The Daily Beast
On Monday night, after a months-long delay due to the ongoing COVD-19 pandemic, a new Miss USA was finally crowned at Elvis Presley’s Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee. Reigning Miss Mississippi USA Asya Branch secured the coveted title against the blinding backdrop of the sparkling, rhinestone-encrusted masks of her fellow contestants (chosen to match their equally shiny Sherri Hill gowns, of course).The 22-year-old Ole Miss grad made history when she became the first Black Miss Mississippi in 2018. In her introductory video at the beginning of the Miss USA broadcast, she spoke about her passion for criminal justice reform, citing her participation in a roundtable on the subject with President Trump. The prison reform roundtable was not the only time Branch has been in close proximity to the recently-defeated president. She also performed the National Anthem at a Trump rally in Southaven, Mississippi, in October of 2018. In the caption of an Instagram post from the event, she wrote, “Incredible honor to sing the national anthem tonight in Southaven for the President Trump rally,” punctuated with an American flag emoji. Branch took home the top prize on Monday evening after sharing her thoughts on gun control. Following two intense rounds of eliminations in the swimsuit and evening gown contests, the final speaking round of the competition asked the remaining five “candidates” to deliver a 30-second statement on a topic randomly selected from a plastic box. Miss Mississippi drew the “gun laws” card.“As someone who grew up in a home with guns, I learned at an early age how to load, how to fire, and gun safety,” Branch began her statement, “and I think that education should be available to everyone.” She went on to say that she believes people should have to go through training and pass safety tests before they’re allowed a permit for a gun.Ultimately, though, the beauty queen was clear in her defense of the right to bear arms. “I think it’s important that we not ban guns, because obviously people will find a way to get what they want anyways, but I think it’s our Second Amendment Right, and we just need more safety surrounding that,” she said.In an earlier segment of the competition, she also weighed in on the political polarization of the country, attributing it to a lack of trust in the “systems that seem to keep our country running, from the media, to business, to our government.” (She’s also voiced some troubling views on those in the gay community, albeit back in 2012.)EMBEDThe rest of the Miss USA broadcast was full of the obligatory social distancing jokes and opaque explanations of safety procedures we’ve come to expect from a live television event produced in 2020. Hosts Allie LaForce and Akbar Gbaja-Biamila explained that contestants were tested and quarantined, and the smaller-than-usual live audience was temperature-checked and asked to wear masks. There seemed, however, to be a complete lack of consistency in the enforcement of the contestants wearing masks. For example, the introduction portion of the show featured dozens of mask-less, perfectly-made-up faces. But immediately after the commercial break, they were suddenly all masked up for no clear reason other than to delight viewers with the imagined visual of 51 women in heels clamoring to find their masks backstage before the break ends.Later, LaForce described the ballgown-clad finalists, again not wearing masks, as “10 impressive women, six feet apart,” as if simply saying it out loud would make it true.No need to worry, though, because as was pointed out several times throughout the show, Graceland is apparently chock-full of hand sanitizer dispensers—just the way the King would have wanted it.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.
Pandemic has devastated India's economy and left its children vulnerable to exploitation as cheap labour – CBC.ca
Ajay Tomar regularly scans the platforms of the New Delhi Railway Station, the busiest in India, running through a checklist in his head.
The social worker is trained to spot signs of children being trafficked into forced labour. One telltale sign is seeing one or two kids are surrounded by a group of adults, the children isolated. He always glances at their hands to check if they are worn, a clue the child has been working illegally.
Child labour is illegal in India for anyone under 14 except in special circumstances, such as working for a family business. But it’s a problem that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, with indications pointing to a sharp increase in the number of children being exploited as cheap labourers.
India’s last census, in 2011, showed the country had nearly 8.2 million child labourers between the ages of five and 14, mainly in the country’s poor rural states, such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Children’s rights groups say that number improved significantly this past decade but fear the pandemic will reverse much of that progress.
India’s swift and severe lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19, imposed in March with mere hours’ notice, made a desperate situation worse and created “fertile ground” for traffickers, according to Sudarshan Suchi, CEO of Save the Children India.
It abruptly shut all of the country’s schools and forced migrant labourers out of work, Suchi said, and once the measures started to ease, industry turned to the cheapest labour available to make up the shortfall: children.
Schools in many parts of the country remain shut
The country has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases after the U.S., at 9.6 million, and third-highest number of deaths, at almost 140,000.
Reopening orders vary from state to state, but schools across the country are still closed or operating at a much-reduced capacity, and children in some of India’s poorer communities are not in class because they don’t have access to online learning.
On the heels of its deadliest month from COVID-19 cases, Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said schools would remain shut until a vaccine is available.
In other states, such as Gujarat, classes were set to resume in late November before authorities, spooked by a rise in infections, decided to hold off.
As a result, Suchi said, his crews have seen a “marked increase” in child labour in urban and rural areas, where children are often pushed into working at garment factories, car repair shops or garbage dumps, where they pick out plastics to earn a few cents.
“The vulnerability is at its highest right now,” he said.
Suchi also worries the damage has already been done, since once children from poorer communities leave class for work, it’s much harder for them to return.
