Monthly Archives: February 2019

Spanish PM’s about-face on taxes after bailout 

BLOOMBERG, EL PAIS, EL MUNDO (Spain)

Worldcrunch

MADRID – Reversing an earlier no-new-taxes pledge, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has announced tax increases and spending cuts totaling 65 billion euros ($80bn) over the next two-and-a-half years to try stave off the accumulating debt crisis, Bloomberg reports.

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Rajoy’s fourth austerity package in seven months includes a 3% VAT hike – which directly contradicts Rajoy previous promise that he would not raise taxes and has some worried that it could send Spain into a deep recession. But the move comes one day after European officials agreed to a 30 billion-euro bank bailout for Spain, the first instalment of a package worth up to 100 billion euros agreed in June.

“I said I would cut taxes and I’m raising them […]But the circumstances have changed and I have to adapt to them,” the Spanish Prime Minister told Parliament.

The Spanish daily El Pais also reports that the government will reduce the number of city councilors by 30% and block the salaries of mayors.

Meanwhile, El Mundo noted that unemployment benefits will be cut after a six-month unemployment period, adding that employees from the public sector could also bid farewell to their Christmas bonus this year. The Madrid-based daily published an interview with the leader of the Spanish opposition, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, who stated that “Today, Spain is doing worse.”

The series of measures come as thousands of Spanish miners from all over the country arrived in Madrid after 20 days of marcha negra, to protest against government cuts to subsidies. The miners, wearing their helmets with the lights turned on, are protesting against a 63% cut in subsidies to coal-mining companies. In northern Spain, demonstrations outside coal mines have already resulted in clashes with police.

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Posted on 03/02/2019 / Posted by admin

In Egypt, violence exposes longtime double game of Islamists and state 

By Akram Ismail

AL MASRY AL YOUM/Worldcrunch

CAIRO – Various news outlets circulated a story on July 2 about the killing of a young man from Suez, allegedly at the hands of bearded men who stabbed him “for walking with his fiancee.

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” This story comes after a series of similar news stories about bearded men attacking hairdressers and harassing unveiled women in the streets, as well as other reports about the prevention of some Copts from praying.

Such stories have proliferated on the Internet in concomitance with the election of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi to the presidency. These stories reflect justifiable fears that Salafi-oriented Islamists might be exploiting the arrival of the first Islamist president to spread their influence on society and exercise different forms of assault and intimidation.

It might be impossible to tell which of these stories are true and which are rumors fueled by mounting fears of Islamic extremism among middle-class urban dwellers and lower classes. It may be said, though, that Morsi’s victory in the election has emboldened some Islamists, who now believe that “the country is theirs,” to harass people.

Addressing these incidents or rumors as if they are entirely disconnected from what has been happening in several parts of the country for years — when Islamists were not in power — is misleading, to say the least. Egyptians were exposed to all sorts of harassment and violations of their freedoms during former President Hosni Mubarak’s reign.

Sectarian harassment is a daily concern that millions of Copts across Egypt have long had to cope with, as Egypt’s police state sponsored diverse types of harassment and sectarian violence in several popular neighborhoods and in rural areas. State security was quite aware of the sectarian sermons propagated by some Salafi sheikhs and perhaps even supported them. After all, despotic regimes feed on the abuse and intimidation of weaker social groups, and thrive on people’s fears.

Outright defiance

In fact, the state did not spring to the defense of women and Copts throughout Egypt, nor did security bodies take a firm stance against Islamists’ harassment of students at Egyptian universities. Confrontations with Islamist groups only began after those groups went beyond their unthreatening practices of social regulation to outright defiance of the ruling power.

My purpose here is not to defend Islamists or to absolve them of responsibility, for they are responsible for practices of sectarian incitement and for feeding the conservative, fascist mood of the public. Equally important, though, is the understanding that Islamists are a social and political product that express reactionary and conservative inclinations within Egyptian society.

