Death toll rises to 5,000 in Turkey/Syria quake, State of the Union preview: 5 Things podcast
On today's episode of the 5 Things podcast: Death toll rises to 5,000 after quake hits Turkey, Syria
More than 5,000 people are now dead and more are missing in rubble after a devastating earthquake. Plus, USA TODAY Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page previews President Joe Biden's State of the Union address, Denver has a new approach to homelessness, Defense officials say they did not immediately shoot down the Chinese balloon because they didn't think it was a threat, and Dr. Andrew Hammond, from the International Spy Museum, talks about the history of spy balloons.
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Good morning. I'm Taylor Wilson and this is 5 Things you need to know Tuesday, the 7th of February 2023. Today, a staggering death toll from the earthquake in Turkey and Syria. Plus, a look ahead to tonight's State of the Union, and we talk about the history of spy balloons.
The death toll has surged past 5,000 after a devastating earthquake and a series of aftershocks slammed the Turkey/Syria border collapsing thousands of buildings.
[Audio: Screams as a building collapses]
The US Geological Survey said the magnitude 7.8 quake hit just after 4:00 AM local time yesterday, just two hours before another 7.5 magnitude quake hit nearby. Turkey's President, Recep Erdoğan, has declared seven days of national morning. He spoke with President Joe Biden yesterday, who pledged US support. The White House said part of that assistance would include sending two urban search and rescue teams. Erdoğan called the quake the country's biggest disaster since a 1939 earthquake killed some 30,000 people.
Across the border in Syria, a region is struggling to recover after already being slammed by the Syrian Civil War in refugee crisis in recent years. In both countries, the death toll is expected to rise potentially by the thousands as many remain trapped beneath rubble.
Earlier this morning, Ghanaian soccer star Christian Atsu was pulled alive from the rubble in Turkey with injuries, according to the BBC. You can follow along with updates to the recovery mission on USATODAY.com.
President Joe Biden will give his State of the Union address tonight, and as USA TODAY Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page told me, it could give a blueprint for the rest of his presidency.
Susan, thanks for coming on the podcast.
Hey, it's my pleasure.
So what's at stake in this particular State of the Union?
A lot's at stake. It's a real pivot point for President Biden. He's finished two years of his term with some really significant legislative successes, but now we have a Congress that is divided, Republicans taking over the house. Everything is about to get much harder.
Can President Joe Biden show the American people that he can reach across the aisle to get things done with this divided Congress?
We expect him to talk about that, because he's had decades where he has insisted that bipartisanship is the way to go back to when he was a senator, when he was vice president, and during his first two years as president. But it's going to be a tough sell, because you look at the House Republicans who now control that chamber. They have a significant caucus, the Freedom Caucus, that is opposed to cooperation on almost everything, starting with raising the debt ceiling, which is likely to be the first crisis of this year.
And how about when it comes to the American people, Susan? A USA TODAY Suffolk University poll in December found that about two thirds of Americans felt the country was not heading in the right direction. They also expressed little confidence in either party, or even a branch of government to turn things around. So what can President Biden then say to convince those Americans otherwise?
Americans are not happy with their government. They're not happy with the president, with the Congress, with either party, with the Supreme Court. They don't think the government is working for them. And this, even though we've had some good economic news inflation easing a bit, the job market continuing to be strong. I think President Biden's going to try to do a little bit of a selling job saying that we've made big progress on things including the pandemic, including inflation, although we obviously have farther to go. And he's also going to try to make the case that he deserves some of the credit for the good news and ameliorate some of the concerns people have about the bad news. That's a big job at a time Americans do not have very much faith in their government.
So this address comes just weeks after the death of Tyre Nichols. We know that his parents are expected to attend this address. Will Biden address them directly, Susan? And what can we expect from him in general on the issue of police reform?
I would expect him to acknowledge their presence, and to talk about that terrible case and the terrible beating that their son endured at the hands of police. And I think there'll be some contrast to what President Biden said in last year's State of the Union address about police. Last year he talked about police reform, but he talked more about pushing back on the idea of "defund the police." That was his more dominant message a year ago. I don't think that's going to be true this time. I think he is going to talk about the continued problem of systemic violence on the basis of race by some police officers and the need to address that. The problem is, hard to imagine anything actually gets done. But I think it is going to be an issue he's going to talk about and highlight, and identify as a priority for himself.
So we don't expect Biden to announce formal reelection plans or the lack thereof during the State of the Union address, but might he hint at that question with some of this speech?
I think we can look for some hints about whether he's going to run again. We think he is. He says he's inclined to run again. He hasn't said he's firmly decided. If he talks about the legislation he can get through in the next two years, that is not a guy who's running for reelection. If he talks about the legislation he would aspire to pass if and when Democrats control the Congress, again, that's a guy running for reelection.
