Morning Edition for Thursday, December 19, 2013

Fed To Dial Back Its Bond-Buying Stimulus Program

Federal Reserve policymakers announced on Wednesday they will begin reducing the amount of stimulus they've been providing the economy each month. The Fed also promised it would keep short-term interest rates near zero even longer than previously expected.
Sarah Ramirez left a high-prestige career to bring California's bounty of unsellable fruit to food banks in the state's Central Valley. Her grassroots organization is trying to address a regional conundrum: While many area farms end up with imperfect fruit that can't be sold to supermarkets, local farmworkers struggle to afford fresh produce.

Presidential Review Panel Endorses Checks On NSA

President Obama's intelligence review panel has produced a report hundreds of pages long. It endorses a series of checks on the National Security Agency. The advisers have a list of recommendations for how to protect privacy while still trying to prevent terrorist attacks.

Brazil's Post Offices Help Deliver Christmas Wishes

It's a cross between Secret Santa and Make-a-Wish. For more than 20 years, ordinary Brazilians have read letters addressed to Santa that end up at their local post office and helped fulfill those wishes. The Father Christmas Project helps about half a million kids, some of whom ask for basic things like food and beds.
A man being arrested in Elk City, Okla., for allegedly writing bad checks asked the officer if he could have a moment because he had been about to propose to his girlfriend. The cop said he couldn't remove the man's handcuffs, but did help him out by getting the ring from his coat pocket.

Russian Parliament Approves Amnesty Bill

Members of the punk band Pussy Riot and a crew of Greenpeace environmentalists could walk free soonl. The amnesty is being granted to mark the 20th anniversary of Russia's constitution, but it also seems to be an effort to buff up the country's human-rights image before the Winter Olympics in February.

Defense Bill Addresses Sexual Assaults In The Military

The Senate is expected to meet Thursday to resume consideration on a defense bill that includes provisions aiming to more aggressively prosecute sexual assault in the military. Many praise the changes as the most significant to the military justice system in decades. Others say they don't go far enough.
As 2013 comes to an end, NPR is looking at numbers that sum up the year's news. When it comes to the civil war in Syria, more than 11,000 children are thought to have died in the conflict. Most of them in the last two years, according to the Oxford Research Group in London.
The retailer acknowledged early Thursday that there was a massive security breach of its customers' credit and debit card accounts. It started the day before Thanksgiving and extended at least to Dec. 15 — the heart of the holiday shopping season.
Delta CEO Richard Anderson says frequent flyers believe voice calls in the cabin would disrupt travel. So the airline announced it will ban in-flight calls even if the FCC changes the rules.
Upwardly mobile consumers in China and Korea also are buying lots of fur, and "not necessarily your grandmother's old mink coat," says an observer. U.S. and Canadian trappers are flush; animal welfare advocates are concerned.

Researchers Try Paying Kids To Eat Their Veggies

University researchers at Brigham Young and Cornell experimented paying kids to consume vegetables. When paid, veggie consumption went up. When payments stopped, so did eating veggies.
A review group appointed by President Obama has recommended major changes to government surveillance programs. The group effectively called for the end of one of the most controversial programs run by the National Security Agency: the collection and storage of phone records of millions of Americans.
After a decade of kicking the ball down the road, Congress appears ready to repeal its payment formula for Medicare and replace it with a whole new system. This time, doctors would be paid according to the quality of results they produce, rather than the number of services they provide.
Dolphins are getting very sick from exposure to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A government study confirms a host of problems in dolphins who live in one of the heaviest-oiled bays in Louisiana. Scientists say the dolphins are gravely ill with injuries consistent with the toxic effects of exposure to petroleum hydrocarbons.
American Routes host Nick Spitzer calls in to chat with NPR's David Greene about a few noteworthy Christmas contributions from some of jazz music's most revered and beloved artists.

Chicago TV Anchor Wrestles With Alligator Story

A Miami man captured a small alligator, took it to a store and offered to trade it for a 12-pack. His attempt made news on Chicago TV, where an anchor tried to tell the story. Instead, he started laughing uncontrollably.

U.S. Diplomat Tours Central African Republic

Before becoming the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power was a journalist who wrote about stopping genocide. Now she's visiting a country where there's fear of one. Fighting between Muslims and Christians has killed nearly 1,000 people.

Senate Follows House, Passes Budget Deal

Congress has approved the bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. It temporarily ends months of partisan gridlock over spending.
Young professionals "co-living" in San Francisco-area mansions say they're doing more than cutting costs and promoting sustainability — they're building communities, and tech-powered social networking makes it easier.

Watch This: Vince Gilligan's Favorite Dark Corners

From some very twisted — and very funny — British television to a '70s Jack Webb drama, the Breaking Bad creator shares his TV favorites for the occasional Morning Edition series Watch This.
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