The problem is that Islamists embrace conservative values and despotic cultural and social structures; hence, they play a crucial role in besieging society and aborting any possibility for its liberation. That is why Islamists have never contested the nature of the prevailing socio-political authoritarianism, but have sought compromise with the police state, which might explain their ability to survive and grow over the many years of despotism. In fact, the years of stagnation and the state’s obstruction of social mobility have created a fertile environment conducive to the Islamization of society, and perhaps also the state, and paved the way for a strong rise for Islamists.

But the question remains: Will the Islamists’ rise to power cause that fascist mood in society to grow? The answer lies in the extent to which they are ready to make concessions on ideological and political levels. The pressure heaped on them by opposing political and social powers forces them to make ideological sacrifices, and the Brotherhood in particular is ready to make substantial concessions to gain more power.

Photo – Oxfamnovib

Read the full article, which was originally published in Egypt Independent’s weekly print edition.

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Czechs pass $3.6bn religious compo bill 

Czech lawmakers passed a bill on the restitution of assets worth up to 2.

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95 billion euros ($3.6 billion) seized from 17 religious denominations by Czechoslovakia’s communist regime in 1948-89.

Shortly after midnight and after a debate lasting more than six hours, the bill, which will now proceed to the upper house before being signed into law by the president, was backed by 93 lawmakers of 182 present in the 200-seat lower house.

Under the bill, the denominations including Christian and Jewish religious institutions will regain 56 percent of properties seized by the communist regime — toppled in 1989, four years before Czechoslovakia’s peaceful split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

They will also receive 59 billion koruna (2.3 billion euros, $2.8 billion) in compensation for the remainder of their properties in 30 annual payments, with the outstanding sum to be indexed for inflation every year.

The properties to be returned are worth a total 75 billion koruna.

However, the state will stop using public funds to cover clergymen’s salaries under a 17-year transition scheme.

The new bill fixes this period including an initial three-year wage package, which will then be cut by five percent annually for the remaining 14 years.

The approval process is likely to be delayed in the Senate, dominated by the leftist opposition.

If it turns the bill down, the legislation will return to the lower house probably in September for a second vote of approval and then go straight to the president for signature.

After two decades of fruitless talks between the state and religious bodies, the current centre-right Czech government led by right-winger Petr Necas finally made good on a 1991 pledge to return the assets.

The bill comes as a relief to regions and municipalities that have had to care for the seized church assets up to now, and as less of a relief for the austerity-minded government at the time the country has entered recession.

The central bank of the export-focused central European country of 10.5 million expects the economy to post zero growth this year, after growing by 1.7 percent last year.

But the government is still seeking to cut the public deficit to under the EU’s threshold of 3.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) next year from 3.5 percent expected this year.

Last December, a poll by the STEM agency showed that seven in ten Czechs opposed the restitution of church assets seized by the state.

A 2011 census showed Roman Catholics were the strongest religious group in the Czech Republic with more than a million believers.

But almost five million Czechs or half of the population left the religion column empty, while 3.6 million said they were non-believers.

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Internet freedom in China: online videos ‘now need OK’ 

CAIXIN (China), EPOCH TIMES (USA)

Worldcrunch

BEIJING – Internet freedom in China has taken another blow this week.

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But by the very nature of the medium, every blow to digital access necessarily prompts a blowback.

Caixin media reports that the latest attempt to clamp down was the joint announcement of an official “Notice as to the strengthening of regulations on audio-visual programs such as internet dramas and micro-films” issued by the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) and the State Internet Information Office.

The notice stipulates that in the future all web dramas and short videos need to be examined by their Internet audio-visual program service providers before they are uploaded online. The stated reason for the layer of control is that “some programs are vulgar, low-class, violent or pornographic.” But as blogger Yu Bin bluntly puts it, it’s also a way of choking off the videos that are used by the public as a means of satire or of denouncing Chinese official corruption or wickedness.

