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'Perhaps life would be easier if I shaved, but why?’

The first time that I learned that I was supposed to hate body hair was when I was 10. My older sister was 13 and grew a little hair on her arms. Somehow it became everyone's business as to how she had to remove it. My aunties all had advice about waxing and threading for eyebrows.

I started being really conscious of hair anywhere on my body. I was 11 when soft, downy hair grew on my upper lip. I kept begging my dad to let me shave my moustache. He refused and I was devastated. I was ruthlessly teased at school for being a hairy kid. My classmates would say that I was an "animal" or that I was dirty.

I started to sneak razors belonging to my sister and my dad. I would grab opportunities to shave in the bathroom when I had some privacy. No-one had taught me how to shave and I was too afraid to ask to someone to show me, so I would be shaving in the wrong direction, with just soap and water, getting terrible rashes. I was itchy and uncomfortable but I couldn't stop.

I would do it in the shower and try to hide the evidence from my family members. I would shave even if there wasn't actually any hair to shave, because in my mind I felt like I could see hair on my body.

I wore full-length clothes so no-one could see my body hair, and I would avoid going swimming. Even after I started to shave, I kept myself covered up because I didn't want my bullies to know that they were actually affecting me.

I was 10 when 9/11 happened and the public harassment was really intense. I grew up in a small town in Texas where my Indian family was in the minority. People called us terrorists. Once someone said, "Why did your people do this to us?" Suddenly having a bit of facial hair on our brown skin implicated us as suspicious and threatening.

The day of my 13th birthday was a really big day for me because my dad said I was finally allowed to shave. I remember that moment really clearly, I felt beautiful, and that I would fit in with my white classmates. And it worked because my classmates treated me substantially better because it was like suddenly I was normal and not scary.

In high school there was this total turnaround, suddenly everyone was impressed by my ability to grow a beard. I even joined a group called "Beards for Peace" where we talked about being anti-war - I was voted "Most Environmentally Friendly" as my beard was now sometimes seen as more "hippie" than threatening.

I wouldn't totally rule out removing body hair, I just really want it to be my decision.

We have been taught such a limited narrative of what it means to be beautiful. White, hairless, thin bodies are held up as a standard of beauty, but they are an exception and do not reflect the majority of people in the world.

There are big consequences for choosing to maintain my body hair as a trans person

Body hair should not gendered. Everyone has a bit of body hair in different places and in different amounts. How can something so natural be so violently and painfully policed?

The body hair-removal marketing people have a lot to answer for. If we started to accept our body hair, then all those razors, creams, wax strips wouldn't be so popular.

I love to touch my body hair, it's comforting, it's like my own warm blanket. I love to see a bit of hair peeking out of the top of my dress. I think of it like an accessory. It's just another thing to go with my outfit and my look.

But there are big consequences for choosing to maintain my body hair as a trans person.

When you're gender nonconforming, you're never safe from bullying. There are no spaces where I can truly feel at peace. I could be harassed in the street, escape into a restaurant, be stared at in there, go into the bathroom and someone will make a comment there.

There is a crucial distinction for trans people between being made visible and choosing to be visible. Visibility is the reason we experience violence online and public. The truth is, every single day I get hateful messages from trolls on my social media.

It's terrifying to receive such abuse. Studies have found that trans people have extremely high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder from constant harassment.

It has made me extremely anxious and I constantly feel threatened. It means that even when I'm alone or among friends, I still have traces of stress. Anxiety can be painful - it has had an impact on my body, manifesting as chronic pain and joint pain.

I feel compelled to be creative in order to release this stress and anxiety.

When I do portraiture, I am creating art, but I'm also adding to the representation of trans people in the wider world.

I think it's important as a trans person to boldly occupy public spaces, because society is trying to erase us.

When I make myself visible, I am creating a resource for other people. By seeing me, someone out there will be coming across a non-binary person for the first time. The truth is that so many people don't know it's possible to live a gender non-conforming life.

But it's liberating for me as well. To see myself depicted in this powerful way is like, "Wow, this is me at my most free."

Life would be so much easier if I removed my body hair. But why should I shave to make people feel more comfortable?

Having body hair and styling my hair up is my way of saying to the world, "I'm here to stay!"

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-48149985

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Sir Elton John's best movie moments

The much talked-about Sir Elton John biopic, Rocketman, touched down in the UK this week following its glitzy launch at the Cannes Film Festival.

The movie, directed by Dexter Fletcher and starring Taron Egerton chronicles the colourful career of the musician; from his early life as Reginald Kenneth Dwight to becoming the knight of the rock 'n' roll realm we know today.

Speaking at the Cannes press conference, actor Bryce Dallas Howard said it was "incredibly surreal to hear Elton crying a few seats away" at the premiere.

After the screening the rock star put on a surprise gig at a beach-side gala party, where he performed the film's title track alongside Egerton once again.

"It was one of the best days of my life," said the 29-year-old, with a tear in his eye.

Sir Elton has been no stranger to the silver screen himself down the years, so let's take a quick look back at some of his most memorable celluloid moments.

Having played himself in the 1972 concert film, Born to Boogie - alongside Marc Bolan and Ringo Starr - Sir Elton first showed his credentials as a character actor a few years later in The Who's film, Tommy.

He played the role of the Pinball Wizard - dressed in seven foot high boots - in the movie adaptation of the band's 1969 rock opera.

After years of being the champ, Elton's man had to hand over his pinball crown to the title star; "that deaf, dumb and blind kid," played by frontman Roger Daltry.

In fact, Sir Elton quite literally takes his hat off to him at one point.

Tina Turner, Eric Clapton and Jack Nicholson all appear in the flick, as do Oliver Reed and Ann-Margret, who was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe for her performance.

He may already have had more music awards than you can safely store in your garage, but Sir Elton had to wait until 1995 to get his hands on an Oscar.

There was a lot of love felt that year for Can You Feel The Love Tonight, which he wrote in collaboration with Tim Rice for the Hans Zimmer-scored Disney animation, The Lion King.

Sir Elton fended off stiff competition from, well... himself, twice - The Circle of Life and Hakuna Mata - to take the prize for best original song.

The song specifically soundtracked the romantic scene between Simba and Nala - you know the one (tissues at the ready).

It also won Elt' another Grammy for best male pop vocal performance.

OK, so he was never going to be given any gongs for this one; the briefest of cameos in the Spice Girls movie - but it still goes down in 90s pop culture history.

The scene basically involved him saying a quick hello to Sporty, Scary, Ginger, Baby and Posh while exchanging kisses in the corridor.

There's a brilliant outtake, that you can find online, of Sir Elton delivering the gag: "Damn, never happened with Take That."

The girls went on to perform his track, Don't Go Breaking My Heart, alongside him for ITV's An Audience with Elton John later that year.

In 2018, the artist formerly known as Posh Spice - Victoria Beckham - told Vogue magazine that she decided to quit the group after seeing her friend Elton in concert and realising that she didn't feel anywhere near the same "passion and enjoyment" for performing as he does.

Oh Sir Elton, how could you?

Cameron Crowe's cult retro indie film, about a schoolboy infiltrating the rock 'n' roll world while working for Rolling Stone magazine during its 70s heyday, had a fair few bangers in it.

However, the most memorable musical moment arrives when the entire Stillwater - that's the fictional band, by the way - tour bus burst out into an emotionally-charged impromptu rendition of [by-now Sir] Elton's Tiny Dancer.

You could argue it effectively made Sir Elton cool and relevant again.

The US director later revealed his lifelong love of the Watford singer and how he wanted to pay a "proper tribute" to him during the film's central scene.

"Tiny Dancer is wrapped up a lot in 1973 in my heart," said Crowe, "so I wrote it in the script, it was originally the part of that scene that meant the most to me, even the soul of the movie.

"Elton is always authentic, he feels like he's talking directly to you. It's really what you dream of when you're making a movie, to speak directly to one person and his music has always helped me do that in films."

End of Youtube post by Elton John

He added: "And I always wanted to feel that I was able to earn the song."

The scene apparently took two days to get just right, meaning that "everyone sang a million times". Everyone apart from Noah Taylor that is, who played the band's tour manager as "he's a punk rocker!"

Sir Elton repaid the compliment to Crowe by telling him: "I'm gonna have to start playing that in all my concerts now."

"It's just slightly surreal and great" beamed the man in the director's chair.

The soundtrack for the animated rom-com, based loosely (very loosely) on William Shakespeare's classic play, Romeo and Juliet, reads like the track-list for an Elton John greatest hits collection.

Ordinarily that would cost a filmmaker and arm and a leg, but handily the very same songwriter was the executive producer on this one.

The movie stars the voices of James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, to name but three.

End of Youtube post by Touchstone Pictures

The standout scene is set to the tune of Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting; a rocking little number that was originally recorded for Elton's 1973 record, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

However, even way back then he was probably dreaming that the track would one day find its true spiritual home as the soundscape for a fast-paced fictional alleyway lawnmower race.

Vroom Vroom.

Last but not least, the same song got a rather more violent run out a few years ago in the second instalment of Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman movie series.

The UK director actually wanted Elton to be in the first film three years earlier, but alas it was not to be. So when Vaughan finally got his man, it's fair to say he made the most of it, dressing the singer up in one of his old exotic bird stage outfits and having him kung-fu kick someone in the face in a pair of his trusted old Tommy-era platform boots.

"It was so weird getting into those old clothes again," said Elton, in conversation with Vaughan on his Beats 1 radio show.

End of Youtube post 2 by Elton John

The Layer Cake director explained his choice of Saturday for the ridiculous piano-side fight scene.

"It's incredibly cinematic," said Vaughan, "and it's got three acts to it which means I can build the action to it.

"In the movie we used five different live versions and mixed them all together which was [very] difficult to do!"

He added: "It's fun, energetic, great for action but also warm and feel good - it made my film 100 times better."

Next time around, Sir Elton, who acted opposite Julianne Moore and Colin Firth, said he wants to be one of the actual Kingsmen and not just a colourful sideshow.

Well, its prequel; The Great Game, is pencilled in for a February 2020 release, so we won't have to wait too long to see if the sun has gone down on perhaps his best chance of a cinematic lead role.

If Rocketman goes down well, at least he won't ever have to play himself again.

https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-48049916

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Preston man jailed for girlfriend's crowbar murder

A man who admitted battering his girlfriend to death with a crowbar has been jailed for life.

Benjamin Topping, 25, beat Rosie Darbyshire, 27, "beyond recognition" with 50 blows in Pope Lane, Preston, in February, police said.

They said it was seen by two witnesses who were then chased by Topping as he wielded the crowbar, before he threw the weapon at a third person.

Topping, of Preston, was ordered to serve a minimum of 20 years.

Police said Ms Darbyshire was found on a pavement in the early hours of 7 February "beaten beyond recognition".

She suffered severe head and facial injuries from at least 50 separate blows, said police. She also had injuries to her arms and hands from trying to defend herself.

Det Ch Insp Geoff Hurst from Lancashire Police said: "This was a senseless murder where a talented, defenceless young lady needlessly lost her life in the most appalling way.

"Ben Topping is a dangerous individual who attacked Rosie with such savagery, she was unrecognisable and died almost straightaway.

"He has left a nine-year-old boy without a mother and a family who will never be the same again."

Ms Darbyshire's family said after sentencing they were "relieved" Topping pleaded guilty earlier at Preston Crown Court.

"No sentence will ever feel enough to show the value of Rosie's life and the loss we feel," they said in a statement.

"We want to thank the police involved in Rosie's case and the prosecutor. They have treated the case, us as a family and Rosie's memory with invaluable respect and dignity.

"Now we are no longer stuck in limbo we will try to live our new reality and ensure that Rosie's son lives a happy life and will always share memories of his beautiful mum."

