Fitch Shifts Mexico Debt Outlook From Stable to Negative

Fitch Ratings changed its outlook on Mexico’s long-term foreign-currency debt issues Wednesday from “stable” to “negative,” citing the potential policies of President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

The leftist Lopez Obrador has tried to smooth anxieties in the business community, but upset many on Monday by cancelling a partly built, $13 billion new airport on the outskirts of Mexico City.

The private sector had strongly backed the airport project, but Lopez Obrador called it wasteful. Instead he plans to upgrade existing commercial and military airports. He made the decision based on a public referendum that was poorly organized and drew only about 1 percent of the country’s voters.

 

Alfredo Coutino, Latin America director at Moody’s Analytics, said the decision to cancel the airport project “added not only volatility but also uncertainty to the economy’s future, because it signals that policymaking in the new administration can be based more on such kind of subjective consultation and less on technical or fundamentals consistent with the country’s needs.”

“The cancellation has certainly introduced an element of uncertainty in markets and investors,” Coutino wrote, “which could start affecting confidence and credibility.”

Fitch confirmed its BBB+ investment-grade rating for Mexican government debt, but said Wednesday “there are risks that the follow-through on previously approved reforms, for example in the energy sector, could stall.”

Lopez Obrador has said he will review private concessionary oil exploration contracts granted under current President Enrique Pena Nieto’s energy reform, but won’t cancel them if they were fairly granted. The fear is that future exploration contracts may be delayed or cancelled.

Lopez Obrador won’t take office until December1, but has already announced major policy decisions.

 

Some of his policy announcements – like fiscal restraint, respect for the independence of the central banks and a pledge to avoid new debt – earned praise from investors.

But Fitch noted the decision to cancel the airport “sends a negative signal to investors.”

Lopez Obrador has also pledged to have the state-owned oil company, Pemex, build more refineries to lower imports of gasoline.

Fitch wrote that this type of proposal will “would entail higher borrowing and larger contingent liabilities to the government.”

 

 

Thai Junta’s Rap Headache Beats On

The director of a viral rap video that has racked up tens of millions of views on YouTube with lyrics flaying Thailand’s military junta says the artists behind it have no intention of hiding from police. 

Since the junta, led by Prayut Chan-o-cha, seized power in a coup four years ago and banned political gatherings, it has harshly punished any form of dissent, jailing scores of critics and opponents. 

That’s why it was something of a surprise when director Teerawat Rujintham and the collective Rap Against Dictatorship launched a broadside against the military by releasing a profanity laced video called My Country Has It on Oct. 22. 

Teerawat told VOA the public response to the video, which has been viewed more than 23 million times on YouTube, had vastly surpassed the group’s expectations. 

Waiting for reaction

“The project served its purpose, and for now each of the members of the group and I are just waiting for the reaction from those in power and the government to contact us,” he said in an interview conducted partially through a translator. 

He said he and the group were “not going to hide from the police. We’re going to confront them, because I don’t feel that [we] did anything wrong.” 

Teerawat said the video had tapped into brooding resentment that many Thais felt toward the junta “under the surface” but could not express. 

“The country that points a gun at your throat.  Claims to have freedom but no right to choose.  You can’t say [stuff] even though your mouth is full of it. Whatever you do the leader will see you,” one artist raps in the video. 

Police initially threatened to arrest group members after the song’s release, but as online views of the video quickly shot up, they backed down. 

Local media reported Deputy National Police Chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul had filed a defamation suit against the group and stressed that its members remained under investigation.  Police have not answered VOA requests for comment. 

Prayut reportedly weighed in Tuesday, warning anyone who “shows appreciation for the song must accept responsibility for what happens to the country in future,” according to the Bangkok Post. 

“I do not care if they attack me. But if they do so against the country, I do not think it is appropriate,” he reportedly said. 

Undeterred, anti-junta punk rockers plan to hold a concert Saturday in Bangkok at the site of a notorious 1976 massacre of student protesters opposing military rule. 

The massacre is regarded as a highly sensitive topic for the junta and is graphically depicted in Teerawat’s video when the camera pans to an effigy of a corpse hanging from a tree, representing the lynchings that took place. Teerawat said he chose to use the cover-up of the massacre as a metaphor for the present. 

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, an associate professor of international political economy at Chulalongkorn University, said the artists are helping vent pent-up public frustration as long-delayed elections, expected now by mid-2019, draw closer. 

More expected

“It strikes a chord because they feel that they themselves are fed up and frustrated with no way out, no voices to be heard. So these guys are speaking up for them, and I think we will see more of it going forward,” he said. 

Political figures ranging from former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the young billionaire leader of the progressive new Future Forward party, have come out in support of the rappers’ right to speak out. 

Their support and the huge popularity of the artists means silencing them outright has become a precarious proposition, Thitinan said. 

“The military government will be in a dilemma now because on the one hand they want to suppress it, there’s no doubt. But if they do suppress it they have less chance of winning the election, because these groups are popular,” he said. 

“On the other hand, if they allow it to go on, to take place, then they would invite other groups, other movements to come to the fore against the military government,” he said. 

Meanwhile, street graffiti artist Headache Stencil has gained notice for skewering senior regime leaders, including Prayut, in his satirical works.

Paul Chambers, an expert on Thai politics and lecturer at Naresuan University, said Rap Against Dictatorship’s video has gained strong popularity among urban voters, many of whom had originally supported the military coup. 

“Thus the writing is on the wall: More and more former junta supporters want the military to return to the barracks,” he wrote in an email.  “The surprise is that more and more urban Thais, who tended to remain supportive or apathetic to the junta, have now jumped on the bandwagon of demanding a return to democracy now.”  

Prayut repeatedly has delayed promised elections since staging the 2014 coup, Thailand’s 12th since 1932. He also passed a new constitution that grants him extraordinary power and the military virtually total control of parliament. 

Some steps have been taken to loosen the bans on political activities he implemented after seizing power, though many remain. 

Rangsiya Ratanachai contributed to this report. 

