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American Dirt: Oprah book club pick suffers Latino backlash



Jeanine CumminsImage copyright

In an author’s note for hit new novel American Dirt, author Jeanine Cummins says she wished “someone slightly browner than me” had written it.

“But,” continued Ms Cummins, a white writer with Puerto Rican forbearers, “then I thought, if you’re a person who has the capacity to be a bridge, why not be a bridge?”

The book, which tells the story of a family fleeing Mexico for the US, was greeted with rave reviews from Oprah Winfrey, among others.

However, the plaudits were quickly followed by outrage from members of the Hispanic community, who complained that the novel misrepresents the Latin-American experience.

The row has rekindled a debate over prejudice in the publishing industry and over who, exactly, is allowed to tell the stories of others.

American Dirt follows a middle-class Mexican woman who escapes the country with her son after her husband, a journalist, is killed by a drug cartel. The story traces their often violent journey as migrants to the US border.

The novel was highly anticipated and Ms Cummins received a reported seven-figure book deal for a first print run of half a million copies. She was interviewed by the New York Times, which published an excerpt of the book.

Positive reviews came from beloved authors, including Stephen King. Ms Winfrey selected American Dirt for her book club this week, all but assuring a boost in sales. “I love it so much,” she said.

Others were less favourably disposed. A scathing review by the Hispanic-American writer Myriam Gurba called it a “Trumpian fantasy of what Mexico is”.

Outrage over the novel’s depictions of migrants soon spilled forth on social media. Critics tweeted out mock-stereotyped stories with the hashtag “Writing my latino novel”.

Adding to the controversy were claims that American Dirt had borrowed from other novels about Mexico, while at the same time misconstruing key nuances, like the use of Mexican phrases in Spanish.

“When writing about a community to which one does not belong, authors have an obligation to think about the social and cultural politics of what they are doing,” Domino Perez, a professor of English at the University of Austin’s Center for Mexican American Studies, told the BBC. “Asking whether or not you are the right person to tell a story means that sometimes the answer is no.”

Maricela Becerra, an assistant adjunct professor at UCLA, told the BBC: “We have been talking about these issues for many, many years as Latinxs and immigrants, and the problem is that we have not been heard. Suddenly a non-immigrant person tells our story, and people seem to be interested.”

But the book has found defenders in the Latino community. Sandra Cisneros, a famous Mexican-American author, said American Dirt was “not simply the great American novel; it’s the great novel of las Americas. It’s the great world novel!”

Rigoberto González, an English professor at Rutgers-Newark University, called the book “highly original”, albeit with “moments of pandering to social justice language”.

In 2016, Ms Cummins said in a New York Times opinion piece that she did not want to write about race out of fear of “striking the wrong chord, of being vulnerable, of uncovering shameful ignorance in my psyche”. She said she identified as white “in every practical way”.

“I don’t know if I’m the right person to tell this story,” she told the Times. “I do think that the conversation about cultural appropriation is incredibly important, but I also think that there is a danger sometimes of going too far toward silencing people,” she said.

According to 2018 data from Publisher’s Weekly, 84% of the publishing workforce is white, 5% is Asian, 3% Hispanic and 2% black.

At the executive level, 86% of the industry is white, according to a 2015 survey by Lee and Low Books, as are 89% of book reviewers.

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Boris Johnson in intensive care after coronavirus symptoms worsen




More than 1,200 people have died of coronavirus complications in the United States in the past day, John Hopkins University said this morning.

The Baltimore-based university, which has been keeping a running tally of global coronavirus numbers, said there are at least 337,072 confirmed infections in the US with 9,633 deaths.

Mainland China reported 39 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, with all but one of them imported from overseas, up from the 30 reported a day earlier, as the number of asymptomatic cases also surged.

The National Health Commission said in a statement on Monday that 78 new asymptomatic cases had been identified. Only one new death was recorded on April 5, the new data showed.

Japan‘s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is seen moving closer to declaring a state of emergency in a matter of days, after confirmed coronavirus infections in Tokyo surged over the weekend to top 1,000 for the first time, a newspaper report said.

A recent spike in infections sparked concerns Japan is headed for a crisis on the levels seen in the US and several countries in Europe.

Mexico has registered 2,143 cases, an increase of 253 cases from a day earlier, the health ministry said.

The number of deaths linked to the virus rose by 15 to 94.

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Coronavirus Live Updates: Hospitals Run Low on Supplies as the U.S. Death Toll Nears 10,000




The seven prefectures to be covered by the state of emergency, which Mr. Abe said would last about a month, are Chiba, Fukuoka, Hyogo, Kanagawa, Osaka, Saitama and Tokyo.

