The Great GOP Migration: How South Florida became a shadow capital for Trump conservatives

Trump mask Miami
Supporters of then-President Donald Trump in Miami after the 2020 election.

  • As conservatives flee Blue State hostility and lockdowns, South Florida has become a GOP power base.
  • The GOP social calendar orbits Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, while revelers party mask-free at swank house parties and penthouses.
  • Greater Miami has lured California tech and right-wing news. Florida’s politics is meanwhile shifting Red.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Brittney Reed needed to get in front of Donald Trump and it had to happen fast.

It was the eve of two special elections in Louisiana, and Reed–the head of the Louisiana GOP–knew an endorsement from Trump could make the difference. So, she had secured a last-minute ticket for a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago and flew to Palm Beach to make her case in person.

It was mid-March, and Mar-a-Lago had partially closed a section of the club after several workers tested positive for COVID-19. But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who became a national figure for loosening coronavirus restrictions, had booked the club for the evening and his event went on as planned.

When DeSantis and Trump finished their remarks, Reed made a beeline for the former president to discuss the two Republicans she wanted in Congress: Julia Letlow, the widow of congressman-elect Luke Letlow, who had died from COVID complications, and Claston Bernard, a former LSU track star.

Trump turned to DeSantis and others around him.

“Ron, what do you think of this race here?” Trump said, according to sources with knowledge of the event. (Representatives for Trump, DeSantis, and Bernard did not respond to Insider’s questions about the encounter.) “Is it possible, what do you think?”

The crowd agreed that Letlow was a good bet, while DeSantis said Bernard’s seat “wasn’t winnable” because the district was heavily Democratic. Trump had praised Letlow before, but it wasn’t widely known his removal from social media platforms had silenced the former president’s preferred megaphone. “How am I going to do this endorsement if I do it?” Trump asked.

Mar a Lago better
The Atlantic Ocean is seen adjacent to former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, in 2018

“Put a press release out. We’ll get it everywhere,” Reed said.

The following day, Trump released a statement promoting Letlow’s candidacy. She won easily.

Mar-a-La-Go-Go

South Florida has long been a haven for those fleeing frigid winters and high taxes. Once the pandemic began, a jet set of monied Manhattanites, tech entrepreneurs, and untethered influencers restless from Blue State lockdowns flocked to Miami en masse — helping turn Greater Miami into a conservative power base.

Once Mar-a-Lago went from being Trump’s “Winter White House” to full-time residence, the Republican Party’s social calendar has increasingly orbited his beachfront Xanadu.

“Republicans used to go to the Upper East Side to raise money but most of those people aren’t even in New York anymore. They’re in their second home in South Florida,” said Adam Weiss, a Miami-based public relations executive. “Now that New York completely shut down, that drove a whole new group of people to come down here.”

So far this year, Trump’s members-only resort has hosted high-dollar soirees for DeSantis, Utah Senator Mike Lee, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Alabama Senate candidate Lynda Blanchard.

“I have to say, I’m getting calls from senators, they all want our endorsement and I’m being very selective,” Trump said at the Noem gathering, which donors paid $4,000 to attend.

Party honchos even relocated their confabs to South Florida to ensure a Trump appearance.

The American Conservative Union switched its annual CPAC event from suburban Maryland to Orlando in February to avoid limits on large indoor gatherings. It was there that Trump made his first public remarks since leaving office.

Trump won
Former President Trump’s supporters gather near his Mar-a-Lago home on Feb. 15, 2021.

The Republican National Committee picked Palm Beach for its spring donor retreat in April and set a portion of the weekend at Mar-a-Lago to appease Trump after officials angered the former president by using his image in its fundraisers.

When Air Force One touched down in West Palm Beach on Jan. 20, hundreds of MAGA-hatted faithful lined Southern Boulevard gripping blue “Trump 2020” flags and hand painted “Trump Won” signs as the former president’s motorcade whizzed by.

It was a far friendlier atmosphere than he had lately experienced in Manhattan, where raucous protesters would pack Fifth Avenue, at the foot of Trump Tower, whenever Trump returned from Washington.

“It’s a wealthy place and there’s not many places where there are so many heavy hitters who are Republican,” Weiss said.

Arrest Trump 2
A protest in front of Trump Tower on March 8, 2021 along New York’s Fifth Ave.

“Isn’t it so nice that Miami is open?”

Power lunches in Palm Beach still reign among Trump’s inner circle. Rudy Giuliani is known to hold court at The Breakers and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been seen dining at La Bilboquet, a Worth Avenue outpost of a high-end Manhattan eatery that opened in February. The afterparty crowd for Mar-a-Lago events often hits Cucina Palm Beach where Kimberly Guilfoyle, who purchased a $9.7 million mansion with her boyfriend Don Jr. in nearby Jupiter, has been spotted dancing on the tables.

The love for Trump spreads 70 miles south of Mar-a-Lago to Miami, a city that never sleeps thanks to many coronavirus restrictions lifting months ago.

They pack into Carbone, one of the restaurants dotting Collins Avenue in South Beach. Or Socialista, a swanky lounge attached to Cipriani Restaurant, where transplants from San Francisco start-ups rub shoulders with maskless models and the occasional conservative influencer, before moving on to an all-night party at a South Beach penthouse or at the Star Island mansion of plastic surgeon Leonard Hochstein and “Real Housewives of Miami” star Lisa Hochstein.

“Isn’t it so nice that Miami is open?” one tech founder, who called himself a COVID refugee, said. “I’m so over COVID.”

But the hottest reservation in Biscayne Bay is Joia Beach, a Mykonos-inspired beach club with views of megayachts and the Miami skyline.

There’s currently a three-month wait on Open Table but VIPs like Akon, Maluma, Adriana Lima, hedge fund manager Dan Loeb, and Tiffany Trump have snagged tables to nibble on Tasmanian trout crudo ($20), Turkish octopus ($30), and winter fennel and crab salad ($28).

It helps to be on a texting basis with one of the restaurant’s partners. Others have tried more unusual measures.

“People have swam in,” Marko Gojanovic, a Joia Beach partner and real estate agent, said. “There are people who have tried to pull jet skis in areas we can’t see. People have paddled up to us. Thank God we have security.”

Ron and Kim
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Kimberly Guilfoyle at a Trump campaign rally at Orlando Sanford International Airport in 2020.

Coronavirus is still raging in Florida a year after the pandemic began. The state has had more than 2 million cases and 33,000 deaths, with a quarter of the state’s total occurring in Miami-Dade County alone. But South Floridians–old timers and new arrivals alike–have largely shed their coronavirus concerns like a chunky sweater at the beach.

No one shames people for forgoing masks at hotels and restaurants or packing house parties. Mar-a-Lago remains a mask-free zone.

Contrast that to what happened in the northeast last winter, when a video of a Queens Republican club’s Christmas party, featuring a maskless conga line, gained 3.7 million views online and drew torrents of condemnation. Manhattan Young Republicans were so spooked by the media they held their winter gala at a secret location in New Jersey.

Washington has become less hospitable to Trump-friendly conservatives too. American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp said he’s had several hostile encounters with progressives in public. He and his wife, former White House communications aide Mercedes Schlapp, are eyeing a move south.

“I was eating a salad last weekend at a restaurant in Old Town Alexandria and was berated by a woman who called me an ‘a–hole,'” Schlapp said. “Usually you have to cut someone off in traffic to earn that kind of title but here you just have to be someone recognized for being a Republican.”

The Great Republican Migration

South Florida has been beckoning conservatives for years, but locals say the influx has accelerated since Trump took office in 2017.

Thank U Trump
Supporters of outgoing US President Donald Trump await his return to West Palm Beach, Florida.

Fox News is still headquartered in Manhattan but other right-wing outlets have proliferated along the Gold Coast. Newsmax, the Boca Raton-based cable channel, is adding a news bureau in Miami later this year. Conservative radio host and Palm City resident Dan Bongino is one of several commentators trying out for the slot that Rush Limbaugh anchored from Palm Beach until his death earlier this year. Far-right podcaster Bill Mitchell has been broadcasting his YourVoice America program from Miami since 2019. And MAGA influencer Maggie Vandenberghe fled California for Palm Beach this winter.

