Ïîïóëÿðíûå ñîîáùåíèÿ


In the U.S., I experienced my share of invisibility. And my minority women friends there tell me they've also experienced it.

For me, one example was at work. Some colleagues were putting together a project highlighting the accomplishments of a group. But I wasn't included in the presentation, despite belonging to that work group.

Then someone higher up — I'm not sure who — decided the project needed to show "diversity" in the workplace. And so, I was eventually asked to participate.

I was game, did my bit and even teased my colleagues about making me the "token minority." They responded with embarrassment and self-deprecating comments, and we merrily went back to working together.


On India's Trains, Seeking Safety In The Women's Compartment

I must add a line here in defense of all the people who wittingly or unwittingly made sure I wasn't invisible for most of my time in the U.S. I mostly felt supported and encouraged by numerous colleagues and friends. An experience of significant visibility, I'd say.

Still, it was hard not to notice the times where I was overlooked or my work underappreciated. And I'm not alone. This problem has been documented in studies, especially on African American women. Take this 2010 study for example, which shows how black women go "unnoticed" and "unheard."

Back here in India, I find myself aching for invisibility — not when hailing a cab though, like Kaling. That would be no good.


For Indian Women, Teasing Is No Laughing Matter

But when I'm out and about in New Delhi, I wish I could go about my business unnoticed. That's because being visible comes with a certain risk of violence, especially in a city like New Delhi, often called the rape capital of India.

Public spaces here often have different rules for men and women. Men outnumber women, and there are liberties a man can take that women still can't.

For instance, a man can loiter. A woman can't — at least, not without drawing stares from men and assumptions about the woman's character being "loose." It's a guaranteed way to draw all the creeps in the vicinity.

Goats and Soda

India's New Comic Book Hero Fights Rape, Rides On The Back Of A Tiger

A man can go for a walk, anywhere and at any time of the day. A woman can't.

A man can walk out of the house wearing almost anything he wants. Indian men often wear shorts, lungis (wrap skirts for men), or or even no shirt at all. Nobody raises an eyebrow.

A woman doesn't have that freedom. Each time I step out of the house, I have to consider carefully what I'm wearing. Is it too tight? Is it too revealing? Is it going to draw lewd stares and comments from men? There are no specific rules, so to speak. But anything that's too revealing and modern — shorts, short skirts, tank tops — is bound to draw unwanted attention.

When I was younger, I didn't care. I wore what I wanted, despite the stares. Now, in my mid-30s, I no longer want my clothes to be a potential risk to my own safety, so I worry about my wardrobe.

An invisibility cloak would definitely come in handy here in New Dehli. I could wear it and go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. And I could remove it when I needed to be visible, say, when hailing that cab.

But I recognize that invisibility isn't the answer. Only when more and more women step out into public spaces here can we hope to make spaces safer for Indian women. It will take time and maybe a few more generations. But, I think, it's the only way to go.

And actually, when you think about, the situation in New Delhi isn't that different from that in the U.S. Only by persisting in workplaces and public spaces, and making sure we are seen and heard, can we hope for a day when women of all colors feel more visible.

Going about one's life as though one's invisible, is definitely not the answer. Right Mindy?

mindy kaling

women's rights



German Chancellor Angela Merkel has rejected any renegotiation of Greek debt after last week's election that brought an anti-austerity party into power in Athens.

Merkel said banks and creditors that extended Greece bailout loans to keep the government from defaulting on its sovereign debt have already must draw the line on already substantial concessions. But she did say in an interview with the German daily Berliner Morgenpost that she wanted Greece to stay in the eurozone.

"We — Germany and the other European partners — will now wait and see what concept the new Greek government comes to us with," she was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

However, Germany and the other EU partners had already forgiven billions of euros lent by private creditors, she said.

"I don't see a further debt haircut," Merkel said, according to The Associated Press.

The European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, known as the troika has agreed to a $270 billion bailout with the previous Greek government.

However, as the BBC reports, Greece's new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, "has refused to work with the troika to renegotiate the bailout terms and has already begun to roll back the austerity measures the creditors had demanded of the previous government."

Merkel's comments echoed those of Germany's Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who warned Greece on Friday that it would not back-down on repayment. "[We] are difficult to blackmail," he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel



China's education minister has told universities to stop using textbooks that promote Western values, reports NPR's Frank Langfitt from Shanghai, a move seen as part of a larger ideological crackdown.

At an educational forum, Yuan Guiren said universities should also forbid criticism of China's leaders and the country's political system, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

Frank says the edict comes as the government disrupts virtual private networks, or VPNs, which help people access foreign websites that China's Internet cops have already blocked.

He says that earlier this week, an annual Human Rights Watch report criticized China for tightening already limited free speech in the media and on the Internet as well as for jailing rights activists, lawyers and critics.

Also, as the BBC reports, restrictions on academics appear to have tightened in recent months.

"In December, law professor Zhang Xuehong said he was sacked by the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai after refusing to apologise for writing articles criticising the government.

"His dismissal followed the expulsion of outspoken economist and free speech advocate Xia Yeliang from Peking University in October.

"Mr Xia was a signatory to a high-profile document calling for democratic reforms, Charter 08."

The news agency also noted that prominent Uighur academic Ilham Tohti, who has urged Beijing to open a dialogue with the Uighur minority in Xinjiang province, was jailed for life on charges of separatism last year.




Moscow has awarded a $3 billion contract to build a bridge linking Russia with the newly annexed Crimean peninsula to a close friend of President Vladimir Putin.

The bridge that would join Russia and Crimea across the Kerch Strait will be constructed by the SGM Group, majority owned by Arkady Rotenberg, which the BBC describes as "a childhood friend and judo partner of the Russian president." Further, Rotenberg, 63, "was among the first Russian businessmen to be put under Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis," Reuters says.