Under an emergency law enacted last month, Mr. Abe can ask prefectural governors to close schools, request that residents refrain from going out or holding events, and order building owners to contribute their facilities for medical use. He cannot issue stay-at-home orders or force businesses to close, as other countries have done.

Mr. Abe said that public transit would continue to run and that supermarkets would remain open.

Nearly three months into its outbreak, Japan is continuing to record new daily highs in confirmed infections, with the health ministry announcing 383 on Monday. Japan’s total number of cases has more than doubled, to 3,654, in the last eight days.

Japan has so far not reported the sort of explosive rise in cases that other countries have experienced, even though it has not taken aggressive steps like restricting people’s movements or testing widely for the virus. Its leaders have said for weeks that they have managed to contain the outbreak by quickly identifying clusters and tracing close contacts to infected people, but experts fear that the limited testing has allowed the virus to spread.

In remarks to reporters, Yoshihide Suga, Mr. Abe’s chief cabinet secretary, said that “in urban areas, including Tokyo, the number of infections is rapidly increasing, and the number of infections that cannot be tracked is increasing.”

In Tokyo on Sunday, the governor, Yuriko Koike, announced 143 new cases, a record high. By Monday evening, the city had announced an additional 83 cases. In all, Tokyo has reported more than 1,000 cases and 30 deaths.

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Global Stock Markets Surge: Live Updates




Global markets rally as investors think positively.

Global markets surged on Monday as investors looked to signs that the outbreak is peaking in some of the world’s worst-hit places.

European stocks were trading 2 to 4 percent higher after a modest rally in Asia picked up steam later in the day. Futures markets were predicting Wall Street would get off to a strong start as well.

Investors looked to official numbers from Europe showing the pace of new confirmed infections and deaths slowing in some places. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said on Saturday that the outbreak there could reach its worst point in coming days. Other officials in the United States suggested the outbreak was peaking in some places even as it flared in others.

In Japan, the government announced a plan to spend nearly $1 trillion to prevent its economy from collapsing. But in Europe there were concerns that banks, many not fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, would eventually face difficulties.

Beyond stocks, other markets showed improvement. U.S. Treasury bond prices fell in Asian trading. But the price of oil, which generally rises on good economic news, fell amid a continuing spat over supplies between Russia and Saudi Arabia.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 index rose 4.2 percent. South Korea’s Kospi index rose 3.9 percent. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index was up 2.2 percent. Taiwan’s Taiex was up 1.6 percent.

European bank regulators were about to run a stress test, hoping to determine whether banks across the continent could survive a serious economic downturn. But then the real thing arrived.

Government officials planned on running their test earlier this year, and it was meant to simulate a 4.3 percent decline in European economic output by 2022. But after the coronavirus outbreak, this so-called worst-case scenario is far from the worst case.

Some economists say that because of the pandemic, the European economy could decline by more than 10 percent just in the first half of this year.

Regulators and central bankers have tried to make the European banking system “crisis-proof” in recent years. But they are now wondering whether these measures will be enough to prevent a financial meltdown of global proportions.

One European regulator said the problem was manageable so far. And banks in other parts of the world where the virus has spread will also struggle. But European banks may be particularly vulnerable because they have never fully recovered from the last big crisis in 2008.

As governments order Americans to stay home during the pandemic and homes across the country turn to Amazon for food, medicines and other supplies, many of the more than 400,000 warehouse workers who fulfill orders for the online retailer have remained on the job. The challenge lies in keeping them there.

Orders for groceries have been as much as 50 times higher inside Amazon, and the company is struggling to keep its warehouses staffed as concerns grow that these massive distribution centers have been contaminated, according to more than 30 current and former Amazon employees who spoke with The New York Times.

Last month, one person with knowledge of the situation said, worker attendance inside Amazon warehouses had dropped as much as 30 percent.

Though Amazon is not unionized, the situation has provided added leverage for workplace organizers inside the company to demand more pay and better sick leave. Last week, small groups of workers staged protests against working conditions inside two Amazon warehouses, and government officials in New York State and New York City said they were investigating whether the company improperly fired one employee who was part of a protest on Staten Island.

Everyone knew the last few months would be terrible for carmakers. New data is showing just how bad.

The German carmaker BMW said on Monday that vehicle sales plunged 20 percent in the first three months of 2020. That figure probably understates the extent of the damage caused by the coronavirus outbreak, because lockdowns in the United States and Europe did not become widespread until March. Most dealerships in Europe and the United States are closed, BMW said.

