abortions were common.

mandatory military service. But many women drop out of the work force after giving birth, and much of the domestic duties fall to them.

“What more do you want? We gave you your own space in the subway, bus, parking lot,” the male rapper San E writes in his 2018 song “Feminist,” which has a cult following among young anti-feminists. “Oh girls don’t need a prince! Then pay half for the house when we marry.”

The gender wars have infused the South Korean presidential race, largely seen as a contest for young voters. With the virulent anti-feminist voice surging, no major candidate is speaking out for women’s rights, once such a popular cause that President Moon Jae-in called himself a “feminist” when he campaigned about five years ago.

has said.

It is hard to tell how many young men support the kind of extremely provocative​ and often theatrical​ activism championed by groups like Man on Solidarity. Its firebrand leader, Mr. Bae, showed up at a recent feminist rally​​ dressed as the Joker from “Batman” comics and toting a toy water gun. He followed female protesters around, pretending to, as he put it, “kill flies.”

Tens of thousands of fans have watched his stunts livestreamed online, sending in cash donations. During one online talk-fest in August, Mr. Bae raised nine million won ($7,580) in three minutes.

legalize abortion and started one of the most powerful #MeToo campaigns in Asia.

Lee Hyo-lin, 29, said that “feminist” has become such a dirty word that women who wear their hair short or carry a novel by a feminist writer risk ostracism. When she was a member of a K-pop group, she said that male colleagues routinely commented on her body, jeering that she “gave up being a woman” when she gained weight.

“The #MeToo problem is part of being a woman in South Korea,” she said. “Now we want to speak out, but they want us to shut up. It’s so frustrating.”

On the other side of the culture war are young men with a litany of grievances — concerns that are endlessly regurgitated by male-dominated forums. They have fixated, in particular, on limited cases of false accusations, as a way to give credence to a broader anti-feminist agenda.

Son Sol-bin, a used-furniture seller, was 29 when his former girlfriend accused him of rape and kidnapping in 2018. Online trolls called for his castration, he said. His mother found closed-circuit TV footage proving the accusations never took place.

“The feminist influence has left the system so biased against men that the police took a woman’s testimony and a mere drop of her tears as enough evidence to land an innocent man in jail,” said Mr. Son, who spent eight months in jail before he was cleared. “I think the country has gone crazy.”

As Mr. Son fought back tears during a recent anti-feminist rally, other young men chanted: “Be strong! We are with you!”

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Once a Symbol of U.S. Strength, an Afghan District Now Faces Dire Times

At the war’s end, residents of Marja are growing increasingly desperate for any kind of help, a frustration that has turned to anger that the international community has seemingly abandoned them.


MARJA, Afghanistan — Haji Rozi Khan stood outside the gate of the bullet-pocked building that housed the Marja district’s government offices, staring through the slotted steel door into the compound. Taliban guards stared back. They were not who he was looking for.

Mr. Khan had trekked to Marja’s district center in Helmand Province from his village several miles away by motorbike, kicking up powdered dust as he navigated the unpaved roads, long damaged by the war. He was searching for a figure who had been even more elusive since the Taliban took power in August: an aid worker.

“We have nothing to eat,” he said in an interview last month.

Once, Marja was the site of one of the biggest battles of the two-decade war, part of the United States’ counterinsurgency campaign to weaken the Taliban and build up a local government. But today, the grid-like patch of mud-walled hamlets and canals looks much as it did at the outset of the invasion in 2001: barely navigable roads, understaffed and damaged schools and clinics and withered crops, crippled by one of the worst droughts in decades.

humanitarian crisis, Marja’s residents are still caught in the war’s aftershocks. Amid a crashing economy and ruined harvests, in a place where most people barely live above the poverty line, many are just now realizing how dependent they were on foreign aid, their lifeline for 20 years, which was cut off practically overnight. They’re growing increasingly desperate for help, a frustration that has morphed into anger that the international community has seemingly abandoned them.

that crumbled even before the Americans fully withdrew from the country in August. Many in Marja were happy to see the foreign occupation end and the Taliban take power, because it brought stability to the region after years of fighting that took countless civilian lives and wrought widespread destruction.

under control of the Taliban. Across the country, there is widespread anxiety about the future.

This year’s turmoil has been deepened by the arrival of roughly 20 displaced families from central Afghanistan. They were hungry and homeless, he said, so he gave them what little food he could spare before making his way to the district center in hopes of finding someone else who could help.

“We are so tired,” Mr. Khan said, his blue shalwar kameez flapping in the morning breeze.

In recent weeks, the United States and the European Union have pledged to provide $1.29 billion more in aid to Afghanistan. The World Bank’s board moved in late November to free up $280 million in frozen donor funding, but U.S. sanctions against the Taliban continue to make it extremely difficult for aid organizations to get money into the country.

Aside from the sanctions, the Taliban government’s inability to provide for its people also stems from its inexperience in governance, which was clearly illustrated in a visit to the district office in Marja.

Inside the squat government building that was refurbished by the Americans a decade ago and nearly destroyed by fighting in the decade since, sat Mullah Abdul Salam Hussaini, 37, Marja’s district governor. The newly appointed local leader had spent the better part of the last 20 years — essentially his entire adulthood — trying to kill U.S. and NATO forces as a Taliban fighter.

Now he found himself governing a district of around 80,000 people mired in crisis, with little in the way of funds, infrastructure or public-service experience to support his constituents.

People lined up at the compound gates with a litany of complaints and requests: Do something about the displaced refugees; build a new health clinic; help farmers whose crops were destroyed; find more teachers for what may be the only remaining school in Marja.

“Whatever people ask, I am asking that, too, because we are not in a situation to do it ourselves,” Mr. Hussaini said quietly, surrounded by Talibs who looked far more comfortable behind a rifle than a desk. “We need the help of foreigners because they did it before and we’re asking them to do it again.”

Inside the governor’s dimly lit office, walls and window sill adorned with Kalashnikov rifles and other weapons captured from the previous government, sat a representative from a local aid group who had come to survey the district and its food needs for the World Food Program. The organization is still distributing basic food staples, but the rising demand has far exceeded their supplies.

