NPR National News

A trillion is a huge number — when you're talking dollars or euros. But a trillion miles is not so much in the cosmic scheme of things. Astronomers say they've now found a planet that orbits two suns a mere thousand trillion miles from here. It's yet another example of a weird solar system being discovered around nearby stars.

Two years ago, NASA launched the Kepler observatory to look for Earth-like planets beyond our own solar system. It has found more than 1,000 apparent planets around distant suns.

"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty," U.S. Marine Dakota Meyer was just presented with the nation's highest honor for valor on the battlefield. He's the first living Marine since the Vietnam War to receive the Medal of Honor.

Bomb Explodes At Funeral In Pakistan

Sep 15, 2011

At least 31 people, including three children, were killed Thursday in an attack at a funeral service in a Pakistani village near the Afghan border; 75 others were wounded.

According to Police Chief Saleem Khan, a suicide bomber walked up to the crowd of about 200 mourners in the northwest village of Lower Dir and detonated his explosives.

Police say the funeral was for Bakhat Khan, a member of the Mashwani tribe, which is reputed to be rabidly anti-Taliban. Residents near the scene of the bombing have raised volunteer militias against the Taliban.

For most of us, the idea of dinosaurs covered in feathers is still something we're getting used to. It's the same with the idea that they weren't olive-colored creatures, but instead were imbued in a wide array of pigments.

Today, brings news that thumbnail-sized feathers found preserved in amber are telling scientists some new things about these glorious creatures. First, it opens a window — as old as 85 million years — into the evolution of their feathers and secondly it gives scientists a better idea of what they looked like.

The world's major central banks are so worried about Europe's debt crisis that they are moving to shore up eurozone banks. The troubled banks hold billions in sovereign debt of Greece, Spain, Portugal and other struggling countries.

Left unchecked, this crisis could spill over into the U.S. economy. Here's how Europe's troubles could migrate to the U.S. and the rest of the world.

There was a funny moment during House Speaker John Boehner's appearance at The Economic Club of Washington a few minutes ago.

Asked if he might be a possible Republican vice presidential nominee in 2012, Boehner — who's known for his habit of tearing up — joked that it's unlikely he'd be good for that job:

"It's hard enough for me to go to funerals of people I know, much less don't know."

The beleaguered U.S. Postal Service, which is facing losses of up to $10 billion in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, today proposed what it says are "sweeping changes designed to save the organization up to $3 billion a year by cutting its network of processing facilities by over half and adjusting service standards."

Into The Wild: Alaskan Train Caters To The Intrepid

Sep 15, 2011

There aren't many rules on the train called the Hurricane Turn. Dogs roam the aisles and sit next to their owners on the seats. The baggage car doors are wide open, even when the train is moving.

"Oh yeah, this is like the best job in the whole railroad, you bet," says conductor Wade Sherwood.

The Hurricane Turn is one of the last whistle-stop trains in the U.S. — trains that allow travelers to hop on and off where they choose. With tight schedules to keep, most train operators have abandoned them.

The Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) stood by its decision of a life-time ban against Mohamed bin Hamman, the former Executive Committee member and FIFA presidential candidate.

The newest opinion host on cable news channel MSNBC is the Rev. Al Sharpton, a figure much better known for a past in which he cast more heat than light.

F. Scott Fitzgerald notwithstanding, Sharpton is now on at least his third act in public life: as a civil rights activist with a history of divisive and confrontational tactics; an increasingly accepted player in Democratic Party politics; and now, cable news pundit and host of PoliticsNation, which airs weeknights at 6.

We love local TV news.

Especially stories such as this exclusive from KOLD in Tucson, Ariz:

"Killer Bees Attack, Kill Farm Animals In Bisbee."

Stick with it to the end (or fast forward to about the 2-minute mark) and the part where reporter Sonu Wasu says that if you find a 200-pound hive containing an estimated 250,000 killer bees "do not try to eradicate these bees yourself, it is a very dangerous job that should be left up to professionals."

Mexican gangs left a gruesome message for users of social media. The gang left two dead bodies hanging from a bridge in the city of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

The AFP reports on the message scrawled on two pieces of cardboard:

The messages lay near the two bodies, found half naked, alluding to websites set up for people to report drug violence in the area, police said.

After more than 30 years, production of the Ford Crown Victoria and Lincoln Town Car has ended. The large, gas guzzling, rear-wheel drive behemoths have been the favorites of limo drivers, taxi drivers and police officers for more than a generation.

The end of the Town Car and the Crown Vic, as it's affectionately known, comes as Ford tries to become a hipper and more fuel-efficient company.

Medicare Advantage Premiums To Drop Next Year

Sep 15, 2011

For some Medicare beneficiaries, the good times seem to keep rolling along.

Premiums for seniors enrolled in private Medicare health plans will drop 4 percent in 2012 while benefits remain stable, administration officials said today. In 2011 premiums fell by 1 percent.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) "plans Thursday to urge the supercommittee charged with cutting the nation's deficit to overhaul the tax code, his most direct remarks about the path the panel should undertake," Politico reports.

