Christine McVie, Fleetwood Mac Singer-Songwriter, Dies at 79

Christine McVie, the British-born Fleetwood Mac vocalist, songwriter and keyboard player whose cool, soulful contralto helped define such classics as “You Make Loving Fun,” “Everywhere” and “Don’t Stop,” has died at age 79. 

Her death was announced Wednesday on the band’s social media accounts. No cause of death or other details were immediately provided, but a family statement said she “passed away peacefully at hospital this morning” with family around her after a “short illness.” 

“She was truly one-of-a-kind, special and talented beyond measure,” the band’s statement reads in part. 

McVie was a steady presence and personality in a band known for its frequent lineup changes and volatile personalities — notably fellow singer-songwriters Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. 

Fleetwood Mac started out as a London blues band in the 1960s and evolved into one of the defining makers of 1970s California pop-rock, with the combined talents of McVie, Nicks and Buckingham anchored by the rhythm section of founder Mick Fleetwood on drums and John McVie on bass. 

During its peak commercial years, from 1975 to 1980, the band sold tens of millions of records and was an ongoing source of fascination for fans as it transformed personal battles into melodic, compelling songs. McVie herself had been married to John McVie, and their breakup — along with the split of Nicks and Buckingham — was famously documented on the 1977 release “Rumours,” among the bestselling albums of all time. 

Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. The group’s many other hit singles included Nicks’ “Dreams,” Buckingham’s “Go Your Own Way” and McVie’s “Little Lies.” One of McVie’s most beloved works, the thoughtful ballad “Songbird,” was a showcase for her in concert and covered by Willie Nelson, among others. 

McVie, born Christine Perfect in Bouth, Lancashire, had been playing piano since childhood, but set aside her classical training once she heard early rock records by Fats Domino and others. 

While studying at the Moseley School of Art, she befriended various members of Britain’s emerging blues scene, and in her 20s joined the band Chicken Shack as a singer and piano player. Among the rival bands she admired was Fleetwood Mac, which then featured the talents of blues guitarist Peter Green, along with the rhythm section of Fleetwood and McVie. By 1970, she had joined the group and married John McVie. 

Few bands succeeded so well as Fleetwood Mac, against such long odds. Green was among the many performers who left the group, and at various times, Fleetwood Mac seemed on the verge of ending or fading away. More recently, Buckingham was kicked out, replaced on tour by Mike Campbell and Neil Finn. 

McVie herself left for years, only to return for good in 2014. 


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Twitter, Others Slip on Removing Hate Speech, EU Review Says

Twitter took longer to review hateful content and removed less of it in 2022 compared with the previous year, according to European Union data released Thursday.

The EU figures were published as part of an annual evaluation of online platforms’ compliance with the 27-nation bloc’s code of conduct on disinformation.

Twitter wasn’t alone; most other tech companies signed up to the voluntary code also scored worse. But the figures could foreshadow trouble for Twitter in complying with the EU’s tough new online rules after owner Elon Musk fired many of the platform’s 7,500 full-time workers and an untold number of contractors responsible for content moderation and other crucial tasks.

The EU report, carried out over six weeks in the spring, found Twitter assessed just over half of the notifications it received about illegal hate speech within 24 hours, down from 82% in 2021.

In comparison, the amount of flagged material Facebook reviewed within 24 hours fell to 64%, Instagram slipped to 56.9%, and YouTube dipped to 83.3%. TikTok came in at 92%, the only company to improve.

The amount of hate speech Twitter removed after it was flagged slipped to 45.4% from 49.8% the year before. TikTok’s removal rate fell by a quarter to 60%, while Facebook and Instagram saw only minor declines. Only YouTube’s takedown rate increased, surging to 90%.

“It’s worrying to see a downward trend in reviewing notifications related to illegal hate speech by social media platforms,” European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova tweeted. “Online hate speech is a scourge of a digital age and platforms need to live up to their commitments.”

Twitter didn’t respond to a request for comment. Emails to several staff on the company’s European communications team bounced back as undeliverable.

Musk’s $44 billion acquisition of Twitter last month fanned widespread concern that purveyors of lies and misinformation would be allowed to flourish on the site. The billionaire Tesla CEO, who has frequently expressed his belief that Twitter had become too restrictive, has been reinstating suspended accounts, including former President Donald Trump’s.

Twitter faces more scrutiny in Europe by the middle of next year, when new EU rules aimed at protecting internet users’ online safety will start applying to the biggest online platforms. Violations could result in huge fines of up to 6% of a company’s annual global revenue.

France’s online regulator Arcom said it received a reply from Twitter after writing to the company earlier this week to say it was concerned about the effect that staff departures would have on Twitter’s “ability maintain a safe environment for its users.”

Arcom also asked the company to confirm that it can meet its “legal obligations” in fighting online hate speech and that it is committed to implementing the new EU online rules. Arcom said that it received a response from Twitter and that it will “study their response,” without giving more details.

Tech companies that signed up to the EU’s disinformation code agree to commit to measures aimed at reducing disinformation and file regular reports on whether they’re living up to their promises, though there’s little in the way of punishment.

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World Cup’s Most Valuable Teams: Which Squads Are Worth Most?

