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Updated: 1 year 22 weeks ago

Inside Ashgabat, the marble city

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 5:06am

What do you do when you're an all-powerful leader sitting on one of the world's largest gas reserves?

You build. And you build big.

What was once a quiet corner of the USSR, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan is quiet no more. Golden domes litter the city; imperious statues stand guard at the feet of monuments and marble, white marble, is everywhere.

The capital of Turkmenistan holds the record for the highest density of white marble-clad buildings anywhere in the world: 48,583, 619 square feet (approximately 4.5 million square meters) of the stone spread across 543 buildings. The equivalent of 632 standard size soccer pitches, or something amounting to one in nearly every 5 square feet of the city

Guinness World Records lists Ashgabat as reaching these figures in 2013 (the latest available); in the years since it has continued to build.

The men behind the architectural feat do not want you to forget who is responsible.

The face of current president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov is ever present, his portrait hanging from many of the buildings he inherited from former leader and self-declared "Turkmenbashi" Saparmurat Niyazov.

Meanwhile Niyazov, who died in 2006, is alive and well in the many golden statues of his likeness. Berdimuhamedov joined the party in 2015 with his own monument, astride a rearing horse atop -- what else? -- a white marble cliff.

The current president has found other ways to stamp his authority on the city. In 2010 he moved the Neutrality Arch -- one of Ashgabat's biggest monuments, complete with a statue of Niyazov which rotated with the sun -- to the outskirts of the city.

Some have argued that these buildings are little more than vanity projects for both presidents, Ashgabat picking up a host of obscure records during its construction frenzy: the largest enclosed Ferris wheel; the largest architectural star; and the most foundation pools in a public place.

These were verified in person by Guinness World Records, but by and large Turkmenistan is a reclusive state, both difficult to enter and, if you're a citizen, not always easy to leave.

The country has been criticized by Human Rights Watch and scored unfavorably in the 2015 World Press Freedoms Index; meanwhile Berdimuhamedov was rebuked in the U.S. Embassy cable leaks as "vain, suspicious, guarded, strict, very conservative, a practiced liar, 'a good actor,' and vindictive."

Ashgabat may be a presidential playground but it surely ranks as one of the great architectural curiosities of the world.

Scroll through the gallery above to find out more.

Meet the activists who want Clinton County to 'feel the Bern'

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 5:05am

Hillary Clinton came to this small city on the gentle banks of Lake Champlain 16 years ago -- the terminal stop on her 62-county listening tour.

"It's a great joy for me ... to end here in Clinton County," the then-Senate candidate said.

Now she's running for president, and in the far reaches of upstate New York, some die-hard liberals want to make the 81,000 residents of Clinton County "feel the Bern." The county is named for George Clinton, the first (and third) governor of New York.

Clinton may have trounced Barack Obama here in 2008, but eight years later, lawn signs for her current rival -- Bernie Sanders -- plaster Plattsburgh, the county seat.

A "Honk for Bernie" gathering in Trinity Park transformed the center of town into what nearly sounded like Brooklyn at rush hour.

"We have 'Honk 4 Clean Energy,' 'Honk 4 Veterans,' ... 'Honk 4 Single Payer,' " said Adam Guillette, a 25-year-old Sanders supporter and organizer in Clinton County. "They're responding to Bernie and the issues he represents."

Martin Mannix, the county Democratic chairman, says Sanders is the only candidate from either party with any kind of operation in the county. Mannix wouldn't say on the record who he supports; the local party is remaining neutral.

"They're very familiar with Bernie Sanders," he said, because Lake Champlain is all that separates them from Vermont. "(Local volunteers) have pulled together and have a very energetic presence in this area."

It's kind of a myth that upstate New York is the conservative counterweight to the liberal metropolis that is New York City. The coastal counties bordering Vermont to the east -- and all but three of the counties bordering Canada to the north and west -- voted for Obama four years ago.

"It used to be a bastion of Republican strength," Mannix said. "That's no longer the case."

Many of Sanders' supporters in Clinton County say they wouldn't vote for the former secretary of state if she won their party's nomination. Rachelle Armstrong, 67, is an exception, but believes the Vermont senator is far better qualified.

"I think his senatorial and congressional record speaks very positively for his effectiveness," she said. "And if you compare that to the record of Hillary Clinton in the Senate, her senatorial accomplishments are quite minor."

Guillette said he and his group of local volunteers have "blanketed Plattsburgh," knocking on over 1,600 doors in one weekend and finding very little support for Clinton.

The grassroots enthusiasm feels a lot like what then-candidate Obama spurred nationally in 2008. And some of Sanders' supporters happen to sound a lot like Obama supporters did eight years ago.

"How does change happen?" Giullette said. "It's not politicians. It's usually from the bottom up -- a social movement."

5 things to know for Monday, April 18

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 5:05am

A shaken nation. An impeached President. A free man. It's Monday, and here are the 5 things you need to know to Get Up to Speed and Out the Door.

1. Ecuador earthquake

It's been two days since a massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck coastal Ecuador. The Saturday quake killed more than 270, and the country's President said the number will surely rise. People are clawing through rubble with their bare hands looking for trapped family members in the debris. Others are sleeping in the streets, terrified to go back into their homes.

2. Brazil politics

Brazil's on the world stage -- but for all the wrong reasons. The Summer Olympics were supposed to showcase the country as a rising power. Instead, the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff exposes a country in crisis. Rousseff's case now heads to the Senate. If the impeachment motion carries there, she'll have to step down 180 days to defend herself in an impeachment trial. Just in time for the Games. Talk about terrible timing!

3. Jack McCollough

Three years ago, CNN's Ann O'Neill's digital series "Taken" raised questions about whether Jack McCollough's trial in the death of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph was unfairly one-sided. Well, McCollough is now free. A judge has thrown out his conviction. It's always heartening when journalism makes a difference. The whole case is worth a read.

