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Monday
Apr232018

Boy says he used parents' credit cards to go on Bali getaway after argument with mother

iStock/Thinkstock(SYDNEY) -- After getting into a fight with his mother, a 12-year-old boy apparently managed to hop on a plane and go on vacation to Bali using his parents' credit cards without them knowing.

"I wanted to go on an adventure," the boy told Australia's 9News in an exclusive interview that aired Monday on the network's TV show "A Current Affair."

The Australian boy, whose identity was not revealed for privacy concerns, said he was upset over an argument he had with his mother. So, he said, he nabbed his family's credit cards and tried twice to book a flight from Sydney to Bali with two different airlines, but was told he needed a letter from a consenting parent in order to travel alone, according to 9News.

When his parents found out about the two attempts to fly alone overseas, they alerted the Australian Federal Police.

"We were told his passport would be flagged," the boy's mother, identified only as Emma, told 9News in the interview.

The boy tried to book a flight to the Indonesian island again, this time with Jetstar Airways. It worked.

He quickly packed his backpack and took a train to Sydney Airport, where he used a self-service check-in kiosk to collect his ticket and hopped on a connecting flight to Perth. From there, the boy used his passport and student ID to board a second plane to Bali, according to 9News.

"I got the deal cheap," he told 9News.

When he touched down at the international airport in Bali's capital city, Denpasar, immigration and customs officials asked to see his passport and whether he was traveling with anyone.

"I said, 'No, my mum is waiting outside because she lives in Bali and I'm going to meet her outside,'" the boy told 9News.

They stamped his passport and let him through.

Bali was a place the boy had visited frequently with his family for vacations, but never on his own, according to 9News.

"I was a bit worried," he admitted. "But I still had adrenaline from being so angry at mom just to not care."

The boy checked in to the All Seasons hotel near Legian Beach, where he had booked a room with his parents' credit cards, and told the front desk staff that his older sister would be staying with him, but he was checking in early.

Then, he rented a motorbike and spent four days enjoying all that Bali has to offer -- white sand beaches, lively restaurants, souvenir shops and a backdrop of volcanic mountains. The boy told 9News he even bought a beer and drank it on the beach, though he's only 12.

Neither Jetstar Airways or the All Seasons hotel in Bali immediately responded to ABC News' requests for comment Monday.

The boy, who had been reported missing by his parents, was ignoring the barrage of frantic calls and messages to his cellphone. But the device apparently revealed his location when he posted a video on social media of him jumping into the hotel pool. That's when the Australian Federal Police contacted his family with the news.

The boy's mother told 9News she was "shocked" and "disgusted."

"He just doesn't like the word 'no,' and that's what I got, a kid in Indonesia," Emma said. "It's too easy, it's way too easy. There's a problem with our system."

That day, an official from the Australian-Consulate General in Bali as well as a Balinese police officer were waiting for the boy at his hotel when he returned from the beach, according to 9News.

The boy told them he would go collect his things from his hotel room. Instead, he locked himself in there and shuttered the windows.

"I was a bit scared," he told 9News. "I didn't know what was going to happen."

But police were able to get into the room by unscrewing a window.

Consular staff stayed with the boy at the Balinese police station overnight while his parents hurriedly hopped on a plane to collect their son, according to 9News.

"We still are in shock," the boy's mother told 9News. "We sit here thinking, 'How did this happen?' Considering we screamed, we begged for help."

The Australian Federal Police did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment Monday.

Now back at home in Sydney with his family, the boy told 9News he had never thought about the dangers of traveling abroad alone but said he knows never to do it again.

"I know I'll get in a lot of trouble next time," he said.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Apr232018

Critically endangered Mekong river dolphins start to show signs of a comeback 

Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- After decades of decline, the critically-endangered Mekong river dolphin has increased in population for the first time in a census released by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the government of Cambodia.

One of just a few species of river dolphins in the world, Mekong dolphins had plummeted from 200 in 1997, the first year they were counted, to just 80 in 2015. Today the population is estimated at 97 with three dolphins born just this year.

Effective patrolling by teams of river guards and the strict confiscation of illegal gill nets which trap and drown the dolphins are the main reasons for the increase, according to experts.

Law enforcement efforts and increased ecotourism has helped draw attention to the dolphins while bringing economic opportunities beyond fishing.

