State Duma simplifies issuance of Russian citizenship to Ukrainians

Part of the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia:

The State Duma of Russia has adopted the law, according to which the Russian president is authorized to “define the categories of the foreign citizens in humanitarian purposes, which have the right for the acquisition of citizenship in simplified order” as the press service of the State Duma reported.“The amendments to the Law “On the citizenship of the Russian Federation” in the third, final reading at the plenary session on Tuesday, December 18, were supported by all parliamentary groups of the State Duma. The law empowers the president of Russia with a right to define the categories of the foreigners, which have the rights for the acquisition of the Russian citizenship in the simplified order,” the message said.

According to the authors of the document, the law allows to grant the citizenship in the simplified regime to the people from the states “with difficult social-political and economic situation, where the armed conflicts or change of the political regime takes place”. Moreover, the amendments simplify the granting of the Russian citizenship to the fellow countrymen. According to the new rules, they can file the applications for the citizenship not basing on the place of registration as it was earlier but basing on the place of stay.

“First of all, these amendments will allow President Vladimir V. Putin to support our fellow countrymen in Ukraine. Millions of people became the hostages of the political adventurism of Petro Poroshenko, who is ready for any steps to preserve his person power – from the military provocation up to the division of Church and persecution of the religious people,” Viacheslav Volodin, the Chairman of the State Duma claimed.

The law will come into force in 90 days after publishing.

As we reported, 39,582 citizens of Ukraine were granted the Russian citizenship in 2018. Since January 2018 until June 2018, 39,582 citizens of Ukraine were granted the Russian citizenship (it was accepted, restored or recognized).

Source: State Duma simplifies issuance of Russian citizenship to Ukrainians

How Caste Underpins the Blasphemy Crisis in Pakistan

Interesting and revealing context for Asia Bibi and anti-Christian sentiment in general:

On June 14, 2009, Asia Bibi, a poor Christian woman, was picking fruit in the field of Itan Wali village in Pakistan, about 30 miles from the city of Lahore. On the landowner’s order, Bibi fetched drinking water for her co-workers, but three Muslim women among them accused her of contaminating the water by touching the bowl. An argument followed.

Later, the Muslim women accused Bibi of making blasphemous statements against the Prophet Muhammad — a charge punishable by death under Pakistani law. Despite little evidence, Bibi spent nine years in prison — eight in solitary confinement on death row — till she was finally acquitted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in late October.

Pakistan’s religious right has violently protested her acquittal and Bibi is being held in an undisclosed location to keep her safe. The initial accusation against her was not about religion but caste. Her handling of a drinking vessel was seen to pollute the water inside because she belonged to an “untouchable” Hindu caste that had converted to Christianity.

When this offense turned into the charge of blasphemy, the shift signaled the simultaneous disavowal and internalization of caste discrimination by Muslims who otherwise attribute the practice to Hindus in India. Caste discrimination in Pakistan often involves its non-Muslim population and its Hindu past, and allows Muslims to minimize their own caste differences by projecting discrimination outward.

When Pakistan was created after the partition of colonial India, upper-caste Hindus and Sikhs fled or were forced to leave for India, leaving their poorer and less mobile lower-caste coreligionists behind.

In the southern province of Sindh, some upper-caste landowners stayed, while low-caste Hindus took the religion, its temples and practices into their hands in a startling departure from Hindu tradition that has no Indian counterpart. In Punjab Province, former “untouchables” accelerated their conversion to Christianity, taking given names common among their Muslim neighbors while replacing the caste surnames with appellations like “Masih,” the Urdu word for Jesus in his role as Messiah.

Discrimination and ethnic cleansing reduced the population of non-Muslims in Pakistan from about 30 percent at its creation in 1947 to less than 5 percent now. Yet the nearly absolute majority of Muslims in the country has not reduced religious conflict, but rather displaced, increased and internalized it among Muslims.

It is now Muslims, especially in Punjab, who maintain a caste hierarchy. And since Islamic beliefs don’t include a caste system, the discrimination cannot be defined in terms of caste and is labeled religious. This shift was illustrated by turning Bibi’s quarrel over sharing water into blasphemy.

Perhaps Asia Bibi mentioned to her three accusers how the Muslim prophet and religion did not permit such discrimination. But in Pakistan, neither the Christians, who are understood to have been low-caste Hindus, nor the Muslims, who have adopted the role of their high-caste coreligionists, can refer to the vanished past that mediates their relations.

The increasing refusal of Muslims to share water or food with Christians suggests an inability to come to terms with a past that defies the religious identifications meant to structure all of Pakistan’s social relations.

The debate about blasphemy is also tied to cultural issues assuming unprecedented importance with the emergence of a technologically mediated global arena after the Cold War. But such protests and violence over depictions of Islam’s prophet began during the middle of the 19th century in colonial India, where they had to do with urban politics and competition in newly capitalist societies.

These controversies are about struggles over representation in a public space. What defines Muslim outrage is never the traumatic encounter of the believers with the images of the prophet or his representation, but merely the rumor of circulation of his images and his representation beyond their control.

When controversies over insults to the Prophet Muhammad first arose in colonial India, the cases arising from them were dealt with under the Indian Penal Code written by the British politician Thomas Babington Macaulay, who criminalized the injury of religious and other sentiments in secular rather than theological terms by treating it the same way as defamation, libel and other such offenses.

In post-colonial India and Pakistan, religious offense among Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians continues to deploy the secular language of hurt sentiments rather than the theological category of blasphemy. In Pakistan, Lord Macaulay’s equal-opportunity conception of injury was done away with, and insulting the Prophet Muhammad was made into a specific crime above all others.

In the early years of Pakistan, a group called the Ahmadis, who are accused of not accepting Muhammad as the last prophet, were the first to be charged with blasphemy. But the charge of blasphemy was soon being leveled by even the most acceptable of Muslims against one another, often for petty and personal reasons. Such accusations are ways of legitimizing the individual motives of those who make them, whether these are concerned with quarrels over money, property or marriage.

