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Category: USA (page 1 of 195)

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Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Marred Alaska 30 Years Ago

It was just after midnight March 24, 1989, when an Exxon Shipping Co. tanker ran aground outside the town of Valdez, Alaska, spewing millions of gallons of thick, toxic crude oil into the pristine Prince William Sound.

The world watched the aftermath unfold: scores of herring, sea otters and birds soaked in oil, and hundreds of miles of shoreline polluted. Commercial fishermen in the area saw their careers hit bottom.

It’s been 30 years since the disaster, at the time the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Only the 2010 Deep Water Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has eclipsed it.

The 986-foot (300-meter) Exxon Valdez tanker was bound for California when it struck Alaska’s Bligh Reef at 12:04 a.m. It spilled 11 million gallons (42 million liters) of crude oil, which storms and currents smeared across 1,300 miles (2,092 million kilometers) of shoreline.

The oil also extensively fouled spawning habitat in Prince William Sound for herring and pink salmon, two of its most important commercial fish species.

Fishermen and others affected by the spill dealt with ruined livelihoods, broken marriages and suicides. Exxon compensation checks, minus what fishermen earned on spill work, arrived too late for many.

Most of the affected species have recovered, but the spill led to wide-scale changes in the oil industry. Today, North Slope oil must be transported in double-hull tankers, which must be escorted by two tugs. Radar monitors the vessel’s position as well as that of icebergs.


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European, Canadian to Review Boeing 737 Max

Boeing’s grounded airliners are likely to be parked longer now that European and Canadian regulators plan to conduct their own reviews of changes the company is making after two of the jets crashed.

The Europeans and Canadians want to do more than simply take the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s word that alterations to a key flight-control system will make the 737 Max safer. Those reviews scramble an ambitious schedule set by Boeing and could undercut the FAA’s reputation around the world.

Boeing hopes by Monday to finish an update to software that can automatically point the nose of the plane sharply downward in some circumstances to avoid an aerodynamic stall, according to two people briefed on FAA presentations to congressional committees.

The FAA expects to certify Boeing’s modifications and plans for pilot training in April or May, one of the people said. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the briefings.

​Timetable in doubt

But there are clear doubts about meeting that timetable. Air Canada plans to remove the Boeing 737 Max from its schedule at least through July 1 and suspend some routes that it flew with the plane before it was grounded around the world last week.

American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, which are slightly less dependent on the Max than Air Canada, are juggling their fleets to fill in for grounded planes, but those carriers have still canceled some flights.

By international agreement, planes must be certified in the country where they are built. Regulators around the world have almost always accepted that country’s decision.

As a result, European airlines have flown Boeing jets with little independent review by the European Aviation Safety Agency, and U.S. airlines operate Airbus jets without a separate, lengthy certification process by the FAA.

That practice is being frayed, however, in the face of growing questions about the FAA’s certification of the Max. Critics question whether the agency relied too much on Boeing to vouch for critical safety matters and whether it understood the significance of a new automated flight-control system on the Max.

FAA’s word no longer enough 

The FAA let the Boeing Max keep flying after preliminary findings from the Oct. 29 crash of a Lion Air Max 8 in Indonesia pointed to flight-control problems linked to the failure of a sensor. Boeing went to work on upgrading the software to, among other things, rely on more than one sensor and limit the system’s power to point the plane’s nose down without direction from the pilots.

The FAA’s assurance that the plane was still safe to fly was good enough for the rest of the world until an Ethiopian Airlines Max 8 crashed. Satellite data suggests both planes had similar, erratic flight paths before crashing minutes after takeoff.

Patrick Ky, the executive director of the European regulator, said his agency will look “very deeply, very closely” at the changes Boeing and the FAA suggest to fix the plane.

“I can guarantee to you that on our side we will not allow the aircraft to fly if we have not found acceptable answers to all our questions, whatever the FAA does,” he said.

The message was the same from Canada’s Transport minister, Marc Garneau.

“When that software change is ready, which is a number of weeks, we will in Canada — even if it is certified by the FAA — we will do our own certification,” he said.

Other countries could also conduct their own analysis of how much pilot training should be required on the Max. Ky noted that one Lion Air crew correctly disabled the plane’s malfunctioning flight-control system, but not the crew on the next flight, which crashed. He said pilots under stress might have forgotten details of a bulletin Boeing issued in November that reminded pilots about that procedure.

