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To quell COVID-19 outbreak, South Korea bans seating at big cafés

To quell COVID-19 outbreak, South Korea bans seating at big cafés

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Jason Strother

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A worker disinfects as a precaution against the coronavirus at a café in Goyang, South Korea, Aug. 25, 2020.  

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Ahn Young-joon/AP

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South Korea is trying to stop a new surge of COVID-19 infections. And now, after restricting access to churches, health authorities are targeting another sacred institution: the coffee shop.

Cafés in downtown Seoul were nearly empty during lunch hour on Monday. These businesses are usually filled with office workers who drop in for a cup of their favorite brew and chat with colleagues before heading back to their jobs.

But as of this week, all franchise coffee shops in the capital region are prohibited from seating customers, who now can only get their caffeine fix on the go. 

Coffee shops have recently come under scrutiny after at least 66 coronavirus cases were traced back to a Starbucks location north of Seoul last month, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). The new seating ban applies only to franchises, not independent shops — sparking some critics to question whether the restrictions go far enough.

At one café located on the ground floor of an office building, strips of yellow and black tape cordoned off tables and chairs this week. Staff take customers’ temperatures at the door and register their names and contact information using a QR code scanner.

After placing their orders, guests wait for the barista to call out their receipt number and then promptly leave with beverage in hand.

Related: South Koreans are blaming a controversial church for new COVID-19 outbreak

‘Flatten the curve’

Of the 19,947 COVID-19 cases that the KCDC has recorded since January, nearly 25% were identified in the last month, according to the latest government data.

Throughout the pandemic, South Korea has placed relatively minimal restrictions on private businesses; there was never a lockdown, as in the United States and many other nations. But in recent weeks, some local governments have ordered the closure of venues where people cannot safely physically distance, including churches, fitness centers and karaoke parlors.

Now officials hope they can stop the virus from spreading out of control, in part by preventing customers from gathering inside some of Seoul’s thousands of beloved coffee shops.

“We believe that this week going forward is a very critical moment in determining if we can flatten the curve or not in the future,” Yoon Tae-ho, an official the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said during a televised briefing on Monday.

He urged the Seoul metro area’s roughly 25 million residents to put their lives on standstill for the rest of the week.

“Refrain from going outdoors, cancel your meetings and also minimize physical contact with others aside from your family members,” Yoon said.

Officials are expected to decide by the weekend whether to impose stricter social distancing measures. 

‘People have let their guard down’

South Korea is one of the world’s biggest coffee importers, according to industry data. Nationwide, there are some 66,000 cafés, many of which are located in Seoul. And the capital is reportedly home to the highest number of Starbucks franchises of any city across the globe.

The cluster of cases from last month’s outbreak at a franchise scared away some customers at venues all around the country, such as Kim Min-kyeong, who says she had been dropping by cafés almost every day with colleagues or friends. She now says she feels these businesses are “dangerous.”

“It’s a good idea to ban seating,” said the 38-year-old who works for her family’s meat-importing business in Seoul. “People have let their guard down, especially at cafés, and everyone talks without wearing masks.”

“Everyone talks without wearing masks.”

Kim Min-kyeong, Seoul resident

Kim says she’ll mainly order from coffee shops that deliver — until it feels safer to return in person.

Restrictions ‘for show’?

Working and socializing inside coffee shops is a big part of Korean culture, explains Lee Tae-ha, who runs a public relations firm in Seoul and monitors trends in the food services sector.

He says cafés are among the country’s most common small businesses. Yet he points out that, because of the stiff competition, many weren’t doing so well even before the pandemic.

Lee suspects that’s why the government only applied the seating ban to franchises, whose parent companies are often large conglomerates. 

“Franchises are resilient,” Lee says. “I think the government was trying to protect small businesses.”

Under this week’s new provisions, restaurants and local cafés must close their doors by 9 p.m. But from a public health point of view, Lee questions why authorities are restricting access to the big coffee shops while still permitting guests to meet in local cafés and bakeries. He calls this a “policy blindspot.” 

“If you go to a bakery shop, there are so many people,” Lee says. “Bakeries sell coffee, too.”

Related: Drones light up the sky in Seoul with coronavirus prevention messages

Some small business owners also question the practicality of Seoul’s restrictions. “It’s just for show,” says the owner of a café and sandwich shop in Seoul, who out of privacy concerns did not give his name.

He had already taken out a bank loan to pay staff salaries. And he questioned how much longer shops like his can survive the pandemic.

“The government should just close everything down for two or three weeks” to get the outbreak under control, he says, adding that maybe this solution would bring everything back to “normal.”

European students return to class; King Salman sacks Saudi commander; Hotel Rwanda figure arrested abroad

European students return to class; King Salman sacks Saudi commander; Hotel Rwanda figure arrested abroad

By
The World staff

Secondary school students play in the courtyard at the College Henri Matisse school during its reopening in Nice as French children return to their schools after the summer break.

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Eric Gaillard/Reuters

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Top of The World — our morning news roundup written by editors at The World. Subscribe here.

With summer break coming to an end, schools across Europe are reopening. Millions of school children returned to school on Tuesday, wearing masks but also eager to be acquainted with friends after a long hiatus. Many parents anxiously sent their previously home-bound pupils off to classrooms with more social distancing and sanitization than ever before.

In France alone, more than 12 million students headed back for mandatory in-person classes. First-day excitement carried more fear than usual, after the pandemic upended the previous academic year. “I know we are being careful,” said parent Jerome Continent in the Paris suburb of Roissy-en-Brie. “The children also have to live.” French authorities are reporting a bigger uptick in coronavirus infections than any neighboring countries. But officials are hoping that plastic shields around desks and omnipresent virus warning signs will stem the spread of COVID-19 among youth.

French schools can adapt in case of a surge in local coronavirus cases by limiting attendance for a few days or weeks and, in the event of a major regional outbreak, schools can close temporarily. The WHO warned Monday that though the virus remains a major threat, school closures have impacted children’s mental health and social development, particularly for those from low-income families, with disabilities or in an abusive home environment.

But experts say the risk depends on how widespread the coronavirus is in a community and what safety measures are taken.

What The World is following

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has sacked the commander of his country’s troops in Yemen. A royal decree issued early on Tuesday and carried by Saudi state media referred Prince Fahd, also a member of the royal family, to an anti-corruption watchdog for a graft investigation. The intention, according to a letter from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was to probe “suspicious financial transactions at the defence ministry.”

Paul Rusesabagina, who helped hundreds of his countrymen survive the Rwandan genocide, was arrested on terror-related offenses, officials in Kigali announced on Monday. Rusesabagina was kidnapped while in Dubai, his daughter said. The good Samaritan has lived abroad for decades and became known as a regular critic of President Paul Kagame.

And French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo is this week reprinting cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, just as accomplices in the 2015 attack on its office are due to begin trial on Wednesday. That massacre, led by Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, left a dozen people dead, including some of France’s most notable — and controversial — cartoonists.

From The WorldFive years after migrant crisis, integration in Germany is succeeding, policy analyst says

Syrian refugee Anas Modamani takes a selfie with German Chancellor Angela Merkel outside a refugee camp near the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees after registration at Berlin’s Spandau district, Germany, on September 10, 2015. 

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Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

Five years ago, German chancellor Angela Merkel made what would become a famous speech in which she reiterated that migrants and refugees were welcome in Germany.

“I’ll put it simply: Germany is a strong country…we can do this,” she said. Critics said this statement, which triggered a groundswell of xenophobia, would be her undoing.

But many of her critics’ worst predictions on Europe’s migrant crisis have not come to pass, says Constanze Stelzenmüller, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

It’s official: Women are better leaders in a pandemic

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern smiles during a news conference, March 13, 2020.

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Martin Hunter/Reuters

What do countries with the best coronavirus responses have in common? Women in charge.

And few could argue with the fact that New Zealand led by Jacinda Ardern, and Germany with Angela Merkel, have seen markedly low fatality rates from the virus. Taiwan, under the presidency of Tsai Ing-Wen, performed well, too.

A new analysis of 194 countries found that women-led nations have a better handle on the coronavirus pandemic. Not only were infection rates generally lower; average fatality rates were also noticeably lower, too.

Bright spot

Lego is rolling out new building blocks that aspire to be fun and playful in a slightly different way: Braille Bricks. They’re designed to help children who are blind or visually impaired learn the Braille system of reading and writing, where characters of the alphabet are represented by raised dots.

After a pilot program last year, Lego is launching the bricks in seven countries, including the United States, France, Germany, Brazil, the UK, Denmark, and Norway. There are plans to expand to 20 more countries next year.

The concept behind Lego Braille Bricks was first proposed to the Lego Foundation in 2011 by the Danish Association of the Blind and again in 2017 by the Brazilian-based Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind.

Credit:

Lego

In case you missed itListen: Historic flight between Israel and the UAE lands in Abu Dhabi

An official stands at the door of an Israeli El Al airliner after it landed in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020.

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Nir Elias/Pool Photo via AP

Direct Israel-UAE flight makes historic first. Plus, the US and four English-speaking allies have shared intelligence for decades through an alliance called the “Five Eyes.” Now Japan is lobbying to join in. And, a new report from international crime fighters Interpol has found that illegal plastic dumping has sharply increased in the last two years.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The World’s Latest Edition podcast using your favorite podcast player: RadioPublicApple PodcastsStitcherSoundcloudRSS.

Five years after migrant crisis, integration in Germany is succeeding, policy analyst says

Five years after migrant crisis, integration in Germany is succeeding, policy analyst says

By
The World staff

Producer
Daniel Ofman

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Syrian refugee Anas Modamani takes a selfie with German Chancellor Angela Merkel outside a refugee camp near the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees after registration at Berlin’s Spandau district, Germany, on September 10, 2015. 

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Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

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In 2015, hundreds of thousands of people were on the move from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria and turning to Europe as they sought safer and more stable futures.

Germany took in more than 1.7 million asylum-seekers that year. And five years ago today, German chancellor Angela Merkel made what would become a famous speech in which she reiterated that migrants and refugees were welcome in Germany.

“I’ll put it simply: Germany is a strong country…we can do this,” she said. 

Critics said this statement, which triggered a groundswell of xenophobia, would be her undoing. They argued it would open the door to terrorism, right-wing extremism in politics, and general divisions within the German population and Europe overall. 

Five years later, critics’ worst predictions have not come to pass. And while Merkel’s popularity took a hit, it has risen again throughout the pandemic.

The World’s host Carol Hills checked in on what’s happened to Merkel and the so-called “migrant crisis” with Constanze Stelzenmüller, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who focuses on German and European foreign policy.

Related: Survey: Despite crisis, most Europeans still welcome refugees

Carol Hills: Constanze, bring us back to 2015, when Merkel made that statement. What was the situation at the time in terms of the migrant crisis?

Constanze Stelzenmüller: I was mesmerized by what seemed like an absolutely historical immigration challenge for Germany and mesmerized also by the generosity of the response. And I don’t just mean the chancellor’s memorable words — for which, of course, she was castigated — but I realized that many of my friends and acquaintances were trying to help out. This was people who had 24/7 jobs in national policymaking who were volunteering in refugee shelters, to the 82-year-old mother of a friend of mine, a retired gynecologist in the former eastern Germany, who said to her son, “Well, somebody is going to have to take care of these ladies,” and reinserted herself into the workforce. So there was a general atmosphere of people rolling up their sleeves and saying, “Let’s try and get to grips with it.” But it did, of course, become apparent that there were real problems with us as well. 

So what was the backlash, and how did Merkel respond? 

There was reasonable criticism by many, it has to be said, that, while, German civil society was responding in the sort of energetic and cheerful ways that I’ve just described, German government institutions seem to be much more overwhelmed, seemed to be faltering in addressing this challenge. And this gave a completely new breath of energy and malignant force to Germany’s populist parties, in particular the Alternative for Germany, a relatively small, mildly Eurosceptic party that had been formed in 2013 and that suddenly ramped up everywhere, based on really viciously xenophobic and ethno-nationalist messaging. There was a sudden and very serious groundswell of anger against Chancellor Merkel. There was a movement on the right wing of her Christian Democratic Party called MMW for short — Merkel Muss Weg, or Merkel Must Go — and for a while, it seemed as though that was going to muster a very serious challenge to her authority. 

How did she respond?  

Well, famously, she said, if we can’t accept that we are large and wealthy enough to handle this kind of a refugee influx, then this is no longer my country. That angered many, many people. And the truth is, five years later, we’re seeing that the worst of the predictions have not come to pass. We have not had significant foreign radical terrorist attacks. We have seen some immigrant crime, but my understanding is that immigrant crime numbers are below the domestic crime numbers. There are actually a great number of success stories. In other words, the integration of those who were eligible to stay because there were genuine political refugees, I think, is now a more or less unqualified success. 

Since 2015, how did Merkel’s approach to admitting asylum-seekers change?  

Interestingly, Merkel, who is a very canny, shrewd political operator, stuck to her guns saying, we can do this and we should not change our rules or close our borders. De facto, that is exactly what we did. The border closings really happened all across Europe and then Merkel negotiated a bilateral treaty with Turkey that amounted to a promise by Turkey to keep the bulk of Middle Eastern refugees in Turkey in exchange for billions of euros in economic support. So far, it seems to have worked, and the influx of new migration to Europe and Germany is much much lower than it was five years ago. Obviously, that also has something to do with the pandemic. 

Five years on, Angela Merkel won’t be seeking another term. She’s likely to be stepping down in 2021. How is she viewed in Germany today? Broadly, is she admired or just sort of tolerated? What’s the general sense of her?   

Merkel’s popularity went down in national polls when it became clear that this influx of a million or more refugees in 2015 would be much more difficult than everybody thought at the beginning. Now, five years later, we’re in the middle of a pandemic but Merkel’s popularity is greater than it’s ever been. It’s really interesting. I think that she will go out on a very high note. And by the way, she has said that she is not running again in 2021, and I think we have every reason to believe her. She is not needy, unlike many other politicians, and I think she will calmly go into the sunset. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Poets and novelists have basically been writing about life under COVID-19 for more than a century

Poets and novelists have basically been writing about life under COVID-19 for more than a century

From 'islands of pain' to the 'peril of exposure,' writers have captured the fear, emptiness and despair that characterize life during the current pandemic, writes a poet and English scholar.

By
Rachel Hadas

From ‘islands of pain’ to the ‘peril of exposure,’ writers have captured the fear, emptiness and despair that characterize life during the current pandemic, writes a poet and English scholar.

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Marco Rosario Venturini Autieri/Getty

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Pondering the former Dixie Chicks – renamed “The Chicks” – Amanda Petrusich wrote in a recent issue of the New Yorker, “Lately, I’ve caught myself referring to a lot of new releases as prescient – work that was written and recorded months or even years ago but feels designed to address the present moment. But good art is always prescient, because good artists are tuned into the currency and the momentum of their time.”

That last phrase about currency and momentum recalls Hamlet’s advice to the actors visiting the court of Elsinore to show “the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.” The shared idea here is that good art gives a clear picture of what is happening – even, as Petrusich suggests, if it hadn’t happened yet when that art was created.

Good artists seem, in our alarming and prolonged time (I was going to write moment, but it has come to feel like a lot more than that), to be leaping over months, decades and centuries, to speak directly to us now.

‘Riding into the bottomless abyss’

Some excellent COVID-19-inflected or anticipatory work I’ve been noticing dates from the mid-20th century. Of course, one could go a lot further back, for example to the lines from the closing speech in “King Lear”: “The weight of this sad time we must obey.” Here, though, are a few more recent examples.

Marcel Proust wrote that in wartime Paris, ‘all the hotels … had closed. The same was true of almost all the shops, the shop-keepers … having fled to the country, and left the usual handwritten notes announcing that they would reopen.’

Credit:

 L. Bombard, from L’Illustrazione Italiana/Getty

Marcel Proust’s “Finding Time Again,” an evocation of wartime Paris from 1916, strongly suggests New York City in March 2020: “Out on the street where I found myself, some distance from the centre of the city, all the hotels … had closed. The same was true of almost all the shops, the shop-keepers, either because of a lack of staff or because they themselves had taken fright, having fled to the country, and left the usual handwritten notes announcing that they would reopen, although even that seemed problematic, at some date far in the future. The few establishments which had managed to survive similarly announced that they would open only twice a week.”

I recently stumbled on finds from the 1958 edition of Oscar Williams’ “The Pocket Book of Modern Verse” – both, strikingly, from poems by writers not now principally remembered as poets. Whereas a fair number of the poets anthologized by Williams have slipped into oblivion, Arthur Waley and Julian Symons speak to us now, to our sad time, loud and clear.

From Waley’s “Censorship” (1940):

It is not difficult to censor foreign news.
What is hard to-say is to censor one’s own thoughts,-
To sit by and see the blind man
On the sightless horse, riding into the bottomless abyss.

And from Symons’ “Pub,” which Williams doesn’t date but which I am assuming also comes from the war years:

The houses are shut and the people go home, we are left in
Our island of pain, the clocks start to move and the powerful
To act, there is nothing now, nothing at all
To be done: for the trouble is real: and the verdict is final
Against us.

