Tiger Named as US Ryder Cup Vice Captain

Fourteen-times major winner Tiger Woods will serve as one of the vice captains on the U.S. Ryder Cup squad that will try to snap a 25-year drought on European soil later this year, Jim Furyk said on Tuesday.

Furyk, who will serve as captain when holders United States battle Europe in September at the Golf National on the outskirts of Paris, also announced 12-times PGA Tour winner Steve Stricker as a vice captain.

“To win in Paris will be a great challenge, and to have Steve and Tiger share in the journey is important for me and for American golf,” said Furyk, who made the announcement from the PGA of America Headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

Served as vice captain in 2016

“The deep appreciation they both have for competition, the concept of team, and the Ryder Cup is infectious. Their knowledge and experience will be an invaluable resource in our effort to retain the Ryder Cup.”

Woods, who this week will make his third start of the PGA Tour season after a year-long absence during which he had back surgery, first served as a vice captain at Hazeltine in 2016.

The 42-year-old Woods is a veteran of seven Ryder Cups as a player, most recently in 2012. He said he was thankful to be selected as a vice captain but is still keen to earn a spot on the team as a player.

“My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do whatever I can to help us keep the Cup,” Woods said in a video played at the news conference. “I’m excited about the challenge.”

Furyk said Woods possesses an ability to effectively pair players together in foursomes and fourballs while also inspiring a young team room filled with players who took up the game in the hope of emulating Woods.

Woods may have plenty of ground to make up if he hopes to be a playing vice captain, but Furyk did not rule out the greatest golfer of his generation filling a dual role.

“I want to do what’s best for Tiger and I want to do what’s best for the team and that would be a bridge we cross when we got there,” said Furyk. “If he could be valuable as a player, I mean, I’m sure we would want him playing on this team. But there’s so much time to go.”

Third time for Stricker

This year’s Ryder Cup, to be played from Sept. 28-30, will mark Stricker’s third stint as a vice captain, having served at Gleneagles in 2014 and in the 2016 U.S. victory at Hazeltine.

Furyk previously appointed former Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III as a vice captain and will announce additional vice captains at a later date.

The United States won the biennial matchplay event at home in 2016, marking their first triumph since 2008, but they have not celebrated on European soil since a 15-13 victory at The Belfry in England in 1993. 

From: MeNeedIt

Brazil’s ‘What a Shot’ Music Video Stirs Debate Amid Violent Crime Wave

A viral music video called “What a shot” is stirring debate in Brazil about the glamorization of crime and freedom of expression, as surging crime in Rio de Janeiro has led the government to put troops in charge of security in the tourist city.

The hit by Jordana Gleise de Jesus Menezes — known as JoJo Todynho — has spawned myriad parody videos on YouTube since it was released in December.

The clips often show children and adults collapsing to the ground as a shot rings out following the lyrics “What a shot,” before the person stands up and begins to dance as the music picks up.

The spoofs have revived debate about whether the popular dance music genre from Rio de Janeiro, known as funk, glamorizes violence. On Friday, Brazil’s government ordered the army to take over command of police forces in Rio de Janeiro state to curb violence after killings increased by nearly 8 percent last year to 6,731.

A petition to outlaw funk music because of its explicit treatment of violence, sex and drugs gained more than 20,000 signatures last year but has failed to gain traction in Congress. In a population of around 210 million people, the government recorded 59,080 gun deaths in 2015, putting it in the top 10 World Bank list of the most murderous countries.

In a music video featuring images of coffins and the faces of young children killed by stray bullets in Rio, rapper Gabriel O Pensador, also from Rio, Brazil’s second-largest city, objected to the parodies.

“What a shot? No, I’m not going to fall to the floor … I’m a joker too, but joking has a time and a place,” he raps. “The Rio that we love celebrates carnival and this violence is terrifying.”

A city in the northeastern state of Alagoas tried to ban the song being played during Carnival this month, arguing it incited violence. Authorities sought to impose a fine of 2,000 reais ($616) for each violation, but a court stopped the city from punishing musicians before a final ruling is reached, media reports said.

