Today President Obama will make history as the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, the site of an American-inflicted nuclear attack that left an estimated 140,000 people dead.
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Thousands of Egyptian citizens have found a clever way to respond to government censorship: by posting cell phone selfies with the confrontational hashtag “Does a mobile phone camera shake you?”
The question is directed at Egyptian authorities, who arrested five members of a satirical troupe Atfal al Shawarea, or Street Children, earlier this week. The group is known for using phone cameras to shoot selfie-style videos that criticize the government.
Atfal al Shawarea’s videos are typically filmed on the streets of Cairo as the troupe’s six members perform a mix of spoken dialogue and song. The group posted a clip earlier this month titled “Sisi my president has brought us down,” ridiculing the Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.
The satirists are now being investigated for “inciting protests that aim to disrupt peace and security and cause violent crimes against state institutions,” reported Egyptian news website Ahram Online. The BBC says four of the men were held “on suspicion of insulting state institutions and inciting protests,” while another was detained on similar charges.
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Reuters via HuffPost World Post
Uganda’s veteran president vowed to fight corruption and inefficient bureaucracy on Thursday as he was sworn in to a fifth term in office, but some Western officials walked out of the ceremony when he mocked the International Criminal Court.
In his inaugural address, President Yoweri Museveni, 71, told heads of state, diplomats and other guests he planned to fight corruption and impose discipline on inefficient bureaucrats during his next five-year term of office, which will extend his rule to 35 years.
But Museveni offended U.S., European Union and Canadian officials in attendance when he criticized the International Criminal Court in his welcoming remarks as “a bunch of useless people.”
Among guests at the inauguration was Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al Bashir, who attended despite international warrants from the ICC seeking his arrest for crimes against humanity.
“In response to President Bashir’s presence and President Museveni’s remarks, the United States delegation, along with representatives of the European Union countries and Canada, departed the inauguration ceremonies to demonstrate our objection,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told a briefing in Washington.
“We believe that walking out in protest is an appropriate reaction to a head of state mocking efforts to ensure accountability for victims of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Trudeau said.
Museveni was re-elected to a fifth term in February after a disputed vote and protests against his rule. Authorities blocked Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and other social media, citing security concerns ahead of the inauguration ceremony in Kampala.
The president officially won 60 percent of the votes in the February election, which the opposition said was rigged. Protests erupted, leading to clashes with police and dozens of arrests. Officials say the vote was free and fair.
Since coming to power in 1986, Museveni is credited with restoring order after years of chaos. But experts say the growing economy has not kept up with a rising population, while critics complain about corruption and a clampdown on dissent.
“These two mistakes, corruption and delays in decision making, irritate the public and frustrate the investors,” Museveni told visiting African presidents and other dignitaries.
“This time I will act directly so as to discipline the public service as we discipline the army,” the rebel-turned-statesman said, adding that he would work to boost agricultural output in the coffee and tea exporting nation.
Police arrested opposition leader Kizza Besigye after a street protest on Wednesday. Besigye, who heads the Forum for Democratic Change party, won 35 percent of the vote. He has been under house arrest on and off since then.
The head of Uganda’s telecommunications regulator Godfrey Mutabazi said security agencies had asked that access to social media websites be blocked “to limit the possibility of terrorists taking advantage” of visits by dignitaries.
In the days leading up to Museveni’s swearing-in, authorities also placed more security patrols on the streets of Kampala and residents said there was a strong presence of military and police on Thursday.
The government also banned live television or radio coverage of protests in the wake of the election, which EU monitors said was held in an intimidating atmosphere. The EU also said the electoral body lacked independence and transparency.
Opposition to the president is strongest among youths in urban areas, such as Kampala, where frustration has been fuelled by unemployment, corruption and crumbling public services.
(Additional reporting by Elias Biryabarema and George Obulutsa in Nairobi and Arshad Mohammed and David Alexander in Washington; Editing by Dominic Evans and James Dalgleish)
Reuters Tom Miles Huff Post World Post
GENEVA (Reuters) – Up to 5.3 million people in South Sudan may face a severe food shortages during this year’s lean season, the U.N. World Food Programme said on Monday, nearly double the number in the first three months of the year.
