All Things Considered for Friday, January 17, 2014

President Obama Proposes Reforms To NSA Surveillance

After months of debate about the National Security Agency, President Obama delivered statements on Friday about how the agency collects intelligence. He declared that advances in technology had made it harder "to both defend our nation and uphold our civil liberties." He also announced changes to surveillance policies.

5 Takeaways From The President's NSA Speech

The president's speech Friday offered a revealing look into the nation's phone data collection program and the direction of the surveillance policy debate. But some of biggest controversies have been put off or pushed to Congress.
Melissa Block speaks with our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times. They discuss President Obama's speech on NSA surveillance and the chemical spill in West Virginia

Foreign Fighters Flood Both Sides In Syrian War

When peace talks open in Switzerland, one common concern between the West and Syria is expected to be the threat of Islamist extremists and the rise of al-Qaida-linked militias. Thousands of Sunni militants from around the world have joined the rebel groups in Syria, but there are other groups of militant foreign fighters who support the Syrian regime. Iraqi Shiites are being recruited in the thousands to bolster Syria's armed forces. Recruiting billboards and social media help portray the fight as an existential battle between Sunnis and Muslims.
Although official results have not yet been finalized, it is clear that Egyptians voted overwhelmingly in favor of the new constitution in this week's referendum. Preliminary figures show that slightly more voters cast their ballot than in last year's referendum. According to many analysts, the results of the vote make it easier for military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to declare himself a candidate in the upcoming presidential election.
Gwendolyn Boyd, who will lead the historically black university, is single — and a clause in her contract forbids her to share a house with a romantic partner.

Christie Flies To Florida, Followed By Questions

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will visit Florida this weekend to raise money for Gov. Rick Scott, his first major fundraising trip as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. The trip may answer some questions about how the scandal over lane closures at the George Washington Bridge will affect his path to the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

How I Flunked China's Driving Test ... Three Times

NPR's Frank Langfitt recently decided to apply for a driver's license in China. Since he already has a U.S. license, the main requirement was passing a computerized test on the rules of the road in China. He's been driving for decades, and figured it would be a breeze. He was wrong.
We may be deep in the doldrums of January, still months from the start of the regular season, but we still have baseball on our mind. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis stops by to discuss the latest news out of the MLB, including the massive new contract for the Dodgers' ace pitcher and the unfolding saga of Alex Rodriguez.

Rachel Joyce's 'Perfect' A Flawed, But Hopeful Novel

Rachel Joyce's new novel offers two parallel narratives: the 1972 story of Byron, an anxious schoolboy, and the present-day account of Jim, a supermarket worker who has spent most of his life in institutional care. But critic Ellah Allfrey says that the novel is made up of two distinct and unequal parts.
In a major speech on Friday, President Obama laid out reforms to U.S. intelligence gathering procedures. NPR Washington correspondent Scott Horsley reports on the balance that the president is attempting to strike between national security needs and privacy concerns.
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut shares his reaction to President Obama's proposed reforms of the National Security Agency. Blumenthal has pushed for reforms of the courts established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Jerry Brown Declares A Drought Emergency In California

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency on Friday, amid growing concerns about future water supplies for residents and for farmers. Brown called for a 20 percent voluntary reduction in water use and eased water transfer rights between farmers. However, mandatory measures will still be left to local communities to impose, for now.
The Brazilians said U.S. cotton subsidies violated global trade rules. So the U.S. government kept the subsidies, and started paying Brazilian cotton farmers, too.

For Cheating Husbands, A Little Dose Of Revenge

On Tuesday, France's president held an uncomfortable news conference, beginning with a question about his personal life. Rumor has it he's been cheating on the French first lady with a younger actress. In light of this affair, author Sarah Wendell recommends revisiting an old classic: The First Wives Club.
An appeals court ruled against the New Orleans public school system this week — a decision that could bankrupt the Orleans Parish public schools. The five-judge panel ruled that the school board wrongly terminated some 7,000 teachers and other school employees after Hurricane Katrina. For more information, Melissa Block speaks with education reporter Sarah Carr, who has written a book on the changes to the New Orleans school system after Katrina.
After failing to agree upon an extension for federal jobless benefits to the long-term unemployed, Congress is vowing to keep trying. The help can't come soon enough for many of the 1.4 million unemployed who saw their checks suddenly cut off last month.

A Newsprint Shortage Hobbles Venezuelan Media

Venezuela is running out of newsprint and newspapers are shutting down. Media outlets say that it's another form of harassment by a government that often doesn't like what independent media reports.
Richard Powers' new novel tells the story of an avant-garde classical composer who finds himself dabbling in DNA. He "gets obsessed with finding music inside of living things," Powers explains, and, as a fugitive, ends up leading officials on a low-speed chase.
Find an archived Episode: