NPR National News

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.

You'd be excused if you didn't lose sleep over the news that made its way across the blogosphere overnight: Tareq Salahi, who is better known as the husband in the duo who snuck into a White House state dinner last year, called the cops and the media to say his wife Michaele was kidnapped.

The Colorado Rockies Eliezer Alfonzo is joining some ignominious company: Today Major League Baseball announced it was suspending the catcher for 100 games, after failing a drug test for the second time. Alfonzo tested positive for PED in 2008, when he was in the minor leagues.

The Denver Post reports:

A congressional hearing on Tuesday over a company called Solyndra became a politically charged referendum on the administration's effort to promote green energy.

Until recently, Solyndra made solar panels. It received more than half a billion dollars in government loan guarantees back in 2009. Now, the company is in bankruptcy and is being investigated by the FBI.

Why You Should Wash A Melon Before Chowing Down

Sep 14, 2011

Have you ever heeded the advice to wash and dry a melon before digging in? Does anyone actually eat the skin of a honeydew or a cantaloupe anyway?

Well, even if you're not planning on a mega-dose of fibrous skin and rind, there is a good reason to rinse off that melon: germs. The knife that cuts through the melon's tough exterior can transfer nasty bugs to the sweet flesh you do consume.

For the second time in less than a week, President Obama on Wednesday visited a college campus, touting his new jobs plan. He told supporters at North Carolina State University that if Congress goes along with his proposal for tax cuts and new government spending, it will help to restore middle-class jobs.

A new CNN poll shows more Americans support the president's jobs plan than oppose it.

But that survey and others also find widespread disappointment with the U.S. economy — and Obama's handling of it.

Back in July, Pando Networks, a business focused peer-to-peer network, released the findings of a nationwide study on Internet speeds. It found Idaho has the slowest networks, while Rhode Island, New Jersey and Massachusetts are at the top of the pack.

Post-Irene Cleanup May Damage Environment

Sep 14, 2011

Scientists are beginning to get a picture of the environmental impact of Tropical Storm Irene, which ripped through some of the East Coast's most pristine rivers, triggering hundreds of oil, chemical and sewage spills.

Now, some environmental groups worry that the cleanup could cause even more harm.

Liu Ping's phone is tapped. She's followed by men in black cars. Her electricity was cut off. And she was detained and held incommunicado in a hotel for four days.

Her crime? Trying to run for election to the local People's Congress in her hometown of Xinyu in China's southeastern Jiangxi province.

At an evangelical Christian school in Virginia on Wednesday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry found an audience warmly receptive to his message about his own religious commitment.

Perry, the current front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, visited Liberty University after what some considered a lackluster showing in this week's Tea Party debate in Tampa.

Perry didn't deliver his traditional stump speech: Instead of attacks on President Obama and his GOP challengers, Perry spoke about his inspirations and his personal faith.

"There's a long tradition of people who don't like a particular message turning to attack the person delivering the message," former Vice President Al Gore just said on NPR's Talk of the Nation.

That's why, the 2000 Democratic presidential nominee added, "I view it as an honor, really," to be the target of Republican jabs on the issue of climate change.

As a new Libyan leadership assesses the country's financial condition, there were fears that ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi, his family and his cronies had looted the treasury.

But it now appears much of that wealth remains frozen in foreign accounts, and Libyan bankers say the billions of dollars worth of gold and cash held by the Central Bank remained basically intact throughout the chaos of the revolution.

One of the many rumors and claims was that a convoy of more than 200 Libyan military vehicles had crossed the border into neighboring Niger.

It's not often that a federal health agency gets to toot its horn about its portrayal in a Hollywood thriller. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took full advantage of the opportunity Tuesday, on the heels of the release of Contagion, a feature film about a deadly global pandemic and the public health workers who try to stop it.

A Slow-Motion Bank Run In Europe

Sep 14, 2011

Update: This post was published on Sept. 14. On Sept. 15, the European Central Bank, along with other central banks from around the world, announced a new lending program to fight the slow-motion run on Europe's banks. Here's more on that program.

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