Netflix Releases Panama Papers Movie Despite Lawsuit

Netflix has released a movie based on the so-called Panama Papers despite an attempt by two lawyers to stop the streaming premiere.

“The Laundromat,” starring Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas and Meryl Streep, debuted Friday on Netflix after a limited release in theaters.

Two Panamanian lawyers, Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca, sued Netflix in federal court in Connecticut this week, saying the movie defamed them and could prejudice criminal cases against them. Netflix asked a judge to dismiss the suit but did not address the allegations.

The Panama Papers were more than 11 million documents leaked from the two lawyers’ firm that shed light on how the rich hide their money.

A judge ruled there was no valid reason to file the case in Connecticut and ordered it transferred to the Los Angeles-area federal court district.
 


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Cerebral Buttigieg’s Emotional Restraint Stands Out in Democratic Race

John McAnear, a 77-year-old Air Force veteran, stood in an audience of hundreds in suburban Des Moines with an oxygen tank at his side, wheezing as he implored Pete Buttigieg to protect the Department of Veterans Affairs. 
 
The Democratic presidential hopeful skipped any attempt to bond over their mutual military service. Instead, Buttigieg offered a list of proposals to fix the VA. 
 
Of the many ways the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is different from his better-known rivals, there is this: his ingrained emotional restraint in a show-all-tell-all era. 
 
“You don’t really get the warm fuzzies from him,” said Lisa Ann Spilman, a retired Air Force officer who attended Buttigieg’s event. “But I really like how intelligent and down-to-earth he is.” 

Personal connection
 
As Buttigieg, whose campaign appears better positioned organizationally in Iowa and financially overall than former Vice President Joe Biden’s, attempts to climb into the top tier of Democrats, voters will be taking a measure of him in all ways, including whether he can make the kind of personal connection they have come to expect, at least since Bill Clinton showed he could feel their pain. 
 
Buttigieg chafes at being labeled an emotionless technocrat, and his supporters cite his intellectual agility as his main draw, particularly against someone like President Donald Trump, whose strained relationship with the truth is so frequently on display.  

FILE – Pete Buttigieg speaks during a Democratic presidential candidates debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, Oct. 15, 2019.

In a candidate debate Tuesday, Buttigieg showed rare outward fire, pointedly challenging Senator Elizabeth Warren on her health care plan and former Representative Beto O’Rourke on gun control. “I don’t need lessons from you on courage, political or personal,” Buttigieg said to O’Rourke. 
 
“I don’t mind being a little professorial at times,” Buttigieg acknowledged in a conversation with reporters last month. He added, “Sometimes I think I’m misread because I’m laid back. I’m misread as being bloodless.” 
 
But to describe him as wooden or mechanical gets it wrong. Upbeat in his trademark white shirt with sleeves half-rolled, Buttigieg projects energy and youthful diligence. 
 
He’s not a fiery podium speaker like Senator Bernie Sanders. He isn’t given to big hugs or open self-reflection, like Biden and Warren. 
 
In interactions with voters, Buttigieg’s style is evolving. During a late-summer stop in southeast Iowa, he noted his mother-in-law “is alive because of the Affordable Care Act,” but he moved on without describing her illness or asking if his audience had similar experiences. 
 
It’s notable because Buttigieg is trying to frame his message around empathy in what he calls the nation’s “crisis of belonging.” 

Misfiring
 
And it does not always work. When the question turned to cancer at the Iowa State Fair, he said before discussing his plans, “Cancer took my father earlier this year, so this is personal,” skipping over any elaboration of the pillar Joe Buttigieg was to his only child. 
 
When the questioner noted her family’s loss, he said politely, “I’m sorry. So, we’re in the same boat,” and then turned to a discussion of research. 
 
Buttigieg’s mother, Anne Montgomery, said that in boyhood her son was fun, curious, literate and multitalented but “a reserved person.” 
 
“It’s been a part of his life for a long time,” she said in an Associated Press interview. 
 
What Buttigieg suggests is his tendency to “compartmentalize” has been a liability for some other candidates, most notably for the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, Michael Dukakis.  

FILE – Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks with local residents at the Hawkeye Area Labor Council Labor Day Picnic, Sept. 2, 2019, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

He offered an almost programmatic answer when asked during a nationally televised debate if he would support the death penalty if his wife were raped and murdered. 
 
Dukakis, who lost in a landslide, acknowledges today that he “botched it” and that his answer fed the narrative that the pragmatic, policy-oriented Massachusetts governor was emotionless. 
 
Buttigieg, Dukakis told the AP, is warm and thoughtful, “but he also happens to be very, very bright, and that, I think, is the biggest part of his appeal.” Dukakis has endorsed his home state senator, Warren. 
 
“He’s not a typical politician,” said Kelsie Goodman, an associate principal for a Des Moines area high school who first saw Buttigieg at an event last month. “And he’s an intellectual judo master.” 
 