Standing damaged

The FAA’s handling of issues around the Max jet have damaged its standing among other aviation regulators, said James Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The FAA will have to be more transparent about its investigation, and it should require that pilots train for the Max on flight simulators, Hall said, because “that is how pilots train today, not on iPads.”

John Hansman, an aeronautics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and chairman of an FAA research and engineering advisory committee, said separate approvals by Canada and the Europeans will reassure the public because those countries are seen as having no vested interest in the plane.

“It’s unfortunate because it will probably cause a delay, but it may be the right thing in the long haul,” Hansman said. He expects that the FAA will wait until other regulators finish their reviews before letting the Max fly again.

Meanwhile, the FAA is getting a new chief. The White House said Tuesday that President Donald Trump will nominate former Delta Air Lines executive and pilot Stephen Dickson to head the agency. Daniel Elwell has been acting administrator since January 2018.

Boeing too is shifting personnel. This week, the company named the chief engineer of its commercial airplanes division to lead the company’s role in the investigations into the Oct. 29 crash of the Lion Air jet and the March 10 Ethiopian Airlines crash. The executive, John Hamilton, has experience in airplane design and regulatory standards.


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Trump Highlights Manufacturing in Ohio Despite Closed GM Plant

In Ohio Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump spotlighted the U.S. manufacturing industry, a key piece of his 2020 re-election strategy that is being undercut by the closure of a large GM auto plant in the state. Trump’s focus on manufacturing is lauded by his base, but is it actually helpful to the industry? White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara reports.


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Trump Accuses Twitter, Facebook, Google of Siding with ‘Radical Left Democrats’

U.S. President Donald Trump has accused social media outlets, including Facebook, Google and Twitter, of being biased, and suggested that the situation needs scrutiny. In answer to a reporter at the White House Tuesday, Trump said digital platforms tend to suppress Republican and conservative views. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.


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Trump Meets Brazil Counterpart Dubbed ‘Trump of the Tropics’

Brazil’s new right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics”, met President Donald Trump at the White House Tuesday. The leaders discussed a range of trade and military issues, including finding a resolution to the political crisis in Venezuela, with Trump suggesting an offer of preferential military cooperation status to Brazil. White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has this report.


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US Missile Defense Cuts Worry Analysts

The U.S. has proposed reducing its missile defense budget as adversaries Russia, China, Iran and North Korea continue to modernize and increase their missile capabilities. But as VOA’s Brian Padden reports, defense analysts argue more funding is needed to deal with the growing missile threat to the U.S. homeland.


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Making America’s Favorite Movie Snack

No U.S. state produces more popcorn than Nebraska. The factory called Preferred Popcorn smells like a giant movie theatre and is a major producer in America. Lesia Bakalets traveled to Nebraska to find out how it’s all done. Anna Rice narrates.


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California High School Students Create Virtual Stock Market

Some California students have created a virtual stock exchange for student companies, all of it simulated but realistic. As Mike O’Sullivan reports, the classroom project helps them understand financial markets as they learn about the challenges of business.


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Climate Protest the Latest Youth Action for Social Change

In every generation, young people have led movements for social change. Some were successful, others were not. The latest student movement to make headlines began last year, as students skipped classes on Fridays to pressure world leaders to take action on climate. Their coordinated global protest this past Friday was the largest to date. Markus Meyer-Gehlen has more on youth activism.


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Democrats See Health Care as Winning Issue in 2020 US Election

Health care in America is again expected to be a deeply divisive issue in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, with Democrats pressing for more government involvement through the concept of “Medicare for All,” and Republicans warning of increased taxes and looming socialism.

Health care advocates believe that growing public support for protecting and expanding health care programs will help Democrats in 2020, just as the party’s focus on this issue helped it win control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 election.

“Health care is a winning issue for Democrats. So, I think any way that they focus on health care and solutions is going to be beneficial to them,” said Anne Shoup, with the advocacy group Protect Our Care.

Republicans, meanwhile, have been on the defensive of late, unable to agree on a conservative health care alternative to both bring down costs and ensure access to those in need.

Congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump failed in their effort to repeal and replace the Obama administration’s signature health care program, but over time have reduced its coverage benefits.

“Everyone wants to have health care for the sick. No one’s trying to deny the sick health care. I think that’s an important thing to clarify. What’s important is how we achieve that,” said Meridian Paulton, a conservative health policy analyst with The Heritage Foundation.

