elite group of political advisers known as the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

“He could not have gotten so big without the collaboration of the country’s biggest banks,” Victor Shih, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, said of Mr. Xu. “That suggests the potential help of senior officials with a lot of influence.”

Mr. Xu was also a power broker who socialized with the Communist Party’s elite families, according to a memoir by Desmond Shum, a well-connected businessman. In his book, “Red Roulette,” published this month, Mr. Shum recounts a 2011 European wine-tasting and shopping spree in which Mr. Xu took part, along with the daughter of the Communist Party’s fourth-ranking official at the time, Jia Qinglin, and her investor husband.

The party flew to Europe on a private jet, with the men playing a popular Chinese card game called “fight the landlord.” At Pavillon Ledoyen, a Paris restaurant, the party spent more than $100,000 on a wine spree, downing magnums of Château Lafite wines, starting with a vintage 1900 and ending with a 1990. On a trip to the French Riviera, Mr. Xu considered buying a $100 million yacht owned by a Hong Kong mogul, Mr. Shum wrote.

To supercharge Evergrande’s growth, Mr. Xu often borrowed twice on each piece of land that he developed — first from the bank and then from home buyers who were sometimes willing to pay 100 percent of the value of their future home before it was built.

property grew to account for as much as one-third of China’s economic growth. Evergrande built more than a thousand developments in hundreds of cities and created more than 3.3 million jobs a year.

cool down, the damage caused by Evergrande’s voracious appetite for debt became impossible to ignore. There are nearly 800 unfinished Evergrande projects in more than 200 cities across China. Employees, contractors and home buyers have held protests to demand their money. Many fear they will become unwitting victims in China’s debt-reform campaign.

Yong Jushang, a contractor from Changsha in central China, still hasn’t been paid for the $460,000 of materials and work he provided for an Evergrande project that was completed in May. Desperate not to lose his workers and business partners, he threatened to block the roads around the development this month until the money was paid.

“It’s not a small amount for us,” Mr. Yong said. “This could bankrupt us.”

Mr. Yong and others like him are at the heart of regulators’ biggest challenge in dealing with Evergrande. If Beijing tries to make an example out of Evergrande by letting it collapse, the wealth of millions of people could vanish along with Mr. Xu’s empire.

protested on the streets and complained online about delays in construction. The central bank has put Evergrande on notice.

And China’s increasingly nationalistic commentators are calling for the company’s demise. Debt-saddled corporate giants like Evergrande were given the freedom to “open their bloody mouths and devour the wealth of our country and our people until they are too big to fall,” Li Guangman, a retired newspaper editor whose recent views have been given a platform by official state media, wrote in an essay.

Without proper intervention, Mr. Li argued, “China’s economy and society will be set on the crater of the volcano where all may be ignited any time.”

Michael Forsythe reported from New York. Matt Phillips contributed reporting from New York.

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A Journey Through Merkel’s Germany: Affluent, Anxious and Almost Normal

As Germany heads into an election that will see Angela Merkel step down after 16 years as chancellor, she leaves behind a country profoundly changed — and anxious about changing more.


STUTTGART, Germany — The small silver star at the tip of Aleksandar Djordjevic’s Mercedes shines bright. He polishes it every week.

Mr. Djordjevic makes combustion engines for Daimler, one of Germany’s flagship carmakers. He has a salary of around 60,000 euros (about $70,000), eight weeks of vacation and a guarantee negotiated by the union that he cannot be fired until 2030. He owns a two-story house and that E-class 250 model Mercedes in his driveway.

All of that is why Mr. Djordjevic polishes the star on his car.

“The star is something stable and something strong: It stands for Made in Germany,” he said.

But by 2030 there will be no more combustion engines at Daimler — or people making combustion engines.

parental leave in Catholic Bavaria. The married gay couple raising two children outside Berlin. The woman in a hijab teaching math in a high school near Frankfurt, where most students have German passports but few have German parents.

successive crises and left others unattended, there was change that she led and change that she allowed.

phase out nuclear power in Germany. She ended compulsory military service. She was the first chancellor to assert that Islam “belongs” to Germany. When it came to breaking down her country’s and party’s conservative family values, she was more timid but ultimately did not stand in the way.

