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While Stock Market Soars, US Farmers Struggle

The annual Farm Progress Show held every other year in Decatur, a town situated among the vast corn and soybean fields of central Illinois, is one of the largest farming exhibitions in the world, where manufacturers and suppliers show their latest and greatest products and equipment.

In some cases, it’s a starting point for farmers researching what big-ticket items are available to make their work in the fields more efficient, and easier.

But all Tolono, Illinois farmer Jeff Fisher can do at the John Deere exhibit at this year’s show… is look.

“A quarter of a million dollars list price for this planter,” he says, pointing to the large tractor behind him painted in the distinctive green and yellow colors of John Deere.“This is just a medium-size planter, and it isn’t a large planter by today’s standards.I’m interested in a planter, a notch below this planter, but the commodity prices aren’t high enough to be able to afford it.”

It’s been over five years since Fisher’s been able to afford new equipment, the last time he says he made a profit.

“The economics are tough on the farm,” he told VOA.“The profit margin isn’t there.We’re losing money where the cost of production of corn is higher than the price of corn on the Chicago Board of Trade and our local price.”

Stocks, costs up, commodity prices down

While U.S. stock indexes continue to see record-breaking gains and U.S. employment numbers are encouraging, U.S. farmers continue to struggle with high costs for fertilizer and seed at a time of low demand and low prices for their products. 

The United States Department of Agriculture reports median net farm income in 2016 was the lowest since 2009, but projects a modest increase overall for 2017.However, the year-over-year hardship for many U.S. farmers has impacted more than just the agricultural industry.

“The Equipment Manufacturers Association released some pretty dismal numbers for farm equipment sales, and what that means to Caterpillar and Deere, that’s troublesome,” says Tamara Nelsen, senior director of commodities for the Illinois Farm Bureau, who outlined the interconnected relationship between manufacturing jobs and farmers like Fisher.

“If a farmer cannot afford to buy this, then those 25 workers that work to make it and the steelworkers who produce the steel, and all of the people involved in the parts they are not going to have jobs either.So farmers need to have good markets just like manufacturers need to have good markets.”

And it’s not just in the United States.The Association of Equipment Manufacturers or AEM also reported a 14 percent decrease in overall farm equipment exports for the first three quarters of 2016.Sales were down 44 percent from 2015 in Asia and 28 percent in South America.

“Our biggest concern is just being able to make it to next year to try again,” says farmer Mark Bremer, who grows corn and soybeans on his property in the southern Illinois town of Metropolis, where he also raises livestock.Like Fisher, he’s also getting by using old equipment to make ends meet.

“We would love to update, we’d love to purchase new technology and stuff, but that technology comes with a price – that technology didn’t come free,” he said.

Bremer isn’t sure when he’ll be able to afford new equipment, and is worried about the crop yield this year thanks to a lack of rainfall.

“Every year’s an experiment and that experiment is called farming,” he told VOA.“We’re not guaranteed the rain, we’re not guaranteed the price and we’re not guaranteed the yield either so it’s a continual challenge of making it.”

There’s also no guarantee next year will be better, but Fisher still has hope.

“We’re in the bottom of that roller coaster ride right now – I hope it doesn’t get worse,” he said.

A roller coaster ride that continues in just a few weeks as the next, and perhaps most important phase of his work as a farmer begins – harvesting this year’s corn and soybeans. 

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Los Angeles Law Enforcement Faces Resistance to Drone Use

A growing number of public safety agencies in the United States have been acquiring drones. Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone reports more drones were purchased last year than in all the previous years combined. But in many cities, including Los Angeles, California, there is an ongoing debate over whether law enforcement agencies should be adding drones as part of their tool kit. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee in Los Angeles has the details.

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Trump Remembers September 11th Attack Victims

Donald Trump is, for the first time as president, leading the nation in remembering the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001.

Trump marked the 16th anniversary of the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil in a ceremony at the White House, with a moment of silence at 8:40 a.m., the time when a first airliner hijacked by al-Qaida terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. A second jet hit the second WTC tower 23 minutes later, and the huge skyscrapers collapsed in flames and smoke soon afterwards.

