Time was when business-suited Santas would spend December roaming the corridors of Congress, bestowing all sorts of goodies upon their elected friends, prospective friends and staffers: baskets of food, bottles of booze, even high-priced tickets to sports events.
That last item is the kind of thing that sent uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff to prison. It also brought the House of Representatives a new set of ethics rules — stern and often complex limits on accepting gifts.
On Monday, federal prosecutors announced indictments against 18 current and former deputies of the L.A. Sheriff's department for corruption and civil rights abuses inside the nation's largest municipal jail system.
That wreath on your front door could contain stolen goods.
The tips of fir trees used to make wreaths are collected by "tippers" and attract high prices — as well as poachers, who cut limbs and even whole trees on private land.
The Christmas greens industry is estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars. But like other cottage industries, no one's really counting. Anyone with a desire to make some money can take part — on or under the table. And that's become a problem for some woodlot owners trying to protect their trees.
The track record of commercial products designed with privacy as a top priority has been abysmal — at least until recently. The ephemeral texting app Snapchat is turning assumptions upside down about young people and their desire for digital privacy.
Fred Cate, director of applied cybersecurity research at Indiana University, is an expert on privacy in the digital age. But when it comes to the viability of tech products that promise privacy, Cate has always been skeptical.
France's Chateau of Versailles has pulled out all the stops for one of its favorite sons, gardener Andre Le Notre, who designed the palace's famous gardens. This year, to mark the 400th anniversary of Le Notre's birth, several of the garden's fountains are being restored and the chateau is hosting an exhibit on his life through February 2014.
Experts say Le Notre'swork was so groundbreaking, it continues to influence contemporary urban architecture.
Originally published on Mon December 9, 2013 3:59 pm
Critics of the federal auto bailout will no longer be able to refer derisively to GM as "Government Motors" — on Monday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced the U.S. government has sold its remaining shares in the carmaker.
"With the final sale of GM stock, this important chapter in our nation's history is now closed," Lew said, announcing the sale.
The net? Taxpayers lost $10.7 billion on the deal.
Originally published on Mon December 9, 2013 4:02 pm
Federal prosecutors announced Monday the indictment of 18 current and former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies on an array of charges stemming from a sweeping investigation into inmate abuse and corruption.
"These incidents did not take place in a vacuum — in fact, they demonstrated behavior that had become institutionalized," said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. "The pattern of activity alleged in the obstruction of justice case shows how some members of the Sheriff's Department considered themselves to be above the law."
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel returned to the Mideast on Monday after a weekend tour of Afghanistan and a stop in Pakistan. The trip focused on a planned security deal with Afghanistan and concerns among Gulf allies about a nuclear deal with Iran.
When it comes to report cards, most people think of grades like A, B, C or maybe F. But more and more parents around the country are seeing their kids come home with grades like E, M, IP or LP. It's part of a growing trend to make grades more reflective of the specific skills students have actually mastered, and its getting a boost from the move to Common Core standards.
Comic book lovers have a new paradise. It's not the Batcave or the Fortress of Solitude; it's a new cartoon library and museum, tucked into a nondescript building on the Ohio State University campus.
Jenny Robb loves comics and cartoons; it's in her job description. She's the curator of the new Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, named after the famed Columbus Dispatch cartoonist. With millions of pages of material in this free collection, Robb is in charge of geek heaven.
Zheng Jinrong poses with a portrait of herself and her grandson in a migrant village in Shanghai. She received the photographs as part of a global event to provide high-quality portraits for people who otherwise can't afford them.
Credit Frank Langfitt / NPR
Lutz Michaelis, a robotics engineer from Germany, shows a Chinese family a preview of their free portrait last weekend in Shanghai.
Credit Frank Langfitt / NPR
Sue Anne Tay, a Singaporean banker who also runs a documentary photography blog called Shanghai Street Stories, was among the volunteers who helped at Saturday's free portrait event.
A holiday gift of sorts came early in more than 20 countries over the weekend, as volunteer photographers shot free, studio-quality portraits of more than 16,000 people who otherwise couldn't have afforded them.
