Nation & World News

Why A Blockbuster Of A Trade Deal With Asia Matters

By Jackie Northam on April 17th, 2015 | Last updated: April 17, 2015 at 6:03 pm

It has been a decade in the making, but when completed, it will be a free trade agreement to beat all others — representing 40 percent of the world’s economy.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, agreement would bring together the economies of the U.S., Japan, Australia and nine other Pacific Rim nations, allowing the free trade of everything from agriculture to automobiles and textiles to pharmaceuticals.

President Obama said Friday that the deal is critical for the U.S. market.

“Ninety-five percent of the world’s markets are outside our borders. The fastest growing markets, the most populous markets, are going to be in Asia,” he noted.

Negotiations over the trade agreement are in the final, toughest stages. Analysts say the sticking points are now between the U.S. and Japan, the two largest economies in the TPP. Both sides are trying to protect key sectors — for Japan, it’s agriculture; for the U.S., it’s automobiles.

Those negotiations got a new shot of life Thursday when congressional leaders agreed to give President Obama the authority to “fast track” the deal through Congress.

The move overcomes a significant hurdle in the talks because President Obama will be able to complete the deal without the details being picked apart by Congress.

Under the agreement reached Thursday, lawmakers would have the opportunity to give the TPP an up-or-down vote, but they cannot alter terms of the final agreement reached between the U.S., Japan, Australia and other countries around the Pacific Rim.

However, if the final agreement doesn’t meet standards laid out by Congress on the environment, human rights or labor issues, a 60-vote majority could shut off the fast track trade rules and open the deal to amendments, according to The New York Times.

Japan and the U.S. are due to have Cabinet-level meeting over the trade deal next week, according to The Associated Press. Japan’s economy minister, Akira Amari, told reporters, “We are pretty sure our talks won’t break down.”

Agreeing to give President Obama the authority to fast-track the deal marks a shift on the political landscape. Many Republicans are behind the bill to give the president more power. As NPR reported earlier, the trade deal is vigorously supported by the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups.

But many Democrats oppose giving the president fast-track authority, known formally as the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), saying negotiations over the Asia-Pacific trade deal are held in secret and that there would be no way to amend the details. There are also deep-seated concerns that U.S. corporations would invest in foreign factories and then ship goods back to America.

President Obama on Friday acknowledged the concern about the free trade agreement, particularly among Democrats, because people have memories about outsourcing and job loss.

Still, Obama said, “If we do not help to shape the rules so that our businesses and our workers can compete in those markets, then China will set up rules that advantage Chinese workers and Chinese businesses.”

China is not part of the TPP.

The agreement giving the president fast-track authority comes less than a month after Beijing humiliated the U.S. and Japan by persuading dozens of countries, including key American allies, to join a regional infrastructure bank over objections by Washington, according to The Wall Street Journal.

It also gives new significance to an upcoming visit to Washington by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

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U.N., Oxfam Report At Least 120,000 Displaced In Yemen Fighting

By Scott Neuman on April 17th, 2015 | Last updated: April 17, 2015 at 4:04 pm

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in the fighting in Yemen, the United Nations says today in a new report, which warns that the figure could rise dramatically unless the conflict is ended.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the number of displaced persons in Yemen is estimated at between 120,000 and 150,000. (Separately, Oxfam puts the figure at 121,000).

“It’s feared this figure could rise significantly if violence continues,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said in a statement. “This is in addition to the 300,000 plus Yemenis already displaced by previous violence.”

“Across Yemen, the security situation continues to deteriorate with 18 out of 22 governorates now affected. Airstrikes and shelling in Sa’ada this week have destroyed banks, government and community infrastructure, the post office, and homes, UNHCR says.

Oxfam’s Country Director for Yemen Grace Ommer said: “A permanent end to the conflict must be found now and land, sea and air routes must be re-opened to allow basic commodities like food, fuel and medical supplies to reach millions in desperate need.

“People have been without electricity and clean water in some areas for many days and are finding it increasingly difficult to buy sufficient food and fuel,” Ommer said. “Humanitarian access also remains virtually impossible in many areas for Oxfam and its partners. This is why the international community must intervene now and put pressure on all the parties to bring an end to the violence, or we could be looking at a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions.”

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#NPRreads: From The Hell Of The North To ‘Trash’ Food

By Maria Godoy on April 17th, 2015 | Last updated: April 17, 2015 at 3:04 pm

#NPRreads is a new feature we’re testing out on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers throughout our newsroom will share pieces that have kept them reading. They’ll share tidbits on Twitter using the #NPRreads hashtag, and on occasion we’ll share a longer take here on the blog.

