By Mari Saito and Antoni Slodkowski SENDAI, Japan (Reuters) - Seiji Sasa hits the train station in this northern Japanese city before dawn most mornings to prowl for homeless men. He isn't a social worker. He's a recruiter. The men in Sendai Station are potential laborers that Sasa can dispatch to contractors in Japan's nuclear disaster zone for a bounty of $100 a head. "This is how labor recruiters like me come in every day," Sasa says, as he strides past men sleeping on cardboard and clutching at their coats against the early winter cold. It's also how Japan finds people willing to accept minimum wage for one of the most undesirable jobs in the industrialized world: working on the $35 billion, taxpayer-funded effort to clean up radioactive fallout across an area of northern Japan larger than Hong Kong. Almost three years ago, a massive earthquake and tsunami leveled villages across Japan's northeast coast and set off multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Today, the most ambitious radiation clean-up ever attempted is running behind schedule. The effort is being dogged by both a lack of oversight and a shortage of workers, according to a Reuters analysis of contracts and interviews with dozens of those involved. In January, October and November, Japanese gangsters were arrested on charges of infiltrating construction giant Obayashi Corp's network of decontamination subcontractors and illegally sending workers to the government-funded project. In the October case, homeless men were rounded up at Sendai's train station by Sasa, then put to work clearing radioactive soil and debris in Fukushima City for less than minimum wage, according to police and accounts of those involved. The men reported up through a chain of three other companies to Obayashi, Japan's second-largest construction company. Obayashi, which is one of more than 20 major contractors involved in government-funded radiation removal projects, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. But the spate of arrests has shown that members of Japan's three largest criminal syndicates - Yamaguchi-gumi, Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai - had set up black-market recruiting agencies under Obayashi. "We are taking it very seriously that these incidents keep happening one after another," said Junichi Ichikawa, a spokesman for Obayashi. He said the company tightened its scrutiny of its lower-tier subcontractors in order to shut out gangsters, known as the yakuza. "There were elements of what we had been doing that did not go far enough." OVERSIGHT LEFT TO TOP CONTRACTORS Part of the problem in monitoring taxpayer money in Fukushima is the sheer number of companies involved in decontamination, extending from the major contractors at the top to tiny subcontractors many layers below them. The total number has not been announced. But in the 10 most contaminated towns and a highway that runs north past the gates of the wrecked plant in Fukushima, Reuters found 733 companies were performing work for the Ministry of Environment, according to partial contract terms released by the ministry in August under Japan's information disclosure law. Reuters found 56 subcontractors listed on environment ministry contracts worth a total of $2.5 billion in the most radiated areas of Fukushima that would have been barred from traditional public works because they had not been vetted by the construction ministry. The 2011 law that regulates decontamination put control under the environment ministry, the largest spending program ever managed by the 10-year-old agency. The same law also effectively loosened controls on bidders, making it possible for firms to win radiation removal contracts without the basic disclosure and certification required for participating in public works such as road construction. Reuters also found five firms working for the Ministry of Environment that could not be identified. They had no construction ministry registration, no listed phone number or website, and Reuters could not find a basic corporate registration disclosing ownership. There was also no record of the firms in the database of Japan's largest credit research firm, Teikoku Databank. "As a general matter, in cases like this, we would have to start by looking at whether a company like this is real," said Shigenobu Abe, a researcher at Teikoku Databank. "After that, it would be necessary to look at whether this is an active company and at the background of its executive and directors." Responsibility for monitoring the hiring, safety records and suitability of hundreds of small firms involved in Fukushima's decontamination rests with the top contractors, including Kajima Corp, Taisei Corp and Shimizu Corp, officials said. "In reality, major contractors manage each work site," said Hide Motonaga, deputy director of the radiation clean-up division of the environment ministry. But, as a practical matter, many of the construction companies involved in the clean-up say it is impossible to monitor what is happening on the ground because of the multiple layers of contracts for each job that keep the top contractors removed from those doing the work. "If you started looking at every single person, the project wouldn't move forward. You wouldn't get a tenth of the people you need," said Yukio Suganuma, president of Aisogo Service, a construction company that was hired in 2012 to clean up radioactive fallout from streets in the town of Tamura. The sprawl of small firms working