Ashley Westerman

Ashley Westerman is a producer who occasionally directs the show. Since joining the staff in June 2015, she has produced a variety of stories including a coal mine closing near her hometown, the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh. She is also an occasional reporter for Morning Edition, and NPR.org, where she has contributed reports on both domestic and international news.

Ashley was a summer intern in 2011 with Morning Edition and pitched a story on her very first day. She went on to work as a reporter and host for member station 89.3 WRKF in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she earned awards covering everything from healthcare to jambalaya.

Ashley is an East-West Center 2018 Jefferson Fellow and a two-time reporting fellow with the International Center for Journalists. Through ICFJ, she has covered labor issues in her home country of the Philippines for NPR and health care in Appalachia for Voice of America.

Cambodia's top opposition leader is vowing to keep a promise to return and lead demonstrations against the country's long-time authoritarian leader after he was barred from boarding a flight to Southeast Asia.

Sam Rainsy, self-exiled head of the now-banned Cambodia National Rescue Party, says he was not allowed to get on a Thai Airways flight from Paris to Bangkok on Thursday, despite having purchased a ticket.

Earlier this week, Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn stripped his consort of all her ranks and titles, just months after officially granting her the role. A statement from the palace accused her of disloyalty, ingratitude and over-stepping her role.

Federal prosecutors say two businessmen had a motive for making illegal contributions to U.S. political campaigns. The two men sought to remove an American diplomat in Ukraine, according to an indictment unsealed on Thursday.

The two men, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, were associates of President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. They also have business interests in Ukraine.

In recent weeks, children marched, nations made promises and teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg scolded world leaders for "failing us." But while one of the groups most vulnerable to climate change, the Pacific Islands, may have received fewer headlines, it was among those making the strongest calls for action.

Updated at 6:12 p.m. ET

In Singapore, a law intended to crack down on "fake news" went into effect Wednesday, much to the dismay of free speech advocates and journalists.

Any peace in Afghanistan must be negotiated for Afghans by their elected leaders, the country's national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, says.

"We have objected to being part of the negotiations and not being a central part of this discussion," Mohib, 36, tells NPR's Rachel Martin from New York City, where he addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Monday.

"And if we want to see peace in Afghanistan, the Afghan government must be at the forefront of any negotiations," he added.

As China celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Communist Party's rule, China's ambassador to the U.S. says that it's thanks to that very system that his country has climbed the ranks of global leadership.

"We have had our own setbacks over the years," Cui Tiankai tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "But generally speaking, as a whole, we have gradually found a path for China's development that works for China."

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says his country will not succumb to economic pressure by the Trump administration.

"We are resisting an unprovoked aggression by the United States," Zarif told NPR's Steve Inskeep in an interview in New York City on Sunday. "I can assure you that the United States will not be able to bring us to our knees through pressure."

Pro-independence protests in Indonesia's restive Papua and West Papua provinces have resulted in violence for a second week, according to activists and reports from the area, where most Internet access has been shut down since Aug. 21.

In early July, Bangladesh became the first country to grant all of its rivers the same legal status as humans. From now on, its rivers will be treated as living entities in a court of law. The landmark ruling by the Bangladeshi Supreme Court is meant to protect the world's largest delta from further degradation from pollution, illegal dredging and human intrusion.

Americans are less interested in NASA sending humans to the moon or Mars than they are in the U.S. space agency focusing on potential asteroid impacts and using robots for space exploration. That's according to a poll by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released Thursday, one month before the 50th anniversary of the first walk on the moon.

A record 70.8 million people had been forcibly displaced by war, persecution and other violence worldwide at the end of 2018, according to the latest annual Global Trends report by the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

A U.S. permanent resident who was recently released from prison in Iran is finally making his way back to America, where his three sons live.

Nizar Zakka, 52, who is a citizen of Lebanon, was arrested in September 2015 in Tehran while trying to leave the country and charged with spying for the U.S. He denied the charges, but he was sentenced to 10 years in Iran's Evin Prison.

China and the United States are locked in a trade fight, a technology race and competing world military strategies. Leaders of these countries seem to be pulling the world's two largest economies apart.

These tensions are especially felt by those living with a foot in each country. The NPR special series A Foot In Two Worlds reveals the stories of people affected because of their ties to both nations. Reports from both the U.S. and China show how deeply and broadly the two nations are connected and what's at stake as they reshape their relations.

Centuries ago, the kingdom that made up much of modern-day Laos was called Lan Xang. In English: "Land of a Million Elephants."

Yet while the Asiatic elephant may have endured as a cultural icon for the Lao People's Democratic Republic, the numbers tell a story of a species in crisis.

