News You Can Use

Maybe you're not quite sure what an LED balloon is. But they're very popular right now — at birthday parties, weddings, holiday events.

It's actually a regular balloon with a string of multicolored LED light wrapped around it. The lights are usually powered by two AA batteries, stored in the plastic handle attached to the balloon, which is inflated with helium or an air pump. When you turn the lights on, they glow and flash.

The co-chairman of Germany's Green party says he is quitting Twitter and Facebook after a cyberattack exposed his personal communications and because he committed several gaffes via tweet.

"Twitter rubs off on me," Robert Habeck writes, announcing his departure from both platforms. "There is no medium with so much hate, malice, and incitement."

Updated Wednesday at 5:20 p.m. ET.

Teachers in Los Angeles, the nation's second largest school district, are preparing to go on strike. The district last saw a teacher strike nearly 30 years ago.

If no deal is reached, more than 30,000 members of United Teachers Los Angeles wouldn't go to work, affecting roughly 480,000 public school students.

Sleater-Kinney has confirmed it's releasing a new album sometime this year, produced by St. Vincent. Guitarist Carrie Brownstein tells NPR, "We always planned on getting back in the studio — it was just a matter of when. If there is an overarching principle to this album, it's that the tools on which we were relying proved inadequate.

A Russian lawyer who met with senior Trump campaign officials at Trump Tower in the summer of 2016 has been charged with obstruction of justice tied to a money laundering case in New York.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan announced the single criminal count against the attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, on Tuesday. The allegation in the indictment suggests she has close ties to the Russian government — something she has previously denied in the context of the special counsel's Russia investigation.

After months of controversy and uncertainty surrounding a botched contracting process, the Government Publishing Office has announced a new printer for the 2020 census.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has apparently snubbed U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, canceling a planned meeting to discuss the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria as well as the fate of a U.S.-allied Kurdish militia fighting ISIS in Syria.

Bolton's meeting with Erdogan was canceled moments before it was to begin, reflecting Turkish anger at Bolton's insistence that those Kurdish forces be protected after more than 2,000 American troops exit northeastern Syria.

Just two months ago, Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment to change how the state draws legislative boundaries. The state's lawmakers, who return to session this week, aren't having it and may seek to nix or rewrite the anti-gerrymandering law.

Missouri was one of four states where voters last year decided to make significant changes to the redistricting process in the name of curbing partisanship and reducing political influence on legislative and congressional maps.

Updated at 1:25 p.m. ET

The ongoing government shutdown didn't stop the Justice Department's public affairs office from issuing statements this week about cases involving America's Southern border.

Officials in Washington, D.C., instructed field office workers on Dec. 21 that the public affairs unit would "only issue press releases to the extent it is necessary to ensure public safety or national security, such as a terrorist attack or something of similar magnitude."

As productive as screaming into the void can be, sometimes the most effective way to air grievances is simply with a sigh. Meg Duffy, who was the longtime lead guitarist for Kevin Morby, switched their focus to Hand Habits in 2017. Duffy's second album, placeholder, leads off with the title track, a soft yet scathing lamentation of being secondary.

If you store grains in your pantry, you've probably had the unfortunate experience of opening a package or jar to find tiny bugs living inside.

You're not alone — there are more than 200 species of these pesky grain insects ruining dinner plans around the world on a daily basis. It's no accident that they've made a home in your pantry — they've evolved along with humans. In a way, they contain a fascinating natural history of our own domestication.

Updated at 9:05 a.m. ET

Florida's voting rolls are about to swell.

In November, Florida voters overwhelmingly voted to restore voting rights to most felons who have served their time. Today, as NPR Miami correspondent Greg Allen reports, the amendment to the state constitution goes into effect — and more than a million people will be able to register to vote.

Norway's rugged west coast is home to glaciers, waterfalls and dozens of fjords that draw hordes of tourists each summer. But navigating the extreme topography of the region, which is home to a third of the country's population, isn't easy.

With Democrats now in control of the U.S. House of Representatives, it might appear that the fight over abortion rights has become a standoff.

After all, abortion-rights supporters within the Democratic caucus will be in a position to block the kind of curbs that Republicans advanced over the past two years when they had control of Congress.

But those on both sides of the debate insist that won't be the case.

Updated at 9:09 a.m. ET

Tuesday is a historic day in Florida. Under an amendment passed by the voters in November, as many as 1.4 million felons are regaining the right to vote. The referendum overturned a 150-year-old law that permanently disenfranchised people with felony convictions.

