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US Lets in Thai Fish Caught by Slaves Despite Law

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In this Nov. 2014, file photo, workers in Benjina, Indonesia, load fish onto a cargo ship bound for Thailand. In its first report on trafficking around the world, the U.S. criticized Thailand as a hub for labor abuse. Yet 14 years later, seafood caught by slaves on Thai boats is still slipping into the supply chains of major American stores and supermarkets. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File)

In this Nov. 2014, file photo, workers in Benjina, Indonesia, load fish onto a cargo ship bound for Thailand. In its first report on trafficking around the world, the U.S. criticized Thailand as a hub for labor abuse. Yet 14 years later, seafood caught by slaves on Thai boats is still slipping into the supply chains of major American stores and supermarkets. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File)

MARTHA MENDOZA, Associated Press National Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — In its first report on trafficking around the world, the U.S. criticized Thailand as a hub for labor abuse. Yet 14 years later, seafood caught by slaves on Thai boats is still slipping into the supply chains of major American stores and supermarkets.

The U.S. has not enforced a law banning the import of goods made with forced labor since 2000 because of significant loopholes, The Associated Press has found. It has also spared Thailand from sanctions slapped on other countries with weak records in human trafficking because of a complex political relationship that includes cooperation against terrorism.

The question of how to deal with Thailand and labor abuse will come up at a congressional hearing Wednesday, in light of an AP investigation that found hundreds of men beaten, starved, forced to work with little or no pay and even held in a cage on the remote island village of Benjina. While officials at federal agencies would not directly answer why the law and sanctions are not applied, they pointed out that the U.S. State Department last year blacklisted Thailand as among the worst offenders in its report on trafficking in people worldwide.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said the plight of about 4,000 forced laborers in Thailand’s seafood industry can no longer go unheeded. Many are migrant workers from Myanmar and other countries who were forced to work on Thai boats in Indonesian waters.

“There have been problems with systematic and pervasive human trafficking in Thailand’s fishing fleets for more than a decade, but Washington has evidently considered it too hard to find out exactly what was happening and is not taking action to stop it,” he said. “No one can claim ignorance anymore. This is a test case for Washington as much as Bangkok.”

Hlaing Min, a 32-year-old migrant fisherman from Myanmar who worked around the clock for more than two years before he ran away, also begged the U.S. for help.

“Basically, we are slaves — and slavery is the only word that I can find — but our condition is worse than slavery,” he said. “On behalf of all the fishermen here, I request to the congressmen that the U.S. stop buying all fish from Thailand. … This fish, we caught it with our blood and sweat, but we don’t get a single benefit from it.”

The AP investigation tracked fish caught by slaves to the supply chains of large food sellers such as Wal-Mart, Sysco and Kroger, as well as popular brands of canned pet food such as Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams. The companies all said they strongly condemn labor abuse and are taking steps to prevent it. While some human rights advocates say boycotts are effective, many U.S. seafood companies say cutting off all imports from an entire country means they no longer have any power to bring about change.

During a recent visit to Jakarta, State Department Undersecretary Catherine A. Novelli was asked what the U.S. would now do.

“I’m sure that your public would be concerned that the fish that they ate came from a slave,” said an Indonesian reporter.

Novelli’s response was quick.

“In the United States we actually have a law that it is illegal to import any product that is made with forced labor or slave labor, and that includes fish,” she said. “To the extent that we can trace … where the fish are coming from, we won’t allow fish to come into the United States that has been produced with forced labor or slavery.”

However, the Tariff Act of 1930, which gives Customs and Border Protection the authority to seize shipments where forced labor is suspected and block further imports, has been used only 39 times in 85 years. In 11 cases, the orders detaining shipments were later revoked.

The most recent case dates back to 2000, when Customs stopped clothing from Mongolian firm Dong Fang Guo Ji based on evidence that factory managers forced employees, including children, to work 14-hour days for low wages. The order was revoked in 2001, after further review found labor abuse was no longer a problem at the company.

Detention orders that remain in place can have mixed results.

