It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
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And I'm David Greene. Despite some very loud grumbling, both chambers of Congress have approved a two-year federal budget plan. This drops the odds of a federal government shutdown early next year, but it certainly does not end the debate over federal spending.
INSKEEP: NPR's Tamara Keith is on the line this morning to talk about one figure from the agreement, which suggests the scale of budget fights ahead. And Tamara, what's the figure?
The BP oil spill turned out to be less disastrous than people feared at the beginning, but it still was a disaster, and the effects are still being felt. Dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico are getting very sick, we're told, from exposure to oil. For the first time, a government study confirms a host of problems in dolphins who live in one of Louisiana's bays worst affected. Here's NPR's Debbie Elliot.
If you ever fly, you've heard it countless times: You cannot use your cellphone while en route to your destination. Federal rules will not allow it. That could change now, as the FCC considers relaxing those rules. But in advance of that decision yesterday, Delta Airlines said it plans to remain committed to high altitude quiet time.
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A defense bill reaches the floor of the United States Senate today and it includes a measure aimed at cracking down on the problem of sexual assault in the military. For the first time, this bill would give sexual assault victims more rights, rights they normally do not get under the military code of justice.
President Obama's intelligence review panel has produced a report that is hundreds of pages long. The advisors have a list of recommendations for how to protect privacy while still trying to prevent terrorist attacks. As NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, some of these are recommendations that the Obama White House has long resisted.
The two-year budget deal approved by the Senate on Wednesday is aimed at preventing another government shutdown.
It also includes a familiar annual rider — language to avert a steep pay cut to doctors who treat Medicare patients. But this time might be different, with a fix that lasts. After more than a decade of temporary solutions, it appears Congress might be on the verge of permanently solving its persistent problem in the way it makes Medicare payments to doctors.
Volunteers look through children's letters to Santa at a post office in Salvador in northeastern Brazil's Bahia state. The campaign is part of a more than 20-year tradition to help those less fortunate to have gifts for the holiday.
Credit Raul Spinasse / DPA /Landov
A man dressed as Santa Claus, representing the Brazilian postal service, distributes gifts donated to needy children in a public elementary school in Salvador, Brazil.
"Dear Father Christmas," the letter reads, "my name is Larissa. I know that you are very busy and that you live a long way away in the North Pole, but I'd like to ask you for a gift because my mother doesn't have enough money to buy what I want."
There are piles of similar letters — many decorated with stickers, drawings and hand prints — lying on makeshift tables in the main hall of the post office in downtown Sao Paulo.
Not in North America, necessarily, but "you can't keep fur in stock in Russia," says furrier Greg Tinder. "The higher the price tag you put on it, the faster it sells."
Tinder, who left Saks Fifth Avenue to start his own label, says the East has always been a furrier's dream — think big, plushy Soviet-era hats. But now, with Russia's economy on the rise, there's some new money on the block, and designers know that.
Whether you love buying gifts or dread trips to the mall, good luck avoiding some kind of shopping during the holiday season. But I don't need the excuse of a holiday to get me to the stores. I'm obsessed with shopping.
The question is, am I a shopaholic? The technical term is "compulsive buyer," according to psychologist April Benson.
"Simply put," says Dr. Benson, compulsive buying is "when we spend so much time, energy and/or money shopping ... or even thinking about shopping and buying that it is impairing our life in a significant way."
As we near the end of 2013, NPR is taking a look at the numbers that tell the story of this year. Numbers that, if you really understand them, give insight into the world we're living in, right now. Over the next two weeks, you'll hear the stories behind these numbers, which range from zero to 1 trillion.
You can understand a lot about how Hollywood works if you understand the number 17. That's the number of big, super-expensive movies that came out in the May to July summer movie season. And only about 10 of them were solidly profitable.
In the past five years, the Federal Reserve has created roughly $3 trillion out of thin air.
The Fed uses the money it creates out of thin air to buy bonds. The idea is to drive down interest rates, which encourages people and businesses to borrow and spend money. It's called quantitative easing.
For more than a year, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA have been engaged in a tug of war over the release of the so-called torture report.
Chairman Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, says the $40 million, 6,000-page report demonstrates that CIA treatment of detainees was all but useless in terms of gathering actionable intelligence.
For its part, the CIA says the classified committee report contains significant errors and that no one at the agency was interviewed by Senate investigators.
Originally published on Wed December 18, 2013 5:42 pm
Michael Steinberg, a top portfolio manager at SAC Capital Advisors, has been found guilty of insider trading — the latest conviction stemming from a years-long federal investigation into the hedge fund's activities.
Steinberg was found guilty on five counts of conspiracy and securities fraud.
"Prosecutors said he traded on confidential information that was passed to him by an employee, who later admitted to swapping illegal tips with friends at other firms."
When Benta Odeny was diagnosed with HIV, she started to protect her husband Daniel from the virus by taking antiretroviral medications. The same drugs also helped her give birth to an HIV-negative daughter, Angelia.
Melissa Block talks with Paul Crompton, executive producer at Barge Pole Productions, about train robber Ronnie Biggs, who died Wednesday at 84. Crompton made the film The Great Train Robber's Secret Tapes with former Daily Express reporter Colin MacKenzie, who tracked the robber to Rio after he escaped from prison, and recorded his interviews with him over a period of days.
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
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This week we're dipping our toes into the waters around the British Isles. We're exploring a few of the places behind the names listed in what's known as the Shipping Forecast. It's basically a report of sea and weather conditions around the isles, broadcast several times a day on BBC Radio.
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block. Activists in Syria say the most intense bombardment of that country's civil war is now in its fourth day. Government aircraft are dumping barrels packed with explosives on the city of Aleppo. Close to 200 people have been killed in the assault so far, according to the group Doctors Without Borders.
Ten years after education researchers began focusing on big city school systems and monitoring their math and reading scores, there's good news to report. Today, fourth and eighth graders in many of the nation's largest cities have made impressive gains. Surprisingly, school systems with large numbers of low income children have exceeded the national average in both subjects .
Originally published on Thu December 19, 2013 4:24 pm
The Senate passed a two-year bipartisan budget deal aimed at easing automatic spending cuts and avoiding a government shutdown, following a House vote on the measure last week.
The vote by a simple majority was absent the partisan brinksmanship that has become a hallmark of budget deals in recent memory.
The appropriations committees in both chambers must now set in stone a $1.012 trillion fiscal 2014 spending bill before current spending authority expires. Congress also faces a spring 2014 to raise the debt ceiling — another potential partisan standoff.
Originally published on Wed December 18, 2013 5:12 pm
In a year that featured divisive fights over the budget, health care and presidential nominations, the United States Senate took a break from partisan bickering Tuesday night to get in the Christmas spirit.