Ethiopian Lawmakers Vote To Ban Foreign Adoptions

Ethiopian lawmakers voted to ban overseas adoptions, amid concerns about mistreatment of children.

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Danita Delimont/Getty Images/Gallo Images

The Ethiopian Parliament voted Tuesday to ban all foreign adoptions, months after suspending them, amid fears children will suffer abuse and neglect overseas.

An official with the State Department tells NPR that State officials, including those at the Addis Ababa Embassy, have repeatedly spoken to the Ethiopian government to try to move pending cases forward and to emphasize the importance of intercountry adoptions and will continue to do so.

NPR’s Ofeibea Quist Arcton reports that in making their decision “lawmakers in Ethiopia point to the vulnerability abroad of Ethiopian children adopted by foreigners.”

The decision comes six-and-half years after the death of Hana Williams, a 13-year-old girl adopted from Ethiopia and found unconscious outside her family’s Washington State home on a cold night. Three years after joining the family, the girl showed signs of long-term starvation and physical abuse. Her adoptive parents were convicted in her death and are serving prison time.

Accusations of international adoption misconduct have come from the outside as well. In 2016 Denmark halted adoptions from Ethiopia citing concerns about fraud, corruption and mistreatment of the children.

The Associated Press reports, “Ethiopia’s new National Child Policy says orphans should grow up only in their homeland while honoring their culture and traditions. ‘They should either be adopted locally or supported by a guardian family, tutor or help them to reunite with biological parents or relatives.'”

According to a 2016 State Department report, Ethiopia ranked sixth for international adoptions with 183 completed that year, behind China, Ukraine, South Korea, Bulgaria and India.

In one high-profile case, actress Angelina Jolie adopted her daughter as an infant from Ethiopia in 2005.

Of lawmakers’ decision to ban outside adoptions, Ofeibea reports, “Many Ethiopians back the move, though some suggest Ethiopia may not be able to cope with large numbers of orphans and children needing homes.”

Around a third of the population lived below the national poverty line in 2011, according to the World Bank, although agricultural growth has helped reduce the poverty rate in recent years.

The AP reports that the measure will not become law until “it is published in the government legal gazette, which is expected in the coming weeks.”

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Episode 489: The Invisible Plumbing Of Our Economy

Old pipes.

Oyvind Solsatd/Flickr

Note: This episode originally ran in 2013.

Back in 2013, we made a T-Shirt. And as you might remember, we made that T-Shirt with money raised on Kickstarter.

It turns out the money collected on Kickstarter is handled by Amazon. Great, we figure: This is the company that will sell you anything on the planet and get it you you the next day. And what we need in this case isn’t even a thing, really. We just need Amazon’s bank to send money electronically to a checking account at Chase bank. It’s just information traveling over wires. How long could it take: A minute? An hour?

It took five days.

Before the money could land in our bank account, it had to go through a 40-year-old program— the Automated Clearing House.

On today’s show: Why are the invisible pipes that move money around America so slow? And why are the ones in England so much faster? And is it finally changing?

Music: “Trippy Cool” and “Bass Debate.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook /Instagram

Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, PocketCasts and NPR One.

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Australia's Heat Wave Fries Bats' Brains, Hundreds Found Dead

Hundreds of flying fox bats died over the weekend near Sydney, Australia, from dehydration during a heat wave.

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It’s summer in Australia and extreme heat is causing bats’ brains to fry.

Hundreds of fur-covered flying fox bats, which lack sufficient canopy cover and shade in Australia’s suburbs, died over the weekend outside of Sydney as temperatures soared to 117 degrees F, the hottest it’s been since 1939.

TheCamden Advertiser reports as of Monday, 204 dead bats – mostly babies – whose brains had boiled been collected in Campbelltown.

In addition to the bat pups found dead on the ground, several hundred more remained unreachable in the trees, according to Help Save the Wildlife and Bushlands in Campbelltown, the group that organized the rescue and body c0llection effort.

“I don’t know how many times I bent down and got on my knees to pick up a dead baby,” Kate Ryan, identified as the colony manager, told the newspaper.

