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How did the economic collapse of 2008 and 2009 give birth to a conservative populist revolt?

That's the question Thomas Frank tries to answer in his new book — and sharp-tongued liberal polemic — Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right.

Seven years after the suit was filed, the families of four contractors killed in Iraq have settled a lawsuit with Academi, the company formerly known as Blackwater.

If you remember, the 2004 incident produced one of the most gruesome images of the war in Iraq: the charred bodies of two Blackwater guards were hung from a bridge in Fallujah.

It's Jan. 1.

I'm en route to Iowa to cover the caucuses. I'm a novice reporter and NPR editors trusted me to tag along.

At my layover in Minneapolis, I reach into my pocket to pay for a chai tea latte and — wait — where's my wallet? I can't find my wallet. I double, triple, quadruple check.

I run back to the gate. "Ma'am, I think my wallet fell out of my coat in overhead. Seat 20B." She checks it out. Negative. It's not there.

Snowy owls are a rare sight in the United States. They usually live in the Arctic but every third or fourth winter some will venture south.

But this year, the AP reports, there is an abundance of the birds, which garnered almost mythical stature when they were featured in the Harry Potter films.

In Tuesday's primary, many of those showing up to vote will not be registered as Republicans. In New Hampshire, voters unaffiliated with either party can vote in the primary.

So-called "undeclared" voters outnumber both Republicans and Democrats in the Granite State, accounting for more than 40 percent of the electorate. That makes New Hampshire's independent vote a tempting, but elusive target.

The end could soon be near for Kodak, and the iconic film manufacturer may have itself to blame.

Kodak, based in Rochester, N.Y., could be headed into bankruptcy over the next few weeks. The company has seen its profits plunge in recent years, largely because of the popularity of digital cameras.

Kodak is trying to move into new product lines like inkjet printers, but in the meantime it's attempting to raise cash by selling off some of the patents it's developed over the years.

This is the season of the presidential superPACs: They flooded Iowa with attack ads, and now they are looking ahead to primaries in South Carolina and Florida.

SuperPACs (political action committees) can solicit big, corporate contributions — something candidates can't do. And, according to the law, superPACs are barred from coordinating their ads with the candidates they support. But it's not nearly that simple.

A SuperPAC Attacks

Morocco has been called one of the winners of the Arab Spring. The country's young king, Mohammed VI, offered a new constitution and early elections, taking the steam out of a protest movement that rose up last February.

But the arrest and trial of an artist who writes provocative rap songs show that there seem to be limits to the reforms.

The rap songs of 24-year-old Mouad Belrhouate are popular in Morocco, even more so after the four months he has spent in jail.

Jakadrien Turner, a Texas teen deported to Colombia after authorities said she lied to them about who she was, is headed back home today.

We thought the World Wide Web was supposed to make information fly.

But now we have to question that notion.

It's taken a year and a half for us to hear that Pepsi is defending itself against a lawsuit claiming that a mouse was found in a can of Mountain Dew by saying that the furry little creature couldn't have been there because:

Internet Exiles Stores On Main Street

Jan 6, 2012

Open any children's book with a scene set downtown and you'll see a picture of basically the same row of shops. There's a bookstore, a pharmacy, a florist, a post office and a bank, and maybe a bakery where the kids can hope for a free cookie.

Nearly all those businesses are under threat from the Internet.

The Obama administration said it is proposing a change for the way some apply to become legal, permanent residents of the United States. The change would affect American citizens whose children or spouses are in the country illegally.

The current rule mandates that in order to apply for legal status, a person must return to their country and wait there while the long process continues. The rule tweak would allow those family members to stay in the country while the application works its way through the bureaucracy.

When it comes to unemployment reports in an election year, it's not just the data — it's also the spin.

Friday's jobs report could be seen as good news — at 8.5 percent, it's the lowest in three years. Good news for President Obama? Not according to Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who lost no time in pointing out that the number is still above 8 percent — the figure that the president said would be the worst case under his 2009 stimulus package.

A team from the aircraft carrier strike force group that Iran threatened earlier this week has rescued 13 Iranian sailors who were being held by Somali pirates for several weeks, the U.S. Navy reports.

In a statement issued this morning, the Navy says:

You may want to read this twice if you're older than 45. In fact, you may have to.

That's because your mental abilities are already in decline, according to a study of 7,390 British civil servants just published in BMJ, the British Medical Journal.

