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From Baghdad to Rio: Ahmed Kelly on track for Paralympic Gold

Sunday, 17 February, 2019

Ahmed Kelly’s nickname is ‘Nails’, for his tough attitude towards training and competition.

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He set a world record in his second race and now has his sights set on Gold in the pool at Rio.

“I never like it when people say ‘Oh Ahmed you can’t do that’ or ‘this is going to be way too hard for you to do’,” he said.

“If they do that, I love to prove them wrong.”

Born in 1991 with significant disabilities in all four limbs, Kelly was abandoned at a Baghdad orphanage with his brother who is also disabled. In 1998, his life changed when he was brought to Australia for medical treatment by his-now adoptive mum Moira Kelly.

‘I never like it when people say ‘Oh, Ahmed you can’t do that’ … I love to prove them wrong’

“The day that mum, Moira Kelly – Aunty Moira as I called her then – came, it was just an unbelievable day,” he said.

“One of those amazing days that you dream of.”

He had surgery to remove the deformed sections of his lower legs, and was fitted for prosthetics. Kelly learned to walk – then run – and his natural athleticism led him to join his local Australian rules football team for several years.

But once he got in the pool, his talent led to Paralympic selection in 2012.

It wasn’t an easy feat, according to the Australian Paralympic Committee’s Tim Matthews.

‘Just having a disability and playing sport doesn’t entitle you to go to go to the Paralympic Games’

“Just having a disability and playing sport doesn’t entitle you to go to go to the Paralympic Games,” Mr Matthews said.

“For those who love it and want it enough it’s a great opportunity.”

Kelly came agonisingly close to a medal in London finishing fourth in the 50-metre breaststroke.

Over the next 12 months, he will amp up his training schedule to 10 sessions a week in the hopes of going one better in Rio.

His coach Brad Harris is confident they’ll get there.

“Our goal is to definitely win gold, but he’s got a long way to go,” Mr Harris said.

‘Our goal is to definitely win gold’

“The thing is, he’s doing every single session and he’s pushing the boundaries of what he can do and you can only improve if that’s the way you train.”

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Kelly has also got support from his two little sisters – Bangladeshi twins Trishna and Krishna – and he said he was determined to show them that anything is possible.

“Trishna and Krishna are definitely some of my biggest fans,” he said.

“Krishna watches all the swimming on my ipad so it’s so good to see that. So maybe I can get her in the pool in the next few years working towards the Paralympic Games, you don’t know.”

India uranium red-light a test for Tony Abbott

Sunday, 17 February, 2019

The plan has drawn sustained opposition and concern, most recently from the federal Parliament’s influential Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT), which has unambiguously stated that much more work is required before any Australian uranium makes a passage to India.

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The JSCOT report followed a detailed examination and expert testimony and states that while the federal government can ratify the deal it must not advance uranium sales or supply to India before key checks and balances are put into practice and proven to work.

In short, the committee charged with advising the government on Indian uranium sales has reached the unambiguous conclusion that the government can sign but not sell.

The question now is whether the Abbott government will follow due parliamentary process and act in the public interest or will it ignore these concerns and JSCOT’s advice and seek to fast-track the agenda of the under-performing uranium sector?

When Prime Minister Tony Abbott signed a uranium deal with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi in September 2014, he praised India’s “absolutely impeccable non-proliferation record”. Yet India’s record on nuclear proliferation tells another story. India acquired its nuclear arsenal by breaking a promise not to use a Canadian reactor for military purposes. It remains outside the globe’s key non-proliferation frameworks and the region remains on nuclear high alert amid tensions with nuclear rival Pakistan.

“It is a major display of weakness on the part of the Australian Government, and a failure to stand up for Australia’s national interests in this area”.

Instead of addressing real questions about India’s nuclear weapons program and inadequate nuclear safety standards Mr Abbott resorted to cricketing clichés, declaring that Australia and India trust each other on issues like uranium safeguards because of “the fundamentally ethical principle that every cricketer is supposed to assimilate – play by the rules and accept the umpire’s decision”.

The JSCOT process received strongly critical submissions from a who’s who of nuclear arms control diplomats and experts including John Carlson (former long serving Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office from 1989 to 2010), Ron Walker (former Chair of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Prof. Lawrence Scheinman (former Assistant Director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency). These are veteran players in global nuclear diplomatic and regulatory regimes, not anti-nuclear activists.

Nuclear arms control expert Crispin Rovere noted that “this treaty appears less like the deepening of a bilateral partnership and more like one of a client state being dictated to in an expanded Indian empire. It is a major display of weakness on the part of the Australian Government, and a failure to stand up for Australia’s national interests in this area”.

“The agreement with India weakens many of Australia’s nuclear safeguards and standards and opens the door for Australian uranium to find its way into Indian weapons”.

John Carlson concluded that the agreement was “very weak” and that the “proposed agreement represents a serious weakening of Australia’s established safeguards conditions. Weaknesses in this agreement, combined with loopholes in the IAEA agreement, mean Australian material could be used in support of India’s nuclear weapon program”.

The agreement with India weakens many of Australia’s nuclear safeguards and standards and opens the door for Australian uranium to find its way into Indian weapons. If the uranium sales agreement is advanced by the Prime Minister against the advice of JSCOT there will also be sustained pressure for Australia to apply equally inadequate standards to other uranium customer countries.  It would create a dangerous and irresponsible precedent for Australia’s already risky uranium exports.

In 2012 a review of the Indian nuclear sector by the Indian Auditor General found profound failures in safety, governance and regulation and warned of “a Fukushima or Chernobyl-like disaster if the nuclear safety issue is not addressed”. Australian uranium directly fueled the continuing Fukushima nuclear crisis and there are unique and compelling reasons not to supply Australian uranium to India – especially not at this time or on these terms.

“Australia has a key role to play in supporting India’s legitimate energy aspirations, but this cannot be advanced by a retreat from responsibility on nuclear safeguards and security”.

As it currently stands, the government has inked an agreement that puts absolutely no constraints on India’s nuclear weapons program, fails to advance non-proliferation outcomes and doesn’t even provide effective scrutiny of Australian uranium.

One thing we can all agree on is that Australia has a key role to play in supporting India’s legitimate energy aspirations, but this cannot be advanced by a retreat from responsibility on nuclear safeguards and security. The government must read and heed the JSCOT report and Australia’s uranium must remain away from India’s nuclear reactors and weapons – to do otherwise would be profoundly irresponsible.

JSCOT has just clean bowled this dangerous and deeply deficient sales plan. Mr Abbott must now heed his own words, “accept the umpire’s decision” and start the long walk back to pavilion for a serious re-think.

Dave Sweeney is the nuclear free campaigner with the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Woodside makes play for Oil Search

Sunday, 17 February, 2019

Energy giant Woodside Petroleum has announced an $11.

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6 billion all-scrip bid for Papua New Guinea-focused Oil Search in one of the Australian market’s largest takeover deals.

Woodside shares closed three per cent lower at $29.66 after the announcement of the proposed bid, with market speculation that the company may be forced to improve the premium it has offered to take over Oil Search.

The target company’s shares jumped more than 17 per cent to $7.90 each.

Woodside has offered one share for every four shares held in Oil Search, implying a premium of around 14 per cent based on the companies’ closing prices on Monday.

“Maybe the market expects the bid terms to be sweetened,” said Morningstar resources analyst Mark Taylor.

“It’s modestly dilutionary to Woodside share value, but it corrects the situation of an underleveraged balance sheet and will boost reserves and production,” he said.

“Overall, the timing is good and it seems to make reasonable sense.”

Global crude oil prices have slid over the last year to below $US50 a barrel, as rising supplies and lacklustre demand have prompted a steep decline since mid-2014, when crude fetched more than $US100 a barrel.

The decline has battered energy-company shares, and both Woodside and Oil Search have seen their share prices fall around 30 per cent each over the past 12 months.

