Two Haitian Students Invent Solar-Powered Backpack That Could Help 1.2 Billion People

Solo Bag inventors Mike Bellot (L) and Wendiane Torcel (R) demonstrate the power and promise of their solar-powered backpack. (Photo: Mike Bellot via gofundme)

A Haitian man who is currently studying in Taiwan has co-invented a school bag which can provide light for reading and power to charge mobile phones generated from a built-in solar panel.

Mike Bellot, 26, who came to Taiwan four years ago to study global politics and international trade at Tamkang University, is set to launch what he calls “Solo Bag,” a bag powered by solar energy that he believes will affect the lives and the future of 1.2 billion people who are living without access to electricity in developing countries.

Bellot and fellow Haitian Wendiane Torcel were inspired to invent the bag after the tragic death of his close cousin due to a fire caused by a candle used for light in his native Haiti. His cousin had been studying to be a doctor, but like 63 percent of the population in Haiti who lack regular access to electricity, he was forced to read by candle light, and after having nodded off during a late study session, the untended candle started a massive fire which consumed the home and killed his cousin in the process.

Because the tragedy hit so close to home, Bellot is very passionate about not only bringing this product to his native Haiti, but also to the 1.2 billion people or 16 percent of the world’s population who do not have access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency in 2016.

According to Bellot, Solo Bag comes with a solar panel, integrated battery, USB port, GPS tag for tracking, and an integrated LED lamp, enabling students who do not have access to electricity to safely and cost-effectively study and do homework during the night. The bag also provides enough energy for a family to charge mobile phones, tablets, and other electronic devices. The bag can store enough energy from one hour of exposure to the sun for six hours of light and charge two mobile phones.

To launch the product, he plans to launch a startup company called Solo Haiti and display the Solo Bags in an independent showroom during an event in Haiti and get immediate feedback from the buyers and retailers. After showcasing it, he will begin to take pre-orders and make it available also online for buyers outside the country.

💡If you would like to help crowdfund this innovative product, please visit the inventors’ gofundme page.

Source: Haitian Student in Taiwan Invents Solar-Powered Backpack for Reading -By Keoni Everington | Taiwan News

Venezuelan Torture Victim Detained in Miami Is Free

Marco Coello, accused of taking part in a 2014 demonstration against the government in Caracas, Venezuela, was beaten and jailed for several months. He eventually fled to the United States. (Photo: Scott McIntyre / The New York Times)

Marco Coello, then a skinny 18-year-old high school student, was grabbed by plainclothes agents of the Venezuelan security services as he joined a 2014 demonstration against the government in Caracas. They put a gun to his head. They attacked him with their feet, a golf club, a fire extinguisher. They tortured him with electric shocks. Then Mr. Coello was jailed for several months, and shortly after his release, he fled to the United States.

Human Rights Watch extensively documented his case in a report that year. The State Department included him in its own human rights report on Venezuela in 2015. With such an extensive paper trail of mistreatment in his home country, his lawyer, Elizabeth Blandon, expected a straightforward asylum interview when Mr. Coello appeared at an immigration office this April in Miami.

“I had this very naïve idea that we were going to walk in there and the officer was going to say, ‘It’s an honor to meet you,’” said Ms. Blandon, an immigration law expert in Weston, Fla.

Instead, he was arrested and taken to a detention facility on the edge of the Everglades. He was now a candidate for deportation. “Every time they would move me around, I would fear that they were going to take me to deport me,” said Mr. Coello, now 22.

Mr. Coello’s case drew extensive media coverage in both Miami and Caracas and, eventually, the intervention of Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. The senator helped secure Mr. Coello’s release, though he could still be deported.

The case may have been a sign of just how far the government is willing to go to carry out President Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration. “It’s very unusual — almost unprecedented — that ICE would arrest an asylum applicant who is at a U.S.C.I.S. office waiting for their asylum interview,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell Law School.

He was referring to two agencies that are part of the Department of Homeland Security but, as Mr. Coello discovered, have very different missions: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, which handles citizenship and asylum cases, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which arrests people believed to be in the country without permission.

In the first three months of the Trump administration, ICE agents arrested some 41,000 people, an increase of nearly 40 percent over the same period last year. At the same time, the administration has expressed a desire to be stricter about allowing people into the country with asylum claims, as most such claims are ultimately rejected.

When Mr. Coello was taken to the Krome Detention Center, another asylum seeker was already there.

Denis Davydov is an asylum seeker who fled Russia as an H.I.V.-positive gay man. (Photo: Jim Wilson/The New York Times).

Denis Davydov, who fled Russia as an H.I.V.-positive gay man, had been on his way back to San Jose, Calif., from a vacation in the United States Virgin Islands. Though it is an American territory, travelers heading to the mainland must pass through Customs and Border Protection — also part of Homeland Security — and when Mr. Davydov did so, he was arrested. Agents flew him to Miami and sent him to Krome, shackled and chained at the wrists and ankles.

Despite his pending asylum case, Mr. Davydov still appeared in the system as having overstayed his original visa. “They would not let him go because he would still be found inadmissible to the United States,” said Jaime I. Ruiz, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection. Mr. Davydov, like Mr. Coello, has been released but still faces potential deportation.

“My fear is that going forward this is business as usual,” said Aaron C. Morris, executive director at Immigration Equality, a nonprofit group that provides free legal representation to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The group is handling more than 620 open asylum cases. “We’re doing our best to advise the community about this new danger without scaring them all.”

Mr. Coello’s case is all the more striking given that Mr. Trump has attacked Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, who has used anti-terrorism laws and military tribunals to prosecute political rivals. Mr. Trump has even called for the release of the opposition leader Leopoldo López from prison. Mr. Coello said that his Venezuelan interrogators tried to coerce him into implicating Mr. López but that he refused.

Mr. Coello’s problems in the United States most likely began when he became drowsy working as a driver for the ride-hailing service Lyft and pulled over to sleep in a parking lot. A police officer rapped on his window, telling him it was private property and writing him a ticket. He was convicted of misdemeanor trespassing and paid a fine of $100 and $92 in court costs, according to court records in Fairfax, Va.

That conviction brought him to the attention of ICE. “Marco Coello has one misdemeanor criminal conviction and did not depart the country in accordance with his visa,” said Nestor Yglesias, an ICE spokesman, referring to the tourist visa he had arrived on. “As a result, he violated the terms of his nonimmigrant status in the United States.”

Paul Wickham Schmidt, a retired immigration judge who is now an adjunct law professor at Georgetown University, said that ICE agents could legally arrest individuals in asylum proceedings. “Otherwise everyone could absolutely immunize themselves from removal just by filing with the asylum office,” he said.

But arresting Mr. Coello was also indicative of the Trump administration’s new priorities, he said. “As Jeff Sessions keeps pointing out, anyone here illegally shouldn’t feel safe,” Mr. Schmidt said, referring to the attorney general under Mr. Trump.

Mr. Coello was a high school student in El Hatillo in southeastern Caracas when he joined marches and demonstrations across Venezuela on Feb. 12, 2014, to protest Mr. Maduro, a close ally of Hugo Chávez who took office after Mr. Chávez’s death in 2013.

The protests that day turned ugly, with violence between government forces and civilian protesters, who in some cases threw Molotov cocktails. Mr. Coello, who said he was not involved in the disturbance, was struck on the leg by a tear-gas canister and fell to the ground. Security personnel in plainclothes began to beat him and took him into custody.

According to a report by Human Rights Watch, based on interviews with Mr. Coello and five others arrested, the security forces put a gun to his head and doused him in gasoline. “They wrapped a thin mat around his body, tied it with tape, and approximately 10 officers kicked him and beat him with sticks, a golf club, and a fire extinguisher on his ribs and upper body,” the report said. He was tortured with shocks and told to confess to burning the vehicles. He refused.

Mr. Coello was accused of arson, among other charges related to an alleged attack on the Venezuelan attorney general’s office. After months in detention, he was released pending trial and fled to the United States with his father. His mother later joined them.

Following his time in Virginia, where he was studying English, Mr. Coello moved to Miami and found a job as an assistant cameraman at a local studio associated with the Spanish-language station Telemundo.

