Kennedy Center Joins Institutions Stripping Bill Cosby Of Awards

Bill Cosby departs after a pretrial hearing in his sexual assault case at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pa., Aug. 22, 2017. He was found guilty last month on three counts.

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Matt Rourke/AP

As Bill Cosby awaits sentencing on his conviction for aggravated indecent assault, prestigious institutions continue to strip the comedian of the accolades bestowed on him throughout his 50-year career.

The latest is the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, whose board voted Monday to rescind the Honors award and the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor that Cosby received in 1998 and 2009, respectively.

“The Honors and Mark Twain Prize are given to artists who, through their lifetime of work, have left an indelible impact on American culture,” the Kennedy Center said in a statement. “As a result of Mr. Cosby’s recent criminal conviction, the Board concluded that his actions have overshadowed the very career accomplishments these distinctions from the Kennedy Center intend to recognize.”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences noted the verdict against Cosby last week, and voted to expel him and Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski. The Academy said both men had violated the organization’s standards of conduct. They have both been convicted of crimes involving sexual misconduct.

On Wednesday, Yale University finally capitulated to a student-led effort to revoke Cosby’s 2003 honorary degree which started as early as 2014.

In a statement, the university said, “The decision is based on a court record providing clear and convincing evidence of conduct that violates fundamental standards of decency shared by all members of the Yale community, conduct that was unknown to the board at the time the degree was awarded. The board took this decision following Mr. Cosby’s criminal conviction after he was afforded due process.”

The move was a first in the university’s 300-year history, according to The Atlantic.

Cosby, who is 80, was found guilty last month in a retrial on charges stemming from a 2004 sexual assault, in which the actor drugged and assaulted a woman in his Pennsylvania home. He could face up to 30 years in prison.

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How Puerto Rico Plans To Spend $1.5 Billion In Federal Recovery Grants

A damaged home in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Punta Diamante, Puerto Rico on Sept. 21, 2017. On Monday, Gov. Ricardo Rossello said the majority of federal recovery grants would go toward rebuilding homes and businesses.

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Jorge A Ramirez Portela/AP

As Puerto Rico continues its recovery from Hurricane Maria, officials on the island are preparing for billions of dollars in federal reconstruction aid that will begin flowing in the coming months.

On Monday, the island’s governor announced his plans for the first $1.5 billion of those funds. The grants, awarded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, come with fewer restrictions than what the Federal Emergency Management Agency has spent on the island in the nearly eight months since the storm.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello said the majority — at least $817 million — will go to reconstruct damaged single-family homes and businesses. Many of these structures may not have qualified for repair grants under more stringent FEMA requirements.

Another $120 million will be made available to finance tax credits used to encourage the construction of low income housing. Efforts to hook homes up to renewable energy sources will get $36 million, and $45 million will be spent to help homeowners behind on their mortgages. Another $12.5 million will provide housing for victims of domestic violence and the homeless.

The funds are just a fraction of the roughly $20 billion that HUD has approved to help Puerto Rico recover from the estimated $100 billion in damage caused by Hurricane Maria. Officials are still making plans for the remaining $18.5 billion.

Assuming HUD approves the governor’s plans for this first installment, funds are expected to start flowing in August.

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Reports: Intel Firm Was Hired To Discredit Former Obama Iran Deal Negotiators

An Israeli intelligence firm was reportedly hired last year to compile background dossiers on several former Obama administration officials, including Colin Kahl, seen here in 2012.

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An Israeli intelligence firm was hired last year to do “dirty ops” research on former Obama administration officials who worked on the Iran nuclear deal, according to reports in the U.K.’s Observer and The New Yorker.

The firm is Black Cube, according toThe New Yorker: the same company reportedly hired by Harvey Weinstein in 2016 to investigate the women and journalists he thought might come forward with allegations against him. Black Cube touts that the company is run by “a select group of veterans from the Israeli elite intelligence units.”

The reports differ on who hired Black Cube.

