, "fire in your pants."

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How the White House calculates infrastructure jobs

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-14 06:42

President Obama heads to New York's Tappan Zee bridge today. The crumbling, sixty year old span across the Hudson will be the backdrop for a speech on the nation's infrastructure.

Barring action from Congress, a federal fund for building and repairing roads, bridges and transit systems is expected to run dry in August, something the White House says could cost a lot of jobs.

As Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told a White House briefing on Monday, “Unless Congress acts, up to 700,000 Americans will lose their jobs over the next year and road work, bridge building, transit maintenance – all of these types of projects – may be delayed or shut down completely,”

How did he come up with that 700,000 number?

A Department of Transportation spokesperson directed me to an explanation on the DOT website, which breaks down the calculations a bit. According to the explanation there, the tally includes the number of “direct, indirect and induced jobs” that come from highway infrastructure investment. 

A “direct” job would be the kind of work you see crews with hard hats doing, from laborers to engineers—the folks involved in the construction project itself. Paychecks for those jobs actually come out of federal coffers. 

As for the “indirect” jobs, those involve manufacturing the materials-- the steel, concrete or paint, for example, which are used in an infrastructure project. The “cost of materials” line in the budget for a federal highway project would indirectly fund these sorts of indirect jobs.

And then there are those “induced” jobs—jobs created “elsewhere in the economy as increases in income from the direct government spending lead to additional increases in spending by workers and firms,” according to the DOT. 

I asked Robert Puentes, director of the Metropolitan Infrastructure Initiative at the Brookings Institution, to help translate this one. These jobs, he says could be “everything from the food truck that's getting lunch” for the construction workers themselves, “to the guy that’s cutting their hair.” 

A spokesperson for the DOT would not elaborate on how exactly it estimates the number of induced jobs created, but says that all the numbers are based on research from the White House's Council of Economic Advisers. 

When the Council added up all these jobs-- induced, indirect, and direct—it found that about 13,000 jobs are supported for every $1 billion in federal highway and transit investment.  Recently, the highway trust fund has spent about $50.9 billion dollars annually on infrastructure projects. So, multiply 50.9 by 13,000 and you get a little under 700,000 jobs.

But that may actually be a low estimate, according to research done by Standard and Poor's U.S. Chief Economist Beth Ann Bovino. She recently released a report that found a $1.3 billion investment in infrastructure would likely add 29,000 jobs to the construction sector alone.  Meaning the $50.9 billion annual in federal highway trust fund spending would amount to more than 1 million jobs.

Construction jobs which are, by the way, the kind of “good” jobs that have been largely absent from the economic recovery so far, Bovino points out. 

As her report puts it: “The American middle class, which suffered disproportionately during the recent economic slump, would benefit most from investing in transportation infrastructure because it creates what are traditionally middle-class jobs.” 

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