For years, the insurgent group controlled pockets of Afghanistan and fueled a shadow economy by leeching off the previous government’s foreign-filled coffers through taxes on everyone in their territory, including truck drivers and aid workers. But those sorts of activities cannot make up for the loss of outside help.

“The Taliban don’t seem to have had a sense of how dependent the economy was on foreign support, which they benefited from as did everyone else,” said Kate Clark, the co-director of Afghanistan Analysts Network. “Even under the areas under Taliban control they weren’t funding the schools and the clinics.”

Marja, a district long reliant on growing poppy for its own illicit economy that the Taliban also taxed, was built by the United States in the late 1950s and 1960s as an agricultural project that diverted water from the Helmand River into a series of distinct grids.

In 2010, during the height of President Barack Obama’s troop surge, thousands of Western and Afghan troops secured the network of canals and fields in a major military offensive and then made promises of roads, schools and a functioning local government. Considered the last Taliban stronghold in central Helmand, Marja was a strategically important district in the eyes of military planners, who decided a victory there would be crucial to Mr. Obama’s new counterinsurgency strategy.

The Koru Chareh bazaar, a cluster of shoddy low-slung, steel-door shops, was where some of the first American troops arrived in 2010. “They came at night,” recalled Abdul Kabir, a young shopkeeper who was 9 when the first helicopters landed nearby.

As a boy, he watched as the Marines in desert tan uniforms walked by, saying nothing to him.

But this November, the only visible signs of the Americans’ occupation was a “Trump 2020 Keep America Great” flag draped from a shopkeeper’s peanut stand and a Confederate battle flag hanging from a shed nearby. A paved road that bisects Marja from north to south is arguably the most prominent American piece of infrastructure in the district, built as part of the more than $4 billion in stabilization funds that the United States poured into the country.

“It’s good the fighting is over,” Mr. Kabir said, standing next to his money exchange stand, where he focused on changing afghanis into Pakistani rupees. Few people ambled by. He had lived in Marja his whole life, an arc that followed the entire U.S. occupation.

Mr. Kabir was one of several residents who praised the security situation but lamented the economic downturn. “There is no money and everything is expensive,” he added.

With fluctuating border restrictions, higher import costs and a cash shortage, basic products in the bazaar, such as cooking oil, are three times as expensive as they once were.

To the vendors, who have distinct memories of fighting outside their homes, and explosions and gunshots that killed their friends, the economic crunch and the United States’ unwillingness to recognize the Taliban feel like punishments against them, not the new government.

Ali Mohammed, 27, who runs a chicken stand at the main intersection of the bazaar, has carried the weight of the war for years. He watched as a friend was gunned down by the Americans in a field just a few hundred yards from where he now sells his underfed birds. To him, his country’s situation was simply a new phase of the conflict.

“The foreigners say they are not here anymore,” he said. “But they didn’t finish the war against us.”

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Boris Johnson Is in Trouble. The Question Is, How Much?

LONDON — When Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain warned his country in a televised address on Sunday night that a tidal wave was coming, he might well have been talking about his own political future.

Mr. Johnson’s reference was to the latest coronavirus variant, which is sweeping across Britain and prompted him to ramp up a campaign to deliver 18 million booster shots by New Year’s Day. But the prime minister faces a different kind of deluge: from a rebellious Conservative Party, collapsing poll ratings and persistent questions about whether he or his staff flouted the very lockdown rules they imposed on the public.

The cascade of bad news is so extreme that it has raised questions about whether Mr. Johnson will even hang on to power until the next election. It is an ominous turn for a leader who has long defied political gravity, surviving scandals and setbacks that would have sunk many other politicians.

“It’s not the end for him, but I think it’s the beginning of the end,” said Jonathan Powell, who served as chief of staff to a Labour prime minister, Tony Blair. “The problem is that these crises have a cumulative effect. As soon as he ceases to be an asset and the party is facing an election, they’ll get rid of him.”

according to a poll by the market research firm Opinium. The opposition Labour Party has jumped to a lead over the Conservatives of nine percentage points, its largest advantage since February 2014.

“The thing that should most worry the prime minister is that while the Tory share has dipped quite clearly, the ratings for the prime minister have dipped even more,” said Robert Hayward, a Conservative member of the House of Lords and a polling expert. “The message is quite clear: that this is at the prime minister’s door.”

For Mr. Johnson, the rapidly spreading Omicron variant could help him politically, giving him a fresh public-health crisis around which to mobilize another national vaccination campaign. Britain’s rapid rollout of vaccines early in the year buoyed the government, though the pace fell off later in the summer, and Britain’s rate of fully vaccinated people now trails those of France, Italy and Portugal.

There was anecdotal evidence on Monday that Mr. Johnson’s urgent call for booster shots had resonated with the public: People had booked more than 110,000 appointments by 9 a.m. on Monday morning, causing the National Health Service’s website to crash under the weight of the demand. Long lines formed outside vaccination sites, including one snaking around St. Thomas’s Hospital, across the river from Parliament in London.

recently likened Mr. Johnson to President Richard M. Nixon and accused his aides of lying consistently.

“There are several reasons for this,” Mr. Hodges wrote. “One is obviously Boris himself. As a former minister said: ‘He treats facts like he treats all his relationships — utterly disposable once inconvenient.’”

resigned in a flap over his outside lobbying activities. Oddsmakers now expect the Tories to lose the seat to the Liberal Democrats.

That would be a demoralizing setback for both Mr. Johnson and his party; those are the type of working-class voters who swept Mr. Johnson to power and whom he needs to hold on to if he wants to win again in the next election.

“The Tories are more willing to get rid of their leaders than the other political parties: We do it much more quickly and ruthlessly,” Mr. Hayward said. “But the loss of support is attritional; it isn’t over one particular event.”

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‘Today’s Outfit Is Confidence’: Atypical TikTok Star Enchants Mexico

MEXICO CITY — At 49 years old and under five feet tall, Martha Izquierdo doesn’t exactly fit the mold of a TikTok influencer. But having survived sexual abuse, kidnapping, two bouts with cancer and two heart attacks, conquering social media was practically a cinch for this Mexican journalist.