SGM, which specializes in building pipelines, has no previous experience at building bridges, the news agency notes. The company was assembled in 2008 from several units sold by state-owned gas producer Gazprom, Reuters says.

According to the Kremlin announcement of the deal, the bridge is set for completion no later than Dec. 2018.

The Moscow Times reported in March that it will be Russia's most costly bridge. The project, it said, was estimated in March at a cost of 50 billion rubles, but by June the estimated cost had tripled.

However, the BBC says "it is still unclear where on the Kerch Strait the structure will be erected, meaning the span could be anything from 4km to 15km (2.5 to 9 miles)."

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney says he isn't running for president in 2016.

"After putting considerable thought into making another run for president, I've decided it is best to give other leaders in the Party the opportunity to become our next nominee," Romney said in a statement to supporters.

The former Massachusetts governor was the GOP nominee in 2012, but lost to President Obama in the general election. He also ran in 2008, but lost to eventual Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Romney's decision still leaves a crowded Republican field. Although there have been no other major announcements, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is considering a run, as are Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is widely expected to be the party's nominee.

election 2016

Mitt Romney

US Presidential Election

Russia's worsening economy is having an impact far beyond its borders — even affecting Alpine ski resorts where Russians once flocked.

For the past decade, they've come in large numbers to ski the fabled Alpine slopes around Mont Blanc. But the drop in the ruble is now keeping them away. And that's having an effect on the wintertime economy in the region.

In the cozy and chic village of Megeve in southeastern France, horse-drawn carriages jingle through the snowy streets. People gather around a steaming cauldron of mulled wine in the town's central plaza. And the boutiques are lit up and full of shoppers.

Megeve's mayor, Catherine Jullien, looks over the scene from her upstairs office in the town hall. Jullien says Russians make up just 10 percent of Megeve's winter tourists, but they play a key role.

"They're an extremely important clientele because they come right on the tail of Christmas and New Year, because of their later Orthodox celebrations," she says. "They spend big and allow the resort to prolong the holiday season well into the month of January."

Jullien says the plunging ruble has hit middle class Russian families especially hard, and many haven't returned this year.

Frederic Vepierre is the manager of Le Fer a Cheval, one of Megeve's most exclusive, 5-star hotels.

"We began to worry way last spring when we saw what was going on in Ukraine and the standoff between Russia and the West. And then we heard all kinds of rumors, like [Russian] President Vladimir Putin wasn't going to let people leave with their money," Vepierre says. "We're all worried."


Horse-drawn carriages wait for clients on Dec. 19, 2012, in Megeve. Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP/Getty Images

Horse-drawn carriages wait for clients on Dec. 19, 2012, in Megeve.

Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP/Getty Images

Towns and resorts throughout the Alps are being affected by the ruble's collapse, which has cast a pall over Russian tourism across Europe. The French resort of Courchevel is perhaps the biggest mecca for Russian skiers in the region. Tourism bureau director Adeline Roux says they won't know the real impact until the season is over, but the signs are not good.

Right now, luxury chalets are still available, which is unprecedented, Roux says. As well, Russian tourists usually come back to the region in March, which she fears will not happen this year.

For now, you can still hear Russian on the slopes, and drifting through the crisp, Alpine air.

Muscovite Natalia Resiska is having a smoke before taking the ski lift. She says her group was lucky – they booked and paid for their trip six months ago. Resiska says Russians love skiing in the Alps.

"First, it's not so far from Russia. And second, it's very comfortable here," the 29-year-old says. "Good slopes, good food, you know, very nice, nice atmosphere, and so on."

I ask them if they've felt any hostility over the Ukraine conflict and the standoff between the West and Russia.

"No," says 55-year-old Liliyana Asyanava, another Muscovite in the group. "It's all just a political game."

Their companion Sergei Gouchev says Putin and Obama should just sit down and talk and drink some vodka together.

But there'll be no vodka for this group. They plan to enjoy their aprs ski the French way, with oysters and champagne.

russian economy




The tide may have turned on the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.

Last week, only 99 cases were reported. That's the lowest weekly count since June.

Cases have plummeted in the two countries hit hardest by Ebola, Liberia and Sierra Leone. In December, Sierra Leone was reporting more than 500 cases a week. It tallied only 65 last week.

Shots - Health News

No, Seriously, How Contagious Is Ebola?

The epidemic has moved into a new phase, WHO said. The focus has shifted to "ending the epidemic" instead of simply slowing it down. That means concentrating on finding sick people and ensuring they don't spread the virus, instead of building new treatment centers and diagnostic labs.

But getting down to zero cases is still a long way off, Dr. Peter Salama, of UNICEF, said at a press conference Wednesday.

"It is too early to declare a success or a deadline for success," he said. "During the course of this outbreak, we have repeatedly under-estimated this pathogen," he added.

Goats and Soda

Ebola In The Air: What Science Says About How The Virus Spreads

Back in April, reported cases plummeted to zero in Guinea for almost a month. Health officials thought the outbreak might be over. They started relaxing. Then the virus came roaring back.

"The key issue that made us fail in the early stages [of this outbreak] ... is we thought we were on top of this," WHO's Ian Norton told Goats and Soda in October.

Guinea recorded only 30 cases last week. But that was actually an increase over the week before, when it had only 20 cases. The virus continues to spread to new regions in Guinea, including parts along the Senegal border.

There's also another logistical problem brewing across West Africa: rain. The wet season begins in April and May. Many parts flood, and some roads wash away.

It will take much longer to get health workers and aid to rural areas during the wet season. So if the epidemic isn't under control by spring, it could last another, WHO said, instead of possibly months.