On Tuesday, Oil Search managing director Peter Botten said its board would review the offer, but warned the proposal would need to reflect growth potential of its low cost liquefied natural gas development opportunities.

Oil Search operates an LNG project in Papua New Guinea, which started producing last year and also holds stakes in the Elk and Antelope gas fields in the country.

“Clearly, Oil Search shareholders are entitled to an offer which adequately reflects this value potential,” Mr Botten said in a statement.

Woodside last month posted a 39 percent drop in first half net profit to $925 million, amid slumping oil prices, forcing it to slash dividend sharply. However, the Perth-based company’s focus on cutting costs has helped it maintain a strong financial position and it has repeatedly indicated its keenness to make acquisitions.

Its bid for Oil Search would be subject to Papua New Guinea regulatory approval, as well as shareholder and court approvals.

Woodside would also need support from the PNG government, which holds a 10 percent stake in the target company.

The company is being advised by Merrill Lynch, while Oil Search has appointed Morgan Stanley as its financial adviser.

Woodside’s takeover bid, would rank as one of the largest deals in Australia, if successful.

Earlier this year, Japan Post acquired Toll Holdings in a $6.5 billion deal, followed by Federation Centres $US11 billion merger deal with Novion Property Group in February.

Shares in other energy sector players Santos and Origin Energy rose more than seven per cent and 3.5 per cent respectively.

Liberte, egalite but less fraternite in tax-weary France

Friday, 20 September, 2019

Ask Guillemette Monge.

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The English teacher, who with her husband is raising seven children on a household income of 3,400 euros ($3,814) a month in one of the capital’s poorest neighborhoods, says something is deeply wrong with the nation’s welfare state. Monge, who works part time while also caring for her family, says she’s forced to pull more than her weight because many in the country don’t.

“People are taking advantage because they’re encouraged to think that society owes them everything and that they don’t have to contribute,” said Monge, 39, preparing tea in the cluttered kitchen of her three-bedroom apartment.

Monge isn’t alone. Studies show a decline in some of the values on which the French welfare state was built after World War II. Social security laws in 1945 gave workers access to healthcare, pensions and family support, while a state-paid minimum-income program was established in 1988 for the unemployed who’ve run out of jobless benefits — a plan extended in 2004 to workers with low wages.

Against a backdrop of sliding support for some programs, Prime Minister Manuel Valls recently unveiled plans aimed at encouraging people to return to work, merging two complicated systems that aid the unemployed and those with low incomes.

Recent reports have shown that the French who work are increasingly weary of aiding the less fortunate. The share of people who want the state to do more for the poor fell last year below 50 percent for the first time on record.

It slid to 45 percent from over 70 percent in 1995, according to an October report by Paris-based research institute Credoc. Fifty-three percent said the minimum-income plan gives people an incentive not to work, up from 48 percent in 2008.

“We have to try to understand why a growing number of our citizens doubt the legitimacy of the wealth redistribution system,” Valls said. “We’re faced with the challenge of saving our welfare model.”

Poverty in France has worsened every year since 2008 with people’s perception of their living conditions at the lowest in over 30 years. One out of seven French households is under the poverty threshold because of a large number of working poor, Valls said. He unveiled a plan to ensure that in a country with a minimum wage of about 1,136 euros a month, a single person is guaranteed a monthly income of 1,400 euros and a working couple with two children 2,900 euros starting next year.

That comes as most French people are less confident the state can and should help those who are worse off, Credoc says.

President Francois Hollande is seeking to trim government spending and rein in one of the world’s most extensive welfare states to bring the budget deficit within the European Union’s limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product.

“French people feel that the state’s pockets are empty and that it can’t be as generous anymore,” Credoc said in a separate report in September. “At the same time, growing distrust of the government and disappointment with its policies to fight inequality and unemployment encourage them to think they should fend for themselves.”

Between 2000 and 2013, the portion of people who said France dedicates too big a share of its revenue to welfare has surged to 21 percent from 14 percent, according to a report published a year ago by the social affairs ministry.

More than half of French people now say eligibility criteria for family or jobless benefits should be tightened, it said.

“Solidarity is clearly being questioned but it’s hard to tell how radical the change is,” said Nicolas Fremeaux, an economist at Cergy-Pontoise University, near Paris. “On the one hand, a growing sense of unfairness seems to have made an individualistic system attractive. On the other, most French people today have no idea what it would cost them to pay for education or healthcare out of pocket, or if childcare wasn’t tax-funded, because that’s the only system they’ve ever known.”

Still, there’s no appetite for paying for such services through higher taxes.

“The tax burden feels heavier as people’s income increases more slowly and it’ll get worse as spending cuts start to hurt,” said Antoine Bozio, director of the Institute of Public Policies in Paris. “A budget overhaul is urgently needed to improve transparency and efficiency as well as redefine the services that people want and the corresponding contributions.”

Taxes represent 45 percent of France’s GDP, the second- highest in the world behind only Denmark among the 34-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and compares with 25 percent in the U.S. and 33 percent in Britain.

More than 70 percent of France’s annual budget of about 1.2 trillion euros is spent on welfare benefits such as pensions, health care, culture, education — from pre-school to university — as well as subsidized housing and a variety of tax-funded services from swimming pools to school canteens. France has the highest level of spending on social benefits in the world, at 31 percent of GDP, an OECD report published in November shows.

The Movement for the Freedom of Welfare, or MLPS, which is fighting for the right for private insurance instead of the tax- funded social security, says it attracts hundreds of self- employed professionals at meetings.

Another body, called Let’s Save Our Companies, expects at least 10,000 people at a demonstration on March 9 to protest against the social security system for the self-employed.

“It’s a killing machine,” said the group’s president, Pascal Geay. “We’re forced to pay huge sums with no guarantee of any decent support in return in terms of pensions or in case of illness.”

About two thirds of the French would choose a tax cut and fewer services, up from 44 percent in 2010, according to a poll published in January by the Institut Paul Delouvrier, which measures satisfaction with public services. Over half of the respondents cited cutting social benefits as a priority.

In a survey by pollster Opinionway for crowd-funding firm Finsquare in November, 84 percent of respondents said tax money is wasted. Only 14 percent said receipts are being fairly redistributed.

Over the last four years, French taxes have increased by 74 billion euros, which the national statistics office Insee says has eaten into households’ average income.

The tax increases didn’t prevent the deficit from widening last year for the first time in five years. Hollande’s government plans 50 billion euros of spending cuts, starting with 21 billion euros this year, including lower benefits for middle-income families.

While austerity policies in Greece and Spain have driven demands for higher government spending, the French have turned to the anti-immigration National Front, which aims to lighten the tax burden.

FN, as it is known, garnered 29 percent of voting intentions, leading opposition party UMP, which had 25 percent, while the ruling Socialists trailed with 22 percent, according to a poll published by Le Journal du Dimanche on Feb. 15.

Resentment has grown against homeless people and members of gypsy communities. In the southern cities of Perpignan and Angouleme, local politicians took out or fenced off public benches to prevent squatting. In Champlan, in the north, the town in December opposed the burial of a gypsy infant.

Monge says raising a family in a poor neighborhood has changed her attitude toward those she used to view as vulnerable and deserving help.

On paper, her home’s location is attractive, a short walk from the picturesque Montmartre hill, a historical landmark dominated by the Sacre-Coeur church, and Gare du Nord station.

In reality, the neighborhood known as “La Goutte d’Or,” or a drop of gold, has one of the highest rates of immigrants, poverty and drug dealing at the heart of the French capital.

For two years, Monge has been writing to the police, courts, local authorities and even Hollande to complain about a makeshift market in front of her building. Residents are forced to walk on the road, dodging cars and trucks, and pick their way through garbage left each day, she said.

“It’s not fair and it’s not right,” she said, displaying a folder bulging with the complaints. “Where are we going if people don’t pay tax, don’t respect the rules?”

