National News

Activists Stop Paying Their Student Loans

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-31 13:36

Students who say their for-profit college degrees are worthless took their "debt strike" to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau today.

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Lufthansa Says It Knew Of Co-Pilot Andreas Lubitz's Depression

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-31 13:22

Prosecutors say Lubitz deliberately crashed his plane carrying 149 others into the French Alps last week. Lufthansa said he had informed them in 2009 of a "previous depressive episode."

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Despite Criticism, Arkansas Passes Religious Freedom Bill

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-31 13:18

The measure is similar to the controversial law passed by Indiana. Gov. Asa Hutchinson had previously said he would sign the bill into law.

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Watchdog Groups File Complaints Against Likely Candidates

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-31 12:55

Two liberal groups say some politicians have crossed the legal line that defines a candidacy in campaign finance law, even though they haven't declared anything yet.

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Advice For Trevor Noah From The 'Jon Stewart Of South Africa'

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-31 12:53

The Daily Show isn't the only fake news show around. South Africa has Late Nite News, starring comedian Loyiso Gola. We asked him how he feels about Noah's new job — and what advice he has to offer.

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Supporters Work To Reclaim Legacy Of Penn State Coach Joe Paterno

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-31 12:46

A campaign is underway to repair former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno's legacy after a child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky tarnished his image.

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Latvians differ over sanctions against Russia

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-03-31 12:29

Latvian farmer Uldis Krievars is a casualty of the new cold war with Russia.

“ We’re fighting for survival. Many other farmers are also struggling “ he says, gloomily surveying his dairy herd on his farm sixty miles southeast of the Latvian capital, Riga.
Krievars has seen his milk prices slump well below the cost of production due to over supply. Latvia is awash with milk because Russia retaliated against EU sanctions over Ukraine by banning food imports from Europe.

But that doesn’t mean Krievars is unhappy about those EU sanctions.

“ Yes, the sanctions are hitting us hard," he says. “But I believe they are necessary and should have been even tougher. We are still worried about our independence.”

Independence is still a raw subject in the tiny Baltic state, which has been invaded and occupied over the centuries by at least four different powers – Sweden, Poland, Germany and Russia. The country only threw off Russian rule 24 years ago when the Soviet Union collapsed – an event which the current Russian President Vladimir Putin described as “ the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”

Liana Langa –a Latvian poet - claims that the annexation of Crimea shows that Putin would like to turn the clock back and rule the Baltic states - including Latvia - again.
“He’s trying to restore empire, he’s trying to restore empire.” she says. “Let’s remember: Putin can only think as a KGB guy because he comes from the KGB.”

Some members of Latvia’s large Russian minority dismiss that as pure paranoia; they just don’t believe Putin has any designs on the Baltic States. Aleksandr Gamaleyev deplores the sanctions against Russia as a massive over-reaction. “ I think it’s very bad for Latvia to be part of this campaign because Russia is our bigger neighbor, and economically it’s very bad for Latvia,” he says.

In fact, although the dairy farmers are reeling, Latvia overall has not been that badly affected by the crisis. The economy is still growing at the cracking pace of more than four percent a year . The country has managed to escape some of the worst effects of the new Cold War as many Latvian companies have,  since regaining independence, been busy re-orienting their businesses away from the Russian market. The Karavela fish processing plant in Riga, for example, now sells most of its herrings and sprats in Europe.

“ We feel more comfortable and safer developing markets in this part of the world” says spokeswoman Sintija Skarstāne .

Latvia has pursued the same policy, along with the other two Baltic states, turning away from Russia and embedding itself in the west by joining NATO, the European Union and even adopting the euro for added security.

“We clearly feel safe now, we feel secure.” says Andrejs Pildegovics, State Secretary at the Foreign Ministry in Riga. “But if history teaches us anything, it teaches us that we cannot be complacent.”

The biggest fear is that Putin might “do a Ukraine” and stoke up trouble using Latvia’s Russian-speaking minority. But economist Morten Hansen of the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga points out that there’s a big difference between Ukraine and Latvia – quite apart from NATO and EU membership. Latvia is more prosperous and more content.

“ In terms of income per person we’re ahead of Ukraine by a factor of three to one.” Hansen says. “This is a huge transformation. We were at the same level as Ukraine 22 years ago . Now we’re three times richer."

This , he says , is Latvia’s ultimate shield against Putin’s mischief-making: economic self interest.

Media Mischief On April Fools' Day

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-31 12:01

When news organizations make fun of the news, it can be funny — or not.

