China Slashes US Investments

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China’s direct investment in the U.S. has slowed to a trickle, dropping by 80% from 2016 to 2018, according to New York-based research provider Rhodium Group

Among the hardest-hit sectors are real estate and hospitality, with Chinese investors no longer scrambling to buy prime properties in cities such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Chinese real estate investment in the U.S. tripled from 2015 to 2016, reaching a record $16.5 billion. In contrast, not one real estate and hospitality investment reached more than $100 million during 2018, the Rhodium Group found

Chinese developer Oceanwide Holdings’ U.S. footprint includes prime properties in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Construction reportedly has been suspended on one of the towers at the San Francisco Oceanwide Center, while construction has come to a standstill at the Los Angeles Oceanwide Plaza.

“The skylines are no longer filled with cranes, really supplied by Chinese investments coming over here in the downtown region,” said Stephen Cheung, president of World Trade Center Los Angeles and executive vice president of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.  

“What we’re worried about [is] the construction that’s already here that cannot be finished because of the financing situations,” Cheung said.

Construction work stalled

The billion-dollar Oceanwide Plaza is located in a prized location near the Los Angeles convention center and the complex where the Lakers and Clippers play basketball. Construction stalled in January for the condo, hotel and retail space, and Cheung said he has seen very little activity since then.

The standstill at Oceanwide Plaza is but one sign of a sharp drop in capital flowing from China at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing.  

Overall, direct foreign investment between the two superpowers peaked in 2016 to a record $60 billion, then dropped drastically, according to the Rhodium Group.

One reason for the decline is a change in China’s monetary policy.

“There were the currency controls out of China, where a lot of companies were parking money. I think it was probably to get money out of China into a safe investment. And at the end of the day, the Chinese cracked down,” said Dale Goldsmith, a land use lawyer and managing partner at Armbruster Goldsmith & Delvac LLP.

“The Chinese companies couldn’t get the money out of China even though they committed to certain projects. So certain projects here we’ve seen stalled,” Cheung said.

Another reason for the drop in direct Chinese investment is increased vigilance by a federal watchdog organization, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The Rhodium Group estimates the committee’s scrutiny has led Chinese investors to abandon more than $2.5 billion in U.S. deals.

A relatively strong U.S. economy is another factor.

“The dollar has been very strong, making investment a lot less attractive for the Chinese and in the states. On top of it, you’d have skyrocketing construction costs,” Goldsmith said.

To top it all off, a trade war persists between the U.S. and China, sowing uncertainty in an already challenging investment climate.

“As the tension is escalating, I think a lot of the Chinese companies are wary in terms of whether they should enter the U.S. market,” Cheung added.

Southeast Asia gains

The trade war is creating another trend: to avoid high tariffs, international companies are moving manufacturing out of China and into Southeast Asian countries.

In some countries, such as Vietnam, the trade war is creating new wealth.

To offset a potentially negative impact of the trade war in a country such as Indonesia, Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat, a research associate at the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance in Jakarta, advised in an op-ed he co-authored in that Indonesia increase its direct foreign investment. 

In Los Angeles, Cheung said he is seeing a “massive influx” of interests from Southeast Asian countries.

“Vietnam is now looking very carefully into the Los Angeles region, given the Southern California region has such a large Vietnamese population,” he said. “We’re also working with our partners in Singapore and Indonesia and Thailand to really expand those opportunities, because we have been dependent on China for such a long time.

“We really have to look for alternate solutions as this trade war continues, that trade tension continues, and investment is slowing down significantly,” Cheung added.

So long as economic tensions remain high between Washington and Beijing, Los Angeles and other U.S. cities will have to look elsewhere for investment capital.

Southeast Asian Leaders Seen Siding with China’s Despite Maritime Dispute

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Ten Southeast Asian heads of state will hold their landmark annual meeting next week, and four are enmeshed in a maritime sovereignty dispute with their more powerful neighbor China. But the event is widely expected to produce a statement that avoids condemning Beijing.

That’s because those leaders, even in Vietnam and the Philippines where frustration is running high this year after a series of incidents, hope China will eventually sign a code of conduct aimed at preventing maritime accidents and because some of the 10 countries need Chinese economic aid, scholars say.