The case has been referred to the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) as "standard practice" because Lancashire Constabulary had been in contact with Ms Darbyshire prior to her death.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-lancashire-48385281

 

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Kingston University campus evacuated over 'WWII bomb'

Part of a university in south-west London has been evacuated after a suspected unexploded World War Two bomb was found on a nearby building site.

Students at Kingston University London had to leave part of the Penryhn Road campus while officers investigate.

The Met Police said it was called at 09:15 BST and had since asked for help from the Ministry of Defence.

A police cordon in place in Fassett Road has closed two nearby polling stations.

Kingston University said: "[The campus] will be closed for the rest of the day. All staff and students based at Penrhyn Road may go home.

"Be prepared that the campus may also be closed tomorrow."

Kingston Council confirmed two polling stations being used for the European elections have been closed while the device is dealt with.

St John the Evangelist Church in Grove Lane has moved to St Mark's Church in Surbiton and St Raphael's Catholic Church Hall in Portsmouth Road has moved to Glenmore House, The Crescent.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-48377427

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John Walker Lindh: What happens when you release a 'traitor'?

John Walker Lindh and hundreds more have been sent to prison for terrorism, treason and other crimes. The release of the "American Taliban" on Thursday shows how little the US has done to prepare for the moment they are set free.

The US-born Lindh was captured on the battlefield during the US invasion of Afghanistan in the months after the 9/11 terror attacks. He pleaded guilty in 2002 to aiding the Taliban and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Back then he was vilified as a traitor. This week, though, he will leave prison.

Lindh, 38, will be put on probation. He will not be allowed to go online unless he has special permission, and he cannot travel freely.

Lindh became an Irish citizen while he was in prison (his grandmother was born in Donegal) and could move to Ireland when the travel restrictions are lifted.

Upon his release from prison, he will discover a world that has changed dramatically since his incarceration. He will have to grapple with daily life, learning how to use a smartphone, for example.

And he will face a society that has done little to prepare for his arrival.

Many experts, including the Federation of American Scientists' Steven Aftergood, who specialises in national security, say the US should do more to help.

"In the justice system, we say 'You, the criminal, are not like us'. But there is also a responsibility for society to say at the end 'There is a place for you in our world'. We've very bad at that."

In bad company

Lindh is not the only one to rejoin society after a lengthy incarceration for crimes that threaten national security - and to face the daunting prospect of life on the outside.

More than 300 people in the US have been convicted of jihadist terrorism-related charges since 2001, according to New America Foundation, a think-tank based in Washington.

In addition, dozens of individuals are behind bars for assassination attempts, selling secrets to the Chinese government and other crimes that threaten national security.

Some have been sentenced to life in prison without parole. Yet a significant number have already been released or will be free at some point.

When Lindh walks out of prison, he will join a colourful cast of infamous former inmates.

In 2016, John Hinckley Jr, the man who tried to kill US President Ronald Reagan, left a psychiatric facility where he had been imprisoned for decades. Hinckley, who is now 63, moved in with his mother in Williamsburg, Virginia, and, according to court records, has had a hard time finding a date.

Faysal Galab, who was a member of a group known as Lackwanna Six, pleaded guilty to a terrorism-related charge and was sentenced to seven years. In 2008, he was released from a prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, the same one where Lindh has been incarcerated, and moved to a rehabilitation centre in Detroit.

'Paid their debt to society'

Each of their cases is unique, but collectively they raise a fundamental question: should individuals who commit reprehensible crimes, whether terrorism offences or threats to national security, be welcomed back into society after their punishment?

If so, how should their welcome - or at least their reintegration - be handled?

Legally speaking, the matter is straightforward. Individuals who have served their time can rejoin friends and family on the outside and take up their lives again (at least the law-abiding parts).

"Someone who has paid their debt is entitled to resume their life," says John Sifton, an advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

Yet the mechanics of how these individuals resume their lives vary, and so do the restrictions placed on them.

The US government does not have an official programme or set of procedures to help them find their way in the world.

Two decades ago, the teenage Lindh started a very different journey, leaving his Catholic family in California to study Arabic in Yemen. He went on to Pakistan, then across the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan before being brought back to the US to stand trial.

Ready for reintegration?

Since his conviction, the only glimpse we've had of Lindh was in 2012 when he testified in court, wearing a prison uniform and a white prayer cap, as part of a legal challenge against a ban on group prayer.

"I believe it's obligatory," he said. "If you're required to do it in congregation and you don't, then that's a sin."

He added: "There are no legitimate security risks by allowing us to pray in congregations. It's absolutely absurd."

The US government, however, alleged in court documents then that he had delivered a radical sermon in Arabic. And leaked classified documents published by Foreign Policy magazine in 2017 claimed Lindh managed "to write and translate violent extremist texts".

Some US senators have questioned if enough is being done to help prison and parole officers to recognise the signs of violent radicalisation and recidivism.

A letter from one Republican and one Democrat to the Bureau of Prisons director noted that 108 other prisoners convicted of terrorism offences in the US are scheduled for release in the next few years.

"Little information has been made available to the public about who, when and where these offenders will be released, whether they pose an ongoing public threat, and what federal agencies are doing to mitigate this threat while they're in federal custody," they wrote.

US President Donald Trump has reportedly said that he thinks Lindh should serve his full sentence (Lindh is getting out three years early).

After his capture in Afghanistan, Lindh was held in a prison where a CIA officer, Johnny Micheal Spann, conducted interrogations - and where Spann was killed in an uprising. His father, Johnny Spann, has told reporters he does not think Lindh should go free.

Still some counterterrorism experts say the system, however patchwork, works well.

Daniel Byman, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, says individuals who commit terrorism offences and are then released from prison are closely watched: "There's a lot of monitoring."

Others say simply that he has done his time.

Jesslyn Radack, an attorney who worked for the US Department of Justice when Lindh was captured in Afghanistan, felt his sentence was unduly harsh.

Now, she says: "I hope he's able to come out and quietly restart his life."

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-48372500

 

 

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Joe Biden: Can Obama's vice-president stay the Democratic frontrunner?

It's been four weeks since Joe Biden announced he was running for president. Since then, in defiance of what was conventional wisdom, he's risen in the polls, posted impressive fund-raising numbers and seemingly shrugged off allegations of inappropriate physical contact with women.

The candidate many thought to be a paper tiger, temporarily buoyed by high name recognition and little else, has shown some teeth.

There are plenty of potential pitfalls ahead, however, and numerous ways to stumble before the finish line. As is frequently said, a presidential campaign is a marathon, not a sprint. Does the 76-year-old veteran politician from Delaware have the legs to turn his early lead into his party's nomination - and, in 18 months, a presidential victory?

Why Biden is the frontrunner

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Joe Biden "officially" kicked off his presidential campaign in front of roughly 6,000 enthusiastic fans in Philadelphia.

While the attendance fell far short of the opening campaign rallies of Senators Kamala Harris of California (20,000) and Bernie Sanders of Vermont (13,000), it at least temporarily answered the question of whether real people exist who are, in fact, actually enthusiastic about Biden's candidacy.

"I think he's exactly what everybody is waiting for," says Jason Pudleiner, a Philadelphia public defender who stood in a long in for a Biden t-shirt after the Philadelphia rally. "It's the perfect combination of spreading hope, but also somebody who is not going to get bullied by Donald Trump. I love this man."

Testimonials aside, the on-the-paper case for Joe Biden as a durable front-runner is straightforward. He sits atop the latest RealClearPolitics aggregation of national Democratic preference polls with 38%, well ahead of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders at 19%.

His lead narrows in early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, but is formidable in South Carolina thanks to strong support from black voters.

According to an analysis by Geoffrey Skelley of the political forecasting site FiveThirtyEight.com, a well-known candidate like Biden who is polling nationally in the high 30s or better has won his party's nomination 75% of the time since 1972.

Then there's Biden's rapidly expanding campaign war chest.

While he had a later start than the other big names in the field, in his first 24 hours he brought in $6.3m (£4.9m), topping the grass-roots-driven marks of Sanders and former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke. He netted $700,000 in one high-rolling fundraiser in Hollywood and is likely to match that mark during an upcoming trip to New York City.

Biden has shown a willingness to rub elbows with the party's well-heeled contributors and donation-bundlers, which may raise the ire of progressives in the party but will provide plenty of fuel for the machinery of his campaign.

Biden also has history on his side. Former or current vice-presidents seeking their party's nomination tend to win- including Al Gore in 2000, George HW Bush in 1988, Walter Mondale in 1984, Hubert Humphrey in 1968, and Richard Nixon in 1960 and 1968.

Only two former vice-presidents were unsuccessful in their presidential nomination campaigns since 1960 - Humphrey in 1972 and Dan Quayle in 2000.

Occupants of the number-two spot have the benefit of already serving on at least one winning national general-election campaign.

They have the ability to build a national network of donors and supporters through the power of their office. And they're usually a known political quantity, which counts for a lot.

Why Biden might prevail

According to a Quinnipiac poll of voters, Biden is both well-known and well-liked - the strongest candidate in the field by that metric.

Forty-nine percent of Americans said they had a positive view of the former vice-president, while only 39% were negative on him. Both Sanders and Trump, who have similar levels of name recognition, were underwater.

South Carolina State Senator Dick Harpootlian, former chair of the state's Democratic Party and a long-time Biden supporter, says the key to the former vice-president's appeal is his personal attributes.

"He's probably the most genuine, honest and sincere person I've met in politics ever," he says. "A lot of folks you deal with are calculating, everything they say is more worried about re-election than getting the job done. I think Joe Biden is genuinely good."

Biden garnered considerable goodwill in 2015 following the death of his 46-year-old son Beau to brain cancer.

Personal tragedies have marked Biden's adult life, as he also lost his first wife and daughter in an automobile accident in 1972, shortly before he was sworn in as one of Delaware's two US senators.

"I think the tragedies he's been through and how he gets through them demonstrates that he's a person of tremendous character, strength and faith," Harpootlian says.

Biden also benefits from his eight-year association with Barack Obama, the man who bested him in the 2008 Democratic primary contest, then selected him as his vice-presidential running mate.

It's probably one of the primary reasons Biden's support among black voters is so high, even with candidates like Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker running against him.

His two terms in the second spot, where he frequently appeared at the president's side or just over his shoulder, has allowed Biden to lay claim to much of Obama's legacy - including passage of the Affordable Care Act, the economic stimulus package and financial industry reform.

During his Philadelphia speech, Biden cited both the 2009 stimulus package and Obamacare as reflecting how he would govern - co-operating with Republicans on the former, while going it alone with Democrats in the latter."

"I know there are times when only a bare-knuckle fight will do," Biden said. "But it doesn't have to be that way on every issue."

'Beat Trump'

There was a moment about midway through Biden's Philadelphia kick-off rally that perhaps illustrated the greatest strength - and potential peril - of his nascent presidential bid.

The benediction had been delivered, the Pledge of Allegiance recited, and the National Anthem sung. A gospel choir had belted out Amazing Grace and the 1971 Marvin Gaye hit What's Going On. Aides were fiddling with the Tele-prompter stands on the podium, to ensure the candidate looked just right before the made-for-television backdrop of Philadelphia's skyline on a radiantly sunny afternoon.

After the crowd offered a few short-lived chants of "We Want Joe!", a woman took a different tack.

"Who don't we want?" she began shouting. "Trump!" Others joined in. The enthusiasm was obvious, but from a distance it sounded like they were just chanting the president's name.

Plenty of candidates for the Democratic nomination are running on who they are or what they can do. Elizabeth Warren has her stack of policy proposals. Sanders preaches political revolution. Pete Buttigieg and Booker tout their personal attributes and sunny disposition.

Biden has made the early days of his campaign about who he's not - Donald Trump. And what he can prevent - Trump's second four-year term in office.