Monge points out her father and husband took up whatever work they could find to make ends meet.

She recalls her father selling cakes door-to-door after emerging from a serious illness because her mother, a nurse, didn’t earn enough to be the sole bread-winner. Her husband immigrated to Paris to escape mass unemployment in rural Spain, starting out as a vampire in the haunted house at Euro Disney and now working for the city as a tree doctor.

Tired of worrying about her children’s safety, Monge has put her apartment up for sale. With city plans to establish a shooting room for drug users nearby, she has had no offers. She has been discouraged by her neighbors’ resignation.

“Many people seemed to feel guilty that they have a job and a roof over their heads, or that they’re white, but why should we?” she said.

_ With assistance from Mark Deen in Paris.

Q&A: Why even happily married people cheat

Friday, 20 September, 2019

We may be in a golden age of marriage, when elites at least are more likely to report that their marriages are “very happy” than ever before.

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But the tight, companionable, totally merged nature of the modern marriage is one of the factors pushing people in happy marriages to have affairs, according to therapist Esther Perel. In a recent New York Times profile, Perel is described as the nation’s “sexual healer,” an updated Dr. Ruth. She is the author of “Mating in Captivity,” which argues that in seeking total comfort, the modern marriage might be squashing novelty and adventure, which are so critical for a sexual charge. She is now working on a new book, provisionally called “Affairs in the Age of Transparency,” which she considers a sequel, a picture of what the stifling marriage might lead to.

I recently met with Perel in the downtown New York apartment she shares with her husband and two sons. In person, the only thing she has in common with Dr. Ruth is a strong accent, which in Perel’s case is a combination of French and Israeli. She was raised in Antwerp, Belgium, and has lived all over the world, which leads her to regard many American assumptions about affairs to be priggish and provincial. These days, Perel accepts only patients who are involved in affairs, and the vast majority of them, she says, are “content” in their marriages. In fact in surveys that ask adulterers whether they want to leave their marriages, the majority say no. Her book, still very much a work in progress, will be about “people who love each other and are having affairs,” she says, and what that paradox says about the rest of our marriages.

Slate: What do you mean by the age of transparency?

Perel: Transparency is the whole culture. The way a regular person tells everything about themselves on television. The way technology allows us to find out anything — 99 percent of the people I see, their affairs are discovered through email or phones. But transparency is also our organizing principle of closeness these days. I will tell you everything, and if I don’t tell you it means I don’t trust you or I have a secret. It doesn’t mean I choose to keep certain things to myself because they are private. Privacy is the endangered species in between two extremes of secrecy and transparency.

Slate: Isn’t the closeness between partners good? Wouldn’t it lead to fewer affairs?

Perel: We have this idea that our partner is our best friend, that there is one person who will fulfill all our needs, which is really an extraordinary idea! So by definition, people must transgress because something is missing at home. We think, if you had what you needed at home, you wouldn’t want to go anywhere else, instead of thinking that marriage is at best an imperfect arrangement.

Slate: It isn’t true that people transgress because something is actually missing?

Perel: We don’t know the exact numbers because people lie about sex and 10 times more about adultery. But the vast majority of people we come into contact with in our offices are content in their marriages. They are longtime monogamists who one day cross a line into a place they never thought they would go. They remain monogamous in their beliefs, but they experience a chasm between their behavior and their beliefs. And what I am going to really investigate in depth is why people are sometimes willing to lose everything, for a glimmer of what?

Slate: And what’s your best guess from your research so far?

Perel: I can tell you right away the most important sentence in the book, because I’ve lectured all over the world, and this is the thing I say that turns heads most often: Very often we don’t go elsewhere because we are looking for another person. We go elsewhere because we are looking for another self. It isn’t so much that we want to leave the person we are with as we want to leave the person we have become.

Slate: Is this motivation for an affair particular to our age?

Perel: What’s changed is, monogamy used to be one person for life. If I needed to marry you to have sex for the first time and I knew this is it for the rest of my life, then infidelity becomes one of the ways to deal with those limited choices. But now we come to our marriages with a profoundly different set of experiences and expectations. So the interesting question is, why did infidelity continue to rise even when divorce became available and accepted and nonstigmatized? You would think an unhappy person would leave. So by definition they must not be that unhappy. They are in that wonderful ambivalent state, too good to leave, too bad to stay.

Slate: So what are people looking for?

Perel: What’s changed is, we expect a lot more from our relationships. We expect to be happy. We brought happiness down from the afterlife, first to be an option and then a mandate. So we don’t divorce — or have affairs — because we are unhappy but because we could be happier. And all that is part of the feminist deliberation. I deserve this, I am entitled to this, I can have this! It allows people to finally pursue a desire to feel alive.

Slate: Alive?

Perel: That’s the one word I hear, worldwide — alive! That’s why an affair is such an erotic experience. It’s not about sex, it’s about desire, about attention, about reconnecting with parts of oneself you lost or you never knew existed. It’s about longing and loss. But the American discourse is framed entirely around betrayal and trauma.

Slate: What prevents people from feeling alive in a marriage?

Perel: Marriages are so much more merged, and affairs become a venue for differentiation, a pathway to autonomy. Women will often say: This is the one thing I know I am not doing for anyone else. I am not taking care of anyone, this is for me. And I have a harder time doing that in the context of marriage because I have become the mother who needs to protect the child 24/7 from every little boo-boo and scratch, and I am constantly other-directed so much so that I am utterly disconnected from my erotic self and my partner is longing for sex and I can’t even think about it anymore. And then suddenly I meet somebody and discover something in my body I haven’t experienced for the last eight years, or I didn’t even know existed inside of me.

Slate: So why is the reality of affairs, and the way we talk about affairs, so different?

Perel: In America, the primary discussion of affairs is about the impact of affairs, rarely about the meaning and motives of the affair. If you read 90 articles about affairs, they are all about what’s wrong with you or your marriage — early trauma, narcissism, addictive personality — injuries of all sorts. But there is very little in the general culture that probes the story of the affair — the plot. Just, did you sleep with anyone else? And you can’t glean anything from that. And then the other discussion is about the victim perpetrator model. We need to give the victim ample compassion and the perpetrator needs to feel remorse and repair.

Slate: Do most therapists understand this about affairs?

Perel: Therapists are the worst! They too think something must be wrong for a person to have an affair. Also most therapists in America will not work with secrets. Their attitude is, don’t tell me anything I can’t speak about with your partner. Either you end it or you tell your partner. So half of the time, people lie to the therapist and to the partner. And is it always the best thing to tell? Or can we examine that, rather than live with a blanket policy of which the therapist doesn’t have to live with the consequences.

Slate: So the cheating partner shouldn’t tell?

Perel: In America, lying can never be an act of caring. We find it hard to accept that lying would be protective, this is an unexamined idea. In some countries, not telling, or a certain opaqueness, is an act of respect. Also, maybe the opposite of transparency isn’t intimacy, it’s aggression. People sometimes tell for their own good, as an act of aggression.

Slate: Do young people enter marriages with different assumptions now?

Perel: When I entered marriage I bought into the whole romantic package. I want my husband to take care of everything. I want to never feel anxious again, never feel a fear of abandonment. It’s the complete merge model. But that’s very different than the millennials I work with. Their fear is that they will lose themselves, because they’ve worked so hard to develop their own identities.

Slate: So it’s a good thing that we y are moving away from the merge model?

Perel: But they have the opposite challenge, which is not to be immediately in the zone of fear when they need to get close, when they need to build something together with someone. That’s the price they pay for the highly individualistic culture in which they live.

Slate: Would you ever recommend an affair?

Perel: No more than I would recommend cancer and yet a lot of people finally understand the value of life when they get sick.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Rosin is the author of “The End of Men,” a co-founder of Slate’s DoubleX and a senior editor at the Atlantic.