England, which is gunning for its second World Cup title, has the most valuable squad in Qatar with Jude Bellingham topping a list of over 800 players, a study has found. Here is a look at how the other major sides compare at the tournament:

Transfer value

According to a study conducted by Swiss research group CIES Football Observatory, England’s 26-man squad is worth just under $1.54 billion in transfer value, with 19-year-old Bellingham valued at $210 million.

The Borussia Dortmund player enhanced his reputation as one of the world’s top young players with a superb goal in England’s 6-2 victory over Iran in its tournament opener.

Brazil is second on the list with a transfer value of $1.5 billion. Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior was Brazil’s most valuable player at $208 million.

France was third with an estimated transfer value of $1.4 billion for its squad. Paris St. Germain forward Kylian Mbappe was the top French player with a value of $192.6 million.

The top three were followed by Spain ($1.25 billion), Portugal ($1.2 billion) and Germany ($1.06 billion).

The statistical technique used in the study to build the model was multiple linear regression, with fees paid by clubs as an independent variable.

The sample comprises more than 2,000 transactions of players transferred from clubs in the five major European leagues from July 2012 to November 2021.

The overall value of all the squads at the World Cup was put at $15.6 billion.

Insurable value

According to analysis by Lloyd’s of London — backed by the Centre for Economics and Business Research — teams were ranked based on the collective insurable value of their players.

England’s squad topped the list with an estimated insurable value of $3.74 billion.

They edged France ($3.2 billion) and Brazil ($3.1 billion) to claim top spot. Lloyd’s said the assessment of insurable value comprises a variety of metrics like wages, sponsorship, age and on-field positions.

Using this methodology to play out the tournament in full, Lloyd’s predicted that England — champions in 1966 — will finish top of Group B in Qatar and seal knockout wins over Senegal, France, Spain and Brazil.

Bellingham was rated the most insurable player, followed by Mbappe and Vinicius Junior.


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High-Flying Balloon Characters Star in Thanksgiving Parade

Throngs of spectators lined the streets of New York on Thursday as colorful, high-flying balloons helped usher in the holiday season during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The annual tradition, which dates back nearly a century, packed streets as a procession of giant inflatables and floats streamed for more than 40 blocks from Central Park to Herald Square.

Children balanced atop metal barricades and hung from scaffolding to watch the balloons amid mostly sunny skies and a slight breeze.

“Blue, Blue. There’s Blue,” yelled Divyam Kumar, 6, as his father helped balance him and his 4-year-old brother Aanu Aryan on a metal rail.

The youngster was referring to the star of the animated show “Blue’s Clues” — not to be confused with the international cartoon sensation Bluey, an Australian cattle pup making her parade debut.

Bluey’s balloon towered as tall as a four-story building and stretched as wide as seven taxi cabs.

Stuart, the one-eyed Minion, was also there to thrill the crowd.

Snoopy, dressed as an astronaut, again made an appearance, as did Papa Smurf, Ronald McDonald and SpongeBob.

This year’s parade, by the numbers: 16 giant balloons, 28 floats, 40 novelty and heritage inflatables, 12 marching bands, 10 performance groups, 700 clowns and one Santa Claus.

The procession of characters were joined by singer Paula Abdul, in her first parade appearance; indie pop band Fitz and the Tantrums; boy band Big Time Rush; “Blue’s Clues & You!” host Josh Dela Cruz; singer Gloria Estefan; gospel singer Kirk Franklin; actor Mario Lopez; reggae star Ziggy Marley; and Miss America 2022 Emma Broyles.

Singers Joss Stone, Jordin Sparks and Betty Who were also part of the festivities, as well as the stars of “Pitch Perfect: Bumper in Berlin” — Adam Devine, Sarah Hyland and Flula Borg. Jimmy Fallon & The Roots were on a float celebrating Central Park.

President Biden and Jill Biden called into the parade, as they did last year. Biden thanked firefighters, police officers and first responders, saying, “They never take a break.”

They thanked the troops and Biden said he would be reaching out to speak to some today.

Asked about their plans for the day in Nantucket, the Bidens said it would involve family, and some time spent locally, thanking first responders.

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African Drumming Circle Keeps the Beat in New York City

A circle of drummers plays on weekends in New York’s Central Park to bring some African rhythm to the city and teach others how to do the same. Ginny Niwa reports

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Dominican-Born New Yorker Heals Childhood Abuse Through Art 

Alexander Boyce thought he was born to make music. But somewhere along the way the Dominican born Boyce turned to painting. And that has made all the difference. Ginny Niwa reports for VOA.

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Saudi Arabia Shocks Argentina at World Cup

Saudi Arabia scored a major upset win Tuesday with a 2-1 victory over Argentina in their opening match at the men’s World Cup in Qatar.

Argentina entered the tournament as the third-ranked team in the world, with Saudi Arabia ranked number 51.

Lionel Messi put Argentina ahead in the tenth minute with a goal on a penalty kick, and Argentina looked to be in control of the game despite having multiple goals negated by offsides calls.

But Saudi Arabia mounted a quick comeback in the second half, evening the score with a 48th-minute goal by Saleh Alshehri.

A Salem Aldawsari goal five minutes later put Saudi Arabia ahead for good.

Saudi Arabia’s goalkeeper, Mohammed Alowais, helped secure the victory by stopping several solid chances in the closing minutes as Argentina tried to equalize.