in Fukushima is an unintended consequence of Japan's legacy of tight labor-market regulations combined with the aging population's deepening shortage of workers. Japan's construction companies cannot afford to keep a large payroll and dispatching temporary workers to construction sites is prohibited. As a result, smaller firms step into the gap, promising workers in exchange for a cut of their wages. Below these official subcontractors, a shadowy network of gangsters and illegal brokers who hire homeless men has also become active in Fukushima. Ministry of Environment contracts in the most radioactive areas of Fukushima prefecture are particularly lucrative because the government pays an additional $100 in hazard allowance per day for each worker. Takayoshi Igarashi, a lawyer and professor at Hosei University, said the initial rush to find companies for decontamination was understandable in the immediate aftermath of the disaster when the priority was emergency response. But he said the government now needs to tighten its scrutiny to prevent a range of abuses, including bid rigging. "There are many unknown entities getting involved in decontamination projects," said Igarashi, a former advisor to ex-Prime Minister Naoto Kan. "There needs to be a thorough check on what companies are working on what, and when. I think it's probably completely lawless if the top contractors are not thoroughly checking." The Ministry of Environment announced on Thursday that work on the most contaminated sites would take two to three years longer than the original March 2014 deadline. That means many of the more than 60,000 who lived in the area before the disaster will remain unable to return home until six years after the disaster. Earlier this month, Abe, who pledged his government would "take full responsibility for the rebirth of Fukushima" boosted the budget for decontamination to $35 billion, including funds to create a facility to store radioactive soil and other waste near the wrecked nuclear plant. ‘DON'T ASK QUESTIONS' Japan has always had a gray market of day labor centered in Tokyo and Osaka. A small army of day laborers was employed to build the stadiums and parks for the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. But over the past year, Sendai, the biggest city in the disaster zone, has emerged as a hiring hub for homeless men. Many work clearing rubble left behind by the 2011 tsunami and cleaning up radioactive hotspots by removing topsoil, cutting grass and scrubbing down houses around the destroyed nuclear plant, workers and city officials say. Seiji Sasa, 67, a broad-shouldered former wrestling promoter, was photographed by undercover police recruiting homeless men at the Sendai train station to work in the nuclear cleanup. The workers were then handed off through a chain of companies reporting up to Obayashi, as part of a $1.4 million contract to decontaminate roads in Fukushima, police say. "I don't ask questions; that's not my job," Sasa said in an interview with Reuters. "I just find people and send them to work. I send them and get money in exchange. That's it. I don't get involved in what happens after that." Only a third of the money allocated for wages by Obayashi's top contractor made it to the workers Sasa had found. The rest was skimmed by middlemen, police say. After deductions for food and lodging, that left workers with an hourly rate of about $6, just below the minimum wage equal to about $6.50 per hour in Fukushima, according to wage data provided by police. Some of the homeless men ended up in debt after fees for food and housing were deducted, police say. Sasa was arrested in November and released without being charged. Police were after his client, Mitsunori Nishimura, a local Inagawa-kai gangster. Nishimura housed workers in cramped dorms on the edge of Sendai and skimmed an estimated $10,000 of public funding intended for their wages each month, police say. Nishimura, who could not be reached for comment, was arrested and paid a $2,500 fine. Nishimura is widely known in Sendai. Seiryu Home, a shelter funded by the city, had sent other homeless men to work for him on recovery jobs after the 2011 disaster. "He seemed like such a nice guy," said Yota Iozawa, a shelter manager. "It was bad luck. I can't investigate everything about every company." In the incident that prompted his arrest, Nishimura placed his workers with Shinei Clean, a company with about 15 employees based on a winding farm road south of Sendai. Police turned up there to arrest Shinei's president, Toshiaki Osada, after a search of his office, according to Tatsuya Shoji, who is both Osada's nephew and a company manager. Shinei had sent dump trucks to sort debris from the disaster. "Everyone is involved in sending workers," said Shoji. "I guess we just happened to get caught this time." Osada, who could not be reached for comment, was fined about $5,000. Shinei was also fined about $5,000. 