US-built Ebola treatment centers in Liberia are nearly empty as outbreak fades

Friday, 20 September, 2019

There’s only one thing missing from this state-of-the-art Ebola treatment center: Ebola patients.

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The U.S. military sent about 3,000 troops to West Africa to build centers like this one in recent months. They were intended as a crucial safeguard against an epidemic that flared in unpredictable, deadly waves. But as the outbreak fades in Liberia, it has become clear that the disease had already drastically subsided before the first American centers were completed. Several of the U.S.-built units haven’t seen a single patient infected with Ebola.

It now appears that the alarming epidemiological predictions that in large part prompted the U.S. aid effort here were far too bleak. Although future flare-ups of the disease are possible, the near-empty Ebola centers tell the story of an aggressive American military and civilian response that occurred too late to help the bulk of the more than 8,300 Liberians who became infected. Last week, even as international aid organizations built yet more Ebola centers, there was an average of less than one new case reported in Liberia per day.

“If they had been built when we needed them, it wouldn’t have been too much,” said Moses Massaquoi, the Liberian government’s chairman for Ebola case management. “But they were too late.”

It was impossible to predict the decline in the Ebola caseload last September, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested a worst-case scenario of 1.4 million victims in Liberia and Sierra Leone. At that point, the American military’s logistical and engineering prowess appeared to be urgently needed — even if critics said the assistance was slow to arrive.

“With that kind of dire prediction from the CDC, and not having seen anything like this before, we had to try everything at our disposal,” said Douglas Mercado, the top USAID official in Liberia.

U.S. officials reject the suggestion that resources were misallocated.

“A lot of people are evaluating the strategy based on what we know today, not what we knew at the time,” said Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, the top U.S. military officer in Liberia.

Before the center opened in Tubmanburg on Nov. 18, there were about 200 suspected or confirmed Ebola victims in the town, many of whom died while awaiting treatment. Since the U.S. facility opened, 46 suspected or confirmed cases have been admitted.

In Monrovia, 45 miles away and the heart of the outbreak, the scenes of suffering Ebola patients shocked the world. At the height of the epidemic, the afflicted writhed in the streets. There was a shortage of bed space at treatment centers for months. The international community, led by the United States, responded with a massive construction and assistance campaign — including American engineers, Cuban doctors, African Union health workers and many others — that turned out to be far in excess of what was necessary.

There are now seven Ebola treatment centers in greater Monrovia. Most of them were completed after the epidemic began to abate. Surplus tents now store excess supplies: mattresses, food and medicine for patients who never arrived. There are so few patients and so many available beds that a USAID-funded Ebola center, opened in October, will soon close its doors. Three other centers will be shuttered at least temporarily.

Paradoxically, isolation centers are still being built, mostly by UNICEF.

“It just makes no sense,” said Laurence Sailly, the head of mission for the Doctors Without Borders aid group in Liberia.

Amelia Garbla remembers when she saw the first American aircraft land in Tubmanburg. It was late September, and she was a nurse at the local holding center — little more than plastic sheeting and dirty mattresses — where Ebola patients were dying constantly.

“I was jumping up and down and waving. I was so happy,” she said.

About two weeks earlier, on Sept. 16, President Barack Obama announced that 3,000 U.S. troops would be dispatched to West Africa as part of a $758 million plan to fight Ebola.

“We know that if we take the proper steps, we can save lives,” Obama said. “But we have to act fast.”

The news of Obama’s plan had made it to Garbla’s makeshift treatment center, with its tiny shed for nurses to don their protective gear. The situation was desperate.

“There was nothing we could do. The things we should have had, we didn’t have,” she said.

Through September and October, Garbla was surrounded by the dead and the dying, including 14 of her colleagues — health-care workers from this small city who fought the disease with almost no outside help. She saw the American helicopters and the white men in uniform surveying the land. She watched as they unloaded equipment and construction materials.

“We were praying for something to be built,” she said.

But while the Americans were finishing the Tubmanburg Ebola center, their first in Liberia, the national caseload suddenly began to decline. By the time the treatment unit opened in November, the country was down to fewer than 100 cases per week, from a peak of more than 300. By December, the number had dropped to fewer than 30 cases per week.

The reasons for the sudden plunge are still being debated. Was it that Liberians had changed their behavior to avoid contracting the disease? Had early increases in bed space at Ebola centers been enough to isolate those with the virus? Was there more effective use of contact tracers, who tracked down and isolated people exposed to the virus? Experts say it was probably all of those changes, though the inflection point of the epidemic will be studied for years by epidemiologists.

“I don’t think you can point to one silver bullet that solved Ebola,” Volesky said. “My argument is it’s the whole strategy that’s showing us a positive trend.”

On a scorching day in late October, the U.S. ambassador came to tour the nearly completed Tubmanburg center. Members of the Liberian army, who helped with construction, chanted as the dignitaries walked through the new tents.

When the center began accepting patients on Nov. 20, Garbla and her colleagues were glad to have a modern, functional Ebola treatment unit, even if it appeared that the epidemic was fading. Now, if the cases spiked again, she and her colleagues would be ready.

The U.S. plans for the Ebola centers have changed in some ways to reflect the new reality. In a number of cases, aid groups contracted to operate the centers have diverted their staff members to work in general hospitals that were ravaged by Ebola. Some training sessions intended for nurses and hygienists at the Ebola centers have been altered to cover a broader range of infection-control measures.

As the disease continued to fade, U.S. officials had to decide whether to scrap their plans to build a total of 17 Ebola centers. In the end, they cut only two of the units. Their judgment appeared to be validated in December, when an isolated outbreak emerged in the county of Grand Cape Mount — where, luckily, a U.S.-built Ebola center had just been completed.

“Even when it started going down, no one was declaring victory and saying we beat this thing,” Volesky said. “Because it only takes one person walking from Guinea into Lofa,” a county in Liberia.

‘Still, there’s no question that the need is less than anticipated. For its part, UNICEF has continued building Ebola isolation centers, even though many here argue that they serve no purpose anymore.

“Halting construction now would cause much bigger problems for the community. They’ve agreed to them, they’ve supported them, and they’re employed there,” said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF’s country director.

Another U.N.-led effort, to distribute thousands of home health-care kits, has ground to a halt, with most of the supplies sitting in unopened boxes across the country.

For some of the Liberian doctors who have been fighting the disease almost since the beginning of the outbreak last spring, the continued push to construct Ebola centers makes little sense.

Jerry Brown, a doctor who directs an Ebola center just outside Monrovia, used to attend the daily meetings where international aid groups, governments and U.N. agencies would discuss the collective response to the outbreak. He watched as the epidemic faded, but the construction effort continued.

“They said: ‘We have to build it. That’s what is written, and that is what we’ll do,’ ” he said.

Out of frustration, Brown stopped attending the meetings in November.

Another Liberian doctor, J. Soka Moses, worked at one of Monrovia’s most chaotic Ebola centers, JFK Hospital, during the worst days of the crisis. It was closed in October after some health-care workers contracted the disease. Moses was eventually reassigned to a large new Ebola center built by the World Food Program and USAID.

“We are more prepared now that the outbreak is over,” he sighed. His new Ebola center, with a capacity of more than 200 beds, is now due to close.

Affordable Care reduces deficit. Let’s move on.

Friday, 20 September, 2019

In the short term, CBO says, repeal would narrow the deficit a bit.

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But when the effects kick in later, they’re huge, though there’s some debate about how huge. CBO has two estimates. The traditional one is that the federal budget deficit would increase by $353 billion over 10 years. But CBO now includes “dynamic scoring,” which takes into account estimates of the changes’ potential effect on the size of the economy and thus its broader impact on federal revenue. CBO asserts that dynamic effects — mainly removing the disincentives to work created by the health-care act — would have extremely positive impact on the economy, and only swell the deficit by $137 billion over the 10-year estimate window. I’m no economist, but I find the size of the “dynamic” effect — a deficit estimate that is $216 billion lower based on much faster economic growth — utterly implausible. We’ll see what economists say.

