Historical fiction invites us to experience the exotic and the unknown while confirming our common humanity. I do not believe that human nature has changed much over the centuries, and it is possible to identify with the emotions, passions, and fears of men and women long dead.
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
Joe Arpaio, the man who calls himself America's toughest sheriff, is not backing down. The U.S. Justice Department yesterday accused his sheriff's department in Maricopa County, Arizona of systematically violating the constitutional and civil rights of Latinos. By the end of the day, NPR's Ted Robbins reports, the sheriff was hitting back.
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich kicked up some dust recently when he opined that poor kids should be able to work as school janitors to develop a work ethic and avoid becoming, in Gingrich's words, a prostitute or a drug dealer.
This week, a tech writer on Forbes.com is causing a stir in the blogosphere with an advice column titled "If I Were a Poor Black Kid." Gene Marks is not a kid, or black. As he put it, he's middle aged, middle class, and white.
Our last word in business today is: Mystery Elves. At Kmart stores around the country, anonymous donors are walking in and paying off the layaway accounts of complete strangers. It seems to have started in Michigan, but the holiday spirit spread. Kmart says the stealth benefactors usually ask for accounts that include toys.
Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann once appeared to be the favored Republican presidential candidate in Iowa. But she's been near the bottom of most polls since. Bachmann is making an aggressive push to finish well in next month's Iowa caucuses, and she embarks on a multi-day bus tour of the state Friday.
Congress has already OK'ed a bill authorizing more than $660 billion to be spent on defense. Senate approval came yesterday, the same day the Pentagon declared an official end to the war in Iraq. Among the troops coming home from Iraq are the soldiers of the 112th Cavalry 3rd Brigade 1st Cavalry Division.
NPR's Wade Goodwyn was there for their return to Fort Hood, Texas.
We're going to remember now the acerbic, controversial and always compelling writer and cultural critic Christopher Hitchens. Vanity Fair, where he was a contributing editor, announced last night that he had died from complications of cancer. He was 62 years old.
Newt Gingrich stood center state Thursday night in the Sioux City Convention Center. The sharpest elbows did not come from his close rivals, Mitt Romney or Ron Paul. Instead, it was Michele Bachmann who repeatedly went after Gingrich.
A $5 billion federal program to pay for the health benefits of early retirees is proving to be more popular than expected. So popular that it's running out of money earlier than planned. The fund, part of the health care overhaul, was to provide a bridge of insurance coverage until 2014 when early retirees would have many more options under the health care law.
This report is part of a collaboration between Minnesota Public Radio, NPR, and Kaiser Health News.
Andreas Georgiou is the technocrat charged with running the Greek statistics office — the same office that, in the years leading up to the financial crisis, produced wildly distorted reports of Greece's finances.
"My goal is to make this a competent, boring institution and not to be in the limelight," Georgiou told me recently. "Not to have to give an interview like this one."
So far, though, his efforts have been met with resistance, strikes and a criminal investigation that could lead to life in prison for Georgiou.
Mitt Romney returned to form in the final Republican presidential debate before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.
Romney, who had perhaps his shakiest debate performance in Des Moines over the weekend, appeared to regain his composure in Thursday night's debate in Sioux City, Iowa.
He managed to once again convey the sense that he was the one GOP candidate of the seven remaining who could credibly stand on the same stage with President Obama next fall, the most electable of the candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination.
Charlize Theron is ugly in Young Adult, the new film from the Juno team of director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody — both literally and personally. In parts of the film, she still looks like her knockout movie-star self, but in other parts, she looks like she's aged a year for every day since her character, Mavis Gary, left high school.
Queen Jackson has been homeless for about a year. As she recently told her case manager, Debra MacKillop, it all started in 2009, when she was laid off from her job as an administrative assistant.
"I was working for the state of Colorado," says Jackson, 60. "I had all these great ideas of retiring and sitting back and enjoying my life. But, as the budget was becoming very strained, I was one of the first to be laid off."
At the time, Jackson wasn't worried. She had saved some money, and she was sure she'd be able to find another job quickly.
Federal income tax time is still a few months away, but there are some things you can do before Dec. 31 to save money on April 15.
"The biggest thing is, if you have a 401(k) retirement plan at work and you have not yet maxed it out, that is a great way to kick some extra dollars into your retirement account," Mary Beth Franklin, a senior editor at Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine, tells NPR's Renee Montagne.
Originally published on Fri December 16, 2011 3:23 pm
Supporters say Army Pfc. Bradley Manning doesn't belong in a courtroom at all. They think he's a whistle-blower — and a hero.
Eighteen months after his arrest on suspicion of leaking national secrets, Manning will finally make his first appearance in court Friday at Fort Meade, Md., just north of Washington, D.C.
When he worked in Iraq, Manning allegedly downloaded thousands of war logs and diplomatic cables and shared them with the website WikiLeaks. He faces 22 criminal charges that could keep him behind bars for life.