In 1999, Customs blocked hand-rolled unfiltered cigarettes from the Mangalore Ganesh Beedie Works in India, suspecting child labor. However, the AP found that Mangalore Ganesh has sent 11 large shipments of the cigarettes to Beedies LLC of Kissimee, Florida, over the past four years through the ports of New York, Miami and Savannah, Georgia. Beedies LLC said the cigarettes go straight from the U.S. ports to a bonded warehouse, and are then exported outside the country.

To start an investigation, Customs needs to receive a petition from anyone — a business, an agency, even a non-citizen — showing “reasonably but not conclusively” that imports were made at least in part with forced labor. But spokesman Michael Friel said that in the last four years, Customs has received “only a handful of petitions,” and none has pointed to seafood from Thailand. The most recent petition was filed two years ago by a non-profit against cotton in Uzbekistan.

“These cases often involve numerous allegations that require extensive agency investigation and fact-finding,” he said.

Experts also point to two gaping loopholes in the law. Goods made with forced labor must be allowed into the U.S. if consumer demand cannot be met without them. And it’s hard, if not impossible, to prove fish in a particular container is tainted, because different batches generally mix together at processing plants.

Former Justice Department attorney Jim Rubin said Customs can’t stop trafficked goods without the help of other federal agencies to investigate overseas.

“You can’t expect a Customs guy at the border to know that a can of salmon caught on the high seas was brought in by a slave,” he said.

The U.S. response to Thailand is also shaped by political considerations.

For years, the State Department has put Thailand on the watchlist in its annual trafficking report, saying the Thai government has made efforts to stop labor abuse. But last year, after several waivers, it dropped Thailand for the first time to the lowest rank, mentioning forced labor in the seafood industry. Countries with the same ranking, such as Cuba, Iran and North Korea, faced full sanctions, and foreign aid was withheld. Others, like Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe, faced partial sanctions.

Thailand did not: U.S. taxpayers provided $18.5 million in foreign aid to the country last year.

“If Thailand was North Korea or Iran, they’d be treated differently,” said Josh Kurlantzick, a fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. “They’re a key ally and we have a long relationship with them.”

In the 1960s and ’70s, when the U.S. needed Thailand’s help in the Vietnam War, the country “got a pass on everything,” Kurlantzick said. Then Thailand’s record on human rights gradually improved, along with its economy. That changed dramatically in 2006, when the military first ousted the prime minister. It declared martial law and then overtook the government again last year.

In response, the U.S. condemned the current regime and has suspended $4.7 million in military funding to the Southeast Asian nation.

However, the U.S. still includes Thailand in military exercises, and the country is considered a critical ally against terrorism. A U.S. Senate report in December detailed how top al-Qaida suspect Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded, slammed into a wall and isolated at a secret safe house in Thailand as part of CIA interrogations in 2002. And in 2003, a senior al-Qaida operative was arrested outside Bangkok after more than 200 people died in a Bali nightclub bombing.

The U.S. also wants strong relations with Thailand as a counterweight to China, whose influence is growing in the region.

Along with the State Department, the Labor Department has also flagged seafood from Thailand year after year as produced by forced labor in violation of international standards. Department of Homeland Security senior policy adviser Kenneth Kennedy referred to discussions for an action plan on labor abuse in Thailand that began in the fall.

“I think the U.S. government recently has realized that we need to pay attention to this area,” he said. “We need to address conditions that have been reported for years and that are in the public minds and in the public eye very much.”

Thailand itself says it is tackling labor abuse. In 2003, the country launched a national campaign against criminal organizations, including traffickers. In 2008, it adopted a new anti-human trafficking law. And last month, the new junta government cited the fight against trafficking as a national priority.

“This government is determined and committed to solving the human trafficking issues, not by words but by actions,” deputy government spokesman Maj. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd said. “We are serious in prosecuting every individual involved in the network, from the boats’ captains to government officials.”

However, a Thai police general on a fact-finding mission earlier this month to Benjina declared conditions were good and workers “happy.” A day later, Indonesian authorities rescued more than 320 abused fishermen from the island village, and the number of workers waiting to be sent home has since risen to more than 560.

Under United Nations principles adopted in 2011, governments must protect against human rights abuses by third parties. However, some local authorities in Thailand are themselves deeply implicated in such practices, said Harvard University professor John Ruggie, who wrote the principles, known as the “Ruggie Framework,” as a U.N. special representative. Also, Thailand’s seafood industry, with annual exports of about $7 billion, is big business for the country and depends on migrant labor.

