Tag Archives: World

Saffron harvest offers jobs, opportunity in Afghanistan

It is early morning in a saffron field outside the western Afghan city of Herat and dozens of women are harvesting the delicate purple flowers, working quickly to gather as many as they can before the sun gets too hot.

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, selling for as much as $1,200-$1,800 a kilogram, and has long been seen as an alternative crop to opium poppies for poor farmers in a country struggling with the legacy of decades of war and lawlessness.

So far, it has had little impact on the opium trade which the United Nations estimates is worth some $3 billion a year in Afghanistan, source of most of the world’s opium, from which heroin is produced.

Even so, the Afghan saffron industry has grown and is establishing a reputation for quality in a market still dominated by neighboring Iran, which accounts for almost 90 percent of global production.

“There is a huge demand for Afghan saffron,” said Bashir Ahmad Rashidi, head of the Ariana Saffron Company, which exports to countries from France to Turkey, India and the United States.

Just as importantly, it offers work for women whose employment opportunities are otherwise limited.

“We are very happy about saffron cultivation because it has paved the way for women to find jobs,” said Khanum Rassoli, who leads a team picking flowers for Ariana Saffron. “…It’s mostly women doing the harvesting and processing.”

Known to have been cultivated in what is now Afghanistan at least 2,000 years ago, saffron is well suited to the dry climate, heavily labor intensive but requiring little sophisticated machinery or capital.

The harvest is a tricky operation that begins in October and lasts just three weeks before the flowers begin to die. Workers pick about 10 kg of flowers a day, earning some 25 afghani ($0.38) per kilo.

BRIGHT SPOT

Once the flowers are picked, tiny orange stigmas are separated by hand for drying with about 450,000 stigmas needed to produce just one kilogram of the sharp and fragrant spice, used for seasoning and coloring from southern Europe to South Asia.

Afghanistan produces around four tons a year, a figure dwarfed by the more than 200 tons Iran produces, but it is a rare bright spot in an economy struggling to get to its feet.

“Over the past two years, we’ve seen saffron having a good impact on the economy of families and our country,” said Rashidi from his office in the ancient city of Herat.

The industry was revived by refugees returning from Iran in the 1990s and much work has gone into establishing Afghan saffron as an international brand.

However competition from Iran is fierce, reflecting the experience in other sectors where cheap imports pose a threat to the emergence of a strong local industry.

“We can find Iranian saffron in Herat saffron markets and I hope those who import Iranian saffron into Afghanistan think about the quality of Afghan saffron compared to Iranian saffron,” Rashidi said.

The other challenge is opium, far and away Afghanistan’s biggest export. Government programs and Western donors provide assistance but loosening the grip of drugs networks, including those run by Taliban militants, is a distant target.

However the World Bank estimates more than 6,000 farmers in Herat already produce saffron and the latest U.N. figures indicate that opium cultivation decreased in both Herat and neighboring Farah province last year.

Gul Ahmad, a farmer, said with more help, the industry will develop further.

“Saffron is better than poppy because poppy cultivation caused negative impacts on society and the young generation,” he said. “Saffron is a legal business and it produces a good income.”

Half world’s population online by end of 2016

By the end of 2016, almost half of the world’s population will be online as mobile networks grow and prices fall, but their numbers will remain concentrated in the developed world, a United Nations agency said.

In the world’s developed countries about 80 percent of the population use the internet. But only about 40 percent in developing countries and less than 15 percent in less-developed countries are online, according to a report by the U.N.’s International Telecommunications Union.

In several of Africa’s poorer and more fragile countries, only one person in 10 is on the internet. The offline population is female, elderly, less educated, poorer and lives in rural areas, said the union, a specialized agency for information and communication technologies.

Globally, 47 percent of the world’s population is online, still far short of a U.N. target of 60 percent by 2020. Some 3.9 billion people, more than half the world’s population, are not. ITU expects 3.5 billion people to have access by the end of this year.

“In 2016, people no longer go online, they are online. The spread of 3G and 4G networks across the world had brought the internet to more and more people,” the report said.

Telecoms and internet companies are expanding as more affordable smartphones encourage consumers to browse the internet, causing demand to grow for data-heavy services. However, less-developed countries – LDCs – still trail the rest of the world.