Heads of state from the 10 countries, who will convene October 31-November 4 at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, will probably issue a statement that avoids fingering China directly and instead plays up common values, the experts believe.

“The summit itself is very cautious,” said Carl Thayer, emeritus professor of politics at The University of New South Wales in Australia. “I expect a boilerplate, ‘freedom of navigation, settle matters peacefully.’”

Spirit of cooperation despite hostilities

ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam dispute with Beijing’s Communist leadership parts of the South China Sea, a 3.5 million-square-kilometer waterway that’s rich in fisheries and fossil fuel reserves. China has taken a lead over the past decade by landfilling small islets for military use.

A Chinese survey ship spent months this year in waters where Vietnam is looking fuel under the sea. Chinese coast guard ships patrolled Malaysian-claimed waters for 258 days over the year ending in September, one think tank found. In early 2019, hundreds of Chinese boats surrounded disputed islets occupied by the Philippines.

But ASEAN’s 2019 chair Thailand hopes to “disarm” China, Thayer said. Thai officials may have worked behind the scenes to pick friendly wording for any summit statements next week, he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his ASEAN counterparts attend the 26th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Bangkok, Thailand Aug. 2, 2019.

Beijing, if feeling welcome, might push harder for an ASEAN-China code of conduct covering the contested sea. China has suggested it could be finished by 2021 despite past fears that the code would weaken its sovereignty claims. China had stalled talks on a code before 2016. Analysts say sovereignty disputes still make it hard to craft a legally binding document.

A code might use vague language, for example, on the scope of the sea in question and discourage involvement from neutral states outside Asia, Thayer said.

This year’s summit statement may note concern about recent events in the sea and reiterate intent to keep working on the code of conduct, Thayer said.

Outspoken Vietnam

Vietnam probably wants sterner language in the 2019 summit statement, said Trung Nguyen, international relations dean at Ho Chi Minh University of Social Sciences and Humanities. Vietnam speaks out regularly against China due to deep historical differences over territory.

“I think that Vietnam is pushing the multilateral framework as the battlefront for Vietnam to exert sovereignty in the South China Sea and to denounce or to condemn any behavior that can go against Vietnam’s sovereignty.” Nguyen said.

Cambodia could block ASEAN from blaming China, he said. Three years ago, the longtime friend of Beijing stopped ASEAN from mentioning that year’s international arbitration court ruling against China, over the legal basis of its maritime claims. Cambodia lacks a South China Sea claim and accepts Chinese development aid.

Vietnam will have more sway over ASEAN next year when it becomes the chair. China will find it harder at that point to avoid criticism, Thayer said.

Eventually progress on a code may fall to meetings between China and individual ASEAN countries, Thayer said.

Philippine wildcard

Suspicion among Filipinos is mounting this year over China’s growing presence in the disputed sea’s Spratly Islands where Manila controls 10 features. The Philippine foreign minister called this month for a formal protest against China for making “multiple passes” near one Philippine-held islet, Second Thomas Shoal.

FILE – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, meet at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, Aug. 29, 2019.

However, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte takes a friendly view toward China, landing his country pledges of $24 billion in Chinese aid and investment. China agreed this year to explore jointly with the Philippines for undersea oil and take just 40% of any discoveries.

“For the Philippines, there’s already agreement to go ahead with a joint exploration, so I don’t think the Philippines would want to be seen as an unfriendly country towards China,” said Eduardo Araral, associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s public policy school.

The Philippines will instead hope ASEAN focuses its 2019 statement on speeding up the code of conduct, Araral said. A June 9 collision between Philippine and Chinese vessels added impetus to signing the code.

Elsewhere around the sea, China with the world’s second largest economy is helping Brunei’s economy diversify away from selling oil. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad joined a Chinese Belt and Road Initiative summit earlier this year, meaning his country would be in line for Chinese infrastructure aid.

Papadopoulos Seeks California Seat Left Vacant by Rep. Hill

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George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign aide who was a key figure in the FBI’s Russia probe, filed paperwork Tuesday to run for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Democrat Katie Hill.

Papadopoulos didn’t immediately comment, but on Sunday he tweeted, “I love my state too much to see it run down by candidates like Hill. All talk, no action, and a bunch of sellouts.”

