Companies In Iceland Now Required To Demonstrate They Pay Men, Women Fairly

In 2016, people gather at Iceland’s parliament, the Althing, in Reykjavik. Iceland is the first country in the world to make employers prove they offer equal pay regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality.

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Frank Augstein/AP

Starting this week, companies in Iceland are required to demonstrate that they pay male and female employees fairly — without gender discrimination — or face daily fines.

The law, which was passed last year and went into effect on Monday, is believed to be the first of its kind in the world, and covers both the private and public sectors.

Some headlines have claimed that the new law makes it illegal to pay men more than women. That’s not exactly what happened. In Iceland — as in many countries, including the U.S. — it was already illegal to pay men and women differently on the basis of their gender. (And, to be clear, it was and is legal to pay a man more than a woman, or vice versa, provided there’s a valid reason.)

As the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association notes, equal pay for equal work has been mandated by Icelandic laws since 1963.

What’s remarkable about the new law in Iceland is how it enforcesequal pay standards. It does not rely on an employee to prove she was discriminated against. Instead, the burden is on companies to prove that their pay practices are fair.

The policy change comes after years of discussion and pilot testing, based on frustration with the fact that several gender-equity laws were not budging the actual pay gap.

Out of all the countries on earth, Iceland has the best track record on gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum. But the country still had a persistent pay gap just over 16 percent as of last year. The gap is present across all occupational groups. According to the Nordic Labour Journal, figures from 2010 showed about 8 percent of that year’s gap remained “unexplained” after factoring in possible justifications.

Iceland’s new law applies to companies with 25 employees or more. Every three years, the companies will need to confirm that they are paying men and women equally for jobs of equal value. If they aren’t certified, a daily fine will stack up.

Nordic Information on Gender explains how the process works:

“[T]he employer must determine which work tasks each position entails and then assign a value. The salary must be decided based on the position and not the person carrying out the work. The idea is that this will eliminate salary discrimination.

” ‘The standard makes employers pay a fixed salary for a certain type of work. However, there is some room for an upward adjustment for example if a worker adds extra value to the work, but such exceptions must be decided in accordance with the standard and justified in writing,’ says Maríanna Traustadóttir [from the Icelandic Confederation of Labour].

“She points out that the standard makes the setting of salaries more clear and transparent, which benefits both the employers and the employee.”

Those equal-pay standards have been suggested to companies since 2012, but this is the first time they will be mandatory.

The focus of the law is specifically on gender equity. However, as Iceland’s welfare office notes, the standard “can be used to prevent and eradicate all sorts of discrimination.” Functionally, the law will also block pay discrimination on “race, religion, disability, occupational disability, age and sexual orientation grounds,” the BBC noted last year.

The new law was passed — perhaps not coincidentally — a year after female candidates won nearly half the seats in Iceland’s parliament.

As NPR’s Bill Chappell reports, the country is a leader on gender issues:

“Iceland is also pushing other European countries to close the wage gap — the country’s Social Affairs and Equality Minister Thorsteinn Viglundsson called pay equity a matter of necessity Thursday, during a panel discussion on the topic in Brussels, where the European Union is based.

“Iceland is one of several countries that have stepped up their contributions to groups that work on behalf of women’s reproductive and sexual health, such as the U.N. Population Fund and She Decides.”

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Sweeping New Music Law Expedites A $1.6 Billion Lawsuit Against Spotify

The introduction of the Music Modernization Act had the effect of prompting Wixin, a music publishing company, to file legal action against Spotify before the beginning of the new year.

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When it comes to reporting on Spotify and the company’s strained relationship to songwriters and publishers, it’s beginning to sound like a broken… system. But a possible fix is in.

Just two days before New Year’s Eve, the music publishing company Wixin, which manages the compositions of a wide cross section of artists from Neil Young to Rage Against The Machine, filed a lawsuit against Spotify over its failure to properly license those works before making them available to stream.

