[News] Around The Rest of World

A posting place for news from places around the globe, outside of the US/Europe.

Aetius wrote:

And "artificially" inflating property values? That's like saying that high demand for iPhones "artificially" inflates the smart phone market - it is the market, and thus can't be artificial.

Relationship between the Chinese housing and marriage markets

VoxDev wrote:

In Chinese cities, people are required to make a down payment equal to one third of the housing price to buy their first property—much higher than in many developed countries. The down payment requirement for second homes is as high as 70% in many cities. In the absence of formal credit in rural areas, people have to finance home construction using their own savings and by borrowing from friends or relatives. In principle, such a stringent down payment threshold and a less-developed financial system should inhibit homeownership and home price escalation. Instead, the opposite is occurring. In a recent article, we offer a new explanation to this puzzle (Wei et al. 2017). The rapid rise of home prices in China can most readily be explained by the drive to attract a prospective spouse.

Due in part to the one-child policy, there were 120 Chinese men for every 100 Chinese women as of 2005—in some provinces this ratio is as high as 130 to 100. If we assume everyone desires a traditional male-female long-term relationship, this means that there are some 30 million Chinese men who might be unable to find a suitable partner. With the sex ratio imbalance in favour of women, mothers-in-law—who play a key role arranging marriages—have become choosy. Everything else being equal, richer families with marriageable sons should be more appealing to the mothers of potential brides. One of the most visible symbols of this status competition comes through housing. Compared with consumer goods like cars, suits, and watches, houses are large, fixed in location, and their price is easily verified. A survey of Chinese mothers with young daughters by Shanghai Daily in March 2010 showed that 80% would object to their daughters marrying a non-homeowner. This places a lot of pressure on Chinese families with sons to demonstrate their value through homeownership. Since the turn of the century, increasing competition in the marriage market—triggered by a rise in the ratio of men to women in the pre-marital age cohort—can thus be a fundamental source of the increases in housing value.

To test this hypothesis, our study explored regional variations in Chinese sex ratios and linked them with regional variations in the size and price of houses. We found that home prices are higher and home sizes are bigger in cities with more skewed sex ratios. Strikingly, the sex ratio imbalance explained between half and one-third of the increase in housing prices in 25 major cities between 2003 and 2009. The results held even with the exclusion of major cities—Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen—where foreign housing speculation has become common. Interestingly, there is no relationship between imbalanced sex ratios and rental prices.

The findings suggest that some of the increases in home size and home cost are socially inefficient; a lot of the money pouring into the housing market could be put to more productive use elsewhere. Men pursue larger and costlier homes and suppress their consumption of non-positional goods with the hope of improving their status in the marriage market. However, in the aggregate, sex ratios still rule—the number of men who cannot be married is unchanged. If every household cuts down demand for housing proportionally, all could consume more non-positional goods while the marriage market would not, at least, get any worse for single men.

Prederick wrote:

Rukmini Callimachi is amazing, FYI.

Continuing along this thread, she and the NYT have a new podcast project out called "Caliphate" about the Islamic State and the fall of Mosul. It is, again, quite not-bad.

Should a post about Turkey go in the "All Around the World" thread or the "European Political Landscape" thread? A question even the EU hasn't figured out yet.

Is an AKP victory inevitable in upcoming Turkish polls?

As the shock of early elections announced yesterday begins to recede, a sense of inevitability is seizing Turkey. No matter what, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will emerge victorious, or so groupthink has it. The presidential and parliamentary votes — moved forward to June 24 from their scheduled date of Nov. 3, 2019 — will be held under emergency rule, seemingly allowing Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to retain their iron grip.

With last month’s sale of Turkey’s last notionally independent media empire, the Dogan group, to a pro-government businessman, state control of public messaging is near absolute. Selahattin Demirtas — the charismatic former co-chair of the largest pro-Kurdish bloc who dazzled voters with his witty digs at Erdogan in past campaigns — sits behind bars, along with thousands of other critics. Meral Aksener, a right-wing nationalist contender, will have difficulty attracting the Kurdish votes deemed critical for defeating Erdogan. Abdullah Gul, the former president and AKP co-founder viewed as Erdogan’s sole credible rival, has thus far shown no interest in running.

Furthermore, a new law passed by the AKP-dominated parliament allowing civil servants to monitor polling, for unstamped votes to be counted as valid and for ballot boxes to be moved around all suggest that Erdogan is bent on winning by any means. Can he? With the odds stacked so heavily in Erdogan’s favor, the answer is probably yes, but it won’t be a shoo-in.

Various opinion polls suggest that Erdogan and his Nationalist Action Party (MHP) ally, Devlet Bahceli, will between the two of them garner less than 50% of the votes. To win in the first round of balloting, presidential candidates need to surpass 50%.

Aykan Erdemir, a former parliamentarian for the secular, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Al-Monitor, “If Erdogan were so confident about his own power, he would not be holding early elections. This is the first time we see him showing signs of panic.”

The main reason for Erdogan's concern is Turkey’s unraveling economy. “A relatively stable economy, which kept the AKP in power all these years, is now coming apart at the seams and there is no easy fix,” Erdemir said. “As people’s finances shrink, Erdogan’s talk of Western conspiracies is beginning to ring hollow.”

An interesting take that perhaps Erdogan isn't as strong as we think, but I sincerely doubt the man's political standing is anything other than rock-solid right now.

He will ‘win’ even if it is not legitimate. That country is well on the path to a dictatorship.

By Stifling Migration, Sudan’s Feared Secret Police Aid Europe

ABU JAMAL, Sudan — At Sudan’s eastern border, Lt. Samih Omar led two patrol cars slowly over the rutted desert, past a cow’s carcass, before halting on the unmarked 2,000-mile route that thousands of East Africans follow each year in trying to reach the Mediterranean, and then onward to Europe.

His patrols along this border with Eritrea are helping Sudan crack down on one of the busiest passages on the European migration trail. Yet Lieutenant Omar is no simple border agent. He works for Sudan’s feared secret police, whose leaders are accused of war crimes — and, more recently, whose officers have been accused of torturing migrants.

Indirectly, he is also working for the interests of the European Union.

“Sometimes,” Lieutenant Omar said, “I feel this is Europe’s southern border.”

