National News

Scientists Give Genetically Modified Organisms A Safety Switch

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-21 11:03

By making E. coli dependent on an artificial amino acid, scientists hope to show that engineered organisms can be safer and more useful for industrial processes like drug production.

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Bulgakov's 'Master' Still Strikes A Chord In Today's Russia

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-21 10:16

Russian author Mikhail Bulgakov's classic, The Master and Margarita, ridiculed Soviet leaders and bureaucracy. It wasn't published until 27 years after his death, but still resonates with Russians.

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Europe considers quantitative easing

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-01-21 10:00

The European Central Bank is expected to announce a large bond buying program Thursday. Quantitative easing, as it’s called, could help boost the moribund eurozone economy by encouraging investment, but many are not on board. The Germans are the biggest critics, reminded of hyperinflation nearly a century ago, and worried that QE would let weaker European economies off the hook. 

 

Explaining 'middle-class economics'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-01-21 09:55

Ask just about anybody, and they’ll tell you they’re part of the middle class.

“Certainly, it is the label of choice,” says Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup. More than half of the people in Gallup's last survey identified themselves as middle class, he says. But there’s more to it than just wealth, or income. “Middle class seems to be a very comfortable place for Americans to put themselves,” Newport says.

In Tuesday's State of the Union address, President Obama called middle-class economics "the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. "

But "middle class" has no formal economic definition, meaning many people define it themselves.

“And that often means working, not relying on government," says Melissa Kearney, director of the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution. "But it’s really a nebulous concept.”

Politicians love to talk about middle-class Americans, Kearney says, but it’s hard to tailor government programs to them, precisely because there’s no middle-class definition. As a result, Obama’s plan bleeds over to not-so-middle class Americans, she says.

“Some of these tax benefits would extend to folks – couples making $200,000,” she says, referring to beneficiaries of a proposed tax credit for two-income couples. 

Other parts of the president’s plan apply mainly to low-income Americans – things like increasing the minimum wage and instituting paid sick days. The president’s proposal would have to be more targeted to reach people truly in the middle of the pack.

Did he hit the target? 

“He threw a water balloon at it, and it splattered all over the place,” says Sharyn O’Halloran, a professor of political economy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. “He saw a target – middle class – and just made a bunch of big sweeping proposals which he thought would be appealing to them.”

The proposals won’t necessarily be appealing to Congress.  Still, O’Halloran says, the president has set the stage for Democrats who want to make middle class economics part of the 2016 presidential race.

Marketplace's live coverage of the 2015 State of the Union address

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-01-21 09:41
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Boehner Invites Israel's Netanyahu To Address Congress On Iran

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-21 09:33

The White House, which was not informed of the invitation, called it a departure from diplomatic protocol. Boehner, the House speaker, said, "Congress can make this decision on its own."

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The Challenge Of Fact-Checking North Korea

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-21 08:51

A prominent North Korean defector now says he made up some parts of his story. His case highlights the difficulties of pinning down information in a closed, secretive society.

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Pennsylvania installs prefab bridges

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-01-21 08:40

Building a bridge takes years. That’s a problem, because many states have crumbling infrastructures, and they’re looking for ways to shore it up with limited funds.

That's why the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is speeding things up. PennDOT is hiring a team of private contractors to quickly replace hundreds of state bridges.

"We expect that we're going to deliver 558 bridges in 3½ years, instead of what would have taken us eight to 12 years under our traditional method," says PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch.

Prefab bridges

The key is mass production. First, the engineers will put together a couple dozen standard, cookie-cutter designs. They’ll mix and match pieces of those designs based on each bridge site.

Manufacturers will then make some of the concrete bridge parts, perhaps 50-foot bridge surfaces, for example. Everything can't be made in a factory, but they’ll standardize whatever they can.

A construction crew usually has to wait weeks for each section of concrete on a bridge to harden and strengthen before they can move forward, says Andrew Swank, president of Swank Construction, who says his company will replace some bridges under the state's new program. That means means construction on a small bridge can take months, he says.

Building a bridge with factory-made parts only takes a couple of weeks because the pieces are hardened ahead of time and arrive ready to assemble, Swank says.

It's kind of like buying a bookshelf from IKEA. "The pieces will have slotted ends. This piece will fit into this piece and key into this piece," he says.

The construction team uses a crane to lift the pieces, slides them into place and has "a bridge in very short order," Swank says.

Engineers say factory-built bridge parts are actually stronger than poured concrete, because they’re made at the exact right temperature, away from rain, snow and weird weather.

Other states

Pennsylvania isn’t the first state to mass-produce its bridges. Missouri recently fixed and replaced more than 800 bridges in 3½ years.

Utah has also tried replacing some of its bridges with prefabricated parts, says Andy Herrmann, former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers. “Florida, New York, Washington and Virginia are also looking into it,” he says, “because they have so many deficient bridges they have to fix, and they’re trying to do it quickly.”

Pennsylvania is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on its program, which it says will still be 20 percent cheaper than traditional methods.

Is your Online Password On The Worst Password List?

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-21 07:54

SplashData, an Internet security services firm, has released its annual list of 25 worst Internet passwords. "12345" and "password" top the list.