According to Politico, "Boehner will prod the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction lower the corporate rate and close loopholes — the preferred GOP method for cleaning up the nation's tax system."

"We are certainly living through times of great economic anxiety," International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde said this morning.

"Exactly three years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers," she cautioned in a Washington, D.C., speech, "the economic skies look troubled and turbulent as global activity slows and downside risks increase."

Even as Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann backs off some from an inflammatory claim that a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer led to mental retardation in a young girl, two bioethicists are turning up the heat.

Yes, the leading group of pediatricians in this country slammed Bachmann and said "there is absolutely no scientific validity" to statements that the vaccine against human papilloma virus is dangerous or causes retardation.

There are many remarkable things about what U.S. Marine Dakota Meyer did two years ago in Afghanistan.

NPR's Tom Bowman tells the story of the then-corporal's heroics. Along with Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, Meyer (now a sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserve) disobeyed orders and undertook a dangerous, six-hour battle to rescue stranded troops who had been ambushed by enemy fighters.

The number of people filling first-time claims for unemployment insurance rose by 11,000 last week from the week before, the Employment and Training Administration just reported.

There were 428,000 such claims. After peaking at 659,000 in March 2009, weekly claims started to edge down. But they've remained near or above 400,000 since early April of this year.

The stories of lost pets turning up years later and hundreds (or thousands) of miles from home keep coming.

Today's tale, from The Associated Press:

"A calico cat named Willow, who disappeared from a home near the Rocky Mountains five years ago, was found Wednesday on a Manhattan street and will soon be returned to a family in which two of the three kids and one of the two dogs may remember her.

"It is over. Give up. The mercenaries should go home."

That's the message today from British Prime Minister David Cameron to ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, The Guardian reports.

Rogue Trader Leaves UBS With $2 Billion Loss

Sep 15, 2011

Swiss banking giant UBS said Thursday that one of its traders lost an estimated $2 billion through unauthorized transactions, which could result in a loss for its entire third quarter.

Police in London's financial district said they have arrested a 31-year-old man in connection with the massive loss. He was arrested at 3:30 a.m. on suspicion of abusing his position to commit fraud.

The unidentified trader reportedly worked in UBS's London equities division.

Shares of UBS sank on the Zurich exchange Thursday, at one point plummeting more than 8 percent.

"Unauthorized trading" by one of its traders has led to a loss "in the range of $2 billion," Swiss banking giant UBS announced this morning.

He reportedly worked in the bank's London equities division, Larry Miller reports for NPR, and was arrested by authorities there early today "on suspicion of using his position to commit fraud."

According to UBS, none of its clients were affected by the loss.

As gloom mounts over Europe's debt crisis, some are looking to China to play a leading role in stabilizing the shaky world economy.

But China made clear its reluctance to take on the role of the global economic savior as it hosted the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting of the New Champions.

Polite applause greeted Premier Wen Jiabao as he stepped onto the stage Wednesday in the northeastern Chinese city Dalian, but his words depressed markets in Europe, a sign of the shift in the center of financial gravity.

First of a two-part report.

Here's a startling figure: The typical white family has 20 times the wealth of the median black family. That's the largest gap in 25 years. The recession widened the racial wealth gap, but experts say it's also due to deeply ingrained differences in things such as inheritance, home ownership, taxes and even expectations.

For Joplin's Children, Tornado's Effects Persist

Sep 14, 2011

The tornado that hit Joplin, Mo., in May destroyed a third of the town and killed 162 people. While the storm lasted just minutes, the psychological damage continues, and the community is mobilizing to cope with continuing trauma. The city's children are dealing with both the unsettling effects of the tornado and what the loss, disruption and heartache is doing to their parents.

Shortly after dawn on a September morning in 2009, American and Afghan troops set out on patrol along a rocky mile-long stretch in eastern Afghanistan. They were heading to a small village for a routine meeting with tribal elders.

Suddenly, everything went wrong.

Cpl. Dakota Meyer and Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, who had stayed behind with the vehicles, heard small arms fire in the distance and knew instantly it was an ambush. Rodriguez-Chavez then heard an officer yelling for help on the radio.

In his jobs speech last week, President Obama also took time to say he wants to help more Americans save money on their mortgages.

"To help responsible homeowners, we're going to work with federal housing agencies to help more people refinance their mortgages at interest rates that are now near 4 percent," he said to applause from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

For Afghan Female Pilot, A Long, Turbulent Journey

Sep 14, 2011

Col. Latifa Nabizada, the only female pilot in the history of Afghan aviation, travels to some of the most remote and dangerous corners of her country with a devoted partner next to her in the cockpit – her 5-year-old daughter Malalai.

They walk hand-in-hand as they head into the hangar at Kabul's Military Airport, and then board a chopper. They have flown together on more than 300 missions over the past few years, and Col. Nabizada acknowledges the risks of having her daughter on board.

But she says she has no choice. The air force has no child care facility.