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In The Faithful Scribe, Shahan Mufti examines the history of Pakistan and its relationship to the United States. He also explores how his own family story is part of the tumultuous story of the world's first Islamic democracy.

"A huge impetus for me in writing this book was actually being on both sides of this present conflict, where America is involved in this war in Afghanistan," Mufti tells NPR's Arun Rath. "As we know, the place of Pakistan in this conflict is very dubious and questionable."

Mufti talks about balancing his Pakistani and American identities and the challenges of U.S.-Pakistan relations.

The seventh Broadway production of Tennessee Williams' great American play The Glass Menagerie has just opened at the Booth Theatre in New York City for a 17-week run.

John Tiffany, who previously staged the Tony-winning smash Once and the stirringly kinetic Iraq War drama Black Watch, directed the new production, whose cast includes the formidable actress Cherry Jones as the suffocating matriarch Amanda, plus film, TV and stage star Zachary Quinto as her son Tom and Celia Keenan-Bolger, a Tony nominee for Peter and the Starcatcher, as her physically disabled and emotionally damaged daughter, Laura.

The same cast had a tryout run last spring at the American Repertory Theatre in Boston, where they earned rave reviews. Barbara Chai of The Wall Street Journal has already seen the show — and toured the set, a minimalist rendering of a St. Louis apartment living room, circa 1937. Chai tells NPR's Scott Simon that it's pretty squarely in the spirit of what Williams would've wanted to see.

Born in 1963, a year which saw nationwide crop failures and hunger, in a country that spanned "one sixth of the measured world, eleven time zones, fifteen ethnic republics" and "a population of nearly 300 million by the empire's end," Bremzen imbibes the "complicated, even tortured, relationship with food" that marks the "national character." As she describes her childhood wanderings around Moscow in the early 1970s, an image emerges of a curious, adventurous girl, a youthful wanderer longing for new tastes and experiences.

The city comes alive as the young Bremzen walks the streets in search of the family's Sunday treat, buys birch-tree juice, establishes strategic friendships with vendors who dabble in the black market, learns to press on bread to establish its freshness and mimics the necessary ritual toasts to accompany vodka drinking with her grandmother (who, it must be said, serves her granddaughter limonad during these lessons).

Years later, now established as citizens of Queens, the author and her mother, the indomitable Larissa, embark on a mission to cook banquets commemorating decades of Soviet life from the last Czar to the Putin era. These are feasts of celebration and lament — inspired equally by the longing they feel for their home and their relief to be away from it.

They re-create iconic dishes for family and friends, dishes they remember and those they remember reading or being told of. Among these memorable meals, one in particular stands out, the re-creation of a kulebiaka as described in a book the author is given for her 10th birthday: "his kulebiaka was a twelve-tiered skyscraper, starting with the ground floor of burbot liver and topped with layers of fish, meat, game, mushrooms, and rice, all wrapped in dough, up, up, up to a penthouse of calf's brains in brown butter."

Along with such pre-revolutionary decadence the text is interspersed with re-creations of meals recalling the austerity of the 1920s and the crowded kitchens of the Soviet republic through to the expensive haute cuisine of the bling-obsessed Putin era. There is the myth of abundance of the Stalin years and folk memories of sausages and ice lollies: "a pink slice of kolbasa on a slab of dark bread, Eskimo on a stick at a fair — in the era of terror these small tokens had an existential savor."

It's a clever, elegant structure that allows the author to write a history of the country of her birth, with stories of her family — her grandfather the spy; her blousy, much-adored vodka-swilling grandmother; her handsome but irresponsible father; and, most of all, her constant sidekick and food enthusiast mother, a lifelong refusnik. Seen through the lenses of family and food, intimate details of seismic historical events are offered up — a banquet of anecdote that brings an entire history to life with intimacy, candor and glorious color.

The Salt

Kitchen Time Machine: A Culinary Romp Through Soviet History


Two former U.S. Army sergeants are among those facing charges in connection with an alleged internationals squad after their extradition from Thailand in a case the prosecuting U.S. Attorney says reads like a Tom Clancy novel.

Joseph Manuel Hunter, 48, nicknamed "Rambo," was arrested by Thai authorities after a sting operation led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, along with Timothy Vamvakias and at least three others on the resort island of Phuket on Thursday.

Vamvakias, and alleged accomplices Dennis Gogel and Michael Filter are from Germany, according to The Associated Press. Another alleged accomplice, Slawomir Soborski, is from Poland. All are former soldiers, according to the charges filed in New York.

Hunter, who was a sergeant first class when he left the Army, had served as an air-assault and airborne-infantry squad leader, as a sniper instructor and drill sergeant, the charges say. Vamvakias, attained the rank of sergeant after having served in South Korea and Puerto Rico. Both left the Army in 2004.

Since then, the charging documents say, "Hunter has acted as a 'contract killer'; for pay, he has succeeded in arranging for the murder of a number of people."

The charges say the defendants "joined a conspiracy to import large volumes of cocaine into the United States. As part of this conspiracy, the defendants put their military skills to use."

In a statement, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called the alleged plot "bone chilling" and said the "indictment read like they were ripped from the pages of a Tom Clancy novel."

"The charges tell a tale of an international band of mercenary marksmen who enlisted their elite military training to serve as hired guns for evil ends," Bharara said.

Informants working for the DEA posed as Colombian cartel members purporting to hire Hunter and two others for $700,000 for two killings. Hunter was to get an additional $100,000 "for his leadership role," according to the indictment.

The AP says:

"In late 2012, according to the indictment, Hunter 'collected resumes via email for prospective members of the security team.'"

"Hunter told the informants that 'he himself had previously done "bonus jobs" ' — code for contract killings, and that his team 'wanted to do as much "bonus work" as possible,' according to the indictment."

"Hunter and his accomplices were "willing and eager to take cold hard cash to commit the cold-blooded murders of a DEA agent and an informant," Bharara said. 'Thanks to the determined, skillful and intrepid efforts of the DEA's Special Operations Division, an international hit team has been neutralized by agents working on four continents.'"

Thursday's highlights (and lowlights):

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid raised the possibility that the Senate might be able to finish its work on the budget bill by the end of the day, sending it to the House sooner rather later. If Republicans went along, that would give the House more time to act to avert a government shutdown next week.

Perhaps predictably, Republicans didn't go along. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, in particular.

After Reid asked for unanimous consent to accelerate the process so the Senate could vote Thursday, Lee and Cruz got into a rhetorical knife fight with fellow Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. It was the Senate GOP civil war breaking out into the open.

Corker accused Lee and Cruz of wanting to delay the vote until Friday because they had sent out news releases to their Tea Party supporters to expect "a show" on Friday — and a Thursday evening vote would ruin their plans. Cruz and Lee didn't deny it.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats and House Republicans showed themselves no closer to a compromise to keep the federal government funded past Monday.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was asked if Republicans controlling the House would accept from the Senate a so-called "clean" continuing resolution to fund the government — one stripped of House language to defund Obamacare.

"I don't, I do not see that happening," Boehner told reporters.

At a news conference on the other side of the Capitol, Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, said: "We want a clean CR. That's what we're going to get."

Turning to a flat-screen TV that was being used as a shutdown clock, Reid said: "If they want to shut down the government, here's how much time they have to figure it out: 4 days, 11 hours, 22 minutes and 15 seconds."

House Republicans also unveiled a number of items they hope to trade Democrats for next month when Congress turns to a debt-ceiling increase. Among House requests: a one-year delay in implementing Obamacare. Asked if Democrats would accept that, Reid simply said, "No."

Adding to the gloom, Reid said he and Boehner haven't talked at all in recent days.

For his part, President Obama sounded as adamant as everyone else. He told an audience at a Largo, Md., event, about Republican efforts to halt Obamacare: "That's not going to happen as long as I'm president. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay."

What's next?

Reid says the Senate should vote on the spending legislation Friday.

First, the Senate will take a vote to end the current period of debate. Assuming that gets the needed 60 votes, which now seems likely, the Senate would proceed to debate the actual House continuing resolution. At least 60 senators also would have to agree to end debate on the spending bill.

Senate Democrats will substitute the House's continuing resolution with an amendment that removes the Obamacare defunding language. That would require only 51 votes, which Senate Democrats should have no trouble getting. The Senate could then get the spending bill back to the House late Friday.

Also on Friday, and in the other wing of the Capitol, the House will take up its debt-ceiling bill, which is expected to emerge from the Rules Committee late Thursday. The House is expected to pass that measure sometime Friday.

The one unmovable thing is the deadline to avoid a shutdown; that's midnight Monday, the end of the month.

The showdown over a possible government shutdown is still going on, but already some Republicans are thinking about the next big battle on the horizon — the debt ceiling.

On Thursday, the House GOP's wish list of demands in return for raising the government's debt limit went public.

Here's a look at a list of what Republicans want, drawn from an outline of the GOP's debt-ceiling bill obtained by National Review. It's just a preliminary document, still subject to discussion and not even agreed on by all House Republicans, but it provides a useful guide to GOP thinking at the moment.

'One Year Debt Limit Increase'

House Republicans don't want to raise the debt limit from its current $16.7 trillion to a new dollar figure. Rather, they would just suspend enforcement of the limit until December 2014. (Congress did something similar back in January.) Why one year? Because they want it to line up with the next item on their list.

'One Year Obamacare delay'

Republicans say implementation of the health law's major provisions — including the individual mandate requiring most people to buy health insurance — needs to be pushed back because the system isn't ready. As evidence, they point to President Obama's decision earlier this year to delay for a year the requirement that all large employers provide insurance. (A year-long delay could also give them more time to try to get rid of the law.)