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Tweeners Trust Peers More Than Adults When Judging Risks

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-31 11:35

We all tend to adjust our opinions based on what other people think. But young teenagers pay far more attention to other teens than they do to adults, a study finds. That explains a lot, doesn't it?

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The business of climbing rocks

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-03-31 11:26

People have been climbing hills, mountains and rocks as a form of exercise for years. The disruptor – which is really only a couple of decades old – is doing it inside.

The first indoor climbing gym in the U.S. opened in the 1980s, but there's been a boom of late.

"These gym owners have figured out that they don’t necessarily need people who have climbed Yosemite or Annapurna," says Clare Malone, who wrote about the new climbing craze for the New Yorker. "They just need who are sort of looking for a cool, different, alternative way of working out."

Rock climbing gyms are not limited to areas that are surrounded by mountains and hills. They’re up and coming in the Midwest, and very popular in Los Angeles and New York. The new, key demographic here are millennials in cities.

"A lot of the spending in the outdoor industry, which sort of covers a range of different products and stuff, but it’s a lot of young, affluent urban people," says Malone. "People really like it because it feels so real and so tangible."

Listen to Kai's conversation with Malone above, and read more from our follow-up email interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

 

You cite one report that estimates young urbanites account for about a third of spending on outdoor clothing and gear, while hardcore outdoorspeople account for just 17 percent. Can you trace that to the increase in indoor facilities? Or is climbing’s popularity the result of more interest in athletics — and the athletic look — among young people?

 

While I can't say for sure, I do think that the proliferation of climbing gym probably means that more people are buying climbing gear—a demographic of people who might not have done so 20 years ago. It's of course not just climbing alone that accounts for the uptick in sales, there's trail running, camping, etc. But for whatever reason, younger people are looking to the outdoors for exercise novelty.

But the outdoor look is also pretty popular--you look around New York this winter and you'll see a lot of Canada Down jackets, a lot of puffer coats. They're hip, as opposed to the old wool coat I'm walking around in! And I think all these outdoor brands are certainly taking advantage of that trend. 

 

Have you noticed a meaningful difference in the way brands market to the growing number of indoor climbers, as opposed to outdoor climbers?

 

I don't think there's a meaningful differentiation in branding between outdoors and indoors. Outdoors is obviously the aspirational side of the sport, so I think brands typically will use those star athletes doing crazy things out on the mountains to catch an audience's attention, but they are also heavily involved in the gyms.

Over and over, people kept on telling me that almost all of the next generation of star climbers will have started in a gym and then moved outdoors. So I think they see those two markets eliding. 

 

You mention in the piece that some larger brands are hoping to leverage the “mainstream” athletes they sponsor into more exposure for climbing. What's keeping the sport out of the mainstream? How does social media play into that?

 

I think climbing has typically been a subculture — hippie-dippie adventurer types who were mostly white and out west. So what we're seeing now in the sports's cultural revolution, if you will, is white urbanites appropriating the culture of crunchy white people.

Quite a few people in the climbing world expressed the hope that the proliferation of gyms in certain areas would open up this narrow demographic. And social media is definitely part of this. The sport has also tended to be more male — but again, a lot of people I talked with are hoping that this opens up, and that more women and girls get involved.

The moment where the sport's at right now might be, one person told me, how gymnastics was right before it reached critical mass: Got some superstars, and pretty soon little girls all over America were taking Saturday morning tumbling classes. 

 

This quote stuck out to me, from a climbing gym co-owner: “Are we selling climbing or are we selling this vibe?” To what degree are people in the climbing industry comfortable with this kind of attention?

 

I think that's a question that certainly cuts to the heart of a culture clash — or perhaps it's better to say a "slight discomfort" — that maybe more seasoned, hardcore climbers have.

To a certain degree, no matter what you're talking about — music, sports, a cult movie — early adaptors love being the ones who were in-the-know, who liked it before it was cool.

So I think some people are rubbed the wrong way by climbing gyms that see themselves as event venues rather than hardcore training facilities. But the people on the business side —apparel makers and gym owners alike — couldn't be happier with the spike in popularity.

Dozens Of Countries Join China-Backed Bank Opposed By Washington

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-31 11:26

Some of Washington's closest allies have signed on to a new Asian development bank. The U.S. opposes the bank in part because it presents a challenge to American influence in the Asia region.

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Obama Releases Frozen Military Aid To Egypt

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-31 11:15

Delivery of the F-16s, Harpoon missiles and M1A1 Abrams tank kits was suspended in 2013 after a military-backed coup. The White House cited national security as the reason for its decision today.