From January to March, 2.8 million people were classed as being in “crisis“ or “emergency” food situations, with about 40,000 thought to be suffering an outright famine.
The rising hunger comes despite attempts to end more than two years of war, which started in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir sacked his first vice president Riek Machar, triggering ethnically charged violence.
Some fighting continues, but Kiir was able to name a new cabinet in late April, including former rebels and members of the opposition, after Machar returned to Juba and got back his old job.
“Internal food security analysis shows that South Sudan will face the most severe lean season in 2016 since its independence, driven by insecurity, poor harvests, and displacement in some areas of the country,” said a WFP report published on Monday.
“As many as 5.3 million people may face severe food insecurity, with particular areas of concern in the non-conflict affected states of Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Eastern Equatoria.”
During the 2015 lean season, which runs from March to September, about 4.6 million people were classed as severely “food insecure”, WFP said previously.
The most severe conditions are in Unity State, where a team of food security experts found a risk of “widespread catastrophe” during a visit late last year.
The United Nations says 1.69 million South Sudanese are displaced within the country and another 712,000 have fled into neighbouring countries. The U.N. humanitarian plan for South Sudan has received only 27 percent of the $1.29 billion needed.
Puerto Rico’s Government Development Bank defaulted on most of a $422 million debt payment that came due on Sunday, once again casting a spotlight on Congress’s failure to address a spiraling debt crisis that has fueled the largest wave of emigration from the island in half a century.
“We’ve been forced to take emergency measures since Congress hasn’t acted,” Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro García Padilla said Sunday night in a televised speech.
The amount that was due Sunday accounts for just a small portion of the $70 billion debt burden that Puerto Rico’s government owes its external lenders. But defaulting on the payment will likely subject the island to more lawsuits, even as Congress dilly-dallies on legislation that would give it some relief.
Puerto Rico faces a July 1 deadline for a much larger debt service payment of roughly $2 billion.
Here are five things you need to know about what’s going on in Puerto Rico, how the situation got so bad and what the future holds.
In recent years, Puerto Rico’s government has made increasingly drastic spending cuts and tax hikes in order to meet its obligations to creditors. The government laid off tens of thousands of public employees and raised the sales tax from 7 percent to 11.5 percent. It has closed some 10 percent of Puerto Rico’s schools since 2014, driving a sharp rise in the size of classes. Even more schools are due for closure in the near future.
The strains on public health infrastructure have made it more difficult for the island to combat an outbreak of the Zika virus.
The relentless austerity has also stunted the island’s economy, while cutting back the very social services that are more needed than ever. Puerto Rico had an unemployment rate of 11.8 percent in March — more than twice the overall U.S. rate of 5 percent.
The poverty rate on the island is now 45 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Puerto Ricans with the means to do so are leaving in droves for the mainland U.S., which their status as U.S. citizens makes a relatively simple move. The largest exodus in 50 years has resulted in a 9-percent drop in the island’s population, further eroding its tax base.
There are many reasons why Puerto Rico has racked up so many IOUs. It is true, as many conservatives claim, that consecutive governments deferred hard fiscal choices by continuing to issue bonds long after the island could no longer afford to take on more debt. Widespread official corruption and notoriously inefficient state-run utilities are a few of the other underlying challenges that Puerto Rico faces.
But Puerto Rico’s unusual standing as a territory over which Congress enjoys extraordinary power may also have hindered its ability to achieve economic independence — and thus pushed it to incur so much debt to fund public services.
In 1976, Congress granted U.S. corporations a tax exemption for income earned in Puerto Rico (and other U.S. territories), prompting decades of economic growth on the island. When Congress passed another law in 1996 phasing out that exemption over 10 years, the island began an economic decline from which it has yet to recover.
Puerto Rico also suffers from the effects of the Jones Act, an early 20th-century law that bars foreign-flagged ships from traveling from one U.S. port to another. Foreign-flagged ships must instead transfer their cargo to U.S.-flagged ships after arriving at the first U.S. port. With Puerto Rico often the second port of call, the law helps make consumer goods more expensive there than on the mainland.
