Browsing articles from "July, 2018"

Senate Bill To Require Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity Data By 2030 Census

Jul 31, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Senate Bill To Require Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity Data By 2030 Census

Marchers carry an LGBTQ pride flag during the Utah Pride Parade in Salt Lake City in June.

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Marchers carry an LGBTQ pride flag during the Utah Pride Parade in Salt Lake City in June.

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A group of Democratic senators are planning to introduce a bill in Congress Tuesday that would require the U.S. census and the country’s largest survey to start directly asking about sexual orientation and gender identity.

If the Census Equality Act becomes a law, sexual orientation and gender identity questions would have to be added to forms for the census by 2030 and for the American Community Survey — a survey that about one in 38 households are required by federal law to complete every year — by 2020.

Forms for both the American Community Survey and the census — which the Constitution requires every person living in the U.S. to take part in — have long allowed people to select “male” or “female” as their sex.

In March, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that the 2020 census questionnaires will include new relationship categories differentiating between “same-sex” and “opposite-sex” couples. That change, some demographers say, could produce the most comprehensive national data yet on same-sex couples.

The new bill introduced by Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Tom Carper, D-Del., could expand that data set further to include LGBTQ people who are not in relationships, as well as people whose gender identities do not align with the sex assigned to them at birth.

“The spirit of the census is that no one should go uncounted and no one should be invisible,” Harris said in a written statement. “We must expand data collections efforts to ensure the LQBTQ community is not only seen, but fully accounted for in terms of government resources provided.”

Harris and the other Democrats behind the bill say this information could help more LGBTQ people get access to Medicaid, Section 8 housing vouchers and food aid through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP. According to a 2013 report by the Williams Institute, income levels of lesbian, gay and bisexual people are more likely than those of heterosexual people to fall below the federal poverty line.

2020 Census Will Ask About Same-Sex Relationships

More comprehensive data about LGBTQ people could also help better enforce civil rights protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and prove those cases in court.

Still, some data privacy experts worry the information could be used against LGBTQ people, especially when many states do not have laws banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Senate bill would require the Census Bureau to protect all sexual orientation and gender identity information it collects under the same privacy standards for other types of data. Federal law prohibits the bureau from releasing any census information that would identify individuals until 72 years after it is collected. But the agency can release anonymized data about specific demographic groups at levels as detailed as a specific neighborhood.

While the bill defines sexual orientation as either homosexuality, heterosexuality or bisexuality, it is not clear what response options for sexual orientation or gender identity would appear on the Census Bureau’s questionnaires. The lawmakers are calling for the agency to conduct research to come up with a plan to develop the new questions within a year after the bill becomes a law.

Census Bureau Caught In Political Mess Over LGBT Data

During the Obama administration, federal agencies formed a working group to discuss how best to collect sexual orientation and gender identity, or SOGI, information on federal surveys. One of the group’s reports notes the challenge in deciding how to word these questions given the varying terms used by different generations and cultures. “Careful attention must be paid to the translation of SOGI questions because other languages may not have terms for the SOGI concepts or only have terms that are offensive,” wrote members of the Federal Interagency Working Group on Improving Measurement of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Federal Surveys.

Prior to the election of President Trump, four federal agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Justice Department, had asked to add these questions to the American Community Survey before the Census Bureau decided to not move forward with the requests, as NPR has reported.

“Valid, reliable, and nationally representative data on sexual orientation and gender identity are essential to HUD fulfilling its mission,” former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro wrote in a June 2016 letter to former Census Bureau Director John Thompson. The Justice Department’s request said that among the reasons it needed that data is “to enforce the prohibition against unlawful employment discrimination” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But after DOJ officials under the Trump administration stood down on the agency’s request because it “requires thorough analysis and careful consideration,” Census Bureau officials concluded there was “no federal data need.”

China’s Marriage Rate Plummets As Women Choose To Stay Single Longer

Jul 31, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on China’s Marriage Rate Plummets As Women Choose To Stay Single Longer

At Shanghai’s weekly “marriage market,” parents advertise their unmarried adult children with signs taped to umbrellas. Chinese parents and the government are doing what they can to reverse the trend of falling marriage rates. The sign above the entrance reads: “Comprehensively manage the marriage market, maintain the order of the park together.”

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At a downtown market in Shanghai, people are hustling to sell their goods. But at this market shaded by trees lining the pathways of People’s Park, their goods are their grown children.

“Born in 1985, studied in the U.K., she’s short, has a Shanghai residence permit, owns her own apartment,” says Mrs. Wang, reading aloud the sign she’s taped to an umbrella advertising her unmarried daughter. It’s one of hundreds of umbrellas lined up along the park’s walkways with similar signs.

Mrs. Wang, who refuses to give her full name to protect her daughter’s identity, has come to Shanghai’s “marriage market” each weekend for the past three months to try and find a suitable husband for her daughter.

“She doesn’t agree with what I’m doing,” says Wang, “but she respects her parents’ wishes. Young people these days don’t care about marriage. They don’t pay enough attention to our traditional values. Their views are becoming more Western.”

Wang blames her 33-year-old daughter’s single status on the seven years she spent in the U.K., where Wang says her daughter “became more independent.” But there are other reasons – apart from Western influence – why China’s marriage rate has plummeted by nearly 30 percent in the last five years.

Dai Xuan, 30, works as the editor of a luxury magazine in Shanghai and says her own reasons are economic. “Before, in China, you married to survive,” she says. “Now I’m living well by myself, so I have higher expectations in marriage.”

Dai Xuan, 30, who works as the editor of a luxury magazine in Shanghai — and is pictured at the helm of a private jet — says the reason why she hasn’t married yet is economic. She says she loves her job and she makes more than enough to support herself, which has made her pickier about dating.

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Dai Xuan, 30, who works as the editor of a luxury magazine in Shanghai — and is pictured at the helm of a private jet — says the reason why she hasn’t married yet is economic. She says she loves her job and she makes more than enough to support herself, which has made her pickier about dating.

NPR

Like many young, urban Chinese, Dai studied abroad – she lived in Norway – and enjoys her job. She says she’s not in a rush to get married.

“People my age laugh at those who get married early, because only rural people without an education do that,” says Dai. “It’s not that successful women don’t want to marry. It’s that making money makes us pickier.”

But that can work both ways, says Josephine Pan, the 45-year-old Shanghai CEO of FCB, an advertising firm. In a traditional society like China’s, she says, men are intimidated by her title.

“They don’t want a female CEO as a girlfriend or wife,” says Pan. “Maybe they feel it’s a big threat to them. I’m not an arrogant person, like all the time showing off my title. I keep it very low profile. But no matter how low of a profile you keep, you keep intimidating them.”

