Best Of The Best

This Is The Oldest Building In The Western Hemisphere. We Bet You’ve Never Heard Of It

By Nick Moncy

Secluded within the groves surrounding West Dixie Highway lies a Florida Heritage site you may not have heard of – the Ancient Spanish Monastery.

A North Miami Beach relic, it boasts historic structures containing Romanesque and pre-Gothic architecture. Stretching from as far back as the 12th century, conserved artifacts take visitors into the life of medieval monks in northern Spain.

It is now considered by many historians to be the oldest building in the whole of the Western Hemisphere.

But how this wonder ended up in Miami is a long story

Here’s the condensed version:

From 1133 to 1141 AD, the monastery and cloisters were constructed in Sacramenia, a city in the province of Segovia, Spain. Originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it was renamed to recognize its renowned abbot Bernard of Clairvaux after his canonization.

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The Cloisters housed Cisterian monks for seven centuries following, after which a social shift in the 1830s had the buildings converted into a simple granary and stable.

In 1925, famous publisher William Randolph Hearst acquired the Cloisters and the Refectory (the original Monastery section still stands overseas). Both were disassembled, numbered by part, packed into about 11,000 wooden boxes and shipped to the United States. After they lay in a warehouse in Brooklyn, New York for almost a decade, most parts were sold at an auction after the Great Depression ruined Hearst financially; the remainders were sent back to storage.

In 1952, Ohio businessmen William Edgemon and Raymond Moss bought the remainder of the stones looking to create a tourist hotspot in Miami.

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It proved to be a challenge because the workmen involved in the grand move thirty years ago did not replace the stones in their original numbered boxes. Reconstructing the Cloisters took 19 months and almost $1.5 million (surpassing $13 million in today’s currency). TIME magazine called the effort “the biggest jigsaw puzzle in history”.

After financial struggles in 1964, the Cloisters were once again up for sale. Wealthy banker and Episcopal donor Col. Robert Pentland, Jr. swept in and purchased them for the Episcopal Bishop of Florida. The monastery now houses the Episcopal Church of St. Bernard de Clairveux.

Largely in thanks to Edgemon and Moss’ contribution, this story physically unravels across the space in several parts.

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At the front of the property is a moderately-sized lobby area full of ancient artifacts. Though they are protected by glass cases and velvet rope, one can whiff a hint of rust. There are corbels used to support the weight of wall fixtures, a hearse that carried dead bodies, even a hymnarium propped on a refectory table that monks read from while gathered for meals. There are cabinets covered with fresco paintings by a student of Raphael’s done alla prima, a rapid style that required oil paintings to be completely finished before the first layer of paint dried. At the back of the room there is even a full suit of armor from the 1600s.

Double doors open to an outdoor path toward the monastery, an escape from the onslaught of outdated vocabulary. An iron gate introduces the spacious, elegantly-pruned garden, a nursery before the Monastery’s arrival. It resembles a maze: narrow, crunchy gravel paths lead visitors all over.

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The Ram’s Head Pillar, Baptismal Font and donated statues of Jesus and Mary stand scattered throughout the garden. One shaded path at the back right goes to the refectory section of the Monastery, which holds the chapel in which North Miami Beach Anglicans congregate.

Getting back on the central path leads to the Cloisters’ foreboding wooden doors. Above them is a detailed relief of Mary’s crowning by angels; lions representing Leon and Castille are visible in the scene. A metal bell up above once clanged boisterously to summon monks for meals long ago, but these days there is only tranquil silence.

The atmosphere inside the Cloisters is still, accompanied only by echoed footsteps and occasional chanting. Its main area is composed of hallways and chambers bordering a roofless, central courtyard. The contrast between the illuminated patio and the dark columned hallways is an aesthetic phenomenon that illustrates the Cloisters’ harmony with Miami tropics. In the halls on opposite corners are life-size statues of both Alfonso VII, king of Leon and Castille during the Monastery’s construction, and his grandson Alfonso VIII. In all, this is certainly hallowed ground.

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Though the Monastery is a masterpiece from the past, its history continues to grow today. The twenty-acre attraction alone contains about one thousand unique plant and tree species. Fifty-thousand people visit annually, with sixty-five percent of that crowd being tourists. It also draws in members of the northern Miami community: last year, nine hundred public, private and homeschooled students received educational programming that met Florida’s curricular standards. The Ancient Spanish Monastery Foundation non-profit recognizes local leaders and outstanding figures each year at its Legacy Gala and pours all its proceeds back toward the preservation efforts for the site.

If you stop by for a tour, one figure you’re sure to meet is Tania Witten. An employee at the Monastery since 1999, she organizes bridal events. “It gets crazy here sometimes,” Witten said in an interview. “This place is used for weddings, quinceñeras, and even yoga four times a week.” She also noted the intriguing fact that despite its prominence, the Monastery and Cloisters are hidden gems to most North Miami Beach natives. “No one knows about us, really, even people who’ve lived here for fifty years. They’d say, ‘I never knew this was here.’”

