Bank of America's $25 million jobs initiative provides Black and Hispanic-Latino individuals access to skills and training needed for jobs of the future. Learn more about the initiative, which involves partnerships with 21 community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Hispanic Serving Institutions.
Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.
But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?
<p><strong>Weapons, hired guns, and access. </strong>Russia is now<a href="https://www.defenseworld.net/news/26576/Russian_Arms_Sales_Growing_in_Africa#.X8ceY6pKhBw" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> the largest arms supplier</a> in Africa, and it does a particularly brisk trade with governments that can't buy American or European weaponry. Two of Moscow's best new customers, for example, have been<a href="https://www.africanews.com/2019/04/06/russia-angola-sign-cooperation-deals-in-moscow/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> Angola</a> and Nigeria, both of which reached out to Russia when the Obama administration in the US started<a href="https://www.npr.org/2015/07/23/425654481/nigerian-president-u-s-refusal-to-provide-weapons-aides-extremism" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> blocking their arms purchases</a> over human rights concerns. Since 2015, Russia has inked arms deals with at least 20 African nations.</p><p>At the same time, Russia has been supplying a host of African governments either with mercenaries to help fight insurgents or with advisers to help crush their political opponents.</p> <p>The shadowy<a href="https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/07/08/putin-s-not-so-secret-mercenaries-patronage-geopolitics-and-wagner-group-pub-79442" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> Wagner Group</a> — a private military company believed to be owned by a Russian catering tycoon known as "Putin's chef"— has helped to battle an<a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/29/africa/russian-mercenaries-mozambique-intl/index.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> Islamic State rebellion in Mozambique</a>, and has been<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/30/world/russia-diamonds-africa-prigozhin.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> paid in diamonds</a> for crushing an uprising in the Central African Republic. The group is also active in Libya, where the Pentagon now<a href="https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/11/30/pentagon-trump-russia-libya-uae/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> thinks</a> it might be on the payroll of the UAE. In all, Wagner has ties to nearly a dozen African countries.</p><p><strong>What does Russia get in exchange? </strong>Cash, for one thing. But also influence over local decisions about who gets access to, say, lucrative mining projects. In Madagascar last year, Russian operatives staged a<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/11/world/africa/russia-madagascar-election.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> cartoonishly ham-fisted attempt</a> to meddle in the election — but just before the vote, "Putin's chef" got a big stake in a local chromium mine. Russian companies also have gotten<a href="https://www.mining.com/russias-comeback-in-africa-favours-profit-over-long-term-influence-analyst/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> access to key mining or energy projects</a> in Angola, the Central African Republic, Guinea, Mozambique, Sudan, and Zimbabwe – all countries where Kremlin-affiliated mercenaries or advisers are at work.</p><p><strong>Why now?</strong> Last fall, Putin hosted dozens of African leaders at a<a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/putin-hosts-sochi-summit-as-russia-races-for-influence-in-africa/30231905.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> summit in Sochi</a>, billed as the Kremlin's triumphant return to the continent. And in many ways, the continent is now ripe for Russia to<a href="https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/10/16/late-to-party-russia-s-return-to-africa-pub-80056" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> make inroads there</a> without spending a lot of money or taking major risks.</p><p>Africa hasn't been a top priority for the US in recent years, and while China has lent billions to cash-strapped African governments, Beijing is also facing criticism that it has set debt traps for poor countries.</p><p>As a result, Russia has been welcomed in many parts of the continent as a no-nonsense transactional player who can deliver the muscle that governments need.</p><p><strong>Keep things in perspective.</strong> Russia's clout in Africa still lags far behind players like China and the EU – Africa's two largest trade partners – and the US, which has<a href="https://theintercept.com/2020/02/27/africa-us-military-bases-africom/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> nearly 30</a> military bases on the continent. </p><p>But Russia isn't really playing a game of scale on that level. Instead, the Kremlin is shrewdly seeking out discrete pressure points where, with minimal expenditure, it can win friends and influence people in ways that directly benefit the Russian state or affiliated cronies. </p> <p>Not a bad dish for Putin and his chef. But will the US, China, Europe, or African nations themselves eventually decide to push back harder?</p>
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What We're Watching: Iran's nuclear tug-of-war, Hong Kong's doomed democracy, Hungarian politician's "misstep"
December 02, 2020
Iran's nuclear tug-of-war: Hardliners in Iran's parliament passed a bill Tuesday suspending UN inspections of its nuclear sites and giving the go-ahead to massively increase uranium enrichment unless the US lifts its sanctions by February. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani opposes the measure, saying it would be "harmful" to diplomatic efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with the incoming Biden administration in the US. But Iran's parliament doesn't actually need Rouhani's approval to pass the law, and regardless, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will have the final say on policy – as always! If the law is passed, it will immediately raise the stakes for Biden, who takes office on January 20. Both he and Rouhani say they are keen to resume dialogue in hopes of reviving the nuclear deal, which President Trump walked out of in 2018. But just days after the architect of Iran's nuclear program was assassinated (likely by Israel with the US' blessing) the hurdles to even beginning those talks are rising fast.