This could be "the year of the gas-pocalypse" analysts tell the Los Angeles Times, "because gasoline prices are the highest ever for the start of the year, and they're on the rise, supercharged by expensive oil and changes in refinery operations."

Indeed, check out some of this reporting and analysis from

Of all the good news in the December unemployment report, perhaps the most encouraging sign for the 2012 labor market was the increase in construction jobs. That sector has lost more than 2 million jobs as the housing market imploded 5 years ago, but increases in construction hiring and spending could be cautious signs of a turnaround, analysts say.

Overall, employers created 200,000 jobs last month, sending the U.S. unemployment rate down to 8.5 percent, the Labor Department said Friday.

Reporter Liz Halloran and I have been motoring around New Hampshire the past few days, chasing candidate events and taking the political temperature of the state.

On the way to a Santorum event Thursday we spotted a small lake dotted with ice fishing shelters — the first we'd seen all week. Apparently, the ice only became thick enough in the last two weeks or so.

"Could Typo Rewrite Caucus History?"

That's the headline at the website of Des Moines' KCCI-TV, which reports that one Republican from Iowa's Appanoose County thinks a miscount at a caucus attended by 53 people there might have mistakenly contributed to Mitt Romney's reported eight-vote victory over Rick Santorum.

What's In That Food? The SuperTracker Knows

Jan 6, 2012

January is a giddy time for weight-loss companies, which usually rake in profits as New Year's resolutions shuttle earnest dieters to their doors. Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would like to get in on the action, too. Not the money, mind you. The feds want us to use their new online food-and-exercise tracker, SuperTracker.

Under Media Glare, Santorum's Record Draws Closer Look

Jan 6, 2012

Now that he's getting his moment at the front of the GOP pack, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is drawing the kind of scrutiny he's escaped during all those lonely months at the bottom of the polls.

The nation's unemployment rate edged down to 8.5 percent — its lowest level in nearly three years — as 200,000 jobs were were added to payrolls, the Bureau of Labor Statistics just reported.

We'll add more details from the report shortly, so hit your "refresh" button to see our latest updates.

Update at 8:45 a.m. ET. Looking Back:

At 8.5 percent, the jobless rate is the lowest since February 2009's 8.3 percent.

The most-anticipated story of the morning seems to be the December jobs and unemployment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is due for release at 8:30 a.m. ET.

We'll post on the news as soon as possible after it's available.

Penn State University has chosen New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien to be its next head football coach and the man who will try to rebuild a program that was rocked last fall by a scandal that cost legendary coach Joe Paterno the job, ESPN reports. The sports network says an announcement is expected to be made Saturday.

There's been an explosion in central Damascus today and there are reports of multiple deaths and dozens of injuries.

As always in Syria, where the regime of President Bashar Assad tries to control the news, it's difficult to get an accurate sense of just what is going on. The regime is blaming its opponents, who have been protesting against Assad since last spring. Activists are questioning whether the attack was staged by supporters of the regime to make the opposition look bad.

Here's some of what's being reported:

Researchers trudging down the long and twisted path toward an AIDS vaccine are encouraged by new studies that show an experimental vaccine protects monkeys against infection with a virus that is very similar to HIV.

Corporations don't lobby Congress for fun. They lobby because it helps their bottom line. Getting a regulation gutted or a tax loophole created means extra cash for the corporation. But getting laws changed can be very expensive. How much money does a corporation get back from investing in a good lobbyist?

It's a messy, secretive system so it was always hard to study. But in 2004, economists found a bill so simple, so lucrative, that they could finally track the return on lobbying investment.

In the Arab states that have ousted dictators and begun building new political and economic systems, many are looking to Turkey as an example of a modern, moderate Muslim state that works. Perhaps no country has seen its image in the Arab world soar as quickly as Turkey, a secular state that's run by a party with roots in political Islam. As part of our series on the Arab Spring and where it stands today, NPR's Peter Kenyon examines whether the "Turkish model" can be exported.

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum is campaigning in New Hampshire after finishing a very close second in the Iowa caucuses. His success in the Hawkeye State was a surprise because Santorum was polling in the single digits there just a few weeks back.

For Santorum, surprising the political establishment is nothing new. Since he was first elected to Congress in 1990 — at 32 years old — Santorum has made a career out of being the underdog and usually winning.