Photo Credits: Nick Moncy/ RISE NEWS.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us

Africa’s First Billion Dollar Start Up Is A Bet On The Rise Of The Continent’s Middle Class. But Is It A Smart Bet?

For decades, the narrative around African business has been pretty negative. But things are changing as demonstrated by the recent achievement by the Africa Internet Group– as it became the first ever African based “Unicorn” start up company.

Africa Internet Group just received an $85 million investment, valuing the company at over $1 billion, and making it a “Unicorn”.

AIG is essentially Silicon Valley, but all packed into one business.

They invest in and help manage over 30 African companies like Easy Taxi, Jumia, and Lamudi, which mimic the Uber’s, Amazon’s, and Zillow’s of the world.

Glassdoor reviews from former employees of AIG give it a 3.2 rating out of 5 with 21 reviews. The pros largely coalesced around the work: always busy and challenging.

The cons all focused on the same issues surrounding management, with every negative review either highlighting a lack of communication or unrealistic expectations for their subordinates.

These complaints about management seemed to be shared by ownership, as last December, the company began to lay off upper level staff left and right, with one of its largest companies, Jumia, firing over 300 workers in Nigeria, its largest market.

It is not unusual for one startup to go through upheaval like this, but when many companies all operating under the same umbrella go through the same issues, it is a bit worrisome.

However, AXA and Orange would not have invested in AIG at the valuation they did unless it was satisfied with its executive team, so one would think that this massive shakeup is largely a good thing for the company.

Given the timing of the overhaul and the subsequent transaction, this management purge was most likely a contingency for these large firms’ financing, because ultimately, they are not investing in AIG, but in the rising African middle class.

The common theme amongst AIG’s portfolio is e-commerce, as they have laid the foundation of their company on the emerging proletariat.

The size and the economic maturity of the middle class is the subject of fierce debate, as companies like Nestle serve as cautionary tales; their billion dollar expansion hit a rut and was forced to scale back its African workforce by 15% once returns proved to be smaller than expected.

WATCH: Inside a Africa Internet Group Office in Lagos, Nigeria. 

Much of the investment in Africa has been based around the notion that one third of Africans are “middle class,” which emerged from a 2011 paper from the African Development Bank Group which stated that the middle class had tripled over the last 30 years.

However, the AfDB defined it as Africans living off of $2 to $20 in purchasing power per day, with it divided into three separate tiers which further muddied the certainty surrounding the definition of “middle class.”

Standard Bank released a study last September that looked at 11 African countries which account for over half the continent’s GDP, and found the size of their middle class to be 15 million people, or about 300 million less than AfDB estimated for the entire continent.

The middle class of the largest African country by GDP, Nigeria, is estimated at 11%, with 86% of all Africans reportedly falling under “low income.”

The Pew Research Center provides extra support to this assertion as they estimate that just 6% of Africans qualify as “middle class,” which they define as living off of $10 to $20 per day.

90% of Africans are estimated to still live off of less than $10 per day according to Pew.

However, even though the data seems to hint that investors may be too bullish, it does not mean that they should reverse course and become bearish on the many different African economies.

Capital is still flowing into the continent, as foreign direct investment is up over 12% since 2008.

Additionally, some of the struggles companies like Nestle experienced could be due more to cultural misunderstandings than a lack of disposable income across Africa.

“There was no presumption [from the AfDB] that this middle class would exhibit Western modes in terms of consumption of food formula for middle-class babies [Nestlé] nor for whisky [Diaego],” Kayizzi-Mugerwa, one of the chief economists for the AfDB said. “In the latter case, Africans have always had a partiality for beer − irrespective of class – and the beer companies are doing roaring business.”

Many African countries are still dealing with structural issues that go back centuries, as Egypt’s inflation is 210th in the world due to the instability that has arisen over the last 5 years.

Nigeria needs to modernize its workforce as 70% work in agriculture, yet farming accounts for just 20% of its GDP.

South Africa, which remains the model for many African countries, has 66% of its workforce comprising the services industry, which accounts for 67.4% of its GDP, yet the rest of the continent’s labor pool is much closer to Nigeria than its most modernized nation at its southernmost tip.

The historic investment in Africa Internet Group must be seen as a larger investment in Africa as a whole, because without a modernized Africa, the e-commerce that AIG provides would have no market for buyers or sellers.

Africa is still an emerging economy, but it has shed many of the 3rd world caricatures that the West has forced upon it over the years, with Sacha Poignonnec, CEO of Africa Internet Group providing a mission statement for the company that could be construed as one for the entire continent as well:

“We want to be profitable but we are very long-term oriented. Amazon is a great model to look at. They have a great valuation, they have a great customer base. Everyone one is confident that Amazon has a great future but they are still yet to make money.”

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us

What Would A Donald Trump Grad School Research Paper Look Like?

Donald Trump is the gift that keeps on giving to the funny folks scattered across the Interwebs.