When he and his lawyer, Ms. Blandon, arrived at his asylum appointment in April, they were passed off to ICE. “We walk in, she didn’t even introduce herself,” Ms. Blandon said of the Citizenship and Immigration Services official who met them. “‘We can’t entertain your claim for asylum. These two gentlemen from ICE can explain.’”

After articles appeared in the local and Spanish-language news media — “Joven torturado en Venezuela es arrestado en Miami por inmigración” was the headline of one article in El Nuevo Herald — Mr. Rubio, a Republican from the Miami area, contacted Reince Priebus, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff.

The next day, Mr. Coello was released.

Mr. Coello will still have the opportunity to plead for asylum in immigration court. His arrest was legal, but some experts question whether it was the best use of limited resources in an overburdened system. “In years of doing these, I’ve had probably only a few dozen cases where somebody can point to their name in a State Department human rights report and say, ‘That’s me,’” Mr. Schmidt, the former immigration judge, said of Mr. Coello.

With a backlog of nearly 600,000 cases in the system, he asked, “Why clog an already clogged court docket with a case that looks like a slam dunk?”

Source: Torture Victim, Expecting a U.S. Handshake, Was Given Handcuffs Instead -By Nicholas Kulish | New York Times

Recommended…
Marco Coello’s Lawyer Explains Detention During Asylum Interview (Video in English) | Elizabeth Blandon, Esq.*

Immigration Raids: Know Your Rights (Video in English) | Elizabeth Blandon, Esq.*

Know Your Rights When Asked About Immigration Status | ACLU*

Venezuela: A Country Divided -By Quintijn Kat | Al Jazeera

✻ In Venezuela, Prisoners Say Abuse Is So Bad They Are Forced to Eat Pasta Mixed with Excrement -By Rachelle Krygier and Joshua Partlow | The Washington Post

Note: The videos posted above are not intended to be an endorsement of or referral to the attorney or organizational presenter. Instead, the videos were posted for their informational and educational content.

Too Young To Wed: Child Marriage in the United States

Michelle DeMello and her husband, Eric DeMello, were married when she was just 16 and five months pregnant, and he was 19. This archival photograph was photographed in Lincoln City, Ore., on Feb. 7. (Photo: Amanda Lucier)

Michelle DeMello walked into the clerk’s office in Colorado thinking for sure someone would save her. She was 16 and pregnant. Her Christian community in Green Mountain Falls was pressuring her family to marry her off to her 19-year-old boyfriend. She didn’t think she had the right to say no to the marriage after the mess she felt she’d made. “I could be the example of the shining whore in town, or I could be what everybody wanted me to be at that moment and save my family a lot of honor,” DeMello said. She assumed that the clerk would refuse to approve the marriage. The law wouldn’t allow a minor to marry, right?

Wrong, as DeMello, now 42, learned.

While most states set 18 as the minimum marriage age, exceptions in every state allow children younger than 18 to marry, typically with parental consent or judicial approval. How much younger? Laws in 27 states do not specify an age below which a child cannot marry.

Unchained At Last, a nonprofit I founded to help women resist or escape forced marriage in the United States, spent the past year collecting marriage license data from 2000 to 2010, the most recent year for which most states were able to provide information. We learned that in 38 states, more than 167,000 children – almost all of them girls, some as young 12 – were married during that period, mostly to men 18 or older. Twelve states and the District of Columbia were unable to provide information on how many children had married there in that decade. Based on the correlation we identified between state population and child marriage, we estimated that the total number of children wed in America between 2000 and 2010 was nearly 248,000.

Despite these alarming numbers, and despite the documented consequences of early marriages, including negative effects on health and education and an increased likelihood of domestic violence, some state lawmakers have resisted passing legislation to end child marriage – because they wrongly fear that such measures might unlawfully stifle religious freedom or because they cling to the notion that marriage is the best solution for a teen pregnancy.

In this way, U.S. lawmakers are strongly at odds with U.S. foreign policy when it comes to child marriage. The U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls , released last year by the State Department, lists reducing child, early and forced marriage as a key goal. The strategy includes harsh words about marriage before 18, declaring it a “human rights abuse” that “produces devastating repercussions for a girl’s life, effectively ending her childhood” by forcing her “into adulthood and motherhood before she is physically and mentally mature.” The State Department pointed to the developing world, where 1 in 3 girls is married by age 18, and 1 in 9 is married by 15.

While the numbers at home are nowhere near that dire, they are disturbing. Many of the children married between 2000 and 2010 were wed to adults significantly older than they were, the data shows. At least 31 percent were married to a spouse age 21 or older. (The actual number is probably higher, as some states did not provide spousal ages.) Some children were married at an age, or with a spousal age difference, that constitutes statutory rape under their state’s laws. In Idaho, for example, someone 18 or older who has sex with a child under 16 can be charged with a felony and imprisoned for up to 25 years. Yet data from Idaho – which had the highest rate of child marriage of the states that provided data – shows that some 55 girls under 16 were married to men 18 or older between 2000 and 2010.

Many of the states that provided data included categories such as “14 and younger,” without specifying exactly how much younger some brides and grooms were. Thus, the 12-year-olds we found in Alaska, Louisiana and South Carolina’s data might not have been the youngest children wed in America between 2000 and 2010. Also, the data we collected did not account for children wed in religious-only ceremonies or taken overseas to be married, situations that we at Unchained often see.

Most states did not provide identifying information about the children, but Unchained has seen child marriage in nearly every American culture and religion, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim and secular communities. We have seen it in families who have been in America for generations and immigrant families from all over the world. In my experience, parents who marry off their minor children often are motivated by cultural or religious traditions; a desire to control their child’s behavior or sexuality; money (a bride price or dowry); or immigration-related reasons (for instance, when a child sponsors a foreign spouse). And of course, many minors marry of their own volition – even though in most realms of life, our laws do not allow children to make such high-stakes adult decisions.

Parental control over her sexuality was why Sara Siddiqui, 36, was married at 15. Her father discovered that she had a boyfriend from a different cultural background and told her she’d be “damned forever” if she lost her virginity outside of marriage, even though she was still a virgin. He arranged her Islamic wedding to a stranger, 13 years her senior, in less than one day; her civil marriage in Nevada followed when she was 16 and six months pregnant. “I couldn’t even drive yet when I was handed over to this man,” said Siddiqui, who was trapped in her marriage for 10 years. “I wasn’t ready to take care of myself, and I was thrown into taking care of a husband and being a mother.”

Minors such as Siddiqui can easily be forced into marriage or forced to stay in a marriage. Adults being pressured in this way have options, including access to domestic-violence shelters. But a child who leaves home is considered a runaway; the police try to return her to her family and could even charge our organization criminally if we were to get involved. Most domestic-violence shelters do not accept minors, and youth shelters typically notify parents that their children are there. Child-protective services are usually not a solution, either: Caseworkers point out that preventing legal marriages is not in their mandate.

I COULDN’T EVEN DRIVE YET WHEN I WAS HANDED OVER TO THIS MAN. I WASN’T READY TO TAKE CARE OF MYSELF, AND I WAS THROWN INTO TAKING CARE OF A HUSBAND AND BEING A MOTHER.
-Sara Siddiqui, 36, was married at 15

Those fleeing a forced marriage often have complex legal needs, but for children, obtaining legal representation is extremely difficult. Even if they can afford to pay attorney’s fees, contracts with children, including retainer agreements, generally can be voided by the child, making them undesirable clients to lawyers. Further, children typically are not allowed to file legal actions in their own names.

A young actress plays the role of a child bride during a protest organized by Amnesty International to denounce child marriage.​ (Photo: AFP)

Regardless of whether the union was the child’s or the parents’ idea, marriage before 18 has catastrophic, lifelong effects on a girl, undermining her health, education and economic opportunities while increasing her risk of experiencing violence.

Women who marry at 18 or younger face a 23 percent higher risk of heart attack, diabetes, cancer and stroke than do women who marry between ages 19 and 25, partly because early marriage can lead to added stress and forfeited education. Women who wed before 18 also are at increased risk of developing various psychiatric disorders, even when controlling for socio-demographic factors.