‘Return to what remains’

In an 1897 novel, Henry James wrote ‘She couldn’t leave her own house without peril of exposure. 

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Hulton Archive/Getty

Dipping a bit further back, into Henry James’ “The Spoils of Poynton” from 1897, I was struck by a sentence I hadn’t remembered, or had failed to notice, when I first read that novella decades ago: “She couldn’t leave her own house without peril of exposure.” James uses infection as a metaphor; but what happens to a metaphor when we’re living in a world where we literally can’t leave our houses without peril of exposure?

In Anthony Powell’s novel “Temporary Kings,” set in the 1950s, the narrator muses about what it is that attracts people to reunions with old comrades-in-arms from the war. But the idea behind the question “How was your war?” extends beyond shared military experience: “When something momentous like a war has taken place, all existence turned upside down, personal life discarded, every relationship reorganized, there is a temptation, after all is over, to return to what remains … pick about among the bent and rusting composite parts, assess merits and defects.”

The pandemic is still taking place. It’s too early to “return to what remains.” But we can’t help wanting to think about exactly that. Literature helps us to look – as Hamlet said – before and after.

This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news organization dedicated to unlocking ideas from academia, under a Creative Commons license.

Lego to launch Braille Bricks for children with visual impairments

Lego to launch Braille Bricks for children with visual impairments

The toys are designed to help children who are blind or visually impaired learn the Braille system of reading and writing, where characters of the alphabet are represented by raised dots.

Producer
Amanda McGowan

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The concept behind Lego Braille Bricks was first proposed to the Lego Foundation in 2011 by the Danish Association of the Blind and again in 2017 by the Brazilian-based Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind.

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Lego is rolling out some new building blocks that aspire to be fun and playful in a slightly different way: Braille Bricks.

They’re designed to help children who are blind or visually impaired learn the Braille system of reading and writing, where characters of the alphabet are represented by raised dots.

Related: Helping the blind ‘see’ the solar eclipse

After a pilot program last year, Lego is launching the bricks in seven countries, including the United States, France, Germany, Brazil, the UK, Denmark, and Norway. There are plans to expand to 20 more countries next year.

“The Braille cell is built up of six dots, so it’s always been obvious that a Lego brick looks like a Braille cell,” said Stine Storm, the senior play and health specialist at the Lego Foundation in Billund, Denmark.

On the new Braille Bricks, the “studs” on each brick are configured to correspond precisely with letters or numbers in the Braille alphabet.

Each kit will contain 300+ Lego Braille Bricks covering the full alphabet in the chosen language, numbers 0-9, and select mathematical symbols and punctuation marks.

Credit:

Lego

“You can put the letters together to make words and sentences of course, and this is the beauty of it,” Storm said. “The toolkit contains a lot of bricks so you can in theory write and make long sentences, and perform math exercises, and so on.”

The blocks are also printed with the corresponding letter or number so that students who are blind or visually impaired can learn and play alongside their sighted peers. The new bricks — which were developed and tested in conjunction with blindness organizations — also fit together with existing Lego bricks.

“You can teach a sighted child along with a blind child, and achieve what we want, which is inclusion,” Storm added. “A blind child can also achieve a breadth of skills through this interaction with their peers.”

“You can teach a sighted child along with a blind child, and achieve what we want, which is inclusion.”

Stine Storm, senior play and health specialist, Lego Foundation

The Braille Bricks will not yet be available for purchase in stores but instead will be provided free of charge to schools and institutions that work with children who could benefit from them.

Braille Bricks is an effort by Lego Group and the Lego Foundation, which aims to inspire the builders of tomorrow by redefining play and reimagining learning.

It’s official: Women are better leaders in a pandemic

It's official: Women are better leaders in a pandemic

A new analysis of 194 countries found that women-led nations have a better handle on the coronavirus pandemic. Not only were infection rates generally lower; fatality rates were also noticeably lower, too.

By
Orla Barry

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern holds up a card showing a new alert system for COVID-19, Saturday, March 21, 2020, in Wellington, New Zealand. 

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Pandemic learning in Mexico requires thinking outside the screen

Pandemic learning in Mexico requires thinking outside the screen

Millions of schoolchildren across Mexico began the academic year this week in front of a TV. But teachers in Oaxaca say televised classes won’t meet fundamental educational needs and many families lack the technology to keep up, deepening Mexico's socioeconomic divide.

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Shannon Young

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Santi, 6, follows a televised kindergarten lesson in his home as students return to classes but not schools in Mexico City, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020. 

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Millions of schoolchildren across Mexico began the academic year this week in front of a screen — not with interactive online classes with a teacher, but with prerecorded programs on TV. It’s part of a distance learning effort announced by federal officials earlier this month. 

Mexico’s government has signed agreements with the country’s largest TV networks to open up new digital channels to beam distance learning programs into student homes. 

“This isn’t being done in any other country in the world; we’re pioneers,” said Mexico’s president Andrés Manual López Obrador when the deal was announced earlier this month. 

Related: Mexico City architect reads stories to children in empty public square

When the federal Secretary of Education canceled in-person classes back in mid-March, few imagined the pandemic would still be active by the start of the school year. Education Secretary Esteban Moctezuma Barragán says keeping 40 million students home now “allows the pandemic to be manageable for hospitals.” 

But many teachers say televised classes won’t meet fundamental educational needs and large areas of the country lack the technology to keep up with distance learning. They warn that without viable alternatives, Mexico’s socioeconomic discrepancies will widen. 

Monserrat Medina Zentella attends school via the internet, amid the new coronavirus pandemic, from her home in Mexico City, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020. 

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Marco Ugarte/AP

Related: Global education in the age of COVID-19 

Secretary Moctezuma Barragán and other officials argue that TV is a more accessible medium than the internet, pointing to studies that show TVs are in 9 out of 10 Mexican homes. Prior to his role as Mexico’s top education official, Moctezuma Barragán worked as an executive for the owner of the country’s second-largest TV network. 

TV ownership is lower than the national average in southern states, like Oaxaca. Census data shows nearly 1 in 4 homes in Oaxaca do not have a functional TV set. In the neighboring state of Chiapas, another survey found TV ownership to be even lower. Some families have pawned their electronics since the start of the pandemic.

An electronics store and bank owned by billionaire Ricardo Salinas Pliego, owner of Mexico’s second largest TV network, sells TVs with the option to buy with monthly installments. 

Credit:

Shannon Young/The World 

Even in households that do own sets, reception for free channels can be spotty. Many people contract with cable or satellite services to improve reception. Others like Adriana Madrazo, whose son is to begin kindergarten in Oaxaca this year, use their TVs as plug-in monitors for viewing online videos. 

Education officials publicized the broadcast schedule for classes on free and paid TV, but were vague on details about on-demand or streaming options. On the first day, Madrazo went to the Education Secretariat’s Facebook page and ended up in the comments section with hundreds of other confused parents. The Education Secretariat is now posting video lessons to a YouTube channel.

Madrazo says information about where to find the online component “has been more through word-of-mouth.”

Her 5-year-old son Zaín is enrolled in kindergarten, but parents at the school are awaiting details on if or how school via TV will factor into the school year. 

“In the government press conferences, they’ve been announcing the program itself but not really giving details…We don’t know the substance of the programming, the themes to be covered, how long it’s supposed to last, who is giving the classes, what the evaluation methods are. There’s not really a set program to follow.”

Adriana Madrazo, parent, Oaxaca, Mexico

“In the government press conferences, they’ve been announcing the program itself but not really giving details … We don’t know the substance of the programming, the themes to be covered, how long it’s supposed to last, who is giving the classes, what the evaluation methods are. There’s not really a set program to follow,” she said. 

Zaín Méndez Madrazo and his parents in the garden they started during their month of confinement. 

Credit:

Shannon Young/The World 

During their months of confinement, the family started a garden and began raising turkeys, chickens and ducks. Madrazo says caring for other living beings is what most captures her son’s attention. 

Her biggest concern is that Zaín, an only child, has not had regular contact with other kids his age since mid-March. She’s looking to form a small group with like-minded parents. 

Thinking outside the ‘box’ in Oaxaca 

The uncertainty around schooling has spurred the Oaxaca’s teachers union to dust off an education plan that emerged from a protracted fight against federal education reforms in 2016. The union says their proposal better meets the conditions within Oaxaca than the centralized federal model. 

Related: Pandemic-prompted remote education efforts get a failing grade

Oaxaca has one of the largest Indigenous populations in Mexico and is home to 16 different languages. One of Oaxaca’s unique school programs uses the bilingual Indigenous education model, which emphasizes dual language learning. Teachers with regional variants of Indigenous languages often handcraft learning materials for their students.

Federal authorities dismissed the Oaxaca teachers’ union plan in 2016, developed after months of strikes and protests to oppose a set of reforms they said would impose a one-size-fits-all model in a state where socioeconomic conditions and connectivity to basic services like electricity and water is significantly lower than in other regions. 

But now, the Oaxaca teachers’ union has pushed back the start of the school year to Sept. 7, and will implement an alternative to televised instruction. The logistics remain unclear, but some schools in Oaxaca have begun distributing workbooks and opening communication channels between teachers and parents. 

As millions of students in Mexico head back to school with lessons broadcast on TV, some teachers in Oaxaca are bypassing TV school altogether with weekly booklets of worksheets. 

Credit:

Shannon Young/The World 

Adolfo Gutiérrez, an elementary school teacher in a mountain hamlet of the Indigenous Mixe region, says the bilingual nature of the Indigenous education method has carryover effects on lesson plans.

“It creates a cultural understanding and a comprehension of the way in which people relate with nature … It’s something profound.”

It’s also something that doesn’t translate easily to televised programming produced in Mexico City. Gutiérrez doesn’t knock the idea of TV school but says it’s just not a viable option for his students. Many don’t own TVs and some don’t have electricity. The mountainous terrain can also block TV, internet and cellphone signals.

“Here in the community, the only real way to teach would require going in-person with the students to the school.”

Adolfo Gutiérrez, elementary school teacher, Mixe region, Mexico 

“Here in the community, the only real way to teach would require going in-person with the students to the school.” 

He says teachers will likely meet with parents to develop a plan for moving forward. He suggests staggered classes and take-home booklets of worksheets. But for in-person classes to resume, education and health officials would need to give teachers a green light to open the schools. 

And before that can happen, the country needs to get the pandemic under control. Residents of the region where Gutiérrez lives have effectively contained COVID-19 by closing access to outsiders and restricting trips into urban areas. 

Gutiérrez says if officials don’t take into account the specific conditions and needs of rural schools and Indigenous students, those children will fall behind. But he’s optimistic that parents and teachers can rise to the occasion.

“There has to be a way,” he said. “It’s just a question of organization and of wanting to make it happen.”

Just how teachers and students in Oaxaca will fare in the “new normal” of pandemic education remains to be seen. For many, TV classes are at least a fallback option that’s better than nothing. 

Teachers who fought hard against education reform in 2016 now have a rare chance to make a case that a remote version of their alternative model is better than the federal TV-learning option. 

While federal officials control when and how in-person classes can resume, many teachers and parents are looking for ways to maintain a style of teaching that allows for a level of interaction that’s impossible with televised classes. 

This search for small-scale workarounds is creating cracks in the uniformity of the federal government’s centralized education model. 

What’s clear is that public education during a pandemic in a country with gaping socioeconomic disparities requires outside-the-box thinking, even when that box is shaped like a flatscreen TV.

Are most white Americans guilty of ‘supremacy’ or just ‘privilege’?

Are most white Americans guilty of 'supremacy' or just 'privilege'?

Producer
Jessica Yarmosky

By
The World staff

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Protesters block an intersection while demonstrating against the Sunday police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Aug. 26, 2020.

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On Sunday, a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, fired his gun at Jacob Blake from close range. The unarmed Black man was shot seven times and is now partially paralyzed.

Protesters are vowing that they will not stop marching until the officer, Rusten Sheskey, is brought to justice.

Related: How systemic racism intersects with the coronavirus pandemic

Events in the Midwest took a deadly turn when a white, 17-year-old walked among demonstrators carrying a military-style semiautomatic rifle. Arrested on Wednesday, Kyle Rittenhouse now stands accused of first-degree intentional homicide for shooting and killing two people. 

The history of white supremacy is complex and the meaning of that term is often disputed. For more on that topic, The World’s host Carol Hills spoke with Peniel Joseph, the founder of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the University of Texas at Austin.

Carol Hills: The tone of the news coverage of these events outside the US seems to be, “this happened again.” If you were to explain these events to people abroad, how would you contextualize them?

Peniel Joseph: We have a long history of this. In a lot of ways this is very similar to both before the Civil War and right after the Civil War. And certainly, we had no social media or coverage, but there’s going to be a lot of skirmishes. There’s going to be a lot of anti-Black racial violence. At times, white allies are being killed as well. And really, this was a struggle over political power and the very meaning of citizenship. So, you saw a series of racial pogroms and massacres against Black citizens in the United States. And there were constant images and stories and narratives of Black people being killed who tried to vote, who tried to politically organize, who had prosperous communities or towns. And after a while, the North got sick of it. And really, with the withdrawal of federal troops in 1876, white supremacy was restored in the South. And so, when we think about now, with all these national protests, really the main arm of white supremacy in the United States right now is law enforcement.

Do you see a direct, exclusive connection between police and white supremacy?

Oh, yeah, absolutely. But I think it goes beyond police. When we think about the police, the police are part of a system that racially and economically oppresses Black and brown people in the United States. That being said, they’re just part of that system. So, even the move to reimagine public safety is saying, “You need to invest less in police as the first line of public safety and more in terms of mental health, desegregation, public schools, employment” — all these different things that create safe communities and safe neighborhoods.

Now, I want to talk about the term “white supremacy.” We hear it a lot these days, used in all sorts of different contexts, everything from corporations that are heavily white in leadership to police shootings of Black men. But the term also has historically been used for things like the KKK and slavery. What do you think of how the term is being used today?

Well, I think it’s being used expansively and it should be. So, white supremacy goes beyond racial slavery, even though racial slavery gives birth to white supremacy. It’s a political ideology that’s connected to structures and institutions that designates people who are considered “white” as being superordinate or having certain special privileges and powers within that society, within that nation-state. So, even if you are poor and white in that nation-state, you’re going to have better life chances than somebody who’s Black, and at times might even be college-educated.

You’re treated better by the criminal justice system. You’re going to have better health outcomes. If you are an opioid addict, you’re going to be treated by doctors, as opposed to being a crack cocaine addict and be thrown in prison or killed by the police. So, when we think about white supremacy now, I think it’s a great and progressive thing that we’re not just thinking about the Klan — because most people are not part of the Klan. And when we think about white supremacy, whether it’s against racial integration of the 1950s, it wasn’t the Klan that led that fight. It was ordinary citizens, ordinary Americans. Sometimes, they were part of groups called the White Citizens’ Councils, which included preachers and clergy folks and business leaders, people on PTA and boards. And these were the white supremacists.

These days, “white supremacy” is being used to describe people who in some cases, or many cases, don’t see themselves as being “white supremacists.” Do you think certainly by association, that somebody is part of some larger structure that whites predominate in, that it’s fair to call them “white supremacists”?

Well, I think there’s a difference between white supremacy and white privilege in people who might be getting privilege from just their whiteness because of the racial caste system that has been set up in the United States through racial slavery, mass incarceration and institutionalized structural discrimination. Whether or not you’re going to say they’re active white supremacists, you can get into a discussion and debate over that. Can you say that the United States is a white supremacist nation? Yes, it is. Are you going to say every single white American is an active white supremacist? No, they’re part of a larger structure. So, you can tease that out, of course.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Israel attacks Hezbollah posts after shots fired at soldiers

Israel attacks Hezbollah posts after shots fired at soldiers

Israeli soldiers carry a box next to their mobile artillery piece near the border with Lebanon, northern Israel, Aug. 26, 2020.

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Ariel Schalit/AP

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Following shots fired at Israeli troops near the border with Lebanon, Israeli attack helicopters struck observation posts of the militant Hezbollah group. The military said no Israeli forces were wounded, and there were no reports of casualties in Lebanon.

Israel has been bracing for a possible attack by the Iran-backed Lebanese militants since an Israeli airstrike killed a Hezbollah fighter in neighboring Syria last month. Israeli troops have also traded fire in recent weeks with the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza.

Earlier, Israeli troops fired flares and smoke shells along the heavily guarded border. Hezbollah-run Al-Manar TV reported that two homes were damaged by the shelling.

The military also ordered civilians in nearby communities to shelter in place and blocked roads near the border. Those restrictions were lifted early Wednesday. The incident took place near the northern Israeli town of Manara.

In a briefing with reporters on Wednesday evening, Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the fighting began when Hezbollah snipers, located between two UN peacekeeping positions, opened fire. He accused the militant group of using the UN positions for cover, and of deliberately locating its militiamen to draw fire that could have harmed the peacekeepers.

“The choice of the location by Hezbollah is not accidental,” he said.

The flareup occurred just days before the UN Security Council is to decide on whether to renew the mandate of the peacekeeping force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL.