Hidden Secrets of America’s Ghost Towns

Clues to America’s past can be found in its ghost towns, once bustling communities that have been abandoned.

The deserted communities show us how the Industrial Revolution and two World Wars shaped the history of the United States, according to Geotab, a telematics company (think global positioning and vehicle tracking), which developed an interactive map showcasing more than 3,000 abandoned towns across America.

Ghost towns are often associated with the Wild West and Texas does have the most ghost towns with 511 abandoned communities. California follows with 346, and Kansas with 308.

Most of the Texas towns were established during the frontier era, from the early to mid-1800s. Mining towns sprang up around rich mineral deposits while the Mexican government’s favorable terms — a promised 4,000 acres per family for a small fee — attracted settlers.

“In the end, some Texas towns were destroyed by natural disasters and droughts, while others failed once the railroad and highway system reshaped transportation routes,” Geotab’s Kelly Hall told us via email.

Towns founded around particular mineral resources were abandoned when demand dried up.

“Once the need declined or resources were scarce, it caused the population or entire town to vanish,” said Hall. “Others were economically overpowered by neighboring towns, the Great Depression or frontier settlements that simply died down.”

Sixty structures still survive in Bannack, Montana, which was founded in 1862. The town flourished when thousands descended on the area with hopes of making their fortune in gold. By 1860, the gold was harder to reach and, despite a brief resurgence in the 1890s, the town was abandoned by the 1940s.

Natural disasters could also wipe out a town. That’s what happened to Fort Jefferson in Monroe County, Florida.

Built starting in 1846, the fort once helped defend the state against pirates, became a prison during the Civil War, was once used as a quarantine station, and then a refueling station for the U.S. Navy. But Fort Jefferson was abandoned in 1906 after it was damaged by a hurricane.

“With limited access to technology and without today’s emergency management advancements, a hurricane, a tornado or an earthquake could mean the total devastation of an entire community,” Hall said.

But some of these ghost towns, such as Fort Jefferson, have gotten a second life as tourist attractions. The residents are long gone, but the buildings, and the unique history of each town, remain.

Bolsonaro’s Economic Guru Urges Quick Brazil Pension Reform

The future economy minister tapped by Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro insisted on Tuesday that he wanted to fast-track an unpopular pension reform to help balance government finances despite mounting resistance to getting it done this year.

Paulo Guedes, whom Bolsonaro selected as a “super minister” with a portfolio combining the current ministries of finance, planning and development, has urged Congress to pass an initial version of pension reform before the Jan. 1 inauguration.

“Our pension funds are an airplane with five bombs on board that will explode at any moment,” Guedes said on Tuesday. “We’re already late on pension reform, so the sooner the better.”

He called the reform essential to controlling surging public debt in Latin America’s largest economy and making space for public investments to jump-start a sluggish economy. Markets surged in the weeks ahead of Bolsonaro’s Sunday victory on the expectation that he could pull off the tough fiscal agenda.

Brazil’s benchmark Bovespa stock index rose 3.7 percent on Tuesday, boosted by strong corporate earnings and the resolve shown by Guedes on pension reform.

Yet the University of Chicago-trained economist, who is getting his first taste of public service, met with skepticism from more seasoned politicians.

Rodrigo Maia, the speaker of the lower house of Congress, said on Tuesday that reform is urgent, but cautioned that the conditions to pass it were still far off.

Major Olimpio, a lawmaker from Bolsonaro’s own party who helped run his campaign, agreed the political climate was not ready for reform.

Even Bolsonaro’s future chief of staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, said in a Monday radio interview that he only expects to introduce a reform plan next year.

After a meeting with Lorenzoni, Guedes said the decision on timing was ultimately a political one that the chief of staff would weigh.

“We can’t go from a victory at the ballot box to chaos in Congress,” Guedes told journalists.

On other issues, Guedes made clear he was the final word on economic matters, laying out plans to give the central bank more institutional independence and clarifying comments made by Lorenzoni about exchange-rate policy.

“You are all scared because he is a politician talking about the economy. That’s like me talking about politics. It’s not going to work,” Guedes said.

Hot Button Issues

While advisers work out the details of his economic program, Bolsonaro revisited some of his most contentious campaign promises on Monday night: looser gun laws, a ban on government advertising for media that “lie,” and urging a high-profile

judge to join his government.

In interviews with TV stations and on social media, Bolsonaro, a 63-year-old former Army captain who won 55 percent of Sunday’s vote after running on a law-and-order platform, made clear he would push through his conservative agenda.

Bolsonaro said he wants Sergio Moro, the judge who has overseen the sprawling “Car Wash” corruption trials and convicted former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of graft, to serve as his justice minister.

Barring that, he said he would nominate Moro to the Supreme Court. The next vacancy on the court is expected in 2020.

Bolsonaro had not formally invited Moro as of Tuesday afternoon, and the judge remained noncommittal on the proposal.

“In case I’m indeed offered a post, it will be subject to a balanced discussion and reflection,” Moro said in a statement.

Media Showdown

Late on Monday, Bolsonaro said in an interview with Globo TV that he would cut government advertising funds that flow to any “lying” media outlets.

During his campaign, the right-winger imitated U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategy of aggressively confronting the media, taking aim at Globo TV and Brazil’s biggest newspaper, the Folha de S.Paulo.

“I am totally in favor of freedom of the press,” Bolsonaro told Globo TV. “But if it’s up to me, press that shamelessly lies will not have any government support.”

Bolsonaro was referring to the hundreds of millions of reais the Brazilian government spends in advertising each year in local media outlets, mainly for promotions of state-run firms.

The UOL news portal, owned by the Grupo Folha, which also controls the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, used Brazil’s freedom of information act as the basis for a 2015 article that showed Globo received 565 million reais in federal government spending in 2014. Folha got 14.6 million reais that year.

Globo said on Tuesday that federal government advertising represented less than 4 percent of the revenue for its flagship channel, TV Globo, without providing more detailed figures.

Grupo Folha did not reply to requests for comment.