To date, there have been more than 22,000 reported Ebola cases in West Africa, with nearly 8,800 deaths.

West Africa


Infectious Disease

Global Health

At Fieldale Farms in Gainesville, Ga., workers cut up chicken breasts and feed the parts into machines. The pieces are then marinated, breaded and eventually sold to restaurants.

The work here can be physically demanding. Not a lot of people want to do it — even though the average wage here is $16 per hour plus benefits.

Tom Hensley, the company president, says Fieldale Farms hires just about anyone who can pass a drug test.

"We hire 100 people a week. Because we have 100 people who quit every week, out of 5,000 employees," he says. "We're constantly short."

President Obama's executive actions on immigration, announced in November, will allow an estimated 4 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to stay in the country indefinitely.

But without congressional action, many of the long-term problems in the immigration system — including work shortages like that at Fieldale Farms —remain unaddressed.

And the shortage at the Fieldale plant has gotten worse. For a long time, a large majority of the workforce came from Latin America, mostly Mexico. Hensley always checked their documents, though he concedes some of those might have been forged.

Whatever their status, he says, the Latinos he hired were good employees with a strong work ethic and a low absentee rate.

"They were outstanding," he says. "If you asked for overtime, everybody raised their hand. They couldn't wait to come to work. Because they appreciated having a job."

Immigration Policy May Mean Better Jobs, But Impact On Labor Unclear


Obama's Immigration Moves Do Little To Help Businesses, Groups Say


In Southwest, New Immigration Policies Bring Frustration From All Sides

Today, only about one-third of the workers here are from Latin America. In 2011, Georgia passed one of the strictest anti-illegal immigration bills in the country. Before that, the county became part of a federal program that designated local police to help find undocumented workers.

Arturo Corso, a local activist and lawyer, says Latino residents were stopped for minor offenses. Those who didn't have the right papers risked being taken to jail and deported.

"You had immigration agents partnering up with deputies at these roadblocks," Corso says. "Even if they stopped a taxi, they would ask the people riding in the back seat of the taxi, "Show me your social security card.' "

The program was modified in recent years, so the risk of deportation has dropped significantly. But Hall County retains a bad reputation among Hispanic immigrants — even those in the U.S. legally.

Maria, who didn't want her last name used, came to Georgia years ago from Mexico without papers. She has legal status today and owns a store, but she says she wouldn't advise other immigrants to come here. "Because if they come here and they don't have papers, they're running a huge risk," she says through an interpreter.

No one in county government wanted to talk about the climate for immigrants. Republican Congressman Doug Collins grew up in Gainesville and says local and state laws have probably discouraged some immigrants from coming to Georgia. He concedes that's a problem for employers.

"We do need a short-term guest worker program — where they come in, they do the job and they're able to go back home — so that there [are] sufficient employees for this kind of work that right now they're struggling to find," Collins says.

But he says such a program needs to be part of a comprehensive immigration bill that also secures the borders — and in the current political climate, that's hard to achieve.


Fieldale Farms president Tom Hensley says he'd like to hire more immigrant workers. The president's executive actions on immigration, he says, won't help businesses like his address labor shortages over the long term. Jim Zarroli/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jim Zarroli/NPR

Fieldale Farms president Tom Hensley says he'd like to hire more immigrant workers. The president's executive actions on immigration, he says, won't help businesses like his address labor shortages over the long term.

Jim Zarroli/NPR

Meanwhile, companies such as Fieldale Farms struggle to find workers. Tom Hensley says that as Latino immigrants have left, he has to hire more native-born Americans, who tend to be older.

"So we've had to hire middle-aged Americans who have not been used to working in an industrial facility and they have difficulty keeping up with the machines. So it's not the same labor force that we had 10 years ago," Hensley says.

As for President Obama's executive order, Hensley sees it as a kind of Band-Aid solution. It allows a lot of undocumented workers to remain in the country, but it could easily be reversed by the next president.

executive action

immigration, illegal immigration, immigration reform, undocumented immigrants


undocumented workers

undocumented worker


A study released this week supports previous reporting that income growth in America has been lopsided ever since the economy began to bounce back from the recent recession.

The Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank, examined federal tax data, state-by-state, and found the national trend of lopsided growth persists. The center's report is titled The Increasingly Unequal States Of America.

The research was led by Estelle Sommeiller, a socio-economist at the Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales in France, and Mark Price, a labor economist at the Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg, Penn. Price told NPR that since 1979, "in almost every state, there's been more growth in income for the top one percent, than for the bottom 99 percent [of Americans]."

And while the last few years have seen the U.S. recovering from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, economist Justin Wolfers writes in The New York Times that, setting aside capital gains "which are largely enjoyed by the rich, it remains the case that nearly all the fruits of that recovery have gone to the rich."

There are some exceptions. In West Virginia, incomes of the top one percent actually fell, while the rest of the population's grew. Incomes rose both for the top one percent and for the rest of the population in Indiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont, New Mexico, Kentucky, Alaska and Hawaii.

North Dakota 99 percent's income lags amid energy boom

Mark Price highlighted North Dakota as an extreme example. The income of the bottom 99 percent has grown by 21 percent since 2000. That's because they've been riding an energy boom which has created millionaires. "At the same time," Price said, "the top one percent in North Dakota's income grew by 103 percent. You still see the national pattern, which is that most of the growth is going to that tiny fraction of folks."

Not all states have benefited in the same way from the energy boom. Pennsylvania has also been exploring its energy resources, but its unemployment has been in line with the national average.

"The numbers here are much worse," said Price. "The bottom 99 percent have actually lost ground, and the top one percent have seen growth of about 28 percent." That, Price explained, is in part because the oil and gas industry doesn't typically employ as many people as, say, the health industry. But it's also because Pennsylvania has over 17 times the population of North Dakota, and a far more diverse economy, so it's harder to make a dent in a recession.

