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News Brief: Sri Lanka Explosions, Mueller Report, Climate Education


The death toll in Sri Lanka is going up after a series of coordinated blasts hit churches and luxury hotels across that country on Easter Sunday.


Yeah, 290 people have now been confirmed dead and about 500 or more were injured. No one is claiming responsibility for the attacks, but the country's defense minister has described this violence as a terrorist attack carried out by religious extremists. These attacks are the most violent since Sri Lanka's long civil war came to a close 10 years ago. U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Alaina Teplitz spoke to NPR's Weekend Edition in the hours after the attacks.


ALAINA TEPLITZ: The efforts to try and overcome, you know, a history of strife through 30 years of brutal civil war has been tremendous. There's still a lot more progress that needs to be made, though. It's a sad day for a country trying to overcome this history.

MARTIN: Freelance journalist Lisa Fuller is in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, and she joins us now. Lisa, I guess the first question we should ask is, what else do we know about who might be responsible for this? I mean, as David mentioned, the country's defense minister says it's a terrorist attack by religious extremists. Do we know anything more?

LISA FULLER: So for most of the last two days, we were getting a lot of conflicting information. But just within the last hour, the minister of health went on TV and said that they know who carried out the attack - a group called the National (ph) Thawahid Jaman, which is a Muslim group that is a Sri Lankan group, but he said they also have international ties.

And the information for why they can - why we had so much conflicting data was that the prime minister was kept out of the security briefings. So it seems like there's a pretty big split within the government right now, and that's sort of responsible for the mixed messages.

MARTIN: So we noted that Sri Lanka has been beset by all kinds of violence - civil war, brutal war - but it ended 10 years ago. Was there a religious element to that conflict, or are the attacks that we saw on Easter - is that something new?

FULLER: I think the attacks we saw on Easter are something new. The civil war had sort of a religious element on one side - so it was the Sinhala Buddhist majority against the Tamil - separatist group from the Tamil minority. So sort of - there was this idea of Sri Lanka having to be a Buddhist state from the majority, but on the other side, it was more about autonomy. But as far as the religious element of this, it's still becoming clearer, and it definitely doesn't look anything like the war.

MARTIN: It's my understanding a relative of yours was actually right outside one of the churches when the explosion happened, the one on that church. Can you tell us what happened?

FULLER: Yeah. My sister-in-law was parking her motorcycle outside of the church in Batticaloa, which is in eastern Sri Lanka, when the blast went off. So she wasn't hurt, but there were children that were sort of thrown out by the blast, sort of right next to her. So yeah, she was pretty close by.

MARTIN: The death toll is rising - approximately 500 more are injured. What are you learning about the victims?

FULLER: From - I mean, that there - I was at the hospital yesterday. You had some tourists and foreigners, as well as, you know, mostly locals; I think it's a very wide variety of people. So we have the - obviously, Christians were targeted at the church, but the restaurants were targeted at the hotel, so that was a pretty big mix of people that you saw there.

MARTIN: Right, a lot of tourists, foreign tourists. It appears there may have been indications that - of the risk, some kind of security threat. What are we learning about that?

FULLER: So that's the information that's now coming out, that basically there was a lapse in government, wherein they in fact did have warning, but that that warning was not passed to others, and therefore, it did not get to the public.

MARTIN: Lisa Fuller, freelance journalist based in Sri Lanka. Thank you so much.

FULLER: Thanks for having me.


MARTIN: OK. First, there was the waiting for the Mueller report, then the release of the redacted Mueller report, and now the fallout from the Mueller report.

GREENE: Right. And that fallout includes some very different interpretations of that report. Democrats now have even more questions. The White House is looking to have it both ways - they're claiming that the Mueller report was rigged but also insisting that it exonerates President Trump of any wrongdoing, despite the many troubling details about his behavior in it.


RUDY GIULIANI: They tried very, very hard to create a case that the president was involved in Russian whatever - couldn't do it.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: The Mueller report itself says that there was no interference.

GUILIANI: There's nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.

CONWAY: This has been a frustrated president about an ill-conceived, illegitimate investigation from the beginning.

GREENE: The voices there - the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, also senior White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, appearing on "Fox News Sunday," ABC's "This Week" and CNN's "State of the Union."

MARTIN: Well, we have NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith with us. She's also a host of the NPR Politics Podcast. Hey, Tam.


MARTIN: So the president's supporters attacking the Mueller report; at the same time, leaning on its conclusions to say the president did nothing wrong.

KEITH: That's right, and that is more or less what you'd expect (laughter). I mean, you know, take what you can get. One interesting thing is that they've really been focusing on the idea of what is prosecutable. And for instance, Rudy Giuliani on CNN saying, hey, this isn't what prosecutors look at; morality isn't what they look at. There is nothing legally wrong here - a lot of emphasis on the law, rather than on what is right or wrong...