The party’s donor class soon followed. Billionaires fleeing Blue State progressivism decamped to Miami’s most exclusive islands. Palantir co-founder and Republican megadonor Peter Thiel plunked down $18 million in September for a Venetian Islands chateau where MTV’s “The Real World: Miami” was filmed. Founders Fund partner Keith Rabois chided San Francisco for being “massively improperly run and managed” before dropping $29 million on an estate near Thiel in December, while Blumberg Capital’s David Blumberg blamed “poor governance” in California before making his cross-country journey.

“Miami should be the easiest and cheapest city in the country for somebody to start a business,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said. “I want to make sure everyone around the country knows that Miami is here to help you grow, not keep you from growing.”

A political shift is underway

Florida’s transformation from swingy purple to deeper red would have been unthinkable two decades ago when George W. Bush won the state and the presidency by a minuscule 537 votes. Southeast Florida swelled more than a million people since 2000 but it is far less of a Democratic stronghold than it used to be.

Trump and FL GOP
US President Donald Trump at Florida’s Lake Okeechobee in 2019, with Governor Ron DeSantis and Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio.

President Barack Obama won Palm Beach County by 24 points and Miami-Dade by 16 points in 2008 en route to statewide victories during both presidential campaigns. But Trump won twice by making up ground in Democratic counties.

Florida Republicans knocked doors for months boosting turnout while the Biden curtailed canvassing during the health crisis. The Trump campaign also accused Democrats of supporting socialist policies — a message that resonated among Cuban and Venezuelan immigrants who fled brutal left-wing regimes.

“Democrats were flat-footed in dealing with accusations of socialism in commercials where people had lived under the boot of socialism,” Dan Gelber, Democratic mayor of South Beach, said. “I don’t think we responded aggressively enough.”

Latino voters in Miami-Dade also feared economic damage from school and business closures more than getting sick, according to voter data Equis analyzed.

miami volleyball
Beachgoers play volleyball on Dec. 19, 2020 in South Beach.

“As bad as the coronavirus pandemic was in terms of caseloads and deaths, apparently a lot more Floridians were concerned with the economy and that certainly helped Trump,” Aubrey Jewett, University of Central Florida political science professor, said.

Trump’s presence in Florida has benefited the state’s ambitious officeholders. Ron DeSantis has become a 2024 frontrunner in several polls after being one of the first governors to reopen his state. Marco Rubio has a clear shot at re-election and is again seen as a likely presidential candidate.

While the coronavirus has sped up the conservative influx, it’s not clear what will happen once the pandemic recedes. New arrivals could stay in South Florida now that remote work has become more prevalent and there’s less of a need for face-to-face meetings.

There’s always been a stigma about Miami but people told me in their New York circles that stigma has been lifted,” said Reid Heidenry, a Sotheby’s agent who sold over $100 million in real estate in the past year, said. “In the business world, it’s now socially acceptable to live in a place like Miami Beach.”

Whether a COVID refugee or long-time fixture of Miami Beach, there’s one thing that’s indisputable across party lines.

“Freedom tastes pretty good,” Zangrillo said at a house party.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The meeting with two trans women that might have helped convince the Arkansas governor to oppose the anti-trans bill

Trans rights
People take part in rally outside New York’s Stonewall Inn in 2017.

  • Arkansas has become the first state to block transition-related care for trans youth.
  • Gov. Hutchinson said he met with trans people before deciding to reject the bill, though lawmakers overrode his veto.
  • The state’s only openly trans elected official spoke to Insider about her meeting with the governor.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Shortly before Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed a bill that would make Arkansas the first state to block transition-related care for trans youth, he sat down with two trans women to better understand its impact.

On Tuesday afternoon, the state legislature voted to override Hutchinson’s veto, paving the way for it to take effect if the law survives legal challenges. Still, the governor’s veto a day earlier came as a surprise to many LGBTQ advocates around the country, as Hutchinson had already signed two other anti-trans bills, one banning trans girls from girl’s scholastic sports, and the other a sweeping religious exemption for health care providers who can now turn away LGBTQ patients for non-emergencies.

An account of the meeting between the Republican governor, the state’s only openly trans elected official, and an 18-year-old trans women may shed some light on Hutchinson’s surprising opposition to the bill.

The meeting, on March 30, was expected to last 30 minutes, according to Evelyn Rios Stafford, a Justice of the Peace in Fayetteville, who is openly trans.

But the governor had so many questions that it ran 10 minutes long, she said.

“He had a lot of questions,” Rios Stafford told Insider. “I could tell that this was not an issue that he was super familiar with at all.”

A spokesperson for the governor did not respond to questions about the meeting, but Hutchinson has said that he met with trans people and healthcare providers before reaching his decision. The young trans woman who was also present was not immediately available to discuss it.

Rios Stafford said that, as she watched the governor’s press conference less than a week after they had sat across from one another, she heard him echo some of what had come up in their closed-door meeting.

“The bill is overbroad, extreme, and does not grandfather those who are under hormone treatment,” Hutchinson said during his press conference. “I want people in Arkansas and across the country that whether they’re transgender or otherwise, that they’re loved, they’re appreciated, they make part of our state, and we want to send the message of tolerance and diversity.”

The message meant a lot to Rios Stafford, who said she can’t remember a southern Republican governor ever saying that trans people are loved, important members of the state.

Arkansas’ bill, HB 1570, bans puberty blockers and other transition-related care for trans minors. But it is not just limited to harming trans kids, and introduces a host of further restrictions on care for trans adults. It bans state funds, such as Medicaid, from being used towards transition care for trans people of any age.

Studies have shown that puberty blockers help relieve dysphoria triggered by an adolescent’s puberty, and vastly improves mental health overall. The treatment is widely accepted within the medical community, with endorsements from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the Endocrine Society, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson

The March 30 meeting was set up by Nicole Clowney, a Democratic state Representative from Fayetteville, Rios Stafford said.

She said that while she was used to meetings with other elected officials being super policy-focused, she was a bit nervous to speak with the governor about an issue that was so personal to her. But she was encouraged that the governor asked specifically how the trans community has been feeling, given all of the hostility of this legislative session.

“He asked how the trans community is reacting to all the bills that the legislature is sending his way,” she said, and told the governor about the community’s anxiety. “Honestly, they’re worried,” she explained. “They don’t know what else is coming down the pipeline.”

Rios Stafford said she explained to the governor that the bill would make life unlivable for a lot of trans people in Arkansas, and that she had been hearing from a lot of folks who are planning to flee the state as soon as possible. “I think that pained him a little bit to hear that,” she said.

The young trans woman told her story of coming out and transitioning in her Arkansas high school, and how she worried the wave of bills passed by state lawmakers would signal a green light for cisgender kids to bully and alienate trans kids.

The governor brought up specific medical questions about the treatments given to trans kids to treat gender dysphoria, Rios Stafford was able to answer some of those questions, but said she deferred to medical experts on others.

At one point during the meeting, Rios Stafford tried to appeal to the governor’s political values as a libertarian and a conservative.

“I was like, ‘Governor, I thought Republicans were supposed to be the party of small government,'” she said, noting that the governor smiled at that comment. “A lot of these bills are reaching down into the classrooms between teachers and their students. They’re reaching down in between families and their doctors. They’re reaching in between coaches and their teams. This is big government.”

Rios Stafford said she emerged from the meeting cautiously optimistic, but prepared for the governor to sign the bill anyway.

“The fact that he asked how the trans community is reacting, at least shows that he acknowledges the existence of the trans community,” Rios Stafford said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Putin’s spies are getting sloppy: ‘America isn’t sending a guy to your house to kill you with a hammer, but the Russians will,’ NATO official says

Hammer
Russian agents have become less fussy about how they conduct covert operations in Europe, making them easier to detect.

