National News

Justice's 'Peacemaker' Unit Focuses On Transgender Rights

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 13:02

A unit originally created to keep the peace during the civil rights movement is training law enforcement on how to be more sensitive to transgender witnesses and crime victims.

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On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow: A Guide To Speedy Vegetables

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:54

Impatient gardeners don't have to wait for summer to harvest salad fixings. A surprising variety of crops will bring homegrown produce to your table in as little as three weeks.

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Legal Moves Might Mean Fiscal Relief, And More PR Troubles, For GM

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:39

General Motors is signaling its plans to ask a bankruptcy judge for protection from lawsuits related to a defective switch recall. This could further complicate its current public relations crisis.

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Backlash over Crimea hits Russian economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:08

The Russian economy is beginning to suffer fallout from the crisis in Ukraine.

Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev told parliament in Moscow today that growth slowed sharply to just 0.8 percent in the first quarter -- far short of the earlier prediction of 2.5 percent. The minister said that the Ukrainian turmoil had spooked investors, and capital is fleeing the country at a record rate. Earlier in the week, the Russian finance minister forecast that if the capital flight continues the economy could see zero growth this year. Independent observers are equally gloomy.

"Everything seems to be going in the wrong direction for Russia at the moment,” says Raoul Ruparel of the Open Europe think tank in London. "It’s really due to increasing uncertainty around the situation in Ukraine and potential sanctions.”

So far, the U.S. and the Europeans have imposed travel bans and asset freezes on certain Russian and Ukrainian officials. The European Union has threatened to escalate the sanctions if peace talks due to begin in Switzerland on Thursday fail to make progress, and if Russia persists with what the EU calls its “provocation.”

 But Russian President Vladimir Putin seems unfazed by all the threats.

"Regaining Russian lands is taking precedence over practical , economic considerations," says Daragh McDowel of the Maplecroft research house.

 Other analysts argue that Putin has no reason to feel seriously threatened -- yet.

"The Russians have the third largest hard currency reserves in the world – a half a trillion dollars' worth - and that could cushion the capital flight," says Sam Charap of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "So I don’t see a dramatic, huge, short-term economic impact from this."

A European embargo on imports of Russian oil and gas or a ban on Russian banks to stop them dealing in western financial markets could be a different matter. That could bring Russia to its knees. But such drastic action – which could also inflict real economic damage on Europe - seems highly unlikely... unless Russia invades eastern Ukraine.

South Korea Ferry Disaster Sets Rescuers, And Fears, In Motion

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:00

Hundreds are missing after a ferry sank Wednesday off South Korea's southern coast. Reporter Jason Strother in Seoul offers details on the latest developments.

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Entering Talks In Geneva, U.S. Hopes For A Ukraine Breakthrough

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:00

Secretary of State John Kerry is set to meet Thursday with officials from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union. They will discuss the crisis in Ukraine. While the Obama administration has said it has overwhelming evidence that Moscow is stirring up the unrest in eastern Ukraine, it says it wants to wait before expanding sanctions. Analysts say Washington has few other options.

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High School's Most Dreaded Test Gets A Makeover

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:00

The College Board outlined changes today for its SAT, pairing the news with a few sample questions. NPR's Cory Turner details the makeover students can expect to find in spring of 2016.

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Ukrainian Tanks Roll In — But Above Them Russian Flags Fly

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:00

Ukrainian tanks arrived in the city of Kramatorsk Wednesday morning. By the time they rolled out of the city, they were flying Russian flags. People in Kramatorsk tell the story of what happened.

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The New SAT: Less Vocabulary, More Linear Equations

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:00

The new version of the standardized test for college admissions, set to go into effect in 2016, will do away with obscure vocabulary words and cut multiple choice answer options from five to four.

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Man Reaches For The Sun For A Solution To Pakistan's Gas Crisis

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 12:00

A plan to replace imported oil with domestic natural gas has led to fuel shortages and long lines in Pakistan. A businessman has spent $500,000 of his own money to develop an affordable solar car.

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Ex-City Manager Caught In Calif. Salary Scandal Gets 12 Years

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 11:49

Robert Rizzo, who paid himself an $800,000 salary for running the small town of Bell, Calif., took advantage of the fact that there were "no checks and balances" in city government, the judge said.

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Pattern making: A stitch in time?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-16 11:41

Jen Beeman is a pattern maker based in Chicago. She runs the patternshop Grainline Studio.

Here's how she describes her job:

"Nobody ever realizes that people are involved in the making of your clothes anymore. People just assume that it’s a machine that makes our clothes. We’re so removed from how our garments or products in general are made that they never assume that there’s a person who does that.

With pattern making, if you can imagine something you want to make, then you can make it because you have the tools to make the pattern to make that a reality. And that’s really exciting to me – the creativity.