Still, despite the continuing repressive information clampdown of the Chinese authorities, which includes blocking of US Internet giants YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Google, masses of Chinese netizens have learned in “jump the wall”, managing to access websites banned by the government. It’s not clear what the effect will be with the Internet dramas and short videos, which have quickly risen to become some of the most popular content of China’s web thanks to their originality, closeness to daily life and low production costs.

“If the control is too severe, naturally the Internet users will climb over the wall to watch foreign programs to satisfy their spiritual needs,” Wu Weiguang, a law professor from China’s Tsing Hua University, told Caixin. It’s difficult to anticipate how the government’s insistence on “adherence to correct orientation and the dissemination of mainstream values” is to be achieved, he further stated.

In responding to the government’s new measure suppressing public opinion, a lot of Chinese netizens have over the last two days bombarded SARFT with all kinds of satire. “I strongly urge that the SARFT takes over food safety affairs which lack regulation. We look forward to them solving our endless poisoned food issues with the same iron-fisted determination…”, according to the Epoch Times. Yu Bin, the blogger, points out: “Japan is a major exporter of pornographic films, but this doesn’t stop it being a noble and civilized country!”

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Fed knew of Barclays rate manipulation 

The documents also show Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who was then president of the New York Fed, urged the Bank of England to make the rate-setting process more transparent.

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A congressional panel requested the documents and is investigating manipulation of the London interbank offered rate (LIBOR) rate, which affects the interest people pay on loans.

The process for setting LIBOR has come under scrutiny since Britain’s Barclays Bank admitted two weeks ago that it had submitted false information to keep the rate low. In settlements with US and British regulators, the bank agreed to pay a $US453 million ($A448.49 million) fine.

Regulators are also looking to see if other major banks, including Citigroup Inc and JPMorgan Chase & Co, committed similar violations.

The LIBOR rate is little-known outside the financial industry. But it provides the architecture for trillions of dollars in contracts around the world, including mortgages.

A British banking trade group sets the rate every morning after international banks submit estimates of what it costs them to borrow money.

The documents show correspondence from Barclays Bank to the New York Fed in 2007 indicated some major banks may have been trying to rig the rate.

Then in April 2008, an employee of Britain’s Barclays told the New York Fed the bank had underreported its borrowing costs to keep the key interest rate low.

The employee explained that Barclays was understating its borrowing costs because other big banks were doing the same.

“So, we know that we’re not posting um, an honest LIBOR,” the Barclays employee says, according to the transcript of the April 2008 telephone call. “And yet we are doing it because um, if we didn’t do it … it draws, um, unwanted attention on ourselves.”

On June 1, 2008, Geithner sent an email to Mervyn King, the head of the Bank of England, urging the British central bank to change the way the LIBOR is calculated.

Internal New York Fed reports also show regulators were concerned about the accuracy of the LIBOR rate. And in a June 5, 2008 report to a group of US federal regulators, analysts at the New York Fed cited possible misreporting of the rate.

While Geithner expressed concerns to the British central bank, it wasn’t until last month that US and British regulators won a settlement with Barclays and imposed fines.

It isn’t clear why Geithner didn’t make his concerns public after he sent the email in 2008.

Treasury spokeswoman Natalie Wyeth declined to comment on the subject on Friday.

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‘Evolution gave us the romantic kiss’ 

By Benno Müchler

DIE WELT/Worldcrunch

BERLIN – Scientists have been wondering about why people kiss each other for more than 100 years.

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Psychoanalysis’s founding father, Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freund (1856-1939) was convinced that kissing is innate – an instinct originated in every newborn’s need to breastfeed that is never lost.

But in 1900, when Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) got his dog to drool at the sound of a bell, many psychologists took that as proof that behavior — including human behavior — was not a matter of instinct: it was learned. Human beings were the masters of their instincts, so kissing represented a conscious expression of love.

Modern science considers the will-or-nature debate outdated. Kissing is instinctive, but humans have different ways of behaving, is all.

