Should the World Prepare for Emperor Xi?

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OZY Newsmakers: Deep dives on the names you need to know.

The temperature hovered well below freezing, the day Xi Jinping took the stage at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In an age of terrorism and refugees, rising nationalism and widening income gaps, it felt as if years of optimism had given way to a chill felt around the globe. The Chinese president noted that anxiety in his keynote speech: “Many people feel bewildered and wonder: What has gone wrong with the world?”

The problems in the worldwide economy were myriad, but Xi had a solution: namely, China, a steadying force in a troubling sea. And now just a little more than a year later, the 64-year-old has a prescription for who should calmly guide that ship: himself. 

On Sunday, the Communist Party of China announced a proposal to remove the two-term limits for presidents, paving the way for Xi to lead long past 2023 and perhaps indefinitely. The move culminates a shift from the consensus rule that has dominated Chinese politics for decades and puts Xi in the category of one-man rulers not seen since Mao Zedong, whose influence endured for more than 40 years. And Xi’s ambitious play extends beyond Chinese domination. He joins Vladimir Putin of Russia and the recently deceased Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore in building a government around strongman leadership, in direct contradiction to the diffused democracies of the West. “China is putting forward one model for how a modern society may organize itself,” says Jamie Metzl, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and former deputy staff director of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

China’s leaders are … doubling down on this bet that they can both maintain innovation and maintain strict political control.

Jamie Metzl, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council

It’s a gamble for Xi, one that bets China can keep its dynamism while not becoming “stilted and sclerotic” by single-party rule, Metzl says. If that gambit proves successful, the model could spread in a way unheard of since World War II — especially as more open governments in the European Union and United States have been destabilized amid populist takeovers in the form of Brexit and the election of President Donald Trump. “This is a very, very challenging time” for democracy, Metzl says. “China’s leaders are seeing that and doubling down on this bet that they can both maintain innovation and maintain strict political control.” 

 

“Today, we also live in a world of contradictions,” Xi told the world in Davos, and it’s fitting that he — a man of contradictions himself — has been tasked with somehow combining democratic industrialism with autocratic authority.

This lover of American mob films, from The Godfather  to The Departed, has nonetheless waged an anti-corruption campaign that his critics say allows him to purge the party of dissidents indiscriminately, while his fans welcome it for bringing much needed reform. Just this weekend, his government seized control of Anbang, an insurance giant, a move that could have been timed to bolster support for Xi ahead of Sunday’s news. Married to a literal rock star, a famous People’s Liberation Army singer, he is a much more cautious scholar of Confucian political theory, which promotes stability, and fears the political disorder allowed under democracy. And despite being born a crown prince of the communist party, Xi lived in rural poverty for years after his father, Xi Zhongxun, was purged from all leadership positions by Mao, in part after he supported the publication of a book that praised a competing communist leader. 

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Posters of Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) and late communist leader Mao Zedong are seen at a market in Beijing on Feb. 26, 2018.

Source GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty

After studying chemical engineering at the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, Xi spent time in the military and briefly studied agriculture with an American family in Muscatine, Iowa. After returning to China, he held a series of government posts in prosperous coastal cities, from Fujian to Zheijang and Shanghai, before being named a Politburo Standing Committee member and a key part of President Hu Jintao’s succession plan in October 2007.

He now occupies the top offices of the party, the state and the military, an exalted rank that has earned him titles like China’s “paramount” or “core” leader. And although Xi has taken steps toward consolidating his power, he does face some roadblocks. Some read his move as a sign of market weakness: “Authoritarian leaders tend to arise during periods of negative social mood,” says Mark Galasiewski, chief Asia strategist for Elliott Wave International. “China’s main stock market index, the Shanghai Composite Index, is still down by 46 percent since its 2007 high. And Xi is not the only authoritarian leader to have consolidated power in the wake of the global financial crisis.” 

China has a more established political system than Russia or Singapore, meaning Xi will have to continue appeasing various sects even if he is to remain a figurehead for the foreseeable future. Establishment politicos will likely be pleased with the continuation of his leadership, which has coincided with strong economic and political gains. But up-and-comers may feel stifled. And Xi also has enemies, particularly those targeted by his anti-corruption sweeps. 

What is certain is that Xi has no plans to lose. Looking back at his father’s legacy, it’s somewhat ironic that Xi is unraveling the consensus-rule policies that “recalled to life” his father — to take a phrase from A Tale of Two Cities, another favorite of the Chinese autocrat. After the Cultural Revolution and the fall of Mao, his father was reinstated in 1981 and became a leader in economic liberalization laws. The experience might have taught Xi the perils and abuses of autocracy, but in light of his recent moves toward imperialism, perhaps that suffering taught him a different lesson, suggests Metzl: “It certainly showed him what happens if you lose a political struggle, so he has no intention of doing that.”  