American girls who marry before 19 are 50 percent more likely than their unmarried peers to drop out of high school and four times less likely to graduate from college. A girl who marries young is 31 percentage points more likely to live in poverty when she is older, a striking figure that appears to be unrelated to preexisting differences in such girls. And, according to a global study, women who marry before 18 are three times more likely to be beaten by their spouses than women who wed at 21 or older.

Ending child marriage should be simple. Every state can pass the legislation I’ve helped write to eliminate exceptions that allow marriage before age 18 – or set the marriage age higher than 18, in states where the age of majority is higher. New Jersey is the closest state to doing this, with a bill advancing in the legislature that would end all marriage before 18. Massachusetts recently introduced a similar bill.

But when Virginia passed a bill last year to end child marriage, legislators added an exception for emancipated minors as young as 16, even though the devastating effects of marriage before 18 do not disappear when a girl is emancipated. Bills introduced last year in New York and Maryland languished and eventually died, though Maryland’s was just reintroduced. Other states have not acted at all. “Some of my colleagues were stuck in an old-school way of thinking: A girl gets pregnant, she needs to get married,” said Maryland Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, who introduced the bill to end child marriage in her state.

Only nine states still allow pregnancy exceptions to the marriage age, as such exceptions have been used to cover up rape and to force girls to marry their rapists. Consider Sherry Johnson of Florida, who said she was raped repeatedly as a child and was pregnant by 11, at which time her mother forced her to marry her 20-year-old rapist under Florida’s pregnancy exception in the 1970s.

Additionally, teenage mothers who marry and divorce are more likely to experience economic deprivation and instability than those who do not. If the father wants to co-parent, he can establish paternity and provide insurance and other benefits to the baby without getting married.

Legislators should remember that pregnant teenage girls are at increased risk of forced marriage. They need more protection, not less.

Nor does ending child marriage illegally infringe on religious rights. The Supreme Court has upheld laws that incidentally forbid an act required by religion, if the laws do not specifically target religious practice. Besides, most religions tend to describe marriage as an important union between two willing partners. That sounds nothing like child marriage, which often is forced and which has close to a 70 percent chance of ending in divorce. “There was a concern that we would be offending certain cultures within our society,” said New York Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, who introduced the unsuccessful bill last year to end child marriage in her state. “So instead of seeing this as an abuse of young women, [some legislators] were seeing this as something we needed to protect for certain cultures.”

Betsy Layman, 37, shares Paulin’s goal. Layman was 27 when she escaped the marriage that had been arranged for her in her Orthodox Jewish community in New York when she was 17, to a man she had known for 45 minutes. Even after she fled with her three children, the repercussions of her marriage continued to plague her. She was a single mother with a high school equivalency certificate, no work experience and no money for child care. The temporary and part-time jobs she managed to get couldn’t cover the bills.

“I was on Section 8, Medicaid and food stamps,” Layman said. “There were times there just was not enough food for dinner.” When the electric company shut off her power for nonpayment, she would light candles around the house and tell her children there was a blackout. Only when her youngest child reached school age was she able to find full-time employment and gain some stability.

“Legislators have the power to prevent what happened to me from happening to another 17-year-old girl,” Layman said. “I beg you to end child marriage.”

Sources & Recommended…
Why Can 12-Year-Olds Still Get Married in the United States? -By Fraidy Reiss | Washington Post

The Joy Of Leaving An Arranged Marriage — And The Cost | NPR
11 Years Old, a Mom, and Pushed to Marry Her Rapist in Florida -By Nicholas Kristof | The New York Times
The “Ugly” Reality of Child Marriage in the U.S. -By Shanika Gunaratna | CBS News


Fraidy Reiss is founder and executive director of Unchained At Last, a nonprofit that helps women and girls escape arranged and forced marriages and works to end child marriage in the United States.

Venezuela in Crisis

A woman with her face painted in the colors of Venezuela’s national flag takes part in the blockade of a highway in Caracas on April 24, 2017. (Photo: Fernando Llano/ AP); Background image: A demonstrator against President Nicolas Maduro’s government during a protest on the east side of Caracas on April 19, 2017. (Photo: Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP / Getty)

Introduction
Venezuela is in the midst of an unprecedented economic and political crisis marked by severe food and medicine shortages, soaring crime rates, and an increasingly authoritarian executive. Critics of President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, say Venezuela’s economic woes are the fruit of years of economic mismanagement; Maduro’s supporters blame falling oil prices and the country’s “corrupt” business elites.

In January 2016, opposition lawmakers took a majority in the legislature—the National Assembly—for the first time in nearly two decades. However, the Maduro government has taken steps since to consolidate his power, including usurping some of the legislature’s powers. Maduro’s actions have been met with massive protests and international condemnation, including threats of expulsion from the Organization of American States.

I. Chavez’s ‘Bolivarian Revolution’

Chavez, a former military officer who launched an ill-fated coup in 1992, was elected president of Venezuela in 1998 on a populist platform. As a candidate, he railed against the country’s elites for widespread corruption, and pledged to use Venezuela’s vast oil wealth to reduce poverty and inequality. During his presidency, which lasted until his death in 2013, Chavez expropriated millions of acres of land and nationalized hundreds of private businesses and foreign-owned assets, including oil projects run by ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.

Chavez, whose rhetoric often drew inspiration from Simon Bolivar, the Venezuela-born revolutionary of the nineteenth century, aimed to align Latin American countries against the United States. He led the formation of ALBA, a bloc of socialist and leftist Latin American governments, and established the Petrocaribe alliance, in which Venezuela agreed to export petroleum at discounted rates to eighteen Central American and Caribbean states.

Chavez also greatly expanded the powers of the presidency. Shortly after he took office, voters approved a new constitution that allowed him to run for another term, removed one chamber of Congress, and reduced civilian control over the military. In 2004, two years after he was briefly removed from office in a coup, Chavez effectively took control of the Supreme Court by expanding its size and appointing twelve justices. In 2009, he led a successful referendum ending presidential term limits.

Chavez remained popular among the country’s poor throughout his presidency, expanding social services including food and housing subsidies, health care, and educational programs. The country’s poverty rate fell from roughly 50 percent in 1998, the year before he was elected, to 30 percent in 2012, the year before his death.

Maduro, who narrowly won the presidency in 2013, pledged to continue his former boss’s socialist revolution. “I am ensuring the legacy of my commander, Chavez, the eternal father,” he said after the vote.

In Pictures – Crisis in Venezuela
Click on images to enlarge and read caption.

II. An Oil-Based Economy
Venezuela is highly vulnerable to external shocks due to its heavy dependence on oil revenues. Oil accounts for about 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings and 25 percent of its GDP, according to figures from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

The state-run petroleum company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), controls all the country’s oil exploration, production, and exportation. Critics say PDVSA is grossly mismanaged and suffers from cronyism, a bloated payroll, underinvestment in infrastructure, and a lack of budgetary oversight.

As global oil prices fell from $111 per barrel in 2014 to a low of $27 per barrel in 2016, Venezuela’s already shaky economy went into free fall. That year, GDP dropped 12 percent while inflation soared to 800 percent. By early 2017, the country owed $140 billion to foreign creditors while it held only $10 billion in reserves, raising fears of a default.

Many critics fault the Chavez government for squandering years of record oil income. “Chavez did not use the massive oil price boom between 2004 and 2013 to put money aside for a rainy day,” wrote Harvard University economist Ricardo Hausmann in 2016. Instead, he “used the boom to expropriate large swaths of the economy, impose draconian foreign currency and price controls, and to subsidize imports. All this weakened the economy and made the country more dependent on imports, which Venezuelans can no longer afford.”

III. Price Controls and Shortages
Venezuela’s economic crisis is marked by soaring inflation and shortages of food, medical supplies, and staples like toilet paper and soap. Experts say the government’s strict price controls, which were meant to keep basic goods affordable for the country’s poor, are partly to blame. Many manufacturers in the country cut production because of the limits on what they could charge for their goods.

Another policy contributing to the country’s economic problems, many experts say, are currency controls, which were first introduced by Chavez in 2003 to curb capital flight. By selling U.S. dollars at different rates, the government effectively created a black market and increased opportunities for corruption. For instance, a business that is authorized to buy dollars at preferential rates in order to purchase priority goods like food or medicine could instead sell those dollars for a significant profit to third parties. In April 2017, the official exchange rate was ten bolivars to the dollar, while the black market rate was more than four thousand bolivars to the dollar.