Ocean Shock: Lobster’s Great Migration Sets Up Boom and Bust 

This is part of “Ocean Shock,” a Reuters series exploring climate change’s impact on sea creatures and the people who depend on them. 

A lobster tattoo covers Drew Eaton’s left forearm, its pincers snapping at dock lines connecting it to the American flag on his upper arm. The tattoo is about three-quarters done, but the 27-year-old is too busy with his new boat to finish it. 

Eaton knows what people here in Stonington have been saying about how much the boat cost him. 

“I’ve heard rumors all over town. Small town, everyone talks,” he says. “I’ve heard a million, two million.” 

By the time he was in the third grade, Eaton was already lobstering here on Deer Isle in Downeast Maine. By the time he was in the eighth grade, he’d bought his first boat, a 20-footer, from a family friend. The latest one, a 46-footer built over the winter at a nearby boatyard, is his fourth. 

Standing on the seawall after hauling lobster traps for about 12 hours on a foggy day this August, he says he’s making plenty of money to cover the boat loan. He’s unloaded 17 crates, each carrying 90 pounds of lobster, for a total haul of nearly $5,500. It’s a pretty typical day for him. 

Eaton belongs to a new generation of Maine lobstermen that’s riding high, for now, on a sweet spot of climate change. Two generations ago, the entire New England coast had a thriving lobster industry. Today, lobster catches have collapsed in southern New England, and the only state with a significant harvest is north in Maine, where the seafood practically synonymous with the state has exploded. 

The thriving crustaceans have created a kind of nautical gold rush, with some young lobstermen making well into six figures a year. But it’s a boom with a bust already written in its wake, and the lobstermen of the younger generation may well pay the highest price. Not only have they heavily mortgaged themselves with pricey custom boats in the rush for quick profits, they’ll also bear the brunt of climate change — not to mention the possible collapse of the lobstering industry in Maine as the creatures flourish ever northward. 

Shifts by 85 percent of species

In the U.S. North Atlantic, fisheries data show that at least 85 percent of the nearly 70 federally tracked species have shifted north or deeper, or both, in recent years when compared with the norm over the past half-century. And the most dramatic of species shifts have occurred in the last 10 or 15 years. 

Just in the last decade, for example, black sea bass have migrated up the East Coast into southern New England and are caught in the same traps that once caught lobsters. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, only 50 percent of lobster caught in the United States came from Maine. That started to shift in the 2000s, and this decade, nearly 85 percent of all lobster landings are in Maine. 

Pushed out of their traditional habitats by dramatically rising ocean temperatures and other fallout from climate change, the lobsters are part of a global dislocation of marine species that threatens livelihoods and cultures in the lands where they once thrived. 

On this island where two-lane roads twist around cedar-shingled houses and the rocky shore, lobstermen set the rhythm, often rising hours before dawn and resting not long after sunset. 

Although young guns like Eaton are flush with cash now, old-timers know that lobsters no longer thrive in warming waters to the south, and they’ve heard the talk about how fast the Gulf of Maine is warming. They fret that lobsters will start failing here, too, and Stonington will lose its mantle as lobster capital of the world to somewhere in Canada. And these days, there’s not much to fall back on if it does. 

They remember back when fishermen could catch plenty of cod, pollock and halibut if lobsters weren’t filling their traps. 

Until recently, shrimp was a reasonably reliable catch for local fishermen. But in 2014, regulators closed the shrimp fishery entirely. 

“Here you’ve got these coastal fishing communities that are totally based on what comes out of the water,” says Ted Ames, a commercial fisherman who became a scientist and co-founded the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries. 

He sits in the research center’s main conference room overlooking Stonington harbor, where hundreds of lobster boats bob on their mooring balls and the docks bustle with fishermen and their traps. 

In coastal Maine, he says, there’s little to sustain a community other than lobster and tourism. 

“You eliminate lobsters, and you have an instant Appalachia, right here.” 

 

Lobstering over time 

Unlike kids in most fishing communities around the world, youngsters here in Stonington clamor to get on the water. The gold-rush fever has gotten so bad, the local high school even has a program that encourages students to graduate before heading off to make a living from fishing. 

The skippers program, as it is known, offers the allotment of traps as a reward for staying in school. And when the students graduate, it streamlines the process of getting a full Maine skipper license, gradually increasing the number of traps to the maximum of 800. 

Deer Isle-Stonington High life sciences teacher Seth Laplant sympathizes with the students who chafe at being in school. 

“We have students that, you know, run their own business during the summer and do very well, and then they come back here and they have to ask to go to the bathroom,” he says. “It’s like a completely different world for them, and some of them do struggle with that. They’re used to being their own boss, and they’re respected in the community and in their families as adults.” 

But like many teens, they still play the one-upmanship game. Only with these students, it revolves around the size of their boats or the number of traps they own. 

Colby Schneider tells the class he’s the part-owner of a 30-foot fishing boat. 

Alex Boyce can’t believe it. “Are you serious, you have a 30-foot Novi?” 

“Yes,” Colby shoots back. “Me, my brother and my mom went thirds on it.” 

Alex rolls his eyes. He’s still accumulating traps and owns about a third of the 150 traps that students in the program are permitted to use. And his boat is only 19 feet long. 

Later in the day, Alex gathers with his father and grandfather in his grandparents’ kitchen. 

“Every year he asks: ‘Do I have to go back to school? Can I go fishing?'” says his father, offshore lobsterman Theodore Boyce II. “He went one weekend and made $700 in two days. That’s a tough thing to say no to as a parent. … But if he doesn’t finish school, he doesn’t go fishing.” 

Alex interrupts his father: “I was going to say, you seem to have a pretty easy job saying no.” Theodore’s eyes dart toward his son, and Alex backs down. 

Alex’s grandfather, Theodore “Ted” Boyce, is a fisherman and retired teacher. The 69-year-old, who still fishes part time, hopes his grandson can make a decent living on the water, but he isn’t sure. 

Invasive creature

In the summer of 2017, chatter on the Stonington docks was that lobstering wasn’t going to be as lucrative as it had been in recent years. Lobstermen were pulling fewer lobsters, and the traps often came up coated with layers of slimy sea squirts — an invasive jellyfish-type creature. 