While men outnumber women among China’s overall population, at Chinese universities, women have outnumbered men for the past two decades. That means more women have career trajectories they don’t want to jeopardize by marrying and having children while they’re in their 20s and 30s. They’re marrying later, or not at all.

“What’s happening on the ground with these particularly urban, educated women is completely at odds with what the Chinese government wants the women to be doing,” says Leta Hong Fincher, author of the forthcoming book Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China.

Hong Fincher says China’s Communist Party has tried propaganda campaigns, matchmaking events, and even ended the decades-old one-child policy in 2016 to persuade educated young women to marry and start families. But declining birthrates show none of this is working.

The party’s problem boils down to changing demographics. Official projections show by 2030, there will be more Chinese over the age of 65 than under the age of 14. For the first time in a century, China will be facing a shortage of workers and an oversupply of non-working seniors, an economic problem that Hong Fincher says will become a political one.

“It relates ultimately to the survival of the Communist Party,” she says. “How do they continue exerting control when you have all these chaotic forces, young people, young women in particular, who are all wanting to do their own thing rather than follow the dictates of the government and marry early and have babies?”

26-year-old Yuan Ruiyu says he and his friends are under pressure from both the government and their parents to hurry up and marry, and it’s having the opposite effect on them.

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26-year-old Yuan Ruiyu says he and his friends are under pressure from both the government and their parents to hurry up and marry, and it’s having the opposite effect on them.

NPR

And it’s not only women who are opting to postpone marriage. Yuan Ruiyu, 26, says he and his friends are under pressure from both the government and their parents to hurry up and marry, and it’s having the opposite effect. It’s making them question why they should marry in the first place.

“In China,” he says, “young people are supposed to do as they’re told by their parents and their government. You’re supposed to believe that our country is the greatest and that we should listen to the government and our parents, but it’s all propaganda, and it’s a trap. It’s not for our own good, but for theirs.”

Yuan says as more and more of his peers leave their hometowns, study abroad and find jobs they like, they become more and more independent – and marriage, one of the most personal decisions someone can make, becomes their own decision, not anyone else’s.

Hatchie Takes Fans Along For The Ride With An Intimate Tour Diary

Jul 31, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Hatchie Takes Fans Along For The Ride With An Intimate Tour Diary

Hatchie.

Hatchie.

Road life for Harriette Pilbeam, who performs under the name Hatchie, seems to be summed up as part togetherness, part excess. There’s a clear bond between bandmates, a good amount of gear and a whole lot of pepperoni. As the band tours their native Australia in support of its terrific debut EP Sugar Spice, we’re looking forward to its return to the U.S. in August. More specifically for us at WFUV, we can’t wait to see Hatchie in New York in September to share the bond (and the pizza). — Russ Borris, WFUV

Entry 1: Tour Kickoff

My tour kicked off on Thursday at The Workers Club in Melbourne. Most shows we’ve played so far have been support slots or festivals, so we haven’t had a chance to bring along all the gear we’ve dreamed of touring with, due to sound check and changeover time restrictions. For these shows, Joe expanded his set-up to trigger and incorporate a bunch of new sounds with some new gear, which was really cool.

Band member Joe Agius using tour equipment.

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Band member Joe Agius using tour equipment.

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Entry 2: “Lovin’ The Crew”

Our guitarist Paddy lives in Sydney while the rest of us live in Brisbane, so we try to make the most of our time together on tour with plenty of beers and hugs.

Band members Joe Agius (left) and Paddy Harrowsmith (right).

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Band members Joe Agius (left) and Paddy Harrowsmith (right).

Courtesy of the artist

Entry 3: Let’s Set the Mood

We also took the opportunity to bring along some extra mood lighting. How many band members does it take to tape up a water light? Four apparently, including me to take photos and bark directions.

Entry 3: Pizza Indulgence (A Love Ballad)

As with all of our tours, we indulged in a lot of late-night pizza. The guys are into double pepperoni these days, enough so you can just barely see any cheese or dough underneath. I had a vegan chicken burger that in all honesty was not worth capturing.

Entry 4: Hello, Sydney!

The second show of the weekend was in Sydney at the Oxford Art Factory Gallery. I always forget how much gear we have until it’s strewn across the venue floor like so.

Hatchie’s tour gear.

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Hatchie’s tour gear.

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Entry 5: Touring, A First World Problem

Touring is fun, but it often involves a lot of waiting around at venues, hotels and airports. It’s probably the most first world problem we have though, so I can’t really complain.

Band members Paddy Harrowsmith (left) and Harriette Pilbeam (right).

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Band members Paddy Harrowsmith (left) and Harriette Pilbeam (right).

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Entry 6: Last Stop, Brisbane.

The last show of this tour was in my hometown, Brisbane at Black Bear Lodge. It was one of the most fun shows we’ve played because if was filled with so many friends and family as well as fans. We treated ourselves to some espresso martinis that went down a treat!

Hatchie enjoying the end of tour in Brisbane, Australia: (Left to right): Venue patron, Richie Daniell, Harriette Pilbeam, Joe Agius and Paddy Harrowsmith.

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Hatchie enjoying the end of tour in Brisbane, Australia: (Left to right): Venue patron, Richie Daniell, Harriette Pilbeam, Joe Agius and Paddy Harrowsmith.

Courtesy of the artist

Iran Is Unenthusiastic After President Trump Suggests A Meeting

Jul 31, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Iran Is Unenthusiastic After President Trump Suggests A Meeting

A man in Tehran looks at a newspaper with a picture of President Trump on the front page on Tuesday. Iran’s currency traded at a fresh record-low of 119,000 to the dollar today, a loss of nearly two-thirds of its value since the start of the year as U.S. sanctions loom. Trump says he’s willing to meet with Iranian leaders, but Iran doesn’t seem eager to sit down.

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A man in Tehran looks at a newspaper with a picture of President Trump on the front page on Tuesday. Iran’s currency traded at a fresh record-low of 119,000 to the dollar today, a loss of nearly two-thirds of its value since the start of the year as U.S. sanctions loom. Trump says he’s willing to meet with Iranian leaders, but Iran doesn’t seem eager to sit down.

Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

Although President Trump said Monday that he would be willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at “any time,” it looks like that meeting won’t be happening any time soon — multiple Iranian officials have played down the possibility of a sit-down, without ruling it out entirely.

The leaders of the U.S. and Iran have not met in person since before the Islamic Revolution in 1979. A phone call between Rouhani and former President Obama in 2013 was the first direct conversation of any kind in decades. That call was part of the lengthy negotiations toward the multinational nuclear deal reached with Iran in 2015 — which Trump pulled out of earlier this year.

As a result of Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement, some previously lifted U.S. sanctions will be reimposed on Iran over the next few months.