Argentina will try to bounce back Saturday when it faces Mexico in another Group C matchup.  Saudi Arabia will play Poland.

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Electric Cars Steal the LA Car Show 

One of the world’s largest auto shows is underway in Los Angeles. The headline this year is high tech and electric vehicles. Veronica Villafañe has a sneak preview and more on this growing industry.

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Meet the Real Life ‘Woman King’

The Hollywood film “The Woman King” has received great praise for its portrayal of the fierce female warriors of Benin’s 1800s Kingdom of Dahomey. But where the kingdom once existed, the West African nation has a modern woman queen, who is still fighting for women’s rights. Henry Wilkins reports from Abomey, Benin. Camera: Henry Wilkins Produced by: Jon Spier

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Elton John Rockets Toward Retirement at LA’s Dodger Stadium

Forty seven years after he took the stage at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles in a sequined-studded baseball uniform as the world’s biggest pop star, Elton John walked on to the same stage on Sunday night wearing a bedazzled Dodgers bathrobe, a uniform more fitting for a 75-year-old man on the verge of retirement.

The crowd of more than 50,000 roared at the moment that came in the final minutes of the final North American concert of a tour John says will be his last.

“I want to spend time with my family because I’ll be 76 next year, he said. “I want to bring them out and show you why I’m retiring.”

He embraced and kissed his husband, David Furnish, while his two sons, 11-year-old Zachary and 9-year-old Elijah, wearing matching Dodgers jackets that read “Elton” on the back, waved gleefully at the crowd.

John then broke into “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” the inevitable final song that gave the “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour its name.

The crowd full of rocket men and rocket women, of blue jean babies and LA ladies, many John’s age but plenty in their 20s and 30s and 40s, swayed and sang along as they had throughout the two-hour show during songs like “Rocket Man” and “Tiny Dancer.” Some wiped away tears.

Many were wearing their own sequins and spangles, sparkling spectacles, top hats, feather boas, and in a few cases, Donald Duck suits, representing stages of John’s 55-year career.

“Thank you all for dressing up,” John said, “it makes me so happy when you wear the most fantastic costumes.”

When that last song ended, John shed the robe and exposed another retirement outfit, a green-and-red tracksuit, and climbed into a small, clear elevator that lifted him into an opening in the backdrop. He could then be seen on a giant video screen walking down a yellow brick road into the distance.

Many others joined John for the occasion.

Kiki Dee took the stage to sing their duet “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”

“In 1975, this woman was here with me, and we sang this song,” John said as he brought out Dee. “I asked her to come and recreate that incredible moment.”

John jumped from his usual keyboard spot, grabbed a mic and sang and danced with Dee as his rehearsal piano player Adam Chester pounded the keys in his place.

John played “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” in tribute to the four bandmates who have died during his career, and after the first verse brought on another guest, shouting, “ladies and gentleman, Brandi Carlile!”

The moment was an unspoken tribute to another late collaborator, George Michael, who dueted with John in the same way on the song in 1991.

Carlile, who was central to Joni Mitchell ‘s recent return to the stage, was wearing her own Dodger-themed spangled suit. She belted out her verses and made a “can you believe this?!” face to the crowd as John put his arm around her and the soaked in the applause.

A drum machine pounded as Dua Lipa, in a black dress that contrasted with the sparkles on everyone else, came out for the first of the encores, “Cold Heart,” her 2021 hit with John.

“I can’t tell you how it feels to be 75 years old and to have the No. 1 record around the world,” John said after. “And this was my very first hit, 52 years ago.”

He started playing piano chords and sang, “It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside,” the opening line to 1970’s “Your Song.”

“That was your song, Los Angeles!” he shouted after.

About two hours earlier, after taking the stage in a tuxedo with sequins that flared into a flame design and opening the concert with “Benny and the Jets,” he explained the significance of the city to his music.

“All right, this is a very special night for me, a very emotional night for me, and it’s been a long journey, and I first came here to America in 1970 to the City of Angels, Los Angeles, and I played a club called the Troubadour.”

The concert, which streamed live on Disney+, was the last of a three-night stand at the stadium (and his 103rd show in the LA area, he told the crowd). The Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour began in September 2018 with the first of the 300-plus scheduled dates. It was suspended in 2020 because of the COVID pandemic and resumed in 2021.

In January, John heads to Australia and New Zealand, then moves on to Britain and Europe. He’s set to conclude in Sweden in July, though he’s made it clear he is only done traveling, not making music.

Many of those backing him up have been in his band from the start, or very near it, including Nigel Olsson, his drummer since 1969, and Davey Johnstone, his guitarist since 1971, who at age 71 stood at the front of the stage and led the band through a ripping version of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.”

John also provided a rare on-stage glimpse of an even more long-running collaborator, the man who wrote most of the words the crowd sang along with all night, lyricist Bernie Taupin.

“We’ve been writing together now since 1967,” John said as he hugged Taupin, who could not have contrasted with his writing partner more with his bald head and plain, earth-toned coat. “We still love each other more than we’ve ever done before.”

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Meet Benin’s Real-Life ‘Woman King’

“The Woman King” is a rare example of an African story told in the form of a Hollywood historical epic. Around the world, it has won praise for its acting, directing, and themes of female empowerment with women, led by General Nanisca, fighting a war that men cannot.