  • Bulgaria arrested six people allegedly spying for Russia inside NATO. One spy was nicknamed “The Resident.”
  • NATO officials were shocked at their “amateurish” lack of espionage tradecraft.
  • “They should have taken the time and been more careful to isolate each agent so that they didn’t all end up starring in a YouTube video,” a source tells Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

It was one of Russia’s deepest infiltrations of NATO in recent years, and the nickname given to one of the spies was reminiscent of a John Le Carré novel: “The Resident.”

There were clandestine exchanges of cash for secrets in the centre of Sofia, Bulgaria. Officials were seen counting out cash in Bulgarian government offices. And at the center of it all was a dual national Russian-Bulgarian citizen married to a top defense ministry official.

The Russian spies posing as diplomats in the Russian embassy in Sofia focused their recruiting efforts on the top echelons of the Bulgarian defense establishment, as the newest member of NATO. Their specific target, according to both Bulgarian media reports and officials who spoke to Insider, was a new NATO facility on the Black Sea.

All told, six Bulgarians with close ties to either Russia or defense ministry projects were arrested for espionage.

But in a 20-minute video released by Bulgarian intelligence a few days later, the reality was less like a slick espionage thriller: The Russians had retained a crew of bumblers whose only skill was their proximity to Bulgaria’s secrets.

Russia spy cash

A tasking memo written ‘in illiterate Bulgarian’

“They’ve got the wife of a prominent figure in the defense industry – who happens to hold dual Bulgarian-Russian passports – coordinating a bunch of agents herself and she’s on video taking meetings at the embassy and in public with Russian officials,” said a NATO counterintelligence official who works undercover and cannot be named.

“And who is running this woman – again married to one of the top agents – on the Russian side? The top two Russian diplomats at the embassy in Sofia run her themselves to the point they’re caught on video with her,” said the NATO official. “This isn’t a bunch of dumb thugs from the GRU [Russian military intelligence] either, this is the proper SVD [a premier Russian intelligence service previously known as KGB] running operations from an embassy in a NATO capital.”

The counterintelligence official was particularly shocked at both the clumsy nature of the operation and the bizarre lack of language skills of those running it, considering the spies involved would have been elite intelligence officials with extensive language training who were working in Bulgarian, a Slavic language with close ties to Russia. (There is a lengthy Twitter thread discussing details of the failed operation here, by the journalist Christo Grozev of Bellingcat.)

“The tasking memo was pretty amateurish but normal I guess, they wanted as much info on anything related to NATO that wasn’t Bulgarian because they don’t care about Bulgaria they clearly only care about foreign NATO officers. But that it’s in illiterate Bulgarian makes me crazy. An American or French officer with terrible Bulgarian – but good Russian – would make sense but the SVD has no excuse,” the official told Insider.

‘That’s a major mistake to leave all the sub-agents exposed in a single trail’

After months of closely watching the two Russian officers meet the handler and his wife, Bulgarian authorities became convinced that they had the entire cell under surveillance because of the single point of contact between the spies: The woman who was married to the top official involved, nicknamed “The Resident” by Bulgarian officials, a play on an old KGB term for a spy.

“It looks like maybe the Russians recruited this single MOD official, who then expanded the network to include others and it was all run through that central point,” said the NATO official of the spycraft involved.

“That’s a major mistake to leave all the sub-agents exposed in a single trail: In this case [if you] figure out The Resident or his wife then you have caught all the agents, not just one,” said the official. “It can be hard to arrange but this is a valuable agent in a NATO MOD [Ministry of Defence]. They should have taken the time and been more careful to isolate each agent so that they didn’t all end up starring in a YouTube video.”

‘It’s as if they don’t really care’

The NATO official said that Bulgaria’s success in the past at catching Russian agents should have been a warning that the situation posed challenges to spy operations:

  • In 2020, Bulgaria deported four top Russian diplomats for spying.
  • In 2019 it banned a former Russian intelligence official from entering Bulgaria over spying claims.
  • And in 2015 Bulgaria saw the first use of the Novichok nerve agent by Russian spies in an attempt to kill a Bulgarian arms dealer who had run afoul of the Kremlin. Novichok was later used in Salisbury in 2018 on a defected Russian spy and his daughter and in 2020 the same substance was used to poison Russian dissident politician Alexei Navalny.

“They get caught a lot in Bulgaria but like everywhere else it’s as if they don’t really care,” said the NATO official. There has been a string of Russian operations in Europe that were so messy they were quickly detected.

“We end up seeing so many Russian operations because they’re crazy: America isn’t sending a guy to your house to kill you with a hammer, but the Russians will. And if you send a guy to kill someone with a hammer or nerve agents the message you send is that you don’t care if you get caught.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

I sat through Chuck Lorre’s cringe new Afghan War sitcom in Kabul so you don’t have to

usofa cheers
Parker Young as Riley and Adhir Kalyan as Al on CBS’s “United States of Al”

  • “United States of Al” will premier on April 1 on CBS.
  • The odd-couple sitcom is about a U.S. Marine who helps his Afghan interpreter come to America.
  • The author of this review, Ali Latifi, is based in Kabul and got an advance look at two episodes.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Kabul – Last week a tweet appeared in my timeline criticizing the trailer of a new CBS sitcom about a US Marine who brings his Afghan interpreter to America.

“This is a real TV show. Actually made by human people. On Planet Earth. In 2021,” it read.

I watched the 30-second trailer and was horrified to see that the show — the first sitcom I knew of where a central character is from Afghanistan — seemed to rely on tired tropes about a hulking, heroic white man coming to the rescue of his bumbling brown sidekick. Reza Aslan, the Iranian-American author who serves an executive producer on the show, asked that we give the show a chance.

“United States of Al” premieres April 1 on CBS. But as an Afghan-American journalist based in Kabul, I was recently invited to a Zoom screening of the pilot and 5th episode.

I tried to hold out hope it would be good. It wasn’t. In fact, the original tweet from Saeed Taji Farouky, an Arab-British filmmaker, was spot-on. Rather than bringing nuance to an Afghan-American pairing, the Chuck Lorre production is a show from another era: it’s all flat characters, and cheap, uninspired jokes.

It’s also a missed opportunity. The show tries to win points for putting Afghanistan at the center of a heavily-promoted mainstream sitcom, but then puts in none of the work.

It’s as if Blackish, Fresh Off the Boat and Rami, all of which offer interesting, funny observations about the lives of non-white protagonists, never happened, and Hollywood (or at least CBS) has learned nothing since I first arrived in the United States in the late-1980s.

To be clear, this is a sitcom and not a prestige TV treatise on cultural imperialism and post-Cold War politics — and it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. But as someone who will happily spend hours cycling through clips of Amy Farrah Fowler and Sheldon Cooper from Chuck Lorre’s The Big Bang Theory, this show is cringe.

Afghanistan is a real place with complex problems, many of which have been exacerbated by nearly four decades of invasions and interference by foreign powers. Among the things Al never says to this nice family in Ohio is that last year more than 3,000 civilians were killed in Afghanistan. After the credits, we get a glance of Awalmir and Riley working together, or rather fleeing enemy fire in a Humvee through nondescript desert meant to be Helmand. It’s played for laughs as a wild bonding experience. But the truth is that for Afghan interpreters who worked alongside
US and NATO forces were seen locally as collaborators and became targets for the Taliban. Dreams that they would become refugees in America often didn’t materialize.

But here we’re told it’s Riley who heroically spent three years filling out paperwork to get Awalmir to America.

In a recent Clubhouse chat, my friend Mariam Wardak, an Afghan-American who splits her time between DC and Kabul, put it well: “Rather than showing Afghan interpreters as brave men who are putting their lives on the line and are risking being ostracized in their community, we have a short, scrawny awkward brown man standing next to this GI Joe.”

USofA standing
Al (Adhir Kalyan), Riley’s sister Elizabeth (Elizabeth Alderfer), and Riley (Parker Young) on the set of “United States of Al.”

The first clue of what we were in for came with the pairing: Riley (Parker Young), the buff, tattooed, Marine, towers over Awalmir (Adhir Kalyan), the squat, skinny brown man with a funny accent. While Riley gets to flirty banter with an attractive female bartender, and show off his physique boxing in the garage, Awalmir plays the wide-eyed, non-threatening Asian man staring in wonder at the bounty of Cleveland’s grocery store aisles.