But the accusations of blasphemy are also related to anxieties about the Muslim prophet’s vulnerability to insult, which have emerged from profound shifts in the life of Muslim societies.

These include efforts by Muslims to create a “modern” Islam by ridding it of “superstitions” like attributing superhuman powers to the prophet. But by becoming more human, Muhammad has also become more vulnerable to insult, and as a result requires the protection of his followers in an ironically secular way.

In contrast to these global concerns, Ms. Bibi’s case is resolutely local and has led to no Muslim agitation outside Pakistan. This is because it emerges from the Muslim disavowal of caste and refusal to acknowledge Pakistan’s ethnic cleansing of the Hindus who are seen to represent it. Just as Muslims take on the character of their vanished Hindu enemies by persecuting low-caste Christians if only in the name of religion, so do Hindu militants in India lynch Muslims by acting the part of medieval invaders who happened to be their coreligionists.

Familiar across the subcontinent, such playacting involves practices such as caste restrictions, forcible conversion and other, more grotesque forms of bodily violence in which a community takes on the role it attributes to its enemies.

Implying a relationship of perverse intimacy with one’s foes, this impersonation also distances perpetrators from their own brutality by turning it into a piece of theater. In all cases it involves the impossible and infinite desire for vengeance against an enemy who has vanished in time, like India’s Muslim invaders of a thousand years ago, or in space, like the Hindus and Sikhs who left Pakistan.

In Pakistan, both the discrimination of caste and the history of religious difference are officially proscribed and forgotten. But for this very reason they continue to haunt the present in disavowed ways that include the charge of blasphemy against Ms. Bibi. In this sense, the passionate defense of their prophet represents a kind of traumatic memory, one that only allows Muslims to obscure a reality that remains unrecognized and therefore unresolved.

Faisal Devji is a professor of Indian history at the University of Oxford.

Source: How Caste Underpins the Blasphemy Crisis in Pakistan

AI and the Automation of Jobs Disproportionately Affect Women, World Economic Forum Warns

Interesting analysis of gender and AI:

Women are disproportionately affected by the automation of jobs and development of artificial intelligence, which could widen the gender gap if more women are not encouraged to enter the fields of science, technology and engineering, the World Economic Forum warned on Monday.

Despite statistics showing that the economic opportunity gap between men and women narrowed slightly in 2018, the report from the World Economic Forum finds there are proportionally fewer women than men joining the workforce, largely due to the growth of automation and artificial intelligence.

According to the findings, the automation of certain jobs has impacted many roles traditionally held by women. Women also continue to be underrepresented in industries that utilize science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills. This affects their presence in the booming field of AI. Currently, women make up 22% of AI professionals, a gender gap three times larger than other industries.

“This year’s analysis also warns about the possible emergence of new gender gaps in advanced technologies, such as the risks associated with emerging gender gaps in Artificial Intelligence-related skills,” the report’s authors write. “In an era when human skills are increasingly important and complementary to technology, the world cannot afford to deprive itself of women’s talent in sectors in which talent is already scarce.”

The World Economic Forum report ranked the the United States 51st worldwide for gender equality — above average, but below many other developed countries, as well as less-developed nations like Nicaragua, Rwanda and the Philippines. Women in the U.S. had better economic opportunities than those in Austria, Italy, South Korea and Japan, according to the World Economic Forum.

The U.S. fell two spots from its ranking 2017. While the gender gap improved slightly in economic opportunity and participation, the gap between men and women regarding access to education and political empowerment reversed, in part due to a decline in gender equality in top government positions.

The World Economic Forum, which is known for its annual conference in Davos, Switzerland, measured the gender gap around the world across four factors – political empowerment, economic opportunity, educational attainment and health and survival – to find that the gap has closed 68%, a slight improvement from 2017, which marked the first year since 2006 that the gender gap widened.

As the gender gap stands now, it will take about 108 years to close completely and 202 years to achieve total parity in the workplace.

Source: AI and the Automation of Jobs Disproportionately Affect Women, World Economic Forum Warns

How YouTube Built a Radicalization Machine for the Far-Right

Good long read on how YouTube’s algorithms work to drive people towards more extremism:

For David Sherratt, like so many teenagers, far-right radicalization began with video game tutorials on YouTube. He was 15 years old and loosely liberal, mostly interested in “Call of Duty” clips. Then YouTube’s recommendations led him elsewhere.

“As I kept watching, I started seeing things like the online atheist community,” Sherratt said, “which then became a gateway to the atheism community’s civil war over feminism.” Due to a large subculture of YouTube atheists who opposed feminism, “I think I fell down that rabbit hole a lot quicker,” he said.

During that four-year trip down the rabbit hole, the teenager made headlines for his involvement in the men’s rights movement, a fringe ideology which believes men are oppressed by women, and which he no longer supports. He made videos with a prominent YouTuber now beloved by the far right.

He attended a screening of a documentary on the “men’s rights” movement, and hung out with other YouTubers afterward, where he met a young man who seemed “a bit off,” Sherratt said. Still, he didn’t think much of it, and ended up posing for a group picture with the man and other YouTubers. Some of Sherratt’s friends even struck up a rapport with the man online afterward, which prompted Sherratt to check out his YouTube channel.

What he found soured his outlook on the documentary screening. The young man’s channel was full of Holocaust denial content.

“I’d met a neo-Nazi and didn’t even know it,” Sherratt said

The encounter was part of his disenchantment with the far-right political world which he’d slowly entered over the end of his childhood.

“I think one of the real things that made it so difficult to get out and realize how radicalized I’d become in certain areas was the fact that in a lot of ways, far-right people make themselves sound less far-right; more moderate or more left-wing,” Sherratt said.

Sherratt wasn’t alone. YouTube has become a quiet powerhouse of political radicalization in recent years, powered by an algorithm that a former employee says suggests increasingly fringe content. And far-right YouTubers have learned to exploit that algorithm and land their videos high in the recommendations on less extreme videos. The Daily Beast spoke to three men whose YouTube habits pushed them down a far-right path and who have since logged out of hate.

