a $155 million pay package that makes him one of the country’s highest-paid executives, added that the company would beef up the team that investigated reported misconduct, fire managers who were found to have impeded investigations and remove in-game content that had been flagged as inappropriate.

Employees said it was not enough.

“We will not return to silence; we will not be placated by the same processes that led us to this point,” organizers of the walkout said in a public statement. They declined to be identified out of fear of reprisal.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

1+1=4? Latin America Confronts a Pandemic Education Crisis.

SOACHA, Colombia — Already, two of Gloria Vásquez’s children had dropped out of school during the pandemic, including her 8-year-old, Ximena, who had fallen so far behind that she struggled with the most basic arithmetic.

“One plus one?” Ms. Vásquez quizzed her daughter one afternoon.

“Four?” the little girl guessed helplessly.

Now, Ms. Vásquez, a 33-year-old single mother and motel housekeeper who had never made it past the fifth grade, told herself she couldn’t let a third child leave school.

“Where’s Maicol?” she asked her children, calling home one night during another long shift scrubbing floors. “Is he studying?”

have returned to the classroom, 100 million children in Latin America are still in full or partial distance learning — or, as in Maicol’s case, some distant approximation of it.

The consequences are alarming, officials and education experts say: With economies in the region pummeled by the pandemic and connections to the classroom so badly frayed, children in primary and secondary school are dropping out in large numbers, sometimes to work wherever they can.

1.8 million children and young people abandoned their educations this school year because of the pandemic or economic hardship, according to the national statistics agency.

Ecuador lost an estimated 90,000 primary and secondary school students. Peru says it lost 170,000. And officials worry that the real losses are far higher because countless children, like Maicol, are technically still enrolled but struggling to hang on. More than five million children in Brazil have had no access to education during the pandemic, a level not seen in more than 20 years, Unicef says.

Increased access to education was one of the great accomplishments of the last half century in Latin America, with enrollment soaring for girls, poor students and members of ethnic and racial minorities, lifting many toward the middle class. Now, an onslaught of dropouts threatens to peel back years of hard-won progress, sharpening inequality and possibly shaping the region for decades to come.

some of the world’s worst outbreaks, yet several South American nations are now experiencing their highest daily death tolls of the crisis, even after more than a year of relentless loss. For some governments, there is little end in sight.

But unless lockdowns end and students get back into the classroom soon, “many children may never return,” the World Bank warns. And “those who do go back to school will have lost months or even years of education.” Some analysts fear the region could be facing a generation of lost children, not unlike places that suffer years of war.

Even before the pandemic, graduating from high school in Ms. Vásquez’s neighborhood was no small feat.

She and her children live at the end of a dirt road, just beyond Bogotá, Colombia’s sprawling, mountain-flanked capital, a deeply unequal city in one of the most unequal regions in the world. Violence and crime are as common here as the ice cream cart that circles the block each afternoon. For some children, the pandemic has been yet another trauma in a seemingly endless succession.

Many parents in the neighborhood make their living as recyclers, traversing the city with wooden wheelbarrows hitched to their backs. And many of their children don’t have computers, internet or family members who can help with class work. Often there is one cellphone for the family, leaving students scrambling for any connection to school.

Ms. Vásquez dropped out at 14 to help raise her siblings, and it has been her greatest regret. The motel she cleans is far from home, sometimes forcing her to leave her children for more than a day — 24 hours for her shift, with at least four hours of commuting. Even so, she rarely makes the country’s monthly minimum wage.

She had hoped her children — Ximena, 8, Emanuel, 12, Maicol, 13, and Karen, 15 — whom she calls “the motor of my life,” would leave the neighborhood, if only they could get through this never-ending pandemic with their schooling intact.

“I’ve always said that we have been dealt a difficult hand,” but “they have a lot of desire to learn,” she said.

Before the virus arrived, her children attended public schools nearby, wearing the colorful uniforms typical for Colombian pupils. Karen wanted to be a doctor. Maicol, a performer. Emanuel, a police officer. Ximena was still deciding.

By late May, the two boys were still officially enrolled in school, but barely keeping up, trying to fill out the work sheets their teachers sent via WhatsApp each week. They have no computer, and it costs Ms. Vásquez 15 cents a page to print the assignments, some of which are dozens of pages long. Sometimes, she has the money. Sometimes not.