As the campaign progresses, there are signs Buttigieg is becoming more comfortable opening up. 
 
At an outdoor event at Des Moines’ Theodore Roosevelt High School last Saturday, he ignited laughter and cheers for his answer to a question about how he would approach debating Trump. 
 
“We know what he’s going to do, and it just doesn’t get to me. Look, I can deal with bullies. I’m gay and I grew up in Indiana. I’ll be fine,” he deadpanned. 

Concern for husband
 
In a rare personal revelation, he told reporters on a bus ride across northern Iowa that he dreaded the thought of his husband, Chasten, being subjected to the cruelties of modern politics. 
 
“Another agonizing feeling is to watch that happening to someone you love,” he said. “At least if it’s happening to me, I can go out there and fight back.” 
 
Still, what Buttigieg’s most vocal advocates praise as his coolness so far seems to be doing little to dampen views of him in Iowa, where he has invested heavily in time and money in hopes of a breakthrough finish. In a September CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll, 69% of likely Iowa caucus participants said they viewed Buttigieg favorably, second only to Warren. 
 
Where Buttigieg clearly connects personally is along the rope line with supporters and when the merely curious meet him after he leaves the stage. 
 

FILE – Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg meets with people at a campaign event Aug. 15, 2019, in Fairfield, Iowa.

In these moments, he has met people who describe their own stories of stepping out of the shadows, as Buttigieg did coming out as a gay man in 2015. Buttigieg regularly mentions Iowa teenager Bridgette Bissell, who described the courage she took from meeting him to announce she was autistic. 
 
Similar moments, Buttigieg said, prompted him to build his campaign around repairing Americans’ sense of connectedness. 
 
In Waterloo recently, local organizer Caitlin Reedy introduced Buttigieg to hundreds at a riverside rally, explaining that she was drawn to him by having experienced the uneasiness of sharing her diagnosis with diabetes. 

Picturing ‘unification’
 
Leaning forward in his chair on the bus the next day, Buttigieg said the campaign was teaching him how people — feeling left out racially, ethnically, culturally, economically — yearn to connect. 
 
“Where it comes from is going through the process of understanding that you’re different,” he said, “and then understanding that that’s part of what you have to offer.” 
 
“Join me in picturing that kind of presidency,” he told more than 600 in Waterloo, “not for the glorification of the president, but for the unification of the people.” 


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With Warren’s Rise, Biden Draws Dems’ Anxiety About 2020 Bid

Joe Biden is confronting growing anxiety among would-be allies in the Democratic establishment about his ability to win the presidential nomination following underwhelming debate performances, lagging fundraising and withering attacks from rivals in his own party and from President Donald Trump.

The former vice president’s bank account is better suited for a city council race than a presidential election, warns Terry McAuliffe, a former Virginia governor and top Democratic fundraiser. 

Democratic donor Robert Zimmerman describes group “therapy sessions” with some party financiers haranguing the direction of the race. And in New Hampshire, state House Speaker Steve Shurtleff is leaning toward backing Biden, but says “people wish he’d be a little more forceful.”

Their concern is heightened by the rise of Elizabeth Warren, a progressive long viewed by current and former elected officials, big donors and veteran strategists as too liberal to beat Trump in the general election. Warren and Biden are essentially tied at the top of the race with the rest of the field lagging behind.

With first votes in the Democratic primary fast approaching, the new dynamic is sparking widespread frustration among establishment Democrats who have increasingly begun to speak out about the direction of the 2020 contest as they implore Democratic donors sitting on millions of dollars to get off the sidelines to bolster Biden’s candidacy.

“Every dinner party and cocktail party becomes a therapy session,” said Zimmerman, a member of the Democratic National Committee based in New York.

West Coast alarms

The same alarms are going off on the West Coast.

“Why are they are not being more supportive of the vice president, who is a centrist?” said Michael S. Smith, a major Democratic donor and Biden supporter in Los Angeles. “If you’re worried about a flood, don’t you start piling up sandbags? I don’t understand the lack of support.”

Others direct their concerns at Biden.

McAuliffe, long a top fundraiser for the Clintons, seized on Biden’s fundraising and his pace of spending to raise questions about the campaign. In an interview, he said it might be time to fire some campaign consultants.

“I don’t think anybody likes to read about $1 million spent on private jets,” McAuliffe said, referring to Biden’s preferred mode of travel. “If I were advising the vice president I’d say, `Fly commercial, get a bag of peanuts or pretzels, go up and down the aisle handing them out. It’ll do wonders for you.’”

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell was more subtle, praising Biden as the safest political bet against Trump and the best potential president among Democrats. But he suggested the candidate’s performance so far falls short in some areas.