'Tax Reform Instructions'

As part of the debt-ceiling deal, Republicans want to lay out "what tax reform should look like." They say this outline would be similar to a bill they passed last year, which was based on the principles of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan's budget. They would also "fast track" the tax legislation so it would be subject to special time-saving rules.

'Energy provisions'

Keystone XL pipeline construction: The proposal, which Republicans have been pushing for years despite the concerns of environmentalists, would complete the Keystone pipeline to transport crude oil to the U.S. from Alberta, Canada.

Coal ash regulations: The House passed a bill in July that would give states more authority to determine how they dispose of the ash produced from burning coal, thus limiting the power of the Environmental Protection Agency.

EPA carbon regulations: Republicans want to prevent the EPA's new carbon-dioxide emission regulations on all future coal and natural gas power plants.

Offshore drilling: Republicans would like to expand offshore drilling on the coasts of California, Virginia and South Carolina.

The GOP is also focused on greater energy production on federal lands.

'Regulatory reforms'

REINS Act: Implementation of the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act would require Congress to approve any federal regulation that has an annual economic impact of $100 million or more.

Block net neutrality: Republicans want to overturn the Federal Communications Commission's regulations that prevent internet service providers from discriminating in favor of or against other websites and content providers.

'Mandatory Spending Reforms'

These changes, the House document says, would be "mostly from the sequester replacement bills we passed last year." They would include overhauling the retirement program for federal employees, changing the funding rules for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and adjusting the rules governing the child tax credit. Republicans also want to repeal the Social Services Block Grant, which gives federal money to states for things like daycare and services for people with disabilities.

'Health Spending Reforms'

Republicans are looking to make some modifications to entitlement programs — including making the wealthy pay more under Medicare (something Obama has also suggested) and ending a "gimmick" that allows states to get more Medicaid dollars from the federal government. They also want limits on malpractice lawsuits; changes to a program that gives money to hospitals that serve a disproportionate number of low-income patients; and to get rid of a piece of Obamacare that funds preventive care.

Is the GOP still the "party of business"?

With the party's long-standing and ongoing push for lower taxes and fewer regulations — both in Washington and in state legislatures — Republicans can reasonably make that claim.

Yet some of the congressional Republican rhetoric in the battle over a continuing resolution, the debt ceiling and defunding Obamacare makes it clear that there's a significant amount of tension between the party and the business community.

Much of the strong language comes from the Tea Party and its friends on Capitol Hill.

In his 21-hour marathon speech in the Senate this week, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas spoke of the need to listen to the little guy rather than the CEOs and titans of business.

At a recent rally on the Capitol grounds, Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee decried the exemptions big business has gotten from the White House on Obamacare — lumping that group in with what he calls the president's "cronies." He was cheered when he asked the crowd, "Is that fair?"

The Tea Party crowd answered with a resounding "Noooooo!"

And it's not just this particular summer of discontent that has driven this narrative.

Conservative voices in the party have been grumbling about big business since the law known as TARP — passed in late 2008 in response to the mortgage crisis — was signed by President Bush with strong backing from Wall Street and the business community.

Then came the auto industry bailout. More GOP outrage.

Toss in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's calls for passage of comprehensive immigration reform, and it's easy to forget that the GOP and big business have long been close allies.

Last week the chamber sent a letter to members of the Republican-controlled House, urging them not to flirt with a government shutdown. The correspondence warned that such threats, combined with the talk of not raising the debt ceiling later this month, could trigger disruptive consequences for an economy that's already underperforming.

"I like to deal in reality," says Bruce Josten, the business group's top government affairs officer.

That reality, he explains, is the need to deal with things like entitlement reform, fixing the immigration system and protecting the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.

As for the politics of all of this, Jack Pitney of Claremont McKenna College says Republican members of Congress come mostly from safe GOP districts — which means they are worried about pleasing the activist voices in their party.

Right now, that often means the Tea Party. Pitney says the debate over defunding Obamacare indicates that the activists, and not the business community, have captured the attention of GOP officeholders.

Against that backdrop, the chamber hosted an event at its Washington headquarters this week. The keynote speaker was former Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Asked about the battles this week in Congress, Daniels, who is now president of Purdue University, says he hopes the parties get past this current skirmish.

A budget needs to be passed and a shutdown should be averted, he says. Further, Daniels called the Chamber of Commerce an important institutional voice — one that he hopes it will use more loudly.

After the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus that reportedly killed more than 1,000 people and has been blamed on Bashar Assad's regime, the Syrian president's ambassador to the U.N. claimed that opposition forces had used such weapons at least three times in the days immediately after.

As Russia's RT.com reported on Aug. 28:

"Ambassador Bashar Jaafari said he had requested of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the team of experts currently in Damascus investigating an alleged use of chemical weapons last week also investigate ... other attacks.

The attacks took place on August 22, 24 and 25 in Jobar, Sahnaya, and al-Bahariya, Jaafari told journalists Wednesday. The 'militants' used toxic chemical gas against the Syrian army, the diplomat said."

A Texan known for talking is making news again.

And it's not Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis, whose June filibuster of a Texas abortion bill gained her national headlines, is reportedly running for governor. The Los Angeles Times, citing Democratic sources, says Davis will announce her candidacy next week.

Davis, 50, hopes to succeed Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who is retiring at the end of his third term. If she gets the Democratic nomination, Davis would likely face Republican Greg Abbott, the state attorney general.

Davis' chances in red Texas are still to be seen. The New York Times, which also cited Democratic sources in reporting that Davis would run, put it this way:

"Ms. Davis's decision has the potential to turn the race to determine Gov. Rick Perry's successor into a rare competitive showdown between long-suffering Texas Democrats and the Republican conservatives who have ruled state politics for decades. She would enter the race as a substantial underdog, but her candidacy would represent the most serious challenge to the Republican lock on the office. Two Republicans, Mr. Perry and George W. Bush, have held the office since the party began its winning streak in governor's races in 1994, with Mr. Bush's victory over the incumbent, Ann W. Richards."

Two high-profile Texans are fighting the Affordable Care Act.

Gov. Rick Perry has loudly dismissed the law, and fellow Republican Sen. Ted Cruz took to the Senate floor this week to rail against it at length — 21 hours and 19 minutes to be exact.

On the other side of the issue, you have Rosy Mota and her clipboard, standing at the door of a CVS pharmacy in one of Houston's Latino neighborhoods, stopping shoppers.

"Hello, would you like a brochure about the new health care coverage that's coming into effect? We'll be here if you have any questions," she tells a customer.

Mota works for Enroll America, a national organization that has borrowed its tactics from the Obama re-election campaign. The group has combined sophisticated data-mining techniques and digital maps to figure out where the uninsured in Houston live, down to the block and house level.

Enroll America has just seven workers for Houston's 800,000 uninsured residents. But the it is part of a coalition of organizations that includes the city health department, the county's public clinics and groups like the Urban League. They're all trying to get the word out about health insurance marketplaces and help the uninsured buy coverage made possible by the health law. The exchanges are scheduled to open Oct. 1.

"Regardless of whether you are for the Affordable Care Act or you're against the Affordable Care Act, we're not looking at it that way," says Houston health official Benjamin Hernandez. "We're saying that, from a public health perspective, getting people insured and getting them into the system is a good thing to do."

The state of Texas is not providing any money or staff to help people sign up. So the city is using federal money funneled through the United Way and also tapping its own resources.

In fact, it considers the project so important that it's using the same command-and-control structure that it uses during hurricanes. Instead of shelters and relief centers, the city is compiling a list of block parties, church events and festivals where people can learn about how to sign up for Obamacare.

In addition to uninsured whites, black and Latinos, Houston has large populations of immigrants from Vietnam, China and South Asia. Last week Asian-American health advocates met with the city health director and a Medicare official. They shared concerns about people's lack of information and trouble finding interpreters.

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'How Much Will Obamacare Cost Me?' Try Our Calculator

Things were better in the old days.

Lots of people feel that way — particularly when the current state of politics inspires such despair. Maybe for that reason, former officeholders are much in demand these days.

In Philadelphia, there's a move afoot to draft Ed Rendell, a former Democratic mayor and governor, to run for mayor again after 13 years' absence from City Hall. Three states already have repeat governors who had previously been out of office an average of 16 years.

In many places, it's been out with the new and in with the old.

"They just said, enough of this nonsense that's going on over there," says Ron Erhardt, one of a dozen state legislators in Minnesota who were re-elected last fall after spending some time out of office. "We're a better state than is being pushed around by these folks who are getting nothing done."

It's not a huge trend. Not all former politicians are seen as sages more capable than the current incumbents.

But plenty of people are open to the idea that the old guys and gals might have had better ideas about how to run things than the elected officials who are currently messing things up.

"With all the recent talk of shutdowns, fiscal cliffs and debt ceilings, and the general sense that our politics are broken or dysfunctional, people are longing for a time when politics seemed to work and politicians seemed to get things done," says Lara Brown, program director of the public management program at George Washington University.

Prepared For Comebacks

California Democrat Jerry Brown was elected to a third term as governor of California in 2010. His second term had ended back in 1983.

He's now seen as easily the dominant figure in state politics, getting nearly everything he wants from the Legislature and helping to put the state's finances back into some kind of order.

"Sometimes public officials actually learn from their previous mistakes, as I think is the case with Jerry Brown," says Stanford University political scientist Bruce Cain.

Brown was one of five former governors trying to win back their old jobs in 2010. Two others also won: Republican Terry Branstad of Iowa and Democrat John Kitzhaber of Oregon.

