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Enlarge this image Inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have remained stuck in Damascus for nearly a week. Ali Hashisho/Reuters hide captiontoggle caption Ali Hashisho/Reuters As chemical weapons inspectors wait to investigate an alleged strike near the Syrian capital of Damascus, former inspectors say the challenges the current team faces are daunting.The inspectors arrived in Syria on April 14, on a mission to investigate a suspected chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Douma seven days earlier. Unconfirmed reports from the scene suggest that dozens may have died.But so far the inspectors have been unable to reach the location of the attack to verify the facts for themselves. A United Nations reconnaissance team that visited the area on Tuesday came under fire and was forced to turn back. For now, the inspectors are sitting in their hotel rooms, waiting."There's nothing they can do. They can't force their way in," says Dieter Rothbacher, a former chemical weapons inspector. The team wants to gather the evidence while it's fresh, he says. "Every day that passes the pressure gets bigger."The inspectors were sent by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague. The OPCW is responsible for overseeing the Chemical Weapons Convention — a 1997 treaty banning the production, stockpiling and use of such weapons. Syria signed up to the conventionin 2013 after a chemical attack in another Damascus suburb left hundreds dead.Even though the Syrian government is legally obligated by the convention, the inspectors have limited powers, says Jerry Smith, another former inspector who worked in Syria in 2013 and 2014. "The OPCW is not the world police," he says.In an email, an OPCW spokesperson declined to comment on when the nine-person investigation team would be able to enter Douma: "We are unable to share operational details about this deployment. This policy exists to preserve the integrity of the investigatory process and its results as well as to ensure the safety and security of OPCW experts and personnel involved."Smith says during his time in Syria, he operated under the watchful eye of the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. He believes security forces were keeping close tabs on his every move. "I'm sure we were being listened to: our phone calls monitored and our computers hacked and our rooms bugged," he says.Enlarge this image In 2013, chemical weapons inspectors working in the suburbs outside of Damascus were able to confirm the use of the nerve agent sarin. Stringer/Reuters hide captiontoggle caption Stringer/Reuters Smith went to Syria shortly after the government joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in order to avert U.S. strikes and appease its chief patron, Russia. He helped to destroy some 1,300 metric tons of declared chemical weapons and their precursors. Although Syrian government officials generally seemed happy to help the OPCW team, things could get tense. "Some of the visits, the inspectors had weapons pointed at them," Smith says.This time around, Syria invited the OPCW inspectors in to investigate the Douma attack. The invitation provided the inspectors with the legal basis to enter Syria, but it gives the Syrian government the ability to control their activities.That makes the work of inspectors dramatically different from that of law enforcement. "In a police investigation, 99 percent of the stakeholders of that investigation want the truth to be found out," Smith says. But in the case of the latest attack, a chief suspect is the same government that's hosting the team.Already the delays will make it difficult to determine what happened in Douma. Analysts and local rescue and medical workers who observed victims have suggested chlorine was used. Chlorine is a highly volatile compound that evaporates quickly, says Rothbacher. "The best places to sample now are the people who have supposedly been hit," he says. But Syrian government officials will likely determine whom inspectors talk to and what they see.Even if the inspectors can gather evidence, they won't be able to point the finger at anyone. "The inspectors are basically there to collect facts," says Ralf Trapp, a chemical weapons expert who has worked closely with the OPCW. "The question whether there was a violation of the chemical weapons convention, that's a political question, that's not really their job."The political process for [...]