“I hear concerns about gaffes on this and that” and the campaign trajectory, Rendell said, recalling donor calls he’s made on Biden’s behalf. “Donors are always worried in any campaign,” Rendell quipped, but said he nonetheless must spend time “reassuring them.”

Nervous supporters

The former governor invokes the threat of Warren as the nominee to bolster Biden to nervous supporters.

“We know Joe Biden can win Pennsylvania,” Rendell tells prospective donors. “If Elizabeth is the nominee, we have to fight tooth-and-nail for every last vote.”

Despite the worries, Biden’s support among primary voters shows no sign of cratering — even with Trump and his allies trying to dig up dirt on Biden’s son’s work in Ukraine. While Warren has gained on Biden in many polls and fundraising, the former vice president has remained roughly steady in polls of national Democratic voters.

And perhaps most importantly, he is still the strong favorite among black voters whose support is decisive in a Democratic primary.

Still, anxious donors, party officials and strategists see the need for a stronger national organization. That means competing more aggressively with Warren’s ground game in the four early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, while building out an expansive operation for the Super Tuesday calendar and other states that follow.

Risky  approach

Biden’s strategy leans heavily on that kind of sustainable, long-term campaign, because his coalition is anchored by non-white voters and white moderates who have much stronger sway in states that come after the initial Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. His campaign acknowledges as much, with aides insisting that Biden doesn’t have to win either of the first two states to win the nomination.

But there’s considerable risk in that approach, with a worst-case scenario for Biden coming if he falls short of expectations in Iowa and New Hampshire, then doesn’t have enough money to counter negative perceptions with his own advertising and outreach, setting him up to lose support from nonwhite voters and white moderates that he’d need in Nevada, South Carolina and diverse Super Tuesday states.

“A lot of people are with Biden because they think he can win. He’s got to make people continue to believe that,” said Carol Fowler, a former South Carolina party chairwoman who remains uncommitted. Holding that “soft” support would become harder if another candidate, particularly one of the female candidates, gathers momentum ahead of South Carolina, Fowler argued.

Weak fundraising

Up in New Hampshire, which will host the nation’s first presidential primary in February, House Speaker Shurtleff is concerned about Biden’s weak fundraising performance and stagnant polling.

“Nothing’s changed,” said Shurtleff, who describes himself as a centrist leaning toward Biden.  

Biden’s most recent disclosures reveal that he spent about $2 million more than the $15 million he took in over the last three months and has a massive overhead, including a staff payroll that topped $4.5 million — plus the private jet travel that rankled some donors. He reported $9 million in the bank at the end of September compared to Bernie Sanders’ $33.7 million, Warren’s $25.7 million and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s $23.4 million.

“You got $9 million? You could be running a city council race,” an incredulous McAuliffe said of Biden’s relatively weak fundraising. “That has to be fixed.”

‘Most Electable’

Still, some Democrats still see a Biden upside in the dynamics.

“People still view Biden as the most electable,” said Robert Wolf, a top donor for President Barack Obama and former chairman and CEO of UBS Americas, pointing to Warren and Sanders supporting a single-payer health insurance overhaul that would eliminate private coverage. “That makes me nervous,” Wolf said.

John Morgan, a Florida attorney who has helped Biden raise almost $2 million for his presidential bid, sees such nervousness stoking Biden’s fourth-quarter money collections. But he insisted that Biden would have plenty of money for the first four nominating contests.

“People are starting to wake up,” he said.


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Russian Journalist Briefly Detained in Iran Says Іt Punished Her for Negative News

A Russian journalist who was detained for a week during a private visit to Iran this month says she believes her detention was intended to punish her for her Iran-related journalism.
 
Yulia Yuzik has worked as a reporter for Russia’s Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper and Russky Newsweek, a former publication that was the Russian version of U.S. magazine Newsweek. She also has authored two books based on her investigative journalism since 2003, including Brides of Allah about female suicide bombers and Requiem For Beslan about her interviews with survivors of the 2004 Beslan school massacre in Russia’s North Ossetia.
 
In a series of interviews since she returned to Moscow from Iran on Oct.10, Yuzik has accused Iranian authorities of luring her to the country to retaliate against her for negative Iran-related news and analysis that she had posted to her Facebook page. The interviews appeared on VOA’s Russian Service, VOA’s sister networks RFE/RL and Radio Farda, and Russia’s MK newspaper.
 
“I think my whole story of being guided into Iran was a planned operation, but anyone behind that decision did not think that my arrest would produce such a noise,” Yuzik told Radio Farda, referring to Russian diplomatic protests that led to her release. Those protests included Russian foreign ministry statements calling on Iran to grant consular access to Yuzik and quickly resolve her case.
 
Yuzik, a mother of four who previously lived and worked as a journalist in Iran, arrived in Tehran on Sept. 29 on what she said was a private trip at the invitation of her former boss at the Iranian state-run network PressTV. Yuzik said she had worked for Bahram Hanlar, the head of PressTV’s IranToday program, for several months in 2017 before returning to Russia.
 
