National & World News from NPR

The National Spelling Bee gets going Wednesday and the story that's got everyone buzzing is about the youngest competitor in the contest's history: 6-year-old Lori Anne Madison from Woodbridge, Va.

She is, as Washington's WJLA-TV says, a "precocious little girl" who "is anything but ordinary" and will be on stage with others twice her age.

The news has gotten worse from Italy. Just after 9:15 a.m. ET, The Associated Press reported that authorities say at least 15 people were killed today by an earthquake that struck the northern part of the country.

Our original post, from 8:05 a.m. ET:

As residents in Northeast Florida give thanks that Tropical Storm Beryl did relatively little damage over the weekend and did not develop into a hurricane, they're also grateful that it brought rain to an area plagued by drought.

"The U.N. said Tuesday that entire families were shot in their homes during a massacre in Syria on Friday that killed more than 100 people, including children," The Associated Press reports. And as nations around the world have reacted this morning to news about the atrocities, they're expelling Syrian diplomats in protest.

There are growing warnings on Capitol Hill that the nation could be rolling toward an end-of-the-year fiscal train wreck.

"The looming tax hike will be absolutely devastating," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said.

"You can call this a fiscal cliff. You can call it 'Taxmageddon' as others have done. Whatever you call it, it will be a disaster for the middle class," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, added.

And Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said: "It's a tsunami; there's no question about it, and it's coming."

It's high noon in Texas at the Stephenville Community Center out on Highway 67, and the Cross Timbers Republican Women's Club Candidates Forum is about to begin.

Time has run out on this Republican Senate primary. This is a last chance for the candidates to make an impression before Tuesday's vote. They're vying to replace Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is retiring after serving for nearly 20 years.

The American Dream is a crucial thread in this country's tapestry, woven through politics, music and culture.

Though the phrase has different meanings to different people, it suggests an underlying belief that hard work pays off and that the next generation will have a better life than the previous generation.

But three years after the worst recession in almost a century, the American Dream now feels in jeopardy to many.

The town of Lorain, Ohio, used to embody this dream. It was a place where you could get a good job, raise a family and comfortably retire.

On a recent evening, the Martin family of Harrisburg, Pa., had too many places it needed to be.

AnnaBelle Bowers, the 87-year-old matriarch of the family who is also known as "Snootzie," was at home — watching television and getting ready for bed.

Someone needed to care for her. That fell to Chris Martin, her 14-year-old great-grandson.

His willingness to stay at home meant his sister, Lauren, could play in a softball game.

It also meant her parents, David and LaDonna Martin, could watch.

As an increasing number of Americans live into their 80s and 90s, many families are struggling to find ways to make retirement dollars — that were once supposed to support seniors for years — now stretch over decades.

More and more, families have to care for the very elderly, as well as look after children who might be college grads but haven't found a job in a difficult economy.

All this requires one very important thing: lots of money.

Raoul Wallenberg is credited with saving thousands of Jews in Budapest during the Nazi occupation by giving them Swedish travel papers or moving them to safe houses. The Swedish diplomat was arrested by the Soviet Red Army more than six decades ago. His fate has been a mystery ever since.

On Monday, the chief archivist of Russia's counterintelligence service said the agency will continue searching for clues about his fate.

When Saber Sharifi goes out recruiting girls and young women for his female boxing team in Afghanistan, he encounters a lot of skeptical parents.

"I reassure them that their daughters will not have broken noses on their wedding day," he says with a smile.

Sharifi launched his recruiting campaign in girls' high schools back in 2007. After three months of relentless speeches and presentations, he could only get two girls to sign up.

But he didn't give up. After two more years, he had eight more members on the team.

Indonesia, the country with the world's largest number of active volcanoes, is betting that all the hot rocks will provide a clean and reliable energy source for the future.

The country is believed have 40 percent of the world's geothermal energy resources. But making geothermal energy economically feasible will require adjusting the country's heavily subsidized energy prices. And that issue is a political hot potato.

Unused Potential

As Headphones Invade The Office, Are We Lonelier?

May 28, 2012

Headphones or earbuds are becoming common in the workplace. Not just for listening to music on a break, they allow people to tune out their co-workers all day long. But in many cases, those same co-workers are still communicating — online.

Melissa Gore, a project manager at Huge, a Brooklyn, N.Y., digital branding agency, works side-by-side at long tables with hundreds of others. But she doesn't hear the chatter and commotion.

"I just have some headphones on," she says. "I get in the zone with Spotify and sometimes people have to wave their hand in front of me."

As part of a new tech segment, we're occasionally going to be looking at a concept, invention or tool that's altered the way the world works. To start things off, we asked Doug Wilson, director of Linotype: The Film, to tell us about — what else? — the linotype.

