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It's not big enough to be called a shakeup, but the new hire announced this week at the White House is important: John Podesta will come on board in January as a counselor to the president.

Podesta is a Democratic wise man, the founder of the Center for American Progress, a policy and personnel incubator for Democratic administrations, and he just started a new think tank on income inequality — the problem President Obama says will animate his second term.

Podesta is also a second-term crisis management specialist. He was Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff from 1998 to 2001, helping him survive impeachment.

His hiring has already soothed some jangled nerves among the current president's supporters in Washington.

"I thought, 'Fantastic,' " says Dee Dee Myers, Clinton's former press secretary. She is one of a small, inside-the-beltway group of Democrats who have been desperate for reassurance that the recently-unsteady Obama White House was getting its act together.

With the Podesta announcement, the White House appears to have sent that message.

"I think they've known for a while that they need to reach out, they need to broaden their circle a little," Myers says. "The president has been famously reluctant to do that. So how do you widen the lens? One of the ways you do that is you reach out and you bring in new people, and it's very helpful to bring in people who come preloaded with tremendous experience."

A Fan Of Executive Powers

Podesta is not a completely new face in the Obama camp. He ran the president-elect's widely-praised transition team in 2008 and 2009, and he's been advising the White House from the outside.

Heard On 'Weekend Edition Saturday'

In November 2012, host Scott Simon talked with John Podesta about the transition from the first Obama administration to the next. Podesta served as co-chair of President Obama's 2008 transition team.


Word has hit the Internet streets that Saturday Night Live recently hosted special — some folks are saying "secret!" — auditions for black women to add to its cast.

Things are moving fast: Bill Carter of The New York Times reports that Lorne Michaels, SNL creator and executive producer, said he was committed to finding a black actress by January.

With my girls @Breshawebb @simoneshepherd @TiffanyHaddish & other funny ladies I got to meet at our #SNL showcase :) pic.twitter.com/X1D5gT2GOJ

— Gabrielle Dennis (@GabrielleDennis) December 2, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Director: Peter Jackson

Genre: Fantasy, adventure

Running Time: 161 minutes

Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

With: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Benedict Cumberbatch

This year marks a milestone in the world of make believe.

Walt Disney Animation Studios is celebrating its 90th anniversary, a history spanning scores of classic films and a menagerie of beloved characters.

Walt Disney's world has grown a bit larger since it acquired Pixar — the company behind hits like Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc.

John Lasseter was instrumental in shaping Pixar's success, directing films like Toy Story and Cars. He was a Southern California kid who grew up on Disney, and is now at the creative helm of both Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios.

He spoke with NPR's Renee Montagne about both the history and the future of Disney animation.

"There was a period of time when they estimated the two biggest stars in Hollywood were Charlie Chaplin and Mickey Mouse," he says.

He defied a military dictator, sacked a prime minister, and persistently sought to call generals and intelligence chiefs to account.

He became a symbol of hope for an impoverished multitude, seeking to assert their rights in a land where these are frequently ignored and abused.

He was one of his country's best-known figures who was seen — though not usually heard — on his nation's television screens as frequently as celebrity actors and cricket stars.

For any judge, in any land, this is an improbable record. In Pakistan, where for much of its history the judiciary was a puppet of the executive, it is remarkable.

Pakistan's Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has just retired after a tenure that is threaded through with contradictions, missteps and controversies — but that changed the balance of power in his turbulent nation.

He exited in thunderous style, delivering a farewell speech Wednesday before the Supreme Court, in which he urged his fellow judges to defend the judiciary's independence — and issued a somber warning to his 180 million fellow Pakistanis.

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Nuclear Nation

Director: Atsushi Funahashi

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 145 minutes

Not rated.

In Japanese with English subtitles.

At the same time, Kaaberbol and Friis take the migration theme in a fresh, feminist-inflected direction. They don't revel in the usual stereotypes — you know, vulgar Russian gangsters with diamond-studded teeth or tragic, long-legged prostitutes. Instead, books like Death of a Nightingale focus on the most powerless, and thus the most endangered, of migrant newcomers: women and, especially, children. Working with victims, not criminals, Nina encounters kids threatened with all manner of ghastliness and the desperate mothers who'll do anything to save them. We understand why Nina's driven to get involved.

Yet her boundless sympathy with the dispossessed, born of childhood trauma, also makes her a real pain. She's both heroic and frustrating, the kind of person who judges other people for not caring enough — even as she forgets to care about her own family. She routinely fails in simple maternal duties, like picking up the kids from school, because she's so busy helping somebody else's children. She's on "a one-woman crusade to save the world," complains her estranged husband, Morten, a crusade that sucks their own children into what he calls her personal "war zone."

