Kentucky has approved $18 million in new tax breaks for a controversial Christian theme park that is to feature a 510-foot-long replica of Noah's Ark.
Maryanne Zeleznik of member station WVXU in Cincinnati reports that the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve the incentives for the Ark Encounter, to be built in Williamstown.
As we reported in January, the project nearly foundered as recently as January when the Christian non-profit Answers in Genesis — which also operates the Creation Museum and is leading the effort to build the new theme park — was close to triggering a redemption of unrated municipal bonds because it had fallen short of selling the $29 million it needed.
Answers in Genesis is headed by Ken Ham, who in February engaged in a high-profile debate with Bill Nye "The Science Guy." The debate, which was streamed live online, pitted Ham's Biblical literalism, which among other things includes the belief in a 6,000-year-old Earth and that humans and dinosaurs co-existed, against Nye, who argued for Darwinian evolution. Later, Ham said the debate, widely seen as having been won by Nye (although there was, naturally, disagreement), prompted a funding "miracle" that saved the project.
As Zeleznik reports:
"The project is slated to include a facsimile of Noah's Ark and the Tower of Babel, and will proselytize Christian evangelicalism to patrons, an Answers in Genesis spokesman said.
"Finance board chairman Keith Williams said the project was evaluated like any other that comes before the panel, and a preliminary analysis of its economic impact showed benefits for the state.
"'They could produce a good amount of tourism for the state of Kentucky,' said Williams, who was appointed by Gov. Steve Beshear, a supporter of the project. 'It could help the hotel industry, the restaurant industry in that entire area. So if that is the case, and it does boost tourism, then they, yeah, they meet that criteria.'"
The price tag on the project, which held a ceremonial ground-breaking in May, has shifted around since it was unveiled in 2011. It's also been plagued by delays and repeated funding crises.
WVXU reports that Kentucky initially granted $43 million worth of tax breaks to the $173 million project, but it was unclear if the ambition plan would go beyond a $78 million "first phase."
If the project fails to generate sufficient revenue and economic activity for the surrounding area, Kentucky has the right to revoke the incentives.
A recent report by journalist Rukmini Callimachi details al-Qaida's strategy of kidnapping Europeans and demanding large ransoms — and how those ransoms are a key source of funding for al-Qaida operations.
"Europe is funneling these enormous sums of money to al-Qaida," Callimachi, a foreign correspondent with The New York Times, tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. " ... They're reluctantly and unwillingly becoming al-Qaida's main patron."
Last year, while she was the West Africa bureau chief for the Associated Press, Callimachi found thousands of al-Qaida documents in Timbuktu in northern Mali.
Al-Qaida left behind the pages just after a French-led military intervention drove the jihadi fighters out of the area, where they had imposed a harsh version of Islamic law. The documents include directives and letters from al-Qaida commanders.
Now at the Times, Callimachi continues to cover al-Qaida and synthesize the information in the documents.
On al-Qaida's highly detailed record-keeping
When I came back with these receipts, and we started translating them, these thousands and thousands of receipts for things like onions and a kilo of tomatoes and a receipt for a 60-cent piece of cake that somebody ate — it made us laugh. And I guess it made us laugh because we assumed that terrorists are these bad guys with guns — and violent, et cetera — and we have assumed that's divorced from these bureaucratic procedures that we see at play here.
In fact, people that have covered al-Qaida and studied the group longer than me, say they've found the exact same thing in Afghanistan. It's partly the DNA of Osama bin Laden, who started out life as a businessman. He was the son of a very wealthy entrepreneur, and he started out as a young man trying to run his own companies. ... Even when he ran his own companies, he was obsessed with bureaucracy. People that worked for him in Sidon [in Lebanon] remember having to turn in triplicate receipts with carbon copies for things like replacing bicycle tires or car tires.
On finding the bodies of Arab victims of revenge killings by members of Mali's army after al-Qaida was driven out
The bodies were all buried in the dunes just north of Timbuktu. And the thing that's peculiar about the dunes is you have this undulating surface of sand. And all day and all night the wind blows, and it creates these beautiful little ripples. It looks like the bottom of the ocean, so as soon as anybody makes a hole, it creates a disturbance in the sand that you can see from a distance.
And so initially people would tell me, "We saw the soldiers go in this direction or that direction." And we would just walk and we'd find a disturbance in the sand. And then we'd return with the family members of the deceased.