“Internet penetration levels in LDCs today have reached the level enjoyed by developed countries in 1998, suggesting that the LDCs are lagging nearly 20 years behind the developed countries,” the report said.

It blamed the cost of services and of extending infrastructure to rural and remote customers and the high price of mobile cellular use.

World stunned as Trump defeats Clinton for White House

Republican Donald Trump stunned the world by defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 presidential election, sending the United States on an uncertain path.

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The billionaire real estate developer and former reality TV host, Trump rode a wave of anger toward Washington insiders to win the White House race against Clinton, the Democratic candidate whose resume included serving as a first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state.

Worried a Trump victory would cause economic and global uncertainty, investors were in full flight from risky assets.

The unofficial returns show Trump has collected enough of the 270 state-by-state electoral votes needed to win the four-year term that would start on Jan. 20, 2017.

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Republicans also kept control of Congress, with projections showing the GOP would retain majorities in the 100-seat U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, where all 435 seats were up for grabs.

Trump appeared with his family before cheering supporters in a New York hotel ballroom, making the un-Trumpish assertion that it is time to heal the divisions caused by the campaign and find common ground.

“It is time for us to come together as one united people,” Trump said. “I will be president for all Americans.”

He said he received a call from Clinton and praised her for her service and for a hard-fought campaign.

His comments were an abrupt departure from his campaign trail rhetoric in which he repeatedly slammed Clinton as “crooked” amid supporters’ chants of “lock her up.”

At Clinton’s election event at the Javits conference center a mile away from Trump’s event, an electric atmosphere among supporters expecting a Clinton win slowly grew grim as the night went on.

Clinton opted not to appear at her event.

Campaign chairman John Podesta told supporters, “We’re not going to have anything more to say tonight.”

Clinton was expected to speak on Wednesday morning, an aide said.

Prevailing in a cliffhanger race that opinion polls clearly forecast as favoring a Clinton victory, Trump won avid support among a core base of white non-college educated workers with his promise to be the “greatest jobs president that God ever created.”

In his victory speech, he claimed he had a great economic plan, would embark on a project to rebuild American infrastructure and would double U.S. economic growth.

His win raises a host of questions for the United States at home and abroad. He campaigned on a pledge to take the country on a more isolationist, protectionist “America First” path.

Countries around the world reacted with stunned disbelief as the early returns showed Trump defeating Clinton in the electoral college.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, an ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, described the result as a “huge shock” and questioned whether it meant the end of “Pax Americana”, the state of relative peace overseen by Washington that has governed international relations since World War Two.

Neighbor Mexico was pitched into deep uncertainty by the victory for Trump who has often accused it of stealing U.S. jobs and sending criminals across the border.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said the two countries would remain “strong and close partners on trade, security and defense.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on Washington to stay committed to last year’s international nuclear deal with Iran, which Trump has threatened to rip up.

Trump’s national security ideas have simultaneously included promises to build up the U.S. military while at the same time avoiding foreign military entanglements.

He also wants to rewrite international trade deals to reduce trade deficits and has taken positions that raise the possibility of damaging relations with America’s most trusted allies in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Trump has promised to warm relations with Russia that have chilled under President Barack Obama over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intervention in the Syrian civil war and his seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Putin sent Trump a congratulatory note, saying he hoped that they can get the U.S.-Russian relationship out of crisis.

Trump entered the race 17 months ago and survived a series of seemingly crippling blows, many of them self-inflicted, including the emergence in October of a 2005 video in which he boasted about making unwanted sexual advances on women.

He apologized but within days, several women emerged to say he had groped them, allegations he denied.

He was judged the loser of all three presidential debates with Clinton.
A Reuters/Ipsos national Election Day poll offered some clues to the outcome.

It found Clinton underperformed expectations with women, winning their vote by only about 7 percent, similar to Obama when he won re-election in 2012.

And while she won Hispanics, black and millennial voters, Clinton did not win those groups by greater margins than Obama did in 2012.

Younger blacks did not support Clinton like they did Obama, as she won eight of 10 black voters between the ages of 35 and 54. Obama won almost 100 percent of those voters in 2012.

During the campaign, Trump said he would “make America great again” through the force of his personality, negotiating skill and business acumen.
He proposed refusing entry to the United States of people from war-torn Middle Eastern countries, a modified version of an earlier proposed ban on Muslims.