'RUN BY GANGS' The trail from Shinei led police to a slightly larger neighboring company with about 30 employees, Fujisai Couken. Fujisai says it was under pressure from a larger contractor, Raito Kogyo, to provide workers for Fukushima. Kenichi Sayama, Fujisai's general manger, said his company only made about $10 per day per worker it outsourced. When the job appeared to be going too slowly, Fujisai asked Shinei for more help and they turned to Nishimura. A Fujisai manager, Fuminori Hayashi, was arrested and paid a $5,000 fine, police said. Fujisai also paid a $5,000 fine. "If you don't get involved (with gangs), you're not going to get enough workers," said Sayama, Fujisai's general manager. "The construction industry is 90 percent run by gangs." Raito Kogyo, a top-tier subcontractor to Obayashi, has about 300 workers in decontamination projects around Fukushima and owns subsidiaries in both Japan and the United States. Raito agreed that the project faced a shortage of workers but said it had been deceived. Raito said it was unaware of a shadow contractor under Fujisai tied to organized crime. "We can only check on lower-tier subcontractors if they are honest with us," said Tomoyuki Yamane, head of marketing for Raito. Raito and Obayashi were not accused of any wrongdoing and were not penalized. Other firms receiving government contracts in the decontamination zone have hired homeless men from Sasa, including Shuto Kogyo, a firm based in Himeji, western Japan. "He sends people in, but they don't stick around for long," said Fujiko Kaneda, 70, who runs Shuto with her son, Seiki Shuto. "He gathers people in front of the station and sends them to our dorm." Kaneda invested about $600,000 to cash in on the reconstruction boom. Shuto converted an abandoned roadhouse north of Sendai into a dorm to house workers on reconstruction jobs such as clearing tsunami debris. The company also won two contracts awarded by the Ministry of Environment to clean up two of the most heavily contaminated townships. Kaneda had been arrested in 2009 along with her son, Seiki, for charging illegally high interest rates on loans to pensioners. Kaneda signed an admission of guilt for police, a document she says she did not understand, and paid a fine of $8,000. Seiki was given a sentence of two years prison time suspended for four years and paid a $20,000 fine, according to police. Seiki declined to comment. UNPAID WAGE CLAIMS In Fukushima, Shuto has faced at least two claims with local labor regulators over unpaid wages, according to Kaneda. In a separate case, a 55-year-old homeless man reported being paid the equivalent of $10 for a full month of work at Shuto. The worker's paystub, reviewed by Reuters, showed charges for food, accommodation and laundry were docked from his monthly pay equivalent to about $1,500, leaving him with $10 at the end of the August. The man turned up broke and homeless at Sendai Station in October after working for Shuto, but disappeared soon afterwards, according to Yasuhiro Aoki, a Baptist pastor and homeless advocate. Kaneda confirmed the man had worked for her but said she treats her workers fairly. She said Shuto Kogyo pays workers at least $80 for a day's work while docking the equivalent of $35 for food. Many of her workers end up borrowing from her to make ends meet, she said. One of them had owed her $20,000 before beginning work in Fukushima, she says. The balance has come down recently, but then he borrowed another $2,000 for the year-end holidays. "He will never be able to pay me back," she said. The problem of workers running themselves into debt is widespread. "Many homeless people are just put into dormitories, and the fees for lodging and food are automatically docked from their wages," said Aoki, the pastor. "Then at the end of the month, they're left with no pay at all." Shizuya Nishiyama, 57, says he briefly worked for Shuto clearing rubble. He now sleeps on a cardboard box in Sendai Station. He says he left after a dispute over wages, one of several he has had with construction firms, including two handling decontamination jobs. Nishiyama's first employer in Sendai offered him $90 a day for his first job clearing tsunami debris. But he was made to pay as much as $50 a day for food and lodging. He also was not paid on the days he was unable to work. On those days, though, he would still be charged for room and board. He decided he was better off living on the street than going into debt. "We're an easy target for recruiters," Nishiyama said. "We turn up here with all our bags, wheeling them around and we're easy to spot. They say to us, are you looking for work? Are you hungry? And if we haven't eaten, they offer to find us a job." (Reporting by Mari Saito and Antoni Slodkowski, additional reporting by Elena Johansson, Michio Kohno, Yoko Matsudaira, Fumika Inoue, Ruairidh Villar, Sophie Knight; writing by Kevin Krolicki; editing by Bill Tarrant)
Even with social distancing there was plenty of humour, glamour and surprises at the virtual event.
- The Telegraph
When the Duke of Cambridge was introduced to Matt Smith, the actor who would play his grandfather in The Crown, at a charity event a few years ago, he was asked if he had any advice. “Just one word,” came the reply. “Legend.” The Duke of Edinburgh was a huge presence in Prince William’s life, playing a critical role as mentor, role model and sounding board. Both of similar temperaments, pragmatic, plain speaking and quick witted, the Duke saw a lot of himself in his grandson. He is thought to have felt assured that the institution of the monarchy, to which he had dedicated almost his entire adult life, was in safe hands. From their adoration of Africa to their environmental interests, their love of sailing, horses and polo, the two men shared many common interests. Both were pilots and passionate about shooting and land management. Their relationship was strengthened following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, when the Duke immediately took on the role of staunch defender.
