West, Texas Reacts to Shocking News

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The people of West had spent three years coming to grips with the fertilizer plant blast that killed 15 and leveled part of the small Texas town. Then came Wednesday, when Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special agent Robert Elder said the agency is investigating the incident as a crime.


Organizing Domestic Workers


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This year, California passed a Bill of Rights protecting domestic workers. New York and Hawaii have passed similar bills. But what is going on in the other 47 states? Andrea Cristina Mercado is the campaign director for the National Domestic Worker Alliance. She joins host Maria Hinojosa to talk about how the legacy of slavery makes it difficult for domestic workers to organize and how despite obstacles, the domestic worker movement has grown.

Photo courtesy of Dignidad Rebelde. 

C2_NatDomWorkers_Headshot_AndreaCristinaMercado_Credit_National Domestic Worker Association

Photo courtesy of National Domestic Workers Association.

Andrea Cristina Mercado is the daughter of South American immigrants, the mother of two small girls, and the new Campaign Director at the National Domestic Worker Alliance. For the past eight years Andrea has been organizing at Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA), a grassroots Latina immigrant women’s organization in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is one of the co-founders of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and has played a leadership role in building and coordinating the California Domestic Worker Coalition, a statewide effort to include domestic workers in labor laws.

Microsoft VP Is For Immigration Reform


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It’s not just Latinos who are hoping the government shutdown ends and Congress can get back to work on immigration reform. The business community, and in particular the tech sector, wants to see legislation too. Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel and executive vice president, talks with Maria Hinojosa about why he cares about immigration reform. He discusses how essential immigrant workers are for the tech sector, and the American economy as a whole.

Rice Students Make A Better Cup Of Space Coffee

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When Astronauts drink coffee in space, it’s hardly a gourmet experience. Like all liquids aboard the International Space Station, coffee comes freeze dried in an aluminum pouch. Astronauts rehydrate the pouch with hot water from a dispenser and drink through a leak-proof straw. The problem is that they can’t add anything to it because it might leak and damage the equipment. For now, there are just four ways astronauts can have their premixed coffee: black, with lots of sugar, lots of cream, or lots of both.

That’s how the Texas Space Grant Consortium described the problem to Rice students Robert Johnson, Benjamin Young and Colin Shaw in their Intro to Engineering class.

From the start, they started imagining what it would feel like for their design to go into space. This is Shaw:

“I think in first grade when I assembled all of the Jupiter and all of its moons. I thought being an Astronaut would be pretty cool. Since then I have toned down my dreams a little bit to just send stuff to the ISS.”

Throughout the year, Shaw’s team developed a system using aluminum pouches and a 3D printed roller to help Astronauts customize their coffee.

They had to develop a way to pour exact amounts of cream and sugar into coffee without the use of gravity. They started by putting creamer and sugar into aluminum pouches. They adapted NASA’s leak-proof straws to link the pouches together. Then they designed a special roller to push the condiments out of the bag. It looks like those plastic gadgets used to squeeze the last drops of toothpaste out of a tube.  The execution? It’s pretty easy.

First you add hot water to the coffee pouch. And then…

“I connect the pouch to pouch adapter from the coffee pouch to the sugar pouch. I unclip the clamp and start proportioning my sugar.”

A few cranks of the roller and the sugar is pushed into the coffee through the special straw. The lines on the pouch tell you exactly how much is going in. Same with the non-dairy creamer.

“I mix it around a little bit, unclip the clamp, and drink.”

Compared to the condiment bar at Starbucks, it might seem complicated, but the students say it’s a small sacrifice for the ability to make a perfectly blended drink. They hope that with more testing their invention will be ready to go up to the International Space Station.

NASA has told them that it might have other uses, like any time a precise amount of liquid has to be dispensed without the help of gravity, for example with IVs.

Alley Theater Announces $73 Million Renovation To ‘Ensure The Theatre’s Future’

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The Alley Theater in downtown Houston is one of the city’s most significant landmarks, its opening in 1968 was a nationally chronicled event. Forthcoming renovations will only bring a deep cleaning to the building’s façade. The inside, however, will be almost unrecognizable.

The plans include a reconstructed lobby and a complete renovation of the theatre’s largest stage.

Gregory Boyd is the Alley Theater’s artistic director. He says the stage was constructed at a time when minimalist productions were in fashion, and that this has limited their more modern stagings.

“The building hasn’t been renovated since 1968, so theater technology has taken leaps and bounds in that time, obviously, so we want to make the alley more friendly to modern means of production, but we also want to make more intimate the relationship between the actor and the audience.”

The remodeling will come at the end of a $73 million dollar capital campaign, of which $31 million has already been pledged. The reconstruction will also bring more educational and event spacing and significant green energy upgrades.

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Go Texan Day is an annual Houston tradition celebrating the start of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. Houstonians are encouraged to don their cowboy hats, belt buckles and boots in a nod to Texan history. No, we don’t usually dress like this!

Inaugural Smartphone App Could Be Helping Mine Data For Democrats

The Presidential Inagural Comitee released an App that could be mining data for Democrats

The Presidential Inagural Comitee released an App that could be mining data for Democrats

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The Presidential Inaugural Committee recently released a smartphone app to help people follow the day’s events in real time. It has maps of the parade route, volunteer opportunities and real-time updates. As NPR’s Brenda Salinas reports, it also has an invisible feature that could help Democrats mine data from users.

