In terms of weather, 2011 has made it into the record books. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that during this year, there have been 12 different weather disasters that cost more than $1 billion. The previous record was nine in 2008.
A few more facts from NOAA:
-- "These twelve disasters alone resulted in the tragic loss of 646 lives, with the National Weather Service reporting over 1,000 deaths across all weather categories for the year."
A couple of years ago, NPR's Robert Siegel had a 5-year-old kid moment.
He was in the new wing of a hospital watching a workman put up drywall and, as drywall installers are wont to do, the workman reached the top of the wall by walking on stilts.
The 5-year-old inside the radio host was suddenly enchanted by the thought of stilts, so Siegel set out to learn more; first through Google, then from Joe Bowen, who walked more than 3,000 miles across the country on stilts in 1980.
Greece fudged its budget numbers to enter the euro club, and its reputation as a source of accurate financial figures never really improved. As the country's financial crisis has worsened, the joke about its suspect fiscal numbers comes with the punch line, "lies, damn lies ... and Greek statistics."
The country sought to improve its standing last year when it created a new and independent statistical service, the Hellenic Statistical Authority.
The new and ever-changing world of social networking has blurred the lines between private and public, work and personal, friend and stranger. It's becoming a particular challenge for teachers who can quickly rile students and parents by posting comments or photos online.
In some cases, teachers have been fired for statements they've made on Facebook, which is raising free speech issues.
This summer, NPR told the story of a young man in Syria who worked a regular job by day and was a protester by night. At the end of that story, the activist made a prediction that was later tweeted to thousands of people: "One day my time is coming. Until the world realizes what's happening in Syria, they will try and get us all."
As the Egyptian elections roll on over the course of several more weeks, the incoming parliament looks likely to be dominated by Islamists. But the two leading Islamist blocs have little in common and are doing their best to undermine each other.
The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists do not get along in Alexandria's working-class slum of Abu Suleiman. Outside one polling station, the tension is thick as campaign workers for each group's political party hand out fliers.
For much of the Cold War, George F. Kennan was America's best-known diplomat and a leading Soviet scholar. His reputation was based in large part on the 1947 essay he wrote on containment, the Cold War policy that said the U.S. should neither forcefully confront nor meekly appease the Soviets.
Rather, the U.S. should seek to contain Soviet expansion, power and influence in the belief that the communist system would eventually collapse on its own. The U.S. largely adhered to Kennan's road map until the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991.
When the euro was set up in the late 1990s, the Stability and Growth Pact clearly spelled out the criteria for membership: Countries could not have huge debts, and they needed to keep deficits small. And there was no question — the rules explicitly excluded a little country named Greece.
"If you asked someone in Europe whether Greece would join the eurozone, the answer would have been you are mad, " says Loukas Tsoukalis with the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy.
To many a mom, you can't go much lower than a Twinkie. The famous snack sort of epitomizes nutritional bankruptcy.
So now we learn that breakfast cereals such as Kellogg's Honey Smacks are even worse — in terms of sugar content — than a Twinkie. One cup of the cereal has 20 grams of sugar, compared with 18 grams in the cake. (The recommended serving size on the label is three-fourths of a cup.) Well, that gets our attention.
Fourteen years in federal prison, that's the sentence given today to former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted of 18 corruption charges. A federal judge in Chicago handed down the sentence after Blagojevich himself addressed the court and pleaded for mercy.
Mitt Romney had a handy counterargument for all those who have called him a political flip flopper: his apparent steadfastness in all his personal commitments, like his 42-year marriage to his wife Anne.
Turns out, that argument can do double duty since it helps Romney draw a contrast with Newt Gingrich who is on his third marriage.
Originally published on Wed December 7, 2011 1:14 pm
Italian police had to drill into a concrete bunker underground to get to Michele Zagaria. As NPR's Sylvia Poggioli tells our Newscast unit, the arrest of the mob boss is "huge."
Sylvia adds that Michele Zagaria "is the head of one of the bloodiest clans of the Neapolitan mafia called the Camorra and they've been involved in an enormous number of illegal activity. Probably the most prominent is the illegal transport and disposal of toxic waste, which has become a huge problem in the whole Naples area."