Todynho, 21, whose artistic name refers to a popular brand of chocolate milk, is from Rio’s tough western neighborhood of Bangu. She said the phrase is used to mean “how cool,” in a song mostly about sambaing with your girlfriends.

The official music video, with over 136 million views, made the rounds as national attention was focused on violence during the Carnival festivities in Rio, with images of gangs robbing tourists en masse repeatedly broadcast on national TV.

Performers of funk music often say they are only reflecting the harsh reality of Rio de Janeiro and the country at large.

The music has also been toned down as it has moved from the favelas to the mainstream. Todynho herself has lashed back at her detractors.

“First of all, don’t talk about what you haven’t lived through,” she said on Instagram, referring to rampant violence in the shanty towns of the city of six million people. “I would never make music encouraging violence.”

From: MeNeedIt

Filmmaker Ford Dares Viewers to Analyze Their Own Biases, Fears, Tolerance

In the Oscar-nominated documentary Strong Island, Yance Ford stares back at the camera with profound sorrow and unshakable resilience.

Strong Island, a Netflix release, is Ford’s investigation into the killing of his brother, William Ford, in 1992 in Central Islip, New York. Ford, a 22-year-old black man, was shot and killed by a 19-year-old white mechanic Mark Reilly after a verbal altercation. But an all-white grand jury declined to indict Reilly and the investigation has remained sealed.

“I’m not angry,” Yance Ford says into the camera. “I’m also not willing to accept that someone else gets to say who William was. And if you’re uncomfortable with me asking these questions, you should probably get up and go.”

Ford’s film is a kind of investigative memoir that burrows into not only the justice of his brother’s death but also the still-quaking reverberations that William’s loss has had on their family, one that moved from South Carolina to Brooklyn before settling in the suburbs of Long Island.

Much of the film’s power comes from the raw, emotional first-person filmmaking of Ford, 44, a former producer for the PBS documentary program POV, making his feature film debut. By framing himself in searing close-ups, Ford dares viewers to analyze their own biases, fears and tolerance for injustice.

On a recent winter day, Ford spoke about making Strong Island and making Oscar history. Ford is the first transgender filmmaker nominated by the Academy Awards. “I am as proud of my occupying this place as the first transgender director,” said Ford, “as I am of the nomination itself.” 


Associated Press: Did you always know that you would take this deeply personal approach in Strong Island?

Ford: It turned into this realm of a personal film because in the absence of due process, in the absence of justice, the personal film is the only thing that you have left. My producer Joslyn Barnes says it really well when she says personal filmmaking is the language of the dispossessed. Yes, it was a film based in personal experience but it’s not really personal. It’s just an illustration of what many, many people have gone through.

​AP: Tell me about your brother.

Ford: The funny thing about answering that question, now, 25 years later, what you see in the film is my character attempting to get to know William better. So my answer has to be tempered with what I remember of my brother. The cruel thing about time is that it does things like: I’ve forgotten what his voice sounds like. Thankfully my sister and I have his diaries. I can tell you that he was a kind, compassionate, loyal person, that he believed in defending his family but also he had aspiration of being a law enforcement officer. He was a young man who was trying.

AP: Your film does much to reclaim his story from the narrative described by investigators. Has there been any catharsis for you in making the documentary?

Ford: Grief is a very complicated monster. There’s no real exorcising of it. It has a different form every day. But one of the things that I am really happy about is Strong Island has pushed something that is consistently sidelined back into our conversation, which is: why it’s so easy to take the life of black people in the United States and be unpunished for it. What systemic bias looks like when it’s lived by ordinary people is this. It looks like my family.

AP: Your film very directly asks the audience to question itself.

Ford: Someone pointed out — Scott MacDonald, the film theorist — that I’ve brought the audience closer to my face than anyone can actually get with the human eye. So you really do have to confront blackness. And for some people it’s a foreign experience. And for some people it’s a familiar experience. That proximity puts me into direct conversation with you. I’m speaking directly to you. I wanted to be talking to each individual in the audience.

AP: Have you heard from any of the authorities?