4. Campaign 2016

Here's what happened over the weekend:

-- The Donald is still complaining about the "rigged" delegate system. The Ted is still nabbing delegates.

-- Uncle Bernie's supporters made it rain on the Hillz' motorcade. -- Clinton busted a move at a rally-turned block party.

-- Oh, a North Korean official called a Trump idea "absurd and illogical." Pot, meet kettle.

5. 9/11

If Congress passes a bill letting families of 9/11 victims sue foreign governments, Saudi Arabia says it'll sell off billions in U.S. assets. The kingdom's never been formally implicated in the attacks. But 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. And the so-called 20th has accused members of the royal family of supporting al Qaeda. So you can imagine why Saudi Arabia is NOT happy.

BREAKFAST BROWSE

People are talking about these. Read up. Join in.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Amber Heard and hubby Capt. Jack Sparrow apologize for smuggling dogs into Australia. But why does it look like a North Korean propaganda video?

Cum on feel the noize

If you live in the Northeast and parts of the Midwest, get ready for some noisy evenings: the cicadas are coming.

We have a winner, we think

Why you can't trust the Internet with important things: "Boaty McBoatface" wins online poll as name of new $300 million polar research ship.

Whole Lotta Rosie

So you're going to be fronting AC/DC now, Axl? Break a leg. Oh wait, you already have.

Coach or ninja?

A young gymnast is headed for the mat face-first at a competition in Canada, until her coach saves her with a boss move.

Number of the day

$436,065

That's how much the Obamas made last year. That's actually low. The First Family's income's steadily declined because his books aren't selling like they used to.

AND FINALLY ...

This is gonna be yuuuge

We try to keep "And Finally..." a politics-free zone, but who can resist little kids during their best Donald Trump impressions?

The looting of Africa's wealth

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 5:02am

Katanga province in the Democratic Republic of Congo is blessed with enormous natural wealth, including vast deposits of precious minerals such as diamonds, gold, and tantalum.

Katanga saw a spectacular mining boom around the turn of the century, when President Laurent-Desire Kabila and then his son Joseph licensed international mining companies to tap its treasures.

This arrangement generated riches for the Congolese elite, and vastly more for the prospectors, but offered little to the poverty-ravaged population. From 1999 to 2002, the Kabila regime "transferred ownership of at least $5 billion of assets from the State- mining sector to private companies under its control... with no compensation or benefit for the State treasury," a United Nations investigation found.

The bonanza coincided with a ruthless crackdown on dissent. In 2004, a small, mostly civilian group took over a mine operated by the Australian firm Anvil Mining in Kilwa village, protesting that the company was making huge profits without rewarding the local workforce.

According to a UN report, the Congolese army crushed the uprising and killed around 100 people, many by summary execution. Some of the soldiers drove Anvil vehicles, which the company claimed were commandeered. A Congolese military court controversially cleared Anvil employees of complicity with war crimes.

Modern colonialism

The combination of staggering wealth, rampant violence, and abject poverty in DR Congo is no coincidence, but part of a pattern causing devastation across Africa, according to Financial Times investigative journalist Tom Burgis.

In a new edition of his book The Looting Machine, the author probes the paradox of "the continent that is at once the world's poorest and, arguably, its richest."

Burgis, a former correspondent in Lagos and Johannesburg, finds a wide variety of kleptocrats and rackets over his travels through dozens of resource-rich countries. But a common thread is that the wholesale expropriation of resources during colonial times has barely slowed through the post-independence era, albeit with new beneficiaries.

"Western governments are not supposed to wield commercial and political power at the same time, and certainly not to use one to benefit the other," says Burgis. "In colonial states...The British or Portugese would cultivate a small group of local people who would fuse political and commercial power to control the economy."

"When the foreign power leaves, you are left with an elite that has no division between political and commercial power. The only source of wealth is mines or oilfields, and that is a recipe for ultra-corrupt states. Somewhere like Nigeria, an 'extractor elite'...wanted to draw to itself the rent that oil and mining resources generate."

Burgis cites another colonial hangover in the continued presence and power of oil and mining firms.

"The multinational companies hold enormous economic and political power in post-independence African countries," he says. "In this way, there is a pretty straight line from colonial exploitation to modern exploitation."

Fueling oppression

The ability of governments to rely on resource revenue leads to corruption and oppression, Burgis argues, as they are not accountable to their people through a social contract based on taxation and representation.

He cites Angola, which earns almost half of its GDP from oil, as an example of government as "a service for the elite." A 2011 IMF audit (p9) revealed that $32 billion disappeared from official accounts between 2007 and 2010, a quarter of the state's income.

The Angolan elite rejects accountability and does not tolerate any challenge from the public, Burgis adds, recalling the recent case of activists being jailed for a public reading of a pro-democracy book.

From Sudan to Equatorial Guinea, censorship, oppression, and human rights abuses are recurring traits of regimes that receive their wealth from abroad.

Secret deals

The growth of offshore banking in the late 20th century created new opportunities for resource tycoons to cover their tracks, a practice laid bare in the Panama Papers.

Israeli businessman Dan Gertler was an early pioneer. After forging a close friendship with DR Congo President Joseph Kabila, he was granted a near monopoly on exporting the nation's diamonds, and quickly became a billionaire. Gertler routed the cash through an elaborate network of offshore accounts in tax havens, keeping the details of controversial deals secret.

"In the case of African resource deals, offshore funds have been shown to conceal questionable transactions," says Burgis. "In the 1980s, bribes were literally cars full of cash and you handed the key to the official you were trying to bribe."

"Bribery now is much more sophisticated, and has become harder to define as bribery if it's (through) offshore transactions or people being given equity shares in offshore companies...You have to crack open a lot of offshore secrecy to see the conflict of interest that lies at the heart of them."

