National / International News
An assistant conductor on the train that derailed Tuesday says she heard a radio transmission from the engineer that the locomotive had been struck. The derailment killed eight people.
The government runs organic and antibiotic-free labeling programs, but has stayed out of the non-GMO labeling fray. That is, until a food company asked the USDA for help, and the agency obliged.
Emily Farris is not running for anything and has no national profile or political aspirations. Yet, a quarter of GOP primary voters in one poll had an opinion of her. What's going on? Pseudo-opinion.
Momentum is growing for major changes to the U.S. air traffic control system, which, believe it or not, uses radar, not GPS, to land planes.
Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice present for policy at Airlines for America, says getting rid of radar would increase efficiency.
“It would enable us to put planes closer together and be more accurate in our prediction in weather and working around weather,” she says.
But American skies are already some of the safest in the world. So why the urgency? The Federal Aviation Administration’s budget has become a political football in Congress, and that's rattled air traffic controllers.
“They want to see stable, predictable, long-range planning and funding to modernize the system,” says Jim Burnley, who was transportation secretary under Ronald Reagan.
The union, he says, “has now made very clear in the last couple of months that it is willing to look at serious alternatives to the present structure of air traffic control.”
But proposals are still vague. Some want to reform but keep the agency inside the government, others want it privatized. Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, says the Pentagon has told him it's weary of giving airspace control to a private group.
“Do we want to do the same old thing, maybe try to patchwork it in place?” he says. “Or do we want to do something iterative and say, 'OK, we’re going to make a major change to try and solve some of the long-term problems with this agency'?”
Jeb Bush's shifting positions on the Iraq War gave an opening to Republican rivals for the presidential nomination. And will Hillary Clinton answer questions directly on her trip to Iowa next week?
Secretary of State John Kerry will be in Beijing this weekend. Originally he was supposed to be laying the groundwork for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first state to the U.S. this fall. But now he’s going to be talking about islands. The Islands that China is building in the highly disputed South China Sea.
Complexity on the high seas
There are seven so far, about 2,000 acres in all, whipped up out of thin air – or rather, whipped up out of sand dredged from the sea floor and built up on top of coral atolls.
China’s artificial islands are its way of aggressively, but quietly, staking its claim to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
Calling the Spratlys “Islands” though, is kindof a stretch. There are hundreds of them, but most are coral reefs or atolls, only breaking the surface at low tide.
And yet, they represent “ the world’s most complicated territorial dispute,” says Professor Taylor Fravel, associate professor of political science at MIT and an expert in China’s territorial disputes.
Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, the Philippines, and China all have overlapping claims.
Almost every country in the world has some kind of ongoing territorial dispute, but “there’s no other dispute in which six states claim all or the same land features.”
All six states have bolstered their claims in the archipelago via some form of construction activity, but none have created islands where there were none – or merely reefs – before, says Dr. Mira Rapp-Hooper, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the director of its Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative . The AMTI was the first to break the news of China’s island building spree over the past year.
What is this about, really?
Some of the disputed claims are the result of the messy aftermath of World War II, but mostly these are unresolved claims that go back centuries. “The reason that these countries’ claims have become salient only recently is because China is rising as a major power. China has had these claims for decades but has only been able to match its capabilities to its claims and press them recently.”
All about money?
But what is to be gained by pressing China’s claims now?
“Economically it used to be for a long time people believed it was all about oil and natural gas,” says MIT’s Fravel. “Turns out there is a lot of oil and natural gas in the South China Sea, but it tends to be very close to the coasts of Vietnam or Malaysia or Brunei,” not far out in the most disputed areas.
The South China Sea channels nearly a third of 30% of global commercial shipping, and the vast majority of crude oil bound for Japan and Korea. But having claims on this shipping corridor isn’t a source of economic gain for China. “And China doesn’t really have a major incentive to disrupt commercial shipping,” says CSIS’s Rapp-Hooper, noting China depends heavily on that trade itself.
So if it’s not about resources, and not about trade, what is it about?
“If we were to be a little reductive and pick between the two, its closer to pride than money,” says Rapp-Hooper.
There is a potential security element: if China were to attempt to exercise control over large stretches of air and water around its islands, it could limit military activities of other powers far from the shores of the mainland. Controlling the sea could potentially help were a major war to break out, a scenario in which China could want to disrupt the flow of trade.
But national pride is priceless.
“You have a post-colonial nationalism that is very strong in this region,” says Professor Fravel. “So countries don’t want to cede claims to land – even though they’re small islands, coral, rocks. The features are not substantial but the emotions are.”
