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Politics
6:23 am
Sat December 31, 2011

This Year In Congress: Much Drama, Little To Show

House Speaker John Boehner, surrounded by Republican House members, speaks during a news conference in Washington in December. The House initially rejected a plan to extend a tax cut for two months to buy time for talks on a full-year renewal. It later compromised — a rare event in 2011.
Susan Walsh AP

Originally published on Sat December 31, 2011 10:05 am

Congress got plenty of attention this year, but it was for all the wrong reasons.

There were at least three countdowns to shutdown, there was the debt-limit fight, plus the will-they-or-won't-they drama earlier in December over the payroll tax holiday. Looking at how few bills were actually signed into law this year, one might conclude this session was mostly sizzle and not much steak.

"I mean, I knew it was going to be bad this year, but I didn't realize like how bad it was," says Tobin Grant, an associate professor of political science at Southern Illinois University.

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Around the Nation
6:16 am
Sat December 31, 2011

Iraqi Refugees Struggle For Peace In America

Hesham Abdul Ghani and his wife, Oras Touma, came to Michigan to escape religious persecution.
Jacki Lyden NPR

Originally published on Sat December 31, 2011 10:17 pm

The Iraq War may be officially over, but for thousands of Iraqis who fled to America during the conflict, there's no going home. Many left successful careers to settle in Detroit, where finding their future is a challenge.

The U.N. estimates several million Iraqis are now refugees — either inside Iraq or outside the country. Almost 60,000 of them have come to the Detroit metro area since 2006, drawn by the large Arab community that's been there for years.

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Politics
6:16 am
Sat December 31, 2011

Obama's Grade In Foreign Policy 2011: 'Incomplete'

President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and members of his National Security team receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House. A classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured.
Pete Souza White House

Originally published on Sat December 31, 2011 5:24 pm

One of the most important things to understand about global affairs is how much lies beyond any one country's control, even for the most powerful country in the world.

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the limits on American power were especially apparent this year.

"American power has always had many real-world limits," he says.

In some ways, he says, that makes President Obama's accomplishments all the more notable.

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It Was A Good Year For...
6:15 am
Sat December 31, 2011

Midwest Learns To Manufacture More With Less

Midwestern manufacturers are bouncing back — revenues are up at Chicago White Metal Casting for the second year in a row. And the company is hiring, but mainly specialists, such as die-cast machinists and the people with the skills to fix those machines.
Niala Boodhoo WBEZ

CEO Eric Treiber walks out onto the factory floor of Chicago White Metal Casting. Workers are busy making aluminum, zinc and magnesium metal parts for cars, swimming pools and farm equipment.

The floor's a lot louder than it was a few years ago. At Chicago White Metal Casting, revenue is up 4 percent from 2010 — and that year was better than the one before.

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Around the Nation
6:14 am
Sat December 31, 2011

Peanut Prices Make A Go-To Snack More Expensive

A peanut combine rolls over rows of peanuts, picking them off the vine on Benny Johnston's farm in Ocilla, Ga. Because of the weather and other crop prices, the price of peanuts has been rising.
Joy Carter

It's lunchtime at the Barber home in Macon, Ga. Three-year-old Samuel has just gotten up from his nap, and he's hungry for a creamy peanut butter sandwich.

Carol Barber says Samuel eats peanut butter for lunch almost every day. He's not the only one; she has three other little boys.

Millions of Americans love peanut butter sandwiches. It's easy to make, a "kid favorite" and, until now, relatively inexpensive. But in November, the price of peanut butter increased by more than a third.

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Newt Gingrich
6:13 am
Sat December 31, 2011

For Gingrich, A Week Of Attacks And Falling In Polls

Newt Gingrich wipes away a tear while speaking about his deceased mother Friday in Des Moines, Iowa.
Andrew Burton Getty Images

Originally published on Sat December 31, 2011 2:25 pm

It's been a week of marathon campaigning for GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich: five or six campaign events each day, hitting Rotary meetings, pizza restaurants and coffee shops.