The new lawsuit is not the first (or the second or the third) brought against the world’s most popular streaming service over compositions, which are legally discrete from recordings and require a separate license (a “mechanical”). In fact, Wixin’s action is directly related to a $43 million settlement that Spotify struck six months ago over a largely identical suit against it that it hoped would sunset further court battles.

“Unfortunately, the Ferrick settlement,” reads Wixin’s complaint, referring to the $43 million agreement struck last year, “is still grossly insufficient to compensate songwriters and publishers for Spotify’s actions, as well as procedurally unjust.” It’s seeking a “total statutory award of at least $1.6 billion.” That language closely mirrors that of another legal action, brought against Spotify one month after the Ferrick settlement was announced.

The timing of the suit is inauspicious for Spotify — today it reportedly filed papers with the SEC for an initial listing on the stock exchange some time in the first half of this year.

While the reason for the suit isn’t new, the reason for its as-late-in-the-year-as-you-can-get filing is. If that settlement didn’t quite protect Spotify against lawsuits like Wixin’s (songwriters and publishers can opt out of the Ferrick deal) then a new piece of legislation will — and it’s the reason the company is going after Spotify now.

On Dec. 21, Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia introduced that new piece of bipartisan legislation, which makes sweeping changes to the labyrinthine licensing system for compositions that has left many songwriters in the lurch and tech companies on the hook. It would also prevent lawsuits like Wixin’s from being filed.

“It’s the Music Modernization Act and the January 1 deadline it imposes forced our clients’ hands,” Daniel Schacht of Donahue Fitzgerald LLP, the firm handling Wixin’s case, tell NPR of the Dec. 29 filing.

“We’ve been working on this now for a little over four-and-a-half years,” Collins said in an interview with NPR conducted on Dec. 20. “We’re trying to provide a way so that [digital services] can provide the music they want to, have a safe haven where they can match the royalties, where the songwriters can also benefit — that they can get fairly compensated. It’s really is a product of a lot of hard work to reach a consensus. I have to admit, there were times during the journey that I would have that I’d just throw up my hands and not find the answer.”

The Music Modernization Act establishes, among many other things, what tech companies, songwriters and publishers have needed but failed to create for some time: a central database that identifies which songwriter and/or publisher controls which composition. (A bill introduced late last summer by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., also attempted to address the database issue, but was not taken seriously by the stakeholders involved.)

That database, while long needed, has never been created (or really even come close), mostly due to its cost and disagreements about control of the proprietary information that would have to be held within it.

“It allows the digital service providers to have a central place to go for not only paying royalties,” Collins says, “but protects songwriters from them using things they shouldn’t be. But also, to give songwriters a place where they can be confident that they’re going to be compensated as well.”

To accomplish this, tech companies would foot the bill for its creation in exchange for a blanket license that would cover the compositions within it, help them pay the songwriters who control those works.

Digital services “will basically be indemnified, where they will not be able to be sued, which is something that songwriters and publishers had to give them — with all these things, it’s all quid pro quo,” Michael Eames, president of the Association of Independent Music Publishers, tells NPR. Eames says that organizations like his, which represent smaller music publishers, could benefit from the bill. “We’re having to monitor and police our data in multiple databases through multiple vendors in order to get paid. It’s difficult, to say the least.”

The bill was drafted after consultation with industry groups that represent the major stakeholders involved, including the National Music Publishers Association, the Digital Media Association (which represents services like Spotify), ASCAP and BMI (the two leading performance-rights organizations) and the Nashville Songwriters Association International, among others. All are support its passage.

However, Songwriters Guild of America President Rick Carnes issued a letter the day of its introduction on his organization’s doubts around the new law. Among his concerns:

… serious fairness, transparency and practical issues related to the proposed processes of setting up the licensing collective, the distributing of unidentified monies on a market share basis and the need to better protect music creator economic rights in that context, the vague nature of any opt-out mechanisms, the granting of relief from statutory damages liability to prior willful infringers, the scope of the musical composition database (including songwriter/composer information), the provisions concerning shortfall and other funding aspects of the collective, the absence of direct distribution of royalties by the collective to songwriters and composers, the vague nature of the audit activities to be optionally conducted by the collective, and the complications in that and other regards raised by obvious conflicts of interest issues.