In addition, Medicare and Medicaid’s reimbursements to health care providers in Puerto Rico are a fraction of their mainland levels. Recent cuts as a result of the Affordable Care Act have lowered the Medicaid rate even further, reducing access to essential medical care for some of the island’s poorest residents. Sixty-eight percent of Puerto Ricans rely on one of the two programs for their health insurance, according to the Puerto Rico Health Care Crisis Coalition, an industry- and labor-backed alliance.
The island’s three main public utilities owe bondholders some $20 billion — a significant slice of the total $70 billion debt. If Puerto Rico had the same bankruptcy powers that the 50 states enjoy, it could authorize those companies to go to court to reduce their debts. But federal law does not permit the island to extend bankruptcy protections to its municipalities and public corporations.
In March, Puerto Rico presented a different legal interpretation to the Supreme Court, making the case that it can grant bankruptcy protections to its municipalities and public corporations. The high court is expected to announce a decision in the matter by late June.
A portion of Puerto Rico’s debt is held by hedge funds known as “vultures,” because of their ruthless pursuit of profit from impoverished debtor governments. The vulture funds appear to be using front groups to influence congressional debate on measures that could relieve Puerto Rican debt at the creditors’ expense. 60 Plus, a conservative seniors’ group that is funded by a few wealthy anonymous donors and played a lead role in opposing the Affordable Care Act, set up a group called “Main Street Bondholders” to fight efforts in Congress to provide Puerto Rico with even the most modest bankruptcy powers.
While Main Street Bondholders claims to represent ordinary citizens invested in Puerto Rican debt, The New York Times reported that DCI, a public relations firm that specializes in faux grassroots campaigns, enlisted 60 Plus in the effort. BlueMountain Capital Management, a vulture hedge fund with major holdings of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority debt, is a client of DCI. BlueMountain, the Times noted, has also been one of the hedge funds most aggressively lobbying Congress against intervention on behalf of Puerto Rico in above-ground ways.
Another organization, the Center for Individual Freedom, has been running television ads against the same legislative proposals. Although its donors are anonymous, CFIF is widely suspected of being a front for hedge funds that own Puerto Rican debt.
For a time it looked like congressional aid was finally on the way. After months of dithering as the crisis escalated, the House subcommittee with jurisdiction over Puerto Rico unveiled a draft bill at the end of March that would give the island some very limited access to court-supervised debt restructuring in exchange for a Washington-based fiscal oversight board.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said passing an aid package was a priority. House Democrats, while critical of some aspects of the bill, said Republicans were negotiating in good faith and professed their commitment to finding an acceptable compromise. (Even then, not everybody was on board with the “let’s be positive” approach: Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) immediately called for the bill to be defeated outright.)
In mid-April, however, talks between the two parties reached an impasse with Democrats and Republicans involved in the process refusing to meet. Democrats wanted to weaken the fiscal oversight board, while Republicans in the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus expressed what appear to be more fundamental objections to the debt restructuring provisions.
Last week, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) ramped up the pessimism when he voiced doubt that Congress would do anything before Puerto Rico’s next major debt repayment deadline on July 1.
That makes the prospects of congressional action before May 1 virtually nonexistent. On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) ramped up the pessimism when he voiced doubt that Congress would do anything before Puerto Rico’s next major debt repayment deadline on July 1.
Puerto Rico owes its creditors $2 billion on that date, including more than $800 million in “must pay” general obligation bonds.
This story has been updated to reflect Puerto Rico’s default on most of the debt payment due May 1.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said BlueMountain Capital management had set up Main Street Bondholders. BlueMountain is a client of the PR firm that reportedly is behind Main Street Bondholders’ efforts. The article also stated that BlueMountain holds general obligation debt; it holds municipal utility debt.
By Evan Barton, University of Florida. –NorthStarNewsToday
The Zika virus was present in Haiti several months before the first cases were identified in Brazil, new research suggests.
The finding confirms that the Zika virus was present in the Americas prior to March 2015, when the virus was first identified in Brazil, and suggests that the spread of Zika virus in the Americas was likely more complicated than early theories presumed.