Fringe by Design

YouTube has a massive viewership, with nearly 2 billion daily users, many of them young. The site is more popular among teenagers than Facebook and Twitter. A 2018 Pew study found that 85 percent of U.S. teens used YouTube, making it by far the most popular online platform for the under-20 set. (Facebook and Twitter, which have faced regulatory ire for extremist content, are popular among a respective 51 and 32 percent of teens.)

Launched in 2005, YouTube was quickly acquired by Google. The tech giant set about trying to maximize profits by keeping users watching videos. The company hired engineers to craft an algorithm that would recommend new videos before a user had finished watching their current video.

Former YouTube engineer Guillaume Chaslot was hired to a team that designed the algorithm in 2010.

“People think it’s suggesting the most relevant, this thing that’s very specialized for you. That’s not the case,” Chaslot told The Daily Beast, adding that the algorithm “optimizes for watch-time,” not for relevance.

“The goal of the algorithm is really to keep you in line the longest,” he said.

That fixation on watch-time can be banal or dangerous, said Becca Lewis, a researcher with the technology research nonprofit Data & Society. “In terms of YouTube’s business model and attempts to keep users engaged on their content, it makes sense what we’re seeing the algorithms do,” Lewis said. “That algorithmic behavior is great if you’re looking for makeup artists and you watch one person’s content and want a bunch of other people’s advice on how to do your eye shadow. But it becomes a lot more problematic when you’re talking about political and extremist content.”

Chaslot said it was apparent to him then that algorithm could help reinforce fringe beliefs.

“I realized really fast that YouTube’s recommendation was putting people into filter bubbles,” Chaslot said. “There was no way out. If a person was into Flat Earth conspiracies, it was bad for watch-time to recommend anti-Flat Earth videos, so it won’t even recommend them.”

Lewis and other researchers have noted that recommended videos often tend toward the fringes. Writing for The New York Times, sociologist Zeynep Tufekci observed that videos of Donald Trump recommended videos “that featured white supremacist rants, Holocaust denials and other disturbing content.”

Matt, a former right-winger who asked to withhold his name, was personally trapped in such a filter bubble.

For instance, he described watching a video of Bill Maher and Ben Affleck discussing Islam, and seeing recommended a more extreme video about Islam by Infowars employee and conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson. That video led to the next video, and the next.

“Delve into [Watson’s] channel and start finding his anti-immigration stuff which often in turn leads people to become more sympathetic to ethno-nationalist politics,” Matt said.

“This sort of indirectly sent me down a path to moving way more to the right politically as it led me to discover other people with similar far-right views.”

Now 20, Matt has since exited the ideology and built an anonymous internet presence where he argues with his ex-brethren on the right.

“I think YouTube certainly played a role in my shift to the right because through the recommendations I got,” he said, “it led me to discover other content that was very much right of center, and this only got progressively worse over time, leading me to discover more sinister content.”

This opposition to feminism and racial equality movements is part of a YouTube movement that describes itself as “anti-social justice.”

Andrew, who also asked to withhold his last name, is a former white supremacist who has since renounced the movement. These days, he blogs about topics the far right views as anathema: racial justice, gender equality, and, one of his personal passions, the furry community. But an interest in video games and online culture was a constant over his past decade of ideological evolution. When Andrew was 20, he said, he became sympathetic to white nationalism after ingesting the movement’s talking points on an unrelated forum.

Gaming culture on YouTube turned him further down the far-right path. In 2014, a coalition of trolls and right-wingers launched Gamergate, a harassment campaign against people they viewed as trying to advance feminist or “social justice” causes in video games. The movement had a large presence on YouTube, where it convinced some gamers (particularly young men) that their video games were under attack.

“It manufactured a threat to something people put an inordinate amount of value on,” Andrew said. “‘SJWs’ [social justice warriors] were never a threat to video games. But if people could be made to believe they were,” then they were susceptible to further, wilder claims about these new enemies on the left.

Matt described the YouTube-fed feelings of loss as a means of radicalizing young men.

“I think the anti-SJW stuff appeals to young white guys who feel like they’re losing their status for lack of a better term,” he said. “They see that minorities are advocating for their own rights and this makes them uncomfortable so they try and fight against it.”

While in the far-right community, Andrew saw anti-feminist content act as a gateway to more extreme videos.

“The false idea that social justice causes have some sort of nefarious ulterior motive, that they’re distorting the truth somehow” can help open viewers to more extreme causes, he said. “Once you’ve gotten someone to believe that, you can actually go all the way to white supremacy fairly quickly.”

Lewis identified the community as one of several radicalization pathways “that can start from a mainstream conservative perspective: not overtly racist or sexist, but focused on criticizing feminism, focusing on criticizing Black Lives Matter. From there it’s really easy to access content that’s overtly racist and overtly sexist.”

Chaslot, the former YouTube engineer, said he suggested the company let users opt out of the recommendation algorithm, but claims Google was not interested.

Google’s chief executive officer, Sundar Pichai, paid lip service to the problem during a congressional hearing last week. When questioned about a particularly noxious conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton that appears high in searches for unrelated videos, the CEO made no promise to act.

“It’s an area we acknowledge there’s more work to be done, and we’ll definitely continue doing that,” Pichai said. “But I want to acknowledge there is more work to be done. With our growth comes more responsibility. And we are committed to doing better as we invest more in this area.”

But while YouTube mulls a solution, people are getting hurt.

Hard Right Turn

On Dec. 4, 2016, Edgar Welch fired an AR-15 rifle in a popular Washington, D.C. pizza restaurant. Welch believed Democrats were conducting child sex-trafficking through the pizzeria basement, a conspiracy theory called “Pizzagate.”

Like many modern conspiracy theories, Pizzagate proliferated on YouTube and those videos appeared to influence Welch, who sent them to others. Three days before the shooting, Welch texted a friend about the conspiracy. “Watch ‘PIZZAGATE: The bigger Picture’ on YouTube,” he wrote.

