Lexus, Audi, Infiniti concept cars wow L.A. Auto Show – Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY 1:34 p.m. EST November 22, 2014

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LOS ANGELES — At auto shows, there are the cars that people will actually end up driving and the cars meant to give a keyhole-view into the future. Sometimes, the latter are so beautiful they can take your breath away.

The public is now getting a look at three of these gleaming motoring beauties at the Los Angeles Auto Show. One is a coupe, one is a sedan and one is a convertible. All come in shiny metallic-flecked paint, as if to underscore they are the belles of the ball.

Here are the three:

Lexus LF-C2 concept. In true dream-car fashion, the designers of this beautiful convertible didn’t exactly envision this car as road ready: As far as we can tell, it has no provision for a top. But that problem aside, the four-seater is meant to transmit a desire by Toyota’s luxury brand to become more inventive, perhaps even daring, in its design.

Audi Prologue concept. At first, we thought the front end of this dream car looked too much like a Ford Fusion or Aston Martin. But once the crowds cleared, we could see that taken a whole, it’s a drop-dead gorgeous view of where Audi intends to take its styling. The innovation goes inside the car as well, where touch-activated screens and surfaces replace many of the knobs and buttons. Perhaps best of all, this coupe can be driven. One copy was going to be plying the streets of Beverly Hills this weekend whilQe its twin sits on its perch at the auto show.

Infiniti Q80 Inspiration concept. Every detail of this car was treated like a work of art. Like the Audi, it’s long and low with a sleek, swept-back roof. The cabin is made more inviting by the rear-hinged “suicide doors” that open it up completely. This one is a hybrid, with the batteries getting a boost from a 3-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 engine.

In the run-up to Black Friday, Walmart and strikers wage a war of words – By Lydia DePillis November 22 at 3:01 PM

Consider a box of donated food placed out for workers to help their colleagues put a festive meal on the table at Thanksgiving, which happened over the past few days at Wal-Marts in Frankfort, Ind., and Oklahoma City.

While this happens inside Wal-Marts, workers plan to protest for higher wages outside.  (Michael Reynolds/European Pressphoto Agency)

Consider a box of donated food placed out for workers to help their colleagues put a festive meal on the table at Thanksgiving, which happened over the past few days at Wal-Marts in Frankfort, Ind., and Oklahoma City.

Is that touching charity for the less fortunate? Or evidence of an employer so stingy that its employees don’t make enough to provide for themselves?

It depends on whether you’re asking Walmart or the campaigners trying to raise awareness about the retailer’s low pay.

In advance of coordinated strikes at Wal-Marts across the country on the day after Thanksgiving, a labor union-backed group is accusing the world’s biggest retailer of driving its associates into starvation — and Wal-Mart is fighting back harder than ever, saying it’s just providing low-cost groceries to the masses.

Why is Wal-Mart specifically under seige, rather than Best Buy or Target? Other retailers pay low wages too, of course — recent research found that the average cashier at Starbucks makes $8.80 per hour, only a few nickles more than the average Wal-Mart cashier.

Wal-Mart says it pays an average hourly wage, excluding managers, of $11.81 — slightly more than the mean for retail sales workers nationally, which is $11.39.

But Wal-Mart has always been a target, because it’s the biggest retailer of all of them, at 1.3 million employees, so any change has the potential to meaningfully affect the most people. (In addition, it dramatically illustrates the themes of inequality that have resonated among the public, with the Walton family occupying spaces eight through 11 on the Forbes list of billionaires.)

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After Backlash, Computer Engineer Barbie Gets New Set Of Skills – NPR STAFF November 22, 2014 5:20 PM ET

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Computer Engineer Barbie is shown at the New York Toy Fair in New York. Critics took issue this week with a book that portrays Barbie needing help from boys in order to make a video game and fix a virus.

Computer Engineer Barbie is shown at the New York Toy Fair in New York. Critics took issue this week with a book that portrays Barbie needing help from boys in order to make a video game and fix a virus. Mark Lennihan/AP

Women in the technology field have faced all manner of insults, including, most recently, GamerGate, which highlighted sexism and harassment in video game culture. This week, another insult — from a seemingly more benign source — set off a loud online cry of: “Are you kidding me?”

A book called Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer was originally published in 2010. Author and Disney screenwriter Pamela Ribon discovered the book at a friend’s house and was initially excited at the book’s prospects, she tells guest host Tess Vigeland.

But then she continued reading.

“It starts so promising; Barbie is designing a game to show kids how computers work,” Ribon says. “She’s going to make a robot puppy do cute tricks by matching up colored blocks.”

But then Barbie’s friend Skipper asks if she can play it, and the book continues:

” ‘I’m only creating the design ideas,’ Barbie says, laughing. ‘I’ll need Steven’s and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game.’ “

Barbie then gets a virus on the computer, which then infects another computer, and the boys wind up fixing it for her:

“After class, Barbie meets with Steven and Brian in the library.

” ‘Hi, guys,’ says Barbie. ‘I tried to send you my designs, but I ended up crashing my laptop — and Skipper’s, too! I need to get back the lost files and repair both of our laptops.’