Ford: (Laughs.) No. No, and I don’t expect to. (The) Suffolk County criminal justice system is in trouble right now. The police chief was arrested — I won’t even list what he was arrested for. But the DA was also arrested. The Suffolk County criminal justice system is broken right now.

​AP: A video captured your excitement on Oscar morning. What was that moment like?

Ford: That moment was brought to you by my social media consultant, a millennial who — I essentially do whatever she tells me and then it winds up on the 5 o’clock news. I had absolutely no idea I would have the reaction I did. But to have that kind of once-in-a-lifetime thing happen, it was just incredible.

AP: You made history that day as the first trans filmmaker ever nominated for an Oscar. What did that mean to you?

Ford: My transgender identity is new to you because I don’t live a public life. It’s not new in my life but it’s new publicly. I’m incredibly proud to be the first trans director to be nominated for an Oscar. I’m also incredibly proud to occupy a place in what is actually a historic class of nominees for many reasons — to share the space with Daniela Vega, (a trans actress whose A Fantastic Woman is nominated for best foreign language film), the oldest woman to be nominated (Agnes Varda) and the first woman to be nominated in cinematography (Rachel Morrison). Steve James’ nomination is historic. Firas Fayyad with Last Men in Aleppo, his nomination is historic. So much that cracked open this year.

AP: What kind of reactions to the film and your nomination have you experienced?

Ford: At every screening since we premiered, at least one person identifies as having survived homicide. And that’s been happening for a year. The thing that tells me is that we are a culture awash in violence. We need to look at how to fix, once and for all, the systemic brokenness of our criminal justice system.

From: MeNeedIt

With Medicine Running Out, Venezuelans With Transplants Live in Fear

Yasmira Castano felt she had a fresh chance at life when she received a kidney transplant almost two decades ago. The young Venezuelan was able to finish high school and went on to work as a manicurist.

But late last year, Castano, now 40, was unable to find the drugs needed to keep her body from rejecting the organ, as Venezuela’s health care system slid deeper into crisis following years of economic turmoil.

On Christmas Eve, weak and frail, Castano was rushed to a crumbling state hospital in Venezuela’s teeming capital, Caracas. Her immune system had attacked the foreign organ and she lost her kidney shortly afterward.

Now, Castano needs dialysis three times a week to filter her blood. But the hospital attached to Venezuela’s Central University, once one of South America’s top institutions, frequently suffers water outages and lacks materials for dialysis.

“I spend nights not sleeping, just worrying,” said Castano, who weighs around 77 pounds (35 kg), as she lay on an old bed in a bleak hospital room, its bare walls unadorned by a television or pictures.

Her roommate Lismar Castellanos, who just turned 21, put it more bluntly.

“Unfortunately, I could die,” said Castellanos, who lost her transplanted kidney last year and is struggling to get the dialysis she needs to keep her body functioning.

The women are among Venezuela’s roughly 3,500 transplant recipients. After years leading normal lives, they now live in fear as Venezuela’s economic collapse under President Nicolas Maduro has left the once-prosperous OPEC nation unable to purchase sufficient foreign medicine or produce enough of its own.

Some 31 Venezuelans have seen their bodies start to reject their transplanted organs in the last month due to lack of medicine, according to umbrella health group Codevida, a nongovernmental organization.

At least seven have died due to complications stemming from organ failure in the last three months.

A further 16,000 Venezuelans, many hoping for an elusive transplant, are dependent on dialysis to clean their blood — but here, too, resources and materials are sorely lacking.

Nearly half of the country’s dialysis units are out of service, according to opposition lawmaker and oncologist Jose Manuel Olivares, a leading voice on the health crisis who has toured dialysis centers to assess the scale of the problem.

‘Straight to the cemetery’

In the last three weeks alone, seven people have died due to lack of dialysis, according to Codevida, which staged a protest to decry the critical drug shortages.

Once-controlled diseases like diphtheria and measles have returned, due partly to insufficient vaccines and antibiotics, while Venezuelans suffering chronic illnesses like cancer or diabetes often have to forgo treatment.

