Morning Edition for Thursday, December 19, 2013

Budget Bill Scales Back Military Pensions In 2015

The budget bill awaiting President Obama's signature would trim a lot of programs including the pensions of military officers. The pension cuts would save the government more than $6 million over a decade. Steve Inskeep talks to Politico reporter Juana Summers about how much the country spends on military personnel.

How Fraud Flourishes Unchecked In Medicare's Drug Plan

Credit card companies routinely flag or block suspicious charges as they happen. Yet under Medicare, a convoluted and poorly managed system for catching fraud allows costly scams for prescriptions drugs to slide by. The federal government has done little to stop the fraud, an investigation by ProPublica found.

Do Crossword Puzzles Really Stave Off Dementia?

On Dec. 21, 100 years ago, a paper in New York published the first crossword. It quickly became known as a game for the intelligent — even helping Britain recruit code-breakers during WWII. But there isn't much evidence that this brainy game can help stave off dementia.

'Her,' Another Quirky Film For Director Spike Jonze

Spike Jonze is known for directing emotionally resonant films — like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. Los Angeles Times and Morning Edition film critic Kenneth Turan reviews Jonze's new film Her.

Overturned Truck Spills Holiday Hams

An interstate ramp outside of Atlanta was tied up on Thursday — not with cars but with 40,000 pounds of ham. The driver wasn't hurt but ham and diesel fuel were everywhere.

Conflict In Southern Sudan Grows Worse

On Thursday, President Obama warned the country is "on the precipice." Forces opposed to the nation's president have taken control of a major town, and killed at least three U.N. peacekeepers in the process.

U.S. Deports 10 Percent Fewer People Last Fiscal Year

The Obama administration has released deportation numbers for the last fiscal year. For the first time since the president took office, fewer people were removed than the year before.
Between now and the end of the year, Morning Edition will have a number of conversations about the future. To begin our series of conversations, Steve Inskeep talks to Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution about cybersecurity.
Millions of Americans facing canceled health insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act will no longer be fined for being uninsured in the new year. Instead, they can enroll in basic coverage — previously available only to those with a hardship exemption.
Santa's elves will be working overtime starting Friday. Stores like Toys R US and Kohl's are hoping to capitalize on last-minute shoppers, and those who like to avoid the crowds by staying open 24/7.

Deep Dish Or Thin Crust? Even Chicagoans Can't Agree

The Daily Show's Jon Stewart recently ranted against a culinary signature of Chicago: "Deep dish pizza is not only not better than New York pizza — it's not pizza," said Stewart, calling it "tomato soup in a bread bowl." Some Chicagoans protested. Others turned to their thin-crust pie, and took another bite.

Hershey Buys Chinese Chocolate Company For $584 Million

The candy company based in Hershey, Pa., bought Shanghai Golden Monkey on Thursday. Hershey may hold the largest share of the U.S. chocolate market, but only a small share of candy sales overseas.
Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was sent to try to stem the growing violence that has gripped the country since Muslim rebels toppled the government in March. Christians and Muslims, who once peacefully co-existed there, are now living in a nation on the brink of genocide.

Report: West Can Use Science To Forge Ties With Iran

The National Iranian American Council is out with a report that examines what the West can do to cultivate the resurgence of moderate forces in Iran. Steve Inskeep talks to President Trita Parsi about the council's conclusions and recommendations.

'Duck Dynasty' Attracts Christian Conservatives

The patriarch of the Duck Dynasty family has been suspended indefinitely from the hit reality TV show on A&E because of his remarks about homosexuality. He made the comments to GQ magazine. The show has spawned a multi-million-dollar industry of related products and books.

A Home-Cooked Dinner That's More Than A Meal

Yelitza Castro cooks for homeless men every other Saturday night. But "you don't make us feel homeless," says Willie Davis, who has partaken in many of the meals. Before he met Yelitza, he says, he almost gave up, but now he has his own place.

Cuba Loosens Restrictions On Buying New Cars

Automotive News reports the state altered regulations, first in 2011, and now a second time, making it simpler for Cubans to buy or sell new cars. Cubans, too, now have the freedom to ask: "What do I have to do to get you in this new car today?"
United Methodist church officials have defrocked Rev. Frank Schaefer, who presided over his son's gay wedding. Though the wedding was in 2007, it wasn't until this year that Schaefer's congregation in Lebanon, Pa., learned of it.

Chicago Moves To Limit Petroleum Coke Storage

Crude oil from Canada's tar sands is booming business for refineries but residents of a Chicago neighborhood charge a byproduct called petroleum coke, or petcoke, is a nuisance and health hazard. They want towering mounds of the dusty substance moved out of the city. Chicago officials have reached a deal with one company requiring them to do so.
Two members of the Russian activist band Pussy Riot and billionaire Mikhail Khordorkovsky are expected to be released from prison by Russian President Vladimir Putin. David Greene talks to reporter Masha Gessen about whether this move signals a liberalizing trend, or is simply a calculation ahead of the 2014 Olympics.

Have Yourself A Sullen Little Christmas

Less than a week before Christmas, holly-jolly holiday music abounds — and if you're not feeling holly or jolly, it can be a little hard to take. For NPR Music's Stephen Thompson and Morning Edition producer Travis Larchuk, the holidays often mean searching for alternatives.

We Say Goodbye To Some NPR Colleagues

Morning Edition wishes news anchors Jean Cochran and Paul Brown well. A number of our coworkers took the chance to accept voluntary buyouts as NPR changes. Leaving the Morning Edition staff are: Anne Hawke, Jim Wildman and Steve Munro.
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