Episode 771: When India's Cash Disappeared, Part Two

People line up outside a bank to exchange old currency notes with new ones on November 10, 2016 in New Delhi India.

Shams Qari/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

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Shams Qari/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

This part two of a two part series. Listen to part one here.

A couple of years ago, a mechanical engineer met with Narendra Modi, who would later become India’s Prime Minister. The engineer proposed a bold and radical idea that he said would completely change the Indian economy. The idea is called demonetization, and it happened six months ago. The government suddenly declared most of the paper money in circulation worthless. Citizens had a short time to turn in their stashes of cash for new bills. It was an effort to flush out corruption, get people to join the banking system and in the process, help the poor of India.

In part one of this two-part series, we met the man behind demonetization, the engineer, Anil Bokil. Now in part two, we ask, did demonetization work?

Modi had three problems he wanted to solve if the country relied less on cash:

  • Corruption. Without cash, it’s harder to hide money from the taxman. It’s also harder to ask for a bribe or run a black market business.
  • Businesses could be more competitive and grow faster by using banks and electronic payments.
  • More people would have to use banks, and not keep all their life savings in a drawer. This would keep their money safer.
  • Indian farmers talk beneath a fig tree. Since people couldn't use cash, many farmers couldn't sell their crops.

    Indian farmers talk beneath a fig tree. Since people couldn’t use cash, many farmers couldn’t sell their crops.

    Stacey Vanek Smith/NPR

  • Empty apartment buildings loom tall in the New Delhi suburbs. High rises like these are where most of India's black money is stored.

    Empty apartment buildings loom tall in the New Delhi suburbs. High rises like these are where most of India’s black money is stored.

    Stacey Vanek Smith/NPR

  • Gurdeep Sagoo had missed the deadline to exchange his mother's bills. His mom was in a coma at the time. But the bank said it was too late to exchange it. And there went his mom's life savings.

    Gurdeep Sagoo had missed the deadline to exchange his mother’s bills. His mom was in a coma at the time. But the bank said it was too late to exchange it. And there went his mom’s life savings.

    Stacey Vanek Smith/NPR

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But, suddenly removing most of the cash in an economy, is very messy. It hurt. Demonetization has affected different people in a variety of a ways. We talked with farmers who don’t trust credit cards, small shop owners who had to find new ways to sell their goods, and high tech companies trying to cash in.

Today on the show, we evaluate Modi’s demonetization plan … report card style. How did this shock to a cash-dependent economy play out for a country of a billion people?

Music: “Cheeky Tongues,” “Yada Yada,” and “Miss You.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts or PocketCast.

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Chinese Chicken Is Headed To America. But It's Really All About Beef

Chicken meat for sale at a market in the Anhui Province of China.

VCG/VCG via Getty Images

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VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Cooked chicken from birds grown and raised in China will soon be headed to America — in a deal that’s really about beef.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced the U.S. was green-lighting Chinese chicken imports on Thursday night. It’s part of a trade deal that will also give U.S. beef producers access to China’s nearly 1.4 billion consumers.

The Chinese appetite for beef is huge, and it’s growing. But American beef producers have been locked out of that market since a case of mad cow disease cropped up in the U.S. in 2003. In response, many countries, including South Korea, Japan, Mexico and China, banned imports of U.S. beef. Eventually, those nations lifted the ban on U.S. beef imports – except for China.

That’s a big deal, because China has a huge appetite for beef and it’s growing, but U.S. beef producers have been locked out of that market until now.

“It’s a very big market, it’s at least a $2.5 billion market that’s being opened up for U.S. beef,” Ross said in announcing the trade deal.

Many people had long seen China’s refusal to lift its ban on U.S. beef imports until now as a negotiating tactic. Basically, it’s seen as a tit for tat: China will let in U.S. beef if the U.S. will allow Chinese chicken imports into the country. The negotiations that led to the new trade have been going back and forth for over a decade. And American beef producers are rejoicing that it’s finally resulted in allowing them to send beef to China.

“After being locked out of the world’s largest market for 13 years, we strongly welcome the announcement that an agreement has been made to restore U.S. beef exports to China,” National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Craig Uden said in a statement. “It’s impossible to overstate how beneficial this will be for America’s cattle producers, and the Trump administration deserves a lot of credit for getting this achieved.”