Fear of China’s intentions
A country gets to claim the sea as its territory 12 nautical miles out from its shores, under the U.N. convention on the Law of the Sea. It also gets to claim an “Exclusive Economic Zone” for 200 nautical miles off its coasts. In that zone, a country has the exclusive rights to exploit resources. But “under most interpretations,” says Rapp-Hooper, “it does not have the right to control what other activities can take place in those waters,” says Rapp-Hooper.
This is a key point of disagreement between China and the United States. “The U.S. and most countries in the world believe military ships can freely transit through other states’ exclusive economic zones and there should be nothing to impede passage,” says Rapp-Hooper. That includes conducting military exercises. China, on the other hand, has a much more restrictive interpretation, and does not believe the U.S. or any other power should be conducting surveillance activities or military exercises within its exclusive economic zones.
As of now, China has not declared an EEZ around its newly created islands. “Strictly speaking, these new islands should not be entitled to an EEZ because they are not naturally formed,” says MIT’s Fravel. “However it is possible that at some point in the future they will make some kind of claim based on these artificial islands.”
What can the U.S. do?
“This is the big question, this is the soft spot evident in China’s strategy,” says Victor Cha, professor at Georgetown University and senior advisor for Asia at CSIS.
“On the one hand no one likes the fact that China is undertaking this strategy, including small countries in the region. On the other hand, this is so far away, not directly in U.S. interests. Our treaty with the Philippines does not cover this sort of activity, our treaty with Japan does not cover this sort of activity. So the question becomes naturally what can the U.S. do and does it want to get involved?”
Cha argues the most feasible strategy for now is to develop the capacity of China’s competitors in the region to monitor and record China’s activities in the sea. Secretary of State Kerry has promised strong language over the issue in his meetings with Chinese officials this weekend.
So far The U.S. has charted a careful course between the parties, emphasizing that its priorities are freedom of navigation, peaceful resolution of conflicts, and regional stability.
Last week a U.S. littoral combat ship conducted a routine in the vicinity of Chinese-built islands, but not within the 12 nautical mile sovereign zone. The U.S. is reportedly considering more such maneuvers.
“The U.S. every year conducts what the Pentagon describes as freedom of navigation exercises,” says Fravel. “Where there are areas around the world where states are not abiding by customary international maritime laws reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the US will conduct a patrol to demonstrate it doesn’t recognize whatever limits the coastal state is trying to impose on freedom of navigation.”
An Island of Irony
“What is so interesting about this,” says Professor Cha, “is that we’re talking about a region of the world that is experiencing the fastest economic growth, and is really the economic future of the world. And yet in spite of that we are having disagreements involving major powers over the most fundamental and almost archaic of things which is small pieces of territory.”
The Kindle version of the book "Clinton Cash," which has faced criticism from Hillary Clinton's campaign, was updated this week to correct for "seven or eight" factual errors, according to publisher HarperCollins.
Amazon called the changes "significant revisions" in an alert to users.
"It may not be unheard of, but it is not common" to make such corrections to a published book, says Mike Shatzkin, a consultant with decades of experience in the publishing world. Shatzkin says e-book corrections are a relatively new phenomenon.
"It's not like a lot of people have done this and there's a protocol around it. There really are no rules about this," Shatzkin says.
But publishing consultant Ted Hill, founder of THA Consulting, says there is a business case for keeping e-books updated. Publishers see it as customer service "and in many cases, consumers want to have that file updated dynamically," he says.
"Consumers don't know the fact that the book has changed a bit," says Hill, pointing out that the publishing world is still debating that practice.
Publishing industry lawyer Jonathan Kirsch, who teaches about publishing at NYU and is himself the author of 13 books, says e-books should follow established conventions in printed books and in online journalism.
"Unless a publisher tells you what is being changed, the reader has no way to make a critical judgment about the credibility of the author," Kirsch says. "The best practice would be to insert a marginal note or a footnote, which alerts the reader to what was the error that has been corrected."
Just in time for bathing suit season, Hardee's and Carl's Jr. have announced a new sandwich, the "Most American Thickburger."
If you are curious as to what constitutes the most American version of a hamburger, it's a huge patty topped with a hot dog and potato chips, all glued together with American cheese. It comes in at a whopping 1,030 calories.
My favorite part of this story is not the culinary peak or valley the sandwich represents, but the fact that, reportedly, it's an idea that Carl's Jr. and Hardee's have had for a long time.
I wonder what was it about now that made them decide to go for it. What happened in that board room that finally made them say yes?
Each year police kill a certain number of civilians. And every year the FBI puts out the Supplemental Homicide Report that's meant to provide an accurate count of those deaths. But it doesn't.
"I would rate it somewhere between awful and garbage-worthy," says David Klinger, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri and a retired cop, "It should be thrown out. People should not pay any mind to it."
