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Tiny graves: Syrian refugees in Lebanon struggle for space to bury children

For Syrians in Lebanon, death brings a final indignity as the bodies of their loved ones are squeezed in along cemetery edges

The graves of the children are easy to discern, little bumps on the ground squeezed in along the edges of the cemetery. A rectangle of four small concrete blocks is enough to encompass one childs entire body.

No names are carved in marble, just overgrown, withered grass rustling in the breeze of the Bekaa Valley. In the cemetery named al-Rahma, meaning Mercy, only one Syrian refugee childs tombstone bears markings an illegible name etched into the stone with a rough tool, the mark of a despairing parent.

You see these little graves that we put on the side? Theyre all children, and theyre almost all Syrians, said Hosni Shuqayyif, the cemetery caretaker. There are so many children. We bury them in the corners, on the sides, or between the other graves, wherever there is space.

The number of Syrians who have fled their country after six years of war passed 5 million on Thursday. More than a million of those are registered with the UN high commissioner for refugees in Lebanon, compared with a prewar Lebanese population of 4 million, the per capita equivalent of the UK hosting 13 million refugees.

But in this tiny nation, with its 18 official religious sects, Syrians have endured many indignities from onerous visa procedures to poor treatment and humiliation at the border and residency offices, to child labour, sexual exploitation, and life in fragile plastic tents that collapse in winter, and the xenophobia of local politicians pandering to fearful followers.

And now, death brings a final indignity. Families of dead Syrians living in Lebanon are increasingly struggling to find a place to bury their loved ones, often leaving them for weeks or months in hospital morgues while they search for cemeteries that will take them. They struggle to scrape together enough money to pay off hospital fees, sometimes carrying them in cardboard boxes or in the backs of taxis and digging graves with their bare hands.

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A tiny grave at al-Rahma cemetery. Photograph: Kareem Shaheen for the Guardian

NGOs sometimes negotiate deals with municipalities to allow refugees to share cemeteries with the Lebanese, but they are growing overcrowded because of the large population of Syrians, often outnumbering locals by three or four times. Few landowners are willing to sell land to build graveyards, worried about plunging real estate prices and superstitions, and religious authorities are staying clear of the problem.

Most Syrians, who are banned from work, cannot even afford the $200-$300 cost of burial, including performing Islamic rites of cleansing, or shrouds and gravestones, and donors are few.

Theyre not finally at ease when they are dead, said Haytham Taimey, a Lebanese sheikh who runs the Development and Renewal Association, an NGO that helps Syrians find and pay for burial spots. Even human emotions, when youve lost somebody close to you, their basic right of mourning and saying goodbye, Syrians dont have that any more.

There is no comprehensive data for mortality rates among Syrian refugees in Lebanon. UNHCR only finds out about deaths if a family opts to tell them, an unlikely step since it could mean a reduction in aid, or if a person who is receiving medical support dies in hospital. The organisation counted 2,087 deaths in 2015, though the number is likely much higher given the Syrian population and the limits on reporting.

A spokesperson for UNHCR said they were aware of problems finding burial spots, and while the organisation cannot assist with burial procedures, it provides counselling to families and tries to put them in touch with NGOs that can help.

UNHCR is aware of the general difficulties that Syrian refugees face in burying their loved ones in Lebanon, the spokesperson said. When UNHCR is alerted to specific issues, we ask our local partners to help refugees resolve this through dialogue. Local and religious authorities, local partners and municipalities are among the parties that could help refugees solve these issues.

In the past, Arab cemeteries often included a section labeled madafen al-ghoraba, or the graveyards of the strangers, for visitors who passed away a now defunct practice.

Walid Luwais, an official at the Islamic endowments authority, acknowledged that the issue amounted to a crisis, but said that even when the government buys land for a cemetery plot neighbours often refuse to allow the burial.

People dont want graves near them, its a popular superstition, said Taimey, the local sheikh. They love life and they dont want to open their windows and be reminded of the afterlife. They have to be hidden from view, though to be honest dead people are better neighbours, they never do anything to harm you.