The era of global finance has opened African markets to a new generation of mysterious traders. Burgis spent years on the trail of elusive Chinese businessman Sam Pa, who has cycled through multiple aliases while making deals across the continent from Angolan oil to Zimbabwean diamonds. Pa is believed to lead the secretive Queensway investor group, and Burgis claims he has represented the Chinese state, although the government denies this.

Breaking the chain

Burgis is skeptical that resource industries can ever be reformed.

"There is a troubling possibility that it's not possible to put natural resources in these countries to work for the common good," says Burgess. "(Almost) everywhere that receives a significant share of its income from oil or mining is badly run and often violent -- it's in the nature of these industries to cause these problems."

Botswana and South Africa have befitted from moving up the value chain -- developing high-skilled industries from natural resources rather than just exporting raw materials, such as diamond polishing or manufacturing metallic goods. Burgis believes that diversifying economies away from a single resource -- as President Buhari's government in Nigeria is attempting to do -- can mitigate the effects of dependency.

He suggests another option is to keep resources in the country and implement high tariffs to protect domestic industries, but African leaders have been reluctant to adopt such measures.

"We have a world trading architecture with strict rules on imposing tariffs," says Burgis. "African countries have adopted the market orthodoxy that led them to pare down states and embrace global economic competition -- in which they are overwhelmingly the losers."

Collective complicity

Responsibility for the plight of resource-dependent nations goes beyond traders and dictators. The global economy still requires a huge supply of raw materials that originate in Africa, creating an imperative to maintain the existing, destructive model.

Burgis applauds steps such as the Kimberley Process for preventing 'blood diamond' trade, but feels that developed nations could go much further.

"The lesson for those in the West who want to address the damage from oil and mining industries, and the corruption that goes with them, is 'put your own house in order,'" he says. "There has been a tendency to lecture African rulers (but) the problems are in the world financial system."

The author suggests a global public registry of companies and trusts to counter the use of shell companies in illicit deals.

"That financial secrecy is available is not Africa's fault," says Burgis. "Address the part that sits within the global system, which can be regulated from Western capitals."

The nature of the global supply chain means that complicity with the crimes around resource extraction extends from African dictators all the way to a European mobile phone buyer.

At every level, delusion is a powerful barrier to change. Burgis recalls a meeting with a leading figure of Angola's kleptocratic regime, who argued passionately that he was protecting his people from even worse abuses.

"It's human nature," says Burgis. "Nobody thinks they are the bad guy."

Creole shrimp with Asiago-topped polenta

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 5:00am

Makes 4 servings

This dish offers both great flavor and appealing texture. Serve with a green salad tossed with creamy dressing.

1 (16-ounce) package cooked polenta, cut into 12 (½-inch-thick) round slices ½ cup finely shredded aged Asiago cheese 2 tablespoons butter ¾ cup finely chopped celery ½ green bell pepper, finely chopped 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme 2 teaspoons minced garlic 2 (10-ounce) cans diced tomatoes and green chilies 16 ounces medium (26-30 count) shrimp, shelled and deveined Salt 2 green onions, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly coat a large baking sheet with olive oil cooking spray.

Place the polenta slices on the baking sheet. Top each with some of the Asiago cheese. Bake for 12 minutes or until the cheese is slightly melted and the polenta is heated through. Remove from the oven and cover with foil to keep warm.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the celery, bell pepper, thyme, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes or until the celery and green pepper are softened. Stir in the tomatoes. When the liquid comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in the shrimp; cook for 2 minutes or until the shrimp are opaque. Season with salt to taste.

Athletes go political: Who's endorsing who?

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 4:59am

When the collective brain trust of Mike Tyson, John Rocker and Dennis Rodman all agree on one thing, it's bound to be controversial.

No strangers to tabloid drama, the outspoken retired athletes all endorse Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, joining a chorus of sports personalities who are weighing in on the U.S. presidential election.

The backing of popular sports figures -- depending on their background -- can add a level of cache to a budding presidential nominee, senior political strategist Jeremy Bird tells CNN.

"They do give validation to candidates, especially candidates who need validation," says Bird, who worked on both of Barack Obama's campaigns, serving as national field director in 2012. Bird went on to establish the consultancy 270 Strategies which counts Hillary Clinton as one of its clients.

"For candidates that are less well known, having the endorsement of somebody famous, somebody (trustworthy) -- that can have an impact on shaping a voter's overall view of a candidate, especially if that's coupled with two or three other people that are figures that (command) respect generally."

One such candidate in the run-up to the 2008 campaign happened to be Obama, who was buoyed by a number of endorsements from celebrity athletes, particularly from the world of the NBA, where LeBron James, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan -- who famously stayed out of politics throughout his career -- all threw their support behind the upstart senator from Illinois.

The current White House resident turned out to be a natural at courting votes from athletes. "He might be one of the only presidents who wasn't tuned into CNN or MSNBC on the campaign bus -- he was tuned into ESPN," Bird recalls. "So it was unique in a sense that he really loves sports, and it was nice for him to have those athletes support him who he had watched play and cheer on the court."

James, in particular, was a key get, according to Bird, because of his status as the most popular athlete in Ohio, a crucial swing state.

"We spent a lot of time courting him and his people because we felt like he was such a star, especially in the Cleveland area, that having him (endorse Obama) was not necessarily going to be the difference between somebody supporting us and not supporting us -- but it was going to have a difference in their enthusiasm.

"How one uses it does matter too," explains Bird. "Saying LeBron is an endorsement in a press release is not going to have much impact. But doing an event at a big basketball arena with LeBron and Jay Z where people could sign up and register -- now that could have a big impact."

"There are cases of individual endorsements where either that figure is so important in that state, or so important to that demographic, it can have a bigger impact; but I think that's probably few or far between," he adds.

