National News

Gov. Perry Gets Booked At Texas Courthouse After Indictment

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 14:23

Following allegations of abuse of power, Rick Perry maintained that he had done nothing wrong. He told a crowd outside the courthouse he would "fight this injustice with every fiber of my being."

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Torrential Rain Swamps Phoenix, Strands Drivers

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 13:59

Monsoonal rainfall caused massive flash flooding in Phoenix on Tuesday, turning roads into raging torrents. One area recorded 1 inch in 14 minutes.

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Health records are an easy target for identity thieves

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-19 13:46

Community Health Systems, a large hospital operator, got hacked. The word is Chinese hackers stole some 4.5 million health records from the company.  The files included everything from patient Social Security numbers to birth dates and addresses, a veritable goldmine of information for identity theft.

Healthcare providers have been digitizing our records to make everything from treating patients to filing for insurance more efficient. But in their rush towards efficiency, cyber security has gotten lost, says Stephen Cobb, a security researcher at ESET.

“I think a lot of the problem is cultural,” says Cobb. “Doctors and nurses get up and go to work everyday to help people" -  not to protect people from criminals, he says. “An example would be, 'how many hospital systems have chief security information officers'?”

His answer: not many. Plus, he says, many computer systems were put in place before cyber crimes became a real threat, and so a lot of those systems have holes.

Protecting medical records is more difficult than say, protecting your banking records, because they’re constantly being shared and transferred online, says Mac McMillan, CEO of CynergisTek.

“If you look at the average number of people who have access to your information in a hospital encounter, the number I’ve heard is around 150 people,” McMillan says. Each of those people are potential security threats.

Complicating cyber security even further is the "Internet of Things," says Michael Coates, director of product security at Shape Security. He says almost everything in a hospital is wired these days - from printers to “imaging devices or tablets being used by doctors on the wireless network."

Coates says many of these devices aren't secure, and if hackers can break into one device, they can potentially break into the whole system. 

The big business of tear gas, explained

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-19 13:40

Tear gas may be one of the most ubiquitous images on the news looking back over the past several years. White clouds - and people running from them - appear in newsreels depicting uprisings from Ferguson to Cairo. 

Nonlethal weapons are a $1.6 billion-a-year business, according to Visiongain, a market research firm. 

“Seventy percent of that is anti-personnel,” says Michael Emery, defense editor and analyst. Anti-personnel weapons means something used to immobilize or incapacitate people without – ideally – killing them.  This could include rubber bullets and stun-guns. 

“Tear gas is possibly the second most important element after Tasers,” he says, largely because it’s so effective and less lethal. “A few canisters of tear gas can be used to disperse a hundred people, whereas a Taser is one-to-one.”

The science is still out on the long term effects of tear gas, says Sven Eric Jordt, professor of anesthesiology at Duke University School of Medicine.  It can be dangerous for children, the elderly and people with breathing problems, but its general effects aren’t conclusively known. Still, tear gas is less lethal than other options. Rubber bullets, though designed to be sub-lethal, have killed people and water hoses have maimed them.  

The largest consumer of non-lethal antipersonnel weapons, including tear gas, is law enforcement, says Emery, overwhelmingly in the United States.  “The U.S. is by far the largest market for nonlethal systems and due to that there’s a concentration of companies within the U.S.”

Wyoming-based Defense Technology (part of Canadian firm Safariland) appears to be the source of at least some of the tear gas used in Ferguson, Missouri.  Other U.S. companies include  the Pennsylvania-based Combined Systems Inc. and Non Lethal Technologies Inc.  There's also AmTech Less Lethal in Florida.  Another major producer, Condor Non Lethal, is based in Brazil.

Between 2013 and 2014, sales of nonlethal anti-personnel weapons grew 2.2 percent globally.  It’s a moderate number, tempered by security spending cuts.  But Emery says he expects future growth to be much higher.  One reason is that after so many uprisings from Tunis to Rio to Ferguson, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that lethal force makes things worse.

But another reason is that police departments and citizens are getting inured to seeing such weapons deployed, including tear gas.  “The [increased] massive use world wide has decreased the threshold in western countries to deploy tear gas,” says Jordt.

The question is how law enforcement will strike a balance between using it more, and using it well.  

Man With A Knife Fatally Shot By Police In St. Louis, Officials Say

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 13:33

The shooting appears to be unrelated to the ongoing protests in neighboring Ferguson, Mo. Police say the 23-year-old, suspected of stealing items from a convenience store, was "acting erratically."

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Amid The Chaos In Ferguson, Another Police Shooting

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 13:29

Robert talks to St Louis Public Radio reporter Stephanie Lecci about Tuesday's police shooting in St Louis. Authorities say officers shot and killed a man brandishing a knife.

