Sundance Sets One of its Most Diverse Lineups

A documentary on Taylor Swift will kick off the next Sundance Film Festival, where new films including the Will Ferrell-Julia Louis Dreyfus remake of the Swedish film “Force Majeure” and Benh Zeitlin’s long-awaited follow-up to “Beasts of the Southern Wild” are set to premiere.

Programmers for the preeminent showcase for independent cinema, founded by Robert Redford and set annually in the mountains of Park City, Utah, announced the lion’s share of the lineup for its 2020 edition Wednesday. The lineup of 118 feature-length films, culled from a record 15,100 submissions, come from 27 countries, includes 44 first-time filmmakers and is among the most diverse in the festival’s 37-year history. In the four competition categories, 46% of the directors are women, 38% are people of color and 12% are LGBTQ.

Streaming services

The coming Sundance, set for Jan. 23-Feb. 2, follows a 2019 festival that saw deep-pocketed streaming services set off an avalanche of high-priced acquisitions, some of which notably fizzled at the box office. Amazon paid large sums for “Late Night” and “The Report” but neither made much of a dent in theaters; Amazon is now shrinking its exclusive theatrical window for some releases. Warner Bros. paid $15 million for the Bruce Springsteen-infused coming-of-age tale “Blinded by the Light,” but it failed to catch on.

The biggest hit to emerge from last year’s crop was Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell,” which has grossed $17.7 million for A24. It’s been one of the bright spots in a trying marketplace this year for indie film. Still, Sundance, where movies like “Get Out,” “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Big Sick” first debuted, remains the premier factory for breakout hits. Lately, that’s increasingly meant documentaries, too, including “RBG,” “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and, from this year’s Sundance, “Apollo 11.”

FILE - This Nov. 24, 2019 file photo shows Taylor Swift performing at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles. A documentary…
FILE – Taylor Swift performs at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles, Nov. 24, 2019. A documentary on Swift will kickoff the next Sundance Film Festival.

Taylor Swift documentary

Sure to add extra frenzy this year is Lana Wilson’s “Taylor Swift: Miss Americana,” which the festival describes as “a raw and emotionally revealing look at one of the most iconic artists of our time during a transformational period in her life.”

Netflix has acquired the film and plans to release it in early 2020. It is also set to distribute seven more, including new films from “Mudbound” filmmaker Dee Rees and the fictional debut of “What Happened, Miss Simone” director Liz Garbus, an early sign that Netflix will play a prominent role in this year’s Sundance.

Apple, too, has gotten in on the act, a year after making its first acquisition at Sundance (“Hala”). On Monday, it picked up a high-profile documentary headed to Park City: Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick’s untitled film about a former music executive grappling with the decision to go public with a story of sexual assault by a notable figure in the music industry. Oprah Winfrey is an executive producer.

“This year’s festival is full of films that showcase myriad ways for stories to drive change, across hearts, minds and societies,” Redford, president and founder of the Sundance Institute, said in a statement.

Premieres section

Among the films debuting in Sundance’s Premieres section is Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s “Downhill,” the English-language remake of Ruben Ostlund’s “Force Majeure,” starring Louis-Dreyfus and Ferrell as a couple whose relationship is altered after they escape an avalanche.

Zeitlin will unveil “Wendy,” a “Peter Pan”-inspired adventure shot in the West Indies. It’s his first movie since his Oscar-nominated debut, “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” a sensation at 2012’s Sundance.

Also on tap for are Rees’ Joan Didion adaptation “The Last Thing He Wanted,” with Anne Hathaway and Ben Affleck; Michael Almereyda’s Nikola Tesla biopic “Tesla,” starring Ethan Hawke as the engineer-inventor; Florian Zeller’s “The Father,” with Anthony Hopkins as an aged man who moves to Paris, co-starring Olivia Colman; and Garbus’ debut “Lost Girls,” a missing-child drama with Amy Ryan and Thomasin McKenzie.

