National / International News

France drops Arafat poisoning probe

BBC - Wed, 2015-09-02 13:29
French judges say they have dropped an investigation into claims that former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was poisoned.

Tree Counter Is Astonished By How Many Trees There Are

NPR News - Wed, 2015-09-02 13:25

Earth is home to more than 3 trillion trees, a new map of forest density shows. That's more than anyone realized. But the total is also down about 46 percent since the first humans arrived.

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For A Baltimore Boutique Owner, A 'Joyous' Reopening After The Riots

NPR News - Wed, 2015-09-02 13:25

Baltimore clothing shop Flawless Damsels is one of the more than 400 businesses damaged in last spring's riots. The shop recently reopened and was bustling, though that's not the case everywhere.

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No Cause For Murder Charges In Arafat's Death, French Investigators Say

NPR News - Wed, 2015-09-02 13:21

More than two years after accusations arose that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's 2004 death was the result of polonium-210 poisoning, French judges say there isn't enough evidence.

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Murray braced for 'tricky' test

BBC - Wed, 2015-09-02 13:20
Britain's Andy Murray faces Frenchman Adrian Mannarino as three Britons try to reach the US Open third round on Thursday.

Could migrant images change policy?

BBC - Wed, 2015-09-02 13:20
David Cameron's conviction is that it's more effective to tackle the cause of the migrant crisis than the symptom - but images of a toddler washed up on a Turkish beach could add pressure on him to change course.

'Three trillion trees on Earth'

BBC - Wed, 2015-09-02 13:07
What is said to be the most robust estimate yet finds there to be just over three trillion trees on Planet Earth.

Its economic growth sputtering, China puts on a parade

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-09-02 13:00

The last time China held a military parade was six years ago, to celebrate the People’s Republic of China’s 6oth birthday. The official title of Thursday's parade is: “Commemoration of 70th anniversary of victory of Chinese people’s resistance against Japanese Aggression and World Anti-Fascist War.”

In other words, China is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. According to Dali Yang, political science professor and director of the University of Chicago’s center in Beijing, China’s leaders are putting on this parade to send two important messages. The first one is for the rest of the world: "The Chinese leadership is trying to send a signal, to the West in particular," notes Yang, "that China was then allied with the West. At the time, communist countries and capitalist countries were allied against fascists."

 Chinese military helicopters fly over the city during a rehearsal ahead of Thursday's military parade (ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)

But here’s the problem: The leaders of China’s old wartime allies, like the United States and the United Kingdom, aren’t attending this celebration against fascism.

So who RSVP’d?

The list includes Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, Venezuela’s dictator Nicolás Maduro, and Sudan’s Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is wanted by the international criminal court for crimes against humanity and genocide. They’ll all sit together while Chinese troops goose-step by, a type of marching George Orwell called “one of the most horrible sights in the world.”

Which leads us to what Yang says is the second, more important, message China wants to convey with this parade: “Having such a parade would allow President Xi, who is fighting corruption and trying to consolidate his power of the military, to show the country that he is the person who is in control of the military, and that China stands strong and tall to the world.”

At no other time in Xi Jinping’s presidency has it been so crucial to convince his countrymen he’s in control. The 62-year-old leader has sent shockwaves through China’s Communist Party after his anti-corruption campaign led to disciplinary actions against a staggering 414,000 government officials. China’s economic transition has also been bumpy as of late. But whenever the going gets tough in China, a familiar enemy is rolled out. “One thing the country can get behind is a general and well-entrenched loathing of Japan,” says China historian Jeremiah Jenne.

The Japanese killed an estimated 20 million Chinese in World War II; only the Soviet Union lost more people in the conflict. Yet China’s key role in fighting off the Japanese is largely forgotten in Western accounts of the war.

But it’s not in China.

Since the 1980s, state broadcasters have aired 302 television series chronicling China’s wartime resistance to the Japanese. Today, 33 of these anti-Japanese war dramas — including a cartoon for children — remain, aired on Chinese television at all hours of the day. The residue of all this programming rushes to the surface when residents in an alley neighborhood behind Beijing’s Tian’anmen Square are asked whether they’re going to watch Thursday’s parade.

"You bet I’m going to go and watch!" screams shop owner Zeng Xiangren before loudly chanting "Down with Japanese imperialism! Down with Japan!"

Zeng's 3-year-old relative yells “down with Japan” too.

Across town on the campus of People’s University, the opinion about Japan is more nuanced.

“‘I feel like as individuals, the Japanese are good, their education level is high," says 19-year-old incoming freshman Hu Jingyi. "But as a nation, their ideas are extreme. I just feel like they’re very frightening. Their national cohesion is very scary.”