Which would explain why some 650 million, or about 10% of humanity, don’t kiss each other. On his travels, the father of evolutionary theory Charles Darwin (1809-1882) noticed that. So did French anthropologist Paul d’Enjoy who in 1897 noted that for the Chinese mouth-to-mouth kissing was considered an abomination, a form of cannibalism. Around this time Danish scientist Kristoffer Nyrop observed that among Finnish peoples couples enjoyed bathing together but never kissed each other.

In Mongolia, 90% of people kiss, 10% don’t. Kissing is in our nature, whether we engage in kissing behavior or not. So where does it come from?

Where does kissing come from?

Freud’s hypothesis is still relevant, along with a second one posited in 1960 by British zoologist Desmond Morris: kissing comes from early humans’ habit of feeding mouth-to-mouth. Chimpanzees still do that. And when food was scarce, so the theory goes, ape parents pressed their lips to their offspring’s mouths to reassure and calm them.

We know from the ancient Greeks that human beings used to feed each other mouth-to-mouth; and Austrian behavioral scientist Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, who founded the field of human ethology, has documented the behavior among certain African tribes such as the Himba in northern Namibia.

Just why the tendency to kiss, as opposed to not kissing, took the upper hand in evolutionary terms is another unresolved issue. Using up calories doesn’t explain anything, although a normal kiss does use up 6.4 calories per minute or more depending on circumstances.

Research by neurologists and sexologists offers the possibility that kissing is a biological aid to partner selection. According to American scientist Sarah Woodley of the University of Duquesne in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, it is a way of running a check on a potential partner’s immune system.

The illnesses to which a human is immune is coded in the MHC (major histocompatibility complex) genes — and the smells and tastes of kisses pass this information on to us. The more different a kissee’s MHC genes are to those of the kisser, the more likely the couple is to team up – because the wider the spread of immunity, the more diseases their offspring will be immune to and the higher the life expectancy of those children will be.

One of the tests scientists used to demonstrate the MHC theory was having men and women smell T-shirts that had been worn by others. Most subjects did in fact prefer the shirts worn by those with MHC genes different to their own. However, not all subjects did – which is why Woodley reached the conclusion that MHC genes are not the determining factor for why two people who like each other would mate or marry.

American sexologist Helen Fisher agrees that the MHC check helps in determining partner selection but that other bio-mechanisms are at play as well.

Gender differences in kissing

Another puzzle is the role played by the hormone oxytocin, which when released has a calming and relieving effect on humans and is considered to be the hormonal “glue” of partnership. Couples in love show higher levels of it. So it made sense to assume that levels of it would rise when people kissed.

Not so, say American psychologists Wendy Hill and Carey Wilson of Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. Levels only rise in men – not women. In fact, in women levels actually sink. From this, Hill and Wilson came to the conclusion that unlike men women need more than a kiss to feel bound to their partner.

Hill and Wilson also showed that, when men and women kissed, levels of cortisol went down sharply in both sexes. Cortisol causes feelings of stress, while kissing is a de-stresser – which may also explain why kisser and kissee are in no hurry to disengage.

The kiss will remain a subject of scientific research not least because lovers aren’t the only ones kissing each other. The Pope kisses the ground of countries he visits. Churchgoers kiss the bishop’s ring. East Germany’s leader Erich Honecker and Russian leader Leonid Brezhnev famously kissed each other on the lips by way of greeting. And the French have traditionally kissed each other on the cheeks – with a kissing noise to accompany the ritual – to say hello and goodbye.

So it’s entirely possible that the 10% of the world’s non-kissers may soon join the 90% of those who do kiss. After all, we travel and emigrate more than ever before. In London-based American academic and writer Dr. Adrianne Blue’s 1997 book On Kissing: Travels in an Intimate Landscape, she writes that a little over 20 years ago it would have been unheard of for British acquaintances meeting in public to kiss each other on the cheeks by way of greeting.

But by the late 1990s, Blue writes, the only issue in London is whether two or three smackers are the proper form. She believes in the globalization of the kiss – with the kissers winning out.

Read the original article in German.