What it involves is a large work table, brown paper, 90lb craft paper, rulers, and a pencil. That’s pretty much it."

The Archer Button Up shirt is one of Grainline's most popular patterns.

Courtesy of Jen Beeman/ http://shop.grainlinestudio.com/product/archer-button-up-shirt

"[My job]’s going away because computers are making things more efficient. And you need less patternmakers to do the same amount of work and also things are getting outsourced overseas where the things are being made. But for me, it means that you need to be more creative and think outside the box to make it a viable career.

In 2009, I randomly started a blog and published my first pattern in, I think, 2010. And from there, it’s taken off. There are people in high school who buy them, and I’ve had people email me who are in their eighties. I’m just kind of flabbergasted that that many people are using my patterns and it is world-wide too which blows my mind.

I’ve thought a lot about what I would do if I couldn’t do patternmaking, and I honestly can’t come up with an answer. And I know that’s super lame. But I just really love what I’m doing. And I just know I’m really, really lucky to be able to do what I do."

Hear more stories in our Disappearing Jobs series:

Light And Dark: The Racial Biases That Remain In Photography

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 11:35

When Syreeta McFadden was young, she dreaded being photographed. Cameras made her skin look darkened and distorted. Now a photographer herself, she's learned to capture various hues of brown skin.

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Finding a battery that will power the future

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-16 11:29

Wearables like smartwatches have been the techie dream since forever. Now it seems as though the dreamm may come true. The mobile revolution has allowed hardware makers to create devices that can fit on your wrist  - devices that have the same computing power as devices that used to sit on your desktop.

But while the electronics have shrunk, the batteries haven't, says Marc van den Berg. He's a venture capitalist at Technology Partners in Palo Alto, Calif. On an iPhone, for example, the battery takes up nearly half the real estate of the device.

"If my watch is going to become my new smart phone I don’t want the watch to be a nice piece of jewelry and for me to have to wear a big arm band battery next to it," van den Berg says. 

In the past, the battery business wasn't as sexy as the software or mobile hardware biz.  But the challenge of powering mobile and wearable devices has sparked a renewed excitement in battery technology among tech companies and investors in Silicon Valley. And it's not just small batteries people are excited about.

"The investment community sees the need -- certainly in consumer electronics - but we also have the automobile marketplace and we have utility scale storage devices," van den Berg says. "All three of those things are the demand that the investment community has woken up to."

Just down the road from van den Berg, Yi Cui is working in his lab ast Stanford, where he's a professor. He’s also the CEO of a venture backed start-up called Amprius, which tests the boundaries of battery technology. The company counts former Google CEO Eric Schmidt as one of its big name investors. 

"My group invented paper batteries and textile battery," he says. And in this lab, Cui also developed a battery that uses silicon, which he sells through Amprius.

Cui says batteries are hard to develop because they live in the world of material science or very simply put, it all depends on finding the right material. Sometimes, materials like paper don’t hold enough charge. Or others like metals, can be too expensive. And often they can be dangerous.

"The safety concern is there. Make sure the packaging is good. You don’t leak out anything bad for your body," he says. Sorting through those issues takes a lot of research, time and testing. 

He shows me his battery testing machine. It’s around 4 feet high and has about a 100 little slots. In them, flat silver button batteries, like the ones in a watch. The chip uses silicon, and Cui says it allows the battery to lasts 25 percent longer than other batteries. And Amprius is selling a small number of them to Asian smartphone manufacturers.

Jim Kim is a venture capitalist at Formation 8 and he’s rooting for Amprius.

But, he says, "There’s a valley of death that exists between the research lab and commercialization."

He says while venture capitalists might be funding the research, nobody is paying to manufacture the batteries on a mass scale, at least not in the U.S.

"If you think about what needs to be done, you have to build a plant and that’s very expensive," he says. "And this is a process that takes a long time to tune. You have to be safe with it. If you make a mistake, it’s catastrophic."

Kim says a battery factory can cost up to hundreds of millions of dollars. While the luxury carmaker Tesla wants to build a factory, Kim says it’s mainly Korean conglomerates like LG that are investing, not companies in the U.S.

"And then you’ve had Panasonic, Samsung BYD and Lishen in China, who have built their factories on the back of government subsidies," he says. "Those are the players who are now dominating the market and that’s a shame."

Edward Snowden: From 'Geeky' Dropout To NSA Leaker

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 11:24

What motivated the former NSA contractor to divulge carefully guarded NSA secrets? A new Vanity Fair article takes a look back at the "kid from the Maryland suburbs."

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This is what the new SAT will look like

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-16 11:00

Update: The College Board has released sample questions for the updated SAT. Scroll down to see some selected questions below.