More from Anthony on the candidates

"I think many of these other candidates have great ideas," Harpootlian says. "They have great aspirations and they're good on the stump - all the things you want in a candidate. But they don't have the experience, the gravitas or the toughness that Joe Biden brings to the fight with Donald Trump. He can go toe-to-toe with him in any debate, anytime, anywhere."

During his Saturday speech, Biden ticked through a laundry list of Democratic policy priorities on healthcare, education and the environment, but he concluded that "the single most important thing we have to do to accomplish these things is defeat Donald Trump."

"If you want to know what the first and most important plank in my climate change proposal for America is," he said. "Beat Trump."

It's a message that has resonated with the crowd in Philadelphia and a Democratic primary electorate that tells pollsters that selecting a nominee who can win is their top priority in 2020.

"Trump has got to go," says David Dignetti, a plumber from Philadelphia who came to the Biden rally with his wife Deirdre. "I just want government to work again. It's got to go back to the way it was."

"Make America great again, again," echoes Dierdre. "It was great under Obama."

Why Biden might falter

There is a danger, of course, in basing a candidacy on the appearance of electability. If something were to happen to strip that veneer of appeal - a lack of sharpness in the debates, a stretch where the candidate lacks the requisite energy or enthusiasm - there's not much left to fall back on.

Biden can get things done? There are candidates who have more detailed or ambitious plans. He's a nice guy? He's not the only one. And you know what they say about nice guys.

Back in March, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a rising star in the party's progressive wing, made an explicit argument against choosing a nominee based on perceived electability.

"I think that in this first initial stage, we have a responsibility to find and really fight for who we believe in," she said. "What people think will win is wrong. Almost always."

Opting for the "electable" candidate, she said, is how voters end up with candidates they don't really like. And while Biden's favourability ratings are currently high, Biden has areas that are ripe for attack.

Questions have already been raised, by Donald Trump and his surrogates, about son Hunter Biden's Ukrainian business interests and anything improper the elder Biden might have done to help advance them.

Then there are the inappropriate touching accusations - complete with uncomfortable video of public affection and testimonials from two women. Biden has responded to the criticism by saying he's an empathetic person, but that he understands expectations and standards have changed.

That defence could always crumble if new evidence or allegations surface.

Biden's age may also be a target. He would be 78 on inauguration day 2021 - by far the oldest president ever elected to a first term in office.

According to a Gallup poll earlier this month, only 63% of Americans said they would be willing to vote for someone over 70 for president. Of course, Trump himself is 72, so they may not have much of a choice.

"You get a lot of experience with age," says Leeann Held, a retired FBI agent who attended the weekend Biden rally. "I know a lot of great people who are that age."

A full 18 months on the campaign trail can wear even a younger candidate down, however.

And while Biden trotted on stage in Philadelphia sporting aviator sunglasses and a broad smile, if he falters down the stretch it could change the political equation.

With age comes other challenges, as well. Biden held public office for nearly 40 years - long enough for the file photos of his first campaign for Senate from Delaware in 1972 to be grainy black-and-white.

Early in his political career, he sided with southern segregationists in opposing court-ordered school busing to segregate public schools.

As chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991, he oversaw Clarence Thomas's Supreme Court confirmation hearings and has been sharply criticised for his handling of Anita Hill's allegations that she was sexually harassed by the nominee.

Biden was a fierce advocate of a 1994 anti-crime bill that many on the left now say encouraged mandatory sentences and mass incarceration.

He voted for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and has frequently pushed for legislation favourable to the large financial institutions based in Delaware, including a 2005 financial bill that greatly curtailed individual bankruptcy rights.

It's the kind of record that, taken as a whole, makes Biden an unlikely standard-bearer for the modern Democratic Party.

"The gap between his image and his record is really stunning," says Norman Solomon, a syndicated columnist and Bernie Sanders supporter. "I think he thrives on lack of knowledge of what he's been doing for four decades."

During the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Solomon helped stage organised demonstrations by Sanders delegates who were suspicious of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment. He says this time around, they may be even more wary of Biden, who he says is the "default zombie candidate of the old Democratic Party.

"Biden is already very unpopular with progressives," he says. "The gap between the mass media coverage and the online progressive media coverage of Biden is huge. In one, he's almost saint-like. In the other he's damn near satanic."

The question, then, becomes what Biden's opponents will do to bring the front-runner back to the pack. Elizabeth Warren has gone after the former vice-president for his support of the 2005 bankruptcy bill, citing her anger at it as the reason she first got into politics.

"Joe Biden was on the side of the credit-card companies," she said to a reporter last month.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee, announcing another piece of his plan to combat climate, last week, said Biden must "up his game" on the environment.

"He's going to have to say that we have to remove our reliance on fossil fuels in the electrical grid," Inslee said. "I have not seen to date any suggestion that he can do that."

According to Solomon, however, it will be Sanders who comes at Biden the hardest. Already, the Vermont senator has questioned his opponent's past support of trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"If you look at Joe's record, and you look at my record, I don't think there's much question about who's more progressive," Sanders said in a television interview earlier this month.

The rest of the field, Solomon says, may play nice with Biden in hopes of being his running mate or serving in his cabinet.

"As in so many other aspects," he says, "it will fall to Bernie to be the truth-teller."

In other words, get ready for a fight.

Hillary Clinton or Warren G Harding?

The thing about Mr Biden's campaign message is it sounds a lot like Hillary Clinton's pitch to Americans in 2016. Like her, he says he has the experience to get things done. Like her, he's arguing that Mr Trump is temperamentally unsuited for the presidency. Like her, he's making the pitch that calls for togetherness can overcome the politics of division.

In 2016, Ms Clinton's slogans included "Stronger Together" and "Love Trumps Hate". Mr Biden gave his Philadelphia speech in front of video screens emblazoned with the word "unity" and spoke about America being at its best when it's been "one America".

"The nation needs to come together," he said. "And it has to come together."

Mr Biden has drawn fire from critics for saying that the Trump presidency is an aberration, and he returned to that theme on Saturday.

"This is not who we are," he said. "We are better than this.

What the country needs now, he said, is a step back from the divisiveness of the Trump years. (That he is associated with the Obama administration, much of which was characterised by political acrimony and political gridlock, seems glossed over).

In 1920, in the aftermath of World War I, Warren G Harding campaigned on the slogan of "a return to normalcy". Contemporaries mocked the term as ungrammatical, but the appeal of the message was its simplicity.

In one of his most famous lines, he said that America needed healing, not heroics; restoration, not revolution; adjustment, not agitation.

If Democrats in 2020 want revolution or agitation, the former vice-president won't be their guy. He's betting, however, that "normalcy" is what the nation wants - and he can deliver.

"No one likes fighting with their own family, and I find myself fighting with my family and my friends," says Brandi Bogard, a pharmaceuticals company employee who volunteered for Biden at his rally. "I sit in front of the television and cry. I never used to be very political, but I can't help it."

Bogard described Biden as the "loving grandfather" the nation needs.

After four years of the Trump presidency, Mr Biden is betting his presidential hopes that Americans aren't so much angry as they're exhausted - or, at least, ready for a change.

Who will take on Trump in 2020?

Joe Biden could be the man to keep Donald Trump from being re-elected. But who else has a shot at becoming the next president?

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-48219941

 

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Manus Island: Refugee 'suicide attempts' in wake of Australia election

Several asylum seekers sent overseas by Australia have attempted suicide in recent days amid rising desperation since the nation's election, advocates say.

Since 2013, Australia has sent asylum seekers arriving by boat to Nauru and Manus Island, Papua New Guinea (PNG).

The policy has bipartisan support, but many asylum seekers had hoped that a change in government would help them.

The government's re-election has led to heightened despair, refugees say.

"The situation in Manus is out of control, today two more people attempted suicide," tweeted Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian-Kurd refugee and journalist on Manus Island.

Another refugee, Abdul Aziz Adam, wrote: "We are calling for the [government] to do something for refugees & asylum seekers on Manus/ Nauru."

The Labor opposition had promised to accept New Zealand's offer to resettle 150 refugees from the islands if they won government last Saturday.

Currently, refugees in PNG and Nauru can either choose to resettle in those nations, apply for a limited number of places in the US, or return to their home country.

What is known about the self-harm cases?

There are differing reports about the number of cases. Manus Island police commander David Yapu told news agency AFP that he was aware of four suicide attempts over the weekend.

Mr Boochani and other refugee groups told the BBC that at least 12 people had attempted self-harm in PNG since Saturday.

Ian Rintoul, from the group Refugee Action Coalition, said at least five people had been taken to hospital.

The Australian government did not directly address the reports, but said in a statement that "it takes seriously its role in supporting the governments of PNG and Nauru to ensure individuals in PNG and Nauru are provided with a range of health, welfare and support services arrangements".

'Pinned hopes on Labor'

The election victory for Prime Minister Scott Morrison's government defied months of opinion polling which had pointed to a probable Labor win.

"Rightly or wrongly, many of the refugees had really pinned their hopes on a Labor victory meaning a change to their situation," Elaine Pearson, the Australian director of Human Rights Watch, told the BBC.

She said the result had exacerbated feelings of hopelessness on the islands, where more than 80% of asylum seekers are reported to suffer from mental health problems.

At least 12 asylum seekers and refugees have died on the islands since 2013.

The UN has criticised Australia's detention policies as "inhumane", but the nation insists they prevent human trafficking and save lives at sea.

Last year, reports of a mental health crisis among children on Nauru prompted the government to evacuate families to Australia.

In February, Labor and crossbench MPs secured enough votes to pass a law which makes it easier for sick refugees to get treatment in Australia.

Mr Morrison argues the law encourages human trafficking. His government may attempt to repeal it when parliament resumes, according to local media.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-48375120#

 

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China's latest weapon in the trade war: Karaoke

A Chinese propaganda song about the ongoing Sino-US trade war is getting a lot of interest - and raising a few eyebrows - on Chinese social media.

Trade War, written by a former Chinese official, appeared on popular mobile messenger WeChat on Friday and has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. It has also inspired an accompanying music video.

The song features strongly worded criticism of the US and a vow to "beat it out of its wits".

China is no stranger to propaganda songs. Karaoke is popular in China and Beijing knows that songs are an effective way of conveying official thinking to young people.

And with tensions escalating between China and the US, after the latter raised tariffs on some $200bn (£153.7bn) worth of Chinese products, the song has been an effective way for China to build its soft power and stir anti-US sentiment.

The song

Last week, retired Chinese official and lyricist Zhao Liangtian posted the musical score for the Trade War song in a WeChat group called "The World's China Writers."

It attracted significant attention on the WhatsApp-like platform, and a subsequent post showing the song as a music video went viral. The three-minute video shows an animated fist set against flames, while scenic photographs of Beijing flash across the screen.

It is set to the tune of a well-known wartime anti-Japanese propaganda film, Tunnel Warfare, and sounds like an army chant.

"I chose Tunnel Warfare because that is reminiscent of the similar situation that China is facing today," Mr Zhao told Bloomberg News. "Since the trade war broke out, I felt the urge to do something," he said.

He adapted the lyrics for the recent deterioration in trade relations with the US:

"Trade war, trade war, not afraid of the outrageous challenge.

"A trade war is happening over the Pacific Ocean, the Belt and Road has even become a segment.

"If the perpetrator wants to fight, we will beat him out of his wits."

'US imperialists'

More than 100,000 WeChat users have watched the video, and it has generated a great deal of discussion on Sina Weibo - China's version of Twitter.

"His words have filled people with passion," commented one WeChat user whose post received more than 100 likes.

Many on the platform praised "Teacher Zhao". One user got 1,000 likes for calling him a "heroic patriotic warrior."

Others praised the song as a way of "hitting" the US. "Those US imperialists and their wolfish ambitions," posted one user.

But some Weibo users voiced bemusement that China was promoting a song about a trade war. "This thinking makes us no better than North Korea," wrote one.

