Melissa Block

Melissa Block joined NPR in 1985 and has been hosting All Things Considered since 2003, after nearly a decade as an NPR correspondent.

Frequently reporting from communities in the center of the news, Block was in Chengdu, China, preparing for a weeklong broadcast when a massive earthquake struck the region in May 2008. Immediately following the quake, Block, along with co-host Robert Siegel and their production team, traveled throughout Sichuan province to report extensively on the destruction and relief efforts. Their riveting coverage aired across all of NPR's programs and was carried on major news organizations around the world. In addition, the reporting was recognized with the industry's top honors including a Peabody Award, a duPont-Columbia Award, a National Headliner Award and the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi Award.

Throughout her career, Block has covered major news events for NPR ranging from on-the-scene reporting from the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the days following Hurricane Katrina to a series from Texas gauging the impact of the Iraq War on the surrounding communities. Her reporting after the September 11, 2001, attacks was part of coverage that earned NPR a George Foster Peabody Award. Block's reporting from Kosovo in 1999 was cited among stories for which NPR News won an Overseas Press Club Award.

When it was launched Thursday, the Moto X, Google's first smartphone product to come out of its buyout of Motorola, was not the highest powered or highest pixeled device. Rather, the designers boasted of its usability — that the Moto X has a larger purpose: making the technology of a phone adapt to the way people use them, rather than force user behavior to adapt to the technology.

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President Obama rarely visits Capitol Hill, but today, he traveled down Pennsylvania Avenue to meet with House and Senate Democrats. He wanted to rally their support on a range of issues before Congress sets off on its long August recess. NPR congressional reporter Ailsa Chang joins us from the Capitol. And, Ailsa, meeting just with Democrats, no Republicans this time.

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A memorial service today in Spain to remember the victims of the country's worst rail disaster in decades. An American passenger died in a hospital over the weekend, bringing the death toll to 79. The train was carrying more than 200 passengers from Madrid when it derailed in northwestern Spain last Wednesday night.

Reporter Lauren Frayer is following developments from Madrid, and she joins me now. And, Lauren, tell us a bit more about this memorial mass tonight at the - that massive, soaring cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. Disgraced former congressman - and current New York City mayoral candidate - Anthony Weiner is apologizing again, this time after the publication of still more lewd messages and photos that Weiner exchanged online with a woman who is not his wife.

If you want to learn how to write a song — one that's built to last, with vivid characters and images that plant you squarely inside a scene — listen to Guy Clark.

Songwriters who revere Clark will tell you he crafts songs with the same precision and attention to detail he uses when he builds guitars. But Clark has a simpler, blunter explanation, as he told me with a glint in his eye when I visited him recently at his home in Nashville, Tenn.

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This week, NASA is trying to do its part to raise science literacy. To give people a better understanding of Earth's position in the solar system, the agency's posted a picture of our planet taken from a billion miles away, give or take 100 million miles or so. And joining me now to talk about the picture, and why NASA took it, is NPR's Joe Palca. Joe, good to see you.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Good to see you.

Nearly one week ago, a fire erupted inside a parked Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787 at London's Heathrow Airport. Thursday, the British Air Investigation Branch issued a bulletin urging the deactivation of an emergency transmitter on all 787s. The British investigators stopped just short of blaming the Emergency Locator Transmitter for the fire. But they did recommend that the Federal Aviation Administration order the deactivation of beacons on 787s under FAA authority. Melissa Block talks with NPR's Wendy Kaufman.

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And I'm Melissa Block. The Obama administration has now joined France and Britain in concluding that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against its own people. That crosses a red line that President Obama has repeatedly warned would change the U.S. calculation in Syria.

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And I'm Melissa Block. The morning-after pill will soon be available - without a prescription - on pharmacy shelves, with no restrictions on age. That's because the Obama administration has dropped a long-running battle to keep age restrictions on emergency contraception. NPR's Julie Rovner joins me to explain this policy change. And Julie, this was an unexpected development. It came tonight. What happened?

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During a tornado, the safest place to protect yourself is usually underground, but that's not an option for the large majority of people in southern Oklahoma. If you look just at new construction, fewer than 1 percent of homes in the area hit by the tornado have basements. Here to help explain why is NPR's Scott Neuman, who's written about this for our Two-Way blog.

And Scott, where I come from, a basement is a really common thing to have under the house. Not so in Oklahoma. Why not?

Opponents of expanding background checks for gun sales often raise the fear that it would allow the government to create a national gun registry — a database of gun transactions. In fact, federal law already bans the creation of such a registry. And the reality of how gun sales records are accessed turns out to be surprisingly low-tech.

The news today that the great country singer George Jones had died at age 81 left me flooded with memories of my visit with him in 2010.

