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For Latinos ineligible to vote, US census offers a path to political power

For Latinos ineligible to vote, US census offers a path to political power

The instability wrought by the pandemic could lead to census counts of historically undercounted Latino communities. Organizers are racing to get people to fill it out before the Sept. 30 deadline.

By
Max Rivlin-Nadler

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Signs advertising the 2020 US Census cover a closed and boarded up business amid the coronavirus outbreak in Seattle, Washington, March 23, 2020.

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Brian Snyder/Reuters

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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.

By her first day of college last week, Marlene Herrera had moved several times since the coronavirus pandemic hit. 

First, her mother, three aunts and cousins all moved into one house to save money. Now, Herrera, who is 18, splits her time between that house, her father’s house and another house with an aunt. She’s helping take care of three younger cousins while also taking classes on Zoom. 

Amid the shuffle, Herrera didn’t know whether she’d been counted in this year’s census. Her mother said she had been — as one of 13 people in her aunt’s household. Though Herrera will vote in her first presidential election this November, not all of her family members will be eligible to do so, given their varying immigration statuses. But being counted in the census ensures they’ll play a small part in the US political process.

Herrera’s housing situation is typical for US families whose finances have fluctuated during the pandemic. Like hundreds of thousands of workers across the country, her mother was briefly laid off and faced delays before her unemployment insurance kicked in. Those income gaps have led families to double and triple up to keep a roof over their heads. 

Marlene Herrera, 18, will vote in her first presidential election this November.

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 Adriana Heldiz/The World

The instability is one reason census organizers are worried about a possible undercount among Latino communities. A Brookings survey from late July found that 29% of Latino families have had someone in their household lose their job during COVID-19, and that 49% of Latino renters are having trouble paying their rent. Latinos, especially young Latinos, have already been undercounted in previous censuses. Past undercounts have led to less federal funding for predominantly Latino neighborhoods and less representation in Congress.  

Another worry for Latino advocates and census workers is that they’re running out of time to find and count everyone. 

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

After initially extending the census deadline to the end of October, the Trump administration announced last month that in-person counting efforts would end Sept. 30. The Census Bureau said it will end door-knocking operations in the San Diego area and other parts of the country on Sept. 18

Some Latino organizers say getting Latinos counted in the census can bring about even more change than casting a single vote. While elections take place once or twice a year, getting counted in the census means one person’s existence will be used again and again to provide funding to their community for the next decade. The census counts people regardless of their immigration status. 

The CARES Act, the pandemic relief funding bill Congress passed in March — was allocated in part based on the 2010 census. 

Paola Aracely Ilescas, a community health specialist, organizes agricultural workers from Mexico and Central America who work in avocado fields in northeast San Diego County. Most of them can’t vote because they are not US citizens: They’re either legal permanent residents, undocumented or work on temporary visas. Their children, many of whom are US citizens, are still too young to vote. 

So for the workers to participate politically, Ilescas wants them to get counted in the census.

“We tell them, ‘You count yourself this year, you’re making sure you count for the next ten years’.”

Paola Aracely Ilescas, community health specialist in San Diego County

“We tell them, ‘You count yourself this year, you’re making sure you count for the next ten years’,” said Aracely Ilescas, who works for Vista Community Clinic, a nonprofit health center. “You don’t count yourself this year, you basically are not receiving or don’t exist for the next ten years. And guess what? We’re going to lose $2,000 each year for each person that doesn’t count for the next ten years.”

But Aracely Ilescas says it’s hard to get a community that’s been relentlessly targeted by immigration enforcement to answer questions from government workers who are now knocking on doors tracking down people who haven’t yet answered the census. 

“Many of them have said other people have expressed distrust,” she said. “Are they really employees or are they faking to be employees in order to get them? Because for years we’ve been saying, ‘Don’t open the door to ICE officials. This is your right.’ Now we’re saying, ‘Open the door!’”

That transition, she explains, requires trust between organizers pushing for an accurate census count and local communities. But in California, where 27% of the population is immigrants, other issues — such as wildfires and the pandemic — are taking priority.

Related: Pandemic, privacy rules add to worries over 2020 census accuracy

On a recent sweltering day in San Marcos, an inland city in southern California, wildfires threatened rural communities. Arcela Nunez-Alvarez, a community organizer, had planned to lead volunteers to pass out census literature. Instead, they helped with relief efforts when the fires reached area farmworkers.

Nunez-Alvarez trains workers to become community leaders. 

“We work with a lot of adults, many have very limited formal education. They’ve had to work their entire lives, but care about their community,” Nunez-Alvarez said, standing outside of a low-income housing development beside a box of signs reminding people to fill out the census. She grew up in the area and understands the importance of messaging: it needs to come from someone they trust.

“These leaders live in apartment complexes like this one here, around us,” she said. “They’re members of the community, they speak the language of the community, they look like the community that we’re trying to reach.”

While many community members can’t vote, she says, that doesn’t mean they don’t play a role in getting resources to their areas. 

“We think that being counted in the 2020 census is a foundational part of participating in democracy, and that’s what we’ve been sharing with families.”

Arcela Nunez-Alvarez, community organizer

“These are communities that have been politically disengaged or disenfranchised and undercounted in the census,” she said. “We think that being counted in the 2020 census is a foundational part of participating in democracy, and that’s what we’ve been sharing with families. We’re talking about millions of people nationally that risk being left out of the census.”

The efforts by groups like hers have been paying off. As it stands, the cities of Vista and San Marcos are ahead of their final self-response rate from 2010 by 5%. That means government census takers have less ground to cover. 

But concerted efforts by organizers with deep connections to the community aren’t always so successful. In City Heights, a dense, immigrant-heavy neighborhood of San Diego, the census response rate is still lagging behind that of 2010. 

Related: Census 2020 ads don’t do enough to dispel immigrant fears, advocates say

An undercount would narrow the political power of Latinos in their own communities, says Rosa Olascoaga, a 24-year-old community organizer in City Heights, California.

“If our undocumented communities or our immigrant communities are scared to get counted, then we lose thousands and thousands of dollars every time we get counted, because the government doesn’t see us living here,” she said. “And that leaves us fighting for crumbs when we know we deserve more.” 

She works for Mid-City Community Action Network and focuses on the transportation needs of local immigrants. In a car-centric city like San Diego, the census is one of the few ways to get funding for buses, trolleys and safer streets. 

Ultimately, she knows the census — and this year’s election — must take a backseat to people’s immediate needs during the pandemic. Disillusionment with the government among Latino communities is high. And organizers like her can’t go door-to-door allaying people’s fears the way they did before the pandemic. Olascoaga hears those sentiments but hopes the community still prioritizes voting.

“I understand the government already made you feel that it doesn’t matter. These systems don’t work,” she added, wishing that impactful, in-person activism were still possible in 2020. “It hurts that we can’t have those face-to-face interactions.” 

Time is running out for Latino communities — encompassing people who are undocumented, immigrants and US citizens — that have just a few weeks to make themselves count. 