And few have benefited from the rise of Trump more than the creative types that haunt Imgur, the viral photo sharing community.

An unnamed uploader to Imgur posted a hilarious projection of what a Donald Trump academic paper would look like.

Published in the made-up “Journal of Compete and Utter Nonsense Talking”, Trump University student Donald J. Trump’s detailed look at “a really great piece of research” is truly something to behold:

“We ran analyses. The best analyses, make no mistake, these analyses were absolutely top notch. And there were, of course, numbers and the best numbers. They really were. The numbers that is.”

Anyway, just check this thing out:

IfTrumpPublishedAcademicArticle

 

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us!

Photo Credit: Imgur/ Screengrab.

What The Heck Is Turkmenistan Up To? (Spoiler Alert: We Should Care)

On March 28th, Eurasia Net, reported that Turkmenistan launched large unannounced exercises “in the dead of night”.

These movements consisted of: Land, Air, Naval, Air Defense, and Special Operations forces.

But what the heck were they doing with all of that firepower?

The Turkmen Military is largely a land based force based on the Soviet Model, as evidenced by utilization of the “Motor Rifle Division”, of which there are four, as well as breaking aid defense into its own branch.

As such, training and morale tend to be low, but utilization of massive amounts of artillery, T-72s, the infamous ZSU-23-4 “Shilka, and other highlights of the 1980s make up for the doctrinal rut Turkmenistan finds itself in.

After all, a country that has a holiday to celebrate its neutrality is not likely to pick a fight.

One can rule out a show of force to intimidate a state actor.

Turkmenistan, unlike Kyrgyzstan  and Uzbekistan, is largely devoid of conflict with its neighbors.  It has friendly ties with both Russia and China, and provides the United States with an air corridor to Afghanistan, which makes deterring one of these actors unlikely.

The move could possibly be an attempt to reassert claims over the Caspian Sea, the dispute over these maritime borders with Azerbaijan, Iran, and Kazakhstan have been largely diplomatic in nature.  It seems unlikely this is a shift to more bellicose policy regarding control of the Caspian Sea, as the Turkmen navy is composed of a few coastal defense craft.

It is conceivable that this exercise is not a demonstration of power against a state aggressor, but rather a demonstration to both Turkmen and Turkmenistan’s concerned neighbors, of Ashgabat’s border defense capacity.

Recent skirmishes have occurred along Turkmenistan’s Afghan border, including several Taliban militants being stuck being Turkmen and Afghan forces.

This is not an isolated incident, and Ashgabat has responded with the construction of fixed fortifications along the border.

Of perhaps greater concern than Turkmenistan’s formerly cordial neighbors, is the developing Islamic State (IS) affiliate in Afghanistan.

While there are only 1-3,000 IS fighters in Afghanistan, the appearance of weakness along the border may draw the attention of Moscow, who would understandably be concerned.

Thus, it seems likely that this show of force by Turkmenistan is a message to Moscow of Ashgabat’s ability to rapidly mobilize against a Iraq/Syria style IS takeover.

Is is not clear if Moscow will be convinced by this display, who has historically assisted Ashgabat in border control.

In any event, we should pay attention to what happens in Turkmenistan in the coming months.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us!

Photo Credit: Gilad Rom/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Militarism Is Back In Vogue Around The World And It Should Scare The Shit Out Of Us

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, published its most recent report on world wide military expenditures earlier this week.

Two headlines of the report pop out as significant.

The first is that Saudi Arabia has overtaken Russia in military spending, with $87.2 billion to Russia’s $66.4 billion, being behind only the United States and China, at $596 billion and $215 billion respectively.  The second is that, beyond the Western Hemisphere and Africa, worldwide military spending is on the rise.

These figures can be paired with known geopolitical trends and instances in order to project what particular actors may be thinking, as well as what is the world’s security zeitgeist.

First, the somewhat surprising figure of Saudi Arabia overtaking Russia in defense spending.

Russia has been working to modernize its armed forces through: professionalization, doctrinal evolution, and working to achieve technological parity with the West (particularly, but not exclusively, in electronic warfare, unmanned vehicles, and force projection).

Indeed, Moscow has been consistently increasing its defense spending since the 2000’s, into the current year.

However, in real terms, the Russian military budget has remained largely stable.  This is due to the fact that the Ruble is approximately half its value at the onset of the Ukrainian adventure.

A Ruble just isn’t worth what it used to be.

As a result, Russia’s modernization efforts are slowed for the foreseeable future, perhaps to be completed in the 2020s.

This is in contrast with Saudi Arabia’s large scale investment in weaponry to balance against Iran.

This is most noble in the three year old Royal Saudi Strategic Missile Force, first displaying this deterrent power in 2014, as well as procuring nearly $1.3 billion in American munitions.

These purchases seem to indicate that Saudi intends to keep Iran at arms length in the event of hostilities, utilizing its overwhelming number of missiles.