While the film is set in the 1800s in the kingdom of Dahomey, today the same area is known as Abomey. The story of the female warriors and General Nanisca has echoed down the ages here and in the rest of Benin.

Nan Zognidi is the present-day queen mother of Abomey.

She said she teaches young people the same values as the female warriors, a mindset that shows young girls are equal to boys.

“They have the same abilities and the same competencies as boys,” she said.

Zognidi’s role of queen mother is ceremonial. As with royalty in other parts of the world, it involves attracting tourists to the kingdom. But before she took on the role, she was a women’s rights activist.

Now, she runs a program to teach girls trades that promote financial independence and the history and culture of the kingdom. She also encourages leadership among her courtiers.

Pkadomi Sylvestre, a 13-year-old courtier, said the queen mother has taught her how to work on political activities for women’s empowerment.

A statue depicting one of Abomey’s female warriors in Benin’s commercial capital, Cotonou, was inaugurated earlier this year.

The example set by the female warriors of Abomey is something Africa needs more of, according to U.N. Women, a branch of the United Nations dedicated to female empowerment.

“Women who are involved in politics are not usually positively seen by society,” said regional adviser Soulef Guessoum, noting that in Africa, only 25% of the elected assembly are women — short of the 30% target set by the U.N. in 1995 and well below the 50% that many consider the ultimate goal.

Marion Ogeto, a human rights lawyer who works with Equality Now, a non-profit working for female empowerment, said the female warriors of Abomey are inspiring.

“This community was way ahead of its time by advocating for an army that is all and only women,” said Ogeto. “That already just blows your mind and then it goes a step further and shows you that they have a woman leader, a woman king and then she’s in a position where she’s able to sit at the same table as the king as well as all the others and tell the king, ‘This is not how we handle the situation, we need to do X, Y and Z.'”

As for Zognidi, she thinks the most important lesson Abomey’s warriors must teach the world — not the least the world of politics — is that “everything that men can do, women can do today. We can’t say that women are weak, it is wrong.”

Women, she said, are as strong as men.

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Bob Iger Returning to Disney as CEO for Two Years

Former Walt Disney Co Chief Executive Bob Iger is returning to the media company as CEO less than a year after he retired, a surprise appointment that comes as the entertainment company struggles to turn its streaming TV services into a profitable business.

Iger, who retired last year after 15 years as chief executive, has agreed to serve as CEO for two more years, Disney said in a statement late on Sunday. He will replace Bob Chapek, who took over as Disney CEO in February 2020.

While Chapek steered Disney through the COVID-19 pandemic, Disney disappointed investors this month with an earnings report that showed continued losses at its streaming media unit that includes Disney+.

“The Board has concluded that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely situated to lead the Company through this pivotal period,” Susan Arnold, chair of Disney’s board, said in the statement.

In June, Disney’s board voted unanimously to extend Chapek’s contract for three years.

Through Chapek’s short tenure, Disney became engulfed in an internal culture war after being accused of remaining silent on Florida legislation that would limit classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Iger exited Disney on a high note as the company led the entertainment industry’s battle against Netflix in the streaming wars. The economic slowdown and high interest rates have hurt Disney+ as the company prepares for deep cost cuts.

“I am an optimist, and if I learned one thing from my years at Disney, it is that even in the face of uncertainty – perhaps especially in the face of uncertainty – our employees and Cast Members achieve the impossible,” Iger said in a memo to employees seen by Reuters.

The leadership change caught employees by surprise, one company source said.

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Musk Restores Trump’s Twitter Account After Online Poll

Elon Musk reinstated Donald Trump’s account on Twitter on Saturday, reversing a ban that has kept the former president off the social media site since a pro-Trump mob attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as Congress was poised to certify Joe Biden’s election victory.

Musk made the announcement in the evening after holding a poll that asked Twitter users to click “yes” or “no” on whether Trump’s account should be restored. The “yes” vote won, with 51.8%.

“The people have spoken. Trump will be reinstated. Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” Musk tweeted, using a Latin phrase meaning “the voice of the people, the voice of God.”

Shortly afterward, Trump’s account, which had earlier appeared as suspended, reappeared on the platform complete with his former tweets, more than 59,000 of them. His followers were gone, at least initially.

It is not clear whether Trump would return to Twitter. An irrepressible tweeter before he was banned, Trump has said in the past that he would not rejoin even if his account was reinstated. He has been relying on his own, much smaller social media site, Truth Social, which he launched after being blocked from Twitter.

And on Saturday, during a video speech to a Republican Jewish group meeting in Las Vegas, Trump said that he was aware of Musk’s poll but that he saw “a lot of problems at Twitter,” according to Bloomberg.

“I hear we’re getting a big vote to also go back on Twitter. I don’t see it because I don’t see any reason for it,” Trump was quoted as saying by Bloomberg. “It may make it, it may not make it,” he added, apparently referring to Twitter’s recent internal upheavals.

The prospect of restoring Trump’s presence to the platform follows Musk’s purchase last month of Twitter — an acquisition that has fanned widespread concern that the billionaire owner will allow purveyors of lies and misinformation to flourish on the site. Musk has frequently expressed his belief that Twitter had become too restrictive of freewheeling speech.

