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Part of an ongoing series on obesity in America

Losing weight in America is big business. Americans spend $61 billion a year on everything from diet pills and exercise videos to meal plans, health club memberships and medical treatment. One of the fastest growing and lucrative segments of the weight-loss market is surgery.

This December, along with the holidays, voters in Iowa and New Hampshire can also look forward to lots of visits from presidential candidates. The primary calendar now looks like it will start early in January—first with the Iowa caucuses, followed closely by New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and then, by month's end, Florida.

On Friday, officials in the Sunshine State announced they were scheduling their presidential primary on Jan. 31 — breaking party rules and forcing four other states to move up even earlier to maintain their places in the batting order.

Astronomers are lining up to use a powerful new NASA telescope called SOFIA. The telescope has unique capabilities for studying things like how stars form and what's in the atmospheres of planets.

But unlike most of the space agency's telescopes, SOFIA isn't in space — it flies around mounted in a Boeing 747 jet with a large door cut on the side so the telescope can see out. Putting a telescope in space makes sense: There's no pesky atmosphere to make stars twinkle. But why put one on a plane?

Today marks 35 years since Congress first passed what's come to be known as the Hyde Amendment, which bans most federal abortion funding.

While the actual language of the rider to the annual funding bill for the Department of Health and Human Services has changed considerably over the years, since 2003 it has allowed federal Medicaid funds to pay for abortions in cases of rape, incest, or if the life of the woman is endangered by the pregnancy.

For years scientists have been faced with a mystery about the planet Mercury. Its iron core is much bigger than that of most other planets. More than half of Mercury's mass comes from its core. In comparison, about 32 percent of Earth's mass comes from its core.

Scientists theorized that was because Mercury is so close to the sun that its rocky surface simply melted away.

A new study, which was released along with a series of other papers about Mercury in this week's issue of Science, disputes those theories.

Death Toll Rises To 15 In Listeria Cantaloupe Outbreak

Sep 30, 2011

Illnesses linked to tainted cantaloupes continue to mount.

Updated figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 84 people in 19 states have been sickened by listeria bacteria from an outbreak linked to cantaloupes, and 15 have died.

Jensen Farms recalled its Rocky Ford cantaloupes two weeks ago. That recall was just expanded to three more states: Indiana, Louisiana and Wisconsin.

Within moments of Anwar al-Awlaki's death, debate erupted over whether the U.S. had a legal basis to target one of its own citizens with deadly force.

Last year, President Obama put al-Awlaki on a secret list that gave the intelligence community a green light to target him in a deadly drone attack.

The move bothered human rights advocates so much that they sued, enlisting al-Awlaki's father as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

A Hellfire missile fired from an American drone killed Anwar al-Awlaki on Friday, ending a two-year hunt for a radical cleric who had called on his followers to attack the U.S. any way they could.

Some details of the strike are sketchy. U.S. officials and the Yemeni Defense Ministry both confirmed that a drone had fired on a convoy of cars that was carrying Awlaki in northern Yemen. They said it was a joint operation, but it is unclear what role the Yemeni military played in the attack.

After his convoy was attacked by pro-regime protesters in Damascus, U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford used the embassy's page on Facebook to comment on the incident.

With all the recent turmoil in the Middle East, one piece of news that has been overlooked is the revelation that the Obama administration approved the sale of 55 deep earth penetrator bombs to Israel in 2009.

The two-year-old transaction was recently reported by Newsweek. No U.S. officials have talked openly about why the bunker busters were provided to Israel but speculation falls most heavily on a single target.

A new analysis of 2010 census data by the Williams Institute shows how same-sex couples are distributed across the nation. Liberal enclaves are well-represented, of course. But so are some surprising pockets of the heartland and the South.

Bloomberg has a story worth reading, today. They report that Google, Apple and Cisco Systems' lobbying for a tax holiday on offshore profits has just received a big gun.

Libya's victorious militias are still fighting the last forces loyal to ousted strongman Moammar Gadhafi, but as the military endgame draws closer, some are worrying about the political battles that are just beginning.

The question is an old one for revolutionaries: How to go from a military triumph to a civilian government?

In Libya, the problem is magnified because the fighting is still going on and the military consists of various regional militias that don't answer to a single commander.

The Man Behind The Illegal-Immigration Crackdown

Sep 30, 2011

Alabama and Arizona have some of the toughest immigration laws in the country. Behind both states' laws, and many others, is Kris Kobach, a constitutional lawyer and the Kansas secretary of state.

Kobach has helped several other states shape immigration legislation, and he says there's more to come in 2012.

Many national stories have called the 45-year-old conservative a "movie star," handsome and loaded with charisma. He looked the part greeting some 60 guests during a recent address to the Pachyderm Club in Topeka, Kan.

As bans on gay marriage and civil unions spread across the majority of America in the past decade, new U.S. Census figures reveal a starkly different trend: The number of same-sex partnerships skyrocketed even in the most prohibitive states.

Some 646,464 gay couples said they lived together in last year's census, an increase of 80 percent from 2000, according to revised figures released this week. Same-sex couples make up just 1 percent of all married and unmarried couples in the U.S., but as a group they nonetheless made large gains in every state.

Economists Say Indicators All Point Toward Recession

Sep 30, 2011

Today, we've read nothing but bad economic news. The worst of which came from the Economic Cycle Research Institute, an independent forecasting group.

Lakshman Achuthan, the managing director of ECRI, was on CNBC this morning and he had the hosts cringing. After Achutan said "a vicious circle has started," and that "we're not going to escape" a double-dip recession, one of the anchors said, "A drink?"

Long before U.S. officials said he was one of the world's most-wanted terrorists, Anwar al-Awlaki was a Muslim cleric who U.S. media outlets would turn to during discussions about the post-Sept. 11 world.

The decision by Florida's Republican officials to move the state's presidential primary into January from March will have a range of effects, some foreseeable, some not.

By advancing its primary date to Jan. 31, Florida makes it virtually certain the four traditional early states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — will now move their caucuses and primaries to earlier in January to maintain their status as the earliest contests.

In Indonesia, many people are celebrating what they see as a long-delayed victory for justice and human rights. Representatives of a village in West Java that was the site of a massacre by Dutch colonial soldiers 64 years ago sued the Dutch government and won.

The Dutch court ruled that the government must now compensate the victims' seven surviving widows. One of them is 84-year-old Cawi Binti Baisan.

She remembers her husband Bitol waking her up before dawn one morning in 1947. Bitol, who went by only one name, had just come in from the rice paddies, carrying his plow.

Chuck Brown On World Cafe

Feb 3, 2011

Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-Go music, died in 2012. A year earlier, he'd stopped by World Cafe to discuss his 50-plus-year career and his last album.

This segment, from Jan. 18, 2008, is part of our Vintage Cafe series, in which we revisit some of our best studio performances. Here, we remember an Americana legend and drummer for the '60s rock group The Band, Levon Helm, who died in 2012.

Levon Helm first picked up a guitar at age 8, but soon switched to drums. Though best known as the famous drummer for the rock group The Band, Helm continued to influence music with his collaborations and solo works.

Greatest Sounds and Bloopers

Jul 25, 2008

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Snake Handler Holds Rattlers and Records

Jul 25, 2008

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ALISON STEWART, host:

Open Mic: The 'BPP' Staff Says Goodbye

Jul 25, 2008

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NPR News Special Coverage: Pentagon Briefing

Apr 1, 2003

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