Some municipalities have come up with solutions, allowing Syrians who live in refugee camps in their towns to bury their dead in a designated area of the cemetery, while turning away outsiders. One such town is Omariyah, which houses 15,000 Syrian refugees to 7,000 Lebanese, and where half of the local cemetery is occupied by dead Syrians.

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Grave at Omariyah cemetary. Photograph: Kareem Shaheen for the Guardian

It is a real crisis, said Mohammad al-Ahmad, the towns mayor, who helped institute the rule. He said it was still painful to turn away desperate Syrians. Imagine someone coming to you who cant find a place to bury his dead loved one. When he asks you: So where do I go with my dead relative? In Syria Im homeless, and here I cant even bury my relative. You dont know what to do. Of course he should have a burial place, he said.

For Syrians in Lebanon, that heartbreak is a daily occurrence, and the calls to Taimey and local youth organisations are too frequent. One man, who declined to give his name, had to carry his father in the back of a pickup truck for hours until he managed to find a burial spot in a cemetery late at night, burying him without a coffin.

Fighting back tears, he walked away saying: They want us to just throw our dead in the street.

There is no shortage of stories of the desperate plight of Syrians. One volunteer with a youth group in Saadnayel, a town that hosts about 26,000 Syrians, described how they had to bury a 50-year-old man who had been in a morgue for 40 days. Hospitals will often keep custody of corpses if the victim has no paperwork or if his family owes money.

There was a man who arrived in a taxi, and he had his son with him in a cardboard box, said Shuqayyif, the cemetery caretaker. A cardboard box. Not even a wooden casket. A cardboard box that probably had had potatoes or shoes in it. I saw that myself. And the father is there, digging with his hands to bury his child. Its heartbreaking.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/30/lebanon-no-space-syrian-refugees-graves-bury-dead


As Jared Kushner ascends White House ladder, Senate Russia inquiry adds scrutiny

Trumps son-in-law will lead Office of American Innovation to privatize certain government functions, as he agrees to testify in Russia election investigation

Jared Kushner, Donald Trumps son-in-law and senior adviser, found himself back in the spotlight for better and for worse on Monday.

As the US president appointed him to a new White House role, it was revealed that Kushner would testify before a Senate committee investigating Russian interference in last years election.

With Kushner at its helm, Trumps White House Office of American Innovation is designed to overhaul the federal government with input from the private sector, it was announced on Monday. The venture, which will bring together a team of former executives to privatize certain government functions, will follow through on the presidents business-minded approach to running the country.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/27/jared-kushner-white-house-office-trump-russia


Ivanka Trump’s expanded White House role raises ethical issues

With a West Wing office but no specific title and no precedent for adult children whose father is president the rules Trump is subject to are under dispute

After months of attending meetings of world leaders and visiting factories with her father, the role of first daughter Ivanka Trump is officially expanding creating new ethical issues for an administration that has been heavily criticized over its potential conflicts of interest.

She will not have a specific title, but Trump will have an office in the West Wing, a government-issued phone and computer and security clearance to access classified information, and she will advise her father.

While there is no modern precedent for an adult child of the president, I will voluntarily follow all of the ethics rules placed on government employees, she told Politico in a statement.

But following the ethics guidelines should not be voluntary, said Richard Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who served as chief ethics lawyer for George W Bush between 2005 and 2007.

Given what shes going to do, I dont think she has any choice, he said. She has a West Wing office, she has equipment, she has a White House email address, shes going to be doing policy work, said Painter.

For purposes of the conflict of interest statute, I believe she is a government employee, he added.

Ivanka Trumps lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, argues that since she will earn no salary and not be sworn in, she does not count as a government employee. There is no precedent for adult children whose father is president working in the White House, although two presidents Andrew Jackson and James Buchanan had their nieces serve in the role of first lady since Jackson was a widower and Buchanan a bachelor.

Trump has handed control over the day-to-day running of her eponymous clothing business to an executive and its assets are maintained by a trust managed by two of her husbands siblings.

