Morning Edition for Tuesday, December 17, 2013

As 2013 wraps up, NPR is looking at the numbers that tell this year's story. When it comes to the economy, $85 billion is a good candidate. That's the amount the Federal Reserve has been pumping into the financial system each month trying to stimulate growth and bring down unemployment. On Tuesday, Fed policymakers begin a two-day meeting at which they'll decide whether to dial back that stimulus.
Democrats in Congress are promising to try to retroactively extend emergency unemployment benefits after the new year. The expiration of the benefits may satisfy some fiscal conservatives, but it has some economists and many desperate job-seekers concerned.
The Texas capital is growing rapidly, and its roads and freeways are packed. A toll road was built east of the city to help alleviate the problem, but few drivers use it. Experts agree that the city has to do something — and soon — to address its congestion woes if Austin is to retain its quirky character.

Moon Landing Is A Major Step Forward For China

China landed its first probe on the surface of the moon over the weekend. It's the first soft-landing on the moon's surface in nearly 40 years, and a big accomplishment for China's space program.
Across the country, a new model of housing development is springing up that embraces the local food movement. Farms — complete with livestock, vegetables and fruit trees — are now serving as the latest suburban amenity.

Country Hit Maker Ray Price Dies At 87

Country Music Hall of Fame singer Ray Price had a hand in changing the sound of country music not once but twice. He put honky tonk on top of the charts and then helped make orchestras part of the Nashville sound. He died Monday afternoon at the age of 87.

Glaxo To Stop Paying Doctors To Promote Drugs

The head of British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline told The New York Times on Monday that the company will stop paying doctors to promote its drugs. Pharmaceutical firms commonly pay physicians to speak at medical conferences — a practice criticized as a conflict of interest.

Mexico Opens Its Energy Sector To Private Investment

Over the weekend, the needed majority of Mexican states ratified sweeping constitutional changes that would allow for the first time in decades foreign investment in the country's oil monopoly. Pemex has controlled the country's oil industry for 75 years.

Fitbit Flex Tops Jaroslovsky's 2013 Tech Gift List

With holiday shopping well underway, Linda Wertheimer talks to tech journalist Rich Jaroslovsky about this year's non-obvious tech gifts. Among his picks is the Fitbit Flex and a talking smoke detector.

Italian Police Arrest 4 In Holiday Extortion Case

Four alleged mafia gangsters have been arrested for forcing shop owners to buy poinsettias for as much as $140 each. Owners who refused to partake in the "Christmas special" would have their shops vandalized.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is releasing its final report Tuesday on how Syria's chemical stockpile will be destroyed. The plan is a complicated process and the first step may be the hardest: getting the chemicals to the Syrian port in the middle of a civil war.

Environmentalists Split Over Need For Nuclear Power

One former anti-nuke activist says the world can't afford to dismiss nuclear power, if we're to rein in global warming. Nuclear plants provide a more reliable energy supply than wind or solar, he says, and without the high carbon emissions that fossil fuels produce.

Archbishop Kurtz: Pope Francis Is 'Engaged' With People

Pope Francis celebrates his 77th birthday on Tuesday. Linda Wertheimer talks to the recently elected head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, about the pope's recent statements on global economics.

FAA To Soon Pick Sites For Commercial Drone Testing

Before the end of the year, the federal government will select six states where drone makers can test how to safely integrate the technology into commercial airspace. Nevada is vying for one of the spots. The FAA stamp of approval could lure big industry to high-end test sites. But smaller drone developers, who're focused on non-military applications, also see enormous opportunities.
In a new poll, many parents said they're worried that schools aren't adequately preparing students for a changing workforce. And too much emphasis on memorizing facts in the classroom, both parents and kids say, is keeping young people from getting excited about science and technology careers.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first U.S. law to ban immigration based on nationality. It prevented Chinese laborers from entering the country. It also gave rise to fake documents. The law was repealed in 1943. But 70 years later, many are still piecing together the true identities of their ancestors.
Legendary piano maker Steinway & Songs has a new owner, hedge fund billionaire John Paulson. Throughout its history, the company built a great piano as well as a powerful brand associated with some of the greatest names in modern classical music and beyond.

Seahawks Beat Giants And Surpise Chevy Dealer

The Seahawks 23-0 victory over the New York Giants is great news for Seattle. Except for the folks at Jet Chevrolet. The Seattle-area dealership pledged to give 12 people $35,000 apiece if the Seahawks shut out the Giants. The car guys never expected to pay up — but just in case, they insured the bet.

Mass. Brothers Not Too Old To Pose With Santa

For the 29th straight year, Michael Gray, 34, and his younger brother Martin, 29, posed together with Santa. They say it makes their mom happy. She keeps a book of the photos at home.
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