Hill, whose district covers Los Angeles County, announced her resignation on Sunday amid an ethics probe into allegations she had an inappropriate relationship with a staff member.

She’s admitted to a consensual relationship with a campaign staff member, but denied one with a congressional staff member, which would violate U.S. House rules. She’s called herself the victim of revenge porn by an abusive husband she is divorcing.

Papadopoulos, meanwhile, was a key figure in the FBI’s Russia probe into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

The FBI’s counterintelligence investigation that later became the Mueller probe was triggered, in part, from a tip from an Australian diplomat who had communicated with Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos told the diplomat, Alexander Downer, in May 2016 that Russia had thousands of stolen emails that would be potentially damaging to Hillary Clinton.

His lawyers have sought a pardon from the president, though Papadopoulos contends that’s unlikely to come to fruition.

In the last few months, he’s been working on a working on a documentary series with his wife about their interactions with the special counsel’s team. He’s also on the board of advisers for a medical marijuana company that is hoping to help use cannabis to combat the opioid epidemic.

Papadopoulos was the first of five Trump aides to plead guilty as part of Mueller’s investigation. He wants the government to declassify material, including authorizations by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that he contends could prove he was unlawfully targeted.

Attorney General William Barr appointed a U.S. attorney who is conducting a criminal investigation examining origins of Mueller’s probe. The current investigation is examining what led the U.S. to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign and the roles that various countries played in the U.S. probe. Prosecutors are also investigating whether the surveillance and intelligence-gathering methods used during the investigation were legal and appropriate

Papadopoulos enters a field of at least three other Republicans and one Democrat. The other Republicans are Navy veteran Mike Garcia, bank executive Angela Jacobs Underwood and Mark Cripe, who works for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Former Republican Rep. Steve Knight, who lost the seat to Hill in 2018, is also considering running.

The seat was the last Los Angeles County seat to be held by Republicans before Hill’s victory and was one of seven Democrats flipped last year.

State Assemblywoman Christy Smith is the only Democrat in the race so far. She quickly criticized Papadopoulos on Tuesday.

“If he pled guilty to lying to the FBI – how do we know he’ll tell us the truth?” Smith tweeted. “We deserve someone from our community serving as our voice – not (Trump’s) wannabe political hack!”

A special election to fill Hill’s seat cannot be set by Gov. Gavin Newsom until she officially leaves Congress, which she has not done. It’s possible there is no special election, depending on how long she waits to leave office. That would make the next election for the seat in November 2020.

Jimmy Carter to Miss Another Week Teaching Sunday School

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Former President Jimmy Carter will miss a second week teaching Sunday school as he recovers from a fall that resulted in a broken pelvis.

Maranatha Baptist Church posted an update late Monday requesting prayers for the 95-year-old Carter and his family during the healing process.

Carter has been teaching Sunday school for decades, and big crowds typically show up at his small church in Plains, Georgia, to hear his lessons.

But Carter was injured when he fell on Oct. 21, and aides say he’s recovering at home following a hospital stay.

Carter is the oldest living U.S. ex-president ever, and he has fallen at least three times this year. The first fall in the spring required hip replacement surgery.

Carter’s niece, Kim Fuller, will substitute for him in class.

 

Russia and Cuba Rebuild Ties That Frayed After Cold War

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Over the last year Russia has sent Cuba 1,000 minibuses, 50 locomotives, tens of thousands of tourists and a promise to upgrade the island’s power grid with a multi-million dollar improvement plan.

Russian-Cuban trade has more than doubled since 2013, to an expected $500 million this year, mostly in Russian exports to Cuba. And a string of high-ranking Russian officials have visited their former ally in the Caribbean, including Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. On Tuesday, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel lands in Moscow for meetings with officials including President Vladimir Putin, with the expectation that they will move forward on deals for more trade and cooperation.

Russian-Cuban ties are far from the Cold War era of near-total Cuban dependence on the Soviet bloc, which saw this island as a forward operating base in the Americas then largely abandoned it in the 1990s. But observers of Cuban and Russian foreign policy say there is a significant warming between the former partners prompted in part by the Trump administration’s reversal of President Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba. Cuba and Russia are also heavily supporting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, whom the U.S. has been trying to overthrow.