Photo – happyhipposnacks

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China’s big designs on strategic Laos 

By Bruno Philip

Le Monde/ Worldcrunch

LUANG NAMTHA – Hillary Clinton’s visit to Laos this past week, as was well noted, marks the first appearance here by a U.

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S. Secretary of State since 1955. Clearly, it has also been noted –- particularly in Washington — that Laos is a country under the powerful influence of Beijing.

The Chinese government has already invested $4 billion in Laos, joining Vietnam and Thailand as the country’s main partners. In fact in 2011, China replaced Vietnam as the top foreign investor in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, as Laos is officially known. The country’s single-party, Communist government has been in power since the victory of the “revolutionaries” in 1975.

The heightened Chinese presence brings with it a certain amount of mistrust not to say out-and-out hostility in Laos. This is typical of the ambiguity marking relations between China and southeast Asian countries, split as the latter are between the necessity of trading with the People’s Republic and a natural reflex of distrust at its cumbersome proximity.

China weighs especially heavily on the shoulders of ethnically-diverse Laos, which is landlocked and under-populated. In the capital, Vientiane, an intellectual who is no fan of China says: “When the Chinese piss in the Mekong, we’re the ones that drown…”

A major – and highly controversial – project involving the Chinese is the construction of a railroad line for a high-speed train that would link Kunming, the capital of the Chinese province of Yunnan, with Bangkok via Laos. The line would ensure rapid access to Malaysia and Singapore from southwestern China.

The Laotian part of the massive project is slated to be 70% financed by the Chinese, to the tune of $7 billion. The train tracks will cover a distance of 480 kilometers (298 miles), of which 200 km (124 miles) are tunnels and bridges.

In 2011, however, the project was postponed indefinitely by the Laotian government. Chinese demands may explain the postponement: they were asking for use of the land – several hundred meters worth, sometimes as much as 10 km (6 miles) — on either side of the tracks.

A changed landscape

By using the land for farming and real estate development, the Chinese would be reimbursing themselves, and would additionally be providing jobs for thousands of Chinese workers who would descend on the suburbs of Luang Namtha, the capital of one of the provinces along the Chinese border.

Area farmers already understand what would await them once construction starts. “The railway line will cross straight through my village, then that road over there before entering a tunnel built into the mountain,” says “Uncle” Kumpan, making a sweeping gesture with his arm that encompasses an asphalt road and surrounding hills and jungle-covered mountains. “And since it will run through our village, we will have to move out.”

A member of the minority Kmou tribe, Kumpan is a small, frail man of 66. He lives in Ban Guen, a village in a valley where the population earns a living from salt mining. “We were told that we would be relocated over there, behind the mountain. I’m fine with that, because it means I finally get to live in a proper house with my family,” says Kumpan optimistically.

In Luang Namtha, many Chinese merchants run businesses in a part of the market located near a large main street that looks like the Far Eastern version of an outpost in an American Western film. Shop-fronts with Chinese lettering are increasing all over the region. “A lot of merchants selling electrical home appliances, TVs, computers and mobile phones have come over,” says Thip, a Laotian woman who is watching television in the tiny shop where she sells T-shirts.

In the “Chinese” part of the market dozens of electronics shops are huddled together. A man who gives his name as Mr. Liu says he comes from Hunan province in western China. In a mixture of Chinese and the Hunan dialect – and a bit wary of a foreigner asking him questions – he says: “Business is okay, yes…”

“The Chinese come here and buy everything we have to sell, and we buy the low-priced Chinese things they sell. The Chinese are bringing us prosperity,” says Sen, a 31-year-old Hmong woman who owns 1,000 rubber trees in the neighboring hills.

In the capital, Vientiane, the increasing Chinese presence is also making waves. In 2007, the government signed an agreement with a consortium of three Chinese companies. They were to build a luxury residential complex that included a shopping mall and restaurants around a swampy area near the famous Pha That Luang Buddhist stupa, a symbol of the nation. Because some of the land belonged to party members, this caused an uproar – even in a country where the right to demonstrate doesn’t exist. The upshot was that the government canceled the project in 2009.

