National / International News

California Rolls Out Statewide Restrictions On Water Use

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 12:21

California is set to impose mandatory water restrictions Tuesday. Urban water users will be prohibited from spraying down pavement, watering landscaping in a way that causes runoff and running fountains that do not re-circulate their water.

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How Congress Is Turning To A Finesse Of Wording In Highway Payments

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 12:21

Lawmakers looking for ways to patch a hole in the Highway Trust Fund have zeroed in on a budget gimmick called "pension smoothing." Visitors outside the nation's capital say it has a nice ring to it — until they find out what it really means.

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Why Some Politicians Turn Down Free Money

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 12:14

Once in a while, elected officials turn down raises because they think it looks bad if they're also having to cut budgets or raise taxes. Sometimes, though, they're genuinely altruistic.

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U.S. Customs Seize Giant African Snails Bound For Dinner Plates

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 12:06

Officials say the snails are "highly invasive, voracious pests" that eat paint and stucco off houses. But the snails are a prized delicacy in West Africa, where they're marinated or grilled on sticks.

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Laughing in Hollywood just got cheaper

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-15 12:02

Hollywood is making a lot of comedy films this summer, but they're not spending as much as they were before. The cost of making a comedy has dropped almost 50 percent in the past four years.

So what does this mean for the movies that weren’t a big hit in the box office, like "Blended," starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore? Are those movies going to lose money?

"They’re still going to make money," says Sharon Waxman, editor-in-chief at The Wrap. "It’s not going to make $100 million at the box office, like most Adam Sandler comedies have in the past, but it’s still going to make a profit."

Hollywood has finally figured out how to pay the talent less, and keep production costs down. However, these movies are still profitable because overseas ticket sales make up 70% of the global box office.

"When it comes to comedies, humor is such a particular thing," says Waxman. "It may work in some countries, and not work in others."

Brics nations to create $100bn bank

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 12:01
The leaders of the so-called Brics countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - sign a deal to create a new $100bn development bank and emergency reserve fund.

Arrears up after housing benefit cut

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 11:57
More than half of tenants affected by a housing benefit cut in England are struggling to pay the additional rent, according to an official report.

'Trojan Horse' trustees resign

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 11:41
The board of trustees at the centre of the alleged "Trojan Horse" Muslim takeover plot involving Birmingham schools announces its resignation.

VIDEO: WW1 aircraft arrive at RAF museum

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 11:40
Three World War One aircraft have arrived at an RAF museum ahead of a major exhibition to mark the centenary of the conflict.

Gove not demoted, insists Cameron

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 11:36
Michael Gove's new job is not a demotion, says No 10, as David Cameron unveils his biggest reshuffle, including more top jobs for women.

Mali and rebels exchange prisoners

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 11:32
Mali's government and Tuareg rebels exchange dozens of prisoners in a goodwill gesture on the eve of peace talks in Algiers.

In China, the polluter 'that-must-not-be-named'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-15 11:31

Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, is home to a thriving teahouse culture. But there’s more than tea brewing here. The tradition of chatting away the day with friends has, for centuries, made it easier for folks here to gossip and talk about politics and current events. Lately, the talk has been about air pollution.

“There are more people and more cars and more industry," complains Wu Youqiong, who sits and drinks tea with her family, "The pollution is bad for all of us – we all have lungs. The government needs to do something about it.”

In the past year, one of the most notorious projects in the history of China’s oil industry began operation outside the city. It’s a $6 billion petrochemical plant run by China National Petroleum Corporation, the country’s largest state-owned oil company, and it has become a focus of a corruption investigation into the family of Zhou Yongkang, China’s former security chief. "The people here didn’t want the plant built, but they built it anyway," says Wu, "It’s going to harm everyone’s health. It’s something people should protest."

The people of Chengdu tried.

Last year, many here among the city’s 14 million residents planned a weekend public demonstration to protest the plant. When the local government found out, police detained organizers, sent out text messages warning people to stay inside, and the government required people to work on the Saturday of the protest, forcing high school and university students to remain in class through the weekend.

Officials are still paranoid– within minutes of arriving in Chengdu, I call a source who had agreed to talk with me about how the pollution affects her family. She abruptly cancels our interview – she’s being interrogated by police officers who had intercepted our emails and text messages. The next day, I hire a driver to take me to Pengzhou, the site of the petrochemical plant. It's a refinery that’s as large as the nearby city. In a small village in the plant’s shadow, I stop to talk to a farmer. "My home was destroyed for the plant last August," a woman tells me, "The sky here is always polluted now. The plant has had a huge impact on our health."

Before I can get her name, a man pulls up beside me on a motorcycle and asks me what I’m doing. He glares at the woman and she dashes off.

I tell him I’m a journalist and I’m talking to people about pollution. “There’s no pollution here,” he says.

Before I can ask him more questions, he makes a call on his cellphone. A minute later, a group of thugs show up. I hop in the car, and we drive to another location where I again begin talking with people, but the men catch up to me and intimidate them, too. Before long, I'm being chased out of Pengzhou by six cars; a motorcade of thugs with a foreign journalist in the lead.

Back safely in Chengdu, I speak with Jin Lei and Guo Xiaohong, a husband and wife who are concerned about the plant. "A lot of people are concerned about the plant," says Guo, who used to work for an environmental NGO in Chengdu. "but people are no longer willing to do anything about it – they don’t think they can change the situation."