The arrival of the squirts may or may not be related to climate change or the size of the catch, but it seemed to be a harbinger. As autumn moved toward winter, many of the traps piled high near the docks were encrusted with squirt carcasses. 

And when the Maine fisheries released their 2017 landings numbers, the chatter on the docks turned out to be true: Maine lobstermen landed 15 percent less than the record haul in 2016, the lowest catch since the beginning of the decade. 

​Lobster rush 

The waters between the islands of Deer Isle, Isle au Haut and Vinalhaven tell the story of the lobster rush. 

Thousands upon thousands of colorfully painted buoys decorate the surface, marking the point where traps are strung below. Each fisherman has a color pattern: reds and whites, blacks and pinks, and yellows, oranges and greens. Most are striped horizontally, making them easier to identify when floating on their sides. 

Despite Maine’s reputation as a largely undeveloped state, it’s a thoroughly urban world under the water here. At the height of the summer, there are probably traps every 10 to 20 feet in the near-shore waters. 

To describe a lobster pot as a trap, though, is a bit insulting to most other traps. As a practical matter, this is free-range aquaculture. The traps are designed to allow smaller, younger lobsters to come and go as they please, feasting on rotten fish. Even larger lobsters come and go, although with a little more effort. 

The unlucky ones are snacking when the trap’s owner decides to check it. 

Lobster buoys like the ones off Stonington once punctuated waters along the entire New England coast. Between 1960 and 2000, Connecticut and Rhode Island in southern New England accounted for about 15 percent of the lobster harvest. Since 2010, however, lobster catches have collapsed in both states, with a combined haul of less than 2 percent. 

Dramatic drop

Even Massachusetts Bay, which sits on the southwestern edge of the Gulf of Maine, has seen the catch dip dramatically. In the 1980s and 1990s, when lobster’s popularity with U.S. diners exploded, Massachusetts boats accounted for 20 to 30 percent of the harvest. Today, their share hovers around 10 percent. 

Southern New England lobsters once were protected from the warm water temperatures in Long Island Sound by upwelling from the Labrador current that tucked in along the coast of eastern Connecticut, Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts. 

As the waters in the sound became warmer and warmer during the summer months, the cooling current couldn’t keep up, and cold-water species such as lobsters no longer thrived in southern New England. And what remained of the lobster stock was vulnerable to an unsightly shell disease that made them worthless at the market. 

But even as the lobster business boomed in Maine, the waters here were warming faster than almost any other body of water in the world. 

Since 1980, the waters in the Gulf of Maine have steadily heated up, but that warming accelerated in the last decade. In fact, the average sea-surface temperature has been between 1 and 4 degrees Fahrenheit above the norm for most of the 2010s. 

The warming is driven by direct and indirect effects of climate change, says Andrew Pershing, chief science officer of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. 

He says oceans the world over are absorbing heat from the warming atmosphere. The gulf’s warming, however, is compounded by its position in the North Atlantic, which is close to the weakening Labrador current flowing from the north and a strengthening warm Gulf Stream current flowing from the south. 

“You know,” says Ames, the lobsterman turned scientist, “lobster is the best example of global warming we have.” 

‘Go-getters’ 

Perley Frazier has been working these waters for more than 50 years. And at 70 he still hauls the maximum permitted 800 traps. 

His buoys, black on top, white in the middle and red on the bottom, are usually found a mile or so from town, near islands that once were quarried for granite by Italian immigrants. The stone was used in the construction of the George Washington Bridge in New York and the John F. Kennedy memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. 

No one works in the quarries anymore, he says as he slows his boat, Jericho’s Way. 

The rising sun winks off the peaks of swells and the thousands of buoys ahead of him. Without checking his chart plotter, he picks out a string of his buoys from about 100 yards away. 

Behind Frazier, his daughter, Lindsay Frazier Copeland, and son-in-law, Brad Copeland, prepare to hook a buoy and haul up traps. After a haul of three keepers, Lindsay and Brad shove the traps back into the water. Frazier throttles up and spins the boat a few feet to the next buoy. It’s a well-practiced routine, and not much said is among the crew, called sternmen. 

“It’s hard work, this,” Frazier says during one of their smoke breaks. “It’s hard to find a good sternman who wants to work this hard.” Since this trip, in fact, Brad and Lindsay have moved to Florida, and Frazier has put his boat up for sale. 

On the way to the docks to unload his harvest, Frazier points to a trawler heading into port. It’s one of the few non-lobster boats in the town — a herring trawler that goes offshore to catch the small fish, which are used almost exclusively for bait. 

And they can’t land enough herring to satisfy the local need for lobster bait; it’s trucked in from New Jersey, among other places. There are even stories of frozen fish heads from Asia finding their way into Maine lobster traps. 

These days, Frazier is using cowhide and discarded fish carcasses as bait. Others are using menhaden, or pogies, which migrated north into these waters even as the herring population has dropped off. 

Not much else to catch

The truth is, apart from lobster, there’s not much to catch here. And certainly not in the numbers that fishermen could make a living on. 

Until this century, only about 50 percent of all fishing revenue in Maine came from lobstering, according to U.S. fisheries data. In the 2000s, that started to steadily rise until, in 2016, it topped 82 percent. 

Later, Frazier sits in his armchair at home, after saving the largest five lobsters he caught for dinner. He sips a Canadian whiskey and recalls the days when there were other ways to make a living on the water besides lobster. 

Take shrimp, for instance. “They always said shrimp needs cold water. Well, we haven’t had any cold water,” Frazier says. 

“That’s the biggest thing — my biggest worry is about global warming. I mean, I’ve seen different fish that’s supposed to be down south that’s up here already, right now.  

 

“We got like triggerfish and we’re gettin’ butterfish, and fella told me the other day … that he had a seahorse.” 

He looks at all the new boats being added to the local fishing fleet and isn’t sure lobster can sustain them. 

“These guys, they got three-quarters of a million just in the boat,” he says. “And the gear, another quarter-million dollars. They are a million.” 