His volatile nature, frequent insults and unorthodox proposals led to campaign feuds with a long list of people, including Muslims, the disabled, Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, the family of a slain Muslim-American soldier, a Miss Universe winner and a federal judge of Mexican heritage.

A largely anti-Trump crowd of about 400 to 500 people gathered outside the White House after his apparent victory, many visibly in shock or tears.
Some carried signs that read “stand up to racism” and “love trumps hate.”
Meanwhile, as financial markets absorbed the prospect of Trump’s win, the Mexican peso plunged to its lowest-ever levels. The peso had become a touchstone for sentiment on the election as Trump threatened to rip up a free trade agreement with Mexico.

His triumph was seen by some as a rebuke to Obama, a Democrat who spent weeks flying around the country to campaign against him, repeatedly casting doubt on his suitability for the White House. Obama will hand over the office to Trump after serving the maximum eight years allowed by law.

Trump promises to push Congress to repeal Obama’s health care plan and to reverse his Clean Power Plan. He plans to create jobs by relying on U.S. fossil fuels such as oil and gas and he poses a serious threat to the Paris climate change agreement.

Trump’s victory marked a frustrating end to the presidential aspirations of Clinton, 69, who so many expected to become the first woman U.S. president.

In a posting on Twitter during Tuesday evening, she acknowledged a battle that was unexpectedly tight given her edge in opinion polls going into Election Day.

“This team has so much to be proud of. Whatever happens tonight, thank you for everything,” she tweeted.

This story will be updated.

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Wind could power 20 percent of world’s electric by 2030

Wind power could supply as much as 20 percent of the world’s total electricity by 2030 due to dramatic cost reductions and pledges to curb climate change, the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) said in a report released in Beijing on Tuesday.

If last year’s Paris climate accord leads to a worldwide commitment to the decarbonization of the electricity sector, total wind power capacity could reach as much as 2,110 gigawatts (GW) by then, nearly five times its current level, the industry group said.

Such an increase in capacity would involve annual investment of 200 billion euros ($224 billion) and would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 3.3 billion tonnes per year, it said.

It forecast that China’s share of the total would reach 666.5 GW, more than quadrupling its current capacity.

The group said total global wind power installations stood at 433 GW by the end of last year, up 17 percent from a year earlier, and are set to rise by around 60 GW in 2016.

Much of the increase was driven by China, which accounted for 145.4 GW at the end of 2015, 33.6 percent of the total. China built 30.8 GW of new wind power capacity over the year, the highest annual addition by any country, the wind council said.

But the pace of capacity additions could fall in 2016, with China still struggling to find enough transmission capacity to take on the huge numbers of new turbines being built.

China’s energy regulator said in July that 21 percent of all wind-generated electricity was wasted in the first half of the year, due also to slowing electricity demand growth as well as the completion of new coal-fired power plants, which made it harder for wind projects to access the grid.

Wasted power – known as curtailment – stood at more than 40 percent in the distant northwestern provinces of Gansu and Xinjiang, where grid capacity is relatively weak, the regulator said.

The wind council said curtailment remained a “major challenge” for China, but the situation was likely to improve over the medium term as regulators work to solve the transmission bottlenecks.

Across the world, shock and condemnation at Orlando massacre

From across the world, officials and public figures are expressing condemnation and shock over the Florida mass shooting at the Pulse Orlando nightclub on June 12, when police say a gunman wielding an assault-type rifle opened fire, killing at least 49 people and wounding dozens.

FRANCE

The Eiffel Tower shined in the colors of a rainbow starting at 10:45 p.m. June 13 to honor victims of the mass shooting at an Orlando gay club.

Paris City Hall paid respects when U.S. and rainbow flags flew.

France feels deeply the horror of deadly attacks after the November terror attacks on a music hall, restaurants and bars and the main sports stadium killed 130. That was preceded by attacks on a satirical newspaper and a kosher grocery store. All were claimed by the Islamic State group.

BRITAIN

J.K. Rowling says one victim of the Orlando killings worked on the Harry Potter Ride at the Universal Studios theme park.

The author tweeted a picture of 22-year-old Luis Vielma in a Hogwarts school tie, and said: “I can’t stop crying.”

Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister David Cameron have sent messages of condolence from Britain for the attack.