And a decade to live with the results.

A Black radio host calls on South Asian Americans to reject racism

A Black radio host calls on South Asian Americans to reject racism

Khafre Jay taught himself Hindi so he could call out acts of racism by Indian Americans on his radio show. He touched on a subject many Indian Americans don't talk about: the prevalence of anti-Black attitudes in the South Asian community.

By
Deepa Fernandes

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Khafre Jay, the executive director of Hip Hop for Change, based in Oakland, says he has experienced anti-black actions from Indian Americans when visiting his in-laws in Sunnyvale, a suburb of the Bay Area that is majority South Asian.

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Matt Rogers/The World

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Exasperation drenched radio host Khafre Jay’s voice as he spoke between tunes on a recent edition of his Sunday afternoon hip hop show. His visits to see family in Sunnyvale, a Bay Area suburb with a large and fast-growing South Asian population, infuriated him. 

“People walk past me like they’re afraid,” said Jay, who is Black. “Sometimes people cross the street and then when they get past me, then they cross back.” 

But worse, he said, were the times when “people [called] the police on me,” assuming he was up to no good.

Asians make up almost half of Sunnyvale’s population, while Blacks comprise less than 2%. The mistreatment Jay experienced came from Indian Americans, he said.

“There are so many brown people here in Sunnyvale, I don’t know why I should be experiencing racism down here… like, we should be walking hand-in-hand. We face the same white supremacy on a daily basis.”

Khafre Jay, radio host

“There are so many brown people here in Sunnyvale, I don’t know why I should be experiencing racism down here…like, we should be walking hand-in-hand. We face the same white supremacy on a daily basis,” Jay said.

Jay, who is the executive director of the nonprofit Hip Hop For Change, decided to speak out about it. 

During one July radio show, broadcast across the Bay Area on public radio station KPOO, Jay went on a bilingual offensive, throwing out Hindi lines he learned on Google to express his frustration. 

“Why are you staring at me?” Jay attempted in Hindi. “Do you know that I’m a human being?”

His radio rant came a few weeks into the nation’s deep reckoning with systemic racism in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis. 

“The most beautiful thing about what’s happening after George Floyd is so many white folks out in the streets fighting for Black liberation,” he said. 

Indian Americans, too, have come out to protest racism. Within days of Floyd’s death, South Asians in Palo Alto organized a racial justice solidarity protest by spreading the word on Facebook. Yet in protests from Oakland to San Francisco, the South Asian community has not been a large or organized presence.

Nilesh Junnarkar, left, Esha Junnarkar, center, and Anushka Junnarkar take part in a racial justice protest organized by Indian American groups in Palo Alto, California, on June 5, 2020.

Credit:

Courtesy of Priya Junnarkar 

Related: How Indian Americans are reacting to Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s VP pick

What Indian Americans often don’t talk about is exactly what Jay called out on the radio: the prevalence of anti-Black attitudes in the South Asian community. This is perhaps one reason more Indian Americans have not joined the protests. 

“There is a problem, and we need to address that in the South Asian community,” said Basab Pradhan, who runs a Bay Area theater company that stages plays for the Indian community. 

Part of the problem among Indians in this part of California is a lack of exposure to Black Americans within their own communities, says Pradhan, a Bay Area resident of many years. 

“There are places in the Bay Area, like Fremont, like Sunnyvale, like Cupertino, where the density of Indians is so high that you just glom onto that instead of widening your social circle,” Pradhan said. 

Furthermore, many Indians in the Bay Area work in the tech sector, and Silicon Valley companies employ low rates of Black people. 

Pradhan says Indian Americans in the Bay Area tend to have higher incomes and may believe issues like police brutality just don’t affect them. 

In 2017, his theater company staged a play about police brutality that provoked intense questions about justice and impunity. The play refused to sanitize how African Americans have been brutalized by the police. Yet attendance was low, Pradhan said. 

Actors Paul Costello, left, and Nabil Awad perform in a play “Counter Offence,” that tackles police brutality and was staged at the Bay Area Drama Company. The theater’s co-artistic director Basab Pradhan said the play was not well-attended.

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Courtesy of Bay Area Drama Company

Pradhan’s wife, Vidya, also works to raise consciousness within the Indian community. 

“Misinformation thrives in a vacuum,” she said. “If you have no information about the history of Black people, then it’s going to be filled in by whatever comes your way.”

Hollywood’s negative stereotypes of Black men can take hold, Pradhan says. She recently held workshops about Black history for Indian American children. Parents were interested, too, she said, and that gives her hope that this moment of racial justice reckoning might be opening some hearts and minds in the Indian American community. 

Yet Basab Pradhan points out anti-Black sentiment among Indian Americans may be connected to something far deeper: India’s entrenched caste system, which traces its roots to a rigid hierarchy present in Hindu scriptures. The priestly class, Brahmins, sit at the top, while Dalits are subjected to the bottom rung. 

Related: The US isn’t safe from the trauma of caste bias

Indians of higher castes hold many of the same stereotypes about lower caste Indians that whites hold about Blacks in the US, Pradhan says. Brahmins often believe lower castes to be lazy and not smart, and to get jobs or college placements due to affirmative action programs in India rather than their own smarts. Pradhan says it’s a challenge to erase these beliefs.  

“The education system [in India] does not work to blunt caste divisions in India, it works to cover it up. Then you come here and you take that system in your head and you apply it to your new country and it results in prejudice against Black people or Hispanic people.”

Basab Pradhan, co-founder, Bay Area Drama Company

“The education system [in India] does not work to blunt caste divisions in India, it works to cover it up,” Pradhan said. “Then you come here and you take that system in your head and you apply it to your new country and it results in prejudice against Black people or Hispanic people.”

Although discriminatory practices by upper-caste Brahmins against lower-caste Dalits are against the law in India, they happen in plain sight. 

Caste discrimination also takes place within the Indian community in the US. 

A survey by a nonprofit Dalit civil rights group, Equality Labs, found that two-thirds of the respondents felt discriminated against in their workplace due to their caste. 

Related: Netflix’s ‘Indian Matchmaking’ stirs conversation about tradition, colorism and caste

In a landmark case brought in June by the state of California, regulators are suing tech firm Cisco Systems, accusing it of discrimination against an Indian American engineer because of his lower-caste status. The company has denied the allegations. 

The Cisco case has brought to light more stories from Dalit Indians of caste discrimination at US workplaces. Software engineer Maya Kamble said she has experienced it a lot

“I never could imagine that I would face the caste system after coming to the US,” she said. “It’s not so easy when you have an Indian manager. Managers have a lot of control over what kind of bonuses you get, whether you get promoted or not.”

Kamble says she recently left a job because of the hostile work environment created by her Indian manager.

Yet, caste discrimination against Dalits is something that has brought lower-caste Indian Americans to identify strongly with other oppressed communities in the US, according to Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director of Equality Labs.