The latest survey shows other encouraging signs, with improvements in survival rates, an increase in the number of calves and a drop in deaths.

“River dolphins are indicators of the health of the Mekong River and their recovery is a hopeful sign for the river and the millions of people who depend on it,” said Seng Teak, country director of WWF Cambodia.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Apr232018

British royals Princess Kate, Prince William welcome a baby boy

Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Prince William and Princess Kate have welcomed a baby boy.

Kate, 36, delivered a son in the Lindo Wing at St. Mary's Hospital, Kensington Palace announced.

The newborn, the third child of William and Kate, weighed 8 pounds, 7 ounces at birth. He was born at 11:01 a.m., local time.

William, 35, was present for the birth of his third child, according to Kensington Palace.

"The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Harry and members of both families have been informed and are delighted with the news," Kensington Palace said in a statement. "Her Royal Highness and her child are both doing well."

The newborn will join siblings Prince George, 4, and Princess Charlotte, who turns 3 May 2.

The baby will be Queen Elizabeth II's sixth great-grandchild.

Early in her pregnancy, Kate suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum, or extreme morning sickness, as she did with her first two pregnancies. Kensington Palace announced Kate's pregnancy in September.

During her pregnancy, Kate maintained a busy pace of royal engagements, including a trip with William to Norway and Sweden and the launch of a mental health program in schools.

She is expected to now take time off from official royal duties, as she did after the births of her older children.

How the baby's birth is announced

Once Kate gave birth, Queen Elizabeth and the royal family were notified before a public announcement was made by Kensington Palace on Twitter.

In keeping with tradition, a statement was later posted on an easel in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace, just as it was after George and Charlotte's births.

Bells will toll, and there will be the traditional gun salute as the country celebrates the new heir.

The new baby's place in the royal family

When the baby is born, history will be made as Charlotte will be the first female to retain her claim to the throne, regardless of the baby’s gender.

The Succession to the Crown Act 2013, which was passed when Kate was pregnant with George, states that succession to the throne would be based wholly on birth order, not gender.

George is third in line to the throne and Charlotte is currently fourth in line to the throne.

William and Kate's third child will become fifth in line to the throne.

Prince Harry will be bumped down to sixth in line to the throne.

Like George and Charlotte, this child will also be designated as His or Her Royal Highness and will have the title of Prince or Princess.

Delivery at the Lindo Wing

Kate had all the amenities of a five-star hotel inside the Lindo Wing, including freshly-prepared meals and afternoon tea service and champagne available for those who request it.

Birthing packages at the exclusive Lindo Wing start at 5,900 pounds, or around 8,300 U.S. dollars, for a one-night stay, with a standard room package. Deluxe packages at the hospital start at 6,275 pounds, or nearly 9,000 U.S. dollars.

The Lindo Wing is where the late Princess Diana also delivered both William and Harry.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Apr222018

Natalie Portman snubs $1 million award, blames Benjamin Netanyahu

Emma McIntyre/Getty Images(JERUSALEM) -- Natalie Portman has drawn ire from her native Israel after declaring to boycott receiving a $1 million award known as the "Jewish Nobel."

But the activist actress explained the rationale behind not attending the fete, for which she was going to be the prize laureate: It was a direct rebuke against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In a post on the Oscar winner's Instagram account, she wrote, "I chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony."

She added that she is not part of a Palestinian-inspired movement known as Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions -- or BDS. Instead, she said she was determined to hold Israel's leadership accountable for what she stated were a mix of malfeasance.

"The mistreatment of those suffering from today’s atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values. Because I care about Israel, I must stand up against violence, corruption, inequality and abuse of power," she wrote. "Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation."

Portman stressed that she intends to support "a number of charities in Israel," which she said she will name soon.

But the organization that was set to recognize Portman -- the Genesis Foundation, which launched in 2003 to laud Jewish achievement to the humanities -- announced that it was "very saddened" by her decision.

The foundation still maintains Portman's picture and accolade on its website and has a banner that reads, "Congratulations Natalie Portman, 2018 Genesis Prize Laureate."

It announced it was canceling the prize ceremony, however, which was scheduled for June 28.

"We fear that Ms. Portman's decision will cause our philanthropic initiative to be politicized, something we have worked hard for the past five years to avoid," according to a statement.