Imports reportedly fell to $18 billion in 2016, down from $66 billion in 2012, as foreign-made goods became increasingly expensive. Many consumers are faced with the choice of waiting for hours in line for basic goods or paying exorbitant prices to so-called bachaqueros, or black market traffickers.

Experts say widespread expropriations have further diminished productivity. Transparency International, which ranks Venezuela 166 out of 176 on its perceived corruption index, reports that the government controls more than five hundred companies, most of which are operating at a loss. (By comparison, Brazil, which is more than six times as populous as Venezuela, has 130 state-run companies.)

IV. A Humanitarian Crisis

Observers have characterized the situation in Venezuela as a humanitarian crisis. In 2016, the head of the Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation estimated that 85 percent of basic medicines were unavailable or difficult to obtain. Hospitals reportedly lack supplies like antibiotics, gauze, and soap. Infant mortality rates reportedly reached 18.1 per 1,000 live births in early 2016, up from 11.6 in 2011, while maternal mortality reached 130 per 100,000, more than twice the 2008 rate. Diseases like diphtheria and malaria, which had been previously eliminated from the country, have reemerged.

Poverty has also spiked. In 2016, a local university study found that more than 87 percent of the population said it did not have enough money to buy necessary food. Another study by a local nutrition organization found that 30 percent of school-aged children were malnourished. According to a 2016 report from Human Rights Watch, the Maduro administration “has vehemently denied the extent of the need for help and has blocked an effort by the opposition-led National Assembly to seek international assistance.”

Poverty and lack of opportunity are exacerbating Venezuela’s high rates of violence. Long one of the world’s most violent countries, in 2016 Venezuela experienced its highest-ever number of homicides: 28,479, or roughly 91.8 homicides per 100,000 residents, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, an independent monitoring group. (The U.S. rate, by comparison, is 5 per 100,000.) Maduro’s administration has deployed the military to combat street crime, but rights groups and foreign media have reported widespread abuses, including extrajudicial killings.

The humanitarian crisis has spilled across Venezuela’s borders, with thousands of desperate people crossing into neighboring Brazil and Colombia; others have left by boat to the nearby island of Curaçao. By some estimates, as many as 150,000 Venezuelans left the country in 2016 alone.

V. Political Turmoil

Amid the crisis, the Maduro administration has become increasingly autocratic. Opposition lawmakers, under the Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition, won a majority in the National Assembly in 2015 for the first time in sixteen years, but Maduro has taken several steps to undermine them. In September 2016, Venezuela’s electoral authority, which is considered loyal to Maduro, ordered the opposition to suspend a campaign to recall the president, sparking protests and international condemnation. The following month, the Supreme Court stripped the National Assembly of powers to oversee the economy and annulled a law that would have freed eighty political prisoners, including opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. The president and the opposition subsequently entered into Vatican-brokered reconciliation talks, but those were declared “frozen” in November after Maduro administration officials stopped attending meetings. Maduro said he plans to stay in office until his term ends in 2019.

In March 2017, the judicial branch briefly dissolved the National Assembly. The court revised its order days later following an international outcry, but kept the legislature in contempt, effectively preventing lawmakers from passing laws. A week later the government barred opposition politician Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost to Maduro in the 2013 presidential election, from running for office for fifteen years, citing Capriles’s failure to secure proper approval for budgets and contracts.

Government security forces have attacked journalists, and several foreign reporters have been detained and, in some cases, expelled, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In 2017, Freedom House rated Venezuela as “not free,” making it one of two countries in the Western Hemisphere, along with Cuba, with the democracy watchdog’s lowest ranking.

VI. The Region Reacts
Mercosur, an economic and political bloc comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela, suspended Venezuela in 2016. In March 2017, the secretary-general of the Organization of the American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, recommended suspending Venezuela from the bloc unless the Maduro administration moved quickly to hold elections. The last time OAS suspended a member country was 2009, when it did so to Honduras following a military coup.

U.S. policy under Donald J. Trump appears to follow that of former President Barack Obama, writes CFR Adjunct Senior Fellow Matthew Taylor. In February 2017, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Vice President Tareck El Aissami for his alleged involvement in international drug trafficking. Later that month Trump met with Lilian Tintori, the wife of Leopoldo Lopez, and called for his release. In April 2017, as protests continued in Caracas, the U.S. State Department issued a statement voicing concern over government actions against Capriles and demonstrators.

On May 19, The Trump administration sanctioned eight members of Venezuela’s Supreme Court, including the court’s president, Maikel Moreno, the U.S. Treasury Department announced. U.S. officials said the sanctions were a direct response to an incident in March in which the Supreme Court annulled the nation’s democratically elected National Assembly, which is controlled by Venezuela’s opposition party. At the time, the Supreme Court, which remains loyal to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, justified the takeover by claiming that the National Assembly was in contempt of its rulings. The court ultimately sought to authorize Maduro’s oil joint ventures by bypassing congressional approval. Despite tensions between Washington and Caracas, the United States remains Venezuela’s largest trading partner.

Meanwhile, the Maduro administration retains the support of allies in Bolivia, Ecuador, and several Caribbean nations. China has lent Venezuela more than $60 billion since 2001, and is the South American country’s largest creditor. Meanwhile, Venezuela has sought significant ties with Russia. Before oil prices fell in 2014, Venezuela was set to become the largest importer of Russian military equipment by 2025. In February 2017, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reaffirmed Moscow’s support for the Maduro government, saying bilateral relations “are on the rise.”

Reprint (w/ relevant updates added by blogger): Venezuela in Crisis -By by Danielle Renwick and Brianna Lee | Council on Foreign Relations

Recommended…
✻​ Venezuela Is Falling Apart – By Moisés Naím & Francisco Toro | The Atlantic
✻​ Internal Splits, Immolations, and Burning Houses: Venezuela Gets Worse -By Emily Tamkin | Foreign Policy
✻​ Venezuela’s Crisis | Human Rights Watch
✻​ Thousands Protest Human Rights Crisis in Venezuela -By Tamara Taraciuk Broner | HRW
✻ ​Crisis Upon Crisis in Venezuela | New York Times Editorial Board
✻​ U.S. Sanctions Venezuela’s Supreme Court -By Aria Bendix | The Atlantic

The Underbelly of the Syrian War: Trade in Human Organs

A young man Syrian refugee named Raïd, shown here, recently sold his kidney in Lebanon.​ (Photo: ​Ulrike Putz)

The illegal trade in human organs has become widespread in Syria and neighboring countries, medical officials and victims say, with cross-border networks exploiting thousands of desperate Syrians.

These networks purchase transplantable organs such as kidneys and corneas from Syrians and ship them to neighboring countries, where they disappear into the murky world of the international organ trade, they say. There are also allegations that organs have been stolen from prisoners.

Yasser (not his real name) is one of those who sold one of his own kidneys, which he calls the “worst decision of my life.” The 29-year-old fled the fighting in his home city of Homs, in western Syria, around 100 miles north of the capital Damascus, after the start of the war. He made his way to Cairo, but like many other Syrian refugees he had trouble getting work and found himself with no money to survive.

He heard through acquaintances that some people would pay for one of his kidneys. “I was new to Egypt. I did not have any money, and I couldn’t find a job, so my only choice was to sell my left kidney,” he said. A broker invited him to his home and a date was set for medical tests and the operation. “I sold it for $3,000 to someone I knew nothing about. We met for no more than 15 minutes before we closed the deal,” he said.

After the operation, Yasser moved to Istanbul, where he now shares a crowded apartment with several other young refugee men and works in an auto shop. The operation has left him permanently marked—both physically and emotionally—and he felt uncomfortable sharing further details of the procedure: “I will never forgive myself for what I did,” said Yasser, who has had pain in his remaining right kidney and had a doctor tell him he could die if he is not very careful.

There are no reliable statistics on how widespread the practice may be.

