Christmas is less than merry and far from bright for hundreds of thousands of families from the upper Midwest to the far northeast and into Canada, where ice storms have downed power lines, leaving many households in the cold and dark.
This is the worst holiday week in the 126-year history of Michigan's largest power company, Consumers Energy. The outages began over the weekend, affecting nearly 350,000 customers. Power has been restored to many, but more than 120,000 remain in the dark.
When Jerral Hancock came home from serving in Iraq six years ago, he received a hero's welcome in the Mojave Desert town of Lancaster, Calif. He'd been severely wounded but looked forward to returning to his family and getting on with his life.
But sometimes, celebrated homecomings can be short-lived. Things took a painful turn for Hancock a few years ago; his wife left and he became a single father of two. But with the help of an enterprising group of young people, Hancock and his children have brighter days ahead.
Six brand new Challenger corporate jets sit on a showroom floor waiting to be picked up here at the Bombardier Aerospace plant on the outskirts of Montreal. Manager Frank Richie watches as technicians polish the gleaming aircraft and make last-minute adjustments. Each one is personalized, from the leather trim inside to the fancy paint job on its exterior.
Through a side door, you enter an enormous assembly line for more than a dozen other Challenger jets. The factory floor spans nearly 900,000 square feet.
Originally published on Thu December 26, 2013 12:14 am
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden had a Christmas Day warning for Britons: "A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all."
Britain's Channel 4 televised Snowden's short address as the network's "Alternative Christmas Message," an annual address delivered by a public figure that mimics the style of Queen Elizabeth's Royal Christmas Message. You can watch the full 1:43 video at Channel 4's website.
As we approach the end of 2013, we've been looking at numbers that tell the story of this year in different ways. Today's number: 38. That's the percentage of Americans who live in a state where same-sex marriage is now legal. Supporters of same-sex marriage say that percentage is likely to grow dramatically in just a few more years. NPR's Richard Gonzalez reports.
RICHARD GONZALEZ, BYLINE: When the history of the legal and political battle over same-sex marriage is written, this will likely go down as the banner year.
Around Thanksgiving, The Race Card Project brought us the story of a woman who grew up in a Filipino family but desperately wanted to be anything but Filipino. When Melanie Vanderlipe Ramil was a child, she shied away from her family's traditional meals, including the rice that's a staple in Filipino cooking.
But recently, she's become committed to keeping those food traditions alive.
Originally published on Tue December 24, 2013 5:56 pm
You'll soon need some 3-cent stamps to go with those 46-cent ones.
Regulators on Tuesday authorized the increase, and beginning Jan. 26, it'll cost 49 cents to send a first-class letter. Bulk rate mail, periodicals and package service rates will go up 6 percent, The Associated Press says.
Regulators rejected a request to make the price hike permanent and say instead that it will last no longer than two years, by which time the U.S. Postal Service should have recouped $2.8 billion in losses.
Decking a house in thousands of lights is one way to spread holiday spirit. It can also serve as an education in American culture. Ibby Caputo, of member station WGBH, took a tour of Christmas lights in Manchester, New Hampshire. She went with a group of global refugees.
IBBY CAPUTO, BYLINE: On a chilly winter evening, Amadou Hamady ushers people from all over the world onto a school bus.
It's easy to forget that the tea party movement is still less than 5 years old. Its successes include the 2010 midterm elections, when it helped the GOP win back the U.S. House.
It was once again a noisy and resurgent player in American politics in 2013. But that doesn't mean it was a year of victories: The movement's campaign to repeal Obamacare failed, and public approval hit near-record lows after the tea party forced a partial government shutdown. Even tea party events aren't as large as they once were.
Ryan Begin hasn't always been the life-loving pot smoker he is today. Back in 2005, the sergeant nearly lost half his arm to an IED while serving in Iraq and was sent home for reconstructive surgery. Upon his return to Belfast, Maine, Begin was plagued by physical pain and outbursts of aggression. He was prescribed a cocktail of drugs as his treatment.
"They took the soul out of me. All that stuff, it drained my soul, it blackened my soul," Begin says.
Begin's mother, Anna, noticed the prescription drugs seemed to exacerbate his post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.
For a lot of families, Christmas tree tradition spark household debate. For instance, tinsel or beads; white lights or multicolored; star or angel on top. And for some people, it's not how to decorate the tree. It is when to put it up, early or late, late being now, Christmas Eve. NPR's Martin Kaste falls into that last category.
MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Yes, I belong to that small and shrinking tribe. We're the ones lurking in the Christmas tree lots at the last possible moment. You guys shutting down already?
Originally published on Tue December 24, 2013 3:08 pm
The close of 2013 has been marked by a vigorous national debate over income inequality, the plight of low-wage workers in America and the effect of boosting mandatory minimum wages.
