Review Category : Top Stories

Locust Swarm Descends Upon Madagascar’s Capital

iStock/Thinkstock(ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar) — A swarm of millions of locusts descended upon Madagascar’s capital of Antananarivo on Thursday, slowing traffic and blotting out the skies over the city.

Fully-formed clouds of the insects, which have plagued the African nation for more than two years, whizzed through the city’s streets after an urban heat wave attracted the bugs away from their usual rural surroundings.

“It reminds us of the 10 plagues of Egypt,” said Ronald Miller, a missionary working in Madagascar with his family.

The current plague began in April 2012, leading to a national disaster declaration in Madagascar in November of that year, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The island nation’s government announced a three-year emergency plan in September 2013, when the locusts threatened food security of more than 13 million people, almost 60 percent of Madagascar’s population.

FAO officer Annie Monard told Voice of America that the locust swarms in the city were caused by unusually high temperatures, not a new surge in the pest population. So far, the FAO and Madagascar’s government have succeeded in controlling the pests in over 4,600 square miles of agricultural land. Madagascar’s emergency plan will continue until 2016 and is expected to cost more than $41 million.

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Space Shuttle Discovery First Launched 30 Years Ago

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Saturday marks 30 years since Space Shuttle Discovery’s first launch.

Discovery, the third space shuttle to join NASA’s fleet, left for its first mission on Aug. 30, 1984, to deploy three communication satellites.

Discovery finished more than 30 missions afterwards, including one to launch the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit in 1990 and a trip to the International Space Station in 2005. According to NASA, it received its name from several exploration ships, including one used to search for a northwest passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Discovery completed its final mission in 2011. It now resides at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

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Space Shuttle Discovery First Launched 30 Years Ago

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Saturday marks 30 years since Space Shuttle Discovery’s first launch.

Discovery, the third space shuttle to join NASA’s fleet, left for its first mission on Aug. 30, 1984, to deploy three communication satellites.

Discovery finished more than 30 missions afterwards, including one to launch the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit in 1990 and a trip to the International Space Station in 2005. According to NASA, it received its name from several exploration ships, including one used to search for a northwest passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Discovery completed its final mission in 2011. It now resides at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

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Why Jessa Duggar Wants to Plan Out Her First Kiss With Ben Seewald

TLC(NEW YORK) — Like her sister Jill, Jessa Duggar is waiting for her wedding to have her first kiss with her fiancé.

To say they’re excited would be an understatement.

“We’re really looking forward to the first kiss!” she told ABC News. “We’re talking about it — what if we miss or mess up? We’re gonna have to plan this out or something!”

Duggar, 21, announced her engagement to Ben Seewald, 19, earlier this month. It will be documented on 19 Kids & Counting, her family’s reality TV show, which premieres on Sept. 2 at 9/8 p.m. CT on TLC. Fans will also get to see Duggar plan her wedding, which she promises will differ from her Jill’s nuptials this past June.

“The guest list is pretty big, but not as big as my sisters” she said. “My list is a little smaller [than Jill's was], but then Ben’s guest list is bigger Derick’s. It will be another Duggar-sized wedding!”

The reality TV star said that she and her future husband hope to tie the knot this fall or winter. They’ve already begun thinking about their color scheme (no, nothing has been chosen yet) and who they’d like to tap to be their bridesmaids and groomsmen (yes, their families will be involved).

However, both Duggar and Seewald are focused on making sure that their wedding is cost efficient and are considering re-using Jill’s decorations and flower girl dresses.

“We’re gonna go really simple with a lot of our food and even flowers and that type of stuff. People spend so much on flowers, it’s outrageous!” Duggar said. “I’ll go to the grocery and buy flowers! I don’t know how many flowers we’ll have in nature if it’s cold outside but I was like, ‘How about we just go pick [some]?’”

“We want to have a nice wedding that everyone will enjoy but at the same time, we’d like to push our budget more toward our honeymoon because that’s our time together,” added Seewald, who said that TLC will also document some of their getaway. “That’s our first few weeks together.”

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Jim Irsay Reportedly Has Plea Deal in Place

Joe Robbins/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay has reportedly reached a plea deal as part of his impaired driving case. That according the Indianapolis Star, citing court officials.

Irsay was arrested in March on a pair of misdemeanor charges. The Colts owner was arrested near his home after failing a field sobriety test. Officers on the scene said he had trouble reciting the alphabet. Police reports showed that Irsay had various prescription drugs and $29,000 in cash in his position at the time of the arrest.

“I cannot provide any details of — or even verify the existence of — an agreement unless and until one would be tendered to the Court at such a hearing,” said Andre Miksha, a spokesman for the Hamilton County prosecutor.

The trial, originally scheduled for Oct. 30, was reportedly rescheduled for Tuesday. While details of the plea agreement were not released, the announcement of the plea will allow NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to deliver his punishment of Irsay.

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UN Received Reassurance that Kidnapped Peacekeepers Are ‘Safe and in Good Health’

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(GOLAN HEIGHTS, Syria) — The United Nations said on Friday that it had received assurances that the 44 peacekeepers kidnapped from their positions on Thursday are safe and in good health.

According to a statement from the U.N. spokesperson, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force has not had direct contact with the peacekeepers. They were informed, however, that the intention behind the holding of the peacekeepers was to remove them from an active battlefield for their own protection.

The UNDOF has been in contact with the other groups of peacekeepers who are being confined to their current positions and confirm that they have not been harmed.