Maine’s fishing fleet is the newest in the nation among states with more than 200 U.S. Coast Guard-documented commercial fishing vessels. And it’s not close. Maine’s boats are an average 24 years old. The average age of the next two states, Massachusetts and Louisiana, is 31. Alaskan boats’ average age is 37, Oregon, 45. 

Still, Frazier doesn’t begrudge the money that younger skippers on newer boats are making. 

“I mean, these guys work hard and they go hard and put a lot of time in,” Frazier says. “Young guys, go-getters. And they did it right at the exact right time.” 

Six-figure income 

Back when Drew Eaton was in grade school, it took him two years to buy that first boat, which a family friend’s daughter no longer used. 

“I could buy half the boat and the motor the same year,” he says. He worked for the lobsterman the next summer to pay off the balance. 

Eaton left Stonington after graduating from high school and went to Pennsylvania for a year to study automotive collision repair. He didn’t stay in that field for long. “I worked in a body shop for a year, and I was getting $12 an hour,” he says. 

So he returned to what he knew. 

The young lobsterman’s boat now easily produces a six-figure income before expenses. He doesn’t linger on doubts about the future of lobstering in Maine. He leaves that for others. 

When he bought his last boat, he says, his parents were skeptical. “They thought I was going too quick.”  

Eaton was 22 and it was the same type of boat his father had just bought. 

“And then I started catching more than Dad. And then I wasn’t moving so quick.” 

And besides, he says, “I am young enough that if I fail, I can start over again in something totally different.” 

Pacific Trade Pact to Start at End of 2018 After Six Members Ratify

A landmark 11-member trade deal aimed at slashing barriers in some of Asia Pacific’s fastest growing economies will come into force at the end of December, the New Zealand government said on Wednesday.

The deal would move forward after Australia informed New Zealand that it had become the sixth nation to formally ratify the deal, alongside Canada, Japan, Mexico and Singapore.

“This triggers the 60 day countdown to entry into force of the Agreement and the first round of tariff cuts,” said New Zealand Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker. His country is responsible for official tasks such as receiving and circulating notifications made by members of the pact.

The original 12-member deal was thrown into limbo early last year when President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement to prioritize protecting U.S. jobs.

The 11 remaining nations, led by Japan, finalized a revised trade pact in January, called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

The success of the deal has been touted by officials in Japan and other member countries as an antidote to counter growing U.S. protectionism, and with the hope that Washington would eventually sign back up.

Australia said the agreement will boost agricultural exports, set to be worth more than A$52 billion ($36.91 billion) this year despite a crippling drought across much of the country’s east coast.

“It will give Australian grain farmers a good reason to smile, at a time when drought conditions have played havoc for many, by ensuring improved market access and better grain prices once more favorable seasonal conditions return,” said Luke Mathews, trading and economics manager at industry body, GrainGrowers Australia.

The deal will reduce tariffs in economies that together amount to more than 13 percent of global GDP — a total of $10 trillion. With the United States, it would have represented 40 percent.

The five member countries still to ratify the deal are Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Peru and Vietnam.

Pistol Annies Tackle Divorce, Complicated Women with Humor

The Pistol Annies’ sassy new song about reclaiming singlehood called “Got My Name Changed Back” has raised some eyebrows for its lyrics about a husband who cheats while on the road and prompted speculation about who might have inspired it.

 

The trio of Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe won’t say, but Presley notes that there are two divorces and two ex-husbands between them.

 

“It was a feel-good divorce song that was needed,” Presley said. “You’re welcome.”

 

“We can say whatever we want together a little more bravely than we ever would alone,” Lambert added. “Our whole catalog has been about celebrating things that weren’t so positive and putting them in a humorous light.”

 

The women tackle failed marriages, desperate wives, female friendships and complicated women with a lot of wry humor and just the right amount of sadness on their first album in five years called “Interstate Gospel,” out on Friday.

 

They wrote the record together without any outside writers, which has mostly been their pattern. “We haven’t written any songs with other writers,” Lambert said, but then the other two correct her, noting there was one song on their first album that her ex-husband Blake Shelton co-wrote with them.

 

“Oh well, he’s gone,” Lambert said with a laugh.

 

It was another divorce song that prompted them to start writing again after years of each working individually on their solo albums.

 

Lambert came up with a verse and chorus for the regretful tune, “When I Was His Wife,” and sent it to Presley and Monroe in a voice note. Soon after they were hanging out at Lambert’s house churning out songs.

 

“We don’t do per se writing sessions,” Presley said.

 

“We do slumber parties with guitars,” Lambert said.

 

The break between records has been productive for all three singers. Lambert released a critically-acclaimed double album, “The Weight of These Wings,” while Monroe and Presley each released two solo albums over the past five years.

 

“It’s like we have so much life to talk about, we have enough for solo projects and as a band,” Lambert said.

 

The song they will admit is about themselves is “Stop Drop and Roll One,” a country rocker in which they celebrate their differences and similarities. As the song goes, “One’s got the matches, one’s got the lashes, one’s running her mouth again.”

 

“If we all dumped our purses out on the table, it would be ‘Stop Drop and Roll One,'” Presley said.

 

A song like “Best Years of My Life” showcases their ability to craft emotionally complex female characters longing for escape from their monotonous lives through a recreational drug or a trashy TV show. “Masterpiece” acknowledges the public fascination with the glossy image of a perfect relationship, even if it’s not real.

 

“There’s a lot of stuff that you have to go through (as a woman),” said Monroe. “This album touches on a lot of that and there’s some humor and twists in there that make it a little less hard.”

 

The trio isn’t doing a tour to promote the album, just three shows in Nashville, New York and Los Angeles, mostly because Presley is pregnant, although they will be performing at the Country Music Association Awards on Nov. 14.

 

“This record feels very special and I feel like when we do an intimate couple of shows, it gives people a chance to live with it on tape and live with it in person and go from there,” Lambert said.