The Observerreports that an Israeli intelligence firm was hired by aides to President Trump, “who contacted private investigators in May last year to ‘get dirt’ on Ben Rhodes, who had been one of Barack Obama’s top national security advisers, and Colin Kahl, deputy assistant to Obama, as part of an elaborate attempt to discredit the deal.”

Sources told the Observer that Trump’s team had contacted the firm just days after he visited Israel last May. “The idea was that people acting for Trump would discredit those who were pivotal in selling the deal, making it easier to pull out of it,” a source told the newspaper.

A Black Cube spokesman told NPR that the firm was never hired by anyone within the Trump administration, and said Black Cube’s clients have business rather than political interests. But the company would neither confirm nor deny that a business client had hired the firm to do the work described in the New Yorker and Observer reports.

The White House did not respond to NPR’s request for comment.

In the New Yorker, Ronan Farrow writes that a source told him that “it was, in fact, part of Black Cube’s work for a private-sector client pursuing commercial interests related to sanctions on Iran.”

The documents he reviewed, Farrow says,

“show that Black Cube compiled detailed background profiles of several individuals, including Rhodes and Kahl, that featured their addresses, information on their family members, and even the makes of their cars. Black Cube agents were instructed to try to find damaging information about them, including unsubstantiated claims that Rhodes and Kahl had worked closely with Iran lobbyists and were personally enriched through their policy work on Iran (they denied those claims); rumors that Rhodes was one of the Obama staffers responsible for “unmasking” Trump transition officials who were named in intelligence documents (Rhodes denied the claim); and an allegation that one of the individuals targeted by the campaign had an affair.

The campaign is strikingly similar to an operation that Black Cube ran on behalf of Harvey Weinstein, which was reported in The New Yorker last fall. One of Weinstein’s attorneys, David Boies, hired Black Cube to halt the publication of sexual-misconduct allegations against Weinstein. Black Cube operatives used false identities to track women with allegations, and also reporters seeking to expose the story.”

Kahl tells NPR that he first heard he’d been a target of the firm’s smear campaign about a week ago, “when reporters who were working on the story for The Observer and Guardian just sent me an email out of the blue, saying that in the course of their previous investigation on Cambridge Analytica, they had uncovered information suggesting that Ben Rhodes and I had been targeted by some firm. … They asked if I had any information about it or ever heard about it, and I hadn’t.”

After reading the Observer story on Saturday, Kahl’s wife remembered suspicious emails she had received in late May or early June last year, from someone who claimed to be with a finance company in the U.K. and wanted to know information about the Washington, D.C., school their daughter attended.

After a conversation with Farrow on Sunday, “it became clear that the fake company that had reached out to my wife was actually the same fake company that this Israeli firm, Black Cube, had used to try to discredit some of the accusers of Harvey Weinstein,” Kahl says.

Farrow tells NPR that when he was reporting on the allegations against Weinstein, agents using false identities reached out to him, too, at Weinstein’s behest — “in some cases using the same front companies used in the Iran operation.”

Kahl, now a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, called the targeting “outrageous.”

“There’s the outrage that anybody would target former government officials and try to dig up dirt on them in their personal capacity to try to discredit the policy positions they had in government — that’s just that just awful, period. It’s especially awful that they not only went after me, but that they went after my family,” he says. “So it’s just creepy on a bunch of levels. And then you know even the mere possibility that it might somehow be tied to the current administration, of course, takes it to a stratospheric level of authoritarian creepiness.”

Kahl says he doesn’t know who hired Black Cube, or why he and Rhodes were its targets. But he notes that during the same period when the firm was reportedly hired, he and Rhodes were repeatedly the subject of attacks by senior Trump aides.

Last May, former White House aide Sebastian Gorka referred on Fox News to “the Ben Rhodes/Colin Kahl nexus.” A month later, a senior Trump official toldThe Washington Free Beacon that Rhodes and Kahl “provide marching orders to a broader group of people that are associated with the broader [Democratic Party] Podesta-Clinton network.”

And Kahl notes one thing that makes him an odd target for spies: He’s no longer working in government.