Millions of men and their doctors are trying to understand a federal task force's recommendation against routine use of a prostate cancer test called the PSA.

The guidance, which came out last week, raises basic questions about how to interpret medical evidence. And what role expert panels should play in how doctors practice.

In the early days of the Cold War, the U-2 spy plane helped the U.S. collect intelligence on Soviet military operations. It was a relatively unknown aircraft until May 1, 1960, when U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers crashed one in the Soviet Union. (Powers spent nearly two years in Soviet prisons before he was released.)

Substance abuse. Violence. Even thoughts of suicide. These are some of the problems that many veterans returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are struggling with.

Today it's called post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, but it has affected veterans going back much farther. While doctors and researchers put enormous efforts into developing new treatments, one group of veterans in Salt Lake City is finding relief in a very old tradition: a Native American sweat lodge.

Islamist Tops Egypt's Vote Count, But Run-off Needed

May 28, 2012

The runoff vote for Egypt's next president will pit the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate against the last prime minister to serve under Hosni Mubarak, according to full official results released Monday by the election commission.

Commission chief Farouq Sultan told a news conference that the Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander and a longtime friend of the ousted leader, were the top two finishers in the first round of voting held on May 23-24.

In the world of high-dollar politics, the billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch are famous for their lavish funding of conservative politicians and causes. But there's another Koch brother — William — who is passionate about many things, but only recently about politics.

Bill Koch is an avid yachtsman, and he set out to win the 1992 America's Cup. It would take four boats, more than 260 team members and single-minded determination.

David Rosow was the team's business manager and is a longtime friend of Koch's.

People with extremely rare diseases are often scattered across the world, and any one hospital has a hard time locating enough individuals to conduct meaningful research.

But one woman with an extremely rare heart condition managed to do what many hospitals couldn't. Katherine Leon connected with enough people online to interest the Mayo Clinic in a research trial.

Each year, tens of thousands of Americans are implanted with tiny battery-controlled devices that regulate the beating of their hearts. Those devices transmit streams of medical data directly to doctors.

But some patients, like Hugo Campos of San Francisco, fear they're being kept out of the loop.

The Graveyard Of Shelved Ice Cream Flavors

May 28, 2012

The first installment in Dead Stop, Morning Edition's summer road trip series about interesting gravesites in America.

When the Ben and Jerry's ice cream company kills a flavor, it's treated with respect — including a burial in the company's "Flavor Graveyard."

"I think we've got the best, and the not-best, up here," Sean Greenwood, Ben and Jerry's Grand Poobah of Publicity, says from the cemetery in Waterbury, Vt.

The U.N. Security Council is condemning the Syrian government for the massacre of scores of people, including children, in the town of Houla, a day after images of the mass killings shocked the world.

In this space earlier this month, I wrote about whether President Obama would face a backlash from African-Americans for his endorsement of same-sex marriage. (He hasn't.) I made mention of a random field experiment in which 285 black people in Cook County, Ill., were polled about gay marriage.

As summer nears, Great American Hecklers are being spotted all over the place.

You can see them — and hear their calls — at commencements, sporting events, political gatherings. Hecklers on the right and hecklers on the left.

At Eurovision, A Dance Around Human Rights

May 27, 2012

Under flashing lights, Swedish singer Loreen danced barefooted to first place in the 2012 Eurovision competition early Sunday morning. The contest's backdrop: Baku, Azerbaijan. While Europe fell in love with Loreen's song, "Euphoria," stories of abuse on the streets were leaking out.

Since 2001, more than 700,000 American children have had one or more parents deployed overseas by the military. Missed birthdays and other milestones become a part of life for military kids who are not always vocal about their feelings. In Grand Forks, N.D., a play called Deployed helped give some of them a voice. Meg Luther Lindholm reports.

Women Push Their Limits In Pro Cycling Race

May 27, 2012

The Exergy Tour began Thursday night in Boise, Idaho. It's the largest women's five-day stage race in North America. It's also the last major race before cycling teams are chosen for the Olympics in London. This Tour is meant to raise the bar for women's cycling but as Sadie Babits reports, the race began with a major upset.

The State Of The Church

May 27, 2012

The Catholic Church has been in the public spotlight a lot this year. The issues of contraception and gay marriage have been part of the presidential campaign and church leaders have weighed in. There have also been new revelations in a case involving leaked Vatican documents, and it may actually be a case where the butler did it. Host Rachel Martin speaks with John Allen, a senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.

Is Latest Attack In Syria A Game Changer?

May 27, 2012

The United Nations has confirmed that at least 90 people were killed by tank shells and artillery fire in central Syria this weekend. While the UN did not outright say this was the work of the Syrian army, activists and residents say the military is the only institution that has such weapons. NPR's Kelly McEvers in Beirut tells host Rachel Martin the latest.