All three now appear to be safe bets for re-election next year, benefiting from the lack of political bench strength in their states.

"Part of what goes on with these cases is just simple name recognition, which is a very big resource for any politician who has it," says Bill Lunch, a political scientist at Oregon State University.

That may be why Florida Democrats appear willing to nominate former Gov. Charlie Crist for another term. He governed as a Republican, ran for Senate in 2010 as an independent, and has since discovered his inner Democrat.

Experience Matters

Name recognition is one reason dynasties have always been a part of American politics, from the Adams family to the Bush presidencies.

"You can't bring back Bill Clinton, so his wife is the next best thing," says David Crockett, a political scientist at Trinity University in San Antonio.

But in many cases, people are holding out for the original — not a relative, but the specific person who has held the job before.

Part of this may be nostalgia for their former tenure. If times were good on their watch, why not let them take control again?

Not many Californians, however, remember much about how Brown governed back in the 1970s, Stanford's Cain says. Instead, they were attracted by the fact that he had plenty of experience, as governor and in a number of other political roles since.

"Nostalgia did not factor into Jerry Brown's election as much as a reaction to his predecessor" — the Republican movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger — "who had to learn politics on the job," Cain says. "There is a tendency in politics to cycle back and forth between new people who promise new approaches, and old, steady hands."

No Longer LBJ's Town

That might be what's driving political nostalgia in Washington. Barack Obama was elected president with less experience than any of his modern predecessors.

Obama's not the only relative newbie.

As the current Congress got underway in January, 36 percent of the House members were either freshmen or sophomores. (Eight House members had just been re-elected after spending at least a couple of years out of office.)

Thirty senators had served no more than two years in the chamber. At the state level, lack of on-the-job experience is even more pronounced.

After voting in so many newcomers and outsiders who haven't been able to agree on much, there's been a lot of pining for old-timers who knew how to get things done. There have been endless evocations during Obama's tenure of Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan being able to get along in the 1980s when they served, respectively, as the Democratic House speaker and GOP president.

Obama has also frequently been compared unfavorably with the wheeling and dealing demonstrated by Democratic President Lyndon Johnson, who managed to push through any number of landmark bills during the 1960s, including the Voting Rights Act and the creation of Medicare.

Bring Back The Old Band

But times have changed. If you brought back LBJ — or Reagan or Clinton — they would find that making deals and winning votes from the opposition party is practically impossible just now.

"When Johnson was president, it wasn't arm-twisting that produced legislation," says Thomas Mann, a congressional scholar at the Brookings Institution. "He had [Senate GOP leader Everett] Dirksen and half of the Republican Party willing to work with him. The parties are tribalistic now."

The very fact that times and circumstances have changed, however, explains why some voters might want to try to turn back the clock and give retreads another spin.

"The tenor of American politics is very polarized, and that makes politicians look pathologically incapable," says Crockett, who has studied restoration politics. "We look back and imagine there was a time when things looked better, so why not bring back the people who ran things then."


With upwards of 650 movies out in an average year, there's no way NPR's critics are gonna write full-on reviews of everything we see. But we thought we'd take a stab at doing short takes on some of the notable things that didn't quite make the cut. If it sticks, we'll call 'em Clip Jobs. Let us know what you think.

When The 'Meatballs' Are Tasty, Hollywood Dishes Up More

We could discuss the mechanics of comedy, or the work that goes into crafting a good animated sight gag, or the perilous course a team of filmmakers must navigate when they set out to make a sequel to a hit that's inspired as much affection as Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.

Or we could just acknowledge that Meatballs 2, out today, is a film that involves watermelephants.

I said watermelephants:

Good morning, fellow political junkies.Today finds the Senate in continued debate aimed at reaching a legislative agreement that keeps the federal government open into the new fiscal year which starts Oct. 1.

Meanwhile, there seems to be a growing mood among congressional Republicans to test President Obama's resolve to not negotiate over raising the debt ceiling in a few weeks.

Here are some interesting political items or themes that caught my eye this morning.

Trying to buy more time before a federal government shutdown that could happen October 1 without a budget deal, some lawmakers are raising the prospect of a one-week spending bill, writes The Hill's Alexander Bolton. One downside is it would force the crisis over how to keep the government open one week closer to the crisis over raising the debt ceiling which the Obama administration now says must be accomplished by mid-October. .

Republicans are coalescing around an idea to shift the Obamacare fight to the debt-ceiling debate, while Democrats, for their part, are united in their position that Republican attempts to link conditions to raising the same debt ceiling are a non-starter, report Manu Raju, Jake Sherman and Ginger Gibson of Politico.

Sen. Ted Cruz may have won over many grassroots conservatives with his 21-hour anti-Obamacare Senate talkathon, but many of his Republican colleagues view him as selfish, divisive and counterproductive, and that's only for starters, writes Jeremy Peters in the New York Times. Meanwhile, Los Angeles Times' cartoonist columnist David Horsey has a fairly withering Cruz commentary.

Former president George H.W. Bush served as the official witness at the wedding of two long-time friends in Maine where same-sex marriage was legalized in December, as my NPR colleague Mark Memmott reports.

Lawmakers are seeking to extend a visa program for Iraqi interpreters, perhaps adding it to the continuing resolution to keep the government operating into the new fiscal year, reports The Hill's Jeremy Herb. That brought to mind a recent story by NPR's Quil Lawrence on the plight of the Afghan translator whose U.S. visa was delayed despite the best efforts by a U.S. soldier who owes him his life.

Alan Simpson, the wise-cracking former Republican senator from Wyoming, is known for speaking his mind. One person who apparently had heard just about enough from him was Lynne Cheney, wife of former vice president Dick Cheney. Simpson reports she told him to "shut up" at a Wyoming social event, reports Laura Hancock of the Star Tribune.

Staying on the wild-west theme, the Center for Public Integrity's Michael Beckel provides a good reminder that not all is as it seems in the sometimes untamed world of online political fundraising. His "Hucksters for Hillary" report shows how easy it is for someone to misuse a famous politician's name to try to raise money from the public without any apparent link to the politician's campaign.

So that happened. Comedian Dan Nainan allegedly punched journalist Josh Rogin in the face, twice, in an apparent reaction to critical tweets by the journalist about the comic's stand-up routine at a charity event at a DC comedy club. Rogin tweeted about the alleged attack in real (presumably painful) time and Huffpo threw together a short post.

Authorities in western China apparently wanted to make an example of 16-year-old Yang Hui.

He was the first person in China to be arrested under a new rule against "rumor mongers," defined as people who intentionally post a rumor that is reposted 500 times or viewed 5,000 times.

But the government's case collapsed, the boy was released, and the local police chief was suspended after allegations that he bribed a local official (a coincidence, the China Daily reported).

Many governments have taken measures to censor or restrict the Internet and social media, a topic we've written about often at Parallels. The Chinese in particular go to great lengths. But some observers are now wondering whether the new Chinese rules can be effectively implemented or are just an invitation for officials to abuse their powers and curtail citizens' rights.

Yang Hui attends junior high school in Gansu province and lives with his grandfather. On Sept. 12, three days after the new rule was issued, a karaoke parlor employee was found dead on the street in Yang's hometown.

The dead man's family refused to give his body to the police for an autopsy. The police confiscated the corpse and ruled the employee had committed suicide by jumping off a building.

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Jordan Accused Of Targeting Online Dissent

A satellite cellphone rings for rebel commander Bashar al-Zawi, at home with his family in the Jordanian city of Irbid. It's a rare domestic break for this wealthy businessman turned rebel commander. But he is anxious to get back to his battalion of 5,000 fighters in southern Syria.

They are taking part in a rebel offensive that is squeezing the Syrian army around the city of Dera'a. Military analysts say the fight is one of the most strategically important battles in Syria's civil war, because Dera'a, close to Damascus, is President Bashar Assad's stronghold in the southwest.

What are Zawi's aims when he returns to Dera'a later that night? "Escalation. I'm a leader of a brigade — so my job is not to preach peace," he says with a laugh.

Syrian opposition leaders were deeply disappointed by President Obama's decision to call off threatened military strikes in favor of diplomacy after the Syrian government allegedly used chemical weapons against its own people.

And on the ground in southern Syria, rebel commanders say U.S. promises of lethal aid appear to be on hold as Washington pursues a diplomatic track.

But Zawi shrugs off disappointment with the most recent U.S. policy shift. He is focused on the fight for Dera'a, where, he says, months of quiet preparation have paid off.

Rebel sources say earlier this year Saudi Arabia stepped up arms shipments through Jordan; the CIA vetted the rebel groups that received the arms to make sure none went to Islamist extremists. Zawi says there are no extremists in the south.

"There is a good command between the groups, and hopefully, we will be successful, but there is a shortage of ammunition," he says.

And that's where Zawi and other commanders see a link between the U.S. turn to diplomacy and waning U.S. support for rebels on the ground. The pipeline of weapons, ammunition and nonlethal aid pledged by the U.S. has slowed in recent weeks, just as rebels were inching closer to regime-controlled Dera'a. America's focus, says Zawi, has shifted to destroying chemical weapons, while the rebels insist on destroying the regime.

Enlarge image i

An initiative in Los Angeles County is trying to help the homeless by first connecting them with a place to live. The "housing first" model has been used in cities across the country in recent years to combat long-term homelessness.

In L.A. County, the Home For Good project focuses on those who are most at risk, aiming to end chronic homelessness in the area by 2016. Homeless-services providers are gathering information about the population and ranking individuals' vulnerability. Then, the goal is to move the most in need into permanent housing, quickly.