The U.S. should be cleared to export beef to China by mid-July. That’s also the deadline for the U.S. to finalize rules for the importation of cooked chicken products from China. Why cooked chicken instead of raw?

“For a country to be able to ship meat and poultry products into the U.S., they have to demonstrate that their food-safety inspection system is equivalent to the system here in the U.S.,” explains Brian Romholm, who served as deputy undersecretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Obama administration.

“The equivalency determination process for China as it relates to processed (cooked) chicken products had been underway, and this deal expedites this process,” he says. “China also is seeking equivalency for their inspection system for slaughter facilities, but that will be a longer process. “

Given the many outbreaks of avian flu China has experienced, there are also worries that if raw Chinese poultry was processed in the U.S., it could potentially contaminate American plants or somehow spread to birds here in the U.S.

Tony Corbo, a senior lobbyist for the food campaign at Food & Water Watch, an environmental advocacy group, has been raising concerns about efforts to open the U.S. market to Chinese chicken imports for years. He questions the Chinese government’s ability to enforce food-safety standards, given its poor track record.

That record includes rat meat being sold as lamb, oil recovered from drainage ditches in gutters being sold as cooking oil, and baby formula contaminated with melamine that sickened hundreds of thousands of babies and killed six.

Corbo points out that last December, China’s own Food and Drug Administration reported it had uncovered as many as a half-million cases of food safety violations just in the first three quarters of 2016.

That said, the USDA has gone to China to inspect plants that would process the chicken to shipped to be shipped to America. But Corbo finds little comfort in that. “You don’t know from moment to moment how China is enforcing food-safety standards,” Corbo says.

In recent months, a team from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has traveled to China to train Chinese officials on meat safety.

One thing Thursday’s trade deal did not address: U.S. poultry exports to China. The U.S. used to send a lot of chicken feet over to China, where it’s a delicacy. But China banned U.S. chicken imports in 2015, after an outbreak of Avian flu in the Midwest.

China “was a $750 million market just a few years ago, and now it’s essentially zero. It was one of our most important markets,” says Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council.

But Sumner isn’t worried about the new competition from Chinese chicken in the U.S. In fact, he welcomes it as an important step in re-opening the Chinese market to U.S. poultry producers.

“Trade is a two-way street,” he says.

It’s not clear how soon after mid-July we can expect to see cooked chicken products from China in U.S. supermarkets. Sumner says he doesn’t expect the product to overwhelm store shelves, because the economics of raising chickens in China and then shipping them to America still favor U.S. producers.

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After 61 Years, Detroit Gets A Streetcar Once More

A streetcar rides along Woodward Avenue on Friday in Detroit — the city’s first in 61 years. The QLine project was led by private businesses and philanthropic organizations in partnership with local, state and the federal government.

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Carlos Osorio/AP

Today marks the launch of something both old and new in Detroit: a streetcar down Woodward Avenue. The streetcar opened to the public on Friday morning, after ten years of planning and political wrangling.

The six streetcars make a 6.6 mile loop — 3.3 miles each way — connecting downtown Detroit with the New Center neighborhood, which was home to General Motors until it decamped downtown two decades ago.

Along the way, passengers can stop at Comerica Park and Ford Field (home to the Tigers and Lions, respectively), Wayne State University, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Fox Theatre, and the Detroit Opera House. In the fall, Little Caesars Arena will open along the line, which will house the Red Wings and the Pistons, marking the first time since 1974 that Detroit’s four major professional sports teams will all play in Detroit.

The streetcar is called the QLine; Quicken Loans paid $5 million for the naming rights. The line is owned and operated by a nonprofit organization called M-1 Rail. Quicken’s founder and chairman Dan Gilbert was one of a number of Detroit’s deep-pocketed businessmen and philanthropists who funded the $182 million project, alongside Penske Corp.’s Roger Penske, the Kresge Foundation’s Rip Rapson, and the late Mike Ilitch, founder of Little Caesars Pizza. An additional $37.2 million comes from the federal government, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Transit projects in America are often slow-going, but this one had its own particular woes. “The city was a financial mess, and tried to absorb M-1 Rail as part of a larger public rail project,” writes Bill Shea at Crain’s Detroit Business:

“Then Detroit ran out of money, fell under state control, and declared bankruptcy. One financial backer, General Motors, also went bankrupt and had to reorganize. One mayor went to prison, and three others eventually came and went. The nation fell into recession. Eventually, the federal government, state, and city tried to kill M-1 in favor of bus rapid transit.