A history of musical propaganda

Trade War is not the first song that the state has released to promote China's strength amid disputes with other nations, and China has had a track record of producing songs with an anti-US line.

In May last year, official media promoted a song called For Your Attention", featuring a five-member boyband singing about domestic brands and how they are "the pride of China".

The song promoted the idea that China was a rising superpower, and that people no longer needed to buy products from overseas.

And in May 2017, official media widely promoted a multilingual rap by Sichuanese group CD Rev called No to the THAAD - criticising South Korea for working with the US to deploy a now-abolished anti-missile system.

The state has shown it's not afraid to dabble in different genres, and rap in particular has proven popular. During the National Congress in October 2017, the most important political event in the Chinese calendar, China released at least four rap songs.

One, The Letter, signified the changes that China had seen under President Xi Jinping's leadership. The song helped promote Mr Xi's legacy to young Chinese people and solidify his premiership, which he will now hold for another five years, at least.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-48359002

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How computing's first 'killer app' changed everything

In 1978, a Harvard Business School student named Dan Bricklin was sitting in a classroom, watching his accounting lecturer filling in rows and columns on the blackboard.

Every time the lecturer changed a figure, he had to work down and across the grid on the board, erasing and rewriting other numbers to make everything add up, just as accounting clerks all over the world did every day in the pages of their ledgers.

It's boring and repetitive work. A two-page spread across the open fold of the ledger is called a "spreadsheet".

The output of several paper spreadsheets provides the input for larger, master spreadsheets.

Changing any of the data in that chain might mean hours of work with a pencil, rubber, and a calculator.

Like many business school students, Mr Bricklin had had a real job before going to Harvard - he'd worked as a programmer at Wang and DEC, two big players in 1970s computing.

Why on Earth would anyone do this on a blackboard or paper ledger, he wondered, when you could do it on a computer instead?

50 Things That Made the Modern Economy highlights the inventions, ideas and innovations that helped create the economic world.

It is broadcast on the BBC World Service. You can listen to all the episodes online or subscribe to the programme podcast.

So he wrote a program for the new Apple II personal computer: an electronic spreadsheet.

His friend Bob Frankston helped him sharpen up the software - and, on 17 October 1979, VisiCalc went on sale.

Almost overnight, it was a sensation

Other financial and accounting programs had long existed but VisiCalc was the first with the modern spreadsheet interface.

It is widely thought to be the first "killer app", a software program so essential that you'd buy a computer just to be able to use it.

As Mr Bricklin notes on his website, Steve Jobs later acknowledged that VisiCalc had "propelled the Apple II to the success it achieved".

Within a few years, many accountants and business owners divided their professional experience into two periods: before and after the advent of the electronic spreadsheet.

Image copyright Dan Bricklin

Unsurprisingly, it wasn't long before VisiCalc had a new and powerful rival: Lotus 1-2-3.

By 1988, the New York Times reported that Lotus had dominated the spreadsheet market for five years, after toppling VisiCalc "whose dominant share of the personal computer market seemed invincible".

How the mighty were humbled.

The New York Times also described several other upstart challengers, including a program called Microsoft Excel.

But the real lesson of the spreadsheet is not about how monopolies rise and fall but about how technology changes things.

It's a cliche that the robots are coming for our jobs.

But the story is never as simple as that, as the digital spreadsheet proves.

If the concept of a robot accountant means anything, surely it means VisiCalc or Excel. These programs put hundreds of thousands of accounting clerks out of work.

Of course VisiCalc was revolutionary. Of course it was more efficient than a human.

According to the Planet Money podcast, in the US alone, there are 400,000 fewer accounting clerks today than in 1980, the first full year that VisiCalc went on sale.

But Planet Money also found that there were 600,000 more jobs for regular accountants. After all, crunching numbers had become cheaper, more versatile, and more powerful, so demand went up.

The point is not really whether 600,000 is more than 400,000: sometimes automation creates jobs and sometimes it destroys them.

The point is that automation reshapes the workplace in much subtler ways than "a robot took my job".

In the age of the spreadsheet, the repetitive, routine parts of accountancy disappeared. What remained - and indeed flourished - required more judgement, more human skills.

The spreadsheet created whole new industries.

There are countless jobs in high finance that depend on exploring different numerical scenarios - tweaking the numbers and watching the columns recalculate themselves.

These jobs barely existed before the electronic spreadsheet.

I've written before about the Jennifer Unit, an earpiece that directs warehouse pickers to collect products by breaking down instructions into the most mindless, idiot-proof steps.

The Jennifer Unit strips a menial task of its last faintly interesting element. The spreadsheet operates in reverse: it strips an intellectually demanding job of the most boring bits.

Viewed together, the two technologies show that technology doesn't usually take jobs wholesale - it chisels away the easily automated chunks, leaving humans to adapt to the rest.

That can make the human job more interesting, or more soul-destroying - it all depends.

In accountancy, it made the human jobs more creative.

The histories of accountancy that I've read don't bother to mention VisiCalc or Excel. Perhaps it seems beneath their dignity.

What the spreadsheet did to accounting and finance is a harbinger of what is coming to other white-collar jobs.

Algorithms can churn out routine stories about corporate earnings reports more quickly and cheaply than human journalists.

Some teachers use online tutorials to quiz pupils to identify where they are getting stuck before helping them progress.

A doctor can sometimes be replaced by a diagnostic app.

Robotic surgery is increasingly common and can allow greater precision, flexibility and control than conventional techniques.

Law firms use "document assembly systems" that quiz clients and then draft customised legal contracts.

It is hard to conclude this trend won't continue across other sectors.

But we shouldn't ignore the other cautionary tale the spreadsheet has to offer.

We may think we have delegated a routine job to an infallible computer - but in fact we've simply acquired a lever with which to magnify human error to a dramatic scale.

Consider the time when unsuccessful applicants for a senior police job were told they'd been offered the job: that's what happens when you sort one column without sorting the adjacent one.

Or the time two noted economists, Carmen Reinhart and the former IMF chief economist Ken Rogoff, were mightily embarrassed when a graduate student spotted a spreadsheet error in an influential economics paper.

Reinhart and Rogoff accidentally omitted several countries because they forgot to drag down the formula selection box by five more cells.

As Lisa Pollack noted in the FT, the investment bank JP Morgan lost $6bn (£4.6bn), in part because a risk indicator in a spreadsheet was being divided not by an average of two numbers but by their sum - making the risks look half as big as they should have done.

If we ask computers to do the wrong thing, they'll do it with the same breathtaking speed and efficiency that inspired Dan Bricklin to create VisiCalc.

That is a lesson we seem doomed to keep learning far beyond the borders of accountancy.

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-47802280

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Being black in Nazi Germany

Film director Amma Asante came across an old photograph taken in Nazi Germany of a black schoolgirl by chance.

Standing among her white classmates, who stare straight into the camera, she enigmatically glances to the side.

Curiosity about the photograph - who the girl was and what she was doing in Germany - set the award-winning film-maker off on a path that led to Where Hands Touch, a new movie starring Amandla Stenberg and George MacKay.

It is an imagined account of a mixed-race teenager's clandestine relationship with a Hitler Youth member, but it is based on historical record.

In the Nazi era, from 1933 to 1945, African-Germans numbered in their thousands.

There was no uniform experience, but over time, they were banned from having relationships with white people, excluded from education and types of employment, and some were sterilised, while others were taken to concentration camps.

'Disbelief and dismissiveness'

But their story has largely been untold - and it has taken Ms Asante 12 years to get her account of the period on to the big screen.

"Often there's a form of disbelief, of questioning, sometimes even a dismissiveness of the difficult lives these people led," she told the BBC about the reaction she received from some when she spoke about her research for the film.

The African-German community has its origins in the country's short-lived empire. Sailors, servants, students and entertainers from present-day Cameroon, Togo, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Namibia came to Germany.

Once World War One broke out in 1914 this transient population became more settled, according to historian Robbie Aitken. And some African soldiers who fought for Germany in the war also settled there.

But there was a second group whose presence went on to feed into the Nazis' fear of racial mixing.

As part of the treaty that was signed after Germany's defeat in World War One, French troops occupied the Rhineland area of western Germany.

France used at least 20,000 soldiers from its African empire, mainly North and West Africa, to police the area, some of whom went on to have relationships with German women.

Racist caricatures

The derogatory term "Rhineland bastards" was coined in the 1920s to refer to the 600-800 mixed-race children who were the result of those relationships.

The term spoke to some people's imagined fears of an impure race. Made-up stories and racist caricatures of sexually predatory African soldiers were circulated at the time, fuelling concern.

While anti-Semitism occupied a pre-eminent place at the heart of Nazi ideology, a line in Mein Kampf, the book published in 1925 outlining the political beliefs of party leader Adolf Hitler, linked Jewish and black people.

"It was and is the Jews who bring the Negroes into the Rhineland," Hitler wrote, "always with the same secret thought and clear aim of ruining the hated white race by the necessarily resulting bastardisation."

Once in power, the Nazis' obsession with Jews and racial purity gradually led to the Holocaust, the industrialised slaughter of six million Jewish people during World War Two, as well as the mass murder of Roma, people with disabilities and some Slavic people.

Mr Aitken, who researches the lives of black Germans, says they were targeted too - albeit not in the same systematic way.

He describes them as being assimilated into the Nazis' "spiralling radicalisation of racial policy".

He says evidence shows their policies toward "other 'racial aliens' hint toward a goal of racial annihilationism".

'I felt only half-human'

In 1935, the Nuremberg laws, which among other things outlawed marriages between Jews and other Germans, were passed. These were then amended to include black people and Roma in the same category as Jews.

But a fear of racial mixing persisted and in 1937 the mixed-race children from the Rhineland were targeted for forced sterilisation.

Hans Hauck was one of at least 385 people who underwent the operation. Mr Hauck, the son of an Algerian soldier and a white German, appeared in the 1997 documentary Hitler's Forgotten Victims.

He spoke about how he was taken in secret to have a vasectomy. He was then given a sterilisation certificate, to allow him to carry on working, and he had to sign an agreement saying he would not marry or have sex with people "with German blood".

"It was depressing and oppressive," he told the documentary makers, "I felt only half-human".

Another victim, Thomas Holzhauser, said on the film: "Sometimes I'm glad I couldn't have children. At least they were spared the shame I lived with."

Very few others spoke about their experiences while they were alive, and "there have not been many attempts to uncover what eventually happened to the majority of them", Mr Aitken, who is one of the few historians working on the subject, told the BBC.

"It is worthwhile remembering that the Nazis also wilfully destroyed many of the documents pertaining to camps and to sterilisation, making it difficult to reconstruct the fates of groups and individuals," he said.

Ms Asante, who has also written and directed Belle and A United Kingdom, says many of these people suffered an identity crisis. They had a German parent and saw themselves as German, but they were also isolated and never fully embraced.

"The children were inhabiting two places at the same time. They were both insiders and outsiders," the 49-year-old said.

Though their experiences differed, all black Germans were subjected to persecution under Nazi rule.

Germany's colonial era, especially the attempted genocide of the Herero and Nama people in Namibia, already led to a negative view of Africans.

After Hitler came to power, they were harassed, humiliated in public, excluded from types of work and education, and essentially rendered stateless.

There was some resistance. For example, Hilarius Gilges, who was mixed race, was a Communist and anti-Nazi agitator. He was kidnapped and murdered in 1933.

Once war broke out in 1939, their position became more precarious. People in mixed relationships could be targeted for sterilisation, imprisonment or murder.

Trying to be invisible

That was the fear of Theodor Wonja Michael, who was born in Berlin in 1925 - the son of a Cameroonian man and a German woman

Growing up he appeared in so-called "human zoos", or ethnographical exhibitions, he told German broadcaster DW in 2017.

"With vast skirts, drums, dancing and songs - the idea was that people on display were foreign, exotic and were showing spectators what their homeland was like," he said. "Basically it was just a big show."