Other YouTube-fed conspiracy theories have similarly resulted in threats of gun violence. A man who was heavily involved in conspiracy theory communities on YouTube allegedly threatened a massacre at YouTube headquarters this summer, after he came to believe a different conspiracy theory about video censorship. Another man who believed the YouTube-fueled QAnon theory led an armed standoff at the Hoover Dam in June. A neo-Nazi arrested with a trove of guns last week ran a YouTube channel where he talked about killing Jewish people.

Religious extremists have also found a home on YouTube. From March to June 2018, people uploaded 1,348 ISIS videos to the platform, according to a study by the Counter Extremism Project. YouTube deleted 76 percent of those videos within two hours of their uploads, but most accounts still remained online. The radical Muslim-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki radicalized multiple would-be terrorists and his sermons were popular on YouTube.

Less explicitly violent actors can also radicalize viewers by exploiting YouTube’s algorithm.

“YouTubers are extremely savvy at informal SEO [search engine optimization],” Lewis of Data & Society said. “They’ll tag their content with certain keywords they suspect people may be searching for.”

Chaslot described a popular YouTube title format that plays well with the algorithm, as well as to viewers’ emotions. “Keywords like ‘A Destroys B’ or ‘A Humiliates B’” can “exploit the algorithm and human vulnerabilities.” Conservative videos, like those featuring right-wing personality Ben Shapiro or Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, often employ that format.

Some fringe users try to proliferate their views by making them appear in the search results for less-extreme videos.

“A moderate user will have certain talking points,” Sherratt said. “But the radical ones, because they’re always trying to infiltrate, and leech subscribers and viewers off those more moderate positions, they’ll put in all the exact same tags, but with a few more. So it won’t just be ‘migrant crisis’ and ‘Islam,’ it’ll be ‘migrant crisis,’ ‘Islam,’ and ‘death of the West.’”

“You could be watching the more moderate videos and the extreme videos will be in that [recommendation] box because there isn’t any concept within the anti-social justice sphere that the far right aren’t willing to use as a tool to co-opt that sphere.”

Vulnerable Viewership

Young people, particularly those without fully formed political beliefs, can be easily influenced by extreme videos that appear in their recommendations. “YouTube appeals to such a young demographic,” Lewis said. “Young people are more susceptible to having their political ideals shaped. That’s the time in your life when you’re figuring out who you are and what your politics are.”

But YouTube hasn’t received the same attention as Facebook and Twitter, which are more popular with adults. During Pichai’s Tuesday congressional testimony, Congress members found time to ask the Google CEO about iPhones (a product Google does not manufacture), but asked few questions about extremist content.

Pichai’s testimony came two days after PewDiePie, YouTube’s most popular user, recommended a channel that posts white nationalist and anti-Semitic videos. PewDiePie (real name Felix Kjellberg) has more than 75 million subscribers, many of whom are young people. Kjellberg has previously been accused of bigotry, after he posted at least nine videos featuring anti-Semitic or Nazi imagery. In a January 2017 stunt, he hired people to hold a “death to all Jews” sign on camera.

Some popular YouTubers in the less-extreme anti social justice community became more overtly sexist and racist in late 2016 and early 2017, a trend some viewers might not notice.

“The rhetoric did start shifting way further right and the Overton Window was moving,” Sherratt said. “One minute it was ‘we’re liberals and we just think these social justice types are too extreme or going too far in their tactics’ and then six months later it turned into ‘progressivism is an evil ideology.’”

One of Matt’s favorite YouTube channels “started off as a tech channel that didn’t like feminists and now he makes videos where almost everything is a Marxist conspiracy to him,” he said.

In some cases, YouTube videos can supplant a person’s previous information sources. Conspiracy YouTubers often discourage viewers from watching or reading other news sources, Chaslot has previously noted. The trend is good for conspiracy theorists and YouTube’s bottom line; viewers become more convinced of conspiracy theories and consume more advertisements on YouTube.

The problem extends to young YouTube viewers, who might follow their favorite channel religiously, but not read more conventional news outlets.

“It’s where people are getting their information about the world and about politics,” Lewis said. “Sometimes instead of going to traditional news sources, people are just watching the content of an influencer they like, who happens to have certain political opinions. Kids may be getting a very different experience from YouTube than their parents expect, whether it’s extremist or not. I think YouTube has the power to shape people’s ideologies more than people give it credit for.”

Some activists have called on YouTube to ban extreme videos. The company often counters that it is difficult to screen the reported 300 million hours of video uploaded each minute. Even Chaslot said he’s skeptical of bans’ efficiency.

“You can ban again and again, but they’ll change the discourse. They’re very good at staying under the line of acceptable,” he said. He pointed to videos that call for Democratic donor George Soros and other prominent Democrats to be “‘the first lowered to hell.’” “The video explained why they don’t deserve to live, and doesn’t explicitly say to kill them,” so it skirts the rules against violent content.

At the same time “it leads to a kind of terrorist mentality” and shows up in recommendations.

“Wherever you put the line, people will find a way to be on the other side of it,” Chaslot said.

“It’s not a content moderation issue, it’s an algorithm issue.”

Source: How YouTube Built a Radicalization Machine for the Far-Right

Alice Walker under fire for praise of ‘antisemitic’ David Icke book

Holding people to account for their views. But better that these views are exposed rather than the NYT censoring them, given Walker’s work:

The New York Times Book Review and Alice Walker have come under criticism for comments the celebrated writer made in an interview with the publication in which she recommended a work by someone accused of antisemitism.

Asked what books were currently on her nightstand, Walker, the author of The Color Purple, mentioned among others And the Truth Shall Set You Free, by the controversial British figure David Icke. Icke, an author and public speaker in his own right, has long propounded a series of conspiracy theories in his work that many see as antisemitic.

“The book is an unhinged antisemitic conspiracy tract written by one of Britain’s most notorious antisemites,” wrote Tablet magazine’s Yair Rosenberg, among the most strident critics of Walker’s comment. Rosenberg also faulted the Times for failing to react to or qualify the contents of the book to its readers.

Icke has long claimed that a shadowy cabal controls the world, a familiar antisemitic trope.