A polarizing figure by nature, Trump has by far the most public declarations of support from within the sports world to date -- though many have come from athletes who themselves have been cast as social pariahs once. They include the likes of Tyson, Rodman, golfer John Daly, ex-NFL star Terrell Owens and college hoops coach Bob Knight.

"When you look at everybody endorsing a certain candidate, it says a lot about that candidate," says Bird.

Former Atlanta Braves closer Rocker made headlines in 1999 for a derisive interview with Sports Illustrated where he knocked homosexuals and minorities. "The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. I'm not a very big fan of foreigners," he said.

"I wish someone ... would have the backbone to make unpopular comments," Rocker told The Daily Caller in January. "Trump is that guy."

Endorsements from figures like Rocker can actually be detrimental to a campaign if they are not isolated, Bird says.

"You can embrace that support or you can say that you don't agree with that person's view on certain things, even if they do support you," he says. "I think they can hurt, especially when you get a bunch of people supporting you who are divisive characters in the public eye who have said things that have turned off a lot of voters."

It could be argued, however, that Trump's own divisiveness is what attracts him to certain voter groups and celebrity endorsements.

"These types of personalities are all heroes to non-college, blue collar males," Larry Sabato, professor of politics at the University of Virginia told CNN, mentioning the likes of Rodman and Tyson. "Who supports Trump disproportionately? Non-college, blue collar males. So they only serve to reinforce Trump's fundamental appeal to his constituency."

"The biggest thing that these endorsements do for a candidate is help build name recognition," Sabato adds. "But if there's one thing Donald Trump doesn't need is more name recognition. So in a sense they are irrelevant."

Pro wrestler Hulk Hogan -- who half-jokingly volunteered to run alongside Trump early in his campaign -- recently won a $115 million lawsuit against Gawker for posting a sex tape of him with a friend's wife. However, he was axed by the WWE in 2015 for making a racist slur about his daughter's boyfriend.

Baseball legend Pete Rose was wrongly assumed to have come out in support of Trump, after the candidate flaunted a signed baseball from the former Cincinnati Red. Rose, who has been banned from the game since 1989 for his gambling misdeeds, says voters should simply decide for themselves.

Trump has, however, landed mainstream support from baseball and elsewhere, including the endorsements of respected former Yankees Paul O'Neill and Johnny Damon.

NASCAR CEO Brian France, who greeted Trump at a rally in North Carolina, is also one of his biggest backers. Trump interpreted the endorsement (intentionally or not) as one stamped by the association itself: "NASCAR endorsed Trump, can you believe that?" he said at the rally.

"I tell you what, if the people that like and watch NASCAR vote for Donald Trump, they can cancel the election right now," he added. "Nobody can win."

NASCAR has made it clear that the stance is France's personal decision and not an endorsement by the association, but political analyst Kevin Madden, who worked on the campaigns of George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, says Trump's eagerness to associate himself with the motor sport's brand could be damaging.

"He continues to repeat falsehoods in a way that really does become problematic for NASCAR trying to dismiss the idea that they have endorsed (Trump). He just keeps repeating it over and over. He doesn't even care, he just repeats it in a way that suits him. And NASCAR be damned -- and the truth be damned," Madden said on ESPN's Capital Games podcast. "That's a much more problematic issue for the sports league than it is for the candidate."

Trump's campaign did not respond to CNN's request for comment on the support he had garnered from athletes and sports officials.

Like NASCAR's France, UFC founder Dana White has also jumped on the Trump bandwagon -- highlighting the inherent dangers of league officials backing candidates: The potential of alienating sections of their fan base.

"I do think that there is a false sense that NASCAR voters are monolithic, and I don't think that's true," Bird says. "There are a lot of (fans) that like the sport but don't necessarily like the rhetoric that Donald Trump is spewing."

Indeed, although NFL commissioner Roger Goodell donated to Chris Christie's campaign and NBA chief Adam Silver contributed to Hillary Clinton's, both have been careful not to voice their support publicly.

Clinton has her fair share of backing from athletes too, including former U.S. women's soccer captain Abby Wambach, retired tennis champs Chris Evert and Billy Jean King, and Jason Collins, known for being the first openly gay NBA player. Ex-hoops star Grant Hill, whose mother Janet roomed with the Democratic hopeful at Wellesley College, has given money to Clinton's campaign and attended one of her rallies in Atlanta.

Former figure skating champion Michelle Kwan went a step further last June when she joined Clinton's campaign as a full-time staffer at its Brooklyn headquarters.

"Her endorsements (from sports) are from athletes with backgrounds that are strong in her camp," said political forecaster Sabato. "I might be wrong but there are not a lot of non-college, blue collar males who follow figure skating."

"You look at the figures who are supporting either Sanders or Clinton, they are not the same kind of sports figures or public figures who are supporting Trump," added Bird, who cites World Cup and Olympic winner Wambach as "somebody who really brings this country together." (Although Wambach, a champion of equal pay for female soccer players, recently plead guilty for driving under the influence.)

Clinton also posed with transgender former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner at a recent function. Jenner -- a registered Republican -- has been noncommittal with her pick so far, but has voiced disdain for Clinton on her reality show "I Am Cait."

Jenner went as far as to say she'd like to be Cruz's trans ambassador, before adding, "I never said I endorsed Ted Cruz."

"I would never ever, ever vote for Hillary," Jenner said. "We are done if Hillary becomes president, the country is over." Trump, on the other hand, figured higher with the reality star. "He would be very good for women's issues," she added.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders has the backing of cerebral former NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, MMA fighter Ronda Rousey, and Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett.

Ultimately, support from well-known athletes can benefit both parties by injecting enthusiasm in voters who otherwise wouldn't bother going to the polls, says Bird.

"The challenge that a Democratic nominee has is that of turnout and registration," he explains. "So getting folks who can reach that right demographic: We're talking about young people, we're talking about African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans -- voters who are not traditionally coming out as a the same percentage of other voters, who happen to be sports fans or happen to be fans of certain celebrities.