Three years ago, when a historic tide of migrants poured into Europe, many leaders there reacted with open arms and high-minded idealism. But with the migration crisis having fueled angry populism and political upheaval across the Continent, the European Union is quietly getting its hands dirty, stanching the human flow, in part, by outsourcing border management to countries with dubious human rights records.

In practical terms, the approach is working: The number of migrants arriving in Europe has more than halved since 2016. But many migration advocates say the moral cost is high.

To shut off the sea route to Greece, the European Union is paying billions of euros to a Turkish government that is dismantling its democracy. In Libya, Italy is accused of bribing some of the same militiamen who have long profited from the European smuggling trade — many of whom are also accused of war crimes.

In Sudan, crossed by migrants trying to reach Libya, the relationship is more opaque but rooted in mutual need: The Europeans want closed borders and the Sudanese want to end years of isolation from the West. Europe continues to enforce an arms embargo against Sudan, and many Sudanese leaders are international pariahs, accused of committing war crimes during a civil war in Darfur, a region in western Sudan.

‘They Eat Money’: How Mandela’s Political Heirs Grow Rich Off Corruption

VREDE, South Africa — With loudspeakers blaring, city officials drove across the black township’s dirt roads in a pickup truck, summoning residents to the town hall. The main guest was a local figure who had soared up the ranks of the governing African National Congress and come back with an enticing offer.

Over the next few hours, the visiting political boss, Mosebenzi Joseph Zwane, sold them on his latest deal: a government-backed dairy farm that they, as landless black farmers, would control. They would get an ownership stake in the business, just by signing up. They would go to India for training, all expenses paid. To hear him tell it, the dairy would bring jobs to the impoverished, help build a clinic and fix the roads.

“He said he wanted to change our lives,” said Ephraim Dhlamini, who, despite suspicions that the offer was too good to be true, signed up to become a “beneficiary” of the project. “This thing is coming from the government, free of charge. You can’t say you don’t like this thing. You must take it.”

But, sure enough, his instincts were right.

The dairy farm turned out to be a classic South African fraud, prosecutors say: Millions of dollars from state coffers, meant to uplift the poor, vanished in a web of bank accounts controlled by politically connected companies and individuals.

The money from an array of state contracts like this one helped pay for a lavish wedding that a top executive at KPMG, the international accounting firm, described as “an event of the millennium,” according to leaked emails. And Mr. Zwane, continuing his meteoric rise, soon leaped to the national stage to become South Africa’s minister of mineral resources.

Almost nothing trickled down to the township or the scores of would-be beneficiaries after that first meeting in 2012. The only local residents to get a free trip to India were members of a church choir headed by Mr. Zwane.

In the generation since apartheid ended in 1994, tens of billions of dollars in public funds — intended to develop the economy and improve the lives of black South Africans — have been siphoned off by leaders of the A.N.C., the very organization that had promised them a new, equal and just nation.

Corruption has enriched A.N.C. leaders and their business allies — black and white South Africans, as well as foreigners. But the supposed beneficiaries of many government projects, in whose names the money was spent, have been left with little but seething anger and deepening disillusionment with the state of post-apartheid South Africa.

While poverty has declined since the end of apartheid, inequality has risen in a society that was already one of the world’s most unequal, according to a recent report by the World Bank and the South African government.

South Africa has a large, advanced economy, an aggressively free press and a wealth of independent organizations and scholars who keep a close watch on government malfeasance. But even with its vibrant democracy, in which the details of corruption schemes are routinely aired and condemned by the news media and opposition politicians, graft has engulfed the country.

Nothing undermines a nation quite like corruption, for my money. I post this because of a NPR story I heard a few days ago on SA:

South African Government Ramping Up Efforts To Get More Land Into Black Ownership


The government of South Africa is ramping up efforts to get more land into black ownership. A controversial plan under consideration would seize property from owners without paying them and redistribute it. Land reform has been a key issue since the end of white minority rule 24 years ago, but blacks still largely don't hold land. Peter Granitz reports from Pretoria.

PETER GRANITZ, BYLINE: Twenty-five-year-old John Ratema is a college graduate armed with an education in finance, but he's unemployed. Joblessness in South Africa is high, and he's had no luck finding anything in his field. So now he says he's contemplating a future in farming.

JOHN RATEMA: Because I grew up in a place where we used to do gardens and so for - to - for living. The spinach, tomatoes - and tried just to sell them.

GRANITZ: The catch - he doesn't own any land. The garden plot of his youth was in far northern South Africa. He moved here to central Pretoria for school and stayed hoping to find work. On this Sunday morning, Ratema is registering to vote. He supports the left-wing political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, because of its calls to expropriate land without compensation.

RATEMA: We just want the land that is owned by the white people to give it back to the government.

GRANITZ: A government audit shows whites own 72 percent of South Africa's land and black South Africans, who make up 80 percent of the population, own just 4 percent. Since the end of apartheid in 1994, the government has tried various land reform policies, including a willing seller, willing buyer program. Critics of that system say the government has been too willing to buy land at inflated prices, and that the government is hoarding the land instead of transferring it to would-be farmers. President Cyril Ramaphosa says a quarter century into democracy, it's time to address the country's original sin.


GRANITZ: Here at Louis Meintjes' farm north of Pretoria, women transplant seedlings into four and six-packs of vegetables that will eventually be sold at local stores for people to plant at home. The women, eight full-time employees, work in shade huts on Meintjes' 103 acres. He says if the government takes his land, they'll be out of work.

LOUIS MEINTJES: If they come with us, they can say, I'm going to take your land and you're off. And I lose this. I'm 65 years old. My wife is 60 now. So we'd - I lose everything

GRANITZ: Meintjes bought the farm 37 years ago at the height of the apartheid era. And he says he's never been this nervous about losing his property even as the country transitioned to democracy. If the government wants to reallocate land, he says, it should start with the land it owns and give the new landowners title deeds.

MEINTJES: We need to give everybody a chance. But I did not steal my land. I've got a legal title deed. And that's the issue.

Two things here, for me.

First, I can understand Meintjes' statement he didn't steal the land, what he did was legal at the time. That said, the fact that he doesn't realize he "legally" acquired it during apartheid is kind of the problem (there's a comparison I'd use here, but I'd end up Godwinning the sh*t out of myself).