Trump issued his invitation on Monday, saying he would be willing to meet with Iran’s leaders “any time they want,” with “no preconditions.”

However, as NPR’s Peter Kenyon notes, “shortly after Trump spoke and said no preconditions, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went on CNBC and he laid out a number of conditions, ones he’s talked about before.”

Pompeo called for the Iranian leaders to “demonstrate a commitment to make fundamental changes in how they treat their own people” and to “agree that it’s worthwhile” to enter into a new nuclear agreement.

Iran, in turn, has responded with a list of conditions of their own.

Hamid Aboutalebi, an adviser to Rouhani, tweeted on Monday, calling for the U.S. to respect Iran and return to the original nuclear deal. Semi-official Iranian news agency ISNA has a translation:

“Respecting the Iranian nation’s rights, reducing hostilities and returning to the nuclear deal are steps that can be taken to pave the bumpy road of talks between Iran and America. Iran had showed its openness to dialogue in the past, particularly with the phone call between Rouhani and Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama in 2013. That dialogue was based on the idea of confidence-building measures and the nuclear deal was an achievement of this effort and it must be accepted.”

The vice speaker of Iran’s parliament also told reporters that the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, made new negotiations a nonstarter.

“Talks with the US would have been right had the US not withdrawn from the JCPOA and imposed sanctions on Iran,” Ali Motahhari said, according to Iran’s state-run IRNA news outlet. Under “appropriate” conditions negotiation can be helpful, but currently such talks would just bring humiliation to Iran, he said, according to IRNA.

At the same time, senior cleric Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, a member of Iran’s Expediency Council, said it didn’t make sense to reject the offer out of hand.

The Associated Press reports:

” ‘It should be discussed in the Supreme National Security Council,’ said Nategh Nouri, who is also a former aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Nategh Nouri said ‘we have to contemplate’ the gesture, but also cautioned ‘we should not rejoice over this offer and not get excited.’

” ‘Trump may take advantage of this over-excitement,’ he said, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. ‘It could be a test for us.’ “

Kenyon reports that Rouhani himself — who has not publicly responded to the invitation — told parliament that the U.S. has proven it doesn’t keep its promises and that Iran will protect its right to export oil, which is the target of U.S. sanctions.

Kenyon says there will be some pressure on Iran to negotiate with the U.S. — but he puts that in perspective.

Trump Administration's Support For Iran Protests May Backfire, Experts Warn

“Iran came to the table to negotiate the [2015] nuclear deal after years of sustained pressure from the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China,” Kenyon says. “Now all of those countries except the U.S. are on Iran’s side, wanting to stick with the deal and keep doing business.

“But it’s not clear they have a workable plan to do that. The Iranian economy is suffering badly, inflation is up, the rial is down, so there will be pressure — but if Iran’s past reactions to pressure are any guide, it will take some time if there ever is a meeting.”

Some Amazon Reviews Are Too Good To Be Believed. They’re Paid For

Jul 30, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Some Amazon Reviews Are Too Good To Be Believed. They’re Paid For

In shadow marketplaces, positive reviews for Amazon products are bought and sold. The company says it’s cracking down and that it estimates that less than 1 percent of reviews are fake.

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In shadow marketplaces, positive reviews for Amazon products are bought and sold. The company says it’s cracking down and that it estimates that less than 1 percent of reviews are fake.

Mike Segar/Reuters

Travis is a teenager living in a small town in the Northeast. He enjoys hunting and shooting, and keeps a rifle at home. But with several younger siblings around the house, he wanted to make sure his gun was safe. So he ordered a trigger lock on Amazon, to prevent the gun from firing.

“The reviews were great, five-star reviews,” says Travis, who asked that NPR use only his first name to avoid scrutiny and possible legal attention. “[They] said it worked great, locked perfectly, the combination system worked great.”

It didn’t.

“The combination doesn’t even matter; the lock just opens,” Travis says. “It’s cheap plastic, it will pull apart as soon as you give it any force.”

Thankfully, he realized this immediately, went to a store, and purchased a proper trigger lock for his gun. Everyone at home is fine.

Travis rues the experience, and the stellar reviews that led him to purchase the faulty lock in the first place. He didn’t realize it at the time, he says, but he’s now certain that those glowing reviews were paid for. And that many of the people who gave the trigger lock excellent reviews may never have opened the package in the first place.

Travis is certain of this because he himself is now a prolific paid reviewer. He writes Amazon reviews for money, and he commissions others to do the same — for a company that approached him online. (Note: Amazon is one of NPR’s financial sponsors.)

“I don’t think it’s right that people can write fake reviews on products,” Travis says. “But I need the money.”

What Americans Told Us About Online Shopping Says A Lot About Amazon

NPR spoke with several people who write Amazon reviews for pay, from a college student in Puerto Rico to a stay-at-home mother in the Midwest. Such reviews are a problem on e-commerce sites, outside auditors say, and they proliferate in online channels set up for this purpose.

Much like Amazon itself is a marketplace for goods, a world of separate, shadow marketplaces exists where reviews for Amazon products are bought and paid for — private Facebook groups, Slack channels, subreddits and more.

According to outside auditors like Fakespot and ReviewMeta, more than half the reviews for certain popular products are questionable. Amazon disputes those estimates.

“Our approximation is that less than 1 percent of reviews are inauthentic,” says Sharon Chiarella, vice president of community shopping at Amazon. She adds that “sometimes individual products have more suspicious activity.”

“We have built a lot of technology to assess whether or not we think a review is authentic,” Chiarella says. “The star rating, a lot of people think that’s an average … it’s actually much more intelligent. It’s a weighted calculation that gives more weight to reviews we trust more and less to reviews we trust less.”

Episode 850: The Fake Review Hunter

Amazon looks for suspicious patterns of behavior that might indicate a paid or incentivized review. Penalties for cheating can be harsh — in the past three years, Amazon has sued more than 1,000 sellers for buying reviews.

Chiarella says the lawsuits give the company the opportunity to subpoena bad actors to get data from them. “That allows us to identify more bad actors and spider out from there and train our algorithms,” she says.

But this has led to a sort of digital cat-and-mouse game. As Amazon and its algorithms get better at hunting them down, paid reviewers employ their own evasive maneuvers. Travis, the teenage paid reviewer, explained his process.

He’s a member of several online channels where Amazon sellers congregate, hawking Ethernet cables, flashlights, protein powder, fanny packs — any number of small items for which they want favorable reviews.

Don't Necessarily Judge Your Next E-Book By Its Online Review

If something catches Travis’ attention, he approaches the seller and they negotiate terms. Once he buys the product and leaves a five-star review, the seller will refund his purchase, often adding a few dollars “commission” for his trouble. He says he earns around $200 a month this way.