Ms. Izquierdo, who lives in a small town in southern Oaxaca state, has amassed more than 600,000 followers on the social media platform, with her videos accumulating some 24 million likes.

What’s the message that has made her so popular in a time of pandemic and in a country experiencing record levels of violence?

“I started talking about issues that had to do with seeing life in a positive way,” Ms. Izquierdo said. “Confronting your fears, making people understand that each one of us is unique, irreplaceable.”

award-winning journalist with decades of reporting experience, Ms. Izquierdo is relatively new to social media stardom. As the pandemic began its assault on Mexico in 2020, she decided to open a TikTok account, where she goes by @marthaizquierdooficial.

a devastating toll on public health and the economy, Ms. Izquierdo offers her fans a dose of pure delight. And in a digital era where everything is photoshopped glamour, Ms. Izquierdo’s very ordinariness, whether exercising, driving to work or dancing to cumbia music in her back yard, has made her extraordinary.

Her colorful outfits are part of her appeal, from traditional Oaxacan dresses to bikinis for the beach — the long scar from cancer surgery that slices across her belly proudly on display. But Ms. Izquierdo’s brand isn’t so much couture as confidence.

“If you have to start over, start over,” she said in one clip. “That’s what life is all about — never giving up.”

the world’s deadliest countries for journalists, reporting the news came with immense risks: Often, her work involved covering the cartel-fueled violence that has terrorized the country for decades.

In 2007, three newspaper sellers in a city near where she lived were killed, she recounted, by the violent Zetas cartel, whose assassins had mistaken their victims for journalists. When Ms. Izquierdo went to cover the killings, she received an ominous phone call saying she was next.

surrounded and detained by armed men. It was only when the army arrived that Ms. Izquierdo was released.

Still, despite continually confronting danger on the job, Ms. Izquierdo said her greatest challenge in life came when her partner of 18 years, who had been battling cancer and kidney problems, finally succumbed.

“I wanted to kill myself because I loved him so much that I stopped loving myself,” she said.

Then, in 2015, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and given eight months to live. Again, she thought about giving up.

But her friends and family convinced her to keep fighting. She underwent chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, leaving her body scarred.

“I would cry in front of the mirror when I looked at myself because my body looked mutilated,” Ms. Izquierdo said. “I felt like Frankenstein.”

Eventually she defeated the cancer — but in 2017 it returned, this time in her stomach. In February of that year she had a heart attack.

After surviving a second heart attack months later, Ms. Izquierdo said everything changed. While unconscious, Ms. Izquierdo said she had a vision during which she heard her deceased partner’s voice telling her to go on living.

“If I came back to life it was for one purpose,” she said. “To keep living, to be happy, and to help other people with my life experience.”

It was that positive attitude that catapulted her to TikTok fame. But along with all the followers came the trolls, who called her overweight or unattractive. At first, the negative comments started getting to her; then, she decided to stop caring.

“When I was allowing myself to be affected by unfounded negative comments, I said to myself, ‘No — I love myself.’”

Before long, the number of negative comments started dropping, even as her followers increased. Watching haters change their attitude toward her, Ms. Izquierdo said, is what she considers one of the greatest achievements of her TikTok presence. That, and the messages she receives from fans telling her the effect she’s had on their lives.

A few weeks ago, one of those fans, Ms. Méndez, summoned the courage to contact her idol. The resulting phone conversation, she said, has turned her life around: She’s gone to see a specialist about losing weight and plans to start working out.

“I want to wake up dancing every morning like she does,” Ms. Méndez said. “She’s a woman worth her weight in gold.”

For Ms. Izquierdo, this kind of impact is the point of all her efforts.

“It’s all worth it if I can change someone who is facing a problem,” she said. “If I can make them smile.”

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High Gas Prices Force Sacrifices, Like Travel and Dining Out

A driver in Belleville, N.J., cut his cable and downsized his apartment to save money for gas. A retiree in Vallejo, Calif., said he had stopped driving to go fishing because the miles cost too much in fuel. An auto repairman in Toms River, N.J., doesn’t go to restaurants as often. And an Uber Eats deliveryman said he couldn’t afford frequent visits to his family and friends, some of whom live 60 miles away.

“Times are tough right now,” Chris Gonzalez, 31, the Uber Eats driver, said as he filled up his tank at a Safeway gas station off Interstate 80 in California.

Millions of American drivers have acutely felt the recent surge in gas prices, which last month hit their highest level since 2014. The national average for a gallon of gas is $3.41, which is $1.29 more than it was a year ago, according to AAA. Even after a recent price dip in crude oil, gasoline remains 7 cents more per gallon than it was a month ago.

While consumers are seeing a steady rise in the prices of many goods and services, the cost of gas is especially visible. It is displayed along highways across the country, including in areas where a gallon has climbed as high as $7.59.

survey from the fuel savings platform GasBuddy.

instructed the Federal Trade Commission this week to investigate why prices at the pump haven’t declined as much as might be expected, citing the possibility of “illegal conduct” by oil and gas companies. The administration is also facing calls from Congress to tap the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, said would help struggling Americans.

Gas prices have gone up in part because of fluctuations in supply and demand. Demand for oil fell precipitously in the early months of the pandemic, so the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other oil-producing nations cut production. In the United States, reduced demand led to a substantial decline in drilling; the country’s oil rig count was down nearly 70 percent in summer 2020.

But over the past year, demand for oil recovered far faster than OPEC restored its production, and crude oil prices doubled to as much as $84 a barrel. (Since Nov. 9, the price has declined to just over $76.)

higher in the past; in 2008, the national average rose above $4.10 per gallon. (Adjusted for inflation, that would be equivalent to $5.16 today.) They’re optimistic that the increase in travel and gas demand is a reflection of the economy’s rebound from the pandemic, though they worry that rising prices could make people cut back on other spending.

