Czech Republic's Ester Ledecka Makes History With Golds In Snowboarding And Skiing

Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic celebrates winning gold in the ladies’ snowboard parallel giant slalom at the Pyeongchang Olympic Games Saturday.

Clive Rose/Getty Images

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With a gold medal in the snowboard parallel giant slalom, Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic has become the first woman in Winter Olympics history to win a gold medal in two different sports at the same Olympic Games.

On Saturday she emerged victorious in the final run against Germany’s Selina Joerg, finishing just 0.46 seconds ahead. Joerg took silver in the event, followed by Ramona Theresia Hofmeister, also of Germany, who took bronze.

A week earlier, Ledecka surprised spectators and herself by taking a gold medal — in skiing. Ledecka finished first in the women’s super-G in Alpine skiing, finishing several spots ahead of the decorated American skier Lindsey Vonn.

But Ledecka is best known and has seen the most success as a snowboarder, where she’s won world titles and competed in the Winter Games in Sochi four years ago.

Ledecka is the third athlete to win gold in two events in the same Winter Games, according to analytics company Gracenote. The last time it happened was in 1928, with Johan Grøttumsbråten taking gold in the Nordic combined and cross-country skiing. Four years earlier, Thorleif Haug achieved the same thing, the company says.

The 22-year-old Ledecka earlier made Olympic history just by being the first woman to compete in both the Alpine skiing and snowboarding events.

She first skied at age 2 and snowboarded at age 5, according to The New York Times, but refused to follow the conventional wisdom of her coaches to give up one sport in order to specialize.

In the men’s snowboarding parallel giant slalom, Nevin Galmarini of Switzerland was the gold medal winner, besting his silver medal he won in Sochi in 2014.

Lee Sang-ho of South Korea finished 0.43 seconds behind to take silver, the country’s first medal in a snowboarding event. Zan Kosir of Slovenia was the bronze winner, beating Sylvain Dufour of France in the “small final,” which determines the contest’s overall third place.

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U.S. Men's Curling Takes On Sweden In The Gold Medal Final [LIVE UPDATES]

Before today, no U.S. curling team had ever played in an Olympic gold medal match. Here, Matt Hamilton delivers a stone in an earlier game in the round robin tournament at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics.

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Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The U.S. men’s curling team will make history on Saturday at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, playing in the first gold medal curling game ever to feature an American team. Led by John Shuster, the U.S. takes on Sweden at 3:30 p.m. KT — 1:30 a.m. ET.

As a nation of nascent curling fans looks on, we’ll be updating this story from the Gangneung Curling Center in South Korea. (If you’re new to curling, skip to the bottom of this page for some tips.)

When these two teams played early in the tournament, Sweden opened with four points in its first end and never looked back, beating the U.S. team 10-4. That game was called after eight ends, after Sweden put it out of reach. But that was a week ago; since then, the U.S. team has gained momentum and confidence as it knocked off strong opponents.

Sweden and the U.S. took very different paths to get here. The Americans fought their way back into the playoffs after starting 2-4; the Swedes have lost only two games in Pyeongchang.

The Americans reached the final by edging Canada in a close-fought 5-3 game that saw Canada edge forward – only to have the Americans, led by skipper John Shuster, claw them back. And late in the game, the U.S. team snagged two points that put them into the final.

The U.S. team is made up of Shuster, Tyler George, Matt Hamilton, John Landsteiner, with Joe Polo as the alternate.

The Swedish team is led by Niklas Edin, along with Oskar Eridsson, Rasmus Wranaa, Christoffer Sundgren, and the alternate Henrik Leek.

It’s been a terrific run for the Swedish national curling team – both the men’s and women’s squads are in gold-medal finals this weekend. The Swedish men won bronze in the 2014 Sochi Olympics; they’ve never won gold.

The women’s final, between Sweden and South Korea, will be played on Sunday morning in South Korea – at 9 a.m., or 7 p.m. ET Saturday night in the U.S.

This year’s tournament in Pyeongchang comes on the 20th anniversary of curling’s return as an official Olympic event. It was part of the original slate of sports when the Winter Olympics began in 1924, but it was eliminated after only three nations entered. Sweden was one of them, winning silver.

A Quick Guide to Curling:

Games comprise 10 ends, with both teams delivering eight stones in each end. It’s a huge advantage to deliver “the hammer” – the last stone of an end.

