KETR

Ashley Westerman

Americans are less interested in NASA sending humans to the moon or Mars than they are in the U.S. space agency focusing on potential asteroid impacts and using robots for space exploration. That's according to a poll by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released Thursday, one month before the 50th anniversary of the first walk on the moon.

A record 70.8 million people had been forcibly displaced by war, persecution and other violence worldwide at the end of 2018, according to the latest annual Global Trends report by the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

A U.S. permanent resident who was recently released from prison in Iran is finally making his way back to America, where his three sons live.

Nizar Zakka, 52, who is a citizen of Lebanon, was arrested in September 2015 in Tehran while trying to leave the country and charged with spying for the U.S. He denied the charges, but he was sentenced to 10 years in Iran's Evin Prison.

China and the United States are locked in a trade fight, a technology race and competing world military strategies. Leaders of these countries seem to be pulling the world's two largest economies apart.

These tensions are especially felt by those living with a foot in each country. The NPR special series A Foot In Two Worlds reveals the stories of people affected because of their ties to both nations. Reports from both the U.S. and China show how deeply and broadly the two nations are connected and what's at stake as they reshape their relations.

Centuries ago, the kingdom that made up much of modern-day Laos was called Lan Xang. In English: "Land of a Million Elephants."

Yet while the Asiatic elephant may have endured as a cultural icon for the Lao People's Democratic Republic, the numbers tell a story of a species in crisis.

The Laos government and conservation groups estimate there are only about 800 elephants left in the country — 400 wild elephants, 400 in captivity.

China, known as the world's biggest polluter, has been taking dramatic steps to clean up and fight climate change.

So why is it also building hundreds of coal-fired power plants in other countries?

President Xi Jinping hosted the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing over the weekend, promoting his signature foreign policy of building massive infrastructure and trade links across several continents.

In Southeast Asia's only landlocked country, the Mekong River is a lifeline. From a slow boat heading up the river in Laos, you'll see fishermen working in their boats, riverside farms where bananas grow, and domesticated buffalo lazing. Occasionally a ferry chugs by. From time to time, steps leading to a riverside village become visible on the banks through the foliage. The wind is swift, and the brown fresh water laps up onto the side of the boat.

Just over 9 miles north of Luang Prabang, a startling aberration appears: five giant concrete pylons rising out of the water.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's look south of China's capital 1,600 miles to Laos. China is building a railway in Laos, and our producer, Ashley Westerman, visited.

Ashley, what'd you learn?

Snow leopards and Marco Polo sheep have not been on the agenda for peace talks involving the Taliban, U.S. officials and Afghan opposition figures.

But going forward, should they be?

Updated at 11:50 a.m. ET

Press freedom advocates across Manila, Philippines, including students and some faculty at a handful of universities, have been rallying the past two days following the arrest of journalist Maria Ressa this week.

The award-winning journalist and outspoken critic of President Rodrigo Duterte's administration was arrested Wednesday on charges stemming from coverage by her online news website, Rappler, one of the Philippines' few independent news outlets.

For one Native American tribe whose land straddles the U.S.-Mexico border, President Trump's proposed border wall would, literally, divide its people.

The Tohono O'odham Nation stretches through the desert from just south of Casa Grande in southern Arizona to the U.S. border — and then beyond, into the Mexican state of Sonora. This means that if Trump gets his $5.7 billion border wall, it would cut right through the tribe's land.

On a day meant to celebrate Myanmar's independence from Britain 71 years ago, Buddhist insurgents launched attacks on four police posts that killed seven soldiers in the country's restive Rakhine state.

A Taiwan independent from mainland China is not an option, and no person or party can stop the trend toward "unification," Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a policy speech Wednesday.

A new cybersecurity law has gone into effect in Vietnam that puts stringent controls on tech companies operating inside the country and censors what its citizens read online.

The decree, which was passed by the National Assembly in June, requires companies such as Facebook and Google to open offices in Vietnam, store local user data and to hand over information if the government asks for it. It would also require social media companies to remove any content authorities deemed offensive or "toxic."

The state of New York has a new attorney general and she is, literally, like no one who has ever held the office before.

Democrat Letitia James was sworn in as New York's 67th Attorney General late Monday in a ceremony at the state capitol in Albany. James, 60, is the state's first black attorney general and the first woman ever elected to that state-wide office.