Don’t Call This Delicious Moldovan Spirit ‘Cognac’

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As you uncork the bottle of this Moldovan spirit and take a whiff, you’ll catch a sweet yet slightly bitter aroma you might recognize. Pour yourself a glass and observe the drink’s soft amber hue, taking note of its syrup-like viscosity as it clings to the sides. That might seem familiar too. Now have a sip and let the mellow liquid impart its sugary sting on your tongue. As it pleasantly sizzles the back of your throat, that’s when it’ll hit you: cognac!

Not so fast. Since the French region of Charente keeps a strict lockdown on that term — which is reserved exclusively for the booze produced in or around the town of the same name — Moldova had to take a different approach after becoming an independent country in the early 1990s. So these days, this brandy is called divin — and it’s a tasty local treasure that’s prized by alcohol enthusiasts in the provincial country of 3 million people.

A blend of fruity and slightly floral flavors is sharply accented by the pungency of old oak.

In addition to wine, brandy has been produced for decades in the rolling hills and bucolic plains of this ex-Soviet republic nestled between Romania and Ukraine. Divin gained notoriety across the former communist empire under the generic name “cognac,” mostly because it’s produced the same way as its celebrated French counterpart: by distilling grape-based alcohol twice, then aging it for several years in oak barrels. 

Moldova devised the term divin (a portmanteau of distilat de vin, or “distilled wine”) not only to remain aboveboard but also to establish a brand of it own. The government even registered the name as an official trademark shortly after its coinage in the mid-1990s. But competing with cognac, a world-renowned product with centuries of history, obviously isn’t easy — especially for a relatively young and impoverished country like Moldova, which is still struggling after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For starters, says Sergei Babiy, director of Barza Alba, one of the country’s largest divin makers, located in Balti, local producers need to better organize themselves to collectively advocate for their industry. Today, their product is exported mostly to nearby and former Soviet states. 

 

Despite the challenges to get the word out, the drink is a delight. While still somewhat rough around the edges, a glass of 5-year-old divin from a small distillery called Golden Stork, for example, offers a blend of fruity and slightly floral flavors sharply accented by the pungency of old oak. A better-known brand, regarded for its quality, is Kvint. For producers like Babiy, who’s been in the business for several decades, it’s the taste of a traditional yet evolving product. He wants producers to “find the strength to establish and define a solid foundation [for the industry],” he says. If Moldova’s distillers keep pumping out such tasty products, they may have a decent shot.

Why the U.K. Sucks in Gender Diversity at Work

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The Equality and Human Rights Commission, the public body charged with enforcing laws that protect people’s rights in the United Kingdom, released figures recently from a survey by pollster YouGov of managers’ attitudes toward pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The poll of 1,106 business decision-makers, conducted last autumn, suggested that many employers were “living in the dark ages,” the commission said.

In fact:

More than one-third of private sector employers in the UK believe it is acceptable to ask female job candidates about their plans to have children, even though the practice has been illegal since 1975.

“We should all know very well that it is against the law not to appoint a woman because she is pregnant or might become pregnant,” says Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the EHRC. “Yet we also know women routinely get asked questions around family planning in interviews. It’s clear that many employers need more support to better understand the basics of discrimination law and the rights of pregnant women and new mothers.”

Women have been protected by law from discrimination at work because of pregnancy or maternity for more than 40 years. But research by the government’s business department and the EHRC in 2015 found the number of women reporting this kind of discrimination increased between 2005 and 2015. That led to renewed calls for the government to do more to help employers understand their responsibilities and protect pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace.

Half of managers 55 and older thought women who had more than one pregnancy while in the same job “can be a burden to their team” …

The latest survey just published by the EHRC suggests a significant minority of employers still view pregnant women and new mothers negatively. Two-fifths of employers said pregnancy in the workplace puts “an unnecessary cost burden” on the organization. Just over half of employers said that other employees in their company feel resentful toward women who are pregnant or on maternity leave.

 

The survey found more negative attitudes toward pregnant women and new mothers among small- and medium-size employers (SME) — those with fewer than 250 employees — than large employers. Just over a third of large employers thought it was reasonable to ask women during the recruitment process if they had young children, compared with more than half of SMEs.

Male respondents were also more likely to exhibit negative attitudes. For example, 35 percent of male respondents said pregnant women and new mothers were generally less interested in their careers than their colleagues, compared with 22 percent of female respondents.

