‘We’re all the same’: Taiwanese stand in solidarity with Chinese ‘white paper protests’

“MuiTypography-root-217 MuiTypography-h1-222″>'We’re all the same': Taiwanese stand in solidarity with Chinese 'white paper protests'

In China, protests have declined after the loosening of some COVID-19 restrictions. Some Taiwanese continue to support what they call the "A4 revolution," or "white paper protests," in China.

The WorldDecember 7, 2022 · 5:15 PM EST

Protesters in Taipei, Taiwan, showed up at a rally on Sunday to express support for China's A4 movement.

Ashish Valentine/The World

Visible protests in China have declined after crackdowns and the loosening of some COVID-19 restrictions.

But in nearby Taiwan, many are still standing in support of what’s been called the "A4 revolution" — or "white paper protests" — named for the size of the blank sheets of printer paper that protesters held up at demonstrations in China.

Lawmakers from both of Taiwan’s largest parties have voiced support for the movement.

“We’re all the same. What we’re protecting and striving for is a free system. This is a clash of systems between democracy and authoritarianism. If we don’t stand up today, then we might be next,” Su Chiao-hui, a legislator with Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said at a press conference last week.

Vigils for the victims of the Urumqi fire in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region — whose rescue, critics say, was hindered by the country’s harsh COVID-19 controls —as well as solidarity events with the A4 movement have been springing up across Taiwan.

Taiwanese activist Lee Ming-che, who spent five years locked up in China, speaks at a solidarity event for the #A4Revolution in Taipei, Taiwan, on Sunday.

Credit:

Ashish Valentine/The World

Last Sunday in downtown Taipei, dozens of people gathered in front of the city’s famous Liberty Square Arch holding A4-sized pieces of paper.

One of the first to speak was Lee Ming-che, a Taiwanese nongovernmental organization worker who spent five years locked up in China until his release this past April, after sharing information about Taiwan’s democracy with Chinese people.

“When there’s a democratic movement by the people of another country to resist authoritarianism, as a human being, you should support it,” Lee said. “In this case, the country is so close to us and claims every day that it will invade Taiwan by force. After being imprisoned in China for five years, I’m deeply convinced that China’s laws are not designed to protect the rights and interests of the people, but to protect the will of the ruler.”

Vivian Chen is a 22-year-old student at National Taiwan University. She’s been to many of these events, and said that she’s surprised to see Taiwanese people who don’t often agree on important issues coming together.

“Some [attend because they] believe they are Chinese, and it’s also Chinese people suffering,” Chen said. “But I also see a lot of people, especially from younger generations; we think Taiwan is an independent country. However, human rights is a universal value. So, we come together.”

Dozens of protesters gathered at Liberty Square Arch in Taipei, Taiwan, on Sunday to voice their support for the protests in China.

Credit:

Ashish Valentine/The World

Chen said that some Taiwanese people are surprised to see people from mainland China speak up for human rights and support Taiwan’s sovereignty. Chen has been thinking about one Chinese student who said many young people in China support progressive social movements in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

“But because of the political atmosphere, they cannot say that out loud,” Chen said. “So, she hoped we can understand that not all of the Chinese young people are very hostile to Taiwan.”

Some Taiwanese young peoples’ most visible interactions with similarly aged people in China are with so-called “little pinks” — young Chinese internet users who are nationalistic and often argue with supporters of Taiwan online.

Chen said that offline interactions at events like these might begin to create mutual understanding.

Ho Ming-sho is a sociologist at National Taiwan University. He said that Taiwanese people have long voiced their support for democracy in China, but for different reasons.

Back in 1989, when Chinese troops opened fire on protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Taiwan was also still governed by authoritarian Chinese Nationalists, who emphasized that Chinese and Taiwanese were both one people.

“Many of the Taiwanese identified themselves as Chinese … it was seen as a tragedy of the nation, that this young aspiration for democracy had been dashed,” Ho said. “The whole ‘blood is thicker than water’ narrative was quite dominant in the early ’90s.”

The Tiananmen protests were an influence on Taiwan’s own Wild Lily movement, a crucial step in its path to democratization.

Ho said that many in the older generations still feel this connection with China. But after Taiwan democratized in the 1990s, and China remained authoritarian, Taiwan’s local identity has become stronger, with each generation identifying more as only Taiwanese.

Even so, many young Taiwanese people supported the 2019 Hong Kong protests, with some events in Taiwan attended by over a thousand people. Ho said that when he talks to young protesters, he notices them approaching these movements for different reasons.

Lin Ting-yu, one of the co-organizers of the rally in Taipei, Taiwan, holds up a white A4-sized piece of paper in solidarity with protests in China on Sunday.

Credit:

Ashish Valentine/The World

“There’s more emphasis on fighting against authoritarianism … we all want democracy,” Ho said. “There is no emphasis on blood, racial and ethnic ties.”

Lev Nachman is a political scientist at National Chengchi University in Taipei who studies Taiwanese social movements.

Nachman said that while these events are helping some Taiwanese people better understand Chinese perspectives, it’s doubtful these will have a big impact on developments in China itself.

That said, Taiwan still has a role to play when it comes to Chinese students here who are speaking out, Nachman said.

“I think it's incredibly brave of them to be so public about it, because even though they're in Taiwan … someone back in China is probably finding out,” Nachman said. “Something positive that the government could do is to help make sure that Chinese students who do want to stay in Taiwan have the means to do so. Especially if they are putting themselves at any sort of political risk.”

Nachman and Ho both say some more conservative corners of Taiwanese society have argued online against supporting these protests, saying that what happens in China should have nothing to do with Taiwan. Ho said, however, that these groups seem relatively small.

For now, many in Taiwan are paying very close attention to further developments. 

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Renewed calls in Syria to overthrow Assad regime

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>Renewed calls in Syria to overthrow Assad regime

Protesters in the southern Syrian city of Suweida stormed a government building and torched pictures of President Bashar al-Assad over the weekend. They called for overthrowing the president, whom they blame for the worsening economic conditions.

The WorldDecember 7, 2022 · 4:45 PM EST

This file photo released on April 7, 2019, by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows a worker filling a pickup at a gas station, in Homs, Syria. The Syrian government has decided to close state agencies for two days due to severe fuel shortages caused by disruption of supplies arrivals and Western sanctions imposed on President Bashar Assad’s government. Syrian state media reported on Dec. 6, 2022, that the decision to close the institutions on Sunday Dec. 11 and 18, come at a time when many employees have been unable to make it to work because public transport has been badly affected by the crisis.

SANA via AP

The news coming out of the city of Suweida is reminiscent of the early days of the uprising in Syria.

Protesters stormed the governor’s office building and set it on fire. They climbed up the outside of the building and ripped down the large poster of President Bashar al-Assad. They stomped their feet on his pictures.

Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told the AFP news agency that one protester and a policeman were killed.

This level of public outrage aimed at the Assad government is unprecedented in Suweida, experts say. The city is home to a religious minority called the Druze, and they have mostly stayed out of this decadelong civil war.

“I think for the first time now, we see demonstrators attacking government buildings, burning pictures of Assad himself,” said Qutaiba Idlibi, who heads the Syria program at the Atlantic Council.

He listed several reasons why people are protesting in Suweida.

“We’ve seen inflation rates that reach 250% in some areas around Syria, especially outside metropolitan centers,” Idlibi explained. “[And] we’ve seen a rise of tensions over military conscription of youth in Suweida, but also the latest episode was the government’s corrupt network that was helping distribute and transfer drugs, specifically Captagon, in Suweida province, and through Suweida province to Jordan.”

Syria’s whole economy has faced serious problems in recent years. The war has been devastating. But then came the pandemic. And the country is still under heavy economic sanctions.

All this helps begin to explain, experts say, why the anger is reaching a boiling point.

Joel Rayburn, former US Special Envoy for Syria, said the economic divide is a major driver for the protests.

“The normal people on the street or in the business community can look around, and they can see the Shabiha, the militia, and the businesses that are associated with the Assad family driving around in fancy, luxury cars. No fuel shortage there, living a high life, going to fancy restaurants at the same time that everyone else is struggling to make ends meet,” Rayburn said.

An editor for Suwayda 24, a local news outlet — whose name isn’t being used for security reasons —told The World in a text message that the city is quiet this week. He added that given the violent response by the security forces, protesters are planning to hold off on any future protests for the time being.

Another Suweida resident, 30-year-old Rawya, who also asked for her full name not to be used, told The World over a WhatsApp call that people went out to the streets because the economic situation in Suweida is dire.

“People here used to survive on money sent from abroad and farming, and now, these two sources have mostly dried up,” she said, adding that it’s because of the pandemic and the rise in insecurity in the area.

Rawya used to be active in a campaign called, “We Want to Live,” which calls for better living conditions for Syrians. But she said she started to get threats and stopped her activism.

Rawya explained that people in Suweida know all too well the type of brutality the Assad regime can unleash on the population, and she worries about the situation becoming even more violent.

The government might try to punish people in Suweida, she said, by cutting them off from daily necessities, like food and fuel. That’s a tactic the government has used in the recent past. She added that it could also ban protesters from getting an education or fire them from their jobs.

But she doesn’t see these protests going away.

“They might calm down for a while, but unless there is meaningful change, things will explode later on,” she said. 

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Insult to injury: Part II

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>Insult to injury: Part II

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive into how insults play out in informal settings behind highly formal events. 

The WorldDecember 7, 2022 · 3:45 PM EST

US President Donald Trump, centre left, and the Prince Charles The Prince of Wales, centre right, join other NATO leaders before posing for a formal group photo during a reception for the heads of the NATO countries, at Buckingham palace in London, Tuesday Dec. 3, 2019. 

Yui Mok/Pool/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

World politics is a stage that comes with a backstage. For international leaders, the theatrics of performance before cameras and behind the podium is highly public and often tightly calibrated. But every summit and every meeting includes moments of less on-display activity. In these spaces, asymmetric rhetorical attacks, insults, jokes, and jibes can shape how negotiations play out.

In “Backstage Mockery: Impoliteness and Asymmetry on the World Stage,” Eric Van Rythoven examines how insults play out in the informal settings behind highly formal events. 

“For a higher-ranking party, impoliteness from a subordinate can be perceived as a denial of deference and esteem, and even a challenge to the hierarchy itself. For a lower-ranking party, acts of impoliteness from a superior can be perceived as an abuse of position, which foreshadows threats to their autonomy,” writes Van Rhythoven.

The pairing of status and mockery is vital because it shows that the same styles of speech can have wildly different effects depending on who is using it and how.

The pairing of status and mockery is vital because it shows that the same styles of speech can have wildly different effects depending on who is using it and how. Van Rhythoven opens the paper by discussing a 2019 incident at the 70th anniversary of NATO. In a video of the incident, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte can be seen laughing. The audio cuts out, but several jokes about US President Donald Trump can still be heard. After the release of the video, Trump left the summit early, refusing to partake in further events with national leaders seen mocking him. 

“Conversely, the same parties can use impoliteness as a kind of friendly teasing or ‘jocular humor,’ which strengthens solidarity and the bonds of amity,” writes Van Rhythoven.

NATO was likely never in danger of falling apart under the Trump administration. However, the leaders of states less powerful than the United States were still able to, through humor, reassure each other that the alliance was more durable than the fickle moods of one particular president.

When it comes to responding to powerful states, writes Van Rhythoven, “Any act of overt ridicule comes with the risk of political, economic, or — in extreme cases — military retaliation. Weaker actors, however, can avoid retaliation by employing strategies to evade attribution.”

This could include laughing as part of a crowd or tweeting an image with plausibly deniable content. Masking intent and identity are two ways to respond without drawing direct retaliation. Backstage mockery allows the weaker party to save face while still challenging behavior. It can build solidarity between other smaller powers. And, like the video at the NATO anniversary, the mockery can be known through unofficial channels. 

“While the main audience in the backstage are the aggrieved, lower-status members, evidence of ridicule can spill over into a broader field of perception. Whether gleaned through diplomatic networks, savvy journalism, or intelligence services, reports of backstage mockery from subordinate powers can signal problems to transgressive governments—including pushback against their behavior,” Van Rhythoven writes.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

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Count me in!Related ContentInsult to injury: Part IState reformation: Part IIState reformation: Part IWhen putsch comes to shove: Part II

NASA’s iconic image of Earth still inspires 50 years later. Fmr astronaut Mae Jemison reflects on it.

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>NASA’s iconic image of Earth still inspires 50 years later. Fmr astronaut Mae Jemison reflects on it.

Former NASA astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, who now directs the 100 Year Starship Project, talks about the power of the "big, blue marble" image of planet Earth, taken 50 years ago.

The WorldDecember 7, 2022 · 4:30 PM EST

View of the Earth as seen by the Apollo 17 crew  — astronaut Eugene A. Cernan, commander; astronaut Ronald E. Evans, command module pilot; and scientist-astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt, lunar module pilot — traveling toward the moon. This translunar coast photograph extends from the Mediterranean Sea area to the Antarctica South polar ice cap. This is the first time the Apollo trajectory made it possible to photograph the South polar ice cap. Note the heavy cloud cover in the Southern Hemisphere. Almost the entire coastline of Africa is clearly visible. The Arabian Peninsula can be seen at the northeastern edge of Africa. The large island off the coast of Africa is the Malagasy Republic. The Asian mainland is on the horizon toward the northeast.

Courtesy of NASA

Fifty years ago, on Dec. 7, 1972, the crew on the Apollo 17 moon rocket took a photograph of planet Earth. That famous image of Earth would become widely known as the "blue marble."

With that image, people could actually see what this small, life-sustaining planet looks like from afar.

The photo captured the imagination of engineer and physician Mae Jemison when she was in high school. Jemison would later become a NASA astronaut herself — and the first woman of color to travel into space. She served as mission specialist on board the space shuttle Endeavor in 1992.

These days, Jemison leads the 100 year Starship project, a nonprofit whose hope is to launch interstellar travel within a hundred years. Jemison joined The World's host Marco Werman to talk about that famous Earth image and how it has inspired her. 

Marco Werman: I would love it if you could share a personal anecdote or recollection about that iconic blue marble photograph 50 years ago. What do you remember about seeing that picture for the first time?Dr. Mae Jemison: I don't have a single recollection. I knew that the Earth was a marble, right? I knew that it was this circular thing. What I do remember, because I was in high school at that time, is seeing the continent of Africa shown so clearly and the size and the fact that here was this planet that was so much, you know, all about where we live. And for me, having Africa in the center made a really big difference because it was during that time when, you know, we sort of saw different continents, different countries as not being as big a part of this world. And that put us clearly together. That's what I remember about it. Speaking of confirmation, what was that like when you go up in space, 1992, you're on Endeavor and you see for yourself the actual big, blue marble. Did it look like the photo? I mean, just emotionally, what was going through your head?Well, unfortunately, the shuttle only goes up to low Earth orbit. So, you see the arc of the Earth and you see the thin layer of atmosphere, this shiny, shimmering blue. The images that are most vivid for me are going across the Horn of Africa, crossing the Nile Delta. And there's this just shimmering light that comes off of the desert. And I recognize that at one point in time, I'd been at the Nile Delta, right, I had been in Egypt. When I thought about the Earth, I thought about the fact that it's in space, right? That right now, we're in space. And it formed my connection with the rest of the universe. It wasn't just sort of looking and thinking how small I am. It really was an expansive feeling to me that I am as much a part of this greater universe as any speck of stardust. And that was what happened to me when I was on the shuttle. If there was a change, the confirmation was around being a part of this greater universe and belonging here. You're seeing that thin layer of atmosphere, as you call it. I mean, in some ways I am guessing that could have been more pronounced in terms of your reaction than the photograph. Well, that thin layer of atmosphere supports our life, right? That's where our life comes from. And for me, the confirmation was that, you know, we as humans have this incredible home and we aren't taking very good care of it and that the Earth will be here, but we may not be here if we continue to treat it in such a way that it doesn't support our life form. You've retired from NASA, but you're still obviously an avid supporter of space exploration. To wit, your 100 year Starship project. Can you explain what that is?The 100 year Starship was seed-funded by the DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the premier Defense Department agency, to really jumpstart radical innovations in technology, human systems and interstellar flight. Interstellar travel is nothing like going around in our solar system. Voyager, which has been traveling at over 35,000 miles per hour since 1977, just left our solar system. If it were headed toward our closest neighboring star, Alpha Centauri, which is 4.2 lightyears away, it would take it 50,000 to 60,000 years to get there. So, we have to do something very differently. The energy requirements to do human interstellar flight are phenomenal, to do any interstellar flight at a reasonable period of time. The idea around sustainability is really important. How do you reuse things? How do you put them together? Those are really important navigation, IT, and human behavior. How do you invest in something over a long time? And if you think about that, that really mirrors the challenges that we face in this world today on this planet. I'd really love to ask you then, why is it so important that we make, as you say, that audacious journey to outer space? Especially when there's still so much to do on Earth, which is kind of the subtext of that famous photo.With 100 year Starship, we believe pursuing an extraordinary tomorrow creates a better world today. We are able to reach villages. We're able to see things and understand things about the Earth and our environment because of space exploration. Every day, we walk around with space receivers in our hand in the form of our smartphones. They give us GPS readings and other things, the miniaturization, the issues around how do we observe the body? There are so many things that we take for granted that are very much involved in doing something as extraordinary as going to the moon and coming back. And so, without pushing further, without having a challenge of things that we don't know how to do — sometimes we stagnate. That intersection of space and culture — I gather you once made an appearance, Dr. Jemison, on an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." So, I've got to ask, were you, are you a Trekkie? Please say it is so. So, I never call myself a Trekkie, but I am a huge "Star Trek" fan from the original series on. And I'm really proud to say that I think, you know, pop culture, people sometimes consider it, you know, irrelevant, but it changes our perspectives. And that's the reason why something like "Star Trek," which had a very positive outlook on our future, represented in the 1960s the full range of humanity onboard the enterprise. And that gave us another view, another look. I can tell you that I assumed I would go into space before I saw Nichelle Nichols, before I saw George Takei on the bridge of the Enterprise. I always assumed I would go into space. But here were confirmations that other people believed that, like I did, that we all belong there.Well, Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura on "Star Trek," I mean, a woman of color in space, you were the first woman of color to actually travel into space. How significant was that for you and for young people of color, do you think?For me, you know, I had a job to do. It was, you know, highly personal. But on the other hand, you also recognize that you have a platform and what do you do with that platform? For me, it was about even then, including other people. So, I took up with me in space, because astronauts are allowed to take up different souvenirs, I took up a picture of Judith Jamison from Alvin Ailey performing the dance "Cry for All Black Women Everywhere." I took up a Bundu statue from the women's and girls' society in West Africa. I took up a certificate for Chicago Public School students to promise to do well in math and science. It was duplicated and handed out to the other students, all the students in Chicago, when I came back. That's where I went to school, at Chicago Public Schools. I took up the Alpha Kappa Alpha banner, which is the oldest African American women's sorority in the country. I took up a flag for the Organization of African Unity because I wanted to include people and hand these things back to folks who may not have been included. That's what I wanted to do. So, when you ask me, "What does that mean to me?" It meant bringing my ideas and knowledge to bear on problems, questions and solutions, which meant that after I left that project, 100 year Starship had to start with inclusiveness, right? Across ethnicity, gender, geography, across disciplines — that it had to help improve life here on Earth, and beyond, and it had to be audacious. Because we need adrenaline. I think that's one of the things that's really important, is I recognize that humans need an adrenaline rush. We need to have a challenge. And what bigger challenge than space exploration and using it to improve life on Earth as well as beyond?