Second, however, while the idea in the idea in the NPR article may be well-intentioned, from what I've learned about the ANC in things like the first article and more, I absolutely, positively would not trust them to undertake such a policy. It is not unfair to say the party is shot through with graft and corruption.

Something interesting that I ran across while looking at that story:


At least when it comes to agricultural land, there has been far more transfer than is generally assumed.

That is what I've heard the farmers supporters arguing, and that part of the problem is that the transfer hasn't gone to Black farmers but instead to the government and their cronies.

Again, corruption renders any policy, no matter how idealistic, useless.

That feeling when you accidentally implode a mountain risking radiation leaks close to China's border...

North Korea nuclear test site collapse probably the reason behind disarmament talks

Exceptional work there.

Korea Talks Begin as Kim Jong-un Crosses to South’s Side of DMZ

SEOUL, South Korea — Kim Jong-un on Friday became the first North Korean leader to set foot in South Korean-controlled territory, starting a historic summit meeting with the South’s president that will test Mr. Kim’s willingness to bargain away his nuclear weapons.

Mr. Kim’s crossing of the line at the heart of the world’s most heavily armed border zone, a prospect that seemed unthinkable just a few months ago, was broadcast live in South Korea, where a riveted nation sought to discern the intentions of the North’s 34-year-old leader.

For South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, who has placed himself at the center of diplomacy to end the nuclear standoff with the North, the meeting presents a formidable task: finding a middle ground between a cunning enemy to the North and an impulsive ally in the United States.

The historic encounter at the Peace House, a conference building on the South Korean side of the border village of Panmunjom, could set the tone for an even more critical meeting planned between Mr. Kim and President Trump.

In Just a Week, ‘Nicaragua Changed’ as Protesters Cracked a Leader’s Grip

MASAYA, Nicaragua — The revolutionary, many Nicaraguans say, is suddenly facing a revolution of his own.

The insurrection that led to the rise of President Daniel Ortega and his Cold War struggles with the United States began here in Masaya 40 years ago. Mr. Ortega’s brother died fighting in this town, and an old national guard post still stands as a landmark to the uprising that brought their leftist guerrilla movement to power.

But in recent days, the guard post has been turned into a charred, vandalized mess. Protesters have even taken a famous war slogan and spray-painted it on the walls in a mocking warning to Mr. Ortega.

“Let your momma surrender,” it says.

Nicaragua is undergoing its biggest uprising since the civil war ended in 1990.

Faced with a presidential couple that controls virtually every branch of government and the news media, young people across the nation are carrying out their own version of an Arab Spring. Armed with cellphones and social media skills, their challenge to the government has astonished residents who lived through Mr. Ortega’s revolution in the 1970s, the civil war in the ’80s and the 30 years since then.

Demonstrators — many of them members of Mr. Ortega’s own party — have burned vehicles and barricaded intersections. Thousands have swarmed streets around the country, condemning government censorship and the killing of protesters. After fighting two wars, winning multiple elections and exerting very tight control over the country for years, Mr. Ortega has lost his grip on the masses and suddenly seems on the ropes.

From Siberia, an Unlikely Cry: ‘We Need Greenpeace Out Here!’

TAS-YURYAKH, Russia — At a truck stop at the northern terminus of the Vilyui ice highway in northeastern Siberia, drivers make small talk not about life on the road but rather the life of the road.

It might last another week, suggested one driver casually, tucking into a steaming plate of meatballs.

“Not likely,” countered Maxim A. Andreyevsky, 31, the driver of a crude oil tanker truck. “Didn’t you see the shimmer on the surface? It will be gone in a day or two.”

Every spring, thousands of miles of so-called winter highway in Russia, mostly serving oil and mining towns in Siberia and far northern European Russia, melt back into the swamps from which they were conjured up the previous fall. And every year, it seems to the men whose livelihoods depend upon it, the road of ice melts earlier.

Pope Francis in the Wilderness

VATICAN CITY — Five years ago, Pope Francis was elected to be an agent of change within a church shaken by scandals and the historic resignation of Benedict XVI. He quickly became a global force in geopolitics, setting the agenda on climate change and care for migrants. World leaders wanted to be near him. Even non-Catholics adored him.

Today, Francis is increasingly embattled. The political climate has shifted abruptly around the world, empowering populists and nationalists who oppose much of what he stands for. Conservative forces arrayed against him within the Vatican have been emboldened, seeking to thwart him on multiple fronts.

Yet a close look at his record since becoming pope and the strong reactions he has engendered also shows that Francis continues to get his way in reorienting the church. And his supporters say that the backlash against his views has only made his voice more vital in the debate inside and outside the church over the issues he has chosen to highlight, like migrants, economic inequality and the environment.

But even they concede that Francis’ message has fallen decidedly out of sync with the prevailing political times, in contrast to, say, Pope John Paul II, who provided the spiritual dimension for Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher’s battle against communism.

“This is the duty, even if it’s a losing effort,” Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture, said of the pope’s role as a global conscience. He said the pope still reached a large audience and exercised power, even if “the world is going in another direction.”

‘Their Country Is Being Invaded’: Exodus of Venezuelans Overwhelms Northern Brazil

PACARAIMA, Brazil — Hundreds turn up each day, many arriving penniless and gaunt as they pass a tattered flag that signals they have reached the border.

Once they cross, many cram into public parks and plazas teeming with makeshift homeless shelters, raising concerns about drugs and crime. The lucky ones sleep in tents and line up for meals provided by soldiers — pregnant women, the disabled and families with young children are often given priority. The less fortunate huddle under tarps that crumple during rainstorms.

The scenes are reminiscent of the waves of desperate migrants who have escaped the wars in Syria and Afghanistan, spurring a backlash in Europe. Yet this is happening in Brazil, where a relentless tide of people fleeing the deepening economic crisis in Venezuela has begun to test the region’s tolerance for immigrants.

This month, the governor of the northern Brazilian state of Roraima sued the federal government, demanding that it close the border with Venezuela and provide additional money for her overburdened education and health systems.

“We’re very fearful this may lead to an economic and social destabilization in our state,” said the governor, Suely Campos. “I’m looking after the needs of Venezuelans to the detriment of Brazilians.”