Konrad Adenauer anchored Germany in the West. Willy Brandt reached across the Iron Curtain. Helmut Kohl, her onetime mentor, became synonymous with German unity. Gerhard Schröder paved the way for the country’s economic success.

Ms. Merkel’s legacy is less tangible but equally transformative. She changed Germany into a modern society — and a country less defined by its history.

She may be remembered most for her decision to welcome over a million refugees in 2015-16 when most other Western nations rejected them. It was a brief redemptive moment for the country that had committed the Holocaust and turned her into an icon of liberal democracy.

“It was a sort of healing,” said Karin Marré-Harrak, the headmaster of a high school in the multicultural city of Offenbach. “In a way we’ve become a more normal country.”

lingering inequality between East and West three decades after reunification is still evident, even though taxpayers’ money has flowed east and things have gradually improved. With the government planning to phase out coal production by 2038, billions more in funding are promised to help compensate for the job losses.

But as Mike Balzke, a worker at the nearby coal plant in Jänschwalde, put it: “We don’t want money — we want a future.”

Mr. Balzke recalled his optimism when Ms. Merkel first became chancellor. Because she was an easterner and a scientist, he expected her to be an ambassador for the East — and for coal.

Instead, his village lost a quarter of its population during her chancellorship. A promised train line from Forst to Berlin was never built. The post office shut down.

Mr. Balzke, 41, worries that the region will turn into a wasteland.

That anxiety runs deep. And it deepened again with the arrival of refugees in 2015.

was up in arms, but only a decade later, it has become the new normal.

Ms. Merkel never backed same-sex marriage outright, but she allowed lawmakers to vote for it, knowing that it would go through.

Mr. Winkler left the party again in 2019 after Ms. Merkel’s successor as conservative leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, disparaged same-sex marriage. But he acknowledged his debt to the chancellor.

On June 30, 2017, the day of the vote, he wrote her a letter.

“It is a pity that you could not support opening marriage to same-sex couples,” he wrote. “Still, thank you that you ultimately made today’s decision possible.”

Then he invited her to visit his family, “to see for yourself.”

She never replied. But he and his family used to live just around the corner from Ms. Merkel, who never gave up her apartment in central Berlin. They would see her occasionally in the supermarket checkout line.

“There she was with toilet paper in her basket, going shopping like everyone else,” Mr. Winkler’s partner, Roland Mittermayer, recalled. Even after 16 years, they are still trying to figure the chancellor out.

“She is an enigma,” Mr. Winkler said. “She’s a bit like the queen — someone who has been around for a long time, but you never feel you really know her.”

Six hours northwest of Berlin, past endless green fields dotted with wind farms and a 40-minute ferry ride off the North Sea coast, lies Pellworm, a sleepy island where the Backsen family has been farming since 1703.

Two years ago, they took Ms. Merkel’s government to court for abandoning its carbon-dioxide emission targets under the Paris climate accord. They lost, but then tried again, filing a complaint at the constitutional court.

This time they won.

“It’s about freedom,” said Sophie Backsen, 23, who would like to take over her father’s farm one day.

Sophie’s younger brothers, Hannes, 19, and Paul, 21, will vote for the first time on Sunday. Like 42 percent of first-time voters, they will vote for the Greens.

“If you look at how our generation votes, it’s the opposite of what you see in the polls,” Paul said. “The Greens would be running the country.”

Pellworm is flush with the sea level and in parts even below it. Without a dike ringing the coastline, it would flood regularly.

“When you have permanent rain for three weeks, the island fills up like a bath tub inside the dikes,” Hannes said.

The prospect of rising sea levels is an existential threat here. “This is one of the most important elections,” Hannes said. “It’s the last chance really to get it right.”

“If not even a country like Germany can manage this,” he added, “what chance do we stand?”

Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin.

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Residential School Photos Show Canada’s Grim Legacy of Cultural Erasure

OTTAWA — At times it was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who came for them. Other times, it was a school van. However it happened, for generations, Indigenous families in Canada had no choice but to send their children to church-run residential schools established by the government to erode their culture and languages, and to assimilate them.

A national Truth and Reconciliation Commission declared in 2015 that the schools, which operated from 1883 to 1996, were a form of “cultural genocide.”

But the profound damage inflicted by the schools didn’t stop there. The commission cataloged extensive physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the schools, which were often overcrowded, understaffed and underfunded. Disease, fire and malnourishment all brought death and suffering.