“Some people have started to say that certain party members are selling the country down the river to the Chinese,” says a Laotian businessman. “When people heard there was going to be a Chinatown in Vientiane, they didn’t like it. They didn’t like it at all!” laughs a high-level official. “But we’ll get the project up and running again. Only this time we won’t call it Chinatown!”

Read more from Le Monde in French

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Baltic amber, the gold of the North 

By Harald Czycholl

DIE WELT/Worldcrunch

Very few art treasures in the world have attracted quite as much rumor and myth as the legendary Amber Room.

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Known as the ‘eighth wonder of the world,’ the room’s amber wall panels were intricately carved by the most skilled craftsmen at the start of the 18th century for Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm I, who gifted them to the Russian Czar in 1716. Brought back to Germany from the Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg in 1941 by German soldiers, the precious panels disappeared in the chaotic days prior to Germany’s surrender.

Whether the Amber Room panels were destroyed in 1945 by bomb attacks or hidden by the Nazis is still unknown. Countless treasure hunters have tried to find them, so far without success. But regardless of whether the panels still exist or have long been destroyed, the Amber Room remains a symbol of the massive value accorded to gemstone of fossilized tree resin millions of years old.

Amber is not nicknamed “the gold of the North” for nothing. “Since antiquity, amber has been prized as a gemstone,” says expert Thomas Schmidtkonz, the driving force behind sammler南宁桑拿会所,, a website for collectors. “Many people collect amber today, or wear it as jewelry. Particularly sought after are pieces of amber with perfectly preserved organisms inside.”

These so-called inclusions are particularly valuable, and collectors will pay anywhere between several hundred to several thousand euros for them. The important thing is not the size of the piece of the amber but what it contains.

The “perfect inclusion”

“Many beginning collectors don’t understand that, and are disappointed when their beautiful inclusion is contained in a 10-millimeter (less than ½ inch) piece of amber,” says Carsten Gröhn, a collector from Glinde near Hamburg. “Another thing to bear in mind is that inclusions are not all equally valuable.”

Some are badly preserved, damaged, or difficult to see. But there are also perfect inclusions — but “even if it’s only a long-legged fly,” perfect inclusions are rare, says Gröhn.

The species in the inclusion is the second key factor in the value of a piece of amber. “Insects are the most common, followed by spiders,” says amber expert Gröhn. “The rarest of all are vertebrates, scorpions and fleas. Only very few of these have ever been found in Baltic amber.”

For example, an 18-millimeter (0.70 in.) piece of natural amber with a centipede inclusion costs around 175 euros. A 22-millimeter (0.86 in.) piece with a woodlouse inside costs 85 euros. On the other hand, according to Gröhn, a shrimp inclusion in a 35-millimeter (1.37 in.) stone would be around 600 euros.

Moving up the scale: a whole well-preserved dragon fly wing in a 40-millimeter (1.57 in.) stone would set a collector back 780 euros. And lizards and other vertebrates bring between 5,000 and 10,000 euros.

For those without a trained eye, amber can be difficult to recognize among the many other yellowish and brownish stones on a beach. To tell them apart, collectors can use two tests.

The first is the warmth test. Amber is organic material and feels warm to the touch — while normal mineral stones feel cold. And if you’re still not sure, try hitting the piece of what may be amber lightly against your teeth. Amber being relatively soft it won’t make as loud a clicking noise as a normal stone, but rather more like a piece of plastic.

The best time to find amber on the beach is in the fall and winter. The water must be cold — 4°C is ideal because it makes the prized stones surface and then if there’s a storm the pieces are washed up on shore.

The beaches along the North Sea and the Baltic Sea are also awash with amber collectors after fall and winter storms. The best places to check out first are where there are pieces of algae, collections of crab shells, or pieces of drift wood. For many amber fans, finding pieces washed up by the sea themselves is one of the greatest attractions of collecting this particular stone.

