National News

Future Of Keystone XL Pipeline Back In Obama's Hands

NPR News - Fri, 2015-01-09 12:36

The U.S. House passed legislation to approve the pipeline on Friday and the Senate is expected to take up the issue in coming weeks. President Obama has threatened a veto. In the meantime, a legal challenge over the route the pipeline would take through Nebraska has been resolved — for now.

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France Hostage Crises End After Chaotic Day

NPR News - Fri, 2015-01-09 12:36

A Paris neighborhood found itself at the center of a violent stand-off on Friday, with shoppers taken hostage at a local supermarket

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First Amendment Arguments Overshadow Sterling Espionage Case

NPR News - Fri, 2015-01-09 12:36

Former CIA employee Jeffrey Sterling goes to trial next week on charges he violated his oath and leaked confidential information to reporter James Risen. But Sterling's legal plight is largely overshadowed by Risen's First Amendment arguments and media backlash to the Justice Department decision to subpoena him.

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Los Angeles May Have Been A Safer Bet Than Boston For Olympics Bid

NPR News - Fri, 2015-01-09 12:36

The U.S. Olympic Committee surprised everyone by tabbing Boston as its bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Robert Siegel talks with expert on all things Olympics, David Wallechinsky for some answers.

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Week In Politics: New Congress, Keystone XL Pipeline, Paris Attack

NPR News - Fri, 2015-01-09 12:36

Melissa Block speaks with our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne, of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks, of the New York Times. They discuss the new Congress, Keystone XL Pipeline votes and terror in Paris.

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Hostage Sieges End In France, With Seven People Dead

NPR News - Fri, 2015-01-09 12:36

Police in France have ended both of the hostage sieges they were facing in and near Paris. Three gunmen are dead, along with four of the hostages.

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As Rumors Spread, More Cubans Try To Reach The U.S. By Sea

NPR News - Fri, 2015-01-09 12:36

The Coast Guard has seen a spike in the number of Cubans trying to sail to Florida. The cause, it says, is a false rumor that the U.S. will soon change its policy toward Cubans who reach U.S. shores.

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Why are there so few $2 bills?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-01-09 12:10

THE QUESTION:

Patricia Anita young of Minneapolis to ask, in essence, "What's the deal with $2 bills?" She wanted to know why they're so rare, if they are worth more than $2 and if the government will ever stop printing them.

WHY THE TWO IS SO RARE:

It wasn’t too hard to find the definitive expert on Toms — that's the nickname of the $2 bill thanks to the portrait of Thomas Jefferson that adorns them. John Bennardo, producer and director of an upcoming film called, "The $2 Bill Documentary," has done hours of interviews and gathered tons of research, so we took Patricia's question to him.

John says Tom's story starts in 1862, when the federal government printed its first nationalized paper bills. The $2 was in that first printing, along with the $1 bill, but it took a while for paper money to catch on.

That's because a lot of folks made less than $15 a month before the turn of the century. Inflation slowly brought the value of paper money down, but then the Great Depression hit. "This was a time when our country did not have much wealth and a lot of things cost less than a dollar," Bennardo says. "So the $2 bill really didn’t have much of a practical use."

The economy recovered, but the $2 eventually found itself in a strange price point. It became the the perfect note for some rather nefarious purposes. "Politicians used to be known for bribing people for votes and they would give them a $2 bill, so if you had one it meant that perhaps you’d been bribed by a politician," Bennardo says. "Prostitution back in the day was $2 for a trick so if you were spending two-dollar bills it might get you into trouble with your wife. $2 is the standard bet at a race track, so if you were betting $2 and you won, you might get a bunch of $2 bills back and that would show that you were gambling."

The 'Tom' got kind of a dirty rep, and over the years as inflation brought the value of the single and the two closer and closer together it became even less necessary. "Imagine if we had a $25 bill," Bennardo says. "Which one would you use the 20 or the 25? You probably wouldn’t use both."

Folks didn't see much use for poor ol' 'Tom,' and in 1966 the government decided to stop making it. Ten years went by with no twos.