“I mean it happens in the intel world,” he says. “Intelligence communities spy on foreign officials. It’s, I think, rarer for them to spy on former government officials. And so one of the weird things about this is not that there would be intelligence collected on officials of the Obama administration, but why that intelligence would be collected on them after we left the Obama administration.”

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The 'I' Of The LIBOR

200 Trillion

A few decades ago, nobody paid much attention to LIBOR. The London Interbank Offered Rate was just an interest rate for loans between banks. It was set by a group of low-level bankers in the bowels of major financial institutions, according to David Enrich, author of The Spider Network. Then banks started using the LIBOR rates to set interest rates for other loans, like mortgages and student loans. A huge scandal ensued, but replacing the infamous rate has proven to be difficult.

Music: “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor

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

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Decorated Taekwondo Athlete Steven Lopez Temporarily Barred Amid Assault Claims

Steven Lopez representing the United States at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

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Steven Lopez, the most decorated taekwondo athlete in history, has been temporarily barred from representing the United States on the international stage.

The 39-year-old has won three Olympic medals — including two golds — and five World Championships. At least five women have accused him and his brother Jean Lopez of sexual misconduct.

The U.S. Center for SafeSport — a non-profit tasked with investigating abuse across Olympic sports — has suspended him pending further investigation. Lopez was unavailable for comment.

In a statement to NPR, USA Taekwondo says it will “fully enforce this immediate suspension” and that it “fully supports the important work of the U.S. Center for SafeSport and respects its exclusive jurisdiction over sexual misconduct matters.”

His brother Jean, a renowned coach, was permanently banned by the organization in April. He is appealing the decision.

The decisions by U.S. SafeSport only affect the brother’s eligibility to participate in the sport under the U.S. banner. They do not amount to a criminal indictment.

Steven Lopez’s suspension comes just days after four former elite taekwondo athletes filed suit in the U.S. district court for Colorado alleging that the Lopez brothers had sexually assaulted them. They are not the only people accusing the Lopezes of misconduct. As NPR reported last Friday, Nina Zampetti — who started training with Steven Lopez when she was eight years old — says that when she was 14, and Lopez 22, he had her perform oral sex on him.

The four plaintiffs in the lawsuit are suing not just the Lopezes but also USA Taekwondo and the U.S. Olympic Committee. They allege that the organizations knew about the Lopezes’ behavior and failed to protect them. Moreover, because some of the alleged assaults happened abroad, they argue the organizations are guilty of sex trafficking.

Women who had leveled allegations against Lopez were gratified by the news. “I’m glad for this,” said Gabby Joslin, who trained with Steven and Jean Lopez and alleges she was assaulted by both men. “Steven needs to be away from potential victims.” Joslin says in the lawsuit that she was first assaulted by Steven Lopez while being coached by him at a tournament in Germany.

Mandy Meloon,who originally made a formal complaint against the Lopezes to the USA Taekwondo in 2006 and is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said she was pleased with the suspension, but wishes it had come earlier. “Both of the brothers need to be charged with crimes,” Meloon adds.

Ronda Sweet, who served on the board of USA Taekwondo from 2006-2010 and has long argued that the organization needs to take a tougher line on sexual assault, was ebullient about the decision. “This is a historic day,” she says. “But it’s just a start.” She says other coaches need to be investigated as well.

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La Dame Blanche: Flute And Flow From Cuba To Paris

Cuban musician La Dame Blanche artfully blends genres

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Pepe Escarpita/Courtesy of the Artist

Blessed by a brilliant musical pedigree, Yaité Ramos Rodriguez initially moved into Latin Jazz after mastering the flute at the Escuela Nacional de Arte de Cuba in Havana. Now based in Paris for the better part of two decades, the daughter of trombonist Jesús ‘Aguaje’ Ramos (bandleader of the Orquesta Buenavista Social Club Orchestra) and niece of Mayito Rivera (ex-singer of Los Van Van) performs as La Dame Blanche. She’s created a signature sound (one contrary to her father’s wishes) that springboards from Havana, but incorporates Paris, classical training and urban beats. She took the name to reference a fearsome yet benevolent mythical figure — witch, sorcerer and healer — as well as to indirectly comment on herself as a black woman and practitioner of santería (a Yoruban spiritual belief system transplanted to the Americas).