The sellers provide detailed instructions, to avoid being detected by Amazon’s algorithms, Travis says. For example, he says, “Order here at the Amazon link. Don’t clip any coupons or promo codes. [Wait 4 to 5 days] after receiving [the item].” This last instruction is especially important, Travis adds. “If you review too soon after receiving it’ll look pretty suspicious.”

Renée DiResta says these persistent efforts to game the system amount to a sort of whack-a-mole problem for Amazon. DiResta researches disinformation online as director of research at New Knowledge, and is a Mozilla Fellow on media, misinformation and trust.

As part of her research, DiResta said she wrote her own paid reviews through the same kind of marketplaces that Travis frequents.

“Being on the first page of Amazon is profoundly impactful for businesses,” DiResta says. “Doing well on Amazon really makes or breaks brands.”

She says the types of companies commissioning paid reviews are often Chinese brands selling on the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. They’re looking to penetrate the U.S. market.

“If you order from Alibaba, it’s going to take six to eight weeks to arrive; it’s not a great experience,” DiResta says. “If you buy on Amazon, it feels like a protected transaction.”

Five Ways To Spot A Fake Online Review, Restaurant Or Otherwise

She adds that by using Amazon to migrate their products to the U.S. market, these sellers can take advantage of Amazon Prime’s superior shipping and logistics, as well as the reputation and trust that comes with the Amazon brand. Not to mention the cachet of its user reviews.

“That’s potentially deeply harmful to Amazon as a brand,” DiResta says. “When people begin to realize what they’re buying is cheap junk or won’t hold up.”

In the end, DiResta says, this problem may not have a solution. As Amazon keeps cracking down, paid reviewers will keep finding ways to evade the company’s attempts. Customers can turn to outside review sites like CNET or Wirecutter to find transparent information. But as long as there’s a business incentive to game them, online user reviews will remain muddy waters.

Online Shoppers Say They Rarely Return Purchases. Why?

Episode 492: M. Erb's Amazon Empire

Tomasz Stanko, A Trumpeter Whose Music Spoke To Freedom, Has Died

Jul 30, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Tomasz Stanko, A Trumpeter Whose Music Spoke To Freedom, Has Died

Polish jazz trumpet player and composer Tomasz Stanko, performing in Kielce, Poland in 2016. Stanko died Sunday at age 76.

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Polish jazz trumpet player and composer Tomasz Stanko, performing in Kielce, Poland in 2016. Stanko died Sunday at age 76.

Agencja Gazeta/Pawel Malecki/Reuters

Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, a leading figure in mid-1960s European avant-garde jazz who enjoyed a major career resurgence over the past 20 years, died on Sunday in Warsaw. His death was confirmed by his daughter, Anna Stanko, who said that her father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer in April of this year, and had been suffering with pneumonia since June. He was 76 years old.

Stanko is best known for his soaring, elusively beautiful albums for the ECM label, most recently with a coterie of groundbreaking younger musicians he called his New York Quartet. Particularly through the New York Quartet, Stanko in his later years built strong bonds with young American players on the cutting edge of the music.

Born on July 11, 1942 in Rzeszów, Poland, Stanko grew up under communist dictatorship. Like many behind the Iron Curtain, he first encountered jazz through Willis Conover’s broadcasts for the Voice of America. He saw Dave Brubeck in 1958 on a State Department-sponsored tour, and as he recalled in a 2006 profile for The New York Times, “The message was freedom.” And it proved irresistible. Stanko got his professional start in Krakow soon after.

His trumpet playing, once praised by New York Times critic Ben Ratliff for its “soothing melodic shapes interrupted by flutters and harder intervallic stabs,” had a sparse and often meditative quality not unlike his forebear Miles Davis. But his intensely concentrated lyricism owed as much to Don Cherry’s work in the classic Ornette Coleman quartet, one of his chief early influences.

Stanko’s writing, spacious and enigmatic but also possessed of a deep and abiding sense of swing, had a catalyzing effect on experimentally-minded musicians such as pianist David Virelles and others, documented on the New York Quartet albums Wisława (2013) and December Avenue (2017).

Stanko gained his first major exposure in the ’60s alongside two Polish pianists, Adam Makowicz and Krzysztof Komeda. With Makowicz, he co-led an Ornette Coleman-inspired group called the Jazz Darings (and later the Stanko-Makowicz Unit); with Komeda’s quintet, he took part in the 1966 classic Astigmatic, certainly rawer and more dissonant than Stanko’s ECM output but not without aesthetic linkages and commonalities. Open-ended as it was, Komeda’s music used melodic motives and formal structures to ground long improvisations, and this approach carried over into Stanko’s later work as a leader.

While Stanko’s ECM history dates to 1976 with the album Balladyna (featuring bassist Dave Holland and the great Finnish drummer Edward Vesala, as well as saxophonist Tomasz Szukalski), it wasn’t until the mid-’90s that he hit his stride on the label, with a quartet featuring pianist Bobo Stenson, bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Tony Oxley on the albums Matka Joanna and Leosia. Stanko also made From the Green Hill and Litania: Music of Krzysztof Komeda in this ’90s period, utilizing slightly expanded and more unorthodox ensembles. (He revisited some of Komeda’s work in 2009 on the vibrant quintet session Dark Eyes.)

By 2002, Stanko was honing his late-career signature sound, with a Polish quartet featuring the exceptional pianist Marcin Wasilewski, on releases including Soul of Things, Suspended Night and Lontano. (Through Stanko, Wasilewski and Virelles both became ECM artists in their own right.) It speaks to Stanko’s lasting impact that a piece from Suspended Night, “Suspended Night Variation VIII,” was chosen as the very last track on Smithsonian Folkways’ six-CD box from 2010, intended as a definitive jazz anthology from ragtime to the 21st century.

Stanko went on to compose for film and theater as well. His notable sideman appearances include bassist Gary Peacock’s Voice from the Past: Paradigm (1982) and a fierce 1985 offering from Cecil Taylor‘s Orchestra of Two Continents, Winged Serpent (Sliding Quadrants). He even made some deeply intriguing synthesizer-heavy fusion (Chameleon, Freedom in August, C.o.c.x., and Freelectronic in Montreux). In 2010, he published his autobiography, Desperado (in Polish).

He is survived by his sister, Jaga Stanko Ekelund, and her family, as well as his ex-wife, Joanna Stanko, and their daughter Anna.

One of Stanko’s last major achievements was “Polin Suite,” performed in October 2014 at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. In this footage, Virelles is in captivating form, anchoring a new lineup with Ravi Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Dezron Douglas on bass and Kush Abadey on drums. Hearing the life force, the subtly attuned adventurism, of this multi-generational, multicultural quintet, with Stanko’s horn burning calmly at its center, it’s hard to deny what Stanko took to heart from the very beginning: The message is freedom.