Both girls had dropped out altogether. Ximena lost her spot at school just before the pandemic last year because she had missed classes, a not-so uncommon occurrence in Colombia’s overburdened schools. Then, with administrators working from home, Ms. Vásquez said she couldn’t figure out how to get her daughter back in.

Karen said she had lost contact with her instructors when the country went into lockdown in March 2020. Now, she wanted to return, but her family had accidentally broken a tablet lent to her by the school. She was terrified that if she tried to re-enroll, she would be hit with a fine her mother had no money to pay.

The family was already reeling because Ms. Vásquez’s hours at the motel had been cut during the crisis. Now they were four months behind on rent.

Ms. Vásquez was particularly worried about Maicol, who struggled to make sense of work sheets about periodic tables and literary devices, each day more frustrating than the last.

Lately, when he wasn’t recycling, he’d go looking for scrap metal to sell. To him, the nights out with his uncle were a welcome reprieve, like a pirate’s adventure: meeting new people, searching for treasure — toys, shoes, food, money.

But Ms. Vásquez, who had forbidden these jaunts, grew incensed when she heard he was working. The more time Maicol spent with the recycling cart, she feared, the smaller his world would become.

She respected the people who gathered trash for a living. She’d done it when she was pregnant with Emanuel. But she didn’t want Maicol to be satisfied with that life. During her shifts at the motel, cleaning bathrooms, she imagined her children in the future, sitting behind computers, running businesses.

“‘Look,’ people would say, ‘those are Gloria’s kids,’” she said. “They don’t have to bear the same destiny as their mother.”

Over the last year, school began in earnest only after she came home from work. One afternoon, she pulled out a study guide from Emanuel’s teacher, and began dictating a spelling and grammar exercise.

“Once upon a time,” she read.

“Once upon a time,” wrote Emanuel, 12.

“There was a white and gray duck —”

“Gray?” he asked.

When it came to Maicol’s more advanced lessons, Ms. Vásquez was often lost herself. She didn’t know how to use email, much less calculate the area of a square or teach her son about planetary rotations.

“I try to help them with what I understand,” she said. “It’s not enough.”

Lately, she’d become consumed by the question of how her children would catch up when — or if? — they ever returned to class.

The full educational toll of the pandemic will not be known until governments bring children back to school, experts warn. Ms. Di Gropello, of the World Bank, said she feared that many more children, especially poorer ones without computers or internet connections, would abandon their educations once they realize how far behind they’ve fallen.

By mid-June, Colombia’s education ministry announced that all schools would return to in-person courses after a July vacation. Though the country is enduring a record number of daily deaths from the virus, officials have determined that the cost of staying closed is too great.

But as school principals scramble to prepare for the return, some wonder how many students and teachers will show up. At Carlos Albán Holguín, one of the schools in Ms. Vásquez’s neighborhood, the principal said some instructors were so afraid of infection that they had refused to come to the school to pick up the completed assignments their pupils had dropped off.

One recent morning, Karen woke before dawn, as she often does, to help her mother get ready for her shift at the motel. Since leaving school last year, Karen had increasingly taken on the role of parent, cooking and cleaning for the family, and trying to protect her siblings while their mother was at work.

At one point, the responsibility got to be so much that Karen ran away. Her flight lasted just a few hours, until Ms. Vásquez found her.

“I told my mother that she had to support me more,” Karen said. “That she couldn’t leave me alone, that I was an adolescent and I needed her help.”

In their shared bedroom, while Ms. Vásquez applied makeup, Karen packed her mother’s blue backpack, slipping in pink Crocs, a fanny pack, headphones and a change of clothes.

Ms. Vásquez had gone out to march one day, too, blowing a plastic horn in the crowd and calling on the authorities to guarantee what she called a “dignified education.”

But she hadn’t returned to the streets. If something happened to her at the marches, who would support her children?

“Do you want me to braid your hair?” Karen asked her mother.

At the door, she kissed Ms. Vásquez goodbye.

Then, after months of hardship, came a victory.

