National News

S.C. Judge Says Boy, 14, Shouldn't Have Been Executed

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 17:11

In her ruling, Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen wrote that she found "fundamental, Constitutional violations of due process exist in the 1944 prosecution of George Stinney, Jr."

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U.S. Officials Believe North Korea Was Behind Sony Hack

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 15:39

The recent attack on Sony Pictures' computer network that resulted in a flood of confidential data has its origins in North Korea, U.S. intelligence officials say.

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Satanist And Christian Holiday Displays To Go Up At Michigan Capitol

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 15:16

The situation has brought controversy — and energized Christians who realized that a planned Nativity scene was in danger of being canceled.

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Japan's Butter Shortage Whips Its Cake Makers Into A Frenzy

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 12:53

For the Japanese, Christmastime means sponge cake. But a nationwide butter shortage has lead to mandatory butter rationing, forcing cake bakers to seek out substitutes.

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Sony cancels 'The Interview'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-17 12:51

Sony Pictures Entertainment scrapped its Christmas release of the "The Interview" Wednesday. The move comes after several major theater chains decided not to run the film in response to threats hackers who launched a major attack on the studio over the past month.

Just as Sony officially announced it wouldn't release "The Interview," several news organizations reported that North Korea was behind the hack, citing unnamed sources close to the U.S. investigation.

In a statement Tuesday coupled with another mass of leaked emails, the hackers referenced Sept. 11 and warned people to stay away from theaters showing "The Interview," which North Korea has previously condemned.

The comedy is about a TV host and producer recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Sony has been battered for weeks by continuous leaked emails, internal documents, financials, social security numbers and more.

The Seth Rogen and James Franco film, with a modest $45 million budget, is relatively small fare for Sony.

"It's not your typical 'X-Men'  type of blockbuster where there are endless commercial tie-ins," says Jennifer Holt, a professor of film and media studies at the University of California.

Holt says Sony will take a hit, but it was far riskier for the entire movie business if it was screened during Christmas.

"The Christmas season is a huge time for the movie business, and it's a time where they bring out all of their marquee films, so this is a very big revenue period," says Holt.

Eric Wold, analyst with B. Riley & Co., estimates movies will bring in about $2.5 billion in revenue during the last quarter of the year. "The Interview" potentially represented just 2 percent of that, Wold says, while representing an outsize threat to theater chains' bottom line.

"If moviegoers themselves are concerned that something could happen, even if they are not planning to see that movie, they may skip going to the theater altogether to see 'The Hobbit' or some other movie coming out," says Wold.

Theaters can easily replace Sony's film with one of the big Christmas movies being released next week, and likely avoid a financial hit, says Wold. For that reason, he says, it makes sense for exhibitors to pull out of screening "The Interview."

But Jason Squire, a film professor at USC and editor of "The Movie Business Book," says the implications go far beyond this one film.

"This is really going to have a negative impact on what is an artistic business venture," Squire says.

Because of the Sony hack, movie studios are likely to become more cautious about the content of their films in the future, he says.

Obama Issues 12 Pardons, Commutes 8 Sentences

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 12:34

President Obama commuted the prison sentences of eight people who were convicted of drug-related crimes Wednesday, in a move that also saw 12 presidential pardons issued.

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Alan Gross' Release: How It Went Down

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 12:31

American Alan Gross had spent more than five years in a Cuban prison where he suffered ill health. Then, on Tuesday, his lawyer, Scott Gilbert, told him in a phone call that he was going home.

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We're Down To 5 Northern White Rhinos: Is It Too Late For Babies?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 12:11

With the death of a Northern White Rhino in San Diego's zoo this week, researchers are working to see if they can save the species. They'd better hurry — only five remain.

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In Gaza, The Specter Of ISIS Proves Useful To Both Sides

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 12:11

The Islamic State is not believed to be in the Gaza Strip. But a flyer in its name was recently sent around the territory. Both Israel and Hamas are trying to use it to their advantage.

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Dreaming Up A Safer, Cooler PPE For Ebola Fighters

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 12:09

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are revamping the Ebola suit. They've come up with a design that's safer, cooler and easier to take off than the space suits currently in use in West Africa.

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What Happens After You Get That Mammogram

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 11:47

What are the odds that you'll get a false positive when you get a mammogram? How likely is it that it will detect cancer? Here's one way to look at it.

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Major Theater Chains Won't Screen 'The Interview' Amid Threats

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 11:23

News reports say Regal, AMC, Cinemark, Carmike and Cineplex will not screen the comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco. The decision deals a blow to the film, which cost $44 million to make.

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Russian journalists try to thwart Kremlin censorship

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-17 11:00

As the ruble crashed and the Russian Central Bank hiked interest rates to record highs, the lead story for most TV stations in Moscow was not the country’s dire financial crisis. It was this: “President Vladimir Putin has won the annual Man of the Year award for the 15th year running.”