There are four species of flying fox bats in Australia and all are susceptible to extreme heat. Although they’ve adapted to warm temperatures the fruit-eating creatures have trouble regulating their body temperature when the weather goes above 104 degrees F. And baby bats are in greater danger because they can’t regulate their bodies as well as adults and they often die of dehydration while adults find refuge on higher tree branches.

“They basically boil,” Ryan explained. “It affects their brain – their brain just fries and they become incoherent.”

Flying fox bats help in the regeneration of Australia’s forests, pollinating and dispersing the seeds of numerous native plant species.

The wildlife group also is worried about a fireworks demonstration scheduled for the area later this month that could harm the bats.

In the northern hemisphere, cold weather — the bomb cyclone — has had sharks, iguanas and alligators, which are used to balmy weather freezing, sometimes to death and other times into a sleep-like state from which they recover.

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Climate Change Means 'Virtually No Male Turtles' Born In A Key Nesting Ground

The sex of green sea turtles is determined by the egg’s temperature as it’s being incubated.

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Warming temperatures are having a profound and potentially devastating impact on one of the most important green sea turtle populations in the world.

Scientists were surprised to find that “virtually no male turtles” are being hatched in a key breeding ground in the northern Great Barrier Reef.

Like many reptiles, the sex of a turtle is determined by how warm the egg is as it’s being incubated. And small temperature differences can cause dramatic changes in the male-to-female ratio.

“Within a few degrees Celsius you go from 100 percent males to 100 percent females,” says marine biologist Michael Jensen. “A really narrow range, that transition.” The team’s research was published this week in Current Biology.

The scientists studied turtles from two distinct breeding grounds – a larger population from the warmer northern Great Barrier Reef, and a smaller population from a cooler area about 1,200 miles to the south.

What they found was dramatic: the population that hatched in cooler areas is about 69 percent female. But in the group from the warmer north, scientists found more than 99 percent of juvenile and young adult turtles are female.

The scientists were able to compare ratios across turtles of different ages. Study coauthor Camryn Allen, a scientist focusing on turtle endocrinology, says the results show a change over time. The older turtles from the northern breeding grounds have a less extreme ratio. “In the past 20 years since these turtles were hatched, there’s been some sort of a drastic change, going from one male to seven females to now — one male for one hundred females.”

The difference in turtles from the two breeding grounds is more dramatic than the scientists expected. After hatching, the turtles from each place travel to the same foraging ground, eventually returning to the places where they hatched to breed.

Because the two populations were all in the same area, Jensen said previous researchers hadn’t noticed the stark differences in their sex ratios. This team’s genetic testing, which identified the turtles as from the north or south, made the difference clear. “We saw that one of the populations was slightly female biased, one to two roughly, while the other was extremely female biased.”

It’s not clear what proportion a population needs to remain healthy. Allen says that even with the skewed sex ratio, current adults from the north “seem to be doing quite well.” The researchers say that males can breed with multiple females in a single season, and also breed more frequently than females.

Allen is more worried about what happens in a couple of decades: “What we are concerned about is when the cohort of young female turtles become adults. Will there be a male for them to mate with?”

The researchers say a “complete feminization of this population is possible in the near future.”

Historically, turtles have dealt with swings in temperature and continued to flourish. But, “what’s happening now is the climate is likely changing faster than ever,” says Jensen. And the fact that turtles take some 25 years to reach sexual maturity means that the species could take centuries to adapt.

Now, the researchers are exploring strategies to cool the nests, like using shade cloth or putting water on top of them.

And aspects of male turtle behavior are still mysterious, the scientists add. Questions like whether male turtles ever breed out of their population, and how frequently they can mate in a single season, could have huge consequences for the future of these green sea turtles.

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'Simmering Conflict' In Eastern Ukraine Remains At An Impasse

A Ukrainian serviceman prepares ammunition for the fighting with pro-Russian separatists in Avdiivka, Ukraine last March.

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Anatolii Stepanov /AFP/Getty Images

The war in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russian-backed separatists has reached an impasse after more than three years of fighting that has claimed more than 10,000 lives and sparked a humanitarian crisis.

Last month, the two sides conducted one of the largest prisoner swaps since the start of the conflict in 2014, representing long-awaited movement in the stalled peace process that began with the 2015 Minsk Accords. That agreement outlined provisions for a cease-fire and other measures to resolve the conflict.

