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A TV Singing Star Champions The Pop Standard

Dec 18, 2011

Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr. caught a lot of people off guard when he opened his mouth to sing at his televised audition for America's Got Talent. The dreadlocked former car-washer is 6'4" and in his late 30s, but when he belted the first notes of the pop standard "I've Got You Under My Skin" like a certain blue-eyed crooner, audiences and judges alike delightedly voiced their surprise.

Murphy's own social circle was harder to win over. He tells NPR's Guy Raz that at first, his family members laughed at the thought of him singing Sinatra.

Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright who led a revolution to bring down the country's communist regime, has died. During the communist era, Havel was one of Eastern Europe's foremost dissident writers and champion of human rights.

Havel died Sunday morning at his weekend house in the northern Czech Republic, his assistant Sabina Dancecova said. He was 75.

For the past 13 years, North America's medical community has had its own version of The Onion. The Canadian Medical Association Journal's "Holiday Reading" segment in its December issue brings satire and spoofing to its medical studies, with some unintended consequences. Host Audie Cornish talks with Barbara Sibbald, editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

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This past week, the Obama administration took aim at a wave of new laws and policies they say will make it harder for some people to vote on Election Day. The state initiatives range from requiring voters to show government-issued I.D. to cutting back on early voting. Supporters of the laws, backed mostly by Republicans, say they are meant to reduce voter fraud. But critics, backed by Democrats, say the measures disproportionately, perhaps intentionally, affect minority voters, a group that supported Barack Obama in 2008.

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A Baptist church in Wilmington, Vermont is holding its first service today since Tropical Storm Irene flooded the town in late August. The New England village is still recovering from the flood, but Nancy Cohen from Vermont Public Radio reports cleanup crews made a discovery in the church that's bringing a message of hope.

The Cost Of War, In Dollars And Lives

Dec 18, 2011

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Victory, defeat, stalemate - no matter how historians ultimately view America's involvement in Iraq, this much is clear: all wars are paid for with the coffers of a nation's treasury and with many, many lives. We're going to spend the next few minutes with experts on how much of both had been spent in Iraq. And we start with Todd Harrison. He's a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. I asked him what should be an easy question: how much has America spent to date on the war in Iraq.

The Economic Reality Of Marriage

Dec 18, 2011

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish. In the intersection of love and marriage and divorce, there are romantic and economic considerations. This past week, NPR's Jennifer Ludden told us that fewer Americans are getting married; and when they do, they're taking longer to get down the aisle. NPR's Shankar Vedantam is working on the other half of the equation - when things go bad, divorce appears to be less of an option. Jennifer Ludden and Shankar Vedantam join me now. Welcome to the program.

2011 has been a year of social and economic upheaval in Greece. In exchange for bailout money to stave off default, the government is imposing harsh austerity measures. Reporter Joanna Kakissis says the task is especially daunting because Greeks have lost all trust in their civic institutions.

Despite the cold and the rain, about 1,000 people stand in line outside a lottery kiosk in Spain. Pawn brokers walk up and down, offering cash for gold.

Among those in the long line is Bartolo Rivas. In this dismal economy, he says he doesn't have a job, but he does have the "help." The "help" is about $520 a month in unemployment, part of which he's spending on lottery tickets.

The "end of days," as soldiers were calling it, started at Contingency Operating Base Adder in southern Iraq. The base was the main staging ground for all U.S. troops exiting the country, and it was the last U.S. base to close.

There were a lot of lasts at COB Adder: the last signing ceremony, formally handing the last base over to the Iraqi government, the last briefing, the last patrol, the last hot meal.

The final convoy from the base left Iraq and crossed the border into Kuwait at dawn Sunday.

A 'Difficult Undertaking'

High in the Andes Mountains, Peruvians have been lining up to see a collection of antiquities that have finally returned home. The objects from the Inca site of Machu Picchu spent the past 100 years at Yale University in Connecticut, where they were at the center of a long-running international custody battle.

Now, the university is giving back thousands of ceramics, jewelry and human bones from the Peabody Museum in New Haven to the International Center for the Study of Machu Picchu and Inca Culture.

Romney Seeks Gingrich's Tea Party Lead In S.C.

Dec 18, 2011

It was warm and beautiful in the seaside resort of Myrtle Beach, S.C., Saturday, where Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney held his final town hall meeting of the weekend. As he stood surrounded by supporters wearing campaign T-shirts, Romney's mood seemed as sunny as the 65-degree weather outside.

Romney had a lot to be happy about. South Carolina's Tea Party-backed Gov. Nikki Haley had not only endorsed him, she regaled him with glowing tributes at every campaign stop in the multi-city tour.

Lining Up With The Tea Party

As the final U.S. troops leave Iraq, they leave behind the largest U.S. Embassy in the world.

There will be about 16,000 people working for the State Department at the embassy in Baghdad and consulates elsewhere in Iraq.

At least 5,000 of those in Iraq will be private security contractors, and there are lots of questions about whether the State Department is ready to run such a big operation in such a volatile country.