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Quiz: Extracurricular coding

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-01-21 07:39

Computer programming contests have become so popular on college campuses that an international organization formed to host events.

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Seaweed: ‘Adventurous' and a $6.4 billion industry

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-01-21 07:09

If someone mentions "edible seaweed," the first thing that often comes to mind is the sushi nori that holds a California roll together. And in fact, East Asia is one of the world's largest consumers of seaweed.

Over time, seaweed's global presence expanded to other parts of the world, and it has become a $6.39 billion farming industry worldwide – a move that hardly surprises Paul Dobbins, president of Ocean Approved, the first commercial kelp farm in the U.S.

"We saw the level of consumption of seaweed globally and realized it was only a matter of time before it started to be reintroduced into our country," he says. "Seaweed was eaten by our indigenous population before the colonists came along. When my great-grandmother in Newfoundland was a little girl, they would eat seaweed in the winter as a way to get your green nutrition at a time when there weren't any green plants available."

Dobbins says he holds a significant share of the seaweed market in high schools and colleges, as demand for healthier dietary options continues to grow.

"It's an adventurous food. It's not something they were probably served when they were really young," he says.

As for Dobbins' favorite way to eat seaweed? Tossed in with scrambled eggs, shrimp, and cheese, not terribly unlike an omelet.

Seaweed: ‘Adventurous' food's a $6.4 billion industry

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-01-21 07:09

If someone mentions "edible seaweed," the first thing that often comes to mind is the sushi nori that holds a California roll together. And in fact, East Asia is one of the world's largest consumers of seaweed.

Over time, seaweed's global presence expanded to other parts of the world, and it has become a $6.39 billion farming industry worldwide – a move that hardly surprises Paul Dobbins, president of Ocean Approved, the first commercial kelp farm in the U.S.

"We saw the level of consumption of seaweed globally and realized it was only a matter of time before it started to be reintroduced into our country," he says. "Seaweed was eaten by our indigenous population before the colonists came along. When my great-grandmother in Newfoundland was a little girl, they would eat seaweed in the winter as a way to get your green nutrition at a time when there weren't any green plants available."

Dobbins says he holds a significant share of the seaweed market in high schools and colleges, as demand for healthier dietary options continues to grow.

"It's an adventurous food. It's not something they were probably served when they were really young," he says.

As for Dobbins' favorite way to eat seaweed? Tossed in with scrambled eggs, shrimp, and cheese, not terribly unlike an omelet.

From seaweed to shining seaweed

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-01-21 07:09

If someone mentions 'edible seaweed,' the first thing that often comes to mind is the sushi nori that holds the innards of a California roll together. And in fact, East Asia is one of the world's largest consumers of seaweed.

Over time, seaweed's global presence expanded to other parts of the world, and has become a $6.39 billion farming industry worldwide—a move that hardly surprises Paul Dobbins, the president of Ocean Approved, the first commercial kelp farm in the U.S.

"We saw the level of consumption of seaweed globally, and realized it was only a matter of time before it started to be reintroduced into our country," he said. "Seaweed was eaten by our indigenous population before the colonists came along; when my great-grandmother in Newfoundland was a little girl, they would eat seaweed in the winter as a way to get your green nutrition at a time when there weren't any green plants available."

Dobbins says he holds a significant share of the seaweed market in high schools and colleges, as demand for a healthier dietary options continues to rise.

"It's an adventurous food. It's not something they were probably served when they were really young," he said.

As for Dobbins's favorite way to eat seaweed? Tossed in with scrambled eggs, shrimp, and cheese, not terribly unlike an omelet.

Anti-Islam Protesters Plan Massive Rally In Leipzig, Germany

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-21 07:05

As many as 60,000 people are expected to attend the rally in what could be one of the biggest protests in the eastern German city since pro-democracy marches a quarter-century ago.

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State Of The Union: A Quick Wrap On Education

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-21 07:03

Good news about graduation rates, and more about Obama's plan for making community college free.

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Google's Stake In SpaceX Puts It Closer To Goal Of Internet Access For All

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-21 05:17

Elon Musk's SpaceX received a $1 billion investment from Google and Fidelity, which now own slightly less than 10 percent of the firm. SpaceX is currently valued at $10 billion.

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Feeling Gloomy? Maybe Things On Earth Aren't As Bad As You Think

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-21 05:06

That's the view of Michael Elliott, head of Bono's anti-poverty group One and a delegate to Davos, where leaders and activists are gathering this week to hash out solutions to the world's ills.

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Shanghai Fires 4 Officials Over Fatal New Year's Eve Stampede

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-21 04:59

Investigators said the officials were off enjoying a banquet at an opulent Japanese restaurant during the stampede along the city's waterfront that killed three dozen people and injured 49 others.

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Palestinian Stabs At Least 11 Israelis Aboard Tel Aviv Bus

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-21 04:16

Three of those stabbed were seriously wounded. The gunman was shot in the leg while trying to escape. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the incident, which Israel is calling a terrorist act.

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Shiite Houthi Rebels Tighten Grip On Yemen's Capital

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-21 03:39

The rebels took charge today of a military base that houses ballistic missiles, a day after they seized the presidential palace in Sanaa and shelled the president's house. The president is unharmed.

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