Archaeologists Discover Dozens Of Cat Mummies, 100 Cat Statues In Ancient Tomb

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR)

 

Archaeologists Discover Dozens Of Cat Mummies, 100 Cat Statues In Ancient Tomb

Men carry mummified cats from a tomb at the Saqqara necropolis in Egypt on Saturday.

Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

The more archaeologists continue to explore the tombs of ancient Egypt, the more evidence mounts that ancient Egyptians admired cats — and loved mummifying them.

Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities announced Saturday that a team of Egyptian archaeologists excavating a 4,500-year-old tomb near Cairo has found dozens of mummified cats. Also in the tomb were 100 gilded wooden cat statues, as well as a bronze statue of Bastet, the goddess of cats.

The discoveries were made at a newly discovered tomb in Saqqara, the site of a necropolis used by the ancient city of Memphis. The tomb dates from the Fifth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom, and archaeologists have found another one nearby with its door still sealed — raising the possibility that its contents are untouched.

The Ministry of Antiquities was clear about its goals in announcing the discoveries: attracting visitors back to Egypt’s heritage sites, as the country has experienced a significant drop in tourists since the 2011 mass protests that overthrew dictatorial President Hosni Mubarak.

The ministry tweeted photos of the findings. Pictures of the cat statues took front and center — with the ancient felines looking proud and cool, like an upscale, 4,500-year-old version of what a cat fancier today might try to commission.

The mummified cats themselves … well, those images are more unsettling, though they offer incontrovertible evidence that mummification is highly effective.

While ancient Egyptians saw cats as divine, they didn’t exactly worship them, Antonietta Catanzariti, curator of the Smithsonian Sackler Gallery exhibit Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt, told NPR last year.

“What they did is to observe their behavior,” she said, and create gods and goddesses in their image — much as they did with other animals, including dogs, crocodiles, snakes and bulls.

And while cat mummies are fascinating, Catanzariti said they were also pretty common in ancient Egypt, where cats were bred for the purpose. “In the 1890s, people from England went to Egypt and they collected all these mummies. One cargo was 180,000 of them.”

An Egyptian archaeologist cleans mummified cats in the necropolis at Saqqara, south of Cairo, on Saturday.

Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

Perhaps that’s why the antiquities ministry made a bigger deal about something else they discovered in the tomb: mummified scarab beetles. Two large specimens were found wrapped in linen, apparently in very good condition. They were inside sarcophagi decorated with drawings of scarabs.

“The (mummified) scarab is something really unique. It is something really a bit rare,” Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, told outlets including Reuters.

“A couple of days ago, when we discovered those coffins, they were sealed coffins with drawings of scarabs. I never heard about them before.”

The Fraud On The American People That Is Donald Trump And Matt Whitaker

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR)

 

Former Attorney General Says Whitaker Appointment ‘Confounds Me’

Matt Whitaker participates in a round table event at the Department of Justice on Aug. 29, 2018 in Washington, D.C.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The former attorney general under President George W. Bush is voicing doubt about whether President Trump has the authority to appoint Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, saying there are “legitimate questions” about whether the selection can stand without Senate confirmation.

In an interview with NPR, Alberto Gonzales, who served as attorney general from 2005 to 2007, also said that critical comments made by Whitaker about Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election “calls into question his impartiality.”

Gonzales’s comments add to a chorus of criticism that has faced the Whitaker appointment since Jeff Sessions announced on Wednesday that he was resigning as attorney general at the request of the president. In selecting Whitaker, who served as chief of staff to Sessions, the president passed over the official who had been in charge of the Mueller probe, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

“I’ve got some issues with this, quite frankly, because the notion that the chief of staff who is not Senate confirmed would have more experience, more wisdom and better judgement than someone like the deputy attorney general or even the solicitor general, people in the line of presidential succession within the Department of Justice, to me, it confounds me,” Gonzales said in an interview Saturday with NPR’s Michel Martin.

The Whitaker appointment has fueled uncertainty about the future of the Mueller investigation, with many Democrats now urging the former U.S. attorney and Division I football player to recuse himself from overseeing the probe.

Those concerns stem from comments made by Whitaker before he joined the Justice Department last year. In an op-ed for CNN, Whitaker argued that the Mueller investigation had gone too far. He also told the network that he could envision a scenario where Sessions is replaced with an attorney general who “reduces [Mueller’s] budget so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt.”

In a separate interview last year with the Wilkow Majority on SiriusXM radio, Whitaker opined on the Mueller investigation, saying, “The truth is there was no collusion with the Russians and the Trump campaign … There was interference by the Russians into the election, but that is not the collusion with the campaign.”