Ms. Vásquez received messages from Maicol’s and Emanuel’s teachers: Both schools would bring students back, in person, in just a few weeks. And she finally found a spot for Ximena, who had been out of school entirely for more than a year.

“A new start,” Ms. Vásquez said, giddy with excitement.

Karen’s future was less certain. She had worked up the courage to return the broken tablet. Administrators did not fine her — and she applied to a new school.

Now, she was waiting to hear if there was space for her, trying to push away the worry that her education was over.

“I’ve been told that education is everything, and without education there is nothing,” she said. “And, well, it’s true — I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”

Reporting was contributed by Sofía Villamil in Bogotá and Soacha, Colombia; José María León Cabrera in Quito, Ecuador; Miriam Castillo in Mexico City; Mitra Taj in Lima, Peru; and Ana Ionova in Rio de Janeiro.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

For Biden, Europe Trip Achieved 2 Major Goals. And Then There’s Putin and Russia.

GENEVA — President Biden had three big tasks to accomplish on his first foreign trip since taking office: Convince the allies that America was back, and for good; gather them in common cause against the rising threat of China; and establish some red lines for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whom he called his “worthy adversary.”

He largely accomplished the first, though many European leaders still wonder whether his presidency may yet be just an intermezzo, sandwiched between the Trump era and the election of another America First leader uninterested in the 72-year-old Atlantic alliance.

He made inroads on the second, at least in parts of Europe, where there has been enormous reluctance to think first of China as a threat — economically, technologically and militarily — and second as an economic partner.

Mr. Biden expressed cautious optimism about finding ways to reach a polite accommodation with Mr. Putin. But it is far from clear that any of the modest initiatives the two men described on Wednesday, after a stiff, three-hour summit meeting on the edge of Lake Geneva, will fundamentally change a bad dynamic.

when he refers to Beijing’s actions against the Uyghur population and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities as genocide.

So Mr. Biden toned down his autocracy vs. democracy talk for this trip. And that worked.

Yet while “Biden has gotten words from the Europeans, he hasn’t gotten deeds,” said James M. Lindsay, director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Settling some trade issues is a very good start. But it’s not how you start, but how you finish, how you translate the sentiments in the communiqués into common policies, and that will be very difficult.’’

Mr. Biden carefully choreographed the trip so that he demonstrated the repairs being made to the alliance before going on to meet Mr. Putin. Mr. Biden made clear he wanted to present a unified front to the Russian leader, to demonstrate that in the post-Trump era, the United States and the NATO allies were one.

That allowed Mr. Biden to take a softer tone when he got to Geneva for the summit meeting, where he sought to portray Mr. Putin as an isolated leader who has to worry about his country’s future. When Mr. Biden said in response to a reporter’s question that “I don’t think he’s looking for a Cold War with the United States,’’ it was a signal that Mr. Biden believes he has leverage that the rest of the world has underappreciated.

Mr. Putin’s economy is “struggling,’’ he said, and he faces a long border with China at a moment when Beijing is “hellbent” on domination.

“He still, I believe, is concerned about being ‘encircled,’ ” Mr. Biden said. “He still is concerned that we, in fact, are looking to take him down.” But, he added, he didn’t think those security fears “are the driving force as to the kind of relationship he’s looking for with the United States.”

He set as the first test of Mr. Putin’s willingness to deal with him seriously a review of how to improve “strategic stability,’’ which he described as controlling the introduction of “new and dangerous and sophisticated weapons that are coming on the scene now that reduce the times of response, that raise the prospects of accidental war.”

It is territory that has been neglected, and if Mr. Biden is successful he may save hundreds of billions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on hypersonic and space weapons, as well as the development of new nuclear delivery systems.

But none of that is likely to deter Mr. Putin in the world of cyberweapons, which are dirt cheap and give him an instrument of power each and every day. Mr. Biden warned during his news conference that “we have significant cyber capability,” and said that while Mr. Putin “doesn’t know exactly what it is,” if the Russians “violate these basic norms, we will respond with cyber.”

The U.S. has had those capabilities for years but has hesitated to use them, for fear that a cyberconflict with Russia might escalate into something much bigger.