Buckingham Palace says the queen sent a message to President Barack Obama saying: “Prince Philip and I have been shocked by the events in Orlando. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been affected.”

GERMANY

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says it’s important to continue with “our open, tolerant life” following attacks such as the mass shooting at an Orlando gay club.

Speaking during a visit to China on June 13, Merkel said that “we have a heavy heart” over the fact that “the hatred and malignancy of a single person” cost so many lives.

She added: “We are firmly determined, even when such murderous attacks put us into deep sorrow, to continue with our open, tolerant life.”

In downtown Berlin, dozens of people came together in front of the U.S. Embassy to mourn the victims of the Orlando shooting. People were setting white lilies and pink roses next to teddy bears in front of a rainbow flag and a U.S. flag.

“We are very much in shock, but we also want to show that nobody will succeed in intimidating us,” Joerg Steinert from the Lesbian and Gay Association said. “We’re here today to condemn this act.”

Djuke Nickelsen, carrying a bouquet of cornflowers and chamomile, said she’d come to show her solidarity with the victims and their relatives.

“I was very touched and sad these people were killed — all they did was embrace and enjoy life.”

UN HUMAN RIGHTS CHIEF

The U.N. human rights chief has denounced the mass shooting.

Zeid Ra’ad Hussein, commenting at the opening of the three-week Human Rights Council session in Geneva, chronicled a number of human rights abuses and concerns.

He added: “I also condemn with the greatest possible force the outrageous attacks by violent extremists on innocent people, chosen at random, or because of their presumed beliefs, or opinions, or — as we saw — their sexual orientation.”

CYPRUS

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades has condemned the Orlando attack, saying that such “cowardly attacks” incite the revulsion of the international community.

In a written statement, Anastasiades said the killings further galvanize the world’s determination to combat terrorism.

Anastasiades also expressed his and his government’s condolences to the victims’ families, the government and the American public.

ISRAEL

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin says in a letter to President Barack Obama that Israel stands “shoulder to shoulder with our American brothers and sisters” after the attack on the LGBT community. Rivlin sent his condolences, saying there is “no comfort for those who have had their loved ones torn away from them.”

The Orlando attack has dominated news in Israel, which has seen a wave of Palestinian attacks in recent months.

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah says the mass shooting in U.S. history is a “senseless act of terror and hate” and that “Palestinians stand with the American people in this difficult time.”

The statement made no direct reference to the LGBT community. Homosexuality is deeply taboo in the conservative Palestinian society. Gay Palestinians tend to be secretive about their social lives and some have crossed into Israel to live openly safely.

The sentiment is reflected throughout the Arab and Muslim world. In Saudi Arabia, judges can issue the death penalty for same-sex relations.

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah told the Cabinet as he opened the weekly meeting live on television on June 13 that the Orlando attack “tells us that terrorism knows no religion, boundary and geography. Terrorism must be eliminated.”

He says that Afghans “do not support terrorism but the victims of terrorist attacks” and offered his condolences to the people and government of the United States. “Our hearts and minds are with our U.S. partners.” He also urged “collective actions to end such attacks.”

PAKISTAN

Pakistan’s former military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf condemned the Orlando shooting, saying ‘this is a sobering reminder that extremism and terrorism are on the rise.’

Musharraf, who is facing court cases at home but left Pakistan in March for treatment abroad, says on his Facebook page the world must “address the root causes of global terrorism to suck the oxygen out of the extremist narrative of hate, intolerance, bigotry and the promotion of obscurantist ideology that is radicalizing vulnerable Muslims around the world.”

KUWAIT

Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry says the government strongly condemns the “terrorist attack” that took place in Orlando, adding that the escalation of such assaults requires a doubling down of efforts on the part of the international community to eliminate “this disgusting phenomenon.”

Last year, 27 people were killed by an Islamic State suicide bomber in Kuwait during prayer at a mosque in the capital.

QATAR

Qatar’s Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the Orlando mass shooting and called for concerted international efforts to “face criminal acts that target civilians.”

EGYPT

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry condemned the Orlando attack “in the strongest possible terms,” and offered condolences to the American government and people. “Egypt stands next to the American people in these difficult times, offering sincere condolences to the families of the victims and wishing the injured a speedy recovery.”