Either way, however, the long-term effects are a lot larger than the 10-year window implies, because the impact is backloaded and continues to grow. That is, CBO estimates the annual effect on the deficit would be to add $135 billion in 2025 alone (the 10th year in their budget window), and still increasing after that. So we’re looking at a hole in excess of $1 trillion in the second 10 years (if each annual deficit increase is more than $135 billion).

All that and considerably fewer people covered by health insurance.

Does anyone expect supposedly deficit-obsessed Republicans to either drop repeal, or to find offsets to make repeal budget- neutral? Of course not. Although this estimate is new, the general finding that the Affordable Care Act reduces the deficit has been well-known, and denied or ignored by “repeal” Republicans.

Apart from criticism of the individual mandate, the bulk of Republican hits on Obamacare have involved dismissing the cost savings or condemning the taxes Democrats included to (more than) pay for new benefits. Indeed, a substantial share of Republican attacks have been false claims that the health plan widened the federal budget deficit.

That doesn’t mean Republicans shouldn’t oppose the legislation. There really is a fundamental disagreement about whether government should guarantee (or at least come close to guaranteeing) universal health care coverage. And there are plenty of reasonable arguments to have about how the health plan achieves that goal. For that matter, there are reasonable arguments about the appropriate size of budget deficits, too.

But, like it or not, health plan reduces the deficit, and repealing it would put the U.S. a lot deeper in debt.

_ Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist covering U.S. politics.

For more columns from Bloomberg View, visit 杭州桑拿网,杭州桑拿,bloomberg杭州桑拿会所,/view

Cecil the lion’s brother comes to terms with loss to become king

Friday, 20 September, 2019

Jericho now occupies the position of father of the pride, taking over as protector of Cecil’s seven cubs while being monitored himself with an electronic tracking device in Hwange National Park, said Brent Stapelkamp, who heads an Oxford University lion-research project at the reserve.

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“I think he has now come to terms with the fact that Cecil is no longer coming back,” said Stapelkamp in an interview on Thursday from Hwange. “During the first days, at night he used to make these strong deep contact calls trying to reach out to Cecil.”

Zimbabwe has requested the extradition of Walter Palmer, an American dentist who shot Cecil with a bow-and-arrow. Palmer has said he believed the hunt was legal. The 13-year-old lion was allegedly lured out of Hwange. The global positioning system, or GPS, tag worn by Cecil hasn’t been found, said Stapelkamp.

“Jericho is now the new king of the area which used to be controlled by Cecil,” Stapelkamp said. He raised a monitoring device in the air which emitted a faint beep, signaling that Jericho had probably traveled outside Hwange’s protected boundaries.

There are limits to safeguarding the animals over wide areas, Edson Chidziya, an official with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority, said in an interview on Tuesday.

“The fact that the animal is collared does not mean the animal can’t be hunted, it just shows through research how the animal moves from one place to the other,” said Chidziya.

The southern African country has an estimated lion population of 2,000 roaming its national parks and private reserves. The government issues hunting quotas for as many as 70 lions every year.

Public funding of campaigns has mixed record

Friday, 20 September, 2019

Proponents predict publicly funded elections will be a game-changer for politics in Montgomery County, Maryland.

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Candidates will be able to run and win without big money from real estate developers or public employee unions. Small individual donors will see the power of their contributions enhanced by a proposed system of matching funds.

But elsewhere in the United States, public funding of political campaigns has a record that is mixed at best, falling short of the promises that advocates are making in advance of next week’s Montgomery County Council vote on a public finance plan.

If there is a rough consensus, it is that certain kinds of public financing systems can change how candidates spend their time, freeing them from fundraising and creating more opportunities for retail politicking with voters. But public funding does not seriously disrupt the traditional advantages enjoyed by incumbents. While races tend to be more competitive, officeholders still win re-election as much as ever.

“The people who propose these systems often oversell them,” said University of Wisconsin political scientist Kenneth Mayer, who has spent a decade studying public campaign finance. “From what we’ve observed in places that have various types of public funding, the impacts are actually a lot more marginal.”

Public funding has been in place at the presidential level since 1976. Nearly half of all states, including Maryland, and a handful of cities have some form of taxpayer subsidy for campaigns.

Some localities have tried the idea and discarded it. In Portland, Oregon, voters scrapped their system in 2010 after five years. Over three election cycles, just two of nine publicly funded candidates won their races. A scandal involving a city council candidate who used the money for personal expenses also soured residents.

Public finance systems have also suffered from unfriendly court decisions. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 2010 Citizens United case that corporations and unions had the right to spend unlimited sums independently to influence elections. A year later, the court invalidated part of Arizona’s campaign law, ruling that its “trigger” provision — which funneled extra public money to candidates being outspent by traditionally financed opponents — was unfair to privately financed candidates. The ruling has had repercussions for similar systems in other states.

Maryland lawmakers included a public funding option for counties as part of the campaign finance reform bill they passed in 2013. Montgomery County is the first to give it serious consideration. The plan, sponsored by council member Phil Andrews, a Democrat, will come before the council on Tuesday and is likely to pass.

Andrews said his proposal, built around small donations and matching funds, can withstand legal challenge. It differs from many earlier subsidies that involved lump sums awarded to eligible candidates based on the number of registered voters or other measures.

To qualify, candidates for county executive or council must demonstrate viability by raising a specific number of small individual contributions between $5 and $150. Contenders for executive would need at least 500 contributions totaling $40,000. An at-large council candidate would have to collect 250 donations worth $20,000.

Those who qualify would have subsequent donations matched with public money. The first $50 from each donor would be matched at the highest ratio: 6-to-1 for an executive candidate and 4-to-1 for a council contender.

The bill caps public contributions to county executive candidates at $1.5 million — $750,000 each for primary and general elections. At-large council hopefuls are limited to $250,000 and district council contenders to $125,000 — sums large enough to run sustainable campaigns in Montgomery, Andrews said.

Candidates who participate in the voluntary system would be barred from accepting corporate or political action committee (PAC) donations. They could continue raising unlimited amounts of unmatched money — but individual donations would be limited to $150 each.

The Andrews proposal most closely resembles the system in New York City, which offers a 6-to-1 match for individual contributions of up to $175.

A 2012 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law showed that the system has dramatically broadened the demographic profile of campaign contributors. In the 2009 election, small resident donors to city council candidates came from nearly 90 percent of the city’s census group blocks. By contrast, small donors to state assembly races, where there is no public financing, resided in just 30 percent of census blocks. The trend continued in the 2013 campaign.

But New York’s small donor trend was accompanied by a surge of spending by independent committees, allowed to invest unlimited amounts to get their message across. In some 2013 council races, candidates were outspent as much as 3-to-1 by outside groups, according to a study by the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

Real estate interests were the biggest driver. Jobs for New York, an industry-funded committee, accounted for 78 percent of the $15.8 million in total independent expenditures, according to the finance board.

It concluded that the torrent of special interest money creates “a special dilemma for any public campaign finance program.”

Andrews said there’s no stopping independent committees from raising big money. The point, he said, is to provide a potential counterweight.

Andrews has accepted virtually no corporate or PAC contributions during his four council terms and did not do so in his unsuccessful Democratic primary bid this year for county executive.

In that race, he was heavily outspent by two candidates who did: incumbent Isiah Leggett and former executive Doug Duncan.

Andrews relied instead on the small donors at the heart of his proposal. An analysis by Common Cause Maryland, the organization he once headed, shows that if the system were in place this year, he would have received $450,000 in matching funds, nearly twice the total of $289,000 he raised under the existing law.

It would not have given him the advantage over Leggett, who would have received $626,000 in matching dollars. But it would have closed the margin.