Now, the national shame of the schools is again dominating the conversation in Canada.

Since May, new technology has enabled the discovery of human remains, mostly of children, in many hundreds of unmarked graves on the grounds of three former schools in Canada — two in British Columbia and one in Saskatchewan. Who they were, how they died or even when they died may never be fully known.

were forced to attend residential schools in a forced assimilation program. Most of these schools were operated by churches, and all of them banned the use of Indigenous languages and Indigenous cultural practices, often through violence. Disease, as well as sexual, physical and emotional abuse were widespread. An estimated 150,000 children passed through the schools between their opening and their closing in 1996.

  • The Missing Children: A National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up as part of a government apology and settlement over the schools, concluded that at least 4,100 students died while attending them, many from mistreatment or neglect, others from disease or accident. In many cases, families never learned the fate of their offspring, who are now known as “the missing children.”
  • The Discoveries: In May, members of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation found 215 bodies at the Kamloops school — which was operated by the Roman Catholic Church until 1969 — after bringing in ground-penetrating radar. In June, an Indigenous group said the remains of as many as 751 people, mainly children, had been found in unmarked graves on the site of a former boarding school in Saskatchewan.
  • Cultural Genocide’: In a 2015 report, the commission concluded that the system was a form of “cultural genocide.” Murray Sinclair, a former judge and senator who headed the commission, recently said he now believed the number of disappeared children was “well beyond 10,000.”
  • Apologies and Next Steps: The commission called for an apology from the pope for the Roman Catholic church’s role. Pope Francis stopped short of one, but the archbishop of Vancouver apologized on behalf of his archdiocese. Canada has formally apologized and offered financial and other search support, but Indigenous leaders believe the government still has a long way to go.
  • “Something good has to come out of this,” Joey Desjarlais, 73, said outside the ruins of the Muskowekwan Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, which he was forced to attend, as were his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. “Our children need to learn about the residential school, what we went through and what went on in there but also to learn their culture, so at least they’ll get it back.”

    The image below shows girls working in the kitchen at the Bishop Horden Memorial School in Moose Factory, Ontario, around 1940.

    Boys at the Shingwauk Indian Residential School playing with handmade bows, and a game of table hockey, in the 1960s.

    Boys say their prayers in the dormitory at the Bishop Horden Memorial School in Moose Factory, Ontario, in 1950.

    Girls at a residential school in Fort Resolution, Northwest Territories, around 1936. It is estimated that roughly one-third of all Indigenous children were enrolled in the schools by the 1930s.

    Boys and girls, in their first communion outfits, posing at Spanish Indian Residential School in Spanish, Ontario, in the 1960s.

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    Hundreds More Unmarked Graves Found at Former Residential School in Canada

    CALGARY, Alberta — For decades, the Indigenous children were taken from their families, sometimes by force, and housed in crowded, church-run boarding schools, where they were abused and prohibited from speaking their languages. Thousands vanished altogether.

    Now, a new discovery offers chilling evidence that many of the missing children may have died at these schools: The remains of as many as 751 people, mainly Indigenous children, were found at the site of a former school in the province of Saskatchewan, an Indigenous group said on Thursday.

    The burial site, the largest one to date, was uncovered only weeks after the remains of 215 children were found in unmarked graves on the grounds of another former church-run school for Indigenous students in British Columbia.

    The discoveries have jolted a nation grappling with generations of widespread and systematic abuse of Indigenous people, many of whom are survivors of the boarding schools. For decades, they suggested through their oral histories that thousands of children disappeared from the schools, but they were often met with skepticism. The revelations of two unmarked grave sites are another searing reminder of this traumatic period in history.

    Chief Cadmus Delorme, of the Cowessess First Nation.

    The recent unearthing of remains in Canada have reverberated globally, including in the United States, where this week the interior secretary said the country would search federal boarding schools for possible burial sites of Native American children. Hundreds of thousands of them were forcibly taken from their communities to be culturally assimilated in the schools for more than a century.

    a system started in the 19th century that took Indigenous children from their families.

    A National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established in 2008 to investigate the residential schools, called the practice “cultural genocide.” Many children never returned home, and their families were given only vague explanations of their fates, or none at all. Canada had about 150 residential schools and an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children passed through the schools between their opening, around 1883, and their closing in 1996.