WATCH | In pandemic, children have become source of cheap labour in some parts of India:
Families complicit in child labour
Tomar, who works for the Delhi-based non-governmental organization Prayas, has been seeing more of that vulnerability, too, as families turn to children to help scrape together enough money to survive.
“We find kids here who have come to work … with their fathers and mothers,” Tomar said.
While he was speaking to CBC News, Tomar’s fellow social workers on the railway rescue team were interviewing a preteen boy who tried to run away from the two adults who had forced him into manual labour. One of them was his cousin; the other his brother.
The boy eventually told the social workers that his relatives forced him to work 14 days in a row at a bicycle-chain repair factory near the New Delhi train station until he got so tired he tried to travel back to his home state of Bihar, hundreds of kilometres away, to see his mother. His captors tailed him to the station, where Tomar’s team noticed the group and intervened.
Tomar said the fact the boy’s brother was involved in forcing him to work is all too common.
“We find out every day that families are almost all OK [with it],” said Tomar. “We can’t say anything to them. They are vulnerable, marginalized people.”
Economy contracted 24% during pandemic
Chaman Shagufta, who works as a counsellor with the same organization at a children’s shelter in one of Delhi’s poorest neighbourhoods, knows that all too well.
She often has to tease the stories out of the children and track inconsistencies before handing their files over to India’s child welfare authorities, who determine if a child should be allowed to return to their family or be sent to a shelter.
Shagufta’s rapid-fire questions, punctuated by terms of endearment, are effective in getting two young boys picked up at the New Delhi Railway Station on their way to Maharashtra from the poverty-plagued state of Bihar to tell part of their story.
“Before the lockdown, we were in school,” said one boy.
He insisted he was 15, but Shagufta was unconvinced, suspecting the boy was closer to 12.
“It’s very much a probability that they have come for work since schools are locked down and nobody is studying,” she said.
Many parents know children are being sent off to work, she said, and reason that they may as well “earn something” during the shutdown period.
It’s a sign of the dire straits families are in in an economy that has contracted 24 per cent between April and June of this year, according to government GDP figures.
Children are most at risk under those circumstances, said Amod Kanth, the former Delhi police officer who founded the NGO Prayas.
“I prefer to call them ‘nowhere children,’ he said. “They are not on the radar. They are not visible. They are not accounted for because they happen to be drifting, traveling, migrating.
“They suffer more compared to others in the pandemic.”
In another children’s home operated by Prayas, Poonam waits patiently for a quick visit in the hallway outside the large room where her three eldest children are getting an art lesson from social workers.
The 30-year old mother of four boys lives in one of Delhi’s poorest slums and told CBC News the eight months since the start of India’s lockdown order were the hardest she’s had to endure.
“It was tough,” she said. “My children were starving.”
Her husband, an addict, had already left her and she was also caring for her own mother, who has health problems.
Desperation pushed her to send three of her sons, ages 5, 7 and 11, to beg on the streets outside a local temple and at busy intersections while she ran her vegetable stand, making about 150 rupees (less than $3 Cdn) a day, she said.
Only, fewer people were out buying vegetables and the struggle to find enough money for the family to eat was crushing.
The boys were spotted begging a month ago and taken in by social workers, who alerted the authorities and started the child welfare committee process to determine whether the three can be sent home.
They are living temporarily at the Prayas shelter, and Poonam desperately wants to keep it that way.
“It’s too hard. They will die if they come back to me,” Poonam said, her voice breaking with emotion.
Kuwaitis go to polls as economy poses challenge for new emir – TheChronicleHerald.ca
By Ahmed Hagagy
KUWAIT (Reuters) – Kuwaitis voted in legislative polls on Saturday with the Gulf state mired in its worst economic crisis in decades, which poses a challenge for the government’s often stormy relationship with a parliament blamed for blocking reforms.
More than 300 candidates, including 29 women, are vying for 50 seats in the Gulf’s oldest and most outspoken assembly with legislative powers. Critics say it has stalled investment and economic and fiscal reform in the cradle-to-grave welfare state.
Campaigning, which took place mostly on social media and local TV channels due to COVID-19 restrictions, has focused on the economy, corruption and demographics in a country where foreigners make up the bulk of the workforce.
“Kuwait needs development. The streets are broken and there is no development and no economy … and coronavirus has affected everything in every way,” said Ibrahim, a government employee, after voting in Kuwait city.
Turnout is expected to be lower than in past elections due to concerns about COVID-19 which, along with low crude prices, has battered state finances in the wealthy oil-producing nation.
A low turnout could strengthen the hand of tribal, Islamist and other candidates who can rally supporters to head to polling centres, analysts said.
“Kuwaiti opposition who boycotted (previous) polls are moving to run and vote, and this could strengthen their presence,” said Kuwaiti political analyst Mohamad al-Dosayri.
Frequent clashes between the cabinet and the assembly have led to successive government reshuffles and dissolutions of parliament. Kuwait’s emir, who has the final say, picks a prime minister who selects a cabinet.
The current government is due to resign after the elections.
Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah took the reins as emir in September following the death of his brother.