Addressing Whitaker’s past statements, Gonzales said he questioned “whether or not putting Mr. Whitaker in this position at this particular time was the wise move.” Even if the appointment is lawful, Gonzales said, Whitaker’s comments raised “a whole specter of whether or not he should recuse himself, so again, we’re right back in the situation where you’ve got the leadership at the department subject to questioning as to whether or not they can effectively lead the department with respect to one of the most politically charged investigations that’s ongoing right now.”

On Friday, President Trump responded to criticism that he appointed Whitaker in order to rein in the investigation, saying he has not spoken to him about the probe. The president also said, “I don’t know Matt Whitaker,” even though he has met with him more than a dozen times. In October, President Trump also told Fox News, “Matt Whitaker’s a great guy. I mean, I know Matt Whitaker.”

Adding to the concerns of Democrats is Whitaker’s ties to a witness in the Mueller investigation: Sam Clovis. In 2014, Whitaker chaired Clovis’s campaign for Iowa state treasurer. Clovis went on to work as an adviser to the Trump campaign, and is believed to be one of the campaign officials who spoke with another aide, George Papadopoulos, about overtures Papadopoulos was getting from Russians in London.

The Washington Post, citing “two people close to Whitaker,” reported on Thursday that the new acting attorney general has no intention to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. In a statement on Wednesday, Whitaker said he is “committed to leading a fair Department with the highest ethical standards, that upholds the rule of law, and seeks justice for all Americans.”

As NPR’s Miles Parks and Philip Ewing reported this week, there are multiple ways Whitaker would be able to complicate Mueller’s work:

One is simply by declining to continue to pay the investigators or attorneys working for the special counsel. Or by re-assigning them back to their previous jobs in the FBI and the Justice Department or the intelligence community.

Another way is by constraining the authority that Mueller and his office have to conduct the investigations they want.

… When the special counsel’s office wants to issue a subpoena or send investigators or call witnesses before a grand jury, the deputy attorney general is often involved. If the new leadership at the Justice Department didn’t want to go along, however, that could constrain Mueller’s ability to investigate as he sees fit.

And, if nothing else, having an attorney general who isn’t recused from Mueller’s work might give the White House a clearer look inside it.

Gonzales said he was unsure of what could be done if Whitaker moved to stop the Mueller investigation. Such a dramatic step is sure to trigger a fight between Congress and the executive branch about access to what Mueller has so far found, he said.

“The [Justice] Department may simply assert privilege based on law enforcement privilege to protect the integrity of the investigation and to encourage honest dialogue between investigators and prosecutors. Whether or not that privilege would be upheld in the court remains to be seen,” he said.

But Gonzales said it shouldn’t have to come to that.

“I’m extremely troubled that a change may have been made here to stop an investigation, which by all accounts is almost complete,” he said. “I think we just wait and let this thing play out, let Bob Mueller write his report and let the American people know what actually happened here.”

The audio version of this story was produced by Dana Cronin and Ammad Omar.

In Brazil’s National Museum Fire, Officials Fear ‘Incalculable’ Loss Of Artifacts

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR)

 

In Brazil’s National Museum Fire, Officials Fear ‘Incalculable’ Loss Of Artifacts

A fire burned Sunday at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro.

Buda Mendes/Getty Images

A massive fire that engulfed Brazil’s National Museum Sunday night has left staff and officials fearful that many of the nation’s most precious artifacts have been lost forever.

The museum housed 20 million items, including objects that tell the story of Brazil’s past: the first fossil discovered there, the oldest female skull found in the Americas and the nation’s largest meteorite.

First built in 1818 as a residence for Portugal’s royal family, the edifice also contained insects, mummies, paintings and dinosaur bones.

It had priceless items from ancient Egypt, Greece and Italy, and served as a prominent research institution.

Brazilian President Michel Temer called the damage an “incalculable” loss for the country. “Two hundred years of work, research and knowledge have been lost,” he said in a tweet Sunday. “It’s a sad day for all Brazilians.”

Firefighters worked for hours to fight the flames, using water from a nearby lake because two hydrants weren’t working, a fire official said.

CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images

The fire broke out around 7:30 p.m., after the museum shut its doors to the public, according to a statement from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, which manages the museum.

It spread with astonishing speed, demolishing wood, documents and other flammable materials in its wake. Some flames towered over the museum, illuminating the night sky.

Firefighters were slow to fight the blaze because two hydrants near the museum weren’t working, a fire official told media. They had to use water from a nearby lake.

It is not immediately clear what caused the fire or what the extent of the damage is. The fire department said they were able to save some objects from the burning building.

No injuries were reported according to the statement.

The morning after the fire, people gathered outside the museum to mourn its losses.

CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images

People gathered outside the grounds on Monday to stare at the charred structure and its remains, crying and criticizing.