But Mr. Biden thinks Mr. Putin is too invested in self-preservation to let it come to that. In the end, he said, just before boarding Air Force One for the flight home, “You have to figure out what the other guy’s self-interest is. Their self-interest. I don’t trust anybody.”

David E. Sanger reported from Geneva and Steven Erlanger from Brussels.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

China Says It Will Allow Couples to Have 3 Children, Up From 2

China said on Monday that it would allow all married couples to have three children, ending a two-child policy that has failed to raise the country’s declining birthrates and avert a demographic crisis.

The announcement by the ruling Communist Party represents an acknowledgment that its limits on reproduction, the world’s toughest, have jeopardized the country’s future. The labor pool is shrinking and the population is graying, threatening the industrial strategy that China has used for decades to emerge from poverty to become an economic powerhouse.

But it is far from clear that relaxing the policy further will pay off. People in China have responded coolly to the party’s earlier move, in 2016, to allow couples to have two children. To them, such measures do little to assuage their anxiety over the rising cost of education and of supporting aging parents, made worse by the lack of day care and the pervasive culture of long work hours.

In a nod to those concerns, the party also indicated on Monday that it would improve maternity leave and workplace protections, pledging to make it easier for couples to have more children. But those protections are all but absent for single mothers in China, who despite the push for more children still lack access to benefits.

when the number of babies born dropped to the lowest since the Mao era. The country’s total fertility rate — an estimate of the number of children born over a woman’s lifetime — now stands at 1.3, well below the replacement rate of 2.1, raising the possibility of a shrinking population over time.

The announcement on Monday still splits the difference between individual reproductive rights and government limits over women’s bodies. Prominent voices within China have called on the party to scrap its restrictions on births altogether. But Beijing, under Xi Jinping, the party leader who has pushed for greater control in the daily lives of the country’s 1.4 billion people, has resisted.

“Opening it up to three children is far from enough,” said Huang Wenzheng, a demography expert with the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based research center. “It should be fully liberalized, and giving birth should be strongly encouraged.”

“This should be regarded as a crisis for the survival of the Chinese nation, even beyond the pandemic and other environmental issues,” Mr. Huang added. “There should never have been a birth restriction policy in the first place. So it’s not a question of whether this is too late.”

The party made the announcement after a meeting by the Politburo, a top decision-making body, though it was not immediately clear when the change would take effect. In an acknowledgment that raising the birth limits might not be enough, the party also pledged to beef up support for families, though it did not provide details.

tacitly allowing couples to have three children.

But more couples now embrace the concept that one child is enough, a cultural shift that has dragged down birthrates. And some say they are not interested in children at all, even after the latest announcement.

“No matter how many babies they open it up to, I’m not going to have any because children are too troublesome and expensive,” said Li Shan, a 26-year-old product manager at an internet company in Beijing. “I’m impatient and worried that I won’t be able to educate the child well.”

forcing women of Muslim ethnic minorities, like the Uyghurs, to have fewer babies in an effort to suppress their population growth.

A full reversal of the rules could also be seen as a repudiation of a deeply unpopular policy that the party has long defended.

“If a government makes a U-turn today in the West, it’s kind of embarrassing,” said Stuart Gietel-Basten, a professor of social science and public policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “But in a country like China, where the same party has been in charge for 70 years or so, then it makes a statement on the policies that were implemented. And so that’s why I think any change that goes through will be quite gradual.”

For decades, China’s family-planning restrictions empowered the authorities to impose fines on most couples who had more than one child and compel hundreds of millions of Chinese women to undergo invasive procedures.

Gao Bin, a 27-year-old seller of lottery tickets in the eastern city of Qingdao, recalled how his mother had to flee to three different places just to escape family-planning officials because she wanted to keep him. He said that his mother still cries when she recounts those days.

“To be honest, when I saw the announcement of this policy, I was pretty angry,” Mr. Gao said. “I think the government lacks a humane attitude when it comes to fertility.”

Claire Fu and Elsie Chen contributed research.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

U.S.D.A. Will Begin Relief Payments to Black Farmers in June

>>> Check Out Today’s BEST Amazon Deals!<<<<

The United States Department of Agriculture said on Friday that it will begin making loan forgiveness payments in June to thousands of minority farmers as part of the Biden administration’s $4 billion debt relief program.