She said Hanlar, a man she had trusted, invited her back to the Iranian capital to clear up “misunderstandings” from an October 2018 visit that had ended unpleasantly, with authorities at Tehran’s airport delaying her departure for almost a day as they questioned her and searched her belongings. She said the security personnel found nothing wrong and apologized for the hassle.
 
Yuzik said she paid for and was granted a visa on her arrival in Tehran last month, but was stopped at a customs checkpoint and had her passport taken away for what authorities said were “technical reasons.” She said  security personnel refused to let her return immediately to Russia, while Hanlar, who had arrived at the airport to meet her, also refused to escort her from the airport to the Russian Embassy in Tehran, at which point she felt that she was in a “hostage” situation.
 
She said Hanlar, who insisted on accompanying her from the airport, took her to a hotel and the next day to an hours-long interrogation by Iranian agents, while repeatedly assuring her that she would get her passport back shortly. She said her former boss also took her souvenir shopping in Tehran on Oct. 1, the second full day of her visit, before security agents entered her hotel room and arrested her the next day.
 
Yuzik said she had communicated privately with her mother in Russia about her predicament in the two days before her arrest but did not say anything publicly about her concerns for fear of making the situation worse. She said she later realized that her public silence was a mistake.
 
After being detained at her hotel, Yuzik said she was taken blindfolded to a prison and a courtroom in unknown locations, where authorities accused her of being a spy for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. She said they demanded that she confess to espionage but provided no evidence of wrongdoing besides telling her that her last name “Yuzik” sounded like the word for “Jewish” in Farsi, which it does.
 
‘Every day turned into hell’

In her media interviews, Yuzik said she is neither Jewish nor Israeli and never worked for Israeli intelligence. She said she told that to her interrogators, who warned her that she could face the death penalty for spying.  
 
“Every day (in custody) turned into hell. They psychologically toyed with me,” Yuzik told VOA Russian. “The interrogations were sophisticated – they scare you to death and then show your passport and say, if you give us information now, we don’t need to keep you anymore, you’ll go home, and we will buy you a (plane) ticket today. And so it went on, day after day. They made me hysterical,” she said.
 
Despite her mental anguish, Yuzik said she was not physically abused or harmed in prison.
 
Yuzik said she suspected that her interrogators, who had seized and accessed her phone, were angered by her recent Facebook postings about Iran and Israel-related news developments. She cited one particular post in April, when she reported claims by Iranian opposition activists that Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps General Ali Nasiri had defected and fled the country.
 
The IRGC denied those claims, while announcing Nasiri had been reassigned from his position as head of an IRGC “protection” unit that oversees security for senior Iranian officials.
 
“I was one of the first in Russia to write that the head of Iranian counterintelligence fled either to Israel or to America,” Yuzik told RFE/RL, referring to Nasiri. “When I ended up in this (prison) cell, I started thinking that perhaps he hadn’t fled, maybe it was all some kind of propaganda fabrication … (and) perhaps they were seeking revenge by accusing me of working for Israel.”
 
Yuzik said she believed her Iranian interrogators thought they could get away with detaining her because they knew she was a Russian opposition figure whom they assumed Russia’s government would be unwilling to help. She had staged an unsuccessful run for a parliamentary seat in 2016 with a Russian opposition party.
 
During Yuzik’s detention, Russia’s foreign ministry said it had summoned Iran’s ambassador to Moscow to seek “clarifications” over her arrest and to ensure that her rights were respected.
 
“I’m sure the decision (to intervene in my case) was made at the highest level, and maybe because of good relations with Russia, Iran agreed to do something it usually doesn’t,” Yuzik said to Radio Farda. She said Iranian authorities released her on Oct. 9, taking her blindfolded from prison to Tehran’s airport, where a Russian diplomat met her before she boarded a flight home. Iran has jailed other foreigners accused of security offenses for years.

In an Oct. 10 Facebook post (her Facebook account currently appears to be inactive) after she arrived back in Moscow, Yuzik specifically thanked Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for working toward her release.
 
In a radio interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda on the same day, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova declined to discuss the steps taken by Russia to secure Yuzik’s release. “The fact that she is free is all that is important to us,” Zakharova said.
 
Never going back

In her media interviews, Yuzik vowed never to return to Iran. She said she may have been naive in believing that the love she developed toward the country by visiting multiple times in recent years would be reciprocated by her Iranian hosts.
 
Iranian officials have not commented on Yuzik’s case since her post-release interviews were published. While she was in detention, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said she had been arrested for allegedly violating visa rules rather than for engaging in espionage.
 
Media rights groups have not commented on Yuzik’s allegation that her detention was intended to punish her for posting negative news about Iran online.