Research has shown that the "housing first" model can save money by keeping the chronically homeless out of emergency rooms, jails and shelters.

The approach has its critics, though, even among advocates. They argue that devoting so many resources to this subpopulation isn't helping to reduce overall homelessness.

Help On The Streets

AmeriCorps members Robert Harper and Charles Miller make daily rounds on Los Angeles' Skid Row, to seek out the most vulnerable people living on the streets. They work with other agencies to find them a permanent place to live — and they try to do it fast, Harper says.

"A person is out here about to die and you tell them, 'Sign a waitlist and wait for a year'? Come on, now," he says. "We're known as the 90-day people."

On a recent day, they visit Billy Ray West, who had agreed to meet them at a nearby fast food joint. West, 53, is an alcoholic and has lived on the streets for more than 30 years. If they can help him track down his birth certificate, he'll be under a roof within the next few months, no strings attached.

West is what these agencies would call "chronically homeless:" people who have been living on the streets for an extended period of time and may suffer from a disabling condition. They make up a quarter of L.A. County's homeless population but use three-quarters of its homeless resources, according to the United Way.

Before meeting Harper and Miller, West says, he hadn't received much help on Skid Row. But he says that's on him. "You know, I've just really been too damn lazy, just sitting ... around doing nothing. You know, just drinking all day," he says. "That's basically my fault, because I wasn't doing nothing to help myself."

Cross-Agency Collaboration

The Two-Way

$64,000 Raised So Far For Homeless Man Who Turned In $42,000

An initiative in Los Angeles County is trying to help the homeless by first connecting them with a place to live. The "housing first" model has been used in cities across the country in recent years to combat long-term homelessness.

In L.A. County, the Home For Good project focuses on those who are most at risk, aiming to end chronic homelessness in the area by 2016. Homeless-services providers are gathering information about the population and ranking individuals' vulnerability. Then, the goal is to move the most in need into permanent housing, quickly.

Research has shown that the "housing first" model can save money by keeping the chronically homeless out of emergency rooms, jails and shelters.

The approach has its critics, though, even among advocates. They argue that devoting so many resources to this subpopulation isn't helping to reduce overall homelessness.

Help On The Streets

AmeriCorps members Robert Harper and Charles Miller make daily rounds on Los Angeles' Skid Row, to seek out the most vulnerable people living on the streets. They work with other agencies to find them a permanent place to live — and they try to do it fast, Harper says.

"A person is out here about to die and you tell them, 'Sign a waitlist and wait for a year'? Come on, now," he says. "We're known as the 90-day people."

On a recent day, they visit Billy Ray West, who had agreed to meet them at a nearby fast food joint. West, 53, is an alcoholic and has lived on the streets for more than 30 years. If they can help him track down his birth certificate, he'll be under a roof within the next few months, no strings attached.

West is what these agencies would call "chronically homeless:" people who have been living on the streets for an extended period of time and may suffer from a disabling condition. They make up a quarter of L.A. County's homeless population but use three-quarters of its homeless resources, according to the United Way.

Before meeting Harper and Miller, West says, he hadn't received much help on Skid Row. But he says that's on him. "You know, I've just really been too damn lazy, just sitting ... around doing nothing. You know, just drinking all day," he says. "That's basically my fault, because I wasn't doing nothing to help myself."

Cross-Agency Collaboration

The Two-Way

$64,000 Raised So Far For Homeless Man Who Turned In $42,000


Circumstance might have led R&B musicians Syleena Johnson and Musiq Soulchild to meet, but it was chemistry that got them to record an entire album together. They sat down recently with Tell Me More host Michel Martin, and talked about the spontaneity of the project and the emotional underpinnings beneath the surface.

Interview Highlights

Sometimes we at Parallels see a story that's so compelling, we make an extra effort to chase down the facts. So it's in that spirit, this story from Reuters caught our attention:

"Strong beer, with alcohol content of 5-8 percent, accounted for 83 percent of all beer sold in India last year, according to research firm Mintel, a figure industry players say is the biggest strong beer share of any major market. Brewers expect that to grow to 90 percent over the next three to five years."

On a gorgeous night, some 4,000 people, dressed all in white, have come to dine in a public, yet secret place in New York's Bryant Park.

They have come for Diner en Blanc, an unusual pop-up event that takes place in 20 countries. The guests eat in splendor at a location they only learn about minutes before they arrive. The thousands wave white napkins to signal the beginning of the event.

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Here's a quick look at where things stand in Nairobi, where terrorists claiming to be part of the Somalia-based al-Shabab organization attacked a shopping mall on Saturday and then kept security forces at bay until late in the day on Tuesday:

— Deaths. The official count remains where it was as of Tuesday evening in Nairobi, when President Uhuru Kenyatta said there had been 61 civilians, 6 security officers and 5 terrorists killed.

— But Could More Be Dead? Kenyan Interior Minister Ole Lenku told reporters Wednesday that he believes any bodies left in the rubble of the Westgate Mall are those of terrorists, not civilians.

At the other end of the spectrum, The Associated Press says, "in a series of tweets from a Twitter account believed to be genuine," someone claiming to represent al-Shabab said there were 137 dead civilians in the wreckage of the mall. Government spokesman Manoah Esipisu told the AP that al-Shabab "is known for wild allegations and there is absolutely no truth to what they're saying."

— Search, Investigation Continue. "Investigators and bomb-disposal experts on Wednesday began sifting through the wreckage of an upscale shopping mall here in an effort to recover bodies and learn more about the Islamist militants," The Washington Post writes.

— U.S., Britain And Israel Assist. Manoah Esipisu, the government spokesman, "told reporters on Wednesday that specialists from the Federal Bureau of Investigation were involved in the forensic investigation," The New York Times reports. "Israeli and British experts were also on the scene. The forensic examinations would help to determine the nationalities and identities of the militants as well as the victims."

— British Woman Involved? "It was unclear whether intelligence reports of American or British gunmen would be confirmed," Reuters writes. "Al-Shabab denied that any women took part, after British sources said the fugitive widow of one of the 2005 London suicide bombers might have some role." President Kenyatta said Tuesday that 11 terrorists had been taken into custody.

— Americans Involved? "U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on Wednesday there had been no verification that Americans were involved in a deadly attack at a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya," Reuters says.

— Questions. From Nairobi, NPR's Gregory Warner reports that "as Kenya began three days of national mourning, questions swirled about why Kenyan authorities took so long to respond to the crisis, whether some terrorists had escaped with fleeing shoppers, and who exactly were the terrorists involved."

We'll update as more news comes in.

From vacant lots to vertical "pinkhouses," urban farmers are scouring cities for spaces to grow food. But their options vary widely from place to place.

While farmers in post-industrial cities like Detroit and Cleveland are claiming unused land for cultivation, in New York and Chicago land comes at high premium. That's why farmers there are increasingly eyeing spaces that they might not have to wrestle from developers: rooftops that are already green.

The green roof movement has slowly been gaining momentum in recent years, and some cities have made them central to their sustainability plans. The city of Chicago, for instance, boasts that 359 roofs are now partially or fully covered with vegetation, which provides all kinds of environmental benefits — from reducing the building's energy costs to cleaning the air to mitigating the urban heat island effect.

Late this summer, Chicago turned a green roof into its first major rooftop farm. At 20,000 square feet, it's the largest soil-based rooftop farm in the Midwest, according to the Chicago Botanic Garden, which maintains the farm through its Windy City Harvest program.

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While conceding that nations will disagree about when and how to step in as "tyrants ... commit wanton murder," President Obama told the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday that "we must get better" at preventing atrocities.

The president again laid out his case for strong international action to hold Syrian President Bashar Assad accountable for his regime's alleged use of chemical weapons. Then Obama told world leaders that:

"I believe we can embrace a different future.

"If we don't want to choose between inaction and war, we must get better – all of us – at the policies that prevent the breakdown of basic order. Through respect for the responsibilities of nations and the rights of individuals. Through meaningful sanctions for those who break the rules. Through dogged diplomacy that resolves the root causes of conflict, and not merely its aftermath. Through development assistance that brings hope to the marginalized. And yes, sometimes, all this will not be enough – and in such moments, the international community will need to acknowledge that the multilateral use of military force may be required to prevent the very worst from occurring."

Update at 10:45 a.m. ET. Greater Danger Is An America That Disengages:

Turning to a broader theme, Obama says that "the danger for the world is not an America that is eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries, or take on every problem in the region as its own. The danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war; rightly concerned about issues back home; and aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim World, may disengage, creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill."

He continued: "I believe such disengagement would be a mistake. ...

"Some may disagree, but I believe that America is exceptional – in part because we have shown a willingness, through the sacrifice of blood and treasure, to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interest, but for the interests of all."

Update at 10:33 a.m. ET. On Iran, "Diplomatic Path Must Be Tested":

The U.S. is "encouraged that [Iranian] President Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course," Obama says.

"Given President Rouhani's stated commitment to reach an agreement, I am directing John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government, in close coordination with the European Union, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China. The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested. For while the status quo will only deepen Iran's isolation, Iran's genuine commitment to go down a different path will be good for the region and the world, and will help the Iranian people meet their extraordinary potential – in commerce and culture; in science and education."

Update at 10:30 a.m. ET. U.S. Is Prepared "To Use All Elements Of Our Power":

Staying on the Middle East, Obama says "the United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure these core interests in the region. We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War.

"We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world. Although America is steadily reducing our own dependence on imported oil, the world still depends upon the region's energy supply, and a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy.

"We will dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people. Wherever possible, we will build the capacity of our partners, respect the sovereignty of nations, and work to address the root causes of terror. But when its necessary to defend the United States against terrorist attacks, we will take direct action."