The tens of thousands of Venezuelans who have found refuge in Brazil in recent years are walking proof of a worsening humanitarian crisis that their government claims does not exist.

Replacing humans: Robots among us

"Anything you can do I can do better. And faster and cheaper." It's an enticing promise from a TV news announcer named Erica -- who happens to be a robot.

She's emblematic of a new generation of robotic technology that's being developed to supplement, or in some cases replace, the work of humans. Unlike the industrial robots that took over factory jobs in decades past, these robots have a more human touch and can interact with people in ways previously imagined only in science fiction.

CBS News' Adam Yamaguchi traveled to Japan to see why that country is on the leading edge of robot development.

"I think it's fair to say that Japan is a strange, exotic and quirky place, where you see things you won't encounter anywhere else," he says.

But that's not the only reason robots are big here. It also has a lot to do with an aging and declining population.

Japan's population of 120 million is the oldest in the world. Nearly 34 percent of the population is over 60 years old, and by mid-century, the number is expected to jump to over 42 percent of the population.

At the same time, younger people are having fewer children or none at all. Some leaders and academics express alarm at a growing number of young men who've reported little or no interest in sex. According to recent studies, nearly one-third of Japanese men entering their 30s are still virgins.

Some studies project that in 50 years, Japan's population will be down to half of its current numbers, a trend unprecedented in modern history. The government is attempting to increase birth rates with financial incentives, and it's opening up to migrant labor in ways the insular island nation has traditionally resisted. But technology is also part of the solution.

While human birthrates have stagnated, robot reproduction is rapidly increasing. Already home to the biggest robot population in the world -- over 340,000 -- future projections are staggering: by 2025, Japan will be home to over 3 million robots.

Already, they are being incorporated into everyday life in ways you might not expect.

15 Years After U.S. Invasion, Some Iraqis Are Nostalgic For Saddam Hussein Era

Before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Gen. Najm al-Jabouri would stand at the border crossing with Turkey and look longingly across the gate.

"As an officer, I had a dream to travel outside of Iraq," he says, sitting in a garden in Saddam Hussein's former palace complex in Mosul. "Sometimes I would go to Ibrahim Khalil gate just to see outside Iraq — to see whether the ground outside Iraq was different from inside Iraq."

For almost every Iraqi, the past 15 years have been full of unimaginable twists and turns. Jabouri is still an Iraqi general, but now he oversees security in Mosul and controls Saddam's former compound. His first trip outside his country wasn't to neighboring Turkey but to the United States.

In the Saddam era, Jabouri says, Iraq was like a big prison. You had to have permission to travel abroad. You could be jailed or even executed for contacting people outside Iraq.

In 2003, he was a brigadier general working on national air defenses when the U.S. invaded, cutting off communication between Iraqi troops and the military command. Jabouri, like thousands of other officers, went home.

"I took my family and went to Mosul to go back to my tribe," says Jabouri, 62. "Everyone returned to their tribes — we knew a big mess was coming in Baghdad."

And it did indeed come. U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III quickly disbanded Iraq's 350,000-member army, throwing out of work thousands of generals. The Pentagon-backed decision is blamed for sparking an insurgency that tore Iraq apart.

Pred, I absolutely love the selection of news and discussion items you post.

But every time I see this thread I think of this:

In completely unrelated international news, happy hours are awesome.

OG_slinger wrote:

Pred, I absolutely love the selection of news and discussion items you post.

Glad to hear it! I'm trying to keep my eyes open, even if the thread skews a bit Middle East.

Speaking of...

Journalists Suffer Deadliest Day in Afghanistan Since at Least 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan — Twin bombings in Kabul on Monday killed at least 25 people, including nine journalists. It was the deadliest single attack involving journalists in Afghanistan since at least 2002, and one of the most lethal ever worldwide, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

A 10th journalist, from the BBC’s Afghan service, was shot and killed in a separate attack on Monday outside Kabul.

The bombings were the latest spasm of a conflict that began more than a decade and a half ago and shows no sign of ebbing.

In a two-stage attack, bombers detonated a first device during the morning rush and a second roughly 40 minutes later, killing emergency workers and journalists who had by then reached the site, officials said.

A branch of the Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the attacks, which came just eight days after the group took responsibility for another explosion that killed 57 people lining up to register to vote.

A spokesman for the Afghan police, Hashmat Stanikzai, said the attacks in Kabul on Monday had killed at least 25 people, including four police officers, and wounded 49, but officials and witnesses at the scene said the final casualty figures were likely to be higher.

At least nine journalists died, including the chief photographer in Afghanistan for Agence France-Presse, Shah Marai, who had covered his war-torn homeland for 20 years.

The US and Afghanistan: can’t win the war, can’t stop it, can’t leave

The latest, dreadful suicide bombings in Kabul and Kandahar, which killed more than 50 people on Monday, have again focused attention on the continuing failure of American-led efforts to stabilise the country. After 16 years of conflict, critics say, the US is in a triple bind: it cannot win the war, it cannot halt the war, and it cannot leave.

As civilian casualties rise, and with no sign that recent American and Nato reinforcements are making a difference, an already dire security situation is growing more complex. Part of the problem is that Islamic State and the Taliban appear to be competing for the title of “most feared terrorists”. Isis claimed Monday’s twin explosions in Kabul, and last week’s attack on a voter registration centre that killed 60 people. But it was the Taliban who perpetrated two infamous atrocities in January. In one, an ambulance packed with explosives blew up, killing nearly 100 people. In the other, Kabul’s luxury Intercontinental hotel was turned into a battlefield.

Last week, the Taliban launched their 2018 spring offensive, threatening ever greater mayhem. According to US estimates, government forces control less than 60% of Afghanistan, with the remainder either contested or under the control of the insurgents.

Another problem is the terrorists are now specifically targeting Afghanistan’s fragile, fledgling democracy. Hence the repeated attacks on government ministries, organisers of October’s parliamentary and district elections, and journalists working for independent local and western media.

Every new act of mass murder in a high-profile public location weakens the authority, at home and abroad, of Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s besieged president. Ghani unveiled an ambitious peace plan in February, offering an immediate ceasefire and unconditional talks. The only reply he has received so far is a wave of bloodshed. Ghani is not alone in his impotence. Last August, Donald Trump unveiled a “fight to win” strategy, reversing his previous hands-off stance. Trump deployed an additional 3,000 troops, increased the scope and autonomy of counter-terrorism operations, and asked Nato allies to do more to help.