Then there’s the dialogue.

The pilot opens with Riley and his sister, Elizabeth (Elizabeth Alderfer), at an airport awaiting the titular character’s arrival to the United States. Riley passes the time telling the story of the time Al greeted Riley at an airport in Afghanistan with a bowl of pacha. (American troops don’t arrive in Afghanistan in this manner, but that’s perhaps for another time.)

Elizabeth, badly butchering the word, asks what pacha is. When Riley describes it as sheep’s head soup, Elizabeth is clearly revolted and the studio audience erupts in laughter. Personally, pacha is not my cup of tea. But surely, the writer’s room could have done better than tired jokes about weird, foreign foods.

The inane jokes continue. At one point, when Al recalls a memory from Kabul, Elizabeth makes a seemingly nonsensical reference to spring break, leading to an eventual punchline about confusing Kabul with Cabo. At another, Awalmir compares his awkward attempt to reunite Riley and his estranged wife to negotiating with warlords, and something about enemy fire in Helmand.

Now granted, it could be worse. Al is not a terrorist, unlike the Arab and Muslim characters who populated shows like 24 (which, by the way, aired on Afghan TV for years). When he prays, it is to find solace from his loneliness, not because he’s about to blow himself up.

As a friend of mine, who also attended the advance screening, said: “It’s a hell of a lot better than him being another Afghan terrorist on TV.”

But if you’re going to go to the trouble of making this show, and airing it on a network that has faced years of criticism for its white, homogeneous presentation of the world, why not endow Al with at least a smattering of complexity? If the creators had allowed Afghanistan to be a real place (and not just the vague origin story for another odd couple buddy comedy), have some faith that American viewers just might be able to follow along.

But, the worst part is that I desperately wanted this terrible show to be great.

You see, I grew up on sitcoms.

My family fled the Soviet occupation and ended up in Fremont, California, a city that would come to be known as ‘Little Kabul.’

As a kid, I would often sit on the floor of my parents’ bedroom, a bowl of cumin and saffron-scented palow in front of me, and follow the ups and downs of the home lives of the Winslows, the Taylors, the Bundys, the Banks and the Conners. It was my first introduction to what I thought was American life.

Most of my social interactions in Fremont were with my large, extended Afghan family. Even in school, all of my friends were Afghan, Arab, Desi, Filipino, or Latino. I would watch American sitcoms, wondering why the children had so few cousins around, why their homes were never full of dozens of family members gathering for a meal and, most importantly, what exactly meatloaf, fruit cakes and French toast were. These shows educated me on the lives of the ‘Amrikaya,’ as we called them.

Still, I longed for a TV show about people who sounded, acted and looked like me.

Usofa interp
Village elders speak with a U.S. Marine through an interpreter as American and Afghan forces search for weapons in the Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan in 2008.

In college, I interned at the Center for Asian American Media, which ran the nation’s largest Asian-American film festival. Around the office, there was a lot of excitement about the coming Harold and Kumar sequel, and I was confused as to why a dumb stoner movie was receiving so much praise from the 20 and 30-something Filpino, Chinese, Korean and Japanese-Americans cinephiles I worked with.

“Because, Ali, it’s about them being dumb stoners, not a Korean and an Indian,” they said to me. I rewatched the first movie and saw their point. Yes, Harold and Kumar were Asian, but they were also American. And more importantly, John Cho went from just being “that Asian guy from American Pie” and Kal Penn from “that Indian guy in Van Wilder” to genuine stars.

Which brings me back to The United States of Al.

I’m back in Afghanistan, where I work as a journalist and spend a lot of my time trying to demonstrate to a global audience that people who come from here are just as compelling and layered as the Rileys and Elizabeths of Cleveland.

To be sure, I’m going to watch the rest of United States of Al.

And if it gets better, I’ll be the first to cheer it on.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Counterintelligence agents for the Western powers told us what China and Russia pay their double-agents

james bond
In real life, these guys might not be able to afford the membership fees of this club.

  • China bought a spy inside a NATO marine research facility for just 17,000 euros ($20,000).
  • We asked active intel officials to detail the finances required to run a double agent in the West.
  • Spies are cheap, it turns out. Russia and China often pay less than the price of a luxury car for the services of traitors.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The spy had been a member of a scientific committee in NATO’s Undersea Research Centre, based in Italy, when counterintelligence agents began surveillance of him last year. The committee did research for NATO’s warships and submarines. Yet somehow, China had managed to install a double-agent – in the form of prominent Estonian marine scientist Tarmo Kõuts – as Vice President of the committee.

One of the first things Estonian agents did was run a forensic audit on his finances and personal economic activity. It turns out that Kõuts, an Estonian national, was a bargain: He cost the Chinese only 17,000 euros (about $20,000) over the course of two years.

Spies are cheap.

In the movies, double agents receive briefcases filled with unmarked bills. When James Bond chases a target, the pursuit involves high-end cars, five-star hotels, and glamorous locations.

But in real life, intelligence assets cost surprisingly little. On an annual basis even the most dangerous spies – those delivering Western military and security secrets to Russia or China – can cost less than the price of a luxury car.

Insider spoke to sources in the intelligence and counterintelligence trade to gauge the going price for turncoats and traitors.

China pays 17,000 euros for a scientist inside NATO

When searching for an asset who has been bought by a hostile power, officials try to see whether their targets are suddenly richer than they ought to be.

“You have to determine how much money the subject should have and what a reasonable lifestyle for their income would look like,” a Baltic intelligence official, who was briefed on the Kõuts case, told Insider.

“Then while they are under surveillance you can determine if they are living in a manner that suggests extra income.”

But the officer – who is on active duty and cannot be named in the media – points out that of course whoever recruits spies knows perfectly well how they’re caught, as they often work alongside their own domestic counterintelligence services.

“China is careful, in this case he had only been given about 17,000 euros so far, which is quite a bit for only a couple of years of work, but not enough to trigger any suspicion,” said the official of Kõuts, who was sentenced to three years in prison last week for spying for China.

“He had been given luxury trips and flight and hotel upgrades as part of his compensation and while this sort of thing is generally easier to hide from counterintelligence, once you really start watching it can send a flag when it’s clear the subject can’t afford regular first class upgrades and the like.”

Double-agents risk life in prison for as little as $40,000 a year

Betraying one’s country comes with tremendous legal and even physical risks. Serious traitors can expect to spend the rest of their lives in prison. Or their former handlers may target them for assassination (a solution favored by Russia’s Putin and Belarus’s Kadyrov).

But history shows that spies who take the risk do so for surprisingly little money.

There are only five known instances of Americans being paid about $1 million dollars to spy on their country, over careers that in each case spanned two decades.

Aldrich Ames of the CIA and Robert Hanssen of the FBI are considered the most devastatingly effective double agents in US history. Both were in senior intelligence positions. Ames was a CIA analyst who worked on the USSR; Hanssen was a senior FBI counterintelligence official.

More than a dozen CIA spies were revealed through their work – leading to multiple executions – and provided the Soviet Union its closest look at America’s top intelligence secrets.

Ames was paid about $1.4 million over 20 years and Hanssen slightly less with estimates between $800,000 and $1 million.

That works out at as little as $40,000 to $70,000 a year, per spy.

It is dangerous to pay a spy too much

To be worth so much, the target would have to be a top priority, if only because of the risks involved in delivering the money itself, and the fear the agent could spend it recklessly.

“Safely communicating with your agents is the most difficult, time-consuming and risky part of intelligence operations,” said a retired European intelligence officer, who doesn’t want their name used because of ongoing consultant contracts.

“So if it’s that stressful, it’s even more stressful and risky when giving them a large wad of cash on each pickup – but that’s what almost all of them want.

“So you have to reward them with enough cash that they feel important and can spend it on their lives in a way that’s nice. But never so much that it’s suspicious and never so much that they start thinking they can stop spying now.”

Agents prefer assets motivated by cash rather than ego or politics

Multiple current and former intelligence officials contacted for this piece repeated a version of the same thing: Agents that spy for greed alone are the easiest to manage because their handlers only have to fight about the slow dispersal of money. Agents that spy for ideology or ego become much harder to handle over time.