Migrant fishermen rescued from Benjina were bewildered to learn that their abuse has been an open secret for years. Maung Htwe, a 26-year-old migrant worker from Myanmar, did backbreaking work for Thai captains in Indonesian waters over seven years, earning less than $5 a day, if he was lucky.

“Sometimes I’m really angry. It’s so painful. Why was I sold and taken to Indonesia?” asked Htwe, who was among the workers rescued from Benjina. “If people already knew the story, then they should have helped us and taken action.”

___

AP reporter Thanyarat Doksone contributed from Thailand.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

2018 NNPA DTU Journalism Fellowship

How Idris Elba saved a fan’s life

ROLLINGOUT.COM — Idris Elba rushed to the aid of a fan who was in distress during a performance of his stage play, Tree. The “Luther” star leaped off stage to help Amanda Bilington when he saw she was having a seizure in the audience at the Upper Campfield Market in Manchester during the preview the production on Wednesday, July 3, 2019.

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Idris Elba (Photo Credit: Bang Media)

By Rollingout.com

Idris Elba rushed to the aid of a fan who was in distress during a performance of his stage play, Tree.

The “Luther” star leaped off stage to help Amanda Bilington when he saw she was having a seizure in the audience at the Upper Campfield Market in Manchester during the preview the production on Wednesday, July 3, 2019.

The 33-year-old theatre-goer who suffers from regular seizures didn’t realize the 46-year-old actor was standing by her side until she regained consciousness a little while later. Elba continued to stay with her until the paramedics arrived to take over her care.

“I would love to thank him personally but doubt I will cross paths with him, he’s very famous,” Bilington told the Daily Mirror newspaper.

Meanwhile, although Elba is busy with the play at the moment, the Mountain Between Us actor who is married to Sabrina Dhowre and has children Isan, 17, and five-year-old Winston from previous relationships, is working to spend as much time as possible with his loved ones.

“Everything’s a balance in life. I have to do the work, because it’s a popular time for me, and it’s best to have that. But also: I’m madly in love with my wife and my children,” he said in a recent interview with Vanity Fair.

“At home, I’m not famous, I’m me. And to my team and my family and the people that I work with every day when we build what we build, we’re not famous. You know what I mean? It’s day one every day,” Elba said.

This article originally appeared in Rollingout.com
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COMMENTARY: Is U.S. marching steadily to war with Iran?

NNPA NEWSWIRE — A war, Mr. Trump may be estimating, could “rescue” him politically, and inject more money into the Pentagon. The U.S. “war strategy” was revealed by Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) after a House Armed Services Committee meeting and confirmed to The Intercept by Rep. Gabbard. “We were all in that meeting with Pompeo where those statements were made,” Ms. Gabbard said.

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An oil tanker is on fire in the sea of Oman, June 13. Two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz were reportedly attacked on June 13, an assault that left one ablaze and adrift as sailors were evacuated from both vessels and the U.S. Navy rushed to assist amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran. Photo: AP/Wide World Photo

By Askia Muhammad, Senior Editor, The Final Call
@askiaphotojourn

WASHINGTON—President Donald J. Trump seems to want war with Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is beating the drum for war with Iran. National Security Adviser John Bolton is itching for war with Iran. Together they are orchestrating an all-too-familiar scenario to justify the use of U.S. military force against the Islamic Republic.

In 1846 U.S. forces falsely claimed they were attacked by Mexican forces inside U.S. territory. In retaliation the U.S. launched the Mexican-American War, seizing land from New Mexico to California, to Colorado, even to Utah. Have we forgotten the suspicious sinking of the USS Maine, the Navy ship which went down in the Havana Harbor in 1898, dragging the U.S. into the Spanish-American War?

In 1962, a Pentagon plan called “Operation Northwoods” was hatched for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to commit acts of terrorism against U.S. civilians to be blamed on Cuba, in order to justify an invasion of that country. In 1964 the White House committed “material misrepresentations” of the truth of what was known as the “Gulf of Tonkin Incident” in order to goad Congress into authorizing war with Vietnam. And of course, the convincing dramatizations of “Yellow Cake Uranium” and non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” were used to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The Trump administration is now stoking fear of a potential conflict with Iran. The president withdrew from the landmark Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—in May 2018. More recently, National Security Adviser John Bolton asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with military options to strike Iran.

