All Things Considered for Thursday, January 30, 2014

Robert Siegel explores the question with NPR's Michele Kelemen and Deb Amos, of whether the United States is disengaging diplomatically from the Middle East and whether that's creating a power void.

De Blasio Drops Appeal Of 'Stop And Frisk'

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio moved toward fulfilling a major campaign promise on Thursday: he announced the city will settle a long-running lawsuit against the police department's stop-and-frisk policy. A federal judge last year found that the NYPD violated the civil rights of blacks and Latinos with its aggressive tactics. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration appealed the ruling, but de Blasio won a landslide electoral victory in 2013 partly by promising to reform the stop-and-frisk policy. Now, some New Yorkers are worried about a possible rise in crime.

Researchers Watch As Our Brains Turn Sounds Into Words

To understand speech, the brain has to quickly recognize the sounds used to form words. Now researchers have discovered a way to watch how the brain does this. They've found that the process of understanding speech involves highly specialized brain cells, which respond specifically to the dozen sounds produced by the human vocal tract.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved a bill that would lower mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses and allow judges to use more discretion when determining sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.

As States Close Prisons And Cut Crime, Feds Lag Behind

Federal prisons are chronically overcrowded after years of "tough on crime" policies. But a new report finds that a majority of states cut their imprisonment rates and saved millions — while keeping crime down.
Paramount became the first big studio to distribute a major film in the U.S. only in digital, and others will probably follow. Small cinemas are struggling to raise money for the transition. Despite resistance from some major directors, the end of film is almost upon us.
On Thursday, Illinois and three other states are honoring Fred Korematsu, the late civil rights activist. Korematsu, a Japanese-American, was arrested for not relocating to an internment camp following the attack on Pearl Harbor. He challenged the arrest and his case was heard by the Supreme Court.

SpaceX Could Give Struggling Texas City A Boost

The FAA is poised to decide whether to grant the space company a launch license. If it does, SpaceX could build its first commercial orbital launch facility near the border city of Brownsville. The prospect of living in the world's newest aerospace hub has stirred a buzz among locals.
The proposed farm bill would cut nearly $1 billion a year from the food stamp program, known as SNAP. While it's far less than what Republicans had originally wanted, the proposal will affect roughly 850,000 households, many of which are still struggling from cuts made only three months ago.
After four decades on Capitol Hill, the California Democrat plans to step down at the end of the year. He leaves a deep legacy in health and environmental law, including clean-air rules and tobacco restrictions.
The world's largest breeding colony of Magellanic penguins is seeing unprecedented deaths among young birds. A scientist who has spent 30 years studying the penguins says that climate change is to blame — triggering, among other things, more heat waves and wetter storms that kill fledglings.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Thursday that federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Oil development is significantly straining communities across the Great Plains. In small Sidney, Mont., a steady stream of big rigs pounds the streets as a rapidly increasing population stretches the town's sewer system to its limit. As Dan Boyce reports, the mayor says the town has nowhere near enough money to pay for all of its infrastructure needs.

Scarlett Johansson's Middle East Flap ... Over Soda

The American actress has stepped down as a goodwill representative for Oxfam International. She came in for criticism after agreeing to serve as a spokeswoman, and appear in a Super Bowl ad, for an Israeli company that produces at-home soda-makers in the occupied West Bank.

Syrian Opposition Group Treads New Territory In Geneva

The opposition group Syrian National Coalition took considerable heat from inside Syria when it decided to meet with government representatives at the Geneva peace talks. But after several days, coalition members say they're pleased to find their star is rising among Syrians. The talks have also been a kind of trial by fire for the coalition, which says its ability to make its case is improving daily. Syrians also seem fascinated to see government officials caught in face-to-face confrontations with the opposition.
House Republicans are taking a three-day retreat this week, paid in part by a lobbyist-run institute. Members of the group get access to the lawmakers at the closed-door event on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

A Surprise Play: Beefy Butternut Squash Chili

Chips and dip may be the usual suspects on Super Bowl Sunday, but Food Network's Sunny Anderson recommends that you try something new, too. The main event of her big game party? The Beefy Butternut Squash Chili — a hearty, spicy meal that's fit to be a halftime headliner.
Audie Cornish speaks with writer Marin Cogan about the infamous "wardrobe malfunction" incident at the Super Bowl halftime show featuring Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, which happened a decade ago this month. Marin wrote a piece on the incident that is featured in ESPN the Magazine.
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