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Kenyan Author, LGBT Activist Binyavanga Wainaina Dies at 48

One of Africa’s best-known authors and gay rights activists, Binyavanga Wainaina, has died at age 48, a colleague and friend said Wednesday.

The Kenyan author died Tuesday night in Nairobi after an illness, Tom Maliti, the chairman of the Kwani Trust which Wainaina founded, told The Associated Press.

Wainaina, who won the 2002 Caine Prize for African Writing, was a key figure in the artistic community who promoted local authors. Friends and supporters in an outpouring of tributes on Wednesday shared his work including his biting essay “How to Write About Africa.”

“Always use the word Africa' orDarkness’ or Safari' in your title," it began. "Subtitles may include the wordsZanzibar’, Masai',Zulu’, Zambezi',Congo’, Nile',Big’, Sky',Shadow’, Drum',Sun’ or `Bygone’,” Wainaina advised in the piece.

It quickly became one of Granta magazine’s best-loved essays, the magazine said Wednesday. “As a student, he sent the magazine a strongly worded letter condemning our 1994 Africa issue,” the magazine tweeted on Wednesday. “His ironic critique was so incisive and true that we published it.” He became a frequent contributor.

Wainaina also helped to create tolerance for the LGBT community by coming out publicly in 2014 as gay in Kenya, a country where laws still criminalize homosexual behavior. He also revealed he was HIV-positive. He published a painfully honest essay online to mark his 43rd birthday.

He said he came out to help preserve his dignity.

“All people have dignity. There’s nobody who was born without a soul and a spirit,” he said, in an interview with The Associated Press in January 2014. “There is nobody who is a beast or an animal, right? Everyone, we, we homosexuals, are people and we need our oxygen to breathe.”

In the interview, Wainaina, who dyed his hair in rainbow colors, lashed out at laws against homosexuality in Nigeria and Uganda. He also criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin, who promoted legislation banning “gay propaganda” aimed at youth.

“I can’t sleep at night because there are people who I may know or who I don’t even know … who may be dying or being beaten or being tortured right now in a Nigerian cell or three weeks ago in a Ugandan one,” he said.

After he came out, Time magazine in 2014 named him one of the “100 most influential people.” Fellow author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote there that Wainaina “demystified and humanized homosexuality,” saying he decided to speak openly after the death of a friend: “He felt an obligation to chip away at the shame that made people like his friend die in silence.”

Wainaina’s death comes just days before a long-awaited court ruling in Kenya on Friday on whether to abolish laws that criminalize homosexual behavior. Kenyan laws, like in many other African countries that outlaw same-sex relations, are vestiges of British colonial rule.

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Economy & business
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Britain’s May Faces Calls to Resign After Revised Brexit Plan Unveiled

British lawmakers are denouncing Prime Minister Theresa May’s latest proposal to withdraw from the European Union (EU) amid growing demands from her own Conservative Party for her resignation.

May said on Tuesday a bill she plans to present to Parliament next month would include a provision to vote on whether to hold a second referendum to leave the EU, a key demand of many opposition lawmakers.

May also offered closer trading arrangements with the EU as another incentive in what she called a “last chance” opportunity to finalize a Brexit deal.

Speaking before the House of Commons on Wednesday, May implored lawmakers to support her bill, warning a rejection would lead to “division and deadlock.”

May said her withdrawal bill would be disclosed Friday so that lawmakers would have time to study it.

Legislators previously spurned May’s exit deal three times and her latest attempt to win support faces an uphill fight. She plans to ask lawmakers to vote on the bill again during the week of June 3.

Members of May’s own Conservative Party accused her of relenting to pro-EU demands while opposition Labour Party lawmakers rejected her latest plan as too little too late.

On Tuesday, May said after Parliament votes on the measure, she will establish a timetable for her departure as leader of the Conservative Party and as prime minister.

A growing number of Conservative Party members, however, are pressing her to cancel the vote and step down sooner.

May is likely to face even more pressure when the results of this week’s European Parliament elections are released, as the Conservative Party is expected to suffer heavy losses.

The election will be held in Britain on Thursday, but the results won’t be announced until all European countries have finished voting late Sunday.

British citizens voted in a referendum to leave the EU three years ago and the country was scheduled to leave the EU on March 29, but the 28-nation bloc extended the deadline until October 31.

 

 

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Science & Health
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Seeking Energy Independence, Palestinians Open Solar Plant

Palestinian officials say they have inaugurated their first solar panel plant as part of a plan to reduce their dependence on Israeli power sources.

Mohammed Mustafa, head of the government’s investment fund, says that Tuesday’s plant opening in the ancient West Bank city of Jericho is one of four planned plants. One has been donated from China.