Staff say the museum was chronically underfunded. Vice director Luiz Duarte told O Globo, “We have never had efficient and urgent support.”

He also said the museum had been guaranteed about $5 million from the Brazilian government’s development bank, with some money allocated for fire prevention.

The staff had just gone through fire training and arranged for flammable items, such as animals kept in bottles with alcohol and formaldehyde, to be removed from the building. “The most terrible irony,” Duarte reportedly said.

He also told the newspaper that the fire destroyed frescoes of Pompeii, language collections and the entire collection of the Empress Tereza Cristina, who was nicknamed “the Mother of the Brazilians.”

The fire comes before elections in October, and as the country’s economy is suffering.

“It’s an international catastrophe. It goes beyond ‘a sad day,'” Brent Glass, director emeritus of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, told NPR. “Everyone in the museum community has to get behind our colleagues in Brazil and see what we could do to help them.”

‘They Wanted To Kill Us All’: Nicaragua Reels After Bloody Church Siege

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR NEWS)

 

‘They Wanted To Kill Us All’: Nicaragua Reels After Bloody Church Siege

A student who had taken refuge at the Church of the Divine Mercy amid a barrage of armed attacks is embraced by a relative on Saturday after he was transported to the Managua Metropolitan Cathedral.

Cristobal Venegas/AP

Nicaragua saw another weekend of deadly violence, as forces in support of President Daniel Ortega besieged student protesters in a church and attempted to assert control over several areas outside the capital.

Students have been at the center of anti-government demonstrations since they began April 18. What started as a “protest against now-rescinded changes in public pensions” became “a full-fledged call to end the authoritarian rule,” reporter Maria Martin tells NPR. The government has responded with brutal force.

Overnight Friday, protests at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua in the capital took a dramatic turn, ultimately leaving at least two people dead and several others injured.

For two months, students at the university in Managua have set up barricades during protests that have drawn the wrath of pro-government forces. On Friday, about 200 students on the sprawling campus were pinned down by police and paramilitaries into a nearby Catholic church that they had been using as a field hospital.

The Washington Post’s Joshua Partlow, reporting on the protests, was trapped in the Church of the Divine Mercy along with the students. He described what he saw:

“Not long after 6 p.m., with several high-pitched cracks, the mood took a dark turn. The faraway shooting was suddenly nearby. The paramilitaries had appeared, cutting off the only exit from Divine Mercy and firing at the remaining barricade just outside the church.

“It became clear that everyone inside — dozens of students, at least two priests and two doctors, neighbors, volunteers and journalists, including me — would not be going anywhere.

“Most of the students accepted this realization with stoicism and remarkable calm. Many had been taking sporadic fire on and off for the past two months, and they seemed accustomed to it. They carried the wounded into the Rev. Raul Zamora’s rectory and put them on chairs or on the blood-spattered tile floor. Outside, at the barricade, other students shouted and fired their mortars against the unseen ­assailants.

“Over the next hours, the fighting ebbed and flowed. A flurry of gunfire would force everyone indoors, then people would drift into the courtyard. At times, they chanted ‘Viva, Nicaragua,’ shot their mortars in the air and vowed to never leave their posts. Around sunset, dozens of them knelt in a circle, held each other and prayed.”

The siege stretched on for some 15 hours, ending when members of the clergy negotiated for the students to be allowed to leave. They were transported to the Managua Metropolitan Cathedral, according to the Post.

Roman Catholic Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes said two students were killed during the confrontation, according to The Associated Press.

Mourners attend the wake of Nicaraguan university student Gerald Vasquez who was killed over the weekend when police forced students out of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua in Managua.

Cristobal Venegas/AP

“It was a really hard night. They discharged their entire heavy arsenal against stones and mortars,” a sobbing young man who was afraid to given his name told the AP. “They wanted to kill us all.”

Sunday saw more violence, just outside Managua, Reuters reported. The Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights said at least 10 people were killed when security forces and paramilitary groups loyal to Ortega attacked people in the city of Masaya and communities of Monimbo.

In Masaya, pro-government forces were trying to take down barricades and reassert control over the area in what the government was calling “Operation Clean-up,” according to the BBC. The government says the “blockades are harming businesses and disrupting the lives of Nicaraguans,” the broadcaster reports.

The weekend violence is part of a brutal crackdown that human rights groups say has resulted in the deaths of nearly 300 people.

Human rights groups have criticized the Nicaraguan government for its tactics. For example, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has accused the government of “excessive and arbitrary use of police force,” as well as using paramilitary groups called “shock groups” to put down protests. It has called for the groups to be dismantled.