However, Hussein Nofal, head of the department of forensic medicine at Damascus University and chief of the newly formed General Authority for Forensic Medicine, has been compiling evidence of the organ trade and estimates 18,000 Syrians have had organs removed for sale over the past four years of war.

Mu’azzaz shows her scar at home in Lebanon on Thursday, May 29, 2014. (Photo: Bill Kotsatos/Redux)

He said the trade is particularly active in border areas outside the control of the Assad regime and inside Turkey and Lebanon’s camps for Syrian refugees.

Nofal said organ prices vary across the region. In Turkey, someone can purchase a kidney for $10,000, while in Iraq the price may be as low as $1,000. In Lebanon and Syria, the cost hovers around $3,000.

He was also quoted last year in the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir, which is reportedly close to Bashar al-Assad’s regime, as saying that gangs working with Syrian doctors sell corneas for $7,500 each to foreign clients and falsify their country of origin.

Even war-torn countries have laws; the laws surrounding the organ trade in Syria are opaque, though, and with the raging conflict, difficult to enforce or take as far as prosecution.

All across Damascus, for instance, there are hundreds of posters requesting organ “donation,” especially next to hospitals and pharmacies. A typical one reads: “A sick person is in urgent need of a kidney. Blood type needed: O+. Tissue analysis to be done. For those interested in donating, please contact the number below.”

Authorities can do little about such advertisements, since under Syrian law organ donations to relatives and strangers are legal. To further skirt the law, the organ “donors” who answer these fliers go to their local court and attest that they are donating and not selling their organ.

Nevertheless, at least 20 complaints related to the organ trade made their way to the Damascus courts between March 2011 and September 2015. No such cases were seen before the fighting broke out, according to the attorney general of rural Damascus, Ahmad al-Sayyed.

These complaints, which name alleged criminals, as well as doctors and hospitals, have largely been filed by relatives of those who have died. They are considered difficult if not impossible to prosecute since those involved are hard to track down amid the conflict.

However, al-Sayyed estimates that there have been at least 20,000 cases of illegal organ sales across the whole country since the start of the war, especially in border areas where there are no longer any courts or police officers to enforce the laws. A judicial source at the Syrian Ministry of Justice who asked to not be named said police do not have the resources to follow up on individual cases to ensure the person receiving the organ has not paid the “donor.”

One oncologist, Dr. Mohammed Awram (not his real name), said the trade is widespread in the northern rural areas of Aleppo and Idlib. “A dermatologist asked me to sell the organs of pro-government detainees in rural Idlib, since, as he put it, they were going to be executed anyway,” said the doctor, who specializes in surgical oncology and traveled to Syria recently to treat patients in the rural areas around Idlib. The dermatologist explained to him that there were many buyers who were willing to pay, and that the money would be used to buy much-needed medical equipment and to support the armed opposition groups.

Awram refused on ethical grounds. He was also worried that such operations might lead to innocent people being arrested in order to harvest their organs. His refusal resulted in his being accused of working for the Syrian government.

The Islamic State militant group (ISIS), he said, tried to kill him several times when he attempted to start manufacturing medicines, so he moved to rural Aleppo when Idlib was overrun with the Islamic extremists. “The area I moved to was [also] controlled by [ISIS], and we saw many cases of corpses with missing internal organs, mostly the liver and left kidney. However, I saw one case of a missing bladder,” he said.

Murhaf al-Muallem, director of the Consultative Center for Studies and Human Rights, said his organization has documented dozens of cases of Syrian organs being sold inside and outside Syria. “The center blames Syria’s neighboring countries for the situation, since they are not providing Syrian refugees with protection or job opportunities, which has led many of them to sell their own organs in order to provide for their families. Their poverty made them easy victims for the organ trade mafias,” he said.

Source: Underbelly of the War: Trade in Human Organs -By Ahmad Haj and Tamer Osman | Syria Deeply

Ahmad Haj Hamdo and Tamer Osman report for the Syrian Independent Media Group, which is comprised of five independent Syrian media organizations working together to highlight untold stories from the war-torn country: Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, Rozana Radio, Syria Deeply, Syria Untold and the Violation Documentation Center in Syria. The project is supported by International Media Support.


Recommended…
Meeting An Organ Trafficker Who Preys on Syrian Refugees -By Alex Forsyth | BBC News

Hidden Note from Chinese Labor Prisoner Found in Walmart Purse

An Arizona woman’s shopping discovery is the latest instance in a string of reports involving notes penned by Chinese labor prisoners that have purportedly been found inside U.S. goods.

According to KVOA-TV, which first reported the story, Christel Wallace found a note written in Chinese inside a purse she bought at a Walmart near Tucson. A published translation of the note read as follows:

Inmates in the Yingshan Prison in Guangxi, China are working 14 hours daily with no break/rest at noon, continue working overtime until 12 midnight, and whoever doesn’t finish his work will be beaten. Their meals are without oil and salt. Every month, the boss pays the inmate 2000 yuan, any additional dishes will be finished by the police. If the inmates are sick and need medicine, the cost will be deducted from the salary. Prison in China is unlike prison in America, horse cow goat pig dog (literally, means inhumane treatment).

Walmart has declined to comment in response to queries regarding their suppliers (in China or elsewhere), but the company’s national media relations director, Ragan Dickens, sent us a statement regarding Wallace’s discovery:

We’re making contact with the customer and appreciate her bringing this to our attention. With the information we have, we are looking into what happened so we can take the appropriate actions.

Walmart has also been criticized by the advocacy group China Labor Watch, which has accused the company of exploiting workers. The group’s executive director, Li Qiang, told us on 2 May 2017 that it is rare for prison laborers to attempt to communicate their situation for fear of punishment. Speaking through a translator, Qiang told us that the company submits production contracts to factories with a low budget:

Regular factories can’t afford such [a] low budget to produce the products. Usually what happens after is Walmart contracts with [a] prison that will accept the low budget to produce its products.

Dickens provided a separate statement regarding Qiang’s accusation, saying:

We care that our products are sourced responsibly and transparently, and we take these allegations seriously. We require from our suppliers that all labor in their supply chains is voluntary. It is false that Walmart does any labor contracting from prisons.

While the author of the letter Wallace discovered has not been identified, similar notes have been found in purchases from other major U.S. retailers. In September 2012, a New York City woman discovered a handwritten note pleading for help inside a shopping bag she bought at Saks Fifth Avenue.

The person who wrote that letter was identified as Tohnain Emmanuel Njong, a Cameroonian national who was imprisoned under fraud charges in the city of Qingdao at the time he wrote it. It read in part: “We are ill-treated and work like slaves for 13 hours every day producing these bags in bulk in the prison factory.” Njong was released in December 2013.

A month after Njong’s letter was discovered, an Oregon woman reported finding a prisoner’s letter inside a box of Halloween decorations she bought at Kmart. The letter asked anyone who found it to notify the World Human Right Organization, adding, “Thousands people here who are under the persecution of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever.”

A 47-year-old Chinese national who asked to be identified only as Zhang told the New York Times in 2013 that he wrote the Kmart letter while imprisoned inside the Masanjia labor camp, saying it was one of about 20 notes he secretly wrote while serving a two-year sentence: For a long time I would fantasize about some of the letters being discovered overseas, but over time I just gave up hope and forgot about them.

Of course, it’s always possible that at least some notes of this nature are not on the level and/or are being inserted into products after their arrival in the U.S. and not during the manufacturing process in China. This does not appear to be such a case.