In the latest incident, the Secretary of State said Iran was behind the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman June 13, implicating the nation in the second set of attacks on tankers in the region in two months. U.S. Central Command even released a video it says shows Iran removing an unexploded mine from one of the tankers it’s accused of attacking.

But the Japanese owner of the ship that was damaged denied that it was struck by mines as the U.S. claims, insisting instead that it was hit by “flying objects.” Yutaka Katada, president of the Kokuka Sangyo shipping firm that owns the Kokuka Courageous tanker, told reporters in Tokyo June 14: “The crew are saying it was hit with a flying object. They say something came flying toward them, then there was an explosion, then there was a hole in the vessel. Then some crew witnessed a second shot.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the United States had “immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran—(without) a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence,” and he accused the Trump White House of “economic terrorism” and “sabotage diplomacy,” according to published reports.

“So it’s apparent that the United States is trying to execute a false flag operation and to throw dust in the eyes of international communities and make the international community feel that the Iranians are the aggressors when in fact it’s Washington that’s the aggressor,” Dr. Gerald Horne, professor of history and African American studies at the University of Houston said in an interview.

The U.S. lust for war is because U.S. interests and allies are suffering, while Iran is making gains in the region, according to Dr. Horne. The U.S. invasion of Iraq has made that country even more dependent on Iran for everything from electricity to security. And U.S. ally Saudi Arabia is fighting a costly and bloody war against rebels in Yemen who enjoy Iranian support.

“Interestingly enough, because of Mr. Trump pulling out of the (Iranian) nuclear deal, the EU 3—Germany, Britain, and France—are trying to set up a special purpose vehicle to circumvent U.S. sanctions,” Dr. Horne said, “which will then be a threat to the dollar, which is now under siege not only because of the EU 3 but also because of Russia (and) China preparing to conduct trade without the dollar.”

A war, Mr. Trump may be estimating, could “rescue” him politically, and inject more money into the Pentagon. The U.S. “war strategy” was revealed by Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) after a House Armed Services Committee meeting and confirmed to The Intercept by Rep. Gabbard. “We were all in that meeting with Pompeo where those statements were made,” Ms. Gabbard said.

The Trump administration is prepared to wage the war against Iran without congressional authorization, based on the notion that the “Authorization for the Use of Military Force” approved by Congress in 2001 after 9/11 can be applied to Iran, through that country’s purported links to Al Qaeda.

Democratic House members and senators, and a host of presidential candidates condemned the president’s saber rattling. “If the administration wants to go to war against Iran, then the Constitution requires them to come to Congress to ask for an authorization for the use of military force,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a presidential candidate told reporters.

“This is Constitutional Law 101, that it is Congress, not the president, that declares war,” Sen. Warren, a former law professor, continued. “We would have to have a debate on the floor of the Senate. And if the administration doesn’t believe that they can withstand a debate, then they shouldn’t be aiming themselves toward war.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks to reporters after a classified members-only briefing on Iran, Tuesday, May 21, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

President Trump told an interviewer on June 13 that “Iran did do it.” In response, presidential candidate and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told reporters: “Attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman are unacceptable and must be fully investigated. But this incident must not be used as a pretext for a war with Iran, a war which would be an unmitigated disaster for the United States, Iran, the region and the world.

“The time is now for the United States to exert international leadership and bring the countries in the region together to forge a diplomatic solution to the growing tensions. I would also remind President Trump that there is no congressional authorization for a war with Iran. A unilateral U.S. attack on Iran would be illegal and unconstitutional.”

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BlackPressUSA.com or the National Newspaper Publishers Association.

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Dennis-Benn’s novel of Jamaican immigrant is magnetic, wrenching

FLORIDA COURIER — In her new novel, Nicole Dennis-Benn contrasts the deep chasm between the American dream and immigrant reality, and the result is magnetic and wrenching. The story is a perfect fit for the author: Her first novel, “Here Comes the Sun,” laid bare the poster image of Jamaica as a tropical paradise, revealing the ugly truths behind the promises of sun, sand and sex.