The BBC described “hooded and masked men opening fire on protesters” during recent protests, and says that “the government says the protesters are trying to stage a coup d’etat against Mr Ortega.”

In Tehran, Economic Protests Flare As Iran’s Currency Plunges

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘NPR’)

 

In Tehran, Economic Protests Flare As Iran’s Currency Plunges

Demonstrators filled the streets of Tehran on Monday to protest economic downtown in Iran.

Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

Iran’s capital has been racked by protests this week over a plunge in the value of the country’s currency, the rial. Crowds at one point shut down Tehran’s sprawling Grand Bazaar, an economic center and a place where the 1979 revolution gained footing.

Protesters called for shop owners to close their businesses as the demonstrations ramped up on Monday. They marched to the gates of Iran’s parliament, and police tried to quell them with what multiple news outlets said appeared to be tear gas. Videos purportedly showing clashes between security forces and protesters were put up online Tuesday. BBC Persian posted footage of people running as security forces approached.

The rial has fallen to a new low — 90,000 against the U.S. dollar on the country’s black market, Iranian media said, despite government efforts to control the currency rate. The official exchange rate is about 42,000 rials to the dollar.

Anti-government demonstrations driven by economic troubles erupted across the country last December and January. But they didn’t gain traction in Tehran. This week’s demonstrations in the capital were the biggest in years, multiple media outlets have reported.

Abbas Milani, director of Iranian studies at Stanford University, tells NPR via email that these demonstrations are different. “They have taken place amongst the regime’s hitherto reliable basis of support — the members of the bazaar and the working classes. For over a hundred years, strikes in bazaars have been harbingers of change and invariably the clergy were allied with these merchants. Now the ruling clergy are the subject of the merchants’ wrath.”

President Hassan Rouhani addressed the protests on state television Monday night, telling the Iranian people that the United States is to blame for the country’s economic difficulties. He said the spontaneous demonstrations were caused by “foreign media propaganda.”

He was also quoted as saying that the government would be able to endure the rial’s downward spiral and upcoming sanctions, which the Trump administration plans to impose after announcing a withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in May. “Even in the worst case, I promise that the basic needs of Iranians will be provided. We have enough sugar, wheat, and cooking oil. We have enough foreign currency to inject into the market,” Rouhani said, per Reuters.

Iran’s economy was lagging before President Trump announced the exit from the Iran nuclear deal, and it has grown weaker in anticipation of U.S. sanctions, NPR’s Peter Kenyon reports. The country’s buying power and retail sector have suffered.

The Central Bank of Iran reportedly announced that it will create a secondary currency market to relieve pressure on the country’s currency.

Citing economic security, Iran is also clamping down on foreign products by banning imports of more than 1,300 items, according to Reuters.

It wasn’t immediately clear who led the Tehran protests. Some observers believe that conservative factions in the government may have encouraged the demonstrations in an attempt to undermine the more moderate Rouhani. But some protests evolved into chants with anti-government slogans, according to the U.S.-government funded Voice of America.

Milani said that Rouhani faces pressure not just from the angered public, but radical conservatives such as the leaders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“The hardliners clearly think they can ride public dissent into more consolidated power for themselves,” he said. “But they might well have underestimated the seriousness of the crisis and its possible outcome.”

Great White Sharks Have A Secret ‘Cafe,’ And They Led Scientists Right To It

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR)

 

Great White Sharks Have A Secret ‘Cafe,’ And They Led Scientists Right To It

Scientists tagged over 30 great white sharks last fall — more than they had ever done in a single season.

Courtesy Stanford University — Block Lab Hopkins Marine Station

Great white sharks have a “hidden life” that is becoming a lot less hidden thanks to a scientific expedition that has been years in the making.

Scientists used to think the apex predators moved up and down the western coast of North America, snacking in waters with lots of food close to shore. Almost 20 years ago, Stanford marine biologist Barbara Block started putting tags on the sharks that could track their movements.

She and other researchers noticed something surprising — the tags showed that the sharks were moving away from these food-rich waters and heading more than a thousand miles off the coast of Baja California in Mexico.

Satellite images suggested the area was an ocean desert, a place with very little life.

The mystery of what was drawing the sharks to this strange place set new research into motion.

“We wanted to know if there was a hidden oasis that was formed by the currents that we couldn’t see from space,” Block said.

To find out, the scientists tagged over 30 great white sharks last fall — more than they had ever done in a single season. They’ve already gotten to know some of these animals from years of research. They’ve even given them names, such as Eugene, Tilden and Leona.

Then this spring, the research team set off on a state-of-the-art ship called the research vessel Falkor toward the mysterious area, hoping to find the sharks they tagged.

“There’s a lot of expectation when you put technology on an animal and then you take an expensive ship like the Falkor with 40 people to a box in the middle of the ocean and expect that these white sharks are going to be there,” Block said, speaking from the ship.