Israel has repeatedly accused Hezbollah of violating a 2006 UN cease-fire resolution barring it from military activity in southern Lebanon, and complained that UNIFIL has been ineffective at enforcing the resolution. Ahead of the Security Council vote, Israel and its ally, the United States, are seeking changes in UNIFIL’s operations to give the force more authority to conduct weapons searches.

Conricus said the Hezbollah operatives were just a few dozen meters from one of the UN positions, though he said visibility was poor and it was impossible to say at this stage whether the peacekeepers were aware of the snipers’ presence.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in an evening televised speech that the incident was “very important and sensitive for us” but that he would comment further at a later date.

UNIFIL said it observed flares fired from several Israeli positions along the border and were were informed that there had been small arms fire from Lebanon directed against an Israeli patrol in the general area of Manara.

It said UNIFIL’s commander, Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col urged restraint and asked both sides avoid further provocations. “I call on both parties to fully cooperate with UNIFIL to help determine the facts,” Del Col said.

Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate for the killing of its fighters. On July 27, the Israeli military said it had thwarted an infiltration attempt by Hezbollah in a battle that raged for more than an hour. Neither side reported any casualties and Hezbollah denied involvement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he viewed the incident with “utmost gravity.”

“I suggest that Hezbollah not try the crushing force of Israel. Hezbollah is once again endangering Lebanon with its aggression,” he said.

A Hezbollah official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, said no Hezbollah positions were hit. He said shrapnel hit a structure belonging to Green Without Borders, an environmental NGO that Israel says is an arm of Hezbollah, allegations denied by the militants.

He would neither confirm nor deny that an attack had been launched from Lebanon.

Lebanon’s Higher Defense Council, the country’s top defense body, said it would file a complaint to the UN Security Council “over Israel’s aggressions on Lebanon last night.” Israel also planned to complain to the council.

Tensions have also risen between Israel and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip. Hamas has orchestrated a wave of incendiary balloons and rocket attacks in recent weeks as it presses Israel to ease a blockade imposed on the group after it seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.

Israel has responded with a wave of airstrikes and closed Gaza’s only commercial crossing, forcing the territory’s sole power plant to shut down last week and leaving most of the territory’s 2 million residents with just four hours of electricity a day.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars and several skirmishes over the last 13 years. Israel and Western countries consider both Hezbollah and Hamas to be terrorist groups.

“We will continue to work to restore complete quiet to our southern region,” Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said. “In the north, we will not allow Nasrallah, who tried to harm our country but met with an alert and prepared army, we will not let him harm our soldiers or our country.”

Israel considers Hezbollah to be its toughest and most immediate threat. After battling Israel to a stalemate during a monthlong war in 2006, Hezbollah is believed to be far stronger today.

At the United Nations, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Wednesday that UNIFIL has launched an investigation and called on both parties to fully cooperate with the probe.

By Joseph Krauss/AP

Latin American women are disappearing and dying under lockdown

Latin American women are disappearing and dying under lockdown

The pandemic worsened but did not create this problem: Latin America has long been among the world’s deadliest places to be a woman.

By
Lynn Marie Stephen

Funeral for a woman and her 11-year-old daughter, both found dead inside a burned-out vehicle in Puebla state, Mexico, June 11, 2020.

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It’s a pandemic within the pandemic. Across Latin America, gender-based violence has spiked since COVID-19 broke out.

Almost 1,200 women disappeared in Peru between March 11 and June 30, the Ministry of Women reported. In Brazil, 143 women in 12 states were murdered in March and April — a 22% increase over the same period in 2019.

Reports of rape, murder and domestic violence are also way up in Mexico. In Guatemala, they’re down significantly — a likely sign that women are too afraid to call the police on the partners they’re locked down with.

The pandemic worsened but did not create this problem: Latin America has long been among the world’s deadliest places to be a woman.

Don’t blame ‘machismo’

I have spent three decades studying gendered violence as well as women’s organizing in Latin America, an increasingly vocal and potent social force.

Women demand justice for Mexico’s many murdered women at a protest against gender violence in Mexico City, Aug. 15, 2020.  

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Nadya Murillo/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Though patriarchy is part of the problem, Latin America’s gender violence cannot simply be attributed to “machismo.” Nor is gender inequality particularly extreme there. Education levels among Latin American women and girls have been rising for decades and — unlike the US— many countries have quotas for women to hold political office. Several have elected women presidents.

My research, which often centers on Indigenous communities, traces violence against women in Latin America instead to both the region’s colonial history and to a complex web of social, racial, gender and economic inequalities.

I’ll use Guatemala, a country I know well, as a case study to unravel this thread. But we could engage in a similar exercise with other Latin American countries or the US, where violence against women is a pervasive, historically rooted problem, too — and one that disproportionately affects women of color.

In Guatemala, where 600 to 700 women are killed every year, gendered violence has deep roots. Mass rape carried out during massacres was a tool of systematic, generalized terror during the country’s 36-year civil war, when citizens and armed insurgencies rose up against the government. The war, which ended in 1996, killed over 200,000 Guatemalans.

Mass rape has been used as a weapon of war in many conflicts. In Guatemala, government forces targeted Indigenous women. While Guatemala’s Indigenous population is between 44% and 60% Indigenous, based on the census and other demographic data, about 90% of the over 100,000 women raped during the war were Indigenous Mayans.

Testimonies from the war demonstrate that soldiers saw Indigenous women as having little humanity. They knew Mayan women could be raped, killed and mutilated with impunity. This is a legacy of Spanish colonialism. Starting in the 16th century, Indigenous peoples and Afro descendants across the Americas were enslaved or compelled into forced labor by the Spanish, treated as private property, often brutally.

Some Black and Indigenous women actually tried to fight their ill treatment in court during the colonial period, but they had fewer legal rights than white Spanish conquerors and their descendants. The subjugation and marginalization of Black and Indigenous Latin Americans continues into the present day.

A depiction of the 1519 Cholula Massacre by Spanish conquistadors in 1519, made by Mexico’s Indigenous inhabitants.

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Wikimedia Commons

Internalized oppression

In Guatemala, violence against women affects Indigenous women disproportionately, but not exclusively. Conservative Catholic and evangelical moral teachings hold that women should be chaste and obey their husbands, creating the idea that men can control the women with whom they are in a sexual relationship.

In a 2014 survey published by the Latin American Public Opinion Project at Vanderbilt University, Guatemalans were more accepting of gender violence than any other Latin Americans, with 58% of respondents saying suspected infidelity justified physical abuse.

Women as well as men have internalized this view. During my research in Guatemala and Mexico, many women shared stories about how their own mothers, mothers-in-law or neighbors told them to aguantar — put up with — their husbands’ abuse, saying it was a man’s right to punish bad wives.

The media, police and often even official justice systems reinforce strict constraints on women’s behavior. When women are murdered in Guatemala and Mexico — a daily occurrence — headlines often read, “Man Kills His Wife Because of Jealousy.” In court and online, rape survivors are still accused of “asking for it” if they were assaulted while out without male supervision.

A Mexican newspaper exclaims ‘Burnt Alive!’ to tout a story about a murdered woman, June 7, 2015.

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Omar Torres/AFP via Getty Images

How to protect women

Latin American countries have made many creative, serious efforts to protect women.

Seventeen have passed laws making feminicide — the intentional killing of women or girls because they are female — its own crime separate from homicide, with long mandatory prison sentences to try to deter this. Many countries have also created women-only police stations, produced statistical data on feminicide, improved reporting avenues for gendered violence and funded more women’s shelters.

Latin America has long been one of the world’s most dangerous regions for women. Crosses mark where the corpses of eight missing women were found outside Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, in 2008.

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Alfredo Estrella/AFP via Getty Images

Guatemala even created special courts where men accused of gender violence — whether feminicide, sexual assault or psychological violence — are tried.

Research I conducted with my colleague, political scientist Erin Beck, finds that these specialized courts have been important in recognizing violence against women as a serious crime, punishing it and providing victims with much-needed legal, social and psychological support. But we also found critical limitations related to insufficient funding, staff burnout and weak investigations.

There is also an enormous linguistic and cultural gap between judicial officials and in many parts of the country the largely Indigenous, non-Spanish-speaking women they serve. Many of these women are so poor and geographically isolated they can’t even make it into court, leaving flight as their only option of escaping violence.

The collective body

All these efforts to protect women — whether in Guatemala, elsewhere in Latin America or the US — are narrow and legalistic. They make feminicide one crime, physical assault a different crime, and rape another — and attempt to indict and punish men for those acts.

But they fail to indict the broader systems that perpetuate these problems, like social, racial and economic inequalities, family relationships and social mores.

Some Indigenous women’s groups say gendered violence is a collective problem that needs collective solutions.

Gendered violence in Guatemala disproportionately affects Indigenous women.

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Johan Ordonez/AFP via Getty Images

“When they rape, disappear, jail or assassinate a woman, it is as if all the community, the neighborhood, the community or the family has been raped,” said the Mexican Indigenous activist Marichuy at a rally in Mexico City in 2017.

In Marichuy’s analysis, violence against one Indigenous woman is the result of an entire society that dehumanizes her people. So simply sending the abuser to prison is not sufficient. Gendered violence calls for a punishment that both implicates the community and the offender — and tries to heal them.

Some Mexican Indigenous communities have autonomous police and justice systems, which use discussion and mediation to reach a verdict and emphasize reconciliation over punishment. Sentences of community service — whether construction, digging drainage or other manual labor — serve to both punish and socially reintegrate offenders. Terms range from a few weeks for simple theft to eight years for murder.

Stopping gendered violence in Latin America, the US or anywhere will be a complicated, long-term process. And grand social progress seems unlikely in a pandemic. But when lockdowns end, restorative justice seems like a good way to start helping women and our communities.

This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news organization dedicated to unlocking ideas from academia, under a Creative Commons license.

This Afro Latina says identity will always be important when she votes

This Afro Latina says identity will always be important when she votes

By
Naomi Prioleau

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Nodia Mena and her son, Brayan Guevara, talk about everything, but especially race and politics.

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This story is part of “Every 30 Seconds,” a collaborative public media reporting project tracing the young Latino electorate leading up to the 2020 presidential election and beyond.

It’s March 31, 1992.

Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and California Gov. Jerry Brown Jr. are both at Lehman College in the Bronx, New York, debating about education in urban America and sparring over tuition affordability — and gun control — just before the Democratic Party’s presidential primaries.

Related: This young Afro Latino teacher and voter wants to be a model for his students

It’s pandemonium outside the college and all Nodia Mena can do is soak it in.

“I don’t know anything about US politics, but it was such a huge enthusiasm,” she said. “Someone invited me to go around, we couldn’t even get into the event. I mean, it was so many people, so many cars, and that was all new for me.”

This experience was Mena’s first introduction into American politics.

Mena is Afro Honduran and moved to the US nearly 30 years ago. She left Honduras when she was 19, but was able to vote for the first time before leaving.

She said the lack of change in her country led her to not take voting seriously.

“It was always whoever got into power will always do the same thing, they may have relied on corruption and so on. My very first vote was a rebellious vote. I voted for the least likely to win the party. I just felt like it didn’t matter, like we didn’t count. As a Garifuna, a Black woman in Latin America, my vote didn’t matter.”

Nodia Mena, Afro Latina in North Carolina

“It was always whoever got into power will always do the same thing, they may have relied on corruption and so on,” Mena said. “My very first vote was a rebellious vote. I voted for the least likely to win the party. I just felt like it didn’t matter, like we didn’t count. As a Garifuna, a Black woman in Latin America, my vote didn’t matter.”

Related: How a trip to Honduras shaped one young US Afro Latino voter’s identity

However, after seeing the enthusiasm toward politics in 1992, Mena started to take it more seriously and researched politicians and how the US government operates. The more she researched, the more interested she became. 

In 2008, that feeling intensified.

Then the Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama, ran his campaign on the slogan, “Change we can believe in,” and the chant, “Yes, we can.”

“It wasn’t until Obama when I really started paying way more attention to what was going on,” she said. “The fact that he was there as a Black man, but his message, the way in which he connected with people, how generally he presented himself to people, it resonated with me personally.”

Mena canvassed for his campaign and made sure she connected with the people she spoke to, to encourage voter enthusiasm.

“I realized that we needed to, as Afro descendants, get involved with the decisions that are being made for us,” she said. 

Her Afro Latina identity puts her in an interesting dynamic when candidates try to solicit her vote. Mena said candidates usually either go for the Black vote or the Latino vote, but never the Afro Latino vote. However, the fact that candidates don’t reach out to Afro Latinos isn’t an issue for her.

Related: This first-time Afro Latino voter is undecided. His biggest issue? Education.

“I don’t think politicians should continue to think about people as ‘this is Indian,’ “this is Black,” ‘this is Latino,’” she said. “I think that this is the time where we should strive towards equity.”

Nodia Mena, Afro Latina in North Carolina

“I don’t think politicians should continue to think about people as ‘this is Indian,’ “this is Black,” ‘this is Latino,’” she said. “I think that this is the time where we should strive towards equity.”

As a Spanish-language instructor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Mena makes sure that she informs her students about Afro Latino history.

“In Latin America, that solidarity is nonexistent, as far as the non-Black Latinos with the Black Latinos. As a matter of fact, when you say Latinos, it does not include me in that group. You have to specifically say, ‘Afro Latinos.’ Why?”

These questions about Afro Latino solidarity with Latinos and African Americans are questions that she poses with her son, Brayan Guevara. The two of them, along with his other siblings, talk about everything, but especially race and politics.

“She’ll always have MSNBC or something on and she’s the type of person that always wants me to make up my own mind,” he said. “She never really told me, ‘Hey Brayan, you need to be a Democrat.’ She will always just try to ask me my opinions on things so I can be informed.”

Guevara is a sophomore at Guilford Technical Community College, where he is studying to become a teacher. He’s a first-time voter.

It took him a while to embrace his Afro Latino identity, but now that he has, he sees the importance of having teachers of color in the classroom, much like his mother.

“How teachers treat Black kids, which I have experienced in my time — it’s just the stigma that they already have for these kids,” Guevara said. 

As Guevara and his mom navigate through this year’s election, he has no issue stating that Mena has been a big part of his political journey.

“She’s the only influencer I’ve ever had,” he said. “I don’t really look up to anybody else.” 

Pompeo controversially brings the RNC to Jerusalem; China’s lockdown in Xinjiang; Thunberg concludes gap year

Pompeo controversially brings the RNC to Jerusalem; China's lockdown in Xinjiang; Thunberg concludes gap year

By
The World staff

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conclude joint statements to the press, in Jerusalem, Israel, Aug. 24, 2020.

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‘Bardcore’ trend sees modern pop songs reimagined with a medieval twist 

‘Bardcore’ trend sees modern pop songs reimagined with a medieval twist 

A new trend on YouTube known as bardcore sees modern pop songs like Foster The People's "Pumped Up Kicks" or Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" reimagined in a medieval sound.

By
Amanda McGowan

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The song, “What is Love,” is performed in a “medieval style” by Cornelius Link.

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Cornelius Link’s YouTube channel

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Click on one of Cornelius Link’s YouTube videos and you might think you were hearing a medieval love ballad. Soft, soothing lutes, whirring flutes and gentle drums abound.

But listen more closely and you might realize that you’re hearing something familiar — like the beat of Haddaway’s ’90s club classic, “What Is Love.” Welcome to the world of “bardcore,” a growing genre on YouTube of popular modern songs covered in a “medieval” style.

Related: ‘Scents of Normality’ captures the essence of everyday life before lockdown

Link, a software engineer in Freiburg, Germany, was arguably the first “bard of bardcore,” and his videos — like his version of “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster The People — now have millions of views. He’s also inspired others, like Canadian singer Hildegard von Blingin’ (a play on Hildegard von Bingen, the German abbess and composer) who adapts contemporary lyrics into an Olde English style. Singing Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” for example, Hildegard von Blingin’ implores, “I beg of thee, pray take not my Lord.”

Elina Hamilton, a historical musicologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, says that — given our current reality — this trend shouldn’t be too surprising.

“My first reaction was actually, ‘Oh yeah, of course, why wouldn’t we do this?’ Because it is so apt for what we’re going through right now.”

Elina Hamilton, historical musicologist, University of Hawaii at Manoa

“My first reaction was actually, ‘Oh yeah, of course, why wouldn’t we do this?’ Because it is so apt for what we’re going through right now,” she said.

Related: This Mexico City architect transformed an empty public square into a storytelling stage

Hamilton explained that artists have frequently turned to the Middle Ages for inspiration — or rather, an idealized vision of what they believed the Middle Ages was all about.

During the Arts and Craft movement of the 19th century, for example, particularly in Britain, artists and architects reacted against industrialization and assembly line labor by focusing on hand craftsmanship — pieces that were made by skilled artisans. The romantic notion of the “medieval craftsman” was central, and medieval imagery and motifs became popular in the works of artists like William Morris.