<p><strong>What's next for Hong Kong's beleaguered opposition?</strong> China struck a major blow against the Hong Kong democracy movement on Wednesday, when a local court sentenced prominent democracy activist Joshua Wong to more than 13 months in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/02/world/asia/joshua-wong-agnes-chow-hong-kong.html" target="_blank">prison </a>for his role in last year's protests, while his co-defendant, Agnes Chow, was given a 10-month sentence. Wong, Chow and Ivan Lam, another member of the pro-democracy group, pleaded guilty to unauthorized assembly charges in connection with a June 2019 demonstration in which Wong shouted "no riots, only tyranny" through a loudspeaker. That protest, sparked by Beijing's attempt to extend its legal jurisdiction over Hong Kong, swelled into months of sometimes violent mass demonstrations against mainland China's broader attempts to quash the city's unique democratic institutions. As those lost steam this year amid the pandemic, Beijing imposed a draconian new security law on the city, with wide scope to punish dissent. The jailing of Wong comes just a few weeks after <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/11/11/933780136/hong-kongs-pro-democracy-lawmakers-quit-legislature-over-ouster-of-colleagues" target="_blank">pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong resigned en masse </a>over the expulsion of some of their members from the city's legislature. Can Hong Kong's once-vibrant democracy movement survive?<br/></p><p><strong>A Hungarian politician's delicious downfall: </strong>A prominent anti-gay member of Hungary's far-right Fidesz party has resigned his post as an EU parliamentarian after he was <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/01/europe/hungarian-mep-lockdown-party-brussels-intl/index.html" target="_blank">caught fleeing</a> an illegal gay sex party in Brussels. Jozsef Szajer, who reportedly shimmied down a drainpipe when the police showed up to bust the soiree for violating pandemic lockdown rules, was reportedly caught on the street outside with his hands bloodied and drugs in his backpack. Szajer, a founding member of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's ultraconservative Fidesz party, headed the party's delegation to the European Parliament. He was directly involved in efforts to ban gay marriage at home in Hungary. He has apologized to his family for "the misstep."<br/></p>
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"China is angry. If you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy." This was the message recently conveyed by a Chinese government official on the intensifying row with its Asia-Pacific neighbor, Australia.
China-Australia relations, steadily deteriorating in recent months over a range of political disputes, reached a new low this week when Beijing posted a doctored image on Twitter of an Australian soldier holding a knife to an Afghan child's throat. Beijing's decision to post the fake image at a hypersensitive time for Australia's military establishment was a deliberate political provocation: beat Canberra while it's down.
<p>Indeed, ongoing bilateral frictions are particularly worrisome for Australia, whose export-reliant <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-01-15/china-economy-slowdown-will-affect-australia/10716240" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">economy</a> depends on trade with China more than any country in the world. China <a href="https://www.dfat.gov.au/about-us/publications/trade-investment/trade-at-a-glance/trade-investment-at-a-glance-2019/Pages/default" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">buys</a> $120 billion of Australia's annual exports (30 percent), and the relationship accounts for around 1 in 13 Australian jobs.</p><p><strong>What's the dispute actually about?</strong> Well, just ask China. Last month, the Chinese government publicly <a href="https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/if-you-make-china-the-enemy-china-will-be-the-enemy-beijing-s-fresh-threat-to-australia-20201118-p56fqs.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">released</a> a 14-point list that outlines its grievances with the Australian government. It included gripes as varied as Australia's decision to <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-45281495" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">ban Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei </a>from its 5G network, "spreading disinformation imported from the US around China's efforts of containing COVID-19," as well as general "antagonistic" reporting on China by the Australian press. </p><p>Beijing was particularly peeved by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's call earlier this year for a global investigation into China's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and it hit back with a series of tariffs on Australian goods like <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/30/business/australia-china-wine-tariffs-intl-hnk/index.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">wine,</a> beef, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/may/19/australia-deeply-disappointed-after-china-imposes-80-tariff-on-barley-imports" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">barley,</a> and coal that <a href="https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/china-hits-australian-wine-with-tariffs-of-up-to-200-per-cent-20201127-p56ikr.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">threaten</a> about $20 billion worth of Australian exports.</p><p><strong>A particular spat with universal resonance.