Iran in turn, due to the lifting of EU and US sanctions, will likely attempt to counter these Saudi gains.

Of course, Saudi and Russia are not the only ones preparing for conflict.

Asia leads the way in new defense spending, with $436 billion in new spending region wide.

This is driven in large part China’s need to deter American intervention in its periphery.  Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam also increased their spending in response to China’s bellicose enforcement of its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Afghan National Army soldiers drill in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan, November of 2008. Photo Credit: Afghanistan Matter/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Afghan National Army soldiers drill in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan, November of 2008. Photo Credit: Afghanistan Matter/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Europe is also continuing its trend of increased spending, in light of the Ukraine Crisis.  NATO’s biggest European spenders, Germany, France, and the UK, did not drive any growth.

But some of the Baltic states have built up their militaries.

This is likely due to the perceived threat of future Russian attempts to secure buffer space against the stronger alliance members, and unease about the Americans honoring their security agreements.

The outliers also a tell a story of the global arms buildup.

The Western Hemisphere is largely conflict free due to an end of the Cold War, and other imperialist interventions into Latin America largely subsiding after the Roosevelt administration’s attempt at being a “good neighbor”.

American hegemony over the region is uncontested.

Africa, despite being rife with conflict in: Libya, the Sinai, the West Coast, Somalia, Sudan, and the Congo, is largely devoid of great power politics.  Thus, large scale trends of regional military investment are not necessary.

These trends seem to indicate that military spending is increasingly becoming an acceptable investment of revenue in light of perceived dangers for nations from activist states.

This is potentially worrying, as periods of militarism tend to precede periods of conflict.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us!

Cover Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

I’m From The UK And Spent My College Years Fighting The NRA To Keep Guns Off Campus. Here’s What I’ve Learned

I was born in Sweden and grew up in the United Kingdom, a part of the world that conservatives in America denounce for their “cradle to the grave” welfare policies while also being a place that liberals think of as a utopia.

Europeans look at America and are mystified by it’s enduring racism and strange gun laws, but are also drawn to the promise of the American dream.

I was drawn to it too.

In 2013, I moved to Tallahassee, Florida for university.

Unbeknown to me, I had stepped into a National Rifle Association (NRA) battleground state, which would ultimately set the course of the rest of my college career.

Before I stumbled onto the campus carry debate, I had no idea what the term meant. I didn’t pay much attention to Florida politics, so learning that lawmakers wanted to allow people with concealed carry permits to bring their firearms on to campus, with no restrictions, was bewildering.

Which is why I decided to join the Florida Coalition To Keep Guns Off Campus as their Director of Communications.

The UK has some of the strictest gun laws in the world. I’m a fan of those laws. They helped keep me safe.

But I’m not here to force them on my fellow students. I simply want international students like me to have a say when such a dangerous bill could impact us, because my college campus is my home.

Europeans find America’s gun obsession both fascinating and disturbing. We question how a country, a leader in the modern world, struggles with doing anything about their gun violence problem.

It’s an issue unique to the US, when even the majority of police officers in the UK don’t have access to a gun, unless they join a special armed police unit.

In a country of 70 million people, only 6,000 police officers are armed. And the strategy seems to work.

Which is why the concept of arming everyone in society is just absurd to me. Especially on a college campus, where controversial ideas are discussed, students are failed by professors, and alcohol and drugs are frequently used.

I know some proponents of campus carry personally, and in no way am I suggesting that they would harm anyone. On a whole, our political leanings don’t impact how we behave in our day-to-day lives.

But as students, in an environment that essentially promotes, to quote Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa, “living young and wild and free” that is no place for a deadly weapon that can kill people.

To get into the nitty gritty of this, why do lawmakers, some constituents and even some students feel that the only way they’ll be safe is if they have a gun all the time?

Florida state capital complex. Photo Credit: Kristopher Volkman/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Florida state capital complex. Photo Credit: Kristopher Volkman/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

The NRA has peddled the “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” theory to push the narrative that a gun will provide you security because everyone else has one.

And it turns into this never-ending cycle of everyone wanting a gun to protect themselves from each other. The problem is, a “good guy with a gun” only stops a “bad guy with a gun” 3 percent of the time.

But that doesn’t stop the gun lobby. They further push their message out there, grasping on to the national conversation on campus sexual assault, and attempt to use it to their advantage.

Their argument is that a woman should be able to defend herself with a gun on campus if she feels her life is threatened. On its face, that may sound reasonable. The problem is: facts and variables. Every assault is different, and proclaiming that a gun is the answer to all of them is simplistic and ignoring real solutions.

Every time there’s a mass shooting, America is again forced to confront its addiction to guns.

As gun control activists and gun rights proponents face off in the national arena of public opinion, the British watch on in a perplexed manner.

Seeing this over and over again, I’ve come to realize trying to apply a British ideology on guns in the US is useless.