Trump’s initiative has proved almost as ineffective as his decision, a year ago last month, to drop the “mother of all bombs” (officially, the massive ordnance air blast or MOAB) on a supposed Isis cave and tunnel complex in eastern Afghanistan. Trump boasted of a big victory, lending new meaning to the word “bombastic”.

Rather than curb the violence and enforce the peace, Trump’s green light for greater use of armed drones, quick-fire US air force strikes and special forces counter-terror ops appears to have had the opposite effect. According to UN figures published in February, a rise in the number of undiscriminating attacks last year contributed to more than 10,000 civilian casualties, including nearly 3,500 killed. As in the past, most of the casualties were caused by insurgent action – but by no means all.

'Culture Shock Within Their Own Country': Saudis Come To Grips With Swift Changes

I thought this story was great when I listened to it this morning. I heard echoes upon echoes in it.

On a balmy Thursday evening, dozens of young Saudis stream into the AlComedy Club in the western port city of Jeddah. It's the start of the weekend, and the crowd snacks on popcorn and ice cream before grabbing some of the sagging seats in the theater. Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie" blares from speakers hanging above a tiny stage.

Comedian Khaled Omar takes the mic and begins his act, lamenting how he has no baby pictures of himself. His parents ripped up the family photos in the early 1980s, when ultra-conservative religious authorities deemed photographs haram — forbidden, they said, by God.

The audience is lively. Some women wearing abayas and headscarves banter with Omar and men in the audience.

Omar's punchline gets a good laugh: Now, he says, not only are photos suddenly not forbidden — but all the people who banned or tore pictures up are now happily posing for selfies. He still wants to know what happened to all his baby pictures.

Omar's routine is a gentle dig at the Saudi government and religious establishment reversing decades of social restrictions. Much of what was forbidden in Saudi Arabia — cinema, music, theater, women driving — is suddenly acceptable. In fact, the Saudi government is encouraging it. But for many Saudis, their whole way of life — their whole belief system — is being upended.

The founder of the comedy club, Yaser Bakr, says the changes are long overdue.

"I think that this is what to do after 40 years of being asleep, honestly, in Saudi Arabia," he says. "Honestly, this is what you need to do. Some of it is dramatic, some of it is extremely fast, but it is the way to do it."

Bakr points to his own club, which operated in a low-key way, largely underground, when it first started. Now it's sponsored by the government's General Entertainment Authority. Until recently, it was strictly segregated — women sat in one section, men in another.

"We used to have partitions in the first five years. This is the first year where crowds are sitting mixed together," he says. "It surprises me how fast all of these changes became normal."

The social liberalization is being driven from the top, by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The hard-charging, tech-savvy 32-year-old launched an ambitious plan called Vision 2030 to open the kingdom, diversify its economy and create jobs, especially for young people. More than 70 percent of Saudis are under 30.

Many of the social changes are popular with the kingdom's younger citizens.

"I'm really happy that it happened now that I'm young, and, like, I can live all these changes," says a 19-year-old woman at a café in Riyadh who asked that her name not be used so she could speak freely. "The cinema, I'm really excited about it, that's the most thing I'm excited about because I love movies so much," she gushes.

Others — like her own sister, who is 29 — are nervous about the sheer breadth and pace of the social changes underway.

"We have to change, that's something I know is a fact," the sister says. "Just, the way we are changing, I wish it was mindful of everyone. I talk to younger people, they are happy with it. But older people are not."

Rules about music, cinema and the like were supposed to be based on guidance from God. Government-issued edicts came via clerics. So far, the new rules are coming directly from the Saudi government. It has been confusing for some Saudis.

Consider the changes in April alone: The kingdom rolled out its plans for its first-ever tourist visas, held its first Arab fashion week and opened its first cinema in 35 years.

A 26-year-old man in Riyadh, wearing a thobe, a long white gown, says the changes are nothing short of shocking.

"I'm not sure if one can have a culture shock within their own country, but that's what I'm experiencing right now," he says.

In Tijuana, Migrants Seeking Asylum In The U.S. Tell Harrowing Stories Of Crisis

Honduran Deana Quczada peels back her young daughter's black hair to reveal a deep scar on her forehead. She was beaten, Quczada says, six months ago as part of an apparent revenge attack on her family by gangs that Quczada's husband may have been mixed up with. When her daughter was released after spending a month in the hospital, Quczada immediately fled with her north in hopes of making it to the United States, where she could ask for political asylum.

I've heard that if you ask the U.S. for help, they will give it, she says in Spanish.


Quczada, 36, made it all the way to Tijuana before being turned away by U.S. customs authorities at the San Ysidro border crossing, the busiest port of entry on the U.S. border with Mexico. In recent days, customs officials have told her and dozens of other migrants that the facility was too overwhelmed to begin processing would-be asylum seekers. The Border Patrol has called it a temporary situation. But Quczada is starting to lose hope.

We had no other choice but to come here and we can't go back, Quczada says.

Her family has spent several chilly and drizzly nights sleeping out on the square next to the border crossing. They had an offer to stay with a family friend on the Mexican side, but it's more than two hours from here.

Quczada's is just one of many harrowing personal accounts you hear when you visit the encampment of asylum seekers, most from a highly-publicized recent caravan from Central America. Lately, the small tent city has been transformed into something more akin to a small refugee camp, with volunteers streaming in from both sides of the border to donate clothing, food and other supplies as people wait to hear if they can get into the U.S. to be processed.

'Amlo': the veteran leftwinger who could be Mexico's next president

A promise by Andrés Manuel López Obrador to tackle rampant corruption has helped propel him to frontrunner status but detractors paint him as an Hugo Chávez-style ‘tropical messiah’
It has been more than three decades since Teresa Jaber sneaked into a clandestine political meeting in this sweltering south-eastern city to watch the man they would come to know as “Amlo” preach revolution.

“I remember him saying: ‘The country cannot go on being the personal property of four of five people,’” said Jaber, recalling that underground gathering in 1987, after which she promptly signed up to his cause.