Writer and commentator Christopher Hitchens died Thursday. He was 62.
Credit Amanda Edwards / Getty Images
Over the years, Christopher Hitchens took on most of the leading figures of his time. <a href="http://www.npr.org/2011/12/16/143674020/the-many-targets-of-christopher-hitchens">Click for an audio slideshow.</a>
Credit Jamal A. Wilson / AFP/Getty Images
Hitchens was diagnosed with metastasized esophageal cancer in June 2010. Last fall, he <a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130917506">told NPR</a> that while doctors said he had a chance of remission, his chances of living longer than five years were slim.
Originally published on Fri December 16, 2011 3:06 pm
The influential writer and cultural critic Christopher Hitchens died on Thursday at the age of 62 from complications of cancer of the esophagus. Hitchens confronted his disease in part by writing, bringing the same unsparing insight to his mortality that he had directed at so many other subjects.
Over the years, Hitchens' caustic attention was directed at a broad range of subjects, including Henry Kissinger, Prince Charles, Bob Hope, Michael Moore, the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa.
We are late to this news, but because it's just now picking up steam in the mainland United States, we'll share it. This was the official Christmas card of Jorge Santini, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, this year:
Iowa's popular Gov. Terry Branstad hasn't endorsed any of the Republican presidential candidates crisscrossing his state yet.
Which means he can at least claim to be above the intramural GOP fray scheduled to end in a few weeks when his state's Republican voters attend caucuses to choose their preference for their party's White House nominee.
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (L) speaks during a phone-in TV program in Moscow on Thursday. With widespread fraud alleged in recent parliamentary voting, Putin faced much more critical questioning than usual.
For the first time in more than a decade running Russia, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is facing serious opposition to his rule. And that meant he faced tougher than usual questions Thursday at his annual question-and-answer session that lasted more than four hours on Russian television.
"Do you think the elections are honest and their results are fair?" the TV moderator asked him, reading an emailed question.
"The election results absolutely reflect the balance of power in the country," Putin said.
After nearly nine years of war in Iraq, a subdued flag-lowering ceremony in Baghdad on Thursday marked the official end of one of the longest U.S. military missions in American history.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta watched over what's known as the casing of the colors — when the U.S. military flag is put away and sent back to the United States. The flag will then be retired and perhaps later go on display at the Pentagon.
Reporters interview Iranian Minister of Petroleum Rostam Ghasemi before the start of the 160th meeting of the OPEC Conference in Vienna, Dec. 14. The global market for oil complicates the issue of U.S. sanctions against Iran.
The U.S. Congress has approved legislation that targets the Central Bank of Iran and is intended to make it more difficult for that country to sell its oil abroad.
But the latest sanctions could backfire. Reduced oil supplies on the world market could mean higher prices, and therefore Iran could actually make more money from its oil even if it sells fewer barrels.
It's a big night in Iowa: The Republican presidential candidates are holding their final big debate prior to the Iowa caucuses, which take place on Jan. 3. Melissa Block talks with Iowa Republican Gov. Terry Branstad about various candidates' strengths and weaknesses. In short, he says there's a lot of excitement, and he's reserving judgment on who the winner will be.
There's a world of activity between the time online shoppers click the "place order" button and when a holiday package is delivered to their doorsteps. The National Retail Federation estimates that 38 percent of holiday purchases will be made online this year, which is keeping fulfillment centers large and small very busy.
Target.com runs five fulfillment centers. One of them, in Tucson, Ariz., stretches the length of 16 football fields.
A counselor (right) talks with a man about training programs at a nonprofit training and job placement center in Menlo Park, Calif. Seventy percent of the long-term unemployed and underemployed would like the government to offer more job training services, an NPR/Kaiser Family Foundation poll found.
If you're unemployed, it can be painfully clear when you don't have the right skills to land a good job.
With unemployment at 8.6 percent, upwards of 13 million Americans are without a job and looking for work. A recent NPR/Kaiser Family Foundation poll surveyed hundreds of long-term unemployed and underemployed people, asking whether they thought they had the skills required to find a job.
Federal money for active duty students is particularly attractive to for-profit schools, which have been signing up members of the services in record numbers.
So, the Pentagon has developed new rules to ensure that service members are treated fairly when they use government money to attend college. Those rules are set to go into effect Jan. 1, but many of the nation's best-known schools say they cannot accept those requirements.
The dispute puts at risk millions of dollars in federal assistance.
President Obama doesn't have to worry about winning the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses. He's almost sure to be the only Democrat in the first-in-the-nation contest. Yet that hasn't stopped the Obama campaign from organizing its own effort to get out the vote.
While Republican candidates have been hogging the Iowa spotlight, a small army of Obama volunteers has been busy behind the scenes. They've opened eight campaign offices around the state, hosted dozens of house parties, and logged tens of thousands of telephone calls.