“Greed. I’ll take greed every time,” said one EU police official, who recruits undercover assets. “Legal leverage is the best but money is clear and simple. They will always want more faster than you want to give. It’s clear and logical and not about feelings and ego.

“Most of the time it’s not the money that’s a problem, it’s the hassle of running the agent,” said a retired American CIA officer, who rejected requests to go on the record.

“If they’re ideological or ego in nature it’s going to be an endless hassle of reassuring them they’re brilliant or whatever.”

‘Now we have to work out some very complex way to give them money they’re going to immediately take to a strip club or buy a car and get us both arrested’

Most intelligence services conduct detailed psychological profiles of potential recruits to determine the person’s motivation for defecting.”They want more money, fine, I got money but how do I get it to them? The same way I get the intelligence drops from them? Hell no, that’s not safe. So now we have to work out some very complex way to give them money they’re going to immediately take to a strip club or buy a car and get us both arrested.”

“My point,” explained the retired case officer, “is you’d really better have some good [stuff] and it be exactly what my bosses want from me for all that to become worth it.

“‘Are you worth my time?’ is a much better question than ‘how much money are you worth.'”

The spy who got paid $25 million

But all sources agreed that there is one area it is worth the investment and hassle.

“Pulling off the delivery of intelligence that leads to the arrest or death of a [High Value Target] on the Rewards for Justice list,” said the American.

“The asset that gave up [9-11 mastermind Khaled Sheikh Mohammed in 2003] got a $25 million payday and everyone was thrilled to pay him out,” said the official, repeating a well-known but unverified detail of that case.

“He even got millions more just for relocation for him and his family. Didn’t even have to spend any of the twenty-five on it.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

How the Atlanta shooting shows the dangers of American evangelicalism’s trademark “purity culture”

JM Protester at flowers
Flowers adorn Gold Spa, where activists demonstrated against violence against women and Asians.

  • Temptation and “sex addiction” feature heavily in evangelical rituals and beliefs around gender roles.
  • A mythical “heroic masculinity” underpins evangelical ideas on men and sex.
  • No evidence links impulsive sexual behaviors with mass murder, experts say.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

For four days, as the country tried to parse the latest mass shooting, pundits and the public finally confronted the increase in anti-Asian rhetoric and hate crimes in an attempt to understand what might have driven a 21-year-old to shoot eight people, six of them Asian women.

Then came the police statement: The alleged shooter said he wasn’t fighting a race war when he allegedly committed the killings, at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area; he was battling his own “temptation” and “possibly, a sex addiction.”

Far from eliminating racism as a motive, the alleged shooter’s confession embodies it: The murders in Georgia represent a uniquely American twinning of racism, sexism, and religion.

“It’s not a jump to say white conservative Christianity played a role here,” said Joshua Grubbs, an assistant professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University. “The facts need to come to light, but all the facts that are in the light right now suggest it’s at play.”

Robert Aaron Long, the accused shooter, was reportedly an active youth group member of Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton, 40 miles from Atlanta. The church is affiliated with Founders Ministries, a conservative movement within evangelicalism to establish an approach to the Bible not “limited by cultural sensitivities,” according to its website.

There’s been more attention in recent years to the connection between “toxic masculinity” and violence, a connection that feminist scholars have been writing about for decades, and recent revelations about the alleged shooter’s motive have pushed gender to the forefront of the conversation.

But gender experts say it’s impossible to understand the role of misogyny in the killing of six Asian women at massage parlors without also thinking about the way sexist stereotypes objectify Asian women. And religious studies scholars say it’s impossible to understand either without looking at evangelicalism.

JM Crabapple.JPG
The Crabapple First Baptist Church outside Atlanta.

“What it comes down to, in a very simplified way, is that all the ‘isms’ run together here, and that is something that tends to occur often in the context of white conservative Christianity,” said Grubbs.

Believers and secular scholars alike hear in the shooter’s own language, as told to police, a linguistic map of evangelical values that are both rooted in and expressions of historical and contemporary forms of racism and sexism.

Two key concepts here are “temptation” and “sex addiction.” Both feature heavily in evangelical “purity culture,” a set of rituals and beliefs around gender roles, designed to encourage believers, especially young men and women, to abstain from sex outside of heterosexual marriage.

“The whole concept of temptation is theological,” said Kyle J. Howard, a public theologian and preacher in Atlanta. “When he talks about ‘temptation,’ he’s using theological language. We should be looking at what this person’s theological tradition or connection is.”

Long’s church released a statement, four days after the killings, condemning the murders and disavowing any link between its teachings and the violence. The Southern Baptist Convention, a key evangelical platform, also distanced itself from the shooting.

But scholars of evangelicalism reject these denials as facile.

“As an historian of Christianity, I would push back against that,” said Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a professor of history at Calvin University who specializes in evangelical culture. “He was clearly and deeply formed by a particular conservative evangelical faith tradition.”

Far from being prudish, conversations about sex feature prominently in that faith tradition, experts say. The goal isn’t to banish sex; it’s to confine sex to strict heterosexual norms. A key part of the belief system is that falling outside of those norms is not seen as an individual failing; it’s viewed, instead, as “addiction.”

“White evangelical Christians emphasize their interpretation of biology or popular science to make sense of human sexuality,” Kelsy Burke, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who studies white evangelicals and sexuality. “Your brain creates these pathways, is the language they use. Seeing it as physically addictive is a way to make sense of” breaking sexual taboos.

But even “sex addiction” is a piece of evangelical theology. There’s no medical condition by that name, no diagnostic criteria, and therefore no bona fide treatment.

JM Flowers
Flowers left at Gold Spa in Atlanta.

“That’s just a ludicrous claim, to blame this [violence] on that,” said Grubbs, who specializes in the psychology of sex addiction. “You won’t ever catch a competent mental health person saying, ‘I diagnose this person with a sex addiction.’ That is not a thing that they’ll say.”

Grubbs’ own research, meanwhile, and his work with sociologist Samuel Perry, suggests that “sex addiction” is a thing that mostly white evangelical Christians will say. In several studies, Grubbs found a significant relationship between religiosity and self-reported sex or pornography addiction. (Non-evangelicals may use pornography, or struggle with sexual impulses, but are unlikely to call these behaviors “addiction.”)

It’s sexism, rather than biology, that’s really at the root of the idea of “sex addiction.” The belief that the world is full of temptresses that even good Christian men can’t always resist lets men avoid responsibility for their “lapses.”

“In addiction recovery programs, the blame is rarely directed at men themselves. It’s directed at the obscure sexual secular culture, the pornography industry,” Burke said. “In the case of Mr. Long, these messages clearly, for multiple reasons, went sort of sideways. He acted out in a very extreme and aggressive way, but I think we can see how the language… plays into somebody like long’s thinking.”

If sexism is a central tenant of Long’s evangelicalism, racism isn’t far behind. Establishing a “heroic masculinity” that can resist those temptresses is a big part of that tradition, and racism plays an implicit but crucial mythic role.

“It’s rarely articulated blatantly, but [racism] is very important. Books on Christian masculinity point to these mythical heroes, Hollywood heroes,” said du Mez, who wrote Jesus and John Wayne. “What I noticed is, all these heroes were white men. Many of them proved their heroism by subduing non-white people and using violence to achieve order. John Wayne, the cowboy, stands in Iwo Jima against the Japanese, or with the green berets against the Vietnamese. This is a persistent pattern; this how heroic masculinity is defined.”

Angie Hong, a divinity student at Duke University and a one-time evangelical worship leader and musician, said she saw all of these dynamics play out in the Atlanta church she once attended.

“I went to a white church, and when I would play, I would get comments like, ‘You’re a China doll!’ People would pinch my cheeks, even though I’m an adult woman at this point. And yes, I got sexually harassed,” she said.

“Even though they welcomed me, they treated me as an object. They were so fascinated with this ‘mysterious Oriental figure;’ they wanted me to teach them words, to pray in Korean. There’s racism in the form of that desire,” she added.