‘Medicare for All’

The rising cost of health care continues to be a major concern in the U.S., where a typical family with no serious afflictions can spend over $8,000 a year, or 11 percent of their income on health insurance and basic medical care, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation that studies national health issues.

The crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates all endorse health care as a right, and favor a range of plans to achieve or work toward universal health care coverage and bring down costs. 

The most expansive proposal is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare For All plan, a government takeover of the $2.5 trillion private health care industry that Sanders first proposed during his failed 2016 presidential election bid.

“The goal of a rational health care system is not to make insurance companies billions in profits,” Sanders, an independent seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, said at a recent rally in Iowa. “So, we say to the health insurance industry, ‘Yes, we will pass a Medicare for All single-payer program.” 

Sanders’ proposal would basically expand government-funded Medicare coverage plans for senior citizens to provide free health care for everyone in the country, funded by higher taxes. 

Other Democratic candidates who support this single-payer approach that would ban private insurance plans include California Sen. Kamala Harris and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. 

More moderate Democratic hopefuls such as Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Vice President Joe Biden, who reportedly is close to launching his campaign for president, endorse more incremental and pragmatic measures to expand health care that might stand a better chance of passing in a divided Congress.

The dilemma Democrats face in the 2020 campaign is whether to nominate a progressive candidate advocating for a complete health care overhaul — which could alienate moderates in the general election — or support a more moderate candidate who may not generate enthusiasm among the liberal base calling for transformational change.

Socialism 

Trump, who is seeking a second term, has criticized Democratic health care proposals as socialism that will stifle individual choice and private enterprise competition.

“Democrat lawmakers are now embracing socialism. They want to replace individual rights with total government domination,” the president contends.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly promised not to cut social assistance programs. But in this year’s budget, he has proposed reducing millions of dollars in funding for both Medicare health insurance for seniors, and Medicaid that provides medical assistance to the poor and disabled.

Democratic options

A recent public opinion poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that 56 percent of Americans favor Medicare For All, and even broader support for incremental improvements to the current system in place. 

However, public approval for expanding health care drops significantly when confronted with the possibility of doubling taxes to pay for it, and the economic disruption of eliminating the private insurance industry.

“They have to believe that what they’d be getting, what would be substituting for what they have now, would be at least as good or attractive to them. And that the increase in the spending on the public side, that would be worth it to them,” said Linda Blumberg, an economist with the Health Policy Center at the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank.. 

An incremental alternative that is gaining wider support among the American public, Blumberg says, is a government “public option” coverage plan to compete against private insurance companies.

Shifting support

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 increased access to health insurance by expanding Medicaid and providing insurance subsidies to working class families, while keeping in place the private sector health care and insurance industries. 

The ACA, also known as Obamacare, was criticized for not containing the rising cost of health care, driven in part by a lack of competition in some markets, and by the role of for-profit insurance companies that charge excessive administrative fees.

Tea Party groups, limited government activists opposed to what they viewed as an increasing government takeover of the private health care industry, organized widespread Obamacare protests that helped the Republican Party win control of Congress in 2011 and to elect Trump in 2016.

However, Republican efforts in the last two years to repeal Obamacare failed, in large part because opponents did not have a clear alternative, and because the public favored keeping many elements of the ACA, particularly the prohibition against denying anyone health insurance because of pre-existing conditions such as a long-standing illness or pregnancy.


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Democrats See Health Care as Winning Issue in 2020 U.S. Election

Health care in America is again expected to be a deeply divisive issue in the 2020 U.S. presidential election with Democrats pressing for more government involvement, and Republicans warning of increased taxes and what they see as creeping socialism. But Brian Padden reports there are also competing proposals among Democratic candidates that advocate either transformational change to energize the progressive base or incremental progress to attract moderate support.


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Should Media Avoid Naming the Gunmen in Mass Shootings?

A few months after teen shooters killed 12 classmates and her father at Columbine High School, Coni Sanders was standing in line at a grocery store with her young daughter when they came face to face with the magazine cover.

It showed the two gunmen who had carried out one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. Sanders realized that few people knew much about her father, who saved countless lives. But virtually everyone knew the names and the tiniest of details about the attackers who carried out the carnage.

In the decades since Columbine, a growing movement has urged news organizations to refrain from naming the shooters in mass slayings and to cease the steady drumbeat of biographical information about them. Critics say giving the assailants notoriety offers little to help understand the attacks and instead fuels celebrity-style coverage that only encourages future attacks.