Updated at 12:20 p.m. ET

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her ruling alliance have secured another term in power following Bangladesh's general election Sunday, during which the military was deployed and almost 20 people were killed. The results, announced Monday by the Bangladesh Election Commission, have been rejected by the main opposition party, which accuses Hasina's party of rigging the election, according to the Associated Press.

The prairie town of Enid, Okla. — population 50,122 — is best known as the state's "wheat capital." Enid is also home to a community of around 2,000 people who were born in the Marshall Islands. Most are low-income and struggling to get health care.

Chrissy Houlahan has done a lot with her industrial engineering degree over the last 30 years including serving in the Air Force, working in the aircraft manufacturing industry, being the COO of a sports apparel company and even teaching high school chemistry.

Houlahan says her science, technology, engineering and mathematics – or STEM – background has allowed her to be fluid in her career by helping her tackle everyday problems through a unique lens.

Roger Chui first learned about the mass shooting that killed 12 people in a packed bar Wednesday night in Thousand Oaks, Calif., when he woke up the morning after and turned on his phone.

"And I was like 'Oh, that seems really soon after Pittsburgh and Louisville,' " says the software developer in Lexington, Ky. "I thought we'd get more of a break."

Chui feels like these kinds of shootings happen in the U.S. so often now that when he hears about them all he can think about is, "Oh well, it happened again I guess."

He's not alone.

For years, Australia has employed a controversial policy for migrants coming by sea without proper documents for entry: It sends them to offshore holding facilities.

The law was passed in 2013, during a time when many refugees and migrants were attempting to cross the ocean from Indonesia to reach Australia. Many died or went missing en route. Those caught by Australian authorities were transferred to centers on Australia's Christmas Island, the island nation of Nauru and Manus Island, which is part of Papua New Guinea.

Major issues such as trade, security and China's expansion are up for discussion when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travels to Southeast Asia this week. On the first leg of his trip, in Malaysia, he'll be checking in on a new government for the first time.

Other than the campaign posters plastered across Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh, there's little sign that general elections are coming up this Sunday, July 29. Traffic hums along as usual. And save for the occasional car spouting ruling party propaganda through a bullhorn, there's no canvassing or active campaigning in the streets and scant open talk about the vote.

"Recently, people are keeping quiet," says May Titthara, executive editor of the Khmer Times newspaper.

Updated, 4:20 a.m. ET Wednesday:

Former Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak on Wednesday pleaded not guilty to charges levied against him in court in connection with the 1MDB scandal, which involved the misuse of billions in government funds.

Najib was charged with three counts of criminal breach of trust and one count of corruption. His case was immediately moved to High Court, where Najib pleaded not guilty to all the charges, according to The Associated Press. The case will now proceed to trial.

The United Nations and Myanmar have signed a pact that aims to start the process of repatriating some of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled a brutal crackdown by the government's army last year.

The memorandum of understanding was signed Wednesday in Yangon and is the first agreement of its kind between the two entities. The pact promises to create conditions for the "voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable" return of some of the 700,000 Rohingya who are now living across the border into neighboring Bangladesh in squalid refugee camps.

Updated at 7:53 p.m. ET

Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia's former prime minister who came out of retirement in his 90s to challenge his own party's embattled incumbent, has won a surprise victory in elections — ending more than six decades of rule by the country's dominant party.

The list of honors and awards Nobel laureate and Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has had revoked because of her handling of the plight of Rohingya Muslims in her country continues to grow.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., rescinded its prestigious Elie Wiesel Award from Suu Kyi for failing to speak out against ongoing persecution of the minority group.

Down a dark, cramped alleyway in the heart of densely packed Manila, a resistance movement is holding strong.

The movement is focused on protecting a beloved Philippine form of public transport, the passenger truck known as the jeepney — but to reach its headquarters in a nearly hidden lane, it's a good idea to ditch your own vehicle. The lane is so narrow that even the slightest wrong move could result in scratches or a dislodged side-view mirror from hitting a wall.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson is no stranger to tough negotiations in global hot spots, but his frustration with Myanmar and its leaders, especially Aung San Suu Kyi, led him to resign Wednesday from an international advisory board tasked with bringing peace and stability to Myanmar's troubled Rakhine state.

On Jan. 6, many Christians around the world will celebrate Epiphany, or Three Kings Day — the day the three kings came to visit baby Jesus.

In parts of Latin America, a big part of the holiday tradition is the rosca de reyes, or Three Kings cake.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution last week condemning "the ethnic cleansing" of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar by that country's military.

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