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Dennis-Benn was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. She holds a Master of Public Health from the University of Michigan and an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives with her wife in Brooklyn, New York.

By Connie Ogle

In America, anyone can be anything. That’s what the dream assures us, right?

We live in the land of opportunity for anyone willing to work hard. Unless of course you get here the wrong way. Then there’s little opportunity, few choices, constant unease, quick despair. You don’t belong.

In her new novel, Nicole Dennis-Benn contrasts the deep chasm between the American dream and immigrant reality, and the result is magnetic and wrenching.

The story is a perfect fit for the author: Her first novel, “Here Comes the Sun,” laid bare the poster image of Jamaica as a tropical paradise, revealing the ugly truths behind the promises of sun, sand and sex.

Another mirage

Now, in “Patsy,” she exposes another mirage, returning to themes she explored with insight and empathy — sexism, racism, colorism, homophobia, motherhood and poverty.

What must women sacrifice, Dennis-Benn asks, to become their true selves? It’s not just a question for the privileged. Patsy, a civil servant in Jamaica, knows her answer.

In a fair world, her affinity for math would lead her to a desirable job.

Accounting, maybe. But such work is impossible to find, because dark-skinned, poor women like Patsy have little value in her town.

So Patsy has invested the little money she has saved and spent it on a visa application. She is going to America, she tells her 5-year-old daughter Tru, to “mek t’ings bettah fah you. Fall all ah we.”

A new life

This is a lie. Patsy hopes to find a better job — after all, she has taken two courses at a community college and once solved 100 math problems in a row at school.

But she won’t return to Jamaica because Cicely is in America. Cicely, her beautiful friend who emigrated and married for a green card.

Patsy and Cicely loved each other once, and Cicely still writes hopeful letters to Patsy, encouraging her to come to New York. And so Patsy leaves Tru to build a new life. But America is less a paradise than a treacherous illusion.

Hard choices

A mother who abandons her child is a monster in most cultures, but Dennis-Benn’s deep compassion for Patsy — for all women facing unthinkable choices — forces you to reconsider your own preconceptions.

She urges you to think about this woman’s desperation, her fear, her past, her yearning for connection. She never wanted to be a mother, and Tru’s father, a married police officer, can provide a stable home for the girl.

That rationalization doesn’t soothe Patsy’s guilt, nor does it comfort Tru, who clings to her mother’s promise to return for as long as she can.

Eventually, though, Tru has to grow up and make hard choices of her own.

Two views

“Patsy” is told from both points of view, mother and daughter, the voices raw, honest and haunting. Patsy faces the irony that the only options open to her are nanny jobs, caring for the children of others.

She hates being labeled “illegal” and “can’t understand why she’s deemed a criminal for wanting more.” She wonders: “What am I good at?” and simply doesn’t know.

As a teenager, Tru begins to reject the role her culture has carved out for her (Dennis-Benn has a lot to say about how girls are raised in her native Jamaica).

Both women suffer depression, a battle all the harder to win when you don’t have the means to fight it.

But reinvention and redemption are possible. The story ends on a note of hope, though it comes at a price. What are you good at, Patsy? Loving. Learning. Living. The most human strengths of all.

This article originally appeared in the Florida Courier

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Committee Democrats Call on Facebook to Halt Cryptocurrency Plans

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Investors and consumers transacting in Libra may be exposed to serious privacy and national security concerns, cyber security risks, and trading risks. Those using Facebook’s digital wallet – storing potentially trillions of dollars without depository insurance– also may become unique targets for hackers. For example, during the first three quarters of 2018, hackers stole nearly $1 billion from cryptocurrency exchanges.[3] The system could also provide an under-regulated platform for illicit activity and money laundering.”

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Congresswoman Maxine Waters has emerged as one of the strongest legislators, community organizers, and champions for women, children, seniors, veterans, people of color, and the poor. She was elected in November 2018 to her fifteenth term in the U.S. House of Representatives where she proudly represents California’s diverse and dynamic 43rd Congressional District. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
Congresswoman Maxine Waters has emerged as one of the strongest legislators, community organizers, and champions for women, children, seniors, veterans, people of color, and the poor.

