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Special Delivery: 3-year-old American-born Panda Cub Bao Bao Bound for China

Bao Bao will be the only panda on the plane, traveling with a keeper and a veterinarian. Her accommodations are first class, too

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FILE - panda cub Bao Bao hangs from a tree in her habitat at the National Zoo in Washington.

The National Zoo is packing up its American-born panda cub Bao Bao for a one-way flight to China, where the 3-year-old will eventually join a panda breeding program.

The cub won’t have to worry about finding overhead bin space or dealing with a talkative seatmate on the 16-hour, nonstop flight Tuesday afternoon into Wednesday. She’ll be the only panda on the plane, traveling with a keeper and a veterinarian. Her accommodations are first class, too: a special metal crate the size of a double bed she can stretch out in. A sticker on its outside announces its contents: “one panda.”

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In preparation for the trip, keepers have a packing list of Bao Bao’s favorite foods including: 55 pounds of bamboo, 5 pounds of apples and 2 pounds of sweet potatoes.

“Most of the flight, we hope she’s going to eat,” said panda keeper Marty Dearie, who will travel with Bao Bao to China and says pandas spend 13 to 16 hours a day eating.

Bao Bao is scheduled to depart the zoo Tuesday morning and travel to Washington Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia, where she’ll board a special FedEx plane. Fans will be able to watch her departure from the zoo and airport on the zoo’s Facebook page.

Once Bao Bao arrives in Chengdu, China, she’ll be driven to her new home, one of the bases run by the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda. Dearie will briefly remain with her while she gets adjusted. In time, when she reaches sexual maturity, between 5 and 6 years old, she’ll become part of a panda breeding program. The National Zoo says Bao Bao is traveling now because it’s better for pandas to travel in the winter months when it is cool.

Bao Bao delighted the zoo and panda fans when she was born Aug. 23, 2013. Her mother, Mei Xiang, gave birth to her first cub, Tai Shan, in 2005, but then failed to get pregnant for years. Then, a cub born in 2012 didn’t survive.

Brandie Smith, the zoo’s associate director of animal care sciences, said that when Bao Bao was born a year later she remembers “five minutes of pure joy” followed by “weeks of sleeplessness and worry.”

Since then, Bao Bao, whose name means “precious treasure” in Chinese, has grown from about the size of a stick of butter to more than 200 pounds. Her keepers describe her personality as “very independent,” sort of like a household cat.

Laurie Thompson, the assistant curator of giant pandas, said keepers have been preparing Bao Bao to leave for China since she was born, teaching her behaviors that will allow her Chinese keepers to do things like draw blood and perform ultrasounds. Thompson said Bao Bao’s departure is “definitely bittersweet,” but her keepers “know she’s ready” to leave.

“We’re ready. We’ve done our part, and we’re ready to send her to China so she can have her own babies someday,” Thompson said.

With Bao Bao’s departure, the National Zoo will have three remaining pandas. The zoo’s two adult pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, arrived on loan in 2000 but belong to China, as do any cubs they have. The pair’s first cub, Tai Shan, returned to China in 2010. Their third cub, Bao Bao’s younger brother Bei Bei, was born in 2015 and will remain at the zoo for now.

A total of four U.S. zoos have pandas that are on loan from China. Pandas born in the United States return to China, generally by age 4. With Bao Bao’s departure, there will be a dozen pandas remaining in the United States: four in Atlanta, three in Washington, three in San Diego and two in Memphis, Tennessee.

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The National Zoo and Washington residents have a special relationship with the creatures, however. The zoo’s first pair of pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, were a gift from China and arrived at the zoo in 1972 following President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to the country. The pair had five cubs while living at the zoo, but none survived. Mei Xiang and Tian Tian are the zoo’s second panda pair. (VOA)

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White House Reporters Prefer Sunlight to Spotlight

The White House Correspondents’ Associates controls the press room seating arrangements, but the White House, itself, determines which individuals receive credentials to enter and line the aisles

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White House spokesman Sean Spicer holds a press briefing at the White House in Washington, Jan. 23, 2017.

Steve Herman became VOA’s White House bureau chief in March after spending 25 years as a foreign correspondent. His previous post required Herman to travel often throughout the world. Now he reports from a small booth on the world’s biggest political stories. Here are his initial impressions of day-to-day work as a White House correspondent.

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The “mushroom method” refers to keeping reporters in the dark and feeding them manure. Throughout many presidential administrations, reporters assigned to the basement by the West Wing have frequently complained of being treated like mushrooms.

Philomena Jurey, who covered Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan for VOA, titled her autobiography A Basement Seat to History.