Older respondents were also more likely to report negative attitudes than younger managers, with those ages 35 to 44 being the least likely to display a discriminatory attitude. Half of managers 55 and older thought women who had more than one pregnancy while in the same job “can be a burden to their team,” compared with 38 percent of managers ages 35 to 44.

Despite the prevalence of a variety of beliefs that are in breach of equalities legislation, 76 percent of employers agreed with the premise that “supporting pregnant women and those on maternity leave is in the best interests of the organization.”

“There are still far too many employers who don’t understand or respect employment law as it relates to pregnant women and new mothers,” says Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the London-based Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the professional body for human resources and people development. “Investment in manager capability is essential to challenge unlawful, shortsighted and unethical practice.”

How This Poor Country Offers Some of World’s Best Internet

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It’s the ultimate First World problem: When your video call freezes for a few seconds, the picture goes all grainy or the person on the other end suddenly sounds like a hyperspeed robot for a few seconds. This is to be expected when FaceTiming across the U.S., let alone to other countries. So when launching a Skype video call to Moldova, Europe’s poorest country with a per capita GDP less than that of the Republic of the Congo, I wasn’t too hopeful.

But my Skype call to Moldova was gloriously smooth — in full HD without a single glitch for the entire half hour. In fact, my Moldovan interview subject had an internet speed far faster than my own in Silicon Valley, the tech capital of the world (his download speed in Chișinău, the Moldovan capital, a remarkable 195 Mbps; mine in Mountain View, California, a measly 48). Because, believe it or not:

Moldova has the third-best coverage of superfast internet in the world.

Specifically, 90 percent of Moldova’s 3 million people have access to superfast gigabit internet access (speeds of up to one gigabyte per second). The only two countries with better coverage are Singapore and South Korea, both vastly richer than Moldova and more urbanized (cities are easier to connect with fiber optic cables than rural areas). The United States is twice as urbanized as Moldova; its gigabit coverage is just 18 percent of the population. All the other countries in the top 10 for gigabit coverage are in the club of the 40 richest nations on earth. Moldova? It’s not even in the top 120 richest countries.

So what gives? How does this poor former Soviet country compete with the best of the online world?

While Moldova’s internet infrastructure is world-leading, its penetration rates are nothing to write home about …

Well, “a very large country or region is more likely to have a smaller percentage of that population located within access to gigabit internet service, and vice versa for smaller countries,” explains Sameh Yamany, chief technology officer of Viavi Solutions, the company behind the Gigabit Monitor, which compiles the global gigabit coverage stats. But size isn’t everything — there are plenty of much richer countries of a similar size or smaller that don’t even come close to Moldova’s connectivity, including Luxembourg, Taiwan and even Europe’s tech-obsessed hub, Estonia.

 

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moldova has been the recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars of grants and loans to support its economic development and tackle high poverty rates. In the late 2000s, one of the conditions of a World Bank development package was the privatization of telecoms. In 2009, a fiber optic cable was laid across the river that separates the country from its western neighbor, Romania, and the newly competitive market led to a relatively rapid connection of 99 percent of Moldovan communities to the fiber optic network, explains Iurie Țurcanu, the chief digital officer of the country’s e-Government Center, which works to digitize all public services. Now Moldova is also connected directly by fiber optic cable to Frankfurt, a major European digital intersection. Though the country officially has 14 internet service providers (ISPs), the largest, Moldtelecom, is a state-owned company with around 60 percent market share.

Meanwhile, “the demand side of things was created by migration,” suggests Țurcanu. Moldova has an acute emigration problem, with hundreds of thousands of its citizens — by some estimates more than a quarter of the population — living and working abroad in Russia and elsewhere in Europe, often illegally, making the country’s economy one of the most dependent on remittances in the world. “In many cases, the first thing [people who leave] do is buy a computer and send it home for people to connect through Skype. … Therefore they need an internet connection,” says Țurcanu.

But while Moldova’s internet infrastructure is world-leading, its penetration rates (the proportion of people regularly connecting to the internet) are nothing to write home about, according to data from the International Telecommunications Union, with about 71 percent of people going online on any device in a given year — similar to rates in Portugal and Argentina and slightly lower than those in the United States. That’s probably more because “the cost of buying a computer is quite a high barrier, not the cost of the internet itself,” says Vlad Manoil, chief reengineering officer at the e-Government Center. In Chișinău, an internet subscription tends to be around $12 per month.

So is the World Bank–inspired internet revolution actually boosting development in Moldova? Aided by its connectivity, the country has recently become a destination for the outsourcing of IT and call center jobs, especially for Italian companies (Italian is a common second language for Moldovans). Poverty rates have been steadily declining for several years, from 30 percent in 2003 to less than 10 percent today. That might not all be attributable to the superfast internet, but it sure helps facilitate the perfect Skype call.