“If gas prices rise so much that it affects consumers’ disposable incomes, this would weigh on discretionary spending,” said Fawad Razaqzada, a market analyst at ThinkMarkets. “It would be bad news for retailers.”

In California, where the average price of a gallon is the highest in the nation, at more than $4.60, drivers said they were changing their behavior. Some sought out cheaper spots, like Costco and Safeway gas stations, to save a few dollars.

At an Arco station in San Francisco’s NoPa neighborhood, a line of cars extended into the crowded street on Thursday. Some drivers searched for change. Others grumbled about the prices, which have shot up to as much as $4.49 at the Arco — known locally for its normally cheap rates — and up to $5.85 in the most expensive part of the city.

Keith Crawford, 57, who was filling up his Kia Optima, said he had taken to getting smaller amounts of gas twice a week to soften the blow to his bank account.

“You have to spread it out in order to stay afloat,” said Mr. Crawford, a concierge. “It’s part of the budget now.”

Thirty miles northeast of San Francisco in Vallejo, drivers lined up at the Safeway gas station off I-80, where the price was $4.83 per gallon. Several put the blame for their bills on the Biden administration.

“It’s Biden, Gavin Newsom — look at the gas taxes we pay,” said Kevin Altman, a 54-year-old retiree, referring to California’s governor.

Mr. Altman paid $50 to fill up his Jeep and estimated the gas would last him just two days. He said he had stopped driving to go fishing in nearby Benicia to avoid using too much gas, and would do all his Christmas shopping online this year.

The cost can be especially challenging for people who own businesses that depend on transit. Mahmut Sonmez, 33, who runs a car service, spends nearly $800 on gas out of the $2,500 he earns each week driving people around New Jersey. To save money, he moved in September into a Belleville apartment that is $400 cheaper than his previous home. He also cut his cable service and changed cellphone plans.

If gas prices keep rising, Mr. Sonmez said, he will consider changing jobs after nine years in the industry. “Somehow we’ve got to pay the rent,” he said.

In New Jersey, which bans self-service gas, some drivers are directing their ire toward station attendants.

“Every day they’re cursing me out,” said Gaby Marmol, 25, the assistant manager of a BP station in Newark, adding that when she sees how much the customers spend on both gas and convenience store items — $1.19 for ring pops that used to be 50 cents — she feels sympathetic. “We’re just doing our jobs, but they think we set the prices.”

Cheik Diakite, 62, an attendant at a Mobil station in Newark, doesn’t get as many tips as he did before the pandemic, he said, and grows frustrated listening to customers attribute the high prices to Mr. Biden.

Mr. Diakite typically passes afternoons by looking out for his most loyal customers. Bebi Amzad, who works at a nearby school, always has the same request for him: “Fill it up.” But when she pulled in on Thursday, she asked him to give her just $30 worth of gas.

“Today I’m not filling up all the way because I have other expenses,” said Ms. Amzad, 54, who commutes to Newark from Linden, N.J. “Everybody is hurting.”

Because she spends so much on gas and groceries, Ms. Amzad continued, she can’t afford many indulgences. “I don’t go to Marshalls anymore.”

Clifford Krauss contributed reporting.

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Japan Faces Big Problems. Its Next Leader Offers Few Bold Solutions.

TOKYO — With the world’s oldest population, rapidly declining births, gargantuan public debt and increasingly damaging natural disasters fueled by climate change, Japan faces deep-rooted challenges that the longstanding governing party has failed to tackle.

Yet in choosing a new prime minister on Wednesday, the Liberal Democratic Party elected the candidate least likely to offer bold solutions.

The party’s elite power brokers chose Fumio Kishida, 64, a stalwart moderate, in a runoff election for the leadership, seeming to disregard the public’s preference for a maverick challenger. In doing so, they anointed a politician with little to distinguish him from the unpopular departing leader, Yoshihide Suga, or his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.

Elders in the party, which has had a near monopoly on power in the decades since World War II, made their choice confident that, with a weak political opposition and low voter turnout, they would face little chance of losing a general election later this year. So, largely insulated from voter pressure, they opted for a predictable former foreign minister who has learned to control any impulse to stray from the mainstream party platform.

slowly emerges from six months of pandemic restrictions that have battered the economy.

Taro Kono, an outspoken nonconformist whose common touch has made him popular with the public and with rank-and-file party members. Mr. Kishida prevailed in the second round of voting, in which ballots cast by members of Parliament held greater weight than ballots cast by other party members.

He will become prime minister when Parliament holds a special session next week, and will then lead the party into the general election, which must be held by November.

In his victory speech on Wednesday, Mr. Kishida acknowledged the challenges he faces. “We have mountains of important issues that lie ahead in Japan’s future,” he said.

They loom both at home and abroad. Mr. Kishida faces mounting tensions in the region as China has grown increasingly aggressive and North Korea has started testing ballistic missiles again. Taiwan is seeking membership in a multilateral trade pact that Japan helped negotiate, and Mr. Kishida may have to help finesse a decision on how to accept the self-governed island into the group without angering China.

As a former foreign minister, Mr. Kishida may have an easier time managing his international portfolio. Most analysts expect that he will maintain a strong relationship with the United States and continue to build on alliances with Australia and India to create a bulwark against China.

But on the domestic front, he is mostly offering a continuation of Mr. Abe’s economic policies, which have failed to cure the country’s stagnation. Income inequality is rising as fewer workers benefit from Japan’s vaunted system of lifetime employment — a reality reflected in Mr. Kishida’s campaign promise of a “new capitalism” that encourages companies to share more profits with middle-class workers.

close to 60 percent of the public is now inoculated. But Mr. Kishida has offered few concrete policies to address other issues like aging, population decline or climate change.

In a magazine questionnaire, he said that he needed “scientific verification” that human activities were causing global warming, saying, “I think that’s the case to some extent.”

Given the enduring power of the right flank of the Liberal Democratic Party, despite its minority standing in the party, Mr. Kishida closed what daylight he had with these power brokers during the campaign.