The war, which erupted after the Russian annexation of Crimea, continues to impact U.S. relations with Russia and prompt many Western leaders to question Russian President Vladimir Putin’s wider intentions in Eastern Europe.

BBC correspondent Jonah Fisher describes the situation in Ukraine as “a simmering conflict” with no end in sight, characterized by frequent cross-border shelling.

“The front line between the Ukrainian government forces and the Russian-backed rebel forces really hasn’t moved substantially over the last few years,” he tells Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti. “It’s still a conflict which is being fought on the ground, but it’s not a conflict really that either side seems to think it can win.”

The USS Navy destroyer Carney arrived in Ukrainian waters this week as part of American efforts to support the Ukrainian government. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, while the U.S. and Europe have not provided significant military support to Ukraine, the ongoing conflict has damaged the prospects of collaborating with Russia on terrorism, arms control and the Syrian conflict.

In December, the Trump administration announced that it would start sending lethal weapons to Ukraine to support their forces fighting in the eastern part of the country, which sparked criticism from Russia, Fisher says.

“It’s pretty rich really coming from the Russians considering it’s almost accepted by almost everyone that the Russians are … providing the support and indeed much of the manpower to the rebels in the eastern part of Ukraine,” he says. “On the ground, it’s not going to really shift the balance of power, but the Ukrainians are certainly pleased that the Americans have sort of increased their commitment to them.”

The Trump administration has sent mixed messages on Russia’s role in Ukraine, but in December, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was clear about the U.S. commitment to Ukraine.

“Russia’s taking sovereign territory of Ukraine is something that we will never accept,” Tillerson said at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe [OSCE] summit in Vienna. “And we appreciate the strong solidarity of European partners in standing up on behalf of Ukraine to restore their sovereign territory to them.”

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has blamed Ukraine for the stalemate in efforts to reach a peace agreement.

“The whole responsibility lies with Ukrainian authorities,” he said in his speech at the OSCE.

The United Nations Human Rights Council estimates more than 1.6 million people have been internally displaced by the conflict, and for the nearly 3 million that remain living near the front lines, the humanitarian crisis is increasingly dire.

Alexander Hug, deputy chief monitor in Ukraine for OSCE, told NPR last August that those caught in the crossfire are struggling to survive with little power, heat or running water.

“They are not in tanks and in armored vehicles,” he said. “They are in their houses, in their beds. They are on the streets and in their gardens and they are fully exposed to these risks, and that has to be acknowledged. It is for them that this should come to an end.”

Fisher adds that some European countries also want an end to the fighting, so economic sanctions against Russia can be lifted.

“But so far there’s really been no movement in particular from the rebel side or the Russian side towards actually implementing any of those agreements,” he says. “There appears at the moment no real road map out of this conflict.”

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Astronomical Growth Turns Out To Be 'Fake News,' Says Japanese Astronaut

Norishige Kanai prior the launch of the Soyuz-FG rocket in Kazakhstan on Dec. 17. As is the norm, the Japanese astronaut grew in outer space, just not by as much as he initially thought.

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Dmitri Lovetsky/AP

An apology for “tweeting out such fake news” didn’t come from a media member accused by President Trump, but from a Japanese astronaut whose growth in outer space was miscalculated.

In a tweet on Monday, Norishige Kanai claimed he had grown by as much as 3 1/2 inches since arriving at the International Space Station on Dec. 19.




— 金井 宣茂 (@Astro_Kanai) January 8, 2018

“I have a major announcement today,” Kanai wrote in Japanese, as translated by the BBC. “We had our bodies measured after reaching space, and wow, wow, wow, I had actually grown by as much as 9cm!”

As NASA points out, “It is a commonly known fact that astronauts living aboard the International Space Station grow up to 3 percent taller while living in microgravity.” The spine is allowed to stretch with less gravity pushing down on it. Come bedtime, a similar phenomenon happens here on Earth as well. After reclining for sleep, people can grow by a centimeter or 2, then after they get up the vertebrae compress once again.

And when astronauts return to earth, so too do they return to their usual height. But the norm for outer space growth maxes out around 2 inches, NASA says, not 3 1/2.