Update at 10:23 a.m. ET. Call For "Strong Security Council Resolution":

After saying the U.N. Security Council must endorse a strong resolution that insures Syria will verify it is handing over its chemical weapons or face "consequences" if it fails to do so, Obama says that "if we cannot even agree on this," it will show that the U.N. is "incapable of enforcing even the most basic of international laws."

Update at 10:20 a.m. ET. "Insult" To Suggest Anyone Other Than Assad Used Chemical Weapons In August:

Speaking of the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus that the U.S. says killed more than 1,000 people, Obama says "it's an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack."

Update at 10:15 a.m. ET. "Shifting Away From A Perpetual War Footing':

After withdrawing troops from Iraq and beginning a drawdown in Afghanistan, the U.S. is "shifting away from a perpetual war footing," Obama says.

He believes the "world is more stable than it was 5 years ago," but concedes that incidents such as the terrorist attack on a mall in Kenya show that dangers remain.

A new poll released Tuesday shows that a clear majority of Americans want Congress to keep the federal government operating and deal with President Obama's health care law separately.

According to a United Technologies/National Journal poll taken Sept. 19-22, 63 percent of respondents — and 51 percent of Republicans — said Congress should provide the funding necessary to keep the government open, rather than shut it down in an attempt to defund Obamacare.

The poll follows on the heels of a CNBC survey released Monday, which found that 59 percent of Americans oppose shutting down the government and risking a default over the Affordable Care Act. That poll was conducted Sept. 16-19.

But if Obama and congressional Republicans cannot reach a budget agreement by Oct. 1 and the government shuts down, there's no certainty that the GOP will get all the blame: a Pew Research poll released Monday suggests the public would hold both accountable.

The Pew survey, conducted Sept. 19-22, shows 39 percent of Americans would hold the GOP responsible for a government shutdown, while 36 percent would fault the Obama administration. Seventeen percent would place the blame on both.

The poll also reveals the American public isn't overly optimistic that Obama and the Republicans will agree on a continuing budget resolution in time to avoid a shutdown. Asked if the two sides will strike a deal by the end of the month, 46 percent believed they would, and 45 percent believed they would not.

The Pew survey marks a departure from an early September CNN poll that found that 51 percent of Americans would blame Republicans for a shutdown, compared with 33 percent for Obama.

On Friday, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives approved a stopgap budget measure to keep the government open through mid-December that also removes funding for Obamacare. The bill moves to the Democratic-controlled Senate this week.

Kenya has long been an African success story, a place that's been relatively stable, peaceful and prosperous despite being in a neighborhood rocked by major disasters for decades.

There's been endless civil war in Somalia, genocide in Rwanda and famine in Ethiopia. Yet these calamities have, by and large, not spilled over to Kenya, which has been the crossroads of East Africa, serving as a business, transportation and tourist hub.

This also explains why an upscale mall in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, was an ideal target for al-Shabab, the Somali militia with ties to al-Qaida.

"Kenya is full of Western interests and if al-Qaida wants to target America, which is obviously its reason for being, Kenya is the place to be," Bronwyn Burton of the Atlantic Council told NPR's Morning Edition.

"They would much rather be operating in Nairobi, where they can hurt more people and they can make more progress in their jihad than they could ever hope to accomplish in Mogadishu," Burton says.

Kenya has always been one of the most outward-looking African countries with its wide-ranging links to the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

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The captain of the Costa Concordia says the helmsman of the ill-fated cruise liner failed to properly execute a last-minute corrective maneuver that could have kept the massive vessel off a rocky shoal near the coast of Tuscany.

Capt. Francesco Schettino, who is charged with manslaughter in the deaths of 32 people aboard the ship, which ran aground on Jan. 13, 2012, is also accused of abandoning the liner's 4,200 passengers and crew on the night of the wreck.

The Costa Concordia took on water and capsized after hitting a reef after Schettino ordered a course change to bring the vessel in close to the island of Giglio, allegedly so passengers could get a better view of its brilliant lights. The captain has said that the reef was not marked on his charts.

He testified that when he realized the ship's peril, he ordered the helmsman to steer left but that he steered right instead.

"If it weren't for the helmsman's error, to not position the rudder to the left ... the swerve [toward the reef] and the collision wouldn't have happened," Schettino said, according to The Associated Press. The AP reports:

"Investigators have said language problems between the Italian captain and the Indonesian-born helmsman may have played a role in the botched maneuver. A maritime expert, however, told the court that although the helmsman was slow to react and had indeed erred, in the end it didn't matter."

" 'The helmsman was 13 seconds late in executing the maneuver, but the crash would have happened anyway,' Italian naval Adm. Giuseppe Cavo Dragone said Monday."

Miami-based Carnival Corp., the world's largest cruise operator, reported a third quarter profit nearly a third lower than a year ago following a series of embarrassing and deadly mishaps involving its ships.

Carnival turned a $934 million profit for the period June through August, down 30 percent from the same quarter in 2012.

The company owns several cruise lines, including Carnival, Holland America, Princess and Costa, whose Costa Concordia liner wrecked on the Tuscan coast last year, killing 32 people. Carnival also has had its share of problems, including fires and power outages at sea that became public relations disasters for the parent company.

Carnival Chairman Micky Arison acknowledged Tuesday that it could take as long as three years for the company's brand and reputation to rebound from the Costa Concordia wreck and other problems.

"There are a lot of great brands that have had setbacks, and they've recovered ... but the economic situation in southern Europe isn't helping," Arison said at a news conference Tuesday in London, according to Reuters.

"Costa is already beginning to recover, studies of acceptance suggest it [the brand] has recovered nicely," Arison said, according to the news agency. He added that it would take "two to three years" to get the brand back to where it was.

Arison's comments come a week after the completion of a massive operation to right the capsized Costa Corcordia, which had been lying on its side since the accident in January. The liner's captain is on trial in Italy on charges of manslaughter and abandoning his stricken vessel.

Testifying on Monday, Capt. Francesco Schettino blamed the ship's helmsman for steering the wrong way as he tried unsuccessfully to avoid hitting a reef off the coast of the island of Giglio.

On Tuesday, according to The Associated Press, Schettino got "some support during his trial from an unexpected corner: representatives of the tragedy's many victims."

" 'Schettino is the only defendant, but he's not the only one responsible,' said Daniele Bocciolini, a lawyer for several survivors in a civil suit attached to the criminal trial, according to the news agency. 'He's not responsible for the lifeboats that couldn't be launched nor for the emergency generators' that failed."

No doubt most of you reading this post have looked at Yelp or Google+ Local to check the user reviews before you tried that fish store, bakery or even dentist. On occasion, you may have wondered if some of those reviews were too good to be true.

It turns out that some of them were.

New York's attorney general revealed the results of a yearlong investigation into the business of fake reviews. Eric T. Schneiderman announced Monday that 19 companies that engaged in the practice will stop and pay fines between $2,500 and $100,000, for a total of more than $350,000 in penalties.

Schneiderman said his office used undercover agents. One agent, posing as the owner of a yogurt shop in Brooklyn, called up search engine optimization companies and asked for help in combating negative reviews on consumer websites. In many cases, the agent was told that they would write fake positive reviews for a fee.

One of the reputation companies required its freelancers to have an established Yelp account more than three months old, and at least 15 reviews and 10 Yelp friends. The jobs paid the false writers — who lived as far away as Bangladesh and the Philippines — between $1 and $10 per review.

The investigation also uncovered businesses that did their own reputation management. For example, US Coachways, a charter bus company on Staten Island, had its employees write positive reviews and offered $50 gift certificates to customers who would do the same — without requiring those customers to reveal the gift.

Ratings website Yelp says it welcomed the crackdown. However, the company has also been accused of manipulating reviews on its site by merchants who claim Yelp offered to move positive feedback closer to the top of the page for a payment. Yelp denies this.

All Tech Considered

Dear Apple: Good Luck Against The Smartphone Black Market

Could Texans soon be represented in the U.S. Senate by the Cruz family?

It's an entertaining though wildly improbable scenario that's been generating some chatter at the GOP grass-roots level. But the notion of Tea Party hero Sen. Ted Cruz serving with his father, Rafael Cruz — a Tea Party star in his own right after a series of anti-Obama speeches at town halls hosted by Heritage Action — just got a wee bit less outlandish.

The reason? John Cornyn's decision not to back his junior colleague's long-shot attempt to "defund" the Affordable Care Act.

Cornyn, Texas' senior senator, was already suspected of being insufficiently conservative by Tea Party activists. He raised Tea Party hackles when he first signed, then removed his name from a letter vowing not to vote for any spending bill that included money for Obamacare.

Now Cornyn has indicated that he, along with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, would not block a House bill that extends funding for the government but stops funding for Obamacare. Ted Cruz and his allies argued that because Democrats who control the Senate plan to eliminate the Obamacare language from the bill, the only way to accomplish what they want is to stop consideration of that bill entirely.

McConnell already has a Tea Party-backed challenger in Kentucky, and Cornyn's decision means he, too, may soon face an opponent from his right.

That's where Rafael Cruz comes in.

Neither Cruz has suggested that Rafael might challenge Cornyn. But the elder Cruz — a Cuban native, now a Dallas preacher — has already been talked about as a possible opponent, even before this latest incident.

"More and more tea party activists are whispering that he should challenge John Cornyn," Erick Erickson wrote in late August on the popular conservative grass-roots site RedState.