A Morgan Stanley poll of over 300 millionaires found that most of them list the "increasing income gap between poor and wealthy Americans" as a top concern.

And while 2015 is expected to bring more growth in income for all sectors, Price said his concern is that the results are going to continue looking a lot like North Dakota: most of the gains will go to people at the top.

The ouster of Bryan Stockton from his CEO perch at Mattel this week came as the toy maker's best-known brands like Barbie stagnate and it loses business to Web-based games.

Stockton himself said last year that Mattel lacked an innovative culture and blamed it in part on something specific: bad meetings. That's a common and persistent corporate ailment.

Scott Ryan-Hart is a cartographer for the Ohio Department of Transportation, where a typical meeting can last more than two hours.

"I would be needed for 15 minutes in the middle of it," Ryan-Hart says. "So I have an hour before and an hour after that I'm still kind of sequestered in this meeting and I can't get out of it."

This annoyed Ryan-Hart, until about a year ago, when he took up superhero doodling during meetings, which he tweeted under the hashtag "#Meetingfromhell." His boss wasn't a fan.


Scott Ryan-Hart made this superhero doodle during one of his extensive work meetings. Scott Ryan-Hart hide caption

itoggle caption Scott Ryan-Hart

Scott Ryan-Hart made this superhero doodle during one of his extensive work meetings.

Scott Ryan-Hart

"He was not super happy with it," Ryan-Hart says.

Then again, his colleagues have their own vices.

"I'm usually sketching ... the person next to me is doing email, someone else is reading reports that they have to get done," he says.

This behavior, says Steven Rogelberg, should sound alarms to the meeting leader. Rogelberg teaches industrial/organizational psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

"You're basically getting tremendous amounts of feedback. You're getting feedback that you're running a really bad meeting," Rogelberg says.

The average American office worker spends more than nine hours of every week preparing for, or attending, project update meetings, according to a the results of a survey released last week by the software firm Clarizen and Harris Polls. That's up nearly 14 percent from the last survey four years ago.

Experts say poorly run meetings grind away at employee engagement, and make companies less reactive by bogging decisions down in human red tape. Some companies, including Mattel, try to create limits around the size, duration or frequency of meetings.

But meetings often last longer than they need to, Rogelberg says, because managers don't understand Parkinson's Law. This is the idea, backed up by research, that tasks take as long as the time allotted. You budget two hours, it takes two hours.

But, "given the same agenda," Rosenberg says, "they give the group half as much time ... and lo and behold, when they're given half as much time at the onset, they finish in half as much time! And the quality of the meeting is just as good."

Al Pittampalli is an author and an expert on "meeting culture." He says at their best, meetings are the lifeblood of an organization.

"They're the place where we make the most important decisions, express the most important messages, the most important communications on the most important matters of the day," he says.

But as a consultant, Pittampalli sees meeting culture run amok.

He sees "not just marathon meetings, but meetings that are done to prepare for meetings, and meetings that are done to prepare for meetings to prepare for meetings. It is a waste of time — it's what I call a weapon of mass interruption."

Shots - Health News

Young Women And Men Seek More Equal Roles At Work And Home

All Tech Considered

Many Women Leave Engineering, Blame The Work Culture

It's also expensive to waste employee time. So why does the practice persist?

Book Reviews

A Biography Of Your Cubicle: How This Became The Modern Workplace

"One of the biggest problems in organizations is that the meeting is a tool that is used to diffuse responsibility," Pittampalli says.

He says meetings alleviate the anxiety of making tough calls by delaying decisions, instead of making them.

Bad meetings also recur because, in many cases, the people leading them don't know how to run a good one.

There's a lack of self-awareness among meeting leaders. The vast majority self-report that they believe they're conducting meetings well, while the vast majority of participants disagree. Yet Pittampalli says no one speaks up.

"Nobody is willing to give feedback to their boss," he says.

And so, the endless meetings go on, and on, and on.

work culture




The political network led by industrialists Charles and David Koch plans to spend $889 million dollars for the 2016 elections. In modern politics, it's more than just a ton of money.

It's about as much as the entire national Republican party spent in the last presidential election cycle, four years ago. And as Sheila Krumholz – director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks politicians and donors – pointed out in an interview, it's double what the Koch brothers and their network spent in 2012.

Krumholz summed it up: "It is staggering."

But not just staggering – it's also mostly secret. The Republican and Democratic political parties have to disclose their donors. The Koch network consists almost entirely of groups that don't register under the campaign finance laws, and so don't publicly identify their donors.

"So much of their funding and operations are conducted in secret that we really don't know else is behind this," Krumholz said.

The Koch organization unveiled the $889-million budget to several hundred donors at a private conference in Palm Springs, Calif., which concluded Monday. Donors were asked to pledge.

The conference featured Republican senators who were elected last fall with help from the Koch network and their success stories colored the event.

No other outside money operation matches the Koch network in funding or organizational breadth. Various components of the network run TV ads, do grassroots work and phone banking, develop voter data files, and reach out to veterans, women, Hispanic voters and young voters.

"Essentially we've created a new party. It's the party of conservative, rich activists," said political scientist Darrell West, author of Billionaires, a book about wealthy donors in politics. While the Republican and Democratic parties have big donor bases, West said, with the Koch donors, "you're talking about an incredibly tiny slice of Americans."

Before the pledging session at the Palm Springs conference, donors watched three likely GOP presidential candidates in a debate. Moderator Jonathan Karl, of ABC News, asked the three about the influence of wealthy donors.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said the real political corruption involves government contracts: "I haven't met one person since I've been here or as I travel around the country who's come up to me saying, 'Oh, I want a contract.' They simply wanna be left alone."