Portman was criticized by some in the Israeli government. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz stated that to boycott Israel "has elements of anti-Semitism."

And the country's internal security minister, Gilad Erdan, penned a letter to Portman alluding to Star Wars metaphors to drive home his point.

“Anakin Skywalker, a character you know well from Star Wars, underwent a similar process. He began to believe that the Jedi Knights were evil, and that the forces of the Dark Side were the protectors of democracy. I call upon you not to let the Dark Side win.”

Netanyahu had not responded to Portman's award snub as of Sunday afternoon.

Portman did not specify what Netanyahu had specifically done to cause her to boycott the award ceremony.

But the prime minister has drawn criticism for his handling of Palestinian affairs, among other foreign matters. He has also been suspected of corruption at home.

In February, Netanyahu was questioned for more than four hours by Israeli police at his residence in Jerusalem as part of an investigation of a corruption case. He still remains a suspect in the case.

Israeli police announced at the time that there was "sufficient evidence" against the prime minister in both cases "for the offense of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust." Israeli police accuse Netanyahu, known by the nickname "Bibi," of accepting at least 1 million shekels, around $283,000, in gifts and bribes.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Apr222018

'Obviously, Kim Jong Un has learned about public relations' with suspension of nuclear tests: Senator

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said North Korea's announcement that it is suspending nuclear testing shows that Kim Jong Un has “learned about public relations.”

 Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" Sunday that he is “glad” President Donald Trump is planning to meet with the North Korean leader, but added that “all of us look at this with great caution and skepticism.”

“Obviously, Kim Jong Un has learned about public relations and is setting it up well" for himself for the talks by announcing the suspension of nuclear and missile tests, Corker said. “But I think everyone that's been around this looks at [the talks] as just the beginning. It may lead to something. It may not.” The Tennessee senator noted that Kim Jong Un has suspended nuclear testing before and that such a move is easily reversible.

"Is it realistic to think that Kim Jong Un is actually going to give up his nuclear weapons?" Stephanopoulos asked.

Corker responded, "[Kim Jong Un] views having deliverable nuclear weapons as his ticket to dying as an old man in his bed. He saw what happened with [Moammar] Ghadafi," the longtime Libyan leader who was killed by rebel forces in his country in 2011.

"Ghadafi’s a dead man now because he gave up his nuclear weapons,” Corker said. “And so to think that somebody’s going to go in and charm [Kim] out of that is not realistic."

The Republican senator said of the planned talks between Kim and Trump, "Is there some progress that can be made? I hope so. But, you know, it’s, that’s a big hurdle."

North Korean state media announced this weekend that Kim had decided to suspend the country's nuclear and missile tests and to close one of its nuclear-testing sites.

According to state TV, Kim said the country had "verified the completion of nuclear weapons" and that now "the Party and our nation will focus all its efforts towards socialist economic development.”

The announcement comes ahead of a planned summit between North and South Korea, scheduled to take place on Friday, and a meeting between Trump and Kim possibly in May or June. Trump tweeted Friday that the North Korea announcement indicated "big progress," and that he was looking forward to his and Kim's summit.

However, on Sunday morning, the president tweeted that "only time will tell" if the U.S. will succeed with North Korea.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Apr222018

North Korea says it is suspending nuclear tests ahead of much-anticipated talks

iStock/Thinkstock(SEOUL, South Korea) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared the country will be suspending its nuclear tests ahead of much-anticipated talks between the two Koreas next week, and the U.S. and North Korea sometime next month.

Kim announced his country would "no longer need any nuclear tests, mid and long and ICBM rocket tests," and therefore is suspending nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles starting Saturday.

The communist country also says it is also shutting down the Poongye-ri nuclear test site where six underground tests have taken place.

The surprise announcements were delivered through North Korean state news outlet, Korean Central News Agency, and later on state TV.

North Korea has "verified the completion of nuclear weapons" and now "the Party and our nation will focus all its efforts towards socialist economic development," Kim was quoted saying at a meeting of the central committee of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea convened Friday. The state TV stressed the meeting discussed policy issues related to a "new stage" in an "historic period."

The two Koreas are set to hold a summit meeting next Friday at the truce border village of Panmunjom, while U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim plan to meet sometime in May or early June at a yet-to-be-announced location.