Hundreds of thousands of desperate Venezuelans, meanwhile, have fled the country over the past year, including many medical professionals.

Amid a lack of basics like catheters and crumbling hospital infrastructure, doctors who remain struggle to cope with ever scarcer resources.

“It’s incredibly stressful. We request supplies; they don’t arrive. We call again and they still don’t arrive. Then we realize it’s because there aren’t any,” said a kidney specialist at a public hospital, asking to remain anonymous because health workers are not allowed to speak publicly about the situation.

Venezuela’s Social Security Institute, tasked with providing patients with drugs for chronic conditions, did not respond to a request for comment.

Terrified transplant patients are indebting themselves to buy pricey medicine on the black market, begging relatives abroad to funnel drugs into the country or dangerously reducing their daily intake of pills to stretch out stock.

Larry Zambrano, a 45-year-old father of two with a kidney transplant, resorted to taking immunosuppressants designed for animals last year.

Guillermo Habanero and his brother Emerson both underwent kidney transplants after suffering polycystic kidney disease.

Emerson, a healthy 53-year-old former police officer, died in November after a month without immunosuppressants.

“If you lose your kidney, you go to dialysis but there are no materials. So you go straight to the cemetery,” said Habanero, 56, who runs a small computer repair shop in the poor hillside neighborhood of Catia.

Blaming Maduro, who blames sanctions

A Reuters reporter went to the Health Ministry to request an interview, but was asked at the entrance to give her contact details instead. No one called or emailed.

Reuters was also unable to contact the Health Ministry unit in charge of transplants, Fundavene, for comment. Its website was unavailable. Multiple calls to different phone numbers went unanswered. An email bounced back and no one answered a message on the unit’s Facebook page.

Maduro’s government has said the real culprit is an alleged U.S.-led business elite seeking to sabotage its socialist agenda by hoarding medicine and imposing sanctions.

“I see the cynicism of the right-wing, worried about people who cannot get dialysis treatment, but it’s their fault: They’ve asked for sanctions and a blockade against Venezuela,” Socialist Party heavyweight Diosdado Cabello said in recent comments on his weekly television program.

Health activists blame what they see as Maduro’s inefficient and corrupt government for the medical crisis and contend that government announcements of more imports for dialysis are totally insufficient.

Despite his unpopularity, Maduro is expected to win a new six-year term in an April 22 presidential election. The opposition is likely to boycott the vote, which it has already denounced as rigged in favor of the government.

Maduro has refused to accept food and medicine donations, despite the deepening health care crisis. Health activists and doctors smuggle in medicines, often donated by the growing Venezuelan diaspora, in their suitcases, but it is far from enough.

In the decaying hospital and dialysis center visited by Reuters, patients clamored for humanitarian aid.

Dolled up for her birthday and surrounded by cakes, the 21-year-old Castellanos took selfies with her friends and spoke excitedly about one day returning to dance, one of her passions.

But fears for her future permeated the room. A hospital worker stopped by to wish Castellanos many more birthday celebrations, but her worried face betrayed doubts.

“Other countries need to help us,” Castellanos said.

From: MeNeedIt

Illicit Financial Flows Outpace Development in Africa, OECD Says

Through medication and narcotics smuggling, ivory and people trafficking, oil theft and piracy, Africa is, by conservative estimates, losing about $50 billion a year in illicit financial flows — more, in fact, than it receives in official development assistance. 

A report by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development offers a bigger look at the illegal economy behind the losses and how African and richer nations can fight it.

The OECD report zooms in on West Africa, and one sector in particular stands out. Catherine Anderson, who heads governance issues as the OECD, said 80 percent of illicit financial flows from West Africa are generated from the theft of natural resouces, principally oil.

But West African countries aren’t the only ones losing out from illicit flows, Anderson said. So are developed nations. Migrant trafficking, a hot-button issue in Europe, is a case in point.

“One of our case studies is on al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which is benefiting from the kidnap-for-ransom activities,” she said. “They are interdicting the trade and passage of goods across the Sahel, levying protection fees and revenues from the population. These have significant implications, not just for West African populations but for OECD countries, for Europe, in terms of insecurity and instability.”