Trump To Hold News Conference With Italian Prime Minister

Jul 30, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Trump To Hold News Conference With Italian Prime Minister

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte shakes hands with President Trump on June, 8 2018, in La Malbaie, Canada at the G-7 summit.

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Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte shakes hands with President Trump on June, 8 2018, in La Malbaie, Canada at the G-7 summit.

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President Trump holds a joint news conference at the White House Monday, along with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. The president is likely to be asked about his threat to shut down the government if Congress fails to fund his border wall, as well as the criminal trial of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, which starts Tuesday in Virginia.

Trump renewed his demand for border wall funding as well as changes to U.S. immigration law in a tweet Sunday, saying “I would be willing to ‘shut down’ government if the Democrats do not give us the votes for Border Security.” Republicans, who hold majorities in both the House and Senate, have not been able to pass the immigration changes the president wants. And GOP leaders in Congress are reluctant to see a government shutdown this fall, just weeks ahead of the midterm elections.

Manafort’s trial is also a likely topic for questions during the president’s news conference, although the charges against Manafort do not directly involve Trump. Manafort, who led the Trump campaign for five months in 2016, is charged with bank fraud and filing false tax returns. He allegedly steered tens of millions of dollars into offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes on money he made working for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.

The judge in the case has previously suggested prosecutors are pursuing Manafort in hopes he’ll provide damaging information about Trump. Manafort is also facing a second trial in Washington, D.C.

Monday’s news conference follows a White House meeting that Trump is hosting with the Italian prime minister. Conte shares Trump’s populist tendencies as well as his skepticism about immigration. Conte was the only G-7 leader to embrace Trump’s call to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin back into the diplomatic club — an idea that was quickly quashed by other G-7 countries.

While Trump and Conte are potential allies, Italy has failed to boost its defense spending to levels the president wants. Last year, Italy devoted about 1.35 percent of its overall economy to defense, roughly the same level as Germany.

Trump may also use the news conference to tout some positive economic news. Last week the Commerce Department reported that the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 4.1 percent between April and June. That’s the fastest pace in almost four years, though it’s not clear whether that signals the beginning of a sustained acceleration in growth or just a temporary “sugar high” from tax cuts and increased government spending.

Offensive Tweets Remind Major Leaguers That On Social Media, The Past Is Never Past

Jul 30, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Offensive Tweets Remind Major Leaguers That On Social Media, The Past Is Never Past

Atlanta Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb takes a seat on the bench after losing his bid for a no-hitter in the ninth inning Sunday. Shortly after that home game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Braves released a statement calling Newcomb’s old tweets “hurtful and incredibly disappointing.”

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Atlanta Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb takes a seat on the bench after losing his bid for a no-hitter in the ninth inning Sunday. Shortly after that home game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Braves released a statement calling Newcomb’s old tweets “hurtful and incredibly disappointing.”

John Bazemore/AP

For a brief while on the mound Sunday, Sean Newcomb stood atop the world. The young Atlanta Braves pitcher had thrown more than eight scoreless innings and allowed zero hits — until, with just one strike left to close it out, a line-drive single derailed his bid for the Braves’ first no-hitter in a quarter-century.

Yet even as the 25-year-old starter walked back to the bench, deflated as the crowd clapped around him, another unpleasant reality was awaiting him.

As the game unfolded, social media sleuths were unearthing and circulating several of his old tweets that used offensive language. Posted in 2011 and 2012 when Newcomb was in his late teens, the tweets featured racist and homophobic slurs, including the N-word and, more frequently, a certain other F-word.

“I just wanted to apologize for any insensitive material,” Newcomb told reporters shortly after Sunday’s game, according to The Associated Press. “It was a long time ago, six or seven years ago, saying some stupid stuff with friends.”

Newcomb’s apology for his conduct on social media wasn’t the first such sorry uttered by a major leaguer in recent weeks — or even the last that day.

Milwaukee Brewers reliever Josh Hader’s own inflammatory tweets surfaced earlier this month while he pitched in the MLB All-Star Game. The league did not fine or suspend Hader, 24, for his racist and homophobic language, which was also posted on Twitter in 2011 and 2012. Rather, officials mandated that Hader, who publicly apologized, undergo “sensitivity training” and MLB “diversity and inclusion initiatives.”

Brewers fans gave Hader a standing ovation the next time he took the mound at home, however.

By Sunday evening, the cycle of outrage and apology had reached Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner, 25, who also found his own years-old, ugly comments recirculating on social media after Newcomb’s. Turner’s tweets — also posted in 2011 and 2012 — used similarly derogatory language toward black and LGBT people.

Trea Turner of the Washington Nationals high-fives his teammates after scoring against the Miami Marlins on Friday in Miami.

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Trea Turner of the Washington Nationals high-fives his teammates after scoring against the Miami Marlins on Friday in Miami.

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“There are no excuses for my insensitive and offensive language on Twitter. I am sincerely sorry for those tweets and apologize wholeheartedly,” Turner said Sunday in a statement emailed to NPR by the Nationals organization. “I believe people who know me understand those regrettable actions do not reflect my values or who I am.”

Mike Rizzo, the Nationals’ general manager and president of baseball operations, called Turner’s tweets “inexcusable,” noting that the organization “does not condone discrimination in any form.” Nevertheless, Rizzo voiced confidence in Turner’s recent behavior.

“Trea has been a good teammate and model citizen in our clubhouse,” Rizzo said in a statement, “and these comments are not indicative of how he has conducted himself while part of our team.”

As The Washington Post notes, fan rivalries may have played a role in the revelations about Newcomb and Turner, whose Braves and Nationals compete in the same division. The newspaper observes that the past tweets were dug up by Twitter accounts apparently run by fans of the opposing clubs.

Neither the Braves nor the Nationals immediately mentioned possible punishments for their respective players.

Opinion: The EU Looks To Offshore Its Migrant Crisis. That’s A Horrifying Prospect

Jul 29, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Opinion: The EU Looks To Offshore Its Migrant Crisis. That’s A Horrifying Prospect

Isabella Alexander (@isabella_writes) is an anthropologist, writer and documentary filmmaker. She lives between the U.S., where she is a professor at Emory University, and North Africa, where her ongoing research is centered on Africa’s expanding migrant and refugee crisis and the externalization of Europe’s borders. Her latest documentary is The Burning.

African migrants climb over a metal fence that divides Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla. Since the early 1990s, Spain has built 20-foot-tall, layered border fences around its two North African enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, to help dissuade migrants from entering the cities from Morocco in the hope of reaching a better a life in Europe.