Trump hailed the news of Korea suspending its nuclear tests as "very good news for North Korea and the World."

The news came earlier this week that Mike Pompeo, Trump's as-yet-unconfirmed pick for secretary of state, met with Kim in early April. No details of the talks were released, though Trump said this week the meeting went "very smoothly" and the two got along "really well."

Denuclearization of North Korea has been a key issue going into the talks between the U.S. and North Korea. The North is suspending, not freezing, its nuclear tests for now, but both Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have expressed high hopes that the North is ready to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for economic assistance.

Policy measures announced by the North’s state TV suggest that Kim aims to improve quality of living. The country's leaders is quoted as saying that North Korea's long-term economic plan is to "provide proficient and culturally [advanced] lifestyle to all people."

"North Korea's announcement signals a stepping stone for phased denuclearization," said An Chan Il, president of Seoul-based World Institute for North Korean Studies. "They are showing proof to the world that they have begun their efforts to eventually denuclearize, starting with shutting down the Punggye-ri nuclear test site. Punggye-ri test site is known to be the one and only nuclear weapon facility in North Korea at the moment. A significant slowdown in this facility was monitored in March, adding evidence that North's announcement was not a spontaneous one."

Experts have cautioned that the wording of Kim's announcement specifically mentions a "suspension" and not a "freeze."

"For North Korea to announce a nuclear freeze, they must have mentioned shutdown of the nuclear facility in Yongbyon," said Kim Yong-hyun, professor of North Korean Studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. "But this announcement said to suspend only the Punggye-ri facility and missile launches according to KCNA’s report. Still, there is a possibility open for discussion regarding Yongbyon facility which produces plutonium."

"Some say this beginning phase should be called a 'freeze,'" said Kim Kwang-jin, a former congressman at the National Assembly’s Defense Committee. "But others see a complete abolishment of already-made plutonium, uranium and missiles as a 'freeze.'

That is why key terms should be clarified before the final negotiation."

South Korea's presidential office welcomed North Korea's announcement as well.

Presidential secretary Yoon Young-chan said in a written statement released Saturday, "[The] North's announcement will brighten prospects for successful talks between Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington."

The statement referred to the North’s suspending of nuclear tests and missile tests as meaningful progress toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

"It is not a declaration of nuclear dismantlement because it has not yet reached the consensus of some practical compensations for the abandonment of nuclear weapons," said Cheong Seong-Chang, director of unification strategic studies program at the Seoul-based Sejong Institute.

"Since the economy has been in a state of containment after several nuclear tests and missile launches, the compromise with the international community was an inevitable choice for Kim Jong Un," Cheong added.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who visited Trump in Florida this week, was more cautious in his acknowledgment of Kim's announcement of suspending nuclear tests.

"What is crucial here ... is how this development is going to lead to the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of nuclear arms, weapons of mass destruction and missiles," he said. "And I will keep a close eye on that."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Apr212018

Queen Elizabeth's 92nd birthday: Royal family pulls out all the stops

Andrew Parsons - WPA Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) -- The Royal Family paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth at a star-studded birthday party at Royal Albert Hall tonight -- where the likes of Sting, Sir Tom Jones, Shaggy, Kylie Minogue and Shawn Mendes joined a cast of commonwealth Nation artists to pay tribute to the 92-year-old Queen.

The monarch took her seat at the concert hall flanked by her two heirs, Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, and Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge. Prince William attended solo for the “Queens Birthday Party” as the event was named without Kate, who remained home with Prince George and Princess Charlotte and is due to give birth any day.

The second in line could be seen periodically peering down at his phone, no doubt checking in his very pregnant wife.

Prince Philip, who would normally be seated at Queen Elizabeth’s side, was home recovering from hip replacement surgery.

Roads were shut down, concrete and steel barriers installed along with magnetometers, and heavily armed police showed a massive presence in one of the most high profile security operations ever seen in London, with 40 members of the Royal Family all congregating in one place.

The security did not dampen the spirit of the crowd. Queen Elizabeth was beaming at her birthday party.

Welshman Sir Tom Jones kicked off the night with a rendition of his classic hit "It’s Not Unusual," followed by a rousing duet by Sting and Shaggy.

Prince William appeared to lean down to explain to his grandmother who Shaggy was.