“And like many conspiracy theorists, Icke claims that this secret conspiracy happens to be Jewish,” Rosenberg added.

Ideas in the book in question and much of his other work revolve around concepts expressed in the fraudulent antisemitic propaganda text The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

This isn’t the first time Walker has expressed her affinity for Icke’s work or been accused herself of antisemitism. In 2013 Walker praised another Icke book in an interview for the British radio show Desert Island Discs.

A poem of hers from last year called It Is Our (Frightful) Duty has also been derided as antisemitic as well.

“By the Book is an interview and portrait of a public person through the lens of books; it is not a list of recommendations from our editors,” a New York Times spokesperson has said following the backlash.

“The subject’s answers are a reflection on that person’s personal tastes, opinions and judgments. As with any interview, the subject’s answers do not imply an endorsement by Times editors. Moreover, our editors do not offer background or weigh in on the books named in the By the Book column, whether the subject issues a positive or negative judgment on those books. Many people recommend books Times editors dislike, disdain or even abhor in the column.”

Source: Alice Walker under fire for praise of ‘antisemitic’ David Icke book

The Colossal Price of Theresa May’s Immigration Obsession

The continuing saga of what appears to be a disaster in slow motion:

Cracking down on immigration is how Theresa May has chosen to interpret the Brexit campaign’s promise to “take back control.” As a result, the U.K. prime minister has ruled out one of the more plausible alternatives to her own EU withdrawal deal: The so-called “Norway-Plus” idea, which would keep Britain in the European single market and force it to accept freedom of movement from other countries in the bloc.

Indeed, control of British borders is probably the most indelible of May’s red lines in the Brexit negotiations. Even though she voted remain, she was always the fiercest champion of the Conservative Party’s promise to cut yearly net migration to the “tens of thousands” during her previous incarnation as home secretary. Ivan Rogers, the former U.K. ambassador to the EU, said last week: “The entire EU knows that where we have now reached derives from her putting the ending of free movement of people well above all other objectives.”

But while May was right about immigration being one of the driving forces of the leave vote, she should note that British public opinion on the matter seems to be softening. As Rogers suggests, May’s withdrawal deal can be seen as trying to end freedom of movement from the EU at almost any cost, including a weaker economy, being a rule-taker from Brussels and swallowing demands for guarantees on the Irish border. She may no longer be totally in tune with her electorate.

Brits increasingly think that Britain should prioritize staying in the single market over ending freedom of movement, according to the pollsters Opinium. That fits with other surveys which put worries about the economy and public services above immigration. The numbers are still close, but the trend is clear. In early 2017, the split was 40-30 in favor of prioritizing an end to free movement. Recently it has flipped to 40-35 the other way.

None of this is to say that Brits have become sanguine about controlling immigration. But there does seem to be rising concern about whether it’s worth the price of leaving the single market. And the cost of Brexit is already apparent. UBS economists reckon the British economy is 2.1 percent lower than where it would have been without the leave vote, equating to about 40 billion pounds ($50.4 billion) of lost GDP.

At the same time, we’ve also seen a drop in net migration since the vote as EU workers avoid Britain. The yearly number has fallen from about 336,000 at the end of June 2016 to about 273,000 at the end of June this year: a reduction of 63,000.

If you take UBS’s 40 billion pounds of lost output over the past two years and divide it by the number of fewer migrants, you get to 635,000 pounds. Now, no one is suggesting that this is the direct cost of losing each of those migrants. Most of the lost output since the Brexit vote comes from factors such as consumer fear, curtailed investment and the weak pound. But it still begs the question of whether this is all a price worth paying for “taking back control” of the borders?

Looking further forward, the Bank of England’s forecasts suggest that May’s Brexit plan would cut yearly net migration to about 100,000 by 2021, while the long-term GDP cost relative to pre-2016 trends would be between 1 to 3 percent in the most optimistic scenarios. These figures suggest a cost of about 40 billion pounds over a six-to-seven-year-period, for a policy that delivers 236,000 fewer net annual migrants. That’s 169,500 pounds per non-arriving migrant. A smaller figure than the previous one, but still one that asks a question.

May is essentially telling the U.K. that you can control EU migration, or you can have the economic benefits of the single market. You cannot have both. She’s right; there’s no Boris Johnson fantasy of having cake and eating it here. But if her deal has become all about killing freedom of movement at any cost, Brits need to know what that price is.

Source: The Colossal Price of Theresa May’s Immigration Obsession

There’s No Stopping the Russian Baby Boom in Miami

Very up market birth tourism services:

Matryoshka was bustling as usual, selling blinis, caviar and borscht. Not all of the customers were pregnant. Just, it seemed, most of them.

The deli store in Sunny Isles Beach, a little city on a barrier island north of downtown Miami, has long been a gathering place for Russian-speaking foreigners who stay in the area as they wait to give birth. They come for the hospitals, the doctors, the weather, the beach — not, they will tell you with some exasperation, to score citizenship for their offspring.

The perk of a U.S. passport was “the last thing on my agenda, literally,” said Viktoriia Solomentseva, 23, a former Matryoshka regular who had a daughter seven weeks ago and recently flew home to Moscow with little Emily, a newly-minted U.S. citizen. “Why does Trump think everyone is dying to have one?”

It’s a somewhat sensitive topic for the women like Solomentseva who are driving a baby boom in south Florida. They’ve been swept up in the birthright citizenship debate, reignited when President Donald Trump recently vowed to end it for children of foreigners. While his target was undocumented immigrants, he also complained that the privilege granted in the 14th Amendment has “created an entire industry of birth tourism.”

That, in fact, it has. Data are scarce, but the Center for Immigration Studies has estimated more than 30,000 women tap it every year. Some nationalities prefer certain metropolitan areas, with the Chinese, for instance, favoring Los Angeles, while Nigerians tend to choose cities in the Northeast and Texas. For women with roots in the former Soviet Union, it’s Miami; if they’re affluent, it’s Sunny Isles Beach, called Little Russia because so many of its 22,000 residents hail from that part of the world.