The initiative, part of the $1.9 trillion economic relief package that Congress passed in March, has been criticized by white farmers, who claim that it is a form of reverse discrimination, and by banks, which have complained they are losing out on profits from lost interest payments. Delays in implementing the program have frustrated Black farmer organizations, whose members have struggled financially for years and received little help from the Trump administration’s farm bailouts last year.

The U.S.D.A. will initially make debt relief payments for about 13,000 loans that were made directly by the agency to minority farmers. The next phase will apply to the approximately 3,000 loans that were made by banks and guaranteed by the U.S.D.A. That will begin “no later” than 120 days from Friday, the agency said.

“The American Rescue Plan has made it possible for U.S.D.A. to deliver historic debt relief to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers,” Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture, said in a statement. “U.S.D.A. is recommitting itself to gaining the trust and confidence of America’s farmers and ranchers using a new set of tools provided in the American Rescue Plan to increase opportunity, advance equity and address systemic discrimination in U.S.D.A. programs.”

other investors.

The U.S.D.A has said that it does not have the authority to cover the banks’ lost interest income.

View Source

E.U. Lawmaker Block Investment Pact With China

The European Parliament halted progress Thursday on a landmark commercial agreement with China, citing the “totalitarian threat” from Beijing because of its record on human rights and its sanctions against Europeans who have been critical of the Chinese government.

By an overwhelming majority, members of Parliament passed a resolution refusing to ratify the so-called Comprehensive Agreement on Investment until China lifts sanctions on prominent European critics of Beijing. The members of Parliament also warned that they could refuse to endorse the agreement because of China’s treatment of Muslim minorities and its suppression of democracy in Hong Kong.

“The human rights situation in China is at its worst since the Tiananmen Square massacre,” the resolution said, accusing China of detaining more than one million people, mostly Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang province, a charge the Chinese government has denied.

The sanctions against members of the European Parliament who have been critical of Beijing, as well as several scholars and research organizations, “constitute an attack against the European Union and its Parliament as a whole, the heart of European democracy and values, as well as an attack against freedom of research,” the resolution said.

sanctions against four Communist Party officials after accusing them of being responsible for human rights violations.

China retaliated with sanctions against members of the European Parliament, including Reinhard Bütikofer, a member of the Greens faction from Germany and prominent critic of Beijing. They are not allowed to travel to China or do business with people in China.

The investment agreement was already in trouble. Valdis Dombrovskis, the European commissioner for trade, said earlier in May that work to finalize the pact was delayed because of repressive Chinese policies. The European Commission, the European Union’s administrative arm, also took steps this month to clamp down on Chinese companies that receive subsidies from the government, giving them an unfair competitive edge.

The resolution passed Thursday by a vote of 599 in favor and 30 against, with 58 abstentions. The no votes came from a handful of far-right or far-left members of Parliament.

View Source

Banks Fight $4 Billion Debt Relief Plan for Black Farmers

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration’s efforts to provide $4 billion in debt relief to minority farmers is encountering stiff resistance from banks, which are complaining that the government initiative to pay off the loans of borrowers who have faced decades of financial discrimination will cut into their profits and hurt investors.

The debt relief was approved as part of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package that Congress passed in March and was intended to make amends for the discrimination that Black and other nonwhite farmers have faced from lenders and the United States Department of Agriculture over the years. But no money has yet gone out the door.

Instead, the program has become mired in controversy and lawsuits. In April, white farmers who claim that they are victims of reverse discrimination sued the U.S.D.A. over the initiative.

Now, three of the biggest banking groups — the American Bankers Association, the Independent Community Bankers of America and National Rural Lenders Association — are waging their own fight and complaining about the cost of being repaid early.

other investors.

They also want other investors who bought the loans in the secondary market to get government money that would make up for whatever losses they might incur from the early payoff.

Bank lobbyists, in letters and virtual meetings, have been asking the Agriculture Department to make changes to the repayment program, a U.S.D.A. official said. They are pressing the U.S.D.A. to simply make the loan payments, rather than wipe out the debt all at once. And they are warning of other repercussions, including long-term damage to the U.S.D.A.’s minority lending program.