He says the Palestinians rely almost entirely on power imported from Israel and the new plants are part of a long-term project to reduce that by 50% over the next decade. He says the four solar panel stations should cover about 30% of Palestinian power consumption. 

Mustafa says the West Bank consumes about $700 million a year in electricity.

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Science & Health
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Research on Children’s Health Risks in Doubt Over EPA funds

Long-running research projects credited with pivotal discoveries about the harm that pesticides, air pollution and other hazards pose to children are in jeopardy or shutting down because the Environmental Protection Agency will not commit to their continued funding, researchers say.

The projects being targeted make up a more than $300 million, federally funded program that over the past two decades has exposed dangers to fetuses and children. Those findings have often led to increased pressure on the EPA for tighter regulations. 

Children’s health researchers and environmental groups accuse the EPA of trying to squelch scientific studies that the agency views as running counter to the Trump administration’s mission of easing regulations and promoting business.

“A lot of the centers, including mine, have identified a lot of chemicals that are associated with diseases in children,” said Catherine Metayer, an epidemiologist who directs research into children’s leukemia at University of California at Berkeley through the federal program. 

The EPA awarded smaller than average funding for the research grants for this year, asked Congress to cut funding for it from its budget, and has refused to commit to future funding for the program.

“The EPA anticipates future funding opportunities that support EPA’s high priority research topics, including children’s health research,” spokesman James Hewitt said, while declining to answer questions on the future for the national research projects.

Children’s centers at universities around the country typically get joint funding from the EPA and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in three- and five-year packages, with most packages running out in 2018 and 2019. With no word on future funding, researchers overall “have been kind of scrambling to find a way to continue that work which is so important,” said Tracey Woodruff, director of the children’s center at the University of California at San Francisco.

Woodruff’s federally funded work includes looking at how flame-retardant chemicals and PFAS compounds – a kind of stain-resistant, nonstick industrial compound – affect the placenta during pregnancy. The Trump EPA has come under increasing pressure from states to regulate PFAS as it shows up in more water supplies around the country.

With no news from the EPA on any more funding in the future, “we’ve been winding down for about a year” on work funded through those grants, Woodruff said.

On Tuesday, a banner across a website home page for the overall children’s research declared “EPA will no longer fund children’s health research.”

The EPA and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences have jointly funded the children’s environmental health research since 1997, through grants to at least two dozen children’s environmental research centers around the country. The annual grants averaged $15 million through 2017. In the current fiscal year, the EPA contributed $1.6 million, agency spokeswoman Maggie Sauerhage said. 

​The research often involves enrolling women while they are still pregnant and then following their children for years, to study environmental exposures and their effects as children grow, said Barbara Morrissey, a toxicologist and chairwoman of the EPA’s Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee.

The long-term projects often produce much stronger results overall than one-off studies do, Morrissey said.

Each children’s center funded by the grants also works to spread information about environmental threats to local health workers and to families.

The institute is under the National Institutes of Health, which has numerous other children’s environmental research studies underway but said with the EPA joint program left hanging, it was considering a new program to put lessons learned about pediatric risks into practice in communities.

EPA’s funding for the grants comes from the agency’s Science To Achieve Results, or STAR, program for research into environmental threats.

The Trump administration 2020 budget request sought to eliminate funding for the STAR grants, and sought a nearly one-third cut in the EPA’s budget overall.

A House Appropriations subcommittee released its own budget proposal Tuesday to restore funding for the STAR grants and boost the agency’s overall budget from last year by 8%, rejecting the administration’s requests for cuts.

EPA spokespeople did not respond when asked why the EPA had asked Congress to end funding for the grant program, and whether the agency would commit to continuing the children’s health research if Congress overrides the EPA and restores funding for the grants, as expected.

The science journal Nature first reported funding concerns for the program.

In a statement Tuesday, Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group said “crippling research to protect children’s health, while bowing to the agenda of the chemical industry, is the calling card of the EPA in the Trump administration.”

Even if the administration restores funding to previous levels, for one year or several years, the time span of grant cycles and grant-funded work means that uncertainty over continued federal support is making the intended multiyear research untenable, researchers and program supporters said.

“The whole point of these children’s centers is to be following children over time,” Morrissey, the chairwoman of the advisory committee to the EPA, said. “That’s why it’s so high-quality.”

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Economy & business
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Jamie Oliver’s British Restaurant Chain Collapses

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s restaurant chain in Britain has filed for bankruptcy protection, closing 22 of its 25 eateries and leaving some 1,000 people out of work.