Other notables include Julie Taymor’s nontraditional Gloria Steinem biopic, with Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Bette Midler and Janelle Monae; Justin Simien’s horror satire “Bad Hair”; Dominic Cooke’s Cuban Missile Crisis drama “Ironbark,” with Benedict Cumberbatch; Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman,” a revenge tale led by Carey Mulligan; Sean Durkin’s ‘80s-set marriage tale “The Nest,” with Jude Law and Carrie Coon; Josephine Decker’s Shirley Jackson biopic “Shirley,” starring Elisabeth Moss as the “The Lottery” author; Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut “Falling”; and Miranda July’s “Kajillionaire.”

John Cooper, left, director of the Sundance Festival, and Kim Yutani, the festival's director of programming, take part in the…
FILE – John Cooper, left, director of the Sundance Film Festival, and Kim Yutani, the festival’s director of programming, take part in the opening day press conference at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 24, 2019, in Park City, Utah.

Documentaries

Other documentaries coming to Sundance include Ron Howard’s “Rebuilding Paradise,” about the aftermath of the devastating 2018 California wildfire; “The Fight,” about the ACLU’s legal battles with President Donald Trump; the Deepwater Horizon oil spill expose “The Cost of Silence”; and Kim A. Snyder’s “Us Kids,” about the teenage survivors of Parkland, Florida.

This will be the last Sundance overseen by its longtime director, John Cooper. He is stepping down next year to take on the role of emeritus director.

“The program this year, my last as director, is a celebration: of art and artists, yes, but also of the community that makes the annual pilgrimage to Park City to see the most exciting new work being made today,” said Cooper.

From: MeNeedIt

France Braces for Nationwide Strikes  

France is preparing for nationwide strikes beginning Thursday that could bring the country to a standstill.

French labor unions have called for walkouts over President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to overhaul the retirement system.

In Paris, the unions plan to march Thursday, prompting police to order all shops, cafes and restaurants along the route to close for the day.

Hotels in Paris reported receiving numerous cancellations, as tourists were rethinking their travel plans. Most of the Paris Metro system will be shut down, as well as all national and international train services.

Most flights will be affected, since air traffic controllers have announced plans to join the protests through Saturday. Teachers unions, postal workers and most civil servants also plan to participate.

Paris police Chief Didier Lallement said 6,000 officers will be on duty amid fears of violence and destruction of property. Protests are banned on the Champs-Elysees around the presidential palace, Parliament and Notre Dame Cathedral.

The protests have the potential to be more destabilizing than other strikes in recent years, including the “yellow vest” demonstrations.

France’s retirement system has long been considered sacrosanct. The last time the government tried to overhaul it was in 1995 when protests brought the country to a three-week halt until then-President Jacques Chirac conceded defeat.

From: MeNeedIt

Owl Killings Spur Moral Questions About Human Intervention

As he stood amid the thick old-growth forests in the coastal range of Oregon, Dave Wiens was nervous. Before he trained to shoot his first barred owl, he had never fired a gun.

He eyed the big female owl, her feathers streaked brown and white, perched on a branch at just the right distance. Then he squeezed the trigger and the owl fell to the forest floor, adding to a running tally of more than 2,400 barred owls killed so far in a controversial experiment by the U.S. government to test whether the northern spotted owl’s rapid decline in the Pacific Northwest can be stopped by killing its aggressive East Coast cousin.

Wiens grew up fascinated by birds, and his graduate research in owl interactions helped lay the groundwork for this tense moment.

“It’s a little distasteful, I think, to go out killing owls to save another owl species,” said Wiens, a biologist who still views each shooting as “gut-wrenching” as the first. “Nonetheless, I also feel like from a conservation standpoint, our back was up against the wall. We knew that barred owls were outcompeting spotted owls and their populations were going haywire.”

In this Oct. 23, 2018 photo, Dave Wiens, a biologist who works for the U.S. Geological Survey, stands in a forest near…
In this Oct. 23, 2018 photo, Dave Wiens, a biologist who works for the U.S. Geological Survey, stands in a forest near Corvallis, Ore., as he uses a remote control to trigger a digital bird calling device intended to attract barred owls to be culled.

The federal government has been trying for decades to save the northern spotted owl, a native bird that sparked an intense battle over logging across Washington, Oregon and California decades ago.