Of course, the statistics speak for themselves, higher rates of gun ownership in the US does equal in higher rates of gun violence. Clearly there is a problem. But the Second Amendment has to make us Europeans take into account the cultural significance of firearms in the US, so we understand why they are so voraciously defended.

For many, the Constitution is their bible (apart from, you know, the Bible). Who am I to dismiss that so casually?

But even when I put that in my pile of things to think about over my morning tea, I also know that the majority of American voters do want more gun regulation.

Even the majority of NRA members want universal background checks. So what is holding the US back?

Again, it’s the gun lobby. The NRA has stopped representing their members, and instead represents gun manufacturers, and with their financial muscle, most politicians cower in their presence.

How does this relate to campus carry? Allowing guns on campus is the NRA’s new mission, and although the political will for it isn’t as readily available even in red states, their campaigns are slowly gaining ground.

In Florida, we’ve managed to beat it two years in a row, but next year is looking to be our toughest yet because the NRA will put this on the top of their priority list and they’ll pour their resources into the Sunshine State.

Marion Hammer, the NRA’s former president turned lobbyist, comes back every session with a determined glint in her eye that admittedly I find a little scary. She’s such an effective lobbyist that Florida is sometimes referred to as the Gunshine State.

One interesting part of this whole conversation has been the NRA’s and Students for Concealed Carry’s manipulation of data.

They’ve compared US and UK violent crime rates, using the numbers as a justification for campus carry, and guns everywhere in general.

It is a completely misleading comparison.

Yes, violent crime rates in the UK are higher per capita. But they forget to mention that the violent crime definitions in the two countries are very different. In the UK, the definition is “all crimes against the person”. This includes bicycle theft, all domestic violence offences, all sexual offences, all assault offences and many more. And even the definitions of those crimes are broader in the UK.

In the US, the FBI definition is much narrower; “violent crime is composed of four offenses: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.” So there is no real way to compare the rates.

Florida House Rep. Julio Gonzalez, (R) made a similar argument, citing a ‘study’, that I later found and read. Two Harvard students who were gun rights activists, not researchers, wrote it. On top of that, the paper was severely criticized by the Director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, Dr. David Hemenway.

How does the Florida Coalition To Keep Guns Off Campus, a group that just doesn’t have access to resources like the gun lobby, beat them again?

I’ll be honest, I’m concerned.

The logo for the National Rifle Association. Photo Credit: Bart/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

The logo for the National Rifle Association. Photo Credit: Bart/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Our continued efforts to combat their problematic ‘solution’ to sexual assault and mass shootings in an educational environment resonates with the majority of students, but will it resonate with legislators in 2017?

It’s certainly interesting that legislators are so ready to consider and pass guns on campus, when every university stakeholder that has spoken out has said they don’t want it. But a bill that would have allowed guns in legislative meetings hasn’t moved forward since last year. A little hypocritical, no? If Florida legislators really believe guns lead to greater safety, then they’d want to flood legislative chambers with them.

As of now, this issue isn’t going away.

Florida is on the NRA’s priority list. Students, staff and faculty need to pull together for the 2017 legislative session.

And what am I doing? I graduate this semester, so I get to go back to my cozy gun-free London, and watch this whole situation unfold from afar.

But now that I’ve gotten to know all these amazing people during our fight against these farcical bills, I know I’ll be somberly watching as they do it again without me.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us!

What Are The Panama Papers And Why Should Young People Care?

You’ve probably been hearing a lot about something called the Panama Papers in recent days.

That’s because on Sunday morning The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and other media organizations announced the largest data leak in the history of journalism.

The leak contained 2.6 terabytes of information with over 11.5 million files that identified corruption amongst some of the top political figures in the world. It’s larger than the Wikileaks leak in 2010 or what Edward Snowden brought to light in 2013.

Now, what is in the leak exactly?

Mossack Fonseca is a law firm which specializes in the creation of shell companies and offshore accounts. It’s where the rich stash their ill-gotten or legally obtained earnings from their governments. These accounts are completely legal and can be used to protect their assets from raids or simply for inheritance reasons and estate planning.

However, there are other common reasons for stashing money in a offshore company, such as money laundering, dodging sanctions, and avoiding taxes.

The firm is based out of Panama but runs a worldwide operation.

On their website they claim to have a global network with 600 people working in 42 countries. It has franchises around the world.

It operates in tax havens including Switzerland, Cyprus, the British Virgin Islands, Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man.

Mossack Fonseca has their fingers dipped in many questionable pies. From Africa’s diamond trade, the international art market, to dealing with Middle Eastern royals and Russian oligarchs.

Data. It's what's for dinner. Photo Credit: www.cwcs.co.uk/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Data. It will get ya bro. Photo Credit: www.cwcs.co.uk/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

The firm rejects that it has ever been involved with dirty money.

“Recent media reports have portrayed an inaccurate view of the services that we provide and, despite our efforts to correct the record, misrepresented the nature of our work and its role in global financial markets,” a statement on the Mossack Fonseca reads. “These reports rely on supposition and stereotypes, and play on the public’s lack of familiarity with the work of firms like ours.”

