NPR Blogs

The Two-Way
4:34 pm
Wed December 17, 2014

Obama Issues 12 Pardons, Commutes 8 Sentences

President Obama commuted the prison sentences of eight people who were convicted of drug-related crimes Wednesday, in a move that also saw 12 presidential pardons issued, for offenses ranging from theft to running an illegal distillery.

Half of the eight whose sentences were commuted had been sentenced to life imprisonment.

Citing "unduly harsh sentences issued for drug offenses under an outdated sentencing regime," a White House official said Wednesday that all eight of those who were punished for drug offenses "would receive a substantially lower sentence today."

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The Two-Way
4:31 pm
Wed December 17, 2014

Alan Gross' Release: How It Went Down

Alan Gross and his wife, Judy, in Washington on Wednesday after his release from a Cuban prison.
Algerina Perna Baltimore Sun/TNS /Landov

Originally published on Thu December 18, 2014 9:44 am

American Alan Gross had spent more than five years in a Cuban prison, where he lost five teeth, 100 pounds and much of the sight in his right eye. He could barely walk because of chronic pain and was, his wife Judy Gross said in June, "despondent and very hopeless" because he had 10 years to go in his sentence for crimes against the Cuban state. Then, on Tuesday, his lawyer, Scott Gilbert, told him in a phone call that he was going home.

There was a long pause, his spokeswoman Jill Zuckman said today in Washington, and then Gross said, "I'll believe it when I see it."

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Shots - Health News
4:10 pm
Wed December 17, 2014

What Happens After You Get That Mammogram

This graphic lays out the possible outcomes for 10,000 women if they start getting annual screening mammograms at age 50 and continue that for 10 years.
Courtesy of JAMA

Originally published on Thu December 18, 2014 11:50 am

Women and their doctors have a hard time figuring out the pluses and minuses of screening mammograms for breast cancer. It doesn't help that there's been fierce dissent over the benefits of screening mammography for women under 50 and for older women.

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The Two-Way
3:23 pm
Wed December 17, 2014

Sony Cancels Christmas Day Release Of 'The Interview' Amid Threats

Originally published on Fri December 19, 2014 12:32 pm

Updated at 5:10 p.m. ET

Sony Pictures has canceled the Christmas Day release of The Interview, the comedy that centers on a plot to assassinate North Korea's leader. The move came after the largest U.S. movie theater chains said they won't screen the film in the wake of threats against them by a group that also allegedly hacked Sony's internal documents.

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The Two-Way
2:56 pm
Wed December 17, 2014

Alan Gross, U.S. Contractor Freed By Cuba, Says 'It's Good To Be Home'

Alan Gross addresses a news conference in Washington on Wednesday hours after his release from Cuba.
Gary Cameron Reuters /Landov

American Alan Gross, who spent five years in a Cuban prison before his release today as a humanitarian gesture, said "it's good to be home," and that he hoped the U.S. and Cuba move past their "mutually belligerent" policies.

"Two wrongs never made a right," Gross said in Washington shortly after he returned to the U.S. aboard a government plane.

Gross appeared frail but cheerful. Some of his front teeth were missing.

Gross thanked President Obama and his national security team for working toward his freedom.

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The Two-Way
2:32 pm
Wed December 17, 2014

PHOTO: The Meaning In A Phone Call

President Obama speaks with President Raul Castro of Cuba from the Oval Office on Tuesday.
Pete Souza The White House

Originally published on Thu December 18, 2014 8:25 am

On Tuesday, President Obama picked up the phone and talked to Cuban President Raul Castro.

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The Two-Way
1:31 pm
Wed December 17, 2014

Prisoner Exchange With Cuba Led To Freedom For Top U.S. Intelligence Agent

Originally published on Wed December 17, 2014 2:22 pm

Today's announcement that Cuba freed USAID contractor Alan Gross as a humanitarian gesture came with news of a separate prisoner exchange: Three convicted Cuban spies were traded for a U.S. intelligence asset who spent nearly two decades in Cuban prisons.

President Obama called the unnamed man "one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba."