After the owl was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1990, earning it a cover on Time Magazine, federal officials halted logging on millions of acres of old-growth forests on federal lands to protect the bird’s habitat. But the birds’ population continued to decline.

Meanwhile, researchers, including Wiens, began documenting another threat — larger, more aggressive barred owls competing with spotted owls for food and space and displacing them in some areas.

In this photo taken in the early morning hours of Oct. 24, 2018, Jordan Hazan uses an ultraviolet light in a lab in Corvallis,…
In this photo taken Oct. 24, 2018, wildlife technician Jordan Hazan records data in a lab in Corvallis, Ore., from a male barred owl he shot earlier in the night.

In almost all ways, the barred owl is the spotted owl’s worst enemy: They reproduce more often, have more babies per year and eat the same prey, like squirrels and wood rats. And they now outnumber spotted owls in many areas of the native bird’s historic range.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s experiment, which began in 2015, has raised thorny questions: To what extent can we reverse declines that have unfolded over decades, often partially due to actions by humans? And as climate change continues to shake up the landscape, how should we intervene?

The experimental killing of barred owls raised such moral dilemmas when it first was proposed in 2012 that the Fish and Wildlife Service took the unusual step of hiring an ethicist to help work through whether it was acceptable and could be done humanely.

The owl experiment is unusual because it involves killing one species of owl to save another owl species. But federal and state officials already have intervened with other species.

 — They have broken the necks of thousands of cowbirds to save the warbler, a songbird once on the brink of extinction.

— To preserve salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest and perch and other fish in the Midwest, agencies kill thousands of large seabirds called double-crested cormorants.

— And last year, Congress passed a law making it easier for Oregon, Washington, Idaho and American Indian tribes to kill sea lions that gobble imperiled salmon runs in the Columbia River.

In this photo taken in the early morning hours of Oct. 24, 2018, wildlife technician Jordan Hazan places a male barred owl he…
In this photo taken in the early morning hours of Oct. 24, 2018, wildlife technician Jordan Hazan places a male barred owl he shot earlier in the night into a storage freezer in a lab in Corvallis, Ore.

In four small study areas in Washington, Oregon and northern California, Wiens and his trained team have been picking off invasive barred owls with 12-gauge shotguns to see whether the native birds return to their nesting habitat once their competitors are gone. Small efforts to remove barred owls in British Columbia and northern California already showed promising results.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has a permit to kill up to 3,600 owls and, if the $5 million program works, could decide to expand its efforts.

Wiens, who works for the U.S. Geological Survey, now views his gun as “a research tool” in humankind’s attempts to maintain biodiversity and rebalance the forest ecosystem. Because the barred owl has few predators in Northwest forests, he sees his team’s role as apex predator, acting as a cap on a population that doesn’t have one.

“Humans, by stepping in and taking that role in nature, we may be able to achieve more biodiversity in the environment, rather than just having barred owls take over and wipe out all the prey species,” he said.

Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, finds the practice abhorrent and said humans should find another way to help owl.

“There’s no way to couch it as a good thing if you’re killing one species to save another,” Bekoff said.

And Michael Harris, who directs the wildlife law program for Friends of Animals, thinks the government should focus on what humans are doing to the environment and protect habitats rather than scapegoating barred owls.

“We really have to let these things work themselves out,” Harris said. ”It’s going to be very common with climate change. What are we going to do — pick and choose the winners?”

In this photo taken in the early morning hours of Oct. 24, 2018, wildlife technician Jordan Hazan records data in a lab in…
In this photo taken Oct. 24, 2018, wildlife technician Jordan Hazan records data in a lab in Corvallis, Ore., from a male barred owl he shot earlier in the night.

Some see a responsibility to intervene, however, noting that humans are partly to blame for the underlying conditions with activities like logging, which helped lead to the spotted owl’s decline. And others just see a no-win situation.

“A decision not to kill the barred owl is a decision to let the spotted owl go extinct,” said Bob Sallinger, conservation director with the Audubon Society of Portland. “That’s what we have to wrestle with.”

If the experimental removal of barred owls improves the spotted owl populations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife may consider killing more owls as part of a larger, long-term management strategy. Enough success has been noted that the experiment already has been extended to August 2021.