Thrown Out of Russia: Meet Moldova’s Rabble-Rousing Journalist

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It was December 2007, and Natalia Morari, a doe-eyed journalist with a disarming smile, was sharing a drab holding cell with migrants from Central Asia. Six years earlier, the ambitious young Moldovan had arrived in Russia as a university student with dreams of making a splash, and after producing a series of investigations into high-level corruption for The New Times, a leading opposition newspaper, the former sociology major had done just that. Now, returning from a reporting trip to Israel, Morari found herself stuck at a Moscow airport — and banned from entering the country. 

Forced to fly back to Moldova, she later learned that her ejection from Russia was supposedly ordered by the powerful deputy head of the presidential administration, one of Vladimir Putin’s right-hand men, who added a parting shot: “That Morari can go fuck off.” It was a sign she was doing something right. “And that,” she recalls with a carefree laugh that belies her fortitude, “is how I fucked off from Russia.” 

These days, the headstrong 34-year-old is ruffling feathers back home as a media crusader and TV presenter at TV8, a budding independent network. One of Moldova’s leading critical voices, Morari has combined a track record of dogged reporting with a passion for social activism to fight for free speech and transparency in a country that desperately needs more of both. Routinely described as Europe’s poorest country, the former Soviet republic is gripped by widespread corruption and run, critics say, by a crooked cabal beholden to powerful business interests. The last time it made international headlines, the country had fallen victim to an elaborate money laundering scheme in which $1 billion — or one-eighth of its gross domestic product — disappeared on the government’s watch. Virtually no one trusts the ruling class, and few believe meaningful change is possible.

If I leave the country, it means I surrender.

Natalia Morari

It wasn’t always so bad. Shortly after Morari returned from Russia, she helped organize protests against rigged elections in 2009 that drew thousands to the streets of the Moldovan capital, Chisinau. When the demonstrations turned violent, thanks mostly to provocateurs, Morari was prosecuted by a vengeful communist government. But months later, a second election handed pro-European forces a collective majority — and, for a generation seeking to distance itself from the Soviet past, a fresh opportunity. “Now when I look back,” Morari says, “I understand that if I knew what would happen next, I would never, ever [have gone] out into the streets.”

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Endowed with both grit and gumption, Natalia Morari is hoping to spark lasting change in Moldova.

Source Courtesy of Natalia Morari

Over the next few years, corruption flourished. Business tycoon Vlad Plahotniuc, the current head of the ruling Democratic Party and seen as the country’s chief puppeteer, expanded his influence across the political landscape, allegedly purchasing loyalty in Parliament and the judiciary while also wrangling control over much of Moldova’s media. The rest is said to be controlled by Igor Dodon, the country’s socialist president. Both deny they’re corrupt, but critics say their rivalry — Plahotniuc is “pro-European,” while Dodon is “pro-Russian” — is stage-managed, while their media machines tap into voter fears over Russian meddling or gay rights, respectively, to distract from failures to reform. “Politicians declare one thing, think another and then act a third way,” says Petru Macovei, executive director of the Association of Independent Press in Chisinau.

Enter Morari and her colleagues at TV8. A response to the stifling media landscape, the network, of which Morari is a driving force, is something of an experiment: Can a majority journalist-owned network, financed partly by donations from Western countries, bolster healthy public debate in Moldova? Launched last summer, TV8 provides a diverse array of content, from Morari’s prime-time political talk show to progressive discussions on women’s issues. Focusing on quality programming viewers can’t find anywhere else, its slogan is simple: “For free people.”

 

Unfortunately, Morari and her team are keenly aware of what happens when an outlet attempts to flout Moldova’s unwritten rules. TV8’s previous incarnation, TV7, was a target for official harassment, its owner prosecuted for what supporters say are phony corruption charges. After the network set out to rebrand itself, it ran into “absolutely artificial” licensing issues, Morari says, aimed at keeping the network off the air. The advertising market, meanwhile, is also conveniently controlled by Plahotniuc and Dodon through their respective agencies. “They have everything,” Morari says, “and we have almost nothing, except people’s support and, thank God, donor support.”

Daunting as it all seems, Morari is no stranger to uphill battles. She was once nearly kicked out of Moscow State University for staging protests against the dean of the sociology department over his outdated teaching methods and inflated cafeteria prices. Her political activism thrust her into a social circle that amounted to a who’s who of Russia’s liberal intelligentsia — including opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down in 2015 in front of the Kremlin — during a time when dissent was wilting under Vladimir Putin’s consolidation of power. At The New Times, where she worked under venerated editor Yevgenia Albats, Morari grew into a sharp investigator who dug deep and questioned everything. “Never before in my life did I see a journalist who was capable of learning so quickly,” Albats says.  

