Weekend Edition Sunday

Conceived as a cross between a Sunday newspaper and CBS' Sunday Morning with Charles KuraltWeekend Edition Sunday features interviews with newsmakers, artists, scientists, politicians, musicians, writers, theologians and historians. The program has covered news events from Nelson Mandela's 1990 release from a South African prison to the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Weekend Edition Sunday debuted on January 18, 1987, with host Susan Stamberg. Two years later, Liane Hansen took over the host chair, a position she held for 22 years. In that time, Hansen interviewed movers and shakers in politics, science, business and the arts. Her reporting travels took her from the slums of Cairo to the iron mines of Michigan's Upper Peninsula; from the oyster beds on the bayou in Houma, La., to Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park; and from the kitchens of Colonial Williamsburg, Va., to the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. In the fall of 2011, NPR National Desk Reporter Audie Cornish began hosting the show.

Every week listeners tune in to hear a unique blend of news, features and the regularly scheduled puzzle segment with Puzzlemaster Will Shortz, the crossword puzzle editor of The New York Times.

Weekend Edition Sunday is heard on NPR Member stations across the United States and around the globe via NPR Worldwide. The conversation between the audience and the program staff continues throughout the social media world.

The White House is reviewing how it handles hostage crises following the brutal murders of Americans abroad, but families of hostages say they're often left out of the conversation.

First, there was James Foley. Then Steven Sotloff. Finally, Abdul Rahman Kassig, also known as Peter Kassig. All three were American hostages, brutally murdered by the so-called Islamic State.

This past week the White House confirmed that it's conducting a review of its hostage policy, but in a press conference, White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the United States will not change its policy on ransoms: America does not pay them.

Instead, the review will focus on how the U.S. government manages itself in a hostage situation and how the many agencies involved communicate with the families of the victims.

Some of the families say they've been left in the dark.

What Families Know

"We had no one who updated us. Let's put it that way ... no one at all," says Diane Foley, the mother of James Foley, who was infamously killed this August by the group which calls itself the Islamic State.

"I found out that Jim had been beheaded by a journalist who called me crying on the phone. That's how I found out," she tells NPR's Rachel Martin. "No one from State or FBI or the White House reached out to us at all. None of them confirmed the authenticity. I mean, it was just awful."

Dane Egli managed hostage situations for the Bush administration during the Iraq War. At the worst point, he says he put a poster up to keep track of all the Americans who'd gone missing — upwards of 50 at one point. His story of communication with families painted a different picture than the one Diane Foley experienced.

"The national leadership would get involved and call family members when it was appropriate. President Bush, Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Dr. Condoleeza Rice," he says. "There would be occasions when we might put them on the phone. They might ask to talk to parents or members of the family. Just each case was different."

The Price Of A Life

There is also the issue of ransoms. Diane Foley says her family did at points contemplate collecting and offering a ransom for James' return, which would go against official U.S. policy.

But Foley says even if the government hadn't intended to pay a ransom to free her son, talking to the terrorists could have yielded key intelligence about her son's location.

Egli, the former White House adviser, concedes there are moments when just engaging has its advantages.

"I think you have to acknowledge there's going to be some situations where if you could beat them at their game that you might temporarily allow a waiver for a case," Egli says.

In other words, engage. Maybe even make a half-baked promise, he says. Walk right up to the line without crossing it.

"Be it offering them a ransom or a ride on the space shuttle that no longer exists. In the trading, horse trading schnookery business, you would try to beat them at their game," he says.

But in Egli's estimation, the recent release of Sgt. Beau Bergdahl, held in captivity by the Taliban, in exchange for five high-ranking Taliban officials may have crossed a line into ransom-paying.

"This threw us off a little bit, those of us that were ex-military that have been in the hostage rescue business," Egli says. "It sends a message to the families or those who had hostages who were killed. 'Well, how come we didn't trade or do something for our family members?'"

Diane Foley says she was grateful for the Bergdahl's family reunion. "And since they had negotiated with the Taliban for his release I was certainly hopeful that they would do a similar thing for the four other Americans being held. So I was incredulous when that did not happen."

Egli says having a government pay a ransom, cash or otherwise, provides short-term gain at a enormous long-term loss.

"While you may enjoy having your loved one freed, the millions of dollars or hundreds of millions of dollars that were just transferred in cash to al-Qaida or ISIS ... have just underwritten their next mission," he says.

Few Options For Families

Even so, history suggests some room for ambiguity. New York Times reporter David Rohde, who was held hostage by the Taliban in 2008 and 2009, says the American government has a long-standing practice when it comes to ransom payments of saying one thing publicly and sometimes doing another.

"The real policy is the government will not pay, but companies and families have paid for a long time and the government has turned a blind eye," Rohde says.

The families are in an impossible position, Rohde says. They want to do something, but "it's actually not in your hands in the end.You're trapped in these massive international geopolitical struggles," he says.

"The cruelest thing about a kidnapping is that it gives the family the false sense that they can, if they just try hard enough, they can save their loved ones," he says. "But the kind of kidnapping we have today, the groups involved, that's just not true."

That certainly doesn't mean most families give up. In 2012, Marc and Debra Tice's son Austin was taken hostage in Syria while he was working as a freelance journalist. They have not heard from his captors but they still believe their son is alive.

Like Diane Foley, they feel the U.S. government has held them at too far a distance, denying them security clearance to learn more information about their son's situation, if there is any. They also say they feel shut out of the current review of hostage policy.

"We haven't been given a role," Debra Tice says. Her husband Marc says they have asked to participate but no one from the government has contacted them.

Debra Tice says if she was to meet with the president she'd like to tell him the following: "We would certainly ask him to think about what limits would he accept on finding his own child and bringing them safely home."