“I certainly don’t see northern spotted owls going extinct completely,” Wiens said, adding that “extinction in this case will be much longer process and from what we’ve seen from doing these removal experiments, we may be able to slow some of those declines.”

This Associated Press series was produced in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Heroic efforts to revive ecosystems and save species are being waged worldwide, aimed at reversing some of humankind’s most destructive effects on the planet. “What Can Be Saved?,” a weekly AP series, chronicles the ordinary people and scientists fighting for change against enormous odds — and forging paths that others may follow.

From: MeNeedIt

First Results From NASA Solar Probe Surprise

NASA’s sun-skimming spacecraft, the Parker Solar Probe, is surprising scientists with its unprecedented close views of our star. 

Scientists released the first results from the mission Wednesday. They observed bursts of energetic particles never seen before on such a small scale as well as switchback-like reversals in the out-flowing solar magnetic field that seem to whip up the solar wind. 

NASA’s Nicola Fox compared this unexpected switchback phenomenon to the cracking of a whip. 

“They’re striking and it’s hard to not think that they’re somehow important in the whole problem,“ said Stuart Bale of the University of California-Berkeley, who was part of the team. 

Dust-free area

Researchers said they also finally have evidence of a dust-free zone encircling the sun. Farther out, there’s so much dust from vaporizing comets and asteroids that one of 80 small viewfinders on one instrument was pierced by a grain earlier this year. 

“I can’t say that we don’t worry about the spacecraft. I mean, the spacecraft is going through an environment that we’ve never been before,“ Fox said. 

Launched in 2018, Parker has come within 15 million miles (25 million kilometers) of the sun and will get increasingly closer — within 4 million miles (6 million kilometers) — over the next six years. It’s completed three of 24 orbits of the sun, dipping well into the corona, or upper atmosphere. The goal of the mission is to shed light on some of the mysteries surrounding the sun. 

Parker will sweep past Venus on December 26 for the second gravity assist of the $1.5 billion mission and make its fourth close solar encounter in January. 

The findings in the journal Nature were made during a relatively quiet phase of solar activity. 

“We’re just starting to scratch the surface of this fascinating physics,“ said Princeton University’s David McComas, the chief scientist of one of the spacecraft’s instruments. 

Active phase ahead

As Parker gets even closer to its target, the sun will go through an active phase “so we can expect even more exciting results soon,” University College London’s Daniel Verscharen wrote in an accompanying editorial. Verscharen was not part of the mission. 

Over the summer, Fox shared these early results with solar astrophysicist Eugene Parker, 92, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, for whom the spacecraft is named. He expressed excitement — “wow“ — and was keen to be involved. 

It’s the first NASA spacecraft to be named after a person still alive. Parker attended its launch last year from Cape Canaveral. 

From: MeNeedIt

London Attack Coverage Prompted Riots Against a Pakistani Newspaper

A U.K-based correspondent for Dawn, Pakistan’s main English language newspaper, filed a story on the terror attack last Friday in London and her choice of words triggered criticism by several Pakistani government authorities.

The attacker, Usman Khan, 28, a British citizen whose family originates from Pakistan, put on a fake suicide vest on Friday and started attacking people with knives before he was confronted by bystanders and shot dead by police officers near London Bridge. He stabbed five people, two of whom died later of the wounds sustained in the attack.

The reporter’s identification of the attacker as a British citizen of Pakistani origin was deemed as unpatriotic and defamatory because of the usage of the phrase “Pakistani origin” and the linkage to Pakistan.  

Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Science & Technology, took to his official Twitter page and criticized Dawn’s writers and editors for the story.

“Dawn walas [people] please have some mercy on this Nation, shocked on your cheap attempt to link a British terrorist to Pakistan, Anwar Al Awlaki and Anjem ch[Chaudhary] both are brit origin nothing to do with Kashmir or Pak, Britain should handle its problem within—irresponsible n cheap attitude,” Hussain wrote in a tweet on Sunday.