This interview was lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

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Count me in!Related ContentNew research can 'fingerprint' a city's ecosystem to better understand the microbes within itNature vs nurture debate is 'totally dead in science,' says neuroscientistScientists link Earth's magnetic reversals to changes in planet's life and climateGet a glimpse of southern Brazil's paleoburrows — dug by prehistoric animals

Al Jazeera wants the ICC to do a ‘thorough and independent’ investigation into Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>Al Jazeera wants the ICC to do a 'thorough and independent' investigation into Shireen Abu Akleh's killing

The World's host Marco Werman spoke with the network's Washington, DC, bureau chief Abderrahim Foukara, about new evidence found and presented to the court.

The WorldDecember 6, 2022 · 3:30 PM EST

Rodney Dixon, lawyer for Al Jazeera, third from left, and Lina Abu Akleh, niece of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, second left, answer questions during a press conference after presenting a letter requesting a formal investigation into the killing, to the ICC in The Hague, Netherlands, Dec. 6, 2022.

Peter Dejong/AP

The Al Jazeera Media Network formally filed a case with the International Criminal Court on Tuesday to investigate the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank town of Jenin in May.

The Israeli military has denied responsibility, but recently concluded that if one of its soldiers did possibly kill her, that it was unintentional. 

Al Jazeera, however, maintains that it was a "deliberate killing" by Israeli forces.

The World's host Marco Werman spoke with Al Jazeera's Washington, DC, bureau chief Abderrahim Foukara, about new evidence found and included in case made to the ICC.

Marco Werman: How did Al Jazeera come to this decision to formally submit a complaint to the ICC?Abderrahim Foukara: The network had made the decision that it was going to wait and see what happens with all the other investigations. Al Jazeera's position now is that we've waited for too long for light to be shed on exactly what happened, for a thorough and independent investigation. That has not happened, and it's time to go to the ICC.So, Al Jazeera is using evidence from its own investigation and other evidence it gathered. What can you tell us about the new evidence that supports this being a deliberate killing?There were a bunch of people, witnesses, who were there when the killing happened. They were not included in interviews by the Israelis or any other investigators previously. There was also video evidence showing the area where the killing happened. Al Jazeera says that there's absolutely no way the Israeli soldier or soldiers did not see that Shireen and her colleagues were members of the press, given that they were wearing vests emblazoned with a big sign saying, "Press."And so, what is different about this video? What can we actually see in it?We can see that the way was clear from where the fire came, that hit Shireen and her producer. There were no zigzags in the way. There was nothing hampering vision. Whoever fired at her could clearly see her.I mean, that's compelling. But ultimately, won't you have to get inside the psychology of the IDF shooter? I mean, to that question, how can you actually know the Israeli soldier didn't just get nervous in a tense situation, because deliberate motivation could be pretty hard to prove, right?Al Jazeera's position is that there needs to be a thorough and transparent and independent investigation. That's precisely the point. The Israelis are required by Al Jazeera and other bodies to actually provide access to the soldier or soldiers who are accused of having fired on Shireen so the investigators would be able to actually see clearly what happened at that particular moment.Well, not only has Israel said no, but outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid has said, "No one will investigate IDF soldiers and no one will preach to us about morals in warfare, certainly not Al Jazeera." How do you respond to that?Well, you know, the press conference that Al Jazeera's lawyers held after the referral of the case to the ICC, one of the things that they said was that the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh was part of a larger campaign by the Israelis.What campaign are you referring to?The position of Al Jazeera is that the Israelis do not want the world to see what's going on under Israeli occupation. And therefore, there's been a series of harassment of Al Jazeera's crews throughout the years. And the culmination of that harassment was the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh.I think of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and his killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and how The Washington Post worked so hard to get justice for him. What similarities do you see between Khashoggi and Shireen Abu Akleh?One similarity is the complex web of interests that the United States shares with both Saudi Arabia and Israel, regardless of whether the administration in place is a Democratic administration or a Republican administration. Those interests always come into play. The conundrum that the Biden administration perhaps faces in this particular case is that, from day one, it said that it was going to put a lot of emphasis on human rights internationally.How well did you know Shireen Abu Akleh, and what occurs to you about the way she reported news, especially to her Palestinian audiences?One of the things that have always arrested my attention about how she conducted herself is that, you know, she is obviously a very high-profile journalist. She was a leading female journalist when she joined Al Jazeera. There were very few women in the Arab world as reporters. And yet, being in the office, she kept a very low profile. The irony of the situation is that her killing, while she was on the job, has made her the story and has continued to make her the story for the last six months and will probably continue to make her a story, big story, for a long time to come.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.AP contributed to this report. Click above to listen to the entire discussion.

Related: US senators demand full White House investigation into shooting of Palestinian American journalist
 

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Amid ongoing protests, Iran’s morality police ‘lies in ruins,’ analyst says

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>Amid ongoing protests, Iran's morality police ‘lies in ruins,’ analyst says

Ali Vaez, director of the International Crisis Group's Iran Project, talked with The World’s host Marco Werman about how sustained protests in Iran may be impacting the power of the so-called "morality police."  

The WorldDecember 5, 2022 · 4:45 PM EST

In this photo taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran, Iranians protests the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was detained by the morality police, in Tehran, Oct. 1, 2022. 

Middle East Images/File/AP

Activists in Iran have begun three days of strikes and demonstrations. Many shops in major cities are closed. Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, the head of Iran's judiciary, is blaming rioters for intimidating business owners and says protesters who have already been condemned to death will soon be executed. 

Unrest has gripped Iran since September, when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in police custody. Mahsa had been detained by Iran’s so-called morality police for allegedly violating a hijab dress-code rule. 

Ali Vaez, director of the International Crisis Group's Iran Project, spoke with The World’s host Marco Werman about the continuing unrest. 

Marco Werman: Iranian officials say they'll crack down even harder on these protests that have rocked Iran for nearly three months now. As far as you can tell, has this call for a general nationwide strike in Iran had much traction?Ali Vaez: It's very difficult to say from a distance and from images that we see on the internet. But the reality is there has been three months of sustained, persistent and determined protests in Iran. And we are in a situation where the regime's iron fist really has not been able to quell them. I think neither the regime is able to dislodge the people from the streets and prevent strikes, nor the protesters have been able to dislodge the Islamic Republic. Aside from those facts, do you see any signs that the balance of power is actually shifting in Iran? Are the protests giving a boost to forces that might be interested in reform? Not yet. And, you know, there is a sense, after 25 years of repeated efforts at reforms, that the supreme leader has repeated the sabotage and stymied, that the door to reform is closed. And I think there is now a widespread demand for fundamental, political change within the Iranian society. The problem is there is no viable alternative to the regime internally, and the protesters are mostly young revolutionaries who are on the streets and have nothing but their courage and grit in facing a regime that is bereft of mercy. But they're not yet joined by the great part of the middle class, which is increasingly middle-aged and reluctant to face the regime in the streets. And as long as that dynamic does not change, that we have, instead of tens of thousands, millions of people on the streets, it is unlikely that the regime will budge. And most importantly, it is unlikely that we see defections, which is the one thing that could potentially weaken the regime's hand at repressing the people.I want to ask you for your reaction to a vague statement made this weekend by Iran's attorney general. It generated a lot of confusion, a statement about whether officials are indeed reining in the country's so-called morality police. What do we know at this point? It remains unclear. There was another official today that talked about the possibility of modernizing the way that they enforce the hijab rules. But, you know, the reality is that the morality police right now lie in ruins. And I think they would be unable to roll back what has happened in the past three months, which is that an increasing number of Iranian women are no longer complying with the rules and regulations of the dress code. That train has left the station. There's no way they can turn it back. And there might be a de facto loosening of the rules, regardless of what they say publicly. I think they can no longer effectively enforce that rule. So, the statement by the attorney general in Tehran, do you think it might have been a trial balloon of sorts set up by Iranian officials, or could it be a sign of internal divisions?I think it's a sign of internal debate and also admittance to the fact that status quo ante is no longer rhetorical and enforceable. But the problem, I think, is more fundamental than that, that the regime believes that if it makes concessions, fundamental concessions on the ideological pillars of the Islamic Republic, of which hijab is won, it will be perceived by the population as a sign of weakness.

This interview has been lighted edited and condensed for clarity. 

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Mass Bay Area tech layoffs thrust thousands of H-1B visa holders into frantic job hunt

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>Mass Bay Area tech layoffs thrust thousands of H-1B visa holders into frantic job huntDecember 5, 2022 · 1:45 PM EST

A person walks through a parking lot at Meta headquarters in Menlo Park, California, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022. Meta, which is Facebook's parent company, laid off 11,000 people, about 13% of its workforce. 

Godofredo A. Vásquez/AP

Mass layoffs have pitched thousands of San Francisco Bay Area workers into a desperate search to find another employer before they’re required to self-deport.

An unemployed H-1B visa holder has to find a new employer, or “sponsor,” within 60 days, or leave the country. Thousands of Bay Area tech and biotech workers have surged onto sites like LinkedIn, frantically looking for friendly faces, like 36-year-old Vidhi Agrawal of San Francisco.

An H-1B visa holder herself, Agrawal works at the San Francisco software company Databricks. She and a friend have been running an informal database linking H-1B visa holders with prospective employers. In the last two weeks, the off-hours project has exploded from roughly 50 friends and acquaintances to over 500 people nationwide. She’s also in contact with about 100 hiring managers and recruiters from multiple companies.

“It’s a sudden thing that happens, and you have family, you have kids here, who’ve grown up here,” Agrawal said. “And to uproot, sell everything and move back to your home country, within two months. For any human, any individual, it’s hard.”

To make matters worse, many Indian H1-B holders are in a yearslong queue to get a green card, and leaving the country is tantamount to letting go of a huge investment of time and patience.

Agrawal added that H-1B visa workers are always particularly vulnerable to layoffs.

“We did sign up for this. When we come on work visas, we know what we’re signing up for. It’s not, like, things have changed on us," she said.

At the very least, employers are required to notify federal immigration authorities and cover the cost of a plane flight back to the home country when they lay off H-1B workers. Many companies, however, offer more support than that.

Remarking on the mass layoffs at Meta, Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, wrote, “I know this is especially difficult if you’re here on a visa. There’s a notice period before termination and some visa grace periods, which means everyone will have time to make plans and work through their immigration status. We have dedicated immigration specialists to help guide you based on what you and your family need.”

Private attorneys, of course, are eager to help for a fee.

Lyft offers those on visas the option to extend employment (with no expectation to work) for an additional eight weeks in lieu of eight weeks of severance.

“That's a huge benefit, because it means they have a greater time runway,” said Sophie Alcorn, who runs Alcorn Immigration Law in Mountain View and writes about immigration for TechCrunch.

“A lot of the laid-off tech workers have plenty of savings. They could find another job eventually. But getting through the holiday season with Thanksgiving and the December holidays, plus the hiring freezes, it's going to be really hard to get an offer within the 60-day grace period that would allow the future employer to have enough prep time to do the three to four weeks of work that it takes to get an H-1B ready for filing with the government,” she said.

A number of people familiar with American immigration law say the 60-day grace period doesn't accurately reflect the panic many workers and their families are in right now because of the paperwork involved in transitioning to a new job. “There's a whole prefiling subcomponent with a totally different government agency besides USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) and the Department of Homeland Security,” Alcorn explained.

“You have to get a certified labor condition application approved with the Department of Labor. Plus, many of the companies that have the funds to hire right now are early stage tech companies who listen to their venture capitalists and preserve their cash. So, now they can hire, which is great. But if they're new to the immigration process, getting set up as a petitioning employer takes additional time. So, I've been advising people to try to get interviews as soon as possible and, if at all possible, try to accept an offer before the end of the first month of the H-1B grace period.”

“I’ve been lucky, for the most part,” said 39-year-old Abhishek Gutgutia of San José. “Companies I’ve worked with have been wonderful. But there are definitely companies out there who take advantage of immigrant workers, H1-B workers, because they are afraid of losing status, or they just don’t know, and that’s not OK.”

Gutgutia arrived in the US in 2012 to get his MBA. After graduation, he got an H-1B, then transitioned to an EB1-A, and got a green card after 10 years of waiting.

The entrepreneur saw the mass layoffs as an opportunity to start a new company, Zeno, which he characterizes as TurboTax for DIY-minded immigrants. “I’ve been on [an] H-1B visa in the past,” Gutgutia said. “So, I know the pain points all too well, which also inspired me to start this venture.”

Is there any chance of a fix, even a temporary one, in Washington, DC? Alcorn said she’s talking about it with lawmakers and professional associations.

“We're putting together a coalition to request executive action to temporarily extend the 60-day grace period for this group of people to 180 days, so that there's more time runway to stay in the country and look for other jobs, or self-petition green cards or, without illegally working, create a funded start-up that could then be their employer in the future.”

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story was originally published by KQED. 

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Sudanese generals, pro-democracy group sign framework deal

“MuiTypography-root-320 MuiTypography-h1-325″>Sudanese generals, pro-democracy group sign framework dealAssociated PressDecember 5, 2022 · 7:30 AM EST

Sudanese demonstrators attend a rally to demand the return to civilian rule a year after a military coup, Khartoum, Sudan, Nov. 17, 2022.

Marwan Ali/AP/File photo

Sudan’s ruling generals and the main pro-democracy group on Monday signed a framework deal meant to help resolve the country's crisis and take it to the next elections. However, key dissenters, including some rebel groups and reformists have stayed out of the agreement.

The deal pledges to establish a new, civilian-led transitional government to guide the country to elections and offers a path forward in the wake of Sudan's stalled transition to democracy following the October 2021 coup.

The deal — the first of at least two planned accords — was signed by Sudan’s two ruling generals, Abdel-Fattah Burhan and Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, and the leaders from the country's largest pro-democracy group, Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, at the Khartoum Republican Palace.

However, several of Sudan’s key dissenting political forces have boycotted the deal, including Sudan’s grassroots pro-democracy network, known as the Resistance Committees, which has continually refused to negotiate with the ruling generals. Several former rebel leaders, who have formed their own political block, have also rejected the deal.

According to the draft, the deal envisions Sudan’s military eventually step back from politics. The agreement also stipulates that the “revolutionary forces" that signed the deal will decide upon a new prime minister to oversee a two-year transition, a 24-month period that begins after a premier is appointed.

In response to the signing, the pro-democracy Resistance Committees' leaders called for demonstrations against the agreement.

The deal is roughly based on a draft transitional constitution proposed by Sudan’s Bar Association in September. It does not address details concerning thornier political issues, such as a transitional judiciary system and the implementation of military reforms, which have been left for a follow-up accord.

It also stipulates that the military will form part of a new ‘’security and defense council" under the appointed prime minister. The agreement also vows to unify Sudan’s armed forces and impose controls on military-owned companies.

The document makes specific mention of Sudan’s wealthy paramilitary force, the Rapid Support Forces, headed by Dagalo. The force amassed wealth through its gradual acquisition of Sudanese financial institutions and gold reserves in recent years.