It’s going to be a late night for folks in the multi-billion dollar tutoring and test prep industry. Details of the newly revamped SAT are expected to hit the web just after midnight eastern time.

“I’m somewhat of a night owl,” says Christine Brown, executive director of K-12 and college prep products at Kaplan Test Prep. “I’ll probably be online this evening keeping an eye on things.”

From the big players like Kaplan to small mom-and-pops, test prep companies will be scrambling to overhaul their offerings in time for the new test’s debut in the spring of 2016—and hoping to capitalize on an expected surge in demand.

“When the new SAT comes up, business just goes through the roof,” says David Benjamin Gruenbaum of Ahead of the Class, a California-based tutoring company.

He expects another bump in business this time around, even though the College Board is teaming up with the nonprofit Khan Academy to offer free help.

As Marketplace has reported before, the college application process is a huge -- read: expensive -- endeavor. Standardized tests cost from registration to score reports:

Just taking the SAT costs upward of $51.00. Tack on individual subject tests required by some colleges, and you're adding another $24.50 in initial registration fees, plus $13-24 for every individual subject.

The ACT  costs $36.50. The ACT Plus Writing Test, required by some colleges, costs $52.50.

A new official test prep book is $31.99. A subscription to the full online suite runs $69.95 per year.

SAT and ACT tutoring costs an average of $125 per session. Private tutoring for the tests will range in costs by tutor. Princeton Review's 24-hour private tutoring program will set a family back $3000. One independent tutor we spoke with charges almost $550 an hour for his services. 

Sample questions from the new SAT:

Reading and Writing:

Courtesy of The College Board

Courtesy of The College Board

Math:

Courtesy of The College Board

Problem Solving and Data Analysis:

Courtesy of The College Board

View the entire set of sample questions here.

 

Oman: 15 percent unemployment, but jobs are open

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-16 10:53

Like its neighbors, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Oman has oil. But unlike others in the region, Oman’s supply is limited so it’s been trying to diversify the economy by encouraging small businesses, and pushing locals to work, especially in the private sector. The results have been mixed.

Salma’s Chocolates is a tiny café and store in the lobby of the Bank of Oman; it’s the kind of small business that a lot of people here think is the future of Oman’s economy.

What sets Salma’s apart from the competition are the local flavors it uses. “We have old sweets that started to vanish,” explained Aisha Al Hajri, one of the owners, “so we choose to take the old generation sweets like the halwa, the caramelized sesame and there’s a kind of sweet called mahoo, it’s like a toffee.

They source the sweets from local producers, and then fill their chocolates with them.

Although they pride themselves on local ingredients, Al Hajri and her co-owner (and the store’s namesake) Salma Al Hajri are the only Omani employees.

“The rest are foreigners,” Aisha Al Hajri said. “For a small business in Oman, it’s difficult to hire an Omani due to the minimum wages.”

Instead, they use foreign workers from the Philippines, India and Indonesia. There’s no minimum wage for foreign workers. (Although, Al Hajri, says, they do pay them a living wage.)

About 15 percent of Omanis are unemployed, but a lot of them would rather have government jobs, because they have shorter hours and other perks. To get more locals to work, the government has been raising the minimum wage for Omanis in the private sector.

David Mednicoff, director of Middle Eastern Studies at U Mass-Amherst, says changing Omani attitudes about private sector employment will be hard. “The new expectation they’re going to be shaping,” he said. “If you’re young, looking for a job, you can’t count on the public sector. This is going to be a very big shift."

Other countries in the Persian Gulf, like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, also want more locals to work in the private sector; Mednicoff thinks Oman is more likely to succeed, partly because its native population is bigger.

But Aisha Al-Hajjri isn’t sure about that. She recently offered her young cousin a job, and the woman turned it down saying a private sector job just wasn’t stable enough.

Debate: Millennials Don't Stand A Chance

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 10:52

Narcissistic and ill-prepared for the future? Or civic-minded and entrepreneurial? Two teams tackle stereotypes and realities about young Americans in the latest Intelligence Squared U.S.

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Holy Bible Could Become Louisiana's Official Book

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 10:27

Lawmakers have proposed a bill that would make the Bible the state's official book, but critics say it is unconstitutional and would open Louisiana up to legal challenges.

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Pass the pecans

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-16 10:22

From the Marketplace Datebook, here's a look at what's coming up April 17:

  • Events continue at the National Cathedral in Washington in observance of Holy Week.
  • NASA is scheduled to make an announcement—a discovery by its Kepler Space Telescope.
  • Securities, salsa and soda. Goldman Sachs, Chipotle and Pepsi are slated to report quarterly earnings.
  • "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" has a birthday. Actress Rooney Mara will be 29.
  • And April is National Pecan Month. That's just nuts.
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