- The Daily Beast
Bill Clark/GettyEach night at precisely 8 p.m., in the Mule Mountains of Arizona and the quirky town of Bisbee, a joyful fracas echoes across the steep walls of Tombstone Canyon. Some howl, some bark, some yip, like scattered coyotes caterwauling in the desert night.At the start of the pandemic, this ritual was like many across the country, fashioned as a vocal appreciation of frontline health-care workers risking their lives to care for the tens of thousands of people battling COVID-19 in health clinics and hospitals.Now, it feels like something else. A release. A clearing of the cobwebs that have for the past year cluttered the imaginations and inclinations of shut-ins everywhere. A roaring call to reawaken the lively spirit that courses through the veins of this old mining town, back to bustling outdoor dining and racing up and down the staircases that snake from one funky little tucked in house to the next, back to packed bars and roof-shaking rowdy live music. The spirit of these nightly calls, now, is “We’re back.” Or maybe, “We’re still here.”Thanks in part to a prevalent laissez-faire attitude from citizens and government officials alike, Arizona has been rocked by the pandemic, often finding itself in the dubious category of states with the highest rate of transmission, cases per capita, and deaths. In mid-January, the state led the world in average new confirmed COVID-19 cases per capita.When I flew into Phoenix in early November for a quick stay at the charming Hermosa Inn, it was with plenty of trepidation, despite the consistency of mask-wearing and careful restaurant and hotel policies I saw throughout Maricopa County. When I returned for a road trip across the state this month, the vibe had clearly shifted, the tension I could once read in the eyes of masked service workers markedly softer.I barreled straight through Las Vegas and into Phoenix, stopping for a few nights at dispersed camping spots near mountain bike trailheads before heading on for a few nights in hip Tucson and then south to Bisbee, near the Mexican border. As a glimpse at the near-term future of post-pandemic travel, Arizona is a fascinating petri dish, a state with ample Trump supporters and COVID deniers but newly outnumbered by progressive city dwellers who helped flip the state from red to blue in the 2020 election. While travelers were far less likely to don masks in small towns like Bisbee and far more likely to do so in the capital the tone throughout has clearly morphed, from wariness to a refreshing brand of ease.Small towns were consistently the most relaxed, both in the fall and on this trip. Maybe half the travelers I saw strolling the shops of Bisbee were maskless, a number much lower than in Phoenix and Tucson, where even as new case counts dropped from a seven-day average in January that soared above 10,000 to just 630 at the beginning of April, most travelers and nearly all service workers were vigilant.Last fall, restaurant servers and hotel clerks had unmistakeable looks on their faces as they served tapas and tacos on outdoor patios, looks that said “I get to either risk my life to serve people food or lose my job.” On this trip, the cheeriness had returned, even as the masks remained.I stayed at several hotels across the state, both in November and March. In November, the Hermosa Inn, nestled into the Camelback Mountains north of Phoenix, was at maybe half its peak occupancy, by the looks of it. Now, the hotel is selling out night after night, says Director of Guest Experience Pam Swartz, with guests arriving from across the country.On my first night in Bisbee, I had dinner at Contessa’s Cantina, but only after a 20-minute wait. At gas stations throughout the state, patrons and clerks alike milled about maskless, a circumstance that would have driven me straight out of the store last year but that induced little more than an eye roll this spring. On hiking trails, where I’ve regularly seen people wear masks throughout the pandemic, trekkers were far more likely to breathe free, and I caught no glares for blazing by on a mountain bike with my own face unsheathed.At other hotels, people wore masks at all of them and shared elevators at none of them, but pools were open, mask-free, and packed. My girlfriend recounted walking into a bathroom at the JW Marriott Camelback Inn in Scottsdale to discover a woman at the sink, whose mask had fallen beneath her nose. She apologized, adding “clearly, my body is done with this,” meaning the mask, or the pandemic, or all of it.A couple nights later, a curious bellhop at the Omni Montelucia, his mask unapologetically below his nose, nearly climbed into my newly built camper van and peppered me with questions about what it was like to live in it, petting my exuberant pup before giving us a ride in a golf cart to the room. We were outside, so I didn’t mind the protocol slip. Masks had begun to feel obligatory and unnecessary, even though I know they’re not actually either. But this is how the new normal is playing out: we’re abiding by the rules, but less because we’re terrified and more because we’ve become accustomed to them, because we know the social order demands it, and because it’s the right thing to do.The last time I entered a public sauna was back in my hometown of Portland in March. The pandemic was new and real and scary but the yoga studio and spa I’d bought a monthlong membership to had enacted careful disinfecting protocols and I felt if I entered the space, I’d be alone and safe. What I wasn’t was welcome. The front desk clerk was clearly confused and probably terrified that