These days, as people find themselves at home, in lockdown because of the coronavirus, perhaps cooking for themselves more, growing their own food, or turning to hobbies like knitting or embroidery, Hamilton says people are drawing parallels between their lives and what they imagine people’s lives in the Middle Ages were all about.

“Whether that’s true to be historically accurate or not, the concept of our modern idea of medieval is very much about domesticity and creating your own thing … To me, that really kind of screamed out from the music I was hearing,” she said.

Related: Shipwrecked scent: A perfumer re-creates a 150-year-old fragrance

Hamilton also says that — just like today — people in the Middle Ages listened to music to escape.

“They don’t sing about the Black Death. There’s very few songs, maybe one or two, that actually say something about losing family or having some type of loss. Even in the Middle Ages, they were singing about things that were of a happier day.”

Elina Hamilton, historical musicologist, University of Hawaii at Manoa

“They don’t sing about the Black Death,” she said. “There’s very few songs, maybe one or two, that actually say something about losing family or having some type of loss. Even in the Middle Ages, they were singing about things that were of a happier day.”

Related: Centuries ago, Spanish writers challenged gender norms and barriers

Link is pretty philosophical about the success of his videos. On the one hand, he’s baffled at why exactly they’ve become so popular; on the other, he points out that the underlying themes in many modern pop songs are universal.

“Maybe our problems are completely different today, I don’t know that,” he said. “But there’s also stuff like the loss of a loved one. That’s the same today. I think you can say there are parallels to our time.”

Themes of love, despair, loss — who couldn’t relate to that?

South Koreans are blaming a controversial church for new COVID-19 outbreak

South Koreans are blaming a controversial church for new COVID-19 outbreak

Health authorities say Sarang Jaeil Church and its outspoken pastor are at the epicenter of South Korea’s second-largest COVID-19 outbreak since the pandemic started. About 3,400 of the church’s members have been tested and about 20% have contracted the coronavirus as of Thursday.

By
Jason Strother

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The Sarang Jaeil Church, which has become a new cluster of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections, is seen in Seoul, South Korea, Aug. 21, 2020.

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South Korea is experiencing its second-largest COVID-19 outbreak since the pandemic started. Health authorities say a church and its outspoken pastor are at the epicenter.

Banners hang across some of the alleys that lead to Sarang Jaeil, a Presbyterian church in a rundown neighborhood of northern Seoul. They state that due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the area, entry to the house of worship is banned as well as gatherings in its vicinity. 

According to the latest figures from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), about 3,400 of the church’s members have been tested and about 20% have contracted the coronavirus as of Thursday. They are now receiving medical care.

Related: Is South Korea’s approach to containing coronavirus a model?

But authorities warn the disease has already spread far beyond this cluster. And because many of its congregants have gone into hiding before being tested, there’s heightened risk of a nationwide infection.  

Thanks to its rapid testing and contact-tracing system, South Korea was one of the first nations to flatten the curve of the coronavirus spread. But three months after relaxing social distancing orders, the new outbreak is forcing the country to put back in place many of those restrictions.

Related: South Korea flattened the curve. Now what?

Some 1,900 new cases have been recorded over the past week, bringing the country’s total number of COVID-19 infections to 16,670, the KCDC reported on Friday. 

Kim Gang-lip, a vice minister of health, says authorities are trying to track down several hundred other Sarang Jaeil worshipers with the help of law enforcement and telecommunications firms. 

“We have cooperated with the police and have gathered their mobile numbers and we are contacting them on a regular basis,” Kim said during a televised briefing on Thursday. 

He added this “crisis” has prompted the government to raise the pandemic alert level in the Seoul metropolitan area and implement “tough measures” to contain the disease.

Some of those steps include reducing school attendance to one-third capacity, closing sports stadiums to fans and prohibiting in-person services at all churches.   

Related: South Korean high school seniors are eager to return to the classroom

The elevated social distancing policy will be in effect until the end of the month. The KCDC says it’s concerned that members of the Sarang Jaeil Church might have infected many more people when they joined a large anti-government demonstration on Aug. 15 to mark the 75th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese rule at the end of World War II. 

That rally in downtown Seoul was led by the church’s pastor, Jun Kwang-hoon, an influential figure in South Korea’s conservative, Protestant community and one of the most ardent critics of liberal President Moon Jae-in.  

“[Sarang Jaeil members] believe President Moon’s regime has explicitly been pro-Chinese and pro-North Korean Communism.”

Song Jae-ryong, director, Institute for Religion and Civic Culture, Kyung Hee University, Seoul

Song Jae-ryong, director of the Institute for Religion and Civic Culture at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, says Jun and his followers have routinely protested against the Moon administration since 2017. 

“They believe President Moon’s regime has explicitly been pro-Chinese and pro-North Korean Communism,” he says. 

Last Saturday’s demonstration drew an estimated 20,000 protestors, including an adjacent labor union gathering, according to local media reports. The KCDC has requested all participants to get tested for the coronavirus regardless of symptoms. 

In a video uploaded to the Sarang Jaeil Church’s YouTube channel on the day of the demonstration, Pastor Jun, who was not wearing a face covering, suggests that the government intentionally infected his congregation with what he calls the “Wuhan virus.”

Jun frequently states conspiracy theories at his protests and on social media, including that President Moon works on behalf of North Korea’s Pyongyang regime.    

Related: North Korea still officially claims zero coronavirus cases

On Monday, Seoul authorities announced that Jun tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized.  

There’s been widespread public condemnation of the pastor and his church.

More than 300,000 people have signed an online petition that calls for Jun’s arrest — he is technically out on bail following an indictment earlier this year over election law violations. And on Friday, police conducted a raid of Sarang Jaeil Church. 

A similar situation occurred in February following South Korea’s first and still largest COVID-19 outbreak at a church that is widely seen as a cult. Lee Man-hee, leader of the Shincheonji sect, was arrested earlier this month on obstruction charges. 

Related: This apocalyptic Korean Christian group goes by different names

Kyung Hee University’s Song Jae-ryong, cautions that the latest backlash overlooks the fact that new coronavirus cases were steadily rising before the Aug. 15 demonstration. 

“It seems … easy, blaming the anti-Moon Jae-in government rally, together with Jun Kwan-hoon, for responsibility of the second major infection,” Song says, and likens the official response to a “witch hunt.” 

He points out that thousands of people also attended a vigil for Seoul’s progressive mayor, Park Won-soon, who died from an apparent suicide in July. 

Koo Se-woong, a former South Korean journalist and religion scholar, says the way the government has singled out Pastor Jun and his very conservative church seems deliberate.

“I don’t think many people would deny the fact that the church has acted incredibly irresponsibly. … But, at the same time, one could also argue that the kind of approach we are seeing from the government has a political dimension.”

Koo Se-woong, former South Korean journalist and religion scholar

“I don’t think many people would deny the fact that the church has acted incredibly irresponsibly,” he says. “But, at the same time, one could also argue that the kind of approach we are seeing from the government has a political dimension.”

Koo says one thing officials could do is more gently encourage the missing church members — who are already mistrustful of the government — to come forward for testing.

“They need to focus on the fact that this is a public health crisis and they need to avoid scapegoating,” he says. 

Ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon charged in border wall scheme

Ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon charged in border wall scheme

Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, talks during an interview with The Associated Press, in Washington, Aug. 19, 2018.

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Steve Bannon, an architect of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election victory, has been charged along with three associates with defrauding Trump supporters in a campaign to help build the president’s signature wall along the US-Mexico border, prosecutors said on Thursday.

The organizers of the “We Build The Wall” group portrayed themselves as eager to help the president build a “big beautiful” barrier along the US-Mexico border, as he had promised during the 2016 campaign. They raised more than $25 million from thousands of donors, using their ties to Trump to build legitimacy, and pledged that 100% of the money would be used for the project.

But according to the criminal charges unsealed Thursday, little of the money actually went to the wall. Instead, it was used to line the pockets of group members, including Bannon, who served in Trump’s White House and worked for his campaign. He allegedly took over $1 million, using some to secretly pay co-defendant Brian Kolfage, the founder of the project, and to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal expenses.

Bannon, his spokeswoman and an attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday, nor did Kolfage.

Other prominent members of the group included former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, its general counsel; Erik Prince, founder of the controversial security firm Blackwater; former Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado; and former major league baseball pitcher Curtis Schilling. They were not named in the indictment.

The arrests make Bannon the latest in a list of former Trump associates who have been prosecuted, including his former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, his longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, and his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Bannon was taken into custody on a 150-foot yacht off the coast of Connecticut by the postal inspection service, authorities said.

Trump quickly distanced himself from Bannon. “I haven’t been dealing with him for a long period of time,” he said Thursday. The president said he felt “very badly” about the situation.

“I think it’s a very sad thing for Mr. Bannon, and I think it’s surprising,” he told reporters at the White House, adding that he knew nothing about the project and never believed in a privately financed barrier.

“When I read about it, I didn’t like it. I said this is for government, this isn’t for private people. And it sounded to me like showboating,” he said.

Trump tweeted in July that he “disagreed with doing this very small (tiny) section of wall, in a tricky area, by a private group which raised money by ads.”

“It was only done to make me look bad, and perhaps it now doesn’t even work. Should have been built like rest of Wall, 500 plus miles,” he said.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany also weighed in, saying Trump “has not been involved with Steve Bannon since the campaign and the early part of the Administration, and he does not know the people involved with this project.”

According to the indictment, the defendants used fake invoices and sham vendor arrangements to try to hide their efforts. Under the arrangement, Bannon and his co-defendants allegedly paid Kolfage $100,000 up front and an additional $20,000 monthly. Kolfag claimed he was not paid.

The indictment said Kolfage “went so far as to send mass emails to his donors asking them to purchase coffee from his unrelated business, telling donors the coffee company was the only way he ‘keeps his family fed and a roof over their head.'”

Some donors wrote directly to Kolfage saying they did not have a lot of money and were skeptical of online fundraising campaigns, the indictment said. Kolfage would reassure the donors that nobody was being compensated, according to the indictment.

Kolfage eventually spent some of the over $350,000 he received on home renovations, payments toward a boat, a luxury SUV, a golf cart, jewelry, cosmetic surgery, personal tax payments and credit card debt.

The defendants learned last October from a financial institution that the group may have been under federal criminal investigation and took additional steps to conceal the fraud, it said.

Charges included conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

A phone at the office of Bannon’s lawyer went unanswered Thursday. It was not immediately clear who would represent Kolfage at an initial court appearance, and his phone was unanswered.

We Build the Wall, launched on Dec. 17, 2018, originally promoted a project for 3 miles of fence posts in South Texas that was ultimately built and largely funded by Fisher Industries, which has received about $2 billion in funding for wall contracts. The company’s CEO, Tommy Fisher, did not respond to calls for comment.

In 2019, Kolfage and Fisher successfully constructed a half-mile of bollard-style border fence on privately donated land in New Mexico near of El Paso, Texas. We Build The Wall used early construction to raise more cash and more private land donations in along border states.

Construction faced resistance from local authorities in New Mexico and Texas and drew accusations of improper permitting. In May, federal officials found that a section of Fisher’s privately funded wall violated flood construction standards along the Rio Grande. It also caused erosion.

Dustin Stockton, who helped start the campaign then left the project to work on the upcoming presidential election, said it seemed clear that federal prosecutors were “attacking political infrastructure that supports President Trump right before the election.”

He could not comment on the specific charges yet. He was not charged in the case.

Bannon led the conservative Breitbart News before being tapped to serve as chief executive officer of Trump’s campaign in its critical final months, when he pushed a scorched earth strategy that included highlighting the stories of former President Bill Clinton’s accusers. After the election, he served as chief strategist during the turbulent early months of Trump’s administration.

The combative Bannon was the voice of nationalist, outsider conservatism, and he pushed Trump to follow through on some of his most contentious campaign promises, including his travel ban on several majority-Muslim countries. But Bannon also clashed with other top advisers, and his high profile sometimes irked Trump. He was pushed out in August 2017.

Bannon, who served in the Navy and worked as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs before becoming a Hollywood producer, has been hosting a pro-Trump podcast called “War Room” that began during the president’s impeachment proceedings and has continued during the pandemic.

A day before the indictment was unsealed, Kolfage was interviewed by Bannon on Bannon’s “War Room” podcast. He discussed a dispute with a fundraising platform and encouraged future donors to go straight to their website.

Bannon asked him whether he thought the wall could get built for Trump to fulfill his campaign promise.

“I think we stand in a pretty good spot, as long as he gets elected,” Kolfage said.

By Larry Neumeister, Colleen Long and Jill Colvin/AP

Mali soldiers promise election as region seeks way out of coup crisis

Mali soldiers promise election as region seeks way out of coup crisis

Opposition supporters react to the news of a mutiny of soldiers in the military base in Kati, outside the capital Bamako, at Independence Square in Bamako, Mali, Aug. 18, 2020. The sign reads: “Down with France and its governor.”

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Rey Byhre/Reuters

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Soldiers who led a coup in Mali and ousted the country’s president and government promised on Wednesday to hold new elections.

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita resigned and dissolved parliament on Tuesday, hours after the mutineers detained him at gunpoint, further destabilizing a country already in the grip of a jihadist insurgency and with a recent history of civil unrest.

The 15-nation regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) acted quickly to suspend Mali from its institutions, fearing Keita’s fall after nearly seven years in power could destabilise West Africa’s entire Sahel region.

As investors ditched shares in gold mining companies operating in the country while a sense of calm pervaded the capital Bamoko, it was still not clear early on Wednesday who was leading the revolt.

A spokesman for the mutineers, calling themselves the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, said they had acted to prevent Mali from falling further into chaos.

Colonel Ismael Wague invited Mali’s civil society and political movements to join them to create conditions for a political transition.

“Our country is sinking into chaos, anarchy and insecurity mostly due to the fault of the people who are in charge of its destiny,” he said while flanked by soldiers in a statement broadcast on state-owned television.

“We are not keen on power, but we are keen on the stability of the country, which will allow us to organise general elections to allow Mali to equip itself with strong institutions within the reasonable time limit.”

Related: Protesters in Mali call for president to step down

There was no immediate reaction to Wague’s offer from the opposition and leaders of recent protests, as the presidency of the G5 Sahel group of neighboring states called on Malians to resolve the crisis peacefully, and demanded the release of Keita and other senior officials.

On Wednesday, European Union Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton said the bloc would insist on new elections within a reasonable timeframe.

In a violent run-up to Tuesday’s coup following months of protests against alleged corruption, at least 14 people were killed last month in demonstrations called by a coalition Keita’s political opponents and activists.

Referring to ECOWAS’s inability to broker a solution during mediation efforts then, followed by its firm reaction to Tuesday’s events, a diplomatic source working in the region said he feared ECOWAS had “burned its bridges”.

“We need a negotiated solution. But who will negotiate with (the mutineers),” the source said.

Looting

Landlocked Mali has struggled to regain stability since a Tuareg uprising in 2012 which was hijacked by Islamist militants linked to al-Qaeda, and a subsequent coup in the capital plunged the country into chaos.

Late on Tuesday, anti-government protesters had poured into a central square in Bamako to cheer the mutineers as they drove through in military vehicles.

“I am against coups, but they become necessary if leaders are inflexible. What happened to IBK (Keita) was his own fault,” said 43-year-old motorcycle mechanic Namory Konate in central Bamako.

The capital was calmer on Wednesday, with people and traffic circulating as normal, although many shops, banks and public buildings remained closed amid evidence of overnight looting.

Videos circulating on social media showed Malians running unchecked through luxury compounds in the city, including properties identified by a Reuters correspondent as belonging to Justice Minister Kassoum Tapo and Keita’s son Karim.

Keita, 75, came to power in 2013 following the Bamako coup promising to bring peace and stability and fight corruption. He won reelection for a second five-year term in 2018.   

In its first reaction to the coup on Tuesday, ECOWAS had also closed its member states’ borders with Mali, a measure that Ivory Coast said on Wednesday it had enforced.

Having previously warned it would no longer tolerate military coups in the region, ECOWAS plans to send a delegation to Mali to ensure a return to constitutional democracy.

Gold mining companies in Mali said they were operating as usual, while monitoring a deepening political crisis that hit their share prices on Wednesday.

B2Gold, Resolute Mining, AngloGold Ashanti and Hummingbird Resources all said their mines were producing and staff were safe. Exploration firm Cora Gold said operations at its gold project continued.

Vincent Rouget, analyst at Control Risks Group, said the continued political uncertainty would “add to an already very high risk premium that people associate with Mali” and could pose risks for the country’s mining industry in the future.

The UN Security Council will be briefed on Mali behind closed-doors on Wednesday at the request of France and Niger, diplomats said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had on Tuesday called for the immediate release of Keita and other detainees.

By Tiemoko Diallo/Reuters

Legislating peace and security: Part II

Legislating peace and security: Part II

This week, Critical State digs into new research about legislative oversight when it comes to security issues. As historian Peter Roady writes in a new article in the Journal of Policy History, the National Security Agency has escaped congressional oversight with two words: "It's classified."

By
Sam Ratner

Former CIA director John Brennan, former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin, former CIA acting director Michael Morell and former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, speak during a forum on election security titled, “2020 Vision: Intelligence and the US Presidential Election,” at the National Press Club in Washington, Oct. 30, 2019.