He had previously gained a reputation as being more dovish than the influential right wing led by Mr. Abe, but during the leadership race, he expressed a hawkish stance toward China. As a parliamentary representative from Hiroshima, Mr. Kishida has opposed nuclear weapons, but he has made clear his support for restarting Japan’s nuclear power plants, which have been idled since the triple meltdown in Fukushima 10 years ago.

And he toned down his support for overhauling a law requiring married couples to share a surname for legal purposes and declared that he would not endorse same-sex marriage, going against public sentiment but hewing to the views of the party’s conservative elite.

“I think Kishida knows how he won, and it was not by appealing to the general public, it was not by running as a liberal, but courting support to his right,” said Tobias Harris, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington. “So what that’s going to mean for the composition of his cabinet and his priorities, and what his party’s platform ends up looking like, means he could end up being pulled in a few different directions.”

resigned last fall because of ill health. He had led the party for eight consecutive years, a remarkable stint given Japan’s history of revolving-door prime ministers. When he stepped down, the party chose Mr. Suga, who had served as Mr. Abe’s chief cabinet secretary, to extend his boss’s legacy.

Sanae Takaichi — a hard-line conservative who was seeking to become Japan’s first female prime minister — to revitalize his base in the party’s far right, analysts and other lawmakers said he helped steer support to Mr. Kishida in the runoff.

As a result, Mr. Kishida may end up beholden to his predecessor.

“Kishida cannot go against what Abe wants,” said Shigeru Ishiba, a former defense minister who challenged Mr. Abe for the party leadership twice and withdrew from running in the leadership election this month to support Mr. Kono.

“I am not sure I would use the word ‘puppet,’ but maybe he is a puppet?” Mr. Ishiba added. “What is clear is he depends on Abe’s influence.”

During the campaign for the party leadership, Mr. Kishida appeared to acknowledge some dissatisfaction with the Abe era with his talk of a “new capitalism.” In doing so, he followed a familiar template within the Liberal Democratic Party, which has been adept at adopting policies first introduced by the opposition in order to keep voters assuaged.

“That’s one of the reasons why they have maintained such longevity as a party,” said Saori N. Katada, a professor of international relations at the University of Southern California. “Kishida is definitely taking that card and running with it.”

Makiko Inoue, Hikari Hida and Hisako Ueno contributed reporting.

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How China Plans to Avert an Evergrande Financial Crisis

“The government can place them under watch and pressure them through their employers or relatives not to make trouble,” said Minxin Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College who is writing a study of China’s domestic security apparatus.

China has a lot riding on its ability to contain the fallout from an Evergrande collapse. After Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader in generations, began his second term in 2017, he identified reining in financial risk as one of the “great battles” for his administration. As he approaches a likely third term in power that would start next year, it could be politically damaging if his government were to mismanage Evergrande.

But China’s problem may be that it controls financial panics too well. Economists inside and outside the country argue that its safeguards have coddled Chinese investors, leaving them too willing to lend money to large companies with weak prospects for repaying it. Over the longer term, though, China’s bigger risk may be that it follows in the footsteps of Japan, which saw years of economic stagnation under the weight of huge debt and slow, unproductive companies.

By not forcefully signaling an Evergrande bailout, the Chinese government is essentially trying to force both investors and Chinese companies to stop channeling money to risky, heavily indebted companies. Yet that approach carries risks, especially if a disorderly collapse upsets China’s legions of home buyers or unnerves potential investors in the property market.

An abrupt default by Evergrande on a wide range of debts “would be a useful catalyst for market discipline, but could also sour both domestic and foreign investor sentiment,” said Eswar Prasad, an economics professor at Cornell University who is a former head of the China division at the International Monetary Fund.

Some global investors worry that Evergrande’s problems represent a “Lehman moment,” a reference to the 2008 collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank, which heralded the global financial crisis. Evergrande’s collapse, they warn, could expose other debt problems in China and hit foreign investors, who hold considerable amounts of Evergrande debt, and other property developers in the country.

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North Korea Reports Test of New Cruise Missile as Arms Race Intensifies

SEOUL — North Korea said on Monday it​ had successfully launched newly developed long-range cruise missiles, its first missile test in six months and a new indication that an arms race between North and South Korea was heating up on the Korean Peninsula.

​In the tests that took place on Saturday and Sunday, the North Korean missiles hit targets 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) away after flying more than two hours, said the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. The missiles changed their trajectories and made circles before hitting their targets, it said.

A series of resolutions from the United Nations Security Council banned North Korea from developing or testing ballistic missiles, but not cruise missiles. A cruise missile test by the North usually does not raise as much alarm as its ballistic missile tests. The country’s state-run media also indicated that the nation’s leader, Kim Jong-un, had not attended the weekend tests, though he has usually supervised all major weapons tests in recent years.

The latest tests showed that North Korea continued to improve its arsenal of missiles while nuclear disarmament talks with the United States remained stalled. North Korea said on Monday that the long-range cruise missile was “a strategic weapon of great significance” and part of an arms development goal announced by Mr. Kim during the party congress in January.

ramping up its own arms buildup.

Dosan Ahn Changho-class attack submarine. North Korea began testing its submarine-launched ballistic missiles in 2015, reporting the “greatest success” the following year.

As international negotiations have made little progress in stopping North Korea from growing its weapons arsenal, South Korea has embarked on building more powerful missiles and missile-defense systems of its own to counter North Korean threats.

launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile in 2017, Donald J. Trump, then president, lifted the payload limit on South Korean ballistic missiles. During the summit meeting in May between President Biden and his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, the allies agreed to terminate the missile guidelines, leaving South Korea free to develop longer-range missiles.

North Korea reacted angrily to the removal of the missile restrictions, ​calling it “a stark reminder of the U.S. hostile policy.”

The removal of the limits allows South Korea to build ballistic missiles with larger warheads that hold destructive power and that can target underground bunkers where North Korea keeps its nuclear arsenal and where its leadership would hide at war, military analysts said.

When Mr. Moon visited his Defense Ministry’s Agency for Defense Development last year, he said South Korea had “developed a short-range ballistic missile with one of the largest warheads in the world,” an apparent reference to the Hyunmoo-4, which missile experts say can cover all of North Korea with a two-ton payload.