I was selfish enough to visit a spa at the onset of a viral outbreak we didn’t know much about at the time, other than it was killing people at a rapid pace.Her concern wasn’t lost on me, and though I did go on a few short trips mostly by road and mostly by myself in the coming year, I did so as carefully as I could, and with people risking their lives to serve me in mind. I secured a COVID test and traveled to Hawaii in November, following to the letter the protocols outlined by local and state lawmakers to safely but cautiously reopen tourism, even as across the country covid counts were surging and traveling around the holidays was roundly shamed. My logic for the trip to Hawaii was that I’d arrive with a negative test result in hand, I’d be moving about in a state with the lowest case count in the nation, and I’d be supporting businesses that desperately needed my money.I felt welcomed in Hawaii, but nervously. No one really knew then whether even the most careful reopening of a state (that took the pandemic more seriously than any other) would be a sound idea. I was part of an experiment, and the tension I felt as a traveler was palpable.Now, I don’t feel that tension at all. That’s not to say travel is safe, even now that I’m halfway vaccinated. Cases in several states across the U.S. are surging, driven largely by a COVID variant my vaccine might or might not protect against. The CDC has issued confusing maxims in recent days about whether it’s OK to travel once you have a vaccine, and there are plenty of reasons to stay home, or at least stay off of airplanes.Barring another significant surge in cases that leads to overwhelmed hospitals and overwhelming deaths, that’s unlikely. Hotels across the country saw their highest occupancy rates since the start of the pandemic, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts CEO Geoff Ballotti said on CNBC. Spring break in Arizona was officially canceled at most colleges and universities, to avoid the mayhem that took place in locales like Miami. Events, like baseball spring training and festivals that typically lure visitors to the state, aren’t happening. But still, says Swartz, people are coming in droves. “They’re golfing, dining out, the restaurants in town are booming,” she said. Swartz went to dinner at a Scottsdale restaurant, Grassroots, for her birthday on Tuesday. Every table was full.Mandy Heflin’s fresh seafood business, Chula Seafood, survived the pandemic in part because the restaurant’s counter-service model made the transition to take-out only seamless. Now, her challenge isn’t finding customers; it’s finding employees willing to work. “There’s just no one coming in,” she said. “We’re putting ads out that normally would lead to five or 10 applicants per ad. Now it’s nothing.”Arizona is in its high season now, pleasantly warm and not yet searing to its infamous 115-degree summer temperatures. If, as officials are now predicting, a fourth surge in COVID cases is coming, that might coincide with the natural slowdown in summer tourist traffic, as the lah-dee-dah feeling I experienced last month melts away in the heat.If nothing else, I hope the nightly howls of Bisbee don’t abate anytime soon.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.
- The Week
Sunday's cyberattack on Iran's underground Natanz uranium enrichment facility, widely believed to be the work of Israel, has added another layer of uncertainty over the already delicate indirect talks between Iran and the U.S. on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday threatened retaliation against Israel and "any power with knowledge" of the sabotage, but he said Iran will take part in scheduled Wednesday negotiations in Vienna, conducted through European and other parties to the nuclear accord. Israel, whose government strongly opposed the 2015 deal and has criticized President Biden's efforts to resurrect it, has neither publicly denied or claimed responsibility for the cyberattack, which temporarily set back Iran's ability to enrich uranium at the facility. But Israeli media has heavily suggested the country is behind the sabotage, and U.S. and Israeli officials confirmed to The New York Times that Israel at least played a role. The Biden administration has neither condemned nor celebrated the Natanz attack. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday "the U.S. was not involved in any manner" and has "nothing to add on speculation about the causes or the impacts," adding, "Our focus is on the diplomatic path forward." It isn't clear if the U.S. was warned about the sabotage beforehand or whether Israel timed the attack to coincide with a visit to Israel by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Austin did not mention Iran at a news conference Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The talks to restart the agreement, which former President Donald Trump pulled out from in 2018, are at an early stage, and the U.S. and Iran don't agree about which U.S. sanctions would be lifted and under what conditions; Iran wants them lifted before it returns to compliance with the nuclear deal while the U.S. sees Iran's compliance as a precondition. At this point, both sides are committed to the negotiations. Israel wants "to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions," Zarif said. "We will not fall into their trap. ... We will not allow this act of sabotage to affect the nuclear talks." More stories from theweek.comTrump finally jumps the shark7 brutally funny cartoons about Mitch McConnell's corporate hypocrisyBiden gets positive GOP reviews after infrastructure meeting, a hard no on corporate tax hike