With Moldova sliding further into a spiral of graft and misrule, Morari sometimes wakes up wondering what she’s doing. Many of her friends have emigrated, or are considering it. After all, prospects for a better life abroad were what first propelled her out of provincial Moldova, where opportunities for ambitious young women aren’t exactly abundant. Out of 24 students in her high school class, she says, 18 left the country after graduation. Then Morari stops herself: “If I leave the country, it means I surrender,” she says. “And if everyone will give up, then how can we expect that someday, something will change in Moldova?”

Want a Cool, Old Car? Here’s How to Avoid Buying a Lemon

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Video by Scott Sinkler

Buying a car is an exciting big step. It signifies the freedom and mobility to get out of town and hit the road whenever you want — without giving public transportation a second thought. But for first-timers, it also comes with serious questions. What’s the budget? The perfect make and model? And — here’s a big one — should you buy new or used? 

Cool old cars don’t work exactly like the modern ones do. 

Jim Manelis, Chase Auto

According to Jim Manelis, head of direct lending at Chase Auto, making a smart purchase comes down to getting real about your used ride’s reliability. “Cool old cars don’t work exactly like the modern ones do,” he explains. “Things like steering, acceleration, even just turning it on in the morning can be a whole different experience.” Follow along above as Manelis lets Brooklyn-based artist Ali Macadoodle in on the secrets to avoiding the dreaded lemon. 

 

The Bull Market’s Still Built on Borrowed Money … What Will Cause the Crash?

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On Friday, February 2, 2018, U.S. equity markets hit the closing bell after suffering their worst weekly performance in two years. The soft patch followed a near parabolic ascent of markets extending back months and accelerating through January, so the bull market taking a breather was not terribly surprising or necessarily worrisome. After all, over the past couple of years these kinds of pullbacks consistently have been followed by higher highs. 

As markets opened on Monday, February 5, though, they were not bouncing back. Instead, inflation concerns were continuing to drag on stocks as spiking interest rates persisted. The lower the indices dipped over the opening hours, the steeper the slide became. By afternoon the slide had turned into an extraordinary plunge, with the Dow Jones industrial average diving as much as 1,597 points. All charts looked like a straight line down. It was reminiscent of the unprecedented swings of the great financial crisis in 2008.

The nightmarish flashback to the previous economic meltdown may be warranted, especially when it comes to investors using their portfolios as collateral to buy more stocks and bonds on borrowed money. These investors want to stay in the game and participate in rising markets. It’s the Wall Street version of FOMO — and it’s powerful. 

The portion of the purchase price that investors borrow is called the margin debt. And in December 2017, margin debts in U.S. securities markets stood at more than $642 billion — 3.25 percent of the gross domestic product. In total dollars and as a percentage of the GDP, margin debt has never been higher. So what, you say?

Highly leveraged markets have a history of peaking right before financial collapses, which is what happened in 2000 and 2007. Current margin debt levels are more than 50 percent higher than 2007’s peak.

While a record level of margin debt alone is not a trigger for negative returns — nearly a quarter of all monthly readings since 1959 have been “all-time highs” — leverage of this unprecedented magnitude is like gasoline waiting for a match. And there’s never been more fuel for a potential one-day market implosion of 25 percent that will make February 5 look tame by comparison and lead to a broken market that’s unable to recover for years.

 

The sparks could range from the unexpected (a black swan event) to the merely overlooked (a gray rhino event, as in one that’s camouflaged but more visible). Here are a few swans and rhinos that could topple the market: property bubbles in Asia, Australia and elsewhere deflate; U.S. loan growth continues to decelerate; or the Federal Reserve spooks markets with a surprise interest rate hike.

Whatever the event happens to be, whenever it occurs, it creates a rush to liquidate holdings. The ensuing decline in prices eventually triggers an initial round of margin calls — the banks calling in their loans. Since margin debt is a function of the value of the underlying “collateral,” this forced selling reduces the value of the collateral further, thus triggering more margin calls. Those margin calls will trigger more selling, forcing more margin calls, and on and on it goes until the markets are down 25 to 30 percent before anybody can wrap their heads around what’s happening.

This phenomenon is not without precedent. While Feb. 5 certainly jarred markets, in terms of percentages and sheer panic, it doesn’t even place in the top 10. May 6, 2010, however, gives a better preview of just what a confluence of margin calls, unwinding leverage and algorithm-powered, high-frequency tradings can do to a market. That day saw the Dow Jones drop nearly 9 percent in less than an hour, market functions went haywire, and traders could not believe what they were witnessing was even real. Fortunately, the market bounced back that day. Next time investors may not be so lucky. 

