Weekend Edition Saturday

Saturday mornings are made for Weekend Edition Saturday, the program wraps up the week's news and offers a mix of analysis and features on a wide range of topics, including arts, sports, entertainment, and human interest stories. The two-hour program is hosted by NPR's Peabody Award-winning Scott Simon.

Drawing on his experience in covering 10 wars and stories in all 50 states and seven continents, Simon brings a humorous, sophisticated and often moving perspective to each show. He is as comfortable having a conversation with a major world leader as he is talking with a Hollywood celebrity or the guy next door.

Weekend Edition Saturday has a unique and entertaining roster of other regular contributors. Marin Alsop, conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, talks about music. Daniel Pinkwater, one of the biggest names in children's literature, talks about and reads stories with Simon. Financial journalist Joe Nocera follows the economy. Howard Bryant of EPSN.com and NPR's Tom Goldman chime in on sports. Keith Devlin, of Stanford University, unravels the mystery of math, and Will Grozier, a London cabbie, talks about good books that have just been released, and what well-read people leave in the back of his taxi. Simon contributes his own award-winning essays, which are sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant.

Weekend Edition Saturday is heard on NPR Member stations across the United States, and around the globe on NPR Worldwide. The conversation between the audience and the program staff continues throughout the social media world.

Voting machines purchased after the 2000 elections are coming to the end of their useful lives. States are looking to buy new equipment but there's little money and technology is changing rapidly.

Remember all that new voting equipment purchased after the 2000 presidential election, when those discredited punch card machines were tossed out? Now, the newer machines are starting to wear out.

Election officials are trying to figure out what to do before there's another big voting disaster and vendors have lined up to help.

During their annual meeting in Washington, D.C., this week, state election officials previewed the latest voting equipment from one of the industry's big vendors, Election Systems and Software.

ES&S expects a huge surge in buying very soon. It hopes its new ExpressVote machine will appeal to those who want convenient voting as well as the security of a paper ballot that's counted separately.

"We're seeing a buying cycle that's starting now, and will probably go for the next maybe four or five years," said Kathy Rogers, a senior vice president at ES&S who used to run elections for the state of Georgia.

Rogers says companies have to be more flexible than they were 10 or so years ago. Both the technology and how people vote is changing rapidly.

"Some are moving to all vote by mail; some are increasingly becoming early vote sites," she said. "We have some that have moved as far away from direct record electronics as they possibly can, and then we have others who love that technology."

That technology is those touchscreen voting machines that many states bought after 2000. Some states including Maryland are scrapping them in favor of paper-backed equipment, because of security concerns. But in a sign of the times, Maryland is leasing its new equipment from ES&S, instead of buying — just in case something better comes along in a few years.

"I don't have to tell you all, the technology is old and it's ancient by technology standards," said Matt Masterson in an address to the election officials. He helped run Ohio's elections and is a newly appointed commissioner on the federal Election Assistance Commission.

Masterson says most current voting equipment was purchased three years before the iPhone was introduced. Officials now have a lot of catching up to do.

"The public's out ahead of us on this one," Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill said. "I mean, they are amazed that we don't have them being checked in with laptops at the polling places, for example; it's all still very much manual labor with people crossing off lists with pencils. And so ... the public is expecting more."

Like the convenience they see today when they shop or bank. The big problem is figuring out who's going to pay for all these new machines. After the 2000 elections, Congress gave states $3 billion, but no one expects that to happen again. Merrill says state and local governments will have to figure out what to do, and soon.

"Because it could become a national embarrassment if we continue to have the problems we've had," she said. In her state, those problems include computer card failures.

Vendors say they're well aware that there's a tough sell ahead — that people are searching for something that's easy to use and accurate, but also cheap. This is why George Munro of Democracy Live says his company is pushing off-the-shelf technology that can be adapted for voting.

"So a voter can come in, use any Windows 8 tablet, it's not connected to the Internet or anything, but they can mark their ballot right on the screen and then print their ballot off," Munro says. He says it costs a lot less than regular voting equipment. And when it no longer serves its purpose, he says the tablets could be donated to schools or other government departments.

It's an idea that's gaining some attention, but not necessarily customers, yet. Election officials — at this conference, at least — are still just looking.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

No cargo will go in or out of 29 West Coast ports this weekend because of a labor dispute that has been dragging on for months. And now the economic impacts of the shutdown are starting to be felt.

No cargo will go in or out of 29 West Coast ports this weekend.

It's the third partial shutdown in operations at these ports in a week, the result of a bitter labor dispute between shipping lines and the union representing 20,000 dock workers. The dispute has been dragging on for eight months, and now the economic impacts of the shutdown are starting to be felt.

Even before the labor dispute between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, there was a major congestion crisis brewing at West Coast ports, and the shutdowns this weekend are only making things worse.

Standing on a bluff overlooking the Port of Los Angeles, one can see a half-dozen huge container ships sitting idle; there are at least six more on the horizon.

"If you think about being on a tarmac for a couple of hours at an airport, some of these people have been waiting off-shore for weeks to get in," says Phillip Sanfield, a spokesman with the Port of Los Angeles. He's standing on the docks inside the port, where things are eerily quiet. Two massive container ships look like someone abandoned them in a hurry, and the cranes towering above them are just hanging there.

"We need to get back on schedule and we're hearing from customers throughout the country and beyond that it is affecting their businesses," Sanfield says. "So we need to get this cargo moving."

Even a partial shutdown of operations is a big deal here. At the combined ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, about $1 billion worth of cargo comes through every day. Most of it is from Asia: electronics, clothes, toys and car parts.

And then there's the export side of things. One industry especially caught in the middle of all this is agriculture. California's citrus industry is blaming the port shutdowns and congestion for a 25 percent drop in export business.

"Season to date it's estimated that this has impacted the California citrus industry by the reduction of about $500 million in export sales," says Dusty Ference, director of grower services at the industry trade group California Citrus Mutual.

Ference says this is all coming at a really bad time because this is the industry's peak export season ahead of the Chinese New Year.

"We're getting reports now that, not including trucking time, these containers are sitting on the docks for 10 days, and in some cases, longer," he says.

Some industries are now turning to the air to ship freight. Some of Ference's growers are trucking cargo down to the Port of Houston, but going the long way through the Panama Canal is expensive and not always practical.

Mostly they're waiting and hoping things get resolved quickly. The Pacific Maritime Association's president has warned of an all-out "meltdown" on West Coast ports if the union doesn't accept what he called its "generous contract offer."

"You know the truth. We want to go to work and they're blaming us," ILWU President Robert McEllrath said in a video to membership. "There's space on the docks to unload vessels. There's cargo to be delivered and we're here to do it."

For now, unless a deal is reached, the Pacific Maritime Association's enforced closure of most major operations up and down the West Coast is scheduled to last through the President's Day holiday.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Museums are filled with signs that say "do not touch." But a current exhibition at the Museo del Prado in Madrid wants you to do just the opposite. The exhibit is designed for blind people.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.