But here's the thing, the $2 bill saved the government a bunch of money. "It’s more cost-efficient to print twos instead of ones," Bennardo says. "You can print half as many twos and get the same dollar amount."

Today, for example, it costs about 5 cents to make a dollar … and it costs the same amount to make a 2. Since the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing presses upwards of 4 billion $1 bills a year, that adds up to a lot of ... coin.

In 1976, the Treasury decided it would take another shot at the $2 bill. It would order the Bureau to print a special bill for the country's bicentennial, with a big picture of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the back. "They made 400 million of them and half as many ones," Bennardo says. "They saved themselves a lot of money."

The bicentennial bills turned out really nice. A little too nice, actually, "The way it looked, it was just so beautiful that people said this is a collector’s item, this is worth something more than $2. I’m going to save this," Bennardo says.

Much to the government’s chagrin, people put the fancy new 'Toms' in drawers and keepsake boxes, and passed them down to loved ones. Again, 'Toms' didn't catch on, and they've been a cherished rarity since.

BUT ARE $2 BILLS ACTUALLY RARE?

The answer depends on what you consider rare.

There are roughly 1.2 billion $2 bills in circulation right now, and they are still being printed. 75 million came off the press in the last 18 months, but in that same time, around 3 billion new 'Georges' have come into the world. Out of the $1.2 trillion worth of coins and bills in circulation right now, less than 0.001% are Toms. 

"When you compare that to other notes that’s rare," Bennardo says. But you can get twos at almost any bank, you just have to ask. 

And there’s a small subculture of $2 ambassadors who do just that. In his film, Bennardo interviews several people who get stacks of bills at a time and spend them, trying to keep the two alive. They keep up demand enough for the Federal Reserve to keep ordering them more, even if the number is small.

John says 'Toms' always get a reaction. Some people think they're fake, but usually they bring a smile. In fact, he says, sometimes a Tom will get you more than that. 

"If you start tipping waiters and waitresses and valets, they’re going to remember who you are and the next time you come in if you keep doing it, you’re going to get better service. This has been proven to me several times when I use them. It’s a way to get remembered, it’s a way to stand out.”

SO, HOW DOES THE GOVERNMENT DECIDE HOW MUCH OF A DENOMINATION TO PRINT?

“The Secretary of the Treasury can say, at any time, ‘I want a hundred million more $2 bills in circulation,” Bennardo says. “That can happen, but generally, it doesn’t work that way.”

Instead, most printing is based on a calculation of supply and demand. “The Federal Reserve has all kinds of tracking data they accumulate, he says. “They put together their print order annually and they put that through to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing who makes the money.”

One of the main bits of tracking data the Federal Reserve relies on to determine demand is called “destruction.” “Whenever you spend any cash and deposit it at the bank, the bank looks at it to determine whether it’s fit to return to circulation or not,” Bennardo says. “If you’ve folded up the bill or crumbled it or written on it or if it’s worn out, they’ll replace it.”

John says the banks then send the bills to the Federal Reserve where special equipment is used to test them. “They have a machine that checks them for fitness,” Bennardo says. “Just like a vending machine can check to see if a bill is real, they have more advanced machines that can tell you if a bill is fit or not fit to return to circulation.”

These days, the lifespan of a $1 bill is approximately 18 months, but because people generally put them away and don’t spend them, a $2 bill lasts around six years.

Since less 'Toms' need to be destroyed, less 'Toms' are made. 

THE BEST $2 BILL STORY WE COULD FIND

Originally Printed in the New York Times:

Myrta Gschaar recalls her parents’ saving $2 bills and half-dollar coins in a drawer at her childhood home; her mother earned many of them as a seamstress at a women’s underwear factory on Spring Street.

When her husband, Robert Gschaar, proposed to her at a restaurant on Wall Street in the late 1980s, he did not have an engagement ring to offer. He was a history devotee, and this would be the second marriage for them both. That night he pulled a pair of twos from his wallet, giving one to her. He explained that as long as they carried these twos, they would be united.