Washington Residents Celebrate Halloween With Healthy Run Through Cemetery

Kids – and a lot of adults – around the country are counting the hours left until they can celebrate the spookiest night of the year – Halloween. But some folks prefer not to wait – celebrations, parties and events dedicated to All Hallows’ Eve are in full swing. Maxim Moskalkov caught up with some Washingtonians who celebrate the day in a healthy way – with a Dead Man’s Run through the historic Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

UN Says Planned Elections in E. Ukraine Could Contradict International Agreements

The U.N.’s political chief cautioned Tuesday that planned local elections in two separatist areas of eastern Ukraine next month could contradict international agreements. 

“The U.N. urges all parties to avoid any unilateral steps that could deepen the divide or depart from the spirit and letter of the Minsk agreements,” Rosemary DiCarlo told a Security Council meeting on the issue. 

In 2015, France, Germany, Russia, Ukraine and pro-Russia separatists signed the Minsk agreement in the Belarus capital. It seeks to halt the fighting through a cease-fire and the withdrawal of foreign troops and heavy weapons, and open the way to a permanent, legal and political solution to the conflict in Ukraine, which began in 2014. 

De facto authorities in the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk have announced that they plan to hold elections on Nov. 11. 

“As we understand, two separate ballots in both Donetsk and Luhansk are reportedly being planned: one for the “head of Republic” and one for the “People’s Councils,” DiCarlo said. She said the posts will reportedly be for five-year terms. 

She noted that election-related matters are covered in the Minsk agreements. 

“I therefore caution that any such measures taken outside Ukraine’s constitutional and legal framework would be incompatible with the Minsk agreements,” she said. 

Western council members echoed her concerns and condemned the planned ballot.

“These sham elections staged by Russia run directly counter to efforts to implement the Minsk peace agreements,” said U.S. deputy U.N. Ambassador Jonathan Cohen. “The elections also obstruct and undermine efforts to end the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.”

“We do see these so-called elections as illegitimate,” said British Ambassador Karen Pierce. “They are the latest example in the Russian campaign to destabilize Ukraine. They are a clear breach of the Minsk agreements, and they are illegal under Ukrainian law.”

Even China, a close ally of Moscow, expressed concerns. 

“China respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states, including Ukraine, and opposes the interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs by any external forces,” Beijing’s deputy envoy told the council. 

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia dismissed the criticism. 

“Today, we are witnesses of the latest round of hypocrisy — the total and inexcusable sabotage by Kyiv of the Minsk agreements, over the long term, factually from Day One, has been completely ignored,” Nebenzia said. “Instead of recognizing this fact, in the discussion in the Security Council we are discussing the forthcoming elections in November, which are a necessary measure in conditions of sabotage by Kyiv of its political commitments.”

He said European and American sanctions imposed on Moscow because of the Ukrainian situation is an invitation to Kyiv to continue undermining its Minsk obligations because Russia will be the one to pay for it. 

Ukraine’s ambassador, Volodymyr Yelchenko, said holding these “so-called early elections’ would amount to putting armed gangs’ leaders in seats in illegitimate representative bodies.” He said the move is a “provocation” and a “further escalation” of the situation by Russia. 

While he acknowledged to reporters later that there is little Kyiv authorities can do to stop the voting from going forward, he said the results would be null and void and not be recognized by Ukraine or the international community. 

After a brief calm over the summer months, the U.N. said during the past six weeks, cease-fire violations have spiked, and casualty levels have risen. It also reports increased tensions in the Sea of Azov, warning there is a “need to avoid any risk of escalation, provocation or miscalculation.” 

The Kyiv government has been clashing with Russian-backed separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine since 2014. The United Nations says more than 3,000 civilians have been killed, and up to 9,000 injured since the start of the conflict.

У ніч на 30 жовтня в Києві зафіксований температурний рекорд – обсерваторія

У ніч на 30 жовтня в Києві зафіксований температурний рекорд, повідомила Центральна геофізична обсерваторія імені Бориса Срезневського.

«Температура ночі 30 жовтня у Києві вдруге за 137 років не опустила стовпчик нижче 12,2 градуса, тобто повторила минуле рекордне значення для цієї доби 2013 року», – заявили кліматологи.

Вони підсумували, що зважаючи на високий температурний фон, цьогорічний жовтень виявився одним із найтепліших за 137 років.

У США хочуть скерувати на кордон з Мексикою тисячі солдатів в очікуванні «каравану мігрантів» із Гондурасу – відео

Білий дім збирається направити до кордону з Мексикою кілька тисяч солдатів. Президент США Дональд Трамп має серйозний намір не допустити «караван мігрантів» із Центральної Америки на територію Сполучених Штатів. (Відео Reuters)

Росія порушує суверенітет України в Азовському морі – представник США в ООН

Росія порушує суверенітет України своїми діями в Азовському морі, заявив представник США в ООН Джонатан Коен.

«Агресивні дії в Азовському морі, де створюються перешкоди для нормальної навігації, демонструють нахабне порушення територіальної цілісності України та підрив регіональної стабільності», – сказав Коен.

Крім того, він прокоментував заплановані на 11 листопада вибори в підтримуваних Росією угрупованнях «ДНР» та «ЛНР», які контролюють частину Донецької та Луганської областей. На думку Коена, цей крок перешкоджає імплементації Мінських домовленостей.

Він заявив, що санкції проти Росії вводитимуть доти, доки повністю не будуть виконані Мінські угоди.

Збройний конфлікт на Донбасі триває від 2014 року після російської анексії Криму. Україна і Захід звинувачують Росію у збройній підтримці сепаратистів. Кремль відкидає ці звинувачення і заявляє, що на Донбасі можуть перебувати хіба що російські «добровольці». За даними ООН, за час конфлікту загинули понад 10 300 людей.

Merkel Looks to Africa to Cement A Legacy Shaped by Migration

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged on Tuesday a new development fund to tackle unemployment in Africa, a problem spurring the mass migration that has shaped her long premiership as it nears its end.

Merkel hosted a summit of African leaders a day after her announcement that she would retire from politics by 2021, which sent shockwaves across Europe and started a race to succeed her.