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This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly newsletter from The World and Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

Last week, Critical State looked at how popular movements work to influence the legislative process through protests and other forms of signaling, and why protests by less privileged people are more effective than similar actions by more privileged people. This week digs into new research about the strategies of the most privileged group of all when it comes to influencing the legislative branch: the executive.

Related: Legislating peace and security: Part I

In the US, the last great period of legislative oversight over security issues was the 1970s. After a huge expansion of the country’s security bureaucracy during and after World War II, the disaster of the Vietnam War, and a series of high-profile intelligence misadventures early in the Cold War, Congress decided that it would like to play a more active role in controlling what America’s soldiers and spies were up to. That period brought us the War Powers Resolution, the Church Committee and other congressional action that produced a slight hiccup in the ongoing trend toward presidential control of national security matters.

Related: Illiberalism isn’t just rising — it’s spreading: Part I

When Congress asked what was going on at Fort Meade, executive branch lawyers, politicians and intelligence officials collectively shrugged their shoulders and said: “Can’t tell you, it’s classified.”

One thing Congress didn’t accomplish in that period, however, was establishing tight regulation over the activities of the National Security Agency (NSA), the electronic surveillance arm of America’s intelligence community. The agency would later rise to infamy after Edward Snowden released records showing that it routinely gathered Americans’ digital information. As historian Peter Roady writes in a new article in the Journal of Policy History, the reason the NSA escaped congressional oversight in the 1970s comes down to a fairly simple explanation: When Congress asked what was going on at Fort Meade, executive branch lawyers, politicians and intelligence officials collectively shrugged their shoulders and said: “Can’t tell you, it’s classified.”

Related: Illiberalism isn’t just rising — it’s spreading: Part II

NSA existed as a result of a memo from President Harry Truman in 1952 — by the 1970s, Congress had still never passed a bill explaining what the agency was actually supposed to do.

Back in the mid-1970s, even members of Congress had only a passing familiarity with the NSA. Its work was so secret, and intelligence agencies proliferating so fast, that it was only a small blip on the radar of any security-conscious representative. And how would they know? NSA existed as a result of a memo from President Harry Truman in 1952. By the 1970s, Congress had still never passed a bill explaining what the agency was actually supposed to do. As Roady reports, at the time, “only two congressional staffers had sufficient security clearances to peer inside NSA, and they focused on budgetary matters.” 

Congress began asking questions after a 1974 press report alleged that the Central Intelligence Agency was illegally spying on Americans.

Congress began asking questions after a 1974 press report alleged that the Central Intelligence Agency was illegally spying on Americans. Given that NSA was, at the time, engaging in warrantless domestic surveillance, those questions were cause for alarm in the intelligence community. To buy time, the White House (including a pre-Supreme Court Antonin Scalia) set up a lengthy process for reviewing any intelligence documents Congress requested as part of their investigation. By releasing the documents slowly and in pieces, the executive not only controlled what questions the legislative was able to answer but even what they knew to ask. 

FISA, which still governs electronic surveillance today, created a secret court for granting wiretapping and other electronic surveillance warrants.

That process, which set the precedent for subsequent document review processes in congressional intelligence investigations, gave the administration time to pull together Executive Order 11905. The order established a charter for the NSA and other intelligence agencies and basically dared Congress to limit the critical mission described in the charter. The White House also used the delay to draft legislation that would become the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which purports to regulate electronic surveillance. FISA, which still governs electronic surveillance today, created a secret court for granting wiretapping and other electronic surveillance warrants. That court, which granted 99.97% of government warrant requests between 1979 and 2012, was enough to convince members of Congress and judges that no further major restrictions on NSA actions were necessary. 

Executive obstruction is so common in legislative oversight of security matters because it works. Not only did the NSA escape substantial regulation in the 1970s, but that state of affairs lasted for decades. When the Snowden disclosures appeared in 2013, the world was once again shocked by the very thing Congress was hoping to uncover back in 1975: warrantless collection of Americans’ communications by the NSA. 

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy without all the stuff you don’t need. It’s top news and accessible analysis for those who want an inside take without all the insider bs. Subscribe here.

Relying on electronic voting machines puts us at risk, security expert says

Relying on electronic voting machines puts us at risk, security expert says

How do we make elections secure? Try paper. Professor J. Alex Halderman, a security expert at the University of Michigan, explains why.

By
Teresa Lawlor

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Maurice Jones prepares to cast mail-in voting ballots for his family on the last day of early voting for the US presidential election at the C. Blythe Andrews, Jr. Public Library in East Tampa, Florida, Aug. 16, 2020. 

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In 2018, University of Michigan professor J. Alex Halderman helped conduct a mock election. The question at issue was simple: What is the greatest university, the University of Michigan or Ohio State? (They’re rivals.) Predicting the outcome seemed simple because the electorate was composed of University of Michigan students. But the results, generated by electronic voting machines, showed a shocking upset in favor of Ohio State. What happened? 

In fact, Halderman had hacked the election before it even began; by installing malicious software on the voting machines, some votes for the University of Michigan were changed as they were cast. Doing so, he says, was “unfortunately, somewhat easier than it sounds.” And, according to Halderman, our reliance on electronic voting can make our actual, real-world elections just as vulnerable. 

Related: How the world’s largest democracy casts its ballots

There’s been a lot of attention on Russia’s efforts to use social media to influence the 2016 election, but their interference didn’t end there. Halderman says that Russia probed the electronic election infrastructure of all 50 states and successfully gained access to several voter registration systems. Although subsequent investigations found that they did not manipulate registrations or votes, they may have had the capacity to do so. 

Related: Why Russian interference in elections can be assumed

“There wasn’t anything technological that was stopping them. They didn’t change [the registration records] not because the technology put up a barrier but because Vladimir Putin decided not to pull the trigger,” says Halderman. “And that’s what really worries me. That they could have a lot more damage in 2016, and in many parts of the country, the technology still isn’t there to guarantee that they won’t be able to do damage in 2020.”  

But how exactly would it work to hack the vote? Though electronic voting machines may seem disconnected from each other and therefore less susceptible to security threats, the election-specific programming loaded onto each machine comes from the same place.

“If Russia or other attackers can break into a state’s election management system, they can spread malicious software to voting machines throughout that jurisdiction, and potentially change all of the digital records. That’s the threat that really keeps me up at night.”

J. Alex Halderman, professor, University of Michigan

“Before every election, every machine has to be programmed with the races, the candidates, the rules for counting. And that programming is made either by the state or local government or an outside vendor on a centralized system called an election management system,” Halderman explains. “If Russia or other attackers can break into a state’s election management system, they can spread malicious software to voting machines throughout that jurisdiction, and potentially change all of the digital records. That’s the threat that really keeps me up at night.” 

Since 2016, Congress has allocated significant funds to bolster election security. Halderman says that he sees a marked increase in awareness of cybersecurity issues, as well as improvements in cooperation between election officials and law enforcement on this problem. He also reports a decrease in machines that are entirely paperless and therefore the most vulnerable to hacking. Now just 15% of US voters live in areas where voting machines are paperless.

Related: ‘COVID-19 is in charge of the census,’ says former US Census Bureau director 

But there’s a long way to go. Paper ballots are elections’ “physical fail-safe” — they’re what determines whether or not machines have been compromised. Halderman says that states such as Georgia and South Carolina are now having voters use ballot-marking devices, which use computer inputs to generate paper ballots, rather than limiting that technology to voters with disabilities. A study conducted by Halderman at the University of Michigan last summer found that only 6% of 250 voters noticed that their printed ballot had been altered by a ballot-marking device. Although this set-up is technically paper-based, that crucial fail-safe is gone.  

In 2020, an already fragile system is being dramatically reshaped by a pandemic just a few months before the presidential election.

“One of the problems that we’re really facing in 2020, is that so much is new and so much is changing, especially due to COVID[-19], that there will almost inevitably be places across the country that experience delays, experience breakdowns, experience long lines or delayed mail-in ballots, and it won’t necessarily be due to hacking,” says Halderman. Mail-in voting — now available to more Americans than ever before in response to the pandemic — involves a different set of issues; the US Postal Service faces immense challenges, as the Trump-appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy displaces top executives and cuts back on overtime, causing mail to pile up

“Even if Russia does nothing at all, they’ll still be able to point to instances where there were breakdowns, and make it appear that they were due to hacking.”

J. Alex Halderman, professor, University of Michigan

Halderman warns that because of the setbacks and delays that will most likely occur this year, it will be easy for people to claim manipulation or fraud. “Even if Russia does nothing at all, they’ll still be able to point to instances where there were breakdowns, and make it appear that they were due to hacking. So, if your goal is just to undermine confidence in the election, in 2020 you probably don’t have to do anything at all. And that’s because the election system is just not engineered well enough to provide evidence for people that it functioned correctly.” 

Russia’s 2016 election interference called into question the legitimacy of the process. According to Halderman, making sure that we’re all doing our part — by carefully checking over our paper ballots, whether we filled them out ourselves or not — is key to getting that legitimacy back. 

Teresa Lawlor is an intern at Innovation Hub. You can follow her on Twitter: @tmlawlor

Activists took the Irish govt to court over its national climate plan — and won

Activists took the Irish govt to court over its national climate plan — and won

The court battle, known as Climate Case Ireland, is one of many cases around the world of climate activists bringing their own country’s governments to court for insufficient action on climate change. 

Updated:

August 14, 2020 · 9:30 AM EDT

By
Anna Kusmer

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Extinction Rebellion protestors march on the Dail (parliament) on Budget day in Dublin, Oct. 8, 2019.

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It was like nothing Clodagh Daly ever experienced, and certainly not how she expected the three-year court battle to end.

Hunched over her laptop in her kitchen with two of her colleagues, she watched as one Supreme Court justice after another said, “I agree.”

Related: Global network of young people writes poems to cope with climate crisis

The result was a unanimous decision that said that the Irish government’s national climate plan broke the law by not being aggressive enough to meet the country’s own targets.

“For the highest national court of law to give [a] unanimous ruling in our favor is just so momentous,” said Daly, a member of Friends of the Irish Environment, the group who sued the government back in 2017.

The decision, which came down earlier this month, said that the country’s National Mitigation Plan fell well short of the specificity needed to ensure that the country’s climate goals could be met, which is to reach an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050 compared to 1990 levels, according to a 2015 federal law. The court proposed that the mitigation plan be “quashed” and redone.

“The case is the first of its kind in Ireland whereby the highest national court of law would require the government to raise the ambition of its national climate policy to actually meet its legal obligations.” 

Clodagh Daly, Friends of the Irish Environment 

“The case is the first of its kind in Ireland whereby the highest national court of law would require the government to raise the ambition of its national climate policy to actually meet its legal obligations,” Daly said.

The legal battle, known as Climate Case Ireland, is one of many cases around the world of climate activists bringing their own country’s governments to court for insufficient action on climate change. Throughout the last decade, dozens of suits have entered the courts, and Ireland is one of the first countries to deliver a big win for activists.

Related: How China’s nature-based solutions help with extreme flooding

“I think, for me, the most powerful element of Climate Case Ireland is reshaping the question of responsibility for the climate crisis,” Daly said.  

Ireland has the third-highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the European Union, and Daly said for a long time, the government’s strategy has been to encourage lifestyle changes to lower emissions.

Like the Department of Energy’s 2006 “Power of One” campaign focusing on energy efficiency in the home, which cost the country 10 million euros, largely on advertising, and failed to deliver results.

But since that time, Daly said youth activism in Ireland, such as local chapters of Fridays for Future and School Strike for Climate, have put pressure on the government to do more.

“Activists all around the world have been demanding that climate justice be front and center of the conversation,” Daly said.

This month’s court decision in Ireland means the federal government needs to come up with an entirely new plan for how to drastically lower the country’s emissions.

Related: ‘The mother of all injustices is climate change,’ says former diplomat and climate change leader

Ireland’s Climate Minister Eamon Ryan congratulated Friends of the Irish Environment and applauded the ruling. In a statement, he said the new plan gives the country, “an opportunity unlike any other.”

“We must use this judgment to raise ambition, to empower action and to ensure that our shared future delivers a better quality of life for all.”

Ireland Climate Minister Eamon Ryan

“We must use this judgment to raise ambition, to empower action and to ensure that our shared future delivers a better quality of life for all,” he said.

The ruling is the second win for a group called the Climate Litigation Network, which helps activist groups sue their own governments. The network was formed while the case, Urgenda was underway — it was the first high-profile climate lawsuit to have a major win, which ended in the Netherlands this past December.

Similar to the Ireland case, the seven-year Urgenda lawsuit argued that the Dutch government has a legal duty to act more ambitiously to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The ruling said that the government must cut emissions by at least 25% of the 1990-levels by the end of 2020.

Tessa Khan is an environmental lawyer who worked on the Urgenda case — she also co-founded the Climate Litigation Network. She says the Irish decision assuages some fears that the Netherlands win was a one-off, specific to Dutch federal law.

“I think the fact that this has also happened in Ireland really does vindicate this idea that we can use litigation to hold governments accountable for climate change,” she said.

And the Urgenda case shows that these lawsuits work. Since the ruling, the Netherlands has accelerated plans to phase out coal burning, Khan said. Her group estimates that their case has resulted in an investment of 3 billion euros in new climate initiatives.

Related: In Karachi, planting dense urban forests could save the city from extreme heat

“These cases have real impacts,” Khan said. “They’re not just a kind of interesting intellectual exercise for lawyers to produce interesting decisions. It’s about change that matters.”

Khan’s litigation network is helping groups in more than a dozen countries, including South Korea, Canada, Pakistan and New Zealand, among others.

In Norway, the local Greenpeace chapter is suing the federal government; it’s trying to prevent offshore oil drilling in the Norwegian Arctic, claiming it violates Norway’s constitution, which includes the right to a healthy environment.

Greenpeace Norway leader Frode Pleym said he’s celebrating the news from Ireland. 

“It shows that the legal system can hold the state accountable for climate change,” Pleym said. “But also, the Norwegian legal system is not operating in a vacuum. The Norwegian legal system is looking abroad.”

Ultimately, these lawsuits are fighting for the same thing, says Pleym, emissions cuts anywhere, help people everywhere.

“A win in the Netherlands or a win in the Philippines is equally important to us here in Norway, as the case in Norway would be to other countries,” he said.

In Ireland, Daly is still celebrating her group’s win and supporting other cases around the world that are following Climate Case’s lead. 

“It’s kind of like we’re riding on the crest of what we hope is going to be a global wave of climate litigation,” she said. “We’re really excited to see what other cases might follow.

Update: A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed a direct quote about emissions cuts to Frode Pleym. We regret the error.

Be My Eyes app makes daily life easier for people with visual impairments

Be My Eyes app makes daily life easier for people with visual impairments

The video chat app allows a sighted volunteer to help out with reading thermostats, matching outfits or troubleshooting technology. 

By
Jessica Yarmosky

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A woman uses the Be My Eyes video chat app to get assistance with various apps on her laptop. 

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Sanne Hegelund Byrgesen/Be My Eyes 

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If you’re blind or a person with low vision, even the most mundane task — things most of us take for granted — can present a major everyday challenge.

An app called Be My Eyes is trying to solve that issue: It allows users with visual impairments to video chat with a sighted volunteer who can help them with a variety of daily tasks like reading thermostats, matching outfits or troubleshooting technology. 

The idea emerged back in 2012, when furniture maker Hans Jorgen Wiberg, who is visually impaired, presented the concept at a startup conference in Aarhus, Denmark. At the time, he worked with people with visual impairments, advising them on how to cook. 

“I very often heard people say, ‘oh, if I just had a pair of eyes, once or twice a day, I could do a whole lot more on my own.'”

Hans Jorgen Wiberg, founder, Be My Eyes

“I very often heard people say, ‘Oh, if I just had a pair of eyes, once or twice a day, I could do a whole lot more on my own,’” Wiburg told an audience the following year at a TEDx event in Copenhagen. 

Since the app launched in 2015, it has taken off. There are now around a quarter-million blind and visually impaired users, and more than 4 million volunteers around the world looking to “be their eyes.” 

It works a bit like a ride-share app — users are matched with volunteers who share the same language and convenient time zone. Video calls can be anywhere from 30 seconds to much longer. 

“People meet each other and they connect on a human level. … I joke sometimes that it’s the first truly social network because it’s two people helping each other.”

Will Butler, vice president for community, Be My Eyes

“People meet each other and they connect on a human level,” said Be My Eyes’ vice president for community, Will Butler. “I joke sometimes that it’s the first truly social network because it’s two people helping each other.” 

A woman uses Be My Eyes video chat app to connect with a sighted volunteer. 

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Sanne Hegelund Byrgesen/Be My Eyes

Even though many users need assistance with smaller tasks, some people use the app to navigate through more significant life events. 

“[Our volunteers] have helped visually impaired people with everything from simply reading an expiration date to spot-checking a wedding dress before somebody walks down the aisle,” Butler said. “They’ve helped blind people return lost dogs, or find a parent’s grave in a cemetery independently.” 