⚠️ Journalist #YuliaYuzik has been freed and is on her way back to Moscow. We welcome her release and call on Iranian authorities to clarify the reasons for the arrest #PressFreedom@RujNewshttps://t.co/X7jQUmGjWQ

— IFJ (@IFJGlobal) October 10, 2019

Prior to the publication of Yuzik’s interviews, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists welcomed her release and called on Iranian authorities to “clarify” the reasons for her arrest.
 
The Washington-based Committee to Protect Journalists told VOA Persian that it determined Yuzik’s arrest was “not directly connected to her journalism” and does not fall under CPJ’s mandate.
 
The Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) had issued a call for Yuzik’s release on Oct. 8, a day before she was set free. But RSF did not respond to a VOA Persian request for comment about her allegation that Iran detained her because of her journalistic activities online.
 
 This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service.

 


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USS Constitution Celebrates Birthday with Boston Harbor Tour

The USS Constitution has sailed in Boston Harbor to celebrate its 222nd birthday and the U.S. Navy’s birthday.

The ship left Charlestown Navy Yard Friday morning and headed to Fort Independence on Castle Island to fire a 21-gun salute.

The event celebrates the birthday of Old Ironsides, the world’s oldest commissioned warship still afloat, and the Navy’s 244th birthday.

Cmdr. Nathaniel Shick, the Constitution’s commanding officer, says the ship has served the country with distinction and he’s honored to celebrate its legacy.

On its return back to the yard, the ship was scheduled to fire another salute as it passed Coast Guard Sector Boston, the former site of the shipyard where the Constitution was built and launched in October 1797.

Free public tours resume Friday afternoon.
 


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UN: Afghan Civilian Casualties Reach Record High

A United Nations mission in Afghanistan said more civilians have been killed or injured in the past quarter than in any three-month period in the last decade.

A report released Thursday said the 1,174 civilian deaths and 3,139 injuries in the third quarter of this year marked a 42% increase compared with the same period last year.

 In the previous quarter, 785 civilians were killed and 1,254 were wounded.

The latest figures brings to more than 8,000 the number of casualties in the first nine months of 2019. The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said most of those were caused buy anti-government insurgents.

The report said women and children accounted for more than 41% of casualties this month, with 631 children being killed and 1,830 injured.

“The harm caused to civilians by the fighting in Afghanistan signals the importance of peace talks leading to a cease-fire and a permanent political settlement to the conflict; there is no other way forward,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan. “Civilian casualties are totally unacceptable, especially in the context of the widespread recognition that there can be no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.”
 


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Does ‘Pink Tax’ Force Women to Pay More than Men?

Not only do women already earn 82 cents for every dollar a man makes, but they also pay more for personal products and services like razors, shampoo, haircuts and clothes.

This so-called “pink tax” follows a woman from the cradle to the grave, over her entire life span, according to the research, including a 2015 report from the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA).

The New York City DCA analyzed almost 800 items in 35 product categories and found that items for female consumers cost more than products for men across 30 of those categories.

Overall, women’s products cost 7% more than similar products for men. Women pay more than men for comparable personal care products 56% of the time.

Image from “From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of being a Female Consumer” study conducted by New York City Department of Consumer Affairs.

The report found women pay: 

 — 7%  more for toys and accessories  

—  4%  more for children’s clothing

—  8% more for adult clothing 

—  13% more for personal care

—  8% more for senior/home health care products

Baby clothes specifically for girls cost more than clothes for boys. Girls’ shirts can cost up to 13% more than boys’ clothes. Toys marketed to girls cost up to 11% more than toys for boys, even when it’s the exact same item in different colors.

“I have no doubt that it’s real,” says Surina Khan, CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California. “We just have to go to any store, and you can see that, let’s say, a pink razor blade versus a blue one that men use, the pink one costs more. Haircuts cost more. Women’s clothing cost more. It’s definitely present and part of our reality.”

It even costs more for women to get old.

The report found that braces and supports for women cost 15% more; canes cost 12% more; and personal urinals 21% more for female senior citizens. 

At a Washington-area store on Oct. 17, 2019, comparable adult diapers are the same price except that the women’s packet contains one less diaper than the men’s packet.

The price differences suggest women pay a yearly “gender tax” of about $1,351, despite buying the same products and services as men.

“I absolutely think it’s gender discrimination,” Khan says. “Some people will say that it’s more expensive to cut women’s hair, but that is clear gender discrimination, because really it depends on whether you have long hair or short hair, about the amount of time that it takes to cut your hair. Many women have short hair. They shouldn’t have to pay more than a man for a short haircut.”

The National Retail Federation, which calls itself the world’s largest retail trade association, declined to comment for this article. However, Steven Horwitz, a professor of economics at Ball State University, says the price differences are similar to discounts for senior citizens. 