FIFA:

FIFA, the international football association, an organization often connected to corruption and scandal, is also featured.

The leaked documents allegedly show that FIFA ethics committee member Juan Pedro Damiani, a Uruguayan lawyer, had business links with three men who have been indicted by U.S. officials on corruption charges: former FIFA vice president Eugenio Figueredo and father and son Hugo and Mariano Jinkis.

The latter two were convicted of paying bribes to obtain broadcast rights for soccer matches in South America. Documents show that Damiani’s law firm represented a company registered to Jinkis and seven others registered to Figueredo in a tax haven.

World Leaders: 

Interestingly, the British government has been especially vocal against offshore companies in recent years, but Prime Minister David Cameron hasn’t come out of this squeaky clean. His late father is one of the names revealed in the leak.

It is not yet clear, if Cameron himself has financially gained from off shore accounts.

According to some of the reporting in the aftermath of the leak, Mossack Fonseca has helped Russian President Vladimir Putin hide $2 billion, setting up offshore banks under the name of two of his close acquaintances.

Iceland's Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson resigned Tuesday after a large public outcry from the Panama Papers. Photo Credit: Control Arms/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson resigned Tuesday after a large public outcry after he was named in the Panama Papers. Photo Credit: Control Arms/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

The now former Prime Minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, has also been implicated and was facing calls for his resignation as the public’s confidence in his leadership had been shattered.

He resigned on Tuesday, and is the first political casualty. Also listed are Iceland’s minister of finance, Bjarni Benediktsson, and Iceland’s Interior Minister, Olof Nordal.

China’s leaders have relatives who are named in the leak, propelling the government to limit local access to western media coverage of the leak and accusing them of being biased.

In a further twist, documents show Mossack Fonseca’s links to Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of the Syrian president, even though Washington imposed sanctions Makhlouf in 2008.

Though the firm is under no obligation to comply with US sanctions, it was legally bound to react to EU measures in 2011. It took until September of that year for the firm to finally resign from Makhlouf’s companies. By that time, Syria was in the middle of a genocidal civil war.

Other world leaders in the leak include Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister; Ayad Allawi, ex-interim prime minister and former vice-president of Iraq; Petro Poroshenko, president of Ukraine; and Alaa Mubarak, son of Egypt’s former president, just to name a few.

The list of questionable characters goes on, although it gets worse. It includes Ponzi schemers, drug kingpins, tax evaders, dictators and at least one jailed sex offender.

And that’s when it becomes unbearable. The sex offender was a U.S. businessman traveling to Russia to have sex with underage orphans. He signed papers for an offshore company while he was serving his prison sentence in New Jersey.

It’s notable that Mossack Fonseca is the fourth biggest provider of offshore services, meaning that if this much information is coming from this company, larger law firms with these same services must have shocking anonymous beneficiaries.

In reply to ICIJ questions about their methods, Mossack Fonseca said that backdating of documents “is a well-founded and accepted practice” that is “common in our industry and its aim is not to cover up or hide unlawful acts.” The company is extremely protective of their clients’ privacy.

Honestly, should we be surprised by this leak?

The exposé once again emphasizes the need for world financial reform. It shows that not only is the global tax system broken, but with so many world leaders involved, global governance itself is fractured too.

Due to this leak the ability of the super rich to hide their money may be made more difficult. But if government officials themselves are doing this, how are we meant to expect them to do anything about tax havens?

The storm may be about to arrive in the United States as well.

A reporter from the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung responded to tweets about the lack of names from the United States, by saying “Just wait for what’s coming.”

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us!

Cover Photo Credit: Jon Gosier/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Who Would the World Vote For As President of the United States?

While only, approximately, 235 million people have the opportunity to vote for President of the United States of America, that does not make interest in the outcome of that contest a solely American interest.

The President of the United States is uniquely powerful in affairs outside the borders of the United States, and will thus often impact the lives of a great number of non Americans.

Thus, it may be of at least passing interest to perspective voters who their peers across the world endorse as the next President.

A caveat before I begin, this list will not examine all 192+ sovereign countries on the Earth, but a handful relevant to American interests. It should also be noted that, just as in the United States, no country is politically homogenous. There are some attempts to reflect this, but the law of averages tells us that there was probably someone in India who was disappointed when Lincoln Chaffee dropped out.

China:

The Diplomat ran an excellent piece, based largely on the work of Matt Hartzell which examined the voting preferences of users of Chinese survey site, Zhihu.

Out of 450 respondents, most identified with Republican candidates, and a whopping 38% with Donald Trump. In a subsequent poll launched by Mr. Hartzell on Zhihu, the candidates feelings on various issues were briefly expounded upon, resulting in both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders trouncing the Republican field.

These findings seem to contradict various Chinese bloggers, according to Foreign Policy, who claim that Clinton is unfairly critical of China. These harsh feelings would also likely extend to both Sanders and Ted Cruz who have both supported anti-Chinese legislation during their tenure in the Senate.