Should Rafael Cruz run and win, he and Ted would be the first-ever father-son team representing the same state in the Senate at the same time. In the mid-1800s, Henry Dodge and his son Augustus Dodge served in the Senate together, but with Henry representing Wisconsin and Augustus representing Iowa.

S.V. Dte is the congressional editor on NPR's Washington Desk.

Americans love bananas. Each year, we eat more bananas than any other fruit. But banana growers use a lot of pesticides — and those chemicals could be hurting wildlife. As a new study shows, the pesticides are ending up in the bodies of crocodiles living near banana farms in Costa Rica, where many of the bananas we eat are grown.

Of course, there's a reason why banana plantations rely heavily on pesticides. For one, banana trees are particularly susceptible to infestations, says Chris Wille, the chief of sustainable agriculture at the nonprofit Rainforest Alliance. He works with banana growers to help them reduce the amount of pesticides they use.

Second, most plantations are in the tropics, "where there are a lot more kinds of pests and in abundance," he says.

And insects aren't the only problem there. There are worms and fungi, too.

"When you see pictures of airplanes spraying banana farms, they're spraying for airborne fungal disease called Black Sigatoka, which can devastate a plantation in a matter of a week or so," says Wille.

Many of Costa Rica's banana plantations are in the remote northeastern region, at the headwaters of the Rio Suerte River. The area is full of streams and canals, flowing past the banana farms and into protected rain forests that are part of the Tortuguero Conservation Area.

Paul Grant, a wildlife biologist at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, went there to investigate whether pesticides are hurting local wildlife.

"In the past, I have witnessed and a lot of the locals have pointed out that there have been massive fish kills as a result of pesticide exposure in high levels," says Grant.

He wanted to know if these pesticides are also ending up in animals that eat the fish. In particular, he was interested in a small crocodile called a spectacled caiman, because a bony ridge between its eyes makes it look like it's wearing eye glasses. These caimans live in the Tortugero Conservation Area, which is just downstream from the banana farms. The animal is considered a threatened species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Grant wanted to test caimans because they are long-lived animals and are top predators in the ecosystem. "A lot of the pesticides will wind up at the top of the food chain," he says.

He collected blood samples from 14 adult caimans. Some of the animals lived closer to plantations and others further downstream, in more remote, pristine areas.

He and his colleagues analyzed the blood samples for 70 different pesticides. The results concerned him.

The samples contained nine pesticides, of which only two are currently in use. The remaining seven are "historic organic pollutants," says Grant.

These are pesticides like DDT, dieldrin, and endosulfan — chemicals that have been banned, some of them for nearly a decade. But they persist in the environment, and build up in the bodies of animals.

These chemicals are also found in significant levels in all sorts of aquatic mammals, including American crocodiles in the U.S., and whales and seals in different parts of the world.

The overall levels of pesticides in the Costa Rican caimans in comparison were modest, says Peter Ross, an environmental scientist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, and also an author on this study.

Still, he says there was some indication that the chemicals may be harming the caiman.

"What was revealing to me was the fact that the caiman that were near the banana plantations had not only higher concentrations of pesticides, but also they were in a poorer state of health relative to the caiman in more pristine, remote areas," says Ross.

Ross and his colleagues have published their findings in the latest issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

There's an important lesson here, says Chris Wille of the Rainforest Alliance.

"You know, we're now reckoning with the problem left by past use of highly toxic, highly persistent pesticides," he says. "So, what plantations must avoid now is leaving similar toxic legacies for the next generation to deal with."

Especially as the demand for bananas has been growing worldwide, and farms move towards more intensive methods of cultivation.

On how the deaths affected her

I know that I've already forgotten things about us growing up, and [my brother's] not there to remind me or to verify things or to help me get things correct. It's difficult, but it's part of the reason why I wanted to write the book, too.

... I know it sounds trite when I say it, but [the deaths] made me realize that I don't have a lot of time and that I'm not promised tomorrow. I hear that all the time at home, I guess because everyone in my community has lost a young person that they love, you know? So everyone always says that all the time: You're not promised tomorrow; you don't have tomorrow. So it does, it sounds trite, but it's true. It made me feel that I wasn't promised some long life where I would die when I was 60 or 70 or 80 or 90. That's not a given for me, and so it actually brought me to writing.

... When I write about what was happening at the time, in the book, I can certainly see how I was suffering from that mindset too, especially during those years. I was reckless and I did a lot of drugs and I drank a lot and I did stupid things because a part of me despaired at that idea and did think, "What's the point?"

On how she ended up attending private school

My mother worked for a white family that lived in one of the mansions on the beach. The husband in the family was a lawyer; he worked for a firm in New Orleans. So when the lawyer was home my mother would have conversations with him about her kids, of course. And so at the time, in fifth grade, I was dealing with a lot of bullying in the public schools I went to — I went to two public schools that year and I was being bullied. My mother told her employer this and then he asked if she would be interested in sending me to the school that his children went to, which was a private Episcopalian school. She said yes and then he offered to pay for it, to fund it basically, as a scholarship. ... So from sixth grade on I was a student at that private Episcopalian school.

Author Interviews

New Memoir Recounts Black Lives 'Reaped' Too Young

Miami-based Carnival Corp., the world's largest cruise operator, reported a third-quarter profit nearly a third lower than a year ago following a series of embarrassing and deadly mishaps involving its ships.

Carnival turned a $934 million profit for the period June through August, down 30 percent from the same quarter in 2012.

The company owns several cruise lines, including Carnival, Holland America, Princess and Costa, whose Costa Concordia liner wrecked on the Tuscan coast last year, killing 32 people. Carnival also has had its share of problems, including fires and power outages at sea that became public relations disasters for the parent company.

Carnival Chairman Micky Arison acknowledged Tuesday that it could take as long as three years for the company's brand and reputation to rebound from the Costa Concordia wreck and other problems.

"There are a lot of great brands that have had setbacks and they've recovered ... but the economic situation in southern Europe isn't helping," Arison said at a news conference Tuesday in London, according to Reuters.

"Costa is already beginning to recover, studies of acceptance suggest it [the brand] has recovered nicely," Arison said, according to the news agency. He added that it would take "two to three years" to get the brand back to where it was.

Arison's comments come a week after the completion of a massive operation to right the capsized Costa Corcordia, which has been lying on its side since the accident on Jan. 12, 2012. The liner's captain is on trial in Italy on charges of manslaughter and abandoning his stricken vessel.

Testifying on Monday, Capt. Francesco Schettino blamed the ship's helmsman for steering the wrong way as he tried unsuccessfully to avoid hitting a reef off the coast of the island of Giglio.

On Tuesday, according to The Associated Press, Schettino got "some support during his trial from an unexpected corner: representatives of the tragedy's many victims."

"' Schettino is the only defendant, but he's not the only one responsible,' said Daniele Bocciolini, a lawyer for several survivors in a civil suit attached to the criminal trial, according to the news agency. 'He's not responsible for the lifeboats that couldn't be launched nor for the emergency generators' that failed."

The question of the day isn't what President Obama will speak about when he addresses the opening session of the U.N. General Assembly shortly after 10 a.m. ET.

Among the subjects he'll address are some rather obvious topics: the crisis in Syria; the Middle East peace process; the terrorist attack on a mall in Kenya; and the West's relations with Iran.

President Obama spoke at a memorial service Sunday to honor the 12 victims of Monday's Navy Yard shootings.

"The tragedy and the pain that brings us here today is extraordinary. It is unique," he said.

But Obama also noted Monday's incident is the fifth mass shooting he has witnessed as president. "Once more, our hearts are broken," he said.

The president said he worried that there is a resignation that these types of tragedies are bound to happen.

"We must insist here today: There is nothing normal about innocent men and women being gunned down where they work," he said.

He called on the nation to address gun violence, saying that resignation sometimes comes from a sense of political stagnation.

"By now, though, it should be clear that the change we need will not come from Washington, even when tragedy strikes Washington. Change will come the only way it ever has come, and that's from the American people," he said.

Before the Sunday afternoon service, the president and first lady Michelle Obama met with families who lost loved ones in Monday's attack. The violence took place less than three blocks away from the Marine barracks in southeast Washington, D.C.

The private memorial was held on the facility's parade grounds, where some 4,000 people attended. Speakers recalled the sense of duty and purpose of the victims, who ranged in age from 46 to 73.

Our Original Post Continues:

Early reports from the scene describe a mix of uniformed officers and civilians. Those in attendance included Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Earlier Sunday, gun rights activists took to the morning talk shows to speak against making new attempts to curb Americans' rights to own guns.

The head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, said that more personnel at military facilities should be armed to try to stop such attacks.

Speaking on NBC's Meet the Press today, LaPierre said that in the case of the Navy Yard shooting, the problem was that too many people at the facility were unarmed.

"All these brave men and women that are trained in firearms, that signed up to serve in the military, they're largely disarmed on our military bases," LaPierre said. He recommended policy changes that would keep more military personnel armed.

"The problem is, there weren't enough good guys with guns," he said. "When the good guys with guns got there, it stopped."

LaPierre has made similar arguments in the past, including after the shootings last December at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

That tragedy, in which school children lost their lives, prompted a push by the president and his allies to change America's gun control laws. But legislation that sprang from the effort failed to get out of the Democratically controlled Senate.

NPR's Liz Halloran noted the uncertainty over the nation's gun laws in a post earlier this week:

"The massacre of 20 school children and six adult school employees at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last December took the nation to a place of horror that it had never visited.

"Yet little has changed since, leaving the political component of the debate in an uneasy state."

Update at 5:27 p.m. ET. President Obama Speaks:

The president made a point of saying this shooting was not "routine," but that it "echoes other recent tragedies." He noted that he has grieved with five communities at mass shootings as president, all of which "occur against a backdrop" of daily shootings.