In fact, racism writ large is “baked into evangelicalism from the beginning,” said Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. In White Evangelical Racism, her forthcoming history of the religious movement’s relationship to white supremacy in the American south, she calls racism “a feature, not a bug, of American evangelicalism.”

“It’s so pervasive,” said Butler, herself an ex-evangelical. “It’s so much of history, but they don’t want you to know about that history. They just kept writing themselves into a better history all the time.”

Activists and scholars worry that this same instinct to beautify the story is already at work in shaping the view of the shooting. “Here we have the mass murder of Asian women, in the midst of a colonial history of and of [ongoing] hyper-sexualization, and we have police not wanting to say racism,” said Christine Hong, an assistant professor of educational ministry at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.

“White supremacy does all of that, but we don’t want to name it. We just want to talk about anti-Asian bias, which is a softer and more accessible word, “she said. “It speaks to white discomfort, not necessarily the pain of the communities that suffered.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Police ignored the role of race and gender in the Georgia shootings. Here’s what Asian advocates in Atlanta are saying about it

Atl Flowers
Lijing Zhao lays a bouquet of flowers outside a spa where four people were shot and killed on March 17, 202. in Acworth, Georgia.

  • Georgia activists have mobilized to help the families of six Asian women killed on March 16.
  • The attack has forced a conversation over misogyny and hypersexualization directed at Asian women.
  • Georgia officials came under fire for accepting the alleged shooter’s narrative of the attack.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

E. Lim had little time to process the brutal attack that claimed the lives of six Asian women and two others at three Metro-Atlanta spas.

As the organizing and civic engagement director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, Lim-like many of their colleagues-was in response mode. Atlanta born and raised and a local organizer since 2015, Lim told Insider their initial reaction was to detach from the killings.

“I’ve had to dissociate so hard, because I know people in similar situations,” said Lim referring to the common experience of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace.

The horrific violence that unfolded on Tuesday night in Atlanta has forced a national conversation over the long history of anti-Asian violence and discrimination, as well as the misogyny and hypersexualization directed at Asian women in this country.

The official narrative of what happened, which seemed to accept the explanation given by the assailant, has also galvanized Asian-American activists and organizers in Georgia to turn this into a teachable moment.

“It is racialized,” said Lim. “When you talk about ‘massage parlors’ and then talk about how sex work might be involved, you’re talking about race.”

A statement condemning systemic racism and gender-based violence had 180 signatories from state and national organizations, said Stephanie Cho, director of the AAAJ-Atlanta. The group is fundraising to support the families of those killed.

“White supremacy is literally killing us,” said Cho. “Asian American communities have been under the radar on this issue, but honestly, this is a time for us to really come together, be in solidarity, and really have those tough conversations community conversations around policy.

“YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT RACE”

Beginning at around 5pm on Tuesday night, a gunman attacked a massage parlor north of Atlanta, and then two other massage parlors in metro Atlanta, killing six Asian women and two others.

The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department identified the four people killed at Young’s Asian Massage as Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Tan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44. Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, was also injured in the shooting. As of Thursday morning, the Atlanta Police Department had not released the names of the four people killed at the two spas in Atlanta.Sent from my iPhone

Atl flowers 2
Flowers were left at one of the spas targeted in the March 16 attack.

Around 6% of the population in metro Atlanta identifies as Asian, according to Atlanta Regional Commission’s 2020 estimates. Cherokee County, where the first attack occurred, is around 2% Asian.

Almost immediately, the narrative of what had happened put forward by Georgia officials downplayed a “racial motivation” for the killings and relied on what the alleged killer had told police. Jay Baker, the spokesman for the Cherokee County Sheriff, said at a news conference that the suspect had had “a really bad day,” was “kind of at the end of his rope,” and had told police that he considers himself a “sex addict.”

But community leaders in Atlanta had a clear message: The racism and misogyny impacting Asian women must not be ignored. And even if sex work was involved, the lives of these women were no less valuable than any other.

The killings also hit home hard for Wei Jia, a local organizer, who lives about a mile from one of the spas. Echoing others, Jia told Insider that the focus on whether the perpetrator was a sex addict fit into an old trope of a Jack the Ripper like character with no real interrogation of history.

“The sheriff sympathizing with the gunman, like saying that he just had a ‘bad day’ speaks volumes,” said Jia. “He didn’t mention anything about the women that were killed. Didn’t mention anything about their families, about their lives.”

Jia pointed to the long history of dehumanizing and sexualizing Asian women: Prior to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, The United States banned the immigration of Chinese Women in the Page Act of 1875 under the guise of preventing sex work.

Atl white sup sign
A woman places a sign of solidarity outside a spa where four people were killed on March 17, 2021 in Acworth, Georgia.

“That a white male murdered Asian women in the United States is part of a very long history of white supremacist violence against anybody who wasn’t white,” Jia said.

Blaming an alleged sexual addiction as the motive in the killing of six Asian women and two others is itself racist, while taking the perpetrator at his word further victimized the victims and denied them their humanity, said Bentley Hudgins, a queer organizer based in Atlanta. “They’re so ready to distance themselves from calling this racist and misogyny and trying to downplay this as just like a white incel who was mad he didn’t get off that they’re missing the point entirely,” Hudgins said in an interview.

Hudgins and Jia’s comment came just hours before Buzzfeed News reported that Baker, the sheriff’s department spokesperson, posted racist anti-Asian shirts on Facebook last April that blamed China for the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center, which tracks xenophobic hate against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, 3,795 incidents have been reported between last March 19 and Feb. 28 of this year. Close to 70% of the incidents were against women. In a recent survey, NAPAWF found that nearly half of Asian American and Pacific Islander women have been affected by anti-Asian racism in the past two years.

THROUGH TRAGEDY, A TEACHABLE MOMENT

Community advocates in Atlanta say they are prioritizing support for the victims’ families and the community at large, and they explained those efforts at a press conference on Wednesday.

“Much of our focus is back towards the victims and their families and really what our communities need,” Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, executive director of the Asian American Advocacy Fund adding that legal services, mental health, and language support were needed.

Instead of allowing a sympathetic narrative toward the perpetrator to dominate coverage, attention should focus on reporting stories from the community and about how this attack impacted the community, she said. “We continue to bring the focus back to who are the most vulnerable in our communities, and working towards making sure that we can provide safety and security for us all.”

The intersection of race, gender, and class colors the response and underlying assumption made about the worth of those killed, the organizers said, while the killing of six women in the course of their work also underscores the vulnerability of those in low-wage jobs.

“This is a gender and race based violence that happened to our community,” said Leng Leng Chancey, Executive Director for 9to5, an organization focused on increasing economic security as well as political power and participation of working women.

Atl protest phone
Julie Tran holds her phone during a candlelight vigil for the Atlanta victims held in Garden Grove, California.

She pointed to the challenges of dealing with sexual harassment and assault along with other institutional barriers. “Low-wage workers already faced multiple hurdles and systemic racism every day,” Chancey said. “I mean, who can you really report this to?”

Organizers said the events of this week, horrific as they were, can serve as teachable moments for how to discuss and cover violent attacks on marginalized communities, and the importance of listening to individuals from those communities.

Shortly after the attacks, the Asian American Journalists Association issued a guidance saying the use of “massage parlor” as a descriptor to describe the business establishments is outdated and reinforces negative stereotypes that hypersexualize and dehumanize Asian women.

The guidance also stressed the need to study the context within which Asian communities are experiencing and receiving this latest news, while acknowledging the diversity within the “Asian community.”

“The media needs to understand that the Asian community is not a monolith,” Sarah Park, the president of the Atlanta chapter of the Korean American Coalition, said at Wednesday’s press conference.

“We speak over hundreds of different languages. We practice different cultural religions, we are all different individuals.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Tanzania’s president, missing for three weeks and rumored to be sick with Covid-19, has died

TZ Magufuli green 2
Tanzanian President John Magufuli at an event in August 2020.

  • Tanzania announced the death of President John Magufuli, ending weeks of mystery about his health.
  • Magufuli declared Tanzania Covid-free last May and stopped releasing data about new infections.
  • Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan will become Tanzania’s first female president since independence.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli-who has not been seen for three weeks and was widely rumored to be sick with Covid-19, a virus he has downplayed for months-has died, the country’s vice president said in a televised address on Wednesday.