Still, even as Nina knows that she goes too far — often putting herself in harm's way — she can't rein herself in. And as Death of a Nightingale makes clear, the world of Red Cross work doesn't help her out. Like Gombrowicz on the beach, she keeps coming across suffering beings who need to be rescued. But unlike him, she keeps on rescuing. For Nina, compassion fatigue isn't a real syndrome. It's merely an excuse.

Read an excerpt of Death of a Nightingale

Already under orders from a court to partially shut down production because of concerns that spicy smells from its Irwindale, Calif., plant are irritating neighbors' eyes, noses and throats, Huy Fong Foods has now been told it can't ship its Sriracha hot sauce until at least 30 days after bottling.

According to CBS Los Angeles:

"In a statement, the California Department of Public Health said, in part, 'a hold time was necessary to ensure an effective treatment of micro-organisms present in the [Huy Fong Foods] product. Holding products for a period of time at a specified pH level is one method of controlling those micro-organisms.' "

Ireland is about to become the first European country to emerge from an international bailout in the wake of the financial crisis. Like other European countries, Ireland has been in a period of austerity — higher taxes and more cutbacks.

The nation's technology sector has been protected, however, as Ireland makes a concerted effort to attract foreign businesses through tax incentives and development programs.

But Ireland's methods have also been criticized — locally and internationally.

Apple In Ireland

The government's heavy hand in growing its tech industries has raised some eyebrows around the world. One tech company with offices in Ireland drew the watchful eye of the U.S. Senate earlier this year: Apple.

Apple has been in Ireland for 30 years. But it drew attention in May when it came to light that Apple kept 70 percent of its profits under the umbrella of its Irish subsidiary.

Ireland's corporate tax rate is 12.5 percent, compared to more than 30 percent in the U.S. Ireland has loopholes that make it possible for companies like Apple to pay almost nothing.

In May, Apple CEO Tim Cook was grilled by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Cook chafed at accusations that Apple's offices in Ireland were simply a shell for profits.

"The relationship between Apple and the Irish government is still there today, and we built up a sizable population," he insisted before McCain jumped in.

"With all due respect," he told Cook, "given the tax rate that you are paying in Ireland, I'm sure you have a very close relationship."

In October, in the wake of growing international pressure, Ireland announced it was closing a loophole. Off the record, at least a few company executives told me that it was the low rate that kept them in Ireland.

Grants And Pub Crawls

Yet Ireland's efforts to draw more tech companies to its shores go beyond tax incentives.

A few weeks ago, the NASDAQ moved its opening bell to Dublin to kick off Web Summit, the largest tech conference in Europe. With financial support from the government, the tech conference brought business leaders and journalists — including me — to Ireland.

Enda Kenny, Ireland's prime minister, rang the bell. He proclaimed to conference attendees that Ireland is "the most open economy in the Western world. And we celebrate our pro-business ethos and environment without hesitation."

Tech entrepreneurs say Ireland's low tax rate is just one item on an appealing checklist that includes an army of Irish officials ready to help foreign companies set up — usually with Ireland's Industrial Development Agency, or IDA.

"Our engineers, they love them because they take them out for whiskey crawls and pub crawls and these different things," says Mikkel Svane, the CEO of customer-support software company Zendesk.

Zendesk has its headquarters in San Francisco, and it just chose Ireland to be its European headquarters.

"There's just a lot of experience here because they have attracted over the years so many tech companies," Svane says. "They have the machine rolling, and they're prepared for companies like us. They know what we need."

Barry O'Dowd, head of the IDA's emerging business division, spoke with me while taking some American entrepreneurs on a pub crawl.

"We help the companies when they're here, and we get them sort of locked into the economy," O'Dowd says. "We work with them on [research and development] agendas, for instance. We've got a grant and aid support program where we can give them support financially."

According to O'Dowd, the development agency's recent efforts to attract newer companies, like Zendesk, have created between 2,000 and 3,000 new positions. O'Dowd says the companies' presence helps spawn other local jobs — although two-thirds of the jobs by foreign firms go to people who aren't Irish.

Investment From Silicon Valley

Ireland competes with other European countries to draw tech investment: Amsterdam, Berlin, London. But Jennifer Schenker, editor-in-chief at Informilo — a magazine that covers the global tech industry — says Ireland stands out.

"They are, bar none, the most proactive government in Europe in trying to attract tech companies of all sizes," she says.

But beyond that, she says, Ireland is creating an ecosystem. The country's workforce is highly educated and young — 50 percent of the population is under 35. Young Irish techies often start work at a foreign company and then leave to do their own start-up.

"Some of Silicon Valley's most famous angel investors are investing in very early-stage companies based in Dublin that have been founded by Irish entrepreneurs," she says.

Certainly the country hopes that, someday, a company the size of Google or Apple will emerge from its startup scene.

But Chris Horn, an Irish former entrepreneur-turned-angel investor, says homegrown businesses face a steeper tax bill than foreign ones. If a company goes public, Irish entrepreneurs face a capital gains rate of more 30 percent on their profits.