 

Russia – under Putin – is not exactly a haven of press freedom. Indeed, one group of disgruntled journalists is so disgusted by the level of censorship at home, they just left Russia, settled in the Baltic state of Latvia and launched their own independent online service with the aim of providing Russians with objective news. Their departure was triggered by the firing of a well-known, independent editor.

 

Galina Timchenko was editor-in-chief of the Russian online news service Lenta until earlier this year, when she carried some stories that were critical of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. Timchenko was fired and replaced by a PR man who is very close to the Kremlin. Speaking from her self-imposed exile in the Latvian capital of Riga, she says the oligarch owner of Lenta was leaned on by the Russian government.

 

“It’s a very usual situation to put pressure on the owner of media,” she says.

 

That is an understatement. Russia is gaining a grisly international reputation for press censorship. It’s been ranked 148th out of 173 nations for press freedom, with Russian journalists, media workers and news providers receiving threats and sometimes even physical abuse if they publish anything negative about the Kremlin and its close allies in the business world.

 

Some in the media are fighting back. After Timchenko was fired, all 70 journalists on her staff quit in protest and 20 of them followed her to Latvia. In a converted warehouse in Riga, they’re producing stories for a new independent Russian language news service called Meduza. The service's content is published not only on a website but also on an app, to prevent the Kremlin from barring it.

 

“It’s more difficult to block, and as far as I know there’s no example of blocking apps in Russia still," Timchenko says.

 

The site is in its infancy, attracting around 81,000 visitors a day, compared with Lenta’s 3 million. Meduza expects to make its money from subscriptions, ads and app sales. For an organization committed to openness and transparency it is making an unusual move, refusing to reveal the cost of setting up in Latvia or the source of the money – and that’s ringing alarm bells.

 

“I find this problematic, the fact that this project would not actually reveal where the funding is coming from,” says Vladimir Strukov. He is an independent Russian commentator and professor of Russian cultural studies and world cinemas at the University of Leeds in England. 

 

“This lack of transparency gives a sense that there’s something happening there and it breeds conspiracy theories among bloggers and other media users in Russia," he says.

 

But Timchenko counters that by not revealing the names of her financial backers, she is protecting them from harassment by the Kremlin.

 

“I want to decrease their political risk,” she says.

 

Timchenko has given Meduza three years to break even but agrees she has her work cut out. In spite of Russia’s growing economic problems, Putin remains wildly popular. His message appears to be more appealing to the Russian public than what the independent media has to say.

New York is first state to ban fracking

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-17 11:00

The fracking wars continue, this time in the Big Apple. The controversial drilling practice has been banned in local town and cities, but today New York became the first state to enact a ban.

Kai talks to Scott Tong, who has been covering fracking and the oil industry for Marketplace.

Why law school enrollment is way down

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-17 11:00

Law schools enrolled about 120,000 students in 2014, a decrease of almost 7 percent from last year. It was the smallest number admitted since 1987.

While law school was once seen as a golden ticket to a financially stable future, the profession is becoming less popular. New technology is helping lawyers work more efficiently, allowing them to handle a bigger workload. But it also cuts down on a firm's need to hire more lawyers, which means fewer graduates nab full-time permanent jobs.

As recently as 2000, "almost every school was reporting employment outcomes with 90 percent or more of their graduates employed," says Jerry Organ, who teaches at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minnesota.

Back then, schools didn't have to report what kinds of jobs their alumni were getting, but now they do, he says. Numbers over the last few years have reflected this reporting change, with only about half of  students getting full-time, long-term jobs as lawyers.

Now that’s an unexpected energy boost. (Thanks, Cuba)

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-17 11:00

Cuba and the United States are taking steps to normalize their long-troubled relationship in both politics and economics.

In response, tons of investors bought stock in the Cuba Beverage Company. Shares were up nearly 140 percent at one point, according to the Wall Street Journal. The thing is, the Cuba Beverage Company is an energy drink firm out of San Diego. No relation to Cuba, the country, at all.

It's not a big energy drink company. The shares only rose to 4 cents apiece. Caveat emptor, nonetheless.

Alan Gross, U.S. Contractor Freed By Cuba, Says 'It's Good To Be Home'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 10:38

Havana freed Gross, who spent five years in a Cuban prison, as a humanitarian gesture. The former USAID contractor said he hoped the U.S. and Cuba move past their "mutually belligerent" policies.

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PHOTO: The Meaning in a Phone Call

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 10:29

A conversation between Presidents Obama and Castro preceded a plan to normalize diplomatic relations between historical foes.

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The U.S. And Cuba: A Brief History Of A Tortured Relationship

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 10:09

The stalemate has outlasted 10 U.S. presidents, a failed invasion, a nuclear crisis and countless boatloads of Cuban asylum seekers. All that changed on Wednesday.

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Prisoner Exchange With Cuba Led To Freedom For Top U.S. Intelligence Agent

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 09:31

President Obama called the unnamed man "one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba." The agent spent nearly two decades in a Cuban prison.

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