“Dalits have been really pushing the rest of the South Asian community that if you want to really show up for Black lives, you have to work on your internal hegemonies of caste and that will really change the way that you show up for all oppressed peoples.”

Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director, Equality Labs

“Dalits have been really pushing the rest of the South Asian community that if you want to really show up for Black lives, you have to work on your internal hegemonies of caste and that will really change the way that you show up for all oppressed peoples,” she said.

Dalit South Asian Americans have a long history of solidarity with African American communities, Soundararajan said. There were the Dalit Panthers, who were directly inspired by the Black Panthers. And famous Dalit leader, Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, reached across the ocean from India to build solidarity with Black Americans, she said. 

“This goes back many years from the correspondence between W.E.B. Dubois and Dr. Ambedkar about the possibilities for engagement at the UN [United Nations] for issues of caste and racial justice,” Soundararajan said. 

Khafre Jay says he wants Black and brown communities to stand in solidarity against racism.

Credit:

Matt Rogers/The World

Khafre Jay, the hip hop community organizer, often invokes the same Black thinkers and activists on his show. 

“Part of me is pissed at the [Indian American] community out here for excluding me and making me feel so unwelcome, and using the man and the dogs of the man to police me,” he said. 

Yet Jay also wants to express solidarity. And he’s not giving up on learning Hindi. 

“As a Black dude looking like me speaking Hindi, I think my biggest point to the Indian community would be like, ‘Hey, we have to fight because oppression for anybody becomes oppression for everybody.’”

Nigeria’s ‘Ìfé’ film reclaims love at the center of LGBTQ stories

Nigeria’s ‘Ìfé’ film reclaims love at the center of LGBTQ stories

By
Bianca Hillier

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“Ífé” film features two women in love in Nigeria. 

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Courtesy of The Equality Hub

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“Ìfé,” one of the newest Nollywood films coming out of Nigeria, is unlike any that has come before. Upon release, it’ll be the country’s first positive love story made by queer women about queer women.

“I have never been proud to release anything to the world as much as I am proud of this film.”

Pamela Adie, “Ìfé” film producer

“I have never been proud to release anything to the world as much as I am proud of this film,” said Pamela Adie, an LGBTQ advocate and producer of “Ìfé.” The film, Adie said, follows two women falling in love over a three-day date, “who then have their love tested by the realities of being in a same-sex relationship in a country like Nigeria.”

Related: This senior center is helping Mexico’s ‘invisible’ LGBTQ seniors

Those realities can be wide-reaching. Under the country’s Same-Sex Prohibition Act, queer Nigerians face up to 14 years in prison for showing affection in public, a law which 75% of the country supports, according to a recent survey by The Initiative for Equal Rights.

The love story between Ìfé and Adaora is fictional, Adie said. But the plot will be familiar to queer Nigerians.

Related: Abruptly canceled, ShanghaiPRIDE could be harbinger for China’ civil society

“We fall in love. We break people’s hearts. Other people break our hearts. You know? And … we also want family. … So, all of these things really present a picture of the complexity of love — of same-sex love — in a country like Nigeria, where you have to deal with a lot of homophobic attitudes.”

Pamela Adie, “Ìfé” film producer

“We fall in love. We break people’s hearts. Other people break our hearts. You know? And … we also want family,” Adie said. “So, all of these things really present a picture of the complexity of love — of same-sex love — in a country like Nigeria, where you have to deal with a lot of homophobic attitudes.”

Adie said she knows the film “Ìfé” won’t get rid of all homophobic attitudes in Nigeria. Instead, she hopes it helps to reclaim the stories of Nigeria’s LGBTQ community on screen when it’s released later this year. 

But the film won’t be played in theaters. Cinemas are largely still closed due to the pandemic, but the crew also knows the film wouldn’t be approved by Nigeria’s National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB). The Board’s executive director, Adedayo Thomas, said he’s seen the trailer and read about the plot.

Related: Thailand set to legalize LGBTQ unions, a rare step in Asia

“The law criminalizes LGTB [sic]. … Such things are classified under obscene, blasphemous, indecent. So, it’s not going to be passed for public viewing.”

Adedayo Thomas, executive director, National Film and Video Censors Board

“The law criminalizes LGTB [sic],” Thomas said. “Such things are classified under obscene, blasphemous, indecent. So, it’s not going to be passed for public viewing.”

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Can you guess what was happening here?😅 . Cc @equalityhub @kristigbemi @uyaiedu @uzoamaka_a @dynaziie #ÌFÈ #ÌFÈtheMovie #ComingSoon #BTS #ShortFilm #Naija #Storytelling

A post shared by ÌFÉ the Movie (@ife_movie) on Jul 6, 2020 at 6:25am PDT

For now, that’s OK with the “Ìfé” team; they’re planning a surprise release online. But Thomas said the NFVCB monitors streaming platforms, too, and “Ìfé” on the internet would also violate Nigerian law.

“So, if it goes [to an] online platform, the producers [and] those who act in it would be called for prosecution,” Thomas said. 

“Ìfé” producer Adie said she isn’t worried about the censors board.

“They don’t matter,” she said. “Because we don’t need them for anything. This is art, this is film. And there is no law that says that we cannot produce this kind of content.

The point of this kind of content, according to Adie, is to show that queer people exist in Nigeria, and lead full, complex lives that Nollywood films have not previously featured. 

“The whole essence of making this film is to really correct some of the wrong narratives that have come out of Nollywood,” she said.

A 2003 film called “Emotional Crack” is widely regarded as the first Nollywood movie to feature a lesbian couple. The film follows a relationship between a woman named Camilla and a married woman, Crystal.

“It was actually a nice film,” said Lindsey Green-Simms, an associate professor of literature at American University who has been researching LGBTQ representation in African films for the past decade. She added: “It ended with the death and psychotic breakdown of the lesbian character, but up until that point, it was a complex, emotional relationship.”

“Emotional Crack” has been criticized for suggesting that the character, Crystal, was only attracted to a woman because she was being abused by her husband. Critics also say that the violence at the movie’s end reinforces a homophobic stereotype. Green-Simms agreed that those negative stereotypes are prevalent. But, she said, “Emotional Crack” needs to be put in perspective.

“Especially in 2003, there was almost no representation of queerness in popular culture. … And even some of the films that are — hands down — stereotypical, homophobic films, they still worked to affirm the fact that there are queer people in Nigeria. And that, in and of itself, is groundbreaking.”

Lindsey Green-Simms, associate professor of literature, American University

“Especially in 2003, there was almost no representation of queerness in popular culture,” Green-Simms said. “And even some of the films that are — hands down — stereotypical, homophobic films, they still worked to affirm the fact that there are queer people in Nigeria. And that, in and of itself, is groundbreaking.”

While negative stereotypes dominate in the majority of Nollywood films, LGBTQ representation in Nigeria’s entertainment industry has expanded over the past 20 years. Both Green-Simms and Adie said this was most notable when LGBTQ organizations like the Initiative for Equal Rights began producing their own content that centered queer characters. 