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African migrants climb over a metal fence that divides Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla. Since the early 1990s, Spain has built 20-foot-tall, layered border fences around its two North African enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, to help dissuade migrants from entering the cities from Morocco in the hope of reaching a better a life in Europe.

Santi Palacios/AP

Moneba was the chief of a hidden migrant camp in the mountains of northern Morocco. The camp was near Melilla — one of two Spanish enclaves that bring Europe’s land borders within the African continent. It was the first of many such camps in North Africa I have lived in and researched.

From the edge of the camp, where nearly 100 young men and boys from Guinea slept on the forest floor, they could see the Mediterranean below and the Spanish coast curving along its shores like a green blade of grass in the distance. At one point, in the summer of 2016, more than half of his camp was under age 16.

“I see my little brother in them,” Moneba, now 28, told me, explaining why he took so many children and teens that other chiefs turned away.

Moneba successfully crossed by boat into Spain in late 2017. His work as a day laborer makes it possible for him to send his mother and younger siblings in Guinea enough money to rent a home with “a real roof,” he said.

“Moneba means ‘one who sacrifices himself for his family,'” his mother told me during my visit this summer to her home in rural Guinea. Although it wasn’t the name she gave him, she wasn’t surprised to learn people now know him as nothing else.

Their family are Fulani, a people whose roots spread across Guinea, Ghana, Chad, Nigeria and Sudan and are estimated to number nearly 50 million. They represent the single largest population of migrants arriving in Europe from the African continent today.

Right now, more people are displaced from their home countries than at any point in recorded history — nearly one in every 112. The international laws that outline displaced people’s rights were established after World War II to address Europe’s then refugee crisis. These laws were never intended to last as long as they have or to address displacement on a global scale. The countries that signed the Geneva Convention committed to uphold basic human rights of all world citizens, including the right to seek refuge in other countries, yet they are choosing to face new waves of migration in very different ways.

U.S. Refugee Program 'In Danger' Amid Steep Drop In Refugee Arrivals, Advocates Warn

While German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened her country’s doors to a record 1 million refugees last year, U.S. President Trump lowered America’s resettlement quote to below 50,000, the lowest number in years.

More nations, including the United States, are exploring practices known as border externalization to control the flow of asylum-seekers before they reach their shores.

In the Mediterranean, ships carrying those fleeing poverty and war are being turned around in international waters. In the Spanish enclaves in Morocco, similar populations are being beaten off border fences. Both fail to give migrants the chance to apply for asylum and trap them in transit countries where their basic rights are not guaranteed. These practices, viewed by many as criminal, are seen by others as a highly successful model for border control.

Moneba, in his apartment in Spain, holds a picture of his younger brother Abdoulaye, who started his migration journey at age 12 but was killed in a detention center in Libya before ever reaching Europe.

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Moneba, in his apartment in Spain, holds a picture of his younger brother Abdoulaye, who started his migration journey at age 12 but was killed in a detention center in Libya before ever reaching Europe.

Isabella Alexander for NPR

Deadly quest for refuge

In recent years, headlines have drawn attention to migration routes like the one Moneba took. Many people die on the journey. An average of 14 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean every day in 2016, according to the United Nations refugee agency. The International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project said a record 629 died this past June alone.

These numbers are good estimates at best. As my research has shown, Mediterranean crossings are poorly reported and authorities in transit countries have incentives to underreport deaths. Three paths commonly referred to as the western (Algeria and Morocco to Spain), central (Tunisia and Libya to Italy), and eastern (Turkey to Greece) Mediterranean routes are active and deadly, raising alarm in destination countries.

Italy, Spain and Greece each receive tens of thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty across the African continent every year. Yet their individual responses to migration have begun to diverge.

Italy’s “zero tolerance”

Italy’s newly elected populist right-wing government has drawn criticism from rights groups for a “zero tolerance” approach. That includes closing ports to humanitarian rescue ships and plans to step up deportations before asylum case review.

If “more people leave, more people die,” Italy’s new Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini claimed of migrants heading to Europe. He is highlighting only the threats along the migratory route, failing to recognize any risks migrants face in their home countries, from Sudan to Syria.

'Europe Does Not See Us As Human': Stranded Refugees Struggle In Greece

In June, the humanitarian ship Aquarius — operated by the French organization SOS Mediterranée — saved 629 lives after a three-day search and rescue mission, only to spend the following 12 days in the water turned away from port after port. First Italy closed its ports, then Malta. The relief workers and rescued migrants struggled with dwindling supplies and the threat of a forced return to North Africa. Spain finally agreed to open its ports to the Aquarius on June 17.

Spain, under a new center-left administration, took its moment on the global stage to tell the world it saved one ship. But it cannot possibly save them all. Days later, 70 men, 30 women and six children drowned off the coast of Libya.

Every time a ship is turned away from European ports, those aboard are returned to countries they were fleeing.

The world’s most trafficked borders by displaced people are just beyond the international waters of the Mediterranean, and the events unfolding there raise an important question. Can European border states close their ports to those fleeing Libya, even after the EU has condemned abuse and enslavement in detention centers across the country?

Moneba (left) sleeps beside fellow migrants he calls his “brothers” in a hidden forest camp in Morocco. He was the chief of about 100 boys and young men from Guinea who hoped to reach Europe. The Spanish enclave of Melilla and the Mediterranean Sea are both visible in the distance.

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Moneba (left) sleeps beside fellow migrants he calls his “brothers” in a hidden forest camp in Morocco. He was the chief of about 100 boys and young men from Guinea who hoped to reach Europe. The Spanish enclave of Melilla and the Mediterranean Sea are both visible in the distance.

Isabella Alexander for NPR

“Regional disembarkation platforms”

In late June, European Union leaders meeting in Brussels reached a deal that threatens to solve the bloc’s migration issues by pushing them southward — effectively abandoning international commitments to basic human rights.

Here are some of the main points they agreed to:

  • Share responsibilities among member states of migrants rescued at sea.
  • Create detention centers in Europe, where migrants would wait while their asylum claims are processed.
  • Tighten the EU’s outer borders and increase deportation rates.
  • Set up centers outside the EU, where ships would disembark migrants rescued at sea, for their cases to be reviewed.
  • Increase financing for Turkey and North African transit nations to control migration to Europe.
  • Channel more government aid, and private investment, toward the “socio-economic transformation of the African continent.”

In a final statement designed to satisfy the divergent EU views, the leaders agreed to shoulder the job of handling migrants on a “voluntary basis.” Who is volunteering? That remains unanswered — though it is clear who is not.

Poland and Hungary refused to accept any new arrivals or alleviate the burden on Spain, Greece and Italy.

Italy’s Salvini ruled out opening detention centers to process asylum requests. “The only centers [Italy is] opening are those for repatriation, at least one in each region,” he said.

