National News

1. Obama, Raul Castro Announce Normalization Of Relations

President Obama said Wednesday the U.S. and Cuba will normalize relations, which have been strained since being severed in 1961. He spoke to Cuban President Raul Castro on Tuesday to finalize details of the announcement.

The White House says the devastating cyber attack on Sony Pictures was done with "malicious intent" and was initiated by a "sophisticated actor" but it would not say if that actor was North Korea.

Spokesman Josh Earnest says the matter is still under investigation.

"Regardless of who is found to be responsible for this, the president considers it to be a serious national security matter," Earnest says.

Some researchers who study the virus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome got an early Christmas present: permission to resume experiments that the federal government abruptly halted in October.

Cuban cigars are wrapped in mystique. Soon travelers will be able to bring back $100 worth of the famed cigars. Here are some facts you should know.

1. Cuban cigars are expensive, even in Cuba.

As NPR's Tom Gjelten tweeted, the new permission to bring back $100 worth of tobacco (or alcohol) allows you at the most four good cigars. Tom says he hasn't been back to Cuba for six years, but the last time he was there, a single Cohiba or Uppman "set you back at least $25."

Updated at 4:30 p.m. ET

Islamist extremists are being blamed for an attack in northeastern Nigeria that killed at least 33 people and resulted in the kidnapping of about 200 others.

A version of this story was originally published on Dec. 23, 2011.

If you happen to spend Christmas Eve in Canada — especially Quebec — you might be lucky enough to be invited to a festive dinner after midnight Mass. The feast is an old tradition from France called reveillon, and it's something to look forward to after a long day of fasting.

An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan has granted bail to a man accused of masterminding the deadly 2008 attack on Mumbai, India.

California is battling the worst whooping cough epidemic in 70 years.

Nearly 10,000 cases have been reported in the state so far this year, and babies are especially prone to hospitalization or even death.

Six of 10 infants who have become ill during the current outbreak are Latino. There's no conclusive explanation, but there are a few theories that range from Latino cultural factors to a lack of health insurance.

We're living longer.

And cardiovascular disease and infectious diseases aren't taking quite as much of a toll as they did a couple of decades ago.

But that doesn't mean we're immortal.

Road accidents, suicide, chronic kidney disease, alcohol-related diseases ... these are a few of the topics to discuss after looking at a new country-by-country analysis of causes of death by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

India took a giant leap forward toward its ambitious goal of sending humans into space, launching an unmanned crew capsule aboard a powerful new rocket.

The Indian Space Research Organization, or ISRO, launched the 630-ton rocket from its facility at Sriharikota on the country's southeast coast. It was the first flight test of an improved version of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, or GSLV rocket.

A Montana man's shooting in April of a German exchange student was a test of the state's "castle doctrine," which says a man's home is his castle and can be defended as such. But on Wednesday, a jury convicted Markus Kaarma of deliberate homicide in the death of 17-year-old Diren Dede, who was in his garage.

As Montana Public Radio's Christopher Allen reports, "Kaarma's defense team argued deadly force was justified because he was defending his home. Prosecutors argued Kaarma, who had been previously burglarized, set a trap with intent to harm and committed deliberate homicide."

Two very different holiday displays will share the grounds of the Michigan State Capitol next week: a traditional Christian Nativity and an exhibit by the Satanic Temple. The situation has brought controversy — and energized Christians who realized that a planned Nativity was in danger of being canceled.

The story drew intense attention after it emerged that there was a chance the Capitol grounds might host only a Satanic holiday display during the Christmas season, because plans for a Christian display didn't take into account Michigan's rules.

Soccer's governing body is meeting Thursday in Morocco, a day after the American lawyer, who spent two years investigating allegations of corruption in the bidding process for the World Cup, quit in protest at how FIFA handled his report.

Ebola may have slid off the nation's worry list, but that doesn't mean the United States is ready to handle an outbreak of Ebola or another infectious disease, an analysis says. That includes naturally occurring outbreaks like dengue fever, tuberculosis and measles, as well as the use of bioterrorism agents like anthrax.

There was a significant drop in the number of executions and death penalty sentences in 2014, a new report by the Death Penalty Information Center finds.

The group's year-end accounting finds that:

-- States conducted 35 executions in 2014 — the lowest since 1994.

-- And the justice system sentenced 72 people to death — the lowest number in 40 years.

Russian President Vladimir Putin lashed out at the West in a year-end news conference today, blaming international sanctions and a steep plunge in oil prices for the precipitous drop in the value of the ruble.

Putin, speaking during a more than three-hour news conference attended by some 1,200 journalists, "promised never to let the West chain or defang his proud nation," according to The Associated Press.

Remember that worrisome new form of botulinum toxin we told you about in late 2013, the one that supposedly had to be kept secret out of fear it could be used as a bioweapon that would evade all of our medical defenses?

Well, as it turns out, it's not that scary after all. The antitoxin stored in the government's emergency stockpile works and would neutralize the toxin just fine.

Between the rugged terrain and the constant terrorist threats, vaccinating Pakistani children against common diseases hasn't been easy. Mountains make it hard — at times even impossible — for vaccinators to reach people in the north. In the south, health workers have to use four-wheelers and camels to travel through Pakistan's harsh deserts.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

Just hours after the United States and Cuba announced they were moving toward normalizing relations, crowds gathered in Havana and Miami trying to come to grips with a historic shift.

NPR covered the reaction in those two places with two pieces on Morning Edition.

NPR's Greg Allen reported from Miami:

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The state of New York has banned fracking. After six years of study, the state says there are too many health and environmental questions involved in the controversial drilling method. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK, that report came to us from NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, and she's on the line with us still this morning. Hi, Lourdes.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Hi.

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