Sure enough, the animals were indeed swimming to this remote place, which the researchers have nicknamed the “White Shark Cafe.”

“Just as we predicted, the sharks showed up right in the cruise box,” Block added.

Schmidt Ocean Institute YouTube

The tags were programmed to pop off and float to the surface right when the Falkor was there. Each tag that reached the surface gave off a signal — and kicked off what Block called an “open-ocean treasure hunt,” as the team tried to find something the size of a small microphone in an area about the size of Colorado. These sophisticated tags record temperature, pressure, light and time.

“We doubled our current 20-year data set in three weeks,” Block said. The tags have 2,500 days of data at one- to three-second intervals, allowing researchers to see how the white sharks move up and down through the water with unprecedented detail.

In early March, two months before Falkor departed for the same mission, two saildrones were deployed from San Francisco. They have been transmitting data in real time, listening for the acoustic tags that researchers attached to great white sharks and using sonar to detect other creatures deep under the surface.

SOI/Monika Naranjo Gonzalez

The scientists will need time to parse all of this information, including new mysteries such as why male and female sharks move differently through the water. The males move up and down rapidly — sometimes 120 times a day. Females will go up to the shallow water at night, then down much deeper in the day.

“The male white shark and the female white shark are doing completely different things, and that’s not something we’ve seen so much before,” Block said. “We have to spend some time studying these behaviors to try to understand if this is courtship behavior or is this really a feeding or foraging behavior.”

And after the tags popped up, the scientists used a range of techniques to learn about the water nearby. They had a couple of saildrones, which are surface vehicles that can locate plankton and fish. They also gathered DNA from the water to figure out what is moving down there and observed creatures using a remotely operated underwater vehicle and by pulling them up in nets.

“We expected it to be the desert that the textbooks sort of advertised it would be,” said Bruce Robison, a senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

But this was no desert.

A layer of nutrient-rich plant life exists deeper under the ocean than satellites could detect. Tiny creatures feed on it, and larger creatures feed on them. And up and up. It represents “a complete food chain, a ladder of consumption, that made us believe that there was an adequate food supply out here for big animals like tunas and the sharks,” Robison said.

The scientists found that the “White Shark Cafe,” originally thought to be an ocean desert, actually is home to a diverse food chain.

Schmidt Ocean Institute

Robison was surprised by how diverse the area was, with animals such as fish, squids, crustaceans and jellyfish. They saw totally different patterns of life in sites just a few miles away from one another, an indication of the area’s complexity.

The fact that scientists didn’t even know this area existed until sharks led them there speaks to how much we still don’t know about the ocean. In fact, according to NOAA’s National Ocean Service, humans have explored just 5 percent of it.

“People don’t really get is why it’s like that — it’s because it’s really hard to do,” Block said. She added that there could be more ocean hot spots out there that scientists are not yet aware of.

And Robison said all the information they gathered could help build a case for why the White Shark Cafe should be officially protected by the U.N. cultural agency. UNESCO is considering recognizing and protecting it by making it a World Heritage Site.

What The World Needs To Do After Venezuela’s Vote

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR AND THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE)

 

What The World Needs To Do After Venezuela’s Vote

Marcos Carbono (center) joins a protest against the weekend’s election in Venezuela in front of that country’s consulate in Miami. President Nicolás Maduro may have won the vote count but in the process lost the legitimacy to govern, one expert writes.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Ted Piccone (@piccone_ted) is a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.

Venezuela’s latest electoral affair only worsened the country’s continued slide from a relatively stable middle-income democracy to a socialist authoritarian system stricken with hyperinflation, rising poverty, declining oil production and record levels of violent crime. Rather than boost President Nicolás Maduro’s standing after five years in power, the low voter turnout — down from 80 percent in 2013 to 46 percent on Sunday — coupled with a clear rejection of the results by the United States, Canada and a group of 13 Latin American nations, leaves the protégé of former President Hugo Chávez with a crisis of governability. Maduro may have won the vote count but in the process lost the legitimacy to govern.

Venezuela’s deterioration toward despotism and despair comes as little surprise. For years, experts have warned that increasing executive control of the country’s democratic institutions alongside gross mismanagement of its oil-dominated economy would lead to worsening conditions for its 30 million citizens. Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have left the country in the past two years, many of them desperate to escape the confluence of food and medicine shortages, lack of decent jobs, terrible crime and political repression.