“Senior citizens aren’t as fussy about when they see the movie, but they are fussier about what price they’re willing to pay for it, so we give them discounts,” Horwitz says. “Sellers engage in this behavior all the time. What bothers us about this one is that the way they’re dividing up groups is by gender.”

At a Washington-area store on Oct. 17, 2019, a 2.7 oz. bottle of men’s deodorant cost 20 cents less than a comparable women’s deodorant in a smaller 2.6 oz. size.

Horwitz also says the real problem is that girls and women are socialized to want the pink items.

“There is no reason why women shouldn’t be able to walk into the drugstore and buy the men’s razors. Right?” he says. “And if they did, and if they were clear that they didn’t care, there wouldn’t be a more expensive women’s version.”

Congress is making a move to end the pink tax. In April, Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, and Republican Congressman Tom Reed of New York, introduced a bipartisan bill with 50 co-sponsors. The Pink Tax Repeal Act would require that comparable products marketed toward men and women be priced equally. 

“I think that if you’re charging women more and people are paying it, then there’s motivation to do that. But it’s discriminatory, and it needs to stop,” Khan says. “It has a cumulative effect over our lifetime because if we’re paying more for products, and earning and owning less, then it’s basically contributing to gender inequality.”


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Oil Washes Up on Tourist Beaches in ‘Brazilian Caribbean’

Crude oil contaminating the northeastern coast of Brazil has reached the town of Maragogi, one of the region’s main tourist beaches, its mayor said Thursday.

Images on local television showed dozens of people in Maragogi, known for its natural pools of crystalline water, shoveling and raking the sand in an attempt to remove the sludge from the coast. The region is known as the “Brazilian Caribbean.”

As a truck from Brazil’s environmental agency loaded up with oil-stained sand, some volunteers, apparently without supervision from authorities, joined the work with small shovels.

Environmental regulator Ibama reported there are at least 178 locations in nine Brazilian states that have been affected by the oil. In terms of expanse, it is Brazil’s largest-ever environmental disaster, according to David Zee, an oceanographer at Rio de Janeiro’s state university.

Workers remove oil from Viral Beach, in Aracaju, Brazil, Oct. 8, 2019. The oil that has been polluting Brazil’s northeastern beaches since early September is likely coming from Venezuela, according to a report by Brazil’s state oil company.

The government’s response has been questioned by ocean experts and environmental NGOs such as Greenpeace. As in Maragogi, in recent weeks many Brazilians have worked to remove oil from the contaminated beaches without proper equipment or instruction from authorities.

“Just like with the spread of fires in the Amazon, the government again was late to respond,” Ricardo Baitelo, coordinator of Greenpeace Brazil, said to The Associated Press.

The Brazilian Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles, rebuffed the criticism Wednesday and told local press all necessary means had been adopted for the crude’s identification and collection.

Ibama did not respond to The Associated Press’s phone and email requests for information regarding the number of people and equipment working on the operation.

The origin of the oil remains a mystery. Salles said it likely originated in Venezuela, which Venezuela’s government denies, and that the circumstances of the spill are unknown.

Authorities’ primary hypothesis is that the crude spilled into the water from a boat navigating near Brazil’s coast.

Workers from Ibama, state-run oil company Petrobras and other volunteers have collected hundreds of tons of crude, but the mysterious oil slicks could continue to wash ashore.

A sign reads “Nature at Risk: Against the Abrolhos Threatening Oil Auction” during protest against the opening of the area near the Abrolhos National Park for oil exploration. Brazil’s environment minister Ricardo Salles speaks, in Brasilia, Brazil.

A month and a half after oil began appearing on the coast, Salles said he did not know how much oil was still at sea and could reach the mainland in coming days.

Zee expressed concern the oil spill could advance toward the south of Bahia state and damage the Abrolhos region that contains one of the nation’s largest coral reefs.

“The more time that passes with new oil appearing, it’s confirmed that the ocean is absorbing ever more toxic substances, some of which are carcinogenic. The contaminated zones will take at least 25 years to recover,” said Zee. “Brazil has no emergency plan, equipment, nor trained personnel to intervene in a disaster situation like this.”
 


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Zuckerberg Defends Facebook’s Approach to Free Speech, Draws Line on China

Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday defended the social media company’s light regulation of speech and lack of fact checking on political advertising, while citing China’s censorship as a roadblock to operating in the country.

Facebook has been under fire in recent years for its lax approach to fake news reports, state-backed disinformation campaigns and violent content spread on its services, prompting calls for new regulations around the world.

In a speech at Georgetown University filled with references to the First Amendment and the fight for democracy, Zuckerberg stood his ground, saying social media had introduced transformative avenues for speech that should not be shut down.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at Georgetown University in Washington, Oct. 17, 2019.

“People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world. It is a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society,” he said.

Zuckerberg framed the company’s decisions around that concept, including its recent retreat from years of aggressive courtship of China, an obstacle to his vision of connecting the world’s population.