However, no further details were given on how or when these reforms would be implemented. Many of the points in the deal were already promised in a 2020 deal which saw Sudan’s previous transitional government make peace with several rebels in Sudan’s far-flung provinces.

Sudan has been plugged into turmoil since Gen. Burhan mounted the October 2021 coup that upended the country’s former democratic transition after three decades of autocratic rule by President Omar al-Bashir. The former leader was toppled in April 2019, following a popular uprising.

The UN special envoy to Sudan, Volker Perthes, attended Monday's signing and later, at a speech at the palace, described the deal as ‘‘Sudanese-owned and Sudanese-led.’’

Monday's development came after months of negotiations between the military and the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, facilitated by a four-part mediating team, including the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Great Britain.

The deal will hope to drawn in new international aid, after donor funds dried up in response to the coup. In recent months, bread and fuel shortages, caused in part by the war in Ukraine, have become routine in Sudan.

By Associated Press writers Ashraf Idris and Jack Jeffery. Jeffery reported from Cairo.

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Exclusive: Rounding up a cyberposse for Ukraine

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>Exclusive: Rounding up a cyberposse for Ukraine

Russian hackers have been trying to break into Naftogaz systems for years, so when Mandiant offered to deploy hunt teams for free to see if anything was lurking in their networks, the company executives couldn’t believe their luck.

December 2, 2022 · 5:30 PM EST

A woman walks with a power plant in the background, in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, March 16, 2022. Ukrainian officials say Russian military hackers tried to knock out power to millions of Ukrainians that week in a long-planned attack but were foiled. 

Rodrigo Abd/AP

Just weeks after Russian tanks began rolling into Ukraine, a representative from the cybersecurity firm Mandiant phoned executives at Naftogaz, Ukraine’s largest state-owned oil and natural gas company, with an unusual offer: Would Naftogaz be open to having Mandiant check their network for bad guys?

Russian hackers have been trying to break into Naftogaz systems for years, so when Mandiant offered to deploy hunt teams for free to see if anything was lurking in their networks, the company executives couldn’t believe their luck.

The thing is, it wasn’t really luck. The offer was part of a broad effort by Western tech companies to help Ukraine protect itself against Russian cyberattacks in a time of war. Dozens of companies from the US cybersecurity, threat intelligence and tech world — from Mandiant to Microsoft — have banded together in a kind of volunteer cyberposse, wading into the middle of the conflict without a pretense of neutrality.

They call themselves the Cyber Defense Assistance Collaboration (CDAC), and it is the brainchild of Greg Rattray, a former chief information security officer at JP Morgan Chase. For months, he has been helping build a kind of public-private partnership to combat destructive cyberattacks. This is the first time he’s speaking in depth about the initiative publicly.

US officials have been talking about public-private partnerships to fight destructive cyberattacks for years. The animating logic is that the National Security Agency and the military’s cyberarm, Cyber Command, often have intelligence about cyberattacks before or while they are happening. US cybersecurity companies have the expertise to block them. So, it would make sense that they should join forces to stop them. 

What makes this particular CDAC effort different is that the partner in this case isn’t Washington. It’s Kyiv, and it has become a test case for how such a joining of forces might eventually work in the US. 

“I think the war started on a Thursday and I started making calls on the Monday,” Rattray told the "Click Here" podcast, adding that some two dozen US companies quickly signed on offering to provide licenses, personnel, and expertise to help Ukraine defend its networks. "Click Here" and The Record are editorially independent units of Recorded Future, which has been involved in the effort as well. 

“I think it was easier to get companies to sign on because of the clear transgressions of the Russians,” Rattray said. “Ukraine was a place where people were willing to volunteer quickly to try to figure out what could be done.” 

A natural target for hackers

Naftogaz is a natural target for Russian hackers with its vast network of suppliers, subsidiaries, and online billing systems — any and all of which could be open to cyberattacks. A determined adversary could then use that access to monkey-bar over to Naftogaz and potentially hobble the nation’s gas delivery systems or even turn out the lights. 

Russia had already done something similar back in 2015, when it cracked into Ukraine’s electrical grid and flipped the switch on power to nearly a quarter of a million people in Kyiv for as many as six hours. The feeling was if Russia was willing to do that back then, it would be willing to do so again, during a war, when the gloves are off.

That’s what prompted Ron Bushar, a chief technology officer at Mandiant, to initiate the call to Naftogaz and ask if they wanted Mandiant’s special software programs to sweep their networks. Bushar said there was a general sense that Russian actors were probably lurking in Naftogaz networks and the sweeps, or hunts, were meant to find them.

A hunt team or sweep is the cyber equivalent of a swarm of cops looking for signs of a break in: a kind of high-tech dusting for prints, checking for theft and searching for signs that whoever broke in left nothing — like malicious code — behind. 

“We do that across thousands and thousands of systems very, very rapidly,” Bushar said. “And if we see something from that sweep, then we’ll pivot to that system and do a deeper dive of that system.” 

The thing was, they didn’t find much: Malicious code that could wipe information from hard drives, prepositioned malware that hackers could activate later, but no wholesale douse-the-lights badness. 

“There was no overt detection of aggressive activity,” Bushar said. “But we did find evidence that these attackers had gained access and were moving throughout the environment.”

So, they find where they had slipped in and shut them out.

In the early days of the war, Russian hacking teams had put a number of slow-burn, low-grade attacks in motion all over the country, not just targeting Naftogaz. They erased hard drives and hobbled authentication systems so employees couldn’t log in. 

But once Naftogaz secured and fortified its network perimeter — the walls around their computer systems — wiper malware somehow kept reappearing in their systems. Passwords and logins continued to be stolen. They could see it happening but couldn’t explain why. And then, Bushar said, it dawned on them: they “had to adopt a military mindset.”

Insider threat

It turns out what is different about defending computer networks during a war, Bushar and his team realized, is that the perimeter you think you secured is always changing. What they hadn’t accounted for was that the Russian troops now occupying pockets of Ukraine had started entering gas installations and trying to crack into their operating systems.

“In eastern parts of the country, as Russia was taking territory, they were obviously occupying critical facilities,” Bushar said.

Those included Naftogaz data centers and local telecoms and ministry offices.

“So, we were able to definitively point to systems and IP addresses that were physically located in captured territory and that’s where we were seeing these attacks coming from.”

In fact, sometimes the attacks looked like they were coming from inside Naftogaz itself. They came to find that it was not because they had breached the perimeter but because, Bushar said, “Russia was coming from inside the building or inside the network. They had physically captured that data center or that system so they could plug in their own systems and continue to attack other parts of the infrastructure. … It’s almost like you’re dealing with an insider threat.”

So, they adjusted. They began cutting off systems in areas that were about to fall to Russian forces.

“We were starting to recommend that if people were retreating from a certain province, Naftogaz should start segmenting those systems off the network before they fell into enemy hands.”

And that’s what they did. Naftogaz ended up instructing their employees to contact supervisors if their towns were overrun by Russian soldiers, so their network access could be cut. They would literally call Naftogaz as they were fleeing overrun cities. Once that kind of reporting started, Naftogaz could adjust perimeter security to reflect events on the ground. Bashar said after that, the mysterious insider threats went away.

Technical capability

When CDAC founder Rattray began looking for volunteers for the collaborative, he said his first phone call was to Art Coviello, the former CEO of RSA Security, one of the early entrants into the world of cybersecurity and encryption. Now, Coviello runs a venture capital fund that invests exclusively in cybersecurity companies.

“Ukrainians had a capability,” he said. “The fact that a lot of companies had [software] development sites in Ukraine speaks to the technical capability and the education that was available there. They just had never had the opportunity or perhaps the financial resources to invest in their own defenses as we have here in the US.” 

So, he said, CDAC came in to supplement that.

Coviello said the effort isn’t entirely driven by the war. People outside Ukraine should take note because the cyberweapons Russia wields against Ukraine are unlikely to remain there.

“I wouldn’t underestimate the Russians’ capability,” he said.

“What people fail to realize is that the US lives in the biggest digital glass house” in the world, Coviello said. “We have more to lose than anybody else because we are so interconnected and we are so dependent on technology. All of our critical infrastructures, all of our businesses have been transformed.”

Rattray said Ukraine has surprised everyone, not just on the ground but in cyberspace, too. It has proven to be very agile, quickly moving systems into the cloud where data is out of reach of bombings and basic hacks. Their technical expertise has allowed them to pivot quickly when under assault and now they have found themselves on the receiving end of tremendous assistance from the tech world.

“Russians have not been as operationally proficient as we’ve thought they would be,” Rattray said. “They’re doing things we would expect in the digital space, things like information competition, monitoring things in a classic way to gather intelligence through cyberspace. We certainly haven’t seen the type of disruption that we might have expected.”

An earlier version of this story originally appeared in The Record.Media. There was additional reporting by Sean Powers and Will Jarvis.

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Health crisis unfolding in Pakistan even as floodwaters recede 

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>Health crisis unfolding in Pakistan even as floodwaters recede 

Flooded areas have seen surges in malaria and other waterborne illnesses. 

The WorldDecember 2, 2022 · 12:45 PM EST

Dr. Tasmine Panhwer treats patients at the Dadu-district hospital.

Carolyn Beeler/The World

The floodwaters have largely receded in Pakistan since they inundated large swaths of the country in late summer, but the waters triggered a health crisis that is still unfolding.

Flooded areas have seen surges in malaria and other waterborne illnesses. More than 1 in 9 kids in impacted areas suffer from life-threatening malnutrition, according to the UN children’s agency.

“The crisis in Pakistan has become an acute child survival crisis,” said George Laryea-Adjei, UNICEF regional director for South Asia, after a recent visit.

At a camp for displaced people in the hard-hit Dadu district in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, Dr. Junaid Ahmed said he’s seen a progression of illnesses since late summer.

When the floods started, drinking water and sanitation systems were damaged, meaning that people often had little choice but to drink contaminated water. Diarrheal disease quickly followed, Ahmed said.

Next came “huge numbers of patients with skin diseases,” from swimming or wading through floodwaters.   

After mosquitoes started to multiply in the standing water covering much of the region, Ahmed said malaria cases shot up. He’s worked more than 200 mobile clinics since the floods started, and said he’s now seeing more cases of respiratory illness as winter sets in and displaced people continue to live in tents. 

On a recent morning, Ahmed checked patients lining up at the clinic tent’s entrance with an electronic thermometer, sometimes using the flashlight on his phone to peer into their throats.

Sumerran Vighio was at the front of the line when the clinic opened, reporting that her 2-day-old daughter had stomachaches, fever and wasn’t eating.

A line forms outside a health clinic held at a camp for displaced people in Dadu district, Pakistan, which was hard hit by this summer’s historic flooding. 

 

Credit:

Carolyn Beeler/The World

“There’s not enough milk in my breast to feed her,” Vighio said, blaming the camp rations of two plates of rice a day.   

In another corner of the tent, 8-year-old Imran Khan Jamali, who’d been shivering with fevers and refusing food and water, tested positive for malaria.

“There are lots of mosquitoes around here. Many of them,” said his uncle, Ali Khan Jamali.

The family of eight shares a tent at the camp and has only one mosquito net, which the youngest kids use.

Malaria cases in Sindh province were more than three times higher in August than a year earlier, and in the hardest-hit districts in the country cases went up again in September.

Climate change made the historic monsoon rains in Pakistan more intense this year, and it’s expected to play an increasing role in human health.

The World Health Organization expects an additional 250,000 people a year by the 2030s to die from malaria malnutrition, heat stress and diarrhea.

Pathogens that cause illnesses such as malaria and cholera tend to reproduce faster and survive longer in warmer temperatures, “so, average increased temperatures favor transmission of these diseases,” said Diarmid Campbell-Lendrom, head of the World Health Organization’s climate change and health unit.  

No one is immune to the health impacts of climate change, he said, pointing to the more than 70,000 people who died during a European heat wave in 2003. But the most exposed populations will still have it the worst as temperatures warm.  

“If you live in Pakistan and you don't have a safe water supply or a good sanitation system, then, increasing temperatures and floods which overflow your sanitation are going to hit you more than somebody living in a good quality house,” Campbell-Lendrum said. “So, across the board, it's those that are most vulnerable, which are most at risk from climate change.”

In Pakistan, the floods have also destroyed health infrastructure and made it harder for people to access care.

The August floods damaged 800 miles of roads and 38 health centers in the hard-hit Dadu district, where hundreds of thousands of people were still displaced this month.

Last month, patients were spending up to two days navigating floodwaters to get to a hospital, according to one physician.

Ali Khan Jamali at a health clinic for people displaced by Pakistan’s historic floods. 

 

Credit:

Carolyn Beeler/The World

At the Dadu district hospital, which serves a population of about 1.5 million, the head of pediatrics, Dr. Allah Korejo, said his unit is overcrowded, with two children in each bed in some wards.

“We need more beds,” he said.

His biggest concern is climbing rates of malnutrition as more families in this farming region fall into poverty.

“Most of the lands and crops are underwater, and the main source of income of our villagers is land,” he said. “So, their source of income is totally finished.”  

Malnutrition and infectious diseases were already a big problem here, said his colleague Dr. Tasmine Panhwer.

“This flood crisis has multiplied these already existing problems to huge numbers,” she said. 

She’s already seeing babies being born underweight to malnourished mothers, which can have lasting impacts on infant health.

“I think in the long term, it will affect us in terms of compromised health conditions, and it may increase neonatal mortality rate as well.”

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As war rages at home, Ukrainian choir heads to Carnegie Hall to celebrate 100 years of ‘Carol of the Bells’

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>As war rages at home, Ukrainian choir heads to Carnegie Hall to celebrate 100 years of ‘Carol of the Bells’

In 1922, a Ukrainian choir sang the song “Shchedryk” at New York’s Carnegie Hall. The tune became a Christmas sensation known as “Carol of the Bells.” This Sunday, a Ukrainian choir will once again perform the famous song at Carnegie Hall. 

The WorldDecember 2, 2022 · 3:15 PM EST

Carnegie Hall in New York, May 12, 2020. 

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/FILE

At St. John’s Episcopal Church in New York City’s West Village, a choir of 54 girls and boys are practicing the Ukrainian song “Shchedryk” that gave their choir its name.

They’re preparing for an upcoming concert at Carnegie Hall called “Notes from Ukraine,” that will showcase the famous Ukrainian song and other music, as Russia continues to wage a full-scale war in Ukraine. 

Anastasiia Rusina, 15, joined the choir when she was 4 years old. She said she loves singing and is very excited for her first trip to the US.  The well-lit church sanctuary is a stark contrast from the war-torn conditions back home in Ukraine.

“We have been rehearsing with no light, like, almost all the time, and when there are, like, sirens we would go to the basement and we would rehearse there with no lighting but with our phones,” she said.

Esther Volchova, 12, and Olha Fedko, 11, are among the choir’s youngest members, also in the United States for the first time. The singers traveled from Ukraine as well as other European cities, where some had fled when Russia invaded Ukraine in February. 

The group is aware that they are on a cultural diplomacy mission. Fedko said she’s ready but a little nervous.

“I want to express thanks to them for helping Ukraine,” she said of Americans. “And I want them to hear how nicely we sing in Ukraine.”

“Shchedryk” comes from the Ukrainian musical genre called shchedrivky, with songs that welcome the start of a new year. 

In 1922, a Ukrainian choir performed “Shchedryk'' for the first time at Carnegie Hall. It later became a worldwide Christmas sensation when, in 1936, American choir conductor and composer Peter Wilhousky wrote new English lyrics that turned “Shchedryk” into “Carol of the Bells.” 

But the Ukrainian lyrics have nothing to do with bells, or Christmas, but instead tells the story of a swallow beckoning the head of a household to look for the bounty of the coming spring. 

Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych wrote “Shchedryk” in 1916. 

“The story of Shchedryk is the story of the Ukrainian fight for independence,” said Tina Peresunko, a leading expert on the history of Shchedryk who is currently a research fellow at National Academy of Sciences in Ukraine. 

In 1917, Russia’s imperial Romanov dynasty fell and the first modern Ukrainian state was declared in 1918. During this tumultuous time, the Ukrainian government sent a choir under the direction of Oleksandr Koshetz abroad on a cultural diplomacy mission, hoping to gain allies. They toured Europe and more than 100 US cities, including the 1922 performance at Carnegie Hall. “Shchedryk” was the biggest hit of their repertoire. 

But the Ukrainian republic soon fell and the Soviets killed many Ukrainians while consolidating power. 

In 1921, composer Leontovych was murdered by an agent of Cheka, the Bolshevik secret police that later evolved into the Soviet KGB. Leontovych never saw how his work spread around the world. 

Peresunko said research around the song wasn’t allowed during Soviet times and the full history has only been told in recent years.

“Unfortunately, the context of this 100 year anniversary is current because Ukraine today is again waging a war for independence, is fighting against Russian occupation and again Russian propaganda is telling the world the Ukrainian nation doesn’t exist,” Peresunko said.

The parallels in history aren’t lost on Marianna Sablina, the children’s choir conductor.

“It happened in a way you could not even dream up. But I think the importance of Ukrainian culture is constant, not situational,” Sablina said, referencing the attention Russia’s war has brought to Ukrainian culture.

The upcoming concert will also include a world premiere featuring the words of Ukraine’s Nobel Prize nominated poet Serhiy Zhadan, written during the current war.