Dawn walas please have some mercy on this Nation, shocked on your cheap attempt to link a British terroist to Pakistan, Anwar Al Awlaki and Anjem ch both are brit origin nothing to do with Kashmir or Pak, Britain should handle its problem within—irresponsible n cheap attitude pic.twitter.com/tvldBCNMUd

— Ch Fawad Hussain (@fawadchaudhry) December 1, 2019

Hussain’s tweet was retweeted by Shireen Mazari, Pakistan’s Minister for Human Rights and she accused Dawn of pursuing an agenda.

“Dawn has its own agenda – read The News where their UK based reporter has given details of the man’s life incl the fact he was born in UK!,” she said.

Following these tweets, social media in Pakistan has been trending the hashtag #BoycottIndianDawn, accusing the media network of being anti-Pakistan and pro Indian.

Riots in Islamabad

On Monday evening, angry rioters surrounded Dawn’s Islamabad office, and called for staffers to be hanged.

The crowd reportedly shouted, “Long Live Pakistan Army, Death to Dawn” and harassed employees for several hours until police arrived to dispel the crowd.

Tributes placed by the southern end of London Bridge in London, Dec. 2, 2019. London Bridge reopened to cars and pedestrians Monday, three days after a man previously convicted of terrorism offenses stabbed two people to death and injured…

An employee of the newspaper, who spoke to VOA on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said he was physically assaulted.

“They pushed me around and cornered me; they said they wouldn’t let me pass through until I shouted “Long Live Pakistan Army-Death to Dawn,” the employee said.  

The newspaper has not issued a statement on the attack against its office. However, they did publish an article, giving the accounts of what transpired over the weekend. The original story that sparked the controversy has not been removed from the newspaper’s website as of Tuesday evening.

Rights Groups Reactions

Several international and local rights groups and organizations advocating for the freedom of press voiced concerns over the incident and urged Pakistani authorities to ensure the safety of Dawn’s reporters in the country.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) issued a statement Tuesday calling on Pakistan’s Ministry of Human Rights and Information Ministry to address the situation.

“HRCP has received alarming reports that access to @dawn_com’s office in Islamabad is being blocked by protestors shouting pro-army slogans. We are seriously concerned about the security of Dawn’s personnel and urge @mohrpakistan and @MoIB_Official to take immediate action.” HRCP said in a tweet.  

Paris-based Reporter Without Borders, a global watchdog monitoring press freedom around the world, also issued a statement Tuesday urging authorities to take immediate measures.

“Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Pakistani authorities to issue a public and unequivocal condemnation of last night’s siege of the Islamabad headquarters of Pakistan’s oldest English-language daily, Dawn, by an angry crowd of demonstrators calling for it to be banned on completely spurious grounds,” the statement said.

In statement sent to VOA, New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an international organization defending reporters around the world, expressed concerns and urged Pakistan to investigate reports of death threats against journalists.  

“Pakistan authorities must prevent demonstrations against the Dawn newspaper from turning violent, and should investigate death threats made against its staffers,” CPJ said.

Local reaction

Cars and buses are seen stationary on London Bridge in London, Dec. 1, 2019, as police forensic work is completed following Friday’s terror attack. A man wearing a fake suicide vest was subdued by bystanders as he went on a knife rampage…

Some opposition figures also took issue with the threats made against Dawn.

Senator Usman Kakar, a member of Pakistan’s Senate’s Standing Committee on Human Rights and a member of the opposition party Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami (PMAP) party, deemed the incident as a serious threat to press freedom and urged the senate to discuss it.

“This issue needs to be brought up and discussed in the Senate. Media [in Pakistan] is scrutinized and under a lot of pressure…they are afraid of the establishment,” the senator told VOA.

Bilawal Bhutto–Zardari, the leader of Pakistan’s People’s Party, PPP, one of the main opposition parties in the country, criticized the government for tolerating attack against the media.

 “Visited the offices of @dawn_com today in Islamabad. Outrageous that a major media house can be attacked by a mob in our capital city right under the government’s nose. Senate Human rights committee has already taken notice of this latest attack on freedom of the press,” Zardari tweeted on Tuesday.

Government involvement

Some journalists in Pakistan allege that the Pakistani government organized the mob in an effort to silence an independent and credible news outlet in the country.  