    The commission estimated that about 4,100 children went missing nationwide from the schools. But an Indigenous former judge who led the commission, Murray Sinclair, said in an email this month that he now believed the number was “well beyond 10,000.”

    1.7 million Indigenous citizens, who make up about 4.9 percent of the population, the finding of yet another mass burial site is a visceral reminder of centuries of discrimination and abuse, which has led to intergenerational trauma among survivors of residential schools and their families.

    “There’s no denying this: All of the stories told by our survivors are true,” Chief Cameron said.

    Florence Sparvier, 80, an elder of the Cowessess First Nation, said she attended two residential schools, including Marieval, the school where the unmarked remains were found.

    were forced to attend residential schools in a forced assimilation program. Most of these schools were operated by churches, and all of them banned the use of Indigenous languages and Indigenous cultural practices, often through violence. Disease, as well as sexual, physical and emotional abuse were widespread. An estimated 150,000 children passed through the schools between their opening and their closing in 1996.

  • The Missing Children: A National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up as part of a government apology and settlement over the schools, concluded that at least 4,100 students died while attending them, many from mistreatment or neglect, others from disease or accident. In many cases, families never learned the fate of their offspring, who are now known as “the missing children.”
  • The Recent Discovery: In May, members of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation found 215 bodies at the Kamloops school — which was operated by the Roman Catholic Church until 1969 — after bringing in ground-penetrating radar.
  • ‘Cultural Genocide’: In a 2015 report, the commission concluded that the system was a form of “cultural genocide.” Murray Sinclair, a former judge and senator who headed the commission, recently said he now believed the number of disappeared children was “well beyond 10,000.”
  • Apologies and Next Steps: The commission called for an apology from the pope for the Roman Catholic church’s role. Pope Francis stopped short of one, but the archbishop of Vancouver apologized on behalf of his archdiocese. Canada has formally apologized and offered financial and other search support, but Indigenous leaders believe the government still has a long way to go.
  • In September 2017, Mr. Trudeau acknowledged the nation’s past “humiliation, neglect and abuse” of Indigenous people, and vowed in a speech at the United Nations General Assembly to improve their lives.

    Pope Francis has still not taken that step. By contrast, the leadership of the United Church of Canada, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, apologized in 1998 for its role in running the schools.

    Since the Kamloops announcement, Chief Cameron said, he has been traveling around the province, where farming and mining are major industries, looking at former school sites.

    “You can see with your plain eye the indent of the ground where these bodies are to be found,” he said in an interview Wednesday night. “These children are sitting there, waiting to be found.”

    Vjosa Isai in Toronto contributed reporting.

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    How the Coming Population Bust Will Transform the World

    All over the world, countries are confronting population stagnation and a fertility bust, a dizzying reversal unmatched in recorded history that will make first-birthday parties a rarer sight than funerals, and empty homes a common eyesore.

    Maternity wards are already shutting down in Italy. Ghost cities are appearing in northeastern China. Universities in South Korea can’t find enough students, and in Germany, hundreds of thousands of properties have been razed, with the land turned into parks.

    Like an avalanche, the demographic forces — pushing toward more deaths than births — seem to be expanding and accelerating. Though some countries continue to see their populations grow, especially in Africa, fertility rates are falling nearly everywhere else. Demographers now predict that by the latter half of the century or possibly earlier, the global population will enter a sustained decline for the first time.

    A planet with fewer people could ease pressure on resources, slow the destructive impact of climate change and reduce household burdens for women. But the census announcements this month from China and the United States, which showed the slowest rates of population growth in decades for both countries, also point to hard-to-fathom adjustments.

    spirals exponentially. With fewer births, fewer girls grow up to have children, and if they have smaller families than their parents did — which is happening in dozens of countries — the drop starts to look like a rock thrown off a cliff.

    “It becomes a cyclical mechanism,” said Stuart Gietel Basten, an expert on Asian demographics and a professor of social science and public policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “It’s demographic momentum.”

    Some countries, like the United States, Australia and Canada, where birthrates hover between 1.5 and 2, have blunted the impact with immigrants. But in Eastern Europe, migration out of the region has compounded depopulation, and in large parts of Asia, the “demographic time bomb” that first became a subject of debate a few decades ago has finally gone off.