MARTIN: Right or wrong, right.

KEITH: ...In sort of a broader sense.

MARTIN: Ethics and morality are one thing; criminality is a different standard.

KEITH: Exactly.

MARTIN: So what about the Democrats? Because Nancy Pelosi is holding a conference call today with her caucus. What are they considering?

KEITH: They are considering what to do next. And there is a big challenge that several prominent Democrats have talked about - prominent congressional Democrats - which is that, although some people would like to talk about impeachment, many of these prominent Democrats in Congress say, that's great, but the Senate will never convict because Republicans control the Senate. And so they feel like they're sort of stuck, and they're trying to figure out how to proceed.

MARTIN: Because even the Democrats who want this will make the argument that it's just important symbolically, even if the Senate won't approve.

KEITH: Yeah, and those that want it say a message needs to be sent about what is right and what a presidential candidate and then a president should do in office - how they should comport themselves - saying that the idea of abuse of power, which many of these Democrats see in that report, that that can't continue, can't be allowed.

MARTIN: And what about the 2020 presidential contenders?

KEITH: They are mostly quiet on this or trying to dodge, though Senator Elizabeth Warren has come out in favor of impeachment.

MARTIN: All right. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tam, we appreciate it. Thanks.

KEITH: You're welcome.


MARTIN: It is Earth Day today, and NPR has a new poll out this morning with Ipsos that highlights a big gap between what people hope to see from climate change education and what they're actually getting.

GREENE: Yeah, wanting and doing are two different things. Most Americans, according to the poll, believe their kids should be learning about climate change in school, and teachers agree with that, but more than half of teachers say they are not covering this in their classes.

MARTIN: So how come? We're going to ask Anya Kamenetz of NPR's education team. Hi, Anya.


MARTIN: All right, tell us more about what you found in the survey.

KAMENETZ: So the vast majority of people, 4 out of 5, support teaching children about climate change - and that crosses party lines, by the way - and 65% of respondents also don't think that you should need parents' permission to teach this subject, even though it is controversial. Eighty-six percent of teachers - even more than parents - say, yes, we should teach about climate change, and dozens of states have science standards that at least mention the topic. But we found more than half of teachers say they do not personally cover it in their own classes.

MARTIN: Why? I mean, do they just not see it - well, you just said that they do see it as a priority. So explain that contradiction.

KAMENETZ: Right. So you know, 65% of them said, you know, it's not my subject area. And of course, most teachers are overburdened, they're overworked; most teachers are not high school or middle school science teachers. However, there may be something else at work here.

So Mallory Newall from Ipsos, which conducted the poll for us, says that there were key attitudinal differences, key differences in outlook between teachers who cover climate change and those who don't.

MALLORY NEWALL: For some teachers, that might just be a way to rationalize why they're not talking about it.

KAMENETZ: For example, she said that the teachers who don't talk about climate change were less likely to believe that it was a serious threat and were less comfortable answering students' questions about it. Having said that, we also did a callout to our own audience, and we heard from teachers from Florida to Hawaii that are covering the topic in their classes, and that includes all levels and all subjects - I mean, preschool teachers, English teachers, Spanish, home ec - and, for example, Rebecca Meyer, who's an eighth grade English teacher in the Bronx. And she covered it by assigning her students a novel about water scarcity called "Not A Drop To Drink."

REBECCA MEYER: They were very engaged. I mean, they loved it. They learned so much that they didn't know.

KAMENETZ: So one additional wrinkle is that almost a third of teachers told us that when talking about something like climate, they are worried about parent pushback.

MARTIN: So is that happening? Are parents pushing back?

KAMENETZ: Well, not really. I mean, you would be surprised. In some areas, of course - there are places where a lot of people work in the oil industry, for example. But on the other hand, 84% of parents of kids under 18 told us, yes, kids should be learning about climate change. But then we heard this other weird divide where just 45% of those parents say, yes, I speak to my own kids about this topic.

Yeah. So, like, Laine Fabijanic - she's a mother of three in Glenwood, Colo. - she says she's concerned about climate change. You know, there's a ski industry - lack of snow in the winter there. Her family recycles. They eat local and organic. They're even putting solar panels on the house. But she says, you know, she has not mentioned the big picture to her young daughters, who are in elementary school, and actually, now that we asked, she's wondering why she hasn't really brought it up with them.

MARTIN: Very interesting. Anya Kamenetz of NPR's education team. Anya, happy Earth Day.

KAMENETZ: Thanks, Rachel; you, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAKEY INSPIRED'S "STREET DREAMS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Rachel Martin
Rachel Martin is a founding host of NPR's award-winning morning news podcast Up First. Martin's interviews take listeners behind the headlines to understand the people at the center of those stories.