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said the real corruption was about special access, which wasn't happening with these donors. "I don't know a single person in this room who's ever been to my office, and I haven't seen everyone here today, but a single one who's been to my office asking from government any special access."

But it was Texas Sen. Ted Cruz who gave a full-throated endorsement of his hosts.

"Let me very clear. I admire Charles and David Koch," he said. "They are businessmen who have created hundreds of thousands of jobs."

Cruz paused for the audience to clap. "And they have stood up for free market principles and endured vilification, with equanimity and grace."

There's no word yet on whether the donors were dazzled. But the Koch network is showing interest in jumping into the presidential primary fight, something it's never done before.

2016 Republican presidential nomination

Koch Brothers

After Miss Colombia's Paulina Vega won the Miss Universe pageant on Sunday, she was greeted with a scepter, tiara and a kiss from the first runner-up, Miss U.S.A. But even as Vega took her first steps as Miss Universe, something that was happening elsewhere on stage caught a lot of attention.

Photos circulated online that showed several other contestants trying to hoist Miss Jamaica, Kaci Fennell, in the air. Many members of the live audience booed loudly after it was announced that 22-year-old Fennell had placed only fifth in the competition, and there was still a steady chant of 'Jamaica' as Vega talked with the media about her victory.

Support for Miss Jamaica continued online as twitter users launched #MissJamaicaWasRobbed and #MissJamaicaShouldHaveWon hashtags to the night's top trending topics. Some allege the winner was predetermined.

VIDEO: Crowd yelling "Jamaica!" while half the #MissUniverse contestants surround and cheer her on after cr... https://t.co/hvFuq7LWLn

— the Pageant Guy (@thePageantGuy) January 26, 2015

"Even the contestants saw that it was rigged," said twitter user Melanie W. "When you ever see people congratulate the fourth runner-up and not the winner?"

Yet Miss Jamaica is downplaying the attention she's getting after igniting a firestorm of criticism aimed at this year's Miss Universe pageant. While heading back to her home country, Fennell told reporters the competition "went exactly how it should."

That hasn't stopped some critics of Sunday's competition of accusing pageant organizers of racial and cultural bias. Since Miss Universe first began in 1952, only four black women have won the title. Of those four, only two are from the continent of Africa. Requests for comment from the Miss Universe Organization were not returned.

At this year's competition, women representing more than 80 countries from six different continents competed. None of those finalists was from Africa, and most were fair-skinned Latinas. There were observers who also pointed out that Fennell's skin tone isn't representative of the vast majority of Jamaican people.

Folks can acknowledge Miss Jamaica is beautiful AND also talk about how colourism plays a role in the underrepresentation of darker sisters.

— rell (@Awkward_Duck) January 26, 2015

Several viewers tweeted complaints about the pageant's lack of global representation among the finalists. Twitter user @lukesassycalum questioned "What's the point of inviting other countries if the same ones continue to win?" Model Aisha Thalia tweeted her frustration: "I can't wait until the day that girls who don't fit into the European standard of beauty feel celebrated as well."


Critics suggested that most finalists conformed to a European standard of beauty, even though 88 countries from six continents were represented at the pageant. Wilfredo Lee/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Wilfredo Lee/AP

Critics suggested that most finalists conformed to a European standard of beauty, even though 88 countries from six continents were represented at the pageant.

Wilfredo Lee/AP

Others insisted Miss Jamaica's fifth place finish had more to do with her unconventional appearance than her ethnicity. Pageant contestants traditionally sport long, flowing manes while Fennell opted for a pixie cut. Miss Jamaica addressed her unique look in the question-and-answer portion of the competition: "I don't have long tresses like everyone else, I'm just representing myself and that's what beauty pageants are all about. You don't have to look a certain way ... and I feel like I represent that."

Popular pageant blog Missosology called out the competition for repeated top five appearances by countries where pageants have large followings, even including complaints from former contestants. Favoring competitors from pageant powerhouse countries could leave smaller nations at a disadvantage because they don't give pageant officials the best opportunity for publicity. Jamaica is a nation of just under three million people, though the first black Miss Universe was from an even smaller island nation. Janelle Commissiong — of Trinidad and Tobago — won the title in 1977.

In contrast, Colombia has a strong pageant culture due in large part to the country's booming beauty industry. The Miss Colombia competition is as popular there as the Super Bowl is in the U.S. Colombia and neighboring Venezuela dominate international beauty competitions. Vega is Colombia's second winner of the Miss Universe pageant after decades of runner-up finishes.

But Colombia is not without pageant controversy of its own. Contestants tend to represent the country's wealthier, whiter population despite most Colombians being of indigenous or African descent.

Meanwhile, the attention surrounding Miss Universe's controversial finale could be boosting Miss Jamaica's career. She is already receiving offers for television appearances and modeling. Fennell congratulated Vega in a tweet following the competition. Before the pageant, she tweeted this: "Matters not what the outcome may be, because tonight marks only the beginning."

Heartiest congratulations to our beautiful new Miss Universe Paulina Vega, all the best on your journey my dear :) @MissUniverse

— Kaci Fennell (@KaciFen) January 26, 2015


miss jamaica

Miss Universe pageant

miss colombia

Holocaust survivors gathered along with several world leaders today to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation by the Soviet Red Army of the Auschwitz camp in Poland where more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson tells our Newscast unit that "among the leaders who will be attending the Auschwitz ceremony are the presidents of Germany and Austria, the nations that gave rise to the Nazis and have since tried atoning for their sins. But more attention is being paid to who isn't at Auschwitz today – Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose countrymen liberated the concentration camp."