"There are people on the Republican side who are (also) not turning out as much. They tend to be very different demographics than the Democrats, but they are watching sports," he says. "They may be different sports, but they are watching sports."

Missouri girl, 7, dies on way to father-daughter dance

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 4:27am

A 7-year-old St. Louis County girl on her way to a father-daughter dance died after being hit by a vehicle as she crossed a roadway near a school. St. Louis County police said in a release that an SUV turning left out of the parking lot of Babler Elementary in Wildwood struck Rachel Bick of Ballwin Saturday evening. Rachel's mother, Susan Bick, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Sunday the family's devastated. She says her daughter was so excited to pick out a white lace dress for the dance. Police said Rachel and her father walked from the parking lot of a nearby school and onto the highway where Rachel was struck. Rachel's grandmother, Barb Nethery, says her father feels he failed her. Police say the SUV driver is cooperating.

5 things to know about Ecuador, Japan quakes

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 4:17am

Several million earthquakes occur annually, but most are unnoticed because they're so small, the U.S. Geologic Survey says.

But three recent earthquakes -- on Thursday and Saturday morning in Japan and Saturday night in Ecuador -- have gotten lots of attention because of the great destruction.

Here are five things to know about those quakes.

1. Are the Ecuador and Japan earthquakes related?

It's way too early to tell, said Paul Caruso, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey

"It's one day after the Ecuador earthquake and two days after the Japanese earthquake, so no real research has been done on these quakes as far as they're being connected," he said Sunday.

"Usually we don't think earthquake are connected across the ocean," Caruso said, but there's ongoing research in "remote triggering," the idea that a big quake can cause another quake a long distance away.

The distance between Japan and Ecuador: 15,445 kilometers, or about 9,590 miles.

2. What about the Ring of Fire?

Both quakes occurred in this horseshoe-shaped area the National Geographic Society defines as "a string of volcanoes and sites of seismic activity, or earthquakes, around the edges of the Pacific Ocean."

It may seem more than coincidental that the quakes occurred a few days apart. But it's also true that the large majority of the world's earthquakes -- about 90 percent -- occur in the Ring of Fire, per the National Geographic Society.

3. How do the Ecuador and Japanese quakes compare in power?

The Ecuador earthquake was almost 16 times stronger than the Saturday morning quake in Japan.

That figure comes courtesy of the "Try It Yourself" calculator on the USGS website. Ecuador was hit by a magnitude-7.8 quake, Japan by a magnitude-7.0 quake. Plug those numbers into the calculator, and you come up with 15.848. (The Thursday Japan quake was magnitude-6.2.)

If you're a math geek and want to see the formula, it's on the USGS website.

4. Is this Ecuador's strongest earthquake?

No. On January 31, 1906, a magnitude-8.8 quake occurred off the coast of Ecuador and Colombia, generating a tsunami that killed 500 to 1,500 people, according to the USGS website. The quake was first measured at magnitude-8.2.

On May 14, 1942, a magnitude-7.8 earthquake occurred 43 kilometers south of the site of the recent quake.

The Saturday quake is the deadliest to hit the nation since March 1987 when a 7.2-magnitude temblor killed 1,000 people, according to the USGS.

5. How often do quakes of this power occur?

Quakes with a magnitude between 7.0 and 7.9 occur about 15 times a year, according to information collected by the USGS over the decades.

The bigger ones -- magnitude-8 and over -- happen about once a year.

Gas Prices in the Ozarks

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 4:07am

Most gas station in the Ozarks area are holding between $1.80 and $1.89 for a gallon of gas. This is as of early Monday morning.

THE CHEAPEST:  

Shell at 1439 US-60 E in Republic, MO is selling gas for $1.78 a gallon. 

Sam's Club at 3660 E Sunshine St & Bedford St in Springfield is selling gas right now for $1.78 a gallon.

THE MOST EXPENSIVE:

The Kum & Go at 529 S Grant Ave & Mt Vernon St in Springfield is selling gas right now at $1.92 a gallon.

Want to find the cheapest gas where you live? Plug in your zip code to our Gas Buddy price finder:  CLICK HERE.

Dems rustle up the bucks for down-ticket candidates

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 4:02am

With the make-or-break New York primary looming Tuesday, Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders crisscrossed the state last weekend, stumping for every last vote. But the money it takes to be able to do that was a top subject for debate as actor George Clooney pushed back on the necessity of pricey events like the one he held for Clinton last weekend.

'Boaty McBoatface' wins ship naming poll

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 3:59am

The internet has spoken -- and "RRS Boaty McBoatface" is the people's choice to name a $300 million state-of-the-art polar research ship.

Over 7,000 names were submitted to the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) poll which closed April 16, but "Boaty McBoatface" won easily with 124,109 votes.

It all began when the NERC invited the public to christen the 129-meter long icebreaker, the largest and most advanced British research vessel to date.

They asked for names that were inspirational, such as a historical figure or a landmark.

However, after former BBC presenter James Hand cheekily suggested the Boaty moniker it quickly became the crowd favorite over more traditional names like "RRS Henry Worsley" after the British explorer who died in January while attempting a solo, unaided mission across the Antarctic.

At one point, the site struggled under the number of users flocking to vote.

Surprised by the popularity, Hand offered an apology as the joke took on a life of its own.

It spawned countless silly riffs.

A UK train service from Portsmouth to Waterloo was briefly renamed "Trainy McTrainface" much to the amusement of its passengers.

A grocery store debuted a new type of Cheshire: "Cheesey McCheeseface".

A British zoo pre-empted a similar internet takeover for the naming of its newest penguin chick and banned "Penguin McPenguinface".

Cruise company Royal Caribbean even invited Hand to name one of their vessels.

Racehorse named Horsey McHorseFace because "hey, why not?"