Before sending his followers out to spread the word, Jaber remembers Amlo offering a final prediction that night. “I am going to be the president of Mexico,” he told them.

Thirty-one years later it appears he may have been right.

With Mexico set to elect its next president on 1 July, Amlo – or Andrés Manuel López Obrador, to give him his full name – is in pole position.

Polls give the silver-haired 64-year-old leftist – whose coalition bears the name Together We Will Make History – a commanding lead over his closest rival Ricardo Anaya, a 39-year-old lawyer who is heading a right-left coalition.

The ruling Institutional Revolutionary party’s uninspiring candidate, José Antonio Meade, trails in third.

On the campaign trail, Amlo, who is a friend of Jeremy Corbyn and his Mexican wife, Laura Álvarez, has pledged to wrest back control of the oil industry, explore an amnesty for those involved in Mexico’s devastating drug war, and challenge the country’s powerful and thieving “mafias”.

That last message has found widespread support in a nation outraged and demoralised by jaw-dropping corruption scandals involving its ruling elite.

“López Obrador is the only option,” Margarita García Rodriguez, a homemaker and mother of three, said during a recent Amlo rally in the industrial sprawl that encircles Mexico’s capital.

“If he can’t help us out, then there’s nobody else that can. The whole system will collapse.”

The prospect of a six-year Amlo presidency horrifies his many detractors and foes who paint him as an Hugo Chávez-style authoritarian and “tropical messiah” whose antiquated policies would ruin the Mexican economy.

“He believes in old-fashioned nationalism. Old-fashioned statism. Old-fashioned protectionism. Old-fashioned subsidies across the board,” said Jorge Castañeda, one of Anaya’s two campaign chiefs and Mexico’s former foreign minister.

“Is he a guy who is sufficiently pragmatic and intelligent to understand that you can’t do a lot of these things? Yeah. But what would he do if he could?”

Amlo has sought to assuage such fears by naming a team of highly educated experts as his cabinet and promising business leaders there will be “no expropriations, no nationalisations” if he wins.

He denies claims he is seeking to drag Latin America’s second largest economy back into the past. “If this horror we’re living now is what they want to give us in the future, the past is preferable,” Amlo told one recent rally.

But as the clock ticks down to July’s election, Mexico’s answer to Project Fear is intensifying its operations in a last-ditch bid to thwart Amlo’s push for power.

“This is a guy who is the wrong alternative for Mexico. He is tired, he is old, he is obsolete. He is surrounded by wackos and he has old ideas,” said Castañeda, a key figure in the often apocalyptic-sounding endeavour to derail Amlo’s campaign.

“People don’t go to his rallies or listen or believe in him because he speaks intelligently or eloquently or charismatically. They go because of what he represents – the end of the system.”

'I Want Women To Have Rights Like Men,' Says Lawyer In Pakistan's Swat Valley

The woman in the brown burqa stood at the gate of court complex as men in suits shouldered past. With one hand, she clutched her son, and in the other, a piece of paper scrawled with a name.

The district police officer gave it to her when she complained about her husband's abuse. He told her to present it at the entrance of the sprawling court administration that serves the Swat Valley. Noorshad Begum couldn't read it, being illiterate.

She handed it to a court guard.

He immediately strode toward the woman whose name was scrawled on the slip: Mehnaz. She was easily identifiable — the only female lawyer there on a recent spring day, wearing a a black lawyer's robe over her long white outfit, her hair covered by a headscarf and face by a veil.

"I often fight cases free of cost for poor people," said Mehnaz, who, like many Pakistanis, goes by one name. "This woman can't afford to pay for a lawyer," she said, flipping through referral documents Noorshad Begum kept in a plastic bag.

"My husband married another woman," Noorshad Begum explained. "He abandoned me. I have five children. He doesn't bother to ask about us."

The final straw: he took the dowry money she'd saved for their daughter's marriage.

Will Iran maintain its influence over Iraq?

Iraq is facing a pivotal election which could define how close its relationship with Iran is.

Traditionally Iraq's Shia population has been receptive to Iranian influence, but there is a growing secular movement and the relationship with the US to consider.

Ayman Oghanna reports.

A 10-minute video from the BBC, but worth your time.

The young Turks rejecting Islam

"This is the only thing left that connects me to Islam," says Merve, showing me her bright red headscarf.

Merve teaches religion to elementary school children in Turkey. She used to be a radical believer of Islam.

"Until recently, I would not even shake hands with men," she tells me in an Istanbul cafe. "But now I do not know whether there is a God or not, and I really do not care."

In the 16 years that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party has been in power, the number of religious high schools across Turkey has increased more than tenfold.

He has repeatedly talked of bringing up a pious generation.

But over the past few weeks, politicians and religious clerics here have been discussing whether pious young people have started to move away from religion.

One day, Merve's life changed when, after waking up very depressed, she cried for hours and decided to pray.

As she prayed, she realised to her shock that she doubted God's existence. "I thought I would either go crazy or kill myself," she says. "The next day I realised I had lost my faith."

She is not alone. One professor has been quoted as saying that more than a dozen female students wearing headscarves have come up to him to declare they are atheists in the past year or so.

But it is not just atheism that students are embracing.

At a workshop in Konya, one of Turkey's most conservative cities, there have been claims that students at religious high schools are moving towards deism because of what they referred to as "the inconsistencies within Islam", according to reports in opposition newspapers.

Deism has its roots back in Greek culture. Its followers believe that God exists, but they reject all religions.

Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz says this workshop had no scientific basis and he has denied all reports that Turkey's so-called pious generation is changing course.

While there are no statistics or polls to indicate how widespread this is, anecdotal evidence is enough to worry Turkey's leaders.

Three from Africa, because I don't post them enough:

Zimbabwe women's anti-poaching group protecting elephants (Video)

A group of women is helping to protect one of the largest remaining elephant populations in Africa.

How Nigeria's cattle war is fuelling religious tension

A long-running conflict between cattle herders and farmers in central Nigeria is increasingly assuming a religious dimension, writes the BBC's Mayeni Jones after visiting Benue state.

Sebastian Nyamgba is a tall, wiry farmer with sharp cheekbones and piercing eyes.

He guides me to a small bungalow adjacent to the local church, St Ignatus. It was the home of local priest Father Joseph Gor.