Read the original article in German

Photo – PG Palmer (AU)

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Brazilian couple finds and returns $10,000 

The homeless in Sao Paulo are not an invisible problem (Paul Keller)

By Alfonso Benites and Martha Alves

FOLHA DE S.

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PAULO/Worldcrunch

SAO PAULO – In less than 24 hours, a homeless couple living under a bridge in São Paulo saw their lives turn upside down. They found 20,000 Brazilian reals ($10,000) that had been stolen from a sushi restaurant, returned the full amount to the police and were broadcast across several national TV channels as an example of honesty.

But there was more. They met the owners of the money, were threatened by the thieves and managed to get temporary housing and job offers. There was even an invitation for one to go back to Maranhão, in the north of Brazil, to be reunited with familly members he hadn’t seen in years.

This whirlwind turnaround in the lives of Rejaniel de Jesus Silva Santos, 36, and Sandra Regina Domingues, who does not know her age, started last Sunday, around 3:30 AM, when they were awoken by the sound of a restaurant’s alarm ringing.

They got up and went to check out what was going on. While they were walking, Santos found two bags under a tree next to a bus stop. There were bills, coins and credit card receipts.

“The first thing I thought about was telling the police,” said Santos.

Through the credit cards’ receipts, the police identified Hokkai Sushi. The restaurant’s window was broken and all the cash had been stolen. Police believes the money was left under the tree because there were officers in the vicinity, and the criminals thought they come back later to pick it up.

The next morning, the owners of the restaurant went to the police station, met the two homeless heros and got their money back. “We are very thankful. This is an act of extreme honesty and humility,” said Daniel Uemura, 23, one of the restaurant’s owners.

The restaurant offered two options for the couple. A qualification course to work within their company (besides restaurants, they own fish shops and fish distribution companies). The other one are two tickets to move back to Maranhão, where Santos’ family lives—he hasn’t seen his relatives for 16 years.

Love on the streets

The only ugly postscript came courtesy of the original bad guys: the couple was threatened by the thieves who robbed Hokkai Sushi. To make sure they are safe, the restaurant owners has put them up in a local hotel.

Santos came to São Paulo to work with his brother as a construction worker. He got married and had one son, with whom he has lost contact.

After divorcing, Santos lost his job and his home and wound up on the streets — that’s where he met his current partner, Sandra. They have been living together for four months ago.

“I was taught by my mom not to steal and, if I was ever to see anybody stealing, to tell the police,” Santos said. “If she sees me on TV in Maranhão, she will see her son is a honest person.”

photo – Paul Keller

Read the original article in Portuguese

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The mothers who sold their babies: tale of child trafficking in China 

By Zeng Ying

CAIXIN/Worldcrunch

According to the Xinhua News official press agency, a unified command of the Ministry of Public Security organized a synchronized operation last week in 14 provinces of China.

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It broke up two infant trafficking gangs, arrested 802 criminal suspects and rescued 181 abducted children.

Among the 168 suspects from the southwest province of Sichuan, 16 of them are so-called “producers and traffickers of infants,” that is mother-traffickers who have sold their own babies.

This piece of news has started me thinking about of a report that I myself participated in 10 years ago.

On July 4 2002, the Public Security Department of Shouguang City, in the coastal Shandong province, uncovered a big baby-trafficking case. Eleven traffickers were captured and 11 newborn babies were rescued. The summer that year was so hot that these babies, aged between 2 and 4 months, were found in a critical condition. Some of them had dermatitis and the others suffered from omphalitis.

After some care, the newborns were out of danger. The Shouguang authority tried their best and found out that most of the babies came from Liangshan County in Sichuan. They contacted Liangshan’s local government to arrange to send these babies back to their parents. Although the local authority seemed to be caught in a dilemma, they nonetheless came up with a way of getting these babies home.

As a reporter, I witnessed the whole process of sending these infants back.