The situation today is a tragic reversal of the heady days when Chávez first launched his Bolivarian revolution in 1998, promising to spread Venezuela’s vast petroleum wealth more fairly among the majority poor. For years, the charismatic revolutionary rode the wave of high oil prices to deliver social benefits to his constituents, helping him not only to overcome general strikes, mass protests and a coup attempt, but also to win relatively free and fair elections multiple times. He abused that electoral popularity and government largesse to rewrite the constitution in his favor, create paramilitary “Bolivarian circles,” stack the courts and electoral council with his loyalists, control the state-owned oil firm, and stifle free media.

Chávez also effectively used the country’s oil reserves, the world’s largest, to insulate his regime from U.S. pressure, securing favorable loans from China and new military equipment and energy deals from Russia.

By the time Chávez died in March 2013, the winning formula for an elected authoritarian was well-entrenched. His hand-picked successor, Maduro, narrowly won elections a month later and quickly consolidated control by digging even deeper into the trough of state resources to buy off the military, nationalize industries and woo enough voters to stave off electoral defeat.

This strategy, however, has probably run its course. With mounting foreign debt, falling oil production, increased sanctions, diplomatic isolation and a spreading humanitarian crisis on his hands, Maduro can survive only by taking painful steps to reform a system that fuels his regime’s authority. Since this is unlikely, we should expect to see an increasingly desperate hardening of his administration’s tactics against his opponents, domestic and foreign, and an intensified reliance on China and Russia for support.

For the United States and the international community, Venezuela presents a particularly tricky case. The goals are relatively clear — weaken Maduro enough to force him to negotiate a peaceful exit while preventing a worsening humanitarian crisis that is already destabilizing neighboring Colombia and fragile Caribbean states and could bring thousands of desperate Venezuelans to U.S. borders.

Washington, however, is not well-positioned politically to lead the charge. Threats of military intervention, already uttered by President Trump, are a non-starter. Support for a military coup likewise would seriously set back U.S. standing in the region. For the past three decades, the U.S. has mostly stood firm in support of democratic and negotiated solutions to the Latin America’s internal political crises. That leaves expanding the list of targeted economic sanctions, coordinated with partners in the region and Europe, to pressure Maduro and his allies to come to the negotiating table in a serious way.

Up until now, Maduro has managed to avoid such a negotiated pact with the opposition, which remains divided and demoralized. They are not, however, defeated. They will likely return to the streets to protest the government’s abuses and economic malfeasance. As the country becomes more ungovernable, moderates in the ruling socialist party may realize that the benefits of the current system can only be preserved through compromise.

A new mediation process should be launched as soon as possible, facilitated by the United Nations under the secretary-general’s banner of conflict prevention, and supported by a coalition of states that includes not only key South American countries like Peru, Chile and Argentina, but also the United States, France, Germany, China and the Vatican. An early agreement should be reached to allow international agencies to deliver humanitarian assistance to malnourished and sick Venezuelans before they attempt to leave the country. And a package of economic incentives should be assembled to prepare for a post-Maduro scenario.

In sum, while Maduro may claim a historic victory that solidifies his hold on power, the reality is just the opposite. If the domestic opposition can rally, it will signal to the international community that a coordinated plan of increased sanctions and facilitated talks is feasible.

‘National Geographic’ Reckons With Its Past: ‘Our Coverage Was Racist’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR)

((Commentary from: Oldpoet56) During my lifetime I probably read articles within National Geographic Magazines about a dozen times. Because I only read spot articles here and there I never realized that they had been this racist. Their history on race is disgusting, and this does disappoint me greatly. I do commend them though on finally recognizing this glaring fault and for having the guts to ‘call themselves out’ on this issue. Hopefully in their future they will eliminate this fault. I know that any of their magazines that I come across in the future I will be looking to see if their racism has stopped.)  

‘National Geographic’ Reckons With Its Past: ‘For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist’

In a full-issue article on Australia that ran in National Geographic in 1916, aboriginal Australians were called “savages” who “rank lowest in intelligence of all human beings.” The magazine examines its history of racist coverage in its April issue.

C.P. Scott (L) and H.E. Gregory (R)/National Geographic

If National Geographic‘s April issue was going to be entirely devoted to the subject of race, the magazine decided it had better take a good hard look at its own history.

Editor in Chief Susan Goldberg asked John Edwin Mason, a professor of African history and the history of photography at the University of Virginia, to dive into the magazine’s nearly 130-year archive and report back.

What Mason found was a long tradition of racism in the magazine’s coverage: in its text, its choice of subjects, and in its famed photography.

Enlarge this image

The April issue of National Geographic is all about race.

National Geographic

“[U]ntil the 1970s National Geographic all but ignored people of color who lived in the United States, rarely acknowledging them beyond laborers or domestic workers,” writes Goldberg in the issue’s editor letter, where she discusses Mason’s findings. “Meanwhile it pictured ‘natives’ elsewhere as exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages—every type of cliché.”