"And what drives places like Silicon Valley and indeed Boston and New York," he says, "is the growth of companies and then their sale and then the reinvestment of those profits and proceeds into the next companies."

Still, despite the criticism, Irish officials say the combination of low tax rates and government support is building a tech industry that's helping to lift it out of the economic doldrums.

In Mexico, Dec. 12 is the day to celebrate the country's most revered religious icon: the Virgin of Guadalupe.

As many as 6 million pilgrims have made their way to the Mexican capital to pay homage to the country's patron saint on Thursday, and one woman has taken her devotion of the Virgin and turned it into a multimillion-dollar company.

Amparo Serrano, the owner of a company called Distroller, says it's customary on holiday to ask the Virgin of Guadalupe for something. The requests usually fall in the health or wealth categories, but she likes to lighten the religious mood and ask the Virgin for other things.

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Unless Congress acts very quickly, some 1.3 million workers will lose their extended jobless benefits on Dec. 28.

Democrats were scrambling late Wednesday to include an extension of benefits in a budget deal that is expected to get a vote as soon as Thursday. But if the effort fails, they will come back at it in 2014.

"We're going to push here after the first of the year for an extension of emergency unemployment insurance when the Senate convenes after the new year," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on Wednesday.

And House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, did not slam the door shut on the possibility of renewing the jobless benefits eventually. When asked whether he would consider allowing an extension of the funding, he said he told President Obama he would keep such a plan on the table.

"I said we would clearly consider it, as long as it was paid for and as long as there are other efforts that will help get our economy going once again. I have not seen a plan from the White House that meets those standards," he said.

The White House, along with Democratic leaders, had hoped to extend the benefits before they expired this year. But those plans seemed to diminish on Tuesday, when Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., unveiled their bipartisan budget deal that did not include any last-minute reprieves for the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.

Because the House plans to leave on Friday, the vote on the budget package is expected very soon.

Reid said the deal should have included an extension of jobless benefits, but "neither side got everything it wanted in these negotiations."

The White House had wanted the benefits included in the budget, saying that besides the 1.3 million people who will lose their benefits on Dec. 28, an additional 3.6 million people will fall out of the unemployment insurance program in the first half of the year without an extension.

Democrats, along with a few Republicans, want to have a chance to renew the jobless benefits. "For goodness sakes, let the people's House have a vote on these issues," Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said Wednesday on MSNBC. "Let us have a vote right now on extending unemployment compensation."

A group of moderate House Republicans sent a letter to their leaders saying: "We respectfully request that the House consider a temporary extension of emergency unemployment insurance to protect an essential safeguard that has aided Americans who have endured through a weak economy." It was signed by Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., and six other Republicans.

The benefits extension program was a key element of the government's response to the recession, which sent the unemployment rate up to 10 percent in 2009. Congress poured in money to keep benefits available for up to 99 weeks — far longer than the typical 26 weeks provided by states. Most economists said those checks would help prop up the economy by providing unemployed people with about $300 a week to keep up with the cost of food, shelter and gas.

But in the past couple of years, the unemployment rate has been coming back down and federal extended benefits have been reduced to a maximum of 47 weeks.

The jobless rate is 7 percent now, and many conservatives say the extra spending is actually discouraging many people from trying harder to get back into the workforce. They say the economy will strengthen when government cuts spending and workers make the necessary adjustments to find new jobs, such as moving or accepting lower wages.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that continuing benefits for another full year would cost taxpayers about $26 billion — but it also would boost economic growth by about 200,000 jobs.

Nuclear Nation

Director: Atsushi Funahashi

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 145 minutes

Not rated.

In Japanese with English subtitles.

She's not the first woman to head a global corporation.

Ginni Rometty runs IBM, and Indra Nooyi heads PepsiCo. Don't forget Ursula Burns at Xerox and Meg Whitman at Hewlett-Packard. There's Marissa Mayer at Yahoo.

Still, when Mary Barra emerged on Tuesday as the new chief executive of General Motors, the announcement felt historic. Next month, the 51-year-old daughter of a GM factory worker will succeed retiring Dan Akerson as leader of the biggest U.S. automaker.

The automotive sphere has been seen as a guy thing since the first oil-splattered cars started rolling down dirt roads in the late 1800s. Even now in Saudi Arabia, women risk violence or arrest just for sitting behind the wheel of a car.

But in Detroit, Barra leapt ahead of men such as Mark Reuss, president of GM North America; Dan Ammann, chief financial officer; and Steve Girsky, vice chairman.

"It is remarkable because the auto industry has always been such a male-dominated industry," says Jerry Jasinowski, an economist and past president of the National Association of Manufacturers.

