All Things Considered for Friday, December 20, 2013

President Obama held a year-end press conference Friday at the White House. He touted successes under his watch including improved jobs numbers and a stronger economy, increased oil and gas production, and said a million people had signed up for private health plans on state and federal exchanges. He also chided lawmakers for allowing extended unemployment benefits to lapse. And he took questions from reporters on a range of other issues.
Melissa Block speaks with regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times for the latest in political news. They'll talk about another looming debt ceiling fight in early 2014, new changes to the Affordable Care Act, and a White House panel's review of NSA surveillance programs.
The presidential panel on NSA has brought renewed attention to the practice of spying this week. Phone tapping, searching records and general intrigue — these have been popular topics in literature and film for well nigh a century. But espionage is not often a glamorous task, as author Julia Keller reminds us.

Will A Computer Decide Whether You Get Your Next Job?

Companies are replacing paper resumes with tests designed to collect data from job applicants. They're finding some surprising results.

Robert Siegel On Qatar: Tiny Country, Big Influence

Robert Siegel recently returned from a reporting trip to Qatar. He joins Melissa Block to talk about some of the stories he reported while there.
Many neighborhoods in Detroit are in the dark — not because of a power outage but because fewer than half of the city's 88,000 streetlights actually work. A bankruptcy judge recently approved $60 million in bonds to begin to repair them, but that means the city will have to take on a new debt.
Detroit is one of the most dangerous cities in the country, and police officers there are being asked to do more for less money because the police force has been shrinking faster than the city's population. But many hope that a newly hired top cop will change this. James Craig spent the bulk of his career on the Los Angeles police force, but he started as a beat cop in Motor City in 1977. Audie Cornish talks to Craig about his return home and the city's tough law enforcement situation.

Robot 'Olympics' Test Machines On Human Skills

Robots from around the world are competing in a Pentagon-sponsored robot "Olympics" this weekend. The challenge is to build a robot that can do human tasks and even go into disaster zones.

Will The NFL End 'Blackout' Rule For TV Broadcasts?

One upon a time, the National Football League had trouble packing its stadiums. To encourage fans to attend games instead of watching them at home, the games did not air on local TV. Today, filling stadium seats is not usually a problem, but the so-called blackout rules endure — at least for now. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins Audie Cornish to talk about that and check in on the NFL's season.

From An Oscar Winner, A 'Past' Still Hauntingly Present

Director Asghar Farhadi's film — which follows a man returning to his estranged wife to finalize a divorce — has garnered quite a few awards. NPR's Bob Mondello says that it definitely deserves its accolades. (Recommended)

NPR Says Goodbye To 90 Staff Members

Friday is the last day for many NPR employees who have chosen to leave the company in a voluntary buyout program.

Despite Tough Year, Obama Puts Upbeat Spin On 2013

Ahead of his trip to Hawaii for the holidays, President Obama held a year-end press conference at the White House Friday. Despite a tough year, the president insisted he had successes under his watch as well, and said he still hoped 2014 could be a "breakthrough year."
The White House announced another rule change for people signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Just in time for the holiday rush, the Obama Administration said people whose policies have been cancelled will be allowed to buy so-called catastrophic coverage plans. The high-deductible, low-premium plans that cover the basics and not much more had previously been limited to people under the age of 30 who had demonstrable financial need.

Astronauts Ready For Marathon Spacewalks

NASA astronauts will be heading out to conduct critical repairs on the International Space Station early Saturday morning. The 6 1/2-hour spacewalk, the first in a series, will replace a faulty piece of cooling equipment.
The story of the woman famously referred to as a "welfare queen" in Ronald Reagan's 1976 campaign is far more bizarre and unsettling than the stereotype she became the emblem for, as a stellar long read from Slate reveals.
Increasingly, privately owned sports teams aren't just asking for newer, fancier digs. They're also asking the public to pay half — or more — of the bill.
Human rights groups and Western governments have criticized the bill since it was first introduced in 2009. Uganda's president must still sign the measure, which has widespread support.

Ben Stiller, Spinning Daydreams In 'Walter Mitty'

Known for his broad comedies, the actor takes a more serious turn in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, playing a man who copes with his boring life by creating a wild fantasy existence. He spoke with NPR's Melissa Block about the film, which he also directed.
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