Spotify declined to comment on both the Music Modernization Act and Wixin’s lawsuit. But considering its forthcoming public listing, it will have to assuage investors’ worries over a seemingly endless parade of litigation. (Apple was sued on Dec. 28 over the same issue.)

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Robert Mann, A Founder Of The Julliard String Quartet, Has Died

Violinist Robert Mann, accepting a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement award on behalf of the Juilliard String Quartet in Los Angeles in 2011 .

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Robert Mann, a violinist and one of the founders of the Juilliard String Quartet, died on Monday at home in Manhattan. He was 97 years old.

When he was a youngster in Portland, Oregon, Mann dreamed of being a forest ranger. But destiny apparently had other plans for him: instead, he became a legendary musician.

Robert Mann went to Juilliard to teach after serving in the Army during World War II, starting his group with other returned GIs in 1946. He told the NPR program Performance Today in 1993 about how he’d talked Juilliard’s then-president, the composer William Schuman, into creating a resident quartet, for which he would play first violin.

“I told him,” Mann recalled, “that I hoped our quartet would play the classical music as if it had been just composed, and the contemporary music as if it were classical.”

And that is just what the Juilliard String Quartet did. The ensemble recorded everything from Bach to the string quartets of Bela Bartok. Along the way, they became one of the world’s premier chamber ensembles, winning four Grammy Awards for their work, plus a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy — the first classical group to win that prize.

For more than 50 years, Robert Mann remained the constant in the Juilliard String Quartet, while other musicians came and went. He was a performer, composer, educator, conductor — and an institution. Mann mentored generations of musicians who followed in his footsteps; among them were the Emerson and Brentano string quartets.

In a 2014 documentary film about him, Mann threw out a rough estimate of how many performances he’d given with his group. “I’ve played only about six thousand concerts with the quartet — six thousand! And you learn not from the people’s praise, but from the people, the critics and the people in the audience’s criticism, you learn over the years what works and what doesn’t work.”

And like the Juilliiard String Quartet itself, Mann became an institution.

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Manafort Sues Justice Department, Mueller Over Russia Investigation

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has sued the Justice Department even as he faces federal charges for alleged conspiracy and money laundering.

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Jacquelyn Martin/AP

President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is suing the Justice Department and special counsel Robert Mueller, alleging that Mueller has exceeded his mandate by investigating matters unrelated to the 2016 election.

Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates face money-laundering and other charges as part of the special counsel’s investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Both have pleaded not guilty.

Manafort’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., alleges that Mueller’s team has “diverged” from its stated focus on potential collusion with the Russians who attacked the 2016 election and has instead zeroed in on Manafort for “unrelated, decade-old business dealings” in Ukraine.

It says those business interests date back to as early as 2005 and have “no connection whatsoever” with the 2016 campaign. The suit also argues that the investigation of Manafort is “completely unmoored from the special counsel’s original jurisdiction.”

Mueller’s office declined to comment.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said: “The lawsuit is frivolous but the defendant is entitled to file whatever he wants.”

Manafort has filed suit at the same time that the politics surrounding the investigation have heated up. Many House Republicans say the special counsel’s probe is tainted by political bias and will never give Trump a fair shake. Some of the president’s surrogates have called for Mueller’s investigation to be shut down and for the Justice Department to appoint another special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton.

The president has repeatedly called the investigation a “witch hunt,” but he also recently told the New York Times that he thinks Mueller’s “going to be fair.” Trump also said—again—that “there’s been no collusion.”

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also was named as a defendant in the Manafort civil suit on Wednesday. Rosenstein appointed Mueller in May after Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey. Rosenstein supervises Mueller’s investigation in lieu of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from Russia-related matters because of his role in the Trump campaign.