Egypt’s statement urged for international solidarity and a “firm, comprehensive approach to confronting terrorism, which knows no borders or religion, and is incompatible with all humanitarian principles and values.”

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

The United Arab Emirates condemned “the terrorist attack” in Orlando, expressed its solidarity with the United States and called on the international community to work to “eliminate the scourge of terrorism.”

LEBANON

Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry is strongly condemning the “cowardly” attack in Orlando, expressing solidarity with the victims and the U.S. government and blaming the massacre on the Islamic State group. It says no country or person is safe from “this global blind terrorism.”

The ministry statement says that “once more, this terrorist organization carries out a sordid terrorist act that clearly reflects the truth of its existing project based on animosity to civilization and humanity.”

The Islamic State’s radio on June 13 called the Orlando mass shooter “one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America,” though IS has not officially claimed the attack.

The Lebanese statement doesn’t explicitly mention attacks on homosexuals. But the religiously-mixed Lebanon is the most liberal among the region’s Arab nations regarding same-sex relationships, with an active LBGT community. Although technically homosexuality is against Lebanese law, activists have strongly challenged it in courts.

CHINA

China’s official Xinhua News Agency issued a statement saying President Xi Jinping had telephoned his American counterpart Barack Obama to express his condolences over the Orlando shootings.

Xi was quoted as saying that “on behalf of the government and people of China, I convey to President Obama and the American government and people my deepest sympathies, sincere condolences and deep grief for the victims.”

JAPAN

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has condemned the Orlando nightclub attack and expressed condolences to the victims and their families.

Abe told reporters in Oita that “Japan stands together with the people of the United States” and that “this despicable act of terror cannot be tolerated.”

AUSTRALIA

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that the Orlando mass shooting was “an attack on all of us — on all our freedoms, the freedom to gather together, to celebrate, to share time with friends.”

He said he spoke with the U.S. ambassador to Australia, John Berry, “and formally conveyed to him Australians’ sympathy, condolences and resolute solidarity in the face of this shocking act of hate and terror.”

“Together, at home and abroad, we continue the fight against terrorism and stand up for the values of our free nations,” Turnbull said.

SINGAPORE

The mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub happened shortly after a same-sex kiss was removed from a production of the musical “Les Miserables” in Singapore, and after the government said it would look into rules of foreign funding for gay pride parades like Pink Dot.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam said on Facebook: “Another senseless shooting. … It just goes on and on. The madness is not going to stop.”

MALAYSIA

The prime minister of Muslim-majority Malaysia, Najib Razak, said he was “horrified” by the Orlando mass shooting. “Islam abhors killing of innocent people,” he tweeted.

A few Malaysians, using pseudonyms, wrote on social media that they approved of the attack at the gay nightclub because the victims were “sinners,” but they were quickly condemned by many others.

Worldwide Pride: Celebrations around the globe

“Solidarity Through Pride” is the theme uniting the many LGBT Pride events — picnics and parades, protests and rallies — taking place in 2016 around the globe.

Some Pride dates around the world …

June

= June: Colombia Pride Diversa in Bogota; Budapest Pride in Hungary; Edinburgh Pride Scotia in Scotland; and Istanbul Pride.

= June 1-4: Tel Aviv Pride.

= June 4: Aarhus Pride in Denmark.

= June 3-12: Edmonton Pride in Canada.

= June 11: Athens Pride; Bali Pride in Indonesia.

= June 11-12: Blackpool Gay Pride in England.

= June 13: Roma Pride in Rome.

= June 13-19: Baltic Pride in Lithuania.

= June 17-26: Shanghai Pride.

= June 16-20: Sitges Pride in Spain.

= June 17-26: Oslo Pride.

= June 18-21: Korea Queer Festival and Parade in Seoul.

= June 18-25: Milano Pride in Italy.

= June 22-26: Gay Pride Dublin.

= June 23-28: Mexico City Pride.

= June 24-July 3: Toronto Pride.

= June 25: Paris Gay Pride March.

= June 25-26: London Pride.

= June 26: Bologna Pride in Italy.

= June 27-July 3: Helsinki Gay Pride in Finland.

= June 29-July 3, Madrid Pride Festival.

July

= July 1-3: Cologne Pride.

= July 2: Paris Pride.

= July 4-9: Luxembourg Pride.

= July 9-10: Munich Pride.