Trump has also been stridently anti-China, despite saying that he has lots of Chinese tenants in some of his buildings.

China probably doesn’t have much of a favorite in this field of leading Presidential candidates.

Russia: 

The cooperative mood between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump has been well documented, and likely assisted by Trump’s anti-NATO stance.

The endorsement of President Putin likely influences Mr. Trump’s popularity among Russians, based on Putin’s own approval ratings. State news entity Sputnik News has published a number of articles praising Trump.

France:

France’s government has presented a consistent anti-Trump front.

Shortly after Mr. Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim Immigrants, Prime Minister Manuel Valls tweeted, “Trump, like others, stokes hatred and conflations: our ONLY enemy is radical Islamism”.

The ” others” being referred to is France’s own nativist party, the National Front. The ever delightful French Ambassador to the United States, Géraud Araud, also frequently bashes Trump and the similar National Front movement in his own country. It should then come as no surprise that National Front founder, and political kindred spirit on: trade, immigration, and NATO, Jean-Marie Le Pen offered his support for a Trump Presidency.

However, if the results of France’s recent regional elections are any indicationLe Pen’s support is worth little.

France24, one of France’s premiere international news sites, is pretty scant on individual coverage for the other Republican candidates, though John Kasich received some praise for his positions following his second place showing in New Hampshire.

On the Democratic side, Clinton seems to be more popular than Sanders. Nicholas Sarkozy, head of Les Republicains and presumptive candidate for President of the center right party, offered his support for her candidacy.

Meanwhile, Sanders appears to be an after thought on France24’s search algorithms. This may be more reflective of the Senator’s more recent rise to prominence than his agreeability to the average Frenchman however.

Israel & Palestine:

Starting with Palestine, it is safe to assume that Cruz and Rubio competing during debates over who has more disdain for the Palestinian national movement does not endear them to Palestinians.

Kasich and Trump likely would not fair better, due to the former justifying illegal settlements in the West Bank and the latter’s support for moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in addition to anti-Muslim comments over the past year.

The consensus among Fatah, the Arab Center for research and Policy Decisions, and Al-Najah National University, among others, appears to be that Clinton, while no friend to the Palestinian national movement, is preferable to her Republican competition, according to Al-Monitor.

Sanders in the past has expressed solidarity with Palestinians as well as opposition to military aid to Israel, though his position seems to have shifted to a position that equivocates violence between Israel and Palestine.

Never the less, it seems that Sanders is the more palatable candidate for Palestinians at large.

Among Israelis, national polling done by The Times of Israel found that 38% of Israelis would favor a President Clinton, followed by 23% endorsing a Trump Administration. Sanders, Cruz, and Rubio brought up the rear with 7, 5, and 4 respectively, and leaving 23% of respondents unsure.

This seems to reflect that the opinions of Prime Minister Netanyahu are not influential on Israeli opinions on American Presidential candidates, as the Prime Minister has shamed Mr. Trump for his anti-Muslim comments, whilst presumably being very friendly with Senator Cruz who was among the first to congratulate Netanyahu on his recent electoral victory.

This small sample size of four countries, and one aspirant country, is not representative of the world at large, but is representative of a few of the places most relevant to American interests.

It would be wise then as American voters to consider the political opinions of our friends and rivals abroad, including those not mentioned here, so as to best mold the world in a positive way over the next four years.

Is there a country that we missed that you would be interested in learning more about? Tell us in the comments below!

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us!

Cover Photo Credit: Nicolas Raymond/ Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Can This Young South African Change The Way The World Looks At Farming?

By: Lungani Gumede

UMLAZI TOWNSHIP, SOUTH AFRICA: Growing up in a rural village has many advantages and some of society’s favorite stories involve a dusty footed hero making it big in the city.

One of the biggest advantages of living in a rural setting is being thrust into the natural environment early on in ones life.

The surrounding forests, fields and rivers are a playground for children and, like other children, Dumisani Msweli quickly became infatuated with this environment.

He used to live with his grandmother in rural Umbumbulu, thirty minutes away from where Kwa-Zulu Natal’s coast meets the Indian Ocean.

However, Dumisani moved to be with his mother and stepfather in Umlazi township, the third largest township in South Africa, just outside of Durban.

Umlazi was one of them.

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A view of Umlazi. Photo Credit: Lungani Gumede

With a population of close to 405,000 in an area that is 47.46km squared (8,500 people per square kilometre) the township is compacted and land that is supposed to fit one family, has had to accommodate four or five houses on one plot.

So any arable land would have been converted into space for dwellings.

However, Dumisani always felt love for plants and trees and never forgot his passion.

After high school, Dumisani went to University and graduated with a degree in Nutrition, but that was not his passion.

“One of my mentors advised me to follow my passion,” Dumisani said in an interview with RISE NEWS

Which is what he did by going back to school. He received a National Diploma in Horticulture from the Durban University of Technology.