Since 2010, several investigations have been conducted, safeguards implemented and regulations enacted. At the same time, the complexity and scope of leverage are unlike anything regulators could have imagined just eight short years ago. The near-universal adoption of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) — from state pensions to global investors to Granny’s financial adviser — has changed the market ingredients dramatically. February 5 was only a hint of what could happen any day from this point forward if these never-before-seen levels of leverage are ignited. A quarter to a third of your 401(k) could be gone between your morning coffee and an early lunch, and no one would see it coming.

Jeffrey Moore II is a senior analyst at Global Risk Insights.

The Forgotten Black Hockey Heroes

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Goalie and team captain Henry “Braces” Franklyn of the Dartmouth Jubilees was putting on quite an exhibition in the league championship game against cross-harbor hockey rivals the Halifax Eurekas. In one sequence he flopped to the ice — forbidden by the rules in 1898 — and used every inch of his 3′6″ frame to block a shot. Then, in another exciting but unorthodox move, the pint-size netminder jumped to his feet, skated out of his crease and stickhandled up the ice until he could dump a pass off to one of his forwards.

It was the first recorded instance of a butterfly goaltending style and a wandering, offense-creating netminder, both of which were adopted decades later by pros in the National Hockey League. (Sadly, neither helped the Jubilees win the championship back in 1898.) But what was more groundbreaking about Franklyn, his teammates and their opponents was that they were all Black Canadians in the Colored Hockey League. Although Black Canadians had been playing the sport since at least the 1820s, the CHL was the only all-Black hockey league ever, and it remains an obscure footnote today, even among fans.

By 1900, the Colored Hockey League had five franchises across Nova Scotia.

Inspired by all-Black baseball leagues forming in the Canadian Maritimes, the hockey circuit was established in 1895 by Baptist ministers in Halifax, Nova Scotia, as an incentive to boost church attendance among the community’s young Black men, primarily the descendants of American slaves who had sought sanctuary in Canada via the Underground Railroad, as well as immigrants from what were at the time British colonies in the Caribbean. The basic proposition: Attend services and qualify to play hockey afterward.

 

The driving force behind the league was James A.R. Kinney, a diminutive church layman who had a pronounced limp and couldn’t play the game. Nevertheless, from the pulpit, “Kinney advocated Black pride, dignity and leadership,” wrote George and Darril Fosty in Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1895–1925. Influenced by the writings of American educator and activist Booker T. Washington, Kinney envisioned the league as a tool to promote community building and racial equality.

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The Colored Hockey League of Nova Scotia

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Kinney and other church leaders helped publicize the informal three-team league and soon hundreds of spectators were attending CHL games. “Initially, the league started as a novelty, but the caliber of play improved, and a lot of players could make money,” George Fosty tells OZY. By 1900, the CHL had five franchises across Nova Scotia, and spectators, a majority of whom were white, were shelling out 25 to 35 cents per ticket to cheer on their hometown heroes.

Team names became a coded form of Black pride. While white fans might think the Dartmouth Jubilees were named in honor of the 1897 Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, Canada’s monarch, the team name is a biblical reference to the year of jubilee in Leviticus, when enslaved people were freed. Similarly, the name of the Africville Seasides did not refer to the Halifax community’s coastal location; the SS logo on team jerseys was a sly but pointed reference to the SS brand that U.S. government officials employed to sear the hands of convicted “slave stealers” who tried to help runaways escape to Canada.

Even though the league was popular, racism wasn’t absent. Between periods, spectators demanded clowning around that mimicked the buffoonery of the minstrel show, and newspaper accounts of the games had an overt racist tone, even as they complimented the skill of the players. Kinney also faced chronic problems securing indoor rinks for league games, since operators prioritized ice time for white teams, according to the Fosty brothers.

Those challenges were amplified when Kinney rallied the Black community to fight an eminent domain claim that would have taken land away from residents. That, in turn, produced a powerful backlash against the league. When crowds dwindled, it meant less money for players. Some were forced to look for regular work rather than rely on an uncertain income from hockey. “Racism, [World War I], the Halifax Explosion and economic factors had all played their part in the league’s demise,” the Fostys write in Black Ice. By the 1920s, the league was defunct.

“It’s a shame it didn’t [continue],” says Kwame Mason, director of the documentary Soul on Ice: Past, Present and Future. The league brought a new level of excitement to hockey, with fast skating, body-checking and even the original version of the slap shot. If the league had prospered, Mason believes, it would have made the sport more exciting and encouraged more young Black youth in Canada and the U.S. to take up the game.