Once the Nazis came to power he knew that he had to stay as invisible as possible, especially when he became a teenager.

"Of course, with a face like this I could never completely disappear, but I tried.

"I avoided all contact with white women. That would have been horrible. I would have been sterilised and I might also have been charged with racial defilement," he said on the DW film Afro-Germany.

In 1942, Heinrich Himmler, who was one of the architects of the Holocaust, ordered a census of the black people living in Germany. This could indicate the beginnings of a plan of mass murder, though no such plan was ever put in place.

Instead, there is evidence of at least two dozen black Germans ending up in concentration camps in Germany.

"People would simply disappear and you wouldn't know what happened to them," Elizabeth Morton, whose parents ran an African entertainment troupe, said in the documentary Hitler's Forgotten Victims.

Through Where Hands Touch, Ms Asante is trying to shed new light on these stories.

As a British-Ghanaian she feels that the role and presence of people from the African diaspora in European history is often missed out - and says her film will make it difficult to deny that black people suffered at the hands of the Nazis.

"I think there's a lot of ignorance and currently there's a lot of dismissing of what these people went through."

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-48273570

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The 'personality politics' of Narendra Modi and Donald Trump

In this year's Indian election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi clocked up more than 140 rallies while chasing a second term. Sound familiar? During the 2016 US presidential campaign, Donald Trump appeared at almost as many. The BBC's Rajini Vaidyanathan looks at how the cult of personality politics is similar to both men.

On a hot and dusty evening in India's capital Delhi, crowds are gathering at an outdoor ground called the Ramlila Maidan.

Larger than life cardboard cut-outs of PM Narendra Modi line the route, along a busy arterial road.

Outside the ground a brass band - the sort usually seen at Indian weddings - blasts out versions of Bollywood songs, as hordes of supporters of India's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) line up to enter.

Some people clap and dance, others chant "Modi, Modi".

The merchandise sellers spring up on you from nowhere. "Would you like a BJP umbrella?" a man asks me, as he unfurls one to reveal its green and orange party colours.

This sort of political hysteria reminds me of the energy and passion I witnessed in 2016 at rallies for Donald Trump.

Mr Trump's campaign was built on the promise of "Making America Great Again"; for BJP supporters here it's all about "NaMo Again" - NaMo being the moniker given to Mr Modi.

Arun Bansal, 27, is wearing a "NaMo Again" T-shirt.

"National security and Pakistan are the big issues this election," the BJP worker tells me.

If the 2016 race in the US was characterised by Mr Trump's tough talk towards southern neighbour Mexico, then 2019 has in many ways been defined by Mr Modi's desire to show he is the strongman when it comes to relations with northern neighbour Pakistan.

Just before we go inside the rally ground, I encounter the first of many Narendra Modi lookalikes. Atri, or "little Modi" as his parents call him, is only seven years old and he's been attending rallies since he was four.

For a moment I have a flashback to an equally hot and humid evening in Florida where I'd met multiple Trump lookalikes - complete with bright yellow wigs, fake tans and red ties.

Here it's all about the white beard and glasses.

"I like Mr Modi because he does good, he helps the poor and everyone else," says Atri, who has ambitions of becoming prime minister himself one day.

Patriotic music is pumping as we enter the rally grounds, seats starting to fill up. Both leaders have a knack of making their base feel an unwavering sense of belonging.

The next level is clothing.

At both rallies, the basic uniform starts with headgear. In America, it is the trademark red MAGA hats. Here, it is an orange hat with the words "NaMo Again" stamped on it.

Harminder Singh Bhatia has arrived wearing a Narendra Modi waistcoat, its polyester finish shimmering in the evening light.

"I've been to every one of his rallies in this area, since he became prime minister," he tells me excitedly.

"He's hardworking, he cares about the country. I like him because he's a strong leader."

As the ground fills up, and the sun begins to set, I'm struck by how many women are in the crowd, like Mridula Aneja, a Sanskrit teacher from Delhi who is at her third Modi rally.

The warm-up acts take to the stage - candidates and party members whip up the crowd ahead of the headliner. Just like super fans at a rock concert, political groupies like to outdo each other with their devotion.

All the while I'm getting Twitter notifications from Narendra Modi.

Mr Modi, like Mr Trump, uses social media to directly talk to his base, and so as the BJP leader makes his journey to the rally, my phone is pinging with alerts.

"Prime Minister Modi and I are world leaders in social media." Mr Trump said when the pair met at the White House in 2017. President Trump has 60.4 million followers - PM Modi isn't too far behind with 47.3 million.

As I glance up from my phone, another Modi lookalike walks past and I do a double take.

Ranveer Dhiyam is a retired government official who now travels from rally to rally. "Five hundred people have asked me for a selfie this election," he tells me proudly.

I decide to make it 501.

This is the closest I've come to the man himself, if you can even count it.

Just like Mr Trump, Mr Modi is notoriously choosy about who he grants interviews to, opting for his preferred outlets, who are more sympathetic and less challenging to the BJP. The same can be said of President Trump, whose outlet of choice is Fox News.

As the crowd falls briefly silent, we are told (the real) Mr Modi is on his way.

Minutes later, the prime minister is introduced on stage as the emcee calls on everyone to make a noise so loud it's "an airstrike of claps"- a reference to the airstrikes India says it carried out inside Pakistani territory earlier this year.

They do much more than that - whooping, screeching, whipping out mobile phones as they chant "Modi, Modi" in unison.

"Bharat mata ki jai (victory for mother India)", Mr Modi says, as he kicks off his speech.

Once again I'm having a 2016 flashback to choruses of "USA, USA".

In the pantomime style I've witnessed at Trump rallies, Mr Modi, too, encourages audience interaction.

"Should we not kill terrorists in their homes?" he asks. "Tell me, should we not?"

"No, we should," the crowd replies.

Mr Modi also devotes time to criticise his main opponent, Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi.

Both him and Mr Trump present themselves as outsiders with contempt for those they see as the imperious ruling classes. Both ran against members of political dynasties - Hillary Clinton, whose husband is a former president, and Mr Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Mr Modi derides "the Khan Market gang" - a reference to one of Delhi's most exclusive areas, inhabited by the country's most privileged.

Mr Trump, who'd never held public office before, brands Washington's elite members of the so-called "swamp".

"They want votes in the name of their ancestors but when I question the work their ancestors have done, and what they've done to our country, they get irritated," Mr Modi says as hundreds roar in approval.

He did not hold back in his attacks on the opposition and many felt he had sunk to a new low when he criticised his opponent's dead father.

He described Rajiv Gandhi, a former prime minister who was assassinated in 1991, as "corrupt number one".

It reminded me of similar insults Donald Trump directed at Senator John McCain, who lost his battle with cancer last year.

Both Donald Trump and Narendra Modi pride themselves on being direct, but their speeches have sometimes descended into the distasteful.

But for both sets of supporters, there's a broad acceptance that it doesn't matter if the lines of political civility are crossed - as long as the job is done.

The cult of personality politics is what ties the two leaders. Their respective bases believe that personalities like Mr Trump and Mr Modi are ready to stand up for voices that are usually ignored by the ruling classes.

"I really like him - there's such an attraction," Santosh, a mechanic from Delhi tells me, as he clutches his 18-month-old baby who is also dressed as the prime minister.

"I'm ready to skip a meal but I'm not ready for anyone to disrespect our country - that's why I like Modi."

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-48332141

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I never met my daughter's dad - she was his dying wish

Liat Malka longed to have children but hadn't yet met the right person with whom to start a family. Then she became involved in an unusual plan - to help fulfil a stranger's dying wish of fathering a child.

In 2013, Liat Malka was a single, 35-year-old kindergarten teacher living in southern Israel, when she felt the urgency of her biological clock ticking.

"I was worrying about time passing and maybe missing out on motherhood," Liat says. "So I went to the doctor and did some fertility tests."

When the results came back, they suggested that the number of eggs Liat had left was low. The doctor warned that if she waited for the right person to come along she might not ever become a mother.

"So right away I decided that I would do anything I could to have a baby as soon as possible," Liat says.

When Liat arrived home, she immediately went online to explore her options.

"I really wanted my child to know their father and that's not possible with a sperm donor," she says. "And just having somebody to have a child with is also very complicated."

Liat Malka and Julia Pozniansky spoke to Outlook on the BBC World Service

Listen again her.

But then Liat stumbled across an interview on YouTube that had been broadcast on TV news in 2009. In it, a couple called Vlad and Julia Pozniansky explained that they were trying to obtain legal permission to have a child using sperm left by their son, who had died the previous year. They had already found a woman to be the mother of their son's child.

Liat wondered if a similar arrangement might also be a good option for her: "Because this way the child can know who their father was, know their history and have grandparents and family," she says.

She decided to contact the couple's lawyer to ask for more details - and was surprised to learn that although four years had passed since the interview had been recorded, Vlad and Julia still didn't have a grandchild and the woman selected to be the mother was no longer on board.

Liat arranged to meet the Poznianskys and on the day of the meeting the couple brought with them an album filled with photographs of their beloved son, Baruch.

Eventually Vlad and Julia found an Israeli woman of Russian origin who they thought could be a mother to their grandchild. They went to court to obtain permission to use Baruch's sperm and won their case, but within a week or two the woman had met a new partner and withdrawn from their agreement.

"Another young woman came to us, a very nice one," Julia says. The woman's name was added to the court verdict, instead of the first woman, and she began the IVF process. But after seven rounds the woman had failed to conceive, leaving the finite supply of Baruch's sperm depleted.

Somehow, in spite of the devastation Julia felt after losing her son and the failures and disappointments on her journey to try to have Baruch's child, she found the determination to keep going.

"I was ready not to live any more," she says. "But I decided that if I was going to live I had to return some happiness to my life, and some love.

"I wanted my son to continue living - somewhere deep in my heart I wanted to return him physically - I thought maybe a boy would be born who would look like Baruch."

Uncertain how long it might take or if she'd ever be able to fulfil Baruch's dying wish, Julia was longing for a baby in her life. At the age of 55, she and Vlad started trying for a child of their own using IVF and a donor egg.

When their son was born, Julia says it felt like breathing fresh air again.

Julia clearly remembers the day that she and her husband first met Liat in early 2013.

"She was a beautiful young woman. Black hair, red coat, and I loved her from the very beginning," Julia says. "I saw that she was a good person."

She showed Liat the album of photos of Baruch that she'd brought with her and Liat says she felt an immediate connection to him.

"Just looking at the pictures I already knew who this person was - such good eyes, the biggest smile you can ever imagine, surrounded with friends and very handsome," she says.

"And it looked like he was really connected to his parents, because in every picture they are holding hands and hugging. I could see the love and the happiness in his eyes - there was no doubt he was a great person."

As Julia showed Liat the photos, she talked about how much Baruch had loved life, how smart he was, and how sociable, how he'd loved cooking and what great friends he'd had.

In that moment Liat decided that she wanted Baruch, a man she had never met and who had died five years previously, to be the father of her child.

Liat, Vlad and Julia signed contracts which gave Liat ownership of the sperm so that nobody else could use it subsequently, and the contract also formalised arrangements for Vlad and Julia to visit.

"To protect our rights to see the child," Julia explains. "We were doing it not only to fulfil Baruch's will, but also to have a dear, beloved grandchild."

No money changed hands - something that was very important to Vlad and Julia, in order to prevent attracting the wrong type of person.

Julia and Liat then had to meet a social worker who questioned them about what conflicts they anticipated in their relationship and even about what would happen if they quarrelled over what the child would be named. Julia felt as though the whole judicial system was playing God, deciding if a human being would live or not, and she told the social worker as much.

"And this nice woman felt really uncomfortable with my answer," she says.

Liat then began fertility treatment, but her first round of IVF was unsuccessful.

"There was just one egg," Liat says. "That was a shock - I expected more - and then it didn't develop to be an embryo."