Unlike magazines such as Life, National Geographic did little to push its readers beyond the stereotypes ingrained in white American culture,” Goldberg says, noting that she is the first woman and first Jewish person to helm the magazine – “two groups that also once faced discrimination here.”

To assess the magazine’s coverage historically, Mason delved into old issues and read a couple of key critical studies. He also pored over photographers’ contact sheets, giving him a view of not just the photos that made it into print, but also the decisions that photographers and editors made.

He saw a number of problematic themes emerge.

“The photography, like the articles, didn’t simply emphasize difference, but made difference … very exotic, very strange, and put difference into a hierarchy,” Mason tells NPR. “And that hierarchy was very clear: that the West, and especially the English-speaking world, was at the top of the hierarchy. And black and brown people were somewhere underneath.”

For much of its history, the pages of National Geographic depicted the Western world as dynamic, forward-moving and very rational. Meanwhile, Mason says, “the black and brown world was primitive and backwards and generally unchanging.”

One trope that he noticed time and again were photographs showing native people apparently fascinated by Westerners’ technology.

“It’s not simply that cameras and jeeps and airplanes are present,” he says. “It’s the people of color looking at this technology in amusement or bewilderment.” The implication was that Western readers would find humor in such fascination with their everyday goods.

Then there’s how the magazine chose its subject matter. Mason explains that National Geographic had an explicit editorial policy of “nothing unpleasant,” so readers rarely saw war, famine or civic conflict.

He points to an article on South Africa from the early 1960s that barely mentions the Sharpeville Massacre, in which 69 black South Africans were killed by police.

South African gold miners were “entranced by thundering drums” during “vigorous tribal dances,” a 1962 issue reported.

Kip Ross/National Geographic Creative

“There are no voices of black South Africans,” Mason told Goldberg. “That absence is as important as what is in there. The only black people are doing exotic dances … servants or workers. It’s bizarre, actually, to consider what the editors, writers, and photographers had to consciously not see.”

Then there’s the way women of color were often depicted in the magazine: topless.

“Teenage boys could always rely, in the ’50s and ’60s, on National Geographic to show them bare-breasted women as long as the women had brown or black skin,” Mason says. “I think the editors understood this was frankly a selling point to its male readers. Some of the bare-breasted young women are shot in a way that almost resembles glamour shots.”

Mason says the magazine has been dealing with its history implicitly for the last two or three decades, but what made this project different is that Goldberg wanted to make reckoning explicit — “That National Geographic should not do an issue on race without understanding its own complicity in shaping understandings of race and racial hierarchy.”

Although slave labor was used to build homes featured in a 1956 article, the writer contended that they “stand for a chapter of this country’s history every American is proud to remember.”

Robert F. Sisson and Donald McBain/National Geographic

For those of us who have spent long afternoons thumbing old issues of the magazine and dreaming of far-off lands, Mason wants to make clear that looking at foreign people and places isn’t a bad thing.

“We’re all curious and we all want to see. I’m not criticizing the idea of being curious about the world. It’s just the other messages that are sent—that it’s not just difference, but inferiority and superiority.”

So where does the storied publication go from here?

One good step would be to invite the diverse contributors to the April issue to become part of the magazine’s regular pool of writers and photographers, Mason suggests.

“Still it’s too often a Westerner who is telling us about Africa or Asia or Latin America,” he says. “There are astonishing photographers from all over the world who have unique visions – not just of their own country, but who could bring a unique vision to photographing Cincinnati, Ohio, if it came to that.”

He notes that the magazine’s images have so often captivated, even when they were stereotypical or skewed. Mason says a number of African photographers have told him that it was magazines like National Geographic and Life that turned them onto photography in the first place.

“They knew that there were problems with the way that they and their people were being represented,” he says. “And yet the photography was often spectacularly good, it was really inviting, and it carried this power. And as young people, these men and women said, I want to do that. I want to make pictures like that.”

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Ukraine Ejects Ex-Georgian President, Deporting Him To Poland

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR AND THE BBC)

 

Ukraine Ejects Ex-Georgian President, Deporting Him To Poland

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili speaks to the media prior to a scheduled court hearing in Kiev last month.

Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

Ukrainian authorities have deported Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president who has emerged as a vocal antagonist of the government in Kiev. Ukraine’s border agency confirmed his deportation to Poland on Monday, while videos on social media purported to show Saakashvili getting seized by masked men.

“This person was on Ukrainian territory illegally,” the agency said in a statement released Monday, “and therefore, in compliance with all legal procedures, he was returned to the country from which he arrived.”

Representatives of Saakashvili are describing the incident in starkly different terms.