After three days of a bumpy journey on the train and a dozen more hours on a bus, the 11 babies finally reached their hometown. During the trip, so as to be able to identify them, the health care staff had numbered these babies on their foreheads. During the intolerably long journey where the temperature hit its highest level in 48 years, the babies behaved so gently and hardly cried. Maybe they felt they were approaching home, little by little.

However, when the bus arrived in the county township of Liangshan, no mother rushed forward to fetch their returned infant. No one covered their little darling with hysterical kisses as we had expected. The streets appeared extremely calm. The filming and interviews that the cameraman and I had planned came to nothing.

The infants were settled in two empty rooms at the local martyrs’ cemetery for their mothers to come and claim them. We waited outside the rooms with our cameras set up ready hoping to catch images of reunions of mothers and babies. Yet nothing happened.

After nearly a day of waiting, the local department of civil affairs posted a notice informing the families who had lost their babies to come and collect them. Still, nothing.

Someone’s making a killing

Finally, a local told me that I was never going to see any mother come. “These mothers don’t want their babies anymore. These are the goods they have sold. Have you ever seen a shopkeeper who has sold his goods feel happy to see the goods returned?” he asked me.

His words shocked us.

So after some investigation, we found out that these babies were indeed born of parents who intended to sell them for money right from the beginning. It was said to be very common locally. The problem was that so many newborns were sold at the same period this time that it aroused the attention of the outside world.

According to the local people, a newborn was sold by their parents for between 1000 to 2000 RMB ($150 to $300). They were usually taken to faraway places and resold for more than five times the price.

The statement was confirmed by a human trafficker interrogated by the police. “It’s not a risky business. If a baby dies on the way, I just throw the dead corpse out of the window,” he said. “Even if I get to sell only one out of two, I still make money.”

Being so intrigued by these mothers who sold their own flesh and blood, we tried to interview some of them. With the assistance of local inhabitants and a lot of effort, we found a mother who once sold her baby. We first took a four-hour car ride, then we changed to a tractor for two hours on a bumpy road, and then another three hours on a three-wheeled motor-moped. When we finally got to the remote mountainous village, I felt as if my bottom did not belong to me anymore.

There was no electricity in the village. The several rough stone cottages seemed interlocked together. Inside out, this was clearly a very poor village. It was very quiet everywhere, no one seemed to want to talk. Only the pigs and chickens scattered freely around the corners of the houses made some occasional sounds.

It took us quite a while to find the woman whom we wanted to interview. She was in front of the door of her house chopping some herbs to feed her pig. Her hands were dyed green by the juice of the herb. The guide told us she was the woman who had sold her baby two years earlier.

We began to ask the woman questions very cautiously. But she was so calm, and nothing like what we had anticipated. “Look around and tell me, what is there in this house that would be worth 1000 Yuan, apart from a baby?” she asked us.

We looked in the direction her finger was pointing. In the dark house lay a crumbling bed. A deformed pot was hanging beside a stove. Underneath were a few jagged bowls. Further in the corner, stood a pig that was staring warily at us.

She shook her head and then said, “We just couldn’t think of any other way of making 1000 Yuan in just one go. That’s the equivalent of two harvests.”

“Don’t you care about the life and death of your child?” we asked.

“If one is doomed to be dirt-poor in life, one can never change that fate. That’s one’s fortune. That’s destiny.” She then raised her head and looked faraway. “Maybe, maybe he’ll be able to find a good home,” she said, seeming to be talking to herself as much as to us.

At this moment some unusual radiance flashed across her eyes, and we couldn’t tell whether it was joy or sadness.

On our way back to the county township, one reporter from Shandong remarked: “They are so poor that the only thing that they have got left is their fertility.”

Ten years have passed, and I don’t know whether the situation in those poor rural areas has improved. With my whole heart, I, of course, applaud the combat against infant-trafficking crimes. But at the same time, the same importance should be given to fighting the poverty which nurtures such evil. That would be a real solution.

*Zeng Ying is a blogger at Caixin media and a columnist for several Chinese newspapers and magazines

Read the original article in Chinese.

Photo – IvanWalsh南宁桑拿会所,

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