And these women’s numbers, by all accounts, are growing. The weakness of the ruble, the tense relations between Russia and the U.S., the hurdles that have to be scaled to get a visa — none of that is slowing down the flow.

On every flight to Miami from Moscow there’s at least one pregnant woman, said Konstantin Lubnevskiy, the owner of an agency called Miami-mama, whose logo is the silhouette of an expectant mother in front of a big American flag. On some, there are more than five, he said. “What they’re doing is perfectly legal.”

True enough. But honestly, is it for the passports?

Absolutely not, Solomentseva said from the marble-laden lobby of one of the Trump Towers in Sunny Isles Beach, where she’d rented a 39th-floor unit for a few months. “I wanted to give birth in the place that has the best medical service and is comfortable and relaxing,” she said, as her husband, who owns a business in Russia, looked after the baby upstairs. Not incidentally, the weather is a lot more pleasant in Miami than Moscow in the winter. “But I can’t wait to get back to Russia.”

Like everyone else, she did, of course, fill out the necessary paperwork for Emily. It’s not as if citizenship isn’t viewed as something that might one day come in handy. Maybe it could help a kid get into a U.S. college, or set up a business in New York, or buy a house in Sunny Isles Beach, said Moscow resident Anna Bessolnova, 42, who had a girl in Miami in 2014, days before Russia’s annexation of Crimea triggered waves of international sanctions.

“I don’t know whether my daughter will end up using the passport or not, but it’s good to have different options,” she said.

Maria Khromova, whose son was born last month in Miami, has the same attitude. “Nobody knows what’s going to happen 20 years from now.”

Like all the rest, though, Khromova said she chose to have her baby in the U.S. mainly because of the superior medical care. She pointed to two C-section scars under her shirt, one from the birth of a daughter in Russia and another from the same procedure for her son. The first one is so ugly she can’t look at it without crying, she said.

Khromova, 36,  also stayed in the Trump-branded condo complex. She was there for three months, assisted by a nanny, an interpreter, a driver, a yoga tutor and a massage therapist. A native of Siberia, she lives with her husband in Phuket, Thailand, where they run a company that helps foreigners buy property.

“I came here with a lot of money to spend,” she said. “I don’t cost the U.S. taxpayers a thing.”

Being a birth tourist in Sunny Isles Beach isn’t cheap, with agencies charging as much as $50,000 to set up housing, hire interpreters, find doctors and deal with paperwork. Those who can’t afford that level of service buy smaller packages and rent apartments in far-flung suburbs, sometimes teaming up to share lodgings and expenses.

The phenomenon has, over the years, attracted bad actors. Federal agents have raided so-called maternity hotels in California catering to women from China and Taiwan; some were coached to disguise their pregnancies when they arrived in the U.S. and lied about why they were in the country, according to federal officials. Miami-mama was raided once, too, and a notary public was indicted for making a false statement in a passport application and conspiring to commit an offense against the U.S. (That employee was immediately terminated, Lubnevskiy said.)

The focus of Trump’s criticism hasn’t been the abuse of the system but the fact that it exists. One of his arguments against birthright citizenship is that when the babies born on U.S. soil become adults, they can petition for their parents to live permanently in the country.

But to many of the Russians in Sunny Isles, at least, this idea sounded unappealing. The biggest deterrent: They’d have to start paying personal income taxes that are more than double what they are in Russia. “There’s this feeling among some that it’s cool to be a U.S. citizen,” said Victoria Parshkova, who had a son in September. “It’s not cool at all.”

Public diplomacy critical for multicultural Korea

Grappling with immigration and integration:

The latest hazing death of a biracial teenager in Incheon and anti-immigration protests against asylum seekers from Yemen show the challenges Korea faces as it becomes a multicultural society.

To tackle such challenges, the Korea Foundation (KF), a nonprofit organization that has been promoting public diplomacy under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is stepping up efforts to help people develop a global mindset, according to KF President Lee Si-hyung.

He deemed two projects — a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with district offices in Busan and the first “Public Diplomacy Week” — were especially helpful to achieve the goal.

The MOU was signed by ASEAN Culture House, an institution in Busan aimed at nurturing cultures of 10 ASEAN countries, and each district office in Busan to enhance cooperation for supporting multicultural families, many from Southeast Asia.

The first Public Diplomacy Week from Nov. 1 to 3 at Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul was to assess Korea’s public diplomacy and how it can be developed to help Koreans and foreigners understand each other better.

“Protests against the asylum seekers from Yemen are only beginning of the problems already faced by the European countries,” Lee told The Korea Times. “And having a global mindset should be the starting point to tackle the issues.”

He suggested a two-step approach — raising public awareness toward diversity in the short term and getting ready to accept refugees in the long term.

“In that regard, the ASEAN Culture House’s project is right on target for our goal in the short term,” he said. “And although not intended, Public Diplomacy Week is believed to help Koreans understand the people from outside.”

Established in 1991, the KF aims to promote understanding of Korea and strengthen partnerships with institutions and opinion leaders around the world.

It has been responsible for public diplomacy-related projects in accordance with a public diplomacy act enacted in August 2017.

The first Public Diplomacy Week featured presentations by embassies in Seoul on their respective public diplomacy programs, a conference on the role of social media in public diplomacy and an introduction to jobs in the public diplomacy sector.

The KF plans to host Public Diplomacy Week every year.

ASEAN Culture House opened in September 2017, in line with the government’s plan to relocate government bodies and public organizations outside Seoul for balanced societal development.

The KF moved its headquarters to Seogwipo, Jeju Island, in July, while leaving its global affairs bureau in Seoul.

It enables the foundation to operate in three cities in Korea, along with seven offices abroad.

“I believe our presence in Busan and Jeju Island can help their campaign to go global,” Lee said, referring to Jeju’s campaign for international investment and conferences.

He pointed out that Busan and outer South Gyeongsang Province were home for many multicultural families.

The foundation’s overseas projects include Korea Chair and Korea Center to enhance collaboration with scholars, researchers, politicians and journalists on security policies.