    South Korea’s fertility rate dropped to a record low of 0.92 in 2019 — less than one child per woman, the lowest rate in the developed world. Every month for the past 59 months, the total number of babies born in the country has dropped to a record depth.

    schools shut and abandoned, their playgrounds overgrown with weeds, because there are not enough children.

    even iPhones.

    To goose the birthrate, the government has handed out baby bonuses. It increased child allowances and medical subsidies for fertility treatments and pregnancy. Health officials have showered newborns with gifts of beef, baby clothes and toys. The government is also building kindergartens and day care centers by the hundreds. In Seoul, every bus and subway car has pink seats reserved for pregnant women.

    But this month, Deputy Prime Minister Hong Nam-ki admitted that the government — which has spent more than $178 billion over the past 15 years encouraging women to have more babies — was not making enough progress. In many families, the shift feels cultural and permanent.

    projections by an international team of scientists published last year in The Lancet, 183 countries and territories — out of 195 — will have fertility rates below replacement level by 2100.

    municipalities have been consolidated as towns age and shrink. In Sweden, some cities have shifted resources from schools to elder care. And almost everywhere, older people are being asked to keep working. Germany, which previously raised its retirement age to 67, is now considering a bump to 69.

    Going further than many other nations, Germany has also worked through a program of urban contraction: Demolitions have removed around 330,000 units from the housing stock since 2002.

    recently increased to 1.54, up from 1.3 in 2006. Leipzig, which once was shrinking, is now growing again after reducing its housing stock and making itself more attractive with its smaller scale.

    “Growth is a challenge, as is decline,” said Mr. Swiaczny, who is now a senior research fellow at the Federal Institute for Population Research in Germany.

    Demographers warn against seeing population decline as simply a cause for alarm. Many women are having fewer children because that’s what they want. Smaller populations could lead to higher wages, more equal societies, lower carbon emissions and a higher quality of life for the smaller numbers of children who are born.

    But, said Professor Gietel Basten, quoting Casanova: “There is no such thing as destiny. We ourselves shape our lives.”

    The challenges ahead are still a cul-de-sac — no country with a serious slowdown in population growth has managed to increase its fertility rate much beyond the minor uptick that Germany accomplished. There is little sign of wage growth in shrinking countries, and there is no guarantee that a smaller population means less stress on the environment.

    Many demographers argue that the current moment may look to future historians like a period of transition or gestation, when humans either did or did not figure out how to make the world more hospitable — enough for people to build the families that they want.

    Surveys in many countries show that young people would like to be having more children, but face too many obstacles.

    Anna Parolini tells a common story. She left her small hometown in northern Italy to find better job opportunities. Now 37, she lives with her boyfriend in Milan and has put her desire to have children on hold.

    She is afraid her salary of less than 2,000 euros a month would not be enough for a family, and her parents still live where she grew up.

    “I don’t have anyone here who could help me,” she said. “Thinking of having a child now would make me gasp.”

    Elsie Chen, Christopher Schuetze and Benjamin Novak contributed reporting.

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    DNA Could Identify Somerton Man Exhumed in Australia

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    No one knows how the so-called Somerton man, found well-dressed and dead with a half-smoked cigarette on his lapel, wound up on the beach in South Australia where he was found. No one knows what he was doing there, or even how he died.

    This week, after he had spent decades puzzling investigators in Australia and amateur sleuths around the world, his remains were exhumed for what might be the best chance of identifying the man in 72 years.

    Called the Somerton man after the beach where he was found in December 1948, the man has proved to be one of Australia’s strangest and most famous cold cases. Should the authorities be able to extract usable DNA from his remains, they could potentially put to rest decades of speculation about whether he was a poisoned spy, a disguised black marketer, a former ballet dancer, a spurned lover or simply the victim of a natural but public death.

    “For more than 70 years people have speculated who this man was and how he died,” Vickie Chapman, the attorney general of South Australia, said in a statement this week. “It’s a story that has captured the imagination of people across the state, and, indeed, across the world — but I believe that, finally, we may uncover some answers.”

    strange mysteries of the 20th century, the case of the Somerton man has baffled investigators and drawn more than its fair share of internet sleuths, attracted by both the glaring unknowns — the cause of death, for one — and the uncanny assortment of clues that investigators did turn up.