She adds: "Russian officials accuse the Polish government of snubbing Putin by not inviting him as they did in the past. Organizers say no country's leaders were invited but rather, countries were asked who they planned to send."

A decade ago, about 1,500 Auschwitz survivors attended the commemoration. Today, the number was around 300.

As Soraya says: "It is likely the last decade anniversary where significant numbers of actual survivors of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps will attend. This year, the youngest of the 300 who traveled to Poland for the ceremony are in their 70s."

Paula Lebovics of Encino, Calif., recalled how a Russian soldier who was among those who liberated the camp on Jan. 27, 1945, took her in his arms and rocked her tenderly with tears coming to his eyes. She was 11 at the time. Now 81, she told The Associated Press it was a shame Putin wasn't among those at the today's ceremony.

"He should be there," she said. "They were our liberators."

Another survivor, Eva Mozes Kor, told the AP said she will not miss Putin, "but I do believe that from a moral and historical perspective he should be here."

Besides the leaders of Germany and Austria, French President Francois Hollande was at today's ceremony in Auschwitz. Russia's delegation is being led by Sergei Ivanov, Putin's chief of staff; the U.S. delegation by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.



The federal deficit is on track to its lowest level as a percentage of the economy since 2007, and the economy is stronger than expected.

That's the good news from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office's new economic outlook released Monday. "Economic activity will expand at a solid pace in 2015 and over the next few years – reducing the amount of underused resources, or 'slack,' in the economy," the report said.

There is, though, the perennial bad news: huge deficits in later years, driven primarily by an aging population supported by fewer working age Americans. By 2025, the federal deficit will reach $1.1 trillion.

The forecast of expected revenues and outlays is used by Congress as it shapes its spending bills for the year that starts Oct. 1.

The report also found that the economy is stronger now than the CBO had expected it would be in its recent forecasts, but that it would be not as strong later in the 10-year forecast window than it predicted earlier. Unemployment, currently at 5.6 percent, is expected to fall to 5.3 percent by late summer of 2017.

The CBO also found that implementing the Affordable Care Act will not be as expensive as it originally predicted when the law was passed in 2010. Instead of costing $710 billion through 2019, the complex law will only cost $571 billion through its first decade.

CBO Director Doug Elmendorf attributed the lower cost partly to the 2012 Supreme Court decision ruling that states did not have to participate in the law's expansion of Medicaid. But Elmendorf said much of the savings comes from lower health insurance costs and lower health insurance premiums over the past several years.

Elmendorf also said the CBO would follow the House's instructions to include "dynamic scoring" in its analyses of some legislation, but would not offer a personal assessment of the idea. "We don't have a position about whether the House rule is a good idea or not," he said.

Many Republicans, particularly conservatives, have pushed for dynamic scoring of tax cut bills, because they believe such "macroeconomic" analyses would show that legislation would cost the Treasury less than traditional scoring methods show, or would even show that tax cuts actually increase tax revenue.

"We think it's natural for members of Congress to be interested in the macroeconomic consequences of major pieces of legislation. That's why CBO has, for many years, built models to estimate those macroeconomic consequences," Elmendorf said, adding that CBO reports on House legislation would now build that methodology into the final number, rather than providing it in a supplementary report. "It's up to the Congress to decide the format in which it wants to receive our analysis."



Three Republican presidential hopefuls declined Sunday night to insult some of the Republican party's biggest donors.

Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, asked by debate moderator Jonathan Karl of ABC News if billionaires now have too much influence in both major parties, agreed that it wasn't a problem. They all said no, if not exactly for the same reasons.

The senators spoke at a semi-annual gathering of billionaires David and Charles Koch's donor network, which underwrites a powerful array of secretly funded political groups. As the GOP presidential competition accelerates, the network is giving signals that it might get involved in presidential primaries for the first time.

Cruz brought up Democratic Sen. Harry Reid's harsh attacks on the Koch brothers in Senate floor speeches last year. Reid, then the majority leader, had called the brothers "un-American." Cruz said Reid's speeches were "grotesque and offensive." As audience members applauded, Cruz said the Kochs "have stood up for free enterprise principles and endured vilification with equanimity and grace."

Paul called for additional limits on lobbying by government contractors; he didn't say if that also would cover government employee unions. His conclusion: "I haven't met one person since I've been here or as I travel around the country who's come up to me saying, 'Oh, I want a contract.' They simply want to be left alone. So I don't fault anybody for that."

Rubio said political spending "is a form of political speech protected under the Constitution," and echoed Paul's view of big donors: "I don't know a single person in this room who's ever been to my office... asking from government any special access. By and large what they want is to be left alone."

The question of political influence came at the end of a freewheeling debate. Paul supported the administration's decision to lift the Cuban trade embargo; Cruz and Rubio, who fiercely oppose the Castro regime, said the embargo should stay. There was a similar split on Middle East policy: Paul advocated diplomacy, while Rubio and Cruz took more aggressive stands. They all said the economy either isn't recovering or is recovering despite Obama administration policies. And they all ranked the income gap as a crucial issue for the Republican agenda.

The forum capped an active weekend of campaigning by GOP presidential hopefuls, none of whom has officially declared. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush gave a major speech. A platoon of possible candidates addressed a conference in Iowa, where the first presidential balloting will take place next January. Cruz was the only potential candidate to speak in Iowa and at the Koch event in Palm Springs, Calif.

Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a hub of the Koch network, webcast the debate to news organizations – a break from the tight security that kept reporters away from previous Koch gatherings.

2016 Republican presidential nomination

Koch Brothers

The federal budget deficit will fall in 2015, the sixth consecutive year of decreases relative to the overall economy, according to new figures by the Congressional Budget Office. The office also says the U.S. economy will expand at a "solid pace" over the next few years.