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What The 2016 Hopefuls Are Saying About Indiana's 'Religious Freedom' Law

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-31 11:10

"This is simply allowing people of faith space to be able to express their beliefs," said Jeb Bush. Hillary Clinton tweeted: "Sad this new Indiana law can happen in America today."

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How German higher education controls costs

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-03-31 11:01

The next time you pull out your checkbook to pay that hefty tuition bill or pay down your student loan, consider this: there are countries where students pay nothing to attend university. Denmark, Sweden and Germany for example all have tuition-free college.

WGBH Radio’s "On Campus" team wondered how these countries do it, and if there are things the U.S. can learn from their model. Their search to understand how German universities keep costs down and quality up began in the Rhineland.

It was a frigid evening on the banks of the Rhine in the medieval city of Cologne. Under the vaulted ceiling of an old Gothic church, the 80-piece university orchestra was tuning up.

In the land of Beethoven and Handel, it makes sense that a university would invest a lot in its orchestra. But that commitment extends far beyond the music program. In Germany, one of the world's wealthiest countries, taxpayers fully subsidize the cost of public higher education. While American students now graduate with an average of nearly $30,000 of debt, college in Germany has always been free.

Since tuition is free here, German students don’t really worry about student loan debt. Instead, they worry about their exams or learning a trade. Seventy percent of the students at the University of Cologne work part-time jobs. Students, parents, administrators and business leaders of all political stripes say the same thing: higher education in Germany is seen as a public good.

Controlling costs

The University of Cologne is Germany’s largest university with 48,000 students, a medical school and a law school.

"I have to be honest, I really like this university even though it's not the most beautiful one, as you can see," says tour guide Valerija Schwarz, a Ph.D. student in German Literature.

The university’s central square swarms with bicycles. Many students bike to school or take public transportation, Schwartz explains — that’s why there’s no big parking garage.

Students park their bikes outside one of the University of Cologne's newest buildings.

Photo by Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH

Students in Germany also tend to stay local, so there aren't any dorms. There are no active student clubs, or big football stadium. And every lecture hall looks huge.

“Most of the time you don't even know who is sitting next to you or who your professor is,” Schwarz says. “You just listen and then reproduce your knowledge during the exams.”

All of this translates to savings: the average cost of an undergraduate degree in Germany is $32,000, paid for by the state. In the U.S., some schools charge that much for one year, and student loan debt has surpassed $1.2 trillion.

South 160 miles from the University of Cologne, tucked in the heart of Heidelberg’s quaint but vibrant city center, the University of Heidelberg offers a full program of courses from ancient history to biochemistry. It is one of Germany’s oldest and most prestigious institutions.

“A majority of German voters agree that a decent start in life includes the possibility of a free higher education,” says Frieder Wolf, a political science professor at the school.

To limit spending, Wolf says, professors teach more and earn less than their American colleagues.

"This is not to complain. I love my job and I have a lot of freedom but this is how we keep costs down — larger classrooms,” Wolf says. “We’ve got courses with 40 participants, 50 participants in the social sciences, where [American universities] might have tutorials of four or five students.”

And unlike their American counterparts, German universities have very little administrative bloat.

"Many administrative tasks for which you would have specialized personnel in the States is done by the teachers and professors here,” Wolf says.

The trade-off

But are German students getting the same quality learning experience?

Germany isn't widely known for having top-tier colleges like Harvard, Yale and Princeton. But, says Wolf, what it does have is “reliable quality."

"With all due respect, [America has] the best colleges but [it also has] some of the worst,” Wolf says. “There’s probably a new sort of class divide between people who get there and who don’t get there, where as in Germany basically most everybody who wants to go to an average college can go there and get a decent education."

In the U.S., the closest comparison to Germany’s no-frills, low-cost higher education is probably state and community colleges. President Obama has proposed making two years of community college tuition-free for students who keep their grades up, but Republican leaders in Congress have plans to stall that plan.

"It’s a very big commitment,” says Sandy Baum, a higher education economist with the Urban Institute. “People want it to be free, but they don’t really mean they want to pay higher taxes to make it free."

Baum says Americans also don't want to give up the residential college experience, with all its bells and whistles. But, she says, the U.S. needs more affordable choices.

"In many European universities, you go and you listen to a lecture and that is what is involved in the university,” Baum says. “It’s a lot cheaper to do that than the many things that people are asking for on college campuses here. And people are voting with their feet, and we need to have multiple options."

Baum says those options should include more online learning and apprenticeships.