The films — “Hell or High Water,” “Walking with Shadows,” and “We Don’t Live Here Anymore,” to name a few — all featured gay men.

“But they haven’t been love stories,” Adie said. “They’ve been stories about the difficulties of being a gay man in Nigeria.” 

In contrast, “Ìfé”’s title translates to “love” in the Yoruba language. The film’s director, Uyaiedu Ikpe-Etim, believes it will stand out from the rest.

“I think that anyone who’s watching it is definitely going to be surprised. Like, ‘ooh, nice. Two Nigerian women in love.’”

Uyaiedu Ikpe-Etim, “Ìfé” film director 

“I personally haven’t seen any films like this from Nigeria,”  Ikpe-Etim said in a video posted on the film’s YouTube page. “So, I think that anyone who’s watching it is definitely going to be surprised. Like, ‘ooh, nice. Two Nigerian women in love.’”

With Kamala Harris, Americans again have trouble understanding what ‘multiracial’ means

With Kamala Harris, Americans again have trouble understanding what 'multiracial' means

While the debates about Kamala Harris’ multiracial identity may seem new, they echo the commentary and confusion faced by other high-profile mixed-race people in the US such as Tiger Woods.

By
Jennifer Ho

Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee.

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Michael A. McCoy/Getty Images

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A Paris neighborhood honors 92-year-old Holocaust survivor who died after COVID-19 bout

A Paris neighborhood honors 92-year-old Holocaust survivor who died after COVID-19 bout

By
Rebecca Rosman

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James Smurthwaite stands next to the obituary sign he made to honor his late neighbor Eugene Deutsch. 

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Rebecca Rosman/The World 

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Le Chateau Landon is a quiet, nondescript brasserie in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, steps away from the Gare de l’Est railway terminal.

Not much about the black and red interior stands out. But the café has kept a steady clientele of regulars for decades — many of whom are older people.

In April, it lost one of its favorite regulars: A 92-year-old man named Eugene Deutsch who had survived the Holocaust, then a bout with COVID-19.  

Related: Coronavirus tears through Canada nursing homes

Deutsch was a neighborhood figure known for making the daily rounds at the local cafés and bakeries. He would have his morning coffee at Le Chateau Landon, followed by an afternoon Côtes du Rhône wine at the neighboring Le Cristal. In between, he would buy himself a fresh baguette — always bien cuite, or “well done.”

But when France went into lockdown in mid-March, this routine was upended. Deutsch’s health quickly deteriorated.

Philippe, the café’s owner, says that once the lockdown took effect, Deutsch “lost his taste for life.” It’s something he’s seen happen to many older people in the neighborhood. 

“[Older people] aren’t necessarily dying of COVID-19, but in a way, they’re dying because of it.”

Philippe, owner, Le Chateau Landon

“They aren’t necessarily dying of COVID-19, but in a way, they’re dying because of it,” he said.

Related: Isolation may be a greater risk than COVID-19 for Canada’s nursing homes

Deutsch was hospitalized shortly after the lockdown took effect. Neighbors say that he was diagnosed with COVID-19, but recovered and went home. He died a few weeks later from an unrelated health issue. 

He had lived in the same building for more than six decades. James Smurthwaite was one of Deutsch’s neighbors. 

“Imagine spending years spending 62 years somewhere and when you leave, it’s met with complete silence.”

James Smurthwaite, neighbor of the late Eugene Deutsch

“Imagine spending years spending 62 years somewhere, and when you leave it’s met with complete silence,” Smurthwaite says.

Related: Netherlands nursing home builds ‘glass cabin’ for safe visits

While they rarely exchanged more than simple pleasantries, Smurthwaite says he was deeply touched by Deutsch and wanted to do something to honor his memory. In late April, he attached an obituary to a tree in front of their building.

Deutsch was generally reserved and didn’t talk much about his personal life. But here’s what Smurthwaite was able to share.

Eugene Deutsch was born in Hungary in 1928. When he was a boy, he was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany, something he never spoke about after the war. In the 1950s he settled in Paris, where he worked as a security guard at a department store. Deutsch never married or had children, but he enjoyed being around others. 

Smurthwaite says that above all, Deutsch loved being outside and used to walk for miles every day.  

Smurthwaite hopes those reading the dedication he posted will spare a thought for the many older people now stuck inside, and who, like Deutsch, may never see a world post-COVID-19.

“With COVID[-19], this generation will know only their last days in this context and I think that’s devastating.” 

James Smurthwaite, neighbor of the late Eugene Deutsch

“With COVID[-19], this generation will know only their last days in this context, and I think that’s devastating,” Smurthwaite says.

Back at the café, the owner Philippe, who only goes by his first name, grabs a teeny tiny wine glass he keeps on a shelf behind the bar. It’s so small, they don’t actually make this kind of glass anymore. But he kept it for Deutsch.

“And now this glass is sad,” he says. “It’s a small souvenir of someone who I miss dearly…someone who was a pillar of the neighborhood.”

Germany: Russian dissident Navalny poisoned with nerve agent Novichok

Germany: Russian dissident Navalny poisoned with nerve agent Novichok

In this file photo taken on Sept. 8, 2019, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, with his wife Yulia, right, daughter Daria, and son Zakhar pose for the media after voting during a city council election in Moscow, Russia.

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned with the same type of Soviet-era nerve agent that British authorities identified in a 2018 attack on a former Russian spy, the German government said Wednesday, citing new test results.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in a statement that testing by a special German military laboratory at the Charité hospital’s request had now shown “proof without doubt of a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group.”

“It is a dismaying event that Alexei Navalny was the victim of an attack with a chemical nerve agent in Russia,” Seibert said. “The German government condemns this attack in the strongest terms.”

Navalny, a politician and corruption investigator who is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics, fell ill on a flight back to Moscow from Siberia on Aug. 20 and was taken to a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk after the plane made an emergency landing.

He was transferred two days later to Berlin’s Charité hospital, where doctors last week said initial tests indicated Navalny had been poisoned.

British authorities identified Novichok as the poison used in 2018 on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England.

The nerve agent is a cholinesterase inhibitor, part of the class of substances that doctors at the Charité initially identified in Navalny.

‘Like leaving an autograph’

Germany has demanded a response from the Russian government, but the Kremlin said Wednesday it hadn’t been informed yet of Navalny being poisoned with a nerve agent.

“Such information hasn’t been relayed to us,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the state TASS news agency.

Seibert said the German government would inform its partners in the European Union and NATO about the test results. In light of the Russian response, he also said that Germany will consult with its partners “on an appropriate joint response.”

Germany also will contact the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Seibert added.

Navalny’s allies in Russia have insisted he was deliberately poisoned by the country’s authorities, accusations that the Kremlin rejected as “empty noise.”

“To poison Navalny with Novichok in 2020 would be exactly the same as leaving an autograph at a crime scene, like this one,” Navalny’s longtime ally and strategist Leonid Volkov said in a tweet that featured a photo of Putin’s name and a signature next to it.