The concert included acts from across the generations. Queen Elizabeth at one point was seen bopping and clapping to a George Formby medley while her family looked on, thrilled that she was enjoying herself so much.

Prince Harry made a poignant tribute to his grandmother in his first speech in his new role as President of the Queens Commonwealth Trust. He vowed to carry on her work and legacy.

"Tonight we are celebrating the Queen's Birthday but Your Majesty, if you do not mind me saying, you are not someone who is easy to buy gifts for. But I think we have the perfect present," he said, referring to the Queen's Commonwealth Trust charity of which he was appointed president last week.

The fifth in line, who was accompanied by his fianceé, Meghan Markle, was also appointed by Queen Elizabeth this week as the Commonwealth Youth Ambassador, a role that will see Harry and Meghan using their magic as humanitarians and role models to the 2.4 billion Commonwealth citizens, 60 percent of whom are under the age of 30.

“As we celebrate your 92nd birthday this evening and in recognition of your incredible life of service, I am delighted to say that the Queen's Commonwealth Trust has now been launched to support young leaders around the Commonwealth. This organization, in your name, will provide a platform for those working to make a difference in their communities across 53 countries. Happy Birthday, Your Majesty," Harry added.

Prince Charles closed the show on stage with his mother, asking the audience to give a “hip hip hooray” to “Your Majesty, Mummy” before the iconic venue dropped balloons and shot off firecrackers inside the hall.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Apr212018

Four Palestinians killed, including teen boy and disabled man, by Israeli snipers in Gaza 

iStock/Thinkstock(GAZA CITY) -- Four Palestinians, including a teenage boy and a disabled man, were killed Friday as Israeli soldiers opened fire across a fence dividing Israel and the blockaded Gaza Strip, officials said.

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, gunfire from Israeli troops killed 15-year-old Mohammad Ayoub, 25-year-old Ahmed Nabil Aqel, who was disabled, 23-year-old Ahmad Rashad Al Athamna and 32-year-old Saddy Abu Taha.

Friday marked the fourth straight week of demonstrations of what Palestinian organizers are calling the "Great March of Return," which began March 30 and is slated to continue through May 15. The demonstrations demand that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel, after hundreds of thousands of them fled or were displaced during the 1948 war over the country's proclamation of statehood.

The six-week demonstration is timed to culminate in a mass march on the 70th anniversary of Israel's creation, which Palestinians annually recognize as the day of "Nakba," or catastrophe, to commemorate their mass uprooting. The end date also falls on the opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem this year.

Hamas, the militant group governing the Gaza Strip, supports and endorses the protests. The demonstration are also seen as an attempt by Hamas to break the blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt after it won Palestinian legislative elections and took control of the 140-square-mile territory in 2007.

Israel and the United States both consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

The latest deaths on Friday brought the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces to 35 since the demonstrations began, according to Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations.

"The Israeli occupying forces continue demonstrating the cruelty of their occupation machine, responding to the calls of unarmed civilians for freedom and justice with brutal and lethal force," Mansour wrote in an open letter to the U.N. Security Council on Friday. "The number of wounded and injured has now far surpassed 4,000 people, including women and children."

The Palestinian ambassador also renewed his calls for an "independent and transparent investigation into the killings."

Nikolay Mladenov, the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, expressed his outrage via Twitter over the killing of a teenage boy and called for an investigation into the incident.

In a statement earlier this month, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for all parties on the ground to avoid confrontation and show restraint.

“I particularly urge Israel to exercise extreme caution with the use of force in order to avoid casualties. Civilians must be able to exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully,” Guterres added.

In a series of statements posted to its official Twitter account Saturday, the Israel military appeared to defend its actions. It accused Hamas of putting Palestinian civilians, including children, in "unnecessary danger" on Friday by using them "to carry out terror attacks and destroy infrastructure under the guise of smoke and riots."

Tires apparently were set ablaze to create "smokescreens" while protesters attempted to damage and breach the barricade, according to the Israeli military. Protesters allegedly hurled rocks at Israeli troops and attached burning items to kites "with the intention of igniting fires in Israeli territory," it added.

"The IDF will not allow the security infrastructure to be breached, and will act in order to fulfill its duty to protect the civilians and sovereignty of the State of Israel," it tweeted Saturday.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Apr212018

Earth Day 2018: Everything you need to know

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- People around the world will come together this weekend to celebrate the planet and to take action to protect it.