Just 1 in 5 workers in the auto industry is a woman, and a mere 4 percent of CEOs at all major U.S. companies are female. So Barra's promotion is a big deal. On the other hand, auto analysts say her elevation should not come as a surprise to anyone at GM because her career path has been so steady.

Lately, robots have been taking over all kinds of jobs that humans used to do on the farm — from thinning lettuce to harvesting spinach.

Three brothers in Minnesota are betting that robots could compete with machines on the farm, too: the huge, and often inefficient, fertilizer applicators made by John Deere and the like. The brothers' Rowbot, in comparison, is so small it can move between rows of crops and fertilize plants one at a time.

"We joked about it being the Roomba of the cornfield," says one of the brothers, Kent Cavender-Bares, referring to the autonomous vacuum cleaner.

The motivation for creating a fertilizer robot is simple: Many farmers overuse fertilizer, and that's costly and bad for the environment. But farmers don't have many tools to help them cut back.

The Salt

Putting Farmland On A Fertilizer Diet

There's outrage among many in the deaf community over the appearance on stage Monday of a man who they say was only pretending to do sign language interpretation as President Obama and other world leaders eulogized Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Among those who noticed what was happening was Wilma Newhoudt, the first deaf person elected to South Africa's parliament and a vice president of the World Federation of the Deaf.

"Shame on this male so called interpreter on the stage," she wrote on Twitter during the memorial service. "What is he signing? He knows that the deaf cannot vocally boo him off. Shame on him!"

Others who protested included Bruno Peter Druchen, national director at the Deaf Federation of South Africa. "Please get RID of this CLOWN interpreter, please!" he tweeted.

The Limping Chicken, a U.K. website that focuses on news involving the deaf community, posted a video showing both the "fake" and a sign language interpreter who many TV viewers saw in a small box superimposed on their screens. The woman in that box was actually interpreting what was said, Limping Chicken reports. You can see how different her actions and gestures are compared to those of the man on stage.


Uruguay will become the world's first country to approve the growing, selling and use of marijuana, after the country's Senate voted for the change, which the president has promised to sign into law.

Reuters describes the move as "a pioneering social experiment that will be closely watched by other nations debating drug liberalization."

Sen. Constanza Moreira, who voted with the majority, called the vote on Tuesday "an historic day."

"Many countries of Latin America, and many governments, will take this law as an example," she said.

The Senate vote was 16 to 13, with the ruling Broad Front majority united in favor, The Associated Press says.

Reuters says that under the new law, set to go into effect in April, "Cannabis consumers will be able to buy a maximum of 1.4 ounces each month from licensed pharmacies as long as they are Uruguayan residents over the age of 18 and registered on a government database that will monitor their monthly purchases."

"When the law is implemented in 120 days, Uruguayans will be able to grow six marijuana plants in their homes a year, or as much about 17 ounces, and form smoking clubs of 15 to 45 members that can grow up to 99 plants per year."

"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." — J.R.R. Tolkien

Each year, I swear I will never do this again.

And yet, for the third year in a row, I am preparing to host a day-long Lord of the Rings movie marathon – and cooking up a seven-course hobbit-themed feast, plus dessert, to serve my guests. Maybe it's because, like Tolkien, I too would like the world to be a merrier place.

This week's repast will help me and my fellow fans ready ourselves for the release of the new movie The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, opening Dec. 13. If you're familiar with either J.R.R. Tolkien's novels or Peter Jackson's film adaptations, then you know how important food is to hobbits.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, the hobbits Merry and Pippin fret that Aragorn, the human ranger who has joined their expedition, doesn't know about – and won't make time for — second breakfast, or elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, and supper.

Purists will note that Tolkien only wrote of six meals. (Jackson's films added the seventh). But since my hobbit meals are eaten during movie viewings, I keep to the films' seven-meal menu — and add in dessert.

Judging from Tolkien's writing alone, one would think the man was an epicure of, well, epic scale. He did, after all, pen the line, "When he heard there was nothing to eat, he sat down and wept." And he chose to begin both The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring with food-filled parties — the first an unexpected dinner for dwarves, the second a grand birthday feast for Bilbo.

And so it's not surprising that for some fans of Middle-earth, myself included, food has become another bridge into the world that Tolkien so masterfully created.

If you are putting together a hobbit homage menu, there are many sites offering inspiration. One from Warner Brothers allows fans to submit and rate recipes. Another, from Strange Horizons, offers a detailed exploration of food in Tolkien's novels.

Mary Barra will become the new leader of General Motors in January, the company announced Tuesday. A longtime GM veteran, Barra is currently an executive vice president; her tenure as CEO will begin after current leader Dan Akerson retires on Jan. 15.

Barra, 51, works in the company's global product development unit. She will soon become the first woman to lead a major automaker, as The Detroit Free Press reports.

