Originally published on Fri March 29, 2013 11:34 am
Now and then, an issue before the U.S. Supreme Court changes the course of the nation's political history — whether the justices like it or not.
It's happening again with gay marriage. This week the court heard oral arguments in two key cases. One could restore legal same-sex marriage in California; the other could end discrimination against gay married couples in the administration of more than 1,000 federal programs.
While many people enjoy sweet treats — like these chocolate bunnies — the price of a key ingredient has some people bitter. A government subsidy program is criticized for keeping sugar prices too high. But as prices fall, the government may buy sugar to help processors.
While you indulge in some Easter Peeps and chocolates this weekend, you might want to think about all that sugar. No, this isn't a calorie warning. In the U.S., raw sugar can cost twice the world average.
Critics say U.S. sugar policy artificially inflates sugar prices to benefit an exclusive group of processors — even though it leads to higher food prices. But this year, prices fell anyway. Now, the government could be poised to use taxpayer dollars to buy up the excess sugar.
There's a mystery in West Africa that's puzzled scientists for years. Strange circles of bare soil appear in grassland; they're commonly called "fairy circles." These naturally occurring shapes last for decades, until the grass eventually takes over and the circles fade.
Now German scientists think they have an explanation — a horde of insects seems to be bioengineering thousands of miles of desert.
A worker stands on top of a storage bin on July 27, 2011, at a drilling operation in Claysville, Pa. The dust is from powder mixed with water for hydraulic fracturing.
Credit Steve Karnowski / AP
Dust blows off a pile of fracking sand at a mine near Chippewa Falls, Wis., on Dec. 15, 2011. Some of the air samples the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health experts collected at fracking sites had such high levels of silica that the respirators typically worn by workers wouldn't offer enough protection, according to NIOSH standards.
Credit Keith Srakocic / AP
A local contractor closes the valve on his tanker truck on July 27, 2011, after watering the roads to help keep down dust at a hydraulic fracturing operation in Claysville, Pa.
When workplace safety expert Eric Esswein got a chance to see fracking in action not too long ago, what he noticed was all the dust.
It was coming off big machines used to haul around huge loads of sand. The sand is a critical part of the hydraulic fracturing method of oil and gas extraction. After workers drill down into rock, they create fractures in that rock by pumping in a mixture of water, chemicals and sand. The sand keeps the cracks propped open so that oil and gas are released.
Chief Almir of Brazil's Surui tribe attends a press conference with Google representatives in Rio de Janeiro last year. Chief Almir has brought technology to his previously isolated people, who now use smartphones to send photos of illegal logging in the Amazon.
Credit Juan Forero for NPR
Chief Almir still knows how to handle a bow and arrow, the traditional weapon of choice of the Surui people.
Originally published on Thu March 28, 2013 2:30 pm
President Obama has established a new bipartisan commission on election administration, something he promised to do in his Feb. 12 State of the Union address. He signed an executive order Thursday making it official.
Originally published on Thu March 28, 2013 5:47 pm
During a Holy Thursday ritual, Pope Francis continued to break the traditions at the Vatican.
Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of 12 young people at a youth prison. Among them were two women and two Muslims. The act was a break with tradition. As The Guardian reports, all modern popes have partaken in the ritual by washing the feet of fellow priests at either St Peter's or the Basilica of St John in Lateran.