Concerts, sporting events and conventions are returning, pushing hotel bookings up since the darkest days of the pandemic, officials reported to Polk County supervisors last week.Hundreds of metro area events were canceled during the pandemic, an economic hit of more than $317 million, Greg Edwards, CEO of the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau said.Why it matters: Both jobs and our overall quality of life depend on a successful recovery — but we're not out of the woods just yet.Stay on top of the latest market trends and economic insights with Axios Markets. Subscribe for freeBusiness travel, a key segment of the hotel industry, could take more than a year to recover, Edwards said.Social distancing and virtual attendance are still components of most events, so crowds are generally still smaller, Chris Connolly, general manager of the Iowa Events Center added.A few DSM comeback highlights noted by Connolly and Edwards:The Iowa State Poolplayers Tournament 8 & 9ball championships were held over the weekend, attracting roughly 1,000 people.Monster Jam, Drake Relays and the Iowa FFA Leadership Conference are coming later this month. The Dew Tour skateboarding competition and the Iowa Barnstormers are on deck for May, while the Ironman triathlon is coming in June.Eric Church will perform in February. Michael Bublé and Elton John are expected to reschedule pandemic-delayed concerts for late 2021 or early 2022.The bottom line: "A year ago it was doom and gloom, so this is awesome news," said Polk County supervisor Angela Connolly.This story first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.Sign up here.Like this article? Get more from Axios and subscribe to Axios Markets for free.
- Associated Press
A 28-year-old man has been charged in the fatal shooting of one person and the wounding of three more at a convenience store in a small southern Missouri town. Christopher Lindley of Thayer, Missouri, was charged with first-degree murder and criminal action in the shooting at the Snappy Mart store in Koshkonong, the Missouri State Highway Patrol said in a news release late Saturday. Authorities said Lindley walked into the convenience store around 5:15 a.m. Saturday and started firing with a handgun.
- Business Insider
Biden meets with bipartisan group on $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, saying he's open to negotiate
Biden insisted the meeting with both Republican and Democratic lawmakers wasn't just "window dressing" and that he's willing to talk size and scope.
- Kansas City Star
Gov. Mike Parson has said he won’t require vaccines to travel in Missouri but said he was “fine with” private sector vaccine requirements.
- Architectural Digest
These fantastical homes range from a 64,000-acre Texas ranch to an oceanside estate in the south of France Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest
- The Daily Beast
Scott McIntyre/GettyWhen Major League Baseball relocated the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver in response to Georgia’s new voting law, Fox News was quick to react. “Is the White House concerned that Major League baseball is moving their All-Star Game to Colorado, where voting regulations are very similar to Georgia?” Fox News reporter Peter Doocy asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki last week.The network also featured Brian Kemp, governor of Georgia and former secretary of state there, claiming that it was “hypocritical” to move the game to Colorado, which, after all, has only half the number of early voting days and more strenuous ID requirements than those the new Georgia law has enacted. In a Republican National Lawyers Association Q&A this week, Kemp said the battle over the law—which pits Georgia-based companies and voting-rights activists against the state’s Republicans—represented the “fight of our lives” against “cancel culture.”All of this misses the point. It is futile to attempt an apples-to-apples comparison of one state’s voting policies to another’s, because there are wide variations in local voting cultures, demographics, geographies, and legal idiosyncrasies. Comparing Georgia’s voting requirements to Colorado’s without this context is like asking why you can play Beethoven on a piano but not a tambourine, as both happen to be instruments.Whoopi Goldberg Cuts Off Meghan McCain’s MLB Georgia Rant: ‘Are You Done?’For example, although it is factually true that Georgia has double the number of early voting days as Colorado, it’s important to acknowledge that most Georgians vote in person while almost no Coloradans do. To say that this is an advantage over Colorado is to fundamentally misunderstand how Coloradans vote. And the proof is in the numbers: Turnout in 2020 was 10 percentage points higher in Colorado than it was in Georgia. It’s unpersuasive to claim that your state is the same as another state when the results are so different, akin to two stores with the exact same security policies but with far different rates of theft because, say, one store is in a mall and the other is in an outdoor market.These misleading comparisons between states show the need for a smarter measuring stick. We should compare states to themselves. Would this bill make voting in this state harder to access than the current rules do? That standard would enable appropriate scrutiny of states that choose to make their own laws worse, negating the need for red-state-blue-state pissing matches, and instead holding the line and demanding states don’t undo their own good work.