Sources:
Sierra Vista Woman Finds Note from ‘Chinese Prisoner’ in Walmart Purse -By By Aalia Shaheed| KVOA (News 4 Tucson)
Arizona Woman Reportedly Discovers Hidden Note from Chinese Prison Laborer? -By Arturo Garcia | Snopes


Recommended…
Chinese Prisoner Who Hid SOS Letter In Kmart Packaging Identified -By Meredith Bennett-Smith | Huffington Post
An S.O.S. in a Saks Bag -By Emily Greenhouse | The New Yorker
Behind Cry for Help From China Labor Camp -By Andrews Jacob | The New York Times
10 Companies That Still Use Child Labor -By Hannah Lamarque | Career Addict
Buy Slave Free | End Slavery Now

Out of Time in Arkansas

It’s done. The state of Arkansas executed four death row inmates in the span of eight days. From April 20 – April 27, inmates Ledell Lee, Jack Jones, Marcel Williams and Kenneth Williams, all paid the price of their crimes by being put to death by lethal injection. Eight death row inmates were originally scheduled to die in Arkansas over that span, but half were spared. During that eight-day span, Arkansas also made history by performing the first double-execution the United States has seen in 17 years. Jack Jones and Ledell Lee were both killed Monday, April 24, just hours apart. The article below appeared in The New Yorker on May 8.
_______________

Arkansas wanted to execute all eight inmates featured above in April. Half were spared. The names of those not spared are in bold. The inmates, clockwise from top left, are Don Williamson Davis, Bruce Ward, Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee;  bottom left, are Jack Harold Jones, Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams and Jason McGehee (Photo: Arkansas Department of Correction).

By the opaque reasoning of capital punishment, the state of Arkansas grew some unknowable fraction safer on the evening of April 24, when Jack Jones, a fifty-two-year-old, overweight, hypertensive, diabetic amputee, was strapped to a gurney in the Cummins Unit prison and administered drugs to successively sedate him, impair his breathing, stop his heart, and kill him. According to the state’s timeline, the process was a model of efficiency, taking only fourteen minutes to complete—less time than one might spend registering a vehicle at the Little Rock D.M.V. This was significant, as the night’s work was just getting started. Arkansas was staging the first double execution in the United States since 2000. Three hours later, Marcel Williams, a forty-six-year-old man who also suffered from diabetes, obesity, and hypertension, was strapped to the same gurney, injected with the same cocktail of drugs, and declared dead within seventeen minutes.

Jones’s and Williams’s executions were the second and third in a four-day period; at the same facility, on the preceding Thursday, Ledell Lee, aged fifty-one, became the first prisoner to be put to death in Arkansas since 2005. A fourth man, Kenneth Williams, aged thirty-eight, who had been on death row since 2000, was executed at Cummins on Thursday, shortly before midnight, when his warrant was set to run out. These four were among eight men whom Arkansas sought to execute in eleven days. With the state’s supply of the sedative midazolam due to expire at the end of the month, the proposed schedule came to resemble a lethal clearance sale. To socioeconomics and race—the known and inescapably arbitrary factors in the application of the death penalty—we may now add a novel dynamic: the shelf life of benzodiazepine compounds. There is a banal horror in the bureaucratic diligence that noted the drug’s expiration date, calculated how many people might be killed before it passed, and generated the warrants that Asa Hutchinson, the state’s Republican governor, signed.

McKesson Medical-Surgical, Inc., which distributes vecuronium bromide—a drug that is commonly used during surgery but that can also be used to stop a person’s breathing—filed suit against Arkansas, claiming that it had been duped into providing an ingredient of the cocktail. Four of the executions were blocked by court order. The Eighth Amendment prohibition against “cruel and unusual” punishment served as a measure of the elastic morality that facilitates the death penalty: does it constitute cruelty to infuse the condemned with a sedative, rather than a stronger anesthetic, particularly if, as attorneys for Jones and Williams argued, the circulatory conditions of the men might impair its effectiveness?

The rush of executions is notable not only for its barbarism but also for its contrast to prevailing thinking about capital punishment. Support for the death penalty peaked in 1994, with eighty per cent of Americans in favor. Last year, a Pew study found that the number had fallen to forty-nine per cent—the first time since 1971 that less than half of the public supported it. The declining crime rate accounts for part of the drop: in the mid-nineties, murders were twice as common as they are now. At the same time, the idea that death serves as a deterrent to other criminals has been consistently unsupported by evidence. Data from the Death Penalty Information Center shows that, in the past forty years, there have been eleven hundred and eighty-four executions in the South, compared with four in the Northeast, yet homicide figures in 2015 were nearly seventy per cent higher in Southern states than in Northeastern ones. The death penalty is about retribution for past offenses, not prevention of future ones.

There is also a growing awareness that it is perhaps impossible to create a justice system that both executes criminals and avoids killing innocents. The sclerotic appeals process insures that years, if not decades, will pass before the condemned meet their state-authored fate. But streamlining the process only increases the likelihood that innocent people will die. Since 1973, a hundred and fifty-nine inmates on death row have been exonerated of the crimes for which they were sent there. A prisoner in Ohio named Ricky Jackson spent thirty-nine years on death row before a key witness admitted to lying in the testimony that led to his conviction. Jackson is alive solely because of the inefficiency of the system that sought to kill him.

That complexity has been reflected in the politics of death-penalty prosecutions. In January, Bob Ferguson, the Washington State attorney general, proposed a bill that would eliminate the death penalty in his state. The same month, Beth McCann, the Denver district attorney, announced that her city was done with it. In March, Aramis Ayala, the state attorney for the Ninth Circuit, in Florida, announced that her office would not pursue capital punishment in any cases. Her office was in the midst of prosecuting Markeith Loyd, who is accused of murdering his pregnant girlfriend and a policewoman. Ayala said, “I’ve been unable to find any credible evidence that the death penalty increases safety for law-enforcement officers.” She added that the expense of death-penalty appeals drains resources from other prosecutions. In response, Governor Rick Scott removed the Loyd case, along with twenty-two others, from Ayala’s jurisdiction—an action she is challenging in court.

Last year, the Presidential election was won by a man who had demanded the death penalty for five young black and Latino men who were convicted of a brutal rape in Central Park that they did not commit. He appointed an Attorney General who had successfully fought to vitiate federal prohibitions on the execution of the mentally ill. He chose a Supreme Court Justice who, in his first major vote on the Court, cast the decisive one, in a 5–4 decision, to allow an execution to proceed—that of Ledell Lee, who died minutes later.

These are the actions of powerful men in service of outmoded ideas. We in this country are unaccustomed to mass executions carried out under government auspices. We would prefer to believe that such things happen in less evolved locales. Yet that is precisely what the state of Arkansas set out to achieve. The condemned men perpetrated a litany of horrors, but the rationales for putting them to death—a decades-delayed catharsis for the victims’ families, a lottery-slim chance that some future violence will be deterred—are as close to their expiration as Arkansas’s supply of midazolam.

Source: The Banal Horror of Arkansas’s Executions -By Jelani Cobb | The New Yorker

Jelani Cobb has been a contributor to The New Yorker and newyorker.com since 2012, writing frequently about race, politics, history, and culture. He is the author of “The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress.”


Recommended…
✻​ Arkansas Wants to Execute Seven Inmates Before Their Drugs Expire -By Garrett Epps | The Atlantic
✻​ Four Arkansas Executions Are Tied to the Expiration of a Drug That Does Not Work in Lethal Injections -Jessica Wapner | Newsweek
✻​ Fourth Arkansas Execution in Eight Days Prompts Questions About Inmate’s Movements -By Mark Berman | Washington Post
✻​ After Arkansas Executions, Lawyer Criticizes Use Of Capital Punishment | NPR
✻​ A Century of Death: 196 Executions, 15 Governors, and Arkansas’ Deadliest Day | KATV
✻​ Bearing Witness to Executions: Last Breaths and Lasting Impressions -By Alan Blinder and Manny Fernandez | The New York Times

An American Tragedy

Donald Trump at a campaign rally on Oct. 5, 2016, in Reno, Nev. (Photo: Evan Vucci / AP); Background image credit: Rick Wilking / Reuters

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President—a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit—and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.

There are, inevitably, miseries to come: an increasingly reactionary Supreme Court; an emboldened right-wing Congress; a President whose disdain for women and minorities, civil liberties and scientific fact, to say nothing of simple decency, has been repeatedly demonstrated. Trump is vulgarity unbounded, a knowledge-free national leader who will not only set markets tumbling but will strike fear into the hearts of the vulnerable, the weak, and, above all, the many varieties of Other whom he has so deeply insulted. The African-American Other. The Hispanic Other. The female Other. The Jewish and Muslim Other. The most hopeful way to look at this grievous event—and it’s a stretch—is that this election and the years to follow will be a test of the strength, or the fragility, of American institutions. It will be a test of our seriousness and resolve.