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee; Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Chair of the Investor Protection, Entrepreneurship and Capital Markets Subcommittee; Congressman William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Chairman of the Housing, Community Development and Insurance Subcommittee; Congressman Al Green (D-TX), Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee; and Congressman Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA), Chairman of the Task Force on Financial Technology, wrote a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Facebook; Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook; and David Marcus, Chief Executive Officer of Calibra, requesting an immediate moratorium on the implementation of Facebook’s proposed cryptocurrency and digital wallet.

“Because Facebook is already in the hands of over a quarter of the world’s population, it is imperative that Facebook and its partners immediately cease implementation plans until regulators and Congress have an opportunity to examine these issues and take action,” the lawmakers wrote.“During this moratorium, we intend to hold public hearings on the risks and benefits of cryptocurrency-based activities and explore legislative solutions. Failure to cease implementation before we can do so, risks a new Swiss-based financial system that is too big to fail.”

This letter comes on the heels of Chairwoman Waters’ initial request for Facebook to agree to a moratorium in June.

The Chairwoman has also announced plans to convene a full Committee hearing entitled, “Examining Facebook’s Proposed Cryptocurrency and Its Impact on Consumers, Investors, and the American Financial System” on Wednesday, July 17.

See full text of the letter below.

July 2, 2019

Mark Zuckerberg
Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Facebook
1 Hacker Way
Menlo Park, CA 94025

Sheryl Sandberg
Chief Operating Officer
Facebook
1 Hacker Way
Menlo Park, CA 94025

David Marcus
Chief Executive Officer
Calibra
Facebook
1 Hacker Way
Menlo Park, CA 94025

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg, Ms. Sandberg, and Mr. Marcus:

We write to request that Facebook and its partners immediately agree to a moratorium on any movement forward on Libra—its proposed cryptocurrency and Calibra—its proposed digital wallet. It appears that these products may lend themselves to an entirely new global financial system that is based out of Switzerland and intended to rival U.S. monetary policy and the dollar. This raises serious privacy, trading, national security, and monetary policy concerns for not only Facebook’s over 2 billion users, but also for investors, consumers, and the broader global economy.

On June 18, 2019, Facebook announced its plans to develop a new cryptocurrency, called Libra, and a digital wallet to store this cryptocurrency, known as Calibra. To assist it in this venture, Facebook has enlisted 27 other companies and organizations to form the Libra Association, which is based out of Switzerland. [1] These companies span the financial services and retail industry and include payment systems, like Mastercard, Paypal, and Visa, and technology giants, like Uber, Lyft, and Spotify. By the target launch date of early 2020, Facebook hopes to have recruited over 100 firms into the Libra Association.

While Facebook has published a “white paper” on these projects, the scant information provided about the intent, roles, potential use, and security of the Libra and Calibra exposes the massive scale of the risks and the lack of clear regulatory protections. If products and services like these are left improperly regulated and without sufficient oversight, they could pose systemic risks that endanger U.S. and global financial stability. These vulnerabilities could be exploited and obscured by bad actors, as other cryptocurrencies, exchanges, and wallets have been in the past. Indeed, regulators around the globe have already expressed similar concerns, illustrating the need for robust oversight.[2]

Investors and consumers transacting in Libra may be exposed to serious privacy and national security concerns, cyber security risks, and trading risks. Those using Facebook’s digital wallet – storing potentially trillions of dollars without depository insurance– also may become unique targets for hackers. For example, during the first three quarters of 2018, hackers stole nearly $1 billion from cryptocurrency exchanges.[3]The system could also provide an under-regulated platform for illicit activity and money laundering.

These risks are even more glaring in light of Facebook’s troubled past, where it did not always keep its users’ information safe. For example, Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm hired by the 2016 Trump campaign, had access to more than 50 million Facebook users’ private data which it used to influence voting behavior.[4] As a result, Facebook expects to pay fines up to $5 billion to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and remains under a consent order from FTC for deceiving consumers and failing to keep consumer data private. In the first quarter of 2019 alone, Facebook has also removed more than 2.2 billion fake accounts, including those displaying terrorist propaganda and hate speech.[5]It has also recently been sued by both civil rights groups[6] as well as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for violating fair housing laws on its advertising platform and through its ad delivery algorithms.[7]

Because Facebook is already in the hands of a over quarter of the world’s population, it is imperative that Facebook and its partners immediately cease implementation plans until regulators and Congress have an opportunity to examine these issues and take action. During this moratorium, we intend to hold public hearings on the risks and benefits of cryptocurrency-based activities and explore legislative solutions. Failure to cease implementation before we can do so, risks a new Swiss-based financial system that is too big to fail.

