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Pro-Russian rebels move journalists away from Malaysian investigators and monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Tuesday. Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was allegedly shot down by a missile Thursday; today, U.S. intelligence says it has verified that two rebel leaders spoke by phone about shooting the plane down. (Getty Images)

Flight MH17: U.S. Builds Its Case; Plane Wreckage Reportedly Cut Apart

Jul 22, 2014

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American analysts say they've verified several pieces of evidence that show pro-Russian separatist rebels shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, according to U.S. intelligence officials who briefed reporters Tuesday.

Here's a quick rundown of the officials' updates on what U.S. investigators have found, from notes taken by NPR's Pentagon reporter Tom Bowman:

  • A U.S. spy satellite detected the launch of a surface-to-air missile in the area just before the plane went down.
  • Voice analysis confirms that a phone conversation about the shot-down plane was between two well-known separatist leaders. Their conversation was intercepted and publicized by Ukraine shortly after the airliner was shot down Thursday.
  • The weapon that likely took the plane down - a Russian-made SA-11 anti-aircraft missile - wasn't being used by Ukraine, which the U.S. says has used planes, not missiles, in its fight against the separatists.

The information comes as an update into the inquiry of how the commercial flight was shot down with nearly 300 people aboard. The U.S. has laid the blame at the feet of the separatists — and criticized Russia for supporting them.

"But U.S. intelligence said they still don't know who pulled the trigger, that person's rank or nationality," Tom says. "They also don't know why this was done - they said it was most likely a mistake."

Dutch and Malaysian experts are combing over the wreckage of the flight that had been bound from Amsterdam to Kuala Lampur.

And at the scene of the crash, NPR's Corey Flintoff reports that the stories from many residents are close to the version of events coming out of Moscow, which has suggested alternative explanations for the downing.

Some of them suspect Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko might be behind the attack; others said a man parachuted from the mid-air explosion, but that he had likely died.

Another family has saved a pock-marked piece of aluminum that they say is from the plane — when it fell from the sky, it crashed into their garden and killed their cat, Corey reports for today's All Things Considered.

U.S. officials say experts still need to perform forensics analysis to provide hard proof that the Malaysian plane had been hit by a missile.

The forensics work could be complicated, given the restricted access investigators had to the crash site for days after the jet was shot down — and given today's reports that some of the plane's wreckage had been cut apart.

That's the version of events reported by USA Today, which says "the Boeing 777's cockpit inexplicably had been sawed in half while under the control of Russian-backed separatists."

The newspaper also quotes a spokesman for the group of international monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (the OSCE) who said, "The rear part of the aircraft, one of the biggest intact pieces, has definitely been hacked into."

As we reported earlier today, the separatists have finally released the black boxes and 282 bodies that were found among the wreckage, for analysis by experts in the Netherlands (and, in the case of human remains, repatriation to their home countries). The remains of some passengers have reportedly not been found.

For weeks, U.S. intelligence agencies have been saying that Russia was supplying rebels in Ukraine with weapons. And after today's briefing, Tom reports that analysts now say "Russian equipment, including tanks and armored personnel carriers, are still continuing to roll into Ukraine from Russia."

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The oil tanker HS Electra unloads oil from the North Sea at the Portland Pipe Line facility in South Portland, Maine, in 2013. (Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Maine City Council Votes To Keep Tar Sands Out Of Its Port

by Susan Sharon
Jul 22, 2014 (All Things Considered / Maine Public Broadcasting Network)

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South Portland residents applaud passage of the Clear Skies Ordinance on Monday.

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South Portland, Maine, is known as the place where Liberty ships were built by tens of thousands of workers during World War II. Now, the city's waterfront is home to an oil terminal and the beginning of a 236-mile-long pipeline.

For more than 70 years, the Portland Montreal Pipeline Corp. has pumped crude oil up through the pipeline, across Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, to be refined in Montreal.

Now, Canada is in the midst of an oil boom and the company has expressed interest in using the pipeline to carry Canadian crude, including tar sands oil, in the opposite direction — from Montreal to Maine — for delivery to the world market.

But the city, citing environmental concerns, has passed an ordinance blocking tar sands oil and other raw crude from being loaded onto tanker ships at the city port.