Liat tried to remain hopeful, but despite being given an increased dose of the medication which encourages the ovaries to produce more eggs, on the second attempt again there was only one egg.

"They fertilised it and I had to wait for a day and then call to find out if it was developing into an embryo," Liat says.

This time there was good news.

"I thought, 'Wow, maybe this is it?'"

The fertilised egg was transferred into Liat's womb. For a week she rested, waited and hoped, then took a pregnancy test and called the hospital for the results.

"They were yelling like, 'Yeah, you're pregnant!'" Liat says.

Liat shared the exciting news first with her sister and then with Julia. Then, over the following few days, the seriousness of her situation began to sink in.

"I was in shock - I didn't think it was going to happen," Liat admits. "So when it did I just couldn't believe it. I didn't even know Vlad and Julia that much - I'd only met them two or maybe three times."

Liat was worried about how her own family would get along with Baruch's family - her parents had come to Israel from Morocco, while Vlad and Julia come from Russia, and, she says, the two families are culturally very different.

To compound her doubts, Liat had also not yet told her own mother about meeting Vlad and Julia and the plan to become a mother to their dead son's child.

"I didn't want the burden of everyone's opinions, especially my mum's, so I had kept it a secret," she says. "But when I called her to say I was pregnant she was happy - at least I was having a child!"

Liat's pregnancy progressed but her doubts didn't diminish. She was very stressed and couldn't cope with trying to forge a relationship with Vlad and Julia while trying to grow a baby. At night she would dream about how her child might look.

Julia, too, was worried. She wanted to be closer to Liat, but had to respect Liat's wishes and keep her distance.

"I spoke to one of my relatives, a very wise woman, and she said, 'Let her have her child and afterwards everything will be OK,'" Julia says.

When Liat went into labour she didn't feel comfortable about calling Julia to share the news, and told her own mother not to come to the hospital that evening since a doctor had advised her it was unlikely the baby would arrive before morning.

"But at midnight she had a feeling, took a taxi and arrived at the hospital at the last minute," Liat says. "I was very happy that she came. She was in so much shock that she couldn't even speak. My two sisters were with me too, and I have a sister in the US who was on Skype and we put her on the shelf. It was a really amazing experience."

Shira was born on 1 December 2015, more than seven years after her father had died.

"She was exactly like she was in the dream," Liat says. "She was so beautiful, I really couldn't believe it."

Liat called Vlad and Julia to tell them the news.

"I felt that my heart started to beat again for the first time after my terrible loss," Julia says.

The photos of Baruch that Julia brought when she first met Liat are now kept at Liat and Shira's apartment in Ashkelon, and they often look at them together, talking about the man in the photos who is smiling back at them. Liat points out Baruch's blue eyes, just like Shira's.

"One day she told me, 'Maybe soon he will knock at the door and come to see us,'" Liat says. "So I said, 'No, he won't come.'"

Shira is now aged three. Her mother says she does sometimes worry about Shira not having a father.

"But today you have so many kinds of families," Liat says, "This is just another one. Shira knows that she does not have a father, but she's very loved and she's very happy."

And having fulfilled her dying son's last wish, Julia has no doubts about what she has done, and feels certain that Baruch would love his daughter too.

"She's beautiful, she's smart, she's happy, she's everything you could want from a child," Julia says. "She's perfect, she's really perfect."

When Jessica Share bought sperm from a sperm bank in order to start a family, she never imagined that more than a decade later she would meet the donor - and would feel a strong attraction to him.

I met my boyfriend 12 years after giving birth to his child

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US-China trade war: Shoe giants urge Trump to end tariffs

Some of the world's biggest footwear firms are urging Donald Trump to end the US trade war with China, warning of a "catastrophic" effect on consumers.

A letter signed by 173 companies, includinImage copyright Getty Images g Nike and Adidas, says the president's decision to raise import tariffs to 25% will disproportionately affect the working class.

They also warn that higher levies threaten the future of some businesses.

Mr Trump maintains that trade deficit will China hurts the US economy.

The US president increased levies on $200bn (£157.3bn) worth of Chinese imports into the US from 10% to 25% more than a week ago after Washington and Beijing failed to reach a deal on trade.

China retaliated by announcing plans to raise levies on $60bn of US imports from 1 June.

The footwear companies that signed the letter, including Clarks, Dr Martens and Converse, say that while the average US tariff on footwear is 11.3%, in some cases it can reach as high as 67.5%.

"Adding a 25% tax increase on top of these tariffs would mean some working American families could pay a nearly 100% duty on their shoes," the companies wrote.

"This is unfathomable."

"It is time to bring this trade war to an end," the firms urged.

When he raised tariffs earlier this month, Mr Trump told companies that they could reduce costs by shifting production to the US.

However, the shoemakers and retailers say that while they have been moving their sourcing away from China: "Footwear is a very capital-intensive industry, with years of planning required to make sourcing decisions, and companies cannot simply move factories to adjust to these changes."

Retaliation fears

On Tuesday, a top business lobby in China released a survey of its members that found just over 40% had relocated, or were considering moving production facilities, outside of China because of tariffs.

The survey by the American Chambers of Commerce in China and Shanghai found one-third of respondents had delayed or cancelled investment decisions to cope with tariffs.

A recent escalation in the trade conflict - including tighter restrictions on Chinese telecoms giant Huawei - was creating fresh concerns for businesses in China, the group said.

Last week, the Trump administration added Huawei to its "entity list", which bans the company from acquiring technology from US firms without government approval.

Speaking to the BBC, the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in China, Tim Stratford, said its members had "real concerns" about the fallout from the US action against Huawei.

"Particularly in the wake of the decision to put Huawei on the... entity list, there are concerns that the government of China may decide to retaliate against American companies," Mr Stratford said.

A survey by AmCham found that slightly more than 40% of its members had relocated, or were considering moving, outside of China because of tariffs.

The group represents more than 900 US companies working in China.

Plane manufacturer Boeing, pharmaceuticals firm Pfizer and soft drink giant Coca-Cola are among the US companies AmCham represents in China.

Last year, Boeing opened its first completion plant for its 737 passenger plane in eastern China, near the city of Shanghai.

Boeing's president of China, John Bruns, said he was "nervous" about the "challenging environment" caused by the tit-for-tat tariff war.How did we get here?

China and the US have been engaged in a fractious dispute over trade since the early days of Mr Trump's presidency.

While campaigning for the presidential election in 2016, Mr Trump repeatedly accused China of unfair trading practices and intellectual property theft.

He threatened to apply tariffs, saying China's entry into the World Trade Organization had paved the way for the "greatest jobs theft in history".

He also wants to cut America's trade deficit with China, which he says is hurting US manufacturing.

Despite several rounds of talks, the world's two largest economies have failed to reach an agreement to end the trade war.

What's next?

Still, Beijing signalled some willingness to work with Washington to solve their trade dispute.

No discussions have been scheduled since the last round of talks ended on 10 May.

"China remains ready to continue our talks with our American colleagues to reach a conclusion. Our door is still open," China's ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai said on Fox News.

The leaders of the US and China are also set to meet again at the G20 summit in Japan next month.

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India election 2019: Echoes of Trump in Modi's border politics

In total some four million people who thought they were Indian were excluded from the draft list. Half of these people have filed claims to be included in the final census.

Vinay could not handle the stress of the uncertainty, Shanti says, and took his own life in May 2018. As she mourns her son, Shanti now worries about her own status if she is left off the finalised list.

"Where shall I go and why should I flee?" she says. "It would be better that I too should die. Nobody is helping us. We are poor and weak people. The government should help us."

The citizenship question

Mr Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has long railed against illegal immigration in India but has made the NRC a priority in recent years.

Local officials say the list has nothing to do with religion, but activists see it as targeting the state's Bengali community, a large portion of whom are Muslims. Their fears are set against rhetoric from a Hindu nationalist government whose leader has not hidden his preference for Hindu migrants over Muslim ones.

However significant numbers of Bengali-speaking Hindus have also been left off the citizenship list, underscoring the communal and ethnic tensions in the state. For local Assamese, the NRC is about deporting all illegal immigrants - not just one religious minority - in an effort to preserve their culture.

The question of identity is one echoed 13,000km (8,000 miles) away in the US, where a similar resurgence of nationalism has emerged under Mr Trump, the Republican president whose inflammatory rhetoric has stoked anti-immigration fears along the US-Mexico border and divided Americans on national identity.

"While Trump is building his physical wall, Modi is creating a figurative one through policies like the NRC," says Milan Vaishnav, director of the South Asia programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,

Though Mr Modi came to power two years before Mr Trump, the resurgence of his party's unbridled religious nationalism has come to define this year's election, and the struggle for India's identity as a pluralistic democracy.

'Infiltrators at the border'

BJP politicians have pointed to the NRC to amplify the threat of Muslim "infiltrators", while showing that they are curbing the tide of undocumented immigrants at India's borders.

The party has suggested that such citizens registers could be drawn up across the country.

"These infiltrators are eating away at our country like termites," BJP President Amit Shah said during rallies on 11 April in West Bengal. "The NRC is our means of removing them."

Mr Shah's anti-immigration rhetoric is similar to that of Mr Trump, who has been accused of fear-mongering, describing migrants from Central America as killers and criminals who threaten US security.

The US president has made a crackdown on America's 11 million undocumented immigrants a rallying cry in his 2020 re-election campaign. He continues to push hardline immigration policy, toughening requirements for asylum seekers and, more recently, proposing a reduction to America's family-based admissions system.

But while Mr Trump has indicated his plans to return undocumented immigrants to their countries, the future of people seen as illegal foreigners in India is less clear.

Once the final list is published, residents whose appeals have been denied will be stripped of their citizenship, forcing their deportation or leaving them stateless.

Vijay Kumar Gupta, a senior BJP leader in Assam, told the BBC the process was about separating migrants who fled religious persecution from those who sought economic relief, "damaging Assamese heritage".

He suggested the government would evict those deemed illegal foreigners, but Bangladesh has rejected claims that any of its citizens reside in Assam illegally, calling the NRC a "local internal matter".

Threatened by diversity

Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center, points out Mr Modi's emphasis on nationalism in this election fits with the broader global trend of populist leaders using polarising rhetoric across Asia, Europe, the US and South America.

While nationalism is not a new sentiment in India, he notes, what's happening under Mr Modi has striking similarities to the political landscape in Mr Trump's America.

Mr Kugelman says the parallels extend to the cult personalities of the two men, both considered "straight shooters" who push conservative politics, have deep business interests and are perceived as hostile toward their country's media - while also embracing social media.

"There has always been these tensions festering underneath this veneer of India as a secular, pluralistic state, between those that think it's true and should continue to be a secular state, and those that think India is above all a Hindu state, and that identity should be promoted as much as possible," Mr Kugelman says,

Those in the latter camp have been emboldened under Mr Modi's leadership, he adds, much like the growing tenor of anti-immigrant sentiment under Mr Trump in the last two years.

Both leaders have used national identity as a crude political tactic on the campaign trail, catering to a constituency feeling threatened by diversity and minority interests.

Are Muslims being targeted?

Assam's Muslim population, about one in three residents, fear the NRC is being used as a device to deport them from India.

"The BJP is trying to divide society, and if they continue to do it, it will destroy the Indian identity," says Azizur Rahman, president of All Assam's Minority Student Union, a group advocating on behalf of those left off the NRC. "If they win, the next five years will be very tough for Muslims, and will be for decades to come."

During the drafting process, residents have been able to challenge the citizenship of names included on the NRC, and some critics say those complaints have largely been directed at Muslims.

"What was a process to segregate foreigners has so clearly become an anti-Muslim exercise," says Aman Wadud, a human rights lawyer based in Assam.

Mr Gupta of the BJP strongly denied the NRC was being used as a means to target Muslims, saying that Mr Modi's government worked on behalf of all Indians.