Sincerely,

Rep. Maxine Waters, Chairwoman

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Chair – Subcommittee on Investor Protection, Entrepreneurship and Capital Markets

Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay, Chair – Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development and Insurance

Rep. Al Green, Chair – Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, Chair – Task Force on Financial Technology

[1] The 27 other members of the Libra Association are Mastercard, PayPal, PayU (Naspers’ fintech arm), Stripe, Visa, Booking Holdings, eBay, Facebook/Calibra, Farfetch, Lyft, MercadoPago, Spotify AB, Uber Technologies, Inc., Iliad, Vodafone Group, Anchorage, Bison Trails, Coinbase, Inc., Xapo Holdings Limited, Andreessen Horowitz, Breakthrough Initiatives, Ribbit Capital, Thrive Capital, Union Square Ventures, Creative Destruction Lab, Kiva, Mercy Corps, and Women’s World Banking

[2] See, e.g. The Honorable Randal K. Quarles, Vice Chairman of Supervision for the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and Chair of the Financial Stability Board, Financial Stability Board Chair’s letter to G-20 Leaders meeting in Osaka, June 25, 2019, https://www.fsb.org/2019/06/fsb-chairs-letter-to-g20-leaders-meeting-in-osaka/. (“A wider use of new types of crypto-assets for retail payment purposes would warrant close scrutiny by authorities to ensure that that they are subject to high standards of regulation.”); Bank of International Settlements Annual Economic Report, Big tech in finance: opportunities and risks, June 23, 2019, https://www.bis.org/publ/arpdf/ar2019e3.htm. (“Big techs have the potential to become dominant through the advantages afforded by the data-network activities loop, raising competition and data privacy issues. Public policy needs to build on a more comprehensive approach that draws on financial regulation, competition policy and data privacy regulation… As the operations of big techs straddle regulatory perimeters and geographical borders, coordination among authorities – national and international – is crucial.”)

[3] CipherTrace Cryptocurrency Intelligence, Cryptocurrency Anti-Money Laundering Report, 2018 Q3 https://ciphertrace.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/crypto_aml_report_2018q3.pdf

[4] Kevin Granville, Facebook and Cambridge Analytica: What You Need to Know as Fallout Widens, (March 19, 2018).

[5] Facebook, Community Standards Enforcement Report (2019 Q1).

[6] Complaint, Nat’l Fair Housing Alliance et al. v. Facebook, Inc., No. 18-cv-02689 (S.D.N.Y Mar. 27, 2018), https://nationalfairhousing.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/NFHA-v.-Facebook.-Complaint-w-Exhibits-March-27-Final-pdf.pdf.

[7] Charge of Discrimination, U.S. Dep’t of Housing & Urban Development v. Facebook, Inc., FHEO No. 01-18-0323-8 (March 28, 2019), https://www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/Main/documents/HUD_v_Facebook.pdf.

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Charleston Chronicle

Former President Of Egypt Dies On The Stand In Contentious Court Hearing

CHARLESTON CHRONICLE — Egyptian ex-president Mohammed Morsi, persecuted by the current military regime according to rights activists, collapsed on the stand and died after giving testimony in his trial, it was reported on state TV. Morsi, 67, had been speaking from the glass “cage” where he was confined during sessions. He warned of “many secrets” he could reveal, when suddenly he collapsed.

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Mohammed Morsi (Photo by: Global Information Network)

By Global Information Network

Egyptian ex-president Mohammed Morsi, persecuted by the current military regime according to rights activists, collapsed on the stand and died after giving testimony in his trial, it was reported on state TV.

Morsi, 67, had been speaking from the glass “cage” where he was confined during sessions. He warned of “many secrets” he could reveal, when suddenly he collapsed.