He attacked the rapidly growing Chinese-owned app TikTok, saying the short video platform censored political protest, including in the United States — a charge the company denies.

In leaked audio of an address to Facebook employees weeks earlier, Zuckerberg spoke about TikTok as a formidable competitor, calling it the first consumer internet product built by a Chinese tech giant to find global success, but did not mention its approach to speech.

FILE – Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, talks with Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg at Microsoft’s main campus in Redmond, Wash., Sept. 23, 2015.

Over the course of Facebook’s charm offensive, Zuckerberg met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, learned Mandarin and posted a photo of himself running through Tiananmen Square.

Facebook briefly won a license to open an “innovation hub” in Hangzhou last year, but it was later revoked.

Zuckerberg effectively closed the door to China in March, when he announced his plan to pivot Facebook toward more private forms of communication and pledged not to build data centers in countries with “a track record of violating human rights like privacy or freedom of expression.”

He repeated his concern about data centers on Thursday, this time specifically naming China.

“I wanted our services in China because I believe in connecting the whole world and I thought we might help create a more open society,” Zuckerberg said. “I worked hard to make this happen. But we could never come to agreement on what it would take for us to operate there, and they never let us in.”

He received a question from the audience about what conditions or assurances he would need to enter the Chinese market, but did not address them in his response.

‘Feigned concern for free expression’

Zuckerberg also defended the company’s political advertising policies on similar grounds, saying Facebook had at one time considered banning all political ads but decided against it, erring on the side of greater expression.

That assertion was immediately panned by critics, among them candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination who have asserted the company should do more to address disinformation and abuse ahead of the November 2020 election.

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign quickly accused Zuckerberg of using “the Constitution as a shield” for Facebook’s bottom line.

“His choice to cloak Facebook’s policy in a feigned concern for free expression demonstrates how unprepared his company is for this unique moment in our history and how little it has learned over the past few years,” said spokesman Bill Russo.

FILE – Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks during the fourth U.S. Democratic presidential candidates 2020 election debate in Westerville, Ohio, Oct. 15, 2019.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, another leading contender for the Democratic nomination, has been especially vocal about her critiques of Facebook, bashing its advertising policy and calling for the company to be broken up on antitrust grounds.

She recently challenged Facebook’s policy that exempts politicians’ ads from fact-checking, running ads on the social media platform containing the false claim that Zuckerberg endorsed Trump’s re-election bid.

But the focus on free speech is likely to win Zuckerberg some friends on the right, whom he has been courting aggressively in a recent visit to Washington and dinners at his home in California.

Republican lawmakers routinely accuse the company of showing “anti-conservative bias” in its content moderation, without offering evidence. The company denies any favoritism.

Facebook has been under scrutiny after finding Russian propaganda on its platform which many believe affected the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, won by Donald Trump.

Trump has disputed claims that Russia has attempted to interfere in U.S. elections. Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied it.
 


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IS Families Call for Uprising in Wake of Turkish Military Operations 

“Get out of here!” shouts a woman draped in black, sitting on cardboard in the dusty camp market. 
 
She juts her elbow at a Brazilian cameraman as he bends over to take a picture. She is carrying a hammer and an angled metal rod. 
 
We are the first reporters inside the al-Hol Camp since Turkish military operations began in northeastern Syria last week. Officials say since the conflict began, the camp, which houses 71,000 people, has become “out of control.”  

Camp officials say in the past week there have been attacks, escape attempts and open calls for a violent uprising in al-Hol Camp in Syria, Oct. 16, 2019. (Y. Boechat/VOA)

There have been escapes, threats, attacks and open calls for uprising in the past week after most of the forces securing the camp moved to the front lines. 
 
The women, many from among the most hard-core IS families, are openly hostile. 
 
“Who are you to take pictures of us?” the woman in the market barks. 
 
“Goddamn you,” mutters another woman as she walks by me and my Kurdish translator. We cannot see their faces, but we feel we are not welcome. 
 
This is my third visit to al-Hol Camp since last winter, when tens of thousands of women and children poured out of the last IS stronghold as it fell. They are mostly families of IS fighters who retreated with the militant group for years as Syrian, U.S. led-coalition and Iraqi forces drove them out of the lands they once held.  

In the al-Hol Camp in Syria, 71,000 people are detained, mostly the wives and children of Islamic State militants, and the camp has grown increasingly violent since Turkish military operations began last week. Oct. 17, 2019. (Y. Boechat/VOA)

Many fighters ended up in jail, dead or in hiding. Some are now believed to be part of “sleeper cells” that still conduct frequent attacks. Their wives and children ended up here, where they are essentially imprisoned, relying on rapidly declining amounts of humanitarian aid. 
 
More than 10,000 of the women and children are foreigners from 58 different countries, and many are extremists among the extremists. It is called a camp, but the people are not allowed to leave. Inside al-Hol, nearly all the residents follow the strict rules set by IS, facing whippings, beatings or death for breaking the IS version of religious law. 
 