Curling is played on a sheet of ice that’s 150 feet long and nearly 16.5 feet wide. Each stone is a 42-pound (or up to 44-pound) chunk of granite selected from Ailsa Craig, an island in Scotland.

The target area on the sheet is the house. The bullseye is called the button – and it’s bisected by the center line and the tee line. The object is to finish an end with your stones closest to the button than the other team’s. Each stone that’s closer than the opponents’ brings one point.

Teams are called “rinks” – for the U.S., the John Shuster rink is in the final, for instance.

The games often last 2-3 hours. Each team has four players and an alternate (who usually sits with the coach just off the playing area)

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Trump Administration Restricts H-1B Worker Visas Coveted by High Tech

The Trump administration is tightening the rules for companies that contract out high-skilled workers who are in this country on H-1B visas.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency issued a new policy memo on Thursday that requires “detailed statements of work or work orders” about the work that will be performed when an H-1B visa worker is employed at a third-party work site. Employers will have to file more details that support the need for foreign talent.

H-1B visas are controversial. American tech companies use them to hire highly skilled foreign workers, such as engineers, IT specialists, architects among others, in situations in which they say there is a shortage of U.S.-born talent. The visas are good for three years and renewable for another three-year term.

Critics of the visas — 85,000 of which are issued every year — say American workers are aced out of competition with workers who can be paid less.

As CNN reports, “Indian outsourcing firms will be the hardest hit. Indian workers receive more than 70% of all H-1B visas.”

The USCIS memo says that if a visa beneficiary will be placed at one or more third-party worksites, the employer “has specific and non-speculative qualifying assignments in a specialty occupation for the beneficiary for the entire time requested in the petition; and the employer will maintain an employer-employee relationship with the beneficiary for the duration of the requested validity period.”

The memo says USCIS recognizes that visa-holders may wind up earning less money than promised or might perform “non-specialty” jobs when they are contracted out to third-party worksites.

The policy change comes as the Trump administration has signaled its desire to change the visa program with a “Buy American, Hire American” policy outlined in an executive order signed in April 2017. The order promised to root out fraud and abuse in the program.

As the Mercury News reports, the H-1B program has come under intense federal scrutiny.

“A Bay Area News Group report earlier this week found a sharp rise in the number of reviews immigration officials were conducting on H-1B applications. From January to August 2017, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services sent 85,265 requests for evidence in response to H-1B visa applications, a 45 percent increase compared to the same period a year earlier, agency data show. Such requests are made when an application is missing required documents or when the agency determines it needs more proof to decide if a worker is eligible for the visa. Immigration lawyers say the extra enforcement could discourage companies and individuals from seeking an H-1B visa in the first place.”

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Logs Of 911 Calls Reveal The Troubled History Of Florida School Shooter

Nikolas Cruz appears in court for a status hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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Mike Stocker/AP

Newly released tapes and logs of 911 calls show that police had responded to at least two dozen incidents of violent or disruptive behavior over 10 years by the 19-year-old suspect in the fatal shootings of 17 students and staff at a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last week.

On November 29 of last year, Nikolas Cruz called 911 himself in Palm Beach County to report that someone “attacked me and said they were going to gut me.”

In a 5 ½ minute call, Cruz say, “I kind of got made and I started punching walls and stuff and then a kid came at me and threw me on the ground, and he started attacking me and kicked me out of the house.”

In another call, a woman, whose name was redacted, describes an altercation between her adult son and Cruz. She also said she’s worried that Cruz is going to get a gun, “because that’s all he wants is his gun, and that’s all he cares about is his gun.”

The Miami Herald and other news organizations identify the caller as 42-year-old Roxanne Deschamps, who had taken in Cruz and his younger brother, Zachary, after their mother died earlier that month.

Those two calls are just part of the story authorities are piecing together about the troubled history of the alleged shooter and how various government agencies and school officials failed to effectively intervene before the shooting last week.

Meanwhile, the Broward Sheriff’s office released records dating back 10 years documenting contacts it had with Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old suspect. The records released are logs of 23 separate 911 calls, including 15 calls made by his now-deceased mother, Linda Cruz, reporting disputes and disturbances involving Cruz between November 2008 and June 2014. Several other calls were made by third parties beginning in February 2016 through November 2017.

The Sheriff’s Office’s response to two of the calls is under investigation by its Internal Affairs unit.