Early on Election Day, the polls held out cause for concern, but they provided sufficiently promising news for Democrats in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, and even Florida that there was every reason to think about celebrating the fulfillment of Seneca Falls, the election of the first woman to the White House. Potential victories in states like Georgia disappeared, little more than a week ago, with the F.B.I. director’s heedless and damaging letter to Congress about reopening his investigation and the reappearance of damaging buzzwords like “e-mails,” “Anthony Weiner,” and “fifteen-year-old girl.” But the odds were still with Hillary Clinton.

All along, Trump seemed like a twisted caricature of every rotten reflex of the radical right. That he has prevailed, that he has won this election, is a crushing blow to the spirit; it is an event that will likely cast the country into a period of economic, political, and social uncertainty that we cannot yet imagine. That the electorate has, in its plurality, decided to live in Trump’s world of vanity, hate, arrogance, untruth, and recklessness, his disdain for democratic norms, is a fact that will lead, inevitably, to all manner of national decline and suffering.

In the coming days, commentators will attempt to normalize this event. They will try to soothe their readers and viewers with thoughts about the “innate wisdom” and “essential decency” of the American people. They will downplay the virulence of the nationalism displayed, the cruel decision to elevate a man who rides in a gold-plated airliner but who has staked his claim with the populist rhetoric of blood and soil. George Orwell, the most fearless of commentators, was right to point out that public opinion is no more innately wise than humans are innately kind. People can behave foolishly, recklessly, self-destructively in the aggregate just as they can individually. Sometimes all they require is a leader of cunning, a demagogue who reads the waves of resentment and rides them to a popular victory. “The point is that the relative freedom which we enjoy depends of public opinion,” Orwell wrote in his essay “Freedom of the Park.” “The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.”

Trump ran his campaign sensing the feeling of dispossession and anxiety among millions of voters—white voters, in the main. And many of those voters—not all, but many—followed Trump because they saw that this slick performer, once a relative cipher when it came to politics, a marginal self-promoting buffoon in the jokescape of eighties and nineties New York, was more than willing to assume their resentments, their fury, their sense of a new world that conspired against their interests. That he was a billionaire of low repute did not dissuade them any more than pro-Brexit voters in Britain were dissuaded by the cynicism of Boris Johnson and so many others. The Democratic electorate might have taken comfort in the fact that the nation had recovered substantially, if unevenly, from the Great Recession in many ways—unemployment is down to 4.9 per cent—but it led them, it led us, to grossly underestimate reality. The Democratic electorate also believed that, with the election of an African-American President and the rise of marriage equality and other such markers, the culture wars were coming to a close. Trump began his campaign declaring Mexican immigrants to be “rapists”; he closed it with an anti-Semitic ad evoking “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”; his own behavior made a mockery of the dignity of women and women’s bodies. And, when criticized for any of it, he batted it all away as “political correctness.” Surely such a cruel and retrograde figure could succeed among some voters, but how could he win? Surely, Breitbart News, a site of vile conspiracies, could not become for millions a source of news and mainstream opinion. And yet Trump, who may have set out on his campaign merely as a branding exercise, sooner or later recognized that he could embody and manipulate these dark forces. The fact that “traditional” Republicans, from George H. W. Bush to Mitt Romney, announced their distaste for Trump only seemed to deepen his emotional support.

The commentators, in their attempt to normalize this tragedy, will also find ways to discount the bumbling and destructive behavior of the F.B.I., the malign interference of Russian intelligence, the free pass—the hours of uninterrupted, unmediated coverage of his rallies—provided to Trump by cable television, particularly in the early months of his campaign. We will be asked to count on the stability of American institutions, the tendency of even the most radical politicians to rein themselves in when admitted to office. Liberals will be admonished as smug, disconnected from suffering, as if so many Democratic voters were unacquainted with poverty, struggle, and misfortune. There is no reason to believe this palaver. There is no reason to believe that Trump and his band of associates—Chris Christie, Rudolph Giuliani, Mike Pence, and, yes, Paul Ryan—are in any mood to govern as Republicans within the traditional boundaries of decency. Trump was not elected on a platform of decency, fairness, moderation, compromise, and the rule of law; he was elected, in the main, on a platform of resentment. Fascism is not our future—it cannot be; we cannot allow it to be so—but this is surely the way fascism can begin.

Hillary Clinton was a flawed candidate but a resilient, intelligent, and competent leader, who never overcame her image among millions of voters as untrustworthy and entitled. Some of this was the result of her ingrown instinct for suspicion, developed over the years after one bogus “scandal” after another. And yet, somehow, no matter how long and committed her earnest public service, she was less trusted than Trump, a flim-flam man who cheated his customers, investors, and contractors; a hollow man whose countless statements and behavior reflect a human being of dismal qualities—greedy, mendacious, and bigoted. His level of egotism is rarely exhibited outside of a clinical environment.

For eight years, the country has lived with Barack Obama as its President. Too often, we tried to diminish the racism and resentment that bubbled under the cyber-surface. But the information loop had been shattered. On Facebook, articles in the traditional, fact-based press look the same as articles from the conspiratorial alt-right media. Spokesmen for the unspeakable now have access to huge audiences. This was the cauldron, with so much misogynistic language, that helped to demean and destroy Clinton. The alt-right press was the purveyor of constant lies, propaganda, and conspiracy theories that Trump used as the oxygen of his campaign. Steve Bannon, a pivotal figure at Breitbart, was his propagandist and campaign manager.

It is all a dismal picture. Late last night, as the results were coming in from the last states, a friend called me full of sadness, full of anxiety about conflict, about war. Why not leave the country? But despair is no answer. To combat authoritarianism, to call out lies, to struggle honorably and fiercely in the name of American ideals—that is what is left to do. That is all there is to do.

Source: An American Tragedy – By David Remnick | The New Yorker (11/9/2016)


David Remnick has been editor of The New Yorker since 1998 and a staff writer since 1992. He is the author of “The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama.”

Pride & Extreme Prejudice: America & World Awash in Ethnic Nationalism

Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

“Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” ~Albert Einstein

A virulent nationalism, tinged with bigotry, is on the rise across much of the world. It helped elect Narendra Modi in India and sustains Vladimir Putin in Russia. It has vaulted Marine Le Pen to the final round of the French election. She is the underdog in the runoff, but it’s chilling to see that this weekend she seems to have won voters under age 34.

In the United States, Donald Trump won the White House despite — and partly because of — his disdain for Mexicans, Muslims and African-Americans and his flirtation with anti-Semitic tropes.

In the face of this ethnic nationalism, citizens often face difficult choices. They have to decide how much of a priority to place on combating it.

Should voters eschew their favorite candidate and vote for one with the best chance to defeat the nationalist? Should policy experts be willing to work in an administration that plays footsie with intolerance? Should a museum dedicated to fighting hate, like the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, host a hateful president?

These choices often end up being more complicated than they first seem, and I don’t want to suggest otherwise. But a disturbing pattern is still emerging.

Too many people — well-meaning people on both the left and right — have grown complacent about nationalist bigotry. They are erring on the side of putting other priorities first, and ethnic nationalism is benefiting.

Let’s start on the political left. And, no, I’m not about to lapse into false equivalence. Ethnic nationalism is largely a force of the right. But the left needs to decide how to respond, and it hasn’t been effective enough so far. It has underestimated the threat and put smaller matters ahead of larger ones.

After France’s first round of voting, the leftist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon refused to endorse the last person who can prevent Le Pen from becoming president, Emmanuel Macron. A Le Pen presidency, to be clear, would likely tear Europe asunder, marginalize French citizens who hail from Africa and the Middle East and lead to a big expansion of security forces. It would be the biggest victory for Europe’s far right since World War II, by far.

Yet Mélenchon still won’t back Macron — a centrist former banker who was until recently a member of the Socialist Party. It’s a classic case of political purism that may feel good, but can do grave damage.

Just look at the United States. Updated presidential vote totals show that Trump’s margins in Michigan, in Pennsylvania and in Wisconsin — which together would have swung the result — were smaller than the tally of Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate. It’s impossible to know whether Stein’s campaign cost Hillary Clinton the election, yet it clearly hurt. In a very close race, parts of the American left aided Trump.