His efforts to reshape the site have been both swift and chaotic. Musk has fired many of the company’s 7,500 full-time workers and an untold number of contractors who are responsible for content moderation and other crucial responsibilities. His demand that remaining employees pledge to “extremely hardcore” work triggered a wave of resignations, including hundreds of software engineers.

Users have reported seeing increased spam and scams on their feeds and in their direct messages, among other glitches, in the aftermath of the mass layoffs and worker exodus. Some programmers who were fired or resigned this week warned that Twitter may soon fray so badly it could crash.

Musk’s online survey, which ran for 24 hours before ending Saturday evening, concluded with 51.8% of more than 15 million votes favoring the restoration of Trump’s Twitter’ account. It comes four days after Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency in 2024.

Trump lost his access to Twitter two days after his supporters stormed the Capitol, soon after the former president had exhorted them to “fight like hell.” Twitter dropped his account after Trump wrote a pair of tweets that the company said cast further doubts on the legitimacy of the presidential election and raised risks for the Biden presidential inauguration.

After the Jan. 6 attack, Trump was also kicked off Facebook and Instagram, which are owned by Meta Platforms, and Snapchat. His ability to post videos to his YouTube channel was also suspended. Facebook is set to reconsider Trump’s account suspension in January.

Throughout his tenure as president, Trump’s use of social media posed a significant challenge to major social media platforms that sought to balance the public’s interest in hearing from public officials with worries about misinformation, bigotry, harassment and incitement of violence.

But in a speech at an auto conference in May, Musk asserted that Twitter’s ban of Trump was a “morally bad decision” and “foolish in the extreme.”

Earlier this month, Musk, who completed the $44 billion takeover of Twitter in late October, declared that the company wouldn’t let anyone who had been kicked off the site return until Twitter had established procedures on how to do so, including forming a “content moderation council.”

On Friday, Musk tweeted that the suspended Twitter accounts for the comedian Kathy Griffin, the Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson and the conservative Christian news satire website Babylon Bee had been reinstated. He added that a decision on Trump had not yet been made. He also responded “no” when someone on Twitter asked him to reinstate the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ account.

In a tweet Friday, the Tesla CEO described the company’s new content policy as “freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach.”

He explained that a tweet deemed to be “negative” or to include “hate” would be allowed on the site but would be visible only to users who specifically searched for it. Such tweets also would be “demonetized, so no ads or other revenue to Twitter,” Musk said.

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Russian Prison Activist Paints Picture of Life Facing Griner

U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner has been taken to the Russian region of Mordovia, notorious since Soviet times for its penal colonies, to serve a nine-year sentence on drugs charges.

Here are excerpts from a Reuters interview with Olga Romanova, a representative of the prison rights group Russia Behind Bars, on the conditions Griner can expect in the IK-2 colony in the town of Yavas. Russia’s prison service has not responded to questions from Reuters about living and working conditions in such institutions.

Living conditions

In the living quarters there are barracks, each with its own yard. The women live in barracks, around 80-100 people, up to 120 – Mordovia has big prisons. There’s a simple shower room, a bathroom with several toilets, a sink, a storage room to keep things and a small room with a kettle where a few people can drink tea together. From 6 a.m. till 9 p.m., you are prohibited from lying or sitting on your bed.

The yard is fenced off with barbed wire. It is an area where women who live in a barrack, which is usually one squad that has a number assigned, can step outside to get some air and smoke, look at the sunset, so to speak. This is where in the morning they have the daily inspection, roll call and physical exercise, whatever the weather.

Exercise is mandatory.

The women eat in a communal dining room. They go there in rows within their squad. They always wear uniform. The uniform is green. They sew it there for themselves. The uniform is low-quality, light fabric like they use for rainwear, and compulsory footwear.

The footwear is those artificial black boots, very uncomfortable. You can’t wear any other footwear. I think that will be a problem for Brittney: she’s a tall woman with a non-standard figure and I think non-standard shoe size. It will be problematic to dress her and find shoes for her. You’re not allowed not to wear a uniform.


Mordovia’s women’s prisons, like penal colony IK-14 where (Pussy Riot activist Nadezhda) Tolokonnikova was serving, as well as IK-2, where Brittney has been sent, are very well known among human rights defenders, I would say, because of their horrible work conditions.

They sew clothes there — manufacturing clothes is the main thing. They sew uniforms for police; they sew children’s clothes there.

They work in a number of shifts. One salary — about 5,000 rubles ($83) a month – is divided between a number of women. Sometimes 10 women. So they each get about 500 rubles a month.

The women there get punished. They punish the unit that’s at fault, when they haven’t worked hard enough, for example; when they don’t take part properly in (prison) activities; when there’s some kind of incident where they don’t do some exercise the right way. Someone refuses to go to work. That kind of thing. And when they punish the unit, they don’t get any hot water. And not for an hour or two, but for a few days.

There’s a particular time when you can ask to go to the toilet. They accompany you to the toilet. You can’t just get up and drink some water, drink some tea, have a smoke, chat with someone, take a breather, or go to the toilet. Going to the toilet is a problem.