This week, we share with you five reads.

From Ina Jaffe, a correspondent on NPR’s National Desk:

For bike racing fans, nothing says “Spring is here!” like the race known as The Hell of the North. That’s the nearly 160-mile race from Paris to the French city of Roubaix on the border with Belgium. What makes Paris-Roubaix hell is the often wet, still-wintry weather and the 30-plus miles of cobblestone paths along the route. The Wall Street Journal profiled Les Amis de Paris-Roubaix, a volunteer group of locals who tend to the venerable cobblestones. An excerpt:

“The techniques haven’t changed much. Replacing each stone is like an exercise in macro-dentistry, a root canal for the road. Clean the damaged area, fill with a custom mixture, jam the new element in place, and make sure it lines up with the rest. Use a hammer if necessary.

“It’s not about turning it into a pool table. That makes no sense,” Mr. [Francois] Doulcier said. “So we have to keep the challenge of the cobbles, but we want to remove the ruts, the potholes that have no place on the course.”

The 113th edition of Paris-Roubaix was April 12. Winner: German rider John Degenkolb. Trophy: a cobblestone, of course.

From Carrie Johnson, a justice correspondent on NPR’s Washington Desk:

On the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, a reporter who met one-on-one with Timothy McVeigh shares his impressions of their unusual 45-minute interview. The bomber evaded answering any questions about the attack but instead used the time to strike back at personal slights levied against him by victims and the media. Reporter Kevin Johnson paints a fascinating portrait of a man who remained self-absorbed to the very end — his execution by lethal injection. Here’s an excerpt:

“Ten months after his dramatic arrest for detonating a 4,800-pound fertilizer bomb on the doorstep of the Oklahoma City federal building, there he was, a confident smile creasing his face and stocking feet propped on a chair, as if relaxing in his own living room.

“There was absolutely no sense that he was afraid of what stood before him — a pending trial in then the largest mass murder in U.S. history and a likely death sentence. No expression of concern for the grief that still consumed a community and country just outside the mud-colored Oklahoma prison walls that contained him.

“Rather, on that day in February, he was upset with how he had been characterized in the media and sought to somehow reverse the torrent of public condemnation.”

From Bill Chappell, a blogger on the Two-Way:

America’s high incarceration rate makes me fascinated by how other nations handle crime and punishment. Finland has spent decades remaking its system. What works best, the country says, are shorter sentences and something like the old labor camp model — but with fluffy animals and gardening, the ability to come and go — and guaranteed vacation time. It’s also a bargain compared with “normal” prisons. An excerpt follows:

“There’s even an open prison at Helsinki’s top tourist attraction, Suomenlinna Island. The island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it swarms with tourists in the summer. Yet the only thing that separates the prison grounds from a block of residential apartments and museums is a yellow picket fence.

” ‘You really don’t realize that you are walking in the middle of an open prison,’ Lappi-Seppälä says. ‘Nobody thinks of it. But I don’t think even the American tourists find it scary.'”

“Locals seem to agree. When I talk to residents near the Kerava and Suomenlinna open prisons, most seem confused when I ask if they’re concerned about sharing the town with convicts. Some tell me that the prisoners improve the community by restoring historic sites or cleaning up public spaces.”

From Chuck Holmes, deputy managing editor:

Here’s insight into a conservative’s view of the Iran deal in five points. Commentator Bill Kristol rebuts the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal, decrying it as a “foreign policy disaster” in the making. There’s also nuance here in this followup to an earlier Weekly Standard editorial. On the political strategy ahead, the neocon Kristol urges more delaying tactics but also cautions fellow Republicans on the legislation they’re considering. Here’s more:

“The Corker bill only helps, if it does, after a deal has been signed—and then 67 votes in the Senate and 290 in the House are needed to overturn a deal. That’s unlikely. And a lot of damage in the region (just from signing the deal) will have been done. So Congress can’t pass the Corker bill and feel it’s done its duty.”

From Maria Godoy, host of our food blog, The Salt:

What we eat is undoubtedly a part of who we are. But when we talk about “trash food,” what are we really saying about the people who eat it? In this moving essay in the Oxford American, writer Chris Offutt, who grew up impoverished in Appalachia, dissects the uncomfortable issues of class and status baked into the foods we consume.