    “What makes this kind of go viral is, I think, just all the strange things,” said Derek Abbott, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Adelaide who has spent over a decade studying the case. “It kind of just gives you that creepy shiver down your spine.”

    concluded that it did not have the sophistication of a code and that the letters were more likely the first letters of words in English.

    the rabbit hole.” In 2009 he tried to track down Mrs. Thomson for an interview but found that she had died two years earlier. She had a son who had been a professional ballet dancer, Dr. Abbott learned, and photos showed he had distinctive teeth and ears similar to the Somerton man’s.

    But he died in 2009, months before Dr. Abbott could reach him. He had a daughter, named Rachel Egan, and Dr. Abbott was able to schedule an interview with her.

    To their surprise, they fell for each other, and married in 2010. (“He begged me,” she said, which Dr. Abbott disputed.)

    relatives of Thomas Jefferson) as well as the grandparents of the man that Jo Thomson eventually married.

    “So my head is spinning,” Dr. Abbott said. “Does that prove she’s not connected now to the Somerton man? Or does that prove that somehow the Somerton man is related to her assumed grandfather? It’s getting all complicated, so complicated that I’m just going to shut up now and let the DNA from the Somerton man speak for itself.”

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    In an Israeli city within Hamas’s reach, gratitude for the calm, but bracing for more fighting.

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    ASHKELON, Israel — Residents of Ashkelon, a coastal city barely a dozen miles north of Gaza, emerged gingerly from their houses on Friday — with the skies as calm as the nearby sea.

    For more than a week, the coastal city, which is within the range of rockets fired by Hamas, had been under siege.

    And even after four major conflicts between Israel and the militant groups in Gaza in the past 12 years — with the threat of rocket fire a familiar part of life — it is not something people would ever typically get used to.

    But this time, residents said, it was different. More furious and intense, with barrages of up to 40 rockets at a time.

    Those that slipped through Israel’s vaunted Iron Dome antimissile system crashed into the city with greater impact than in the past.

    Two women died here in a direct strike on their building at the start of the fighting: Nella Gurevitz, 52, and Soumya Santosh, 32, a caregiver.

    Even after the cease-fire took effect on Friday, Marina, an open-air leisure complex with a lagoon of anchored small yachts, ice cream parlors and fish restaurants — usually packed with people at the start of the weekend — was almost empty.

    “People don’t trust it 100 percent,” Liora Yaakobov, 25, a postal worker, said of the cease-fire.

    Out walking with her partner for the first time since the violence started on May 10, Ms. Yaakobov also expressed a disappointment and concern felt by many here, that the truce had come too early, and that the latest bout of fighting would resolve nothing.

    “I’m happy for the calm,” she said, “but I’m waiting for the next round.”

    In one of the older neighborhoods — filled with dilapidated housing projects from the 1950s — small, reinforced concrete shelters dotted the sidewalk. But for many residents they were simply too far away to run and take cover in, with sirens providing only 10 or 15 seconds warning of incoming rockets.

    Ludmilla Gavrielov, 72, a Moldova native with mobility problems, said she had no chance of reaching a shelter in time, and had instead huddled by a wall in her apartment.

    Off South Africa Boulevard, in a more well-heeled section of the city, where the roads are lined with attractive single-family homes, one had suffered a direct hit on Thursday afternoon, about 12 hours before the start of the cease-fire.

    Large Israeli flags had been hung on the front fence in a sign of defiance. The back corner of the villa had been blown away and was in danger of collapse. Pictures still hung on the inner walls, unscathed.

    Next door, Tzvi and Yehudit Berkovitch, grandparents in their 70s, were hurrying to cook for the Sabbath. They had been in their family shelter in the yard when the rocket struck, and had felt the blast.

    “It’s annoying,” Ms. Berkovitch said. She was critical of the Israeli military and government. “In three or four years, there’ll be another round,” she said. “I think they didn’t finish the job.”

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    In the Market for a 529 College Savings Plan? Shop Around

    The outcome could have been different, however, if the error had occurred during a downturn, said Madeline Hume, a Morningstar analyst. She advised being familiar with your plan’s performance, so you can gauge if returns seem out of the ordinary, and paying attention when your plan notifies you of changes. “It’s important to keep aware of what communications are coming out,” she said.