She said illegal resource flows need to be tackled holistically — not only by the countries of origin, but also by those where the finances are transiting, and those where they finally end up, including developed countries. Doing so can be particularly tricky in West Africa, where a huge informal economy blurs the boundary of what is legal and what isn’t.

Ambassador Según Apata of Nigeria is a member of a U.N. high-level panel looking into illicit financial flows from Africa. He said some African governments are beginning to tackle the problem, but they don’t always have the capacity to do so.

“We have not made giant strides yet,” Apata said. “We are still at the elementary, at the mundane level of implementation.”

Apata said that if the $50 billion in losses from illegal activities were channeled into development in West Africa, it could help check the illegal migration that European countries worry about.

From: MeNeedIt

Afghanistan’s ArtLords Daub Walls With Messages of Defiance, Hope

Activists in Afghanistan are speaking out against corruption and spreading messages of peace and social justice with murals, many painted on concrete blast walls that have risen to ward off militant bombs.

The activists call themselves the ArtLords, as opposed to the warlords and drug lords who have brought so much strife and misery to Afghanistan, and say their art is a tool for social change.

“We’re painting against corruption, we’re painting against the injustices that are happening in society, for women’s rights,” said the group’s co-founder, Omaid Sharifi. “We’re encouraging people to come and join us, let’s raise our voices against all this nonsense.”

Blast walls have gone up along Kabul’s streets over the years, against a tide of violence as Taliban and other militants battle the government and U.S.-led forces, nearly 17 years after Afghanistan’s latest phase of war began.

Some city streets have been turned into concrete canyons, the walls shielding embassies, military camps, government offices and the homes of the rich.

On many of these grey slabs, the ArtLords have their say.

Watchful eyes peer from a wall protecting the headquarters of the main security agency.

“I can’t go to school because of your corruption. I can see you,” is the message on a mural of a girl on blast walls near the interior ministry.

Another mural, of a black SUV with its windows tinted, takes a dig at the powerful and privileged.

“What are you carrying, that your windows are black?” reads the message. “You don’t have a license plate and don’t stop for searches.”

A painting of a shoeshine boy says: “Don’t set off an explosion here, innocent people get killed.”

Other murals extol the city’s street-sweeper “heroes,” encourage anti-polio efforts, and call for women’s rights.

Sharifi says he always gets permission for his work, though it can be a struggle. The group gets commissions from Afghan and international groups for “awareness raising and advocacy” and sells smaller artworks.

Recently, on a cold, grey morning, the ArtLords were at the American University of Afghanistan, working on a mural on the tightly guarded campus to highlight resilience against violence.

A 2016 militant attack on the university killed 16 people and shattered its image as an island of liberalism and learning.

Students came to help paint a picture of a young man and woman picking up their books, with a phoenix rising and the words: “I am back because education prevails.”

“Kabul has been surrounded with blast walls which infuriate people but this art has a message of hope,” said student Faisal Imran, who took his turn with a brush.

From: MeNeedIt

Experts: Underwater Archaeology Site Imperiled in Mexico

Pollution is threatening the recently mapped Sac Actun cave system in the Yucatan Peninsula, a vast underground network that experts in Mexico say could be the most important underwater archaeological site in the world.


Subaquatic archaeologist Guillermo de Anda said the cave system’s historical span is likely unrivaled. Some of the oldest human remains on the continent have been found there, dating back more than 12,000 years, and now-extinct animal remains push the horizon back to 15,000 years.


He said researchers found a human skull that was already covered in rainwater limestone deposits long before the cave system flooded around 9,000 years ago.


De Anda said over 120 sites with Maya-era pottery and bones in the caves suggest water levels may have briefly dropped in the 216-mile (347-kilometer) -long system during a drought about 1,000 A.D. And some artifacts have been found dating to the 1847-1901 Maya uprising known as the War of the Castes.


Humans there probably didn’t live in the caves, de Anda said, but rather went down to them “during periods of great climate stress, to look for water.”