Korea Chairs have been established at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, led by scholar and policy wonk Victor Cha; the Brookings Institution, led by academic Jung Pak; and Free University of Brussels, headed by Ramon Pacheco Pardo. A Korea Chair at Rand Corp. is being expanded. All the institutions except the Free University of Brussels (Belgium) are in the United States.

Korea Centers have been set up at the Woodrow Wilson Center (U.S.) and the Institute for Security and Development Policy (Sweden).

Source: [INTERVIEW] Public diplomacy critical for multicultural Korea

Brexit: EU immigration to UK ‘to be slashed by 80%’ after we leave bloc

A taste of what is coming under Brexit. Noteworthy that EU migrants pay more into the public purse than British born residents:

The home secretary is said to have plans to cut European immigration by 80 per cent under stricter entry conditions after Brexit.

Sajid Javid is expected to publish plans to end free movement and preferential access for EU migrants after December 2020 – which will see net immigration from Europe reduced to as little as 10,000 a year, according to the The Sunday Times.

Official figures published last month revealed EU net migration has hit a six-year low at 74,000 in the year to June 2018 – 60 per cent lower than in June 2016 and the lowest level since 2012.

The government’s immigration white paper, expected to be published next week, will reportedly state this figure will be slashed further, to between 10,000 and 25,000 long-term migrants each year by 2025.

A source told the newspaper: “We are going to take full control over who can come to the UK, prioritising those with the skills the UK needs rather than on the basis of which country they come from.”

It is expected to lead to a cut in the number of highly skilled EU migrants from 15,000 last year to about 11,000, while those who are “medium skilled” will be slashed from 18,500 to around 4,500. Most of the 40,000 EU citizens with low skills are expected not to come at all.

Medium-skilled migrants will only be allowed in if they have a job paying at least £30,000 a year, while low-skilled workers will get short-term visas of up to a year if they are from a country that is a “low risk of immigration abuse”, according to the newspaper.

The reports will fuel concerns about the impact of Brexit on the economy after a study commissioned by the government found EU workers pay far more to the public purse than British-born residents – at £2,300 more in net terms than the average adult.

It found that over their lifetimes, migrants from the EU pay in £78,000 more than they take out in public services and benefits – while the average UK citizen’s net lifetime contribution is zero.

The reports will also stoke fears about gaps in the workforce in sectors that rely largely on EU workers, such as social care nursing and the hospitality industry.

Mr Javid is also set to distance himself from Theresa May’s “hostile environment” towards migrants and pledge to launch a “new conversation” on immigration with a “fair and transparent compliant environment” that helps protect legitimate migrants while cracking down on illegals.

The white paper is also expected to outline that EU nationals will no longer be able to travel to the UK using a national identity card but will have to use a passport.

Rather than a visa, they will be allowed to obtain an online Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA), while Britons travelling to the EU will have to pay for an ETA costing £6.

The report comes after MPs expressed outrage that they would not view the government’s immigration plans before the meaningful vote on 11 December, which was subsequently postponed.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We do not comment on leaked documents. We plan to publish a white paper on the future borders and immigration system soon.”

Source: Brexit: EU immigration to UK ‘to be slashed by 80%’ after we leave bloc

China’s Detention Camps for Muslims Turn to Forced Labor

Speaks for itself:

Muslim inmates from internment camps in far western China hunched over sewing machines, in row after row. They were among hundreds of thousands who had been detained and spent month after month renouncing their religious convictions. Now the government was showing them on television as models of repentance, earning good pay — and political salvation — as factory workers.

China’s ruling Communist Party has said in a surge of upbeat propaganda that a sprawling network of camps in the Xinjiang region is providing job training and putting detainees on production lines for their own good, offering an escape from poverty, backwardness and the temptations of radical Islam.

But mounting evidence suggests a system of forced labor is emerging from the camps, a development likely to intensify international condemnation of China’s drastic efforts to control and indoctrinate a Muslim ethnic minority population of more than 12 million in Xinjiang.

Accounts from the region, satellite images and previously unreported official documents indicate that growing numbers of detainees are being sent to new factories, built inside or near the camps, where inmates have little choice but to accept jobs and follow orders.

“These people who are detained provide free or low-cost forced labor for these factories,” said Mehmet Volkan Kasikci, a researcher in Turkey who has collected accounts of inmates in the factories by interviewing relatives who have left China. “Stories continue to come to me,” he said.

China has defied an international outcry against the vast internment program in Xinjiang, which holds Muslims and forces them to renounce religious piety and pledge loyalty to the party. The emerging labor program underlines the government’s determination to continue operating the camps despite calls from United Nations human rights officials, the United States and other governments to close them.

A satellite image taken in September shows an internment camp in Xinjiang. The buildings in the upper left corner appear to be of a design commonly used by factories.CreditTerraserver/Digital Globe

The program aims to transform scattered Uighurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic minorities — many of them farmers, shopkeepers and tradespeople — into a disciplined, Chinese-speaking industrial work force, loyal to the Communist Party and factory bosses, according to official plans published online.

These documents describe the camps as vocational training centers and do not specify whether inmates are required to accept assignments to factories or other jobs. But pervasive restrictions on the movement and employment of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, as well as a government effort to persuade businesses to open factories around the camps, suggest that they have little choice.

Independent accounts from inmates who have worked in the factories are rare. The police block attempts to get near the camps and closely monitor foreign journalists who travel to Xinjiang, making it all but impossible to conduct interviews in the region. And most Uighurs who have fled Xinjiang did so before the factory program grew in recent months.

But Serikzhan Bilash, a founder of Atajurt Kazakh Human Rights, an organization in Kazakhstan that helps ethnic Kazakhs who have left neighboring Xinjiang, said he had interviewed relatives of 10 inmates who had told their families that they were made to work in factories after undergoing indoctrination in the camps.

They mostly made clothes, and they called their employers “black factories,” because of the low wages and tough conditions, he said.

Mr. Kasikci also described several cases based on interviews with family members: Sofiya Tolybaiqyzy, who was sent from a camp to work in a carpet factory. Abil Amantai, 37, who was put in a camp a year ago and told relatives he was working in a textile factory for $95 a month. Nural Razila, 25, who had studied oil drilling but after a year in a camp was sent to a new textile factory nearby.