Magufuli emerged as one of the world’s most prominent Covid-deniers last May, when he declared his country was free of the virus following three days of national prayer. He later scoffed at wearing masks, criticized regional neighbours for imposing lockdowns, and rejected coronavirus vaccines until his government independently verifies them.

He was last seen in public on Feb. 24. Following news reports that he might had contracted the coronavirus, and statements from the country’s opposition leader making the same claim, #WhereIsMagufuli began trending on Twitter in the country.

In a televised address on Wednesday, Tanzania’s Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan announced that the 61-year old leader had died.

“Today, March 17th this year, at 6pm, we have lost our courageous leader, President John Magufuli,”she announced on state broadcaster TBC1.

TZ VP
Tanzania’s Vice President Samia Hassan Suluhu and President John Magufuli taking a call together in July 2019.

Under Tanzania’s constitution, Hassan, 61, will become the East African nation’s president and finish the remainder of the presidential term until next elections are held in 2025.

Hassan, a moderate politician from the semi-autonomous Zanzibar archipelago, is set to become the country’s first female president since it’s independence from Britain in 1961.

Hassan said Magufuli, 61, died at a hospital in commercial capital Dar es Salaam from “chronic atrial fibrillation, a condition that he has had for more than 10 years.” She declared 14 days of national mourning where flags will fly at half mast.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Gina Yashere on her Chuck Lorre collaboration, diversifying their writers’ room, and bringing Nigerian culture to American primetime

GY Navy white standup
Comedian Gina Yashere at the opening night of the African Film Festival in New York in 2018.

  • Gina Yashere has championed Black and African actors and writers in Hollywood.
  • Chuck Lorre asked her to consult on his CBS show “Bob Hearts Abishola.” Days later, she became a co-creator.
  • “There’s a lot more me’s out there waiting for a good opportunity,” she told Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When comedian Gina Yashere was first brought in as a consultant on the CBS show Bob Hearts Abishola she was skeptical, even after her first meeting with series creator Chuck Lorre.

The show is about a middle-aged white man who falls in love with his Nigerian immigrant nurse, Abishola, while recovering from a heart attack. Lorre, who created the mega-hit shows Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men, needed someone to help bring authenticity to his show idea and Abishola’s character.

Lorre googled “female Nigerian comedian” and discovered Yashere on YouTube. She’s well known in the United Kingdom as a comedian whose bits cover her experience as a Nigerian lesbian woman who left her native U.K. for the United States. Lorre watched her set as host of Live at The Apollo in London, and wanted to meet her.

“So, originally, I was brought on as a consultant on all things African. It sounded weird to me,” Yashere told Insider, recalling her meeting with Lorre. “Once I got in the room with the guys, I began to really like them. I could see that they were trying to make a really good show, and it wasn’t really an exploitative thing.”

The pairing worked, and she was promoted to co-creator of the show after two days.

“She flew over from England to spend a couple days with us to just talk us through what she thought we could be doing,” Lorre said during a panel discussion promoting the show “And after a couple days, we just went, let’s see if she’ll stay with us… Don’t leave!”

She eventually became an executive producer, writer, and actress — playing Yemi, Abishola’s best friend. “I got in the room with them and just started helping them create an overall sort of template for the sitcom, giving them character names,” she said.

GY Yashere and Lorre
Gina Yashere and Chuck Lorre in 2019 discussing their show Bob Hearts Abishola.

Bringing her in could easily be the best decision Lorre and his other co-creators, Eddie Gorodetsky and Alan Higgins, made when creating the show. In its first season, Bob Hearts Abishola, was CBS’s highest-rated new sitcom with over 5 million viewers consistently every week, though reviews have been mixed. Now in its second season, the ratings are still consistent, and the show was renewed for a third season in February.

But Yashere, who has been living in the U.S. for over 13 years, isn’t an overnight success. Her IMDB page is proof of that with acting, producing, and writing credits starting back in the early 2000s. Her self-funded comedy specials Skinny B*tch and Laughing to America were sold to Netflix and are available now. She became a regular on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah as the show’s British correspondent in 2017.

“THIS IS A BLACK SHOW NOW”

Yashere was able to have an impact from early on. “I know you’re used to doing things a certain way, but technically in the eyes of the world, and in the eyes of CBS, this is a Black show now.” The storyline of Abishola and her family, which is based on Yashere’s life, naturally meant at least half of the cast, and a number of writers would need to be African and Black.

“Abishola’s life story is based on my mother’s story,” Yashere said “My mother had us kids in England with my dad, then my dad couldn’t get good work in England. He was a qualified lawyer, my mom was a qualified teacher, but they couldn’t get work because England in the 60s and 70s was super racist.”

Like Abishola’s husband in the show, Yashere’s dad moved back to Nigeria when she was a child, leaving her mom in East London as a single mother. Yashere based the character she plays, Kemi, on her aunt and aspects of her mother.

“Kemi is was kind of an amalgamation of those two, the fun side, the outspoken, you know, not giving a crap side, and does what she wants to do,” she said about the comic relief character she created for herself.

Yashere also had a hand in choosing which actors to cast, and said she was mindful of her own experience auditioning for black and African roles in Hollywood and how demoralizing it can be. “I made sure I was in all the auditions to make sure that, when those black actors walked in that room and saw me, they could relax and enjoy the audition knowing that they’re not going to be asked to do any kind of coonery.”

GY acting
Gina Yashere, (left) as Kemi and Folake Olowofoyeku as Abishola on the set of “Bob Hearts Abishola”

She was also adamant that they cast a dark-complexioned, Nigerian actress to play Abishola, knowing that proximity to whiteness is usually the Hollywood standard, even with African roles.

“You’d watch movies with African characters, and the actors were completely wrong,” Yashere said. “Their style of dress was completely wrong, or you have an entire family and every one of them has got a different accent from a different country within Africa.”

They ended up casting the actress Folake Olowofoyeku to play Abishola, a Nigerian nurse with braids, who has created a life for herself and her son, while being estranged from her husband, with the help of friends, family, and community in Detroit. The show’s fluency with Nigerian and Black American culture makes it stand out among other sitcoms.

“You can tell research was done, and it speaks to what actually happens in a Yoruba family. It’s refreshing,” said Dolapo Adedapo, a Nigerian nonprofit consultant and radio show host, who was included in an NPR story about the show when it first aired.

Yashere was also a force behind making sure that half of the show’s eight-person writer’s room was Black. She invited Lorre, Gorodetsky, and Higgins to comedy shows around Hollywood to intro uce them to other Black comics. “She’s a writer too, you should hire them,” she would tell them whenever she noticed an act had gone over well.

All of this has brought positive attention to CBS, which has been criticized for its lack of diversity in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Last summer, the network announced that by 2022-23 season, half of its writers would be non-white. The announcement came after the Writers Guild of America West’s Committee of Black Writers released an open letter calling on the industry to “revolutionize the way our industry hires writers.”

“A LOT MORE ME’S OUT THERE WAITING”

Yashere’s success with Bob Hearts Abishola has left her convinced she can do more. “Being able to book black actors and book black writers has given me a new passion. So moving forward, I want to carry on executive producing and bringing through other talent,” she said.

GY pose at Paley
The creators and lead actors in “Bob Hearts Abishola” (from left) Chuck Lorre, Gina Yashere, Billy Gardell, Folake Olowofoyeku and Al Higgins attend The Paley Center For Media in 2019. (Photo by

As her career continues to unfold it never escapes her that there are more people like her- women, black, LGBTQIA, immigrant, etc- waiting for an opportunity to break into the business. Understanding that she can’t do it alone she also plants seeds to the people in power around her.

“You know, I said to Chuck, recently, you guys discovered me, but there’s a lot more me’s out there waiting for a good opportunity.”