Ahmed Hussain, a science teacher at a government school in the village of Adabari, fears his family is among those ensnared in citizenship complications because of his name.

"These types of problems against Muslims increased in Assam after the BJP formed the government in 2016."

The 55-year-old teacher comes from a family that has lived for nine generations in the Assamese district of Dhubri, which sits next to the border with Bangladesh, nestled between pond-soaked fields, lush with water hyacinth, and the Brahmaputra river with its countless channels.

Ahmed claims his father was involved in preparing the original NRC while serving in the Dhubri District Commissioner office in 1951, yet his family's Indian roots have been thrown into doubt over a complaint against his 18-year-old niece Nazia's inclusion on the list.

The science student has just completed her studies in Guwahati, some 260km (160 miles) away from her hometown, with plans to become a medical doctor. But instead of studying, Nazia spends her time fighting the case against her, which implicates her entire family.

"I'm afraid for my future, my ability to find a job if I'm not declared an Indian citizen," she says. "If I apply for a government job, will they target me for my Muslim identity? Why only us?"

Among those lodging complaints against citizens are members of the All Assam Students Union (AASU), which has been a driving force behind the completion of the NRC and the anti-immigration movement since its inception.

AASU general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi acknowledges his members are filing complaints against citizens they believe come from "suspected areas", but blames NRC officials for any errors on the list.

"We want a foreigner-free NRC list. This is a one-time exercise," he declares, adding that if some Indian citizens are forced to endure legal difficulties, it is in the interest of the Assamese people.

The battle for India's soul

Last year the BJP government introduced the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), legislation aimed at granting citizenship to religious minorities fleeing persecution from neighbouring Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. It pointedly excluded Muslims, who the BJP contends do not count as a minority group.

The fact that the central government was keen to welcome Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis with no ties to the country while Assam's Muslims continued to fight for their right to stay in India angered many in the state and sparked violent protests.

Opponents of the legislation argued it violated India's constitution by establishing religion as a requirement for citizenship.

The BJP eventually soft-pedalled on the legislation, but if the party returns to power it may renew its efforts to push the legislation through India's parliament.

Whatever happens, Mr Kugelman says the damage is done, deepening divisions about national identity.

"Given the toxicity in politics and the nasty things that have been said and done, the discriminatory rhetoric and policies that we've had for the last two years in India and the United States, it's going to take a long time for both of these countries to recover."

While millions in Assam await the finalised NRC in July, which will determine whether they are accepted as Indian, the rest of the country will decide on 23 May if they agree with the BJP's conception of what that means.

Speaking at a rally in Mumbai in April, Mr Modi told the crowd: "This election is not just for choosing a government, it is an election to decide the direction of India."

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The pun-loving computer programs that write adverts

Machines are now writing advertising copy as well as basic news reports, but are their efforts any good and can they be taught to be more inventive?

"Have a suite stay" read an ad for a hotel offering all-suite rooms. A neat - if obvious - pun you might think.

But what made this ad noteworthy was that it was created by an automated copywriting programme developed by Dentsu Aegis Network, the marketing giant.

The firm launched its natural language generation algorithm last year to increase output after changes were made to Google's advertising system, explains Audrey Kuah, the firm's managing director.

The programme creates 20 to 25 full ads a second in English and is "trained" by feeding it thousands of the kind of ads it is meant to produce, she says.

But what caught their eye about this ad was that it was quite witty.

Google's "cost-per-click-basis" advertising system, whereby the cost of an ad falls the more it is clicked on, encourages clients to play it safe, says Ms Kuah, making the ads rather pedestrian.

The algorithm couldn't learn to be more creative based on such a back catalogue of humdrum copy.

"We got quite fascinated by how we inject this concept of creativity," she says.

So they began to "feed" the algorithm with editorial headlines from travel articles and idioms to see if it could learn "more flowery" language.

"Our ambition is to train this AI [artificial intelligence] copywriter to learn how to inject a little bit of that human creativity, which today is taken out of the search advertising system because it may not be so readily rewarded," she says.

 

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-47944276

'Heart-warming' copy

The idea of making AI more human-like and inventive is already happening to a certain extent in China.

Retail giant Alibaba, for example, enables merchants on its e-commerce ecosystem to dictate the tone of the language when using Alibaba's AI-generated copywriting service, a company spokesperson tells the BBC.

On the Taobao shopping site, for example, merchants can choose between descriptive "short-title" copy, more promotional "selling point" copy, and more emotional "heart-warming" copy.

One heart-felt ad for a hoodie read: "A windbreaker is enough to withstand the autumn wind in England".

The AI copywriter learns from millions of existing samples and can generate 20,000 lines of copy a second in Chinese, the spokesperson says.

While the copy created is not necessarily perfect, the service makes life easier for the many, smaller merchants on Alibaba's e-commerce sites, which do not have the resources to do a marketing push themselves.

"A single product might require up to 10 versions of copy for different advertising formats, like posters, web banners, product pages, and event pages," says Li Mu, director of Alimama Marketing Research and Experience Center. Alimama is Alibaba's digital marketing arm.

"Many merchants, and especially smaller ones, lack the marketing expertise or resources. We aim to solve this problem with easily-accessible and user-friendly technology."

Challenges

Companies generally welcome the greater use of AI, says Parry Malm, chief executive of Phrasee, an AI-powered copywriting firm, headquartered in the UK.

An AI-generated email subject line for a Virgin Holidays campaign continuously outperformed a human-written one over a testing period, he says.

"Shop the sale - don't hang around, book today!" proved more popular than the human-written "There's still time to book that dream holiday for less".

"Ongoing testing resulted in a revenue increase of several million pounds for their email campaigns - which Virgin Holidays has confirmed was a direct result of using Phrasee's AI technology for email marketing," says Mr Malm.

But the scope of AI can be limited and making it more "creative" is not without its challenges.

Ms Kuah says the Dentsu Aegis algorithm sometimes gets confused when you give it new information.

"It will start to go haywire," she says. "You will suddenly have things that don't make sense appear. So it's a little bit like teaching a wayward dog that doesn't want to sit."

Phrasee meanwhile seeks to avoid what it calls "simplistic emotional tagging" altogether, says Mr Malm.

Instead, it tries to differentiate itself by allowing clients to create AI-generated copy that adapts to the "voice" of a particular brand through a "bespoke language model".

"The traditional approach for many marketers and providers has been to tag language with certain emotions - 'happy', 'sad', 'scary' - but such an approach is problematic," argues Mr Malm.

"It not only limits the language available to use but is highly susceptible to human error and prejudice. In other words, it's not scientific."

While the use of AI in advertising copywriting is still very niche, such automation is widely employed in the selling and distribution of digital ads, and increasingly, in journalism.

Broadcasters in Russia and China have recently introduced robot presenters, for example.

"The adoption of AI is growing significantly among advertisers with the increasing use of mass marketing," says Venkata Krishnan Seshadri, industry manager for information and communications technology at market research company Technavio.

"In 2018, over 40% of advertisers used AI for analyzing their target audience. This is expected to increase in the coming years, as numerous organizations are utilising their AI capabilities to streamline their marketing and sales process."

The bottom line is that if AI produces better responses to adverts than humans manage to achieve - and at lower cost - marketers will jump at the chance to use it.

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Are barcodes the way to protect dementia patients?

Each year in Japan thousands of elderly people with dementia go missing, hundreds are never found alive again.

Japan has the world's oldest population but also some of the most advanced technology and they're using it to help keep people with dementia safe.

People like Mrs Itou who lives in the city of Matsudo.

The first time she went missing her son who cares for her went driving around looking for her in the places she normally goes.

That was no easy task as Mrs Itou loves to walk and can cover a hundred kilometres a month.

That time his mother came home, but since then she's gone missing four more times as her dementia has worsened.

'Constant vigil'

The stress of caring for someone with dementia is well known to Nobel prize-winning scientist Randy Schekman whose wife had Parkinson's disease and dementia before she died.

"You have to keep a constant vigil," he tells me at a meeting in Japan of Nobel laureates and other eminent people to discuss the future of ageing.

"As my wife's dementia progressed I couldn't let her go to the restroom when we went out together. She would go in go into a stall, lock the door and then not be able to unlock the door - she was trapped inside a women's restroom."

Prof Schekman describes the projections of the rising number of people with dementia as a crisis akin to climate change because of the stress it will place on those caring for them and the economic consequences as people leave work to care for loved ones.

He is at the start of a 10-year project to tackle the basic science behind Parkinson's disease which will gather teams of scientists from around the world. The project's reported multi-billion dollar budget is being provided by Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

Dementia tech

Meanwhile in Japan, people like Mrs Itou are using new practical solutions to deal with memory loss and the need for a constant vigil.

The local government provides people with dementia and their carers, with badges they can wear. They display a QR code - a square image similar to a barcode - which can be read by anyone with a smart-phone.

The badges have helped Mrs Itou get home the last two times she went missing.

One of the inventors of the badges, Haruo Hidaka had the idea after watching the grandmother who raised him suffer with dementia.

He believed in the idea so much

The local government provides people with dementia and their carers, with badges they can wear. They display a QR code - a square image similar to a barcode - which can be read by anyone with a smart-phone.

The badges have helped Mrs Itou get home the last two times she went missing.

One of the inventors of the badges, Haruo Hidaka had the idea after watching the grandmother who raised him suffer with dementia.

He believed in the idea so much that his team developed a prototype that he personally went to sell in 630 towns and cities across Japan.

The idea was a success and the company he worked for has been bought by the Japanese pharmaceutical company Toho Holdings.

Talking to me at the company's Tokyo headquarters, Mr Hidaka says as well as his grandmother the idea was also sparked by the case of someone who died in their home and whose death went unnoticed for weeks.

Tackling lonely deaths

This is a common problem in Japan and it's another problem that the city of Matsudo and many others are tackling.

It's a rainy Friday afternoon and a group of 10 Matsudo residents are putting on orange vests and preparing to head out around the city.

The volunteers are just some of thousands across Japan who have been through a programme of dementia awareness.

Today they're going door to door with flyers for a pop-up cafe. While posting the adverts they're also keeping an eye out for houses where there are telltale signs of problems, like mail piling up. That could be the sign of someone inside in trouble or perhaps even dead.

"One shouldn't be pointing fingers, but I think you can tell straight away," says Manami Yoshii.

"By putting flyers into the postbox, we are able to check whether their postboxes are overflowing. And through that we would be able to tell if something might have happened to the resident."

The pop-up cafes they are advertising are a place where older people can come and get lunch and a chat.

Cafe connections

While developments like QR codes are useful, they're not the full solution, according to Akiko Saito who runs one of Matsudo's dementia cafes.

"These days our relationships with our immhttps://www.bbc.com/news/business-48227747ediate neighbours are fading," she says as about 20 local pensioners dig in to a typical multi-dish Japanese lunch.

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-48227747

"We are connected through things like social networking sites, but in case there is a disaster or if something happens, I think it's going to be more and more important in future to have a space where you can build relationships between people so that neighbours would be able to help each other out."

With our life expectancy rising in most countries, the number of people with dementia is expected to increase dramatically in the coming decades.

The solutions they have found in super-ageing Japan are already being copied in other countries and are likely to spread even further.

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Miami Beach: The hedonistic spirit of the early 90s

Photographer and film-maker Barry Lewis started to document Miami Beach in South Florida in the late 80s, regularly flying out from London to capture portraits and street scenes.

Image copyright Barry Lewis

In the book, entitled Miami Beach 1988 - 1995, writer and photographer Bill Hayes gives historical context to the troubled times that Miami Beach experienced as a result of drug wars.

Hayes says: "This was the city that back in the mid 1970s was named by a local homicide officer as the most dangerous place on earth.

"Twenty five per cent of deaths were from machine-gun fire, 15% were public executions and the majority were drug-related.