= July 13-17: Limerick Pride.

= July 15-17: CSD Frankfurt in Germany.

= July 16-23: Berlin Pride.

= July 25-31: Stockholm Pride in Sweden.

= July 29-Aug. 7: Belfast Gay Pride.

= July 30-Aug. 7: Hamburg Gay Pride.

= July 31: Vancouver Gay Pride.

August

= August: Cornwall, Cymru, Doncaster and Kent Prides in the United Kingdom.

= Aug. 2-7: Reykjavik Pride in Iceland.

= Aug. 5-7, EuroPride in Amsterdam.

= Aug. 8-14: Fierte Montreal Pride and Prague Pride in the Czech Republic.

= Aug. 10-14, Antwerp Pride in Belgium.

= Aug. 16-21: Copenhagen Pride.

= Aug. 17-24: Mykonos XLsior in Greece.

= Aug. 26-29: Manchester Pride.

= Aug. 26-Sept. 5: Pride Calgary.

September

= September: Quebec City Pride; Brisbane Pride; Leicester Pride and Lincoln Pride in England.

= Sept. 5-11: Benidorm Gay Pride in Spain.

= Sept. 26-Oct. 2: Curaçao Pride in the Caribbean.

October

= October: Johannesburg Pride.

= Oct. 10-18: Gran Canaria: Fetish Week in Spain.

= Oct. 27-31: Amsterdam Leather Pride.

= Oct. 29: Taiwan LGBT Pride in Taipei.

= Oct. 29-Nov. 3: Canberra Queer Festival in Australia.N

November

= November: Buenos Aires Gay Pride; Hong Kong Pride; Gay Pride Brazil in Rio de Janeiro; Tas Pride Festival in Tasmania, Australia.

= Nov. 14: Adelaide Pride March in Australia.

DECEMBER

= Dec. 6: Manila Metro Pride

 

Alan Cumming hosts UN LGBT gala

Scottish actor and activist Alan Cumming says he was pleased to host the first LGBT gala ever held at the United Nations, but he also finds it a bit silly that it’s taken so long.

“Well I think it’s sort of like a little chink in the armor of bigotry on a worldwide level because it is symbolic that this is happening in this institution and also kind of ridiculous at the same time that this is the first time anything like this has happened at the U.N.,” Cumming said.

The gala in mid-May, sponsored by Outright Action International, marked a turning point at the U.N., which only last August held the first Security Council meeting spotlighting violence and discrimination against LGBT people.

The gala honored Indonesian gay rights activist Yuli Rustinawati and her organization, Arus Pelangi, just as her government was considering a law that defines threats to national security so broadly that LGBT and human rights defenders could be considered criminals.

Hearing about the proposed law, Cumming scoffed: “I mean if the state needs to be threatened with the idea of equality then good. I hope those homosexuals do threaten the state. I mean if they threaten with equality, it’s not so bad.”

— AP

Beer to flow through city as Belgian pipe dream comes true

The idea may have seemed mad, but after all, the beer is called the Madman of Bruges — or Brugse Zot in Dutch.

And with the help of crowdfunding efforts among some 400 Madman fans, the dream of building a beer pipeline through the Belgian city of Bruges is becoming real.

“You have to be a bit crazy — like the beer — to do such a project. I just had the money for that, and I liked it. So I went crazy and gave the money to the brewery,” said local restaurant owner Philippe Le Loup, who poured some $11,000 into the pipeline.

Brewer Xavier Vanneste got the idea four years ago to pump the beer from his Bruges brewery to a bottling plant outside of town in a pipeline instead of having hundreds of transportation trucks blighting the cobblestoned streets of the UNESCO-protected medieval city.

Jokes were coming in fast, with people saying “we are willing to invest as long as we can have a tapping point on the pipeline,” Vanneste said. “That gave us the idea to crowdfund the project to make this possible.”

What at first seemed like an outrageous dream, began to seem possible when Vanneste started talking to local beer enthusiasts, he said.

Jokes were coming in fast, with people saying “we are willing to invest as long as we can have a tapping point on the pipeline,” Vanneste said. “That gave us the idea to crowdfund the project to make this possible.”