Four years after the Sept. 11 attacks, her husband’s remains had yet to be found. A special property recovery unit at the Police Department notified Mrs. Gschaar that it had recovered personal items of Mr. Gschaar’s at ground zero. The items were a wedding ring and a wallet containing a neatly folded $2 bill.

Continue reading...

Trapped In His Body For 12 Years, A Man Breaks Free

NPR News - Fri, 2015-01-09 11:18

Martin Pistorius spent more than a decade unable to move or communicate, fearing he would be alone, trapped, forever. NPR's new show Invisibilia tells how his mind helped him create a new life.

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Is 'Cook At Home' Always Good Health Advice?

NPR News - Fri, 2015-01-09 11:09

A recent study finds that middle-aged women who spent more time cooking were more likely to have metabolic syndrome. Researchers say the message should be "cook healthfully," not just "cook often."

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Sony might break even with 'The Interview' after all

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-01-09 11:04

Capitalism seems to be working in Sony's favor.

Yesterday, we talked about how the FBI still thinks North Korea was behind the hack of the studio over its film, "The Interview."

Today, according to Bloomberg, Sony says the film is doing better than expected since it was delayed, and then released, on Christmas Day.

Our best guess is that between online sales and rentals, plus factoring in the international market, Sony will bring in about $60 million from the movie.  The reported budget to make the film was $44 million.

Because the marketing budget was inevitably curtailed after the movie was originally pulled from big-name theater chains, that means the company will just about break even.

Fun Fact Friday: This is the way the world ends

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-01-09 11:02

Catherine Rampell from the Washington Post and John Carney from the Wall Street Journal talk wages, Europe, and everything else to wrap up the week.

What else did we learn this week?

Fun fact: CNN has a doomsday video ready to broadcast when the world ends.

The video shows a band playing "Nearer, My God to Thee." Then the screen goes black. Yes, it's as creepy as it sounds.

CNN's ready for the apocalypse

Fun (and kind of gross) fact: Fresh scallops should still be twitching when you cut them ... and you can eat them raw.

That's according to Rod Mitchell Browne, the owner of a seafood business in Portland, Maine. Restaurants shell out for high-priced scallops

Fun fact: Hundreds of polar bears gather in the town of Churchill, Manitoba for seven weeks out of the year.

But scientists say the polar bears could be gone in a matter of decades. A polar bear capital fears a bearless future

Fun fact: The movie “Selma” tells the story of Martin Luther King Jr. without using the actual words from his speeches.

The King estate has a vise grip on the intellectual property of King's speeches, so the movie studio side-stepped the issue altogether. Why 'Selma' can't show video from Martin Luther King Jr.'s speeches

Forget the selfie, how about a 'dronie'?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-01-09 11:02

While thousands of companies exhibited their products at the Consumer Electronics Show, the massive tech industry gathering in Las Vegas that comes to an end Friday, about a dozen received outsize attention.

They were the drone manufacturers displaying all manner of consumer drones – most of which were about the size of a basketball or slightly smaller. What they had in common was a desire to appeal beyond the hobbyist, to the consumer who may want a new way of taking photos of themselves or others in action. 

Nixie, which was shown off during Intel CEO Brian Krzanich's keynote address, was a standout. It's a wearable bracelet drone that can unfurl, boomerang out to take an aerial selfie – or a "dronie" as Krzanich put it –  then fly back. The product won the $500,000 grand prize in Intel's 2014 Make It Wearable contest. 

 You can view the Nixie demonstration at the 57-minute mark in the video of the keynote below.  

Drones are projected to bring in more than $100 million in 2015, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. That's a 50 percent increase from last year. And more companies are entering the market.

"We sold 15,000 units via Kickstarter. so it's been pretty big," says Reece Crowther, product designer for a palm-size drone called Zano, which is expected debut in the U.S. this summer and cost $300. The Zano drone can follow you around, taking photos and video.

"We developed [the technology] with the intention of being used in law enforcement, military applications," Crowther says. "Zano is a consumer version of that technology."

Almost all the drone makers at CES are trying to pull in consumers with small models crammed with sophisticated sensors and guidance systems. On the other end of the spectrum is Chinese manufacturer Harwar, whose drones are $15,000, the size of a microwave — although they weigh only 5 pounds — and can fly to 15,000 feet.