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Blocked At The Border, Gaza Man's Hopes Of Escape Fade

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 13:27

One man's quest to get out of Gaza and into Egypt highlights Palestinian calls for more freedom of movement.

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Doctors Without Borders: What We Need To Contain Ebola

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 13:22

Dr. Joanne Liu of Doctors Without Borders says fear and a lack of sense of urgency has kept the international community in their home countries rather than stepping up to the plate in West Africa.

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Volkswagen brings German-style vocational training to the US

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-19 13:19

One of the world’s largest automakers has stepped into the fringe of American education. Volkswagen has imported its German-style apprenticeship program to the U.S., and American labor officials hope it might become a model.

“It’s a totally different mindset. It’s a totally different culture,” says Ilker Subasi, who heads the Volkswagen Academy on site at the company’s Chattanooga plant.

Subasi sees a stigma in the U.S. against technical education. But in Germany, more than half of high school graduates go into vocational programs like VW’s. Subasi himself was once a VW apprentice.

Once accepted, the company’s U.S. “mechatronics” students earn a small stipend over the course of three years while learning how to maintain robotics. If they stick with the program, they’re hired with a starting salary of $22 an hour. They also earn an associate’s degree from Chattanooga State Community College and a DIHK certification from the German American Chamber of Commerce, which would allow them to work at German auto plants around the world.

“At first, I was like, ‘Am I going to be pushing around a broom? Am I going to be changing light bulbs?’” recalls Alex Bizzell, a 22-year-old who graduated last week. “It’s been a substantial effort to do it, but now I know exactly what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.”

The VW school is heavily subsidized by the state of Tennessee as part of an incentive package to bring the automaker to the state in 2009. A stadium-sized building beside the plant that builds the Passat houses the classroom space and hands-on learning. 

Inside, a robotic arm two stories tall swings through the air, as a student practices programming machines like the ones used next door. Michael Regan says he tried a year of community college before applying.

“You know, I was never that really into writing and all of that,” he says. “I’m not that big of a writer. I was just always more of a hands-on person. That’s just how I learn better.”

At Regan’s graduation, a top executive told the dozen students he hopes they will ultimately retire with VW.

Some graduates are taking the option to spend a year working at a German plant. Others are deferring their job to finish a four-year degree. Regan starts work immediately – albeit on the night shift.

“Look at the benefits and the future he has with this company,” says Regan’s mom, Sharon. “And that’s why you go to college is to work for a big company – most people – to make a good living and have good benefits. And he’s going to have it at 22.”

Ebola In The Skies? How The Virus Made It To West Africa

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 13:14

The type of Ebola erupting in West Africa is closely related to one found 2,500 miles away — the distance between Boston and San Francisco. How did the virus spread so far without anyone noticing?

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What are you up to during a conference call?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-19 13:06

Data provided by InterCall, the world's biggest conference call company, and collated by the Harvard Business Review, revealed what people actually do while they're on a conference call. According to the survey, which allowed multiple responses:

  • 65 percent said they do other work, whatever that may be.
  • 63 percent said they send an email.
  • 55 percent said they eat or make food.
  • And 47 percent said they go to the restroom, in a pretty gross display of multitasking.

Just as interesting were the places survey respondents said they took conference calls from. The fitting room, the beach and the ER were all represented.

To replicate their experience, maybe head to one of those places (or a bathroom) to revisit our interview with Zach Scott, who created the awe-inspiring/terrifying

Ferguson Teachers Use Day Off As Opportunity For A Civics Lesson

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 12:59

School has been canceled for the week in Ferguson, Mo., as civil unrest continues. While the students are out of the classroom, teachers are helping to clean up the streets.

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'This Fight Begins In The Heart': Reading James Baldwin As Ferguson Seethes

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 12:58

Protests in Ferguson, Mo., continue in response to the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by police on Aug. 9. The incident reminds author Laila Lalami of James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son.

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What can a 4-year-old learn at online preschool?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-08-19 12:22

Monique Hurtado, a mother of three in Monrovia, California, doesn't send her 3-year-old to preschool. Hurtado has her own bookkeeping business and her husband works full-time as a laser supply stock clerk.

“Financially, we couldn't afford it,” Hurtado said of the nearby preschool options.

There was another reason too: “I just feel she should stay home with me."

So, she set up a preschool learning center. The big kitchen table is neatly divided into stations with paints, crayons and other art supplies. There are blocks and play dough in tubs.

And there’s a laptop computer.

Monique Hurtado found a preschool course for her child on the Internet. For years, websites have offered free preschool handouts or activity guides. Now, parents can get an entire preschool curriculum from a computer.

The companies behind online preschools

Two new companies for online preschool are ABC Mouse and CHALK preschool online. Neither was willing to share exact metrics on home-use of its online products, but both said their numbers are in the tens of thousands — and growing daily.