At New York’s Juilliard School, where music fills the hallways, composer and teacher Trevor Weston said that a new work called “”Slowly” will premiere at the Carnegie Hall concert on Sunday.

Weston said the new work is more than just another piece. It’s a poem in response to war that has a role beyond entertainment. 

“It’s a documentation of culture in a war [where] one can arguably say one country is trying to destroy another culture,” Weston said. 

“And that makes a lot of sense to me because I think there’s a lot of African American music that came from the sheer point of view of resistance. If you can continue to sing your music then you are resisting what people are trying to make you do,” Weston said, adding that his identity as a Black American is an important facet to his work. 

Leah Batstone, creative director of the “Notes from Ukraine” concert, hopes culture can help fight propaganda narratives.

“Since the start of the full-scale invasion it’s become even more important for us to do this project,” adding that “culture is a means of countering the ridiculous Russian propaganda claim that Ukraine isn’t a real place with its own history, its own culture,” Batstone said.

Batstone began work on the concert before the full-scale invasion and hopes larger audiences hear Ukrainian music.

“As a former musician, as a musicologist, as an educator, I think Ukrainian music is really special and unique and deserves a space in the canon of what is regularly performed around the world,” Batstone said.

“Shchedryk” will again ring out at Carnegie Hall and this weekend audiences will hear so much more of Ukraine’s musical history both past and present-day.

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Negotiators meet in Uruguay to map out global plastics treaty

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>Negotiators meet in Uruguay to map out global plastics treaty

With a 2024 completion deadline that was voted on in March, the future treaty aims to reduce plastics pollution on a global scale. Organizers plan to mitigate the costs and effects of plastic production as a whole and engage workers’ concerns within the industry.

The WorldDecember 1, 2022 · 3:30 PM EST

Delegates began to share their concrete visions on what they believe the future plastic treaty could look like at the first meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-1) to develop an international legally binding instrument (ILBI) on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, in Punta del Este, Uruguay.

Courtesy of Angeles Estrada Vigil IISD/ENB

The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee's first mandated conference (INC-1) is underway in Uruguay, where negotiators have begun early talks in building a global treaty that would essentially eliminate all plastic waste.

With a 2024 completion deadline that was voted on in March, the future treaty aims to reduce plastics pollution on a global scale. Organizers plan to mitigate the costs and effects of plastic production as a whole and engage workers’ concerns within the industry.

"We hear a lot of urgency from the folks living and working on the front lines of the crisis."

Jane Patton, campaign manager for plastics and petrochemicals, Center for International Environmental Law

"We hear a lot of urgency from the folks living and working on the front lines of the crisis," said Jane Patton, campaign manager for plastics and petrochemicals at the Center for International Environmental Law.

"We have folks who are waste-pickers from India, Kenya [and] from the United States. And then, of course, we have folks living and working on the front line of the plastics production, the petrochemicals build out, who are here talking about both ends of the plastic lifecycle."

Stakeholders engage in dialogue at the 1st Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution.

Credit:

Courtesy of Angeles Estrada Vigil/IISD/ENB 

Significant stakeholders also include plastics producers who say that caps on production could affect their economic turnover and their customers, as well. This includes large companies like Amazon, that rely on these materials to distribute its products to consumers. 

Still, there is growing awareness that plastics producers are really at the root of the crisis, Patton said.

"There is an expanding understanding of what plastic pollution or pollution from plastics actually is," Patton said.

Stakeholders are learning more about emissions from plastic production as a part of the pollution lifecycle, including carbon, greenhouse gas and methane gas, she said. 

The weeklong conference in Uruguay is only the first of five meant to carve out what the global treaty will include and how countries will enforce it. 

"There's a lot of space between the treaty itself being legally binding and then its actual provisions and requirements being mandatory or binding," Patton said. 

"My hope is that all of us who are working on this treaty can go back to working on something that's not this," she said, adding that she hopes the problem can be solved in a way that supports local communities and workers everywhere who are affected by it. 

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‘Chervona Kalyna’: This Ukrainian song has become the symbol of freedom and resilience

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″> ‘Chervona Kalyna’: This Ukrainian song has become the symbol of freedom and resilience

When Kherson was liberated from Russian occupation earlier this month, the song “Oi u luzi chervona kalyna,” or “Oh, the Red Viburnum in the Meadow,” could be heard throughout the Ukrainian city as a song of resistance.

The WorldDecember 1, 2022 · 1:15 PM EST

Ukrainian children play at an abandoned checkpoint in Kherson, southern Ukraine, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. 

Bernat Armangue/AP

Earlier this month, when Ukraine’s military liberated Kherson city in southern Ukraine, residents took to the streets in celebration, waving Ukrainian flags, honking horns, and singing the national anthem.

But there is another song that has become a second anthem, of sorts. “Oi u luzi chervona kalyna,” or “Oh, the Red Viburnum in the Meadow,” has become a symbol of resistance against Russian aggression. 

People sang it all around Kherson city when it was liberated.

The song title sounds perfectly innocent, said Maria Sonevystky, a professor of anthropology and music at Bard College. But it’s a “deeply patriotic song about defending Ukraine from invaders,” she said. 

The chervona kalyna or the “red viburnum,” is a leafy shrub peppered with clusters of blood red berries.

Sonevytsky said the kalyna is closely identified with Ukrainian poetry and music. Ukrainian folkloric songs will often open with a naturalistic image like a tree, bird or kalyna. 

“And from that kind of opening image, you unspool a kind of metaphor, or a story about politics, or the complexity of life, and that’s the case here, too,” she said. 

Most believe the lyrics were inspired by a song from the 17th century. 

But Sonevytsky said that the song lyrics come from a 1914 composition that is still sung today. To Ukrainians, the song is closely associated with the Sich Riflemen, a Ukrainian military unit formed inside the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I. 

In 1914, what is now Ukraine was a territory divided among neighboring countries including Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

But around World War I, some Ukrainians hoped to establish an independent country.

“This was the original hope of Ukrainians,” said Andriy Zayarnyuk, a history professor at the University of Winnipeg. “They believed that this war could become a revolution and would change the geopolitics in Eastern Europe.”

But after the war, Ukraine was folded into the Soviet Union and under that system, many patriotic Ukrainian songs, like “Chervona Kalyna” were banned for being too nationalistic and tied to the Ukrainian national liberation struggle, he said. 

The song was scarcely sung publicly until the end of the 1980s. Just a few years later, the Soviet Union collapsed and an independent Ukraine emerged.

When Russia first invaded Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to claim that Russians and Ukrainains are one people and that the Ukrainian state was created out of thin air by the Soviet Union. 

But most Ukrainians see these claims as an attempt to erase the country’s culture and history.

And Sonevytsky said the song had never really left the memory of Ukrainians. In fact, just a few days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the song became a viral hit, she said. Musician Andriy Khlyvnyuk, lead singer of the Ukrainian band Boombox, had posted his version of the song on Instagram. 

Even as this version of the song goes viral, songs like “Chervona Kalyna” are still banned in Russian occupied territories. People have been fined or arrested for singing it 

That’s why residents in newly liberated Kherson turned immediately to this song. 

“People literally on the very first night built a huge bonfire in the center of town, because there’s no electricity, and they sang this song, right at the top of their lungs, to kind of proclaim their freedom,” Sonevytsky said. 

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Count me in!Related ContentInvestigators look for answers after Russian forces buried more than 400 bodies in a mass grave in UkraineNorth Korea-Russia relations are warming up amid war in UkraineIzium was liberated in September. The hard work of returning back to normal has only begun.War in Ukraine spurs new bonds between historians of shared Soviet past

Colombia’s govt launches peace talks with the nation’s largest-remaining rebel group

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>Colombia’s govt launches peace talks with the nation’s largest-remaining rebel group

Talks with the rebels started on Nov. 22 in the Venezuelan capital city of Caracas where delegates from both sides fielded questions from journalists. 

The WorldNovember 30, 2022 · 2:30 PM EST

Delegations representing the Colombian guerrilla National Liberation Army (ELN), left side of table, and the Colombian government sit together to restart peace talks after a suspension of more that three years, at the hotel Humboldt in Caracas, Venezuela, Nov. 21, 2022.

Ariana Cubillos/AP

Colombia’s government launched peace talks with the nation’s largest-remaining rebel group this month, as newly elected President Gustavo Petro tries to disarm violent groups and bring “total peace” to the nation of 50 million people.

The National Liberation Army was founded in 1964 by activists inspired by the Cuban revolution. It has an estimated 4,000 troops that control drug trafficking routes and illegal gold mines in remote areas of Colombia and Venezuela.

Talks with the rebels started on Nov. 22 in the Venezuelan capital city of Caracas where delegates from both sides fielded questions from journalists.

Analysts say negotiations with the Marxist group could take years, and there is no guarantee they will succeed. But government representatives said the talks were a sign that the country is “changing.”

“We can’t shy away from the responsibilities we have to future generations.”

Daniel Rueda, peace commissioner, Colombia

“This is historic, and it’s a unique moment for our country,” Danilo Rueda, the government’s peace commissioner, told journalists. “We can’t shy away from the responsibilities we have to future generations.”

Colombia’s government signed a peace deal with a larger guerilla group in 2016, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. More than 14,000 fighters laid down their weapons under the deal, which helped to reduce kidnappings, attacks on military bases and homicides and also resulted in a Nobel Peace Prize for Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

But violence also increased in some pockets of the country — including parts of Colombia’s border with Venezuela — as the ELN, the Gulf Clan and several more drug-trafficking groups moved into areas that were abandoned by the FARC.

Earlier this year, leftist Sen. Gustavo Petro won Colombia’s presidential election and promised to peacefully disarm the nation’s remaining rebel groups in order to bring prosperity to rural parts of Colombia that have long been affected by drug violence. During his youth, Petro was a member of another rebel group that made peace with the government in the early ’90s, the M-19.

For the ELN, it will be the sixth time they sit down with a Colombian administration for peace talks. The latest round of talks was held in Cuba and ended in 2019, as both sides failed to agree on terms for a ceasefire. The Colombian government broke off the talks shortly after the ELN bombed a police academy in Bogotá and killed more than 20 people.

ELN leaders in Caracas said that they feel more optimistic about this new round of negotiations.

“There is a progressive government now, that promised during the election that they were committed to peace,” said Pablo Beltran, the ELN’s top commander at the talks. “We have someone who can understand us.”

But many in Colombia are skeptical about these talks — they say that making peace with the ELN will be harder than with the FARC rebels.

“I think that for many reasons, the negotiation is not going to be successful,” said Sergio Guzman, a political risk analyst in Bogotá. “The ELN is a fragmented organization. It’s unclear if they have full mandate of all of their units and are able to implement whatever decision they negotiate on the table.”

ELN commanders have said that they want the government to invest more in anti-poverty programs, nationalize oil, and revise Colombia’s electoral system.

And that’s just one part of the talks. The rebels also want community groups in remote areas to participate in the process and come up with their own proposals, which could make it tougher to reach an agreement.

To meet international treaty obligations, the rebels will have to provide reparations to their victims and serve some sort of punishment for war crimes.

Guzman said that this could become a sticking point. The rebels have already said they do not want to be placed in the same transitional justice system that is currently investigating crimes committed by FARC commanders and members of Colombia’s military.

“They may want more lenient judicial sentences even than the FARC obtained during their agreement. And that’s going to be a very difficult item for the government to overcome,” Guzman said.

If the ELN ends up disarming, it would be a huge victory for Petro.

But Petro’s government hasn’t scored any military victories against the ELN that might pressure the rebels into signing a deal anytime soon.

When the FARC negotiations started in 2012, the rebels had suffered a string of major defeats at the hands of Colombia’s military, including a raid in the jungle in 2010, where the group’s second-most important leader at the time was killed. In another attack by the military in 2011, the FARC lost Alfonso Cano, their commander-in-chief.

The government also pressured the FARC by encouraging its fighters to defect, with programs that provided them with protection and jobs. And even then, it took Colombia’s government more than four years to sort out a peace deal with the FARC.

The clock is already ticking for the Petro administration, which must leave office in the summer of 2026. 

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Insult to injury: Part I

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>Insult to injury: Part I

This week's Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive into the function of insults, name-calling and other types of undiplomatic language.

Inkstick MediaNovember 30, 2022 · 4:00 PM EST

US President Joe Biden and Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, right, chat as they gather for a group photo at Castle Elmau in Kruen, near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Sunday, June 26, 2022. 

Brendan Smialowski/Pool/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

What does it mean when a leviathan turns to schoolyard taunts? States, as superstructures made of people, are subject to actions taken by those individuals. Diplomacy is adults talking with permission to set terms. So, why might a state, or its representatives, choose to insult another state?

That’s the central question at the heart of “'Filthy Lapdogs,' 'Jerks,' and 'Hitler': Making Sense of Insults in International Relations,” in which Elise Rousseau and Stephane J. Baele examine the function of undiplomatic language.

“Our central contention is indeed that international insults constitute both at once tactical tools used to achieve interests by disrupting an interaction and modifying the payoffs associated with it and linguistic artifacts constructing and sharpening self- and other identities,” write the authors.

The paper was published in the fall of 2020, and the presence of President Donald Trump lingers heavily over the entire draft, though the authors take lengths to show his approach is hardly singular in the history of world politics. Twenty-first century leaders like Britain’s Boris Johnson and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez feature, as do giants of the 20th century like President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. There are even prior examples, such as a 19th century letter used to nudge President William McKinely toward the Spanish-American war or the 1870 telegram edited by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, used to spark the Franco-Prussian War.

Insults have a long history in international relations, sometimes with bloody consequences.

Insults have a long history in international relations, sometimes with bloody consequences. Instead of treating these insults as irrational behavior, Rousseau and Baele instead look for the instrumental function behind name-calling.

“In the pragmatic literature, insults are considered ‘successful’ when they destabilize the target and, in so doing, create a new social situation. Therefore, insults are understood in opposition to the intuitive idea that they tend to be irrational outbursts of aggressiveness,” write the authors. “On the contrary, they are conceptualized as potentially advantageous linguistic devices that can be used tactically by individuals conducting their social interactions with broader strategic goals in mind.”

States and their agents use insults to disrupt and challenge the existing polite theater of diplomatic norms. Earlier this year, Critical State wrote about the Trump administration’s diplomacy as specifically following the beats of professional wrestling

“The international insults used to qualify the EU in the wake of the Brexit vote were also used instrumentally in a bid to shift UK national identity, and yet they tabled on much broader background discursive formations that preceded the vote,” write the authors.

These insults have both international and domestic audiences, and they can sharpen divisions while bolstering the in-group appeal of the speaker’s followers. It’s a tool in the diplomats' toolkit, though, as the authors note, when insults become a habit for world leaders, they are much easier to ignore than when they are carefully chosen and used rarely.

“In an international environment where actors seek to preserve face and material interests alike, insults are a potentially powerful linguistic instrument to gain advantages, to destabilize a rival and force him/her into a reaction, to disrupt cooperation or secure connivance, or even to alter the structure of the system,” the authors conclude.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

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Count me in!Related ContentState reformation: Part IIState reformation: Part IWhen putsch comes to shove: Part IIWhen putsch comes to shove: Part I

To reduce its emissions, Colombian ranch experiments with a new variety of grass 

“MuiTypography-root-217 MuiTypography-h1-222″>To reduce its emissions, Colombian ranch experiments with a new variety of grass 

In the remote Colombian province of Vichada, mostly covered by savannah and small forests, the San Jose ranch is trying to show that there are ways for cattle ranching to be more environmentally friendly — and still be profitable. 

The WorldNovember 30, 2022 · 2:45 PM EST

Manuel Rueda/The World

The San Jose Ranch uses a special kind of grass called Koronivia, which is more efficient at feeding cows and is also better for the environment, according to Jacobo Arango, a biologist from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture.

The San Jose ranch is located on a remote stretch of Colombia’s eastern plains. It has its own runway for small aircraft — and 5,000 cows — which are fed with a special kind of grass called Koronivia.

This kind of pasture is more efficient at feeding cattle. And it’s also better for the environment, according to Jacobo Arango, a biologist from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, which bred Koronivia at its seed bank, and is now testing how it performs at the 20,000-acre ranch.

“The key to this plant is that it’s able to grow deep root systems,” Arango said during a recent visit to Hacienda San Jose. “We have calculated that it is able to store 15% more carbon than the natural pasture that grows in this region.”

The San Jose Ranch is located in Vichada, a remote region of Colombia that is covered by grasslands and small forests that grow next to local rivers. Credit: Manuel Rueda/The World

The beef industry is responsible for 9% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a recent study by the University of Illinois. And its practices are coming under greater scrutiny from customers and governments looking for ways to slow down global warming.

In the remote Colombian province of Vichada, which is mostly covered by savannah and small forests that grow along the region’s rivers, the San Jose ranch is trying to show that there are ways for cattle ranching to be more environmentally friendly — and still be profitable.

One of its most successful projects so far has been planting its fields with Koronivia. This kind of grass doesn’t just sequester more carbon from the atmosphere. A study published in November also found that it can capture and store large amounts of nitrogen after cows release it in their urine, slowing down emissions of nitrous oxide.

“We have calculated that there’s a 1 1/2- to 10-fold reduction in terms of nitrous oxide emissions,” Arango said.