The idea has expanded beyond the app — Be My Eyes is now partnering with companies like Google and Microsoft to provide accessible customer service solutions and human resources software for people with visual impairments. And, the company is also focusing on how to address the challenges that users call in about. 

“Pretty much every Be My Eyes call represents something that isn’t designed accessibly,” Butler said. 

Pandemic, privacy rules add to worries over 2020 census accuracy

Pandemic, privacy rules add to worries over 2020 census accuracy

An accurate census requires good data in and good data out. With the 2020 census, the US has unprecedented challenges with both, from the ill-timed pandemic and from new rules designed to keep data anonymous.

By
Qian Cai

The pandemic made it harder to collect census responses, contributing to worries over accuracy.

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Kena Benakur/AFP via Getty Images

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For the Census Bureau, the timing of national shutdowns due to the pandemic could not have been much worse.

Stay-at-home orders in March coincided with the period when millions of Americans received their census questionnaires in the mail. But large numbers of Americans moved from where they normally live to somewhere else — in with relatives with spare rooms, back home from college or even released from prisons. These highly unusual circumstances are likely to result in failures to count, double-counting or counting in the wrong place portions of the population.

Disruption from the pandemic adds to existing worries around the accuracy of this year’s census data, including the introduction of a technique to protect residents’ privacy and a potentially low response rate stemming from distrust in the government.

I am a demographer working with local governments, businesses and nonprofits, and this combination of factors makes me deeply concerned about how accurate census data will be when it’s released in 2021.

Communities rely on accurate data for a range of essential services, whether it’s determining the needs for hospital beds and vaccine doses, social programs for seniors or the unemployed, or evaluating wide-ranging health, economic and social impacts of the pandemic.

Good data in

People who work with statistics know that there needs to be “good data in” in order to get “good data out.” In the context of the census, good data in means “counting everyone once, only once, and in the right place.” The decennial census gathers data from every household in the nation to accomplish this enormous undertaking.

People are supposed to report where they were living on April 1. Yet, many left their usual residences to move in with parents, adult children, other relatives or friends; some fled to second homes; nearly 20 million college students vacated dorms or apartments; tens of thousands of inmates were granted early release; and nursing homes experienced high death rates from COVID-19, leading to no responses from deceased people who should have been counted on April 1.

The pandemic led the US Census Bureau to extend the deadline for gathering data from July to October. Prolonging the census-taking period may generate confusion about where and how people should be counted. This may introduce an increased number of recollection errors, diminishing data accuracy.

Further, Census Bureau field operations suspended in late March, and only recently resumed a gradual reengagement. In August, census takers will begin to knock on the doors of about one-third of the households nationwide that have not answered the census. But it may be harder to get complete and accurate information this year if people are reluctant to speak with census takers in person over health and safety concerns around the pandemic.

Finally, the Trump administration’s positions on immigration may further depress participation or distort results. Nearly 14% of the US population is foreign-born, and more than 80% of the foreign-born are racial/ethnic minorities from Latin America, Asia and Africa, according to my calculations from the Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey data. The administration’s proposed citizenship question was eventually scrapped from the 2020 census, but in its place, Trump signed an executive order to collect information about citizenship status through other means. Fear remains, not only among immigrants and their families but also among naturalized as well as US-born citizens with immigrant parents. This, in addition to the announcement of a plan to close US borders in late April because of the pandemic, sent unsettling signals and may further diminish census participation.

In short, both pandemic and policy-related forces threaten the goal of getting good data in.

Good data out

“Good data out” means that the data collected by the census is carefully processed and truthfully reported. Census results are the benchmark for federal, state and local data and the gold standard for what we can know about the country’s residents.

The Census Bureau is obligated to prioritize both data accuracy and individual privacy protection. In order to achieve near-absolute privacy protection, the bureau is implementing a new data processing measure called “differential privacy,” which distorts community data including age, gender, race/ethnicity, relationship, family type, homeownership, household size and vacancy rate. By reporting numbers that are distorted, the technique is designed to make it harder to identify specific individuals, particularly by combining census data with other sources of information.

National and state totals will be reported accurately, which is critical for congressional apportionment. But the process of shuffling data to protect privacy at county, city and town levels as well as among different age or racial groups means the data will be incoherent or even erroneous.

Bad data will have bad consequences. For example, next year when health officials use the fresh census data to determine COVID-19 death rates among the African American population, they need to divide the total number of deaths of African Americans from COVID-19 in a given jurisdiction by the total African American population there. Because of differential privacy, the denominator with the local African American population from the census will not be accurate, and as a result, there could be wildly inconsistent or even implausible results.

Census Bureau officials have said that injecting “noise” into the data is needed to ensure privacy and that the technique gives data scientists a good understanding of the level of uncertainty in the data. But other researchers have shown differential privacy to be ill-suited, harmful, untested and unproven.

Similar to an athletic team’s record bearing an asterisk marking a sullied season, the 2020 census will bear the unfortunate impact of the pandemic. Much is beyond the Census Bureau’s control, but this decennial census will also carry a second asterisk, due to Census Bureau decisions to trade data accuracy for privacy.

Qian Cai is Research Director of the Demographics Research Group, University of Virginia. This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news organization dedicated to unlocking ideas from academia, under a Creative Commons license.

UAE-Israel normalization: A ‘real breakthrough’ for Arab Gulf state, former ambassador says

UAE-Israel normalization: A 'real breakthrough' for Arab Gulf state, former ambassador says

Producer
Ariel Oseran

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The World staff

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Tel Aviv City Hall is lit up with the flags of the United Arab Emirates and Israel as the countries announced they would soon be establishing full diplomatic ties, Aug. 13, 2020. 

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Oded Balilty/AP

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For the first time in more than 25 years, Israel could seal a historic diplomatic deal with an Arab country. US President Donald Trump made the announcement on Thursday about the impending pact, which he helped broker. 

Related: Israel’s hurried school reopenings serve as a cautionary tale

Israel and the United Arab Emirates look set to establish full normalization of relations. As part of that framework, Israel has agreed to suspend annexation plans in the West Bank. But Palestinian leaders aren’t exactly pleased about what they see as a betrayal by a fellow Arab nation. 

Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel and currently a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, spoke with The World’s host Marco Werman about the ramifications. 

Marco Werman: So, ambassador, the statement Trump released today reads that the sides reached the agreement today, but teams from both countries will only meet in the coming weeks to actually sign bilateral agreements on things like opening embassies and security cooperation. President Trump is calling this a peace deal, but is that what it actually is?

Martin Indyk: Well, it’s really a normalization deal. I don’t think there’s any peace treaty to be signed here. But what’s important is that there will be a full normalization of relations. And that means ambassadors, embassies in both capitals and establishment of direct communication, including direct flights and a host of other agreements that they seem to have in mind to negotiate. There’s no formal conflict between the UAE and Israel to actually end. But the fact that an Arab Gulf state is fully normalizing its relationship with Israel is the real breakthrough here.

So, Israel and the UAE have not had official relations. Both sides have hinted at unofficial cooperation, though, for years now. So, what has been the relationship between the two countries, and what changes now, actually?

Well, there’s been a great deal of cooperation under the table, as it were, for about 10 years now — since Israel and the UAE developed a common interest in dealing with the threat that they both saw from Iran. This has been enhanced in recent years by a common concern about Turkey as well. That’s what’s been driving this. What’s been holding it up is the Arab consensus, up until today, that normalization should not go ahead, absent progress, if not a deal, between Israel and the Palestinians. Instead, what’s happened today is that it’s been turned on its head. And that is to say, in return for no annexation, there would be full normalization. So, the UAE can claim that it’s protecting the Palestinian interests from the annexation that Netanyahu was previously determined to go ahead with.

And yet I saw Hanan Ashrawi, who’s a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee, today tweeting: “May you never be sold out by your friends.” So, is this a signal by the Gulf States that they’re distancing themselves from the Palestinian cause?

Yes. And I can imagine that the Palestinians do feel a sense of betrayal, but they should have never gotten themselves up on the high branch of this tree of opposing normalization. The best solution for them is the solution that they tried in the past, and they should try again, which is to deal directly with Israel. But I do think that for some time now, the Gulf Arabs — we saw it with Bahrain and Oman, who were already advancing their relations with Israel in the last few years — the Gulf Arabs have felt that they no longer should hold their own relations with Israel hostage to the Palestinians. And so, I do think that we could see others following in the wake of the Emiratis, perhaps Bahrain, perhaps Oman. I don’t think Saudi Arabia yet, but you never know in that regard.

Many are going to see this as a foreign policy win for Donald Trump going into the November election. But are you confident in calling it — today — a win? And what do you make of the timing?

Well, the timing is highly political. The Trump peace plan was going nowhere, and the annexation had become politically fraught. It was offered by Trump originally for Netanyahu, to help [the Israeli prime minister] in his reelection. But the Arab reaction to the annexation, I think, held that all up. So, I think [Trump] traded it this time for something else. [As] I said, no annexation — in return for normalization. And so I think that he will claim some credit for this. It doesn’t resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It doesn’t remove any of the dangers that Israel faces in the region. But it does help to cement Israel’s relations with an important Gulf Arab country. And that’s important for Israel. And I think it’s important for the UAE. Eventually, it will prove to be, I think, important for peace [with the Palestinians].

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Choirs in the age of coronavirus: A new study looks at the risks of singing

Choirs in the age of coronavirus: A new study looks at the risks of singing

By
The World staff

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Stephen Snyder

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Members of the local choir “Ton in Ton” (Note by Note) sing during the weekly rehearsal under restrictions due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a soccer pitch in Hanau near Frankfurt, Germany, July 27, 2020. 

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Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

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You may recall reports of a cluster of cases of the coronavirus that was traced to a choir rehearsal back in the spring. More than 50 members of the Skagit Valley Chorale, in Mount Vernon, Washington, were infected in what the CDC called a “superspreader event.”

Two people died. 

Related: Why coronavirus tests differ around the world 

It was the first account — but not the last — linking community transmission of the coronavirus with singing

On July 9, the World Health Organization confirmed “evidence that COVID-19 might be spread by tiny particles of moisture that can hang in the air in enclosed or unventilated spaces,” after 200 scientists warned that airborne transmission may be underestimated, according to the BBC

While most experts agree that singing in a group is risky, no studies have attempted to measure that risk scientifically — until now. 

Jonathan Reid is a professor of chemistry who is leading a research team at Bristol University in the UK, looking into virus transmission and singing. He spoke to The World’s Marco Werman about why it’s important to know how many particles a person sprays while singing compared to regular talking — and what that might mean for the future of choirs in the age of the coronavirus. 

Related: Artists flock to the only ‘festival’ still on during COVID-19

Marco Werman: First of all, many of us may not imagine singing to be a lethal activity. So, how serious is this — the transmission of the virus through singing? 

Jonathan Reid: It’s very difficult to answer that question at the moment. The studies just have not been done and that’s really where our study comes in. So far, studies have focused on, for example, on speaking and looking at how the number of particles — these very small aerosol particles that you generate — how they increase as you speak louder. But we just don’t know the answer to that for singing. And we certainly don’t know how many particles you generate when you sing compared to when you speak. And that’s really what we’re trying to assess in this study. 

Related: This Spanish trio makes socially conscious music under lockdown 

What have you been measuring? And how have you been doing it? 

We’ve had to do these measurements in an orthopedic operating theater, which has very, very clean air so we can be certain that every particle we measure actually comes from the performer, whether they’re singing or speaking. 

The singing is done through a funnel. Why is that? 

The funnel is our sampling device. It is the way we sample the aerosol from someone singing into the very sensitive instruments that we have to count the number of particles that they’re generating when they sing. 

Why pick the song “Happy Birthday” for this test? 

We’ve picked that song just because it can be recited by singers and by instrumentalists and for performance for singers. It has a range of consonants and vowels, which are particularly helpful. So, we asked them to sing “Happy Birthday” to “Susan.” And so, they sing that repeatedly. We look at how the aerosol they generate varies as they sing at different volumes. And, you know, it provides a very good comparison across our large cohort of participants. 

How big is this study and how do you select your subjects? 

We have participants from across a broad range of genres, from opera through to soul, gospel, jazz, pop, musical theater. And in terms of instruments, woodwind and brass, we studied 12 instruments from flute, piccolo, bassoon, fruit, trumpet, trombone and tuba. 

In the case of the chorale in Washington state, with 61 people there, more than 50 got sick — apparently, a lot of people attending were aware of what they had to do to stay safe. How does singing compare with other activities in which people congregate, even when those people are conscious of best health practices?

I think it’s very hard retrospectively to definitively identify the mode of transmission. I mean, I think the study that you’re describing actually does make a very strong case for airborne transmission, partly because of the large number of people that are infected and just the implausibility of people actually coming into contact with that number of participants within the timeframe of the rehearsal. So when we’re concerned with airborne transmission, physical distancing doesn’t really help. It’s really about how well-ventilated a room is, because, as I say, these aerosol particles can remain airborne for many minutes or hours. And so really, they travel distances more than the 1 to 2 meters that we’re all accustomed to in physical distancing. 

Have you ever sung in a choir? 

I sing a great deal. I usually sing a great deal. And I also play the trumpet. So, I very much am keen to really get to the results of the study as soon as we can as well because, like many amateur performers, I am missing that opportunity to participate in music.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Lebanon’s military gets sweeping powers after Beirut blast

Lebanon's military gets sweeping powers after Beirut blast

People walk past debris from destroyed buildings near the site of an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Aug. 12, 2020.

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Hassan Ammar/AP

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Oregon protesters confront ICE officials; India registered its highest increase in coronavirus cases; ISIS has taken a port in Mozambique

Oregon protesters confront ICE officials; India registered its highest increase in coronavirus cases; ISIS has taken a port in Mozambique

By
The World staff

A close-up of a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s uniform.

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Top of The World — our morning news round up written by editors at The World. Subscribe here.

Scores of protesters rallied on Wednesday to block Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials from detaining two men in Bend, Oregon, who were taken to unmarked, white buses. Activists surrounded the buses for 12 hours.

Protestors in bend block buses from taking at atleast two men, immigration attorneys confirmed ice raid. Bend police just announced they are criminally trespassing pic.twitter.com/F0KoLH4O20

— Emily Cureton (@emilycureton) August 12, 2020

Late into the night, it appeared that federal agents from US Border Patrol had emptied the buses and the crowd was forcibly dispersed.

Bend Mayor Sally Russell said on Twitter that the arrests were not an immigration sweep and that she had been informed that there were warrants out for the men’s arrests. She asked people to leave the area.

For the Department of Homeland Security, acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli criticized the demonstrators and defended the intervention that included tear gas and nonlethal munitions. Cuccinelli said in a statement that “ICE will take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of its officers and detainees.”

Portland-based nonprofit Innovation Law Lab has asked a federal court to keep ICE from taking the men out of central Oregon, the ACLU announced.

What The World is following

On Thursday, India registered its highest increase in COVID-19 cases yet, with nearly 67,000 new cases and 942 deaths in the previous 24 hours. The country’s total infections approached 2.4 million, with more than 47,000 fatalities. India ranks behind only the US and Brazil in number of cases, and is also trailing behind Mexico in the number of deaths from the novel coronavirus.

And, militants tied to ISIS have taken a key port in Mozambique after several days of clashes. Government troops in the northern town of Mocimboa da Praia left by boat after Islamist fighters stepped up attacks in an area near valuable natural gas extraction sites.

From The WorldA Texas couple wrote a bilingual book to encourage children to wear masks

Martha Samaniego Calderón reads “Behind My Mask,” or “Detrás De Mi Cubreboca,” to her children Natalia and Nicolas, at their home. 

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Keren Carrión/The World

Martha Samaniego Calderón and her husband, Dan Heiman, decided to self-publish a Spanish-English children’s book called, “Behind My Mask,” or “Detrás de Mi Cubrebocas,” to encourage children to wear masks and help them process difficult emotions about COVID-19.

Brazilian housing movements fight surging evictions amid coronavirus

Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) attend a rally against the eviction of the “Povo sem Medo” or “People without Fear” occupants in São Paulo, Brazil, Oct. 31, 2017.

Credit:

Paulo Whitaker/Reuters 

Despite the pandemic — and rising unemployment — the number of forced evictions in Brazil has roughly doubled in recent months. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, more than 1,700 families have been thrown out of their homes just in the state of São Paulo, according to the Observatory of Forced Removals at the ABC Federal University. That number rises each week, with thousands more at risk of being forcibly removed.

Activists are fighting back. Late last month, a coalition of more than 50 Brazilian social groups launched a campaign to end the evictions. They’re demanding judicial and legislative action.

Bright spot

Music fans in the UK got to see live music — in person. Around 2,500 people went to see singer-songwriter Sam Fender perform on Tuesday night in Newcastle, in what promoters called the “first socially distanced music venue.”

The UK’s first socially distanced gig happened in Newcastle last night.