The NERC, for its part, appears to have taken the publicity all in good fun.

There's no guarantee that they will follow through on the public's choice but whatever its name, the vessel will be setting sail for Antarctica in 2019.

Man arrested after clearing bar with 'flatulence spray'

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 3:56am

WSB-TV reported 20-year-old Blake Leland Zengo was charged for disorderly conduct, public intoxication and underage consumption of alcohol after police say he sprayed a woman in the face at an Athens, Georgia, bar with a product designed to smell like flatulence.

Officers said Zengo slurred his words as he denied spraying anything in the bar. A bottle of the spray was found in Zengo's front pocket.

A police report from Athens-Clarke County said several people left the bar due to the foul odor.

The woman declined to press charges, WSB-TV said, and it's unclear if Zengo has an attorney.

Brazil lawmakers vote to impeach president

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 3:43am

Lawmakers in Brazil have dealt a major blow to President Dilma Rousseff. The lower house voted overwhelmingly to impeach her for allegedly hiding a budget deficit to win re-election in 2014.

Japan quakes: Bad weather slows rescue effort

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 3:41am

Like many buildings in Mashiki town, Kiyomi Matsuoka's wooden house withstood Thursday's quake. But not the magnitude-7.0 one that mercilessly hit two days later.

"This is surreal," said Matsuoka, who returned to look at the rubble that was once her house and the hair salon business her family ran.

After the first shock on Thursday, Matsuoka and her family evacuated.

Her 80-year-old father insisted on staying with the family home -- barely managing to claw out of the debris when Saturday's quake hit and toppled the house in its entirety.

It was a miracle, she said, he came out alive at all.

Tearing up as she spoke, she said she was determined to rebuild business in Mashiki, where three generations of her family had been.

"We have been running this business right here in this town over 40 years," she said. "I will rebuild our business here no matter what."

Saturday's Kyushu earthquake in southern Japan took at least 33 lives, according to Kumamoto Prefecture's disaster management office. It was preceded by Thursday's foreshock, which took nine lives.

The quakes left 1,055 people injured, according to the disaster management office on Monday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described the search for survivors amid piles of rubble as a "race against the clock," noting bad weather, continuing aftershocks and the threat of landslides made a dire situation worse.

U.S. forces will provide operational airlift support in the Japanese government's relief efforts.

Seismic activity is continuing in Kumamoto and Oita prefectures with no sign of subsiding, said Gen Aoki, the head of Japan's Meteorological Agency. Kumamoto continued to endure as many as hundreds of aftershocks, according to the agency.

Aoki warned of further building collapses and landslides from rainfall that has loosened the surrounding soil.

About 25,000 Japanese troops have been sent to help with rescue efforts, along with six planes and nine ships to deliver food, blankets and all emergency necessities.

Japan's Nuclear Regulatory Agency assessed the conditions of the nuclear plants after the series of earthquakes in Kyushu and reported no impact on the plants' safety.

Scramble for aid

One of the 180,000 people who fled to an evacuation center, the smile on 61-year-old Yoshitada Shimamura's face hides the trauma he's just experienced.

But he says he's just got to forget about what happened to his home, now completely gone.

He's happy to have excavated a small gas canister from the debris, which will allow him to cook warm food for himself and fellow refugees, he says.

Food aid at evacuation centers is getting thin as the damage area widens.

"There wasn't actually enough food for everyone, which was the only problem," Samuel Borer a U.S. citizen living in Kumamoto, said at an elementary school used as a shelter.

"Most of the food went to the elderly and children first."

Television images and photos showed empty shelves at supermarkets and stores, leaving many evacuees to line up for food and water at shelters.

CNN International's Matt Rivers, reporting from a shelter, said the aftershocks are creating anxiety among rescuers and residents.

"You're seeing people assigned here from one of two sorts of tracks," he said. "On the one hand, people who had their homes destroyed so they have nowhere to go. (But) the reality is that most people inside this evacuation shelter here are afraid to go home. They're not sure that maybe there might be another aftershock."

The earthquakes have also disrupted the Japanese economy, as Toyota suspended production on its vehicle assembly line until April 28 due to a parts shortage. Honda and Sony have also suspended operations at their Kumamoto sites.

The tremors caused extensive damage, overturning cars, splitting roads and triggering a landslide. Television images showed flattened houses, shards of broken glass and debris piled onto the streets. Over 3,000 buildings have been damaged, according to the disaster management office.

"When the second earthquake came everything shook and I thought I might die," said Taiki Hishida, 38, who evacuated with his wife and two young children to a crowded shelter.

Noel Vincent felt both earthquakes.

"This extremely intense shaking began," he said. "And whereas the first earthquake was more of an up-and-down type of shaking, this was a side-to-side shaking ... it was very intense and I feared for my life."

U.S. Defense Secretary makes trip to Iraq

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 3:38am

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has arrived for an unannounced visit to Iraq, where he will hold a series of meetings, including with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and top U.S. military commanders.

Carter will also host a question-and-answer session with troops stationed in the country. This is Carter's third visit to Iraq.

An official traveling with Carter said the U.S. is going to bring in more resources into the country and is going to accept more risk in the coming days in Iraq.

The official said that the resources would likely include "more aggressive" equipment and technology and may include an increase in Apache attack helicopters.

The official framed the fight for Iraq as centered around efforts to recapture the northern city of Mosul from ISIS forces, Iraq's second-largest.

Mosul fell to ISIS after the Iraqi Army abandoned their positions and fled in the summer of 2014.

Troop increases?

The comments seemed to complement those made by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford, the country's top military officer who said in March that he believes the U.S. will soon increase the number of American troops in Iraq.

"(Carter) and I both believe that there will be an increase to the U.S. forces in Iraq in the coming weeks," he said late last month.

Dunford added that, at the time, a final decision on any troop deployments had yet to be made.