The Russian doctors who treated Navalny in Siberia repeatedly contested the German hospital’s poisoning conclusion, saying they had ruled out poisoning as a diagnosis and that their tests for cholinesterase inhibitors came back negative.

In the Charité’s latest update, the hospital said Navalny was still in an induced coma but in stable condition.

Dangerous weapon

Novichok is a class of military-grade nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War. Western weapons experts say it was only ever manufactured in Russia.

After the Skripals were poisoned, Russia said the US, UK and other Western countries acquired the expertise to make the nerve agent after the Soviet Union collapsed, and claimed that the Novichok used in the attack could have come from them.

According to the OPCW, there is no record of Novichok having been declared by any nation that signed the chemical weapons convention.

Britain has charged in absentia two Russians — alleged to be agents of the Russian military intelligence service GRU — with the 2018 attack, which left the Skripals in critical condition and killed a local woman. Russia has refused to extradite the men to the UK.

British police believe the nerve agent was smuggled to Britain in a counterfeit Nina Ricci perfume bottle and sprayed on the front door of Sergei Skripal’s house in the city of Salisbury in southwest England.

More than three months later, the bottle was found by a local man, 48-year-old Charlie Rowley. He was hospitalized and his girlfriend Dawn Sturgess, 44, died after being exposed to the contents.

Charlie Hebdo trial begins; Notorious Cambodia killer dies; COVID-19 antibody study offers some hope

Charlie Hebdo trial begins; Notorious Cambodia killer dies; COVID-19 antibody study offers some hope

By
The World staff

Chloe Verlhac, widow of Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Tignous, arrives at the courtroom for the opening of the 2015 attacks trial, Sept. 2, 2020, in Paris.

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Francois Mori/AP

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

The Charlie Hebdo terror trial began in Paris on Wednesday, five years after the massacre was carried out. Fourteen people are being tried for their alleged involvement in the series of deadly attacks, which started at the satirical magazine’s office and continued in a kosher supermarket. The attackers killed 17 people in the 2015 massacre, including the magazine’s editor, Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier, as well as several columnists and cartoonists.

The suspects stand accused of participating in a terrorist criminal association and giving support to the main perpetrators: brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, and their accomplice Amedy Coulibaly. The three attackers were killed by police.

Many of the defendants could face sentences of up to 20 years, and one is looking potentially at life behind bars. Eleven of them are actually appearing in court, with all but one behind bulletproof glass. Three others who fled to Syria just before the attacks took place are on the docket in absentia. The hearing is expected to last almost two months and will entail 144 witnesses, 14 experts and 200 interested parties — mostly the friends and family members of the victims. 

The killings marked the start of a series of attacks across France that claimed the lives of more than 250 people.

What The World is following

Kaing Guek Eav, a former teacher known as “Duch” who became the most infamous killer in the Khmer Rouge era, has died at the age of 77 of lung disease in a Phnom Penh hospital. He was serving a life term after being sentenced by a UN-backed court in 2012, for crimes against humanity while running Tuol Sleng prison. Some 14,000 people faced death at the notorious prison, typically at a killing field after extensive torture and forced confessions for dubious crimes. As many as 2 million people are believed to have died under the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.

A new study published on Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that COVID-19 antibodies last at least four months after initial infection. The dataset is based on blood samples from 30,000 people in Iceland, and the findings could offer good news for scientists working on a COVID-19 vaccine. But big questions remain about whether immunity could decrease over time, meaning that reinfection with the virus later on might not be inhibited.

Saudi Arabia has announced that it will allow flights “from all countries” to travel through its airspace to or from the UAE. Although Riyadh has several ongoing regional disputes, the move was seen as an implicit but significant step for détente specifically with Israel.

From The WorldAfter military coup, uncertainty hangs over Mali’s future

People cheer in celebration as security forces drive through the streets of the capital Bamako, Mali, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, a day after armed soldiers fired into the air outside President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s home and took him into their custody.

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File photo/AP

When Mali’s military arrested former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta to protect the nation as a “true democracy,” crowds in the capital Bamako erupted in cheers. Two weeks later, that enthusiasm has not waned — at least within Mali. From the onset, the military junta has promised to pave the way to new elections. But some are concerned it might be trying to hold onto power in this transition.

California and Australia look to Indigenous land management for fire help

Firefighters control a spot fire near Bredbo, south of the Australian capital, Canberra, Feb. 2, 2020. Fire management in Australia has increasingly encompassed Indigenous cultural burning techniques. 

Credit:

Rick Rycroft/AP

After years of advocacy work, cultural burning practitioners had a win in Australia last week, when the government of New South Wales, the state hit hardest by last year’s catastrophic bushfires, formally accepted a recommendation for an increase in cultural burning as part of their fire management strategy.

As some of the most damaging wildfires in recent memory have raged through California, could cultural burning knowledge become more relevant in the Golden State?

Bright spot

With the use of conservation biology and genomics, scientists at the National Human Genome Research Institute have discovered that the New Guinea singing dog still thrives in the highlands of New Guinea. This species was thought to be extinct for 50 years. The finding opens the door for the protection of the species. 

Scientists have discovered that the New Guinea singing dog (yes!) thought to be extinct for 50 years, still thrives in the Highlands of New Guinea. This opens new doors for protecting a remarkable creature that can teach us about human vocal learning. https://t.co/HycWWjglbZ pic.twitter.com/qCm8rG4eLs

— National Human Genome Research Institute (@genome_gov) August 31, 2020In case you missed itListen: A global coronavirus check-in, six months into the pandemic

A man wearing protective gear disinfects inside an airplane at the El Dorado International Airport amid the coronavirus pandemic, in Bogota, Colombia, Aug. 31, 2020.

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Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters

Six months into living through a declared pandemic, where does the world stand? Also, hear from some of The World’s international correspondents about what it’s like to travel abroad during a pandemic. The 2020 census gives Latino communities a pathway to political power. And, a man codes an online bilingual baby name finder.

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

A Salvadoran American’s memoir ‘comes full circle’ on a family history of violence, struggle

A Salvadoran American’s memoir ‘comes full circle’ on a family history of violence, struggle

By
The World staff

Producer
Joyce Hackel

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Writer Roberto Lovato’s new memoir examines his family history between the US and El Salvador, shedding light on the stories behind gang violence and mass migration from Central America.

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Courtesy of Roberto Lovato

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In his new book, writer Roberto Lovato describes El Salvador as “a tiny country of titanic sorrows.” 

Roberto Lovato’s new book is out Sept. 1, 2020.

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Courtesy of Roberto Lovato

And those sorrows, especially in recent decades, have been tightly bound up with lives led thousands of miles to the north of the small Central American country in cities like San Francisco and Washington, DC.

Lovato’s memoir, out today, is called “Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family Migration, Gangs and Revolution in the Americas.” It traces his family’s history between El Salvador and the United States, examining intergenerational trauma and political forces that shape his own family’s story as well as those of tens of thousands of Salvadorans who have fled violence and warfare. 