Sac Actun is “probably the most important underwater archaeological site in the world,” he said.


But de Anda said pollution and development may threaten the caves’ crystalline water.

Some of the sinkhole lakes that today serve as entrances to the cave system are used by tourists to snorkel and swim. And the main highway in the Caribbean coast state of Quintana Roo runs right over some parts of cave network. That roadway has been known to collapse into sinkholes.


Also, the cave with the stone-encased skull has high acidity levels, suggesting acidic runoff from a nearby open-air dump could damage skeletal remains.


The world’s other great underwater site, the sunken Egyptian city of Alexandria, is also threatened by pollution.

From: MeNeedIt

New Exhibit Examines Native American Imagery in US Culture

Bold. Visionary. A spectacular success.

The words in an online promotion for a new museum exhibit in Washington, D.C., describe an 1830 U.S. law that forced thousands of American Indians from their lands in the South to areas west of the Mississippi River.

Provocative, yes, says the co-curator of the exhibit “Americans” that opened last month at the National Museum of the American Indian. Bold and visionary in imagining a country free of American Indians. A spectacular success in greatly expanding wealth from cotton fields where millions of blacks worked as slaves.

“When you’re in the show, you understand bold and visionary become tongue in cheek,” co-curator Cecile Ganteaume said.

The exhibit that runs through 2022 has opened to good reviews and pushes the national debate over American Indian imagery — including men in headdresses with bows, arrows and tomahawks — and sports teams named the Chiefs, Braves and Blackhawks. The NFL’s Washington Redskins logo on one wall prompts visitors to think about why it’s described both as a unifying force in D.C. and offensive.

The exhibit falls short, some say, with an accompanying website and its characterization of the Indian Removal Act.

The online text is a perplexing way to characterize an effort that spanned multiple presidencies and at one point, consumed one-fifth of the federal budget, said Ben Barnes, second chief of the Shawnee Tribe.

The law led to the deaths of thousands of people who were marched from their homes without full compensation for the value of the land they left behind. And it affected far more tribes than the five that are highlighted online, he said.

“It made it seem like it was a trivial matter that turned out best for everyone,” he said. “I cannot imagine an exhibit at the newly established African-American museum that talked about how economically wonderful slavery was for the South.”

Ganteaume said the website isn’t encyclopedic and neither it nor the exhibit is meant to dismiss the experiences of American Indians. Instead, it challenges the depths at which people recognize indigenous people are ingrained in America’s identity and learn how it happened, she said.

Imagery vs. reality

An opening gallery has hundreds of images of American Indians — often a stoic chief in a Plains-style headdress or a maiden — on alcohol bottles, a sugar bag, motor oil, a missile mounted on the wall and a 1948 Indian Chief motorcycle.

Dozens of clips expand on how the imagery has permeated American culture in television and film.

But when historic or cartoonish images are the only perception people have of what it means to be Native, they can’t imagine American Indians in the modern world, said Julie Reed, a history professor at the University of Tennessee.

“Even when I’m standing in front of students, identified as a Cherokee professor, making the point from Day 1 that I’m still here and other Cherokee people are still here, I still get midterm exams that talk about the complete annihilation of Indian peoples,” she said.

Ganteaume said that while Native people have deep histories in other countries, the United States is more often fixated on using images of them.

Side galleries expand on what’s familiar to most Americans: the Trail of Tears, Pocahontas and the Battle of Little Bighorn. An orientation film on the invention of Thanksgiving starts with a once widely used television screen test featuring an Indian head and then questions the hoopla of the national holiday when America already had Independence Day.

Exhibit ‘makes you think’

Eden Slone, a graduate student in museum studies in the Washington, D.C., area, said she was impressed by the exhibit’s design and interactive touch tables. She never realized that Tootsie Pop wrappers featured an image of an American Indian in a headdress, holding a bow and arrow.

“I think the exhibition was carried out well and it definitely makes you think of Native American imagery,” she said. “When I see images like that, I’ll think more about where it came from.”

Reed, University of Tennessee professor and Cherokee woman, fears people will get the wrong impression about the Indian Removal Act from the website. An essay puts a positive spin on what Reed calls ethnic cleansing.