The budget for prisoners’ food is about 70 rubles ($1.16) per day. Breakfast is definitely going to be porridge – not with milk, and it’s porridge made from barley, that’s the most “popular.”

Lunch is some nondescript soup — hard to find any chunks of meat or fish in it. It’s a vegetable soup — cabbage, potato, carrot. Or it’ll be little patties of meat — but there’s more bread in there than any memories of meat.

And for dinner, it’s the same barley porridge or the same potato (soup). That’s it. There’s an acute lack of eggs — eggs are considered a luxury; eggs are for pregnant women, or prescribed by the doctor, and so on. And there’s an acute lack of dairy products.

The prison kiosk has condensed milk, tea, instant coffee, three or four types of candies, cigarettes, possibly some cheese, if you’re lucky, possibly some kind of dried sausage, mayonnaise, ketchup — that’s it.

The Gulag, created in 1933, and the current prison system (in Russia) are identical except for the name.

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World Cup Draws Attention to Equal Rights, Including Attire

Official-looking flyers have circulated on social media describing cultural expectations for fans attending the World Cup in Qatar. Some include rules for women’s attire: Shoulders and knees must be covered.

Problem is, it’s bogus.

While the local organizing committee suggests that fans “respect the culture,” no one will be detained or barred from games in Qatar because of clothing choices. But persistent rumors swirling around appropriate garb and modesty at soccer’s biggest tournament have also drawn attention to the country’s record on equality.

Rothna Begum, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, has studied Qatar’s male guardianship rules and women’s rights in the conservative country.

“There isn’t anyone is going to go around arresting you for this because there isn’t an official dress code,” Begum said. “There isn’t a compulsory dress code and you can’t get sanctioned for it. It’s just a social restriction, a social tradition.”

The local organizing committee includes a section on cultural awareness in its fan guide.

“People can generally wear their clothing of choice. Shoulders and knees should be covered when visiting public places like museums and other government buildings,” it said.

The phrase “public places” is up to interpretation.

The American Outlaws, the U.S. national team’s supporters’ group, produced its own fan guide.

“Fans can wear shorts and short sleeve shirts, and women are not required to cover their heads or faces. However, there are many buildings that require both men and women to cover their shoulders and knees before entering, including museums, shopping centers, and some restaurants,” the guide says. “We recommend that fans carry some pants and/or a top with sleeves if they plan on entering any buildings, as they may be asked to put them on.

“In the stadiums, men and women will be required to wear tops. People will not be permitted to go shirtless during matches or in public settings.”

The first World Cup in the Middle East comes at a time when there is international attention on the treatment of women in Iran. The nation, which sits across the Persian Gulf from Qatar, has been rocked by anti-hijab protests following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died while being held by morality police for allegedly violating the country’s compulsory dress code for women. Activists have called for Iran to be expelled from the World Cup.

With Islam encouraging female modesty, most Qatari women wear headscarves and a loose cloak known as the abaya.

Begum, who wrote about Qatar and its treatment of women in a 2021 report for Human Rights Watch, said that while women have made progress in Qatar, they still face discrimination in almost every facet of their lives. Women must get permission from male guardians to marry, pursue higher education and work at certain jobs. Guardians can bar women under 25 from traveling abroad.

It’s a conservative culture that has little tolerance for dissent among its own citizens, she said.

“There are no independent women’s rights organizations and that’s partly because the authorities have laws that make it difficult for you to set up associations that are in any way deemed political. You are not allowed,” Begum said. “Women find it difficult to express or demand their rights offline or even online.”

That’s one of the reasons critics are questioning FIFA for awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Observers certainly noticed when retired American soccer star Carli Lloyd wore a long, high-collared dress with long sleeves for the World Cup draw earlier this year.

A letter recently circulated among teams from FIFA president Gianni Infantino and secretary general Fatma Samoura asked nations not to bring political or ideological issues into the tournament.

“Please,” they wrote, “let’s now focus on the football.”

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Botswana Records Surge in Lithium Batteries Theft as Global Demand Soars

Authorities in Botswana are reporting increased thefts of lithium batteries from mobile phone towers amid a surge in global demand for the battery in electric vehicles. The southern African nation’s biggest mobile network operator says it has lost more than $100,000 worth of lithium batteries in the past week alone.

Botswana police spokesperson Diteko Motube said most of the stolen batteries are being smuggled across the border to Zimbabwe.

Motube said five suspects from Zimbabwe and a Botswanan national were arrested this week while in possession of batteries worth more than $100,000.

The batteries were stolen from Botswana’s leading mobile network service provider, Mascom.

Company spokesperson Tebogo Lebotse-Sebego said the thefts are derailing their service delivery.

“This issue is certainly a crisis and it is affecting our quality of services ambitions,” said Lebotse-Sebego. “We are working closely with the relevant law enforcement offices and other administrators, including the community to find sustainable solutions to arrest the situation.”

Electric cars fuel demand

There is a surge in global demand for lithium batteries – and their components – due to their use in electric cars.

However, Zimbabwean-born UK based economic and political analyst Zenzo Moyo said the thefts in Botswana could be the result of the frequent power outages experienced in some southern African countries.

“It is not surprising that these lithium batteries are in high demand now mainly because of the load shedding that is being experienced in southern Africa especially in Zimbabwe and South Africa,” said Moyo.