As part of the trust rules, outlined in the New York Times, Trump can veto any potential business deals for her clothing company that might create a conflict with her political work.

That means, points out Painter, that Trump has to know about any new deal that might put her at risk of breaking the statute, meaning she can be held responsible.

Shes got accountability on that stuff. She cant just blame the trustee, he said.

Trumps marriage to her fathers senior adviser, the real estate developer Jared Kushner, poses additional potential problems, because both could benefit financially from each others businesses.

Painter warned that the pair should avoid official political discussions involved with trade agreements regarding textiles, real estate and even bank deregulation, since that can affect real estate.

That means if the premier of China visits the White House most of Ivanka Trumps clothing line is made in China and Hong Kong it is fine for her to attend the meeting, but she should not mention trade and if the discussion begins to focus on trade, she should excuse herself, says Painter.

The ethics expert noted approvingly that Ivanka Trump engaged Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, the same legal services used by the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, former head of ExxonMobil, to handle issues of conflict of interest. Kushner also used the DC-based lawyers to manage his potential conflicts of interest with his family business after taking the role of adviser in the Trump administration.

Its a criminal statute, so people better not mess up under it. But I think shell do the right thing, said Painter.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/21/ivanka-trump-white-house-office-administration-role-ethics


Forbes billionaire list: Trump loses $1bn as elite club gets 233 new members

Post-US election boom in stock markets and continued rise in oil price help bring global total of billionaires to nearly 2,300 individuals

US president Donald Trumps fortune has fallen by about $1bn to $3.5bn over the past year, as measured by Forbes magazine in its annual list of the worlds billionaires.

However, overall it has been a good 12 months for the worlds wealthiest individuals, with a record 233 moving into the billionaire bracket, taking the global number of people with nine-zero fortunes to 2,043 the most in the 31-year history of the list.

The billionaires in Forbes list are worth a combined $7.67tn (6.18tn) more than three times the UKs annual gross domestic product (GDP).

Kerry Dolan, co-editor of the Forbes billionaires list, published on Monday, said the gains are mostly the result of booming stock markets and the rising price of oil over the past 12 months.

Number of billionaires

Global markets have hit record highs due to the so-called Trump bump following Trumps election, with the Dow Jones soaring above 20,000 points for the first time and the UKs FTSE 100 closing at a record 7,415 points last week.

The fall in Trumps net worth is due to a drop in the value of office space in Midtown Manhattan, where the president owns about 10 buildings. Forbes said Trump had fallen from the worlds 324th-richest person to 544th.

Forty percent of Donald Trumps fortune is tied up in Trump Tower and eight buildings within one mile of it, Forbes said. Lately, the neighbourhood has been struggling (relatively speaking).

Trump has refused to publish his tax returns to show the true scale of his wealth, but during the campaign he claimed he was worth in excess of $10bn.

Dolan said that in previous years the real estate tycoon had challenged Forbes for underestimating his fortune. We contact everyone we can to give them the opportunity for feedback. Over the last 31 years we have been compiling this list Trump has given us a lot of feedback, believe me, You guys are too low I am worth far more than you say, she said. He didnt call back to dispute our estimate. I would hope that running the country is more important to him right now than Forbess value of his net worth.

The richest person in the world remains Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who saw his fortune grow by $11bn to $86bn. He is followed by investor Warren Buffett, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who was this years biggest gainer with a $27.6bn increase in his fortune to $72.8bn.

Top 10 richest

The US accounts for the biggest population of billionaires with 565, up 25 on last year. But China is catching up with 319 billionaires, and a further 68 if Hong Kong and Macau are included. Germany is third with 114 billionaires.

The number of UK billionaires increased from 50 to 54, with new entrants including Philip Day, the man behind Edinburgh Woollen Mill, and Simon Nixon, the co-founder of moneysupermarket.com.