Here's everything you need to know about Earth Day 2018.

When is Earth Day?

First celebrated in 1970, Earth Day takes place worldwide on April 22.

This year's event falls on a Sunday.

What is Earth Day and why do we celebrate it?

Various events are held annually on Earth Day across the globe to show support for protecting the environment.

U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, a Wisconsin native, is largely credited for organizing the first Earth Day in spring 1970, a time when it was still legal for factories to spew noxious fumes into the air or dump toxic waste into nearby streams. That's because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency didn't exist then, and there were no laws to protect the environment.

Nelson recruited Harvard University professor Denis Hayes to coordinate and promote Earth Day nationally. The event was a success.

Twenty million Americans took to the streets on April 22, 1970, demanding action on environmental pollution. That December, Congress authorized the establishment of a new federal agency, the EPA, to ensure environmental protection. The passage of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and many other landmark environmental laws followed soon after, according to the EPA.

Earth Day went global 20 years later, mobilizing 200 million people in dozens of countries and putting environmental issues on the world stage.

Now, more than 1 billion people in 192 countries are estimated to participate in Earth Day activities every year, according to Earth Day Network, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that organizes the event worldwide.

What is the 2018 theme?

This year's Earth Day is dedicated to providing the information and inspiration needed to eventually end plastic pollution, according to Earth Day Network.

Many of us use or encounter plastic every single day, even if we don't realize it. There's single-use plastics, such as bags, bottles, plates, utensils and straws. But there are also plastics in our electronics, cars, clothes and paint.

So what happens to all this plastic? Some of it gets recycled. But a lot ends up in landfills or is simply littered as plastic pollution, which gets into our waterways.

Plastic is made to last forever -- it cannot biodegrade. Disposed plastic materials can remain in the environment for up to 2,000 years and longer, according to a 2009 article published in scientific journal Chemistry & Biology.

Earth Day Network has called the management of plastic waste a "global crisis."

"Plastic pollution is now an ever-present challenge. We can see plastics floating in our rivers, ocean and lagoons, littering our landscapes and affecting our health and the future of billions of children and youth. We have all contributed to this problem –- mostly unknowingly," Valeria Merino, vice president of Global Earth Day at Earth Day Network, said in a statement.

An estimated 275 million metric tons of plastic waste were generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons entering the ocean, according to findings in a 2015 study led by Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer at the University of Georgia.

Recent research commissioned by Orb Media, a nonprofit journalism organization based in Washington, D.C., found that 94 percent of drinking water in the United States and 93 percent of bottled water sampled from nine countries are spiked with chemically-laced plastic particles, many of which have been linked to major diseases.

In recent years, many countries have taken steps to ban bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates and other chemicals from plastics in some products.

"There is a growing tidal wave of interest in ending plastic pollution and some countries and governments are already in the vanguard. Earth Day Network believes we can turn that tidal wave into a permanent solution to plastics pollution," Earth Day Network president Kathleen Rogers said in a statement.

This year, Earth Day Network will mobilize its global network of non-governmental organizations and grassroots groups, as well as local elected officials, faith leaders, artists, athletes, students and teachers "to build a world of educated consumers, voters and activists of all ages who understand the environmental, climate and health consequences of using plastic," according to Rogers.

How can I get involved?

While recycling is important, Earth Day Network says it's not nearly enough to bring an end to plastic pollution.

"You may be lulled into thinking it is OK to consume disposable plastic products because you plan to recycle them, but many plastics can’t be efficiently recycled and will end up in the landfill or littering the planet, even in the most remote places," Merino said. "Also, some localities lack the most basic infrastructure to manage waste and to sort and recycle plastics. For this reason, it is much more important to focus on reducing your own level of plastic consumption."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Apr202018

Trump administration's first human rights report sparks fierce criticism

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. State Department has released its first human rights report fully compiled under the Trump administration, and it's generating controversy for several changes and omissions - including eliminating references to "reproductive rights" and dropping use of the term "occupied territories."

The report – which is mandated by Congress – is published every year and details human rights in virtually every country and territory around the world. It's compiled by diplomats at posts on the ground over the course of the previous year.