"We just would beseech him to think of our son in the very same way," she says.

A spokesperson for the White House declined NPR's request for an interview on the hostage policy review.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

A census by protesters estimates the main protest camp in Hong Kong is home ...
More than 2,000 tents still occupy city streets. The longer the pro-democracy demonstration goes on, the more unwelcome it becomes.

Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests, the longest of their kind on Chinese soil since the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising, turns 2 months old on Sunday.

In early October, the demonstrations grabbed media attention around the world and galvanized Hong Kongers, but now most of them just want the protests to end. Independent polls show people overwhelmingly oppose the continued occupation of city streets because it's inconvenient and appears to be futile.

"I think they should leave, because it's been two months," says Wisdom Cheng after picking up his associate's degree last week at a graduation ceremony at City University of Hong Kong. "The government still didn't reply," adds Cheng, who participated in the protests in October. "So, I think it's useless still staying in the protest area."

Across the harbor in the main protest camp, demonstrators gather at night to debate the movement's future. Since early October, the camp has gradually grown to include more than 2,000 tents, according to a census by demonstrators. But the huge early crowds have dwindled and most of the tents are empty.

The protests have lasted far longer than anyone imagined and there is a sense of the passage of time. In early October, the weather in Hong Kong was still warm and protesters wore shorts. Now, with December approaching, demonstrators mill about in jackets. In the distance, a giant neon Santa Claus covers the side of a building.

"A lot of the people here are very tired," says 26-year-old Jessie Ho, who works for a nearby non-profit and comes to the camp every night after work. "But they have formed a community, and they believe that they should either stay here together or leave together and there is no way you can get most people to leave."

That's because it's hard for protesters to walk away empty-handed. China's Communist Party in Beijing has refused to make any concessions to the protesters' key demand that people be allowed to nominate candidates for the next election of the city's chief executive in 2017.

Another reason people won't leave en masse is they just can't agree. Forging a consensus in a spontaneous political movement like this is tough.

"The vast majority of the protestors came on their own and, therefore, they should decide by themselves when to go," says Joseph Cheng, a professor of political science at City University of Hong Kong and a democratic activist. "There is, of course, the beauty of spontaneity, but it also means there is lack of leadership."

Simply put, no one is in charge.

Many democratic leaders want to build an organization that can press the movement's cause long after the tents have been swept away.

"We have to move from the protest site to the community," said Lee Cheuk-Yan, a pro-democracy lawmaker, "because we need to gain public support."

Most of the demonstrators these days are students or people in their 20s. There is a man in his mid-60s, though, who sits in a camping chair reading a book most days.

He's Jimmy Lai, a billionaire media mogul and a key backer of the democracy movement. Lai owns Apple Daily, a leading pro-democracy newspaper, and Next Media, which mocks China's Communist Party in animated shorts.

One morning last week, Lai was reading the The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr., a gift from a fellow demonstrator. Lai says demonstrators need to retreat and stop irritating people by blocking roads.

He also thinks that, no matter how they end, the protests have changed Hong Kong, making the city more political and more polarized. An attack he experienced last week seemed to hammer home that point. Several men rushed up, threw rotting animal guts on Lai and cursed him.

"Very horrible," he says of the odor. "Even after a few days, I still smelled it."

Hong Kongers have long been seen as pragmatic money-makers, but Lai says the last two months have proved otherwise with young people showing more dedication to democracy than many expected.

"Even Hong Kong people like myself have rediscovered Hong Kong," Lai says. "The young people have given us hope; the young people have given us a new sense of dignity, a new sense of pride."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR producer Olly Dearden is a fan of most classic Thanksgiving dishes, but ...
Thanksgiving traditions can be a bit inscrutable for people who didn't grow up in the U.S., like NPR producer Olly Dearden. He talked with several experts and got some answers to his questions.

Thanksgiving traditions can be a bit inscrutable for people who didn't grow up in the U.S., like NPR producer Olly Dearden. Disgusted by the thought of sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows and confused by the pardoning of turkeys who've committed no crimes, Dearden talked with several experts in the field, and got some answers to his questions.

When was the first Thanksgiving?
It's complicated, but a reasonable answer is October of 1621. "Half of the passengers on the Mayflower [in December of 1620], about 100 passengers, did not survive the first winter," says Kenneth Davis, author of the Don't Know Much About History series. Those who remained expressed their gratitude with a day of prayer and fasting.

How did Thanksgiving land on the fourth Thursday of November?
President Franklin D. Roosevelt set it there, but then retailers, in the midst of the Depression, asked him to bump it a week earlier to create more shopping days before Christmas. He agreed, but Republicans in Congress fought him on it, so in 1939 there were two Thanksgivings. Roosevelt's Democratic holiday was known as "Franksgiving." Two years later, Davis says, "a true national holiday [was] created on the fourth Thursday in November."

When did we start pardoning turkeys?
Davis says President George H. W. Bush was the first. "But that doesn't mean there's no turkey on the White House dinner," says Davis. "So I wonder about the other gobbler out there who takes the axe for the other guy."

Who's to credit — or blame — for topping sweet potatoes with marshmallows?
"The Cracker Jack company," says Andrew Smith, editor-in-chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. They put out a small booklet of recipes in 1917 to encourage people to cook with marshmallows. "Virtually all of the other recipes died with the publication of their book, but the marshmallow and the sweet potato one has survived — and has thrived — ever since."

Where did Black Friday come from?
"The term Black Friday came to be used in Philadelphia by police officers to describe that rush of shoppers on the day after Thanksgiving, which would result in traffic jams and clogged streets," says linguist Ben Zimmer. "And we've got evidence of that in Philadelphia going back to 1961."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.