All Things Considered for Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Fighting Escalates In Syria Ahead Of Peace Conference

The Syrian military is dumping explosives on the city of Aleppo. In recent days, both sides have escalated their campaigns trying to gain ground ahead of an international peace conference scheduled for January. Calls for a cease fire have gone unheeded as the humanitarian crisis within and beyond Syria's borders worsens.
Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., says it's a key moment for the international community to "change the calculus" in the Central Africa Republic and prevent further atrocities. The U.S. has authorized up to $100 million to support African Union forces and other material aid.

Mixing It Up 50,000 Years Ago — Who Slept With Whom?

The DNA from a 50,000-year-old Neanderthal bone found in a cave in Siberia is more evidence that genetic mixing took place among Neanderthals and other hominid groups. One researcher hopes to use such evidence to help compile a catalog of the genetic changes that make modern humans unique.
People now have until January 10 to pay for their first month of coverage through the health exchanges. But people using the federal exchange still have to get signed up by Dec. 23. Some states have pushed deadlines even later.
The ruling is welcome news for those like Joe Darger, who live in polygamous relationships. But others question the court's interpretation and worry about young girls they say are vulnerable to coercion into polygamous marriages.
The Port of Tyne on the northeastern coast of England used to be a world famous harbor where the biggest ships were built. But those industries have collapsed. "Now I think we are not quite sure who we are," says one resident. The port and the shipyards once provided apprenticeships and jobs, but no more. Boys and young men have little prospect of work, and all are hoping that plans for a massive wind farm in the North Sea will come to fruition and revitalize the economy.

The Great Train Robber, Ronnie Biggs, Dead At 84

Melissa Block talks with Paul Crompton, executive producer at Barge Pole Productions, about train robber Ronnie Biggs, who died Wednesday at 84. Crompton made the film The Great Train Robber's Secret Tapes with former Daily Express reporter Colin MacKenzie, who tracked the robber to Rio after he escaped from prison, and recorded his interviews with him over a period of days.

Hollywood Holding On To Its Summer Love

Seventeen big-budget movies premiered this past summer, and almost all of them cost more than $100 million to make and about that much to promote. While only about 10 of them were solidly profitable, studios are not changing their strategies.
This past summer, Hollywood released many high-budget blockbusters that failed. But this year, some smaller, critically acclaimed films reached the big screen and hit it big. For more on funding for movies big and small, Melissa Block talks with Los Angeles Times movie industry reporter Steve Zeitchik.

Federal Reserve To Cut Stimulus By $10 Billion A Month

Federal Reserve policymakers surprised many in the financial markets Wednesday with a decision to begin the so-called "taper." The Fed will cut the amount of its stimulus by $10 billion a month. The stock market pushed higher on the news.

White House Releases Report On NSA Surveillance Program

A review panel convened by the White House has released its report on surveillance by the National Security Agency. The panel is one of several reviews of U.S. intelligence policy following leaks by former contractor Edward Snowden.

Push For Release Of CIA Interrogation Report Continues

Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee are pressing for the release of a so-called torture report on Bush-era interrogation practices. But there are several hurdles to clear before portions of the report might become declassified.
Ten years after education researchers began focusing on big city school systems and monitoring their math and reading scores, there's good news to report. Today, fourth and eighth graders in many of the nation's largest cities have made impressive gains. Surprisingly, school systems with large numbers of low income children have exceeded the national average in both subjects .
Since he took office, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has closed and consolidated schools, created hundreds of new ones and championed the use of data to measure performance. Washington Irving High School, scheduled to close in 2015, offers a window on the changes he's brought to the city's vast school system.
When a Kenyan women was diagnosed with HIV, she thought it meant the end of her marriage and her hopes to have children. But with the help of HIV therapy, Benta Odeny not only protects her husband from the virus, but she also has a healthy, HIV-negative daughter.
Dogs may be man's best friend, but new research shows that cats may have been humanity's companions for thousands of years. For more on the feline's long history with people, Audie Cornish talks with Dr. Fiona Marshall, an archaeologist at Washington University in St. Louis, and co-author of a study that looks at how cats may have been domesticated almost 5,300 years ago in China.
LGBT activists are hailing the Obama administration's choice of a delegation to attend the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. It doesn't include the President or Vice President or their wives or even cabinet secretaries. Instead the delegation includes prominent gay athletes. This is seen as a rebuke of Russia's new anti-propaganda law that targets those who are LGBT.

I Love To Shop, But Do I Have A Shopping Problem?

Sophie Varon loves to shop. The store Forever 21 is her weakness. And lately, she's been wondering if her shopping habit has become a shopping problem.
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