    The firm rates 529 plans on factors like fees, investment options and plan oversight, and most are rated gold, silver or bronze, indicating they offer a net benefit to investors. However, eight plans received “negative” ratings, mostly because of excessive fees.

    Here are some questions and answers about 529 saving plans:

    What college expenses can 529 funds be used for?

    Savings in a 529 can be used to pay college costs including tuition, room and board, mandatory fees, books, supplies and required equipment.

    Can I use 529 funds to pay student loans?

    Yes. Under a law passed in 2019, up to $10,000 from a 529 account can be used to repay a beneficiary’s student loans. Another $10,000 each can be used to repay student loans borrowed by the beneficiary’s siblings.

    Can grandparents save in a 529 account for a grandchild?

    Yes — and an upcoming change to an important financial aid form, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, should help to make that more attractive. Currently, contributions from grandparent-owned 529 plans are reported on the FAFSA as untaxed cash support to the student, which can reduce eligibility for financial aid, said the financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz. An updated FAFSA, however, will eliminate the question about cash support, he said, so distributions from grandparent-owned 529s will no longer be included on the form. The change is expected to take place with the FAFSA available in late 2022, for the 2023-24 academic year.

    The change, however, does not affect a different student aid form, the CSS Profile, which is required by many higher-cost private colleges, Mr. Kantrowitz said.

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    Readers Respond to Australia’s Never-Ending Travel Ban

    The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email.

    Over the past four years, ever since we opened the Australia bureau, I’ve often been impressed with the thoughtfulness and global savvy of our regular readers. This newsletter has always drawn together a far-flung community of Australians and those who love them.

    But after Besha Rodell wrote in last week’s letter about Australia’s decision to keep its international borders closed until the middle of 2022, the floodgates opened in a way I’ve rarely seen. Her heartfelt account was well read the world over, and when we asked for your take on the travel ban, we received hundreds of replies from all over the world.

    Though the opinions varied, and there was some support for restricting travel, most of what we received expressed a mix of disappointment, frustration and confusion.

    Yan Zhuang wrote about these feelings in a news article this week, but even that may not be enough to capture the volume of emotion. So we decided to share a few more responses below (they’ve been edited for brevity and clarity).

    Thank you to everyone who contributed — and we hope you get to see your loved ones soon.

    I’m like thousands of expats from all over the world; we are grief-stricken, confused, and completely exasperated by the government’s lack of communication, unwillingness to commit to metrics or a timetable, and lack of empathy. There seems to be almost no capacity for nuance, no willingness to consider the many points on the spectrum between hard closure and flinging the gates wide open, and a seeming inability to distinguish between travel for pleasure or holidaying and family reunification, vaccinated versus unvaccinated travel, and any way forward for Australia other than ‘zero cases at any cost.’

    — Monica Elith

    We are U.S. citizens who would typically travel once or twice a year to Perth to visit our daughter, who is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia. We are both in our 70s, fully vaccinated, and cannot understand why parents do not fall within the Australian definition of “immediate family” for exceptions from the travel limitations. Our son and his fiancé are planning their wedding, postponed from 2020, for April 2022. Will our daughter not be able to travel to the US to be in her only sibling’s wedding? Can a reasonable risk-based approach be considered by the Australian government for resuming international travel sooner?

    — Paul Hamer

    We moved to San Francisco and then to New York from Geelong/Melbourne seven years ago to pursue careers in tech and the arts. Our oldest is almost 4 and our youngest is almost 1. We have no family here. Our entire family live in Geelong/Melbourne and Canberra.

    I cried reading your article, but as with so many things this past year I steeled myself against another setback. We had thought my parents might visit in October, then we might fly back together and quarantine with their help with the kiddos, maybe see my sister, her family and my darling nephew.

    Now, that seems so naïve! The idea that my son will be 2 before he meets his grandparents and aunt is one of those thoughts I can’t dwell on.

    — Olivia Jones

    I moved here last year from the U.S. with my Australian husband (and dual citizen children), and while of course we’re extremely grateful for the normalcy here, it seems ludicrous to imagine we can freeze the country under glass for years. We feel a bit, well, trapped in paradise. I hope the government soon puts a higher priority on figuring out how to safely open its borders instead of acting like we can wall ourselves off from the world indefinitely.