Thanks to Le Loup and others, he is now staring at the opening end of the pipeline, which from this autumn will start pumping some 4,000 liters (1,060 gallons) of beer an hour toward the bottling plant, around 3 kilometers (2 miles) away in a non-descript industrial zone.

“That is a lot of beer, more than you can drink in a lifetime,” said the owner of De Halve Maan brewery, which in addition to Brugse Zot is also famous for its Straffe Hendrik beer brand.

Sending the pipeline along all streets where customers could siphon off their favorite suds without having to leave home was too utopian even for Vanneste, but he came up with the next best thing — IOUs with a lifelong drinking guarantee.

“We have several formulas: bronze, silver and gold,” he said. “If you put in e.g. 7,500 euros ($8,350), you will receive for the rest of your days, every day one bottle of Brugse Zot.”

The offer was hard to refuse and about 10 percent of the total 4 million euro ($4.5 million) investment for the pipeline has been financed through crowdfunding. With it came a popular surge of support that has stood Vanneste in good stead.

With a warren of municipal, regional and federal urbanization laws, building approvals were often laborious to come by for something as unique as a beer pipeline but authorities soon realized a whole community was backing it.

Not only did they provide financial funding for the project, they also provided a political base for it because so many people were supporting it, Vanneste said.

The city also stood to gain. In between the picturesque beguinage houses and Our Lady’s Cathedral, De Halve Maan brewery has given the sometimes overly touristy, so-called Venice of the North a sense of real life. Vanneste could have done what so many others have done — move out, lock, stock and barrel from the city with its canals, gabled Gothic houses, horse-drawn carriages and restaurants with six-language menus.

Now, he hopes to have the best of both worlds — a historic brewery in a location where it should be and an environmentally friendly way of transporting his brews out to the bottling plant which will allow him to continue to grow.

But it is not only Vanneste’s family business that is growing. The generous contributor to the project, Le Loup, is eyeing his paunch.

You can tell from my belly that I am a beer fan, he says.

Economists unite: Tax havens serve no useful economic purpose

We urge you to use this month’s anti-corruption summit in London to make significant moves towards ending the era of tax havens.

The existence of tax havens does not add to overall global wealth or well-being; they serve no useful economic purpose. Whilst these jurisdictions undoubtedly benefit some rich individuals and multinational corporations, this benefit is at the expense of others, and they therefore serve to increase inequality.

As the Panama Papers and other recent exposés have revealed, the secrecy provided by tax havens fuels corruption and undermines countries’ ability to collect their fair share of taxes. While all countries are hit by tax dodging, poor countries are proportionately the biggest losers, missing out on at least $170 billion of taxes annually as a result.

As economists, we have very different views on the desirable levels of taxation, be they direct or indirect, personal or corporate. But we are agreed that territories allowing assets to be hidden in shell companies or which encourage profits to be booked by companies that do no business there, are distorting the working of the global economy. By hiding illicit activities and allowing rich individuals and multinational corporations to operate by different rules, they also threaten the rule of law that is a vital ingredient for economic success.

To lift the veil of secrecy surrounding tax havens we need new global agreements on issues such as public country by country reporting, including for tax havens. Governments must also put their own houses in order by ensuring that all the territories, for which they are responsible, make publicly available information about the real “beneficial” owners of company and trusts. The UK, as host for this summit and as a country that has sovereignty over around a third of the world’s tax havens, is uniquely placed to take a lead.

Taking on the tax havens will not be easy; there are powerful vested interests that benefit from the status quo. But it was Adam Smith who said that the rich “should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.” There is no economic justification for allowing the continuation of tax havens which turn that statement on its head.

CASE STUDY: MALAWI

Tax revenue that should be helping to fund public services like healthcare and education in Malawi and other poor countries is disappearing at an alarming rate. It’s estimated that Africa loses around $14 billion in tax revenues annually – enough money to pay for healthcare for mothers and children that could save four million children’s lives a year and employ enough teachers to get every African child into school.
In Malawi, it’s impossible to get a full picture of the scale of tax dodging. However, Oxfam calculated that the lost tax revenue from the money revealed to be held by Malawians in HSBC accounts in Geneva in last year’s Swissleaks scandal could pay the salaries of 800 nurses for one year.

Half of Malawi’s 16 million people live in poverty. The health system is seriously under-resourced with shortages of staff and vital medicines. On average there are just three nurses for every 10,000 people. Public spending per primary-school child is among the world’s lowest. Recent cuts to government budgets are making the situation even worse for the poorest who have no way to pay for private clinics and schools.