500 separate raised metal platforms, each accommodating up to five people from the same family/household. Hand sanitizer station and mini fridge included. Singing allowed too! pic.twitter.com/49pp1EnVFj

— Ian Dempsey (@IanDempsey) August 12, 2020In case you missed itListen: Ongoing protests in Belarus after controversial election

Protesters gather on a street against election results in Minsk, Russia, Aug. 12, 2020.

Credit:

AP

People in the Belarusian capital Minsk and across the country are protesting the election of Alexander Lukashenko. Protesters say the election was rigged and leaders across the EU and the US are raising some of the same concerns. And, Kamala Harris’ father is an immigrant from Jamaica. Jamaicans have been following her career closely and many are now rejoicing her appearance on US presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s ticket. Also, if the US can’t build better airports or trains than China, or even manage the coronavirus, how exactly is it supposed to compete with China’s economic power?

Don’t forget to subscribe to The World’s Latest Edition podcast using your favorite podcast player: RadioPublicApple PodcastsStitcherSoundcloudRSS.

Brazilian housing movements fight surging evictions amid coronavirus

Brazilian housing movements fight surging evictions amid coronavirus

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, more than 1,700 families have been thrown out of their homes just in the state of São Paulo, according to the Observatory of Forced Removals at the ABC University. 

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Michael Fox

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Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) attend a rally against the eviction of the “Povo sem Medo” or “People without Fear” occupants in São Paulo, Brazil, Oct. 31, 2017.

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Paulo Whitaker/Reuters 

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Housing activists marched up the empty highway arm-in-arm last month, heading to the São Paulo state governor’s palace to demand an end to the forced evictions that have risen sharply across Brazil during the pandemic. 

Military police in riot gear fired shots of rubber bullets and blocked the road ahead. Within minutes, the police pushed everyone back with tear gas, leaving many sprawled on the ground, gasping for breath.

“We are marching to denounce the evictions that Governor João Doria has been pushing,” said Jussara Basso, the São Paulo coordinator of the movement, in a video from the march. “While he appears in the press telling people to stay home, not one housing policy has been created and not one home has been built.”

A @jubasso_juntas explica porque os sem-teto estão agora em marcha para o Palácio dos Bandeirantes. pic.twitter.com/SEpnRYFqYy

— Guilherme Boulos (@GuilhermeBoulos) July 30, 2020

Related: Why is Brazil’s Bolsonaro peddling hydroxychloroquine despite the science?

“It’s a very sad moment in our history,” she told The World.

Despite the pandemic — and rising unemployment — the number of forced evictions in Brazil has roughly doubled in recent months. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, more than 1,700 families have been thrown out of their homes just in the state of São Paulo, according to the Observatory of Forced Removals at the ABC Federal University. That number rises each week, with thousands more at risk of being forcibly removed.

Activists are fighting back. Late last month, a coalition of more than 50 Brazilian social groups launched a campaign to end the evictions. They’re demanding judicial and legislative action.

“To be evicted at this moment is a question of life or death. To have a home is a question of life or death. It’s not just the federal government, the mayors and local governments should be protecting people.”

Dito Barbosa, housing and human rights lawyer

“To be evicted at this moment is a question of life or death,” said Dito Barbosa, a housing and human rights lawyer and one of the lead organizers. “To have a home is a question of life or death. It’s not just the federal government, the mayors and local governments should be protecting people.”

Related: Indigenous mothers in Brazil mourning children’s deaths seek closure

The United Nations has also weighed in, twice calling on Brazilian authorities to suspend forced removals during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Forced evictions should not be happening at all,” Balakrishnan Rajagopal, the UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, told The World. “They are a grave violation of international human rights law and a serious affront to human dignity and development. I am also concerned about the impact of the evictions on the spread of the virus, which is already very widespread.”

Rajagopal said many countries were unfortunately continuing evictions, despite the pandemic, but Brazil was “one of the most serious in the world in terms of intensity.”

Brazil is one of the most unequal countries in the world, with a huge income concentration in the top 1% of the population. Even before the pandemic, poverty was on the rise for several years. There is a national housing deficit of 7.8 million homes. That means that millions of families cannot afford basic rent, and they’re forced to live in precarious housing — in favelas or slums — often without sanitation or even running water. And their numbers are increasing during the pandemic.

Brazil’s economy is expected to tank by more than 9% this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. Unemployment is at 13% and climbing. According to a May poll, 80% of Brazilians said they had been financially impacted by the crisis.

There is movement on legislation in the National Congress to suspend evictions during the pandemic.

“This bill can move pretty fast, it just depends on political will,” said Natália Bonavides, a member of Congress from the Workers Party, who is sponsoring the bill. “The challenge is that we don’t have consensus on this issue because a large number of congressional members represent the financial elites. That’s why external pressure is going to be so important.”

“Only with a lot of popular pressure are we going to be able to approve this project,” she said.

But even if it passes, it will likely still face a veto from President Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly downplayed the virus and insisted on the need to reopen the economy. In June, he vetoed the section of another bill that would have suspended evictions of families unable to pay rent during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the numbers in the COVID-19 crisis continue to go up — the country hit 3 million infections and 100,000 deaths last weekend. The number of evictions is also rising with no clear path ahead.

“The problem is going to get worse with the pandemic. What is being asked is the bare minimum. Proceeding with evictions during the pandemic is a violation of the right to life.”

Ana Paula Pimentel Walker, University of Michigan Urban Planning, professor

“The problem is going to get worse with the pandemic. What is being asked is the bare minimum,” said Brazilian-born University of Michigan Urban Planning professor Ana Paula Pimentel Walker. “Proceeding with evictions during the pandemic is a violation of the right to life.”

Related: Paulinho Paiakan is remembered as a hero to Indigenous Brazilians

Erika Cavalcante da Silva, 36, lives with her husband and four kids in a 9-by-12 wooden shack they built themselves over the last year. It’s in a community called Faith in God, on the outskirts of the city of Riberao Preto in São Paulo.

In mid-April, she watched as backhoes tore down 20 of her neighbors’ homes. Authorities ordered the demolition. She said that with the interference of heavy rain and the help of local organizers, they were able to stop it. Since then, the neighborhood has grown, but the police are constantly threatening to return.

In the meantime, because of the COVID-19 crisis, Silva says she lost most of her housekeeping work. Her husband, who has lung problems, had to quit his job driving for Uber. The monthly government support they’ve been receiving amid the pandemic runs out this month. She says she doesn’t know what they’ll do.

“I am scared,” Silva said. “I’m scared to death that my daughter, who’s pregnant, will catch coronavirus. City officials think that only criminals live in the favela, but we are families here.”

Housing advocates blame a confluence of recent events for the spike in evictions — including the push to tamp down on new favelas and urban and rural “housing occupations,” or squatter settlements like Silva’s, which have grown during the financial crisis. With rising unemployment, many working-class families who are unable to pay their rent have ended up on the streets, moved in with relatives or joined new favelas and growing occupations on the city’s outskirts of the city.

Related: Black Lives Matter protests renew parallel debates in Brazil, Colombia

Other factors driving up evictions may have to do with private real estate interests, and the government’s inclination to act on evictions during the pandemic — when housing activists are less vocal, activists say.

“Some authorities are taking advantage of the situation. The São Paulo mayor’s office is requesting legal measures to fast-track the removal of 400 families in Campos de Eliseos, in the middle of the pandemic. This also happened in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The government [is] requesting that an eviction be carried out with urgency.”

Talita Anzei Gonsales, Observatory of Forced Removals

“Some authorities are taking advantage of the situation,” said researcher Talita Anzei Gonsales, at the Observatory of Forced Removals. “The São Paulo mayor’s office is requesting legal measures to fast-track the removal of 400 families in Campos de Eliseos, in the middle of the pandemic. This also happened in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The government [is] requesting that an eviction be carried out with urgency.”

These evictions are often violent. During a forced removal in Piracicaba, São Paulo, on May 7, police fired rubber bullets toward a cluster of makeshift homes, a YouTube video shows. Reporter Maria Teresa Cruz, with the Brazilian outlet Ponte Jornalismo, described the scene that day in a video from a nearby roof. She had to stop as clouds of tear gas wafted over the area and into nearby neighborhoods.

Reintegração de posse em Piracicaba (SP) https://t.co/p6QmZQ2yOm

— Ponte Jornalismo (@pontejornalismo) May 7, 2020

“There was no aggression from the residents being removed. I can say that because I witnessed it first hand. The reaction of the police was disproportionate,” Cruz told The World. “They fired a lot of tear gas grenades and many rubber bullets even into the favela alongside the occupation … People who were home were suffocated by the gas that came in through the windows of their shacks. This forced them outside and into the line of fire.”

This sort of thing is happening daily around the country.

“They hit a boy who was only 2 years old,” said a man wearing a green mask in an Aug. 6 video of an eviction of families in Jabaquara, in the city of São Paulo.

“They shot a tear gas grenade at us over there. Fired rubber bullets. We are just here to demand our rights.”

Amid crackdown in China, Uighur diaspora artists promote their culture

Amid crackdown in China, Uighur diaspora artists promote their culture

The US has stepped up efforts to hold China accountable for treatment of ethnic minority Uighurs in the western Xinjiang region, but new evidence shows continued persecution, with celebrities even being targeted.

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Rupa Shenoy

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The World staff

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In this file photo, Uighur protesters, wearing bandages over mock wounds, hold placards and wave a French flag as they take part in a demonstration condemning violence in China’s Xinjiang province, at the Trocadero near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, July 8, 2009.

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Francois Mori/AP

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Merdan Ghappar was a fashion model for the giant Chinese online shopping website Taobao. But the video that suddenly made him famous is not a commercial — it’s a rare, grim glimpse into one of the detention centers in Xinjiang, in northwest China.

Merdan Ghappar shared the selfie video and sent some text messages in March, a few weeks after he was arrested, said Enwer Ardan, speaking on behalf of Merdan Ghappar’s uncle, Abdulhakim Ghappar. There’s been nothing seen or heard from him since.

The video was released last week after the BBC consulted experts who said it was likely genuine. In it, Merdan Ghappar is seen handcuffed to a bed in a closet-sized room. There are bars over the window and a voice over a loudspeaker says there has never been a Uighur independence movement.

“It is a firsthand document that confirms China is torturing and killing Uighur people inside the camp.”

Enwer Ardan, speaking on behalf of Merdan Ghappar’s uncle, Abdulhakim Ghappar

“It is a firsthand document that confirms China is torturing and killing Uighur people inside the camp,” said Ardan, who believes Ghappar was targeted by the Chinese government, like other Uighur celebrities who’ve recently gone missing. “Tremendous intellectuals and artists and popular singers were arrested. And I think Merdan is part of this.”

‘Gravity of the situation’

As Uighur artists inside China have disappeared, people outside China have stepped up efforts to preserve Uighur culture. 

“There’s a different kind of urgency people are feeling,” said Elise Marie Anderson, an ethnomusicologist in Washington, DC, who lived in Xinjiang and works with the Uyghur Human Rights Project. “There are people who’ve been doing these sorts of preservation efforts for a very long time. There are just more of us now because people realize the gravity of the situation.”

Uighur-language schools are popping up in many countries. People are creating online cultural archives for songs and poems. There are Uighur YouTube channels and Instagram accounts. But Anderson said many of these efforts are struggling because they can’t find enough funding. 

“So many people think stuff like this is frivolous,” she said, highlighting the lack of financial resources. “This is not frivolous.” 

Uighur artists outside China have suddenly found themselves as the last keepers of a culture facing extinction. But Mukaddas Mijit, a Uighur dancer, singer and filmmaker now living in Paris, struggles with how to pass on her culture. 

“There’s a lot of stress around Uighur culture, [with people] saying, ‘All that will disappear, so we have to keep it in its original shape,’” said Mijit, adding that she doesn’t believe in simply aiming to be “authentic.”

“A culture that doesn’t move anymore, or a culture [that’s] just repeating itself, it’s already the beginning of the end,” she said.

Related: Sterilization abuse of Uighurs in China meets international legal criteria for genocide, experts say

On top of cultural oppression, many Uighurs resent long being stereotyped by Chinese people as entertainers and artists. They’re often featured in splashy TV shows. 

“If you talk about Uighurs in, for example, Beijing, there’s basically two reactions. One is, ‘Oh, they’re thieves’ or “They’re terrorists” or ‘They’re dangerous people.’ Or, “They are beautiful girls with beautiful clothes.” And ‘They can dance.’”

Mukaddas Mijit, a Uighur dancer, singer and filmmaker

“If you talk about Uighurs in, for example, Beijing, there’s basically two reactions,” she said. “One is, ‘Oh, they’re thieves’ or “They’re terrorists” or ‘They’re dangerous people.’ Or, “They are beautiful girls with beautiful clothes.” And ‘They can dance.’”

So, Uighur artists didn’t expect the crackdown to focus on them, Mijit said, even though they grew up with the same anxiety and oppression as other Uighurs. 

“We never realized that it could go this far,” she said. 

‘They’re coming for everyone’

Mijit was last in Xinjiang in July 2009, when hundreds of Uighurs participated in protests that turned violent. She watched trucks full of Chinese troops roll in and turn her home into a militarized zone.

“They forced us to get used to [militarization],” Mijit said. 

The Chinese government began moving millions of Uighurs in Xinjiang into detention camps. Mijit said it wasn’t until about three years ago that Uighur writers, poets and professors also began to disappear. Even Ablajan Ayup, a pop singer known as “the Uyghur Justin Bieber,” went missing. 

“I never thought that they will disappear because they always tried to behave well. I mean, they never did anything against Chinese authority,” Mijit said. “So, when they started to disappear, it was really alarming. I think then people really realized that, actually, they’re coming for everyone.”

Model Merdan Ghappar did nothing to provoke Chinese authorities, said Enwer Ardan, his uncle Abdulhakim Ghappar’s representative. He spoke perfect Chinese, had a Chinese name, and lots of ethnic Han Chinese friends. 

“He has never been political, nor religious,” Ardan said. “He’s just a young man.”

Related: New data on China’s detention of Uighurs: ‘They could charge you with anything’

But Abdulhakim Ghappar lives in the Netherlands, and Ardan said Abdulhakim Ghappar’s outspokenness about the treatment of Uighurs drew the Chinese government’s attention to his nephew.

The government has yet to comment on Merdan Ghappar’s detention. Ardan says the international community should not accept what is currently happening to Uighurs in Xinjiang. 

“We have to stand up,” Ardan said, warning that Uighurs — and their culture — could disappear. “We have to speak.”

A Texas couple wrote a bilingual book to encourage children to wear masks

A Texas couple wrote a bilingual book to encourage children to wear masks

Martha Samaniego Calderón and her husband, Dan Heiman, decided to self-publish a Spanish-English children’s book called, "Behind My Mask," or "Detrás de Mi Cubrebocas," to encourage children to wear masks and help them process difficult emotions about COVID-19.

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Alejandra Martinez

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Martha Samaniego Calderón reads “Behind My Mask,” or “Detrás De Mi Cubreboca,” to her children Natalia and Nicolas, at their home. 

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Keren Carrión/The World

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Getting ready to hit the piñata at Latinx birthday parties is arguably the most special moment of the celebration. Kids get in line and sing the popular Mexican piñata song that goes, “dale, dale, dale, no pierdas el tino,” which roughly translates to “hit the piñata and don’t miss.”

But for 7-year-old Natalia Heiman Samaniego, this moment causes her a little bit of anxiety. She doesn’t like having to cover her eyes with a blindfold to hit the piñata. 

“You can’t put anything to cover her eyes,” said her mother Martha Samaniego Calderón. “She has always been scared of that. So all of a sudden, having to see that people had to wear masks was something very scary for her.”

Related: Mexico City architect reads stories to children in empty public square

At the beginning of the pandemic, Calderón, a graduate student in the College of Visual Arts and Design at the University of North Texas (UNT), and her husband Dan Heiman, assistant professor of bilingual education at UNT, were having a hard time convincing their daughter Natalia, and son Nicolás, 11, to wear masks.

“Me se sentía muy como no quiero usar una máscara y toda la gente tenía máscara y yo estaba como que yo no,” Natalia said in Spanish. She said she didn’t want to wear a mask.

Calderón said during the pandemic, her daughter’s fear is amplified. Every time the family grabs their masks to leave the house, Natalia hesitates.

Martha Samaniego Calderón and Dan Heiman pose for a portrait with their children Natalia and Nicolas, at their home.

Credit:

Keren Carrión/The World

Confronting COVID-19 fears in Spanish-speaking families

To explore those emotions, Calderón began talking to her kids about their feelings and COVID-19. Natalia would tell her mother how sad she felt about people having the coronavirus and how much she missed her friends and soccer team.

“Books have always been part of our lives. So we decided to create a children’s picture book,” Calderón said.

Related: ‘Portraits for NHS Heroes’ honors UK’s frontline health workers

Calderón knew she wasn’t the only parent having conversations about COVID-19 with her kids. So, she and her husband decided to self-publish a bilingual children’s book called, “Behind My Mask” or “Detrás de Mi Cubrebocas.”

“What’s really interesting is that in the DFW [Dallas-Fortworth] metroplex, we have the growth of dual-language programs where Spanish isn’t used as a transition. It’s actually used as a way to foment bilingualism and biliteracy and biculturalism in students,” Heiman said.