With the caucuses just days away, it's time for closing arguments in Iowa. Gingrich says his argument is that he's a supply-side conservative with experience both in balancing the budget and in making government work.

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Politics
5:00 am
Sat December 31, 2011

After A Year of Struggles, Obama Finds His Footing

President Obama walks onstage Dec. 22 to urge members of Congress to vote on a short-term compromise that extended the payroll tax cut.
Mark Wilson Getty Images

Originally published on Sat December 31, 2011 10:05 am

Even as President Obama relaxes with his family in Hawaii over the holidays, he knows what's on the horizon when he returns to work in Washington.

He will start where he left off, facing new skirmishes with Congress over a push to extend a temporary cut in payroll taxes. That temporary extension was approved just days before Christmas after a high-stakes gamble that finished only after most of Congress had left for the year.

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The Best Of Fresh Air 2011
3:58 am
Sat December 31, 2011

Fresh Air Weekend: The Critics' Best Of 2011 Lists

Larry David returned for an eighth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm this year. David Bianculli called his show "one of the funniest and [most] daringly different shows ever made for TV."
HBO

Originally published on Mon December 3, 2012 10:14 am

Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors, and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:

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The Two-Way
7:18 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

College Football Bowl Preview: Compelling Matchups, Dead Ahead

Quarterback Darron Thomas of the Oregon Ducks (right) threw for 30 touchdowns with only 6 interceptions this season. The Ducks beat UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship to earn a spot in the Rose Bowl, where they'll face Wisconsin.
Steve Dykes Getty Images

Originally published on Mon January 2, 2012 12:56 pm

College football is set to enter its final week, and that means the biggest bowl games are coming up. This weekend will see teams such as Auburn, Oklahoma and Georgia Tech in action. And the first week of 2012 will feature marquee matchups like Oregon vs. Wisconsin, and Oklahoma State against Stanford.

Update at 1 p.m. ET: We'll have a separate preview of the BCS title game between Alabama and LSU later this week. Our original post continues:

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Opinion
5:47 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

The Simple Joys Of An Old-Fashioned Datebook

Originally published on Sat December 31, 2011 10:05 am

What if you could hold on to time in your hands? You can, you know. You can crack open, on this New Year's Eve, the unsullied, unhurried, un-trammeled pages of an old-fashioned datebook — the kind that still arranges seven days into a week; the kind you write in with a pen and which never, ever, beeps at you to remind you of a meeting or errand.

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The Two-Way
5:46 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

After Much Tumult, Wall Street Ends Year Where It Started

We saw a crazy market this year. It swung so wildly in both directions, that ending a day a couple of percentage points up or down became the norm.

But after much tumult, Wall Street closed its year today not far from where it started it.

The AP reports:

"In the final tally, despite big climbs and falls, unexpected blows and surprising triumphs, all the hullabaloo proved for naught. On Friday, the Standard & Poor's 500 index closed at 1,257.60. That's exactly 0.04 point below where it started the year.

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NPR Story
5:39 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

Johnson Discusses Opting To Seek Libertarian Nomination

Originally published on Sat January 21, 2012 10:30 am

Robert Siegel speaks with Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico. He tells Robert why he decided to end his GOP presidential bid and instead seek the Libertarian nomination for president.

Around the Nation
5:38 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

In Chris Brown's Big Year, Tough Questions On Abuse

R&B singer Chris Brown is back only a few years after what could have been a career-ending incident.

In 2009, just before that year's Grammy Awards show, Brown violently beat his superstar girlfriend Rihanna. He was 19. Brown later plead guilty to felony assault and was sentenced to 5 years of labor-intensive probation and a year of domestic violence prevention classes.