CHALK representative Jenna Capozzi said when the online preschool soft-launched in November 2012, there were 100 sign-ups per day. Now it’s in the thousands.

“Our retention rate is at 60 percent, which is encouraging, for we still consider ourselves a start-up and are learning every day about a unique market,” she said.

CHALK started out charging for the service but a year later, in November 2013, they began offering their content for free. CHALK online is a 30-minute class covering all the preschool basics, from literacy to science.

They're taught through videos created by Capozzi’s team, based on lessons taught in CHALK’s brick and mortar preschools. There are also many “off-line” activities attached to each day’s class that parents are encouraged to lead, like "take a nature walk and note the colors of flowers."

ABC Mouse also delivers online preschool curriculum developed by early education specialists. It rolled out a version in public libraries across Los Angeles this year, after it received interest and feedback from preschool teachers. Last year, the company said, 65,000 teachers used in the U.S. and Canada.

A sign of the times?

It's a sign of where early education may be headed in these times of high preschool costs and long wait lists.

Online preschool has even been adopted by the state of Utah as one arm of its early education services. Faced with a desperate need for more quality preschools, the Utah Legislature in 2008 funded an online preschool venture called UPSTART. The legislature studied student’s progress, and results came back extremely positive. An independent evaluation of the program's third year showed student's did two to three times better in literacy than students who had not used the online program.

Utah recently reauthorized – and increased — the funding for another five years. It's costing the state $900 per child to provide a full year of online preschool, and this year the state will spend $2.2 million on the program.

Yet sitting a preschooler in front of a screen to "watch school" is a concept that some question. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended limited screen time for the preschool age group, one reason some online providers limit the lesson time to 30 or 60 minutes a day.

Screen time: Positive or dangerous?

Some experts, however, think limited and targeted screen time can be positive for young brain development. Dr. Gary Small is the author of "iBrain" and a professor of psychiatry at UCLA. His work looks at the effect of digital devices on the brain. He found computer and device use “allows us to exercise our brains” - even for little children.

“It can get your neurons happy [and] it allows your brain to challenge itself and to develop in many positive ways,” he said.

The danger, according to Small, is that children will not switch off the computer to do other necessary developmental activities, like building with blocks or getting dirty in the sandbox with friends. 

If a child is only using a computer or tablet, he said, “some of those three dimensional concepts that you get from hands-on play are not kicking in.”

Georgetown university professor Rachel Barr has also studied small children and what they learn from digital devices. One of her studies involved a puzzle that could be done on a digital device or with real physical blocks by toddlers aged 15 to 33 months.

When the children were shown how to build an object out of shapes on a touch screen, and then they were asked to repeat it on the digital device, they did very well. But they didn’t do so well when they were given real physical blocks and asked to build the same object.

“They seem to have some difficulty taking the information with them,” Barr said.   

CHALK, with its roots in a brick and mortar preschool, understands this, said Capozzi, Chalk’s lead content creator.

“At that age kids are learning very tactile-ly,” she said. Her program prompts parents to supplement the online program with offline, hands-on activities. “If they want to learn about how something can have a rough texture or a smooth texture, put those textures in front of your child to actually touch it."

Hurtado said she and her 3-year-old love Chalk preschool online.

“It is hard to try and come up with a curriculum, so that’s why I really like the online preschool because it does take a lot of the pressure off of me,” she said. “I can add to it, which I do, but I don’t have to think up all the things or spend the time to sing all the songs because it’s done for me.”

Hurtado believes her daughter is blossoming from her online preschool.

“I didn’t realize she was soaking in as much as she was,” Hurtado said. “I was really surprised.”

As Kids Head To Campus, Parents Broach The Subject Of Sexual Assault

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 12:19

Starting college is exciting, but campus life also comes with risks. So how are parents talking to their kids about avoiding becoming a victim — or even a perpetrator — of sexual assault?

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Specialty Food And Agriculture Startups Are Ripening In Greece

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 12:17

Sotiris Lymperopoulos left a good job in Athens to collect wild sea greens for upscale restaurants. Food startups like his may be able to generate thousands of new jobs in post-crisis Greece.

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Think Tank Apologizes For 'Unconscionable' Tweet To Amnesty

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 12:13

The Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said an intern had accidentally used the organization's account to respond to a tweet from Amnesty International.

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Study Shows Sharp Racial Divide In Reaction To Ferguson

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 12:05

A recent study by the Pew Research Center finds that there are stark racial divisions in reactions to the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

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A Milestone Marked In Disposal Of Syria's Chemical Weapons

NPR News - Tue, 2014-08-19 12:05

President Obama has announced that the U.S. has completed disposal of the most sensitive parts of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal. The successful disposal is an impressive technical achievement, but serious questions remain about the regime's use of chemical weapons.

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