"With an amazing portfolio of cars and trucks and the strongest financial performance in our recent history, this is an exciting time at today's GM," Barra said, in a news release from GM announcing the change. "I'm honored to lead the best team in the business and to keep our momentum at full speed."

GM says the pending change comes after its chairman and CEO, Akerson, 65, "pulled ahead his succession plan by several months after his wife was recently diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer."

Barra's title will not mirror Akerson's, GM says, because the company is splitting the roles of chairman and CEO. Board member Tim Solso, a former CEO of Cummins, will become the new chairman of the corporation's board.

The change comes as GM is "closing the chapter on government ownership," the company says.

On Monday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it had sold its last remaining shares in the company. In 2009, the government took on a stake of nearly 61 percent of GM's value as part of a federal bailout of several large U.S. carmakers.

The move is credited with saving thousands of jobs — but as Scott reported yesterday for The Two-Way, it also meant that U.S. taxpayers lost $10.7 billion.

Mary Barra will become the new leader of General Motors in January, the company announced Tuesday. A longtime GM veteran, Barra is currently an executive vice president; her tenure as CEO will begin after current leader Dan Akerson retires on Jan. 15.

Barra, 51, works in the company's global product development unit. She will soon become the first woman to lead a major automaker, as The Detroit Free Press reports.

"With an amazing portfolio of cars and trucks and the strongest financial performance in our recent history, this is an exciting time at today's GM," Barra said, in a news release from GM announcing the change. "I'm honored to lead the best team in the business and to keep our momentum at full speed."

GM says the pending change comes after its chairman and CEO, Akerson, 65, "pulled ahead his succession plan by several months after his wife was recently diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer."

Barra's title will not mirror Akerson's, GM says, because the company is splitting the roles of chairman and CEO. Board member Tim Solso, a former CEO of Cummins, will become the new chairman of the corporation's board.

The change comes as GM is "closing the chapter on government ownership," the company says.

On Monday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it had sold its last remaining shares in the company. In 2009, the government took on a stake of nearly 61 percent of GM's value as part of a federal bailout of several large U.S. carmakers.

The move is credited with saving thousands of jobs — but as Scott reported yesterday for The Two-Way, it also meant that U.S. taxpayers lost $10.7 billion.

Eat candy and fight tooth decay. What a sweet concept, right?

Well, microbiologists in Berlin are trying to make that dream a reality.

They've created a sugarless mint that's aimed at washing out cavity-causing bacteria from your mouth. And the candy works in a curious way: It's spiked with dead bacteria. It's like probiotics for your teeth.

The experimental mint is still in the early days of development — and far from reaching the shelves at Walgreens.

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Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians have agreed to a water-sharing pact that would see the construction of a desalination plant on the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea and bring "a long-awaited Red Sea-Dead Sea pipeline one step closer to completion," according to Reuters.

The plant would be built on the Jordanian side of the Gulf and the resulting potable water would be shared between Jordan and Israel.

Alexander McPhail, the lead water and sanitation specialist in the World Bank's Water Practice division, tells The Jerusalem Post Monday that in return, "Israel will increase the annual releases of water from Lake Kinneret to Jordan and will also increase its sales of water to the Palestinian Authority."

"'It's like a swap,' McPhail told the Post, regarding the Israeli and Jordan portions of the agreement. 'Israel needs water in the south because they want to settle that part of their country. Jordan needs more water in the North.'"

If revenge is a dish best served cold, in Washington it can also be served with a heaping side of irony.

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to Sen. Mitch McConnell's request to let Senate Republicans participate in the high-profile case Noel Canning v. National Labor Relations Board.

The question in that case is whether President Obama abused his recess appointment power in naming NLRB members. The president claims the Senate was in recess, which would make his appointments constitutional; Senate Republicans dispute Obama, saying the chamber wasn't in recess.

The court had initially given the lawyers for the administration and Noel Canning 60 minutes to make their case.

But McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, asked for time to present the Senate minority's position. The court granted that, adding 30 minutes for arguments. The administration will now get 45 minutes; Canning and Senate Republicans will split the same amount of time.

And the lawyer poised to make the Senate GOP's argument before the Supreme Court? Miguel Estrada, who argued the case for Senate Republicans in the lower court.

At the start of George W. Bush's administration, it was Democrats who filibustered Bush's nomination of Estrada to the D.C. Circuit. That filibuster contributed to the toxic spiral of filibusters that first caused Senate Republicans, then Democrats, to threaten using the "nuclear option" to weaken senators' ability to filibuster nominations until Democrats actually did it last month.

If the Obama administration and Senate Democrats wind up losing in the Supreme Court, the Estrada and nuclear-option back story could make the win for Republicans especially sweet.

Tim's Vermeer

Director: Teller

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 80 minutes

Not rated.