"This is his blood," he says, as he points to faint pink splatters on the wall of the porch of the house.

"This is where he was killed. They shot him as he was getting on this motorbike to escape and his blood sprayed on the wall."

Father Gor was killed in the compound of his Catholic church, in the small village of Mbalom, about an hour's drive south from the capital of Benue state, Makurdi.

Father Gor was a charismatic young preacher, who was popular with the local community. He had bought a TV and satellite dish and invited the locals to watch football games.

"He used to farm with us," says Mr Nyamgba, who was one of his parishioners.

On the morning of 24 April, Father Gor was killed with another priest, Father Felix Tyolaha, who had previously survived an attack by alleged herders in Benue's Guma region.

'We are a family' - on patrol with the Red Ants

The Red Ants are a South African private security company specialising in clearing “illegal invaders” from properties. Two, sometimes three times a week, a convoy of trucks drives out of the gates of a sprawling farm in Gauteng province, carrying hundreds of men and led by “officers” armed with shotguns and handguns.

The company is rarely out of the headlines in South Africa and has been repeatedly accused of crimes ranging from theft to murder. It is fiercely criticised by human rights campaigners. But the attitude of the general public is more ambivalent – and the Red Ants themselves are fiercely loyal to each other and their employers. “We are a family. We look after each other … We have built a community,” says Johan Bosch, the farmer who founded and owns the company.

Johannesburg’s crumbling buildings

A lack of adequate housing is one of the most toxic legacies of the apartheid regime that governed South Africa for nearly 50 years. Families, migrant workers, students and homeless people pay middlemen for plots on wasteland around Pretoria and Johannesburg or in derelict buildings in the cities’ centres. Local authorities show little sympathy and say they have to enforce the law. Their chosen enforcers are the police and, to provide the manpower for evictions, the Red Ants.

Fattis Mansions was once a fashionable 1930s block of flats in the heart of the banking and legal district in Johannesburg. Wealthy, mainly white, residents fled Johannesburg’s centre during the late 1980s and early 1990s, leaving hundreds of buildings to be taken over by poor migrants from rural areas. Four hundred people shared three taps. There were no toilets or electricity. The city authorities have been clearing these “hijacked buildings” one at a time for years – often using the Red Ants.

The operation, involving 600 Red Ants, begins in the early morning, without warning. Wailing police sirens fill narrow streets. The Red Ants pour through an entrance, then proceed on rusting iron stairways and down filthy corridors. There is no resistance. The pushers, gang leaders and the rent extorters have gone. Rubbish, furniture, mattresses pile on the roadway outside.

The singing starts, low and purposeful, as the Red Ants work. Children are carried out, followed by distressed mothers clutching salvaged belongings in plastic bags. Most adults knew this would happen one day. For those too young to understand, the sky has fallen in.

Who are the men in the red overalls? They come from impoverished small former mining towns, from distant provincial villages in parched mountains, from Soweto, from hardscrabble neighbourhoods half hidden amid the urban sprawl of Johannesburg. Most are young. Many are without basic educational qualifications. Some have criminal records. A few are former convicts. All are poor. They are paid the equivalent of $10 (£7.50) a day, plus some food. Many are squatters themselves.

One left neighbouring Mozambique to work on building sites but has struggled to find employment. “My wife said get a job … so I did,” he says, shrugging narrow shoulders. Another says he has siblings to feed and clothe and send to school: “No one likes doing this … But I go to church every Sunday and pray for my soul and I know my Lord is watching over me, even here.” All say they feel sorry for the squatters but “work is work”.

In charge are older men whose own life stories are intimately intertwined with the complex, troubled history of their nation. One fought in the 80s in the South African defence forces in cold war battles in Angola. Another, a former police officer from Soweto whose family was deeply involved in the struggle against apartheid, say his career ended when he denounced corruption. He says his work reminds him of his time in the police. He now suffers from chronic insomnia.


Japan's single women a burden on the state, MP says

An MP from Japan's governing party has been accused of sexism after he said young Japanese women should have more children or face being a burden on the state.

Speaking at an LDP party meeting, Kanji Kato said young women should have at least three children.

He has since retracted his remark, local media reported.

Last year the percentage of children in Japan fell to its lowest level since records began more than 100 years ago.

Financial and other incentives to encourage bigger families have had little impact.

Mr Kato said that when he gives wedding speeches he tells the bride and bridegroom to produce at least three children.

"We need three or more children from those people to make up for couples who cannot bear a child no matter what they do," he said. His comments were reported by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

The 72-year-old father-of-six also said that if he meets a woman who doesn't intend to marry, he tells her she will end up in a care home paid for by taxes from other people's children.

Several female MPs have complained the speech was sexist. "This is exactly sexual harassment," one female MP at the meeting said, the Mainichi Shimbun reported.

Mr Kato reportedly initially said he had no intention of retracting his remark, saying that boosting the birth rate was the "most important issue facing our nation", the Asahi Shimbun said.

But he later issued a statement saying: "I apologise if my words gave the wrong impression. Although I never intended to discriminate against women, I retract the remarks I made because they could have been interpreted as such."


That was the first thing I thought of as well.

The Right to Kill — Should Brazil keep its Amazon tribes from taking the lives of their children?

This is a REALLY interesting read on something I'd NEVER heard of previously.

More than a decade ago, Kanhu left the homeland of the Kamayurá, an indigenous tribe with some 600 members on the southern edge of the Brazilian Amazon. She was 7 years old. She never returned. “If I had remained there,” Kanhu, who has progressive muscular dystrophy, told Brazilian lawmakers last year, “I would certainly be dead.”

That’s because her community would likely have killed her, just as, for generations, it has killed other children born with disabilities.

The Kamayurá are among a handful of indigenous peoples in Brazil known to engage in infanticide and the selective killing of older children. Those targeted include the disabled, the children of single mothers, and twins — whom some tribes, including the Kamayurá, see as bad omens. Kanhu’s father, Makau, told me of a 12-year-old boy from his father’s generation whom the tribe buried alive because he “wanted to be a woman.” (Kanhu and Makau, like many Kamayurá, go by only one name.)