The richest people in the UK are the Hinduja family, who control a conglomerate of businesses including cars and banks and are worth $15.4bn. Property and internet investors David and Simon Reuben come second with a $15.3bn fortune. The third richest, and among the biggest gainer, is Jim Ratcliffe the founder and chairman of chemicals group Ineos.

UK richest

Among the biggest British losers is Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley whose fortune dropped by 25% to $2.6bn. His wealth, which is largely held in Sports Direct shares, has roughly halved over the past two years as shares collapsed following the Guardian expos of Victorian workhouse-style conditions in its distribution warehouses.

Sir Philip Green and his wife, Tina, the owners of Arcadia, which owns Topshop and once owned BHS, also lost just over $1bn, with their fortune slumping to $4.8bn. They fell more than 100 places to 339th.

Oxfam said the creation of so many new billionaires in one year was a sign of economic sickness rather than health.

Our warped economic model leads to more unequal societies that trap millions of people in poverty – it allows an elite group to accrue extreme wealth while one in nine people go to bed hungry every night, Max Lawson, Oxfams head of inequality policy, said. We need to build a more human economy where the super-rich pay their fair share of tax, workers earn a living wage, and governments invest in decent healthcare and education to give everyone a good start in life.

The number of women on the list increased to 227, from 202 in 2016. A record 56 of the women are self-made billionaires the highest ever. All but one of the 15 newly self-made female billionaires came from the Asia-Pacfic region, including Vietnams first self-made female billionaire Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao who took her budget airline VietJet Air public last month.

Yoshiko Shinohara, who started her temp agency in her one-bedroom Tokyo apartment, became Japans first self-made female billionaire. She enters the list due to a 50% surge in the stock price of her company Temp Holdings, which is designed to get more women into the workforce.

The richest woman on the list is Frances Liliane Bettencourt, who inherited a stake in LOreal from her father. Shes worth $39.5bn.

There are just 10 black people on the list, a drop of two from last year. The richest black person is Nigerian cement tycoon Aliko Dangote with an estimated fortune of $12.2bn. There are only three black women on the list, including Oprah Winfrey who has a $3bn fortune.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/mar/20/forbes-billionaire-list-trump-loses-1bn-as-elite-club-welcomes-233-new-members


Put us on the map, please: China’s smaller cities go wild for starchitecture

From mountain-shaped apartment blocks to the centre of braised chicken reinventing itself as Solar Valley, Chinas second (and third) tier cities are hiring big-name architects to get them noticed

From egg-shaped concert halls to skyscrapers reminiscent of big pairs of pants, Chinas top cities are famously full of curious monuments to architectural ambition. But as land prices in the main metropolises have shot into the stratosphere, developers have been scrambling to buy up plots in the countrys second and third-tier cities, spawning a new generation of delirious plans in the provinces. President Xi Jinping may have issued a directive last year outlawing oversized, xenocentric, weird buildings, but many of these schemes were already well under way; his diktat has proved to be no obstacle to mayoral hubris yet.

From Harbin City of Music to Dezhou Solar Valley, provincial capitals are branding themselves as themed enclaves of culture and industry to attract inward investment, and commissioning scores of bold buildings to match. Even where there is no demand, city bureaucrats are relentlessly selling off land for development, hawking plots as the primary form of income accounting for 80% of municipal revenues in some cases. In the last two months alone, 50 Chinese cities received a total of 453bn yuan (54bn) from land auctions , a 73% increase on last year, and its the provincial capitals that are leading the way.

At the same time, Xis national culture drive has seen countless museums, concert halls and opera houses spring up across the country, often used as sweeteners for land deals, conceived as the jewels at the centre of glistening mixed-used visions (that sometimes never arrive). Culture, said Xi, is the prerequisite of the great renaissance of the Chinese people, but it has also proved to be a powerful lubricant for ever more real estate speculation even if the production of content to fill these great halls cant quite keep up with the insatiable building boom.
From mountain-shaped apartment blocks to cavernous libraries, heres a glimpse of whats emerging in the regions.