The EU summit statement does not specify what countries would receive aid or offshore processing centers, which it calls “regional disembarkation platforms.”

But according to an earlier document leaked before the summit by the EU commissioner in charge of migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, there were already plans under review to create these “platforms” in North Africa.

The system would allow governments to review asylum applications before migrants reach Europe. It would also trap asylum-seekers in potentially critical situations beyond the purview of the European states reviewing their cases.

In the migrant camps hidden throughout northern Morocco, many of the rocks are painted with images of successful Mediterranean crossings. This painting, by a teenager named Mustapha Bah, features a boat and the word “boza.” It is a common word used by people from different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds to describe the ultimate achievement: reaching Europe.

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In the migrant camps hidden throughout northern Morocco, many of the rocks are painted with images of successful Mediterranean crossings. This painting, by a teenager named Mustapha Bah, features a boat and the word “boza.” It is a common word used by people from different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds to describe the ultimate achievement: reaching Europe.

Isabella Alexander for NPR

Australia’s offshore model

Key parts of Europe’s new plans have a controversial precedent — in Australia.

Antony Loewenstein, a reporter who has spent the past several years investigating Europe’s move toward externalized border controls, revealed in June that officials from individual European countries and the EU had secretly met with Australian officials about their refugee policies.

As part of a complex system established by the Australian government in 2001, migrants and refugees who were imprisoned in privatized detention centers on the Australian mainland were increasingly sent to small Pacific islands that border the country — Manus in Papua New Guinea and the nation of Nauru.

Although access to these centers has been tightly controlled, reactions from the international community have grown louder as news from the inside slowly trickles out — stories of routine abuse, rape and death from beatings or suicide. Australia, which campaigned for three years to gain a seat at the United Nations Human Rights Council, received a scathing report from the council during its first week in session in 2017. In a 20-page exposé, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, detailed a system of abuse designed to punish and use migrants as an example to deter future ones.

“It is not because [the refugees] are bad people. It is because in order to stop people smugglers we [have] to deprive them of the product,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a phone call with President Trump in 2017, according to a transcript in The Washington Post. The product he was referring to is their basic right to seek asylum.

According to Loewenstein’s reporting, European officials were looking to adopt a similar practice.

If Australia, a democratic nation signatory to international human rights conventions, has successfully outsourced its processing centers with no concrete outside intervention, what is to stop Europe, which receives significantly more migrants, from doing so?

European leaders have an opportunity to learn from Australia’s human rights failings and avoid the potentially catastrophic consequences of establishing similar processing centers outside of the bloc in North Africa.

Already, rights experts and nongovernmental organizations have called attention to the contradictions in Europe’s outsourcing its migration enforcement. “Just a few months ago, European governments were condemning reports of slave markets in Libya. Today they don’t seem to hesitate in trapping them there,” Doctors Without Borders said.

Building detention centers in Morocco or Algeria, which have received less negative press than Libya in the past months, would also mean trapping vulnerable populations in countries with sordid human rights records, tight bans over foreign media and international NGOs and a practice of illicitly “deporting” migrants to the desert.

“The primary cause for the massive abuse suffered by migrants in all regions of the world, including torture, rape, enslavement, trafficking, and murder is neither migration itself, nor organised crime, or the corruption of individual officials,” wrote Melzer in his exposé. Instead, it is “the growing tendency of States to base their official migration policies and practices on deterrence, criminalisation, and discrimination, rather than protection, human rights, and non-discrimination.”

Europe’s populist leaders have continued to use sensationalized, often xenophobic rhetoric about impoverished immigrants flooding in.

But the numbers of migrants entering Europe has actually fallen from their 2015 record.

“This is not a migration crisis, this is a political crisis,” the outgoing head of the EU presidency, Bulgaria’s Boyko Borissov, reminded leaders in his remarks at the end of the summit. “There are 90 percent fewer migrants than two years ago.” According to U.N. data, fewer than 45,000 migrants have made it to the EU this year.

Migrants aboard the Open Arms aid boat, run by Spanish humanitarian group Proactiva Open Arms, react as the ship approaches the port of Barcelona, Spain, on July 4. The aid boat sailed to Spain with 60 migrants rescued in waters near Libya, after it was turned away by both Italy and Malta.

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Migrants aboard the Open Arms aid boat, run by Spanish humanitarian group Proactiva Open Arms, react as the ship approaches the port of Barcelona, Spain, on July 4. The aid boat sailed to Spain with 60 migrants rescued in waters near Libya, after it was turned away by both Italy and Malta.

Olmo Calvo/AP

Give a voice to the migrants

These days, Moneba occasionally finds work as a day laborer picking fruit on a farm. He shares a small apartment with three other undocumented migrants on the outskirts of Barcelona. He says his younger brother Abdoulaye was not as fortunate. Abdoulaye made multiple attempts to escape Libya but was forced to return again and again to a Libyan detention center, where, Moneba says, he was eventually beaten to death.

Abdoulaye was 12 years old when he left home. His mother told me she remembered how Moneba begged him not to follow him, crying and shouting at him, “I sacrificed myself so that you don’t have to take the same risks with your life!”

The voices of youths like Abdoulaye were absent from debates across Europe last month. I can’t help but think how powerful their stories would be in proving the dangers of border externalization, before it becomes the new approach to managing global migration flows.

Agreements between Australia and its barrier islands have modeled those written between Morocco and Spain, and between the EU and Turkey. It is easy to imagine the influence this trend could soon have on the U.S. relationship with Mexico and Central American nations farther south. Already, the U.S. has invested heavily in Mexico to bolster its migration enforcement to stop Central American asylum-seekers from coming north.

With populism on the rise around the world, and with the number of individuals displaced by conflict, poverty and climate change projected to grow in coming years, the points of agreement reached at the summit last month will be some of the most pressing challenges we meet as a global community. There is no easy solution, but having conducted research on migration, embedded with smuggling rings and lived in migrant camps, since 2007, I know that pushing European border controls and asylum processing centers south will not solve the problem.

Seeking asylum in foreign countries is a basic human right guaranteed under international law to those fleeing the African continent as much as it is those fleeing the Middle East and elsewhere. At the very least, it is our global responsibility to ensure that migration journeys do not trap individuals in destinations as dangerous as, or more than, those they are fleeing.

Zimbabwe’s Rickety Trains Get A Boost From Expat Investors Next Door

Jul 29, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Zimbabwe’s Rickety Trains Get A Boost From Expat Investors Next Door

Passengers disembark from a train in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

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Passengers disembark from a train in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

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On a recent Friday afternoon, 30-year-old Sidumiso Nyoni took the train from her home in rural Nyamandhlovu, Zimbabwe, to the industrial city of Bulawayo to visit family. It’s a distance of only 25 miles, but she says the roads are in such bad shape that the train is the only option. The ride isn’t long, but the schedule is completely unpredictable.