The estimate for 2015 stands at $468 billion, a modest improvement on the 2014 budget deficit of $483 billion. Both numbers are solid improvements over the $680 billion shortfall that was recorded in 2013.

But as is often the case with economic news, the picture isn't completely sunny. The main problem is the overall federal debt, which the nonpartisan CBO notes is already at historically high levels when measured against the U.S. economy.

From the budget agency:

"CBO expects that federal debt held by the public will amount to 74 percent of GDP at the end of this fiscal year — more than twice what it was at the end of 2007 and higher than in any year since 1950 (see figure below). By 2025, in CBO's baseline projections, federal debt rises to nearly 79 percent of GDP."

As you'll recall, U.S. debt levels soared in the early years of the economic crisis, as the government spent money to try to cope with the crisis even as revenues plummeted. In 2009, for instance, the budget deficit stood at 9.8 percent of the U.S. GDP; this year, it's projected to be 2.6 percent.

While the next few years could be relatively smooth for the U.S. economy, the CBO says several elements will challenge the budget over the next 10 years:

"The aging of the population, the rising costs of health care, and the expansion in federal subsidies for health insurance that is now under way will substantially boost federal spending on Social Security and the government's major health care programs relative to GDP over the next 10 years."

federal deficit

federal budget deficit

Whether it was the $85,000 personal submarine craft, the telepathic obstacle course or the yeti yard ornaments we could never quite afford, in-flight catalog SkyMall — and the kitschy items sold inside its pages — is going to be hard to forget.

The Two-Way

Goodbye, Garden Yeti: In-Flight Catalog SkyMall Files For Bankruptcy


From A Frequent Flier To SkyMall, Thanks For The Memory Foams

On Friday, SkyMall's parent company filed for bankruptcy protection and announced that its assets would go up for auction in late March. So in preparation for the catalog's possible disappearance from our seatback pockets, we asked people how they'd remember SkyMall. Some of you wrote heartfelt testimonials. A few made it into this post, but there were many more. Here's a sampling:

SkyMall's write-on map inspired an entire math education program in New Mexico, as Martha Riecks explains:

"While on a flight to an education conference in 2003, Scott Laidlaw, a middle school math teacher, opened up a Skymall Catalog and saw the 'World's Largest Write On Map.' He immediately envisioned his students trading merchandise while exploring the world in the 1600s.

"When the map arrived, it took up his entire classroom when spread out, and was soon covered with over 3,000 sticky notes. Students made small wooden ships, learning ratios and proportions as they enacted the spice trade. For six more years, Laidlaw developed and implemented new semester-long historical fiction math games."

Laurie Harari of Delray Beach, Fla., considers SkyMall items such as the doggy stairs aspirational:

"SkyMall has kept me going on my journey to get a real job someday. Since I was a small girl, I envisioned one day graduating from college, making a lot of money at my job, and having a really really tall bed. Beside that tall bed, I would have those doggy stairs that SkyMall sold in its catalog."

This blogger may be partial to the garden yeti, but a lot of you professed your love of the zombie yard ornament (seen above). Medical school student Mehwish Farooqi wrote:

"I am disappointed that someday after medical school and my eventual pay off of my student loans, I will no longer have the opportunity to purchase a zombie yard ornament such as this. It was something to look forward to."

SkyMall's demise also is a financial hit for those vendors whose wares are featured in the catalog, as Car-Dek President Joe Volpe shares:

"We are one of the suppliers that is going to take a big financial hit by this bankruptcy. Our product, the Petdek, was sold by [SkyMall] as the "All in one carrier" for carrying pets and cargo in the back seat of vehicles. It was one of the most successful products they have ever sold and were averaging over 130 a month for retail sales of $165,000 last year. We manufacture in the US so quite a few people are going to be affected by this. Luckily we have many other vendors for our product, but this loss caught us completely off guard as they kept telling me they were financially solvent."

SkyMall art by Kevin and Miles Taylor. Kevin and Miles Taylor hide caption

itoggle caption Kevin and Miles Taylor

And what happens to all the in-flight guerrilla art projects that SkyMall inspired? Miles Taylor of Austin, Texas, explains:

SkyMall inspired a running guerilla art project. Miles and Kevin Taylor hide caption

itoggle caption Miles and Kevin Taylor

"We would take SkyMall magazine (which I remind you is 'yours to keep') and we would alter the images using various markets and pens. After filling the magazine with our little gags, we would take pictures on our phones and return the magazines to the seat pockets in front of us. Did any of you every come across our altered SkyMall magazines on your flights?"

Not to by outdone, Paul Madore of St. Paul, Minn., sent in a poem with stanzas full of actual SkyMall items available for purchase. This is called "Poem #18: Random Crap":

A grill cleaning robot

video screen microscopes,

a "Snow Joe" brand snow broom

with handle that telescopes,

An electric blue corkscrew,

personalized wine stopper,

a "Sheng Kwong" metal gong,

an old-time corn popper,

An illuminated zipline,

a poole-themed clock (quartz),

a paper towel rac

housing four USB ports,

talking Smurf toothbrushes

a king crab-shaped chair,

remote-controlled shark balloon

that inflates with air,

All these and more

you can greedily eyeball

while flying in comfort,

please enjoy "SkyMall"

skymall catalog


skymall items




Tom Toro didn't always dream of becoming a cartoonist at The New Yorker. Sure, he drew cartoons in college, but he didn't see that as a career path. Instead, he went to film school at NYU.

Then he came to the sudden realization that he was in the wrong field — and he had no idea what he was going to do.