“We did make huge mistakes in the 1990s while turning our backs on Cuba. That time is definitely over, and I’m absolutely sure that our relations deserve better attention from Russia,” said Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament. “They deserve more investments from Russia both in terms of finances and equipment of course, but also human resources. And definitely we should assist, we should help, Cuba; we should support Cuba as long as it’s discriminated against, as long as it’s sanctioned, as long as it’s blockaded by the United States.”

Neither country provides many details about their improving relations, but Russian products being exported to Cuba include new-model Lada automobiles and Kamaz trucks. There’s a new Cuban-Russian joint venture to produce constructions materials, and when Medvedev visited Cuba this month, he inaugurated a petroleum products plant and signed deals to repair three Soviet-era power plants.

As tourism from the U.S. slackens, Russian visits rose 30% in 2018, to 137,000.

“Russia is trying to preserve the zone of influence it had during the era of the Soviet Union, looking for partners in Latin America and letting Washington know that it’s still a great power,” said Arturo López-Levy, a Cuban-born assistant professor of international relations and politics at Holy Names University in Oakland, California. “Cuba’s signing up for projects that can benefit it, and are already showing results on the island.”

Russia is making no secret of its desire to play reliable partner to an island facing hostility from the United States, including sanctions on ships bringing oil from Venezuela.

“It’s obvious, the U.S. desire to create a toxic atmosphere around cooperation with Cuba, to frighten investors and block the flow of energy,” Medvedev said during his trip to Havana. “Cuba can always count on Russia’s support.”

During the 1960s, 1970s and ’80s, Cuba was filled with Soviet products and citizens, who worked alongside Cubans in chemical plants, mines and army bases. Moscow sent billions in aid before the fall of the Soviet Union caused a disastrous 30% drop in gross domestic product.

Cuba emerged with $35 billion in debt to the Soviet Union, 90 percent of which Russia forgave in 2014, an event that Cuban-Russian anthropologist Dmitri Prieto Samsónov called the start of the modern era of relations between the two countries.

“Russia started to think more about its business and government interests and a new relationship with Cuba emerged on the foundation of the old brotherly relations,” Prieto said.

Army Officer Says He Raised Concerns About Trump and Ukraine

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A military officer at the National Security Council twice raised concerns over the Trump administration’s push to have Ukraine investigate Democrats and Joe Biden, according to testimony the official is to deliver Tuesday in the House impeachment inquiry.

Alexander Vindman, an Army lieutenant colonel who served in Iraq and, later, as a diplomat, is prepared to tell House investigators that he listened to President Donald Trump’s July 25 call with new Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and reported his concerns to the NSC’s lead counsel.

“I was concerned by the call,” Vindman will say, according to prepared testimony obtained Monday night by The Associated Press. “I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine.”

Vindman is the first White House official who listened in on that call to testify as the impeachment inquiry reaches deeper into the Trump administration and Democrats prepare for the next, public phase of the probe. He’s also the first current White House official to appear before the impeachment panels.

The inquiry is looking into Trump’s call, in which he asked Zelenskiy for a “favor” — to investigate Democrats — that Democrats say was a quid pro quo that could be an impeachable offense.

The 20-year military officer will testify that he first reported his concerns after an earlier meeting July 10 in which U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland stressed the importance of having Ukraine investigate the 2016 election as well as Burisma, a company linked to the family of Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.

Vindman says he told Sondland that “his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push.”

That account differs from Sondland’s, a wealthy businessman who donated $1 million to Trump inauguration and testified before the impeachment investigators that no one from the NSC “ever expressed any concerns.” He also testified that he did not realize any connection between Biden and Burisma.

For the call between Trump and Zelenskiy, Vindman said he listened in the Situation Room with colleagues from the NSC and Vice President Mike Pence’s office and was concerned. He said he again reported his concerns to the NSC’s lead counsel.

He wrote, “I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine U.S. national security.”

Vindman, who arrived in the United States as a 3-year-old from the former Soviet Union, served in various military and diplomatic posts before joining the NSC. He was the director for European affairs and a Ukraine expert under Fiona Hill, a former official who testified earlier in the impeachment probe. Hill worked for former national security adviser John Bolton.