Some households use lithium batteries for solar lighting, while light industries also rely on them.

Moyo said there is a huge market for the batteries in countries — such as Zimbabwe — that are turning to alternative energy sources.

“The economic hardships that Zimbabwe face cannot be used as an excuse for any kind of theft whether these are batteries or not,” he said. “If you look at the numbers that (the police) intercepted — these are huge numbers — it indicates that the people who were carrying these batteries are either runners or were selling them. There is a huge market for them understandably but the people that were carrying these batteries cannot be people who are starving but selling because there is a market.”

Demand greater than supply

Lithium’s price has risen 13-fold in the last two years, with global demand for the metal rapidly outpacing supply.

Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a London-based price reporting agency, projects, that the lithium mining market will almost double in the next eight years to nearly $6.4 billion in 2030.

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Robert Clary, Holocaust Survivor, ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ Star, Dies at 96

Robert Clary, a French-born survivor of Nazi concentration camps during World War II who played a feisty prisoner of war in the improbable 1960s sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes,” has died. He was 96. 

Clary died during the night Wednesday of natural causes at his home in Beverly Hills, niece Brenda Hancock said Thursday. 

“He never let those horrors defeat him,” Hancock said of Clary’s wartime experience as a youth. “He never let them take the joy out of his life. He tried to spread that joy to others through his singing and his dancing and his painting.” 

When he recounted his life to students, he told them, “Don’t ever hate,” Hancock said. “He didn’t let hate overcome the beauty in this world.” 

“Hogan’s Heroes,” in which Allied soldiers in a POW camp bested their clownish German army captors with espionage schemes, played the war strictly for laughs during its 1965-71 run. The 5-foot-1 Clary sported a beret and a sardonic smile as Corporal Louis LeBeau. 

Clary was the last surviving original star of the sitcom that included Bob Crane, Richard Dawson, Larry Hovis and Ivan Dixon as the prisoners. Werner Klemperer and John Banner, who played their captors, both were European Jews who fled Nazi persecution before the war. 

Clary began his career as a nightclub singer and appeared on stage in musicals including “Irma La Douce” and “Cabaret.” After “Hogan’s Heroes,” Clary’s TV work included the soap operas “The Young and the Restless,” “Days of Our Lives” and “The Bold and the Beautiful.” 

He considered musical theater the highlight of his career. “I loved to go to the theater at quarter of 8, put the stage makeup on and entertain,” he said in a 2014 interview. 

Wartime experience

He remained publicly silent about his wartime experience until 1980 when, Clary said, he was provoked to speak out by those who denied or diminished the orchestrated effort by Nazi Germany to exterminate Jews. 

A documentary about Clary’s childhood and years of horror at Nazi hands, “Robert Clary, A5714: A Memoir of Liberation,” was released in 1985. The forearms of concentration camp prisoners were tattooed with identification numbers, with A5714 to be Clary’s lifelong mark. 

“They write books and articles in magazines denying the Holocaust, making a mockery of the 6 million Jews — including a million and a half children — who died in the gas chambers and ovens,” he told The Associated Press in a 1985 interview. 

Twelve of his immediate family members, his parents and 10 siblings, were killed under the Nazis, Clary wrote in a biography posted on his website. 

In 1997, he was among dozens of Holocaust survivors whose portraits and stories were included in “The Triumphant Spirit,” a book by photographer Nick Del Calzo. 

“I beg the next generation not to do what people have done for centuries — hate others because of their skin, shape of their eyes, or religious preference,” Clary said in an interview at the time. 

Retired from acting, Clary remained busy with his family, friends and his painting. His memoir, “From the Holocaust to Hogan’s Heroes: The Autobiography of Robert Clary,” was published in 2001. 

“One Of the Lucky Ones,” a biography of one of Clary’s older sisters, Nicole Holland, was written by Hancock, her daughter. Holland, who worked with the French Resistance against Germany, survived the war, as did another sister. Hancock’s second book, “Talent Luck Courage,” recounts Clary and Holland’s lives and their impact. 

Clary was born Robert Widerman in Paris in March 1926, the youngest of 14 children in the Jewish family. He was 16 when he and most of his family were taken by the Nazis. 

In the documentary, Clary recalled a happy childhood until he and his family was forced from their Paris apartment and put into a crowded cattle car that carried them to concentration camps. 

“Nobody knew where we were going,” Clary said. “We were not human beings anymore.” 

After 31 months in captivity in several concentration camps, he was liberated from the Buchenwald death camp by American troops. His youth and ability to work kept him alive, Clary said. 

Career in entertainment

Returning to Paris and reunited with his two sisters, Clary worked as a singer and recorded songs that became popular in America. 

After coming to the United States in 1949, he moved from club dates and recording to Broadway musicals, including “New Faces of 1952,” and then to movies. He appeared in films including 1952’s “Thief of Damascus,” “A New Kind of Love” in 1963 and “The Hindenburg” in 1975. 

In recent years, Clary recorded jazz versions of songs by Ira Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim and other greats, said his nephew Brian Gari, a songwriter who worked on the CDs with Clary. 

Clary was proud of the results, Gari said, and thrilled by a complimentary letter he received from Sondheim. “He hung that on the kitchen wall,” Gari said. 