Montgomery’s business leadership has been quiet — at least publicly — about the proposal, even though it would bar qualifying candidates from accepting PAC donations. MD-RPAC, the political arm of the Maryland Association of Realtors, contributed nearly $40,000 to Montgomery County candidates this year, including $6,000 each to Leggett, council members Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal, and council member-elect Sidney Katz, all Democrats.

Mark Feinroth, director of regulatory affairs for the Association of Realtors, said the group has no position on the bill. “We’re not especially concerned about the limitations on PAC contributions,” he said, citing independent expenditure committees as one tool. One such entity, Maryland Realtors for Independent Political Action, was active in Montgomery during the primary.

Union leaders also downplayed the bill’s impact, saying that relative to the developer sector, most of their resources go elsewhere. The Montgomery County Education Association, which represents 12,000 public school teachers, spends heavily to produce its “Apple Ballot” of endorsed candidates mailed to registered Democrats and distributed at the polls.

The council is likely to pass the proposal, although not without some ambivalence.

Floreen said politics is replete with examples of well-funded challengers who falter.

“I don’t know what problem this is solving, frankly,” said Floreen, who has close ties to the business community as chair of the committee that reviews land- use plans.

Others are concerned about the system’s cost. The Common Cause study of the 2014 cycle placed it at $2.5 million, but it would be higher depending on the number of eligible candidates.

“People choke on the price tag a little,” said council member Hans Riemer, a Democrat who backs the bill. “But it’s a business expense for having a good government. It makes sense to pay for government this way.”

US-built Ebola treatment centers in Liberia are nearly empty as outbreak fades

Friday, 20 September, 2019

There’s only one thing missing from this state-of-the-art Ebola treatment center: Ebola patients.

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The U.S. military sent about 3,000 troops to West Africa to build centers like this one in recent months. They were intended as a crucial safeguard against an epidemic that flared in unpredictable, deadly waves. But as the outbreak fades in Liberia, it has become clear that the disease had already drastically subsided before the first American centers were completed. Several of the U.S.-built units haven’t seen a single patient infected with Ebola.

It now appears that the alarming epidemiological predictions that in large part prompted the U.S. aid effort here were far too bleak. Although future flare-ups of the disease are possible, the near-empty Ebola centers tell the story of an aggressive American military and civilian response that occurred too late to help the bulk of the more than 8,300 Liberians who became infected. Last week, even as international aid organizations built yet more Ebola centers, there was an average of less than one new case reported in Liberia per day.

“If they had been built when we needed them, it wouldn’t have been too much,” said Moses Massaquoi, the Liberian government’s chairman for Ebola case management. “But they were too late.”

It was impossible to predict the decline in the Ebola caseload last September, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested a worst-case scenario of 1.4 million victims in Liberia and Sierra Leone. At that point, the American military’s logistical and engineering prowess appeared to be urgently needed — even if critics said the assistance was slow to arrive.

“With that kind of dire prediction from the CDC, and not having seen anything like this before, we had to try everything at our disposal,” said Douglas Mercado, the top USAID official in Liberia.

U.S. officials reject the suggestion that resources were misallocated.

“A lot of people are evaluating the strategy based on what we know today, not what we knew at the time,” said Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, the top U.S. military officer in Liberia.

Before the center opened in Tubmanburg on Nov. 18, there were about 200 suspected or confirmed Ebola victims in the town, many of whom died while awaiting treatment. Since the U.S. facility opened, 46 suspected or confirmed cases have been admitted.

In Monrovia, 45 miles away and the heart of the outbreak, the scenes of suffering Ebola patients shocked the world. At the height of the epidemic, the afflicted writhed in the streets. There was a shortage of bed space at treatment centers for months. The international community, led by the United States, responded with a massive construction and assistance campaign — including American engineers, Cuban doctors, African Union health workers and many others — that turned out to be far in excess of what was necessary.

There are now seven Ebola treatment centers in greater Monrovia. Most of them were completed after the epidemic began to abate. Surplus tents now store excess supplies: mattresses, food and medicine for patients who never arrived. There are so few patients and so many available beds that a USAID-funded Ebola center, opened in October, will soon close its doors. Three other centers will be shuttered at least temporarily.

Paradoxically, isolation centers are still being built, mostly by UNICEF.

“It just makes no sense,” said Laurence Sailly, the head of mission for the Doctors Without Borders aid group in Liberia.

Amelia Garbla remembers when she saw the first American aircraft land in Tubmanburg. It was late September, and she was a nurse at the local holding center — little more than plastic sheeting and dirty mattresses — where Ebola patients were dying constantly.

“I was jumping up and down and waving. I was so happy,” she said.

About two weeks earlier, on Sept. 16, President Barack Obama announced that 3,000 U.S. troops would be dispatched to West Africa as part of a $758 million plan to fight Ebola.

“We know that if we take the proper steps, we can save lives,” Obama said. “But we have to act fast.”

The news of Obama’s plan had made it to Garbla’s makeshift treatment center, with its tiny shed for nurses to don their protective gear. The situation was desperate.

“There was nothing we could do. The things we should have had, we didn’t have,” she said.

Through September and October, Garbla was surrounded by the dead and the dying, including 14 of her colleagues — health-care workers from this small city who fought the disease with almost no outside help. She saw the American helicopters and the white men in uniform surveying the land. She watched as they unloaded equipment and construction materials.

“We were praying for something to be built,” she said.

But while the Americans were finishing the Tubmanburg Ebola center, their first in Liberia, the national caseload suddenly began to decline. By the time the treatment unit opened in November, the country was down to fewer than 100 cases per week, from a peak of more than 300. By December, the number had dropped to fewer than 30 cases per week.

The reasons for the sudden plunge are still being debated. Was it that Liberians had changed their behavior to avoid contracting the disease? Had early increases in bed space at Ebola centers been enough to isolate those with the virus? Was there more effective use of contact tracers, who tracked down and isolated people exposed to the virus? Experts say it was probably all of those changes, though the inflection point of the epidemic will be studied for years by epidemiologists.

“I don’t think you can point to one silver bullet that solved Ebola,” Volesky said. “My argument is it’s the whole strategy that’s showing us a positive trend.”

On a scorching day in late October, the U.S. ambassador came to tour the nearly completed Tubmanburg center. Members of the Liberian army, who helped with construction, chanted as the dignitaries walked through the new tents.

When the center began accepting patients on Nov. 20, Garbla and her colleagues were glad to have a modern, functional Ebola treatment unit, even if it appeared that the epidemic was fading. Now, if the cases spiked again, she and her colleagues would be ready.

The U.S. plans for the Ebola centers have changed in some ways to reflect the new reality. In a number of cases, aid groups contracted to operate the centers have diverted their staff members to work in general hospitals that were ravaged by Ebola. Some training sessions intended for nurses and hygienists at the Ebola centers have been altered to cover a broader range of infection-control measures.

As the disease continued to fade, U.S. officials had to decide whether to scrap their plans to build a total of 17 Ebola centers. In the end, they cut only two of the units. Their judgment appeared to be validated in December, when an isolated outbreak emerged in the county of Grand Cape Mount — where, luckily, a U.S.-built Ebola center had just been completed.

“Even when it started going down, no one was declaring victory and saying we beat this thing,” Volesky said. “Because it only takes one person walking from Guinea into Lofa,” a county in Liberia.

‘Still, there’s no question that the need is less than anticipated. For its part, UNICEF has continued building Ebola isolation centers, even though many here argue that they serve no purpose anymore.

“Halting construction now would cause much bigger problems for the community. They’ve agreed to them, they’ve supported them, and they’re employed there,” said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF’s country director.

Another U.N.-led effort, to distribute thousands of home health-care kits, has ground to a halt, with most of the supplies sitting in unopened boxes across the country.

For some of the Liberian doctors who have been fighting the disease almost since the beginning of the outbreak last spring, the continued push to construct Ebola centers makes little sense.