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Shots - Health News
1:30 pm
Wed December 17, 2014

Managed Care Plans Make Progress In Erasing Racial Disparities

A nurse checks a man's blood pressure during a health clinic In Los Angeles.
Patrick Fallon Bloomberg via Getty Images

Originally published on Wed December 17, 2014 4:25 pm

Years of efforts to reduce the racial disparities in health care have so far failed to eliminate them. But progress is being made in the western United States, due largely to efforts by managed care plans to identify patients who were missing out on management of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

While management of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar improved nationwide, African-Americans still "substantially" trailed whites everywhere except the western U.S., an area from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific as well as Alaska and Hawaii.

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The Two-Way
1:26 pm
Wed December 17, 2014

New Cuba Policy Is Met With Cheers And Jeers On Both Sides Of The Aisle

Originally published on Wed December 17, 2014 3:46 pm

Updated at 3:42 p.m.

The Obama administration announced today that it would begin the process of re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba.

It's a contentious issue, and reaction has been swift. Here's a roundup:

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The Salt
1:13 pm
Wed December 17, 2014

A Holy Land Christmas Porridge Honors A Damsel In Distress

In Jerusalem, Syrian Orthodox Christian Nadia Ishaq prepares her burbara porridge with boiled what kernels, raisins, dried plums and dried apricots, topped with ground coconut in the shape of a cross. The holiday honors St. Barbara, an early convert to Christianity whose story is echoed in the Rapunzel tale.
Daniella Cheslow for NPR

Originally published on Thu December 18, 2014 4:19 pm

The winter holidays are a time of abundance, but for Christians in the Middle East, the official start of the Christmas season is marked by a decidedly rustic dish: porridge.

Archbishop Swerios Murad of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem says his congregation will eat boiled wheat kernels this week to mark the Feast of St. Barbara, or Eid el-Burbara in Arabic.

"It's a simple porridge," Murad tells The Salt, "but it's very important that it be sweet."

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The Two-Way
1:01 pm
Wed December 17, 2014

Book News: Sci-Fi Writer Signs On As 'Chief Futurist' For Secretive Startup

In a blog post, Neal Stephenson says it's time that people develop a new medium, "one in which three-dimensionality is a reality and not just an illusion laboriously cooked up by your brain."
Madeleine Ball NPR

It seems we have a new case of life following art. Over two decades ago, in his seminal novel Snow Crash, science fiction author Neal Stephenson imagined a virtual world he called a "metaverse," a collective virtual reality that brought its users together in a single shared space. Now, Stephenson is trying his hand at helping sculpt another kind of alternate reality--this time not in print, but in life at large.

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Shots - Health News
12:06 pm
Wed December 17, 2014

Behind The Scenes At The Lab That Fingerprints Microbiomes

Rob Knight, co-founder of the American Gut Project at the University of Colorado in Boulder, works in the lab where the samples are processed.
The American Gut Project

Originally published on Thu December 18, 2014 5:32 pm

The gut microbiome may soon reveal important answers to questions about our health. But those answers aren't yet easy to spot or quick to obtain.

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The Salt
11:52 am
Wed December 17, 2014

Way Beyond Brownies: Vice Launches A Marijuana Cooking Show

Aurora Leveroni, 91, is also known as "Nonna Marijuana."
Vice

Originally published on Fri December 19, 2014 2:32 pm

On Sunday, my mother sent me an email: "OMG! Watch this unbelievable cooking show!"

It wasn't spam, and my mother, who's 65, does not use OMG lightly.

The fuss was over a 20-minute video about a 91-year-old grandmother who cooks Italian classics in marijuana-infused butter.

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The Two-Way
11:05 am
Wed December 17, 2014

Polls Show Cuban-American Views On U.S.-Cuba Relations Are Nuanced

Men play chess at the Maximo Gomez Domino park in Little Havana in Miami, where political opinions are shifting.
Roberto Schmidt AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed December 17, 2014 12:07 pm

With news that the United States will work toward re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba and easing the embargo, there is already talk about the reaction in the Cuban-American community.

In political terms, this is a major voting bloc in the hugely important swing state of Florida.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
10:37 am
Wed December 17, 2014

Black Holes And Our Cosmic Future

iStockphoto

Originally published on Thu December 18, 2014 10:06 am

With the movies Interstellar and The Theory of Everything out, black holes are in the news, exciting people's imagination.

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