Vindman will be a key witness. He attended Zelenskiy’s inauguration with a delegation led by Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and he and Hill were both part of a Ukraine briefing with Sondland that others have testified irritated Bolton at the White House.

Vindman will testify that he is not the whistleblower, the still unnamed government official who filed the initial complaint over Trump’s conversation with the Ukraine president that sparked the House impeachment inquiry. He will say he does not know who the whistleblower is.

“I am a patriot, and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend OUR country, irrespective of party or politics,” wrote Vindman, who was wounded in Iraq and awarded a Purple Heart.

“For over twenty years as an active duty United States military officer and diplomat, I have served this country in a nonpartisan manner, and have done so with the utmost respect and professionalism for both Republican and Democratic administrations,” he wrote.

The testimony comes a day after Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the House will vote on a resolution to affirm the impeachment investigation, set rules for public hearings and outline the potential process for writing articles of impeachment against Trump. The vote is expected Thursday.

It would be the first formal House vote on the impeachment inquiry and aims to nullify complaints from Trump and his allies that the process is illegitimate, unfair and lacking due process.

Democrats insisted they weren’t yielding to Republican pressure. Pelosi dismissed the Republican argument that impeachment can’t begin without formal approval from the House and brushed off their complaints about the closed-door process.

“I do not care. I do not care. This is a false thing with them,” Pelosi said. “Understand, it has nothing to do with them. It has to do with how we proceed.”

Pelosi’s announcement Monday came just hours after a former White House national security official defied a House subpoena for closed-door testimony, escalating the standoff between Congress and the White House over who will testify.

Charles Kupperman, who was a deputy to Bolton, failed to show up for the scheduled closed-door deposition after filing a lawsuit asking a federal court in Washington to rule on whether he was legally required to appear.

Democrats have indicated they are likely to use no-show witnesses to write an article of impeachment against Trump for obstruction of justice, rather than launching potentially lengthy court battles to obtain testimony.

 

In Chicago, Trump Calls the City an Embarrassment to the US

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President Donald Trump used a conference of police chiefs on Monday to slam the host city as “embarrassing to us as a nation” under the leadership of its top cop, who skipped the event over disagreements with Trump’s immigration policies.

Trump has frequently criticized Chicago for its crime problems and status as a sanctuary city, one of scores of cities around the country that refuse to work with federal authorities to round up people who are living in the U.S. illegally.

“It’s embarrassing to us as a nation,” Trump said. “All over the world they’re talking about Chicago. Afghanistan is a safe place by comparison.”

Trump also lashed out at Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who angered Chicago’s police by skipping Trump’s first appearance in the city as president.

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson listens to a question as he responds to remarks made by President Donald Trump at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Convention, Oct. 28, 2019, in Chicago.

“More than anyone else he should be here, because maybe he could maybe learn something,” Trump said, claiming Johnson puts the needs of illegal immigrants above the needs of the law-abiding residents of Chicago.

“Those are his values and frankly those values to me are a disgrace,” Trump said, vowing to never to give priority to the needs of illegal immigrants. “I want Eddie Johnson to change his values and to change them fast.”

Chicago’s police department had no immediate comment on Trump’s remarks.

Johnson’s decision to skip Trump’s address angered the city’s chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, which said in a Facebook post that “such a gesture would be an insult to both President Trump and the office of the presidency itself and would be a mark of disgrace upon the city throughout the entire nation, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot.” Lightfoot has also refused to meet with Trump while he is in her city.

FILE – Mayor of Chicago Lori Lightfoot speaks during her inauguration ceremony in Chicago, May 20, 2019.

Then FOP Lodge 7, which represents rank-and-file Chicago police officers, announced that it had cast a vote of no confidence in Johnson.

The vote might please Trump, who likes to tell officers not to treat crime suspects so gently and was cheered at last year’s gathering of the same police chiefs’ organization in Orlando, Florida, when he advocated the use of the “stop and frisk” policing tactic that has been deemed unconstitutional.

The president’s visit also comes as more than 25,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union have been on strike since Oct. 17.

At the conference, Trump signed an executive order creating a presidential commission on law enforcement to study issues like substance abuse, homelessness and mental illness, the White House said. The order calls for establishing a framework for better training, recruiting and retaining law enforcement officers.