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UN Received Reassurance that Kidnapped Peacekeepers Are ‘Safe and in Good Health’

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(GOLAN HEIGHTS, Syria) — The United Nations said on Friday that it had received assurances that the 44 peacekeepers kidnapped from their positions on Thursday are safe and in good health.

According to a statement from the U.N. spokesperson, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force has not had direct contact with the peacekeepers. They were informed, however, that the intention behind the holding of the peacekeepers was to remove them from an active battlefield for their own protection.

The UNDOF has been in contact with the other groups of peacekeepers who are being confined to their current positions and confirm that they have not been harmed.

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Sanctions Imposed on Six Companies Accused of Supporting Proliferation of Iran WMDs

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — President Obama and his administration imposed new sanctions on six companies, including four based in Iran on Friday, citing their having engaged in activities that support Iranian weapons of mass destruction.

A statement from Caitlin Hayden, National Security Council spokesperson, noted that the companies and individuals sanctioned on Friday have supported terrorism or aided Iran’s evasion of existing sanctions. The U.S. and its P5+1 partners will continue to work towards a solution, Hayden said, to ensure the Iranian nuclear program is “exclusively peaceful.”

Among the companies sanctioned was the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, which was started by Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, considered the father of Iran’s nuclear research program. He has been on the United Nations sanctions list for about six years. The company was created in 2011, and was not subject to sanctions until Friday.

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State Department Issues Updated Travel Warning for Ukraine

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. State Department issued an updated travel warning on Ukraine on Friday, citing the latest clashes between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian military.

The memo from the State Department warns U.S. citizens that travel to eastern Ukraine is dangerous and that all travel to the area should be deferred. The warning covers both Crimea, which was annexed by Russia earlier this year, as well as the area near the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Americans who opt to remain in those regions are urged to keep a low profile and avoid large crowds and gatherings. because the situation in Ukraine is unpredictable, Americans should be prepared to remain indoors and sheltered for extended periods of time if clashes occur in their region.

Additionally, the State Department notes that U.S. government personnel have had their travel to the regions in question restricted, making it more difficult to respond to emergencies involving U.S. citizens.

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Why a Former Letter Carrier Says Drones Will Never Replace Postal Workers

Credit: Hill Street Studios/Blend Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Google, Amazon and Domino’s Pizza are big fans. The FAA is feeling it out. But one person clearly not a part of “Team Drone” is Matty Rose, a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran and retired mail carrier.

Google announced Wednesday that it tested drone delivery of items like dog treats, vaccines and candy to farmers in Australia. Though companies like the search giant are figuring out the legalities of FAA rules regarding commercial drone use, the realities of food and product deliveries by small aircraft appear to be closer than ever before.

Though no companies have declared they will replace mail delivery, Rose says you can count him out of the fan club if they ever decide to do so when it comes to packages and letters.

“I don’t think letter carriers can be replaced. Everything else can be automated or bar-coded to every state for the same price,” he said. “But somebody has to deliver it.”

A former union officer for the National Association of Letter Carriers, Rose delivered mail for more than 12 years in Hollywood, Florida, north of Miami, after his military service in 1966. He is now the president of Nalcrest Trustees, a 500-unit retirement community in Central Florida for former letter carriers.

“The Postal Service is part of the fabric of this nation,” said Darleen Reid, a spokeswoman for the United States Postal Service. “Postal employees make a difference in every community across the country.”

Here are some of the reasons mail carriers may be better than drones:

1. Drones can’t cheer up lonely residents.

“Everybody’s working and busy these days, but in most neighborhoods, especially with people who are seniors, letter carriers are sometimes the only people they get to meet during the course of the day,” Rose said. “Letter carriers keep an eye on the elderly and the neighborhood.

2. Mail carriers have saved lives.

“Letter carriers are saving people’s lives and they can stop crimes,” he said.

Exhibit A: One mailman in Akron, Ohio, Keith McVey, is credited with saving three lives, including saving a drowning girl from a lake, helping a teen who jumped off a bridge on a snowy day and performing CPR on an unconscious man.

Reid said that in 2013 the Postal Service recognized 262 “employee heroes.”

3. Drones can’t be Santa Claus.

Since 1912, postal employees, charities and individual and corporate volunteers have helped children and families in need experience the magic of the holiday season by answering letters to Santa.

4. Mail carriers won’t drop packages on your head.

“A drone could hover over your head. I don’t know if people would trust drones,” whereas many Americans would prefer the “personal touch” of a letter carrier, said Rose. “Something about delivering a letter is special. Look at what we have now. Drones dropping packages on your head. You certainly don’t want that.”

5. Your postal worker knows everything about you, hopefully, in a good way.

“The letter carrier knows everything about you: the kind of mail you get, your hobbies, magazines and who you’re fooling around with,” Rose said.

6. Drones can’t hold food drives.

Reid said the Postal Service and the National Association of Letter Carriers held the largest one-day food drive in the nation. In 2013, more than one million pounds of food were collected. More than one billion pounds of food have been collected since the drive began in 1993.

7. Postal service workers will take a dog bite for you.

Medical expenses from dog attacks cost the Postal Service more than $1.4 million last year, based on data through June 2013. Each year in May, the Postal Service supports National Dog Bite Prevention Week. The campaign raises awareness concerning animal attacks. Last year, 4,734 postal employees were attacked in more than 2,200 cities.

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