La Dame Blanche’s “No Da Para Na,” the first single from upcoming album Bajo El Mismo Cielo, opens with flute notes giving way to a dance-club friendly beat. At that point, Ramos’ flow takes over and reveals its wellspring in the Cuban rumba and Cuban son of her family’s traditions, as well as a potent dancehall and reggae vibe that she perfected in tours backing up French-Spanish reggae artist Sergent García — it’s an irresistible mix that compels the body to dance as she connects the dots between a multitude of Panamerican African diasporas.

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Masterfully backed by French sound engineer and beat-maker Marc “Babylotion” Damblé, Ramos tells a story based on the characters of the tobacco-growing region of Pinar del Río, in a barrio populated by colorful denizens ranging from attorneys and doctors to gamblers, gossips and santeros.

Ramos spits rhymes densely steeped in Cuban colloquialisms and refrains, but the message shines through in the verbal strut and swagger: Standing at a crossroads, tired and seemingly at the brink of total collapse, the narrator will not be defeated. The tipping point has been reached, obstacles will be overcome, and La Dame Blanche has the recipe for success: Find your own voice, make your own path, and no matter what, never ever give up.


“No Da Para Na” is available now. La Dame Blanche’s new full-length album, Bajo El Mismo Cielo, is out May 25 on Nacional Records.

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4 Ideas To Stop Violence Against Girls: A Walking School Bus, Sports Talk And More

Schoolgirls walk home from school in a rural area in Southern Natal Province, South Africa.

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What’s the best way to protect girls and women from being bullied, beaten and sexually assaulted?

The truth is, we don’t really have a lot of evidence.

Although gender-based violence affects 35 percent of women worldwide, it’s a “substantially neglected” area of research, according to the Sexual Violence Research Initiative, a South Africa-based group. That’s why, together with the World Bank, they are investing in new ideas and solutions to find the best ways to fight it.

In April, the groups awarded $100,000 each to 11 creative projects from low- and middle-income countries. That includes a “walking bus” from South Africa — adult chaperones who accompany children on their long walks to school — and a sports-themed gender equality workshop for teens in Papua New Guinea.

World Bank and SVRI staffers reviewed more than 250 proposals and chose winners based on the strength of their ideas and the quality of their research.

The Development Marketplace Awards started in 2015 in honor of Hannah Graham, an 18-year-old British American student at the University of Virginia who went missing and whose body was later found. Her death was ruled a homicide. Graham was the daughter of a World Bank employee. The funds come from the World Bank president’s office budget and other partners.

Here’s are some of this year’s award winners.

Walking kids to school in South Africa

The problem: In South Africa, kids, especially girls and young boys, face many risks on their walk to school: “bullying, sexual violence, harassment, even rape, kidnappings and murder,” says Ndumiso Ngidi, a lecturer and researcher at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg. Children from poor or rural settings, who have to walk several miles to school each day, are most vulnerable.

The government is supposed to provide transportation for these children to school, but more often than not, they don’t, says Ngidi.

The back story: When Ngidi was in eighth grade, he got a little taste of what he is now trying to prevent.

“While walking to school, I was beaten by older guys. They took my belongings, my school bag, my shoes,” he says. “But it’s even worse for girls.”

The solution: Ngidi and his partner Zaynab Essack, a research psychologist, are starting a program called the Walking School Bus. They have spent the past few months researching the idea and planto use their World Bank prize money to put it into action. They will pay adults to chaperone children during their walk to school — which can be as long as two hours.

They’ll start by hiring six adults, who will each walk with a group of 12 primary school-age children.

Clean cookstoves with a side of empowerment in Rwanda

The problem: Women in refugee camps in Rwanda have to walk up to five hours outside the camp on a weekly basis to collect firewood to cook. More than 30 percent of women in Rwanda are at risk of harassment, assault and sexual abuse while collecting firewood, according to data from UNHCR.