” ‘It will go faster if Brian and I help,’ offers Steven.”

The book Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer was originally published in 2010.

The book Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer was originally published in 2010.

Mattel/Random House Publications

Brian and Steven take over — and, at the end of the day, Barbie takes credit for the boys’ work. Ribon was ticked off and wrote about it on her blog on Monday. Tech blog Gizmodo picked it up and by Tuesday, it had gone viral.

“From the very beginning, it was ‘I hear you, I support you,’ men and women across the board,” she says. “People were upset for their daughters and their sons and schools. And you know, whether or not Barbie wants to be a role model, she’s in the position.”

Midweek, Mattel issued an apology on the official Barbie Facebook page saying: “The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for.”

Ribon thinks that’s a good first step, but she’s been more impressed by how people online have responded.

“People on the Internet have made hundreds of different versions of this book now because of Feminist Hacker Barbie’s site,” she says. “I mean, give the Internet a problem and it’ll fix it, with a lot of flare.”

That site — Feminist Hacker Barbie— was created by Kathleen Tuite, who works in the computer science field and as an independent consultant in Santa Cruz, Calif. Her name is. She says a friend posted a call-to-action on Facebook seeking women programmers to help crowdsource a hack to make new text for the book.

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“I was like, ‘Hmm, I do a lot of crowdsourcing app design. Maybe I can make this up,’ ” she says. Tuite put together a site that allows users to write their own text for the illustrations in the book. One of the first submissions reversed the roles in the book.

“Instead of Barbie as the game designer, she was the game programmer,” she says. “It says, ‘Barbie worked hard to implement Steven and Brian’s gameplay designs. Although she enjoys writing the code to bring these designs to life, she also respects knowledge of user experience that designers like Brian can bring to the table.’ “

Tuite says she’s gotten more than 2,000 submissions.

“These improved revisions that we’re seeing now actually give a better sense of what it’s like to be an engineer,” she says.

Across the country, Casey Fiesler, a doctoral candidate at Georgia Tech, was also getting fired up about the Barbie book.

“Originally when I saw the story I thought … what is great about this is that obviously what is going to happen is that someone is going to write a new book or it’s going to become a meme,” Fiesler says.

She decided to do it herself, and set to work in Photoshop. Fiesler rewrote the entire book so that instead of the computer virus being the big problem, Barbie was upset about something else.

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The American Ebola Rescue Plan Hinges on One Company. Meet Phoenix. – Abby Haglage 11.22.14

They’ve transported dolphins, satellite parts, even wolves. Then came a call to pick up two stricken American health workers. How Phoenix became the U.S. government’s go-to rescuer.

Elena Scotti/The Daily Beast

Phoenix Air Group, a U.S.-based air charter, can fly anything.Designed for “special missions,” the privately owned company is capable of transporting precious cargo anywhere in the world. In the 30 years since the company’s inception, “cargo” has had many meanings. For air supplier Hughes Aircraft, it was crucial satellite pieces from Russia. For Australia, oil field explosives. For an American aquarium, penguins.

This July, Phoenix got a call from a new client, this one the most serious of all. It was the U.S. Department of State. The precious cargo: two American humanitarian workers with Ebola.

For the immediate future, the thousands of American troops, hundreds of nurses and doctors bravely fighting Ebola in West Africa, Phoenix is the only quick way home. Despite more than $175 million allotted to the relief effort, the U.S. government’s rescue plan hinges on one company. Meet the most important air courier you’ve never heard of.


Phoenix Air Group, Incorporated, was launched in the rolling hills of Georgia in the late 1970s by Mark Thompson, an Atlanta native and former U.S. Army pilot. After years of flying helicopter rescue missions during the Vietnam era, Thompson decided to create his own company—this one aimed at transporting anything to safety. With just two small, double engine Beech 18s and a handful of employees, Phoenix was born.

Named for the mythological bird on his home city’s seal, Thompson’s company started small, earning a reputation as one of the few willing to transport heavy machinery by air. When the rise of foreign automakers caused an upheaval in the auto industry in the early 1980s, relocating auto parts between factories became big business. By 1984, the company had outgrown its Atlanta home, forcing Thompson to relocate to an airfield in Cartersville, Georgia, where Phoenix is based today.

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European Parliament May Call for “Unbundling” of Google – Will Oremus`

Google has grown too powerful, European politicians are convinced, and it may be time for the government to break it up.

Google’s offices in Brussels, where the company is under attack by European politicians. Photo by Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images

That’s the gist of a draft resolution that leaders in the European Parliament are preparing for a possible vote on Thursday, as reported by the Financial Times and Reuters. It would be a non-binding resolution, as the parliament does not have the authority to directly order a Google break-up. Still, its backers are confident the non-binding resolution will pass, which would put pressure on the European Commission to take action.

The draft motion, brought by members from Germany and Spain, never mentions Google by name, Reuters points out. But the Mountain View-based giant is widely understood to be the target of its call for the European Commission to consider “unbundling search engines from other commercial services” in the interest of fair competition.