"For us, it's more focused on high-end commercial use," says Frank Yang, a Harwar spokesman. "So they'd be used for ... firefighting, border controlling and public security. And also natural gas pipe-leaking detection."

Interest in their drones had been high, Yang says, with some CES attendees approaching the company about distribution. One ranch owner wanted to buy a drone from Harwar's exhibit booth, but went home empty-handed, Yang says.

One of the challenges for the company is that the FAA is still drawing up the rules for big drones – the ones, like Harwar's, that can fly high and could pose a danger to other aircraft or people on the ground if they come crashing down.

Jim Williams, who heads the FAA office in charge of unmanned aircraft, spoke on a CES panel about future regulation of drones. He says the agency is trying to figure out how much regulations the drones require.

"There already is a graduated level of certification required based on the risk. We plan to fit unmanned aircraft into that same risk-based approach that we have for manned aircraft," Williams said during the panel discussion.

That could mean requiring a drone operator to have a pilot's license or making sure the drones have sophisticated communications equipment, such as transponders. But the little guys, like Zano, don't have to worry about those requirements, because the FAA considers them hobby aircraft.

That doesn't mean there are no rules. Even hobby aircraft must adhere to certain FAA regulations. They must be flown below 400 feet, avoid areas around airports, not be used for commercial purposes and be kept within the operator's sight to prevent it from interfering with other aircraft.

"You don't want to be flying in urban areas. You don't want to be flying over the top of a lot of people," says Gordon Cockburn of Hobbico, one of the biggest makers of radio-controlled toys and now drones.

"So what we suggest is that you fly in open space, near nature, over the ocean,"  Cockburn says.

Or, you could fly a drone they way they did at CES: in small areas surrounded by nets.

Time Warner and AOL: The marriage that never took

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-01-09 11:02

Some deals are so bad (Time Warner + AOL, we're looking at you), it's not even worth trying to find something nice to say.

"Pretty much everything went horribly wrong with that deal," says Kevin Werbach, a professor of legal studies and business ethics at the Wharton School.

At the time – right before the dot-com bubble burst in 2000 – most everyone told Time Warner it needed to find a way in to the newfangled world of Internet media. The easiest way to do that? Merge with a company that already had it.

“We are the missing piece of each other’s puzzle," says a company executive in a news clip from 2000.

The idea, Werbach says, was synergy. If done correctly, one plus one can equal billions. Time Warner’s content plus AOL’s distribution network would somehow be more powerful together.

“It’s ironic in some ways, because Time Warner was really the desperate party," Werbach says. "They wanted to do the deal because they wanted to get access to this sexy go-go Internet dot-com magic, but in hindsight AOL is the company that was about to fall off a cliff.”

Alec Klein, a reporter investigating the company for the Washington Post, figured that out. He went on to write the book "Stealing Time: Steve Case, Jerry Levin, and the Collapse of AOL Time Warner." "The problem," he says, "is that AOL was not doing as well as it seemed.”

Klein uncovered a company improperly inflating its ad revenue. Dial-up modems were on their way out, broadband on its way in – and AOL had missed the high-speed connection boat.

They also had a legal problem. After the Post's investigation, the company was investigated by the Justice Department and the Securities Exchange Commission, Klein says, and "people were fired."

Rita McGrath, a professor of strategy and innovation at Columbia Business School, says "culture is usually to blame when these things go horribly wrong.” 

"In this day and age you’re not buying  the assets or the physical thing, you’re buying the talent and the goodwill and the engagement of the people," McGrath says. "So if you have a cultural misfit, those are the things that are going to get lost — not the hard core, the factory or the assets."

The anxiety and energy surrounding today's app market is not unlike the anxiety and energy experienced during the dot-com bubble, McGrath says.

Jobs are rebounding. Why are wages stagnant?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-01-09 11:01

Job growth and unemployment ended 2014 on a strong note. The monthly Employment Situation report from the Department of Labor showed the U.S. economy added 252,000 jobs in December, compared to a revised 353,000 in November, and the unemployment rate fell 0.2 percent to 5.6 percent.