Trump will also attend a remembrance ceremony later Monday morning at the Pentagon, which was hit and badly damaged by another of the four commercial jets seized on that fateful day. Early Monday, an American flag was unfurled down the side of the building.

Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where another hijacked plane crashed into a field. It is believed passengers tried to regain control of the aircraft once they realized their knife-wielding captors intended to steer it toward Washington for another attack, aiming for either the Capitol or the White House, and that the hijackers crashed the plane rather than surrender.

Everyone aboard all four hijacked aircraft died on September 11, 2001. Including mass casualties in New York City and a heavy loss of life at the Pentagon, the attacks killed a total of about 3,000 people.

The Islamist militant named by U.S. investigators as “the principal architect” of the 2001 attacks,” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was captured in Pakistan early in 2003 and is held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The September 11 plot had been approved in advance by al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who was shot to death by U.S. commandos in May 2011, during a raid on a walled compound in Pakistan where he was hiding.

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Pentagon Memorial Stands as Tribute 16 Years After Terror Attack

Sixteen years ago, the U.S. Department of Defense came under attack. American Airlines Flight 77 was high jacked and crashed into the Pentagon, killing all passengers aboard the plane and 125 people working in the building. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb spoke with two men forever impacted by the attack. She brings us their story, in their own words, and takes us to the 9-11 Pentagon Memorial, built to honor those lost in a day that forever changed our world.

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US Commemorates 9/11; Thousands Expected at Ground Zero

While the U.S. contends with the destruction caused by two ferocious hurricanes in three weeks, Americans also are marking the anniversary of one of the nation’s most scarring days.

Thousands of 9/11 victims’ relatives, survivors, rescuers and others are expected to gather Monday at the World Trade Center to remember the deadliest terror attack on American soil.

Sixteen years later, the quiet rhythms of commemoration have become customs: a recitation of all the names of the dead, moments of silence and tolling bells, and two powerful light beams that shine through the night.

Yet each ceremony also takes on personal touches. Over the years, some name-readers have added messages ranging from the universal (“the things we think separate us really don’t _ we’re all part of this one Earth”) to the personal (“I love you and miss you. Go Packers!”).

“Thank you, New York, for continuing to honor the victims of 9/11 and the privilege of reading their names,” Judy Bram Murphy added last year. She lost her husband, Brian Joseph Murphy.

Nearly 3,000 people died when hijacked planes slammed into the trade center, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 11, 2001, hurling America into a new consciousness of the threat of global terrorism.

President Donald Trump, a native New Yorker observing the anniversary for the first time as the nation’s leader, is scheduled to observe a moment of silence at about the time the first airplane hit. The White House said he is to be joined by first lady Melania Trump.

He also planned to participate in a 9/11 observance at the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are hosting a private observance for victims’ relatives there at 9:11 a.m. Monday. After the names are read at that ceremony, there’s a public observance, with a wreath-laying and remarks.

Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke are scheduled to deliver remarks at the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville. It’s on the rural field where one of the airliners crashed after passengers and crew fought to wrest control away from the terrorists who’d hijacked it and were heading for Washington.

Construction continues at the Shanksville memorial, where ground was broken Sunday for a 93-foot (28 meters) tall Tower of Voices to honor the 33 passengers and seven crew members who died.

The ceremony amid the waterfall pools and lines of trees on the National Sept. 11 Memorial plaza strives to be apolitical: Politicians can attend, but since 2011, they haven’t been allowed to read names or deliver remarks.

Yet last year’s 15th-anniversary ceremony became entangled in the narrative of a fractious presidential campaign when Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton left abruptly, stumbled into a van and ultimately revealed she’d been diagnosed days earlier with pneumonia.

The episode fed into questions that then-Republican-nominee Trump had repeatedly raised about Clinton’s stamina and transparency. She took three days off to recover, and Trump used footage of her stagger in a campaign ad.