The debate was magnified when Wal-Mart got unwanted attention for a store-based holiday food drive for its own needy workers, and when President Obama announced his support for legislation that would raise the national minimum hourly wage of $7.25 for the first time since 2007.
A new law lets adopted people in Ohio see their original birth certificates — but opponents say it comes at a cost to the birth parents. Guest host Celeste Headlee takes on the topic with law professor Carol Sanger, birth mother Jodi Hodges, and advocates Adam Pertman and Betsie Norris.
Since the recent arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, US-Indian relations have been strained. Guest host Celeste Headlee speaks with Deepa Iyer, Executive Director of South Asian-Americans Leading Together and Sandip Roy, Culture Editor for the Indian news site FirstPost.com.
Another deadline for the Affordable Care Act has been pushed back. Guest Host Celeste Headlee speaks to Kaiser Health News reporter Mary Agnes Carey and Washington Post reporter Sarah Kliff and what the decision means and how the healthcare rollout is going across the country.
It's Sunday evening, and services are just getting underway at the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver. Nearly 200 worshipers sit in circles of plastic chairs around a simple altar table. Together they follow traditional Christian rites. They sit. They stand. They sing.
Being a news consumer means you're constantly on the receiving end of bad news. War, unemployment, crime, political dysfunction — it can be enough to make you think we humans aren't doing anything right. But good news: We are. As the year draws to an end, here's a look at a few areas of real progress in the U.S. and around the world.
Let's start with flying. It's not a lot of fun: baggage fees, pat-downs, cramped seating, disappointing snacks.
Jeff Duford is standing next to an A-10, one of the most beloved planes of all time. It's painted green, a clue that it was designed for a threat that has disappeared — it was built at the height of the Cold War.
"The reason why it's painted this way is because at that time, this airframe was expected to stop Soviet tanks from rolling through Germany," says Duford, curator of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. "So it's painted to kind of match the terrain that one would find in Central Europe."
The Pentagon has announced it is sending 150 U.S. Marines to Africa, for a possible mission to evacuate Americans in South Sudan, where political and ethnic violence has claimed hundreds of lives and left hundreds of thousands homeless.
NPR's Tom Bowman says the Marines are being sent from Spain to beef up the U.S. military presence at a base in Eastern Africa. Officials say they'll await orders and could head into South Sudan.
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
Marriages for gay couples will continue in Utah for the time being. A federal judge has denied a request to stay his own decision, a ruling he handed down last week. The judge ruled on Friday that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. From member station KUER in Salt Lake City, Terry Gildea reports.
TERRY GILDEA, BYLINE: At the Salt Lake County Clerk's office on Monday morning, Nathan Tanner and Jon Ayre exchanged vows.
In an unusual move, a group of politicians and community leaders in Atlanta is urging President Obama to withdraw some candidates nominated to sit on the bench in the Northern District of Georgia. The group says the candidates aren't diverse and some are racially insensitive.
The inventor of the iconic AK-47 automatic rifle, Mikhail Kalashnikov, has died. Kalashnikov's simple, durable and easily maintained gun became the world's most popular rifle, with more than 100 million in circulation. Kalashnikov was modest about his invention, saying he created it solely for the defense of the motherland. Some analysts say his domination of Soviet and Russia weapons design actually kept the country from entering the modern age of small arms.
It was reported that some 40 million people may have been victims of a hacking spree at Target recently. What should people who may have been in that group do now to protect themselves and their accounts? Robert Siegel speaks with Mark Rasch, a security expert and former Department of Justice cyber crime prosecutor, for more advice for those who may have been affected.
Here's a number for you: 725. That's the minimum hourly wage in the United States, as set by the federal government. It hasn't budged in four-and-a-half years. President Obama is pushing to increase it. Some state and local governments are doing that on their own. As 2013 draws to a close, we're hearing about the year in numbers
Today, NPR's Scott Horsley on 725.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: 725 is a number that Mary Coleman knows all too well.
MARY COLEMAN: I work at Popeye's here in Milwaukee. I make $7.25 an hour.
Anything that can be done with straightforward ease is said to be a "cakewalk." Any action that is "not a cakewalk" is, of course, difficult and complicated.
No surprise, right? But stay with me a little longer.
The cakewalk was a pre-Civil War dance originally performed by slaves on plantation grounds. The uniquely American dance was first known as the "prize walk"; the prize was an elaborately decorated cake. Hence, "prize walk" is the original source for the phrases "takes the cake" and "cakewalk."
Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 1:03 pm
A midnight deadline to sign up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act that starts Jan. 1 has been extended by a day in what the White House describes as an effort to accommodate people in different time zones.
The deadline that had been midnight on Dec. 23 has been pushed to Christmas Eve at midnight.