Jerry Brown, a doctor who directs an Ebola center just outside Monrovia, used to attend the daily meetings where international aid groups, governments and U.N. agencies would discuss the collective response to the outbreak. He watched as the epidemic faded, but the construction effort continued.

“They said: ‘We have to build it. That’s what is written, and that is what we’ll do,’ ” he said.

Out of frustration, Brown stopped attending the meetings in November.

Another Liberian doctor, J. Soka Moses, worked at one of Monrovia’s most chaotic Ebola centers, JFK Hospital, during the worst days of the crisis. It was closed in October after some health-care workers contracted the disease. Moses was eventually reassigned to a large new Ebola center built by the World Food Program and USAID.

“We are more prepared now that the outbreak is over,” he sighed. His new Ebola center, with a capacity of more than 200 beds, is now due to close.

Ebola creates wave of Liberian orphans

Monday, 2 September, 2019

As luck would have it, Katie Meyler was outside Redemption that September day as well.

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Meyler, a New Jersey native who runs a nonprofit group in the slums here, brought the 4-year-old girl to live in the clean, newly renovated guest house her organization owns — a reversal of fortune akin to hitting the lottery in a place where the Ebola virus is out of control.

But then Meyler plucked another child, Miatta Urey, from a nearby home full of people who were sick with the Ebola infection and brought her to the guest house as well. Miatta soon began showing symptoms of infection and became seriously ill, posing yet another threat of exposure to Berlinda.

Meyler’s actions may have been imprudent, but they also demonstrate how few choices are available to those trying to care for the children of the Ebola epidemic.

In a country still recovering from 14 years of civil war, Ebola is posing a new threat to children, with challenges never seen here before. Some children have been forced to leave homes where relatives are infected, cleaving families into the sick and the well. Others face stigma if parents or siblings contract the disease, or they are shunned if they get it themselves and are fortunate enough to survive. And Liberia has a new wave of orphans, like the one caused by the war.

The Liberian government and Western aid agencies are scrambling to respond with makeshift arrangements as they try to track down relatives who might take in the abandoned children. But, UNICEF said, “many [children] are being rejected by their surviving relatives for fear of infection.”

“This is all uncharted territory for us,” said Sarah Crowe, a spokeswoman for UNICEF. “We’ve never done anything like this. “

UNICEF announced last week that 3,700 children in the three nations hardest hit by Ebola — Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — had lost one or both parents. Among the ways the organization responded is by housing 13 children in the Hawa Massaquoi center, a former orphanage dating from the civil war of 1989-2003, until parents or relatives could be found.

Some children understand that they have lost one or both parents. Others cling to hope that a mother or father will emerge from an Ebola treatment center and take them home.

“My mother got sick,” one boy there said. “My grandfather died. And then my father said my mother should not come close to him because she could give him the virus. And then the ambulance came and took her to the hospital, and after a few days, we heard she had died in the hospital.”

Meyler said when she saw Berlinda’s circumstances, she made a snap decision to take her in, rather than leave her to the nightmarish conditions inside Redemption Hospital. On a recent day, at the guest house of Meyler’s aid group, More Than Me, Berlinda puttered around the freshly painted rooms, poking into this and that, much as any 4-year-old would. She believes her mother died because she went out in the rain. Her caretaker, Bendu Fayiah, a 22-year-old woman whom the girl soon began calling “Mother,” said the child tells her, “Mama, don’t go to the water. Don’t go into the rain.’ ”

Berlinda’s father is unable to care for her. With schools here closed in an attempt to slow transmission of the virus, More Than Me was paying Fayiah, one of the teachers in the small school it runs, to live in the guest house with the child. Unsure whether Berlinda was infected with Ebola, Fayiah at first wore some protective clothing and surgical gloves. But after her own mother told her she would pray for the child’s health, Fayiah abandoned them, increasing the risk to herself if the child was infectious.

“I felt it was the calling of God to take care of this child,” she said.

The risks, though, soon became evident. Berlinda vomited twice last Thursday, Meyler later said in an email. Vomiting can be a sign of Ebola infection, but it is also a symptom of other diseases common to West Africa, such as malaria.

Berlinda tested negative for the Ebola virus and is now in the care of a volunteer family, Meyler said in a subsequent email. Miatta, however, is seriously ill from Ebola infection. Meyler is working with the Liberian government to reconfigure the guest house to temporarily accommodate as many as 40 displaced children.

The region’s children have seen this before. The fate of war orphans in Liberia and Sierra Leone offers a bleak glimpse into what the future holds for those left without families by Ebola.

In the wake of Liberia’s civil war, orphanages were suspected of participating in child trafficking. The “chronic deplorable conditions” in Liberian orphanages were deemed a “cause for major concern” in a 2007 report from the United Nations mission in Liberia. Children were often undernourished, slept on floors and had no access to toilets. In one orphanage, a locked room with no mattresses was reserved for children who wet the bed, the report said.

Both Sierra Leone and Liberia suspended international adoption in 2009, citing concerns about illegal activity. In Liberia, the move came after reports of irregularities in the way unlicensed agencies brought children to the United States for adoption.

Aid workers say informal caretaking arrangements are developing on their own in some places. They include efforts by survivors of Ebola, who carry antibodies to the virus, to care for children who may have been infected. Such children must be quarantined and monitored for 21 days.

Save the Children, a well-established aid group, is trying to match survivors with childrenwho need them. And UNICEF plans to train Ebola survivors to help care for kids during the 21-day waiting period.

“How can you care for children without holding them and loving them and nurturing them?” Crowe said. “This is about innovative solutions. This the only way forward.”

Some traditional methods of helping children cope with trauma are impossible in a time of Ebola. Save the Children has, in other places, organized soccer games for youngsters affected by natural disasters or war.

Such gatherings “can’t happen because of the infection control that has to happen,” said Seema Manohar, one of the group’s representatives in Monrovia.

There have been small victories as the virus spreads through Liberia. Social workers located the parents of a young girl staying at the Hawa Massaquoi Center, who was originally thought to be an orphan. When she began showing symptoms of Ebola, she was taken to a treatment center and appears to be recovering.

Another young girl, Esther, lost both parents but survived the disease herself at ELWA 2, a treatment center run by Liberian doctor Jerry Brown. As 14 other survivors prayed and sang at a ceremony celebrating their release in late September, Esther, 11, wept bitterly, tears pouring down her face as a heavy rain clattered on the corrugated metal roof of a shelter above the group’s head.

Meyler, who was there to deliver a load of vitamins, took Esther to live at the guest house, and the girl later moved toa government-run home for orphans.

“She colors, she danced today and yesterday,” Meyler said in an email last week. “She’s becoming more alive.”

– – –

Sullivan reported from Washington.

Thailand, Switzerland top list of world’s 15 happiest economies

Monday, 2 September, 2019

That’s one way to read the fate of 51 economies (including the euro area) this year, based on Bloomberg calculations of what’s known as the “misery index.

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” Inflation and unemployment, two factors that make consumers unhappy, are remarkably low in the 15 countries shown below, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. Figures reflect the latest research, private forecasts and survey data compiled by Bloomberg as of Feb. 27.

While the Swiss National Bank attracted some tumultuous headlines earlier this year, the haven of ski slopes and chocolates still outshines its peers in the survey as a consumer-friendly place to live. For the country’s working-age consumers – only 3.3 percent of whom are likely to be unemployed this year – an estimated 0.9 percent drop in prices in 2015 will help cushion the blow from a surging currency. That’s enough for Switzerland to claim one of the least-sad spots in the misery index. (The lower the score, the better.)

That’s great news for an already wealthy country. Switzerland is the fourth-richest, as measured by International Monetary Fund estimates of gross domestic product per-capita estimates for 2015.