Trump has often invoked his memories of 9/11 to highlight his hometown’s resilience and responders’ bravery. Some of his recollections have raised eyebrows, particularly remarks while talking about Muslims that “thousands of people were cheering” in Jersey City, New Jersey, as the towers fell. There is no evidence in news archives of mass celebrations by Muslims there.

Meanwhile, rebuilding and reimagining continues at ground zero. The third of four planned office towers is set to open next year; so is a Greek Orthodox church, next to the trade center site, that was crushed by the South Tower’s collapse. Work toward a $250 million performing arts center continues after a design was unveiled last fall.

Most recently, plans were announced this spring to transform a grassy clearing on the memorial plaza into a walkway and area dedicated to 9/11 rescue and recovery workers, including those who died of illnesses years after being exposed to smoke, dust and ash at ground zero.

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Hurricane Irma Slams into Florida

Hurricane Irma slammed ashore at Key West, Florida early Sunday with whirling winds and pounding rain, leaving behind a trail of destruction across fragile Caribbean islands.

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Irma Slams Іnto US, Leaving Trail of Caribbean Destruction

Hurricane Irma slammed ashore at Key West, Florida early Sunday with whirling winds and pounding rain, leaving behind a trail of destruction across fragile Caribbean islands.

Irma, now a Category 4 storm, strengthened as it moved across the warm waters of the Straits of Florida, with the National Hurricane Center saying it was packing sustained 215-kilometer-an-hour winds with higher gusts as it reached the United States.

In Pictures: Hurricane Irma Slams into Florida

The vast storm, headed north toward more populated cities along Florida’s west coast, could bring devastation to parts of the peninsula state that have not seen a major hurricane in a century. Hurricane force winds extended outward 130 kilometers from the eye of the storm and tropical storm gales up to 350 kilometers.

Forecasters are predicting dangerous storm surges of three and four meters along Florida’s Gulf of Mexico shoreline as the storm reaches Naples and Fort Myers and heads north toward the major city of Tampa. More than one million homes and businesses have already been left without power.

The storm’s track has shifted more to the west, now bringing the west coast city of St. Petersburg into its sights, despite earlier predictions that the state’s second biggest city, popular tourist destination Miami, on Florida’s east coast along the Atlantic Ocean, would bear the brunt of the storm.

Florida Governor Rick Scott said, “I am very concerned about the west coast. This storm surge is just deadly.”

Scott said that with the storm’s unpredictability, people who did not evacuate need to continue to be cautious.

“I want everybody to survive this storm,” he said, “I want everybody to be safe. During the storm, as you know, we can’t send out first responders to save you.”

The hurricane center forecasters predicted, “The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline.”

Scott asked President Donald Trump to declare the state a major disaster area, which would ease federal funding for recovery efforts once the storm passes.

 

Scott also repeated his call for nurses and emergency workers to volunteer their help in the aftermath of the storm.

More than 75,000 people have heeded the governor’s advice and checked into some 400 emergency shelters in the state. Some 76,000 households are already reported to be without power. Since the storm changed course and headed west, residents of the mid-sized city of Tampa have been the latest wave of people to surge into shelters after days of thinking they would only see the edges of the storm.

Tampa has not been directly hit by a hurricane in nearly a century.

Trump gets storm update

President Donald Trump, at the presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland Sunday,  received a “comprehensive update” on the status of the storm, its forecasted path and preparations for “response and recovery,” according to the White House.   

“The U.S. Coast Guard, FEMA and all Federal and State brave people are ready. Here comes Irma. God bless everyone!” Trump said in a Twitter message on Saturday.

Citing the expected impact of Hurricane Irma, which comes on the heels of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction in Texas just two weeks ago, Trump said he would ask the Republican-controlled Congress to speed up efforts to overhaul the U.S. tax code.

 

Irma was a Category 5 when it first hit the island of Cuba late Friday and battered it overnight. Cuba suffered damage similar to that of other Caribbean islands, with trees uprooted and roofs torn off homes. Power and cellphone service were spotty in many regions.