Willing to pay, despite free tuition

Still, there are German families who, despite the promise of free college, are willing to pay for the elite American experience.

Jane Park and two of her three children in their home in Essen, Germany. 

Photo by Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH

Johannes Kim and Jane Park live in Essen, a neighboring city 50 miles north of Cologne. In the kitchen one recent evening, as Park prepares dinner, their three small children were listening to an opera lesson on tape.

Kim graduated from the University of Heidelberg and he thinks the opportunity to build relationships with professors is something you really can't put a price tag on. He wants their kids to attend schools with strong brand recognition.

"The American college experience is something that instills some sort of emotional bond to your university. That is something that is completely missing from the German system,” Kim says. “Although I went to the oldest university in Germany, there is not the feeling that I'm a proud alumni or graduate of that school."

Park, who is Korean-American, finds Germany's tuition-free model appealing, though she's conflicted about the American system.

"I like to think that I have a strong sense of social justice and great education is almost reserved for the elite despite scholarship opportunities and financial aid,” Park says. “That, I find disturbing and in some ways I am squaring, 'OK, do I want to feed my children into that sort of system?’”

Their kids are young, so it will be a while before they go to college. And by that time, there's no guarantee that Germany will still be committed to the idea of free college education.

German states are on a five-year deadline to balance their budgets, meaning states, and taxpayers, will be taking a close look at what they can afford.

This is part one in a WGHB series that examines higher education in Germany, and compares it to the challenges we face here in the U.S

The aqueduct that gave rise to Los Angeles

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-03-31 10:55

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a $1 billion water plan last week, mostly to improve water infrastructure. It's just the latest foray into manipulating nature and wringing water, produce, and megacities from the deserts of California. 

A century ago, William Mulholland, the chief engineer of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, was trying to do the same thing and save his city. 

"Mulholland was fielding tons of complaints from folks whose water was fishy, who couldn't get water pressure on the third floor of their apartments," said Mullholland biographer Les Standiford, author of "Water to the Angels: William Mulholland, His Monumental Aqueduct, and the Rise of Los Angeles." 

Former Mayor Fred Eaton had long been trying to get investors interested in unblocking the Southern portion of the Owens River and bringing the Sierra snowmelt to Los Angeles. As early as 1894, the city faced severe water shortages. Engineers estimated that natural sources serving the Los Angeles basin could support a population of 200,000 or so, in typical years. 

Mulholland couldn't believe that people just kept coming to Los Angeles, it was "his big bugaboo," Standiford says. And yet, he and Eaton set off to check out the Owens Valley, moonlight glinting off of their whiskey bottle. 

"The very concept, to move an entire river about 250 miles away in the Sierra Nevada across the desert, through mountains, over these great chasms, to a city by the ocean... and do it entirely by gravity, engineer it with a pocket compass and an aneroid barometer, that was an amazing feat," Standiford says.  

The aqueduct allowed for commerce, agriculture, and successive housing booms. The region's population to balloon to over 10 million in the century that followed. 

What would he think of this latest battle over the slow trickle of water in California?

"Now whether he would turn toward desalinization or some other conservation project yet unknown, I don't know," Standiford said. "If you get enough people it doesn't matter how low the rate per capita of water consumption is, sooner or later you run out." 

The Resurrection Of Lamb Ham: A Colonial Tradition Revived

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-31 10:52

British colonialists brought lamb ham to America, where a sugar-cured, smoked variety became popular. Easier-to-cure pork ham eventually took its place, but now two Virginians are bringing it back.

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Hackers Teach Computers To Tell Healthy And Sick Brain Cells Apart

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-31 10:36

Scientists are still better than computers at assessing a neuron's health by looking at its shape. But an effort that includes an international series of hackathons could help speed the process.

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Trevor Noah, Jon Stewart's Replacement, Goes From Hero To Villain In 24 Hours

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-31 10:18

Soon after it was announced that Noah will host The Daily Show, it emerged that some of his tweets mocked women and Jews — tweets that critics have called sexist and anti-Semitic.

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Nigerian President Said To Concede Election To Opposition Candidate

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-31 10:17

A sitting president has never lost a presidential bid in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country. Partial results showed Goodluck Jonathan trailing Muhammadu Buhari by close to 3 million votes.

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Staff At Britain's Windsor Castle May Strike Over Low Wages

NPR News - Tue, 2015-03-31 09:35

It's the first time Queen Elizabeth is facing a possible strike by employees of the royal family. At issue is whether employees should be expected to do extra work for no additional pay.

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