"People are concerned [about] what happens if we have a large amount of tankers that are being loaded with crude oil," says South Portland Mayor Jerry Jalbert.

Residents are concerned about air pollution, the possibility of a spill and the difficulty of cleaning up a heavier, more toxic form of crude oil, he says. It's that confluence of concerns that moved the council to ban tar sands.

"The Clear Skies Ordinance prohibits the bulk loading of crude oil onto marine tank vessels," Jalbert says. "It does not affect any current operations."

While current business won't change, the oil industry still doesn't like the ordinance. Matt Manahan, an attorney for the Portland Montreal Pipe Line Corp., warned council members before their final vote Monday that he doesn't think the ordinance would hold up in court.

"This ordinance, if passed, would clearly be pre-empted by federal and state law," Manahan said before the vote. "There can be no doubt about that, and it's a mistake to move forward with an illegal ordinance."

Pipeline company officials say they are evaluating their legal options. They say the ordinance restricts their ability to adapt to a changing market and to meet the energy needs of the region.

At least one oil industry analyst is skeptical of that claim. "I don't think this is going to make a big difference in terms of northeastern crude oil supply," says Tom Kloza, an oil analyst at GasBuddy.com.

Kloza says even without the pipeline, Canadian crude is still coming. "One thing we've learned in the last couple of years is you can move oil by rail very, very quickly," he says. "The crude's going to come from the oil sands to the United States and other points."

That hasn't discouraged Dylan Voorhees, the Clean Energy and Global Warming Project director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. He says what has happened in South Portland is galvanizing activists around the country and motivating them to raise awareness about the threat of tar sands.

"And they are getting a boost," Voorhees says. "A shot in the arm to see citizens in South Portland successful in a persistent effort against all odds and against oil to get their community protected."

If the ordinance is too restrictive, Mayor Jalbert says the council can always make revisions. But in the event of a lawsuit, he says South Portland plans to defend the ordinance and mount a national online campaign to get environmental groups and other supporters to pay for it.

Copyright 2014 Maine Public Broadcasting Network. To see more, visit http://www.mainepublicradio.org/.

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Police officers separate demonstrators on opposing sides of the immigration debate outside a U.S. Border Patrol station in Murrieta, Calif., on July 4. (AP)

On Immigration, America's Concerns Are Fiery But Fleeting

by Gregory Barber
Jul 22, 2014 (Maine Public Broadcasting Network)

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Gregory Barber

Americans today are most likely to name immigration the nation's biggest problem, but polling history suggests the alarm may have a limited shelf life.

In a Gallup survey released last week, 17 percent volunteered immigration as America's most pressing issue, narrowly topping concerns that weigh more consistently on the nation's mindset, like jobs and political leadership.

Though a small plurality, it was a sharp increase from the 5 percent who named the issue in Gallup's June poll, conducted just days before the youth migrant crisis at the border broke into the headlines and cast fresh light on the nation's troubled immigration policies.

Past polling shows a history of dramatic spikes in immigration concern, each coinciding with political flare-ups over the issue. The measure leapt beyond 15 percent twice in 2006, while Congress debated increased penalties for illegal immigration; and again to 10 percent in 2010, after Arizona passed tough anti-illegal-immigration laws.

But in each case, immigration concerns proved rather fickle; interest quickly sputtered as proposals died or other issues elbowed immigration out of the headlines.

That inconsistency might appear inherent in a survey that asks for respondents to name one issue — out of countless other possibilities — as the nation's most daunting, over-representing those that bask in a momentary media spotlight.

But Jeff Jones, managing editor of the Gallup Poll, said few issues match the polling sensitivity of immigration, which behaves more like an international crisis, such as Syria, than other domestic policy issues.

"Immigration is something that can flare up, but it typically doesn't stay in the headlines for months on end," said Jones. And like the ongoing Syrian conflict, which less than 1 percent named in Gallup's latest survey, "that doesn't mean it's getting any better, or they're finding solutions on it."

Since 2010, however (the last time immigration worries erupted in the polls), the nation's interest in an immigration overhaul had steadily increased, he said. Polls had shown a marked shift from a majority worried about "halting the flow of illegal immigrants" to instead favor "dealing with immigrants already here."

But that trend could reverse amid the current border crisis, he added. Those who named immigration America's top problem in the latest survey skewed older and more Republican — groups that typically prioritize tightening border security.