Jin and Guo’s two daughters are playing in their living room. A couple of years ago, when the pollution in Chengdu was particularly bad, the couple had to bring both girls to the emergency room several times for breathing problems. “The pollution that year was just as bad as Beijing’s," remembers Jin. "I used to train for triathalons, but I’ve stopped that because my bronchitis was so bad.”

Back in 2005 when Jin and Guo were studying at elite schools in Beijing, they were among a group of students permitted to attend a talk by Al Gore. He was visiting Beijing to talk about his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”. After the talk, officials allowed only one question from students.

Jin raised his hand and Gore called on him.

“I asked Mr. Gore what can we, as normal people, do to help China’s environment?" remembers Jin. "He said, ‘You are the representatives of China’s young generation, and you must have faith that things can change. If you don’t have faith, then future generations will have less faith.’”

Jin and Guo have now applied this message to how they live in Chengdu. The couple uses reclaimed water to help grow their urban garden, and they’ve taught their daughters to use bath water to help flush the toilet. “Whatever mandate the government hands down that will help protect our environment, we will support it 100 percent," says Jin. "As a country, we must work together. Otherwise, we’ll all pay the price.”

We must have faith, he says, echoing what Al Gore told him - that things can change. But sometimes in China, it’s hard to keep that faith: Just two hours after I leave Jin and Guo’s home, the police show up to intimidate them, too.

VIDEO: What did Gove do for education?

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 11:12
The BBC's Alex Forsyth gauged reaction to Michael Gove's work as education secretary.

Israel hits Gaza as truce bid fails

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 11:05
Israel says it has resumed bombardment of Gaza, after earlier accepting a truce proposal, as Hamas militants continued firing rockets.

What bright lights can tell you about a nation's economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-15 10:52

The pale blue dot aglow with millions of little lights. It's an image that never ceases to fascinate. But those lights might tell us more than you think.

A new study published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics says that cities and regions that are the birthplaces of a country's leader recieve perferential political and economic treatment in some nations, evidenced by how bright they appear from space after the leader comes into power.

From Wired Magazine:

Paul Raschky from the Monash Centre for Development Economics and Sustainability at Monash University in Australia compared the night-time light intensity of 38,427 subnational regions between 1992 and 2009 with the birthplaces of political leaders of 126 countries.

"Our results suggest that being the leader's birthplace increases night-time light intensity and regional GDP by around four and one per cent respectively," Raschky said, citing previous research that confirms the connection between economic activity and light generated at night.

Here's a look at some of the cities that the study examined, and other images from orbit that show how different economic conditions can change the view from space:

Gbadolite, Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo)

A screenshot from NASA's "Blue Marble" application showing the city of Gbadolite. (Image courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory)

This small town in the Democractic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) was emphazised by the study for the lavish economic favoritism bestowed upon it by the country's authoritarian president, Mobutu Sese Seko, who was born near Gbadolite.

"Mobuto built a huge palace complex costing millions of dollars, luxury guesthouses, an airport capable of handling Concords, and had the country's best supply of water, electricity and medical services," says study researcher Paul Raschky.

Hambantota, Sri Lanka

A screenshot from NASA's "Blue Marble" application showing the region of Hambantota, on the southern tip of Sri Lanka. (Image courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory)

Another region identified in the study for receiving preferential treatment from Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was born in the district. The largest city in the area, Hambantota has a population of 11,000, has seen the construction of a 35,000-seat cricket stadium, and has plans to build a large port.

North Korea and South Korea

An image taken from the International Space Station on Jan. 30, 2014, shows South Korea (lower right) and China (upper left) with North Korea in the center. (Image courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory) 

A photograph from space perfectly illustrates differences in economic development between North and South Korea — a brightly illuminated South, and an eerily dark North.

The Nile River

(Image courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory)

The Nile River with its valleys and delta make up less than five percent of Egypt’s land area, but more than 90 percent of its population lives there. The string of lights illuminating the river's path through the country at night highlights the societal importance of the Nile in Egypt.

North Dakota's fracking fields

Illustration by NPR/NASA

An NPR science writer was looking through NASA's images of Earth at night, and noticed an unusual glow coming from the normally fairly dark North Dakota, one that revealed how the light across the U.S. is still subject to economic changes.

Their explanation:

What we have here is an immense and startlingly new oil and gas field — nighttime evidence of an oil boom created by a technology called fracking. Those lights are rigs, hundreds of them, lit at night, or fiery flares of natural gas. One hundred fifty oil companies, big ones, little ones, wildcatters, have flooded this region, drilling up to eight new wells every day on what is called the Bakken formation.

What was previously wheat and corn fields has quickly become a blazing energy business that has made North Dakota the second largest gas-producing state in the country.

Two Former State Attorneys General Arrested In Utah

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 10:49

The former chief law enforcement officers face 23 counts of bribery, obstruction of justice and other charges. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert calls it "a black eye" for the state.

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VIDEO: Pupils 'unprotected from extremism'

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 10:43
A school is not protecting its pupils from the possible risks of extremism and should go into special measures, an Ofsted report has said.

Cameron chooses Tory peer for EU job

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 10:43
David Cameron nominates Lord Hill, the leader of the House of Lords, to be the UK's next European Commissioner.

Welsh spaceport site on shortlist

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 10:28
A site in Gwynedd has been selected as possible location for a UK spaceport base.

Embassies fail to pay £82m road bill

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 10:05
Foreign embassies in London have failed to pay more than £82m in congestion charge over the past decade, figures reveal.
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