“We arrange food in a hierarchy based on who originally ate it until we reach mullet, gar, possum, and squirrel—the diet of the poor. The food is called trash, and then the people are.

“Within certain communities it’s become popular to host ‘white trash parties,’ where people are urged to bring Cheetos, pork rinds, Vienna sausages, Jell-O with marshmallows, fried baloney, corndogs, RC cola, Slim Jims, Fritos, Twinkies, and cottage cheese with jelly. In short—the food I ate as a kid in the hills.

“Participating in such a feast is considered proof of being very cool and very hip. But it’s not. Implicit in the menu is a vicious ridicule of the people who eat such food on a regular basis.”

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Can Top Slugger Joining Cubs End 106 Years Of Sadness?

By Miles Parks on April 17th, 2015 | Last updated: April 17, 2015 at 4:04 pm

The wait is over for Cubs fans.

Well, not the more than 106-year wait for a World Series Championship, but the wait for arguably the most exciting young slugger in baseball to join their club.

Power-hitting Kris Bryant, who is widely considered the most talented prospect in the sport, will make his major league debut Friday at home against the San Diego Padres. First pitch is 2:20 p.m. ET. He’s slated to bat fourth against Padres pitcher James Shields.

The Cubs waited to promote Bryant, 23, until now for financial reasons. Had he started the season with the team, he would have been under Chicago’s contractual control until 2020. Now, the team has him until 2021.

Bryant tweeted his reaction to the promotion from Triple A Iowa on Thursday night.

The third baseman has had tremendous statistical success at every level he’s played at so far.

He led all of Major League Baseball during spring training with nine home runs in just 14 games, and in 2013 he was named the most valuable player in the minors. Between the Double A and Triple A levels last season, he hit 43 home runs and knocked in 110 runs while also maintaining a .325 batting average.

Bryant, out of the University of San Diego, was the second pick of the 2013 MLB draft, after he led all college players in the 2012-13 season with 31 homers. The next-best slugger hit 21.

Baseball writers have been fawning over Bryant since the time he hit the pros, noting not only his brute strength but his marketable skill set.

Here’s Michael Baumann writing about Bryant for

“Bryant, 23, is a minor league third baseman in the Chicago Cubs system, and, simply put, he represents the next step in human evolution. He stands 6-foot-5 and is one of the four or five most handsome men I’ve ever seen, including on television.”

Don’t be surprised if Friday marks the beginning for baseball’s next superstar. It remains to be seen, however, whether he will turn out to be Chicago’s long-awaited savior.

Regardless, this guy can flat-out hit.

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TV’s ‘Sabado Gigante’ Will Cease Production This Fall, Ending Record Run

By Bill Chappell on April 17th, 2015 | Last updated: April 17, 2015 at 5:04 pm

After 53 years, Don Francisco will finally put down the mic. Univision says it will stop making the legendarily unpredictable variety show Sábado Gigante in September, ending a run that began in 1962 when Chile’s Mario Kreutzberger started entertaining viewers as Don Francisco.

Sábado Gigante has been a ratings and cultural phenomenon, captivating viewers with a three-hour blend that included comedy, amateur talent shows, interviews, games and music performances.

Viewed in more than 40 countries, its pace has often been called frenetic. The show’s absurd props, peppy music and scantily dressed women have been spoofed countless times by other TV shows and comedians. Along the way, Sábado Gigante set a Guinness World Record as the world’s longest-running variety show.

In the thousands of consecutive weeks the show has been on air, Kreutzberger, 74, has famously missed only one broadcast — due to his mother dying.

The Emmy-winning Kreutzberger was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 2011. At the time, he told the organization that an encounter with a TV was enough for him to know what he would do in life.

“I thought my dad was wrong,” he told the Television Academy. “[Being a tailor] was not the future. This thing was the future … and I wanted to be a part of it.”

His German parents had immigrated to Chile in the lead-up to World War II. Mario Kreutzberger Blumenfeld was born in 1940 in Chile.

Univision says Kreutzberger will remain involved with the network, primarily to host TV specials and its TeletonUSA charity drive.

“I’m excited to share with the audience this announcement, with which we’re starting to bring to a close the 53-year cycle of ‘Sábado Gigante,’ 30 of which were possible thanks to Univision in the United States,” Kreutzberger said in a statement from Univision.

More from the show’s creator:

“I have no words to thank our viewers for the support, loyalty and enthusiasm with which they have honored us through the years and which have allowed the show to become an unprecedented success in the history of this medium.”