He said having the book available in both languages is very important, especially in the North Texas community. Dallas Independent School District has the largest number of dual-language campuses in Texas.

Latinos make up more than 40% of the population in Dallas County. According to the Texas Tribune, Tarrant County continues to see the fastest growth of Hispanic residents in the state. Since the start of the pandemic, KERA has reported a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases among North Texas Latinos. For all these reasons, the couple felt it was necessary to continue spreading the message: Masks save lives.

“I think it’s really important as educators and as parents that we really address what kids are feeling in terms of their emotions and their identities.”

Dan Heiman, assistant professor of bilingual education, University of North Texas

“I think it’s really important as educators and as parents that we really address what kids are feeling in terms of their emotions and their identities,” Heiman said.

The book tackles the importance of wearing a mask by following a young Latina who explores her emotions during the pandemic. There are a total of five masks and each represents an emotion and a social issue.

“Naming emotion is so important. It’s so important because you bring to light these emotions like fear, anxiety,” Calderón said.

A way to embrace masks and challenging topics 

The book starts by introducing a blue mask dedicated to essential workers. It features a monarch butterfly representing migration, a symbol often associated with immigrants or immigration. Then there’s a rainbow flag for the LGBTQ community. One mask bears the message “hate is a virus,” representing the xenophobia the Asian community has experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Calderón points out that masks can make it harder for people — especially people who have experienced racism — to determine if a space is safe.

“For Latinos, and minorities and any marginalized communities, the impact of wearing a mask, it goes to a level that not many people can understand,” Calderón said. “With the current political times we’re living in, for me, it’s very important to read people’s emotions and faces and gestures.”

Calderón, an immigrant from Veracruz, Mexico, has experienced racism in North Texas, like when speaking Spanish to her kids at grocery stores. She uses the book to talk about this with her kids.

“It is important for us, the Spanish community, to start reaching out to our young ones and start telling them to wear a mask.”

Alexandra Tique, bilingual licensed clinical social worker, North Texas Area Community Health Centers

“It is important for us, the Spanish community, to start reaching out to our young ones and start telling them to wear a mask. What I tell parents is to buy a mask that has Pokémon, whatever the kid likes,” said Alexandra Tique, a bilingual licensed clinical social worker with North Texas Area Community Health Centers. She works closely with children and teens.

Tique said many parents are struggling with these conversations, but they can play an important role in helping children make sense of these feelings and COVID-19.

“Parents should set an example. They should wear them and not talk bad about wearing one, because masks save lives,” she said.

The couple wants their book to give kids a voice to talk about the challenges of living through a pandemic and current political events.

“The political aspect of the book has taken on even more urgency,” Heiman said. “We had no idea that our book would be published four days before the George Floyd incident and the mass protests against anti-Blackness.”

The book does not have a Black Lives Matter mask, but there’s a section at the end where kids can draw their own.

“We can’t control what happens outside. We can’t control the COVID-19 virus. But we do have control about certain things,” Calderón said.

She said the book has helped her family tremendously.

And Natalia? COVID-19 still makes her sad; and she misses her friends and her soccer team. But she isn’t afraid anymore.

“Mamá, me estaba diciendo que tenemos que usar una máscara. Y por que el libro que hicieron me inspiro a que use una máscara,” Natalia said in Spanish. She says her parents’ book has inspired her to wear a mask.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Art + Seek. Read the original story here

Backlash over anti-racist billboard challenges Houston’s Vietnamese American community

Backlash over anti-racist billboard challenges Houston’s Vietnamese American community

In southwest Houston, a Vietnamese American businessman received death threats and a boycott when he put up a bilingual Black Lives Matter billboard.

By
Elizabeth Trovall

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Nguyen Le stands in front of the Black Lives Matter sign he erected in southwest Houston.

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Courtesy of Nguyen Le 

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Like millions of other people, Nguyen Le watched the eight-minute, 46-second cellphone video in which George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police.

The 50-year-old businessman said he had to do something.

“I couldn’t remain silent anymore, because to me remaining silent would just be complicit to all this.” 

Nguyen Le, southwest Houston, Texas

“I couldn’t remain silent anymore, because to me remaining silent would just be complicit to all this,” said Le, who runs a well-known insurance firm in southwest Houston.

After Floyd’s death, Le saw an ad from the 1970s with Black Civil Rights leaders calling on the government to help Vietnamese refugees, like himself.

“That was the beginning of ’78,” Le said. “And then I realized, ‘holy crap’ — later that year I was an 8-year-old boy languishing in a refugee camp.”

It inspired him to show his solidarity with the Black community. In late June, Le put up a bright yellow billboard in Houston’s Viet Town that read “Black Lives Matter” in English and Vietnamese.

“We added the Vietnamese translation just because I’m Vietnamese, I was born in Vietnam,” he said. “Everything we do now is bilingual.” Some 91,000 Vietnamese immigrants live in the Houston area.

Related: K-pop and Chinese hip-hop artists grapple with their responses to BLM

Le said he was expecting some pushback — but the death threats caught him off guard.

Vietnamese vlogger on YouTube used violent verbal attacks against Nguyen Le for his billboard. The video now has more than 36,000 views.

His Facebook page filled up with hate speech. Some critics called him a communist, and he said his insurance business lost 12 clients. The Vietnamese media criticized Le. He responded with a press statement.

“I was never told that I am worthless by those with different skin colors. I know that my life would have been a lot harder to build if I did.”

Nguyen Le, southwest Houston, Texas

“I was never told that I am worthless by those with different skin colors. I know that my life would have been a lot harder to build if I did,” he wrote in the statement.

 

This is my official statement regarding the Black Lives Matter billboard that I had paid for to support the movement to end racism & injustice: I am Lê Hoàng Nguyên. I am a proud American of Vietnamese descent. Having experienced racism first hand over the years and especially having seen the recent social injustices in America, I used my personal funds to put up a billboard that shares the message of the Black Lives Matter movement. I did not receive any outside funds. The opinion expressed is 100% my own. It is not a political message. It does not support any particular organization. It supports the simple idea of the Black Lives Matter movement to stop racism and injustice for all. It does not mean other lives do not matter. I believe every life matters. But, if we do not stand up for the lives of those most marginalized, how can we say that all lives matter? I have heard many of the complaints about the message: Some mentioned rioting and looting, which I do not condone. The peaceful protestors far outnumber the troublemakers. Some pointed to crime committed by African Americans against Vietnamese Americans. I empathize with the victims but not all African Americans are criminals. Others reminded that Vietnamese Americans are also victims of discrimination. I understand and agree. I grew up being called names. I was in jobs where I was limited by the color of my skin. That is why I support stopping racism and injustice – period! Finally, some of you argued that this is the land of opportunity and all you have to do is to work hard. It is true, America is a great country and I am forever grateful to this land. I came here at 9 years old without my parents and worked hard to build an amazing life. And, I am very fortunate to have a beautiful family. However, I did not grow up with people who ran when they saw me. I did not have to fear for my life anytime I saw the police. I was never told I am worthless by those with different skin colors. I know that my life would have been a lot harder to build if I did. Who am I to judge the enduring challenges that others face? When I put up the billboard, I had three goals: 1. To show my public support for stopping all racism and injustice 2. To inspire future generations of leaders 3. To speak up & to start the hard conversations about racism and injustice Having proudly accomplished these goals, I’ve decided to put up a new billboard that honors our First Responders. The new billboard will be installed in the near future. In closing, I would like to share one of my favorite quotes: “Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.” – Alfred Adler While you might not agree with this statement from Alfred, it does not mean we can’t respect one another. Respectfully, Lê Hoàng Nguyên

Posted by Farmers Insurance Le Hoang Nguyen on Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Shortly after the backlash, people organized to support Le. They rallied in front of the billboard. They defended him on social media. An online fundraiser for Le’s business has been shared more than 3,000 times.

“I’m really encouraged by how many people have donated,” said Ngoc Anh Nguyen, a doctor in Houston who created the GoFundMe page.

Related: BLM gives hope to Wales family seeking justice for Black teen’s death

“At first it was only Vietnamese Americans, or Vietnamese people donating,” Nguyen said. “Then it went to people in other countries, people in other states, and then non-Vietnamese people who literally have no bone in this fight.”

She said the billboard controversy has sparked difficult conversations in their community, particularly among young people and their parents, who are more likely to be conservative.

Evolving conversations on race

Bao Huong Hoang, 35, is one of the many Vietnamese Americans in Houston who support Nguyen Le and Black Lives Matter. She’s an administrative director of protocol research at MD Anderson Cancer Center and generally steers clear of controversial topics, like race, with her parents.

But, she said, earlier this week, she sat down for dinner with her parents and her mom mentioned the billboard out of the blue.

“She said ‘you know about that billboard, I’ve been hearing in the Vietnamese radio they’ve been talking about it’ and she said, ‘initially it made me very uncomfortable,’” said Hoang.

Her mom told her about the media reports showing people of all different races supporting the Black Lives Matter billboard.

Yesterday, a small group of us, including Rep. @HubertVo149 and CM @TiffanyForAlief ruined a perfectly nice ANTI-#BlackLivesMatter event.

They tried to tell us they cancelled it when we showed up.

But we stayed to represent SW Houston and to stand against the racists & bigots. pic.twitter.com/8iZWGQQCci

— Gene Wu (@GeneforTexas) July 12, 2020

Related: Statue of Black protester replaces toppled UK slave trader

“She said she saw all these different faces, masked faces, but faces out at the protest. She said she’s had a change of heart. She said she thinks it’s now a good thing,” Hoang said.

Hoang said she’s pleasantly surprised to see her mother change her mindset.

Jacqueline Dan’s mother was less supportive when she found out her daughter was a supporter of the billboard. Dan’s mother, who lives in Houston, questioned her daughter when she saw her name on the GoFundMe page.

“She said, ‘the Vietnamese community… does not like this billboard,’” Dan said.

Her mom argued that Vietnamese stores are targeted by Black people. But Dan, who works as an immigration attorney at the public defender’s office in Orange County, California, rebutted. 

“I represent the people who [are accused of] break[ing] into Vietnamese stores and homes — and they speak Vietnamese,” Dan said.

These divisions are not uncommon in Asian American families, especially among the first and second generations, according to Janelle Wong, who studies Asian American public opinion at the University of Maryland.

“Those who are older or first-generation tend to be more conservative when it comes to racial justice issues than our younger people.” 

Janelle Wong, University of Maryland

“Those who are older or first-generation tend to be more conservative when it comes to racial justice issues than our younger people,” Wong said.

In the last 5 1/2 years, she’s seen a small but vocal minority emerge that aggressively opposes racial justice.

But nearly 75% of Asian American voters she polled in 2016 said the US government should do more to enforce equal rights for Black people in the country. And, she said, there are many older Asian Americans who have paved the way for the younger generation.

“The community as a whole is — among adults — 73% foreign-born, and we actually see that group is still more progressive than white Americans as a whole in terms of their ideas about race,” said Wong.

Nguyen Le said even though his 70-year-old mother was upset about the billboard — especially the attacks it spurred toward her son — he saw her opinion of its message “Black Lives Matter” evolve.

“I explained to her [that I had to do something] when I watched a grown man call out for his mama after his last breath,” Le said. “She finally understood that.”

Le said his mom’s own fear for her son’s safety made her realize why he could no longer remain silent on anti-Black racism.

Editor’s note: This article is republished from Houston Public Radio through a partnership sharing agreement. Read the original article

Slowing deforestation could save humanity from the next pandemic

Slowing deforestation could save humanity from the next pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is estimated to cost several trillion US dollars. But a new study suggests that spending just a tiny fraction of that to curb deforestation and the wildlife trade could prevent another costly pandemic.

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Adam Wernick

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An aerial view of cleared land is seen during an operation to combat illegal mining and logging conducted by agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or IBAMA, supported by military police, in the municipality of Novo Progresso, Pará state, North Region, Brazil, Nov. 11, 2016. 

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Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

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COVID-19 has thus far cost the world over 700,000 lives and vast sums of money in lost gross domestic products and government rescue plans. A new study published in the journal Science suggests we might avoid the next pandemic and save trillions of dollars by spending just a fraction of that amount to curb deforestation and the wildlife trade.

Many human diseases originate in animals — HIV, malaria, Lyme disease and, of course, COVID-19. Scientists call them zoonotic diseases. The novel coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 was initially believed to have started in the wet markets of Wuhan, China, from a bat or a pangolin on sale there.

“We see the appearance of new diseases like COVID[-19] overwhelmingly coming from wild animals and to a lesser extent, domesticated animals,” explains Dr. Aaron Bernstein, a pediatrician with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a co-author of the study. “That reflects increasing contact between people and wildlife, in particular, and of course, the reality that we live in a highly connected world with many densely populated cities.”

These two things together amplify the chances that a disease will spread to many other people, once an animal transmits it to a human.

“The reality is that we swim in a common germ pool with all other animals. … So we shouldn’t be terribly surprised that…these diseases, particularly viruses, tend to pop out into people.”

Zoonotic diseases are actually more the exception than the rule, Bernstein notes. The reality, he says, “is that we swim in a common germ pool with all other animals. … So we shouldn’t be terribly surprised that when we’re changing life on Earth at such a rapid rate today, that we’re sort of stirring the pot of the common germ pool, so to speak, and that these diseases, particularly viruses, tend to pop out into people.”

RelatedCOVID-19 threatens global progress in fight against other communicable diseases 

Bernstein says the recent paper came about because “a group of folks were bewildered by how much was being spent to deal with one emerging zoonotic virus. And the question was, how much would we have to spend to do what we know we need to do to prevent these viruses from spilling over into people?”

“The question was, how much would we have to spend to do what we know we need to do to prevent these viruses from spilling over into people?”

Many of these emerging diseases come from deforestation, he notes — not necessarily from cutting down trees, per se, but from all the activities associated with it: building roads, establishing settlements in forests, gathering or poaching wildlife. “So we looked at how much it would cost to reduce deforestation in places that are particularly high risk,” Bernstein says.

COVID-19 is believed to have started in one of China’s wet markets, likely through consumption of a bat or pangolin.

Credit:

Whiz-Ka/Flickr

Emerging infections also come from wildlife trade, he continues. “The part of the wildlife trade that we were most concerned with is actually not at the buyer end; it’s at the procurer end, [the] people who are going out into wilderness and harvesting animals for pets, for medicines, for furs, for all kinds of stuff. And those contexts are the high-risk ones…So, we focus on what it would take to really address the risks.”

The third area that the researchers tackle is surveillance. Ultimately, Bernstein says, it’s impractical to end the wildlife trade and deforestation, as much as people would like to do so. The solution, then, is to have much better surveillance of the wildlife and the people who are at high risk for spillover. “So we try and think through which organizations [could do this] and what the budget would be to do it,” he explains.

There are small-scale programs in various parts of the world already trying to find ways to limit human-wildlife interaction or to track it better. The new paper calls for a scaling up of these efforts, and “we talk in this paper about how important it is to really do good science around the efficacy of these interventions as they scale up,” Bernstein says.

Dramatically reducing deforestation and the wildlife trade would have other valuable benefits, such as saving crucial carbon sinks like the tropical forests and protecting global biodiversity. These benefits are “a critical part of our argument,” Bernstein notes.

“I think many people would rightly be a bit skeptical of how effective the interventions we propose are going to be,” he acknowledges. “I think we are pretty clear that while we know preventing deforestation, addressing the wildlife trade and really doing better surveillance carry the potential to reduce risks of spillover, we can’t say with great certainty what the return on investment is, because we haven’t really done it at scale. And so we need to really understand that.”

“But at the same time,” he continues, “we have a bunch of reasons to be doing these things anyway. Preventing deforestation is the clearest example. We not only have the carbon value, there’s huge water value. Tropical forests are hugely important to local water resources. There’s Indigenous rights. But there are other things that protecting forests does: It prevents fires. And so you see the compounding value that occurs when you protect forests. And now we add another dimension, which is prevention of disease spread.”

Related: Decades of science denial related to climate change has led to denial of the coronavirus pandemic

What’s more, taking these actions would cost a fraction of what the nations of the world are currently spending to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, he points out. The COVID-19 pandemic has so far cost roughly $6 trillion in lost GDP and governments have spent huge sums of money to try and prop up their economies. And when you put a dollar value on all the lives that have been lost, the cost rises by several trillion dollars more, Bernstein notes.

Bernstein and his colleagues estimate that substantially increasing the budget for addressing the wildlife trade, putting in measures to reduce deforestation by half and improving surveillance would cost between $20 to $30 billion.

“Even if you spent that $20 to $30 billion every year for a decade, you’d still only be on the order of 1% to 2% of the costs of this one pandemic,” Bernstein says. “And it’s very easy to forget that there’s nothing written that this can’t happen again. And there’s also nothing written that this is the worst pathogen that might spill over into people.”

“So, it becomes clear that salvation comes cheaply,” he concludes.

This article is based on an interview by Bobby Bascomb that aired on Living on Earth from PRX.