Critics of the federal auto bailout will no longer be able to refer derisively to GM as "Government Motors" – on Monday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced the U.S. government has sold its remaining shares in the car maker.

"With the final sale of GM stock, this important chapter in our nation's history is now closed," Lew said, announcing the sale.

The net? Taxpayers lost $10.7 billion on the deal.

However, as CNN Money writes: "Still, it is estimated that 1.5 million jobs were saved by keeping General Motors and smaller rival Chrysler afloat through bailouts, according to the Center for Automotive Research. That's why many economists argue that the bailout worked, even if taxpayers are not completely repaid."

As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, "thanks to the turnaround, the U.S. auto industry is now profitable and has added some 370,000 jobs in recent years."

In 2009, the government began acquiring shares of General Motors, eventually taking a 60.8 percent stake in the troubled automaker in exchange for $49.5 billion in bailout funds.

USAToday writes:

"When the latest stock sale, begun Nov. 21, is tallied, that amount will be subtracted from the $10.7 billion that taxpayers have lost on their GM holdings as of Nov. 30.

"The administration emphasizes that however much the final loss is, it will be less than the cost of not saving GM. That would have eliminated tens of thousands of jobs at a time the country already was staggering through the Great Recession."

"GM and Chrysler both went through government-scripted Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganizations. Treasury put $12.3 billion into Chrysler and recovered $11.13 billion of that. Chrysler no longer is involved in the bailout."

This story is part of the Planet Money T-shirt project.

Jeff Steinberg had a maroon and white lacrosse jersey that he wore for years. It said "Denver Lacrosse" on the front and had his number, 5, on the back.

Then, one day, he cleaned out his closet and took the shirt to a Goodwill store in Miami. He figured that was the end of it. But some months after that, Steinberg found himself in Sierra Leone for work. He was walking down the street, and he saw a guy selling ice cream and cold drinks, wearing a Denver Lacrosse jersey.

"I thought, 'Wow, this is pretty crazy,' " Steinberg says. Then he looked at the back of the shirt — and saw the number 5. His number. Steinberg tried to talk to the guy about the shirt, but he didn't speak much English and they couldn't really communicate.

A holiday gift of sorts came early in more than 20 countries over the weekend, as volunteer photographers shot free, studio-quality portraits of more than 16,000 people who otherwise couldn't have afforded them.

A working-class neighborhood of Shanghai was among the more than 130 sites where the photo shoots took place, part of a global project inspired by Help-Portrait, a U.S.-based nonprofit.

Ronny Chan, an electrical engineer originally from Hong Kong, was among the 16 volunteers at the New Citizen Life Center. He spent much of his day trying to coax smiles from subjects who had rarely if ever sat for portraits.

Twenty years ago, millions of Americans were cocking their ears — waiting to hear a "giant sucking sound."

They feared Mexico would begin vacuuming up U.S. manufacturing jobs as soon as President Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, on Dec. 8, 1993.

The leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees are meeting Wednesday as they continue to try to work out the differences between their respective farm bills. If they fail, the country faces what's being called the "dairy cliff" — with milk prices potentially shooting up to about $7 a gallon sometime after the first of the year.

Here's why: The nation's farm policy would be legally required to revert back to what's called permanent law. In the case of dairy, that would be the 1949 farm bill.

And if House and Senate negotiators fail to reconcile their farm bills, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warns, "I'm going to be put in a position where I have to invoke and implement permanent law. And I will do my job because that's what I swore an oath to do."

The problem is that back in 1949, the dairy industry was much smaller and less efficient than the one that exists today, so it received bigger price supports from the federal government. And if U.S. policy reverted to the old law, the government would be forced to go into the marketplace and buy milk, butter and cheese at about double the going rate.

Vilsack says this would distort the market: "So you, as a [milk] producer, would have a choice of selling it to your normal purchaser at $18 or $19 a hundred weight or to USDA at $38 a hundred weight. What do you think producers will do?"

Of course the producers would sell to the government. And that, says Jim Dunn, a professor of agricultural economics at Penn State University, "would be terrible."

"Every refrigerated warehouse in the United States would be full of cheese and butter," he says, "and nonrefrigerated milk warehouses would be full of powdered milk."

And for the rest of us, he says, there would be sticker shock in the dairy aisle.

Vilsack says there would be supply issues, too, because the federal government would own the commodities, but there would be shortages in the grocery store. Which is how Americans would quickly end up facing milk at $7 a gallon —"If you can find it," notes Vilsack. "And that is why it is ludicrous for Congress not to get a farm bill done."

Milk would only be the first commodity affected. Without a farm bill, other commodity prices would spike as the year went on, affecting every family in America. Farm policy, often obscure for most consumers, would get personal fast. If this all sounds like illogical and terrible policy — well, that's the point, says Vilsack.

"It's a great lever to compel action," he says of the invocation of permanent law that hovers over every farm bill. "In most cases, it's the reason why we've had fairly routine extensions of the farm bill for the past 50 years."