Most analysts think the additional forces will be deployed to help the Iraqi military in its upcoming campaign to liberate Mosul from ISIS control.

"Taking Mosul will require more fighters than the Iraqi security forces have and those new forces have to be trained," thereby requiring the additional U.S. presence, Nick Heras, of the Center for a New American Security told CNN.

Busting ISIS communication

More recently, the U.S. deployed tactical aircraft capable of attacking ISIS's ability to communicate closer to the front lines of the battle against the terrorist group.

The U.S. European Command announced a squadron of Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler aircraft has been sent to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey to support operations against ISIS.

In addition to being able to intercept communications by ISIS, the Prowler can protect allied forces on the ground and strike aircraft by jamming any radar and communication devices ISIS has.

Ecuador earthquake: Death toll jumps to 272

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 3:23am

Rescue crews searched desperately through rubble for survivors of a magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck coastal Ecuador.

The death toll has soared to 272, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa said Sunday evening. That number is expected to rise as rescue teams dig through the rubble, he said.

Earlier that day, Vice President Jorge Glas had estimated that at least 2,527 people were injured.

The hardest-hit area was the coastal Manabi Province, where about 200 people died, said Ricardo Peñaherrera of Ecuador's national emergency management office. The cities of Manta, Portoviejo and Pedernales, a tourist destination, saw the most devastation but damage was widespread throughout the country.

"The first hours are crucial," Correa said. "We're finding signs of life in the rubble. We're giving this priority. After, we'll work to find and recover bodies."

People looking for family and friends frantically dug with their hands and tools until excavation equipment arrived.

"It was the worst experience of my life," survivor Jose Meregildo said Sunday about the tremors that violently shook his house in Guayaquil, 300 miles away from the quake's epicenter. "Everybody in my neighborhood was screaming saying it was going to be the end of the world."

The earthquake hit Saturday around 7 p.m. while people were going about their evening. The tremors buckled overpasses trapping drivers. A shopping mall partially collapsed on customers and several buildings have been flattened with their content spilled into the streets.

All six coastal provinces -- Guayas, Manabi, Santo Domingo, Los Rios, Esmeraldas and Galapagos -- are in state of emergencies.

People left their homes and wandered around, some sleeping in the streets.

"I found my house like this," said Nely Intriago, standing in front of a pile of rubble. "What am I going to do? Cry, that's what. Now we are on the street with nothing."

Armed forces, police deployed

In a race to help residents, Ecuador deployed 10,000 soldiers and 4,600 police officers to the affected areas. The armed forces built mobile hospitals in Pedernales and Portoviejo and set up temporary shelters.

The military also brought in more K9 units to aid the search for survivors -- and bodies.

Videos showed rescuers pulling a young girl underneath the rubble of the Hotel Miami in the province of Manabi, finally pulling her out and taking her away on a stretcher.

Getting supplies and rescue crews to emergency areas has been a challenge.

"The lack of water and communication remains a big problem," Peñaherrera, of the emergency management office told CNN en Español. "Many highways are in bad shape, especially in the mountainous area because it has been raining recently due to (the) El Niño weather phenomenon."

The governments of Colombia, Chile, Spain and Mexico are sending help for rescue efforts, the vice president said. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United States was "ready to assist in any way we can."

Correa arrived to the city of Portoviejo on Sunday night after cutting short his visit to a Vatican conference.

"I have infinite gratitude to the spirit of the Ecuadorian people, of our firefighters, our soldiers, our policemen and all workers who haven't slept, haven't eaten as they work hard to save lives," he said after arriving.

The president's official Twitter account used a hashtag that translated to "Ecuador ready and in solidarity" and showed him at one of the disaster sites.

During his Sunday prayer, Pope Francis asked for those present to pray for the people affected by the earthquakes in Ecuador and Japan.

"Last night a violent earthquake hit Ecuador, causing numerous victims and great damages," Francis said. "Let's pray for those populations, and for those of Japan, where as well there has been some earthquakes in the last days."

Japan had been hit with a series of earthquakes that have killed dozens.

Closures in recovery efforts

Ecuador's Interior Ministry ordered all nightlife venues in affected areas closed for the next 72 hours.

Also, the nation's soccer federation said it has suspended the remaining matches of the current round of the Ecuadorian championship.

All mobile operators are allowing free text messages for customers to reach out to loved ones in Manabi and Esmeraldas provinces, Glas said.

The tremor was centered 27 kilometers (16.8 miles) southeast of the coastal town of Muisne, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

It's the deadliest earthquake to hit the nation since March 1987 when a 7.2-magnitude temblor killed 1,000 people, according to the USGS.

The earthquake left shoppers shaken in Guayaquil. Video footage from a store showed kitchen utensils swinging back and forth as some items tumbled off shelves.

There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries in the capital of Quito, 173 kilometers (108 miles) from the quake epicenter. The tsunami threat following the earthquake has "now largely passed," according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

Vietnamese girls sold as brides in China

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 3:22am

"When I woke up I didn't know that I was in China."

Lan remembers the night that changed her whole life.

While preparing for university along the border in northern Vietnam, a friend she met online asked her to a group dinner. When she was tired and wanted to go home, the people asked her to stay and talk and have a drink.

Next thing she knew, she had been smuggled across the border to China.

"At that time, I wanted to leave," says Lan. "There were other girls there in the car but there was people to guard us."

The villages along the Vietnamese-Chinese border are a hunting ground for human traffickers. Girls as young as 13 say they are tricked or drugged, then spirited across the porous border by boat, motorbike or car. Young Vietnamese women are valuable commodities in China, where the one-child policy and long-standing preference for sons has heavily skewed the gender ratio.

To put it simply, Chinese men are hungry for brides.