She needs the Compact with Africa summit to show that progress has been made in addressing the aftermath of one of the defining moments of her 13 years in power: her 2015 decision to open Germany’s doors to more than a million asylum seekers.

The Berlin summit, attended by 12 presidents and prime ministers including Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, is designed to showcase the continent as a stable destination for German investment.

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde is also there, along with a host of international development officials.

The aim is to create good jobs for Africans, easing the poverty which, along with political instability and violence, has encouraged large numbers to head for Europe. But with Africa’s population growing at almost three percent a year, the task is enormous.

“We Europeans have a great interest in African states having a bright economic outlook,” Merkel said in her opening speech, announcing the fund to help small and medium-sized enterprises from both Europe and Africa to invest on the continent.

The 119,000 Africans who arrived in Europe in 2018, according to the International Organization for Migration, are the tip of the iceberg. International Labor Organization figures show that 16 million migrants were on the move within Africa in 2014.

While European Union countries invested $22 billion in Africa in 2017, breakneck economic growth will be needed to help bring down the migrant numbers.

Berlin hopes Germany’s manufacturing-based economy, which drove Eastern Europe’s rapid economic growth after the 1989 collapse of Communism, could turn things round.

Merkel needs results fast if she is to ensure the leadership of her Christian Democrats passes to a centrist ally, such as its general secretary, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

A marshall plan for Africa?

Other candidates for the party leadership, including Health Minister Jens Spahn or her old rival, the strongly pro-business Friedrich Merz, are well to her right politically and could be expected to want to challenge much of her legacy.

Merkel has said she will remain chancellor but that her current, fourth term up to 2021 will be her last. A whopping 71 percent of Germans welcomed Merkel’s decision, a poll released Tuesday by broadcasters RTL and n-tv showed.

Germany has introduced tax incentives for its companies to set up plants in Africa, reflecting her view that state aid must give way to private investment if jobs are to be created in their millions.

This would be part of a “Marshall Plan for Africa” – named after the U.S.-funded plan that helped to rebuild European states including Germany after World War II – that she sees as central to her legacy.

Merkel presented her decision to open Germany’s borders in 2015 as an unavoidable necessity driven by the vast scale of the human tide, that year mostly fleeing the civil war in Syria.

An agreement with Turkey sharply curtailed the arrival of refugees into the EU through Greece. But hundreds of thousands of mainly African migrants continued to travel across the Mediterranean, a flow that finally began to abate in the past year with improved efforts to halt smuggling from Libya.

The crisis has upturned European politics, bringing the far right to power in Italy and Austria, and in Germany revitalizing the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, whose demand that the country shut its borders to migrants helped to fuel its surge into parliament in last year’s election.

A successful outcome to the summit may help to strengthen Merkel’s case for remaining chancellor even after stepping down from the party leadership, and could quieten her coalition partners in Bavaria’s conservative CSU and the Social Democrats (SPD).

All three parties have suffered punishing setbacks in regional elections this month, building internal party pressure for them to switch leaders or break up the coalition.

Companies Rule Out Interest in Alitalia, in Blow to Rescue Plan

Major companies on Tuesday ruled out involvement in a new rescue of Alitalia, complicating a plan led by Rome in which state-controlled railway Ferrovie dello Stato (FS) will bid for the airline this week and bring in partners.

Alitalia was put under special administration last year, leaving the government once again looking to find a buyer to save the carrier. It will be the airline’s third rescue in a decade.

FS is due to present an offer for the whole of Alitalia on Wednesday subject to a series of conditions. FS’s offer would only be a “transitional phase,” a source close to the deal told Reuters.

The source added the deal would be completed in two separate steps, with FS picking up Alitalia on set conditions and then, at a later stage, being joined by an Italian partner and a international one, from the airline sector.

The source added there was very little visibility on next steps, and it was not clear which partners would join FS. “The situation is very messy,” the source said.

Earlier this month Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio suggested that state-controlled companies like oil major Eni , postal operator Poste and defense group Leonardo could all play a role in the relaunch.

Di Maio, also industry minister, said that there were many private investors also interested in Alitalia.

But on Tuesday Eni said that any suggestion that it might pick up a stake in the carrier was “groundless” and that it would not play a role in the rescue, a spokesperson said.

Leonardo too will not join any relaunch of Alitalia, which has already accumulated a loss of over 300 million euros ($340.86 million), a separate source close to the matter told Reuters.

“It would be crazy for Leonardo to enter this madness,” the source said. Shares in the group were down almost 1.5 percent at 1600 GMT after Italian dailies had reported that the company would be involved in an effort spearheaded by FS.

Last month Poste Chief Executive Matteo del Fante said the group was “not at all interested” in joining an overhaul effort for the airline.

Cash drain

Alitalia has cost Italian tax payers almost 10 billion euros over the last 20 years, more than the market capitalization of Air France-KLM, Turkish Airlines, Norwegian Air, Finnair and SAS added together, according to Andrea Giuricin, CEO of transport advisory firm TRA Consulting.

Last year Alitalia accounted for only 8.5 percent of the international traffic to and from Italy, Giuricin added, just under a third of Ryanair’s share.

The sale process was delayed due to the change of Italian government earlier this year, but the ruling coalition, that comprises the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the far-right League, pledged it would close a deal by Wednesday.

Germany’s Lufthansa said earlier on Tuesday that it had no interest in participating in a government-led restructuring effort.

Alitalia must pay back the Italian state almost 1 billion euros in a bridge loan and related interest by mid-December.

($1 = 0.8801 euros)

Women Make their Mark at Comicon

Each October, fans of comics, anime, graphic novels and manga…Japanese comics…descend on New York for Comic Con. A highlight of the international pop culture festival is cosplay. Cosplayers dress as characters from their favorite comics, and this year, as reporter Asli Pelit discovered, there were more women in costume. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Venice Hit by High Tide as Italy Buffeted by Winds; 6 Killed

Venice was inundated by an exceptional high tide Monday, putting three-quarters of the famed Italian lagoon city under water as large swaths of the rest of Italy experienced flooding and heavy winds that toppled trees and other objects, killing six people.