On February 5, 2016, deputies received a call summarized as:

“Third hand information from the neighbor’s son that Nikolas Cruz planned to shoot up the school on Instagram (Picture of Juvenile with guns.) One month time delay. Unknown high school. Cruz lives in area.”

The log says that the deputy made contact with the anonymous caller. Upon learning that Cruz possessed knives and a BB gun, that information was “forwarded to Stoneman Douglas School Resource Officer.”

On November 30, 2017, another call was logged:

“Caller advised subject Nikolas Cruz is collecting guns and knives. Cruz wants to join the Army. Concerned he will kill himself one day and believes he could be a school shooter in the making. Caller advised Cruz was no longer living at the listed parkland address and is now living Lake Worth, FL. Believes the weapons are kept at a friend’s house at an unknown location.”

The log says that the deputy contacted the caller located in Massachusetts via telephone. “No report was initiated…Deputy advised her referred the caller to the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office.”

On Thursday, Sheriff Scott Israel announced that two of his deputies are on restrictive duty pending an investigation into whether they followed policy in responding to 911 calls about the alleged shooter.

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White House Briefly Put On Lockdown After Driver Hits Security Barrier

A Secret Service officer hurries past reporters after a vehicle struck a security barrier near the White House Friday.

Evan Vucci/AP

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Evan Vucci/AP

The White House went on lockdown for a while on Friday afternoon after a female driver struck a nearby security barrier and was “immediately apprehended” by officers, according to the Secret Service.

BREAKING: An individual driving a passenger vehicle struck a security barrier near the White House at 17th & E.

— U.S. Secret Service (@SecretService) February 23, 2018

The agency said the vehicle “did not breach the security barrier of the White House complex.”

It happened a couple of blocks south of the President’s official residence around 3:30 p.m., as President Trump was inside hosting Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

“This minivan came and crashed into the barricade and tried to push through the barricade and his tires were burning rubber and a lot of smoke was coming up,” eyewitness Chris Bello said, according to Reuters. “And then about 30 seconds after that the two security guards that were in the booth, you know, ordered him to stop doing what he was doing and he didn’t listen,” Bello said.

The checkpoint is the same site of a 2016 episode when agents shot a man brandishing a gun, reports CNN. Nobody else was injured and the White House was placed under an hour-long lockdown at the time.

Located in the middle of the bustling metropolis, the White House grounds have been a target for intruders several times over the years.

A Congressional report compiled in 2015 found, “security incidents occur frequently enough that the agency must be prepared to deter and respond to breaches at all times.”

A 2014 Washington Post report chronicled more than 30 breaches that have been reported since the mid-1970s.

Often Secret Security tackles fence jumpers before they can gain much ground. But in 2014 an intruder armed with a small knife was able to make it inside the White House through an unlocked door before being apprehended. The Obama family was away at the time.

During Friday’s incident, the Secret Service said law enforcement personnel suffered no injuries and no shots were fired.

Fox 5 DC tweeted a video of a white van in front of a barrier with a broken rear window.

Rear window of vehicle that rammed into White House security barrier can be visibly seen blown out after incident. Female driver was apprehended. No shots fired, authorities say https://t.co/SdAgFxToWf#fox5dcpic.twitter.com/IKZ3i5y63J

— FOX 5 DC (@fox5dc) February 23, 2018

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Gothamist Properties Will Be Revived Under New Ownership: Public Media

Public radio stations WNYC, KPCC and WAMU announced Friday that they will revive the Gothamist local news sites in their cities. The sites had been shuttered by owner Joe Ricketts in November.

WNYC

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WNYC

Nearly four months after their billionaire owner shut them down, local news sites Gothamist, LAist and DCist will come back to life under new ownership: public radio stations.

WNYC in New York will buy Gothamist, Southern California’s KPCC will acquire LAist, and WAMU in Washington, D.C., is taking over DCist.

WNYC says the move is largely funded by two anonymous donors “who are deeply committed to supporting local journalism initiatives and the station partners.” Though the financial details weren’t disclosed, the station says the acquistition resulted from a competitive process. The deal includes story archives, Internet domains, and social media assets.

The sites’ owner, TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, cited financial reasons in closing the sites. But the move came just a week after workers at its New York outlets voted to unionize. Ricketts had previously written a blog post titled, “Why I’m Against Unions At Businesses I Create.”