A working-class neighborhood of Shanghai was among the more than 130 sites where the photo shoots took place, part of a global project inspired by Help-Portrait, a U.S.-based nonprofit.
The world has joined South Africans in mourning and memorializing Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at age 95. The life of the man known as the '"father of the nation" — the anti-apartheid hero, Nobel Laureate laureate and South Africa's first black president — will be celebrated on Tuesday in Johannesburg, a ceremony that will be attended by many world leaders.
Tensions are high in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, as huge crowds of protesters vent their anger at President Viktor Yanukovych. He has rejected a plan to strengthen ties between Ukraine and the European Union. The demonstrators fear that Yanukovych will instead strengthen ties with Russia and some former Soviet republics. There have been angry face-offs between protesters and police. In one incident on Monday, a line of demonstrators pushed right up against the shields of a line of police.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has dismissed his uncle — who was considered the number two power in the country — from a key defense post. Jang Song Thaek was accused of a long list of criminal and counter-revolutionary acts. He was stripped of all power, and was seen on state television being forcibly removed from a party meeting. Melissa Block talks with Korea-watcher Victor Cha, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The heads of eight major technology companies — including Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft — have published an open letter to President Obama calling for reforms to government surveillance programs. Audie Cornish speaks with David Drummond, chief legal officer for Google.
Audie Cornish talks with Doug Parker, CEO of the newly formed American Airlines Group. As of Monday, it's the largest airline in the world. It came about through the merger of American Airlines and US Airways. Parker worked more than two years for the merger to finally be completed.
The Senate is back from vacation and trying to get a budget deal completed. The House plans to leave town for the year at the end of the week, which means the heat is on to settle on spending levels for 2014 and 2015. Democrats would also like to insert money for extended unemployment benefits, which expire at the end of December. If nothing else, negotiators want to agree on a "topline" spending amount to avoid another government shutdown when the current stopgap spending measure expires Jan. 15.
North Carolina is expected to host one of the nation's toughest U.S. Senate races next year. First-term Democrat Kay Hagan is seeking re-election, but recent polls show that even though her GOP opponent won't be known until the spring, her support for President Obama and the Affordable Care Act have already hurt her standing with state voters. She's also being targeted by outside groups, who are spending millions of dollars in hopes of unseating her.
Erica Lafferty (right), daughter of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victim Dawn Hochsprung, consoles Carlee Soto, sister of victim Victoria Soto, after representatives of 14 families addressed the media on Monday in Newtown, Conn.
Relatives of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School have asked people to mark Saturday's anniversary of the mass shooting with "acts of kindness" and say they will light candles in memory of the victims.
At a news conference on Monday, the families also announced the launch of a website, http://mysandyhookfamily.org, to create a "singular place of sharing, communication, and contact with the families of those who lost their lives that day."
Originally published on Mon December 9, 2013 4:32 pm
Each year around this time, Pringles comes out with a new, limited-time-only, holiday-themed flavor. A couple of years ago it was White Chocolate Peppermint Pringles, then there was Awkward Visit With Family Pringles, and now we have Pecan Pie Pringles.
Ian: Depending on where you're from, it's either pronounced "pee-kahn" or "gross."
Eva: Wait a minute ... at Thanksgiving my grandma said these were homemade!
Jeremy Jordan, who anchored one of Smash's storylines in Season 2, returned to the material at New York's 54 Below for a concert version of the musical his songwriter character was writing on the NBC show.
Originally published on Mon December 9, 2013 3:19 pm
For most of its two-year run on NBC, the series Smash was pretty much a hot mess. Ostensibly about the creation of Broadway musicals, it only tangentially resembled the real thing. And its plots and characters got soapier and soapier as the show went on.
Originally published on Mon December 9, 2013 3:48 pm
At one time, Area 51 was one of the most famous military installations in the world — a place widely talked about, yet so secret that the U.S. government refused to confirm its existence.
That's why President Obama's reference to the southern Nevada base Sunday raised eyebrows. It marked the first time a U.S. commander in chief has publicly acknowledged the facility that fueled countless conspiracy theories.