The Laos government and conservation groups estimate there are only about 800 elephants left in the country — 400 wild elephants, 400 in captivity.

China, known as the world's biggest polluter, has been taking dramatic steps to clean up and fight climate change.

So why is it also building hundreds of coal-fired power plants in other countries?

President Xi Jinping hosted the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing over the weekend, promoting his signature foreign policy of building massive infrastructure and trade links across several continents.

In Southeast Asia's only landlocked country, the Mekong River is a lifeline. From a slow boat heading up the river in Laos, you'll see fishermen working in their boats, riverside farms where bananas grow, and domesticated buffalo lazing. Occasionally a ferry chugs by. From time to time, steps leading to a riverside village become visible on the banks through the foliage. The wind is swift, and the brown fresh water laps up onto the side of the boat.

Just over 9 miles north of Luang Prabang, a startling aberration appears: five giant concrete pylons rising out of the water.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's look south of China's capital 1,600 miles to Laos. China is building a railway in Laos, and our producer, Ashley Westerman, visited.

Ashley, what'd you learn?

Snow leopards and Marco Polo sheep have not been on the agenda for peace talks involving the Taliban, U.S. officials and Afghan opposition figures.

But going forward, should they be?

Updated at 11:50 a.m. ET

Press freedom advocates across Manila, Philippines, including students and some faculty at a handful of universities, have been rallying the past two days following the arrest of journalist Maria Ressa this week.

The award-winning journalist and outspoken critic of President Rodrigo Duterte's administration was arrested Wednesday on charges stemming from coverage by her online news website, Rappler, one of the Philippines' few independent news outlets.

In recent weeks, Myanmar has seen renewed violence between security forces and an insurgent group called the Arakan Army. Since fighting broke out in Rakhine state in December, at least 26 military personnel and Arakan Army fighters have died and some 5,000 civilians have been displaced, according to the United Nations.

For one Native American tribe whose land straddles the U.S.-Mexico border, President Trump's proposed border wall would, literally, divide its people.

The Tohono O'odham Nation stretches through the desert from just south of Casa Grande in southern Arizona to the U.S. border — and then beyond, into the Mexican state of Sonora. This means that if Trump gets his $5.7 billion border wall, it would cut right through the tribe's land.

On a day meant to celebrate Myanmar's independence from Britain 71 years ago, Buddhist insurgents launched attacks on four police posts that killed seven soldiers in the country's restive Rakhine state.

A Taiwan independent from mainland China is not an option, and no person or party can stop the trend toward "unification," Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a policy speech Wednesday.

A new cybersecurity law has gone into effect in Vietnam that puts stringent controls on tech companies operating inside the country and censors what its citizens read online.

The decree, which was passed by the National Assembly in June, requires companies such as Facebook and Google to open offices in Vietnam, store local user data and to hand over information if the government asks for it. It would also require social media companies to remove any content authorities deemed offensive or "toxic."

The state of New York has a new attorney general and she is, literally, like no one who has ever held the office before.

Democrat Letitia James was sworn in as New York's 67th Attorney General late Monday in a ceremony at the state capitol in Albany. James, 60, is the state's first black attorney general and the first woman ever elected to that state-wide office.

Updated at 12:20 p.m. ET

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her ruling alliance have secured another term in power following Bangladesh's general election Sunday, during which the military was deployed and almost 20 people were killed. The results, announced Monday by the Bangladesh Election Commission, have been rejected by the main opposition party, which accuses Hasina's party of rigging the election, according to the Associated Press.

The prairie town of Enid, Okla. — population 50,122 — is best known as the state's "wheat capital." Enid is also home to a community of around 2,000 people who were born in the Marshall Islands. Most are low-income and struggling to get health care.

Chrissy Houlahan has done a lot with her industrial engineering degree over the last 30 years including serving in the Air Force, working in the aircraft manufacturing industry, being the COO of a sports apparel company and even teaching high school chemistry.

Houlahan says her science, technology, engineering and mathematics – or STEM – background has allowed her to be fluid in her career by helping her tackle everyday problems through a unique lens.

Roger Chui first learned about the mass shooting that killed 12 people in a packed bar Wednesday night in Thousand Oaks, Calif., when he woke up the morning after and turned on his phone.

"And I was like 'Oh, that seems really soon after Pittsburgh and Louisville,' " says the software developer in Lexington, Ky. "I thought we'd get more of a break."

Chui feels like these kinds of shootings happen in the U.S. so often now that when he hears about them all he can think about is, "Oh well, it happened again I guess."

He's not alone.

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