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June 17, 2014

We've all seen the headlines about rampant Chinese economic growth. Many have presented evidence — from ghost cities, to excessive financial debt — that China's growth is an unsustainable bubble. And maybe the boom there will soon give way to a bust.

But what I think is under-appreciated is just how huge China's growth has been.

Here's a figure that sticks out: Bill Gates points out that between 2011 and 2013, China used more cement than the U.S. did in the entire 20th century:

(Gates Notes)

Now, China is a huge country with over four times the number of people that the U.S. has. But still. The 20th century was America's century, where it built out its huge continent-spanning highway system, its airports, its sanitation systems, and cities where skyscrapers dominate the skyline like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Miami. Cement — the key ingredient in concrete — is very literally the foundation for modern life and urban living. We drive on it, we walk on it, we live in it. And China is using it at a rate that has never been seen before on this planet. John Aziz

9:00 a.m. ET

It might not be all in your head after all. A small team of biopsychologists from Ruhr University Bochum, in Germany, believes they have found evidence proving that whether you are right- or left-hand dominant comes from genetic activity in the spine, not just the brain, Science Alert reports.

Previously, researchers believed that gene activity in the right or left hemisphere of the brain resulted in a person's handedness. Scientists knew that such a preference starts in the eighth week of pregnancy, with unborn children preferring to suck on his or her right or left thumb by week 13.

That's where the new research comes in:

Arm and hand movements are initiated via the motor cortex in the brain. It sends a corresponding signal to the spinal cord, which in turn translates the command into a motion. The motor cortex, however, is not connected to the spinal cord from the beginning. Even before the connection forms, precursors of handedness become apparent. This is why the researchers have assumed that the cause of right respective left preference must be rooted in the spinal cord rather than in the brain. [Ruhr-Universität Bochum]

"These results fundamentally change our understanding of the cause of hemispheric asymmetries," the authors of the study wrote.

And as Science Alert notes, the study is still very small and early to throw out all previous assumptions. That being said, "it's definitely intriguing new evidence that scientists will need to investigate further." Jeva Lange

8:12 a.m. ET

When President Trump, inspired by a Fox News segment, told a crowd this weekend that the nation of Sweden is having "problems like they never thought possible" due to their intake of large numbers of refugees, it left some in Sweden scratching their heads.

One such Swede is Max Karlsson, who is tasked with running the national Twitter account this week. Every week, a new Swede is allowed to run the @Sweden account, and Karlsson used his opportunity to loosen a volley of facts at President Trump:

In addition to the White House's false claim that crime in Sweden is going up (in fact, it has been falling for the past 12 years), Karlsson also took aim at the spread of biased information:

"Let's be clear," Karlsson said. "A lot happened #lastnightinSweden. Things happen all of the time. Just not the things @readDonaldTrump [is] spreading." Read his full thread here. Jeva Lange

7:36 a.m. ET
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

By issuing an executive order on Jan. 27 that banned people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, President Trump inadvertently paled the appeal of America to many tourists around the world. The travel industry is already feeling the squeeze: Interest in visiting the U.S. has plummeted since Trump's executive order, The New York Times reports.

Hopper, an airfare prediction app, found that between Jan. 26 and Feb. 1, searches for flights from 122 countries to the U.S. dropped more than a 17 percent after the travel ban, compared with the first three weeks of the month. Another travel site, Cheapflights.com, saw international searches drop 38 percent from Jan. 27 to 29, compared to the weekend prior. Swedish travel search engine Flygresor.se found by analyzing 2.5 million searches that interest in visiting the United States dropped 47 percent compared to the same period the year prior.

"This drop was more than a seasonal swing," said Cheapflights.com spokeswoman Emily Fisher. "It was most notable in the days right after the ban was enacted."

The consequences, in the long term, are not insignificant. Tourism-related spending in the U.S. was $1.56 trillion in 2015, and the industry created 7.6 million jobs in the U.S. in the same year.