Fake Hills, Beihai

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A render of how the Fake Hills would look. Illustration: MAD architects

Forming an 800 metre-long cliff-face along the coast of the southern port city of Beihai, the Fake Hills housing block is the work of Ma Yansong, Chinas homegrown conjuror of sinuous, globular forms whose practice is appropriately named MAD. Having studied at Yale and worked with Zaha Hadid in London, where he nourished his penchant for blobs, Ma has spent the last decade dreaming up improbable mountain-shaped megastructures across the country.

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Less scenic mountain and more lumpen collision of colossal cruise-liners The first phase of construction on Fake Hills has been completed. Photograph: MAD

As it rises and falls, the undulating roofline of Fake Hills forms terraces for badminton and tennis courts, as well as a garden and swimming pool. Sadly the overall effect is less scenic mountain range than a lumpen collision of colossal cruise-liners.

Greenland Tower, Chengdu

Greenland
Greenland Tower, Chengdu. The building harks back to the crystalline dreams of early 20th-century German architect Bruno Taut. Illustration: Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architecture

A crystalline spire rising 468 metres above the 18 million-strong metropolis of Chengdu, the Greenland Tower will be the tallest building in southwestern China, standing as a sharply chiselled monument to the countrys (and by some counts the worlds) largest property developer, Greenland Holdings. It is designed by Chicago-based Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill, architects of Dubais Burj Khalifa, who say the faceted shaft is a reference to the unique ice mountain topography of the region. It harks back to the crystalline dreams of early 20th-century German architect Bruno Taut, who imagined a dazzling glass city crown to celebrate socialism and agriculture; whether Sichuans farmers will be welcomed into the penthouse sky garden remains to be seen.

Sun-Moon mansion, Dezhou

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A rival to Silicon Valley the Sun-Moon mansion of Solar Valley, Dezhou. Photograph: Alamy

Once known as a centre of braised chicken production, the city of Dezhou in the north-eastern province of Shandong now brands itself as Solar Valley, a renewable energy centre intended to rival Californias Silicon Valley. At its heart is the Sun-Moon mansion, a vast fan-shaped office building powered by an arc of solar panels on its roof. It is the brainchild of Huang Ming, aka Chinas sun king, an oil industry engineer turned solar energy tycoon who heads the Himin Solar Energy Group, the worlds biggest producer of solar water heaters as well as purveyor of sun-warmed toilet seats and solar-powered Tibetan prayer wheels.

Harbin Opera House

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Harbin Opera House, with the St Petersburg of the east in the background. Photograph: View Pictures/Rex/Shutterstock

Nicknamed the St Petersburg of the east, the far northern city of Harbin has long had a thriving cultural scene as a gateway to Russia and beyond. In the 1920s, fashions from Paris and Moscow arrived here before they reached Shanghai, and it was home to the countrys first symphony orchestra, made up of mostly Russian musicians.

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Inside Harbin Opera House. Photograph: View Pictures/Rex/Shutterstock

Declared city of music in 2010, Harbin has recently pumped millions into a gleaming new concert hall by Arata Isozaki, a gargantuan neo-classical conservatory and an 80,000 sq metre whipped meringue of an opera house by MAD. Shaped like a pair of snowy dunes, up which visitors can climb on snaking paths, the building contains a sinuous timber-lined auditorium designed as an eroded block of wood.

Tianjin Binhai library

Tianjin
Tianjin Binhai library. Illustration: MVRDV

Due to open this summer in the sprawling port city of Tianjin, this space-age library by Dutch architects MVRDV is imagined as a gaping cave of books, carved out from within an oblong glass block. The shelves form a terraced landscape of seating, wrapping around a giant mirrored sphere auditorium that nestles in the middle of the space like a pearl in an oyster.

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Inside the space-age Tianjin Binhai library. Illustration: MVRDV

Along with a new theatre, congress centre and a science and technology museum by Bernard Tschumi, the building forms part of a new cultural quarter for the city, itself being swallowed into the planned Beijing-Tianjin mega-region population 130 million, thats more than Japan.