    — Arwen Griffith

    My only son chooses to live in New York. I am quadriplegic and miss his company but we can FaceTime as often as we like or even, perish the thought, engage in meaningful correspondence — where is the hardship compared to the greater good?

    — Ron Irish

    My two grandsons live in Sydney, they are almost 5 and 2. Oh the hugs we have missed. I know that many people missed hugs during the pandemic but once they were vaccinated they got their hugs. Will Australia open up in 2022 like they say or will the pandemic continue for years to come? Will I be around to hug my grandchildren again? I had tucked my feelings somewhere deep inside me knowing that it is what it is and I can’t do anything about it but I saw myself in Besha Rodell’s article and it brought me to tears.

    — Elizabeth Gundlach

    This travel ban has ruined my life! I haven’t seen my fiancé in 16 months. For the past year I have lived every day depressed, angry, hopeless, irritated, lonely and confused. I feel completely abandoned by my country, the people who are completely OK with the travel ban and just see the tens of thousands of Australians suffering as a necessary sacrifice.

    The level at which the Australian government has taken people like me, and our concerns, seriously is near nil. Most of us have just become accustomed to the fact that our lives will not change in the foreseeable future, that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of days just like this one waiting for us. We carry on like ghosts, our lives on hold, waiting to be with our loved ones, our children, our parents — many with few years left; we wait to be normal again.

    — Luke Penman and Alba Olaya

    Now here are our stories of the week.


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    Australia, ‘Hermit Nation’? Some Warn Against Another Year of Shut Borders.

    MELBOURNE, Australia — When Australian officials announced last week that the country was unlikely to fully reopen its borders until mid-2022 because of the coronavirus, the backlash immediately began building.

    Critics warned that Australia risked becoming a “hermit nation.” Members of the Australian diaspora who had been struggling to return home for months saw it as another blow. The announcement drew dire warnings from business, legal and academic leaders.

    Polls show that keeping the borders shut is a popular idea. But the opposition sees political opportunism on the part of the government. Others predict that a continued policy of isolationism means young people could “face a lost decade” because of prolonged economic loss and social dislocation.

    Australian officials contend that the restrictions on international travel — some of the strictest in the world — are the main reason the country has been so successful in crushing the virus. The government is resisting pressure from many quarters to consider an earlier reopening, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison declaring on Tuesday, “I’m not going to take risks with Australians’ lives.”

    report, titled “A Roadmap to Reopening,” of long-lasting damage to the country, and especially its young people.

    “There is an illusion that Australia can go at it alone and be this Shangri-La in the South Pacific,” Tim Soutphommasane, a political expert at the University of Sydney and co-sponsor of the report, said in an interview. “But I think that’s a misguided view. Other countries that do have a vaccinated population will be able to attract skilled migrants, have their universities open up to international students.”

    recent poll showing that three-quarters of Australians support it.

    Many were barred for weeks from flying home from India because of the Covid crisis raging there. Tens of thousands have been separated from their families or have put their lives on hold as the country refused to budge on travel restrictions.

    For Madeleine Karipidis, an Australian solicitor living in London, the travel hurdles have driven her to take a drastic step. She moved to London from her native Australia seven years ago. After a year of being unable to get home to see her family, and after the government announced the extended closure last week, she began the process of applying for British citizenship.

    Government data released on Monday showed that 1.5 million vaccine doses — a quarter of those distributed — had not been used.

    Vaccine complacency is also a growing concern, with some Australians seeing the perceived risks of a shot as outweighing the danger of getting sick from the coronavirus.

    Still, the government predicts that most people will be vaccinated by the end of the year. But that in itself will not be enough to trigger the reopening of borders, Mr. Morrison has said, because it excludes “millions” of children and those who choose not to be vaccinated. The vaccines may also not be equipped to deal with new variants and mutations, he added.

    For Owais Ahmed, an Australian permanent resident and a cybersecurity consultant, the border closure has put his life in limbo. His family and his fiancée are in Pakistan, and though he has been trying to leave Australia to see them, his requests for an exemption have been denied.

    Mr. Ahmed said he had been happy to wait out the border closure last year, but that the extended lockdown now seemed more political than medical. His plans to get married and start a family in Australia have all been put on pause.

    “I just want to continue my life,” he said.

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