All Things Considered for Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The long-anticipated Syrian peace conference commenced on Wednesday in Montreux, Switzerland. The opening day marked the first time Syrian government and opposition members came together in the same room. Each side blamed the other for the three years of bloodshed in Syria. NPR's Deborah Amos offers a recap and analysis of the day's events from Switzerland.
As the peace conference on Syria begins in the Swiss city of Montreaux, Robert Siegel talks to Lord David Owen, the former British foreign secretary. They discuss Owen's experience with a similarly fraught peace process, when he sought to broker a peace plan between the Serbians and Bosnians in the 1990s.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a case that would allow a victim of child pornography to seek damages not only from the pornographers, but also from their online clients.

Obama Launches Task Force To Combat Sexual Assault

At the White House on Wednesday, President Obama's Council on Women and Girls presented its report on sexual assault, calling it an epidemic especially on college campuses. The report claims that one in five women will experience a sexual assault in their lifetimes. Only 12 percent of victims actually report it, though.
Political lines are being drawn in Alaska over the proposed Pebble Mine, a hugely controversial project to build an open-pit gold and copper mine in the Bristol Bay watershed. The watershed is one of the last unspoiled salmon fisheries in the world. The state's Democratic senator, Mike Begich, is in a tough re-election race this year, and he's just come out against the mine. But the mine's proponents complain that environmentalists — and the EPA — are prejudging a project that hasn't even applied for formal permits yet.

Small-Batch Distilleries Ride The Craft Liquor Wave

Bacardi, Jack Daniels and Johnnie Walker have some new competition these days. There's been a surge in the number of craft distilleries in the U.S. over the past few years, as more mom and pop entrepreneurs are making liquor for local customers.

Putting The Brake On Who Can See Your Car's Data Trail

Many cars can now track where we are, how fast we go and lots of other nuggets of information that can be accessed and mined. Some lawmakers and at least one car company say it's time to set some rules on driver privacy.
Farmers can now deliver data from their fields, minute by minute, to big agribusiness companies like Monsanto or John Deere. Those companies promise to use the data to help farmers make money. But some farmers worry that it could threaten their privacy and give the big companies too much power.

Vigilantes Strike Back Against Mexican Cartels

The self-defense groups that have emerged in the western Mexican state of Michoacan are on the public relations offensive. They've been posting videos on Twitter and Facebook condemning the Knights Templar drug traffickers and exalting their own crusade to expel the cartel from their towns and businesses. Meanwhile, federal officials don't seem to know how many of these vigilantes there are and have halted efforts to disarm them.
The New York Yankees have signed Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka to a massive, seven-year contract. After putting up gaudy statistics with the Japanese Pacific League, the prized right-hander had become the object of a bidding war between major league teams. Now, questions abound about whether the young pitcher can live up to the hype — and the salary.
Melissa Block and Robert Siegel update listeners on some of what the open flood gates of social media brought us when we asked for suggestions for our Cabin Fever playlist. Hint: It was a deluge of great, funky, upbeat, sunny songs prescribed to cure the winter blahs.

Pentagon, White House Are At Odds Over Afghanistan

The Pentagon is saying that it needs to keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014 to train Afghans and maintain a counterterror mission. But military officials are once again running into interference from Vice President Joe Biden. That's nothing new: Biden in particular has for years pushed for a counterterror option of only several thousand troops, though the military says that number is far too small. The Pentagon argues that Biden's proposal would mean the U.S. forces would be largely consigned to their bases.

Turkish Opposition Eyes Its Oppurtinity In March

Voters in Turkey go to the polls on March 30 to elect local officials, and the election is seen as the first chance for Turks to weigh in on a number of major controversies. These include Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's increasingly autocratic governing style, the growing repression of free speech and a corruption scandal that has claimed the jobs of three cabinet ministers thus far. The race for Istanbul mayor is seen as the best hope for Turkey's secular opposition to lift itself off the political mat and become a contender again.
Melissa Block speaks with David Brown, the president and CEO of the Omaha Chamber of Commerce, about Peyton Manning's "Omaha" audible heard during the AFC Championship Game. The audible, called by Manning dozens of times to signal plays, has spurred much excitement and a public relations outreach for tourism in the Midwestern city.
Months before Brazil hosts the World Cup, preparations are going at breakneck speed to host the hundreds of thousands of tourists who will pour in to watch the extravaganza. Still, construction on several of the proposed stadiums is behind schedule, and infrastructure upgrades have been delayed, as well. Will Brazil be ready for the games?
Puerto Ricans are less likely to speak Spanish at home, compared with other Latinos living in the U.S. According to an NPR poll, only 20 percent of Puerto Ricans speak Spanish at home — less than half the percentage for respondents overall.
President Obama last year appointed a commission to recommend ways that local election officials can shorten lines at the polls. On Wednesday, that commission is releasing its final report, offering suggestions on how to make improvements in the voting experience.
Because North Carolina didn't expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, many low-income people who could otherwise benefit from the law don't. But there are often ways to bump up their incomes just enough to help them qualify for subsidized coverage.
Scientists have shown that damage to the brain's "white matter" is responsible for many of the developmental problems that very premature infants often face. Now researchers have also demonstrated that it's possible to prevent that sort of damage in mice.
Steven Zeitchik of the Los Angeles Times has been binge watching films at the 10-day festival. So far he's been impressed by Richard Linklater's Boyhood, Zach Braff's Wish I Was Here and Amir Bar-Lev's documentary Happy Valley.
Linnea Olsson grew up listening to ABBA and Bjork, but her debut album, Ah!, is a creation all her own. Her music is largely based in improvisation, with lyrics that resemble fanciful fairy tales.
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