The Florida Keys are the first bit of U.S. soil to feel the effects of the storm. The slender barrier islands — with their population of retirees, vacationers and refugees from mainland culture — are under mandatory evacuation orders.

Destruction in the Caribbean

At least 25 people have died since the storm began raking over land, starting with the Caribbean island of Barbuda.

The resort island with a population of less than 2,000 is devastated. Prime Minister Gaston Browne has estimated about 95 percent of Barbuda’s buildings are damaged or destroyed.

Until late Saturday, the island nation was braced for another direct impact, this one from Category 4 Hurricane Jose. By Saturday evening, Jose had skirted the island without a direct hit.

It could be up to six months before all power is restored on cash-strapped Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth, where Irma knocked out power to more than one million people.

The U.S. Defense Department has deployed three Navy ships, about two dozen aircraft and hundreds of Marines to help with recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Renowned American Historian on Afghanistan Dies in Kabul

Nancy Hatch Dupree, a prolific American expert on the history, art, and archaeology of Afghanistan, died Sunday at the age of 90 after battling an illness in a Kabul hospital, officials announced.

Dupree arrived in the country in 1962 as a diplomat’s wife and dedicated the rest of her life to collecting and preserving the war-shattered country’s cultural heritage.

In 2013, she founded and opened the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University (ACKU), the first facility of its kind in the country dedicated to the study of Afghanistan’s history, culture and society. The late historian was the director of the center until recently.

“Her vision for ACKU was that it would contribute to the reconstruction of Afghanistan by gathering in one place scholarship on the country’s culture, history and politics,” the center said in a statement.

In several VOA interviews over the years, Dupree said the ACKU was inspired by the work and vision of Louis Dupree, a renowned archaeologist and scholar of Afghan culture and history, for whom she left her diplomat husband.

The couple took refuge in neighboring Pakistan after they were pushed out of the country in 1978 by the then Soviet-backed Afghan government, which suspected Louis of being an American spy.

After the death of her husband in 1989, Dupree continued her mission of preserving Afghan history for years using her residence in the Pakistani border city of Peshawar as a base and storage facility.

The Afghan civil war of the 1990s and subsequent emergence of the Islamist Taliban government did not deter Dupree from visiting Kabul regularly and bringing back books, maps, photographs and rare Afghan folk music.

The material also included government and non-government documents, as well as surveys, reports, and newspapers from the Afghan factional fighting and the Taliban regime.

In several interviews to VOA over the years, Dupree said her team often found torn copies and pages of looted priceless history books on the streets of Kabul being used by shopkeepers to wrap food material for customers, or to use as fuel.

Speaking to VOA at her residence in the University Town of Peshawar in early 2008, Dupree explained difficulties she faced while collecting the material during the Afghan civil war.

“We discovered that a lot of house have been looted and the books were on the sidewalk being used by people who were selling [food items] and all these things, they would tear a page out of a book and give it you. These were books by some of the noted scholars and we knew that probably nobody else would be able to find these books. So we had a concerted campaign to go around the city and buy up all the books, the looted books, that we could find.”

In 2005, Dupree packed the preserved documents in nearly 300 plastic bags, used for filling wheat or fertilizer, and then loaded them on trucks to smuggle them back to Kabul from Peshawar.

They are now safely stored in ACKU and are in the process of being digitalized to make them available for students cross the globe studying Afghan history. Nancy Dupree traveled across Afghanistan and wrote several guidebooks on the country.

Afghans viewed her as one of their own and even the Taliban did not hamper her work when the Islamist group was in power in Kabul from 1996 to 2001.

Afghanistan’s mainstream media paid tributes to Dupree’s work and dedication while social media was flooded with condolence messages.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul described Dupree as “a pillar of the American community in Afghanistan for many decades, saying she worked tirelessly for the preservation of Afghan history and culture.

“Future generations will remember Ms. Dupree as a wonderful example of the strength of U.S.-Afghanistan relations and friendship… May we honor her example in decades to come by working for a common goal of building lasting fraternal ties between our nations,” said an embassy statement.

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