In a letter sent last month to Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, the banks suggested that they might be more reluctant to extend credit if the loans were quickly repaid, leaving minority farmers worse off in the long run. The intimation was viewed as a threat by some organizations that represent Black farmers.

they wrote to Mr. Vilsack in April.

The U.S.D.A. has shown no inclination to reverse course. An agency official said that obliging the banks would put an undue burden on taxpayers and that the law did not allow the agency to pay interest costs or reimburse secondary market investors. The agency hopes to be able to begin the debt relief process in the coming weeks, according to the official, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the program.

The relief legislation that Congress passed in March provided “sums as may be necessary” from the Treasury Department to help minority farmers and ranchers pay off loans granted or guaranteed by the Agriculture Department. Most of the loans are made directly to farmers, but about 12 percent, or 3,078, are made through lenders and guaranteed by the U.S.D.A.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the loan forgiveness provision would cost $4 billion over a decade.

While America’s banks have flourished in the last century, the number of Black-owned farms has declined sharply since 1920, to less than 40,000 today from about a million. Their demise is the result of industry consolidation as well as onerous loan terms and high foreclosure rates.

Black farmers have been frustrated by the delays and say they are angry that banks are demanding additional money, slowing down the debt relief process.

“Look at the two groups: You have the Black men and women who have gone through racism and discrimination and have lost their land and their livelihood,” said Bill Bridgeforth, a farmer in Alabama who is on the board of the National Black Growers Council. “And then you have the American Bankers Association, which represents the wealthiest folks in the land, and they’re whining about the money they could potentially lose.”

John Boyd Jr., president of the National Black Farmers Association, a nonprofit, said he found it upsetting that the banks said little about years of discriminatory lending practices and instead complained about losing profits.

“They’ve never signed on to a letter or supported us to end discrimination, but they were quick to send a letter to the secretary telling him how troublesome it’s going to be for the banks,” Mr. Boyd said. “They need to think about the trouble they’ve caused not working with Black farmers and the foreclosure process and how troublesome that was for us.”

Mr. Boyd urged Mr. Vilsack not to let the debt relief stall.

“It’s planting season and Black farmers and farmers of color really could use this relief,” Mr. Boyd said.

Cornelius Blanding, executive director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, said that the letter from the banks appeared to be a veiled threat.

“They are prioritizing profits over people,” Mr. Blanding said, expressing concern that the backlash from banks and white farmers could delay the debt relief. “Debt has been a burden on the back of many farmers and especially farmers of color. Them holding this up really prolongs justice.”

Although the government is paying 120 percent of the outstanding loan amounts to cover additional taxes and fees, banks say that unless they get more, they will be on the losing end of the bailout.

The banking industry groups could not offer an estimate of how much additional money they would need to be satisfied. The Agriculture Department said it would cost tens of millions of dollars to meet the banks’ demands.

In the letter to Mr. Vilsack, the bank lobbyists pointed to one large community bank, which they said had a $200 million portfolio of loans to socially disadvantaged farmers that would lose millions of dollars of net income per year if the loans were quickly paid off. They warned that such a move would “undoubtedly reduce the bank’s ability to retain employees.”

The American Bankers Association defended the request, arguing that lenders have been a lifeline to minority farmers. It said that the matter primarily affects the group’s smaller members that have large portfolios of loans from socially disadvantaged borrowers. Representatives for Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup said that the debt relief program had not been on their radar and that they had not been lobbying against it.

“We recognize the need for U.S.D.A. to carry out this act of Congress, and we support the goal of providing financial relief to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers,” said Sarah Grano, a spokeswoman for the American Bankers Association. “We believe it would be helpful if the U.S.D.A. implemented this one-time action without causing undue financial harm to the very lenders who have been supporting farmers with much-needed credit.”

Danny Creel, the executive director of the National Rural Lenders Association, said he had no comment. An official from the Independent Community Bankers of America said that the group was not currently considering litigation and that it anticipated that the federal government would find a way to accommodate its requests.

Lawmakers who helped craft the relief legislation have expressed little sympathy for the banks and are pressing the agriculture department to get the money out the door.

Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, said: “U.S.D.A. should now take this first step toward addressing the agency’s history of discrimination by quickly implementing the law that Congress passed and moving forward without delay to pay off in full all direct and guaranteed loans of Black farmers and other socially disadvantaged farmers.”