Related: A brother and sister flee gang violence in El Salvador and start over in the US

Lovato is a Salvadoran American former gang member from San Francisco, who went to El Salvador as a young adult to join the guerilla movement in the civil war — and then began covering the brutality of El Salvador’s US-backed military government as a journalist.

He spoke to The World’s host Carol Hills about what he learned about himself, his family, and the connections between the US and El Salvador while writing the book.

Carol Hills: Roberto, this is a fascinating story of your own history and that of the two countries you’re rooted in, El Salvador and the US. You grew up in San Francisco in the 1970s and 80s, the child of Salvadoran immigrants. In your teens, you fall in with a group who call themselves Los Originales. Tell us about that period in your life. 

Roberto Lovato: I grew up working-class in San Francisco’s Mission District. We had a little group of us. We weren’t like a formal, hard-core gang. But some of us had low riders and we would do things like steal cars, deal drugs, do drugs or rob people. But we weren’t a hardened gang like you see today in terms of like Crips, Bloods or Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13). 

This is all happening just blocks from the infamous Army Street projects in San Francisco. Local news described the neighborhood as “like a prison.” Sounds like a pretty rough place, huh? 

You know, as a kid, it was not just a rough place. It was a place where my friends and other people that I knew lived. There was violence and there was crime and everything. But there was also humanity — which tends to be forgotten. 

Related: Some Salvadoran migrants look to other nations for refuge as US tightens border

At the same time you were growing up, there was a brutal war going on in El Salvador. Its military was working hand-in-hand with death squads. And President Ronald Reagan was footing the bill and spreading fear about communism encroaching from Central America.  What did you and your friends think about that war in El Salvador? 

I would travel there pretty frequently because my father was a janitor with United Airlines and my mom was a maid with Hyatt Regency. So, we got discounted hotels and free airline tickets and there were military people everywhere. I was into GI Joe as a kid and Captain America. And I thought, “Wow, there’s some strange things going on.” 

Meanwhile, your father — you call him Pop — he’s shipping contraband and guns from San Francisco to El Salvador to anyone who could afford them. You write, “doctors, engineers and military types.” What did you and your family know about what your father did? And how did you make sense of it as a kid? 

I was too young to really understand crime and criminality and the way it’s constructed. And so I was initially scared because I heard my dad tell stories about men trying to pick him up and take him away to kill him. And, you know, he would go and find people to sell him guns and other contraband. And then he would take boxes to El Salvador, where he bribed military people and immigration officials would just let him bring the stuff in. And I thought, “Well, man, my dad’s got, like, this transnational operation going on.”

The 1980s was such a heady time in San Francisco’s Mission District. You describe Black power and brown power movements then, and the ripple effects of Latin American liberation struggles. And it’s the music of Mexican American guitarist and songwriter Carlos Santana that provides a soundtrack to this period of your life. For you and your Salvadoran American friends, what was Santana channeling through the Mission District? 

At that moment, Santana was channeling the electric currents cruising through San Francisco at the time of the hippies, of Chicano power, of Black power, Cesar Chavez marching down Bryant Street, including the political and revolutionary vibe that started coming here with Chilean and then Nicaraguan revolutionaries who came to San Francisco and established organizations and started being active at coffee shops and protesting in the streets. And eventually, after, like, 1979, a lot of Salvadoran revolutionaries came with them. So, I thought they were kind of scary, intense people at the beginning. Little did I know I would become one of them. 

So that’s the backdrop to your teenage years. In your 20s, you head off to wartime El Salvador and work for the rebels. It’s dangerous work. What made you take those kinds of risks? 

Being my father’s son, watching my father take risks transferring contraband and doing, like, the outlaw thing, it was not unnatural for me to take risks. And beyond that, I believed in what I was doing when I started realizing that people from the United States were going to El Salvador to either do solidarity work or, Ernest Hemingway or George Orwell, to see these people doing the same thing with El Salvador, which was a movement of its time in the 80s, was, for me, an inspiration. 

Related: ICE deported a trans asylum-seeker. She was killed in El Salvador.

All the while, you were researching Salvadoran history, especially the history of “La Matanza” or “The Massacre,” the landmark 1932 uprising when El Salvador’s military dictatorship slaughtered at least 10,000 people, many of them Indigenous. Lots of Salvadorans, including your own family, won’t talk about that horrible event or the fate of the country’s Indigenous. Why not?

La Matanza was, in fact, one of the most singularly violent moments in world history. It’s just an astonishing level of violence that any scholars of, say, the Holocaust or other acts of genocide will tell you that there’s a heavy silence that sets in in a population and in families. 

Well, you actually confront your dad about it. You ask him about La Matanza, that massacre in 1932, and he drops what you call an “emotional atom bomb.” Tell us about that conversation. 

I never knew why I was such a crazy kid that did the things that I did, whether it was as a youth with Los Originales, or whether joining the FMLN,  I just knew that I was kind of crazy. And then my dad told me something that explains a lot, not just of why I was so crazy, but I think it explains a lot of the history of why El Salvador is one of the most consistently violent places on Earth. 

And what is that that he tells you? 

He tells me that family members had witnessed La Matanza. He tells me things that just move my stomach and move my heart. And really that chapter in my life — it really closed the circle for me as far as my relationship to my father. You know, the arc in my story, like a lot of our stories, is love-my-dad, love-and-hate-my-dad, love-hate-and-then-rebel-against-my-dad-and-the-state, in my case, and then love-my-dad, again. 

And so that moment captures that. I go back and forth in time throughout the book so that the reader can hopefully experience a little bit of what I experienced living the life that I lived and not knowing why I lived that life until my father really brings it home for me. I just had to come full circle to my own home to realize that I didn’t have to travel the world to see the astonishing levels of poverty and trauma, that they were baked into my upbringing as a boy and as a young man, and that I didn’t know that I was carrying that atom bomb. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The international politics of COVID-19: Part II

The international politics of COVID-19: Part II

By
Sam Ratner

President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron wrap up a joint press conference at the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France. 

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Andrew Harnik/AP

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

This week, Critical State finishes up its coverage of the journal International Organizations’ special issue on COVID-19 and its effects. More articles from the issue are forthcoming, but here it takes a look at political scientist Daniel Drezner’s article discussing COVID-19’s effects on the international system overall.

Related: The international politics of COVID-19: Part I

Political scientist Daniel Drezner predicts that COVID-19 will result in a greater entrenchment of existing international power structures.

Many have portrayed the COVID-19 pandemic as a system-altering shock — something that will leave the world forever changed. Drezner, however, gazes down from the heights of wherever it is that political scientists consider the basic interactions of states (Walnut Hill, in Drezner’s case) at a disease that has killed over half a million people worldwide and says, basically, “enh.” Rather than foreseeing a massive shift in the structure of international relations, Drezner predicts COVID-19 will result in the opposite: a greater entrenchment of existing international power structures.