I understand that this point enrages backers of Stein and Mélenchon. They have real differences of opinion with center-left candidates, and they want to win those debates. But the final round of an election that includes a viable white nationalist isn’t a time to hash out the future of progressive politics. It’s a time to defeat racism.

A version of this dilemma also applies to the political center. Apolitical institutions have to decide whether they will treat ethno-centrists like Trump and Le Pen differently from other politicians. These institutions are right to resist becoming part of “the opposition,” because society needs nonpartisan institutions. But they also have to avoid compromising their mission.

The Holocaust Museum has put itself in a tricky spot. It invited Trump to give a major speech this morning, much as previous presidents have done. Of course, previous presidents didn’t retweet neo-Nazi sympathizers, vilify Muslims or try to airbrush Jews out of the Holocaust.

Maybe the museum’s leaders are confident Trump will use the speech as a turning point, which would be wonderful. But by conferring the museum’s prestige on Trump, those leaders have a new responsibility to call out future dog whistles from the administration. The Holocaust Museum has effectively invested in Trump.

Finally, there is the political right. Most Republicans despise the notion that their ideology makes room for bigotry. Theirs is the party of Lincoln and of individual freedom, they say.

Fair enough. But that history brings responsibilities. Today’s Republican Party has plainly made room for white nationalism, via Steve King, Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions and Fox News, not to mention the president.

If the Holocaust Museum is now invested in Trump, Republicans are really invested in him and his fellow nationalists. You don’t get to call yourself the party of Lincoln and stay silent when voting rights are abridged, hate crimes are met with silence and dark-skinned citizens are cast as un-American.

I never expected to live through a time when bigotry would again be as ascendant. But we are living in that time, and it brings a new set of choices.

Source: The Urgency of Ethnic Nationalism -David Leonhardt | New York Times, Op-Ed



David Leonhardt (born January 1, 1973) is an American journalist and columnist. Since 2014, he has been the managing editor of  Upshot at The New York Times since the venture was launched on April 22, 2014.  In April 2011, Leonhardt was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.

No Where To Turn: Children As Young As Four Brutually Raped in Greek Refugee Camp

A child carries a blanket at the makeshift refugee camp at the Greek-​Macedonian border last March.​ ​(Photo: AF​P​ / Guardian UK)

“I told myself, ‘Look at yourself – you came to Europe, what was your aim?’ I am not doing this because I like it but I don’t have the money, I don’t have a choice.”

Those are the words of one of many refugee children forced into selling sex to survive in Greece, where a four-year-old girl is among those raped in camps that were supposed to afford them protection.

A study by Harvard University is warning of a “growing epidemic” of sexual exploitation and abuse in the country, which houses 62,000 asylum seekers stranded by the EU-Turkey deal and border closures through Europe. “We had a case of a four-year-old girl who was raped,” a psychologist at a camp in Athens told researchers. “The mother did whatever was possible to report it.”

But aid workers and officials say there is often nowhere to turn, with victims trapped in camps with their abusers too frightened to go to police or authorities, who frequently lack interpreters and specialists. The absence of arrests can lead asylum seekers to take violent retribution. In one Greek camp, a man who had already married one child raped another underage girl, and was badly beaten by other migrants. Aid workers told the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights of criminal gangs “thriving” in squalid camps, where many refugees have been living for more than a year, and terrorizing victims into silence.

“Having endured the risks of sexual violence or having experienced sexual violence during their journey, migrant children suffer from the fear of sexual abuse in a place that should have guaranteed them safety and protection,” the report said. It found that “weak or non-existent” structures leave children at heightened danger, with reports of sexual assault rising while gangs blackmail minors and threaten to send humiliating photos to their families.

“A man from one of the ‘mafia’ groups asked a couple’s seven-year-old daughter into their tent to play games on his phone and then zipped up the tent,” a doctor told researchers. “She came back with marks on her arms and neck. Later, the girl described how she was sexually abused.”

In one government-run camp, in a former Softex toilet roll factory on the outskirts of Thessaloniki, aid organizations claim that the level of risk of sexual attack is so acute that women are too afraid to visit the camp toilets alone at night. One volunteer serving at the Softex camp, which holds 1,400 mostly Syrian refugees, alleged that some young girls had been effectively groomed by male gangs. He said an Iraqi family had to be moved to emergency accommodation outside the camp after their daughter was attacked.

Rape and sexual assault is feared to be significantly underreported because of the fear of retribution and stigma, while administrative backlogs can cause long delays before victims can be moved away from their abusers.

The EU-Turkey deal has left thousands of children detained among 13,000 migrants in overcrowded island camps, despite concerns from the UN over unsafe conditions, seeing several refugees die of hypothermia and killed in fires over the winter. Charities previously warned of rising self-harm and attempted suicide in detention centers and elsewhere in Greece, where at least one asylum seeker has killed himself this year amid rising desperation to escape.

Smugglers in Greece, Italy and elsewhere in Europe are known to force refugees including children into prostitution to pay “debts”, while migrants are also resorting to “survival sex” for food and shelter, or to raise money to leave Greece.

“This can be children who are unaccompanied, or it can be women who come here without a husband or person to protect them,” says Eleni Kotsoni, a psychologist at a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) clinic in Athens. Refugee women can make “deals” with men from their home countries in exchange for safety inside detention camps, where overcrowding, outbreaks of violence and a lack of security and facilities leave them vulnerable.

In Athens, Thessaloniki and other cities, refugees tend to live in open camps or informal settlements, where adolescents may be preyed on by older men. Children desperate to raise money or find shelter also seek to sell sex themselves, particularly in notorious parks in Athens where they wait to be approached by pedophiles.

The Harvard study found that the purchasers of migrant child sex were mainly men over 35, while children engaging in “survival sex” are mainly teenage boys, particularly from Afghanistan. Some purchasers demand children to accompany them to their homes or meet at a hotel, the report said, while others insist on having sex in a park such as the notorious Pedion tou Areos (Field of Ares) in Athens. The report also found prices “rarely exceed €15 (£13) per exchange”. With smugglers hiking fees as borders and fences have gone up across Europe, prospects of escaping Greece are fading.

Children at the Ritsona refugee camp, north of Athens. A report says the European commission should insist on a child protection officer for every site. (Photo by Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images)

Aid workers expect the situation to worsen as refugees remain trapped in Greece for ever-lengthening periods and relocation programs including a British scheme are scrapped. Within the first 10 months of 2016, more than 10,400 children applied for asylum in Greece, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and other Middle Eastern and north African nations, creating huge backlogs in an unprepared system. But by the end of the year only 2,413 migrant children – 11 per cent of those stranded in the country – had been successfully relocated to other European countries despite 160,000 slots being promised.

​Marleen Korthals Altes, a senior child protection adviser at Save the Children, said the closure of borders through the Balkans route had increased the risk of sexual violence and exploitation. Ms Korthals Altes said that although child protection is heavily legislated in Greece, laws are “inconsistently applied” by overwhelmed authorities, adding: “The policies and the practices are different.”

The Harvard report identified six major risk factors needing to be urgently addressed – the lack of children’s facilities, risky living conditions inside camps, unsupervised mixing of migrant adults and children, under-resourced child protection systems, a lack of coordination among authorities and a “radically inadequate” relocation scheme.

Its authors, Vasileia Digidiki and Jacqueline Bhabha, concluded that EU policies were exacerbating risks by forcing the youngest and most vulnerable refugees to turn to smugglers and take desperate measure to meet their extortionate fees.

While more migrants are dying in treacherous attempts to reach Europe than ever before, political will to help survivors is waning, they noted, adding: “National and international stakeholders should come together to ensure adequate prevention measures, as well as to create safe and legal paths to migration for migrant children in acute need of protection.”

Sources & Recommended…
Four-Year-Old Girl Among Refugees Raped in Greece as Thousands of Asylum Seekers Trapped in Camps -By Lizzie Dearden | The Independent
‘Sexual Assaults on Children’ at Greek Refugee Camps -By Matthew Townsend | The Guardian
RRDP: Women Fear Violence and Rape in Refugee Camps | Al Jazeera
New Report: Emergency Within an Emergency, Exploitation of Migrant Children in Greece | Report