“It’s not as though they have a choice of whether they get to work in a factory, or what factory they are assigned to,” said Darren Byler, a lecturer at the University of Washington who studies Xinjiang and visited the region in April.

He said it was safe to conclude that hundreds of thousands of detainees could be compelled to work in factories if the program were put in place at all of the region’s internment camps.

The Xinjiang government did not respond to faxed questions about the factories, nor did the State Council Information Office, the central government agency that answers reporters’ questions.

The documents detail plans for inmates, even those formally released from the camps, to take jobs at factories that work closely with the camps to continue to monitor and control them. The socks, suits, skirts and other goods made by these laborers would be sold in Chinese stores and could trickle into overseas markets.

Kashgar, an ancient, predominantly Uighur area of southern Xinjiang that is a focus of the program, reported that in 2018 alone it aimed to send 100,000 inmates who had been through the “vocational training centers” to work in factories, according to a plan issued in August.

That figure may be an ambitious political goal rather than a realistic target. But it suggests how many Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities may be held in the camps and sent to factories. Scholars have estimated that as many as one million people have been detained. The Chinese government has not issued or confirmed any figures.

“I don’t see China yielding an inch on Xinjiang,” said John Kamm, the founder of the Dui Hua Foundation, a San Francisco-based group that lobbies China on human rights issues. “Now it seems we have entrepreneurs coming in and taking advantage of the situation.”

The evolution of the Xinjiang camps echoes China’s “re-education through labor” system, where citizens once were sent without trial to toil for years. China abolished “re-education through labor” five years ago, but Xinjiang appears to be creating a new version.

Retailers in the United States and other countries should guard against buying goods made by workers from the Xinjiang camps, which could violate laws banning imports produced by prison or forced labor, Mr. Kamm said.

While the bulk of clothes and other textile goods manufactured in Xinjiang ends up in domestic and Central Asian markets, some makes its way to the United States and Europe.

Badger Sportswear, a company based in North Carolina, last month received a container of polyester knitted T-shirts from Hetian Taida, a company in Xinjiang that was shown on a prime-time state television broadcast promoting the camps.

The program showed workers at a Hetian Taida plant, including a woman who was described as a former camp inmate. But the small factory did not appear to be on a camp site, and it is unclear whether it made the T-shirts sent to North Carolina.

Ginny Gasswint, a Badger Sportswear executive, said the company had ordered a small amount of products from Xinjiang, and used Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production, a nonprofit certification organization, to ensure that its suppliers meet standards.

Seth Lennon, a spokesman for Worldwide, said that Hetian Taida had only recently enrolled in its program, and the organization had no information on possible coerced labor in Xinjiang. “We will certainly look into this,” he said.

Repeated calls over several days to Wu Hongbo, the chairman of Hetian Taida, went unanswered.

Satellite imagery suggests that production lines are being built inside some internment camps.

A state television broadcast promoting the internment camps showed textile workers at a company named Hetian Taida. The company shipped T-shirts to North Carolina last month.

Images of one camp featured in the state television broadcast, for example, show 10 to 12 large buildings with a single-story, one-room design commonly used for factories, said Nathan Ruser, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. The buildings are surrounded by fencing and security towers, indicating that they are heavily guarded like the rest of the camp.

“It seems unlikely that any detainee would be able to go to any building that they were not taken to,” Mr. Ruser said.

Commercial registration records also show at least a few companies have been established this year at addresses inside internment camps. They include a printing factory, a noodle factory and at least twoclothing and textile manufacturers at camps in rural areas around Kashgar. Another clothing and bedding manufacturer is registered in a camp in Aksu in northwestern Xinjiang.

The government’s effort to connect the internment camps with factories emerged this year as the number of detainees climbed and Xinjiang faced rising costs to build and run the camps.

Many camps were once called “transformation through education centers” by the government, reflecting their mission: inducing inmates to cast aside Islamic devotion and accept Communist Party supremacy.

But since August, the Chinese government has defended the camps by arguing that they are job training centers that will help lift detainees and their families out of poverty by giving them the skills to join China’s economic mainstream. Many rural Uighurs speak little Chinese, and language training has been advertised as one of the main purposes of the camps.

Yet the practical training in the camps often appears to be rudimentary, said Adrian Zenz, a social scientist at the European School of Culture and Theology who has studied the campaign.

An early hint of the factory labor program came in March when Sun Ruizhe, the president of the China National Textile and Apparel Council, described it to senior industry representatives, according to a transcript of his speech that was posted on industry websites.

Mr. Sun said that Xinjiang planned to recruit from three main sources to increase the textile and garment sector’s work force by more than 100,000 in 2018: impoverished households, struggling relatives of prisoners and detainees, and the camp inmates, whose training “could be combined with developing the textile and apparel section.”

In April, the Xinjiang government began rolling out a plan to attract textile and garment companies. Local governments would receive funds to build production sites for them near the camps; companies would receive a subsidy of $260 to train each inmate they took on, as well other incentives.

In remarks in October defending the camps, a top official in Xinjiang, Shohrat Zakir, said the government was busy preparing “job assignments” for inmates formally finishing indoctrination and training. A budget document this year from Yarkant, a county in Kashgar, said the camps were responsible for “employment services.”

The inmates assigned to factories may have to stay for years.

Mr. Byler said a relative of a Uighur friend was sent to an indoctrination camp in March and formally released this fall. But he was then told he had to work for up to three years in a clothing factory.

A government official, Mr. Byler said, suggested to his friend’s family that if the relative worked hard, his time in the factory might be reduced.

The Chinese state media has praised the centers as leading wayward people toward modern civilization. It also reports that the workers are generously paid.

“The training will turn them from ‘nomads’ into skilled marvels,” the official Xinjiang Daily said last month. “Education and training will make them into ‘modern people,’ useful to society.”

Source: China’s Detention Camps for Muslims Turn to Forced Labor