To make his case, Drezner looks at the history of disease and world politics. What he finds is that while pandemics have caused major changes in international relations in the past — such as when the Antonine Plague of 165 AD ended the territorial expansion of the Roman empire or when smallpox and measles hastened the European genocide of native population in the Americas — those effects have lessened over time. Since Napoleon, developments in science and public health have increased the capacity of states to cope with pandemics and lessened their impacts on international politics. The influenza pandemic of 1918, for example, was basically forgotten in popular history until COVID-19, despite its massive demographic effects, because states had the ability to absorb the losses it produced. By the time SARS came around in 2003, it was contained quickly enough to barely be a blip on China’s remarkable economic expansion. 

Drezner sees that trend continuing today. Despite stumbles, some major, by both countries in their COVID-19 response, it does seem that the US and China will exit the pandemic as the most powerful players in the international arena, the same as they entered the crisis. Though the pandemic has upended the US economy, it has not appreciably diminished US economic power, which it has demonstrated through the Federal Reserve offering other central banks access to dollars and propping up liquidity within the US. 

While China has gained plaudits for controlling the virus before the US, its attempts to grow its international profile through international pandemic response have largely backfired, Drezner argues. The personal protective equipment and other material aid China has distributed to other countries has often been poorly made, and allegations that China bullied the World Health Organization into unduly praising its early pandemic response make both the country and the WHO look bad.

Indeed, the pandemic has not even produced a major shift in economic competition between the US and China.

Indeed, the pandemic has not even produced a major shift in economic competition between the US and China. Early in the pandemic, Drezner points out, the Trump administration pursued its trade deal with China rather than pressing China on public health cooperation. The resulting trade deal remains in place, even as rhetoric between the two countries has again grown heated.

Ultimately, it is unlikely that COVID-19 will cause a transformation of the international system on its own. Instead, like in so many crises, the default result will be increased power for those who already hold it. In this age, shaking up the balance of power requires political organization rather than simply waiting for nature to have its say.

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.

After military coup, uncertainty hangs over Mali’s future

After military coup, uncertainty hangs over Mali’s future

From the onset, the military junta has promised to pave the way to new elections. But some are concerned it might be trying to hold onto power in this transition.

By
Halima Gikandi

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People cheer in celebration as security forces drive through the streets of the capital Bamako, Mali, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, a day after armed soldiers fired into the air outside President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s home and took him into their custody.

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When Mali’s military arrested former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta to protect the nation as a “true democracy,” crowds in the capital Bamako erupted in cheers.

Two weeks later, that enthusiasm has not waned — at least within Mali.

Related: Protesters in Mali call for president to step down

A different story has played out beyond the country’s borders. Regional and world leaders have continued to condemn the military coup and are calling for a swift return to civilian leadership.

From the onset, the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), the military junta headed by Colonel Assimi Goita, has promised to pave the way to new elections. Still up for debate, however, is the timeline of that transition, and whether it will be the military that leads it.

“We are already seeing these kinds of diversions appearing within the group of civilian and military who actually converged to ask for the departure of former President Keïta.”

Gilles Yabi, director of the Citizen Think Tank of West Africa (WATHI), Senegal

“We are already seeing these kinds of diversions appearing within the group of civilian and military who actually converged to ask for the departure of former President Keïta,” said Gilles Yabi, director of the Citizen Think Tank of West Africa (WATHI) in neighboring Dakar, Senegal. 

The country’s M5-RFP movement, which led to recent massive protests calling on Keïta’s resignation, has reportedly been excluded from transition talks with the military. (M5-RFP is an umbrella coalition of civil society groups, religious leaders and political parties that stands for the June 5 – Rally of Patriotic Forces Movement.)

Some are concerned the military junta might be trying to hold onto power in this transition.

“We are going to see a lot of discussions again in the coming days so that there is an agreement that will preserve the possibility for the transition to be a positive step for Mali,” Yabi said. “But that’s not for now sure.”

Many Malians aren’t necessarily for the military to go, says Sidiki Guindo, a Malian statistician and director of the polling institute GISSE, based in Bamako, Mali’s capital. 

GISSE recently completed a poll looking at how Malians in Bamako viewed the coup. 88% said they had a favorable view of the military leaders.

“Basically, we found that despite what most people think, the population has a quite positive image of the military leaders who did this.”

Sidiki Guindo, director, GISSE, Bamako, Mali

“Basically we found that despite what most people think, the population has a quite positive image of the military leaders who did this,” said Guindo, noting that most Malians polled didn’t view the military’s actions as a coup d’etat but rather as a resignation. 

The vast majority approved of Keïta’s resignation, which isn’t surprising considering the months of protests in Bamako that precede the coup itself.

When it comes to Mali’s future, the same poll found more than half of Malians, or 57%, thought the transition should be managed by civilians and the military. In comparison, 27% wanted a military-only transition, and 16% civilian-led.

“These are statistics that prove that there remains a big gap today between the population and the politicians that lead us,” Guindo said. He notes, however, that those attitudes could change in the coming months, depending on whether military clings to power.

“I don’t think that the military junta should be keeping power during the transition. But I think the military junta should facilitate putting in place a civilian transition,” Yabi said.

He notes, however, that transitioning the government to democratic elections is only the beginning. Deeper political and institutional transformation is required, he says.

“I think what needs to change in Mali is how politics is done. And how the state is managed,” Yabi said. “Getting elections will not solve the problems of failure in institutional building.”

With Mali’s transition hanging in the balance, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has said it will only begin to lift sanctions once the military complies with their demands. 

Related: Policymakers rush to stave off economic collapse on African continent

On Friday, during a regional virtual meeting, ECOWAS told the junta to immediately transfer power, calling for the appointment of a transitional president, and new legislative and presidential elections held within a year. 

Many Malians don’t appreciate the pressure from the regional body.

“Concerning the decisions taken by the ECOWAS, I condemn in the strongest terms this embargo,” said Mahamadou Cissé, president of the National Malian Youth Council of France. The 32-year-old old lives in Paris.

“It’s just not logical, a country already suffering from multiple crises. There’s no point in strangling its people even further.” 

In recent years, Mali has struggled to counter growing terrorism threats and intercommunal violence, as well as address youth employment. 

These are the issues Cissé, along with many Malian youths, are eager for their leaders to solve.

“I think that Malians have given enough trust to politicians, and until now, we’ve been let down. … Now, the new political leader that will take hold of the country’s future will have to work at regaining the lost confidence.”

Mahamaoud Cissé, president of the National Malian Youth Council of France

“I think that Malians have given enough trust to politicians, and until now, we’ve been let down,” he said. “Now, the new political leader that will take hold of the country’s future will have to work at regaining the lost confidence.”

California and Australia look to Indigenous land management for fire help 

California and Australia look to Indigenous land management for fire help 

As fires rage across the state of California, many are wondering how management could improve to reduce the risk in the future. Traditional fire management is being increasingly embraced in Australia, which could help inspire California.