The CHL’s legacy did live on, though. In 1950 Art Dorrington, a native of Truro, Nova Scotia, became the first Black player to sign an NHL contract, with the New York Rangers, although he never competed in a league game. The color barrier finally was broken in 1958, when another Maritimer, Willie O’Ree of Fredericton, New Brunswick, suited up for the Boston Bruins.

Today, NHL players who identify as Black or biracial hail from Canada, the U.S., Sweden, Norway, France and Finland, but the league is 94 percent white, and hockey usually is thought of as a white sport. “We’ve had some Black hockey players, but we haven’t had the Tiger Woods or the LeBron James,” says University of Central Florida’s Dr. C. Keith Harrison, who researches diversity and inclusion in sports. “If you get that type of celebrity, then you can connect it to the history.” And, George Fosty hopes, create a more diverse sport.

LGBT Candidates Are Rising … Starting in Texas

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A couple of years ago, Shannon McClendon fell out of a tree while using a chainsaw and broke her back, among other injuries. As she recuperated at home in Dripping Springs, Texas, she had time to reflect while watching the legislative session unfold from afar.

McClendon had long been an active Republican and a small-government conservative. She had been appointed by former Gov. Rick Perry to three state regulatory boards, and the attorney often participated in the legislative session. But she resented the power of the far religious right in state politics. Last year, when the Republican-dominated Legislature put a Band-Aid on school funding and tried to push through a bill to mandate people use restrooms corresponding to their birth gender — and her local state senator was one of the bathroom bill’s champions — McClendon lost her cool.

“It just riled me up enough to say, ‘I’m tired of sitting back and watching this and complaining that the process is happening,’” she says. “This is the tipping point, and I’m running.” She now spends her days chasing voters for a long-shot Republican primary challenge against the incumbent, Sen. Donna Campbell. Sometimes McClendon brings her wife along.

You cannot be surprised that the people who have the most to lose are standing up and saying: ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. Easy there, Donny.’

Gina Ortiz Jones, candidate for Congress

McClendon is one of a record number of LGBT candidates running across Texas this year — at least 49, according to a tally by Houston’s OutSmart magazine. The impetus is the so-called bathroom bill — which failed in the Republican-controlled Texas House after the business community lobbied hard against it — but also the rise of Donald Trump, who has inspired political newcomers on the left. Annise Parker, head of the Washington, D.C.–based Victory Fund, which backs LGBTQ candidates across the country, says there has been “exponential growth” in candidates as the gay community nationwide is responding to the times.

 

“We’ve been making really huge progress — steady progress — for years, and the Trump administration comes in and the federal progress comes to a screeching halt,” Parker says. “And at the same time, you have bathroom bills in places like North Carolina and Texas, and you have the [religious freedom] bills popping up,” she adds, referring to bills that strengthen individual religious liberty protections, but that critics say would give businesses permission to discriminate against gays. “They’re frustrated and anxious, and they’re putting themselves out there,” Parker says.

Shannon McClendon

The reception has been “icy” at times, says Shannon McClendon.

Source Courtesy of Shannon McClendon

Or as San Antonio’s Gina Ortiz Jones, who is running for Congress, puts it: “You cannot be surprised that the people who have the most to lose are standing up and saying: ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. Easy there, Donny.’”

Texas’ March 6 primary provides an early test of the movement’s strength, but most of these candidates will probably lose. Many are political newcomers who have not raised much money, such as Mary Wilson, a pastor in the Austin area running for Congress. Some, like two gay Democratic gubernatorial candidates, are competing in the same race. Six are transgender. All but five are Democrats, according to the OutSmart tally.

The fact that so many are running at all is a sign of the changing political climate. Parker, who was the first openly gay mayor of a major city when she took over Houston in 2010, first started running for office in 1991. “Anytime I saw my name in print, it was ‘Annise Parker, lesbian activist running for City Council.’” Now, even the mayor of the tiny town of New Hope, Texas, transitioned from male to female while in office.

Victory Fund advises candidates to campaign on solving problems for everyone in their communities. Danica Roem, the transgender woman who made a national splash by winning a state House seat in Virginia last year, challenged the author of her state’s failed bathroom bill. But she won with relentless retail campaigning and a focus on traffic congestion.

Jones, an Air Force veteran who served under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” attacks Republican congressional incumbent Will Hurd for voting to block the military from paying for gender reassignment surgery. (The amendment failed.) But Jones is running primarily on issues like health care and schools — same as most any other candidate. “Nobody gets elected because they’re running as the out lesbian for anything,” Parker says.