National cohesion can be very scary, of course. But for a fast-rising global power dealing with the demons of its past while trying to manage an historic economic transformation in the present, national cohesion can also be seen as crucial.

Polling's 'spectacular disasters'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-09-02 13:00

Former Hewlett-Packard boss Carly Fiorina is expected to make the main GOP debate on September 16, after CNN tweaked its selection criteria. It blamed a lack of recent high-quality polls of the 17 Republicans running for president. That speaks to the disruption in the business of polling, where track records have taken a hit over the past few years.

Gallup predicted that Mitt Romney would win the popular vote by a percentage point in 2012 . In the 2014 midterm elections, some pollsters were surprised by the Republican takeover of Congress.

“Young adults, minorities and others stayed home," says Robert Y. Shapiro, a professor of political science at Columbia University. "In contrast, whites and older voters voted more than the Democrats.”

Turns out, young adults and minorities are the hardest voters for pollsters to reach. Millennials may only have a cell phone, and there can be language barriers with minorities.

“These people also may be less willing to be interviewed in general," says Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup. "Some don’t have phones.”

Cliff Zukin, who teaches public policy and political science at Rutgers, calls the pollsters’ misfires “spectacular disasters.”

He says they’re caused by two trends. First, a plummeting response rate. And second, the proliferation of cell phones. Pollsters aren’t allowed to mass dial them with computers; actual humans have to make every call. Zukin says that’s costly.

“It’s much more expensive — maybe three times more expensive than it was four years ago to do this stuff right now,” he says.

Zukin says that’s led pollsters to cut corners. Some are doing online polling instead. 

“These are guys who are trying new things, and they haven’t had good results, but they’re making a lot of money because it costs so little to do an internet poll,” he says.

But you get what you pay for. Zukin has some advice for voters in the 2016 presidential election: Take the polls with a huge grain of salt, because polling has become more art than science. 

Migrants vs. refugees, in economic terms

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-09-02 13:00

Europe is in the midst of what’s being called a refugee or migrant crisis. Nearly 340,000 people have sought to cross European Union borders since January, including more than 100,000 in July alone.

As European leaders struggle to figure out how to handle this flow of new arrivals, the words “migrants” and “refugees” are often used interchangeably. However, these terms are very different.

Refugees are fleeing armed conflict or persecution, perhaps because of who they are, their race, religion or politics.

“In simplistic terms, the difference is between push and pull,” says Jim Hathaway, the director of the University of Michigan’s program in refugee and asylum law. “Life is never quite that simple, but a migrant is someone who chooses to move, rather than literally forced to move.”

Two-thirds of new arrivals to Europe are from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and Eritrea, says Bill Frelick, with Human Rights Watch. Those countries are referred to as “refugee producing states,” due to ongoing war or records of human rights abuses.

But Frelick also notes that “economic migrants" can also have compelling reasons to seek shelter in Europe. 

“There certainly will be and are people who are in the mix who are economic migrants,” he says, referring to those who may be “fleeing some very telling situations of poverty, but who do not have a claim for international protection under the Refugee Convention and the other ‘instruments,’ as they’re called, for protecting people and not sending them back to their home countries.”

While leaving a country due to the consequences of climate change, famine or poverty may not feel like a choice, Frelick says those conditions do not qualify someone under 1951 Refugee Convention created in the wake of World War II.

What to do with those migrants is a "much bigger question," says Guy Goodwin-Gill, emeritus fellow and professor of international refugee law at the University of Oxford.

“European countries, as have other countries, have accepted that we will provide protection to those in need of protection,” he explains. “But we haven’t come to any international agreement on how to resolve the situation of those who increasingly we see are desperate for survival.”

He says that’s “a generations-long question we have ahead of us.”

 

How the NFL made itself a year-round sport

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-09-02 13:00

A movie that won't come out until Christmas got a big headline in the New York Times today. "Concussion" is about the brain damage caused by NFL players' concussions, but the paper reported that Sony softened the script under pressure from the league.

The report itself was unusual — it was based on Sony emails from more than a year ago, stolen when hackers broke into the studio's computer system. The director of "Concussion," director, Peter Landesman, says nothing was softened, and he never had any contact with the NFL. The underlying premise: the NFL is so powerful that it gets what it wants. And there is no denying the NFL has become a year-round media powerhouse.

Seventeen weeks. That's how long the NFL season lasts. Technically. But there's also free agency, the scouting combine, the draft, training camp, and let's not forget Fantasy Football. People have to check on who's injured and who's looking good, right?