By
Anna Kusmer

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Firefighters control a spot fire near Bredbo, south of the Australian capital, Canberra, Feb. 2, 2020. Fire management in Australia has increasingly encompassed Indigenous cultural burning techniques. 

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Rick Rycroft/AP

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After years of advocacy work, cultural burning practitioners had a win in Australia last week, when the government of New South Wales, the state hit hardest by last year’s catastrophic bushfires, formally accepted a recommendation for an increase in cultural burning as part of their fire management strategy. 

An official report issued by the New South Wales government explains how Indigenous land practices can improve fire management in the wake of the deadly bushfires.

As some of the most damaging wildfires in recent memory have raged through California, in the United States, this cultural burning knowledge is becoming more relevant than ever, said Don Hankins, a Plains Miwok fire expert at Chico State University in California. 

Today, officials in both the United States and Australia are increasingly turning to Indigenous land management practices to help control wildfires. 

A cultural burn, happening in a fire-prone oak woodlands landscape, Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve in California, 2015. 

Credit:

Courtesy of Don Hankins

Hankins says he has contemplated the benefits of cultural burning — a form of traditional fire management passed down through generations among Indigenous people in fire-prone landscapes — for most of his life. 

The practice entails carefully burning areas during the wet season to reduce flammability and vulnerability in advance of fire season. Burning also helps improve soil quality, spurs the growth of certain plant species and creates more productive landscapes. 

Hankins found international inspiration back in 2003, when he flew over northern Australia, on his way to do some dissertation research, and saw small fires — set carefully and intentionally. 

It was the first time he had seen Indigenous burning practices done on a landscape scale. “I could do that in California,” he thought to himself. 

Since then, Hankins has been working to promote cultural burning in California, through training sessions, workshops and skill-sharing. 

“[Cultural burning] is about reading the land and knowing the landscape and knowing how and when to apply fire in a very safe and effective manner.”

Don Hankins, Plains Miwok fire expert, Chico State University in California 

Hankins says cultural burning is “about reading the land and knowing the landscape and knowing how and when to apply fire in a very safe and effective manner.” 

Related: What Aboriginal Australians can teach us about managing wildfires

Better land management

Hankins, who has been making trips to Australia for decades to share skills and knowledge with other cultural burning practitioners, said that he is happy to see cultural burning gain more recognition by the Australian government. 

“It’s a step in the right direction. … I wouldn’t say that that it’s gonna be the cure-all in that area. I would like to see more opportunities for Indigenous-led approaches.”

Don Hankins, Plains Miwok fire expert, Chico State University in California 

“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that that it’s gonna be the cure-all in that area. I would like to see more opportunities for Indigenous-led approaches.”

In Australia, Indigenous people have done some form of cultural burning on the land for thousands of years, and it is only in recent centuries that cultural burning was outlawed and Indigenous people were forcibly removed from their traditional lands

That fact is now being officially recognized, said Oliver Costello, a Bundjalung man who is CEO of Firesticks, an organization that advocates for cultural burning in Australia. 

“There’s a recognition that cultural burning is a part of broader Aboriginal land management practices, which is really important.”

Oliver Costello, CEO, Firesticks, Australia

“There’s a recognition that cultural burning is a part of broader Aboriginal land management practices, which is really important,” said Costello. 

Recognizing that climate change will likely exacerbate droughts and intensify wildfires has urged experts to think more critically about how to mitigate wildfire effects and adapt to the weather conditions that spur them. 

In the Northern Territories of Australia, where fewer people live and cultural burning practices are largely intact, Aboriginal fire and land management have cut bushfire destruction in half

‘Rehabilitate the landscape’

Cultural burning is slowly gaining recognition by agencies and local governments in California, as well, says Hankins. 

A handful of communities have done some burning on traditional lands in the past decade, such as the North Fork Mono in the Sierra Nevada foothills, the Karuk Tribe in northwestern California, and a Yurok community in the Klamath Mountains of northern California, who have been doing cultural burning annually since 2014, with support from the Nature Conservancy. 

But only a few thousand acres are culturally burned a year in California, much fewer than the 90 million acres in northern Australia that are under a burning regimen.

There is still a lot of red tape, said Hankins. Native groups must obtain permits and may not receive permission to do burning on their lands due to air-quality or liability concerns. 

Before the Gold Rush and Spanish Era, millions of acres of California were burned every year for more than 13,000 years by hundreds of tribes across the region. Now, governments mostly suppress fires, which leads to a build-up of fuel for catastrophic wildfires down the road. 

Landscape rehabilitation and fire resiliency require much more Indigenous leadership and guidance, says Hankins. 

“It’s a short time frame that we’ve taken the [cultural burning] part of the equation out. … The main driver that has helped to shape these ecosystems has been removed because of that colonial impact.”

Don Hankins, Plains Miwok fire expert, Chico State University in California 

“It’s a short time frame that we’ve taken the [cultural burning] part of the equation out,” says Hankins. “The main driver that has helped to shape these ecosystems has been removed because of that colonial impact.”

Don Hankins heads out to a cultural burning wearing his Smokey Bear shirt at Kaanju Ngaachi Indigenous Protected Area in Chuula, Australia. 

Credit:

Courtesy of Don Hankins

‘Shaped by fire’

Hankins and Costello are both part of an informal network of cultural burning advocates around the world, such as Canada, Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil.

First Nations Emergency Services Society (FNESS), based in British Columbia, Canada, also advocates for cultural burning. Shane Wardrobe, interim manager of the Forest Fuel Management Department at FNESS, said his organization has met with cultural burning experts in the US and New Zealand.

“In some places, this traditional knowledge is being passed on, and in a lot of other places, it’s not. When we lose our elders, we’re going to lose that knowledge…”

Shane Wardrobe, First Nations Emergency Service Society 

“We’re trying to get more of our Indigenous people involved before that knowledge is lost,” he said. “In some places, this traditional knowledge is being passed on, and in a lot of other places, it’s not. When we lose our elders, we’re going to lose that knowledge…” 

Related: Reviving traditional fire knowledge in Australia: ‘Fire is something we live with’

A night fire at Kaanju Ngaachi Indigenous Protected Area in Chuula, Australia. 

Credit:

Courtesy of Don Hankins

In Australia, Costello said the principles of cultural burning can apply to any fire-prone landscape. 

“Landscapes have been shaped by fire for thousands of years,” he said. “If … you only see the negatives of fire, […] you don’t understand that fire used in the right way will maintain healthy relationships.” 

With climate change bringing hotter, drier, windier periods that can make fire season worse, this knowledge is more important than ever, said Costello. 

“We have to learn and adapt, which is what cultural knowledge and cultural fire management is all about.” 

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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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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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.

Credit:

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

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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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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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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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'?

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Jessica Yarmosky

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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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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.

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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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Joshua Roberts/Reuters 

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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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Lorraine O’Sullivan/Reuters 

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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.