"White, middle-class America had fallen in love with cocaine, and 80% of the product was arriving through Miami, with the resulting drug wars."

Image copyright Barry Lewis

Over time, the city began to prosper in the early 90s, and Miami Beach returned to its glamorous and hedonistic former self.

"The tourists were returning, promenading down Ocean Drive and Washington Avenue, mingling with the Latinos, gays, transvestites, crazies and kids step-dancing along the sidewalk with beatboxes to their ears." Hayes says.

"Now came a sudden explosion of fashion and design to Miami. The resurgence of party life was self-perpetuating. No sooner had a business closed than it was converted into a nightclub.

"Anything could happen in the bubble that was South Beach: you could wear anything, behave badly, as crazily as possible - good taste made way for no taste."

https://www.bbc.com/news/in-pictures-48268600

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Ren Zhengfei says US government 'underestimates' Huawei

Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei has remained defiant towards US moves against his company, saying the US "underestimates" its abilities.

Speaking to Chinese state media, Mr Ren downplayed the impact of recent US curbs and said no-one could catch up to its 5G technology in the near future.

Last week the US added Huawei to a list of companies that American firms cannot trade with unless they have a licence.

The move marked an escalation in US efforts to block the Chinese company.

"The current practice of US politicians underestimates our strength," Mr Ren said, according to transcripts from state media.

Huawei faces a growing backlash from Western countries, led by the US, over possible risks posed by using its products in next-generation 5G mobile networks.

The potential fallout from the US decision to place Huawei on its "entity list" was drawn into focus on Monday after Google barred the Chinese tech giant from some updates to its Android operating system.

Later on Monday, the US Commerce Department issued a temporary licence that enabled some companies to continue supporting existing Huawei networks and devices.

The US said it would issue the 90-day licence that "will allow operations to continue for existing Huawei mobile phone users and rural broadband networks," said US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

The UK's National Cyber Security Centre has published advice for Huawei phone owners on its site.

It said the licence should mean that Huawei customers can "update their handsets as normal". It added that it was continuing to assess the situation and planned to provide advice in the future for users.

Still, Mr Ren played down the significance of the move, saying that Huawei had already made preparations ahead of the US restrictions.

Huawei has been at the epicentre of the US-China power struggle for months.

Consumers are worried about what this all means for them, while the implications for Huawei are also likely to be significant.

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-48345742

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Don McGahn: White House directs former lawyer not to testify

The White House has told a former adviser not to testify about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, sparking outrage from Democrats.

Lawyer Donald McGahn previously told the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election that he had felt pressured by President Donald Trump to fire Mr Mueller.

Mr McGahn has been ordered to appear on Tuesday.

But the White House has now directed him not to speak to the committee.

A letter to the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee said lawyer Donald McGahn was "absolutely immune from compelled Congressional testimony".

There are calls for an impeachment inquiry against President Trump if he does not testify.

Mr McGahn served as White House counsel for nearly two years before his resignation in October 2018.

Both the Department of Justice and White House released statements on Monday arguing that Mr McGahn was under no obligation to give evidence.

Later Mr McGahn's lawyer said his client would "respect the president's instruction".

Mr Mueller's two-year investigation did not determine that Mr Trump conspired with alleged Russian attempts to sway the 2016 election, but listed 10 instances of possible obstruction of justice by the president.

What is the White House saying?

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Democrats did not like the conclusions of the Mueller report and wanted "a wasteful and unnecessary do-over".

Citing the justice department guidance, her statement added: "The former Counsel to the President cannot be forced to give such testimony, and Mr McGahn has been directed to act accordingly."

In its memo, the justice department said Mr McGahn did not have to testify.

Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel said: "Congress may not constitutionally compel the president's senior advisers to testify about their official duties."

What has the reaction been?

Speaking to CNN, Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler said the panel would hold Mr McGahn in contempt of Congress for not testifying.

Earlier, he said the instruction was "just the latest act of obstruction from the White House that includes its blanket refusal to cooperate with this committee".

"The president acted again and again - perhaps criminally - to protect himself from federal law enforcement. Don McGahn personally witnessed the most egregious of these acts," he said in a statement.

However, Mr Nadler and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are coming under growing pressure from their party to launch an impeachment inquiry against the president.

US media reports suggest several member of the Judiciary Committee tried to convince Ms Pelosi to start such an investigation to make the Trump administration comply with subpoenas.

Representative David Cicilline, a committee member, said on Twitter: "If Don McGahn does not testify tomorrow [Tuesday], it will be time to begin an impeachment inquiry of" President Trump.

But Ms Pelosi and Mr Nadler told colleagues their course of action was getting results. Someone in the meeting told NBC News it was a "long and very emotional" debate.

Also on Monday, a federal judge rejected Mr Trump's efforts to block a subpoena into his accounting firm, Mazars USA LLP.

The subpoena, issued by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on 15 April, asked that the firm hand over financial records relating to Mr Trump dating back to 2011, years before he announced his candidacy for president.

What is this about?

The subpoena for Mr McGahn's testimony is part of a wider inquiry by Congressional Democrats into Mr Trump's alleged obstruction and abuse of power.

In March, the House Judiciary Committee issued document requests related to the investigation to 81 people and groups.

Mr McGahn was interviewed for 30 hours by Mr Mueller's team of investigators, and was frequently cited in their 448-page report, released in April.

Mr Trump later maintained he had authorised this co-operation with Mr Mueller.

The Mueller report detailed how Mr McGahn felt the president had pressured him to fire Mr Mueller and, later, write a memo saying that Mr Trump had issued no such directive.

US Attorney General William Barr was questioned this month about the matter by Senate Democrats.

He said the president had only suggested that Mr Mueller be "replaced" because of a perceived conflict of interest - and then instructed Mr McGahn to correct inaccurate media reports.

Mr McGahn left the White House in October to return to a Washington law firm, Jones Day, which represents the Trump campaign.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-48344909

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Is Russia trying to sway the European elections?

EU officials say Russia is using disinformation to influence the outcome of this week's European Parliament elections. How seriously should their warnings be taken?

"Winter isn't the only thing that's coming - so is the risk of interference in our elections," said Sir Julian King, the EU's commissioner for security, in a press conference late last year.

Their primary suspect is Russia. EU officials say the Kremlin has for years been using disinformation to sow discord and confusion across Europe, while undermining voters' trust in the European Union and its democracies.

Russia flatly denies such accusations, calling them "completely false" and "unsubstantiated". But some commentators believe voters' discontent with the EU - the very thing Moscow is accused of stoking - should not be pinned on foreign actors, but rather on domestic politics.

What evidence is there of Russian meddling?

For many people, phrases like "disinformation" and "fake news" only came on to the radar after the 2016 US Presidential elections where, according to US intelligence agencies, Russia covertly acted to influence the result. Moscow has called the allegation "absurd".

But officials in Brussels have been taking action against perceived Russian disinformation since at least 2015, when the East Stratcom Task Force was created. It's a unit of 15 people whose mission is to identify and expose any attempts by the Kremlin to mislead and confuse EU citizens.

Giles Portman, who heads the task force, told BBC Trending: "The evidence is being compiled for several years now that Russia has been seeking to influence European democratic processes.

"Attempts have been made to hack and leak, or to denigrate particular politicians, or to misrepresent certain policies. The best way [for Russia] to strengthen itself is to weaken its opponent."

As an example, he cites the 2017 elections for the German Parliament, where right-wing nationalists were allegedly endorsed by Russia.

And during French presidential elections in the same year, Kremlin-funded media outlets were accused of "spreading falsehoods" throughout the electoral campaign. There were also suggestions Russia was involved in a last-minute hack of emails from Emmanuel Macron's campaign.

But what about these European elections specifically?

Officials admit that there is currently little evidence of large-scale attempts to spread disinformation directly related to this week's vote.

"From what we've seen of the European election campaign so far, it looks at the moment less sensational than some of the attempts we've seen [in the past]," says Giles Portman. "What we can see at the moment is this continuation of a message that Europe is collapsing, that the elites aren't paying attention to ordinary people, and that Europe's values and identities are under threat."

But the elections have featured prominently in media outlets funded by the Kremlin, including broadcaster RT and the Sputnik news agency.

"They have been picking up the theme consistently over the past few months," says Olga Robinson, who tracks disinformation for BBC Monitoring. "They do seem to be pushing slightly anti-establishment messages."

Some of those messages dovetail with those being put out by anti-EU, populist, and anti-establishment parties that have been gaining ground across Europe in recent years. Polls suggest these parties are likely to increase their number of seats in the European Parliament.

That being the case, how can the EU guarantee that its efforts to tackle Russian disinformation don't instead interfere with legitimate democratic debate?

"We in no way suggest that we are trying to tell people what to believe, how to vote, or interfere in people's right to hold whatever opinion they may wish to hold," says Portman. "We're just questioning the manipulation of the debate and saying that people's opinions are best based on facts."

How seriously is the EU taking this?

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, says disinformation is part of Russia's military strategy and that Moscow spends up to €1.1bn (£960m) on pro-Kremlin media - a huge sum compared to the East Stratcom Task Force budget of €3m (£2.6m) to be spent by the end of 2020.

The task force runs a database open to the public, where it lists and debunks news articles published by the Russian media that, according to its analysis, contain falsehoods and pro-Kremlin disinformation messages. To date, it has compiled more than 4,500 cases. They also publish a weekly newsletter with some of its findings.

Although the task force now focuses solely on Russian media outlets with links to the Kremlin, it came under fire in 2018 for listing articles published by Dutch media outlets as examples of disinformation.

At the time, it was accused of trying to stifle media freedom and, faced the prospect of legal action. In response the task force backtracked and removed the three articles from its database.

However, the unit is just a small part of the EU's broader "action plan against disinformation", unveiled in December last year.

There are also digital awareness campaigns, additional funding for teams of experts in charge of detecting disinformation, and broader commitments that social media giants Google, Facebook, and Twitter have made. Those include making political advertising more transparent and removing fake accounts.

A "Rapid Alert System" has also been created to help European governments respond in real time to new disinformation threats. However, European Commission spokesperson Johannes Bahrke confirmed to the BBC no alert has yet been triggered.

Could other actors be engaging in disinformation?

In their search for signs of Russian disinformation campaigns, experts have spotted evidence of similar attempts to deceive - emerging not from Kremlin-linked outlets, but from partisan groups based inside the EU.

"These groups seem to be pushing highly polarised content," says BBC Monitoring's Olga Robinson. "Some of the messages I have seen over the past few weeks have been built on complete lies."

She says many of these messages echo pro-Kremlin disinformation.

"It doesn't mean that they are in any way connected. It might be that Russia is tapping into this kind of Eurosceptic agenda and they have been doing that for a very long time," she says.

What does Russia say about these accusations?

In a statement, the Russian Embassy in London described accusations of election interference as "completely false" and "unsubstantiated".

Trending also approached Russian news channel RT for comment. In a statement, deputy editor-in-chief, Anna Belkina, said disinformation claims against Russian media outlets "serve to silence and force out legitimate voices from public debate."

"It is beyond naive to think that if RT didn't exist, the issues we cover wouldn't exist," she said. "Overlooking dissenting voices is what has long undermined the media-political establishment, not RT."

Could the EU be overplaying the seriousness of the threat?

Despite all the media attention that has been given to the subject in recent years, some academic research has actually called into question the reach of disinformation and fake news throughout the continent.

There are also those who, though acknowledging that Russian-backed disinformation is real, argue that the EU's response is misguided.

"By focusing on [Russian disinformation], the European Commission is shifting the focus from the more pressing underlying political issues and that's dangerous," says Julia Rone, a researcher at Cambridge's Department of Politics and International Studies.

"There are people who are legitimately worried about economic inequality, about youth unemployment, and especially about immigration," she says. "There's a lot of mobilisation from the far-right all across Europe and it cannot be attributed simply to foreign agents."

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