The president also announced that the Justice Department will begin a stronger crackdown on violent crime in the United States, targeting gang members and drug traffickers in high-crime areas.

“Let’s call it the surge,” Trump said.

Johnson, meanwhile, is under internal investigation after he was found sleeping in a city-owned vehicle earlier this month. Lightfoot said the superintendent, who called for the investigation, told her he had “a couple of drinks with dinner” before he fell asleep at a stop sign while driving home. Johnson blamed the episode on a change in his blood pressure medication.

While in Chicago, Trump is scheduled to headline a campaign luncheon that’s set to raise approximately $4 million for a joint fundraising committee benefiting Trump’s reelection effort and the Republican National Committee, according to the GOP.

Trump last visited Chicago in 2016 as a presidential candidate for what supposed to be a campaign rally on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago. But after fights broke out between supporters and protesters awaiting his arrival at the arena, Trump canceled the event before he took the stage.

Trump said then that he had consulted with Chicago police before making the decision. But the city’s top cop at the time, interim Superintendent John Escalante, disputed Trump’s characterization.

Aztec Descendants: ‘Take the Dollar Out of the Day of the Dead’

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Americans will celebrate Halloween on October 31, a tradition that dates to an ancient Celtic festival in which it was believed the dead would return to haunt the living. Chances are, many of today’s trick-or-treaters will paint their faces like skulls, borrowing from an ancient Aztec tradition falling at the same time: Dia de los Muertos — the Day of the Dead.

Once little-known in the U.S., it has spread from Mexico and Central America, inserting itself into Halloween. It has become big business in America: retail chains sell Day of the Dead costumes, sugar skulls and decorative items — even keychains and ashtrays. The U.S. toymaker Mattel recently launched a Day of the Dead Barbie doll; Nike has unveiled a Day of the Dead-themed athletic shoe, an update of the so-called “Cortez” model, ironically named for the very conquistador who brought down the Aztec Empire, Hernan Cortes.

“Mattel Is Releasing a Day of the Dead Barbie Doll”
🤷‍♀️
Cultural appropriation? Helping to understand different cultures? Cheap, money-maker? Opening up a dialogue about death? Do the same people complaining about it own sugar skull handbags from 2010? https://t.co/u1zmaBWUpS

— Carla Valentine (@ChickAndTheDead) September 26, 2019

“Mainstream  culture, they think the Day of the Dead is just about sugar skulls and marigolds,” said Ixtlixochitl Salinas-White Hawk, a member of Mexico’s largest indigenous group, the Nahua-Mexika (Aztec), who now lives in Seattle, Washington.

She takes exception to the fact that big business and non-indigenous people have appropriated the celebration.

“They try to pull the look without really understanding the significance and the medicine and the spirituality behind it,” she said. “They need to take the dollar sign out of it.”

Melding of religions

Festivals honoring the dead date back at least to the Aztecs, who devoted a month at the end of the growing season to festivals honoring Mictecacihuatl, the “Lady of the Dead,” who with her husband Miclantecuhtl, guarded the underworld.  In a series of festivals, Aztecs reenacted religious myths and made offerings of food, drink and flowers to the dead. Often, these celebrations involved human sacrifices, to the horror of Spanish conquistadors and the Catholic Church.

Spain toppled the Aztec Empire in 1521 but had a harder time crushing Aztec spiritual tradition. Gradually, indigenous spirituality and Catholicism merged: Christian churches were built on the sites of former temples, and festivals were reborn as Christian holy days.

“They knew that they were not going to be able to make the people not celebrate our ancestors,” said White Hawk, “so they passed it on to All Saint’s and All Soul’s Day.”

She refers to the Christian holidays that fall on the first two days of November, one honoring deceased Catholic Saints and the other remembering the dead.

Today, Day of the Dead is three-day celebration, beginning October 31 and running through November 2.  These are days dedicated to honoring generations of ancestors.

“We are not here just on our own,” said White Hawk. “We are here because our ancestors lived through hardships and struggles and gave their love for us to be here. So, we celebrate them as a way of thanking them.”