Fri, Apr 20, 2018
Source: Headlines -NPR Category: TOP NEWS
Enlarge this image Susan Nelson, author and public speaker on brain injury awareness and gun safety, at her home in Austin, Texas. Nelson survived a point-blank gunshot to the head in 1993. Gabriel C. Perez/KUT hide captiontoggle caption Gabriel C. Perez/KUT A disability rights group in Texas sent out a survey last month, trying to figure out how many of its members became disabled by gun violence. The group, ADAPT of Texas, says it's an effort to collect data that will help inform Texas lawmakers about how they should legislate guns.Bob Kafka, an organizer with ADAPT, says when gun violence occurs, particularly mass shootings, the public tends to have a pretty limited discussion about what happens to the victims.Susan Nelson was one of those victims. About 25 years ago, she was having dinner at a friend's house. Her friend had a gun."It was registered and everything," she says of her friend's firearm.There was also a young man there that night. He'd been thrown out of his parents' house and was unstable. He found the gun and confronted both Nelson and her friend, saying he was going to rob and then kill them. Nelson says he first shot her in her left shoulder."I stood up to turn to run and was shot in the back of the head," she says. "My friend was as well and that's the last part I remember from the shooting. My friend died in flight to the hospital and I woke from a coma two weeks later."She was 29-years-old and had to start her life all over."I was paralyzed," she says. "I could barely read and write. My vision was really bad so I had to spend the next seven months in therapy relearning everything and working really, really hard."Her hard work paid off. Nelson can walk now and she's a writer. Her vision is good but she still lives with various disabilities."It takes me longer to formulate my sentences because my brain doesn't work as fast to make the words come out of my mouth as fast as I'd like," she says.This experience hasn't changed Nelson's relationship with guns very much, though. Nelson grew up in southeast Texas surrounded by guns. She says she still thinks people who are responsible should be able to have them."I am not against guns. And I don't know that everyone who gets shot is going to turn them against guns," she says.This way of thinking is something Kafka says he's expecting to better understand as the ADAPT survey results come in. He wants the information to help educate lawmakers and bolster the group's authority to testify on behalf of its members about gun legislation. Kafka says victims of gun violence all face different hurdles in recovery and he wants to know about those experiences. But he's not expecting everyone surveyed to hold the same views."We have people on both sides of the issue," he says. "There are probably NRA members in the disability community."Kafka says we should hear from people who were disabled by gun violence because we rarely do."Not only do we not talk about it, it's invisible," he says. "The media loves to focus on how many people died and then they have the sort of other injured, but I've never seen where they follow the rehab of somebody."Mass shootings also tend to garner a lot of media attention, says Noam Ostrander with the School of Social Work at DePaul University in Chicago. But there are many people who become disabled because of day-to-day gun violence in major cities who never get called by a reporter. For many years, Ostrander worked with gang members in the west side of Chicago who became paralyzed after being shot."The cost of that injury and that often then becomes a public cost is astronomical and I think that would be shocking to a lot of folks," he says.It's also easy to forget, Ostrander says, that about three to five times the number of people who die from gun violence actually survive. And Kafka wants to make sure that their voices count in the debate.This story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, KUT andKaiser Health News. You can follow Ashley Lopez on Twitter: @AshLopezRadio.Let's block ads! (Why?) [...]
Fri, Apr 20, 2018
Source: Headlines -NPR Category: TOP NEWS
Enlarge this image Arizona teachers and education advocates march at the Arizona Capitol protesting low teacher pay and school funding in Phoenix. Ross D. Franklin/AP hide captiontoggle caption Ross D. Franklin/AP Teachers in Arizona held a strike vote on Thursday launching a first-ever statewide walkout turning down a proposed pay raise demanding instead increased school funding.The Arizona Education Association and the grassroots group the Arizona Educators United announced that teachers will walk off the job April 26.At issue is a plan crafted by Gov. Doug Ducey to give teachers a 20 percent raise by 2020, starting with a 9 percent hike next year.Initially, Ducey's plan drew support from two education advocacy groups, Save Our Schools Arizona and the Arizona Parent Teacher Association (AZPTA). But both groups have withdrawn their support saying the plan is not sustainable and likely will come at the expense of others in the educational system.AZPTA President Beth Simek, in a video statement, said that an analysis from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee staff, coupled with her group's research, led to their decision to oppose Ducey's plan."In light of the funding streams that have come to light regarding the #20 by 2020 plan, we can no longer support the governor's proposal," said Simek. "As a voice for children, we hope to see the governor and legislature find a sustainable, long-term permanent funding source that does not hurt others in the process."School support staff groups say they feel left out of the governor's plan.In a tweet, Save Our Schools Arizona said "It is now clear the existing proposal is not sustainable or comprehensive as a means of increasing educator pay and re-investing in Arizona's classrooms and schools."Both groups said that they are still ready to work with the governor on a new plan.Arizona's teachers plan to strike is an unprecedented move and comes with high risk.According to the Associated Press:"Teachers themselves could face consequences in this right-to-work state, where unions do not collectively bargain with school districts and representation is not mandatory. The Arizona Education Association has warned its 20,000 members about a 1971 Arizona attorney general opinion saying a statewide strike would be illegal under common law and participants could lose their teaching credentials."Let's block ads! (Why?) [...]
Fri, Apr 20, 2018
Source: Headlines -NPR Category: TOP NEWS