Others have compared their plight to prisoners in cramped, overcrowded quarters.

White House bureau chief Steve Herman (left) and senior correspondent Peter Heinlein discussing the day’s assignments in the small VOA studio in the basement of the West Wing.

White House bureau chief Steve Herman (left) and senior correspondent Peter Heinlein discussing the day’s assignments in the small VOA studio in the basement of the West Wing.

“Most people think the White House beat is glamorous. It isn’t,” recalls former VOA White House correspondent Paula Wolfson. “It can be a boring grind in a little booth that can feel stifling at times.”

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Wolfson adds that despite the mostly obstructed view the reporters “are an eyewitness to history and the job is what you make of it.”

Once cleared through the northwest gate, the roaming ground for White House correspondents is quite limited with infrequent exceptions.

The reporters can meander unescorted through the two narrow floors encompassing the press briefing room. Down one floor, the basement booths and desks are where VOA and a dozen or so other news outlets maintain their White House bureaus.

‘Pebble Beach’

The only outdoor space not off limits is between the so-called “Palm Room” doors and the winding driveway from the West Wing entrance to an area of the North Lawn where TV reporters’ stand-up positions are known as “Pebble Beach” (once covered with gravel, but now asphalt).

Presidential departures and arrivals via Marine One are generally open to all media with White House passes and credentials. That allows escorted trips to the South Lawn, which doubles as a landing pad for the presidential helicopter.

The events are an opportunity for reporters to shout questions at the arriving or departing president who can feign hearing difficulties due to the noisy aircraft engines.

Members of a White House press pool waiting outside the West Wing on a chilly day.

Members of a White House press pool waiting outside the West Wing on a chilly day.

There may also be glimpses of the president entering or exiting the Oval Office.

No more than a small designated pack of media ever assemble in the president’s famed Oval Office at any one time. This group is known as a “pool,” which shares its video, audio or notes with other non-attendees who toil for outlets on the rotating list of pool duty.

VOA finds itself on in-town pool duty, on average, twice a month. That means standing by for long hours of waiting for something (or nothing) to happen and then hearing a squawk over the loudspeakers to quickly assemble at the Palm Room doors.

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“Nobody is keen on pool duty,” said Wolfson who covered the White House from 1988-92 and again from 2001-2009. “You have to make sure your equipment is ready to record at all times. … And never forget to take a good book.”

These days the book is usually replaced with distracted scrolling through one’s Twitter feed.

Although pool duty is mostly mundane, it is, according to Wolfson, “a necessary evil – ask anyone who was covering the White House when Reagan was shot (in 1981 outside a Washington hotel).”

The most familiar scene involving reporters and the White House is the briefing by the press secretary.

Calling on reporters

In previous administrations, there was a tradition of calling first on a front-row senior wire service reporter (AP nowadays, UPI in decades past).

The White House Correspondents’ Associates controls the press room seating arrangements, but the White House, itself, determines which individuals receive credentials to enter and line the aisles.

FILE - White House press secretary Sean Spicer takes a question from a member of the media during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, Feb. 21, 2017.

FILE – White House press secretary Sean Spicer takes a question from a member of the media during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, Feb. 21, 2017.

VOA has had a full-time presence in the White House press for many decades and occupies a fourth-row permanent seat between National Journal and Fox News Radio in the briefing room.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer, much to the chagrin of the major media outlets, gives less priority to the wires and TV network journalists, instead pointing his finger over them to other reporters, including those on the sidelines. This includes those from entities so obscure that a Google search for their bylines yields no results.

Some reporters who ask questions at the daily briefings are not even in the room – they are the rotating recipients of the new “Skype seats” – their video images beamed in behind the press secretary, who has selected them in advance from across the country.

The interchange between the briefer and the questioners, in every administration, has been testy at times.

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In the Trump White House, however, it has frequently turned into a test of wills. Spicer daily finds himself on the defensive, called on to explain the president’s controversial tweets. He has no reluctance to turn the tables on the media, slamming journalists and accusing them of “deliberately false reporting.”

The reporters and Spicer quickly became material for parodies on television comedy shows, most notably NBC’s Saturday Night Live, where actress Melissa McCarthy portrays an unhinged Spicer ramming reporters with his lectern.

Life threatens to imitate art.

Spicer, when one recent briefing grew tense, quipped “don’t make me make the podium move.”

Behind the scenes in the press room, it has been less jocular.