In Britain, registrations of new cars fell 44 percent in March, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said Monday. Dealers sold 200,000 cars fewer than they did in March 2019.

In yet another sign that the industry is under financial stress, two large European carmakers said they secured additional bank credits to get them through the downturn. PSA, the maker of Peugeot and Citroën cars, said on Monday that it had doubled the size of an existing line of credit with a group of banks, to 6 billion euros, or $6.5 billion.

The German carmaker Daimler said last week that it had arranged to more than double the credit it can draw on if needed, to €23 billion from €11 billion.

OPEC’s meeting is delayed as tensions resurface between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

As Saudi Arabia and Russia squabbled over who is to blame for the collapse in oil prices in the coronavirus outbreak, the two countries were set to meet with other major oil producers on Monday in an effort to ease turmoil across the energy markets. But the meeting is now off.

The meeting between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other oil producers was never officially announced but was widely reported on Friday, and its cancellation, confirmed by two OPEC delegates, could affect the markets worldwide on Monday.

Owing to the coronavirus epidemic, demand for oil has dropped precipitously. Led by Saudi Arabia, OPEC had proposed a deal that would trim oil production, but Russia declined to go along with it. More recently, the Saudis increased production while offering discounts to customers.

On Friday, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said Saudi Arabia was at least partly to blame for the price drop, while the Saudis blamed Russia. The two OPEC delegates indicated that further talks were needed before the two sides could agree to a meeting.

These C.E.O.s are placing a big bet. It rhymes with ‘libby.’

What’s it like to launch a new digital product in the midst of a pandemic?

Two veteran business leaders are about to find out.

The coronavirus is spreading, but Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman have stuck with a Monday start date for Quibi, a short-form video app for smartphones that they hope will attract millions of subscribers.

The two have a combined 80 years of experience in leadership roles at some of the nation’s top companies. But they have spent nearly two years in start-up mode, prodding investors to kick in nearly $1.8 billion and bringing aboard producers and stars like Jennifer Lopez, LeBron James, Chance the Rapper, Idris Elba, Chrissy Teigen and more. Now Mr. Katzenberg and Ms. Whitman are ready to unveil their venture.

“This is either going to be a massive home run or a massive swing and miss,” said Michael Goodman, a media analyst at Strategy Analytics.

Quibi, a portmanteau of “quick bites,” will offer movies, reality shows and news programs made for the smartphone, with no installment lasting more than 10 minutes. Its offerings fall into three main categories: movies that will be released in chapters; documentaries and unscripted reality shows; and quick-hit news and sports reports from NBC, BBC, ESPN and others. Fifty shows will be available Monday.

There is, however, the question of how much people are willing to spend on streaming at a time when nearly 10 million people are out of work. Quibi (rhymes with “libby”) announced last month that it would be free for its first three months. After that, the cost will be $5 a month with ads and $8 without.

Congress has earmarked $454 billion for Federal Reserve programs that are meant to keep credit flowing to businesses, states and local governments — money that could help it to fend off a worst-case scenario for the United States economy.

During troubled times, the Fed can lend more or less directly to companies and governments using its emergency authorities. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin must sign off on the programs, and the Treasury Department backstops the programs with a layer of financing meant to absorb losses.

The central bank’s actions so far, taken when the Treasury had far less money to provide backup, offer a rough outline of how it might use the new appropriation.

For individuals: Indirectly. The Fed is rolling out one lending program that gives eligible companies cheap loans in exchange for asset-backed securities — basically, bundles of debt — built on newly issued credit card debt, student loans, auto loans and the like. By creating a big incentive, the program should make loans available and cheaper for consumers.

For small businesses: The main support for small business is coming from the Small Business Administration, but the Fed is also taking bundles of business-related loans as collateral for loans, which could help smaller companies access financing. And the central bank’s Main Street Business Lending Program, so far scantly detailed, should help businesses that are too big to qualify for small business loans but too small to have easy access to capital markets.

For big businesses: The Fed has unveiled several programs to help. One will support a type of short-term funding known as commercial paper, and another will buy company debt secondhand. A third program will buy newly issued debt or make direct loans to corporations.

For local governments: The Fed has unveiled programs to help municipal bond markets by allowing banks to use some types of local debt as collateral to access loans. But officials have stopped short of buying local debt outright, and many lawmakers are urging them to think bigger.

Karen Weise, Kate Conger, Cade Metz, Jeanna Smialek, Stanley Reed, Jack Ewing, Carlos Tejada and Daniel Victor contributed to this report.

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