Dumisani then says he “saw a need and an opportunity in the township,” a need for work, cheap products and a cleaner environment.

This is how Ibala Organics was born.

Ibala means “backyard” or “garden” in isiZulu and Dumisani quickly realized that other amabala or “openspace” that belonged to the people in the community were the key to creating a sustainable, consistently fruitful business for the township of Umlazi.

Dumisani’s idea was to rent and buy land from inside the community, such as gardens, backyards and schoolyards and plant tropical and subtropical fruits and then sell those fruits to supermarkets and fruit processors.

By shortening and localizing his supply chain, Dumisani says there will be no need for expensive refrigeration or transportation.

The initiative will sell its fruits (pun intended) to fruit processors and supermarkets, which means that the gardens will need to provide its wares regularly and on time and the more “amabala” they have, the better.

Ibala already has a square kilometre of household backyard space that it has acquired and processed and a further 1.5 kilometre squared space from schoolyards that are being cultivated for the planting of vegetables in April.

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Space is at a premium in Umlazi. Photo Credit: Lungani Gumede

However, Dumisani says he is always on the lookout and constantly negotiating for more spaces.

Ibala Organics aims to provide communities with a very valuable second income, without actually having to toil the land.

Dumisani hires people from the community to work with him and is adamant that he wants to give opportunities to people who just left school with the right qualifications, over eight million people are unemployed in South Africa and university-leaving degree-bearing young people are not being hired.

Besides the good that Ibala Organics will do for the economies of the communities it operates in, Dumisani says “it is our vision to plant the value of tree’s in people’s lives.”

Dumisani wants to ensure that the people who will be participating in Ibala Organics gain a love for the plants and trees that he will be planting.

Getting buy-in from the community was not a problem for Dumisani, because he started close to home – on his own street.

Once he had proven his model to those close to home, it was easier to get support from neighboring communities.

The drought that has hit South Africa has not severely impacted on Ibala’s crop of tropical and subtropical fruit, such as Mangoes,paw paw, avocado, banana, granadilla, citrus fruit and litchi and in April they hope to add vegetables to the offering.

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Dumisani Msweli. Photo Credit: Lungani Gumede

Ibala Organics will soon be completely operational and the gardens of Umlazi will be home to trees and plants with heavy-hanging branches bearing fruit and vegetables.

Perhaps Ibala Organics and Dumisani will create a wave across the 400,000 people strong township that encourages local products and unity in the community.

A hand-in-hand initiative for the people, by the people.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us!

Know of a story that needs to be told? Send us an email to editor@risenews.net

Cover Photo Credit: Red Bull/ Screengrab

Japan Needs To Have A Lot More Sex Or The Country Could Collapse Into The Sea

The Japanese population is rapidly declining.

The population has lost almost one million people over the past five years.

This decline has been long predicted by demographers but the world’s third largest economy has been unable to find a solution.

The situation is dire and hard to overstate.

If Japan can’t start having many more babies then the country will face great challenges later on in the century. These challenges could undermine the very core of the country’s social order.

Japan has one of the world’s lowest fertility rates, 1.41 children per woman in 2012.

As a result, the number of people 65 and over has increased from 12.1% in 1990 to 26% in 2014.

Furthermore, estimates put Japan’s retirement age population at 40% of the total national population by 2060.

This would likely put a tremendous burden on Japan’s social safety net, state pensions alone being ¥792,100 per year ($6,960.76). This accounts for nearly 33% of Japan’s national budget in 2015 and it will only continue to balloon as the years roll on.

Having to cope with close to half of your population being in need of geriatric care is not a problem exclusive to Japan.

There is a lot of pressure on young people in Japan to have more children. But will they listen? Photo Credit: J3SSL33/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

There is a lot of pressure on young people in Japan to have more children. But will they listen? Photo Credit: J3SSL33/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

China recently revoked and replaced its One Child Policy, with the Two Child Policy.

In part this is to combat China’s low fertility rates, 1.66 births per woman, and in part to counter act the imbalance between the number of men and women, a 30 million person disparity.

Other low fertility countries include, but are not limited to: Singapore (0.81), South Korea (1.18), Germany (1.44), Russia (1.61), The United States (1.87), and the United Kingdom (1.89). All of these nations have fertility rates incapable of sustaining their current populations without immigration helping to offset the disparity.

Elderly populations then are not only a threat to the economic growth of Japan, but to advanced economies in general.

It would then seem that in order to combat global population decline, and with a greater number of developing nations creating advanced economies, nations may need to compete for immigrants in order to sustain their populations.

This may be particularly difficult for Japan, due to the relative difficulty in learning its national language, and a culture that is not as used to welcoming immigrants as many of its potential competitors.

Of course the other way for Japan to get back to an equilibrium in terms of old and young is to have young people have more children- lots more children. The government has tried many different methods, including offering to pay parents to have kids, but it has had little impact.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Cover Photo Credit: Freedom II Andres/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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