When North Korea last conducted a missile test, on March 25, it said it had launched a new ballistic missile that carried a 2.5-ton warhead. This month, reports emerged in South Korean news media that the South was developing an even more powerful weapon: a short-range ballistic missile with a payload of up to three tons.

The tit-for-tat weapons buildup signaled that the rival militaries were arming themselves with increasingly powerful missiles that can fly farther and carry more destructive power, and that are harder to intercept.

said this month.

last October and in January, North Korea unveiled what appeared to be newly developed intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said last month that the country appeared to have restarted a reactor in its main nuclear complex​.

But North Korea has refrained from​ testing an I.C.B.M. or a nuclear device since 2017. Its most recent military parade, held Thursday to mark the government’s 73rd anniversary, did not feature new weapons.

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Phony Diagnoses Hide High Rates of Drugging at Nursing Homes

The handwritten doctor’s order was just eight words long, but it solved a problem for Dundee Manor, a nursing home in rural South Carolina struggling to handle a new resident with severe dementia.

David Blakeney, 63, was restless and agitated. The home’s doctor wanted him on an antipsychotic medication called Haldol, a powerful sedative.

“Add Dx of schizophrenia for use of Haldol,” read the doctor’s order, using the medical shorthand for “diagnosis.”

But there was no evidence that Mr. Blakeney actually had schizophrenia.

Antipsychotic drugs — which for decades have faced criticism as “chemical straitjackets” — are dangerous for older people with dementia, nearly doubling their chance of death from heart problems, infections, falls and other ailments. But understaffed nursing homes have often used the sedatives so they don’t have to hire more staff to handle residents.

one in 150 people.

Schizophrenia, which often causes delusions, hallucinations and dampened emotions, is almost always diagnosed before the age of 40.

“People don’t just wake up with schizophrenia when they are elderly,” said Dr. Michael Wasserman, a geriatrician and former nursing home executive who has become a critic of the industry. “It’s used to skirt the rules.”

refuge of last resort for people with the disorder, after large psychiatric hospitals closed decades ago.

But unfounded diagnoses are also driving the increase. In May, a report by a federal oversight agency said nearly one-third of long-term nursing home residents with schizophrenia diagnoses in 2018 had no Medicare record of being treated for the condition.

hide serious problems — like inadequate staffing and haphazard care — from government audits and inspectors.

One result of the inaccurate diagnoses is that the government is understating how many of the country’s 1.1 million nursing home residents are on antipsychotic medications.

According to Medicare’s web page that tracks the effort to reduce the use of antipsychotics, fewer than 15 percent of nursing home residents are on such medications. But that figure excludes patients with schizophrenia diagnoses.

To determine the full number of residents being drugged nationally and at specific homes, The Times obtained unfiltered data that was posted on another, little-known Medicare web page, as well as facility-by-facility data that a patient advocacy group got from Medicare via an open records request and shared with The Times.

The figures showed that at least 21 percent of nursing home residents — about 225,000 people — are on antipsychotics.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees nursing homes, is “concerned about this practice as a way to circumvent the protections these regulations afford,” said Catherine Howden, a spokeswoman for the agency, which is known as C.M.S.

“It is unacceptable for a facility to inappropriately classify a resident’s diagnosis to improve their performance measures,” she said. “We will continue to identify facilities which do so and hold them accountable.”

significant drop since 2012 in the share of residents on the drugs.

But when residents with diagnoses like schizophrenia are included, the decline is less than half what the government and industry claim. And when the pandemic hit in 2020, the trend reversed and antipsychotic drug use increased.

For decades, nursing homes have been using drugs to control dementia patients. For nearly as long, there have been calls for reform.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan signed a law banning the use of drugs that serve the interest of the nursing home or its staff, not the patient.

But the practice persisted. In the early 2000s, studies found that antipsychotic drugs like Seroquel, Zyprexa and Abilify made older people drowsy and more likely to fall. The drugs were also linked to heart problems in people with dementia. More than a dozen clinical trials concluded that the drugs nearly doubled the risk of death for older dementia patients.

11 percent from less than 7 percent, records show.

The diagnoses rose even as nursing homes reported a decline in behaviors associated with the disorder. The number of residents experiencing delusions, for example, fell to 4 percent from 6 percent.

Caring for dementia patients is time- and labor-intensive. Workers need to be trained to handle challenging behaviors like wandering and aggression. But many nursing homes are chronically understaffed and do not pay enough to retain employees, especially the nursing assistants who provide the bulk of residents’ daily care.

Studies have found that the worse a home’s staffing situation, the greater its use of antipsychotic drugs. That suggests that some homes are using the powerful drugs to subdue patients and avoid having to hire extra staff. (Homes with staffing shortages are also the most likely to understate the number of residents on antipsychotics, according to the Times’s analysis of Medicare data.)

more than 200,000 since early last year and is at its lowest level since 1994.

As staffing dropped, the use of antipsychotics rose.

Even some of the country’s leading experts on elder care have been taken aback by the frequency of false diagnoses and the overuse of antipsychotics.

Barbara Coulter Edwards, a senior Medicaid official in the Obama administration, said she had discovered that her father was given an incorrect diagnosis of psychosis in the nursing home where he lived even though he had dementia.

“I just was shocked,” Ms. Edwards said. “And the first thing that flashed through my head was this covers a lot of ills for this nursing home if they want to give him drugs.”

Homes that violate the rules face few consequences.

In 2019 and 2021, Medicare said it planned to conduct targeted inspections to examine the issue of false schizophrenia diagnoses, but those plans were repeatedly put on hold because of the pandemic.

In an analysis of government inspection reports, The Times found about 5,600 instances of inspectors citing nursing homes for misusing antipsychotic medications. Nursing home officials told inspectors that they were dispensing the powerful drugs to frail patients for reasons that ranged from “health maintenance” to efforts to deal with residents who were “whining” or “asking for help.”

a state inspector cited Hialeah Shores for giving a false schizophrenia diagnosis to a woman. She was so heavily dosed with antipsychotics that the inspector was unable to rouse her on three consecutive days.