Clary didn’t feel uneasy about the comedy on “Hogan’s Heroes” despite the tragedy of his family’s devastating war experience. 

“It was completely different. I know they [POWs] had a terrible life, but compared to concentration camps and gas chambers, it was like a holiday.” 

Clary married Natalie Cantor, the daughter of singer-actor Eddie Cantor, in 1965. She died in 1997. 


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NASA’s Mighty Moon Rocket at Long Last Launches

NASA once again makes moonshot history. Plus, the space agency’s astronauts take a stroll, and a piece of tragic space history found by accident. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi brings us The Week in Space.  

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Russia’s Arts Scene Becomes Casualty of Putin’s War

As the Kremlin escalates its war on Ukraine and tightens its clampdown on any domestic opposition to the invasion, the world of Russian arts and culture, historically opposed to violence and war, descends into pessimism. Marcus Harton narrates this report from VOA’s Moscow bureau.

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Taiwan’s APEC Envoy at the Center of Processor Chip Tension

Taiwan’s envoy to a gathering of Asia-Pacific leaders is the 91-year-old billionaire founder of a computer chip manufacturing giant that operated behind the scenes for decades before being thrust into the center of U.S.-Chinese tension over technology and security.

Morris Chang’s hybrid role highlights the clash between Taiwan’s status as one of China’s top tech suppliers and Beijing’s threats to attack the self-ruled island democracy of 22 million people, which the mainland’s ruling Communist Party says it part of its territory.

Taiwan’s decision to send Chang instead of a political leader to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Thailand reflects the island’s unusual status. The United States and other governments have agreed to Chinese demands not to have official relations with Taiwan or have their leaders meet its president.

Chang transformed the semiconductor industry when he founded Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. in 1987 as the first foundry to produce chips only for customers without designing its own. That allowed smaller designers to compete with industry giants without spending billions of dollars to build a factory.

TSMC has grown into the biggest chip producer, supplying Apple Inc., Qualcomm Inc. and other customers and turning Taiwan into a global tech center. TSMC-produced chips are in millions of smartphones, automobiles and high-end computers.

Despite that, TSMC ranks high on any list of the biggest companies that are unknown outside their industries.

Chang, a Texas Instruments Inc. veteran who served as TSMC chairman until 2018, represented then-President Chen Shui-bian at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in 2006. He was re-appointed to the same job in 2018, 2019 and 2020 by President Tsai Ing-wen.

“Taiwan’s semiconductor industry, especially TSMC, plays a pivotal role in the domestic and even the world economy,” Tsai told reporters on Oct. 20. “At this important moment, Chang is an irreplaceable candidate to serve as the representative of our country’s APEC leaders.”

Britain’s trade minister, Greg Hands, said London wants closer cooperation with Taiwan on semiconductors during a visit this month. Britain is home to Arm, a leading chip designer.

Taiwan is in a “very challenging environment” and APEC is the “most important international conference venue for Taiwan,” Chang said at the Oct. 20 briefing with Tsai.

“Taiwan needs to build a secure and resilient supply chain with trusted partners, especially in the electronics sector,” he said.

Last year, Chang warned support was eroding for globalization and free markets that helped TSMC prosper.

“Globalization seems to be a bad word and ‘free market economy’ is beginning to carry conditions,” Chang said while accepting an award from the Asia Society.

“Many companies in Asia and America face challenges as to how to operate in the new environment,” Chang said. “Still, I’m confident that solutions will be found.”

TSMC was thrust into geopolitics in 2020 when then U.S. President Donald Trump blocked the company and other vendors from using U.S. technology to make chips for Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies Ltd., which produces smartphones and network gear for phone and internet carriers. American officials say Huawei is a security threat and might enable Chinese spying, an accusation the company denies.

Most of the world’s smartphones and other consumer electronics are assembled in Chinese factories. But they need components and technology from the United States, Europe and Asian suppliers — especially Taiwan, the biggest chip exporter.

Huawei, China’s first global tech brand, designs chips but needs TSMC and other contractors to make them. Their foundries need American manufacturing technology, which gives Washington leverage to disrupt Chinese high-tech industry.

Processor chips are China’s biggest import at $300 billion a year, ahead of oil. The ruling Communist Party sees that as a strategic weakness and is spending heavily to create its own chip producers, but they are generations behind TSMC and other global leaders.

Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, left Trump’s curbs in place and imposed more restrictions that extend to other Chinese companies.

TSMC, headquartered in Hsinchu, adjacent to the Taiwan capital, Taipei, says it made 12,302 different products last year for 535 customers. The company reported an $18.7 billion profit last year on $49.8 billion in revenue.

Chang was born in Ningbo, south of Shanghai, and moved to Hong Kong after a civil war on the mainland ended with the Communist Party taking power in 1949.

The mainland’s former ruling Nationalist Party fled to Taiwan. The two sides have been ruled separately since then. They have no official relations but are linked by billions of dollars of trade and investment.

Chang studied at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before receiving a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 1964.

Chang spent a quarter-century at Texas Instruments, rising to become a vice president in charge of its semiconductor business, before being invited to Taiwan in the 1980s to lead a technology research institute.

In 1988, TSMC became Taiwan’s first company traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Chang’s stake in the company is worth $1.6 billion.

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