“We know that the virus was present in Haiti in December of 2014,” says Glenn Morris, professor of medicine at the University of Florida and director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute. “And, based on molecular studies, it may have been present in Haiti even before that date.”
Although the findings suggest that the Zika virus was circulating in the Americas prior to 2015, what remains unclear is exactly what confluence of factors caused the virus to take off in Brazil.
Researchers hope further study will shed light on factors that led to the proliferation of Zika virus in Brazil as well as the sharp rise in the number of birth defects in that nation in cases where pregnant women were infected with the then-uncommon flavivirus.
For the study, published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, scientists isolated the virus from three patients while studying the transmission of dengue and chikungunya in Haiti in 2014. School children exhibiting febrile illness within the Gressier/Leogane region of Haiti were taken to a free outpatient clinic, where blood samples were drawn and screened for dengue, chikungunya, and malaria.
Upon isolation, the viruses were first considered “mystery” viruses, as testing indicated they were neither dengue nor chikungunya viruses, and little attention had been paid to the possibility that Zika virus might be present in the Caribbean.
Using another test that potentially amplifies any RNA, the researchers identified Zika virus sequences. The plasma samples that yielded Zika virus were taken three months before March 2015, when Brazilian scientists first confirmed via genetic analysis that Zika virus was present in Brazil and causing a significant disease burden in the South American nation.
The Zika virus was virtually unknown outside of public health circles prior to the 2007 outbreak in the Yap Islands, a small group of islands in Micronesia where an estimated 73 percent of residents 3 years of age and older were infected with the virus. Questions still remain regarding how it came to the Americas.
“The Brazilian and Haitian strains are genetically similar,” says John Lednicky, associate professor in the College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of environmental and global health and an associate researcher at the Emerging Pathogens Institute.
Lednicky designed the project’s virus isolation work and identified and sequenced the Haitian Zika virus isolates. The genetic sequences of the Haitian isolates from 2014 are more similar to those of the French Polynesian strains than to many of the Brazilian Zika virus strains. Lednicky thinks this may be because the Haitian 2014 strain is slightly older than the isolates from Brazil in 2015.
Morris agrees with Lednicky that Zika virus had been in the Americas for a period of time before it began causing a noticeable level of illness.
“There is a possibility that this virus had been moving around the Caribbean before it hit the right combination of conditions in Brazil and took off,” Morris says. “…[w]e were able to begin to fill in some of the unknown areas in the history of the Zika virus, leading us toward a better understanding of what caused this outbreak to suddenly occur at the magnitude that it did in Brazil.”
“I photographed Haiti’s strength — its women.”
That’s the beautiful way photographer Thibault Carron describes the experience of meeting and photographing the women of Haiti.
From April 13 to 20, Carron and fellow photographer Mikaël Theimer traveled around Haiti as part of their Portraits of Montreal project (a nod to Humans of New York). Carron, who is from France but has lived in Montreal for nearly 10 years, told The Huffington Post they decided to head to Haiti since many people in Montreal have roots there. While in cities like Port-au-Prince, they documented the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) including Handicap International Canada, Médecins du Monde, KANPE and Anseye Pou Ayiti. In a post for Bored Panda, Carron wrote about what truly caught his attention while in Haiti: “the strength, will and pride … in the eyes of every woman and girl.”
The portraits capture a diverse array of Haitian women, from girls in school to mothers with their children. And Carron told HuffPost that while traveling around Haiti, it was these women that he was particularly struck by.
Carron said that meeting a woman named Marie-Sherline was especially inspirational. According to him, Marie-Sherline’s left leg had been amputated after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. But despite that trauma, she went on to start a small business by selling everyday products to people on the street, using the proceeds to care for herself, her daughters and her mother.
“Today she has to fight to feed her girls, give them access to education and pay her annual rent, but she’s doing it with such unsettling humility, courage and pride, that it’s a lesson for all of us who never really had to fight for anything,” Carron told The Huffington Post.