McClendon’s challenge is particularly acute among the cultural conservatives in her district, which includes the suburbs of San Antonio and Austin, but also a lot of rural areas, such as where she lives. She passed up an open state House seat to try to make a bigger impact in the smaller Senate, but challenging an incumbent in a primary is always a long shot.

The reception has been “icy” at times, but McClendon trudges on, saying small-government conservatism should apply to the bedroom and the bathroom. Campbell has the backing of the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who counts Campbell among “those who have proven themselves to be conservatives of conviction.” McClendon hoped Texas’ big business lobby would support her, considering its opposition to the bathroom bill, but the PAC money has not arrived.

When McClendon, 57, first considered running for office 15 years ago, attitudes toward gays were quite different. A mentor told her: “Shannon, you’ve lost your mind. Republicans eat their young.” She did what she was advised and didn’t run. Now she’s courting a new generation of voters who aren’t so concerned about her personal life, and she has a stronger backbone — injury notwithstanding. “I’m no longer young, so they’re not allowed to eat me,” she says. “That’s the way I look at it.”

France’s Indie Music Labels Find Their Voice

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Artists from Charlotte Gainsbourg to rapper Orelsan scooped up prizes at the Victoires de la Musique awards in Paris this month — France’s equivalent of the Grammy Awards. But while the variety of genres was wide, 10 of the 12 winners had something in common: All were from independent record labels.

Music executives say the unprecedented haul shows that France’s independent labels are punching above their weight as three main forces align: government initiatives to boost the French music industry, a new generation of labels that have adapted their business models, and opportunities opened up by the shift to digital music and streaming.

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French singer and musician Catherine Ringer performs on stage during the 33rd Victoires de la Musique, the annual French music awards ceremony, on February 9, 2018

Source THOMAS SAMSON/Getty

“Indie is not a synonym of minority anymore,” says Emmanuel de Buretel, who founded independent record label Because Music in 2005. “It’s a synonym of health.”

The result is also a triumph for l’exception culturelle — the French notion that culture should be treated differently from other commercial products in order to protect and promote French cultural industries.

 

The music business was one of the first to bear the brunt of digital disruption. Independent players were among the worst hit when file-sharing-service Napster burst onto the scene around the turn of the millennium, tearing apart the music industry’s business model based on CD sales. But their prospects brightened when, in 2006, the French government responded to the crisis in the music industry by offering domestic companies tax credits for music production. The tax break — the crédit d’impôt en faveur de la production phonographique — was designed to support smaller companies most vulnerable to the transition to digital distribution. Still in place today, it allows music production companies to offset up to 30 percent of production costs up to 1.1 million euros each year.

The independents are managing to thrive in the streaming ecosystem that they were never able to do in a world dominated by physical records.

Jérôme Roger, UPFI

“The tax credits really helped the independent producers to be less dependent on the majors and to invest,” says de Buretel. Two of Because Music’s artists picked up awards this month: Charlotte Gainsbourg was named best female artist and singer-songwriter Camille won the prize for the best concert.

“Out of the crisis in CDs, a new generation of independent record labels emerged in France,” says Jérôme Roger, director general of the UPFI, the trade body for independent music producers in France. “Their business model wasn’t just based on CDs, but on live music, publishing, recording and international sales … it has become vital to enlarge their activities in a business that has dramatically changed.”

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French rapper Aurelien Cotentin aka Orelsan performs during the 33rd Victoires de la Musique, the annual French music awards ceremony, on February 9, 2018

Source THOMAS SAMSON/Getty

For those companies that have learned to survive, the digitalization of music and advent of streaming services has helped them thrive, opening up new channels of distribution. France was an early adopter of streaming — the country’s service Deezer was launched in 2007, a year before Spotify was founded in Sweden. Through the likes of Spotify, Deezer and Apple Music, consumers can get access to more than 30 million songs through one monthly subscription payment.

“The independents are managing to thrive in the streaming ecosystem that they were never able to do in a world dominated by physical records,” says Charles Caldas, chief executive officer of Merlin, a global rights agency representing independent music companies.

In the days when physical music sales prevailed, artists were dependent on being seen in the window of retailers like Fnac or HMV. This benefited the large record labels that had deep pockets and the marketing muscle to get artists into stores. Now the personalized recommendations of streaming services has widened the breadth of choice at listeners’ fingertips, which can give the artists of independent labels greater exposure.

“There has been a broadening of music consumption across a wider range than we’ve ever seen,” says Merlin’s Caldas. “This flatter marketplace is not as dominated by the bigger players, which creates a more level playing field for the indie players to compete.”