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And as we continue to cover the events in the Boston area, we want to also talk about one other story, Boeing 787. The jet known as the Dreamliner will be back in the air soon. This afternoon, the FAA approved Boeing's redesign of the plane's battery system. Fifty 787s have been grounded for the last three months following two serious battery failures, one which led to a fire.

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And Tovia mentioned a different kind of attack, one that's the subject of a widening investigation here in Washington, D.C. A second letter thought to contain the poison ricin has been sent for further testing. That one was addressed to the White House. We heard yesterday about one addressed to Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker. Also today two Senate office buildings were locked down as the Capitol police investigated suspicious packages.

In Texas, prosecutors have filed capital murder charges against the wife of a former Justice of the Peace in Kaufman County. Kim Williams is charged with the murder of the county District Attorney, his wife, and another prosecutor.

The Senate has rejected a compromise background checks language pushed by Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Pat Toomey. It could mean the end of gun control legislation in Congress, at least for a while. Ailsa Chang joins Robert Siegel from the Capitol with the latest.

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And I'm Melissa Block. A stunning revelation today from a member of Congress. It came from Republican Doug Lamborn, of Colorado, during an exchange on Capitol Hill with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Lamborn cited a Defense Intelligence Agency report on North Korea's military capability, one that had not yet been released. Here's what Rep. Lamborn said.

The ideological gulf between gun owners and non-gun owners is a wide one — made all the more obvious by the ongoing debate over what, if any, gun control measures should be adopted in the U.S.

Sometimes, the debate feels like people are coming from different worlds, even for people within the same family. And while Americans are often willing to discuss their own views, it's rarer to hear conversations between people who own and love guns and those who do not.

The Morris Missionary Baptist Church is nestled down a red dirt road, in Morris, Ga., set among pine trees near the Alabama state line. Next to the small white church lies its most recent grave site: that of Charles Foster Jr.

While the mass killings in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., garnered a frenzy of news coverage, statistically, they are not the norm. Each year, thousands of gun homicides in the U.S. — 11,000 in 2010 alone — attract little or no media attention.

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And I'm Melissa Block. Here in the nation's capitol, today is a day to talk about future agendas. For Democrats, it's about the second Obama term; for conservatives, it's the future of the Republican Party. We'll hear about both in the next few minutes, beginning with CPAC - that's the annual Conservative Political Action Conference that opened today.

President Obama came to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, in the first of three planned visits to court lawmakers on a cluster of issues, from gun control legislation to a so-called grand bargain on tax reform and entitlement spending cuts. He spoke with Senate Democrats. Melissa Block talks to Ailsa Chang.

The first major gun bills in nearly two decades had their first hearing in the Senate on Thursday, including an assault weapons ban and a ban on so-called "straw purchases." Still, even in the aftermath of the shootings in Newtown, Conn., the legislation faces an uphill battle. Ailsa Chang talks to Melissa Block.

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Now, more on the long speech Carrie mentioned from Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. He's engaged in an old fashioned stand on the floor and talk till you can't filibuster. It began shortly before noon, aimed at blocking the president's nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA.

SENATOR RAND PAUL: I've chosen to make a stand on this one and not so much the person, but the principle of this. I have nothing personally against Brennan. I have nothing personal against the president.

Kirk Siegler talks to Melissa Block for an update on the search for former Los Angeles Police Department officer Christopher Dorner. A man that authorities identified as Dorner was holed up in a cabin near Big Bear Lake, Calif., on Tuesday evening. Hundreds of officers surrounded the home. Dorner is wanted for questioning in three murders and one attempted murder.

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And we turn now to the big political news of the day. In a matter of hours President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address to Congress, the first of his second term. Tens of millions of Americans will be watching as the president lays out his agenda and picks up where he left off in his inaugural address last month. He's expected to focus on job creation and talk about how leveling the playing field to give everyone a fair shot will help the economy grow.

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And I'm Melissa Block. The U.S. economy unexpectedly slammed to a halt in the last quarter of 2012. The Commerce Department said today that the nation's growth rate shrank during the last three months of the year, falling a tenth of a percentage point. That decline raises big questions about the strength of the economy going forward.

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We're going to head west now, from Egypt across Libya to Niger. The Pentagon has signed a deal with the government there. The agreement could allow the U.S. to establish a forward base in Niger so that it could operate drone aircraft across northern and western Africa. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has been reporting on the U.S. military's growing presence on the continent. He joins me now here in the studio.

And Tom, how close is the U.S. to actually setting up a drone base in Niger?

How do we honor the dead? How do we commit them to memory? And how do we come to terms with the way they died?

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So 9-year-old Lauren Kanabel there has a dream: a girl president elected in 2016. And whether or not that dream comes true, there will be inaugural balls. The tradition dates back to George Washington. Four years ago, President Obama attended ten inaugural balls, this year only two, both at the convention center here in Washington. And NPR's Allison Aubrey is there. She joins us by phone. Allison, the ball has been going on for a few hours now. What's the scene?

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