Microsoft Corp. is expected to announce new Surface tablet computers, including a version with a smaller screen to compete with Google's Nexus 7 and Apple's iPad Mini.

The company has an announcement event scheduled in New York on Monday.

It comes about a month before Microsoft releases an update to its Windows 8 operating system on Oct. 17. Among other things, Windows 8.1 will be usable on smaller touch screens, which have become popular because they are cheaper and easier to carry. The previous version of Windows 8 was limited to tablets with 10-inch to 12-inch screens.

The new Surface tablets could also get lighter and thinner thanks to a processing chip that uses less energy and doesn't require a fan. Known as Haswell, the chip is already used in laptops from Apple, Samsung, Dell and other companies. Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air with Haswell gets up to 12 hours of use, compared with seven hours before.

Microsoft began selling Surface tablets last October, but sales have been slow. The company shipped about a million tablets in the first three months of 2013, according to research firm IDC. That includes about 260,000 of the slimmed-down RT version of Surface and 750,000 of the Pro version, which is compatible with older Windows programs. The shipments gave Microsoft a meager 2 percent share of the tablet market in the first quarter. By the second quarter, Microsoft tablets dropped out of IDC's Top 5.

Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Wash., absorbed a $900 million charge in the April-June period to account for its expected losses from the Surface RT after it slashed prices to stimulate demand. The $150 cut brought the price of the Surface RT with 32 gigabytes of memory to $349. The Surface has a 10.1-inch screen measured diagonally. The RT version is 1.5 pounds. The Pro version is 2 pounds and starts at $799, $100 less than it was at launch.

Microsoft has manufactured devices before, such as its Xbox gaming console. In selling the Surface, the company became a competitor to its many manufacturing partners, which rely on its Windows operating system to power their machines. Microsoft is trying hard to succeed in tablets because personal computer sales are falling.

While there have been signs of a recovery, Graves says their benefits have not yet reached the bottom of the economic ladder.

"The recovery for many people has looked very different. The jobs that are coming back are some of the lowest paying jobs," she says.

Many jobs created since the end of the recession are in retail and food services and often do not pay enough to support families. Middle-income jobs that were once lifelines out of poverty have become more scarce, making it even more difficult for groups with some of the highest rates of poverty, including Latinos, African-Americans and single mothers.

Graves says in today's economy, having a job doesn't necessarily mean you're not scraping by.

"Even when women are working full-time, they may still be in poverty," she explains. "Even as the economy is doing better, women are not doing better."

Waiting In Line

In a suburban industrial park in Gaithersburg, Md., just outside the nation's capital, workers push a stacked cart full of snacks and produce through the Manna Food Center, a local distribution site for food donations where Yelba Mojica meets daily with struggling families.

"People that have never needed the food are coming to [Manna Food Center] and [asking], 'What do I have to do to qualify?' " Mojica says. "You see a lot of different people. You know, you see all walks of life who have never needed it in the past and all of a sudden, they do."

Judith Prado, a bus driver and single mother of three, never imagined waiting in line at a food pantry — until nine months ago, when her hours at work were cut and she had to choose between gas for her car or food for her family.

Al-Shabab, the Somali group that has claimed responsibility for the attack on a Nairobi mall, began as a group fighting inside its homeland. But it has evolved into an al-Qaida affiliate that draws members from other countries and views Somalia as a front in the war against the West.

Here are some key things to know about the group:

Who Are Al-Shabab?

Al-Shabab, or the Youth, is a Somali Islamist group that the U.S. regards as a terrorist organization.

The group grew out of the two decades of turmoil in Somalia following the overthrow of the military dictatorship in 1991. By 2006, the Somali Council of Islamic Courts, the group to which al-Shabab was allied, controlled much of the southern portion of the country.

The council then set its sights on Somalia's weak transitional government. This deeply concerned Ethiopia, which backed the transitional government. Ethiopia sent in troops, defeated the council and took control of Mogadishu.

This was a turning point for al-Shabab.

"The only military force willing to resist the Ethiopians following the collapse of the ... [council], al Shabab was able to play on deep-seated Somali antipathy toward Ethiopia to recruit thousands of nationalist volunteers," wrote Rob Wise of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The National Counterterrorism Center notes the group continued its violent tactics in southern and central Somalia, where it held large swaths of territory.

But, it said, its "insurgency has been challenged over the past year by in-fighting and military pressure that has liberated key towns from al-Shabaab."

That military pressure comes in the form of a U.N.-backed African Union force that includes troops from Kenya and Uganda.

Nonetheless, said Mary Harper, the BBC's Africa editor and author of Getting Somalia Wrong? Faith, War and Hope in a Shattered State, al-Shabab "still has the capacity to strike not just in Somalia, which it does regularly, but also across Somalia's borders."

What Does The Group Want?

The BBC's Harper told NPR's Tell Me More that the group's ideology has evolved since it "basically imploded" a few months ago. One faction wanted to keep the fighting inside Somalia; the other had global ambitions.

The latter faction is now dominant, Harper says, and therefore she was not surprised that its first major attack was outside Somalia.

The National Counterterrorism Center noted that the group isn't "centralized or monolithic" in its agenda or goals.

"Most of its fighters are predominantly interested in the nationalistic battle against the [transitional government] and not supportive of global jihad," it said.

Why Attack Kenya?

Kenyan troops entered Somalia in 2011, resulting in a loss of key territory for al-Shabab. The group had warned that it would target Kenya.

"The attack at Westgate Mall is just a very tiny fraction of what Muslims in Somalia experience at the hands of Kenyan invaders," al-Shabab said on Twitter.

In 2010, al-Shabab also took credit for two bombings in Uganda — which has also contributed to the AU force — killing more than 70 people.

As NPR's Frank Langfitt noted in his series from Somalia in 2010, al-Shabab's ideology was gaining ground among Somali refugees in the Nairobi neighborhood of Eastleigh, which is known as Little Mogadishu.

"The intelligence we have, we know there are elements sympathetic to al-Shabab," George Saitoti, head of Kenyan Internal Security, told Frank at the time. "And there may be some of them [al-Shabab operatives] around here."

U.S. Links

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has reported on a "jihadi pipeline" for recruiting and sending Somali-Americans to the battlefields of Somalia. The head of Britain's MI-5 also warned of Britons training in al-Shabab camps.

The potential reach of the group was underscored by Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who told NPR this in an interview Sunday: "They don't have borders. Somalia might be where they have training centers or bomb-making factories or things like that, but, you know, the top leadership of Shabab, including those who have been killed recently ... was American citizens, British citizens who are the leading figures in the leadership of al-Shabab."

There are unconfirmed reports that some of the militants involved in the Westlake Mall siege were foreign nationals.

Further Reading

Dina's series The Somali-Minneapolis Terrorist Axis

Frank's series Containing Chaos: Somalia Today

Global Post on Al-Qaida In Africa

Sales of its new iPhone 5s and 5c models have surpassed other iPhone releases and exceeded initial supply, Apple says. The company says it has sold 9 million of the phones since their launch on Friday and that "many online orders" will ship in coming weeks.

"This is our best iPhone launch yetmore than nine million new iPhones solda new record for first weekend sales," Apple CEO Tim Cook says, in a news release Monday. He adds that "while we've sold out of our initial supply of iPhone 5s, stores continue to receive new iPhone shipments regularly."

As Apple notes, the phones went on sale Friday in the United States as well as in many parts of Europe and Asia, including China. That was a departure from previous releases, in which American consumers were able to buy their smartphones weeks or even months ahead of the international market.

The news led Apple to brighten its own predictions for sales in the current financial quarter, which ends this month.

As Reuters reports:

"Apple tweaked its financial forecast to reflect the higher sales, an unusual move for the company. It said revenue in the fiscal fourth quarter would be near the high end of its previous forecast of $34 billion to $37 billion."

For those old enough to remember, the government shutdown skirmishing now underway in Washington brings back some not-so-fond memories of late 1995 and early 1996.

That's the last time a divided government, unable to settle its differences before the money from previous years' spending bills ran out, forced dozens of agencies to close. Some 800,000 federal workers were told to stay home and millions of Americans were shut out of everything from their national parks to small-business loans.

In fact, in 1995 and '96 there were two government shutdowns. The first lasted six days in mid-November 1995, the second from mid-December 1995 to early January 1996. For those 26 days, in addition to the national parks, the Smithsonian museums in Washington were also closed. Veterans' health and welfare services were curtailed, passport applications didn't get processed, new clinical research patients were not accepted at the National Institutes of Health, and federal contractors had to furlough employees.

According to a report by the Congressional Budget Office, the costs of the 1995 shutdowns totaled some $1.4 billion.

While a government shutdown this year would be due to an impasse over a new program — the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare — the shutdowns in 1995 were largely over cuts to existing programs, especially Medicare and Medicaid.

Republicans had won a majority in Congress for the first time in 40 years the previous November. Led by Speaker Newt Gingrich, they demanded sharp cuts in government spending in discretionary programs, such as welfare, and so-called entitlements, like Medicaid and Medicare.

When President Clinton vetoed the spending cuts, round one of the shutdown was underway. The White House and Congress quickly agreed to extend spending on a temporary basis, under the condition that the president agree to a plan to balance the federal budget.

But those talks proved fruitless, and round two of the shutdown followed.