It is so full of errors says Klinger, "I have described it as garbage, I have described it as a steaming pile of feces."
Three different government agencies have tried to get at the numbers. The Centers for Disease Control puts out a report, and there’s the FBI’s Justifiable Homicide Report. And, until March 2014 when it suspended data collection, the Bureau of Justice Statistics put out a report on arrest-related deaths.
Check the data collected by the FBI and you'll see that in 2013, 461 civilians were killed by police. But the data may be off. That's because the information comes from local police agencies that aren't required to send their data to the FBI, so some police departments don’t send data at all. Klinger notes that some agencies say justifiable homicides shouldn't be treated as crimes.
"I have heard some police agencies say 'We’re not going to report this to the FBI because there’s no crime involved,'" Klinger says.
But another part of the problem comes down to a tiny and seemingly mundane detail: paperwork. Look no further than the form law enforcement officers in Florida have to fill out when anyone in the state is killed. It looks like the kind of paperwork you fill out at a doctor’s office, but it's a form about death, and the categories are a little different. And that, says Gretl Plessinger, spokesperson for Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement, is the problem. Some of the FBI’s categories and Florida’s catagories don't match.
Florida's Uniform Crime Reports Supplemental Homicide ReportFlorida’s Department of Law Enforcement
“We both have a rifle and shotgun code," Plessigner says, "but the FBI has an additional code called 'other gun.' Florida doesn’t have a category called 'other gun.'”
Even though Florida sends its data to the FBI, the FBI isn't using it because the bureau can't compare apples to apples, or in this case, death-by-handgun to death-by-handgun, says Plessinger. While some of Florida’s police departments could easily update their systems to be in sync with the FBI’s, she says, for others, the process would be prohibitively expensive. It would mean buying new software or paying more staff. This same issue is preventing data from police departments around the country from being counted.
"Everyone is not filling out the same form, and that’s part of the problem," says Kevin Strom, director of the policing, security, investigative science program for RTI, a national nonprofit research organization.
RTI did a study with the Bureau of Justice Statistics that found that the FBI’s data is missing more than half of police-involved civilian deaths. Translate that into layman-speak and you have hundreds of people who have been killed by police who aren't being counted. That means the FBI's count of 461 deaths in 2013 could be vastly off.
What is the best way to find out how many civilian deaths have actually occurred?
"Unfortunately, in many places you would have to go to each individual police department and ask them," Strom says of the more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the country.
Getting a uniform system for all those police departments to report their data, says Strom, could be a challenge. In the meantime he says, the current system isn’t working very well, and the FBI agrees.
"Quite frankly, information's limited. It's very limited and it's very, spotty,"says Stephen Morris, assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services division.
But, he says, fixing the problem is not as easy as it might seem.
“Most people will say, 'Well that's simple, just issue, just make a law, just legislate it," Morris says.
While the state of Maryland has just introduced legislation to make reporting all officer-involved deaths to the governor’s office mandatory, Oregon and North Carolina are the only other states with similar laws on the books. And, Morris says, even if the federal government made reporting justifiable homicides to the FBI mandatory, it's unlikely it would get willing participants.
“The states and the local agencies, some believe that they can, some believe that they don't have to," Morris says.
The FBI says it’s working on getting better data on deaths involving police, such as how and why the deaths happened. Klinger says if they don’t get the data they need to help them understand the problems, they won’t be able to fix them. He says better data is something everyone, including the police, want to see.
But to make things even more complicated, Klinger says if we look only at deaths, we’ll miss out on most of the situations where cops decide to use deadly force. That’s because bullets shot by police are more likely to cause injury rather than death, Klinger says.
"If we focus on the last moment when a police officer is making his or her decision to pull the trigger or to hold fire, we’re missing a huge component of what’s going on," he says.
If we knew more about the way officers behaved before a shooting, says Klinger, we could figure out ways to reduce the number of shootings that occur. Imagine, he says, you’re a cop on patrol. You get a call about a man with a gun. You’re in your police car, and you decide to pull up within 10 or 12 feet of this individual. He brandishes the gun. You end up shooting him.
“An analysis would say that, 'Well, it’s a legally justified shooting,' and that would be true. But the broader analysis would be, 'Why in the world did you drive a squad car so close to a guy who had a gun?' ” Klinger says.
"Police officers are going to have to shoot people because people do bad things, and some of these people doing bad things who are shot by the police are going to die," Klinger says. "But there are ways we know that we can mitigate the likelihood that a police officer is going to have to shoot. If what we’re doing is just looking at the end point and not what came before, we’re missing an opportunity to train."