Kanai, who is also a doctor and on his first space mission, seemed surprised himself, even concerned by the initial measurement. “I grew like some plant in just three weeks. Nothing like this since high school. I’m a bit worried whether I’ll fit in the Soyuz seat when I go back,” he wrote.

That led to headlines and social media posts fretting over whether Kanai would indeed be able to fold his new frame into the Soyuz spacecraft — a notoriously cramped space — upon his return to earth in June.

But after a Russian colleague expressed doubt about the spurt, Kanai took another look and realized that a “measurement mistake” led to his overstating his growth by nearly 3 inches.



— 金井 宣茂 (@Astro_Kanai) January 9, 2018

He found he had actually only grown about 3/4 of an inch and was “very sorry” for the mistake.

Kanai said he was a “bit relieved” he will fit into the Soyuz on the way home after all.

But first, Kanai, who is spending his time as a flight engineer aboard the ISS — an Earth-orbiting satellite — as part of the Expedition 54/55 crew is “helping doctors understand how being away from the normal 24-hour sunrise-sunset cycle impacts the human body,” says NASA.

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Florida Officials Struggling To Find Affordable Housing For Locals Months After Hurricane Irma

With trailer parks destroyed and hundreds of homes ruined by Hurricane Irma, rents have skyrocketed and housing has become unaffordable for many in the Florida Keys. Local officials are scrambling to find ways to provide low-cost rentals affordable for waitresses, fishing guides and others vital to the area’s tourist economy.

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Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner Continues His Standoff With Jeff Sessions Over Marijuana

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., speaks at a press conference on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

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Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who is calling on the Trump administration to allow states to legalize marijuana without federal interference, is continuing in his nearly weeklong face-off with Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the issue. In an interview with NPR, he suggests that if the Department of Justice doesn’t back off, it might spur Congress to act on the level of law.

Last week, after Sessions opened the door for aggressive prosecution of marijuana offenses, Gardner threatened to hold up Department of Justice nominations until Sessions reversed course. Gardner said the policy change “directly contradicts” a commitment Sessions made before his confirmation.

The two men met on Wednesday, and neither has budged, Gardner tells NPR.

“There was no breakthrough yet,” the Republican senator told NPR’s Kelly McEvers, in an unaired conversation. “But I hope there will be.”

“I have not changed my decision to hold these nominations until we have a commitment that lives up to what I believe was given to me prior to the confirmation,” Gardner said.

Gardner described a conversation with the attorney general in which he emphasized two themes — states’ rights and sticking by one’s word — while Sessions played down the significance of the policy shift.

The new policy amounted to “interference with states’ rights in Colorado and beyond,” he told NPR. And it came after Sessions had personally committed to Gardner that marijuana enforcement would not be an administration priority, the senator said.

“Look, I mean I opposed the legalization [of pot in Colorado],” Gardner told NPR. “I think this, to me, is about states’ rights. The people of Colorado decided to do this. In fact I’m pretty sure if the election were held again today, it’d probably pass with an even higher margin today than it did just several years ago.”

Gardner raised the possibility of congressional action on marijuana, saying he met this week with a bipartisan group of senators to talk about medical marijuana laws around the country.

The policy shift announced by Sessions “spurs Congress [to] an even greater need to act in this area of law,” Gardner said. He pointed to efforts in the House of Representatives to protect states’ medical marijuana laws, and also suggested congressional hearings on the subject in the future.

“We need … a longterm legislative solution,” he said.

Gardner is not the only lawmaker who has vocally opposed Sessions’ reversal of the Obama-era guidelines on marijuana, as NPR’s Politics team has reported:

“Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat and co-chairman of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, called Sessions’ decision “outrageous.”

” ‘Going against the majority of Americans — including a majority of Republican voters — who want the federal government to stay out of the way is perhaps one of the stupidest decisions the Attorney General has made,’ Blumenauer said in a statement.

” ‘One wonders if Trump was consulted — it is Jeff Sessions after all — because this would violate his campaign promise not to interfere with state marijuana laws.’

“Trump had said that he would respect voters’ rights in places that have elected to modify their drug laws.

” ‘I think it’s up to the states,’ Trump told NBC’s Denver affiliate in 2016. ‘I’m a states person. It should be up to the states, absolutely.’

“On Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president’s position hasn’t changed — ‘but he does strongly believe that we have to enforce federal law.’ “

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