Still, with three months left before the midterms, prior surges in immigration worries would have crested long before Election Day. And according to Stella Rouse, a government professor at the University of Maryland, immigration just hasn't been the issue to drive voter choices in the past.

"If you look at polls that track voters' concerns, immigration is never at the top of the list," she said. Instead, voters tend to be driven more by issues that have a more consistent foothold in our worries, like jobs and education — a trend she emphasized extends even to Hispanic voters.

But she noted this current immigration crisis could have greater longevity, in political terms, than others. "You have the whole populace engaged in this issue; before you had pockets of it," she said, pointing to decisions about harboring young migrants being made in states around the country.

And both parties have at least one good reason keep up the combative, headline-worthy rhetoric, added Efrén Pérez, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University: It fires up the bases.

"The closer you get to Election Day, the more incentive you have to keep it an issue," he said. "You know it's a live wire."

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Police officers separate demonstrators on opposing sides of the immigration debate outside a U.S. Border Patrol station in Murrieta, Calif., on July 4. (AP)

Book Review: 'Angels Make Their Hope Here'

Jul 22, 2014 (All Things Considered / Maine Public Broadcasting Network) — Alan Cheuse reviews Angels Make Their Hope Here, by Breena Clarke.

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A still from a video showing a glass top grill. (Schott Home Tech/YouTube)

Glass Or No Glass? That Is The Grill Lid Question

by April Fulton
Jul 22, 2014 (Maine Public Broadcasting Network)

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We love cooking on our grills, especially in the summertime. Keeping the house cool and avoiding the dish pile up are two major draws - not to mention the flavor of food cooked over fire.

When we saw a glass-topped grill, shining like Cinderella's slipper in a YouTube video posted by commercial glass maker SCHOTT, we were intrigued. But, we wondered, how the heck do you clean it?

First, let's back up. Glass embedded in gas grill lids is nothing new — small windows allowing you to peek at the food on the grate without opening the lid have been around for more than a decade, says Craig Goldwyn. He writes under the name Meathead on his blog about the science of grilling, www.amazingribs.com.

But the glass windows of yore have not been without problems. Due to the buildup of smoke inside the lid, the glass often turns dark and grimy pretty fast, rendering it useless as a food-spying device. Meathead has been using one of these grills with a glass window. It sits next to 11 other grills on his Chicagoland testing site, also known as his deck.

"The front of that lid is brown, and it went within a week," he tells The Salt.

But Ted Wegert, director of applications engineering at SCHOTT North America, says that doesn't have to be the case. His company's large glass grill windows - still in the prototype stage but showing up at trade shows — are very different, he says, thanks to the material.

SCHOTT is well known for its high-end, dark glass ceramic cooktop surfaces sold to cooks around the world. The glass grill lids they are developing are similar, but transparent glass-ceramic. Called NEXTREMA, they are designed to withstand rain, snow and fluctuating outdoor temperatures without cracking.

"You can heat it to 1,000 degrees, these glass-ceramics," he says. They also threw it in super cold liquid nitrogen with no problems, either.

As for cleaning, Wegert says, it's easy. He recommends using a razor scraper and using the cleaners especially made for glass-ceramic cooktops if anything sticks. But stay away from standard glass cleaners, which can damage the surface.

An advantage of the glass-lidded gas grill might be that you can see flare-ups before they get out of hand - without lifting the lid and letting all the heat out. Easy to do if, say, like one of our editors last night, you were chatting and drinking wine as your chicken went up in flames.

But Meathead isn't convinced this is a real problem that needs solving. "There shouldn't be flare ups if you're cooking right," he says. Indirect heat for thick pieces of chicken, for example, is best in order to cook them through. Then put them on the hot side to crisp up the skin for the last several minutes of cooking.

And he doesn't think the heat loss from a few lid lifts would be significant for most outdoor cooking. "When you open the lid, yeah, you let a lot of hot air out but you close it, and it gets hot again real fast," he says.

What the grill industry really needs, he says, is a good thermostat. Many gas grills with thermostats are up in the high part of the hood - not helpful for getting an accurate read at grill level, he says.

But, he admits, the SCHOTT glass grill top looks pretty cool. And if your grill is see-through, you could also see your thermometer.

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