Look to Switzerland’s north for another consumer dreamland: Norway. There, consumer prices will probably increase by a mild 2.2 percent this year, edging just slightly above the 2 percent threshold for which some major central banks worldwide aim. Joblessness is projected to be about 3.75 percent in 2015. And income? Best of any in the group, at an estimated $67,619 GDP per capita for this year.

In what may come as a surprise, the least-miserable country is the not-so-wealthy Thailand. That’s partly thanks to an unusually low unemployment rate, currently tracking below 1 percent, that has so far failed to spur inflation. To be sure, the Land of Smiles, currently under martial law after a military coup last year, has a long way to go before it comes close to the living standards of developed economies.

Elsewhere in Asia are two more countries that, despite their territorial differences, are treating their consumers to a relatively nice standard of living.

Japan, whose battle with deflation that started in the 1990s is only starting to fade, probably will see inflation of about 1 percent this year. Joblessness, too, has shown progress: The unemployment rate is set to ease further to 3.5 percent after averaging 3.6 percent last year.

China’s relatively subdued inflation and unemployment this year will help it move up to the seventh-happiest of the bunch, two spots better than a year ago, the surveys showed.

As for the U.S., size isn’t everything. The world’s largest economy places a not-too-shabby eighth-happiest on the 2015 misery ranking, with still-elevated joblessness holding it back from medal contention. GDP per-capita will be behind only Norway and Hong Kong this year, the IMF projects.

‘Next year in Cuba!’ is suddenly a possibility for Cubans exiles in the US

Monday, 2 September, 2019

“Unfortunately, those who trained in the ’70s and ’80s for an invasion — now they have to use a walker,” says Tomás Regalado Jr.

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He is the mayor of Miami and 67 years old, one of the many Cuban Americans for whom Castro’s revolution has been a multi-generational existential crisis.

Regalado last saw Cuba when he was a boy, in 1962. He was put on a plane to Miami, supposedly a temporary measure while his parents stayed to fight Castro. His father, a journalist, spent two decades as a political prisoner. Father and son reunited in 1980 when Tomás Jr. was already a grown man with a wife and children. The mayor says he would go back to the island only if the country became fully free and democratic, and he doubts that that will happen in his lifetime.

Yet no one really knows anything for sure now. So much changed at midday Wednesday, when President Obama stunned Miami’s Cuban Americans by announcing the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba. Suddenly, “Next year in Cuba” isn’t as implausible as it was a week ago.

The exile generation is not about to forgive the actions of the Castro regime, now led by Fidel’s younger brother Raúl. Disputes over private property continue; many exiles were elites on the island and have filed legal claims over property seized by the communists.

Many older exiles view Obama’s actions as an appeasement and believe recognition of the Castro government will tighten the communist grip on an oppressed populace. A coalition of exile groups organized a protest march Saturday in Miami’s Little Havana.

“Horrible. Horrible. What he did was repulsive,” Ana María Lamar, 70, who left Cuba in 1970, said the day after Obama’s announcement. “Obama said Castro was no longer a terrorist. Come on!”

Miami has evolved, though, and the most prominent exile organization, the Cuban American National Foundation, conspicuously greeted Obama’s announcement with mild expressions of concern but no condemnation.

“It’s been gut-wrenching. It has reopened wounds in this community,” said Jorge Mas, the chairman of CANF. But then he pointed out the window of his 12th-floor office, which looks straight down SW Eighth Street — Calle Ocho — to the Versailles restaurant, a landmark gathering place for Cuban exiles.

“Look at the reaction two days ago — 20 people there, protesting,” he said. “Hialeah, there were celebrations. Our community has changed. I never say it is divided. It has just changed. There are 15 to 20,000 people arriving every year who have a different life experience than my parents’ generation.”

People are calling him up, dismayed, furious, heartbroken by the diplomatic thaw. He tries to calm them. He agrees that the diplomatic move gives Raúl Castro a stature he does not deserve, but he sees positive elements in the change in policy. For example, changes in telecommunications policies will give Cubans on the island greater access to the Internet.

“Our tactics have to change, but the end game doesn’t change,” Mas said. “Ultimately, what I tell all of them is that we will prevail. We will soon be witnessing a free and democratic Cuba. Ultimately, freedom prevails over oppression.”

Mas is 51 and U.S.-born. His father was Jorge Mas Canosa, a co-founder and the chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation and a man who under certain circumstances might have returned to the island as president of a post-Castro Cuba.

The elder Mas died in 1997. It was around 1995 or 1996 that he realized that there would not be a sudden collapse of the Castro government, his son said.

Co-founder and president of CANF Francisco “Pepe” Hernández, 78, remembers traveling to Moscow with Mas Canosa in December 1991, after the communist bloc had disintegrated. Leaders of the new Russian Federation were eager to meet with the anti-Castro exiles, and they told Hernández and Mas Canosa, “Cuba is going to be next.”

But Cuba wasn’t next. Despite the disappearance of the Soviet Union as his patron, and despite the continued U.S. embargo, Fidel Castro hung on to power. In 2006, ailing, he passed control of the government to his brother Raúl.

Hernández, like Regalado the mayor, doesn’t expect to go back to Cuba unless the Castros are completely gone. And the Cuban government certainly would not welcome him under the current regime: He said he’s considered a terrorist because of his decades of anti-Castro activism.

Hernández is a veteran of the ill-fated 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, and he served time in Cuban prisons before going into exile. He said he was once told that if he stepped off a plane in Cuba, he would be shot at the airport.

The rapprochement between the United States and Cuba caught him by surprise.

“Fidel Castro must be dead, in a coma or completely absent from reality,” Hernández said.

The diplomatic moves by the two countries signal that the transition in Cuba will be conventional and peaceful, said José Gabilondo, a law professor at Florida International University and an expert on Cuba. And there is no going back to the way things were before, he said: “You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.”

There are hard-liners who will never soften their stance. Frank de Varona is one of them. He calls Obama’s actions “a travesty.”

Not even out of his teens, de Varona was captured in the Bay of Pigs invasion. He remembers the day that the legendary revolutionary Che Guevara toured the prison. He quizzed de Varona about the property of his father, which had been seized by the government. How many acres did he own? The youth told him his father had owned 3,300 acres.

“He stole it from the sweat of the peasants,” Guevara said.

More than half a century later, standing outside the Versailles restaurant, de Varona said, “You see how fat I am? I came out of Cuba weighing 120 pounds.”

The older generation recognizes that for younger Cuban Americans, the Bay of Pigs operation is something from the distant past, like Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill.

“A lot of the young people don’t know any better. They haven’t gone through what we went through,” said Pedro Bello Jr., 57, who has a cigar shop on Calle Ocho. His 85-year-old father, Pedro Sr., spent two decades in Castro’s prisons and now can often be seen sitting out front with a cigar.

Would the younger Bello, who came to the United States in 1970, go back to Cuba now that tensions are easing?

“Why would anyone want to go back?” he said. “You want to keep moving forward.”

Miami has always been a city of the future, perpetually under construction. Mayor Regalado’s office in the old Miami City Hall — originally it was the Pan American Airways seaplane terminal — has a long line of windows facing north, and in the distance, past the yachts and sailboats, he can see the city’s booming downtown. He said the city has billions of dollars in construction projects underway.

He remembers a different era, when Miami was a temporary refuge for the exiles. They would arrive in the city and keep their luggage packed, tucked in closets, ready for the trip back home.

Surely Castro wouldn’t last, they thought. And then the years passed. The exiles built new lives in Miami. They raised their children and became prosperous in business, and when their grandchildren came along, they spoke to them in Spanish so that they would know the tongue of their elders.

Regalado says the transition to a free Cuba will come with time, inexorably, as young people take power on the island. Fidel Castro will die, and so will his brother and the old generals of the revolution, the mayor said. And so will the old exiles, he said.

“The way to have a new Cuba is biological,” he said. “At least two or three generations have to disappear before everything is forgotten. Until nobody cares what happened in Cuba.”