Iqbal Khattak, the head of Freedom Network, a watchdog organization that monitors press freedom in the country, told VOA that the incident seemed pre-planned.  

“This incident was really dangerous. Journalists in Pakistan need to ask the government to investigate the matter and ask, ‘who these people were’ and ‘what their issue is’. It seems like the mob was staged,” Khattak said.

The ruling Pakistani Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has not immediately reacted to the riot incident and threats against Dawn.

VOA’s Aurangzeb Khan contributed to this report from Islamabad. Some of the information used in this report came from Reuters.

From: MeNeedIt

OAS Must Avoid ‘Extremes,’ Push for Dialogue, Leadership Candidate says

The Organization of American States (OAS) should avoid “extreme” positions when confronting regional crises like Venezuela’s social and economic collapse and instead promote dialogue, a challenger for the body’s top job said on Tuesday.

Hugo de Zela, a longtime Peruvian diplomat and his country’s ambassador to the United States, is running to unseat the organization’s secretary-general, Luis Almagro, who is seeking a second five-year term. Almagro’s current term is set to end next May.

The OAS must push for problems to be solved within its member countries by facilitating dialogue between different factions, de Zela told Reuters on the sidelines of a diplomatic meeting in Bogota.

“If the organization puts itself on one of the extremes, it stops being effective at solving problems, it stops being present in the solution and it becomes part of the problem,” said de Zela. “That cannot happen.”

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro gestures as he speaks during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela, Sept. 30, 2019.

Venezuela’s economic and political crisis – which has led to widespread shortages of food and medicine and an exodus of people – has dominated recent OAS meetings, with some member states denouncing President Nicolas Maduro as a dictator, while others back him.

Member states have also tussled over the admittance to meetings of a representative sent by Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaido, who argues Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate. Guaido this year invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency.

Almagro, a Uruguayan whose re-election bid is backed by the United States, Colombia and Brazil, has sought to ramp up pressure on Maduro, including refusing to rule out the use of force against his government last year.

“It’s evident that in Venezuela, there is an interruption of the democratic process, it’s evident that the Maduro regime lacks legitimacy, that’s not under discussion. But at the same time, to actively promote the use of force to solve the case of Venezuela is unreal and doesn’t help,” said de Zela.

“That is putting ourselves on an extreme. Talking constantly about the use of force to solve the issue of Venezuela is not an effective contribution or a realistic contribution.”

Venezuelans must solve their own problems through dialogue, de Zela added, saying free and fair elections must be held urgently in the oil-producing country.

“The OAS is not having, as it once did, an active role in cooperation to solve these things,” de Zela said. “There is a lack of dialogue between the member countries and the general secretariat.”

 

From: MeNeedIt

Rio Treaty Nations Move to Further Isolate Venezuela

Representatives from over a dozen nations that are signatories to a Cold War-era defense treaty for the Americas moved Tuesday to further isolate close allies of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro with economic sanctions.

The 1947 Rio Treaty signatories concluded a meeting in Bogota by vowing to cooperate in pursuing sanctions and travel restrictions for Maduro government associates accused of corruption, drug trafficking, money laundering or human rights violations.

“The political, economic and social crisis in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela represents a threat for the peace and security of the continent,” Colombian Foreign Minister Claudia Blum said in the meeting’s final remarks.

While the United States and the European Union have targeted Maduro associates with economic sanctions, Latin American nations who are supporting opposition leader Juan Guaido have largely resorted to diplomatic pressure – and it will be up to each individual nation to decide how to move forward.

The promise of enhanced economic pressure against Maduro comes at a time when Venezuela’s opposition is faltering. Guaido has struggled to mobilize supporters onto the streets and dipped in popularity. Meanwhile, fissures within the opposition are coming to light amidst recent controversies involving alleged abuses of power.

David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, said the Rio Treaty’s resolution Tuesday marks a “small victory” for the opposition but “not enough to really put them in a different place.”

“Their strategy of maximum pressure seems to be stalling,” he said.