“… From the start we made sure to ask, ‘What does the audience want?!’ And we have worked tirelessly for precisely that audience, with the utmost dedication, humility and deep respect. I have no words to acknowledge all the recognition and applause that we have received over the years. When we began in the United States in 1986, we told them that we were ‘separated by distance and united by the same language.’ Today I can say with great pride and satisfaction that that distance turned into closeness and affection.”

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Violence Against Immigrants In South Africa Turns Deadly

By Krishnadev Calamur on April 17th, 2015 | Last updated: April 18, 2015 at 9:03 am

Violence against immigrants in South Africa has killed at least five people, resulted in attacks on businesses owned by foreigners and sent thousands to take refuge at temporary shelters.

A massive rally against xenophobia was held Thursday in Durban, the coastal city that has been the scene of much of the unrest. Migrants from Africa and South Asia have been the target of the violence, which was condemned by President Jacob Zuma.

The fighting in Durban left five people dead — two immigrants and three South Africans, CNN reported.

The charity Gift of the Givers told CNN that about “8,500 people fled to refugee centers or police stations this week because of the violence.”

In Johannesburg on Thursday, foreign-owned shops were attacked and looted, the BBC reported, prompting some 200 people to take refuge at a police station.

The BBC adds: “Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the looters and arrested 12 people. … Police used rubber bullets to disperse a group of migrants in Johannesburg who had armed themselves with machetes for protection.”

The unemployment rate in South Africa is 24 percent, and many in the country accuse foreigners of taking jobs. The violence, which has been widely condemned in South Africa, has been attributed to comments made by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, who was quoted as saying foreigners should “go back to their countries.” He says his remarks were misrepresented.

South African officials have apologized to their African counterparts for the violence.

Anti-immigrant violence in 2008 killed more than 60 people.

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Mercury Probe Set For Crash-Landing On April 30

By Scott Neuman on April 17th, 2015 | Last updated: April 17, 2015 at 4:03 pm

Messenger, the space probe that discovered water on Mercury and has been circling the planet for four years, will take a swan dive at the end of the month in hopes of discovering something about weathering on the surface.

Messenger (an acronym for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging spacecraft) was launched in 2004, but took a roundabout journey to Mercury, building up speed with slingshot maneuvers around the sun, Earth, Venus and even buzzing Mercury itself three times before entering the planet’s orbit in March 2011.

According to, “The probe’s observations have helped scientists construct the best-ever maps of the planet, and Messenger confirmed that carbon-containing organic compounds and water ice exist inside the permanently shadowed craters near Mercury’s poles.”

But ground controllers will set Messenger up for a suicide mission with a final orbital correction on April 24.

The crash-landing will occur six days later on April 30, forming an impact crater on Mercury (already the most-cratered planet in the solar system).

In 2024, a joint European-Japanese mission, known as the BepiColombo Mercury probe and due for launch in 2017, will take a look at Messenger’s gravesite to see how much weathering has occurred in the intervening nine years.

“Having an impact crater, even a small one, whose origin date is precisely known, will be an important benchmark,” Sean Solomon, the mission’s principal investigator and director of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, is quoted by as saying.

As member station KQED reported earlier this month, Messenger will join an elite “Touchdown Club”:

“[Numerous] robotic and human-crewed spacecraft that have landed on the Moon; a large and growing number of landers and rovers that have set down (intact or in pieces) on Mars; a similarly decorated corps of heat-resistant robots on Venus; the Galileo spacecraft, which first sent an atmospheric probe into Jupiter’s cloudtops, and then added itself to this short list in an end of mission flame-out; Cassini’s Huygens probe on Titan; the NEAR spacecraft on the asteroid Eros; and finally, and most recently, the partially successful landing of Europe’s Philae probe on comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko.”

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Key Figure In Saddam’s Regime Reportedly Killed By Iraqi Forces

By Scott Neuman on April 17th, 2015 | Last updated: April 17, 2015 at 3:04 pm

Iraqi forces claim to have killed Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, who served in Saddam Hussein’s leadership circle and is believed to have been instrumental in the sudden rise of the self-declared Islamic State.

But an official from Saddam’s Baath Party has denied the report.

Douri, 72, is the “king of clubs” in the deck of playing cards U.S. troops used to identify key figures in Saddam’s regime following the 2003 invasion that toppled the Baathist regime.

Reuters says a spokesman for the Baath Party has denied the report in an interview with Al-Hadath television.

Saddam was executed in 2006, but Douri managed to elude capture and eventually came to lead the Naqshbandi Order insurgent group, which is believed to have helped spawn the Islamic State, or ISIS.