In the United States, Haiti is most often discussed in the context of natural disasters — since 2009 alone, the country has faced a devastating earthquake, a cholera outbreak and mass flooding. But as Carron’s photographs show, life goes on, often beautifully.
As Carron summed up on Bored Panda, “Haiti is rich, rich of its people.”
Check out more of Carron’s photographs from Haiti below.
Atlanta, GA — A Queen’s Discovery: A Young Girl’s African Journey To Find Her Greatness Within, a documentary directed by 16-year-old Nzinga Anasa Braswell, has been selected for the 2016 International Film Festival hosted by the Atlanta Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Also, actress and AIDS activist, Sheryl Lee Ralph, will be the 2016 Ambassador for the Delta Sigma Theta International Film Festival!
A Queen’s Discovery follows Father’s Incorporated’s 2015 LEAP mission trip to Africa from the perspective of Braswell. Her journey to Ghana as a first time visitor gives her a unique comparison between her black American experience as a youth and what she discovered in Africa.
As a result of Nzinga’s travel, she has committed to raising funds for the Nikki Giovanni Scholarship Fund – which provides financial assistance for qualified students to attend secondary school; pays for tuition, boarding, travel, book, and other school related fees.
“I am excited to finally share my journey with the rest of the world. I realize that my experience in Africa was life changing and impactful. I believe those who see the film will also feel the same way, refreshed and ready to make a change,” says Nzinga.
The festival will be held at the Shirley A. Massey Executive Conference Center, Bank of America Auditorium on the campus of Morehouse College on April 30th at 7pm.
“We are excited about presenting the 2016 Festival,” stated Andrea L. Morgan, Chair of the International Awareness and Involvement Committee, Atlanta Alumnae Chapter. “The Delta Sigma Theta International Film Festival was created to support Delta’s global initiatives and to promote cross-cultural awareness within the Atlanta community. Another very special component of the event is to give filmmakers interested in cross-cultural stories a forum to exhibit their best work. The proceeds from this event will benefit children who are orphaned by HIV and AIDS at The Delta House in Swaziland, Southern Africa, and provide scholarships for students at Morehouse College pursuing an International Education. The evening promises to be enlightening and enjoyable!”
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., founded in 1913, is a public service organization of college educated women committed to the constructive development of communities throughout the world. The organization currently has 1000 collegiate and alumnae chapters in the United States, England, Japan, Germany, the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Jamaica, and the Republic of Korea. Global service projects include: The Delta Sigma Theta Elementary School in Cherette, Hait, The Delta House in Swaziland, Southern Africa, and Mary Help of the Sick Mission Hospital in Thika, Kenya.
For more information, visit www.atlantaalumnaedst.org
You can also donate to Nzinga’s work at www.gofundme.com/queensdiscovery
HAVANA — Francisco Jesús Jiménez misses a lot of things about the United States. He misses his five kids. He misses his car. He misses his phone. He misses walking the streets of his old neighborhood in Flatbush, Brooklyn — “better known as Crooklyn,” he says — where he felt free to speak his mind.
Jiménez was broke in those days, working as a hospital janitor before he turned to drug dealing. But he remembers New York fondly, keeping a baseball cap with the city’s initials tacked to his wall. Now, sitting on the edge of a cot as he sips coffee and smokes a parade of cigarettes, he remembers the day in 2002 that he landed back in Havana with just 100 pesos in his pocket to start over as a deportee after two decades in the U.S.
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by Kathleen Hennessey, Associated Press –theGrio.com
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama sets out this week on his first in a series of international farewell tours, a sometimes wistful tradition for presidents in legacy mode. But in a reminder of this president’s uneven ties to allies, Obama’s first stop will involve more damage control than nostalgia, more friction than fondness.
When Obama lands in Riyadh on Wednesday for a Persian Gulf summit, he’ll be met by leaders roiled by his recent public complaints about global “free riders” and harboring deep distrust of his dealings with Iran and his posture in Syria. Before heading on to what will likely be valedictory visits to Great Britain and Germany, the White House will be tasked with providing some measure of reassurance to a set of allies that remain critical of U.S. counterterrorism goals — even as they increasingly look to his successor.
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