The two sides continued talking throughout the holiday season and in the end reached agreement on a deal similar to what was on the table before the shutdown, with cuts to federal spending (though smaller than Republicans had originally demanded) and a path to a balanced budget

According to polls, Republicans quickly bore the blame for shutting the government down. Their hand was weakened when Gingrich told reporters he had forced a shutdown in part because the president made him exit Air Force One by the back door after returning from the funeral of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

In his State of the Union address that January, Clinton was able to declare the "the era of big government is over." In November, he easily won re-election over one of the (reluctant) leaders of the shutdown, Republican Sen. Bob Dole.

Having learned some hard lessons in 1995-96, many Republicans seem to realize that a shutdown this year would hurt them more than Democrats. But the political blame may be a bit more muddled: While Republicans control the House, Democrats are in the majority in the Senate and may not escape a share of the responsibility for a shutdown.

And while as many federal programs and employees would be idled in a shutdown as before, large swaths of the government would be deemed essential, and exempt from closing.

Border Patrol agents, air traffic controllers and TSA officers would remain at work. Social Security and other benefits checks would still go out. But with the government relying more on contractors than in 1995, the economic impact from a prolonged shutdown may be bigger this time around.

It's time for the weekly roundup of what happened here on All Tech and on our airwaves, and a look back at the big conversations in technology.


This week featured the much anticipated release of Grand Theft Auto V, which raked in $800 million on its first day out. Our digital culture correspondent Laura Sydell talked to the female fan base of the violent adventure game about its allure. On the phone front, the Obama administration is petitioning the Federal Communications Commission to let consumers unlock their phones without penalty. It's part of a larger debate over how much control wireless carriers should have over your devices, as Laura wrote. And on our All Tech segment on All Things Considered, I discussed the big business of fantasy football.

Regular readers know we're fascinated with how social media are changing us — this week we looked at the ways Twitter might be boosting our brains and how Facebook might not make us lonelier after all. Emily Siner, our digital news intern, wrote about the pitfalls of schools' monitoring for cyberbullies. Steve Henn wrote about a dare for hackers to crack the fingerprint ID system in the new iPhone 5s. And our weekly innovation pick was Robot Turtles, a tabletop board game that helps preschoolers learn the concepts of coding.

The Big Conversation

Google may stop using cookies in favor of "more sophisticated technology" to track user activity. And Apple's latest iPhones went on sale Friday, despite warnings that shipments may be low. Space Gray is expected to be the most popular color, so maybe this is your chance to go for gold? (These gold jokes never get old for me, I tell ya.) But what will affect more of us than the new hardware is the new iOS 7 design for the phone. The New Yorker explains how users will feel like the software in their phone was "squished flat." Dwight Silverman from the Houston Chronicle loves it, and BuzzFeed features the reactions of people who were blindsided by the software update.

What We're Reading

Wired: A Brilliant Anatomy App That Blurs The Line Between Learning And Play

The Human Body app is kind of like Robot Turtles, but for big kids and grown-ups.

The New Yorker: From Mars: A Young Man's Adventures In Women's Publishing

It turns out that before Bleacher Report co-founder Bryan Goldberg wrote his widely mocked debut for his new women's site, Bustle.com, The New Yorker's Lizzie Widdicombe was busy working on this profile of him. He's an interesting dude and this is an engaging read.

Grantland: Rot Your Brain

The craze over Candy Crush hasn't escaped our attention. Grantland explores what makes it so addictive.

"Joy Covey, who helped take Amazon.com Inc. public as the Internet retailer's chief financial officer, died Wednesday when her bicycle collided with a van on a downhill stretch of road in San Mateo County," the Los Angeles Times writes.

She was 50.

San Francisco's KGO-TV reports that:

"According to the California Highway Patrol, Covey was riding downhill on Skyline Boulevard when she crashed into a Mazda minivan Wednesday afternoon. The minivan, driven by a 22-year-old Fremont man, was heading uphill and made a left turn onto Elk Tree Road directly in front of Covey. Covey crashed into the right side of the van and was pronounced dead at the scene. CHP officials say the driver is cooperating with their investigation."

As Udayan's involvement in the movement deepens, the authorities come looking for him at his parent's home. He lives there with his young wife, Gauri, and in this excerpt from the book, a soldier demands that Gauri tell him where her husband is hiding:

We think he might be hiding in the water, the soldier continued, not removing his eyes from her.

No, she said to herself. She heard the word in her head. But then she realized that her mouth was open, like an idiot's. Had she said something? Whispered it? She could not be sure.

What did you say?

I said nothing.

The tip of the gun was still steady at her throat. But suddenly it was removed, the officer tipping his head toward the lowland, stepping away.

He's there, he told the others.

The French, it seems, aren't eating bread the way they used to. The average French person consumes just half a baguette a day, down from a full baguette 40 years ago.

Those statistics worry the French bakers' lobby, the Observatoire du Pain.

Bernard Vallius, who heads the group, says it used to be that people ate a sit-down lunch and dinner with family or friends every day. Now people – especially the young and those who live in cities - eat sandwiches or skip lunch altogether and snack, he says.

He calls bread is the silent pivot of every French meal. And the bread lobby has launched a campaign to make it speak up. Inspired by the California Milk Board's campaign, "Got Milk?", the Observatoire du Pain came up with the slogan, "Cou cou, tu as pris le pain?" which translates roughly as, "Hi there, did ya pick up the bread?"

The slogan is plastered on billboards and inscribed on bread bags in 130 cities around the country. "What we want to do is just to make sure that people have the reflex, going home at night, to buy the bread. That's all," says Vallius.

Enlarge image i


For Democrats running in coal-producing states like Kentucky and West Virginia, the Environmental Protection Agency's new limits on greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants provide a carboniferous chance to demonstrate independence from President Obama.

Those Democrats will probably take advantage of every chance they get to separate themselves from the president in voters' minds, since their Republican opponents will be working overtime to portray them as reliable Obama votes if they're elected to Congress.

Combine that with Obama's massive unpopularity in these states — in 2012 he got a little more than a third of the vote in Kentucky and West Virginia — and the need to stiff-arm Obama's EPA is self-explanatory.

Democrat Natalie Tennant, the West Virginia secretary of state trying to succeed longtime Sen. Jay Rockefeller, didn't even wait for the EPA's announcement to oppose Obama. She used the coal issue to put daylight between herself and Obama in her announcement video released four days earlier.

"When Washington Democrats take the wrong course, hurting our coal industry, I will do everything in my power to stop them, including standing up to President Obama," she says.

Distancing herself from Obama meant creating little to no space on the issue between her and the Republican she hopes to beat, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito.

Similarly, Kentucky's Democratic Secretary of State Alison Gunderson Grimes, sounded a lot like the Republican she wants to unseat, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader.

"Yet again President Obama's administration has taken direct aim at Kentucky jobs," she said in a statement. "The EPA's ruling practically prohibits construction of new coal-fired plants, which will threaten Kentucky jobs and raise energy prices that hurt Kentucky's middle-class families."

It's natural to assume that carrying the same party identity as Obama and his top EPA official Gina McCarthy would necessarily hurt Tennant and Grimes. But these are states with strong Democratic traditions, though for different reasons. Numerous Democrats in both places have the experience of voting for fellow Democrats in local and state races and Republicans for president.

So there are many people in both states who can appreciate Democrats who break from the president on any number of issues.

Two suicide bombers struck the All Saints Church following a service in Peshawar, Pakistan, Sunday, killing more than 70 people and wounding more than 120, according to the AP and other news outlets. The victims are believed to include many children.

The church's bishop, Rev. Humphrey S. Peters, issued a statement in which he condemned the violence and expressed his condolences to those affected by the attack, which officials say is one of the deadliest ever conducted against Pakistan's Christian minority.

"A wing of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing," the AP reports, "saying it would continue to target non-Muslims until the United States stopped drone attacks in the country's remote tribal region."

The All Saints church website describes the violence, saying, "As the Sunday Service ended and the people came out of the Church, two suicide bombers entered the church compound from the main gate and blew themselves up in the midst of the people."

The site added, "According to those we have spoken to, among the dead were a number of Sunday School children and Choir members of the Church who were all in the Church compound at the moment of the blasts."

Dating from the 1880s, All Saints Church is famed for its architecture that echoes elements of a Saracenic Muslim mosque. Sunday's deadly attack sparked protests in other Pakistani cities, with demonstrators calling for violence against Christians to cease.

The attack comes one day after Pakistan released a prisoner who was a high-ranking member of the Taliban in Afghanistan, where officials say he could play a pivotal role in the peace process. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was formerly the Taliban's second-in-command.

"The Afghan government welcomes Pakistan's decision to release Mullah Baradar," said Afghan presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi, according to Reuters. "This release has occurred because of the Afghan government's consistent pressure requesting that Mullah Baradar be set free,"

A Chinese court has sentenced Bo Xilai, the former Politburo member who was snared on graft charges, to life in prison. The sentence for offenses that include bribery, embezzlement, and abuse of power, completes a shocking fall for Bo, who had been a rising star in China's political system.

"Bribes received directly by Bo or via his family totaled 20.44 million yuan (about 3.3 million U.S. dollars), the court decided," reports state news agency Xinhua.

Some of the charges against Bo also accused him of obstructing an investigation into his wife's murder of a British businessman.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing:

"Judges at the court in the eastern city of Jinan rejected the vigorous defense Bo had put up at his trial last month.

"In addition to the life sentence, all of Bo's assets will be confiscated and he will be deprived of his political rights for life. That means he won't be able to hold any political office or speak to the media.

"Bo could have gotten the death penalty for his crimes, but China's judiciary is trying to use that penalty more sparingly. Bo did not indicate in court whether he would appeal the verdict. He has 10 days to do so."

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