Yet, she plans to visit.

“I think there is legitimacy to say, come look at this exhibit. That’s a fair response to criticism,” Reed said. “I want to go and give the exhibit a fair shake because it may be brilliant and could do everything the website does not.”

From: MeNeedIt

More Newborns Dying in West, Central Africa as ‘World Fails Poorest Babies’

More babies are dying each year in West and Central Africa even as child health improves overall, aid agencies said on Tuesday, calling the region’s newborn death rate a “hidden tragedy.”

Five of the 10 most dangerous countries to be born are in West and Central Africa, with infants there 50 times more likely to die within a month than if they were born in Japan or Iceland, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said in a report.

One in 16 pregnancies in the region results in stillbirth or death within a month — mostly preventable deaths caused by premature birth, labor complications or infection, UNICEF said.

“Neonatal health hasn’t really been addressed by governments or institutions,” UNICEF’s regional health specialist, Alain Prual, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

While the infant mortality rate is slowly declining, population growth means that the number of deaths is still increasing in West and Central Africa, Prual said.

For years aid agencies have focused on reducing deaths of children under five, which have dropped sharply, said Laurent Hiffler of medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

Yet babies are still dying at high rates in the first month after they are born, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Neonatal mortality reveals the weaknesses in the system,” said Hiffler, adding that it is difficult to address because it requires continuous care throughout pregnancy and birth. “It’s been a neglected tragedy … a hidden tragedy.”

Only one in two women in the region gives birth in a health facility, often because clinics are few and far between and they cannot afford to travel, according to UNICEF.

Even when women can access a health center, staff are often poorly trained and ill-equipped, added Hiffler.

MSF teaches women simple birth techniques that can be carried out at home, such as basic resuscitation skills and using skin-to-skin contact to warm up premature babies, he said.

While the number of deaths among children under the age of five globally has more than halved in the last 25 years, progress in ending deaths of children less than one month old has been much slower, said Henrietta Fore, the new UNICEF chief.

“Given that the majority of these deaths are preventable, clearly, we are failing the world’s poorest babies,” she said.

Babies born in Japan, Iceland and Singapore have the best odds of survival globally, while newborns in Pakistan, Central African Republic and Afghanistan are the worst off, UNICEF said.

From: MeNeedIt

How US Coal Deal Warms Ukraine’s Ties With Trump

For the first time in Ukraine’s history, U.S. anthracite is helping to keep the lights on and the heating going this winter following a deal that has also helped to warm Kyiv’s relations with President Donald Trump.

The Ukrainian state-owned company that imported the coal told Reuters that the deal made commercial sense. But it was also politically expedient, according to a person involved in the talks on the agreement and power industry insiders.

On Trump’s side it provided much-needed orders for a coal-producing region of the United States which was a vital constituency in his 2016 presidential election victory.

On the Ukrainian side the deal helped to win favor with the White House, whose support Kyiv needs in its conflict with Russia, as well as opening up a new source of coal at a time when its traditional supplies are disrupted.

Trump’s campaign call to improve relations with the Kremlin alarmed the pro-Western leadership in Ukraine, which lost Crimea to Russia in 2014 and is still fighting pro-Moscow separatists.

However, things looked up when President Petro Poroshenko visited the White House on June 20 last year.

“The meeting with Trump was a key point, a milestone,” a Ukrainian government source told Reuters, requesting anonymity.

The Americans had set particular store by supplying coal to Ukraine. 

“I felt that for them it is important,” said the source, who was present at the talks that also included a session with Vice President Mike Pence.

Despite Trump’s incentives, U.S. utilities are shutting coal-fired plants and shifting to gas, wind and solar power.

Ailing U.S. mining companies are therefore boosting exports to Asia and seeking new buyers among eastern European countries trying to diversify from Russian supplies.

Trump, who championed U.S. coal producers on the campaign trail, pressed the message after meeting Poroshenko. 

“Ukraine already tells us they need millions and millions of metric tons right now,” he said in a speech nine days later. “We want to sell it to them, and to everyone else all over the globe who need it.”