Thanks to its use of Koronivia — and other improvements like using cattle that are ready for slaughter in less time — the San Jose Ranch currently soaks up more greenhouse gases than its cattle emit. And it also needs less space for its cows. This hacienda can feed 17 times more cattle per acre than its neighbors, according to Paolo Moreira, the ranch’s chief executive officer.

“In terms of emissions, it is true and always will be true that the animals emit gases,” like methane, which cows emit when they burp, he said. “But when you combine that with a system that is able to sequestrate more gases than what the animals are emitting, then, it becomes very interesting.”

Moreira is not the only one trying to reduce the beef industry’s environmental hoofprint.

Paolo Moreira is the CEO of Colombia's San Jose Ranch.

Credit:

Mnauel Rueda/The World

In the United States, some ranchers are promoting a system known as regenerative grazing: Instead of planting a monocrop of grass for feed, cattle are rotated on fields of native species. This helps cows to be healthier while reducing emissions, said Allen Williams, a rancher and consultant from South Carolina.

“It sequesters a lot more carbon. Just like the prairies and the native grasslands once did,” he explained. “They were carbon sinks. So, we’re recreating the carbon sinks by recreating the diversity of plant species.”

In Colombia, Moreira and his business partner, a former banker, have raised millions of dollars to launch their eco-friendly ranch.

Buying and planting the Koronivia grass is more expensive than the traditional methods of cattle ranching used in places like Vichada province.

So, Moreira said the ranch will be profitable by selling its meat in the United States where customers are paying premium prices for grass-fed beef.

“You go to Whole Foods markets today, and you see cage-free, animal well-being, no use of preventive hormones,” he said. “What we are trying to do here is to put all those attributes into the meat that we produce.”

Currently, most cows in the US are grain-fed and spend the latter part of their lives in feedlots. But that’s changing as customers seek more natural alternatives.

Williams said that sales of grass-fed beef have “grown exponentially” in the US over the past two decades. According to his estimates, they jumped from $3 million in 2003 to $8 billion last year.

The San Jose Ranch uses a type of cow called the short cycle Nelore, which grows up faster than other cows commonly used in Colombia. 

Credit:

Manuel Rueda/The World

“People like the richness and robustness of the flavor profile that a grass-fed beef has, that a grain-fed beef does not,” Willliams said. “Most grain-fed beef in the US has sort of a bland flavor due to the finishing rations that they’re on. And you have to marinate it or add sauces to it to add more flavor.”

The San Jose ranch needs to boost production for its eco-friendly but costly business model to work. So, the company is looking for 200 investors to buy plots of land in Colombia’s eastern plains.

Moreira said the plan is for each ranch to sustain 900 cows that will be raised with Koronivia grass.

“I think Colombia has a jewel in its hands,” Moreira said. “There’s this huge area that is very appropriate for cattle without the need to cut trees.”

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Japan’s infamous ‘happy’ cult sets sights on the United States

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>Japan’s infamous ‘happy’ cult sets sights on the United States

Happy Science is among the most enduring and far-reaching “new religious movement,” as they’re called in Japan. 

The WorldNovember 30, 2022 · 3:00 PM EST

Ryuho Okawa at a 2011 speech. 

Happy Science/Liberty Web

In the run-up to Dec. 21, 2012 — the date of Earth’s annihilation, according to a supposed Mayan prophecy — a Japanese mystic urged mankind to abandon all fear. Master Ryuho Okawa would intervene with the cosmos to avert Armageddon.

He stood before adherents — draped in spangly fabric, black hair shaped in a perfect coif — and declared in a warbling voice: “There shall be no ending of the world because I have my mission … and my mission is not over yet!”

Okawa is the 66-year-old leader of Happy Science, a religion he founded in the mid-1980s after leaving behind a stockbroker career. However, this incarnation is merely his current form. Over the millennia, a benevolent alien God named El Cantare, from Venus, has inhabited legendary figures: Socrates, Jesus, Buddha and, at present, Okawa. So he claims.

Though Japan’s population is famously averse to organized religion (more than half claim no religious affiliation), self-avowed prophets have long emerged from the fringes of society in attempts to fill the spiritual void. Happy Science is among the most enduring and far-reaching “new religious movement,” as they’re called in Japan. The organization runs dozens of missionary offices overseas, including a North American bastion in Manhattan. It also boasts more than 10 million adherents.

But this claim — like much of its founders’ teachings — is fantastical, according to Hiroshi Okawa, 33, the master’s eldest son. Once groomed as a successor, Hiroshi defected five years ago, calling his father’s operation a “cult” and a profit-machine endlessly searching for fresh converts.

“Ten million believers is a complete lie,” Hiroshi told The World. “I’d say 13,000 at most. I know this because I had inside information and access to their resources.”

(The Happy Science organization turned down an interview request from The World.)

Much of the organization’s revenue comes from followers’ donations. According to Happy Science representatives: “It really is a spiritual discipline to get rid of worldly attachments. It’s just to show your love and gratitude to God.”

New converts, after swearing their belief in El Cantare, provide their address and bank account details.

Prophetic books are Happy Science’s other major revenue stream. Master Okawa will frequently go into a trance, summon the spirit of some legendary figure and report their deepest thoughts, which are then transcribed and sold. He’s channeled Zeus, Moses, Joan of Arc, Osama bin Laden and living figures too: Hillary Clinton, Kim Jong-un and Leonardo DiCaprio.

“He doesn’t believe any of it,” Hiroshi Okawa said. “It’s a fantasy world — and he knows it.”

Hiroshi said that he too was once urged by the organization to feign supernatural powers. He studied at his father’s side, observing spiritual channelings, often in front of other top Happy Science officials.

“You ask some spirit to come inside you and start talking as if you’re them. It’s just a performance.”

“I remember Ryuho [Okawa] trying to channel Michael Jackson’s spirit and making that iconic sound” — hee, hee! — “and the impersonation was so bad. Luckily he didn’t ask me to try but, if he did, I was ready to do my impersonation [of the pop star] as best as I could.”

(Hiroshi later parlayed skills learned from channeling sessions into acting; he starred in and directed “Gray Zone,” a popular film in Japan.)

Happy Science’s follower count in Japan is likely maxed out, according to Hiroshi, and that has forced Okawa to increasingly target the West — namely America.

“He wants to be king of the world. That’s his sole motivation. But if you want to rule the world, you must first become king of America.”

In recent years, Master Okawa has intensively courted Donald Trump supporters with books such as “The Trump Secret,” “Trump Shall Never Die” and other titles drawn from supposed channelings of Trump’s eternal soul. Not only does Trump possess the “spirit of bushido” (a moral code governing ancient samurai), according to Okawa, he is also the reincarnation of America’s founder: George Washington.

The mystic’s other recent pronouncements appear calibrated to entice right-wing conspiracy theorists: China’s government is working behind Greta Thunberg; Xi Jinping is inhabited by a malevolent alien alter ego named “Xi Jinping X”; COVID-19 can be cured by “spiritual vaccines,” available at Happy Science outposts in eight US states, including Florida, Georgia and New Jersey.

The stated mission of Okawa’s organization is to spread freedom, truth and happiness. But Hiroshi warns potential converts to stay away, contending that their donations will only make his father even richer. (The organization, in denouncing Hiroshi, claims he is “jealous” and likens his falling out to the rift between Jesus Christ and Judas.)

Master Okawa, according to his son, lives “like a Hollywood star” in a Tokyo glam district, Shirokane, inhabiting a four-story mansion complete with a pool, sauna and tennis courts — often surrounded by “pleasant-looking” female secretaries.

“He’s originally from a small village in a mountainous area of Japan,” Hiroshi said, “and grew up with an elder brother who was extremely smart, referred to as a prodigy. Nobody paid attention to little Ryuho [Okawa] so he developed an inferiority complex, desperate for someone to look at him instead of his older brother.”

Master Okawa, according to his son, spends much of his time inside his mansion grousing about politics, with news channels such as CNN International playing the background, “just going on and on about this or that prime minister.”

It’s ironic, Hiroshi said, but the Veunsian deity who founded Happy Science does not appear all that happy himself.

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Land issues at the heart of Uganda’s oil showdown

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>Land issues at the heart of Uganda’s oil showdown

Residents in Uganda's oil-rich Hoima district say their land is up for grabs as an ambitious oil pipeline project plans to run more than 800 miles from the western part of the country all the way to neighboring Tanzania.

The WorldNovember 29, 2022 · 4:45 PM EST

Demonstrators show "stop oil in Africa" written on their hands during a protest with Stop Pipelines coalition against pipelines in East Africa at the COP27 UN climate summit, Nov. 11, 2022, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. 

Nariman El-Mofty/AP

The village of Kijumba sits surrounded by tall banana trees and cassava plants just off the newly constructed roads of the oil-rich Hoima district in Uganda. 

This is where 49-year-old Hope Alinatiwe has spent her entire life, cultivating the land to feed herself and her eight children. 

Like many rural Ugandans, she is cash-poor but land-rich – meaning her small plots of land are her only assets. 

But recently that land has come up for grabs because of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), an ambitious project that will run more than 800 miles from western Uganda to neighboring Tanzania.

In 2018, Alinatiwe said she was told she would need to sell some of her land to make room for the construction of the new pipeline.

“I was told to sign the contract and to stop using the land,” she said.

So, she did. For the next four years, Alinatiwe waited for compensation, and in the meantime, her land went to waste. 

By the time she was paid this past September, she had lost out on four years of farm earnings for what she said was meager compensation.

“The money we were given was too little,” for the land, based on its current value, Alinatiwe said.  

Now, having lost her primary source of earning, she can no longer afford to send her kids to school and struggles to find work to feed her family. 

Alinatiwe's experience highlights what has become a flashpoint in these early days of development for Uganda’s ambitious oil development: land.

Rachel Tugume, also from Kijumba, has a similar story.                      

"They told me, ‘Rachel, the pipeline will go through your land.’ So, I waited for them to come, and in 2019, they came and stopped me from using my land,” she said.

“If you have cassava in our place, you are a good farmer and you are a rich person,” Tugume said.

Rachel Tugume in front of her land that she was ordered to sell to EACOP to make room for the oil pipeline. She continues to negotiate for a fairer settlement. 

Credit:

Halima Gikandi/The World

She was offered about $130 for her land — the amount determined by her land size at the time. She said she can make twice that amount per year by farming. And as time passes, the land has become increasingly valuable due to the nearby oil and infrastructure development.

“The price only keeps going up every year,” she said. 

Up to now, Tugume has held out on selling, instead trying to negotiate with the EACOP company for a better deal for her land.

In the meantime, her demarcated land has become full of weeds as Tugume continues to abide by the terms of sale, which include ceasing to grow crops that take time to harvest. She estimates she has lost millions of Ugandan shillings in profits by not cultivating the land for years.

She said her issue isn’t with the oil pipeline itself, but with the impact it has on locals like her. 

"We are near the oil and gas, we are near the airport, and we are the people who are affected,” Tugume said, estimating she has lost out on millions of Ugandan shillings of earnings by not using her land that has been earmarked for construction. 

“At least they can help us,” she said. “So, we can also benefit from the oil and gas."

Rachel Tugume shows a letter from EACOP about reevaluating the value of her land.

Credit:

Halima Gikandi/The World

Displaced by oil

 In other parts of Hoima, construction for the oil project has already begun. 

In Buliisa, on the shores of Lake Albert, a central oil processing facility is in the works.

That’s where John has lived all of his life, until he was told to sell his land to make room for oil construction. He asked to only use his first name, fearing harassment.

“I requested for land compensation,” he said, rather than getting meager monetary compensation. 

When that didn’t work out, he said he refused to sell the land.

“We were taken to court,” he said, and lost.

John said he was later forced to leave his land, which he relied on as a source of income. 

"My children are not in school. I cannot have money to earn my living,” he said.

Since then, he has relocated to his relative’s property, which is adjacent to another construction site.

“There is a lot of noise, a lot of sand, dust, a lot of floods of water,” John said. 

Uganda’s government has said that they are compensating people fairly. “There is no area in the country that has been assessed for oil and gas development before full and adequate compensation of the project affected persons,” said Gloria Sebikari of the Petroleum Authority of Uganda, who acknowledged there were some delays in payment due to COVID-19.

But for activists, the ongoing disputes over land compensation in the areas closest to the oil development project is proof that the oil project will not benefit ordinary Ugandans. 

"There is no way you can expect these huge projects to benefit the poor people, the average people,” said Dickens Kamugisha of the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO). 

“The money will be earned and only the rich and the powerful will be the ones to take that money,” he said.  

This month, AFIEGO and other organizations sued Uganda and Tanzania over the oil pipeline project at the East African Court of Justice, arguing that the project violates international law and regional environmental treaties.

Threats to vital wildlife

In nearby Bugoma forest, conservationist Nazario Asiimwe walks through the dense bush, pointing out the diverse biodiversity. 

Environmental activists are concerned that the pipeline project could potentially impact forests like this one, which is home to protected species like the chimpanzees. 

Asiimwe, who works on forest conservation, worries the species could be harmed by the construction.

"Because chimpanzees, they move everywhere. They can move to where they want to construct the pipelines,” Asiimwe said. 

Conservationist and tour guide Nazario Assimwe in Bugoma forest, the Hoima district, Uganda. 

Credit:

Halima Gikandi/The World

Both the Ugandan government and the oil companies involved have responded to critics by saying they have taken measures to mitigate any potential negative social and environmental impact of this development project.

But AFIEGO’s Dickens Kamugisha said that is not enough, and that fossil fuels are not the answer for Uganda. 

"I don't think we should be saying let's also destroy this nature for us to make money,” he said.

“We can harness our nature and ensure that we get money but we also sustain our environment.” 

Related: Why African countries like Uganda are investing in fossil fuels, Part I

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Count me in!Related ContentWhy African countries like Uganda are investing in fossil fuelsGlobal demand for lithium is changing Chile's Atacama Desert Latvians brace for harsh winter under new austerity measures to lessen dependency on Russian energyLong before electricity, wind catchers of Persia kept residents cool. Climate-conscious architects are taking notes.

Surf’s up!: Riding the world’s largest waves in Portugal’s Nazaré

“MuiTypography-root-217 MuiTypography-h1-222″>Surf's up!: Riding the world's largest waves in Portugal's Nazaré

Daredevil surfers hurtle down the face of waves as tall as 6-story apartment buildings.

The WorldNovember 28, 2022 · 1:45 PM EST

Justine Dupont, from France, rides a wave before being engulfed by it and breaking her ankle during a big wave surfing session at Praia do Norte, or North Beach, in Nazaré, Portugal, Jan. 8, 2022.

Armando Franca/AP

The seaside town of Nazaré, Portugal, is home to some of the world’s biggest, gnarliest waves. 

Maybe you’ve seen the iconic videos from Nazaré online — daredevil surfers hurtling down the face of waves as tall as 6-story apartment buildings. 

One reason that Nazaré has such big waves has to do with the fact that Europe’s largest and deepest underwater canyon can be found right off of its coast.

A Jet Ski steers away from a crashing wave during a big wave surfing session at Praia do Norte, or North Beach, in Nazaré, Portugal, Feb. 25, 2022.

Credit:

Armando Franca/AP

Although the big waves in Nazaré go back millions of years, surfing here has only caught on internationally in recent history, transforming a once-sleepy town into a tourist destination.

But “big wave” surfing — when the waves are at least 20 feet high — is not for the faint of heart — those waves can crash down at speeds of 50 miles per hour.

People atop a lighthouse watch a surfer drop down a wave during a big wave surfing session at Praia do Norte, or North Beach, in Nazaré, Portugal, Feb. 25, 2022.

Credit:

Armando Franca/AP

Surviving those big waves, experts say, comes down to extraordinarily tight teamwork, skill and lots of guts.

The big waves can be seen from a lighthouse in Nazaré, Portugal.

Credit:

Barbara Belt/The World 

This week, weather conditions are sending massive rollers crashing onto the beach and the surf's up.

Andrew Cotton, the Jet Ski tow partner for American surfer Garrett McNamara, has been instrumental in starting the big wave surfing here, along with locals Dino Casimiro, Sergio Cosme and Pedro Pisco.

A surfer rides a big wave in Nazaré, Portugal.

Credit:

Barbara Belt/The World

"Just being in the water is a full workout physically, mentally. It's a real sense of teamwork. Nazaré has become the place to be. It's definitely the biggest and most-consistent wave on the planet." 

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Lionel Messi’s last shot at World Cup glory

“MuiTypography-root-217 MuiTypography-h1-222″>Lionel Messi’s last shot at World Cup glory

The Argentine soccer star won countless trophies for Barcelona, but failed to earn his homeland the biggest prize of all. This may be his last chance.

The WorldNovember 23, 2022 · 4:30 PM EST

Argentina's Lionel Messi reacts after missing a chance during the World Cup group C soccer match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Nov. 22, 2022.

Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi was off to a good start on Tuesday after scoring for his home country in the opening game of the World Cup against Saudi Arabia.

But the match took an unexpected, David and Goliath-esque turn, and Argentina ended up losing 1-2 — a major upset for one of the teams favored to win the competition.

This surprise defeat rises the stakes even higher for Messi, who, at 35, is facing one of the most consequential tournaments of his storied career.