The evangelical missionaries who helped Kanhu and her family move to Brasília, the capital of Brazil, have since spearheaded a media and lobbying campaign to crack down on child killing. Their efforts have culminated in a controversial bill aimed at eradicating the practice, which won overwhelming approval in a 2015 vote by the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Brazil’s National Congress, and is currently under consideration in the Federal Senate, its upper house.

But what may seem an overdue safeguard has drawn widespread condemnation from academics and indigenous rights groups in the country. The Brazilian Association of Anthropology, in an open letter published on its website, has called the bill an attempt to put indigenous peoples “in the permanent condition of defendants before a tribunal tasked with determining their degree of savagery.”

The controversy over child killing has raised a fundamental question for Brazil — a vast country that is home to hundreds of protected tribes, many living in varying degrees of isolation: To what extent should the state interfere with customs that seem inhumane to the outside world but that indigenous peoples developed long ago as a means to ensure group survival in an unforgiving environment?

From war room to boardroom. Military firms flourish in Sisi’s Egypt

CAIRO – In a four-decade military career, Osama Abdel Meguid served in the first Gulf War and was an assistant military attaché in the United States.

These days he issues orders from an office that overlooks the Nile, as chairman of the Maadi Co. for Engineering Industries, owned by the Ministry of Military Production.

Maadi was founded in 1954 to manufacture grenade launchers, pistols and machine guns. In recent years the firm, which employs 1,400 people, has begun turning out greenhouses, medical devices, power equipment and gyms. It has plans for four new factories.

“There are so many projects we are working on,” said Abdel Meguid, a 61-year-old engineer, listing orders including a 495 million Egyptian pound ($28 million) project for the Ministry of Electricity and an Algerian agricultural waste recycling contract worth $400,000.

Maadi is one of dozens of military-owned companies that have flourished since Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former armed forces chief, became president in 2014, a year after leading the military in ousting Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.

The military owns 51 percent of a firm that is developing a new $45 billion capital city 75 km east of Cairo. Another military-owned company is building Egypt’s biggest cement plant. Other business interests range from fish farms to holiday resorts.

In interviews conducted over the course of a year, the chairmen of nine military-owned firms described how their businesses are expanding and discussed their plans for future growth. Figures from the Ministry of Military Production - one of three main bodies that oversee military firms - show that revenues at its firms are rising sharply. The ministry’s figures and the chairmen’s accounts give rare insight into the way the military is growing in economic influence.

This article is about people in Utah, but it's relevant to Korea so it'll go here:

2 Generations, 2 Different Perspectives On Korean Reunification

Fleeing war in North Korea in 1951, my aunt and her siblings scrambled aboard an American cargo ship pulling away from port, her parents and grandmother shouting their names to keep track of them in the chaos of the evacuation. They made it. But their grandfather stayed behind in Wonsan to protect the family property.

He thought his family would return. They never saw him, or the rest of their family in North Korea, again.

As the leaders of North Korea, South Korea and the United States discuss denuclearization and a possible peace treaty to formally end the Korean War of the 1950s, I wanted to check in with my aunt, a child of the war who was born in North Korea, and her millennial daughter Euni Cho, who grew up in democratic, thriving South Korea.

Foreign journalists have described the way South Koreans feel about the blossoming detente in dramatic terms: Euphoric. Giddy. Emotional.

We international observers want South Koreans to be giddy and euphoric because it fits a convenient narrative. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, too, wants his people to be overcome with emotion: The show of unity in the Demilitarized Zone between the Koreas was meant not only to establish ties between the two leaders, but also to grab the attention and emotions of the South Korean people — and to remind them of their connections to the North even after 70 years of division.

But I know, from speaking to my own family, how conflicted and complicated their feelings are toward North Korea, and how diverse their points of view are. Each generation bears a different history and, as a result, dreams of a different future.

Polls do show overwhelming support for President Moon's efforts. But have South Koreans so blindly embraced North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's recent overtures promising to renounce provocation in favor of peace? As an American journalist who covered the first inter-Korean summit in 2000, has lived and worked in Pyongyang, and has kept a close eye on the trail of broken promises on all sides over a quarter-century of negotiations with the North Koreans, I watched the Kim-Moon summit — and approach Kim's anticipated summit with President Trump — with a mix of optimism and skepticism. While I'm hopeful things will be different this time, we've been down this path before.

My aunt Younghwa Chun, a Viennese-trained pianist, watched the April 27 inter-Korean summit live on TV at home in a suburb of Seoul.

"I wasn't particularly moved," she says.

Like President Moon, my aunt's personal history traces back to the North. Her roots lie in Wonsan, the coastal city where Kim has a seaside villa. Later this month, the North Korean government will fly foreign journalists, including South Koreans, to Wonsan as part of a media junket designed to broadcast to the world the promised destruction of a northern nuclear test site.

My aunt was a toddler when her family fled, and doesn't have memories of life in North Korea. But she heard countless stories of life under communism and arduous journeys south — "if people fell off the boat, you could lose family members forever" — while growing up in Busan, the South Korean port city where the cargo ship landed and where many North Korean refugees scraped together new lives.

"When we were younger, we hated communism. They don't have the freedoms of democratic nations, and they maintain oppressive control," she says. "They execute people and kill them without trial."

For many in South Korea, live footage of their president holding hands with Kim and the two chatting privately — on the South Korean side of the DMZ — was altogether stunning. No North Korean leader before Kim Jong Un had ever set foot in South Korea since the 1953 Korean War cease-fire, and here he was, laughing with their president. The moment humanized Kim, and by extension all North Koreans, for many South Koreans — including my maternal uncle, Sung-jin Cho, who was sitting next to his wife at home watching the televised events unfold.

13 Inconvenient Truths About What Has Been Happening in Gaza

The cacophony that accompanies every upsurge in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can make it seem impossible for outsiders to sort out the facts. Recent events in Gaza are no exception. The shrillest voices on each side are already offering their own mutually exclusive narratives that acknowledge some realities while scrupulously avoiding others.

But while certain facts about Gaza may be inconvenient for the loudest partisans on either side, they should not be inconvenient to the rest of us.

To that end, here are 13 complicated, messy, true things about what has been happening in Gaza. They do not conform to one political narrative or another, and they do not attempt to conclusively apportion all blame. Try, as best you can, to hold them all in your mind at the same time.