The remaining outlets, two Jamie’s Italian restaurants and a Jamie’s Diner at Gatwick Airport outside London, will stay open, the financial firm KPMG, which will oversee the process, said in a statement Tuesday.

Oliver said on Twitter he was “devastated that our much-loved UK restaurants have gone into administration,” a form of bankruptcy protection, and thanked people “who have put their hearts and souls into this business over the years.”

​Oliver gained fame as “The Naked Chef” on television, which aired in dozens of countries, after premiering in Britain some 20 years ago.  The television success was followed by a number of cookbooks. The restaurant chain included Jamie’s Italian, Jamie Oliver’s Diner and Barbecoa steakhouses.

Five branches of the Australian arm of Jamie’s Italian have also been sold and another put into administration.

Oliver’s restaurants started to lose revenue in 2016. Business got so bad for the restaurant group that Oliver injected millions of dollars of his own money in an effort to turn the tide. 

“The current trading environment for companies across the casual dining sector is as tough as I’ve ever seen,” Will Wright, an administrator at KPMG, said in a statement. “The directors at Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group have worked tirelessly to stabilize the business against a backdrop of rising costs and brittle consumer confidence.”

Other British chains have also had to close outlets.  Earlier this year, cafe chain Patisserie Valerie was forced to close 70 outlets, at the cost of 920 jobs.

Celebrity chefs in the U.S. have also fallen on hard times. Thomas Keller closed Bouchon in Beverly Hills in 2017, saying it couldn’t remain profitable. That same year, Guy Fieri closed Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar in New York’s Times Square and Daniel Boulud closed DBGB Kitchen and Bar in New York, saying it didn’t get enough business during the week.

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Science & Health
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On World Bee Day, Worrying Developments for the World’s Pollinators

As the world marks Bee Day this week (May 20), it’s a good opportunity to check in on these industrious insects that are responsible for about 80 percent of all pollination worldwide. But something is wrong with the world’s bees and our existence might depend on figuring out why. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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Economy & business
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Bloomberg: US May Pay $2 Per Bushel for Soybeans to Help Farmers

The Trump administration is considering payments of $2 per bushel for soybeans, 63 cents per bushel for wheat and 4 cents per bushel for corn as part of a package of up to $20 billion to offset U.S. farmers’ losses from the trade war with China, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.

Caitlin Eannello, spokeswoman for the National Association of Wheat Growers, said that 63 cents per bushel for wheat is the number the organization has been hearing for the next round of U.S. trade aid. “That is the number that we’ve been hearing, she told Reuters.

Those payments would exceed the rates paid last year to farmers in a similar aid package.

President Donald Trump earlier this month directed the Department of Agriculture to work on a new aid plan for farmers as Washington and Beijing intensified their 10-month-old trade war by raising tariffs on each other’s goods.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue last week said the new aid package was likely to be $15 billion to $20 billion, exceeding the up to $12 billion in aid rolled out last year to farmers. Most of it was likely to be direct payments, sources told Reuters.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture said the details of the aid package would be released soon, without commenting on the reported payment rates. One lobbyist source said the plan was likely to be announced this week.

The USDA spokeswoman added that the aid was designed to avoid skewing planting decisions. “Farmers should continue to make their planting and production decisions with the current market signals in mind, rather than some expectation of what a trade mitigation program might or might not look like,” she said in emailed comments to Reuters.

However, the aid was seen encouraging more soy planting at a time when supplies are already at record-high levels.

“That [proposed $2 bean payout] is a pretty enticing carrot, and that tells me that they [farmers] are going to try to get as many bean acres in as possible, at the expense of corn,” said Matt Connelly, analyst at the Hightower Report in Chicago.

“The reason is beans [futures] went south is, they saw that $2 a bushel, and that will entice them to plant beans until the July 4th weekend.”

Chicago Board of Trade soybean futures turned lower on the report on worries that farmers would plant more of the crop. Top importer China continues to shun U.S. soybeans.

The administration last year paid $1.65 per bushel for soybeans, 14 cents per bushel for wheat and 1 cent per bushel for corn.

Negotiations between the United States and China have soured dramatically since early May, when Chinese officials sought major changes to the text of a proposed deal that the Trump administration says had been largely agreed.

The dispute between the world’s two largest economies has cost billions, roiled global supply chains and rattled financial markets. American farmers, who helped carry Trump to his surprise 2016 election win, have been among the hardest hit.

Bloomberg, citing anonymous sources, said growers of other commodities were also to receive payments in this year’s aid package, but it did not provide rates. It said the plan could change as Trump could make adjustments.

The Trump administration wants any trade deal with China to include purchases of more than $1.2 trillion worth of American products, including agricultural commodities and industrial goods.

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