Messi, widely regarded as one of the finest soccer players ever, is also one of the most-decorated athletes in the history of the sport, with a record, seven Ballon d’Or awards, the game’s top individual prize, and 36 trophies won in his club career, mostly for FC Barcelona.

Yet, for all his success at the club level, Messi has so far failed to earn his homeland the biggest trophy of all.

Replicas of Lionel Messi’s record-seven Ballon d’Or awards are on display at FC Barcelona’s museum.

 

Credit:

Alan Ruiz Terol/The World

According to the player himself, the 2022 Qatar World Cup will be his last shot.

Messi left Argentina at age 13 to join FC Barcelona’s La Masia, one of Europe’s finest soccer academies.

“Those were difficult days,” said Argentine soccer agent Horacio Gaggioli, who got Messi his first contract with the Spanish club, famously signed on a napkin.

Gaggioli recalled seeing the young player cry more than once as his family was separated and his mother returned to Argentina.

Messi also had to inject his legs every day to treat a growth hormone disorder.

But careerwise, migrating paid off, and Messi grew up surrounded with other great players.

Martín Flores and Pamela Peyronel visiting Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium from Argentina.

 

Credit:

Alan Ruiz Terol/The World 

Gaggioli said that Messi’s teammates were so good that they would often serve him goals on a platter, so he just had to nudge the ball inside the net.

“He didn’t have that with Argentina,” Gaggioli said.

Messi, playing for his home country, lost four international finals. In 2016, he announced he was leaving the team, but later retracted.

Many expected the 2022 World Cup to be different.

A turning point came last year with the Copa América, when Argentina took the trophy home after defeating in the final its nemesis, Brazil.

It was Messi’s first major trophy with Argentina, and it came as a symbol that he, too, could lead his country to international glory, like Pelé for Brazil, Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal, or Maradona, Argentina’s last soccer hero.

“Messi didn’t feel comfortable playing for Argentina, we lost many finals, and he was heavily criticized,” said Martín Flores, an Argentine soccer fan recently visiting the FC Barcelona stadium. 

“But things are different now: when he scores, he celebrates like when he was at Barcelona,” Flores said.

Messi’s career at Barcelona came to an abrupt end in the summer of 2021.

Argentine soccer agent Horacio Gaggioli at the tennis club where he got Lionel Messi his first contract with FC Barcelona, famously signed on a napkin.

Credit:

Alan Ruiz Terol/The World

Years of mismanagement brought the club to the brink of bankruptcy, and a cap on spending imposed by the Spanish league meant it could no longer retain its star player.

“I arrived to the club as a little boy,” said Messi in his final press conference. “After 21 years, I leave with my wife, and with three Catalan Argentine sons.”

Messi, fighting back tears, said that he regretted not having the chance to say goodbye to Barcelona fans, because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“I would have imagined a different farewell, with fans in the stadium, hearing one last ovation” he said.

Messi moved to Paris and signed for France’s powerhouse club PSG. After a difficult year, he was back in great shape just in time for the World Cup.

Messi’s bitter departure from Barcelona left many soccer fans hoping for a final redemptive act, and even non-Argentines relished the possibility of him winning the World Cup.

“Football owes Messi this World Cup,” said Aleida Campos, a soccer fan recently visiting the Barcelona stadium from Mexico.

“He’s the best player I’ve seen in my life. I know I’m young, but my father has seen Pelé, Maradona, and he tells me that besides Pelé, Messi is the best player he has ever seen,” Campos said.

“I don’t care if Mexico loses,” she said. “Even though my country is against Argentina, I really want Messi to win this World Cup.” 

Argentina is facing México this Saturday, and Poland next Wednesday.

Another loss would automatically leave Messi out of the tournament, and would amount to a harrowing humiliation.

But some believe that Messi’s legacy as a soccer legend will not be tainted by a lack of World Cup success.

“I do think that his story, in a way, has been written,” said sports journalist Guillem Balagué, author of Messi’s authorized biography.

“If he loses, his legacy will still be unmatched and untouched,” he said. “Those that have been born in the last 30 years, 40 years, 50 years even, will think that they haven’t seen anything better.”

However, Balagué said that Qatar 2022 may not be Messi’s last World Cup.

“I see a twist: he will leave, and then, when the next World Cup gets closer, let's see where he's at, let's see if he gets invited to the national side,” he said.

 

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Why African countries like Uganda are investing in fossil fuels

“MuiTypography-root-320 MuiTypography-h1-325″>Why African countries like Uganda are investing in fossil fuelsThe WorldNovember 23, 2022 · 4:15 PM EST

After the discovery of commercial quantities of oil in 2006, Hoima, Uganda, is being referred to as Oil City. 

Halima Gikandi/The World

In the far ends of western Uganda, surrounded by lush green farms, the city of Hoima has taken on a new name: Oil City.

It got the name after commercial quantities of oil were discovered in Uganda in 2006.

According to the country's government, there are 6.5 billion barrels of oil underground — 1.4 billion of which can be recovered.

Now, Uganda is seeking to develop and refine that oil in partnership with the French energy company Total, and a state-owned Chinese corporation.

"People will benefit directly, others indirectly," said 22-year-old Nicholas Aheebua, who works at a local market.

He pointed out the sleek new roads that have been built in the district, and the nearly finished international airport.

"Like us, youths, who are still looking for work,” he added. “People who have benefited directly will start up businesses and we shall work there. We'll be employed." 

The Ugandan government is banking on these prospects of employment and development as they promote, and defend, this oil project in the face of domestic and international criticism about the environmental and social costs.

"We estimate that the country will be earning close to $2 billion annually, and this is a significant addition to our GDP," said Gloria Sebikari of the Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU).

She said it will also help boost Uganda's energy security.

Downtown Hoima, Uganda, November 2022.

Credit:

Halima Gikandi/The World

"Uganda plans to construct a 60,000-barrels-per-day refinery in Hoima to produce petroleum products like petrol, diesel, jet fuel and the like to be consumed in the Ugandan market," Sebikari said.

Crude oil from the projects will also be exported internationally through the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) that will run more than 890 miles from western Uganda to the Tanga port in neighboring Tanzania.

Concerns and pushback

But some have raised concerns about the oil development project. 

In September, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning human rights violations and environmental dangers they said have been brought by the fossil fuel projects in Uganda.

But Uganda disagrees with the assessment.

"Some of these people are insufferable. You need to control yourself not to explode. So shallow, so egocentric. So wrong," said Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni in response.

This flashpoint is emblematic of a bigger showdown taking place on the continent, as many African countries seek to benefit from new fossil fuel discoveries despite global calls for a movement away from it.

While those calls were repeated once again at the UN Climate Conference in Egypt, Sebikari of PAU noted how investment in new fossil fuel projects remains a reality globally.

"This begs the question, why should the pressure to stop oil and gas or to delay projects be for projects in developing countries, countries that have not yet reached a certain level of development?" she asked.

"A lot of the [developed] countries developed on the back of oil and gas and other natural resources,"

Gloria Sebikari, Petroleum Authority of Uganda

"A lot of the [developed] countries developed on the back of oil and gas and other natural resources," she added.

Uganda's government argues that it should be able to do the same, especially when many people in the country do not even have access to electricity.

Instead, both the rural and urban poor rely on burning charcoal and firewood, which has led to deforestation across Uganda's protected forest and carbon emissions. 

Liquefied petroleum gas

Sebikari of PAU said that one of the expected byproducts of the oil refining process will be liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) — or cooking gas — which can be used as an alternative to charcoal and wood.

“So, if the oil and gas sectors can support a bigger part of the population to transition away from the use of charcoal and wood fuel [toward the] use of gas, which is much cleaner than wood fuel, then we are contributing to the fight against climate change. We are reducing our emissions as a country," she argued.

This year, Uganda's Ministry of Energy launched a program to give canisters of cooking gas to poor families in anticipation of growing the domestic market in the future.

"Gas is more efficient, faster and cleaner than using charcoal or wood," said 37-year-old Noowe Kazo, one of the recipients.

"The government told us that we should stop using charcoal, because the smoke is bad for us, and because it’s damaging our environment," she said.

She added that she would be willing to buy gas with her own money if it were more affordable.

Noowe Kazo shows off the new gas stove she recieved from the government, Bukasa, Uganda, November 2022.

Credit:

Halima Gikandi/The World

For Uganda's government, Kazo exemplifies its argument that oil development can be part of the country's energy transition.

But for environment and social activists, the costs of the country's oil development are too high.

The World has more on the pushback against this oil pipeline in Part 2 of this report. Listen to the story here.

Related: 'The system is broken': At COP27, developing countries push for more money to adapt to climate change

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Count me in!Related ContentGlobal demand for lithium is changing Chile's Atacama Desert Latvians brace for harsh winter under new austerity measures to lessen dependency on Russian energyLong before electricity, wind catchers of Persia kept residents cool. Climate-conscious architects are taking notes.Amid fuel crisis in Sri Lanka, bicycling is no longer a 'poor person's mode of transport'

Brazil’s yellow-and-green soccer jersey stirs up controversy

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>Brazil’s yellow-and-green soccer jersey stirs up controversy

The Brazilian soccer team's jersey colors have been co-opted by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. But some people say that the reelection of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in late October could change that.

The WorldNovember 22, 2022 · 12:30 PM EST

A soccer jersey for the Brazilian player known as Neymar is shown hanging up for sale. Brazil's yellow-and-green soccer jersey has ignited debate among fans because the colors have been co-opted by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, whose rallies are characterized by a sea of yellow and green. 

Michael Fox/The World

Soccer is a national obsession in Brazil, which has won more World Cup games than any other country.

And this year, Brazil is favored to win the World Cup once again. But the national team and its fans are grappling with the team’s iconic jersey colors: yellow and green.

Those are also the country’s colors, including the nation's flag, but they have been co-opted by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, whose political rallies are characterized by a sea of yellow and green.

Bolsonaro’s embrace of the country’s colors has divided Brazilians who reelected former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known simply as Lula) in late October.  

Lula takes office on Jan. 1. Bolsonaro didn't recognize Lula's win or his own defeat, but he authorized his chief-of-staff to carry out the process of transition, which began earlier this month. Still, Bolsonaro supporters are protesting the election results and calling for military intervention. Meanwhile, the national colors continue to be a prominent part of their displays. 

Supporters of Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro rallied for him wearing the country's national colors: yellow and green.

Credit:

Michael Fox/The World

“There has been a kidnapping of the flag and the shirt,” said Gustavo Turck, a journalist in Porto Alegre. “Literally, there has been a kidnapping of these symbols by this political sect.” 

It has had a profound impact on the way Brazilians see their national imagery.

“My daughter is 9. It's her second World Cup,” Turck said. “But today, she sees the flag or the Brazilian soccer jersey, and she immediately identifies it with Bolsonaro.”

That is by design. Bolsonaro is not the first Brazilian leader to appropriate the country's symbols. Brazil’s military dictatorship of the 1960s and 1970s strategically used the flag and the Brazilian soccer jersey to generate unity around the regime.

“The Brazilian military used these symbols as a way of showing patriotism, and the people who were against this were seen as enemies of the state,” said Carolina Botelho, a political scientist at the University of São Paulo’s Institute of Advanced Studies.

Bolsonaro has long praised the military dictatorship and even called for its return. And that has led many of his opponents to reject the flag, the colors and the national soccer jersey.

But some say that Lula could change that. During the election campaign, Lula said the yellow and green should represent all Brazilians, not just one group.

Brazil's soccer team wears an iconic yellow-and-green jersey. The jersey, shown here for sale, has become politicized.

Credit:

Michael Fox/The World

“Happily, since Lula won, we'll be able to use it again. People already are. But it’s a process. It won’t be immediate,” said Marcelo Idiarte, a blogger and avid soccer fan, who added that he has not worn the national jersey for years, because of what it has come to represent. 

“[The World Cup] could get others to use the colors. But the election is still very recent,” said sports historian Carolina Fernandes da Silva. “As are the illegal protests of Bolsonaro supporters calling for military intervention and trying to undermine the vote.”

People carry the Brazilian flag at a rally for former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was reelected in October.

Credit:

Michael Fox/The World

Brazil's top player Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior (known as Neymar) also did not help. He avidly backed Bolsonaro, participating in live events with the president. In a video that went viral over social media, he danced to one of Bolsonaro’s campaign songs.

But some Lula supporters say that they can see beyond that.

“The flag is a national symbol. It doesn't represent one party. It represents us all, regardless of political party or ideology,” said Alex Brazil, a doctor who attended a Lula rally in late October with a green Brazilian flag draped over his shoulders. “So, taking back the flag is to rescue Brazil. It's to rescue our democracy.” 

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Investigators look for answers after Russian forces buried more than 400 bodies in a mass grave in Ukraine

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>Investigators look for answers after Russian forces buried more than 400 bodies in a mass grave in Ukraine

A forest in the city of Izium in northeast Ukraine is home to one of the largest mass graves discovered since the Russian invasion.

The WorldNovember 21, 2022 · 12:45 PM EST

The remains at the mass burial site in Izium, Ukraine, have been exhumed but some empty caskets and crosses remain.
 

Shirin Jaafari/The World

One of the largest mass graves discovered since the Russian invasion in Ukraine lies in a wooded area just outside the northeastern city of Izium.

On a recent visit, fog enveloped the tall pine trees surrounding the graves.

The remains have been exhumed and relocated to the local morgue but a faint smell lingered. A few open, empty caskets stuck awkwardly out of the graves. Not far away, a pile of discarded disposable gloves, masks and other personal protective gear was a reminder of the ongoing forensic investigations here.

Since the recapture of Izium by the Ukrainian forces in September, investigators have been trying to identify the remains in this mass grave. Families with missing loved ones are searching for answers.

In some cases, all the victims got was a number: 146. 189. No name, no cause of death, nothing else.

Yulia Tatarinova, of Izium, Ukraine, fills in forms related to her DNA sample in hopes of finding the body of her husband.
 

Credit:

Shirin Jaafari/The World

Out of 451 bodies that were discovered, 150 are yet to be identified, according to Oleksandr Filchakov, head of the Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office. At least 17 bodies bore evidence of torture, he said, including ropes tied around their necks, hands tied behind their backs and cracked bones.

Liudmyla Vaschana has been searching for her 31-year-old son, Eduard, since March. When the Russian military started its attack on Izium, she said, Eduard joined the volunteer fighters called the Territorial Defense Unit. Vaschana left Izium to care for her other son, 19-year-old ​​Oleh, who had been injured while fighting in another part of the country. He was recovering in Lviv, a city close to the Polish border.

The fighting got intense in Izium, and on March 6, Vaschana lost touch with Eduard. Four days later, she said, the house that his unit was based in was bombed. Other members of the unit told Vaschana that they searched for his body in the rubble but never found it.

A pile of discarded personal protective gear used by investigators and exhumers at the mass grave in Izium, Ukraine.
 

Credit:

Shirin Jaafari/The World

“I just want to find my son,” she said, adding, “That’s the most important thing.”

In September, Vaschana called a hotline set up for missing persons and reported her son missing. But she said so far, no one has gotten back to her.

When The World spoke to Vaschana earlier this month, she was visiting a mobile laboratory to give DNA samples. Technicians swabbed the mouths of visitors, then filled in a form with their personal information.

The lab, set up with the help of the French government, collects DNA from those who have missing relatives. It then runs the samples through a database collected from the remains found in the mass grave in Izium.

Relatives of victims have their DNA samples taken at a mobile laboratory in Izium, Ukraine, set up with the help of the French government.
 

Credit:

Shirin Jaafari/The World

“We’re asking relatives of Ukrainian soldiers to submit their DNA samples,” Dmytro Chubenko, Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor's Office spokesperson, told reporters outside the mobile clinic. “We’re constantly finding mass graves of Ukrainian soldiers, we’re examining their bodies and collecting their DNA samples […] to try and identify as many people that were buried here as possible.”

‘We will never forgive them’

There are 7,700 war crimes cases under investigation in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine alone, said Filchakov, from the Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office.

A map in his office marked the areas where those investigations are being carried out. Some are off-limits, he said, because they remain under Russian occupation. Others are mined, or are too close to the border where Russian troops are stationed.

“Geographically, we are in an unfavorable position because we are close to the  border with the aggressive country [Russia],” he said.

Besides the arrests, torture and killing of Ukrainians, Filchakov added, the Russian forces have been implementing changes with the goal to erase Ukrainian identity.

Dmytro Leontyev, 41, lost his father on March 20. He said his neighbors buried him in the backyard but then Russian soldiers dug his body up and buried him in the mass grave. Leontyev hasn't been able to find his father's body. "He was a good man," he said. "He was a taxi driver his whole life. He helped everyone and everyone wanted to be his passenger."

Credit:

Shirin Jaafari 

“We have found documents that were signed by the occupying authorities where they were confiscating Ukrainian school books, and they were introducing Russian school programs,” he said. “In some cases, we found evidence that the Russians were rewriting history. For example, they were saying the famous Ukrainian poet [Taras] Shevchenko was Russian.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin started this war with the excuse to protect the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine, Filchakov said.

“My family lives here, my wife, my kids, my parents and overall people in the Kharkiv region are Russian speaking. He [Putin] is directing his army to kill our wives and our children. ​​All I can tell you is that we will never forgive them.”