What’s more, these women, who have been displaced due to violence, conflict or natural disasters, are at high risk of intimate partner violence, says Anita Shankar, an associate scientist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“If you don’t have fuel, you can’t cook the food,” she says. “It contributes to the food and security of the household. And interpartner violence is caused by economic stress.”

The solution: If women had access to clean cookstoves, it could help reduce reliance on firewood by up to 80 percent, says Shankar.

And if women could learn how to better communicate their problems, they could resolve conflict with their spouses and family members, says Shankar. “These women are stuck in the camps all day long, with only their thoughts in their heads.”

Over the next year, Shankar and her team will use the World Bank prize money to distribute clean cookstoves to women in refugee camps in Rwanda. This, coupled with Shankar’s specialty — personal empowerment training — could protect the women from gender-based violence both inside and outside the home.

She will bring women together for a three-day workshop at the camp to help them understand how their emotions and belief impact their behavior. Afterward, there will be a one-day workshop for the women’s male partners. It’s a program she’s successfully carried out with sex workers in India and low-income communities in Asia and Africa.

Shankar admits her project, clean cookstoves with a side of therapy, is “a little bit crazy.” But she hopes that it can tackle gender-based violence from the outside and in.

Keeping teen moms safe in Colombia

The problem: In Dr. Arturo Harker’s country of Colombia, one in five teenagers are pregnant or have a child, he says. In addition, there are high rates of violence in the country. According to surveys from The DHS Program, 64 percent of women have faced some kind of sexual violence or harassment, says Harker, an assistant professor at the University of Los Andes in Bogota.

Harker wondered: How many of these teen pregnancies were a result of sexual violence? And what can existing programs for teen mothers in Colombia do to better assist these girls?

The back story: Harker has been studying teen mothers in Colombia since 2015. What strikes him about the girls is their resilience. “When a girl tells you that she was 12 years old and pregnant, poor and from a violent context, you think that she and her kid are doomed,” he says.

“What we see with some of those kids is that they do go forward. They get their education. They treat their kids better. They invest more time in their son or daughter. You see that growth and wow. That’s inspiring,” he adds.

The solution: Harker will use his World Bank funds to find out how many teen mothers supported by the Juanfe Foundation, a women’s charity in Latin America, are affected by gender-based violence.

The findings will help strengthen the Juanfe Foundation’s Model 360 program, which provides teen moms in Colombia with education, health care and psychosocial support. Currently, the program does not offer many resources to protect the girls from abuse and harassment.

Changing gender norms in Papua New Guinea

The problem: According to the U.N. Development Programme, two-thirds of women in Papua New Guinea have been subjected to gender-based violence. That’s pretty high for a country that is not in a post-conflict situation, says Jacqui Joseph, co-founder and CEO of a nonprofit group called Equal Playing Field. “It’s entrenched in the way people live, how society accepts gender.”

She wants the next generation of Papua New Guineans to live differently. And that starts with understanding how boys and girls should treat each other.

The back story: Joseph says she herself is afraid to be alone at night in her city of Port Moresby. “You always need an escort,” she says. “You can easily get attacked, mugged — you’re not safe.”

The solution: Joseph’s nonprofit hosts an eight-week workshop to teach kids ages 12 to 15 about what makes a good relationship and how to set personal boundaries. The hope is that by showing young people how to treat each other, boys will be less inclined to hurt girls and girls will know that being treated violently is not OK.

Joseph uses themes from rugby and soccer — sports that the kids are crazy about, she says — to help get the point across. Week 1 of the workshop, she says, is all about setting the “rules of the game.” So she asks questions like, “What makes a good team?” People encourage each other, people work together, they’ll say. “You’ll find the same thing in relationships,” she’ll say, drawing a parallel.

The program works out of more than 50 schools across the country. With the World Bank prize money, she hopes to expand the program to third and fourth grade students and create more ways to talk about gender in the classroom outside of her workshops.

“As a child, I wish I had people to talk to and get help from,” she says. “In many ways, I’m making up for my own childhood.”

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