And I know that this is kind of an unusual way for a reporter to behave, but at a certain point, there were no reporters left in Timbuktu. And whenever a person was taken, the family would call me. ... And I started to feel this strange sense of responsibility, that I was their only hope for finding answers for their missing loved ones.
On the link between ransoms and jihadi kidnappers' treatment of their hostages
They go out and grab these 32 Europeans. And we were able to find, through some good luck and sources ... essentially a home video that the hostage takers made in 2003 of this operation. And the footage is fascinating because it shows the interaction between the kidnappers and their European victims. And the interaction is quite cordial.
There [are] moments in time where you see the Europeans smiling, joking with them. They're flashing a thumbs-up sign. And it's clear to me from watching this footage [that] they had not taken these people with the aim of killing them. ... In fact, there's a moment when one of the Europeans was about to faint. He has a drop in blood pressure from the heat in the Sahara, and you see one of the jihadists rushing with a compress to put on his forehead and try to cool him down.
On the ransoms paid by som European countries
So the ransoms I was able to confirm total at least $125 million over the past five years [paid in cases of al-Qaida kidnappings in Africa]. And I believe that's the tip of the iceberg, because there [are] numerous kidnappings where I was told by the negotiators a ransom was paid, but I was not able to get them to tell me the amount.
And so this comes at the same time the world has become much more astute and much better at putting financial sanctions in place that have made it very hard for al-Qaida to funnel money through charities — or to use the banking system, to use any sort of traditional banking system. So at the same time that they're cracking down there, Europe is funneling these enormous sums of money to al-Qaida, and, as we said, they're reluctantly and unwillingly becoming al-Qaida's main patron.
Air travel in some of eastern China's busiest airports has slowed to a crawl over the past week or so, stranding thousands of travelers and igniting debate about the increasing competition between military and civilian flights for the country's airspace.
On Tuesday, civil aviation authorities warned that air traffic capacity in Shanghai would be reduced by 75 percent. The explanation was that "other users" — later identified as China's military — were using the airspace.
While recent delays have been particularly bad, pressures have been building over the past few years, leading to a number of "airport rage" melees between infuriated passengers and airline and airport staff. In one incident that went viral in 2013, a mining company executive had a meltdown after he and his family missed a flight at Kunming Changshui International Airport:
Apparently stung by a wave of domestic criticism and foreign scrutiny, China's military points out that other factors — including poor airline management and stormy summer weather — are also to blame for recent delays.
The military notes that it has sent staff to regional airports to help manage traffic and arrange alternative routes and is doing its best to reduce its disruption of civil aviation.
China's military controls as much as 80 percent of the country's airspace, at a time when the country's civil aviation has been growing at a double-digit clip for several years. At peak travel season, Chinese airports are stretched to capacity. And as the military points out, civil aviation in China has a poor record of efficiency even when the military is not on major maneuvers.
A 2013 report by FlightStats ranked Beijing and Shanghai's main international airports at the bottom of a list of 35 major international airports, with 80 percent of Beijing's flights delayed.
Wang Ya'nan, deputy chief editor of the Beijing-based Aviation Knowledge Magazine, says in an interview that better civilian air traffic management is needed, for example, to put more flights on the same routes, though at different altitudes.
But, he says, the main problem is that China's airspace is divided into separate civil and military zones. Aside from areas near military bases, Wang argues, "whoever needs the airspace and whoever applies first should get to use it."
Wang adds that there is a general consensus in China about merging airspace. But he says implementation will require better civil-military coordination, and some redeployment of physical air traffic facilities — something he estimates could take about eight or 10 years.
Jason Bentley, KCRW Music Director
After many years of making music, Shelby Lynne won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist for her work on the album, I Am Shelby Lynne. This year, she plans on re-releasing that 2000 album along with some B-sides that didn't make the original disc. On a recent visit to Morning Becomes Eclectic, the singer shared those songs, as well as her excitement about putting the record back out into the world.
- "She Knows"
Watch Lynne's entire performance on KCRW.com.
The Ebola outbreak that’s killed more than 670 people in West Africa has hit too close to home for some Americans.
Decontee Sawyer lives in Minnesota, which is home to Liberia’s largest diaspora community. Her husband, a Liberian government official, recently contracted the virus in Liberia and became the first American to die from Ebola in this outbreak.
She speaks with Here & Now’s Robin Young.
- More information about Ebola via the CDC
- Decontee Sawyer asks that people donate to Samaritan’s Purse
- Decontee Sawyer, Liberian-American activist and widow of the first American to die in this Ebola outbreak. She is founder of Today’s Women Alliance.