The 19 Rio Treaty member nations have been treading cautiously in pursuing economic restrictions against Venezuela while vowing not to invoke a provision in the accord that authorizes them to pursue a military intervention. The accord instructs signatories to consider a threat against any one of them a danger to all.

Colombian President Ivan Duque contends that Maduro is offering a safe haven to rebel factions of the National Liberation Army and dissidents with the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, an assertion the Venezuelan leader denies. Duque urged that nations embark on tougher sanctions going forward.

“Here there’s no invitation for use of force,” he said.

Despite repeated remarks from Rio Treaty members indicating they will not pursue a military response, Venezuelan leaders contend the signatories are plotting to overthrow Maduro and warning citizens that an intervention could be imminent.

“The people should be prepared and alert on the streets,” Diosdado Cabello, head of Venezuela’s all-powerful National Constitutional Assembly, said Tuesday.

From: MeNeedIt

Argentina’s President-elect Says Cabinet ‘Chosen,’ Some Names Revealed

Argentina’s incoming cabinet has already been chosen and will be revealed on Friday, President-elect Alberto Fernandez said on Tuesday, while his team confirmed a few major picks, including the incoming foreign minister and chief of staff.

As the country and markets watch closely for the make-up of the Peronist’s core leadership team, the key economic roles are still under wraps, with talks ongoing about how those will be structured, a spokesman for the leftist leader said.

“The cabinet is defined. Everything is already chosen and we are all working. We will present it on Friday at 6 pm (2100 GMT),” Fernandez said a post on an official Twitter account.

This followed comments made on local radio station Metro 95.1.

The incoming center-left leader gave little detail away, though he downplayed the influence of his vice president-elect, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

Argentina’s creditors, energy investors and grains traders are watching Fernandez’s picks closely, worried that Latin America’s No. 3 economy could shift toward populism after four-years under market-friendly conservative Mauricio Macri.

The spokesman told Reuters that young political scientist Santiago Cafiero, heir to a historic Peronist family, will likely be Cabinet chief, and that former Buenos Aires governor Felipe Solá will take on the role of foreign minister.

Eduardo de Pedro, a “Kirchnerist” farther to the left in the Peronist political movement, will also be part of the cabinet, the spokesman said, without revealing his role.

“The aim is to make a cabinet that represents all sectors of Frente de Todos,” he said, referring to Fernandez’s coalition, which translates as “Front for All.” “The delay (naming the cabinet) is due to negotiations between the different sectors.”

Economy Roles Still Uncertain

Fernandez’s team has kept a tight lid on picks for the top economy role, though a few key people are likely to play at least some role either in the formal cabinet or as advisers.

In recent weeks so many names have been touted to head the economy that a running joke is that the candidates are so numerous they could fill a soccer stadium.

Heterodox economists Matías Kulfas and Cecilia Todesca, debt expert Guillermo Nielsen, and academic Martín Guzmán are highly likely to take on some form of economic roles.

One source with knowledge of the matter and some domestic media have also said that Miguel Angel Pesce, an economist, is in line to take the central bank presidency.

Fernandez’s spokesman said that the structure of the economic roles has not yet been defined, which could include a powerful ministry with many secretariats or several ministries.

Fernandez said on Tuesday that Fernandez de Kirchner, a divisive former president who clashed with creditors and the farm sector during her two-term administration, had given advice on the cabinet but denied she had installed her own people.

Elected vice president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner arrives to court in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec. 2, 2019.
Elected vice president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner arrives to court in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec. 2, 2019. 

“Cristina influenced the make-up of the cabinet in the way a person whose opinion I value would but did not fill the cabinet with her own names. We are a united front. What I am looking for is that everyone is represented,” he said.

Veep

Fernandez, who will come into office on Dec. 10 after winning an October election against incumbent Macri, faces a string of challenges including reviving stalled growth and renegotiating a painful debt pile with global creditors.

The country’s economy has been mired in recession for much of the last year, with annual inflation above 50%, sky-high benchmark interest rates and the central bank forced to drain dollar reserves to prop up a tumbling peso currency.

The economic crisis hammered Macri, who lost by a landslide in an August primary election ahead of the Oct. 27 vote, which sparked a market crash as investors feared political uncertainty with the return of the Peronist left.