The idea is that the dominance of Google’s search engine gives it too much control over what people see when they use the Internet. For instance, it’s often accused of prioritizing its own services in search results over those of rival companies, like Yelp.

Google was cleared of similar charges by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission last year. As I explained at the time, Google wasn’t actually cleared of manipulating its search results. It’s just that the FTC decided that such manipulation could be “plausibly justified” as good for consumers.

Europe has been far less inclined to give Google the benefit of the doubt. The European Commission has been investigating Google for years, and its recently departed competition chief threatened formal antitrust charges. How the case proceeds will be up to his successor, Margrethe Vestager, who took over on Nov. 1.

Google was already dealt a blow earlier this year by the European Court of Justice, which ruled that it would have to honor people’s “right to be forgotten” by hiding defamatory links about them.

But an attempt to break up the company would amount to a more radical attack on Google’s operations in Europe, and could conceivably provoke a U.S. response of some sort. Even a non-binding resolution by the parliament would mark a rather dramatic step. As the Financial Times notes, “A vote to effectively single out a big U.S. company for censure is extremely rare in the European parliament and is in part a reflection of how Germany’s politicians have turned against Google this year.”

Reuters adds that resentment in Europe has been building for years:

Google has tried to counter that mistrust, which its executives believe is linked to European perceptions of the United States in general. But recent revelations about U.S. surveillance practices, including that Washington monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone, have ignited a strong backlash, particularly in Germany, where the historic experiences of Nazism and Communism have left people deeply suspicious of powerful institutions controlling personal data.

Google supporters, however, believe European politicians are motivated largely by the desire to protect their own countries’ media and publishing companies.

You can read the full Reuters story here.

Are more states headed for gun-control battles? – by Adam May| November 21, 2014 4:30PM ET

SEATTLE – In Washington state, some gun owners are fired up.

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Initiative 594 was designed to plug loopholes in gun laws by mandating background checks for private arm sales and gun transfers. On Election Day, voters made their voices heard loud and clear, passing the measure in a landslide – almost 60 percent to 40 percent.

Anette Wachter, a six-time USA Shooting rifle team champion who led the campaign against Initiative 594, said the National Rifle Association underestimated the fight put up by gun-control advocates.

“Now, they have a huge, huge, huge battle on their hands,” said Wachter, referring to the NRA. “Because it will spread to other states.” She added: “This is a cancer. Seattle was a test bed for this initiative and it passed.”

Like most attempts to pass stronger gun laws, the effort to expand background checks in Washington was held up in the state Legislature for years. Lawmakers were afraid to touch the controversial issue, and gun rights advocates showed up in force at the Capitol every time it came up.

So, supporters of stricter gun laws took a new approach bypassing the lawmakers – collecting more than 250,000 signatures to put the issue to a popular vote.

Wachter, a shooting instructor, said the new law has left gun owners confused and worried that police could consider gun owners’ actions to be criminal. But others such as Sandy Brown, who helped lead the 594 campaign, claim that the new law will have a big impact on violent crime, targeting private gun sales over the Internet that are currently exempt from background checks.

“In our research, we learned that there are about 40,000 guns that are available online in Washington state every year that would be sold without a criminal background check,” said Brown, president of the Center for Gun Responsibility. “So, that becomes a source for illegal guns.”

Gun-control advocates in other states, including Nevada and Maine, watched the 594 initiative closely, hoping to craft campaigns that will duplicate Washington state’s results.

The fight over the Renewable Fuel Standard, explained – Updated by Brad Plumer on November 22, 2014, 3:31 p.m. ET

Corn is dropped from a truck at the Abengoa Bioenergy ethanol plant in Madison, Illinois, on August 20, 2012. (MCT/Tribune News Service/Getty Images)

  1. Back in 2007, Congress passed a law requiring the US to use more and more biofuels — like corn-based ethanol — each year.
  2. This is known as the Renewable Fuel Standard.
  3. In recent years, gasoline refiners and biofuels producers have been fighting over how much ethanol US cars can safely handle. Refiners say we’ve reached the limit.
  4. Last year, the EPA proposed cutting the ethanol targets for 2014, angering biofuels producers and corn growers.
  5. After a long delay, the EPA has now delayed setting targets for this year — prolonging uncertainty over the issue.

Why companies are fighting over biofuels

Back in 2007, Congress passed a law that would push the United States to use more and more ethanol and other biofuels derived from plants. This is known as the Renewable Fuel Standard, and the hope was that it would help reduce America’s dependency on oil.

Under the law, gasoline refiners and blenders were supposed to mix 16.55 billion gallons of ethanol into the gasoline they produced by 2013 (the vast majority of this was ethanol made from corn). That amount was supposed to keep rising until it hit 36 billion gallons in 2022.

(Congressional Budget Office)

(Congressional Budget Office)

There was a big hitch, though: When Congress originally passed the law in 2007, lawmakers expected that US gasoline use would keep rising indefinitely, and all that ethanol would make up a small fraction of the total. Instead, the opposite happened. Americans started buying more fuel-efficient carsand driving less. US gasoline use has actually fallen in recent years.

US gasoline use has actually fallen in recent years

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