The deal with Kyiv was sealed the following month, after which U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said: “As promised during the campaign, President Trump is unshackling American energy with each day on the job.”

The deal helped to “bolster a key strategic partner against regional pressures that seek to undermine U.S. interests,” Ross added, referring to past Russian attempts to restrict natural gas flows to its western neighbors.

A matter of necessity

Ukraine was once a major producer of anthracite, a coal used in power generation, but it has faced a shortage in recent winters as it lost control of almost all its mines in eastern areas to the separatists.

Along with South Africa, Ukrainian-owned mines in Russia have been the main source of anthracite imports but this is fraught with uncertainty. In the past Moscow has cut off gas supplies to the country over disputes with Kyiv, while the Ukrainian government considered forbidding anthracite imports from Russia in 2017 although no ban has yet been imposed.

Overall anthracite imports shot up to 3.05 million tons in the first 11 months of 2017 from just 0.05 million in all of 2013 — the year before the rebellion erupted.

Neighboring Poland, which Trump visited in July, is also turning increasingly to U.S. coal. Its imports from the United States jumped five-fold last year to 839,000 tons, data from the state-run ARP agency showed.

In July Ukrainian state-owned energy company Centrenergo announced the deal with U.S. company Xcoal for the supply of up to 700,000 tons of anthracite.

Centrenergo initially said it would pay $113 per ton for the first shipment, a price industry experts and traders told Reuters was expensive compared with alternatives.

However, chief executive Oleg Kozemko said the cost varied according to the quality of the coal delivered, so Centrenergo had paid around $100 per ton on average for the 410,000 tons supplied by the end of 2017.

Kozemko said in an interview that the U.S. deal was Centrenergo’s only viable option after three tenders it launched earlier last year had failed.

“The idea to sign a contract with Xcoal was a matter of necessity,” he said. “We had agreements but they didn’t work out, because the pricing that they discussed with us and that we signed an agreement on didn’t work out.”

Data on the state tenders registry and documents seen by Reuters show that two of the tenders failed due to a lack of bids, while the results of the third were cancelled.

If that contract had worked out, Centrenergo would have paid around $96 per ton, according to Reuters calculations based on the exchange rate at the time of the tender in April.

Energy expert Andriy Gerus told Reuters the Xcoal deal “probably helps Ukraine to build some good political connections with the USA and that is quite important right now.”


Mutual desire 

The anthracite for Centrenergo is mined in Pennsylvania, which backed Trump in 2016. This marked the first time a Republican presidential candidate had won the state since 1988, and followed Trump’s pledge to reverse the coal industry’s history of plant closures and lay-offs in recent years.

Centrenergo says it and Xcoal agreed the contract independently of their governments and without any political pressure. However, Kozemko said: “If talks between the heads of our countries helped in this, then we can only say thank you… It was a mutual desire.”

For the Ukrainian authorities, the diplomatic benefit is clear. When the first shipment of U.S. anthracite arrived in September, Poroshenko tweeted a photo of himself shaking hands with Trump in Washington. 

“As agreed with @realDonaldTrump, first American coal has reached Ukraine,” he wrote.

Poroshenko’s press service said the deal “is an exact example of when the friendly and warm atmosphere of one conversation helps strengthen the foundations of a strategic partnership in the interests of both sides for the future.”

The Washington meeting also discussed U.S.-Ukrainian military and technical cooperation. Soon after, the Trump administration said it was considering supplying defensive weapons to Ukraine to counter the Russian-backed separatists.

In late December the U.S. State Department announced that the provision of “enhanced defensive capabilities” had been approved.

Kozemko said the Xcoal deal was likely to be only the beginning of Centrenergo’s trade relations with the United States as it is currently holding talks on supplies of bituminous coal, a poorer quality variety.

“It’s good that we studied the U.S. market because we had never looked at it before. We see big prospects for bituminous coal,” he said, adding that other Ukrainian firms were thinking similarly. “We showed how to bring coal from America and they are following our lead.”

From: MeNeedIt