Argentina is in talks with creditors and the International Monetary Fund to ease the burden of the country’s sovereign debt, with restructuring talks involving a total of around $100 billion.

A man walks out from a currency exchange shop in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Oct. 29, 2019.
A man walks out from a currency exchange shop in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Oct. 29, 2019.

According to the outgoing government, about $28 billion worth of debt with private holders and international organizations is due to mature in 2020.

Argentine bonds, already trading at historic lows, were hit again on Tuesday after U.S. President Donald Trump announced surprise tariffs on Monday targeting steel and aluminum imports from Argentina and Brazil.

In a tongue-in-cheek comment about his higher-profile running mate, Fernandez said he enjoyed U.S. series “Veep,” where former senator Selina Meyer rises to become president, but that it did not mirror the situation in Argentina.

“To clear up any doubts, I have no plans to resign or leave my position until the last day,” Fernandez said.

From: MeNeedIt

France Threatens Retaliation if US Doubles Champagne Price

France is threatening a “strong European riposte” if the Trump administration follows through on a proposal to hit French cheese, Champagne, handbags and other products with tariffs of up to 100%.
                   
The U.S. Trade Representative proposed the tariffs on $2.4 billion in goods Monday in retaliation for a French tax on global tech giants including Google, Amazon and Facebook.
                   
“I’m not in love with those (tech) companies, but they’re our companies,” Trump said Tuesday ahead of a sure-to-be-tense meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in London.
                   
The move is likely to increase trade tensions between the U.S. and Europe. Trump said the European Union should “shape up, otherwise things are going to get very tough.”
                   
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the U.S. tariff threat is “simply unacceptable. It’s not the behavior we expect from the United States toward one of its main allies.”
                   
Le Maire said the French tech tax is aimed at “establishing tax justice.” France wants digital companies to pay their fair share of taxes in countries where they make money instead of using tax havens, and is pushing for an international agreement on the issue.
                   
“If (the world) wants solid tax revenue in the 21stcentury, we have to be able to tax the digital economy,” he said. “This French taxation is not directed at any country, or against any company.”
                   
He also noted that France will reimburse the tax if the U.S. agrees to the international tax plan.
                   
Le Maire said France talked this week with the European Commission about EU-wide retaliatory measures if Washington follows through with the tariffs next month.
                   
EU Commission spokesman Daniel Rosario said the EU will seek “immediate discussions with the U.S. on how to solve this issue amicably.”
                   
The U.S tariffs could double the price American consumers pay for French imports and would come on top of a 25% tax on French wine imposed last month over a separate dispute over subsidies to Airbus and Boeing.
                   
French cheese producers expressed concern that the threatened new tariffs would hit small businesses hardest. It would also further squeeze exporters hit by a Russian embargo on European foods.
                   
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative charges that France’s new digital services tax discriminates against U.S. companies.
                   
Le Maire disputes that, saying it targets European and Chinese businesses, too. The tax imposes a 3% annual levy on French revenues of any digital company with yearly global sales worth more than 750 million euros ($830 million) and French revenue exceeding 25 million euros.
                   
“What we want is a plan for international tax that is on the table” at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Le Maire said.
                   
The U.S. investigated the French tax under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, the same provision the Trump administration used last year to probe China’s technology policies, leading to tariffs on more than $360 billion worth of Chinese imports in the biggest trade war since the 1930s.

From: MeNeedIt

European Official Urges Closure of Bosnian Migrant Camp

A top European human rights official has demanded immediate closure of a migrant camp in Bosnia where hundreds of people have refused food and water to protest a lack of protection in snowy and cold weather.

The Vucjak camp near the northwestern town of Bihac has almost no facilities. International aid organizations have said it is unfit for migrants because it is located on a former landfill and close to a mine field from the 1992-95 war.
                   
Already poor conditions in the camp have worsened further after snow fell on Monday.
                   
Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, on Tuesday visited Vucjak where migrants had spent the night in tents braving freezing temperatures. Mijatovic says migrants must be moved to a warm and safe location.

From: MeNeedIt