Inclusion of far-right media

Tempers have frayed over the White House’s decision to credential commentators from far-right online websites, including those accused of supporting white nationalism and trafficking in conspiracies.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer calls on a member of the media during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, March 13, 2017.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer calls on a member of the media during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, March 13, 2017.

One such figure has commented publicly that he was in the press room primarily to dig up dirt on the established White House correspondents.

The grizzled standard-bearers of the mainstream media in the front row roll their eyes and mutter curses when Spicer points to the back of the room and calls on one of the so-called floaters – usually young Trump cheerleaders who will throw questions at Spicer with all the hardness of a beach ball.

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For the president’s supporters, the media’s criticism falls on deaf ears. Many of them are already critical of the mainstream media, so journalists’ complaints are taken as evidence the administration is following through on Trump’s attacks on the so-called “dishonest” media.

This all puts the White House press room reporters in the spotlight, despite their best efforts to keep it beamed on the president and his players.

Struggling to avoid being cultivated with the mushroom method, the subterranean journalists advocate to a sometimes-skeptical outside world the words of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” (VOA)

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Strategic ties with US secondary to Indians’ interests: Sushma

"Strategic partnership does not mean we will ignore the interests of the Indians (living in US)"

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Sushma Swaraj, VOA

India, March 21, 2017: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Monday said that strategic ties with Washington won’t prevent India from raising issues concerning Indians and Indian Diaspora with the US.

Replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha on hate crimes against Indians in the US, she said that for the Modi government, the interests of Indians preceded strategic partnership with any country.

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“Strategic partnership does not mean we will ignore the interests of the Indians (living in US),” she said in reply to a question raised by CPI’s D. Raja.

“For us, strategic partnership is secondary. The safety and security of Indians and people of Indian origin is primary. Have no doubts that we would keep silent because we have strategic relations with a country.”

Addressing concerns raised by members as to whether a trend in hate crimes was emerging in the US, Sushma Swaraj said New Delhi was “closely monitoring” the situation.

“Till date, the US authorities are saying these are sporadic incidents. But we are watching if a trend is emerging. We are sure the US authorities would not let it become these hate crimes a trend.”

In last few weeks, at least three incidents of attacks on Indians in the US have been reported.

On February 22, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, a 32-year-old Indian engineer, was shot dead by a US national, Adam Purinton, in a bar in Kansas.

On March 2, Harnish Patel, a US national of Indian origin, was shot dead by unknown individuals in Lancaster, South Carolina.

On March 4, Deep Rai, also a US national of Indian origin, was shot by an unknown person near Seattle, allegedly after being asked to leave the country.

“The government has taken up this issue with the US government at very high levels and conveyed our deep concerns. We have called for necessary measures to ensure the safety and security of Indian Diaspora and expeditious investigation into these incidents,” she said in her statement earlier.

She pointed out that President Donald Trump said on February 28 that the US “stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms”.

“Several Senators and Congressmen have also expressed their condolences and regret over the tragic incidents. They have been deeply appreciative of the contribution and role of the Indian community in the US.

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“I would like to reassure this House and the members that safety and security of Indian Diaspora abroad remains a top priority for this government.

“We are in a continuous dialogue with the US government. Close contacts with the local Indian community groups are being maintained through our embassy and consulates to address any emergent issues,” she said. (IANS)

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Your favourite hot chocolate may be as salty as seawater

Each serving of chocolate powder is worse than eating a bag of crisps. Out of the 28 food categories analysed, only 'bread rolls' were found to reach the agreed salt reduction

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March 21, 2017: Love to drink hot chocolate? Beware, it may be as salty as seawater with 16 times more salt than the maximum target, researchers warned.

The findings showed that each serving of chocolate powder is worse than eating a bag of crisps. Out of the 28 food categories analysed, only ‘bread rolls’ were found to reach the agreed salt reduction.

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Most people were found to eat one third more than the maximum recommended intake which may lead to higher blood pressure, putting strain on the heart, arteries, kidneys and brain and eventually leading to heart attacks, strokes, dementia and kidney disease.

“Salt is the forgotten killer. We are shocked to see that many food manufacturers and retailers are still failing to meet the salt reduction targets, despite having had years to work towards them,” Katharine Jenner, nutritionist at Consensus Action on Salt and Health — a Britain-based organisation, was quoted as saying to the telegraph.co.uk.

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Further, a huge disparity in similar food products was found.

A shopping basket of everyday items could contain 57g more salt depending on which brands were selected.

Some breakfast cereals contained just three per cent of the salt, compared to others, the researchers said.

Reducing daily salt intake from 8g to 6g per day could prevent 14,000 deaths a year, the researchers noted. (IANS)