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Election 2012
5:19 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

Confused About The Iowa Caucuses? Here's A Guide

On Jan. 3, Iowans will caucus at 1,774 precincts across the state, in the first contest of the 2012 presidential nominating process. Above, Iowans caucus in 2004 at St. John's United Methodist Church in Des Moines, precinct 87.
Shaun Heasley Getty Images

At 7 p.m. central time on Tuesday, Jan. 3, the first contest of the 2012 presidential nominating process takes place in Iowa.

As you've heard countless times, Iowans vote in caucuses, which are small political meetings held in 1,774 locations scattered around the state.

NPR political correspondent Don Gonyea has prepared this basic guide to next week's contest.

How It Works

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Music News
5:02 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

What's That Sound? The Rhythm That Ruled 2011

"Party Rock Anthem" by LMFAO was one of the dozens of pop hits this year to use the same hammering disco beat.
YouTube

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The Salt
4:58 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

The Perfect Champagne Pour: It's A Science, Not An Art

The chemistry behind champagne has helped scientists figure out how to preserve its flavor and fizz.
Sean Parsons, American Chemical Society

Originally published on Fri December 30, 2011 5:14 pm

Here's something to impress — or annoy — your friends this New Year's Eve: the science behind the champagne pour.

To preserve the fizz and taste of the wine, you need to preserve the bubbles, a recent study found.

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It's All Politics
4:22 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

'Occupy' Activists Urge Like-Minded to Participate In, Not Disrupt, Iowa Caucuses

Former Democratic state legislator Ed Fallon, a vocal member of the Occupy movement, said activists should take part in the caucuses.
Becky Lettenberger NPR

In a cavernous Des Moines meeting hall just west of the state Capitol, progressive activist and writer John Nichols had a simple message for those involved in Iowa's iteration of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

"Learn to get cool with losing," Nichols told about 50 people who had come to hear advice from longtime activists, including veterans of the civil rights battle.

"Get comfortable that you absolutely will be told you can't succeed," he said, and with the notion of a long-term struggle "that may last beyond your lifetime."

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The Two-Way
4:07 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

'An Evolutionary Throwback': Panda Filmed Eating Meat

A panda eating meat.
Wanglong Nature Reserve

The staff at a Chinese nature reserve have caught a very rare thing on film: a wild panda eating the meat of a dead widebeest.

The AP reports:

"Staff at the Wanglong Nature Reserve in southwest Sichuan province set up the camera after noticing dead animals with chew marks. It was not known if the panda had killed the animals.

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The Road Back To Work
3:26 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

When The Road Back To Work Detours

Randy Howland works in his small office in March, shortly after he began a work-from-home job with a call center earning $10 an hour.
Tamara Keith NPR

Part of an ongoing series

For the long-term unemployed, getting a job isn't always the end of the story.

Randy Howland spent most of this past year working at a $10-an-hour customer service job. He used to make six figures. With this job, he was settling, just so he could have the satisfaction of working. It was essentially a call-center job.

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Around the Nation
3:22 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

How A Teen's Coerced Confession Set Her Free

Nga Truong (front) meets with social services advocate Lisa Gigliotti. Truong says she's struggling to rebuild her life after nearly three years awaiting trial for murder.
Jesse Costa WBUR

Originally published on Mon January 2, 2012 9:53 pm

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Movies
3:19 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

Bob Mondello Picks The Year's Top 10 (Plus 10)

'Pina': German filmmaker Wim Wenders' 3-D dance documentary is a homage to influential German dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch, who died in 2009.
Donata Wenders Neue Road Movies

Originally published on Tue January 3, 2012 12:25 pm

Wizards, transformers and vampires did their best, but they couldn't transform 2011 into a magical year for Hollywood: Despite all the 3-D and IMAX screenings and the premium prices that come with them, industry box office sagged by half a billion dollars compared with last year. But quality? That's another story.

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Around the Nation
3:11 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

'Haters' Are Going To Hate This Story

The word "Hater" — as it's often used today — is derived from the term "Player Hater," a phrase popularized by late rapper Notorious B.I.G., shown here clutching his Billboard Music Awards in 1995.
Mark Lennihan AP

Originally published on Sat December 31, 2011 7:20 am

Haters are here. And there. And everywhere. And the word "hate" is in the air.