Though individual traditions vary by region, even family, most involve ofrendas, altars set up in homes or at gravesites. Families decorate them with photographs of the dead, candles, food offerings of traditional pan de muerto, a sweet bread, sugar skull confections and cempasuchitl, large yellow or gold marigold flowers believed to help the spirits of the dead return, however briefly, to sit with their descendants.

Altar of the dead at the “Tepoznieves” store in Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico, taken Nov. 8, 2014 by María José Felgueres Planells

“We understand that death is part of a continuing cycle, so it doesn’t have to be sad,” she said. “There is understanding that our ancestors walk with us, so we sit with them, fix their favorite meal, their favorite drink, share stories. It’s about celebrating the life of the person, not mourning their loss.”

Widespread celebrations

Today, indigenous diaspora communities in cities across America host Day of the Dead parades, street festivals and candlelit processions to cemeteries.

White Hawk is a member of Tloke Nahuake, “together and united,” a dance group founded by her father Juan Salinas, who for decades has toured America to share Aztec culture through dance. The family has participated in Day of the Dead celebrations in Seattle for years, bringing in representatives from different communities in Mexico to share the tradition with the public.

“There are stories that go with the dances, which are really prayers,” she said. “Every step has meaning; every beat has meaning. They are an expression of who we are — not who we are in that moment, but everything our ancestors did to get us to that moment.”

Dancers create their own regalia, which feature large, colorful headdresses made up of the  feathers of the parrots and other birds.

“Every feather has its own meaning,” said White Hawk, explaining they sometimes dance for an exhausting seven or eight hours at a stretch.

Photo shows a dancer wearing an ornate Aztec headdress, taken at the Fiestas Patrias Parade, South Park, Seattle, Washington, Sept. 19, 2015.

“It’s a small sacrifice to pay for our ancestors. We are here because our ancestors lived through hardship and struggle and gave their love for us to be here. And we are also responsible to pass our culture on to the next generations.”

She understands why non-indigenous people are tempted to co-opt the imagery of the Day of the Dead.

“I appreciate that everybody is on their own journey, trying to find their own place,” she said. “But I feel very protective of the knowledge and culture that has been entrusted to me. I realize how much responsibility that is. I don’t want it to get lost in someone else’s hands.”    

 

 

New Fire Ignites in California Near LA’s Getty Museum

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Firefighters in California battled a new blaze Monday that broke out near the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, forcing thousands of people to evacuate.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the fire has grown to 200 hectares since it ignited before dawn on Monday and has burned down at least five homes. The area is where some of the city’s most expensive homes are located.
 
Basketball star LeBron James, who lives in the area, said he evacuated with his family, but had difficulties finding a nearby hotel with vacancies.
 
“Finally found a place to accommodate us!” the Los Angeles Lakers player wrote on Twitter. “Crazy night man!”
 

California firefighters are simultaneously battling several blazes in the state, including a large fire in the northern wine country.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said there are hopes that by later Monday, the near historic winds that are driving the wildfire will “substantially settle down,” as some 3,000 people work to put out the blaze.

“We’re not out of the woods, but we are leaning in the right direction,” Newsom said at a briefing late Sunday.

The western U.S. state is commonly hit by numerous wildfires at this time of year, with the combination of low humidity and strong winds combining to create favorable conditions for fire growth.

Firefighters had said the Kincade Fire, named for a local road where the flames are believed to have started in Sonoma County, was at 10% containment. But as of late Sunday, that had dropped to 5%, with the fire at about 22,000 hectares in size.

Cal Fire said the blaze had already destroyed about 100 structures.

California State Sen. Mike McGuire said 4,600 people have gone to shelters in Sonoma County.

Statewide, around 200,000 people have evacuated their homes to seek safety from the wildfires.  

Newsom declared a state of emergency Sunday and said there is “no question” the evacuations have saved lives.

“Go means go,” he said, encouraging people to heed any evacuation orders.

Firefighters are also battling a blaze in Southern California in Santa Clarita near Los Angeles. Officials say that fire is about 70% contained.

The California utility company Pacific Gas & Electric shut off power to nearly 1 million homes and businesses across Northern California, some with little notice, as part of a strategy to try to prevent surges from downed power lines sparking more fires.

Businesses are angry that the power cuts have cost them tens of thousands of dollars, and residents bitterly complain about the inconvenience of going days without electricity, especially those who need power for lifesaving medical devices.