"It costs a very huge amount of money for normal Chinese man to get married to a Chinese woman," explained Ha Thi Van Khanh, national project coordinator for the U.N.'s anti-trafficking organization in Vietnam. Traditionally, Chinese men wishing to marry local women are expected to pay for an elaborate banquet and to have purchased a new home to live in after the wedding. "This is why they try to import women from neighboring countries, including Vietnam."

Diep Vuong started the Pacific Links Foundation to combat trafficking in Vietnam. She says that Vietnamese brides can sell for upwards of $3,000 to the end buyer and that they are often considered desirable because of cultural similarities to the Chinese.

Nguyen was just 16 when a friend's boyfriend drugged her and smuggled her into China. She tried to resist a forced marriage. For three months, she refused, even though her traffickers beat her, withheld food and threatened to kill her, she says. Finally, she relented. She says her husband was kind to her, but she never stopped missing her family in Vietnam.

"My desire to go home was indescribable," Nguyen said. "I agreed to marry the man but I could not stay with a stranger without any feelings for him."

When her mother-in-law realized Lan was never going to warm to the marriage, the family returned her to the traffickers. They got their money back, Nguyen says, after which she was forced into a second marriage.

A refuge for escaped women

The Pacific Links Foundation runs a shelter for trafficking victims in the city of Lao Cai, northern Vietnam. The young women stay for an average of two to three years. They go to school or get vocational training. They do art therapy. They learn to cook and sew and keep a big garden. Surrounded by other woman with similar experiences, the shelter helps them get back on their feet and then to find jobs to support themselves.

"Once that whole investment process can happen with these young women then it is much easier for them to have their own lives," says Diep.

Her organization also does community outreach to try and stop more girls from falling into the hands of traffickers. About once a month, a group of trafficking victims visits the market at Bac Ha, a regional hub for buying food, fabric and livestock. On this day, on a stage overlooking hundreds of shoppers, they talk about their experiences, take questions and play games with the crowd. When they ask people to share personal experiences concerning trafficking, more than 20 people come forward.

"I think awareness is the only tool," Diep says.

Ha from the U.N. agrees that the top priority is to spread awareness, especially in the poor, rural regions along the border. She also believes reducing poverty will help stop women going to China seeking work, another common way traffickers lure victims.

Saved at the border

During CNN's trip to the border, the government called and told us the police had just rescued five girls as they were about to cross the border with a trafficker. We met the girls, who are just 14 years old. They said they were promised $600 to go to work in China by a neighbor from the same village. They didn't tell their parents they were going. The neighbor is now under arrest.

The Vietnamese police are sometimes able to rescue women even after they have crossed into China, by enlisting the help of Chinese authorities. Nguyen Tuong Long, the head of the government's social vice prevention department in Lao Cai, says last year they rescued and returned 109 Vietnamese trafficking victims.

"Because of cooperation between the Vietnamese and the Chinese police, we have found and caught trafficking rings," Nguyen says. "We've found women far inside China, at brothels where they're forced to become sex workers."

Trafficked women who aren't rescued in raids have to find ways to get out on their own.

Some of them say they were able to contact their families from China, but they couldn't get help from police because they didn't know exactly where they were.

Lan and Nguyen ended up in the same town in China. After two years, together they managed to slip out of their homes and take a taxi to a local police station. The whole time they were afraid their husbands' families would find them. The Chinese police investigated and eventually returned them to Vietnam.

The women were free of their forced marriages, but they paid a high price. Both left their babies in China.

Lan says if she saw her daughter again, she would apologize for leaving her behind. "I hope she'll have a better life there," she says.

Both Lan and Nguyen say in school their teachers had talked to them about trafficking. At the time, neither believed it could happen to them.

Vietnamese girls forced into Chinese marriage

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 3:21am

Girls in Vietnam are being tricked into crossing the border with China and then forced into marriage, CNN finds.

Philippines candidate refuses to apologize for rape joke

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 3:07am

Philippines presidential hopeful Rodrigo Duterte has refused to apologize after his controversial comments on gang rape.

A YouTube video appeared over the weekend of Duterte joking about the 1989 rape and murder of an Australian missionary that took place in Davao City, in the country's southeast, where he is mayor, CNN Philippines reported.

"I was angry she was raped, yes that was one thing. But she was so beautiful, I think the mayor should have been first. What a waste," he said, according to a CNN Philippines translation of the comments.

He told reporters Sunday that what he said was "gutter language" expressed in anger but declined to apologize for the "rape statement."

"If it brings me down, let it bring me down. If it brings me up to the presidency, then well and good. I will serve you but I will not as a matter of honor apologize for (it)," he told reporters.

Duterte's comments referred to an incident at Davao City jail during his first term as mayor when inmates took 15 church workers hostage -- including the Australian lay minister.

His comments drew heated criticism from other hopefuls in the upcoming May 9 presidential election, which one recent poll tipped him to win.

Jejomar Binay, current Vice President and Presidential candidate, said that Duterte didn't deserve to be elected to the country's top job: "Rape and murder of a woman is not funny at all. Mister Duterte, don't you have a mother? Don't you have daughters? Your statement is simply revolting."

Known for being outspoken, it's not the first time Duterte has made inflammatory statements. He has pledged to execute more than 100,000 criminals if he's elected, according to local media.

Manuel Roxas, another of the five candidates for the presidency, said that rape is a serious problem and "anyone who laughs at the ultimate assault on the dignity of women should not be allowed to wield power," CNN Philippines reported.

Senator Grace Poe, Duterte's closest rival in the election, said it was unacceptable.

"No one, whoever she is and whatever her looks may be, deserves to be raped and abused. Rape is a crime and no laughing matter. We should all be outraged at abuses against women."

Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter Duterte's comments were "a disgusting endorsement of sexual violence."

On Camera: Quake destruction in Ecuador

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 2:18am

Cameramen capture scenes of the aftermath of an earthquake that tore through Portoviejo, on Ecuador’s coast.