December’s employment report also provides full-year measures of the labor market. Unemployment declined by 1.1 percent in 2014, while job-creation averaged 246,000 a month over the year. Approximately 2.95 million jobs were added in 2014, the most since 1999.

However, average hourly wages fell in December by 0.2 percent after rising in November. Wages were up 1.7 percent for the year. That is very close to the multiyear inflation trend for consumer prices in the economy, says Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institute. “Once you look at inflation, which has been around 2 percent, inflation-adjusted wage growth has been around zero for the last five years," she says.

Standard economic theory predicts this situation will produce more wage inflation. If the economy is creating a lot of job openings, and unemployment is falling, employers should be worried about finding enough people with the right skills to hire. So they should offer more money.

“If these factors are not enough to keep the economy growing with rising wages,” says Bernie Baumohl at the Economic Outlook Group, “then we really do have to go back to the drawing board and revisit everything we know about how economies work.”  

Baumohl is convinced this scenario will unfold later this year: Once labor shortages really settle in and companies can't meet demand in the economy, they will raise wages to attract good employees.

Conservative economist Peter Morici of the University of Maryland disagrees. “So many people have dropped out of the labor market," he says. "If wages started rising again, they would return. So there’s really  this large contingent supply of labor.”

Gould estimates there are as many as 6 million potential workers who have dropped out of, or never entered, the labor market because of the poor economy who would be ready to work if jobs were available. They create a shadow reservoir of potential workers, she says, helping to keep wages down and increasing the bargaining leverage of employers. 

Obama proposes free community college plan

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-01-09 11:00

President Barack Obama traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee, Friday to unveil a proposal to cover the cost of two years of community college for most Americans.

Under the plan, the federal government would cover three-quarters of the average community college cost, which could save one full-time student about $3,800 in tuition a year, according to the White House. States would have to pony up the rest if they choose to participate. Students would also have to maintain at least a 2.5 GPA and at least half-time enrollment.

The White House

Obama announced the program Friday afternoon at Pellissippi State Community College. Students in the audience cheered when he mentioned the idea of free tuition.

"I want to make it free," he said. "No one with the drive and discipline should be locked out of opportunity, or denied a college education just because they don’t have the money."

Obama said he wanted two years of college to be as free and universal as public high school is today. A degree, he said, is a sure ticket to the middle class. The plan is also being applauded in some academic circles. 

“Students who go to community colleges and get associates degrees as well as students who get bachelor’s degrees end up earning significantly more than, students who, say, stop at high school, ” says Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access and Success, says she wishes Obama had targeted just for the neediest students.

“You’re spreading available resources across many that don’t need them, and leaving those with the  greatest need still facing substantial affordability barriers,” she says.

The plan was inspired by a similar program that went into effect last year in Tennessee, called Tennessee Promise. The state was the first in the nation to pay for every student to go to community college for free. In that program, students must first apply for federal financial aid and the state pays whatever tuition is left over. Inspired by the program, Obama named his initiative America's College Promise.

Since the funding would come out of the federal budget, the president still faces opposition from Congress. Republicans, who are now in the majority, aren't likely to approve the president’s plan. Still, there’s optimism.

"The headline 'free community college' is valuable in itself, if it sort of plants the seed that, you can do this," says Matt Reed, vice president of academic affairs at Holyoke Community College.

Just the publicity generated by the president's proposal could make low-income students more aware of financial aid that’s already available, Reed says. Obama says he plans to spell out his plan further in his State of the Union address later this month.

"Here in America, we don’t guarantee equal outcomes ... but we do expect that everybody gets an equal shot," Obama said in his announcement.

Details about the $60 billion federal cost will be included in the 2016 budget Obama will send to Congress Feb. 2, according to a statement from Eric Schultz, deputy White House press secretary.

America's College Promise, by the numbers

$80 billion

Total cost for the proposed program over the next 10 years.

3/4

The portion of the average cost of community college the federal government will cover, with states funding the rest.