She is also a new author. Her book Cack-handed, a memoir about her life before she moved to the U.S., hits bookshelves in June. Cack-handed, which means left-handed, and hence awkward and clumsy, in British slang, represents for Yashere how non-traditional her rise in Hollywood has been. She started off as an engineer, a path that she says delighted her immigrant mother, but decided to become a comedian after taking off a summer to act in a community play.

Now with “Bob Hearts Abishola” she’s showing that a left-handed professional can hold sway in a world built for right-handers.

“I’ve never wanted to push myself into a box that they put me in. I’ve never wanted to do things that are against my core principles,” she said. So because of that, it took me a lot longer to make it. But it feels a lot sweeter now because I’m making it on my own terms.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Tanzania’s president is one of the world’s most prominent Covid-deniers – and now he may be hospitalized with Covid

TZ Magufuli in green
Tanzanian President John Magufuli at an event in August 2020.

  • Tanzanian President John Magufuli has not been seen for 17 days, prompting rumors about his health.
  • Magufuli declared Tanzania Covid-free last May and stopped releasing data. He has rejected vaccines.
  • Media reports and claims from an opposition figure have fed rumors he is gravely ill with Covid-19.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Dar es Salaam – Tanzanian President John Magufuli, Africa’s most prominent Covid-19 denier, disappeared from public sight 17 days ago. Now, he is widely rumored to be seriously ill with the same virus that he has dismissed and downplayed over the past year.

Last May, Magufuli declared that “Tanzania has beaten coronavirus” after ordering three days of national prayer. The president abruptly stopped updating the number of cases, and assured foreign tourists that Tanzania’s game parks and Indian Ocean resorts were open for business, leading to a wave of travel advisories cautioning travelers to avoid the country.

Since then, he has scoffed at wearing masks, criticized regional neighbours for imposing lockdowns, and rejected coronavirus vaccines until his government independently verifies them. In early January, Magufuli told the visiting Chinese foreign affairs minister, Wang Yi, that “there is no coronavirus in Tanzania.”

Then, after appearing at an event in Tanzania’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam on Feb. 24, Magufuli disappeared from public view.

This week, the leading newspaper in neighboring Kenya, the Daily Nation, wrote: “The leader of an African country who has not appeared in public for nearly two weeks is admitted to Nairobi Hospital for Covid-19 treatment, even as his government remains mum on his whereabouts.”

Within hours, speculation was rife that Magufuli had been secretly flown to Nairobi for emergency medical attention and later airlifted for treatment in India. Insider has not been able to confirm these reports.

“Latest update from Nairobi,” Tanzanian opposition leader Tundu Lissu tweeted this week.

Contacted by Insider, Lissu repeated the claim but did not provide evidence.

“Over the past month, the country has lost university professors, army generals, doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals of high public standing,” Lissu told Insider. “It is highly irresponsible, and in my view criminal, for the president to continue to deny the presence of coronavirus, spurn international help and repudiate the vaccines.”

Scores of Tanzanians and neighbouring Kenyans have taken to social media to demand answers, with the hashtag #WhereIsMagufuli trending on Twitter in both countries.

On Friday, government officials addressed the rumor for the first time and insisted that Magufuli was alive and well, but offered no proof.

TZ Dar
On the streets of Dar es Salaam, some have taken to wearing masks to protect against Covid-19 but many have not.

“President Magufuli is in good health and continues to carry on with his normal duties,” Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said in a statement from his office. “I spoke to him (Magufuli) today and he sends his greetings to you,” Majaliwa insisted.

In a separate announcement, the commissioner of the southern Tanzanian region of Mbeya, Albert Chalamila, told journalists on Friday: “I spoke with President John Magufuli on the phone this morning … he is very strong and is continuing with his job.”

“WE WANT AN EXPLANATION, NOT THREATS”

Tanzania confirmed its first coronavirus case in March 2020, but a month later Magufuli – who has a PhD in chemistry – questioned the accuracy of the test results. Cumulative cases had reached 480 people and 16 had been reported dead from the coronavirus by April 29, but Magufuli ordered the country’s Health Ministry to stop releasing updates.

On Feb. 27, three days after his last public appearance, the government announced that Magufuli had presided over the swearing in of a senior public official and attended a virtual regional summit for the East African Community (EAC) trade bloc.

It was later revealed that Magufuli did not, in fact, attend the EAC summit after all, and was instead represented by his Vice President, Samia Suluhu Hassan.

Since then, Magufuli has remained conspicuously absent from public view, missing his customary Sunday church attendance for two consecutive weeks, an oddity for the devout Catholic.

TZ Mourners Zanzibar
Mourners carrying the body of Zanzibar’s Vice President, Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad, in Dar es Salaam on Feb. 18, 2021.

On the streets of Dar es Salaam, Magufuli’s unexplained absence has been a source of both concern and frustration for many city residents.

“Instead of telling us the truth about Magufuli’s whereabouts, government ministers have been issuing threats against social media users. We want an explanation, not threats,” Innocent Mushi, a taxi driver, told Insider.

The death last month of Zanzibar’s first vice president, Seif Sharif Hamad, days after he announced he was hospitalized with the virus, and the death of Magufuli’s chief secretary at State House and head of the civil service, John Kijazi, from an unspecified illness exposed what many worries was the true extent of the pandemic.

“I renew my call for Tanzania to start reporting COVID-19 cases and share data,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement on Feb. 20. “I also call on Tanzania to implement the public health measures that we know work in breaking the chains of transmission, and to prepare for vaccination.”

There have been reports of local hospitals being overrun by patients displaying Covid-19 symptoms, and shortages of critical care beds, oxygen and ventilators across major towns and cities in the country. The government denies these reports.

Unlike other East African countries, which have urged social distancing and encouraged the use of masks, it’s been business as usual in Tanzania. Public buses are crowded with passengers, with few wearing masks, while pubs and night clubs have been full of revelers. Local league matches at football stadiums and music festivals are ongoing across the country, usually packed to capacity.

TZ Hand wash
People lining up to wash their hands with chlorinated water in Dar es Salaam on March 16, 2020, hours after Tanzania announced its first case of Covid-19.

Magufuli has continued to shun modern medicine and prevention methods such as wearing masks and social distancing. Instead, he has aggressively promoted unproven traditional remedies such as steam inhalation and a ginger-garlic-onion-lemon drink as the government’s official line of treatment and prevention against the virus.

Some hospitals have incorporated these remedies in their treatment protocols for patients displaying coronavirus symptoms.

PRAYERS, STEAMS, AND HERBS

During his five years in power, Magufuli has ruled Tanzania with an iron fist, in contrast to his predecessor Jakaya Kikwete’s softer touch, and turned the once progressive East African nation of 60 million people into one of Africa’s more repressive and secretive states, critics say.

Under his leadership, the government has arrested opposition leaders and activists and limited protests. In 2017, it shut down a privately owned weekly newspaper. Only the president and three other public officials are authorized to issue data on Covid infections and speak about the pandemic.

In January, Magufuli rejected coronavirus vaccines as other countries around the world scrambled for the inoculations, saying he will not allow his compatriots to be used as guinea pigs. “Vaccines are not good. If white people were able to bring these vaccines, they would have brought vaccines for AIDS, cancer or malaria,” he said in a speech.

TZ Tundu Lissu
Tundu Lissu, Tanzania’s opposition leader, on Aug. 4, 2020

The government’s chief spokesman, Hassan Abbasi, last month backtracked from claims that Tanzania was virus free, changing the new official narrative to “we have controlled the virus.”

Roman Catholic and Lutheran church leaders have in recent weeks begun pushing back against Magufuli’s virus denialism, urging the government to take the disease seriously.

Early this month, Charles Kitima, who leads an association of Catholic bishops, told journalists in Dar es Salaam that more than 25 priests and 60 nuns had died across the country within the last two months due to various causes, including “breathing difficulties,” which has become a euphemism for coronavirus.

Lissu, the opposition leader, has made the most of the moment.

“It’s a sad comment on (Magufuli’s) stewardship of our country that it’s come to this: that he himself had to get COVID-19 and be flown out to Kenya in order to prove that prayers, steam inhalations and other unproven herbal concoctions he’s championed are no protection against coronavirus,” he said on Twitter.

Read the original article on Business Insider