“If we want to talk about comparing one state to comparing the other, let’s see what trajectory they’re on,” Bob Brandon, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Fair Elections Center, recently told NBC News. Similarly, Justin Levitt, law professor at Loyola Law School at Loyola Marymount University in California, rejected state-by-state comparisons. Having an outdated law on the books is a lot different from “looking back on that law, in the current context, and saying, ‘Yeah, we need one of those,’” he said. “‘Somebody else screwed up’ is not an excuse for screwing up. That’s the inane part about whatabout-ism.”But that whatabout-ism is how politicians and the media have been focusing their attention. They are distracted by essentially meaningless rankings of states’ “ease of access,” pulled from data that is not uniformly collected or may be entirely based on one activism group’s interpretation of the laws as expansive or restrictive—hardly scientific comparisons. Today, conservative media outlets superficially compare the Georgia law to other states with no context. Not a single one has asked, “Does this make it easier for the exact same people in the same state to vote in the way they just did?” The restrictions of the new law may not affect turnout, but they won’t make voting easier or elections better either. It is far simpler, and more logical, to question whether a state is improving or worsening its own standards, and in light of what the standards have been in the immediate past.Take Kentucky. It is the only state with a Republican-controlled legislature that has passed bills so far this session to expand voting access. The state will now have three days of early voting, up from none, and firmer security and ease of access measures around absentee voting. It helps that the state has a governor with a “D” by his name, and also that Kentucky didn’t have to do much to make voting easier. As part of its response to the pandemic, Kentucky offered early and absentee voting for the first time. Once voters realized what a hassle voting had been when they only had a single day to vote in person in the middle of the week, there was no turning back. The voters demanded it become law.Most Republican-controlled state legislatures are poised to do the opposite: Legislation has been introduced that would make laws materially worse for voters, all based on the lie that the election was compromised by fraud. The Georgia law, while it does expand early voting and is a far cry from the horrors of the original legislation, will still produce new barriers for Georgians compared with access in 2020. It gives the state far stricter controls over the counties, essentially makes dropboxes useless, and prevents elections officials from sending absentee-ballot applications out to voters proactively. It also allows partisan groups to challenge the eligibility of an infinite number of voters, with essentially no limitations.Conservatives have also found a carrier for their grievances in the idea that blue states with restrictive voter laws are ignored while red states that introduce the same laws have big baseball games ripped away from them. Connecticut has no early voting at all. Neither does Delaware, the home of President Joe Biden. New Jersey just adopted nine days, the fifth-shortest window in the country, and New York only has 10. Connecticut, Delaware, and New Jersey also have far more restrictive absentee-ballot requirements than almost every state, including those in the Republican South. So why, they ask, do the Republican states end up getting all the criticism?While as a Texan I have long harbored the same frustration—when I lived in New York, for example, I could only vote in in-person at my precinct on Election Day (the 10 early days were introduced last year), and in Texas I can vote for 15 days anywhere in the county—the argument is unproductive. With the latest round of voting legislation, blue states are moving far more rapidly toward modern standards while Republican states are aggressively attempting to roll back what little advantages they had over their bluer counterparts (assuming, of course, they ever really had them). Since I’ve left New York, it has adopted early voting and updated its absentee-ballot requirements. It has implemented ranked-choice voting and synchronized federal and state primary schedules.Meanwhile, my home state has gone rapidly in the other direction. As in Georgia and other Republican-led states, proposals in Texas would restrict access to some of its best voting policies by banning drive-through voting (implemented with great success by Harris County, home of Houston), limiting absentee ballots and reducing early voting. Even the most draconian of these laws will still allow voters more time to vote early than those in Delaware, Connecticut, and New Jersey—but that’s not much comfort to a Texan.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.
- Associated Press
Nearly a year after President Donald Trump ordered thousands of troops to leave Germany, capping a series of setbacks for U.S. relations with major allies, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin began an inaugural tour of Europe to shore up partnerships that are a cornerstone of the post-World War II order. Austin arrived in Berlin on Monday against the backdrop of a newly emerging crisis with Iran, which on Monday blamed Israel for a recent attack on its underground Natanz nuclear facility. Israel has not confirmed or denied involvement, but the attack nonetheless imperils ongoing talks in Europe over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal.