Documenting war crimes

Beyond Izium, there are major efforts underway to document crimes committed by the Russian forces all over Ukraine.

Truth Hounds started this work in 2014 when Russia took over Crimea.

Roman Avramenko, executive director of Truth Hounds, at its office in Kyiv, Ukraine.
 

Credit:

Shirin Jaafari/The World

Earlier this year, when Russia invaded Ukraine, the nongovernmental organization redoubled its efforts to reach affected areas quickly to collect and document as much evidence as possible.

“This expertise that we developed and gained during previous years really helped us to contribute to the justice processes,” said Roman Avramenko, executive director at the Truth Hounds office in Kyiv.

When it comes to building a case, Avramenko explained, time is of the essence.

“Time flies, craters [get] filled […] people will forget details,” he said. “Some buildings have been repaired and restored. The evidence will just go away, in many cases forever, unfortunately.”

Before investigators leave on a trip, they collect as much data as they can. They search for videos, photos and social media posts online that could shed light on what happened. After verifying them, they go to the scene and begin interviewing witnesses and collecting evidence.

Avramenko gave an example of a recent successful investigation. In March, at least 10 people were killed in an attack on people standing in line for bread in the northeast city of Chernihiv. An American was among the victims.

“We were able to prove there were no immediate military targets that potentially could be legal targets for this attack,” he said. “And that the Russian troops used weapons of indiscriminate nature.”

Avramenko and his team are working to bring cases to courts in Ukraine and outside. He suspects the extent of the crimes committed by the Russian forces to be far beyond what they can document and prove in court.

“The Ukrainians have been so dehumanized in the eyes of the regular Russian soldier that they see no difference between killing a cat or killing a child,” he said.

Volodymyr Solohub supported the reporting of this story.

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Count me in!Related ContentNorth Korea-Russia relations are warming up amid war in UkraineIzium was liberated in September. The hard work of returning back to normal has only begun.War in Ukraine spurs new bonds between historians of shared Soviet past'I thought we were going to die': A Ukrainian woman speaks out about her ordeal as a prisoner of war

China has a police network that stretches across some 30 countries, NGO says

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>China has a police network that stretches across some 30 countries, NGO says

The Madrid-based nongovernmental organization Safeguard Defenders says that China has an extended police network in dozens of countries around the world, with the goal of coercing criminal suspects to return home to China. Beijing doesn't deny they exist, but says they are legitimate and used for legal purposes.

The WorldNovember 21, 2022 · 3:00 PM EST

This address is listed on an official police website back in China as an “Overseas Police Service Center,” but the locale appears abandoned. 

Gerry Hadden/The World

Dutch police have arrested a man suspected of working for an alleged illegal police network run by the Chinese government.

Human rights groups say the arrest could be just the tip of the iceberg. Safeguard Defenders, a Madrid-based nongovernmental organization, said that a Chinese police network is active in some 30 countries around the world. And the group says its goals are to coerce criminal suspects to return home to China — while silencing dissent overseas.

The Chinese government doesn’t deny the network exists. But it says that it's lawful, and sometimes helps “persuade” legitimate criminal suspects to return to China to face trial. The government even boasts of their success rate. China’s Ministry for Public Security claims police have persuaded some 230,000 suspects — most of them alleged telecom scammers — to return home voluntarily between April 2021 to July 2022.

What the ministry doesn’t disclose, however, is its methods. Human rights activists say that Chinese authorities use coercion and threats to pressure people to return.

“It’s very simple,” said Laura Harth, a researcher with Safeguard Defenders. “They target your family. They might take benefits away from your family members.”

They even confiscate their bank accounts or their houses, she added. “Their kids might be banned from going to certain schools, and so on.”

Harth said the global network of overseas police stations that have been set up in recent years run covert operations against political dissidents who live far away — the process usually beginning online.

“The overseas police sent a telegram message to me,” recounted political dissident Wang Jinyu, who was granted asylum in the Netherlands this year. “He wanted to meet with me. And I refused. [Afterward], he kept calling me.”

“He also asked me to go back to China to solve my problem,” Wang said. “Also, he asked me, [to think] about my parents” — a direct threat against my family.

Wang said China is after him for his anti-government posts on social media. He said that his father has been jailed back home, and that his mother has gone into hiding. Wang said that Chinese police in Europe have also been stalking him.

“I was just walking on the street and a man with clothes of the People's Republic of China army stopped me.”

Wang Jinyu, Chinese political dissident with asylum in the Netherlands

“I was just walking on the street and a man with clothes of the People's Republic of China army stopped me,” he recalled. “He says, ‘You are a criminal. I will catch you.’ Like this. And many, many times like this.”

Wang said last year, a man with a knife even tried to break into his apartment, but fled when he called the police.

It wasn’t the first time Wang has sought police protection. He called his local precinct with each threat. After the knife incident, an unidentified officer told Wang that if the Chinese government was indeed behind this, there was only one truly secure place for him.

“The safest place to stay is a prison,” the officer said in an audio recording made by Wang. “They can’t come into the prison.”

And Wang said he understands.

China denies allegations

China denies that it’s threatening dissidents abroad. But professor Dani Bello, an expert on international security at Webster University in St. Louis, has his doubts. He said that China has been going after critics overseas since the 1990s. The only thing that’s changed is the rise in surveillance technology — making it easier to find people.

“It's shocking, but not surprising,” Bello said. “They’re trying to create an environment where people who leave China do not actually work against Beijing’s agenda.”  

They can’t do it directly, Bello explained, so they look for other ways that will create an opportunity for plausible deniability. 

“In other words,” he said, “‘if we’re caught, we can say we’re not doing it.’”

And that’s where activists say the overseas police service stations come in. The stations often act on behalf of domestic security authorities from specific Chinese cities. And they operate out of existing businesses, such as a restaurant or a legal services office.

Beijing insists the stations act lawfully. One Chinese diplomat tweeted recently that the services can help citizens renew their driver’s licenses.

But when a Spain-based journalist named Yuan Lee called one of the stations in the municipality of Torrejón de Ardoz, he was told they couldn't help him.

“The agent just told me if I want to renew my license, I need to go to Madrid, to a Chinese neighborhood there called Usera,” Lee said.

Once there, Lee was told, he should ask around for a man named Chen Enguang. No address or telephone number was provided. He was just instructed to ask around on the street.

“That doesn’t seem very logical,” Lee said.

So, if the overseas police can’t help with driver’s licenses, what services do they offer? In Barcelona, it’s hard to tell, because you can’t even find them. One location, listed on the official WeChat account of the police from the southern coastal Chinese city of Fuzhou, turned out to be an empty storefront.

A second address was a document translation business for Chinese citizens. And the employees inside said they’d never heard of Chinese Police Overseas Service Stations.

The Chinese Consulate in Barcelona didn’t reply to questions emailed by The World about the stations. The consul, however, recently urged the press not to create “false scandals and drama.”

Investigations worldwide

Numerous countries are now actively investigating the Chinese police network, including Germany, Spain, Australia, Chile and the United States. In the Netherlands, police have just detained a suspected Chinese overseas police agent, one who called dissident Wang days earlier.

After the agent told Wang that he should meet him at the Starbucks at The Hague’s central station, or that he’d be arrested in the night, Wang agreed — but alerted the Dutch police first.

The police went with him to the train station, where he called back the suspicious number and began filming with his phone when a man answered.

“They’ve finally caught the Chinese Communist Party gangsters,” Wang said in the video, as two officers approached the man. The police asked Wang to stop filming, but they detained the suspect and took him in for questioning.

“I feel it is a little bit of a victory,” Wang said, “because finally we [caught] one guy, one Chinese overseas police” — an alleged policeman still being investigated. 

Human rights groups in Europe are also feeling optimistic. Last month, the European Court on Human Rights halted the extradition of a criminal suspect from Poland to China on grounds that the man could be tortured or mistreated by Chinese authorities. That ruling, which is precedent setting, could effectively prevent dozens of nations, mostly in Europe, from sending anyone back to face trial in China.

Related: Massive data breach in China raises questions around govt's responsibility in securing data, expert says

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Qatar opens World Cup with lavish half-hour ceremony

“MuiTypography-root-320 MuiTypography-h1-325″>Qatar opens World Cup with lavish half-hour ceremonyAssociated PressNovember 21, 2022 · 9:30 AM EST

A giant inflatable copy of the trophy is displayed prior to the start of the World Cup group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Nov. 20, 2022.

Darko Bandic/AP

Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman extended one yellow-gloved hand to a FIFA World Cup ambassador suffering from a rare spinal disorder in an image meant to represent inclusion in a country facing international criticism over its human rights record.

It wasn't the biggest moment of Sunday's seven-act World Cup opening ceremony ahead of the match between host country Qatar and Ecuador. The largest cheers were reserved for the Mideast and African leaders watching from their luxury suites in Bedouin-tent inspired Al Bayt Stadium.

In fact, it was Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani who drew a thunderous applause in a short speech delivered in Arabic from the suite.

“We have worked hard, along with many people, to make it one of the most successful tournaments,” he said. “We have exerted all efforts and invested for the good of all humanity.”

He was seated between FIFA president Gianni Infantino and his father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who secured the World Cup for the tiny gulf nation 12 years ago.

“How beautiful it is for people to put aside what divides them in order to celebrate their diversity and what brings them together at the same time,” Sheikh Tamim said, his words translated into English on a video screen inside the stadium.

“I wish all the participating teams a magnificent football performance, high sportsmanship, and a time full of joy, excitement and delight for you all,” he continued. “And let there be days that are inspiring with goodness and hope."

He then said, “I welcome you and good luck to all,” in his only words spoken in English.

Sheikh Hamad, viewed as the modernizer of Qatar during his 18 years as ruler, further delighted the crowd by autographing an official World Cup shirt handed to him by his son. He then held the shirt up to the crowd.

Qatar, home to 3 million people, most of them migrant workers, has spent more than $200 billion on preparation for the World Cup. Seven new stadiums were built, including the 60,000-seat Al Bayt Stadium north of Doha.

The opening ceremony was meant to introduce Qatar to the world through its culture with a theme of “bridging distances.” Creative director Ahmad Al Baker wanted the ceremony to signify “a gathering for all mankind, an invitation to come together as one, bridging all differences with humanity, respect and inclusion.”

“Finally, we have reached the opening day, the day you have been eagerly waiting for,” Sheikh Tamim said. "We will follow, and with us the whole world, God willing, the great football festival, in this spacious ambience for human and civilized communication.

“People of different races, nationalities, faiths and orientations will gather here in Qatar, and around screens on all continents to share the same exciting moments.”

His words hit the mark as Sheikh Tamim was joined in the stadium suite by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, two leaders who had boycotted Qatar for years. Not present were the leaders of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, the two other nations involved in the boycott.

There were no major Western leaders in attendance, as Qatar is under intense scrutiny for its treatment of the migrant workers who prepped the nation for the World Cup, as well as the LGBTQ community. Gay and lesbian sex is criminalized in Qatar.

But among those who did attend the opening match were UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Senegalese President Macky Sall, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Kuwait’s crown prince came, along with the director-general of the World Health Organization and Djibouti’s president. Also present was Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

They listened as BTS' Jung Kook, while Qatari singer and producer Fahad Al Kubaisi debuted the single “Dreamers,” produced specifically for the World Cup.

Then came remarks from Infantino, who spoke in Arabic, Spanish and finally English to officially open the tournament.

“Dear friends, welcome, welcome, to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022,” Infantino said in English. “Welcome to celebrate football because football unites the world. And now let’s welcome the teams and let the show begin.”

As “The Business” by Tiesto blasted over the speakers, Qatar and Ecuador took to the field and the World Cup officially began.

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Uruguayan musician Jorge Drexler wins big at Latin Grammy Awards

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>Uruguayan musician Jorge Drexler wins big at Latin Grammy Awards

Singer and songwriter Jorge Drexler, from Uruguay, took home the most trophies at the Latin Grammy Awards ceremony in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Thursday.

The WorldNovember 18, 2022 · 2:00 PM EST

Jorge Drexler poses in the press room with his Grammys at the 23rd annual Latin Grammy Awards at the Mandalay Bay Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas, Nov. 17, 2022.

John Locher/AP

Jorge Drexler was nominated for seven Latin Grammy awards on Thursday and took home six — more than any other artist up for an award at the ceremony in Las Vegas, including two of the most coveted prizes for record and song of the year.

Like many artists and musicians, Drexler used his time during the COVID-19 pandemic to get creative.

During the height of the pandemic, he composed the songs featured in his new album “Tinta y Tiempo,” or “Ink and Time,” in which he collaborated with reknowned singers like Ruben Blades, C-Tangana, and Noga Erez.

But for Drexler, who was born in Uruguay and lives in Spain, it wasn’t easy coming up with new songs during a time of complete isolation.

“The pandemic was hard on everybody, and I guess it affected people differently, depending on their personality. I found it very, very difficult, especially to finish the songs.”

He said he discovered something new about himself: that he likes writing in isolation, but only up to a certain point.

“Once I’ve got the first draft of a new tune, I need to play it or say it to another human being, I need to feel the presence of another person to direct that writing. It's strange. I didn't know I needed that.”

The album title is “kind of a prayer,” he said, a prayer for creative inspiration, to finally finish writing the songs.

“And when I found myself in that writer's block, I tried to relax and think that, you know, what has to be written will be written in the end. Just let the ink and time do the work on the blank page.”

Drexler said that with this album he is paying homage to the blank page, and that’s why the cover of the new album is completely white.

“The blank page is a promise of possibilities. Anything can fall into a blank page. But for every battle that you win against the blank page, which is every finished song you have, I have at least 10 unfinished verses or songs that won't see the light of day. So, I paid homage to them.”

Jorge Drexler accepts the award for record of the year for "Tocarte" at the 23rd annual Latin Grammy Awards at the Mandalay Bay Michelob Ultra Arena on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, in Las Vegas.

Credit:

Chris Pizzello/AP

In this album he also explores different styles and genres. In the song “Oh Algoritmo!” He teamed up with Israeli rapper Noga Erez, who he met on social media in the middle of the pandemic, and they created lyrics together on Zoom.

“Tell me what I have to sing. Oh, mighty algorithm! I know that you know it better than I do,” he sings.

He said the song reflects on the concept of free will.

“We talk a lot about freedom, but many many times we prefer to let somebody else or something else make the decision for [us]. They might be politicians or they might be algorithms.”

Drexler was trained as a doctor, but after studying medicine for 10 years, he realized he wanted to dedicate his life to music.

After 30 years — and many successes — he said he’s changed a lot.

“As you evolve as a human being, your songs also evolve with you, and things that were right at some point of your life, become wrong at some other point of your life. And you will find songs that contradict one another, like periods of my life that contradict one another.”

Asked what he thinks now about the Jorge Drexler of 30 years ago, he said: “I would tell Jorge of 1992 to not listen to Jorge’s 2022 advice. Just follow the way, make every mistake again, and find your way.”

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North Korea-Russia relations are warming up amid war in Ukraine

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>North Korea-Russia relations are warming up amid war in Ukraine

Russia’s relationship with North Korea goes back decades. Now, there are reports that Russia is getting military assistance from North Korea amid the war in Ukraine. Yet, both governments deny it. 

The WorldNovember 17, 2022 · 3:45 PM EST

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un shake hands during their meeting in Vladivostok, Russia on April 25, 2019. North Korea on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, accused the United States of cooking up a "plot-breeding story" on its alleged arms transfer to Russia, arguing it has never sent artillery shells to Moscow.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP/Pool/File

The Russian military has been steadily losing ground in Ukraine for months. That’s despite the fact the Kremlin has mobilized tens of thousands of new recruits for the war. 

Moscow is also getting help from abroad. Iran is supplying Russia with drones. And, according to Western officials, the Iranians are providing ballistic missiles as well. 

Now, there are reports that Russia is getting assistance from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as well, with the country providing artillery shells, rockets and winter military uniforms to Russia. 

Yet, both governments deny it. 

“We have information that despite the public denials that we’ve heard from the DPRK, that the DPRK is covertly supplying Russia’s war in Ukraine, with a significant number of artillery shells,” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said earlier this month.

Russia’s relationship with the country goes back decades.

Sung-yoon Lee, who teaches Korean politics and foreign relations at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, said that the role of the Soviet Union is crucial to the history of North Korea. 

Kim Il-sung, the founder of the North Korean state, was glorified by the former Soviet Union. Kim was an officer in the Soviet Army. After World War II, Joseph Stalin chose Kim to be the leader of North Korea, and supported his decision to invade South Korea in 1950. 

“The Soviet Union became thereafter North Korea’s most important supporter militarily, politically, and perhaps most importantly, economically, throughout the Cold War,” Lee said. 

That relationship was not always smooth. And with the fall of the Soviet Union, relations between Russia and North Korea cooled down a lot.

But a decade later, that changed. Pyongyang rolled out the red carpet for Vladimir Putin when he became the first top leader of either the Soviet Union or Russia to visit North Korea, Lee said. During that visit, crowds at the airport cheered and waved Russian and North Korean flags to welcome Putin. Lee said this was the start of a new era of warmer relations between Russia and North Korea.

“When it comes to security matters, the two nations have always been partners, and with Putin’s dreadful war in Ukraine, the old dynamics of the cold war, Russia, China, North Korea on one side, and the United States, South Korea and Japan on the other side, this Cold War rift has come back,” Lee explained. 