 

Tourists and residents alike donned high boots to navigate the streets of Venice after strong winds raised the water level 156 centimeters (over 5 feet) before receding. The water exceeded the raised walkways normally put out in flooded areas in Venice, forcing their removal. Transport officials closed the water bus system except to outlying islands because of the emergency.

 

Venice frequently floods when high winds push in water from the lagoon, but Monday’s levels were exceptional. The peak level was the highest reached since December 2008, according to Venice statistics.

 

Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said a series of underwater barriers that are being erected in the lagoon would have prevented the inundation. The project, nicknamed Moses, is long overdue, beset by cost overruns and corruption scandals.

 

Brugnaro said he had asked to talk with Premier Giuseppe Conte to underline the urgency of the project, which would raise barriers when the tide reaches 109 centimeters (43 inches). That happens, on average, four times a year in Venice.

Residents and businesses typically reinforce their doors with metal or wooden panels to prevent water from entering the bottom floors, but photos on social media showed shop owners using water pumps this time to try to protect their wares.

 

Much of Italy is under alert for flooding from heavy rains, a problem exacerbated by a lack of maintenance of the country’s many river beds. High winds toppled trees that killed passers-by in four incidents in Naples, Lazio and Liguria.

 

Officials closed major tourist attractions in Rome, including the Colosseum and Roman Forum, early because of heavy rains.

 

Veneto regional governor Luca Zaia says flooding this week could reach the levels of the 1966 flood that struck both Venice and Florence. The Interior Ministry urged officials in storm-struck regions, about half of the country, to consider closing schools and offices for a second day Tuesday.

Zimbabwean Widows Punished by Tribal Courts for Selling Gold-rich Land

When massive gold deposits were discovered about a decade ago in Chimanimani, eastern Zimbabwe, the rural district became famous for attracting hundreds of artisanal miners from across the country every year.

Wealthy small-scale prospectors regularly offer residents generous deals for their land, locals say. To many widows selling their unused land, that kind of money can be life-changing and a source of greater autonomy.

But in recent years, widows in Chimanimani have found that taking a deal can have consequences. Many say they have been taken to tribal courts by their husbands’ families for selling portions of their land.

“I feel bruised,” said Mavis, a 63-year-old widow from Haroni village who did not want to disclose her surname.

“I lived in peace as a widow in my home until last year, when I sold an unwanted acre of my late husband’s land to korokoza,” she said, using a colloquial term for an artisanal gold miner.

He paid her $2,000 in cash. “All hell broke loose,” Mavis explained.

When her male relatives found out about the sale, they reported her to the tribal court.

“The accusations were insane. They said I bewitched my husband, even though he died way back in 1979, in the colonial war,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The cultural norms of the Ndau people, who make up the majority of the population in Chimanimani, forbid widows from owning land their husbands leave behind or selling that land unless a male family member controls the transaction.

As her uncles laid claim to her late husband’s property, Mavis joined a growing number of widows whose male family members have denied them the right to sell land they are supposed to legally inherit.

“In our village, I am the fourth widow since 2017 to be brought to (tribal court) for selling land without male approval,” she said.

Her case is still ongoing.

Tribal Justice

According to Zimbabwe’s latest census, which was conducted in 2012, there are more than half a million widows in the country.

Throughout rural areas, widows routinely find themselves harassed and exploited by in-laws claiming the property their husbands left behind, rights activists say.

O’bren Nhachi, an activist and researcher focusing on natural resources and governance, said the problem has gotten worse in Chimanimani over the past few years, as the gold rush has pushed up the value of land.

“Chimanimani was a poor backwater district until gold was discovered. Suddenly, local land prices shot up because artisanal gold diggers are paying huge sums to snap up plots,” he said. “This has brought conflict, with male family members using patriarchy as a tool to dispossess widows of potential land sales income.”

Although Zimbabwe’s constitution gives women and men equal rights to property and land, in many rural communities tradition overrides national legislation, experts say.

Tribal custom dictates that chiefs are the custodians of communal land, and responsible for allocating land to villagers.

“A woman cannot sell land unless she has obtained permission from my Committee of Seven,” said Mutape Moyo, a tribal headman in Chimanimani, referring to the group of elders — all men — who hear cases in the local customary court.

But this makes it unclear who has legal ownership of land, Nhachi said.

“The laws of the country say the state is the owner of all land. Tribal chiefs are merely ‘custodians’. Does custodian mean they are owners?”

In a country where women carry out 70 percent of the agricultural work – according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization – Nhachi said more women need to be made aware of how to legally hold onto their land if their husbands die.

He said he would like to see the government implement legal awareness programs and properly define who owns and distributes land in rural Zimbabwe.

No Recourse

Provincial administrator Edward Seenza, the head civil servant of Manicaland province, where Chimanimani is located, said that if widows lose their land in tribal courts, there are ways for them to appeal and reverse the ruling.

“If anyone is unhappy with a village head’s decision, they can speak to a chief,’ he said. “Where this does not produce the desired result, they can take their complaint to the district administrator and further up to my office.”

But activists say few rural women know they have that option. And those who do are often too poor or too scared to travel to a government office.

Seenza said that so far, not one woman has come to him to appeal a tribal court ruling.

And without legal help, widows denied the right to sell their land can be left devastated.

Rejoice, a 38-year-old widow from Chipinge district, sold her late husband’s mango orchard two years ago to a wealthy gold digger for $4,000. She needed the money to pay for medication to treat a kidney tumor.

Her father-in-law took her to tribal court.

“I was ordered to refund the buyer, in cash, with punitive interest; pay court fines for ‘disrespect’; and surrender the rest of the land to male family custodians,” said Rejoice, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.

She paid back the buyer as much as she could, but still owes him some money. And her husband’s family is still fighting for ownership of the land, she added.

The court told her that if she does not honor the ruling, she could be thrown out of her home.

“I will end up a destitute, living on the roadside,” she said. “The thought of this gives me sleepless nights.”