The BBC notes: “There have been reports of al-Douri’s death or capture before, but correspondents say this is the most credible so far.”

According to The Associated Press:

“Salahuddin province Gov. Raed al-Jabouri says soldiers and allied Shiite militiamen killed al-Douri early Friday in an operation east of the city of Tikrit. A graphic photo issued by the government purports to be of al-Douri’s corpse.

“Senior regional commander, Gen. Haider al-Basri, told Iraqi state TV that al-Douri and nine bodyguards were killed by gunshots while riding in a convoy.”

Reuters quotes Jabouri as saying the operation took place in the Hamrin Mountain area and that results of a DNA test from a sample taken from the body are “believed” to corroborate that it was Douri who was killed.

Last year, NPR’s Leila Fadel reported that Douri had released an audio message in which he “urged unity for the fight for Baghdad and called fighters of the Islamic State and al-Qaida heroes.”

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ESPN Suspends Reporter Over Rant Recorded By Towing Company

By Bill Chappell on April 17th, 2015 | Last updated: April 17, 2015 at 1:04 pm

A string of insults aimed at a woman who works at a towing company were recorded by a surveillance camera. Now they’ve come back to sting sports reporter Britt McHenry. After the video emerged of McHenry, 28, dishing out profane verbal abuse, ESPN announced she’ll be punished.

“Britt McHenry has been suspended for one week effectively immediately,” the media company said.

Video of the encounter, which reportedly took place earlier this month, spread quickly after it was published Thursday on LiveLeak. In it, McHenry, who is based in Washington, D.C., vents her anger about her towed car at the counter clerk, who points out the surveillance camera.

Here’s the video — we’ll warn you, it includes profanity. (We summarize it below.)

In the footage, McHenry says, among other things:

“I’m in the news sweetheart. I will ******* sue this place.”
“That’s why I have a degree and you don’t.”
“I wouldn’t work at a scumbag place like this. Makes my skin crawl even being here.”
“Do you feel good about your job? So, I could be a college dropout and do the same thing?”
“Maybe if I was missing some teeth they would hire me, huh?”

When the clerk suggests that McHenry’s hair could use a touch-up, she dismisses the idea by saying, “Cause I’m on television and you’re in a ******* trailer, honey.”

She then says, “Lose some weight, baby girl.”

Hours after the video was highlighted by Deadspin on Thursday, McHenry issued an apology:

“In an intense and stressful moment, I allowed my emotions to get the best of me and said some insulting and regrettable things. As frustrated as I was, I should always choose to be respectful and take the high road. I am so sorry for my actions and will learn from this mistake.”

The tow company employee is identified by Busted Coverage as Gina Michelle. Citing her, the website reports that Advanced Towing impounded McHenry’s car on a Sunday night because she left it in the parking lot of a Chinese restaurant for two hours after it had closed. McHenry says she ate at the restaurant.

It seems that after the incident, both McHenry and Michelle used social media to contact local news site, which notes, “some who have dealt with Advanced Towing have backed the former Arlington worker [McHenry].”

Advanced Towing was in the news just days before McHenry’s car was towed, after a man said one of the company’s drivers had started to tow his car with his children still inside it, waiting for him in a CVS parking lot, NBC Washington reported.

McHenry is a graduate of Stetson University and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Before being hired by ESPN one year ago, she worked at WJLA-TV in the Washington, D.C., area.

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Pope ‘Considering’ Cuba Visit, Vatican Says

By Scott Neuman on April 17th, 2015 | Last updated: April 17, 2015 at 12:05 pm

Pope Francis, who plans to visit the United States in September, might tack onto his itinerary a side trip to Cuba, the Vatican says, but it cautions the talks with Havana are at an early stage.

The Catholic Herald quotes Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi as saying Francis is “considering the idea of a Cuba leg.”

The Herald notes:

“In what will be the Pope’s first trip to the US, the Pontiff will travel to Washington DC, New York and Philadelphia in September. He will join a session in Congress and be hosted by President Obama in the White House.

“A visit to Cuba would be a historic addition to this itinerary. Pope Francis has already played a major role in the re-opening of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US, last summer writing letters to both Barack Obama and Raul Castro that eventually led to the release of US prisoner, Alan Gross.”

Francis is credited with helping broker a breakthrough in relations between Washington and Havana following a decades-long Cold War freeze. Both of his predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II, also visited the predominantly Catholic island nation.

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