Earlier Monday the populist politician’s Facebook account released a plea for help, saying “unknown people in masks kidnapped [him] and drove him in an unknown direction.” At the same time, the account uploaded several videos appearing to show his “abduction” in a restaurant at the hands of several shouting men.

Hours later, he called reporters from Warsaw with his account of the confrontation: “They broke into the cafe,” he said. “They tried to close my eyes, tie my hands.”

Within hours he had been placed on a plane to Poland.

Saakashvili and his supporters have cast the move as an attempt to remove a prominent threat to President Petro Poroshenko, a former ally who granted Saakashvili Ukrainian citizenship and even appointed him governor several years ago — only to strip him of that citizenship after Saakashvili quit amid a flurry of accusations that Poroshenko was blocking his attempts at reform.

Saakashvili — a populist politician who also faces a three-year prison sentence in Georgia for embezzlement and abuse of authority during his presidency there — lost his rights as a Ukrainian last summer while he was in the U.S. He returned, though, gathering supporters on the Poland-Ukraine border for a climactic push back into the country in September. Since then he has drawn a considerable following in Ukraine, even as Ukrainian officials have condemned him as a provocateur backed by a pro-Russian criminal group.

Earlier this month Saakashvili lost his appeal for protection against the possibility of getting extradited to Georgia to stand charges.

“The Georgian authorities never asked for my extradition when I was in America or in Europe,” the 50-year-old opposition leader told The Guardian last week, when he was still living and working in central Kiev. “They only did it when I returned to Ukraine because Poroshenko asked them to.”

Now, after grappling with Saakashvili for months, Kiev has managed to eject him. Time will tell whether he will stay out of Ukraine or whether, as he did last year, he will somehow manage to return. In the meantime, Saakashvili might be out of the country — but he is not exactly out of earshot.

“This is not a president and not a man,” he said of Poroshenko in a statement after the deportation Monday, according to Reuters. “This is a lowlife crook who wants to wreck Ukraine. All this shows how weak they are. We will of necessity defeat them.”

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Dow Drops 666 Points In Sharp Sell-Off

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR)

(THIS ARTICLE SHOWS JUST HOW SICKENING THE STOCK MARKET WORLD AND THE RICH AND SUPER RICH ARE. THIS TUMBLE IS BECAUSE HOURLY WAGE EARNERS WAGES WENT UP 2.9% LAST YEAR. IF THESE SAME PEOPLE ONLY RECEIVED THE SAME 2.9% INCREASE IN THEIR OWN WEALTH LAST YEAR THEY WOULD BE WHINING AND THINKING THE SKY WAS FALLING. SIMPLY PUT, THE STOCK MARKET IS ANTI WORKERS-PERIOD, WHAT HAPPENED TODAY IS SIMPLY PROOF OF THIS FRAUD ON THE WORKING CLASS OF THE WHOLE WORLD.(TRS))

Dow Drops 666 Points In Sharp Sell-Off

Traders at the New York Stock Exchange on Friday. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 666 points amid signs that interest rates are heading higher.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Updated at 4:45 p.m. ET

Major stock indexes dropped sharply Friday, with the Dow Jones industrial average tumbling 666 points amid signs that wage growth is finally picking up.

The 2.6-percent drop in the Dow came as the Labor Department reported 200,000 jobs were added to the economy last month, which was stronger than expected, and the unemployment rate stayed at 4.1 percent — the lowest since 2000.

But worries about inflation grew when the report showed that average hourly wages grew 2.9 percent from a year ago — the largest increase since June 2009. Yields for 10-year Treasurys hit four-year highs Friday.

All this sets the stage for the Federal Reserve to continue raising interest rates, with the next hike expected in March. It sets the stage to make credit cards, car loans and mortgages more expensive.

The Dow closed at 25,520.96, and Friday’s 666-point drop was the sixth-worst ever. The index is still up more than 3 percent since the year began. But with a loss about 1,000 points since Monday, it was the blue chip index’s worst weekly performance in 2 years.

Other major indexes fell about 2 percent Friday. The broader S&P 500 slid 60 points, to 2,762.13; the Nasdaq index lost 145 points, closing at 7,240.95.

Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust, says Friday’s employment report shows the economy continues to have a lot of energy.

The higher wage growth and potentially higher inflation “might then lead the Federal Reserve to raise their interest rates more rapidly than the market is comfortable with,” he told NPR’s John Ydstie.

NPR’s Jim Zarroli reports: “Now, investors are starting to think, maybe things are moving too fast. The government has cut taxes and it’s borrowing more — maybe we’re going to see inflation.”

But, he says, “The stock market was really due to come down somewhat. We have these corrections. They’re normal. Stock prices can’t keep rising at these levels.”