“The project’s backers persevered. Eventually, they pulled it off. No matter what you think of the QLine, it’s been a survivor. It just took a decade.”

Portland, Ore.’s “modern streetcar” has been a model for similar projects in other cities; at least 15 U.S. cities have launched streetcar systems since 2000. Streetcars have often been criticized as expensive alternatives to buses. But their backers say that streetcars aren’t really about transit, they’re about development.

“Streetcar systems are held to a pretty high standard in terms of being … successful right out of the gate. I think what you see in most cities is that it takes a while for people to understand where it goes and how it fits into their life and how to use it,” Portland Streetcar Executive Director Dan Bower told the Free Press. “Don’t rush to judgment. This is a long-term investment. You don’t build rail for today, you build it for tomorrow.”

M-1 Rail echoes that sentiment in its economic impact report. It claims $7 billion in new investments on either side of the streetcar’s path since 2013.

“What the QLINE has done is take the entire length of Woodward from the river to Grand Boulevard and provide an attractive reason to develop and redevelop,” Eric Larson, president of the Downtown Detroit Partnership, said in the report. “So a lot more of the infill opportunities that were not quite ready are now sitting in a very good position.”

The organization is careful to manage expectations. “The QLINE does not ensure the success of Detroit’s revival after six decades of population loss and disinvestment,” says the report. “Rather, it’s an important first step toward bringing efficient mass transit to a region that has repeatedly failed to agree on a plan.”

That failure to agree persists. In November, voters in the Detroit metro area narrowly defeated a proposed $4.6 billion millage proposal to expand regional transit. The millage was intended to create bus rapid transit, a rail line between Ann Arbor and Detroit, and other services.

Indeed, a primary criticism of the QLine is that it only serves the parts of Detroit that are already bouncing back, and that Woodward Avenue is already well served by bus lines.

A dozen or so members of the Motor City Freedom Riders, an organization that advocates for bus riders, protested Friday’s grand opening. “I’m excited about the QLine, which is some public transit that’s desperately needed,” Candace Cooper told The Detroit News. “But I’m looking forward to when we have public transit for the region.”

Streetcar lines can also make biking dangerous, as bicycle tires can easily be caught in the tracks. In Detroit, cyclists are being encouraged to pedal on Cass Avenue, a parallel street.

And there could be other issues. In January, according to Portland Streetcar’s Bower, snow in Portland made it hard for drivers to find the curb, and they ended up repeatedly blocking the streetcar dozens of times. D.C.’s streetcar was involved in at least eight fender benders before it even launched to the public. And in Cincinnati, cars parked on the rails in front of a popular brewery have been ticketed more than a hundred times.

So if there’s one lesson to be gleaned from other cities, it’s that a major obstacle to Detroit’s streetcar system will likely be its most famous export: the automobile.

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As White Supremacists Push Onto Campuses, Schools Wrestle With Response

Last month, flyers at the University of Pennsylvania blared “Imagine a Muslim-free America.”

Beth J. Harpaz/AP

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Beth J. Harpaz/AP

There’s been an unprecedented spike in white supremacist activity on campuses across the U.S. since the election and college students and administrators are struggling to figure out how to respond.

Posters at the University of Texas at Arlington last month implored students to “report any and all illegal aliens. America is a white nation.” Also last month, at the University of Pennsylvania flyers blared “Imagine a Muslim-free America.”

Hate watch groups have tracked 150 incidents of white supremacist propaganda on campuses since the fall. Even just a year ago, it was such a rarity no one was even counting.

Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who claims to have coined the term “alt-right,” speaks at the Texas A&M University campus in Dec. 2016. The number of campus visits made by white nationalist leaders like Spencer looking to connect with students personally has increased.

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David J. Phillip/AP

“Our time has come,” roared white supremacist Richard Spencer to students at Auburn University last month. It was one of a growing number of campus visits made by white nationalist leaders looking to connect with students personally.

“This is a new phenomenon that’s very dangerous,” said Oren Segal, head of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. He says white supremacists, making a push for the mainstream, often try to lure students with more opaque slogans, like “Serve your people,” and “Our destiny is ours.”

“They don’t necessarily shave their heads and wear swastika armbands where hatred is easily seen,” said Segal. “And what they’re hoping is that people will maybe be interested because it’s not so in-your-face.”