Iowa Republican Charles Grassley took to the Senate floor Wednesday to declare that a senior Justice Department official "needs to go immediately" for allegedly misleading Congress in its 11-month-old investigation of a gun trafficking operation gone bad.
"It's past time for accountability at the senior levels of the Justice Department," Grassley said. "That accountability needs to start with the head of the criminal division, Lanny Breuer."
In a 15-minute speech, Grassley set out two main reasons for demanding Breuer's ouster.
Back in June, the news out of the Newt Gingrich presidential campaign was dire.
Top staffers quit over differences about strategy, with some citing doubts about the candidate's seriousness — especially when he and his wife went on a cruise to the Greek Islands while his rivals stumped through New Hampshire and Iowa.
But now it's December, and Gingrich suddenly sits atop the polls. As a result, his organization is growing — as is the campaign brain trust. But Gingrich's most important adviser remains himself.
Originally published on Wed December 7, 2011 12:48 pm
In the latest reminder that he's still in the race (if apparently not in the hunt) for the Republican presidential nomination, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has a new TV ad in Iowa in which he makes a naked appeal to the state's religious conservatives who are expected to play an important role in the upcoming caucuses.
Originally published on Wed December 7, 2011 2:29 pm
Multiple media outlets, including the AP and CNN, are reporting that former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky has been arrested again, as new charges of sexual molestation have emerged.
Sandusky is already facing 40 counts related to the sexual assault of children. Sandusky has said repeatedly that he is innocent, but the case has engulfed the Penn State football program in controversy.
Originally published on Wed December 7, 2011 12:01 pm
Harry Morgan, who came into our living rooms as Col. Potter in M*A*S*-H, as Officer Bill Gannon in Dragnet and in guest star roles on other TV series from Murder, She Wrote to The Love Boat, has died. He was 96.
The Associated Press reports that the actor's daughter-in-law, Beth Morgan, said he died at his home in Brentwood, Calif., after a bout with pneumonia.
In a surprising twist, the Obama administration has overruled the Food and Drug Administration and will not allow teenage girls to buy the emergency contraceptive Plan B One-Step without a prescription.
The decision punctuates one of the longest-running public health sagas in recent memory. The FDA had decided that a version of the morning-after emergency contraceptive pill could be sold without a prescription regardless of the age of the buyer.
Originally published on Wed December 7, 2011 1:00 pm
Update at 1:33 p.m. ET. Judge James Zagel has sentenced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to 14 years in prison. The AP reports that it is "one of the stiffest penalties for corruption in a state with a history of crooked politics."
On his way out of the courthouse, Blagojevich said "we're going to keep fighting on through this adversity. This is a time to be strong."
After bringing their grievances to the doors of Congress on Tuesday, protesters from across the nation plan to take aim at Washington's other vilified powerbrokers: lobbyists.
By lunchtime on Wednesday, storied K Street, which is home to the lobbying arms of many large corporations and industries, is expected to be choked with as many as 3,000 community activists, unemployed protesters, union members and Occupy Wall Street participants.
Geoff Nunberg, the linguist contributor on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, is the author of the book The Years of Talking Dangerously.
If the word of the year is supposed to be an item that has actually shaped the perception of important events, I can't see going with anything but occupy. It was a late entry, but since mid-September it has gone viral and global. Just scan the thousands of hashtags and Facebook pages that begin with the word: Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Slovakia. Occupy Saskatoon, Sesame Street, the Constitution. Occupy the hood.
The mission of America's Test Kitchen is simple: to make "recipes that work." The syndicated PBS cooking show, hosted by Christopher Kimball, simplifies recipes in ways that home chefs can easily replicate with a fairly high degree of success.
Making sure amateur chefs can recreate recipes designed by professional chefs is of utmost importance, Kimball tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.
One of the highest-profile murder cases in recent decades just took another important turn: "Philadelphia's district attorney announced this morning that he will not continue to seek the death penalty for Mumia Abu-Jamal," WHYY reports.
A local prosecutor says he believes two men who have alleged that a former Syracuse University assistant basketball coach sexually abused them when they were children are credible — but can't pursue charges because the statute of limitations has passed.
The Associated Press reports that the decision by Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick only means that there won't be a case brought against Bernie Fine under state law. "A federal probe is ongoing," AP notes.