The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood was stricken by a heart attack, sources said. State TV said Morsi died before he could be taken to the hospital.

Mohammed Sudan, leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood in London, described Morsi’s death as “premeditated murder” saying that the former president was banned from receiving medicine or visits and there was little information about his health condition.

“He has been placed behind glass cage (during trials). No one can hear him or know what is happening to him. He hasn’t received any visits for a months or nearly a year. He complained before that he doesn’t get his medicine. This is premeditated murder. This is slow death.”

The former president was known to have been suffering from several ailments, including diabetes and liver disease.

Morsi was elected in 2012 after the nation’s Arab Spring revolts that toppled the autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, an ally of the U.S. who ruled with an iron fist. He led Egypt to become the first Arab state to join the attack on Iraq but estranged his people by the use of torture, denying freedom of speech, and enabling police violence.

Morsi improved relations with the U.S., recognized the state of Israel, and developed a working relationship with President Obama that brought temporary peace between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas.

But his national legislation was a let-down to followers. He granted himself unlimited powers without judicial oversight or review.

Soon, the young population wanted Morsi to step down as well. He was ousted by the military in 2013. Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members were sentenced to death following proceedings that violated due process rights and failed to establish individual guilt, Human Rights Watch said.

Now, even Morsi’s opposition has denounced his treatment in prison and the long time he spent in solitary confinement.

“Egyptian authorities unlawfully prevented former President Mohamed Morsi from contacting or receiving visits from his family and lawyers. On June 4, 2017, Egyptian authorities allowed Morsy to receive visits from his family and lawyer for only the second time in nearly four years,” wrote Human Rights Watch.

“Morsi’s treatment is a window into the appalling conditions suffered by thousands of political detainees in Egypt.”

In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reacted angrily to news of Morsi’s death. “History will never forget those tyrants who led to his death by putting him in jail and threatening him with execution,” he said in a televised speech.

And on Twitter, newspaper columnist Hisham Melhem wrote: “One could argue #MohamedMorsi was not fit to be pres.of #Egypt, that he was not a true democrat & with known prejudices; but he was the first civilian democratically elected in Egypt’s history. Not as brutal as those preceded him or the monstrosity that toppled him.”

This article originally appeared in the Charleston Chronicle

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Health

Injectable Birth Control Raises HIV Risk for African Women

WASHINGTON INFORMER — Recent studies suggest that African women face greater risk of HIV infection upon using an injectable birth control, a hormone shot known as Depo-Provera. The shot provides an opportunity to discreetly avoid pregnancy for a period of about three months. Due to societal pressures from both families and partners desiring children, most African men refuse to use condoms.

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Depo-Provera (Courtesy of mayoclinic.org

By Olivia Boyd, WI Intern

Recent studies suggest that African women face greater risk of HIV infection upon using an injectable birth control, a hormone shot known as Depo-Provera.

The shot provides an opportunity to discreetly avoid pregnancy for a period of about three months. Due to societal pressures from both families and partners desiring children, most African men refuse to use condoms.

These shots are quite popular in areas where HIV is prevalent and, in some cases, is the only form of contraception available for women as opposed to other options like intrauterine devices, also known as IUDs or the pill.

A recent study, Evidence for Contraceptive Options and HIV Outcomes, involved 7.800 women in four African countries (South Africa, Kenya, Zambia and eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), presented relieving results for health care providers showing that while Depo-Provera appeared to have minimally higher risk of HIV infection than other forms of contraception.

However, the results were not significant enough to prove that the birth-control shots method is completely dangerous or should be stopped completely.

The study has proved controversial with concerns that it would instead cause more harm than good as more women could possibly become infected with the HIV virus. It compared infections rates among the women over an 18-month period. Each woman was required to use one of the three most modern forms of birth control during that time. While the study was deemed well executed and the study quite helpful in its results, physicians remain concerned about opting for birth control shots over much safer options.

In an interview with the New York Times, Dr. Lauren Ralph, an epidemiologist at the University of California, said she hoped the debate would continue and not be quickly settled in favor injectable hormones.

The World Health Organization plans to review the studies within the next month and decide whether or not to promote the use of injectable hormones as the top-rated safest contraception, a rating that other more traditional forms of contraception currently hold.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer.

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