There was no evidence that the woman had been experiencing the delusions common in people with schizophrenia, the inspector found. Instead, staff at the nursing home said she had been “resistive and noncooperative with care.”

Dr. Jonathan Evans, a medical director for nursing homes in Virginia who reviewed the inspector’s findings for The Times, described the woman’s fear and resistance as “classic dementia behavior.”

“This wasn’t five-star care,” said Dr. Evans, who previously was president of a group that represents medical staff in nursing homes. He said he was alarmed that the inspector had decided the violation caused only “minimal harm or potential for harm” to the patient, despite her heavy sedation. As a result, he said, “there’s nothing about this that would deter this facility from doing this again.”

Representatives of Hialeah Shores declined to comment.

Seven of the 52 homes on the inspector general’s list were owned by a large Texas company, Daybreak Venture. At four of those homes, the official rate of antipsychotic drug use for long-term residents was zero, while the actual rate was much higher, according to the Times analysis comparing official C.M.S. figures with unpublished data obtained by the California advocacy group.

make people drowsy and increases the risk of falls. Peer-reviewed studies have shown that it does not help with dementia, and the government has not approved it for that use.

But prescriptions of Depakote and similar anti-seizure drugs have accelerated since the government started publicly reporting nursing homes’ use of antipsychotics.

Between 2015 and 2018, the most recent data available, the use of anti-seizure drugs rose 15 percent in nursing home residents with dementia, according to an analysis of Medicare insurance claims that researchers at the University of Michigan prepared for The Times.

in a “sprinkle” form that makes it easy to slip into food undetected.

“It’s a drug that’s tailor-made to chemically restrain residents without anybody knowing,” he said.

In the early 2000s, Depakote’s manufacturer, Abbott Laboratories, began falsely pitching the drug to nursing homes as a way to sidestep the 1987 law prohibiting facilities from using drugs as “chemical restraints,” according to a federal whistle-blower lawsuit filed by a former Abbott saleswoman.

According to the lawsuit, Abbott’s representatives told pharmacists and nurses that Depakote would “fly under the radar screen” of federal regulations.

Abbott settled the lawsuit in 2012, agreeing to pay the government $1.5 billion to resolve allegations that it had improperly marketed the drugs, including to nursing homes.

Nursing homes are required to report to federal regulators how many of their patients take a wide variety of psychotropic drugs — not just antipsychotics but also anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants and sleeping pills. But homes do not have to report Depakote or similar drugs to the federal government.

“It is like an arrow pointing to that class of medications, like ‘Use us, use us!’” Dr. Maust said. “No one is keeping track of this.”

published a brochure titled “Nursing Homes: Times have changed.”

“Nursing homes have replaced restraints and antipsychotic medications with robust activity programs, religious services, social workers and resident councils so that residents can be mentally, physically and socially engaged,” the colorful two-page leaflet boasted.

Last year, though, the industry teamed up with drug companies and others to push Congress and federal regulators to broaden the list of conditions under which antipsychotics don’t need to be publicly disclosed.

“There is specific and compelling evidence that psychotropics are underutilized in treating dementia and it is time for C.M.S. to re-evaluate its regulations,” wrote Jim Scott, the chairman of the Alliance for Aging Research, which is coordinating the campaign.

The lobbying was financed by drug companies including Avanir Pharmaceuticals and Acadia Pharmaceuticals. Both have tried — and so far failed — to get their drugs approved for treating patients with dementia. (In 2019, Avanir agreed to pay $108 million to settle charges that it had inappropriately marketed its drug for use in dementia patients in nursing homes.)

Ms. Blakeney said that only after hiring a lawyer to sue Dundee Manor for her husband’s death did she learn he had been on Haldol and other powerful drugs. (Dundee Manor has denied Ms. Blakeney’s claims in court filings.)

During her visits, though, Ms. Blakeney noticed that many residents were sleeping most of the time. A pair of women, in particular, always caught her attention. “There were two of them, laying in the same room, like they were dead,” she said.

In his first few months at Dundee Manor, Mr. Blakeney was in and out of the hospital, for bedsores, pneumonia and dehydration. During one hospital visit in December, a doctor noted that Mr. Blakeney was unable to communicate and could no longer walk.

“Hold the patient’s Ambien, trazodone and Zyprexa because of his mental status changes,” the doctor wrote. “Hold his Haldol.”

Mr. Blakeney continued to be prescribed the drugs after he returned to Dundee Manor. By April 2017, the bedsore on his right heel — a result, in part, of his rarely getting out of bed or his wheelchair — required the foot to be amputated.

In June, after weeks of fruitless searching for another nursing home, Ms. Blakeney found one and transferred him there. Later that month, he died.

“I tried to get him out — I tried and tried and tried,” his wife said. “But when I did get him out, it was too late.”

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Are You Ready for Sentient Disney Robots?

Some of the animatronics at Disney’s parks have been doing their herky-jerky thing since the Nixon administration. The company knows that nostalgia won’t cut it with today’s children.


GLENDALE, Calif. — I was en route to meet Groot.

Not an imitation Groot conjured with video or those clunky virtual reality goggles. The Walt Disney Company’s secretive research and development division, Imagineering, had promised a walking, talking, emoting Groot, as if the arboreal “Avengers” character had jumped off the screen and was living among us.

But first I had to find him. GPS had guided me to a warehouse on a dead-end street in Glendale, a Los Angeles suburb. The place seemed deserted. As soon as I parked, however, a man warily appeared from behind a jacaranda tree. Yes, I had an appointment. No, I was not hiding any recording devices. He made a phone call, and I was escorted into the warehouse through an unmarked door behind a dumpster.

In the back near a black curtain a little wrinkled hand waved hello.

It was Groot.