The deal to revive the sites was driven by Gothamist’s founders, Jake Dobkin and Jen Chung, Wiredreports. Dobkin told the magazine the acquisition was “the best possible outcome” after the sudden shutdown of the sites in early November.

He told Wired that his team was looking for other local news organizations or radio stations to possibly acquire Chicagoist and SFist. Both sites say their archives are now operated by WNYC.

“The nonprofit WNYC business model has proved to be a growing and thriving thing while a lot of things have been going so deeply south,” Jim Schachter, head of WNYC’s news division, told the magazine.

New York Public Radio’s chief operating officer told The Wall Street Journal that each of the three stations has some “skin in the game.”

In an open letter to Southern Californians, KPCC Chief Content Officer Kristen Muller said that when LAist went dark, “a collective shudder ran through our newsroom. It was the neighborhood blog that could. We’d lost an important voice.”

KPCC is conducting a survey of Angelenos about what they miss about LAist and what their “dream version” of the site would look like.

“The health of our local media landscape matters,” Muller writes. “The future of our city depends on engaged residents to make informed choices. We’re excited by the opportunity to bring LAist back into the fight.”

WAMU says it plans a “slight refresh” of DCist before launching this spring. The station plans to hire three full-time staffers to run the site.

“This was an opportunity that when we learned about it, it seemed like such a natural fit,” WAMU chief content officer Andi McDaniel said in a statement. “The kind of community and neighborhood-level reporting that DCist does, and its beloved status locally, just aligned naturally with what our mission is.”

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Frank Kimbrough On Piano Jazz

When pianist Frank Kimbrough was Marian McPartland’s guest in 1997, he was performing regularly with the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra at Visiones Jazz Club in New York, where he has been active on the jazz scene for nearly four decades. An educator and recording artist, Kimbrough was a founding member and composer-in-residence of the Jazz Composers Collective.

In this Piano Jazz session, Kimbrough’s graceful, romantic style is evident on a Herbie Nichols tune, “Wildflower.” He and McPartland duet on Sonny Rollins‘ “Doxy.”

Originally broadcast in the spring of 1997.

SET LIST

  • “Wildflower” (Nichols)
  • “20 Bars” (Kimbrough)
  • “Sweet and Lovely” (Arnheim, Tobias, Daniels)
  • “All Too Soon” (Ellington, Sigman)
  • “Wish I Knew” (Warren, Mack)
  • “Lonely Woman” (Coleman, Guryan)
  • “Doxy” (Rollins)

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Episode 826: The Vodka Proof

Planet Money tries to make vodka in a radio studio.

Dan Pashman

A bottle of fancy vodka, like Grey Goose, costs about $35. A bottle of the cheap stuff can be under $10. That’s a wide range, but, by definition, vodka is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. So, could there really be a difference between vodkas? Or is the difference all in the marketing?

Today on the show, we get to the bottom of the question. We go to a distillery and find out how vodka is actually made. We hear the story of the genius who created the whole concept of super premium vodka. We find out where a lot of vodka really comes from. And then, we’ll see if we can make our own.

This episode is a collaboration with the Sporkful food podcast. Find more of their episodes here.

Music: “Sideswipe” and “Take the Lead

Find us: Twitter / Facebook / Instagram

Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, PocketCasts and NPR One.

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Director Of Oscar-Nominated Aleppo Doc Wants His Film To Serve As Witness

White Helmet Khaled Omar Harrah was killed during an airstrike in 2016. He’s part of a group of volunteer rescue workers featured in the documentary Last Men in Aleppo (available on Netflix).

Courtesy of Grasshopper Film

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Courtesy of Grasshopper Film

This winter, the Syrian government regained control over the entire city of Aleppo. For years before that, it was the largest urban stronghold of anti-regime rebels. Over those years, there were countless government bombings, and the city was reduced to rubble.

The documentary Last Men In Aleppo, by Syrian filmmaker Feras Fayyad, takes viewers inside the city. “I grew up in the countryside of Aleppo,” he says. “And Aleppo — it’s my city, where I know every single street and every single store.”

In 2015 and 2016, Fayyad and his crew followed a group of self-appointed rescue workers called White Helmets. The film has been nominated for an Oscar in the documentary category, making it the first Syrian film to receive that honor.