Fox has a new sitcom: I Hate My Teenage Daughter. A recent issue of Us magazine tells us "Why Scarlett Johansson Hates Blake Lively." Psychology Today explains "Why We Hate Airport Security." Dick Meyer, formerly of NPR and now executive producer for news services at BBC America, wrote a provocative book called Why We Hate Us.

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The Salt
3:08 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

A Year That Was Good To Beets

Heirloom beets served at Bibiana Restaurant in downtown Washington, D.C.
JOSEPH SILVERMAN The Washington Times /Landov

Children hate beets. Many adults hate beets. In fact, so few people in the U.S. eat table beets that the federal government doesn't bother to keep track of how many are grown and sold, even though it does keep track of just about every other crop, including turnip greens and horseradish.

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Shots - Health Blog
2:56 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

Build-A-Bear Workshop Recalls Colorful Hearts Teddy Bears

Build-A-Bear has recalled almost 300,000 Colorful Heart teddy bears.
CPSC

If you gave or received a Build-A-Bear this holiday season, you may want to check it over.

Nearly 300,000 Colorful Hearts teddy bears from Build-A-Bear Workshop sold in the U.S. and Canada have been recalled.

The teddy bear's eyes can fall out and become a choking hazard for children, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Company spokeswoman Jill Saunders tells Shots in a statement that Build-A-Bear hasn't received any reports of injuries or deaths from the teddy bears.

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The Two-Way
2:39 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

University Of Miami Will Return $83K In Former Booster Donations

The University of Miami will return $83,000 in donations it received from Nevin Shapiro, a former booster, who was incarcerated for his role in running a $930 million Ponzi scheme.

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Economy
2:17 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

Even Finish Masks Volatile Year For U.S. Economy

A trader walks in New York City's financial district on Sept. 12, a day when stocks fell early based on fears that the Greek government would default, then rallied on news that China might buy Italian debt. This year, what sent the market into a tailspin often took place overseas.
Spencer Platt Getty Images

Originally published on Fri December 30, 2011 6:16 pm

2011 was a year of crisis and revolution, and that took a big toll on the world's financial markets. In the United States, stocks lurched along for much of the year, losing and gaining ground over and over again.

Stock prices are ending the year just about where they were at the beginning, and anyone who invested in anything but the bluest of blue chip stocks probably didn't make much money. And yet, the flat trend lines masked a huge amount of volatility, says Jack Ablin, chief investment officer of Harris Private Bank.

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Education
1:48 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

Big Education Grants Threatened By Teacher Spats

Originally published on Fri December 30, 2011 6:58 pm

Teachers and school districts say they agree that better teacher evaluations are needed, but they can't agree on the details. Now, those disputes threaten federal grants meant to encourage education reform.

Take New York state, which has a lot of failing schools. Those schools got more than $100 million in federal School Improvement Grants. In exchange, districts promised to phase in new evaluation systems.

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Music News
1:47 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

Leaders Wanted: Protest Songs From The Arab Spring

Tunisian rapper El Général's "The President of the Country" is an essential song of the Arab Spring.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Fri December 30, 2011 5:40 pm

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Music Interviews
1:46 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

Winter Songs: The Frozen Tale Of 'Lord Franklin'

Originally published on Tue February 14, 2012 3:24 pm

We continue our Winter Song series with a lament for a 19th century British Arctic explorer. It's the choice of Andrew Revkin, who writes the Dot Earth blog for the New York Times.

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The Two-Way
1:41 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

'An Extraordinary Battle': Judge Claims SEC Misled Court In Citi Case

A man walks by a Citibank branch at the U.S. bank Citigroup world headquarters on Park Avenue, in New York in 2008.
Emmanuel Dunand AFP/Getty Images

U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff ruffled feathers back in November when he refused to approve a settlement between the Securities and Exchange Commision and Citigroup.

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