California authorities blame PG&E lines for sparking last year’s wildfires that killed 85 people and destroyed entire towns. The utility, facing billions of dollars in lawsuits, was forced to declare bankruptcy earlier this year.

Newsom, who had criticized the utilities, said the state will spend $75 million to help residents and businesses deal with the power cuts.  He said the state has a lot of work to do toward putting electrical wires underground and to manage forests in order to prevent both wildfire damage and the need to shut off the power.

 

Biden: Kushner has no ‘Credentials’ for White House Post

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Joe Biden called it “improper” for President Donald Trump for having his daughter and son-in-law hold positions in the White House, suggesting in a CBS interview Sunday that Jared Kushner is not qualified to weigh in on the complex affairs assigned by his father-in-law.

That assessment, which the Democratic presidential hopeful offered in a wide-ranging “60 Minutes” interview, ratchets up the rhetoric between Trump and Biden over each other’s adult children and family business affairs.

Biden told CBS that he doesn’t like “going after” politicians’ children, but he said none of his children would hold White House posts, even as he continued to defend his son, Hunter, against Trump’s charges that the Biden’s are corrupt because of the younger Biden’s international business affairs while his father was vice president.

“You should make it clear to the American public that everything you’re doing is for them,” Biden said, according to a CBS transcript, when he was asked about Ivanka Trump and Kushner, her husband, in White House posts with significant policy portfolios.

“Their actions speak for themselves,” Biden said of the Trump family. “I can just tell you this, that if I’m president get elected president my children are not gonna have offices in the White House. My children are not gonna sit in on Cabinet meetings.”

Asked specifically whether he thinks Kushner should be tasked with negotiating Middle East peace agreements, Biden laughed. “No, I don’t,” he said. “What credentials does he bring to that?”

Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine and China remains an emphasis of Trump’s broadsides against Biden, a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. The younger Biden took a post on the board of a Ukrainian energy firm after his father became the Obama administration’s point man on U.S.-Ukraine relations.

Trump’s focus on finding information about the Biden’s Ukraine connections is now at the heart of a House impeachment inquiry against the president. Ukrainian investigators have found no legal wrongdoing by either Biden.

Noting that, the former vice president blasted social media giant Facebook for allowing the Trump campaign to distribute online ads framing the Bidens as corrupt.

“You know, I’m glad they brought the Russians down,” Biden said, noting Facebook’s recent decision to shut down accounts that were distributing misinformation, including about Biden. But, the former vice president asked, “Why don’t you bring down the lies that Trump is telling and everybody knows are lies?”

Hunter Biden in a recent interview said the only thing his father said to him at the time he took the post at Burisma was, “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

The elder Biden told CBS he never got into any details over the firm, which had been the focus on Ukrainian corruption inquiries.

“What I meant by that is I hope you’ve thought this through. I hope you know exactly what you’re doing here,” the elder Biden said. “That’s all I meant. Nothing more than that because I’ve never discussed my business or their business, my sons’ or daughter’s. And I’ve never discussed them because they know where I have to do my job and that’s it and they have to make their own judgments.”

And turning the issue back on the president, Biden repeated a line he’s started using on the campaign trail, urging Trump to release his tax returns. “Mr. President … let’s see how straight you are, okay old buddy?” Biden said. “I put out 21 years of mine. You wanna deal with corruption? Start to act like it. Release your tax returns or shut up.”

Trump’s attacks have not displaced Biden as a duel Democratic front-runner alongside Sen. Elizabeth Warren. But it has nonetheless raised new questions about Biden’s argument that he’d be the best Democrat to take on the Republican president in a general election. And the Biden attack ads Trump and Republicans have financed in early nominating states, combined with Biden’s own lagging fundraising, have led some of his wealthy supporters to openly discuss the possibility of launching an independent political action committee.

Biden’s CBS interview was taped before his recent decision to reverse his previous opposition to such a Super PAC, a move that Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders have indirectly criticized. Biden did address his campaign’s cash balance being dwarfed by Warren and Sanders, saying he’s “not worried” about raising enough money.

As to just how he can withstand Sanders’ and Warren’s grassroots fundraising juggernauts, he replied, “I just flat beat them.”