Interview Highlights

On the experience of filming his city while it was being destroyed

It’s very painful on one level, but on [another] level it’s put me in the position of responsibility. … This is a story [that] could be writing the history and save the evidence for what’s happened in this period of time in our human history.

On the deliberate, repetitive nature of some scenes

I tried to tell the story as a nightmare for this people — like, sleeping, waking up, seeing the same things and there’s no solution. And they try different ways to face that. You see that it’s like the bomb is repetition, again and again. And I try to [use] the camera … to witness what they saw, and the ugly side and the [beautiful] side. But watching the [beautiful] side, it’s kind of discovering through the eyes of the character what’s making them stay, from where they get their inspiration to [resist] and stay in this city.

On why the White Helmets stay

Actually, it’s like a philosophy question, a big philosophy question for all of us when we face a lot of pressure from our government, from the war, from anything. We find ourselves under pressure to leave. But there’s something … [that makes] them resist this decision of leaving. And this is a story — it’s about the common inner-conflict between your personal survival and what you can do for your community through what you have. They stay because they feel that, what they can do, it makes sense. They save almost 100,000 civilians. Just imagine if these people left … their city.

On what happened to the family of White Helmet Khaled Omar Harrah after he died

After he [was] killed, his wife with his two daughters, they moved outside of Aleppo to [another] part of Syria, and hopefully they are safe. There’s no real safe place in Syria, but there’s a place less dangerous than the others. And the wife of Khaled, she was pregnant, and she had the baby and called it Khaled also.

Fatma Tanis and Jessica Deahlproduced and edited the audio of this interview. Sydnee Monday and Nicole Cohen adapted it for the Web.

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Seychelles Finds A Novel Way To Swap Its Debt For Marine Protections

The tiny island nation of the Seychelles is announcing a pioneering marine conservation plan as part of a debt swap deal with creditors, designating nearly a third of its ocean waters as protected areas and aiming to ensure its unique biodiversity.

AP

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AP

The Seychelles have brokered a novel deal that will allow the island archipelago to swap millions of dollars in sovereign debt for protecting nearly one third of its ocean area.

It’s hailed as the first of its kind. “Seychelles is clearly breaking new grounds and with it, it has positioned itself as a world leader in ocean governance and management,” Seychelles vice president Vincent Meriton said in remarks announcing the new protections.

And hopes are high that this could serve as a model for other countries. “If it works, it will also secure the economic future of the nation, which depends entirely on tourism and fishing,” The Guardian writes. “With other ocean states lining up to follow, the approach could transform large swaths of the planet’s troubled seas.”

Here’s how it’s going to work. The Nature Conservancy negotiated a deal that “converts a portion of the nation’s foreign debt into a $22-million investment in expanded marine conservation,” according to a press release. Effectively, it “turned sovereign debt repayments into conservation funding,” the organization said.

The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation is one of the investors on the deal. It was reached in 2016, though it was this week that areas were formally designated as protected.

The entire plan is set to expand the Seychelles’ protected area from less than one percent to 30 percent. Earlier this week, Meriton signed documents that started this process by protecting two huge expanses of sea. It set aside more than 28,700 square miles in the Aldabra group of islands and 52,000 square miles in the Admirantes area. Together, that’s an area larger than the size of Syria.

An Aldabra giant tortoise on Curieuse island in the Seychelles.

Tate Drucker/AP

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Tate Drucker/AP

The idyllic Indian Ocean nation is popular with tourists. But it’s particularly vulnerable to climate change and has also seen overfishing.

“Half of this area will be designated as ‘no-take’ zones to protect fish breeding sites and scientifically identified priority biodiversity areas,” according to the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. The archipelago is home to the endangered dugong and multiple species of endangered sea turtles.

The plan is to expand the protected area to nearly double by 2021, as well as come up with ways to manage the territorial waters.

“Our approach is ambitious,” said Seychelles President Danny Faure in a Nature Conservancy statement. “It is about a paradigm shift on how we manage and use our coastal and ocean resources, how we work together as a government and as communities.”

The Seychelles defaulted on its debt in 2008, according to Reuters. Since then it has “clawed its way back to prosperity with assistance from the International Monetary Fund.” Its total debt now is $406 million, the wire service adds.

While this is a new approach for protecting marine areas, it’s not unique in nature conservation. According to Reuters, there are “20 years’ worth of similar debt-for-nature swaps that have preserved vast tracts of tropical forests in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

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