When President Trump addresses the nation from the Oval Office on Tuesday night he will be sharing the space with more than a teleprompter and an array of TV cameras.

The room with the legendary shape will also be filled with ghosts. The spirit of every president in the television age will be alive in the memories of millions watching at home.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has traveled to China at the request of Chinese President Xi Jinping, state media of both countries announced. It's Kim's fourth visit to China in a year.

The four-day visit could be a chance for the two leaders to coordinate ahead of a second summit between Kim and President Trump, NPR's international correspondent Anthony Kuhn reports.

If a great book is a sumptuous meal, the campaign book is a bottle of Soylent.

A novel by Nabokov, a play by Shakespeare, even a pulpy airport crime novel — these satisfy the basic urge to read a story with beginning, middle and end; to watch characters interact and to understand their complex motivations. These stories are there for the joy of consumption.

As possible 2020 presidential candidates start announcing exploratory committees, there's talk that Sen. Kamala Harris may be on the verge of launching herself into the ring.

On Tuesday, her memoir The Truths We Hold hits shelves. In it, the California Democrat ticks through her résumé and credentials, while mixing in a look at her upbringing and family life.

George, the last of his species of Hawaiian land snail, died on New Year's Day. He was approximately 14 years old.

His death was confirmed by Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources.

George was born as part of a last-ditch effort to save his species. Back in 1997, the last 10 known Achatinella apexfulva were brought into a University of Hawaii lab to try to increase their numbers. Some offspring resulted, but all of them died – except for George.

A former Uber driver charged with killing six people during an hours-long shooting rampage in Michigan nearly three years ago, pleaded guilty to all charges on Monday, defying his attorney.

One of the agencies affected by the partial government shutdown — now in its third week — is the Internal Revenue Service. While many taxpayers may not feel this is a great loss, they'll still have to pay their taxes — and the shutdown has created a good deal of uncertainty for everyone planning to file their tax returns in the coming months.

But fear not, the White House says; tax refund checks will be sent out, even though the IRS, part of the Treasury Department, is for the most part closed.

President Trump has suggested that he might resort to using "emergency" powers to build his border wall if he is not able to reach agreement on funding with congressional Democrats.

"We are looking at it very strongly," Trump told reporters on Sunday. "We're looking at a national emergency, because we have a national emergency."

The president does have broad powers to act in a crisis situation, but those powers are not unlimited. And critics say Trump should be careful about invoking them in this instance.

The skyrocketing cost of many prescription drugs in the U.S. can be blamed primarily on price increases, not expensive new therapies or improvements in existing medications as drug companies frequently claim, a new study shows.

It had been years since anyone had seen an American military commander walking around the streets of downtown Baghdad.

So when Marine Brig. Gen. Austin Renforth went with his Iraqi counterpart for a tour of the city's most crowded neighborhoods on Friday, it wasn't clear what kind of reception he would get.

Sixteen years after the United States and its coalition partners invaded Iraq, most Iraqis still blame the U.S. for disbanding the Iraqi army and for the security vacuum and devastating civil war that followed.

Almost 10 years ago, journalist Hillary Frank was pregnant and planning to give birth without medication or surgery — but things didn't go according to her plan.

A Venezuelan Supreme Court judge who once supported President Nicolás Maduro has fled to the United States and publicly denounced Maduro's re-election days before the inauguration.

Justice Christian Zerpa left Venezuela with his wife and two daughters, according to Miami broadcaster EVTV. Their destination in the U.S. was unclear.

Israel's security service says it has arrested five Israeli yeshiva students allegedly involved in last year's fatal stoning of a Palestinian woman in the West Bank. The arrests in late December have heightened tensions between the state and radical Israeli settlers and their supporters ahead of national elections in April.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has granted executive clemency to Cyntoia Brown, who has been serving a life sentence for a murder she committed when she was 16 years old. Brown's cause was championed by a number of celebrities, including Rihanna.

Brown's supporters have said she acted in self-defense when she killed a man who had paid to have sex with her, describing her as a victim of human trafficking who was preyed upon when she was homeless. They also say Brown has remade herself while in prison — and on Monday, Haslam agreed.

Over the last decade and a half there's been a major push by economists to do rigorous research on poverty — basically to run experiments to figure out which solutions actually work.

But putting a halt to those that come up short is easier said than done.

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