It’s the first app you see when you open the iTunes store: Inauguration 2013. The welcome page asks for your phone number. Below that, a link to terms and services. You can skip both and go straight to the features.

And it’s pretty good, according to Jason Brookman. He’s the director of consumer privacy for the nonprofit Center of Democracy and Technology. He likes the app’s features but not its terms of service. That link – the one most users probably ignore – takes you to a document on the committee’s website, and it’s the website that opens up a loophole for Brookman.

“So it says, We may collect email addresses and cell phone data and, you know, your location information, and we reserve the right to sell that to or give it to other candidates and to use it in, you know, ways that you might not necessarily expect when you’re just trying to install an application to, you know, to figure out where to go on Inauguration Day.”

The Presidential Inaugural Committee would not comment publicly, but it did defend its app in a statement, saying it had no way to collect emails, names or other personal information. It also defended the terms of service on its website, saying it’s appropriate for a president’s inaugural committee to support and reflect their party’s ideals and causes. And that’s a problem, says Brookman. The app links to services like Facebook, Twitter and its own website where the rules aren’t so clear.

App data-mining iscatching the attention of both parties. Dan Morgan is a GOP fundraising consultant. While he doesn’t like the idea of data-mining apps, he says we’ll be seeing more of them, from Democrats and Republicans.

“We’re a pack of dogs in this business. Whatever one does, the other one wants to quickly follow. And I can guarantee Republicans are out there looking at what the Democrats are doing and saying: Hey, how do we do the same thing?”

Morgan predicts a future where political groups mine more data than Google. Campaigns will make special apps for town halls and public appearances, and then the data will be mined for fundraising. To him, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Atheists Join Religious Groups In Giving Sandy Hook Support


The Sandy Hook Elementary School makeshift memorial on Berkshire Road in Newtown, CT.
Bbjeter/Wikimedia Commons

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In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, a number of religious charities offered their assistance. Now, a coalition called Atheists Giving Aid wants to raise $50,000 to help pay for funeral costs and counseling services for the victims.

Amanda Brown is an activist. She runs a campaign called We Are Atheism. She calls it an “it gets better” campaign for atheists. When she heard about the shooting on the news, she wanted to help in whatever way she could.

“I found out about what happened just like everyone else. I was out with my 4-year-old daughter, and I just looked down at her – and it would just be devastating and heartbreaking. And, you know, there’s Christmas presents under the tree for these children. The parents did not plan for such a young child’s funeral.”

Brown enlisted the help of her graphic-designer husband, and her friends in the atheist community. They made a fundraising website, and promoted it on Reddit. It’s called Atheists Giving Aid. So far, they have raised $18,000. Their goal is 50,000.

Changing Public Perception

One of their partners is American Atheists Inc. Amanda Knief is their managing director. She says this initiative fits right into their charitable mission. They have been raising money for people in need since Hurricane Katrina.

“We were often, as a community, accused of being uncharitable when really, there was just no way for us to show that we were already contributing. And so we started looking for a way to demonstrate that we did care, by doing it as a community. And as natural disasters or tragedies have occurred, we have pulled together as a community; to do things.”

Knief hopes that more public charitable giving will help change the perception of atheists. Ed Buckner isn’t so sure that will work. He’s a former president of American Atheists. He thinks the best way to affect public perception is through modeling good citizenship. He is all in favor of giving money to good causes, but he day-to-day interactions with Atheists will have more of an effect in changing public opinion. Regardless of perception, he hopes that community leaders will start to include the nonreligious in moments of tragedy.

For Vets That Lived WWII, Time Short To See Memorial

Yesterday was the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the attack that launched the United States into the Second World War. Of the original 16 million service members, only two million are still alive. And a group of them traveled from all over the country to visit the national memorial yesterday. Brenda Salinas has this report.
Jim Hardwick has traveled a long way to get to D.C. He’s come to all the way from Dallas, Texas for one purpose: to see the World War II memorial.

It’s a cloudy December day. It’s cold, but he doesn’t seem to mind. This memorial is a special place for him. He saw it for the first time two years ago and he’s happy to have a second visit.

“I think it’s beautiful. Inside there on the walls are some of the battles I was in.”

Jim has 17 grandchildren. They haven’t been to the memorial yet, but he knows that one day they’ll come here and remember him. “They’ll say, oh, my granddaddy was there. That’s what they’ll say.”

Jim hopes that they’ll remember his stories too. He was only 17 when he enlisted in the Navy. He says he was trying to escape the Great Depression, he wasn’t expecting the Great War.

At the time, war was raging in Europe, but the U.S. had only been in a few Marine skirmishes to protect merchants. “I got my orders to go aboard the USS Honolulu in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. And I said whoopee. I couldn’t get further away from the danger than Pearl Harbor.”

Seven months later, Jim went to a luau on a nearby beach to celebrate his 18th birthday. He woke up the next day to the sound of explosions, confusion, shouting. He was ordered to return to his ship. On the way, he saw the damage from the torpedo attack: four ships sinking, solid black clouds and flames, the smell of fuel oil burning. He made his way back to his damaged ship. The attack was over. But the war wouldn’t be over for another four years.

“Pearl Harbor was only the beginning of World War II for me. My ship participated in so many things in the Pacific that were greater in my mind than the attack on Pearl Harbor.”

As much as Jim appreciates the annual day of remembrance, he wants people to remember that Pearl Harbor was only one day in a very long war. He hopes to visit the memorial again someday. He is 89.