$3,800

Average tuition savings per year for a full-time community college student.

9 million

Students who will benefit every year, if all 50 states implement the plan.

35%

Estimated percent of job openings that will require at least a bachelor's degree by 2020.

2.5

GPA students must maintain to be eligible for free tuition.

1,100

Total number of community colleges nationwide.

President Obama announces free community college plan

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-01-09 11:00

President Barack Obama traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee Friday to unveil a proposal to cover the cost of two years of community college for most Americans.

Under the plan, the federal government would cover 3/4 of the average community college cost, which could save one full-time student about $3,800 in tuition every year, according to the White House. States would have to pony up the rest if they choose to participate. Students would also have to keep their grades up to be eligible, with a 2.5 GPA and at least half-time enrollment.

The White House

Obama announced the program Friday afternoon at Pellissippi State Community College. Students in the audience cheered when he mentioned the idea of free tuition.

"I want to make it free," he said. "No one with the drive and discipline should be locked out of opportunity, or denied a college education just because they don’t have the money."

Obama said he wanted two years of college to be as free and universal as high school is today. A degree, he said, is a sure ticket to the middle class. The plan is also being applauded in some academic circles. 

“Students who go to community colleges and get associates degrees as well as students who get bachelor’ s degrees end up earning significantly more than, students who, say, stop at high school, ” says Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Lauren Asher agrees. She’s president of the Institute for College Access and Success. But, she wished Obama had targeted the money just for the neediest students, instead of making everybody eligible.

“You’re spreading available resources across many that don’t need them, and leaving those with the  greatest need still facing substantial affordability barriers,” she says.

The plan was inspired by a similar program that went into effect last year in Tennessee, called "Tennessee Promise." The state was the first in the nation to pay for every student to go to community college for free. In that program, students have to first apply for federal financial aid and the state pays whatever tuition is left over. Obama, inspired by the program, named his initiative "America's College Promise."

But since the federal funding would need to be budgeted for, the president still faces opposition from Congress.Republicans, who are now in the majority, aren't likely to approve the president’s plan. Still, there’s optimism.

"The headline 'free community college' is valuable in itself, if it sort of plants the seed that, you can do this," says Matt Reed, vice president of academic affairs at Holyoke Community College.

Reed says just the publicity from the president could make low-income students more aware of financial aid that’s already available. Obama says he'll spell out his plan further in his State of the Union address later this month, including more on what it would cost.

"Here in America, we don’t guarantee equal outcomes ... but we do expect that everybody gets an equal shot," Obama said in his announcement.

Details about the $60 billion federal cost will be included as part of the 2016 budget Obama will send to Congress Feb. 2, according to a statement from Eric Schultz, deputy White House press secretary.

America's College Promise, by the numbers

$80 billion

Total cost for the proposed program over the next 10 years.

3/4

The portion of the average cost of community college the federal government will cover, with states funding the rest.

$3,800

Average tuition savings per year for a full-time community college student.

9 million

Students who will benefit every year, if all 50 states implement the plan.

35%

Estimated percent of job openings that will require at least a bachelor's degree by 2020.

2.5

GPA students must maintain to be eligible for free tuition.

1,100

Total number of community colleges nationwide.

Former Florida A&M Student Sentenced To 6 Years In Hazing Death

NPR News - Fri, 2015-01-09 10:48

The judge said Dante Martin, who was convicted in the death of his fellow band member, Robert Champion, was a "willing participant" in the ritual.

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Are Teenagers Capable Of Making Life-Or-Death Decisions?

NPR News - Fri, 2015-01-09 10:31

The case of Cassandra, a 17-year-old who says she doesn't want chemotherapy for Hodgkin lymphoma, has sparked fierce debate. A medical ethicist says teenagers should be able to determine their fates.

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British Imam Convicted In U.S. On Terrorism Charges Gets Life

NPR News - Fri, 2015-01-09 10:23

Abu Hamza al-Masri was found guilty 8 months ago on charges stemming from plots to kill tourists in Yemen to a plan to open a jihadist training camp in rural Oregon.

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