The banks are not the only ones who have been fighting the debt relief initiative. A group of white farmers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota and Ohio are suing the Agriculture Department, arguing that offering debt relief on the basis of skin color is discriminatory. America First Legal, a group led by the former Trump administration official Stephen Miller, filed a lawsuit making a similar argument in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas this month.

Mr. Vilsack said at a White House press briefing this month that his department would not be deterred by pushback against its plans to help minority farmers.

“I think I have to take you back 20, 30 years, when we know for a fact that socially disadvantaged producers were discriminated against by the United States Department of Agriculture,” Mr. Vilsack said. “So, the American Rescue Plan’s effort is to begin addressing the cumulative effect of that discrimination in terms of socially disadvantaged producers.”

View Source

Coinbase made $771 million in profit in the first quarter, benefiting from crypto mania.

The cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase said on Thursday that its quarterly profit soared by more than 20 times from a year earlier as its revenue skyrocketed, in a sign of how enthusiasm for digital currencies has gone mainstream in the pandemic.

Coinbase said it brought in $1.8 billion in revenue during the first three months of the year, up from $191 million in the same period a year ago. Profits jumped to $771 million from $32 million. It was the company’s first earnings report since it went public last month.

But Coinbase also offered a cautionary note, saying that rivals were swarming the market and increasing competition. The company has been spending heavily on marketing and development to keep ahead of its competitors.

“The rapid expansion of the cryptoeconomy also creates challenges for Coinbase,” it said in a letter to shareholders. “We also have to continue to move quickly to address them, and that inspires us toward action and growth.”

a wave of market manias have gripped the financial world during the pandemic. That surge has also driven growth and profits for Coinbase. It said Thursday that 56 million people were verified on its platform, up from 34 million a year earlier.

But Coinbase’s share price has dropped as cryptocurrencies have fallen from their highs and its market capitalization now stands at $53 billion. On Wednesday, Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla and a vocal cryptocurrency supporter, tweeted that Tesla would stop accepting Bitcoin as payment for cars, citing environmental reasons, and Bitcoin’s value dropped. One Bitcoin was worth under $50,000 on Thursday, down from more than $63,000 in mid-April.

Coinbase has also faced criticism as it has grown. Customers have said the company has ignored their pleas for help when their digital fortunes were stolen or when they were locked out of their accounts. Current and former employees have also said Coinbase has treated Black and women employees unfairly.

This week, Coinbase said it was increasing compensation for its employees as it tried to stay competitive and reduce uncertainty. Employees will no longer negotiate for salaries when starting at the company, which “can disproportionately leave women and underrepresented minorities behind,” it said in a blog post.

started as a joke, would be available to trade on Coinbase in six to eight weeks.

View Source

Cameroon Sentences Transgender Women to 5 Years in Prison

Two transgender women were sentenced to five years in prison in Cameroon this week after they were found guilty of “attempted homosexuality” and public indecency, the latest example of an increasing crackdown on gay and transgender people in the West African nation, human rights groups say.

Shakiro, identified in police documents as Loïc Njeukam, and Patricia, referred to as Roland Mouthe, both identify as transgender and were arrested in February as they were having dinner at a restaurant in Douala, Cameroon’s economic capital. On Tuesday, they were also found guilty of failing to show proof of identity and given the maximum fine of 200,000 CFA francs, or $370.

Shakiro, a social media personality who has amassed tens of thousands of followers through her posts calling for more tolerance toward gender minorities in Cameroon, has stopped eating and shared plans to die by suicide since the verdict, according to her mother, Joséphine Marie Njeukam, who visited her in prison on Wednesday.

Ms. Njeukam said her child told her, “‘Mum, I won’t survive here for five years.’” She said her child didn’t kill anyone or steal, and that her sexuality “shouldn’t be a crime.”

according to Human Rights Watch, and several of those arrested were subjected to beatings and other forms of abuse.

“There has long been an anti-L.G.B.T. sentiment in Cameroon,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, a researcher at Human Rights Watch who documents abuses in the country. “Now the judicial system contributes to the perception that homosexual and transgender people are criminals.”