“Our only job now is to keep the people from escaping,” says Layla Rezgar, 30, who heads the camp’s foreign section. She is a soft-spoken woman in jeans and a flannel shirt. She speaks to us plainly: “We cannot control what goes on inside.” 
 
Riots, escape attempts, calls for revolution 
 
When Turkey began its military operations last Thursday, Rezgar tells us, she received reports that women were flying black IS flags made with their traditional robes and toothpaste. 
 
Then on Friday, hundreds of women attacked a camp office, ripping padlocks off the doors and threatening to burn it down. Women shouted, “Long live Islamic State!” and “We will chop your heads off!” as they advanced, rioting for hours. 
 
Others rushed through the camp, calling for an uprising. 
 
“They threw rocks and tried to get security officers’ weapons,” says Nadal, a member of the civilian administration of the camp, who sits with us in a cozy office at the edge of the camp. “Some carried knives.” 
 
Early this week, 13 foreign women ripped open a fence and tried to escape with their children, likely with help from IS sleeper cells in the area, Rezgar adds. Those women were caught. But in another camp in the region, nearly 800 family members of IS foreign fighters ran away, as security forces there moved to the border to fight with Turkey. 
 
In September, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called on IS fighters hiding in northeastern Syria to help the families inside al-Hol escape, energizing calls within the camp to rebuild IS. But the chaos of this new war could be the spark that reunites sleeper cells on the outside with extremists on the inside, Rezgar tells us. 
 
“We’ve been telling foreign journalists from all of the world that this crisis was coming,” Rezgar says. “Why is no one listening?” 
 

Many women in the al-Hol camp are hostile to foreign journalists and security guards, while others fear the extremists’ wrath, Oct. 16, 2019. (Y. Boechat/VOA)

How IS rules came to al-Hol 
 
Only a month ago, there was talk of rehabilitation and reintegration in al-Hol, with some children going to school and some families being sent back to their villages. 
 
In early March, as families streamed out of the last battles, many women told us they prayed their “caliphate” would be victorious and that the “infidels” would die. At the time, however, most had more pressing matters on their minds. 
 
“My sons will grow up to be jihadis,” one woman told me a few days after she fled the still ongoing battle in Baghouz, the last town IS held before it lost its geographical territories. At that moment, however, she was struggling to provide the boys with enough food and water. In the first months IS families moved into al-Hol, hundreds of children died. 
 
Even then, camp officials in al-Hol and other camps detaining IS families warned us that this humanitarian crisis could quickly turn into a security disaster. 
 
In the more than six months since Baghouz fell, some women in al-Hol have established an IS-styled religious police known as the Hisba. 
 
The Hisba enforces rules such as required full-body and face veils and a ban on smoking. The gravest punishments, including death, are reserved for people who are believed to be sharing information with security forces or journalists. 
 
As we wait in the market for the cameraman to finish his work, two veiled women approach, demanding to know who we are. 
 
“We know they are journalists,” says one, before our host roughly tells them to leave. 
 
On Monday, we passed by the camp as black smoke streamed out of a burning tent — another typical Hisba punishment, says Rezgar. Other women have been beaten, killed and dismembered, she says. 
 
“There are women that are trained fighters here,” she says. “We’ve found weapons and homemade bombs.” 
 
Fear inside and out 
 
Not everyone in the camp supports IS, adds Nadal, the civilian administrator. 
 
“Before the last battles, this was a camp full of victims who fled IS,” he tells us. “But then, everything changed.” 
 
Even among the women who joined IS, many believe it was a mistake and just want to go home, according to Rezgar. In the past, some women in the camp have been quick to ask us if we can help them get out and get to their home countries or villages. Other women were happy to declare their loyalty to IS and calmly declare that infidels should die.  

Some residents at al-Hol Camp arrived before Islamic State militants lost their last stronghold in Syria in March. Pictured Oct. 17, 2019. (Y. Boechat VOA)

Now, all fear the Hisba and their militant contacts outside. And as humanitarian aid dwindles, supplies are scarce, and half of the doctors in the area have left to treat war victims. Harsh conditions feed anger in the camp, aid workers say, empowering the Hisba and their supporters. 
 
Our hosts tell us it is far too dangerous to wander around al-Hol, as journalists used to do regularly. 
 
In Hasseka city, about 40 minutes from al-Hol by car, locals tell us they fear camp security will fail. 
 
Samer Ahmed, a 41-year-old father of three, works in a kebab restaurant and drives a motorcycle taxi. Two of his uncles died fighting IS, and one of his cousins was killed by a coalition airstrike. 
 
“I am more scared now than I was when IS had power,” he tells us in the back room of the restaurant where he works. “If they come here, we will all have to run.” 


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