The 1999 Colorado attack continues to motivate mass shooters, including the two men who this week stormed their former school in Brazil, killing seven people.

The gunman who attacked two mosques in New Zealand on Friday, killing at least 49 people, was said to have been inspired by the man who in 2015 killed nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Adam Lankford, a criminologist at the University of Alabama, who has studied the influence of media coverage on future shooters, said it’s vitally important to avoid excessive coverage of gunmen.

“A lot of these shooters want to be treated like celebrities. They want to be famous. So the key is to not give them that treatment,” he said.

The notion hit close to home for Sanders. Seemingly everywhere she turned — the grocery store, a restaurant, a newspaper or magazine — she would see the faces of the Columbine attackers and hear or read about them. Even in her own home, she was bombarded with their deeds on TV.

Everyone knew their names. “And if you said the two together, they automatically knew it was Columbine,” Sanders said. “The media was so fascinated — and so was our country and the world — that they really grasped onto this every detail. Time and time again, we couldn’t escape it.”

Criminologists who study mass shootings say the vast majority of shooters are seeking infamy and soak up the coverage as a guide.

Just four days after the 2017 Las Vegas concert shooting, which stands as the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Lankford published a paper urging journalists to refrain from using shooters’ names or going into exhaustive detail about their crimes.

These attackers, he argued, are trying to outdo previous shooters with higher death tolls. Media coverage serves only to encourage copycats.

Late last year, the Trump administration’s federal Commission on School Safety called on the media to refrain from reporting the names and photos of mass shooters. It was one of the rare moments when gun-rights advocates and gun-control activists agreed.

“To suggest that the media alone is to blame or is primarily at fault for this epidemic of mass shootings would vastly oversimply this issue,” said Adam Skaggs, chief counsel for the Giffords Law Center, which works to curb gun violence.

Skaggs said he is “somewhat sympathetic to journalists’ impulse to cover clearly important and newsworthy events and to get at the truth. … But there’s a balance that can be struck between ensuring the public has enough information … and not giving undue attention to perpetrators of heinous acts.”

Studies show a contagion effect from coverage of both homicides and suicides.

The Columbine shooters, in particular, have an almost cult-like status, with some followers seeking to emulate their trench-coat attire and expressing admiration for their crime, which some have attributed to bullying. The gunman in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting kept a detailed journal of decades’ worth of mass shootings.

James Alan Fox, a professor at Northeastern University who has studied mass shootings, said naming shooters is not the problem. Instead, he blamed over-the-top coverage that includes irrelevant details about the killers, such as their writings and their backgrounds, that “unnecessarily humanizes them.”

“We sometimes come to know more about them — their interests and their disappointments — than we do about our next-door neighbors,” Fox said.

Law enforcement agencies have taken a lead, most recently with the Aurora, Illinois, police chief, who uttered just once the name of the gunman who killed five co-workers and wounded five officers last month.

“I said his name one time for the media, and I will never let it cross my lips again,” Chief Kristen Ziman said in a Facebook post.

Some media, most notably CNN’s Anderson Cooper, have made a point of avoiding using the name of these gunmen.

The Associated Press names suspects identified by law enforcement in major crimes. However, in cases in which the crime is carried out seeking publicity, the AP strives to restrict the mention of the name to the minimum needed to inform the public, while avoiding descriptions that might serve a criminal’s desire for publicity or self-glorification, said John Daniszewski, the AP’s vice president and editor-at-large for standards.

For Caren and Tom Teves, the cause is personal. Their son Alex was among those killed in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater in 2012.

They were both traveling out of state when the shooting happened, and it took 15 hours for them to learn the fate of their son. During those hours, they heard repeatedly about the shooter but virtually nothing about the victims.

Not long after, they created the No Notoriety movement, encouraging media to stick to reporting relevant facts rather than the smallest of biographical details. They also recommend publishing images of the shooter in places that are not prominent, steering clear of “hero” poses or images showing them holding weapons, and not publishing any manifestos.

“We never say don’t use the name. What we say is use the name responsibly and don’t turn them into anti-heroes,” Tom Teves said. “Let’s portray them for what they are: They’re horrible human beings that are completely skewed in their perception of reality, and their one claim to fortune is sneaking up behind you and shooting you.”


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