Rosenstein’s order appointing Mueller empowers the special counsel to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” But it also authorizes Mueller to probe “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

Manafort’s lawsuit alleges that the deputy attorney general’s order in effect wrongly gives Mueller “carte blanche” to look into and pursue criminal charges against “anything he stumbles across while investigation, no matter how remote from the specific matter” of Russia.

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Bracing For The Bomb Cyclone: Songs For Storms

Cozy up with this playlist to help weather the winter storm.

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Rich McKie/WXPN

As we sit here at World Cafe headquarters in Philly reading about the “bomb cyclone” that has already wreaked outdoor havoc for some folks (including, at the time I’m writing this, in northern Florida and southern Georgia), forecasts are rolling in predicting extreme cold, dangerous winds and record snowfall on the East Coast.

While we can’t stock your pantry with hot chocolate or make sure your windows are sealed, we wanted to help in the only way we know how: with a playlist to help you weather the winter storm. You’ll find tunes to remind you of warmer weather, songs that sound like hot cups of tea and a few jams to inspire vigorous dance moves that nobody will catch you performing in the privacy of your heated home. Keep yourselves, your neighbors and your pets safe, everyone! Love, team World Cafe.

Songs For Weathering Winter Storms

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Scientists Warn 'Bomb Cyclone' Will Bring Strong Winds, Cold Temperatures

The storm spread snow and freezing rain across the Southeast on Wednesday. It’s expected to intensify as it moves up the coast.

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Stephen B. Morton/AP

The eastern United States is about to be hit by a really powerful winter storm that scientists are calling a bomb cyclone. And yes, that is a scientific term.

The National Weather Service forecasts that the storm, which has struck Florida and the Carolinas, will move northward along the Eastern Seaboard on Thursday and Friday. It will bring snow, ice, strong winds, massive storm surges and plummeting temperatures all the way up to Maine.

Here is what created this monster winter storm.

First, the jet stream brought cold, dry air from Canada southward this past week, casting an unusually cold spell on the entire eastern United States. That mass of cold air eventually collided with relatively warm, moist air off the southeastern coast, giving birth to this winter storm.

“Very warm air coming next to cold air mass creates a lot of energy,” says Jeffrey B. Halverson, a climatologist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

It also creates a dramatic decline in air pressure, he says. “The pressure is going to drop very, very rapidly.”

Winter weather will impact the entire East Coast today through Friday. Here are the latest expected snow totals and current winter headlines. Strong winds will accompany the snow in many locations. Stay informed at or your trusted weather source! 📱💻📺📻

— NWS (@NWS) January 3, 2018

That’s where the word ‘bomb’ comes in, says Jeff Weber, a climatologist at the the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. “We call storms that drop 24 millibars in 24 hours a bomb, a bombogenesis, the beginning of a cyclone.”

The more technical (and less eye-catching) term is a baroclinic mid-latitude cyclone. This particular one has similarities to Superstorm Sandy, which hit the eastern United States in 2012.

Unlike this winter storm, Sandy began as a full-fledged hurricane. “As it moved north, it interacted with cold air and transitioned into a baroclinic mid-latitude cyclone,” Weber says. “And that happened literally as the eye was getting ready to make landfall.”

Sandy was more powerful than this new storm, because it had more time to build up energy as it moved north from the Caribbean, he says.

Nevertheless, this winter storm is expected to be very powerful. Scientists are forecasting that the air pressure in the storm will drop by “about 50 millibars over the next 24 hours,” says Weber. “So this will be a big deepening and strong intensification of the storm over the next 24 hours.”

“This storm is a big, big wind-making machine,” says Halverson. “This is going to cause a lot of problems.”

The National Weather Service predicts between 6 and 12 inches of snowfall between Virginia Beach and Boston. Northern New England could get more than 12-18 inches. Eastern Long Island and northern New England are likely to see blizzard conditions.