He was about three feet tall and ambled toward me with wide eyes, as if he had discovered a mysterious new life form. He looked me up and down and introduced himself.

audio-animatronics,” his word for mechanical figures with choreographed movements. There were endlessly harmonizing Small World dolls, marauding Caribbean pirates (“yo-ho!”), Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address. The technology was a runaway hit, mesmerizing generations of children and helping to turn Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida into cultural touchstones and colossal businesses.

Disney’s 14 theme parks around the world attracted 156 million visitors in 2019, and the Disney Parks, Experiences and Products division generated $26 billion in revenue. The coronavirus pandemic severely disrupted operations for a year, but the masses have returned. The wait to get on the swaying Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Disney World on a recent day was two hours and 10 minutes — Delta variant, be darned.

Roblox online gaming universe and augmented reality Snapchat filters. Cars are driving themselves, and SpaceX rockets are autonomously landing on drone ships.

How are the rudimentary animatronic birds in Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room supposed to compete? They dazzled in 1963. Today, some people fall asleep.

“We think a lot about relevancy,” Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, said in April during a virtual event to promote the opening of an interactive Spider-Man ride and immersive “land” dedicated to Marvel’s Avengers. “We have an obligation to our fans, to our guests, to continue to evolve, to continue to create experiences that look new and different and pull them in. To make sure the experience is fresh and relevant.

“And all of that is risk,” Mr. D’Amaro acknowledged. “There is legacy here. People like the way things are. But we’re going to keep pushing, keep making it better.”

Wicked Witch of the West that flailed its arms and shifted its body with remarkable speed and precision.

More recently, Disney has introduced robot characters that seem to talk to guests (Mr. Potato Head, 2008). Others move with such elegance that some visitors mistake them for video projections (an “Avatar” shaman, 2017).

Disney attractions have always required the suspension of disbelief: Those are real flying galleons in Peter Pan’s Flight, not plastic ride vehicles on a rail. But advances in movie imagery — computer-generated animation, the blending of live-action footage with elaborate digital effects — have put pressure on Disney to make its robots more convincing.

“You know how Elsa moves,” said Kathryn Yancey, an Imagineering show mechanical engineer, referring to the “Frozen” princess. “Kids have watched the movie over and over, maybe even in the car that morning. So our animatronic Elsa also has to be fast and lyrical. She can’t be lumbering.”

WEB Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure, features a “stuntronic” robot (outfitted in Spidey spandex) that performs elaborate aerial tricks, just like a stunt person. A catapult hurls the untethered machine 65 feet into the air, where it completes various feats (somersaults in one pass, an “epic flail” in another) while autonomously adjusting its trajectory to land in a hidden net.

“It’s thrilling because it can be hard to tell whether it’s a robot or a person — the stuntronic Spider-Man, it’s that good,” Wade Heath said as he joined the line to re-ride WEB Slingers in early August. Mr. Heath, 32, a recruiter for Pinkerton, the security company, described himself as “a major Disney nerd” who has, at times, been surprised that the company’s parks have not evolved faster.

three years to develop. Disney declined to discuss the cost of the stuntronics endeavor, but the company easily invested millions of dollars. Now that the technology has been perfected, Disney plans to roll it out at other parks. WEB Slingers, for instance, has been greenlighted for Disneyland Paris.

Bob Weis, who leads Disney’s 1,000-plus member Imagineering division. In the beginning, it was just an expensive research project with no clear outcome.

“It’s not easy to prove return on investment for never-considered-possible inventions,” Mr. Weis said. “Our longstanding history of creating experiences that completely wow guests — for them to suspend disbelief and live in that moment — has paved the way for acceptance of this inherent risk.”

But budgets are not endless. “We have to be discerning because, as you can imagine, we have plenty of amazing ideas, capabilities and stories,” Mr. Weis added.

Boston Dynamics, where he contributed to an early version of Atlas, a running and jumping machine that inspires “how did they do that” amazement — followed by dystopian dread.

Baby Yoda and swinging ones like Spider-Man — that are challenging to bring to life in a realistic way, especially outdoors.

About 6,000 animatronics are in use at Disney parks worldwide, and almost all are bolted to the floor inside ride buildings. It’s part of the magic trick: By controlling the lighting and sight angles, Disney can make its animatronics seem more alive. For a long time, however, Disney has been enamored with robotics as an opportunity to make the walkways between rides more thrilling.

“We want to create incredible experiences outside of a show box,” said Leslie Evans, a senior Imagineering executive, referring to ride buildings. “To me, that’s going to be next level. These aren’t just parks. They are inhabited places.”

Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, unveiled in 2019, asks groups of riders to work together to steer the ship. The ride’s queuing area features an impressive Hondo Ohnaka animatronic. (He’s a miscreant from the “Clone Wars” animated series.)

In 2003, Disney tested a free-roving animatronic dinosaur named Lucky; he pulled a flower cart, which concealed a puppeteer. In 2007, the company experimented with wireless animatronic Muppets that rode around in a remote-controlled vehicle and chatted with guests. (A technician operated the rig from afar.) Lucky and the Muppet Mobile Lab have since been retired.

play test” stage — a short, low-profile dry run at a theme park to gather guest feedback. Disney declined to say when or where.

Richard-Alexandre Peloquin was also towering in the air, except his lower body was ensconced in a contraption/costume that gave him legs the size of oil barrels and feet that resembled those of a Wampa, a furry “Star Wars” ice beast.

Asya Cara Peña, a ride development engineer, piped up with a rudimentary explanation. They were developing a full-body exoskeleton that could be applied to a wide variety of oversize characters — and that counteracted the force of gravity. Because of safety concerns, not to mention endurance, the weight of such hulking costumes (more than 40 pounds) could not rest entirely or even mostly on a puppeteer’s shoulders. Instead, it needed to be redirected to the ground.

“But it also needs to look natural and believable,” Ms. Peña said. “And it has to be something that different performers of different body types with different gaits can slip into with identical results.”

Just then, Mr. Becker began to sway unsteadily. “Whoa! Be careful!” Ms. Peña shouted, rushing to help him sit down on an elevated chair.

“We still have a long way to go,” Mr. Becker said a bit sheepishly. “The challenge is to not just have a big idea, but to get it all the way to the park.”

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