The sentence for Shakiro and Patricia, who both go by a single name, is the maximum punishment under Cameroon’s penal code for engaging in sexual intercourse with a person of the same sex. But the women’s lawyer says they were detained while they were having dinner in a public space, and were not intimate or attempting to be.

Shakiro, 23, and Patricia, 27, were at a restaurant in Douala on Feb. 8 when police officers arrested them on charges of failing to provide identity documents. The two remained in prison for two months awaiting trial, according to their lawyer, Alice Nkom, and were sentenced on Tuesday.

Human Rights Watch.

Prosecutors in Cameroon and several other countries in Africa where homosexuality is criminalized, including Kenya, Tunisia and Uganda, among others, have in recent years commissioned anal examinations to allegedly prove that a person had engaged in homosexual intercourse, even though the outdated practice has been widely discredited by health care professionals and amounts to sexual assault.

attracted a wide following on social media, where she has repeatedly called for more tolerance against homosexual and transgender people in Cameroon.

“My sexual orientation and my sexuality aren’t choices,” she wrote in March. “But your baseless hatred and your homophobia are.”

Linda Noumsi, a makeup artist and friend of Shakiro’s, said her activism had attracted many critics. “She has a strong personality, and she can be quite vocal about her cause, which brought real supporters, fake friends, and enemies,” Ms. Noumsi said.

Ms. Nkom, the lawyer, said the verdict sent a pernicious message to the public in Cameroon: “It says, ‘If you don’t like someone’s appearance because they are different, you can just call the police, and they’ll have them arrested.’”

View Source

Once-a-Decade Census Shows an Aging, Better-Educated China

Births are falling. The population is aging. The work force of the world’s second-largest economy is shrinking.

China’s latest once-a-decade census, which was conducted last year, showed the slowest population growth since the 1960s, confirming that the country is in the midst of an urgent demographic crisis.

The results may push the government to loosen its family planning restrictions, which have shaped the most intimate aspects of Chinese society — marriage, childbirth and child-rearing — for decades. But the stark need for change has also underscored how reluctant the authorities have been to fully let go of control.

according to World Bank data. Last year, just 12 million babies were born in China, the lowest official number since 1961, as the country was emerging from a devastating famine.

Experts cautioned that the pandemic may have been a major factor, but births have now declined for four consecutive years.

The numbers make clear that China’s aging crisis will not be resolved anytime soon. As older Chinese people occupy a greater share of the population, while the younger work force who would support them declines, China’s pension funds and underdeveloped facilities for older adults are sure to feel strain. Adults above 60 now make up 18.7 percent of the population, compared with 13.3 percent in 2010.

Liang Jianzhang, a demography expert at Peking University, said he expected that the government would lift its remaining limits on fertility soon. Five years ago it ended its one-child policy and allowed families to have two children, but families who have more can still be penalized or denied benefits.

forcing women to have fewer babies as part of an effort to control the Muslim ethnic minorities there.

Stuart Gietel-Basten, a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology who studies demography. But that ratio is still higher than normal, suggesting a lingering preference for boys, he added.

The advancement of women faces more official obstacles, too. In an effort to address the fertility crisis, officials in recent years have sought to push women back into traditional gender roles. Feminist activists have been detained or censored online.

39 percent of adults aged 25 to 64 in countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development had some form of tertiary education.) But it is a tremendous accomplishment for a country that in 1997 had fewer than 3.5 million undergraduate and graduate students.

Still, experts have noted that the surging numbers of college graduates may bring a new problem: a dearth of well-paid jobs to employ them. China’s economy is still largely reliant on blue-collar labor. Ning Jizhe, the head of China’s National Bureau of Statistics, acknowledged the gap at a news conference about the census on Tuesday.

“Employment pressure on college students is increasing,” he said. “The pace of industrial transformation and upgrading needs to speed up.”

Unless the new crop of educated young people can find stable jobs, Professor Gietel-Basten said, the fertility rate may drop even further. “If you’ve got a situation where you have graduate unemployment and it’s difficult to access these good jobs,” he said, “why would you have more babies?”

Wang Feng, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine. As the northeast continues to empty out, those disparities may become even more pronounced, he added.

View Source