All right, Susan Page is the Washington Bureau Chief for USA TODAY. Great insight as always. Thanks, Susan.
Bans on tent cities haven't solved America's homelessness crisis, so a Denver program has a new approach. Compassion. Experts say the number of unhoused people, which was at around 590,000 nationally as of last year, is expected to rise as surging rents push people from their homes. Some cities have turned to draconian measures, including citywide sweeps that remove their makeshift tent shelters and belongings.
But in Denver, where some 2000 people sleep without shelter each night, a new program sees park rangers and mental health counselors walk through parks together to help people seeking refuge. They give out hand warmers and Gatorade and ask how they can help.
And new funding from Congress and the Biden administration will help more cities start similar mental health co-responder programs. But it's still not clear if they'll follow Denver's lead or how much success the programs will have. For more on the homelessness crisis and how cities are dealing with it, find a link in today's show notes.
The Pentagon did not shoot down the Chinese balloon as it approached Alaska last month because it didn't pose a military threat to the US or Canada. That's according to Air Force General Glen VanHerck, Commander of US Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command. The US shot down the balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday. Officials said it was built to spy on sensitive military sites. The debris field after the shooting stretched about 15 football fields. It's being treated as hazardous waste. But VanHerck said there's no indication the balloon carried explosives. Over the weekend, Pentagon officials also revealed that suspected Chinese spy balloons had entered US airspace three times during the Trump administration and once earlier in the Biden administration.
Did you know that spy balloons actually date back to the American Civil War? With the technology in the news this week, USA TODAY producer Callie Carmichael thought it was a good time to hear the history of this specific type of balloon. She spoke with Dr. Andrew Hammond, historian and curator of the International Spy Museum for more.
So tell us a little bit about the history of spy balloons?
Dr. Andrew Hammond:
So here at the International Spy Museum, we have an exhibit that looks at looking to try to get intelligence. So by that I mean balloons, cameras that were attached to pigeons in World War I, lights that were developed during the Cold War, aerial reconnaissance from a military plane. So we look at all of that, all the ways that you can use things in the air to try to gather intelligence. And the role of balloons is really, really fascinating. So here in Washington, D.C., there were actually balloons that were tested down on the mall to try to convince Abraham Lincoln about how they could be used to gather intelligence.
And during the Civil War, that's when balloons started to be used. At one point, they actually attached some of these balloons to a ship. So that meant that the balloons were mobile on the ship. Some people say this is the world's first aircraft carrier. So the American Civil War, they're quite important there. They play quite an interesting role. And then up until the modern day, they have certain pros and certain cons.
Yeah, I would love to hear some of the pros and cons of why you use a balloon and not something else?
Dr. Andrew Hammond:
So if you think about the different platforms that you can attach say a camera to, or ways to gather intelligence. So in World War I, I mentioned the pigeon camera. They strapped a tiny little camera onto a pigeon and sent it to fly over the trenches of the enemy. One of the problems there is, okay, it's aerial, it's moving, it's getting us stuff that we never had before. But then you have to make sense of the imagery because the pigeons flying one direction and another direction, and you have to make sense out of all of the imagery that comes on the other end.
Then you have aircraft. So what are the pros there? Well, you can make them go in a particular direction. You can have someone up there actually viewing with their own eyes, with binoculars, for example.
Then we come up to satellites. So satellites are fantastic. You can see such huge swathes of the world. You can get incredible resolution, especially these days.
But with every platform there's pros and cons, and I think that balloons, they have certain pros and certain cons. And these stratospheric blends are very, very interesting. So whereas in the Civil War, it would be hydrogen, which is flammable, these balloons are helium. The balloons in the Civil War would be much smaller. These balloons are gigantic. They are huge. The size of three buses. So they're so big and they travel a particular part of the Earth's atmosphere.
So this balloon, we've been told that it's at 60,000 feet. So it's way, way up there and it's slowly making its way across the United States. And then, I think another pro and con, if you have a balloon, an intelligence, there's what's called plausible deniability. So that people can say, "Well, this is what this is." And you can say, "Well, actually it's not. It's a weather balloon." So we see this now with this balloon. On the US side, it's a spy balloon. China has said that it's a civilian balloon that blew off of course.
And let's face it, we're talking about probably the world's most important bilateral relationship. So by that, I just mean the relationship between two countries. This is probably the most important one in terms of global security. So that's why it's so important. That's why everybody's looking at this, because there's already tension in the relationship. But it's even more fascinating if you place it within the history of spy planes, spy satellites, spy balloons.
Thank you so much. I really, really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us.
Dr. Andrew Hammond:
Thank you. Bye bye.
Thanks for listening to 5 Things. You can find us every morning right here, wherever you get your pods. I'm back tomorrow with more of 5 Things from USA TODAY.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Turkey/Syria quake death toll over 5000, SOTU preview: 5 Things podcast