"It doesn't take a lot of uncertainty or adverse sentiment to affect travel decisions," Adam Sacks of Tourism Economics told The New York Times. Jeva Lange

7:15 a.m. ET

On Monday morning at about 6 a.m., 11 passengers walked through a Transportation Security Administration security lane at New York JFK airport's Terminal 5 without being screened by TSA agents, law enforcement officials said. The TSA waited two hours to inform Port Authority police, and in that time, the 11 passengers boarded their planes and flew off. Three of the passengers were apparently not screened even after they set off the metal detector, though the Port Authority police say three of the 11 people were identified through security camera footage and checked when they landed in California. The other eight passengers have not yet been identified.

The TSA said it is reviewing the security lapse, but is "confident" that the breach "presents minimal risk to the aviation transportation system," in part because the passengers' bags were screened and they passed by a K9 team. Other people are less sanguine about 11 people boarding airplanes without being checked for weapons. Those critics include the New York Daily News:

You can learn more about the incident in the NBC Nightly News report below. Peter Weber

6:16 a.m. ET
Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

On Tuesday, an Israeli military court handed Sgt. Elor Azaria an 18-month prison sentence for fatally shooting a wounded Palestinian knife attacker in Hebron last March, less than the 3-5 years sought by prosecutors. The shooting of the 21-year-old Palestinian man, captured on video, split opinion in Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right allies calling for Azaria to be pardoned and military officials arguing that a soldier shooting a disarmed, immobilized prisoner is contrary to Israeli military values. A three-judge military judicial panel had convicted Azaria of manslaughter in January. Peter Weber

4:22 a.m. ET

Thousands of people celebrated Presidents Day on Monday by gathering in streets nationwide for "Not My Presidents Day" rallies. Stephen Colbert was having none of it. "Sorry, but yeah: your president," he said on Monday's Late Show. "Deal with it. George Washington was not more president than Donald Trump, okay? Abraham Lincoln: exactly the same amount of commander in chief as Donald Trump. So no marching off to your fantasy world — do not leave me alone with this guy!"

America's president, Colbert noted, declared the press the "enemy of the American people" on Friday, and Colbert managed a mockery twofer: "You know who I feel bad for? ISIS. They try so hard. Sorry, ISIS — if you want to get on the list, you've got to publish photos of Trump's inauguration crowd, then he'll be really, really angry at you." He played a clip of Sen. John McCain standing up for the media, saying abolishing a free press is how dictatorships begin. McCain wasn't calling Trump a dictator, Colbert noted, or at least not "a full dictator. He's more bite-sized, okay? He's a dictator-tot."

Colbert had a short riff on Trump's new national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster — "He chose McMaster, I assume, because he had the strongest-sounding name — 'Is Gen. Thrust McPowerhouse not available? Let's go with McMaster instead'" — and ended with Trump's rally in Florida on Saturday. "Over 9,000 showed up," Colbert said. "It is the biggest crowd Trump has drawn to an airport without detaining anyone." Trump was there to talk to the people, and he called one person he'd seen on TV up to the stage, telling him to just jump the security fence. Colbert let that sink in for a second, finally deadpanning: "Yes, nothing screams secure borders and extreme vetting like 'Hop over the fence!'" Watch below. Peter Weber

3:34 a.m. ET

On Tuesday morning, four American tourists and their Australian pilot were killed when their twin-engine Beechcraft Super King airplane crashed into a shopping mall in suburban Melbourne, right after takeoff. The Direct Factory Outlet mall, adjacent to the airport, was not yet open, and nobody else was injured in the crash, said Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane. "Looking at the fireball, it is incredibly lucky that no one was at the back of those stores or in the car park of the stores, that no one was even hurt."

The four Americans were on their way to a golfing vacation on King Island, 160 miles away. Family members have identified two of the American victims — Greg Reynolds De Haven and Russell Munsch, both from Texas — and the pilot was Max Quartermain, owner of the charter company. Quartermain reported "catastrophic engine failure" right after takeoff, police said. You can view the wreckage in the raw video from The Associated Press below. Peter Weber

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