</strong> The bilateral dispute that's increasingly keeping Australian economists and government officials up at night is being closely watched by governments around the world — including in Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand — whose economies are heavily reliant on China, yet like Australia, also pursue a values-based foreign policy. </p><p>And there is definitely reason to be cautious. China has increasingly used its growing economic clout as a weapon, punishing states that criticize its bellicose behavior or human-rights violations. </p><p>In 2010, for example, after the Norwegian-based Nobel Peace Prize committee honored <a href="https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2010/xiaobo/facts/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Liu Xiaobo </a>— a Chinese writer, dissident, and critic of the Chinese Communist Party — China, the world's largest consumer of seafood, blocked salmon imports from Norway, costing the Nordic country hundreds of millions in lost revenue. (Upon lifting the blockade several years later, <a href="https://qz.com/1000541/norway-wants-china-to-forget-about-the-human-rights-thing-and-eat-salmon-instead/" target="_blank">China said </a>Norway had "deeply reflected upon the reasons bilateral mutual trust was harmed.") </p><p>While the Australian government has not backed down in criticizing China on a range of political issues, including Beijing's <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-australia-espionage-asio/australia-probes-deeply-disturbing-allegations-of-chinese-political-interference-idUSKBN1XY0P9" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">meddling </a>in Australia's internal government affairs, its <a href="https://asiatimes.com/2020/08/china-accused-of-spying-on-australia-naval-build-up/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">spying activities</a>, and its crackdown in Hong Kong, other countries may be less inclined to push Beijing's buttons in ways that could send their own economies spiraling. </p><p><strong>Cost-benefit analysis.</strong> In recent years, as the Trump administration has prioritized an anti-China geopolitical agenda, US allies like Australia have been forced into an even trickier position as they try to keep economic lines open with Beijing while maintaining security ties with Washington. </p><p>China has been particularly perturbed by actions taken by the <a href="http://v" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">"Five Eyes" </a>intelligence-sharing pact made up of the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Britain. After the group criticized China's recent targeting of Hong Kong's pro-democracy lawmakers, a Chinese spokesperson <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/china-australia-dispute-wine-exports/2020/11/27/9da5e298-3060-11eb-9dd6-2d0179981719_story.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">warned </a>that China might "gouge and blind" the Five Eyes nations in retaliation. The Morrison government has said that it wants to <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/nov/30/australia-china-pm-scott-morrison-demands-apology-fake-chinese-tweet-adf-soldier" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">"reset"</a> the Australia-China relationship but that Beijing won't return its calls. </p><p><strong>Don't put all your eggs in one basket. </strong>A debate is currently raging in Australia about the need to diversify trade partners so as to protect the country from economic blackmail from China that could deepen Australia's pandemic-induced recession. "There's a basic rule in finance: don't put all your eggs in one basket," one Australian <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-11-19/australia-china-trade-do-we-need-more-alternative-markets/12864220" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">academic </a>recently said. But others argue that it's too late and China is too big.</p>
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Hard Numbers: Lebanon's economy collapses, Eritrean refugees face starvation, Palestinians get tax money, Danish fly gets recognition.
December 02, 2020
19.4: The Lebanese economy, waylaid by financial and political crises on top of the pandemic, is set to contract by a crippling 19.4 percent this year, according to the World Bank. Next year things hardly get better, with a contraction of 13.2 percent coming in 2021.
<p><strong>96,000:</strong> The UN says some 96,000 refugees from Eritrea who have lived for years in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray <a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/12/1/un-says-food-has-run-out-for-eritrea-refugees-in-tigray-camps" target="_blank">have run out of food supplies</a>, as a result of the recent war between the Ethiopian government and Tigray leaders. Many Eritreans flee their homeland to escape draconian military service rules and political repression.<br/></p><p><strong>1 billion:</strong> Israel has <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-palestinians-tax/israel-hands-over-1-billion-in-palestinian-tax-backlog-in-sign-of-warming-ties-idUSKBN28C1IL" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">released</a> a backlog of about $1 billion in taxes owed to the Palestinian Authority (PA). The PA had rejected the transfers earlier this year in protest over Israeli plans to annex West Bank settlements. With those plans frozen and a likely more even-handed US president coming into the White House, the PA recently agreed to resume security and civil cooperation with Israel. </p><p><strong>335 million:</strong> It only took the Danish Mayfly 355 million years of evolutionary development, but the winged wonder has finally done it: the insect <a href="https://apnews.com/article/science-insects-berlin-germany-europe-7cb97a7c0747325a5e79c8fdee913445" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">has been named</a> the 2021 Insect of the Year by an international panel of insect specialists. It's a pretty remarkable animal: it lives for three years as an underwater creature with gills before rising to the surface for a few days of frantic egg-laying followed by death. </p>
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