- Reuters Videos
State media showed on Sunday (April 11) the monarch and other members of the royal family laying wreaths at the memorial to the unknown soldier and tombs of royalty in the Raghdan palace in Amman.Hamza pledged allegiance to King Abdullah late on Monday following mediation by the royal family, two days after the military warned him over actions that it said were undermining Jordan’s security and stability.On Wednesday, in the first statement since the affair came to light, King Jordan said sedition had been quashed and Hamza was “under my care” with his family at his palace.The monarch said the crisis was "the most painful" because it came from both inside the royal family and outside it.Hamza's absence after he appeared in a video on April 3 saying he had been ordered to stay at home and accused the country's rulers of corruption and authoritarian rule led to speculation about his whereabouts.In announcing last week that the military had warned Hamza over his actions, the government said that Hamza had liaised with people linked to foreign parties seeking to destabilize Jordan and that he had been under investigation for some time.Hamza had been widely expected to succeed Abdullah as Jordan’s next king, until the monarch made his own son, Prince Hussein, heir instead in 2004, in line with family tradition.While Hamza and Abdullah have publicly buried the hatchet, the dramatic events of the last week exposed faultlines within a royal family that has helped shield Jordan from the turmoil that has consumed neighbouring Syria and Iraq.The rift within the monarchy has shaken the country's reputation as a stable country in a volatile region.
- The Telegraph
MPs and peers could personally finance a permanent memorial to Prince Philip on the parliamentary estate, with Conservative MPs rallying support for the proposal. One idea being discussed is for a memorial to be placed in the cavernous Westminster Hall, which dates back to the 11th century and is the oldest part of the estate. Another is for part of the Palace of Westminster to be renamed after the Duke, such as St Stephen's Entrance, which for many years was the arrival point for visitors. The early backing for a permanent memorial and one that is funded by parliamentarians reflects the high-esteem the Duke was held in by scores of MPs. It is understood Lindsay Hoyle, the House of Commons speaker, is open to proposals and will be monitoring the views of MPs over the coming weeks.
- The Week
Nomadland's Chloé Zhao on Sunday became only the second women — and first woman of color — to win the best director prize at the annual British Academy Film and Television Arts awards. The first woman to win the award was Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for The Hurt Locker. Nomadland won three additional awards, including best picture, best actress for Frances McDormand, and best cinematography. Nomadland follows a woman named Fern, played by McDormand, who travels across the United States taking different jobs to survive, meeting interesting characters along the way. While accepting her award virtually, Zhao — who also won the top prize Saturday at the Directors Guild of America Awards — thanked "the nomadic community who so generously welcomed us into their lives," adding, "How we treat our elders says a lot about who we are as a society, and we need to do better." Other winners included Promising Young Women for best British film; The Father's Anthony Hopkins for best actor; Judas and the Black Messiah's Daniel Kaluuya for best supporting actor; and Minari's Yuh-Jung Youn for best supporting actress. The ceremony opened with a tribute to Prince Philip, who died on Friday. He was the first president of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and his grandson Prince William is its current president. More stories from theweek.comTrump finally jumps the shark7 brutally funny cartoons about Mitch McConnell's corporate hypocrisyBiden gets positive GOP reviews after infrastructure meeting, a hard no on corporate tax hike
- Business Insider
And who's behind efforts to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
- Raleigh News and Observer
The Canes fell again Monday night, the second time in as many games Carolina has lost to Detroit.
A woman was told to put on a mask inside a Florida Walgreens. Instead she went on a racist and Islamophobic rant against other customers.
"We're proud we're Muslim and this is not going to change, we're not going to pick off our hijabs. We like it and I'm not scared," Nahla Ebeid, who uploaded the video to Facebook, said.
TikTok star Justine Paradise accuses YouTuber Jake Paul of sexual assault, says he did not ask for consent
TikTok personality Paradise, 24, accused Jake Paul of forcing her to perform oral sex on him, despite her saying "no" multiple times.
Beijing sends 25 military aircraft into Taiwan as the US warns against an 'increasingly aggressive' China.
- The Telegraph
Japan's government has approved a plan to release over one million tonnes of treated water from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Tuesday. The release is unlikely to begin for at least two years but has already sparked opposition from local fishing communities and concern in Beijing and Seoul. Japan's government argues that the release will be safe because the water has been processed to remove almost all radioactive elements and will be diluted. It has support from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which says the release is similar to processes for disposing of waste water from nuclear plants elsewhere in the world. "The Japanese government has compiled basic policies to release the processed water into the ocean, after ensuring the safety levels of the water... and while the government takes measures to prevent reputational damage," Mr Suga told reporters. Around 1.25 million tonnes of water has accumulated at the site of the nuclear plant, which was crippled after going into meltdown following a tsunami in 2011.