‘Publicity is great’

One of those groups, Identity Evropa, describes itself on its website as a “fraternity,” though one limited to people of “European non-Semitic descent.” Applicants whose heritage is uncertain have been directed to undergo DNA testing.

Founder Nathan Damigo says his current recruitment effort, #ProjectSiege, will get even more aggressive next semester.

“We’re going to be setting up tables, and handing out thumb drives with videos,” he said. “We’re going to have booklets and stickers and so on.”

Damigo, a 30-year-old student and Iraq war vet, became well-known in alt-right circles last month, when he punched a female protester in Berkeley. He says it was self-defense. He got into white nationalism by reading books by the likes of former Klan leader David Duke while serving a five-year prison sentence for armed robbery.

Damigo says he needs to “change hearts and minds” of the next generation to realize his ultimate goal of a white-only space for whites in the U.S. “Forced diversity and multiculturalism” he said, is “unnatural” and whites need territory “that is ours … where we can be ourselves.”

Damigo dismisses those who call him a racist, saying it’s a “cheap strategy to undermine legitimate European interests.” But he concedes the controversy has been good for him.

“I mean sure, publicity is great,” he said. “We found last year that all you had to do is put up some flyers and you’d get millions of dollars of coverage. So this is amazing.”

His flyers have been posted at campuses from the University of California, Berkeley to the University of Massachusetts Boston, a heavily minority campus.

“I looked at these images, and I was incensed because it was such an attack on our students,” said Joseph Brown, a UMass political science professor. “They were trying to be provocative; in Internet terms, they troll. They’re trying to make themselves seem a lot bigger than they are.”

Tony McAleer knows the strategy all too well, having spent 15 years in a white supremacist skinhead group before having a change of heart in the late 1990s. “Groups like this thrive on conflict,” he said.

“I became an attention whore,” said McAleer, who eventually left the movement and founded a group called Life After Hate to try to combat white supremacists groups.

“Every effort that was done to stymie what I was doing [gave me more] publicity and more recruits,” he said. “It becomes this dance. You have to be careful not to feed the beast, and not to give them exactly what they seek.”

Assessing the right response

The increased presence of these groups has left schools and students trying to walk an almost impossibly fine line as they struggle to determine the right response to white supremacists.

When white supremacist leaflets showed up at Purdue University, administrators said they didn’t want to take the bait from“a minuscule fringe group [seeking] attention it does not deserve.” Instead, they issued a short general statement about the white supremacists’ views being “obviously inconsistent with the values and principles we believe in here at Purdue.” But students were offended they didn’t offer a more explicit condemnation and launched a sit-in.

At a recent meeting of campus activists at UMass Boston, students were split on the right response. Student Katharine O’Donnell didn’t even want to talk about white supremacists. Not only does it give them what they want, she says, but it also serves to normalize them. And ultimately, she says, it would only distract students from their efforts to fight institutional racism.

“Responding to a poster is in my opinion very damaging rather than these greater issues that are causing problems every day,” she said.

But other students pushed back, equally reluctant to let such hateful messages go unanswered.

“We have to let people know that this is not OK,” said Gabriella Cartagena. “We have to do something about this. We can’t just pretend they don’t exist and continue to push them under the rug.”

UMass Boston Chief Diversity Officer Georgianna Melendezsaysit’s “a hard hair to split,” especially for a university that tries to balance its commitment to free speech and open academic debate with its responsibility to make all students feel welcome and safe.

She says the white supremacist posters were ultimately removed from campus because they lacked required permission, but not because of their content.

“Everyone has a right to their own beliefs,” she says. “We didn’t take a position on their message except to say that we understand it’s harmful to some members of our community, and we can’t just let that go.”

Like many schools, Melendez says UMass now has a kind of hate incident SWAT team ready to counter hateful messages and counsel hurt students. It includes an early alert system, a counter messaging response team and counselors on call.

So far, hate watch groups say white supremacists’ efforts on campuses don’t seem to be paying off. They say there is no evidence that the groups are gaining traction or members, despite their claims to the contrary. But Mcaleer, the former white supremacist, cautions it’s not an easy thing to measure since most activity is online, not on the streets.

“It’s all virtual,” McAleer said. “It’s like an iceberg. You see a bit of it at the top, and I don’t think anybody has really measured how deep and how pervasive this group of disaffected kids is, and what exactly they’re doing online.”

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