Army Sgt. Maj. Todd Burnett spent about three years in Iraq hunting for improvised explosive devices, also knows as IEDs.

"I can remember going out and one week I got blown up three times," Burnett says. He says back then, it wasn't whether you were going to get blown up, it was just a matter of when you were going to get blown up.

The Arab Spring: A Year Of Revolution

Dec 17, 2011

A year ago, 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi was getting ready to sell fruits and vegetables in the rural town of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia.

Bouazizi was the breadwinner for his widowed mother and six siblings, but he didn't have a permit to sell the goods. When the police asked Bouazizi to hand over his wooden cart, he refused and a policewoman allegedly slapped him.

Angered after being publicly humiliated, Bouazizi marched in front of a government building and set himself on fire.

U.S. Somalis Lose Only Means Of Sending Cash Home

Dec 17, 2011

Just north of downtown Minneapolis stand two cement, skyscraper apartment buildings covered in faded pastel patches. Most of the people who live there are part of the city's large Somali community. Once a month, many of them walk across the street to the small, blue shop that houses Kaah Express, a money-wiring business that links Somalis in Minneapolis to relatives in camps throughout East Africa.

Dessa is best known as a member of Doomtree, a hip-hop collective based in Minneapolis. But there's much more singing than rapping on her latest album, Castor, the Twin, which puts a jazzy, melodic spin on some of her previous work.

Dessa says the title refers to the brothers Castor and Pollux from Greek and Roman mythology. Castor, she explains, is the milder of the two.

Cesária Évora, the Grammy-winning singer from the West African island nation of Cape Verde, has died, the Associated Press reported Saturday. She was 70.

How To Withdraw From A Country

Dec 17, 2011

In the run-up to the U.S. military's withdrawal from Iraq over the last few weeks, up to 60 convoys have been roaring across the country at any given time, hauling supplies south to Kuwait. But that's just the equipment the military is taking. Major General Thomas Richardson, the Army's chief logistician in Iraq, tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz that sometimes it's cheaper to leave it there.

Each year, as Congress works to wrap up budget and tax bills and other "must-pass" legislation, inevitably not so must-pass items creep into the mix — inserted either to smooth passage for the more important things, or in the hopes that no one will notice. This year marks the first time that leadership has been unable to use earmarks to buy off reluctant votes, and has turned to other forms of grease instead. NPR's David Welna reports.

Today, the Senate approved a $1 trillion bill to fund the government and a two-month payroll tax cut extension. Weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz speaks with James Fallows of The Atlantic about the last minute deal and other top stories from the past week.

When William F. Buckley burst onto the national scene in 1955, conservatism was a dead letter in American politics.

"Lots of people thought that it was outdated, anachronistic, prehistoric, foolish, not very intelligent," Carl Bogus tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz.

Bogus is the author of a new biography, called Buckley: William F. Buckley and the Rise of American Conservatism. He says that back in the 1950s and 1960s, there really was an established liberal elite in America, which controlled both political parties.

The U.S. Senate wrapped up a tumultuous year of divided government with votes that keep the federal government funded through September and extend expiring unemployment benefits and a payroll tax cut another two months.

In a rare Saturday year-end session, the Senate's action averted a shutdown but was not the last word on the payroll tax cut extension.

The U.S. Senate wrapped up a tumultuous year of divided government with votes that keep the federal government funded through September and extend expiring unemployment benefits and a payroll tax cut another two months.

In a rare Saturday year-end session, the Senate's action averted a shutdown but was not the last word on the payroll tax cut extension.

Paroled U.S. activist Lori Berenson said Saturday that she and her toddler son were not permitted to leave Peru despite being granted permission in court to spend the holidays in New York with her family.

"They didn't let me leave and they're putting out this version that I arrived late," she said in a brief phone conversation with The Associated Press, referring to media reports citing unnamed airport officials.

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Popular Science magazine is out with its 100 best innovations issue. If you've got hard-to-please family members on your holiday shopping lists, maybe you want to consider something like an inflatable wetsuit for big-wave surfing. That's just one of the year's top gadgets. Tell us a little more about some of the noteworthy innovations, we have Mark Jannot in our New York studios. He's the editor-in-chief of Popular Science. Thanks for being with us.

MARK JANNOT: It's always fun, Scott.

Former Major League Baseball star Barry Bonds was sentenced to 30 days of house arrest and two years probation on Friday for his federal conviction of obstruction of justice. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

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Gadgets, like cell phone cameras and digital tablets, can turn almost anybody into some kind of amateur journalist. But writer Gwen Thompkins wonders when the amateurs will realize that what the professionals already know - recording an event often stops people from experiencing what's right in front of them.

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We're going to go to a Republican member of the House, Congressman Bill Huizenga of Michigan. He represents the 2nd district in western Michigan. We check in with him from time to time throughout his first year in Congress. Congressman, welcome back.

REPRESENTATIVE BILL HUIZENGA: Hey. Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Now, let me ask about - are these stop-gap measures just the new way of doing business in Congress, and does that just kick the can down the road a couple of months?

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