There will also be coastal flooding and storm surges that can destroy coastal properties and cause beach erosion, especially up along the New England coastline, says Halverson.

Massachusetts and Maine are likely to see widespread power outages due to gusty wind.

But the storm’s impacts won’t end there.

“This storm is going to pull down a huge amount of arctic air,” says Halverson. “On Friday and Saturday, temperatures are going to be in the gutter.”

Temperatures could drop down to single digits, or even below zero. “And if you’re going to be out of power, you’re really going to be in trouble.”

States such as Massachusetts and Maine should prepare to shelters for people, he says. “Sheltering for warmth is going to be key, for potentially several days.”

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Ed Department Considering More Stringent Rules on Loan Forgiveness For Fraud Victims

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, shown here during a congressional hearing last May, is seeking to change rules protecting student loan borrowers defrauded by universities.

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Trying to change Obama-era rules, the Trump administration is one step closer to making it more difficult for students to have loan debt wiped clean in cases involving fraud by universities.

The Department of Education has been making incremental moves toward watering-down the policies for months, but a draft proposal obtained by Politico, lays out the administration’s new vision, which places a higher burden of proof on students seeking to obtain debt forgiveness and requires applicants to individually present evidence that their college’s deception was intentional.

The existing program, called Borrower Defense to Repayment, provides relief to federal student loan borrowers who attended a school that misled them or engaged in other misconduct in violation of certain laws.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos convened a special committee to rewrite the policy last June saying the regulations are “overly burdensome and confusing” and need to be streamlined.

“It is the Department’s aim, and this Administration’s commitment, to protect students from predatory practices while also providing clear, fair and balanced rules for colleges and universities to follow,” DeVos said in a statement at the time.

According to Politico, the draft proposal says applicants would have to establish “clear and convincing evidence” of their fraud claim. This is a change from the standard set under President Barack Obama which required only a “preponderance of evidence.”

Additionally, the proposal says borrowers must “demonstrate that the college’s misrepresentation to them was intentional – or at least reflected ‘a reckless disregard for the truth.'” Finally, a person seeking to erase a debt must prove that the misrepresentation led to monetary damage.

Among other possible changes is a reduction in the time allotted to file a claim, from six years to three years “of the date the borrower discovered, or reasonably should have discovered, the misrepresentation.”

Since the Obama policies were first implemented, DeVos has said many for-profit colleges have complained that definitions of misrepresentation and breach of contract are too broad and that institutions lacked meaningful due process.

The rules were initially introduced in 2016 in response to several high profile cases in which for-profit institutions — including Corinthian Colleges, DeVry, and ITT Tech — committed widespread fraud by lying about job placement rates and used other deceptive tactics to lure students into enrolling.

A Department of Education official told members of Congress in July that the Trump administration had not approved any applications for student-loan forgiveness and that it had stopped reviews of any new claims since the start of the administration.

Records released to Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., show the department received nearly 15,000 new applications from borrowers who say they were victims of fraud between Jan. 20 and July 5.

A department spokeswoman explained the moratorium on reviewing new applications would remain until a new system to adjudicate pending claims had been developed.

PBS reports that in the final year of the Obama administration the department approved more than 28,000 claims filed by former students of Cornithian Colleges. Those claims totaled $558 million.

In June, NPR reported attorneys general from 18 states and Washington, D.C., filed suit against DeVos and her department, accusing DeVos of breaking federal law and giving free rein to for-profit colleges by rescinding the Borrower Defense rule.

The rule had been put on hold less than one month after DeVos said her agency would re-evaluate it.

NPR has requested a copy of the draft proposal.

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Corruption, Protests, and the Price of Eggs in Iran


Two years ago, international sanctions against Iran were largely lifted. People expected the economy to come surging back. But so far, it’s been a disappointment. Unemployment is high. Prices are rising. Corruption is persistent. A surge in the price of eggs was the last straw.

Music by Drop Electric. Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, PocketCasts and NPR One.

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