"Up to my neck in debt, directionless, feeling lost in the huge city," Tom Toro says. "I went into a pretty dark depression. I ended up dropping out of film school. I floundered around for awhile, and I finally just had to come back home."

He says moving back in with his parents was an adjustment. He remembers the long, quiet dinners sitting around the table trying to make conversation.

"I had sort of been a golden child," he says. "I was valedictorian in my high school class, I went to Yale, I got into NYU right out of undergrad, and all of a sudden, I'm back at home. And I don't think my parents really understood what I was doing there. And I almost didn't understand myself."

i i

Tom Toro/The New Yorker

Tom Toro/The New Yorker

One afternoon, Toro went to a used book sale in his hometown. He opened a cardboard box and found an old stack of magazines.

"For some reason, I was drawn toward them and I started riffling through them," he says.

They were stacks of old New Yorkers.

"There they were, these cartoons in among the articles," he says. "I don't know. Something just clicked. And I started drawing again."

Toro decided to submit some of his work to the magazine. But he had no idea how.

"So I just sent them to The New Yorker by post," he says. "I would walk from my parents' house down to the post office and mail off these packets of cartoons that I was sketching together every week."

Shortly after, he received a reply in the mail: It was his first rejection note.

"It's like two of the most elegantly phrased sentences," he says. "The New Yorker found the way to most courteously and most briefly reject people. It's just beautiful. You feel so honored to receive it and yet it's a brushoff."

i i

Tom Toro/The New Yorker

Tom Toro/The New Yorker

A year and a half later, Toro had a pile of rejection letters. But instead of feeling discouraged, he says it only fueled his determination.

He traveled across the country just to introduce himself to Bob Mankoff, the cartoon editor at The New Yorker.

"I went in, he looked at my stuff, I was just nervously sitting there waiting for him to say something," Toro says. "And I remember he looked up and said, 'I don't see any joy in these. These aren't ready yet.' "

Toro says that's the comment that stuck with him.

"So I went back home and I just threw everything that I had done previously out the door, sat down with a blank sheet of paper, and just tried to draw from the heart," he says.

Toro was still receiving rejection letters in the mail, but he says his cartoons were getting better. Toro was finding his style.

And then, one day, he wandered into his mom's office to check his email.

i i

Above, Tom Toro's first cartoon picked up by The New Yorker. The 610th drawing he had submitted to the magazine, it was published the week of his 28th birthday. Tom Toro/The New Yorker hide caption

itoggle caption Tom Toro/The New Yorker

Above, Tom Toro's first cartoon picked up by The New Yorker. The 610th drawing he had submitted to the magazine, it was published the week of his 28th birthday.

Tom Toro/The New Yorker

"Went in there, logged in, and there sitting at the top of my inbox was an email from [Bob Mankoff's] assistant," Toro says.

The subject line read, "Cartoon Sold."

It was Toro's 610th drawing that he submitted to The New Yorker.

"That was the lucky number, you know?" he says. "If at first you don't succeed, try and try and try and try and try and try and try again."

We want to hear your big break. Do what Tom Toro did and send us an e-mail at mybigbreak@npr.org.

New Yorker


Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko says he will "calm" fighting between his forces and Russian-backed separatist in the country's east a day after rocket fire killed 30 people in and around the port city of Mariupol.

Poroshenko, speaking after an emergency meeting of Ukraine's security council, said reviving a shattered peace deal agreed in September was the only way out of the conflict.

The Ukrainian leader also said that, in case there was any doubt, that intercepted radio transmissions showed conclusively that it was the rebels who attacked government-held Mariupol, hitting an open-air market and a residential area.

The Associated Press notes that "the attack on Mariupol, a strategically situated port city that had been relatively quiet for months, alarmed the West and looked likely further to aggravate relations with Russia."

President Obama, speaking in New Delhi, said the U.S. was prepared to "ratchet up the pressure on Russia" to get it to stop supporting the separatists.

"We are deeply concerned about the latest break in the ceasefire and the aggression that these separatists — with Russian backing, Russian equipment, Russian financing, Russian training and Russian troops — are conducting," Obama told a news conference in India.

"I will look at all additional options that are available to us short of military confrontation and try to address this issue. And we will be in close consultation with our international partners, particularly European partners," he said.

The BBC has a bit of background:

"More than 5,000 people have been killed in fighting since the rebels seized a large swathe of Donetsk and Luhansk regions last April, UN officials say. More than a million people have been displaced.

"Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of arming the rebels and sending its troops into Ukrainian territory.

"Russia has denied directly arming the separatists, and blames Ukraine for the upsurge in fighting."

crisis in Ukraine


In the latest attack by the suspected Boko Haram extremists in Nigeria, militants shelled the northeastern city of Maiduguri, Reuters reports quoting witnesses.

The BBC says fierce fighting is reported on the outskirts of Maiduguri, which is "home to tens of thousands of people who have fled the attacks by Boko Haram attacks and was visited on Saturday by President Goodluck Jonathan."

Reuters says:

"The assault on Maiduguri began just after midnight and that on Monguno later in the morning. At around 9 am (0800 GMT) on Sunday, a Reuters witness in Maiduguri said shelling could be heard and that military helicopters were circling the city.

"All roads have been closed, a security source said, and commercial activity has been shut down."

The reports come weeks after the Islamist extremist group killed as many as 2,000 people 100 miles northeast of Maiduguri, in the town of Baga. Both cities are in the border state of Borno, which has seen the brunt of attacks by the extremist group in recent months. Boko Haram also kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls from the city of Chibok last April and the fate of most of them is still unclear.

The latest attack also comes as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is seeking to meet with Nigeria's president and his rival in next month's presidential elections in an effort to ensure the results of the poll will be accepted peacefully.

Boko Haram


Blog Archive