Rep. Mike Conaway, a Republican from Texas and a member of the farm bill conference committee, agrees with Vilsack's assessment.

"It's applying pressure to me," he notes."That's the whole advantage of having permanent law that's as bad as it is: to try to get folks to create the new law that we need for the next five years."

Now, if all this talk about a dairy cliff sounds familiar, that's because it is: Last year, lawmakers narrowly avoided triggering those 1949 price supports by tucking a temporary extension of the 2008 farm bill into last-minute legislation that avoided the fiscal cliff.

This year, efforts to pass a new five-year farm bill have fallen into some of the same philosophical fights about the role of government that have gummed up the budget process on Capitol Hill — and just about everything else.

Singapore isn't usually known as a place simmering with tensions, but the city-state's first riot in more than 40 years has prompted the prime minister to urge calm.

Sunday's riot was sparked by the death of a 33-year-old Indian national who was struck and killed by a bus. Hundreds rioted in the Little India neighborhood following the death. Rioters attacked police, and set police cars and an ambulance on fire, the BBC reported. Eighteen people were hurt. Police arrested 27 people, mostly Indians. They face up to seven years in prison along with caning.

In a post on Facebook, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged restraint. He said he'd ordered an inquiry into the events that led to the incident, "how the incident was handled, and how we manage areas where foreign workers congregate."

He added:

"This was an isolated incident caused by an unruly mob. The vast majority of foreign workers here obey our laws. We must not let this bad incident tarnish our views of foreigner workers here. Nor should we condone hateful or xenophobic comments, especially online."

"You know when you put something in the bin, and in your head, say to yourself 'that's a bad idea'? I really did have that," James Howells says. And boy, was his intuition right: Howells tossed a hard drive that held millions of dollars' worth of Bitcoins, the currency whose value has skyrocketed this year.

Howells' story is emerging on the same day Bitcoin rose above the $1,000 mark for the first time on the Mt. Gox exchange, as CNET reported. At that exchange rate, Howells' stash of 7,500 Bitcions would have been worth $7.5 million today. (Because there's no central exchange for Bitcoins, prices can vary.)

The Bitcoins were in a digital wallet in a hard drive that was sitting in a desk drawer in Newport, Wales. It contained the unique access key that would allow Howells to control the money. Howells, who reportedly works in IT, did not make a backup file.

As Howells tells The Guardian, it was months before he realized he had tossed the Bitcoins along with the drive, the survivor of a Dell laptop he had used to "mine" the currency in 2009.

"I don't have an exact date, the only time period I can give – and I've been racking my own brains – is between 20 June and 10 August," he tells the newspaper. "Probably mid-July."

His attempts to find the missing hard drive have been stymied by the epic size of the local landfill. Its operators told Howells that his hard drive was probably about four or five feet deep, in an area the size of a soccer field. And with no guarantee of finding the Bitcoins, he can't take on the expense of an excavation.

"I'm at the point where it's either laugh about it or cry about it," Howells says. "Why aren't I out there with a shovel now? I think I'm just resigned to never being able to find it."

At least Howells has company. As we reported this past spring, a man named Stefan Thomas told Der Spiegel that he lost 7,000 Bitcoins because of a hard-drive failure. Back then, the currency made headlines for hitting the $200 mark.

Ukraine's government has deployed riot police near Independence Square outside Kiev's city hall, which has been occupied by anti-government protesters for more than a week. Police had told the protesters they have until early this week to vacate the building.

Opposition leaders have been trying to calm the situation, which was sparked by outrage over President Viktor Yanukovich's decision to reject closer ties with the European Union in favor of joining a trade union with Russia.

From Kiev, NPR's Corey Flintoff reports on the scene today:

"Riot police with black helmets and shields formed a line near the building, but didn't advance toward it. Vitaly Klitchko, an opposition politician and world boxing champion, spoke briefly with one of the police commanders.

"He said before giving any orders, the police should consider whether they themselves are violating the law. Klitschko said the protest was a peaceful demonstration with no aggression."


An "enchanting harmony of fuchsia, purple and pink undertones" known as Radiant Orchid is Pantone's Color of the Year for 2014, unseating the more verdantly inclined Emerald that dominated the previous 12 months.

Pantone Color Institute, which describes itself as a global authority on color, describes its latest pick as "a captivating, magical, enigmatic purple" whose "rosy undertones radiate on the skin, producing a healthy glow when worn by both men and women."

For interiors, Radiant Orchid, Pantone says, is "as adaptable as it is beautiful" and "complements olive and deeper hunter greens, and offers a gorgeous combination when paired with turquoise, teal and even light yellows."

Sounds like it might go well with its predecessor, which was "a lively, radiant, lush green" that is "most often associated with precious gemstones."