Last year, there was controversy because then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not publicly appear to roll out the report, which critics say signaled his disinterest in promoting human rights early in his tenure.

This year, acting Secretary John Sullivan spoke briefly at the launch, explaining the importance of the report and taking a moment to call out certain countries – Syria, Myanmar, Venezuela, Turkey, China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia – the last four of which were labeled "forces of instability" because of their human rights abuses.

Here are some of the headlines from this year's report and from a briefing with Amb. Michael Kozak, the senior official in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

ELIMINATING REFERENCE TO 'REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS'

Generating the most attention is the replacement of sections on "reproductive rights" with ones on "coercion in population control" – a sign of the Trump administration's anti-abortion push that spreads beyond the U.S., like reinstating the so-called Mexico City policy and reportedly trying to remove references to contraception, abortion, and sex education at the United Nations.

In 2012, under Hillary Clinton, the department first included "reproductive rights," but the term has been misconstrued to mean abortion rights, according to Amb. Kozak, so the Trump administration wanted to dispel that notion: "It's not a diminishment of women's rights or a desire to get away from it. It was to stop using a term that has several different meanings that are not all the ones we intend."

The U.S. has never taken a position on whether there is a right to an abortion because there's no internationally recognized standard, Kozak added – but there is one that no one should be forced to have an abortion or be sterilized, and that's what the reports are meant to target.

Still, the omission has been decried by some rights groups. "Reproductive rights are human rights, and omitting the issue signals the Trump administration’s latest retreat from global leadership on human rights," Amnesty International said in a statement. Human Rights Watch pointed out that the report is silent on the obstacles many women face in countries from Bolivia to Poland to Nepal on reproductive issues.

DROPPING USE OF THE TERM 'OCCUPIED TERRITORIES'

This year's report uses the section title, "Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza," as opposed to last year's "Israel and the Occupied Territories" – a first, according to Amnesty International.

Within the 2017 section, the Golan Heights is still referred to as 'Israeli-occupied,' but not the West Bank, as in years past.

When a journalist tried multiple times to ask a question about the Palestinian territories, he was shut down by spokesperson Heather Nauert, who called on others and then whisked Amb. Kozak away at the end.

DEPARTMENT'S REPORTS VS. TRUMP'S WORDS AND ACTIONS?

The report is tough on many countries, but its impact has been called into question given President Donald Trump's own behavior – both his embrace of some of the world leaders called out and his use of some of the bad behaviors called out – in particular, denigrating the press, his travel and refugee bans, and transgender military ban.

Should the Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte, for example, take notice of the report's condemnation of his brutal war on drugs – or of Trump's "great relationship" with him, as Trump said in November?

Amb. Kozak said Trump's engagement with world leaders is "complementary" to the reports because "usually part of your policy is engaging with the people whose behavior you’re trying to change at some level."

"The fact is, these other governments and their populations do read the report, and I don’t think they discount it because the President speaks with their leader or otherwise," he added, noting that Trump raises these issues in his conversations.

In particular, Amb. Kozak was pushed on freedom of the press and Trump's attacks on 'fake news' media, but Kozak distinguished between tough talk and physical threats to media outlets overseas: "We make quite a distinction between political leaders being able to speak out and say that that story was not accurate or using even stronger words sometimes, and using state power to prevent the journalists from continuing to do their work."

GOING SOFT ON U.S. ALLIES?

The U.S. is always accused of going easier on its allies than its adversaries, but this report, in particular, is getting heat for that.

One example: Last year's report cited several "human rights problems" in Japan, most notably "lack of due process for detention of suspects and poor prison and detention center conditions." But this year the report said: "There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses."

But more notably, in Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom the Trump administration is particularly close, is making advances on women's rights but flouting the rule of law with his detention and extortion of other princes.

While that's detailed in the report, Amb. Kozak was softer on the detentions than similar crackdowns elsewhere, saying they were "connected, ostensibly anyway, to more concern about corruption, which is another one of our issues... We're trying to encourage that kind of movement on the part of the Saudis."

The report also went lighter on Saudi's airstrikes in Yemen, according to human rights groups. It notes that their airstrikes "caused disproportionate collateral damage" – but makes no mention that they're also "indiscriminate and appeared not to sufficiently minimize collateral impact on civilians," as last year's report pointed out.

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