He said it makes sense for Kim Il-sung’s grandson, Kim Jong-un, to be supplying Putin with military equipment.  

Fyodor Tertitskiy agrees. He’s a researcher at Kookmin University in South Korea, where he studies the North Korean military.

Tertitskiy said the Russian military has lost a lot of their modern equipment in Ukraine, and they’re now using older artillery and tanks.

“For that, you need ammunition, and North Korean uses a lot of Soviet equipment, and North Korean can supply exactly this kind of ammunition which might have been provided to them by the USSR ironically,” he said. 

Tertitskiy said North Korea needs the cash, as well as oil, food and humanitarian assistance from Russia. And the country is very military industry-oriented, he said, putting it in a good position to provide military hardware. 

Tertitsky said there’s reason to be skeptical — there hasn’t been a smoking gun, or concrete evidence that North Korea is supplying Russia with lots of weaponry. 

But he said the fact that these reports are so believable says something about the state of Russia’s military and its war in Ukraine.

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‘The system is broken’: At COP27, developing countries push for more money to adapt to climate change

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>'The system is broken': At COP27, developing countries push for more money to adapt to climate change

Some climate change impact is now unavoidable. At the COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh this month, developing nations have been pushing for more funding, canceled debt and changes to the global financial system to help them address the funding gaps they face in dealing with climate change.

The WorldNovember 17, 2022 · 2:15 PM EST

The Nehr-i-Khayyam drainage ditch in Karachi, Pakistan, where sewage and trash collect and can impede the flow of stormwater.

Carolyn Beeler/ The World

In the wake of Pakistan’s catastrophic flooding this year, the World Bank estimated it will cost the country $152 billion over the next eight years to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

As warming temperatures push up sea levels, bring more intense storms and fuel deadly heat waves, the costs of readying infrastructure and populations for this onslaught in developing countries will tally into hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

Yet funding flowing to those countries is five to 10 times less than what’s actually needed, according to the UN.

At the COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh this month, developing nations have been pushing for more funding, canceled debt and changes to the global financial system to help them address this funding gap.

“I understand that we all have to do more, Pakistan has to do more to reinvent itself,” said Pakistan’s Climate Minister Sherry Rehman, speaking about the need for adaptation.  “I also appreciate and think that all our partners have to do the same.”

The need for adaptation is clear in the coastal megacity of Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial hub.

“Karachi is vulnerable when we think about all the possible four scenarios that you relate to climate change: flooding, drought, extreme heat and sea-level rise.”

Farhan Anwer, urban planner and academic in Karachi

“Karachi is vulnerable when we think about all the possible four scenarios that you relate to climate change: flooding, drought, extreme heat and sea-level rise,” said Farhan Anwer, an urban planner and academic in Karachi specializing in sustainable cities.

Critical infrastructure on Karachi’s coast now stands vulnerable to rising sea levels. Monsoon rains already cause annual flooding, including in the informal settlements built on the banks of the city’s stormwater drainage ditches.

Without a proper sewage or solid waste management system, those ditches become choked with both trash and human waste, Anwer said.

Standing near one of those ditches, Anwer explained that adapting to increasingly intense monsoon rains will require a range of infrastructure and policy upgrades.

“Unless we have an efficient sewage system, it will again be flooded with sewage water. If we don’t have a proper solid waste management system, people will continue to dump their garbage here,” he said. “If we don't have affordable housing schemes for the urban poor, they will continue to have settlements built along these areas.”

Anwer, who wrote an adaptation plan for Karachi a decade ago and consults with the World Bank, stressed that better governance in the city is essential to adapting to climate change.

But it also requires money.

Urban forests

In response to a deadly heat wave that struck his city in  2015, Karachi resident Shahzad Qureshi launched an urban forest in his neighborhood.

Since then, he founded the organization called Urban Forest and has gained international acclaim for creating 20 small, densely planted forests across Karachi — and more around the country — largely at the invitation of private landowners.

With a positive response, he said he thought he’d landed on a model that could be scaled up to help cool the city and alleviate monsoon flooding.

Shahzad Qureshi’s first urban forest, three densely planted acres in the Clifton neighborhood of Karachi, Pakistan.

Credit:

Carolyn Beeler/The World

“This is going to be a great respite,” he thought. “We're going to change the microclimate of Karachi!”

Quershi has since been working for years to gain support to scale his forests up, with a target of covering 25% of Karachi with trees. He’s shopped this idea around to government representatives and private citizens, but said he hasn’t yet gained much traction.

“The only thing actually stopping us is money,” he explained. “That's it.”

In 2010, developed countries pledged to raise and mobilize $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020. They missed that target by nearly $20 billion, and don’t appear on track to meet it until 2023.

And most of that money goes toward mitigation, or projects like renewable energy plants that help slash emissions.

Shahzad Qureshi at his first urban forest, in the Clifton neighborhood of Karachi, Pakistan.

Credit:

Carolyn Beeler/The World

Only 34%, or $28.6 billion, went to adaptation in 2020, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Chiara Falduto, who tracks climate finance for the OECD, said that’s partly because adaptation projects, like beefing up a city’s disaster response systems or helping farmers adapt to climate change, typically don’t offer a return on investment. And they’re largely funded by governments.  

“In the case of mitigation projects, this is different,” Falduto said.

Investors at a new solar power plant, for example, can expect a direct return on their investment when electricity is generated and sold.

At the COP27 summit in Sharm el-Sheikh this month, many developing countries are pushing for wealthy nations to strengthen pledges to double adaptation finance and achieve a balance between funding for adaptation and mitigation.

And Pakistan is calling for debt relief.

“I think we need partnerships for the future where the financial burdens on debt-ridden countries need to be reduced to deal with the post-existential climate crisis world,” climate minister Sherry Rehman said at the summit.

Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley is gaining traction for an initiative that would provide hundreds of billions of dollars in grants and low-interest loans to developing countries.

In G-7 countries, she told reporters at Sharm el-Sheikh, countries can borrow at interest rates between 1% and 4%.

“In most of the Global South, the average borrowing rates are now between 12 and 14%,” she said. “So, you begin to see the disparity.”

Mottley argues that these rates mean the so-called "Global South" countries rack up high levels of debt when borrowing to recover from climate-fueled disasters, and are then unable to invest in other priorities, including adaptation.

“The system is broken, and what we need to ensure is a more level playing field for the cost of capital, because it’s the cost of capital that will be borne and will crowd out our ability to finance other aspects of our development.”

Related: A Pakistani family sees firsthand the effects of climate change, as negotiators at COP27 battle over how to pay for them

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Count me in!Related ContentAt COP27, Lula promises to resume Brazil’s ‘leading role’ as a climate defenderA Pakistani family sees firsthand the effects of climate change, as negotiators at COP27 battle over how to pay for themLoss and damage: Who is responsible when climate change harms the world’s poorest countries?COP27: UN chief tells climate summit, Cooperate or perish

A school reopens in this small Spanish village after 47 years

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>A school reopens in this small Spanish village after 47 years

Back in the ‘70s, Argelita's village school in northeast Spain closed down because there just were not enough children. But now, after 47 years, children finally have a place to learn in town.

The WorldNovember 17, 2022 · 1:00 PM EST

Parents in Argelita fixed up this abandoned lot adjacent to the new school, turned it into a playground and garden.

Gerry Hadden/The World

Argelita is an idyllic, white-washed mountain village in northeast Spain, with an old public washhouse, a shaded river for swimming, a bar, a medieval church and sheep grazing on the nearby hills. But one thing that’s been missing for a long time is children.

Back in the ‘70s, the village school closed down because there just were not enough children. But now, after 47 years, children finally have a place to learn in town, at the village’s new school.

“I like it here more than at my old school,” fifth-grader Lola Brun said on a recent day during recess. “There, the kids would fight a lot.”

In Spain, a decadeslong exodus from the countryside to the cities has left hundreds of villages empty, or nearly so. Castellón, a region in Spain’s northeast, knows this well. It now has one of the lowest population densities in Europe. But the tiny village of Argelita has managed to reverse the trend.

Argelita’s newly reopened school has 24 students in its second year of operation. The school was shuttered in 1974 due to a lack of kids.

Credit:

Gerry Hadden/The World

Brun is one of 24 students at the new school. Her family moved to Argelita last year from a bigger town near the coast. Her mom is one of the teachers.

“At my old school we were in class all day,” Brun said “Here we have more free time. We can go outside on the playground.”

Just over a year ago, Argelita, with a population of about 100 and shrinking, was a much quieter place. The school has changed that. But the plan to revive the aging village started even earlier.

“We weren’t looking for a strategy to stop the exodus of residents,” said Amadeu Llach, Argelita’s lieutenant mayor. “We were already depopulated,” he said. “We needed a plan to bring families back.”

That is, families with kids. But Llach said the town knew that a school building alone wasn’t going to produce miracles. First, Argelita brought back some other basics like a supermarket, and then a pharmacy. 

“We almost never used to sell diapers or formula,” said assistant pharmacist Vicky Jimenez, on a tour of her tiny storefront. “Now we’ve got pacifiers,” she said, “and all the little things babies need.”

Argelita, in northeast Spain, has about 100 permanent residents. Among them, 11 kids, enough to open a school. Now more families want to move there.

Credit:

Gerry Hadden/The World

Next door, there’s another new, multiuse space. Depending on the day, residents can pop in for a haircut, or see the foot doctor or visiting physical therapist. All of this was put in place before the school opened. Only then did the town go after families.

And the plan seems to be working.

On a recent morning in the tiny town square, a young woman named Ayona Halili stopped for a coffee. “I moved to Argelita with my husband and three kids,” she said.

The Halilis are refugees from Albania. A couple of years back, Argelita put out a public call for immigrant families: “Move here with your kids, we’ll give you free housing and a job.” 

Soon, Argelita was welcoming a Kurdish family from Syria, a Colombian couple with two kids and the Halilis. The influx pushed the school-age population to 11, past the legal minimum threshold for a public school. 

“The town’s great,” Halilii said. “It’s so calm. It’s good for our kids. They really like it.”

Ayona Halili moved to Argelita with her husband and kids after the town sent out a call for immigrants. They’re refugees from Albania.

Credit:

Gerry Hadden/The World

Her husband was given a town job, maintaining the local forest. Their oldest son, Yegor, age 11, studies in the new school.

“I love that I can walk to school,” he said.  “It’s like 10 or 15 steps from my home. It’s a small town.”

Yegor did complain about homework, unsurprisingly. But he smiled as he did so. He seemed like a happy kid.

In fact, the whole town seems happy about the new school, and the new families who’ve made it possible, local baker Aitor Balfagón said.

“It’s brought us more life to the village,” he added. “There are kids playing in the streets. Before the school, after dinner, there was no action in the streets. Everyone just stayed home.”

A student at Argelita’s new school plays in the small courtyard.

Credit:

Gerry Hadden/The World

Balfagón also happens to be the town’s mayor. In between baking baguettes, he’s managed to get some new housing approved. Because now, he said, there’s a waiting list of families hoping to move here.

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Count me in!Related ContentBrazil election puts fate of public education in the spotlight India’s young tech professionals head to rural schools to fill education gaps Ghana’s school kids go hungry after caterers quit amid soaring food prices Remote learning in the Philippines has no end in sight

As India becomes the world’s most populous nation, engaging men in family planning ‘will be a game changer’

“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>As India becomes the world's most populous nation, engaging men in family planning ‘will be a game changer'

The United Nations projects that next year, India will surpass China and claim the title of the world’s most populous country. India’s population growth has actually been slowing down for many decades, thanks to comprehensive family planning — but the burden mostly falls on women.

The WorldNovember 17, 2022 · 11:15 AM EST

Pregnant women hold their medical cards and wait for their turn to be examined at a government hospital on World Population Day in Hyderabad, India, Friday, July 11, 2014. 

Mahesh Kumar A./AP

At the district women’s hospital in Meerut, about 50 miles from India’s capital New Delhi, 32-year-old Moni Devi cradled her pregnant belly as she sat in a metal chair waiting for a routine checkup. 

“This pregnancy was unplanned,” Devi said. She and her husband already have two children — a girl and a boy. They didn’t want any more, she said, because their family’s financial situation is unstable. Devi’s husband works in the private sector where job security isn’t guaranteed. “I considered an abortion, but my in-laws were against it, so we’re going to keep the baby,” she said.

She’s not taking any more chances though. Soon after her delivery, she said she will undergo a tubectomy, or female sterilization, to prevent any unwanted pregnancies in the future.

Women across India echo Devi’s rationale for wanting a small family. Government data shows India’s total fertility rate, which is the average number of children per woman, has dropped to two (just below replacement rate, the rate at which a population exactly replaces itself without migration). In the 1950s, it was around six, suggesting that India’s population is stabilizing.

On Nov. 15, the world’s total population crossed the 8 billion mark. India, with a population of about 1.4 billion, is the second-most populous nation in the world. The United Nations projects that next year, India will surpass China and claim the title of the world’s most populous country. But demographers in India aren’t panicking, because India’s population growth has actually been slowing down for many decades. 

“The population explosion age has gone now and we are in a reasonable growth period, it is not a very alarming growth anymore,” said K. S. James, director of the International Institute of Population Sciences in Mumbai.

The credit goes to a decadesold, government-run family planning program which has successfully reduced India’s fertility rate through awareness programs and increased access to contraceptives, and without coercive measures like China’s one-child policy.

In this Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, photo, migrant women gather to attend the awareness and service camp under National Rural Health Mission at a very remote Baralakhaiti village on the sandbars of River Brahmaputra, about 43 miles north of Gauhati, India. 

Credit:

Anupam Nath/AP

Family planning burden falls on women

In rural areas across India, female health workers like Somvati Asar spread awareness about contraception in their communities. Every week, Asar goes door-to-door in a handful of villages under her care in western Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. She advises women to maintain a minimum three-year-gap between successive births and distributes condoms and contraceptives. In her four years on the job, she said she has convinced dozens of women to undergo contraceptive procedures like IUD insertion and female sterilization. But she has only been able to convince one man so far for a vasectomy, she said.

“Men think getting a vasectomy is an attack on their self-respect,” Asar said. Many refuse to get it done despite governmental financial incentives to those who opt for it. Another health worker said that men flatly refuse to talk to her about family planning. 

Alok Vajpeyi, a public health researcher at the New Delhi-based Population Foundation of India, said there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about male sterilization.

“Men think that they will lose their virility or they won't be able to enjoy sex after going through vasectomy,” Vajpeyi said, and as a result, “the onus of family planning rests on women — the entire burden falls on women.”

Wooden boxes full of free condoms are mounted on the walls on Meerut's district women's hospital.

Credit:

Sushmita Pathak/The World

Among modern contraceptive methods, government data shows the rate of female sterilization is nearly 38% whereas male sterilization is a paltry 0.3%. In the coming years, Vajpeyi said India needs to do more to encourage men to take part in family planning, through targeted social and behavioral change communication campaigns. 

Kuhika Seth, a social scientist who studies issues related to sexuality and reproduction, said that engaging men in family planning would be a game changer. 

The shift has begun in small ways. Family planning awareness drives in rural areas, for example, used to be called mother-in-law and daughter-in-law meetups. Now, the sons are also a part of it.

The burden of family planning falls largely on women. Getting men more involved would be a game changer. 

Credit:

Sushmita Pathak/The World

Increased access to various types of birth control

India’s family planning program has relied heavily on one method of contraception — female sterilization, which is by far the most common method. Health workers and women preferred it because it was a one-time procedure that didn’t require any follow-ups.

But the method may not be appropriate for young couples who are increasingly delaying having children, said Andrea Wojnar, India representative at the United Nations Population Fund, adding that India’s youth needs reversible contraception methods.

“It's really important for the government to make sure that there is a full range of family planning options,” Wojnar said. That includes temporary methods such as IUDs, contraceptive pills, injectables and condoms. Usage of these different methods has been increasing, albeit slowly.

Posters and flyers about family planning adorn the walls at the district women's hospital in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state.

Credit:

Sushmita Pathak/The World

Harnessing demographic advantages

India is home to the largest cohort of young people, with 52% of Indians below the age of 30. The country is currently enjoying this demographic advantage. 

“Fortunately, for the coming several decades India will have [an] advantage, because India's bulk of the population will be in the working-age group,” James said. 

But leveraging this demographic advantage depends on a significant increase in the rate of women who participate in the workforce. Currently, only about 20% of Indian women above the age of 15 are employed — among the lowest for emerging economies — and has been in a gradual decline for several years. Gains in family planning mean that Indian women aren’t spending as many years in child rearing and the next step is to make sure they can get an education and have access to job opportunities, James said.

Family planning is encouraged throughout the halls of the district women's hospital in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state.

Credit:

Sushmita Pathak/The World

While India is a youthful country, its aging population is also growing. By 2050, India will have thrice as many people over the age of 60 as it does now. 

“That will bring about challenges of greater investments needed for elderly care, pensions, housing assistance services,” Wojnar, with the UN, said.

Still, India’s growing population should be seen as an opportunity, she said. 

“India has the upper hand. They have a very strong deck of cards to play in taking the population and the world forward,” Wojnar said. 

“The thing to keep in mind is where women and girls have decision-making power, where they're educated and where they're able to exercise their reproductive rights and choices, this is where the country will succeed.”

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