All Things Considered's Melissa Block talked to Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, about the color, and what it takes to find the color of the year. You can hear the audio by clicking play above.

This week, our friends at NPR's Tell Me More turned the spotlight on black leaders in the tech industry — a demographic that's underrepresented in the field, as Gene Demby explored when covering coders of color. The conversation continues on Twitter through Dec. 20, where tech thinkers will live-tweet their days and answer questions about the field. You can participate by using #NPRBlacksInTech and follow the progress on Storify.

The Protojournalist's Linton Weeks asked whether Cyber Monday is still relevant. Alex Madrigal gave recommendations on what to do with cute baby pics. Also, for those more into small animals than small people, Bill Chappell alerted us to the strangely amazing Christmas Cats TV, a live webcast that wants you to adopt cats (in sweaters) from a shelter.

In our collection on gaming: Steve Mullis featured an indie sci-fi puzzle game called The Swapper, and Thomas Andrew Gustafson found a game that turns players into "citizen scientists."

The Big Conversation

Amazon made the headlines this week after CEO Jeff Bezos announced that the company is pursuing drone delivery technology — inciting a short media frenzy and immediate skepticism. Amazon promised that safety would be its top priority, but TechCrunch speculated on why this project might not work as hoped.

The Washington Post released yet another batch of NSA revelations, with an eye-catching graphic and a story on how the NSA is collecting billions of records a day on the location of mobile phones. And NPR tech editor Avie Schneider highlighted another way that cybersecurity could be compromised in the future (uplifting, we know).

Also in the intersection of government and technology, federal officials released what they called an improved version of HealthCare.gov. Politico reported that 29,000 people signed up for health insurance on Sunday and Monday, and NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner looked at some of the key new features as well as lingering issues with the signup system. And NPR's Steve Henn looked at problems with Oregon's health exchange, which is being built by tech giant Oracle.

Other Curiosities

BBC News: Stolen Facebook and Yahoo passwords dumped online

The most popular compromised password? 123456. If that's yours, we recommend a change, because one security researcher says it's useful as a "chocolate teapot," which we presume is not very.

Computerworld: Toyota signs wireless charging deal with WiTricity

As early as next year, the electric-hybrid Prius may be able to be charged without being plugged in. WiTricity, based in Massachusetts, says wireless charging works just as fast as its conventional alternative.

Reuters: Twitter to be available on mobile phones without Internet

Smartphones are gaining a foothold around the world, but many people in emerging markets only have regular old cellphones. U2opia Mobile, a Singapore-based startup, will make Twitter's trending topics available on mobile phones that don't have Internet access.

In recent years, Domino's Pizza has rapidly expanded overseas — helping it open stores at a faster clip than Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts, according to Forbes. Part of that growth is in India, which company CEO J. Patrick Doyle says is poised to supplant Britain as the chain's largest market outside the U.S.

"It is pretty clear that in the next few years, India will become the largest market outside the U.S.," Doyle tells The Economic Times of India. The newspaper says that by the end of October, Domino's had 650 restaurants in 137 cities in India — "just 100 shy of the U.K.," Doyle says.

The stores are selling "around 8 million pizzas every month," according to the most recent quarterly report from Jubilant Foods, which operates Domino's locations in India.

Domino's Indian franchises don't offer the same menu we see here in the U.S. — about half the items are specific to the country. The menus are tailored to Indian tastes, emphasizing vegetarian options and boosting spiciness.

For instance, instead of a packet of Parmesan cheese, pizzas come with an "oregano spice mix" that has a dash of garlic and chili peppers. Recent additions include a Lebanese roll — a spicy roll with peas and cheese — and Taco Indiana — a folded and stuffed pizza crust that one American reviewer says is many things, but is "not a taco."

Doyle says some of those ideas have spread to Britain.

"There are pizzas from India that are now being sold in the U.K., like paneer pizza, chicken tikka masala pizza and keema do pyaaza pizza," he tells the Economic Times. "The crust, the sauce and the cheese can be the same everywhere, but the topping, which is where a lot of flavor comes from, varies and can easily be localized."

The expansion has helped Domino's, which trails market leader Pizza Hut in its total number of stores, open new locations at a faster pace "than Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, [Pizza Hut parent] Yum! Brands and McDonald's since 2008," according to a recent Forbes report.

The magazine says 43 percent of that growth has been outside the United States.

The main franchisee for Domino's in India is Jubilant Foods. Hoping to duplicate its success with the pizza chain, the company opened the first Dunkin' Donuts in India last year. Jubilant now has nearly 20 Dunkin' stores, according to its website.

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Twenty years ago, millions of Americans were cocking their ears — waiting to hear a "giant sucking sound."

They feared Mexico would begin vacuuming up U.S. manufacturing jobs as soon as President Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, on Dec. 8, 1993.

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