A link to the signatories …

34 countries don’t have enough food for their people

Thirty-four countries don’t have enough food for their people because of conflicts, drought and flooding, according to a new report from the United Nations.

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s Crop Prospects and Food Situation report said conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and the Central African Republic have taken a heavy toll on agricultural production, worsening the humanitarian crisis in those countries.

And the impact of these conflicts extends to neighboring countries that are hosting refugees, straining food resources in those countries, it said.

Congo is not only dealing with almost 100,000 refugees from Central African Republic but conflict in the east where an estimated 1.5 million people are displaced and flooding related to El Nino which has affected about half a million people, the report said.

FAO said drought associated with El Nino has “sharply reduced” 2016 crop production prospects in southern Africa. It said dry conditions linked to El Nino may also affect the planting of crops for the main growing season in areas of Central America and the Caribbean for the third consecutive year.

Dry conditions have also lowered expectations for harvests this year in Morocco and Algeria, the report said.

FAO also warned that drought and floods in North Korea in 2015 “sharply decreased” food crop production in the early and main growing seasons.

“With a reduced harvest in 2015, the food security situation is likely to deteriorate compared to the situation of previous years, when most households were already estimated to have borderline or poor food consumption rates,” the report said.

The number of countries needing outside food assistance grew from 33 in December, after the addition of Swaziland where El Nino-associated drought conditions have sharply lowered 2016 cereal crop production prospects.

Other countries on the FAO list facing food shortages are Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Guinea, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Nepal.

The report said elsewhere, the outlook for 2016 crops already in the ground, mostly winter grains in the northern hemisphere, is generally favorable and early forecasts indicate large wheat crops in most Asian countries.

FAO’s first forecast for wheat production in 2016 is 723 million tons. That’s 10 million tons below the record output in 2015.

Slain environmental activist buried in Honduras

A large crowd in Honduras accompanied the body of Berta Caceres to its final resting place on March 5 amid calls for justice in last week’s killing of the indigenous leader and environmental activist.

Many of those carrying Caceres’ coffin on their shoulders through the dusty streets of La Esperanza were Lenca indigenous people for whose rights she had fought. Drummers pounded out Afro-Honduran rhythms as mourners chanted “The struggle goes on and on” and “Berta Caceres is present, today and forever.”

The crowd marched more than six miles (10 kilometers) from Caceres’ mother’s home to a chapel where a Mass was celebrated in her memory Saturday, and to the cemetery in La Esperanza about 190 miles (300 kilometers) east of the capital. Her four daughters and her ex-husband were among the procession.

“Forgive me, Bertita,” said Salvador Zuniga, Caceres’ former husband. “Forgive me for not understanding your greatness.”

The previous evening, Austra Flores said she hoped that her daughter’s murder will not go unpunished and that international attention will pressure Honduran authorities to find those responsible.

Caceres, 45, who was awarded the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for her role in fighting a dam project, had complained of death threats from police, the army and landowners’ groups. She was slain early Thursday by gunmen who broke into her home and shot her four times.

“My mother died because she defended the land and rivers of her country,” Caceres’ daughter Olivia said.

Mexican human rights activist Gustavo Castro Soto was also wounded in the attack. After gunfire grazed his cheek and left hand, Castro pretended to be dead as he lay on the floor so the assailants would not finish him off, according to Security Ministry Julian Pacheco. He is considered a protected witness whose testimony is key to solving the killing.

Pacheco said two suspects have been detained for questioning, including a neighborhood private security guard. Authorities have not said what role they may have played in her killing.

President Juan Orlando Hernandez says authorities are investigating Caceres’ killing with assistance from the United States.

“We have asked for a rapid and exhaustive investigation so the full weight of the law is applied to those responsible,” U.S. Ambassador James Nealon told reporters at the funeral.

Foreign Minister Arturo Corrales vowed Friday in a meeting with diplomats that justice would be done, saying that “there is abundant information to solve the case.”

According to the website of the Goldman Environmental Prize, Caceres “waged a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam.”

It said the project threatened to “cut off the supply of water, food and medicine for hundreds of Lenca people and violate their right to sustainably manage and live off their land.”