“The train doesn’t have a specific time at which it comes,” she says. Sometimes she says she’ll arrive at the station for a 7 a.m. train and “it ends up spoiling the rest of your day, because the train comes in the afternoon.”

Sidumiso Nyoni, 30, took the train from her home in rural Nyamandhlovu, Zimbabwe, to the industrial city of Bulawayo to visit family. “The train doesn’t have a specific time at which it comes,” she says.

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Sidumiso Nyoni, 30, took the train from her home in rural Nyamandhlovu, Zimbabwe, to the industrial city of Bulawayo to visit family. “The train doesn’t have a specific time at which it comes,” she says.

Claire Harbage/NPR

There’s an apocryphal quip about Italy’s ruthless dictator Benito Mussolini: “At least Mussolini made the trains run on time.”

Mugabe's Gone, But Zimbabwe Still Has A Serious Cash Shortage

That dubious maxim does not apply to Zimbabwe former authoritarian leader Robert Mugabe. Under Mugabe, who ruled the country from 1980 until last November, the trains were emphatically not on time. The railway system was a symptom of the broader collapse of the country’s economy.

A network that in the late 1990s moved 18 million tons of coal, precious metals, agricultural goods and other freight a year at its peak moved about 3 million tons in 2016, according to the state-run National Railways of Zimbabwe. These days, instead of a modern signaling system, train conductors communicate by radio or even using the smartphone messaging app WhatsApp. National Railways of Zimbabwe spokesman Nyasha Maravanyika says that can leave one train waiting an hour for another to pass.

National Railways of Zimbabwe spokesman Nyasha Maravanyika stands in the Bulawayo train station.

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National Railways of Zimbabwe spokesman Nyasha Maravanyika stands in the Bulawayo train station.

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There’s a new plan in the works to get the rail system back up to snuff, with a $400 million investment, led by a group of Zimbabwean expat investors living in South Africa. It is being touted by Emmerson Mnangagwa, who replaced Mugabe as president with the military’s backing, as an example of the investment his “open for business” policies will attract. If successful, it will be one small part of a broad array of interventions needed to revive the country’s economy. That is the key challenge facing whoever wins Zimbabwe’s presidential election on Monday.

Mugabe’s government wreaked havoc on the Zimbabwean economy. Now, Mugabe is gone, but the economy — and key infrastructure like the railways — is still in a perilous state.

“It is a huge challenge,” says Gene Leon, mission chief for Zimbabwe at the International Monetary Fund. “We should not underestimate it.”

The front entrance to the Bulawayo train station.

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The front entrance to the Bulawayo train station.

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The IMF and the World Bank have identified reforming state-owned enterprises like the national railways as a key area of financial reform for Zimbabwe. Many have operated at a loss, and they’ve been a drag on the state’s budget.

“We need to privatize what can be privatized, commercialize those that can be commercialized,” says Prosper Chitambara, a Zimbabwean economist who focuses on development.

He says Zimbabwe’s outreach efforts to international investors have produced interest but not much investment yet.

“We are in desperate need of capital, yet foreign business is not yet prepared to invest in this kind of environment, where there are uncertainties, where there is the risk of instability.”

The National Railways of Zimbabwe system map hangs in the office at the Bulawayo station.

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The National Railways of Zimbabwe system map hangs in the office at the Bulawayo station.

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The need for international investment has caught on among at least one key group: Zimbabweans abroad.

Politics In Zimbabwe Has A New Soundtrack

Take Donovan Chimhandamba. Born in Zimbabwe, he moved to South Africa at age 22 after graduating university and worked in engineering before moving into finance.

Now he’s the executive chairman of the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group.

Donovan Chimhandamba, a Zimbabwean expat, is now the executive chairman of the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group.

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Donovan Chimhandamba, a Zimbabwean expat, is now the executive chairman of the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group.

Claire Harbage/NPR

Last year, in partnership with the South African rail company Transnet, the group won a bid to recapitalize Zimbabwe’s railway.

Survivors Of Political Violence 'Will Make Sure There's Peace' In Zimbabwe's Election

The first phase, being finalized now, will put $400 million into the system. Chimhandamba says that will go to basic investments to start to rebuild capacity — more trains, fixing damaged track, improving the signaling systems for how trains communicate, even electric lighting at trainyards.

“You walk into some of these yards they’re like graveyards,” says Chimhandamba. The plan is that this will get the system’s capacity up to 8 million tons a year — more than double its current level, but still far short of its peak in the late 1990s. The National Railways of Zimbabwe estimates it will ultimately require $1.7 billion to modernize and restore full capacity.

An NRZ employee checks to make sure the train cars are in working order while the train stops in Bulawayo.

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An NRZ employee checks to make sure the train cars are in working order while the train stops in Bulawayo.

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In return, DIDG and Transnet will run the railways in partnership with the public National Railways of Zimbabwe, for the next 25 years. DIDG is banking on being able to manage their own revenue and expenses, and run the train more like a private company, without government interference.

DIDG won the bid for this project under Mugabe, but Chimhandamba says doing business in Zimbabwe has changed radically since Mnangagwa and his “open for business” mantra started running things. He says license approvals that used to take months now happen in a week. “You’re working with a government that’s desperate to make things work,” Chimhandamba says. He says it’s like going from the dinosaur ages to 2050 overnight.

Still, even if this project is successful, it’s a tiny fraction of the international investment and economic growth Zimbabwe needs.

Benches in a waiting area at the Bulawayo train station.

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Benches in a waiting area at the Bulawayo train station.

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And economists say a successful election on Monday will be a crucial prerequisite for any economic recovery. It’s less about who wins — the most recent poll shows incumbent Mnangagwa with a narrow lead over opposition candidate Nelson Chamisa — and more about avoiding the violence and allegations of rigging that plagued votes under Mugabe.

Other countries see free, fair and credible elections as “a litmus test for engagement with Zimbabwe,” says Leon of the IMF.

Chimhandamba is optimistic that the changes he’s seen are permanent, regardless of who wins.

“I think we have paid our school fees,” he says, “and I don’t see anyone having the ability like the former president [Mugabe] had in terms of pushing through an agenda that is not beneficial to Zimbabwe.”

Whoever wins, he says, “I see a different Zimbabwe.”

A sign hangs from the train station roof in Bulawayo.

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A sign hangs from the train station roof in Bulawayo.

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  • NPT: 2018-10-19 12:46 AM
  • EDT: 2018-10-18 03:01 PM
  • PDT: 2018-10-18 12:01 PM