"I think they really achieved a nice balance of being able to have events that people continuously look forward to during the off season," says Rodney Paul, who teaches sport management at Syracuse University. He says spacing events throughout the year keeps people buzzing about the sport. And it fills those quieter off months, according to Peter Rosenberger, who teaches sport management at NYU.

"So it becomes nearly a 12-month cycle, where there's constant interest and chatter," he says.

And that chatter is all over sites like Facebook and Twitter, even when you think it's time to move on, Rosenberger says.

"Start watching hockey, folks. Hockey's a great sport. No, no, no, we're going to designate J.P., our franchise player for the New York Giants," he says. "Well. that's all great until he blows his finger off, Fourth of July."

Rosenberger said social media has been the jet fuel of fans' year-round demand for all things NFL. Even when there's bad news, there's just more to talk about, according to Mike Lewis, who teaches marketing at Emory University.

"To some extent, the bad news is part of their success," Lewis says, "because when something goes wrong, if it's associated with the NFL, this becomes a major media story."

For example, the NFL's concussion crisis. The league is paying hundreds of millions of dollars to settle lawsuits by 5,000 former players who say the league covered up the danger from concussions. That hasn't put a dent in the sport. Yet.

From Dock To Dish: A New Model Connects Chefs To Local Fishermen

NPR News - Wed, 2015-09-02 12:58

Prominent chefs are signing up for restaurant-supported fisheries: They commit to buying fresh-caught seafood, whatever the species, from local small fishermen. A pilot program launched in California.

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Director Of Taylor Swift's New Video Defends His Work

NPR News - Wed, 2015-09-02 12:55

"Wildest Dreams" depicts a love story set in Africa, circa 1950, the director notes. It did not have a political agenda, and did have people of color in front of the camera and on the creative team.

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Is Teesta Setalvad India's most hounded activist?

BBC - Wed, 2015-09-02 12:50
India's best-known activist tells BBC's Soutik Biswas that she has been vilified for running a dogged campaign to hold PM Narendra Modi responsible for the Gujarat riots.

Witnessing Japan's surrender in China

BBC - Wed, 2015-09-02 12:42
My uncle's part in Japan's surrender to war-ravaged China

China parade to mark defeat of Japan

BBC - Wed, 2015-09-02 12:41
China is to showcase its military wares in a parade in Tiananmen Square commemorating the defeat of Japan in World War Two.

One woman's journey from Syria to Sweden

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-09-02 12:36

The BBC's James Reynolds followed one woman, Nour, from Syria as she makes the journey to Sweden to seek asylum. Listen to Reynolds' story on the audio player above.

Trump: Jeb Bush Should Be 'Speaking English'

NPR News - Wed, 2015-09-02 12:32

In a newly-published interview, Donald Trump reportedly said Bush should "set the example."

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Former NFL Player Lawrence Phillips Is Charged With Murder

NPR News - Wed, 2015-09-02 12:18

The new charges filed against Phillips, 40, stem from the death of his fellow inmate at the Kern Valley State Prison in California this past spring.

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Lego's tiny bricks are bringing in huge profits

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-09-02 12:04

For Lego A/S, everything is, in fact, awesome.

The company posted double-digit growth in the first half of this year, according to a report released Tuesday. Revenue was up 23 percent over the first half of 2014, when the brand was already enjoying a big boost from "The Lego Movie." Net profits were up by 31 percent, the company said, helped along by the weak euro and kroner. In fact, currency fluctuations alone accounted for a 5 percent jump in sales, though even without that, the results are impressive.

 

What's behind all this growth? Lego's perennial lines are still huge sellers, and its more recent "Ninjago" line — complete with a character named Kai, by the way — has been a runaway success, getting its own movie in a couple years along with "The Lego Movie 2." Lego also pointed to big sales for its new "Elves" sets and another huge movie tie-in: "Jurassic World."

This year will likely only get better for Lego. A new video game "Lego: Dimensions" comes out this month, along with the first wave of sets tied to December's new "Star Wars" movie. The line was already a bestseller in the decade since the last movie came out, and with Disney planning a new "Star Wars" movie a year, there will be no shortage of ships, characters and scenes getting the Lego treatment.

Compare all this to about a decade ago, when Lego nearly went out of business. In 2013, we spoke with David Robertson, who wrote the book on Lego's turnaround. The company had lucrative licences to make sets based on big movies, he said, but when "Harry Potter" wasn't in theaters, sales were stalling.

Part of Lego's turnaround came from new management, Robertson said, and rediscovering why the toys were beloved in the first place.

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