FACE MASKS AND SANITIZER
Kuwait’s economy, which is worth nearly $140 billion, is facing a deficit of $46 billion this year. A government priority is to overcome legislative gridlock on a bill that would allow Kuwait to tap international debt markets.
Sheikh Nawaf has called for unity to face challenges at home and in a region experiencing heightened tension between Kuwait’s larger neighbours Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Late ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad broke the hold of opposition groups on parliament in 2012 by using executive powers to amend the voting system, sparking large protests.
Under the old electoral system, voters were allowed to cast ballots for up to four candidates, which the opposition says allowed alliances that partly made up for the absence of political parties, which are officially barred.
The system introduced in 2012 allows votes for only a single candidate, which the opposition says makes alliances difficult.
At al-Waha School in Jahra City, a polling station for men, voters in Arab robes protected themselves with face masks and hand sanitizers before putting their votes into the ballot box.
About 20 female observers watched a male judge checking the identity of women voters at the Bahsira school for girls before they cast their ballots.
Kuwaiti opposition figures have proposed electoral reforms and a pardon for dissidents, many in self-exile.
“There have been some reforms in the judiciary and the Emiri Diwan,” or court, said a Kuwaiti politician who asked not to be named. “We heard echoes of more reforms after elections.”
(Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy in Kuwait; Additional reporting by Stephanie McGehee; Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by William Mallard and David Clarke)
Confused by the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic? Don't worry, so are the economists – CBC.ca
The numbers can be so big, they’re hard to get your head around. The swings are so volatile, you can lose your footing.
And yet, with millions of Canadians struggling through the COVID-19 crisis, many of us want to understand what is going on with the economy.
“My head is spinning, too,” said Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC. “So I don’t blame people, because we’ve never seen anything like this.”
Every week, a flood of new data comes out. This week, we were inundated with the federal government’s fiscal update, GDP figures and job numbers. All trying to shape the story of the economy. Sometimes the numbers contradict each other. Sometimes they give a sort of head-fake and contradict themselves.
The fiscal update that came out on Monday had built all its projections on an average of the forecasts from the big banks. The next morning, Statistics Canada released quarterly GDP numbers that missed the forecast by a staggering seven points. By the end of the week, jobs data came out showing Canadian employers added three times as many jobs as expected.
Every economist is trying to figure out what those numbers are telling us. And they’re not always getting it right.
“Economists have never been more wrong about where the data would come through,” said Frances Donald, chief economist and head of macro strategy at Manulife Investment Management in Toronto.
Most of the time, she said, economists rely on data such as job growth and retail sales numbers to make sense of the situation. The problem is those statistics tell us what was happening months ago.
“This is a daily crisis that requires daily data points,” she said.
To combat that, economists have turned to higher frequency data such as google mobility trends, restaurant reservation tallies and public transit numbers.
But Donald said the bigger issue is the unique, unprecedented nature of this crisis.
“We don’t have a functional precedent for what is happening,” she said.
There may be other moments in the past that share some similarities, but nothing experts can use to model probable outcomes.
Change of perspective
Tal said he understands why more Canadians than usual seem to be following economic updates with bated breath. But he said the best option is to focus less on the details and think of the broader economic themes.
So, while the short term is bad, he said, the medium term looks better.
“We are buying time at this point,” he said, until the virus comes under control.
Yes, the world is headed into a long and dark winter, he said. Yes, COVID-19 cases are rising and government-imposed restrictions could spread. And, yes, households and businesses will need government support and record-low interest rates to provide them a bridge to the second half of next year, he said.
But if you zoom out and look at the longer-term forecasts, the second half of next year shows a lot of promise. Tal said the economic crisis is largely due to the fact that people aren’t spending as much as they normally would.
Some of that is because of government-mandated closures.
But some of it is also a question of confidence.
Even if the movie theatres were open, how many people would pay to sit in close contact with strangers for a two-hour film?
That spending issue is a large source of the hope for 2021. Tal calculates that Canadian households and businesses are sitting on $170 billion in savings. And once the virus comes under control, he predicts that money will spill back into the economy.
“I see this unleashing of potential demand in the economy,” he said. “Most of it will be in the services sector. And that will benefit employment for people that are struggling. It’s just a question of time.”
So, in the interim, he recommends not getting too caught up in the minutiae of the daily economic data.
That’s advice financial markets seem to be following. As COVID-19 case counts soar and government-imposed restrictions spread, the major stock market indexes are all climbing. Donald said markets seem to be looking past the short- and medium-term unknowns and banking on a solid return next year.
WATCH | The National’s report on the fall economic update:
She said the markets don’t seem to be too caught up in the daily barrage of economic information.
“The markets are thinking ahead to where we are going to be in 6, 12, 48 months,” she said. “Not where we are at this very moment.”
Besides, she said, one of the best indicators available is to just look around and see how people around you are acting. Are people nervous and scared? Are they staying home or are they out shopping? The data will catch up to our behaviour eventually.
“You don’t need a PhD in economics to look around at your friends and family and get a sense of what their behaviour is,” she said. “We don’t need numbers and releases, we just need to look out our front doors.”
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