Huaguoyuan Towers, Guiyang

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Arups twin towers are almost complete. Illustration: LWK & Partners

Nowhere in China is the disparity between economic reality and architectural ambition more stark than in Guiyang, capital of rural Guizhou, the poorest province in the country, which has the fifth most skyscraper plans of any Chinese city. The twin 335-metre towers of the Huaguoyuan development, by Arup, are now almost complete, standing as the centrepiece of a new mixed-use office, retail and entertainment complex, while SOM is busy conjuring the even higher Cultural Plaza Tower, a 521-metre glass spear that will soar above a new riverfront world of shopping malls and theatres. It has the glitz and gloss of any other Chinese citys new central business district, but as Knight Franks David Ji points out: It will be hard for a city like Guiyang to find quality tenants to fill the space.

Yubei agricultural park, Chongqing

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Will Alsops Yubei agricultural park. Illustration: Will Alsop

Architectural funster Will Alsop may finally have found his calling in the supercharged furnace of Chinas second-tier cities booming leisure economy, crafting a number of fantastical dreamworlds from his new satellite studio in Chongqing where he is busy building a new cultural quarter around his own office, with a restaurant, bar and distillery. He is also plotting an enormous agricultural leisure park in Yubei, 20 miles north of the city, designed to cater to the new middle classes nascent appreciation of the countryside, a place hitherto associated with peasants and poverty. The rolling landscape will be dotted with cocoon-like treehouses, a flower-shaped hotel and a big lake covered by an LED-screen canopy, so visitors can enjoy projected blue skies despite the smog.

Zendai Himalayas centre, Nanjing

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A limestone mountain range : Zendai Himalayas Centre, Nanjing. Illustration: www.i-mad.com

Erupting across six city blocks like a limestone mountain range, the Zendai Himalayas Centre will be Mas most literal interpretation yet of his philosophy of fusing architecture and nature. Taking inspiration from the traditional style of shanshui landscape brush painting (literally meaning mountain-water), the 560,000 sq metre complex is designed to look as if it has been eroded by millennia of wind and water, not thrown up overnight by an army of migrant labourers. Once again, Ma appears to be forgetting that elegant feathery brushstrokes dont often translate well into lumps of glass and steel. It is one of many such green-fingered schemes in Nanjing, including Stefano Boeris vertical forest towers and the Sifang art park, where Steven Holl, SANAA, David Adjaye and others have built pavilions in a rolling landscape as another decoy for a luxury real estate project.

Huawei campus, Dongguan

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/mar/18/real-estate-revolution-unstoppable-building-boom-china


All under one roof: how malls and cities are becoming indistinguishable

Suburban malls may be a dying breed, but in cities from New York to Hong Kong, new malls are thriving by seamlessly blending into the urban fabric

We didnt expect to see stores, says Yulia, as her husband browses for shoes in one of the shops lining the Oculus, the new focus of New Yorks World Trade Center.

Visiting from Ukraine and on their way to the 9/11 memorial, they were beckoned by the Oculuss unusual architecture: from the outside, the Santiago Calatrava-designed ribbed structure reminds you of a bird or a dinosaur skeleton; inside, it is teaming with tourists taking pictures with selfie sticks.

But the Oculus, named after the eyelike opening at the apex that lets in light, is more than a piece of striking architecture. It exists as a mall, with more than a hundred stores, and as a hub connecting office buildings in Brookfield Place and One World Trade Center with 11 subway lines and Path trains, serving 50,000 commuters every day. Thats a lot of eyeballs on shopfronts.

The mall company Westfield, of course, hopes that the tourists and transit users will stray to the stores. The New New York Place to Be, reads the malls tagline. Shop. Eat. Drink. Play. All under one magnificent roof.

Oculus was Westfields $1.4bn bet that New York, a city known for its love of the street, could also have a successful mall. And judging from the crowds, it counters the narrative that the mall is dead, like those thousands of empty suburban malls dotting the American landscape, ghostboxes decaying on cracked asphalt parking lots.

Boxpark
Boxpark turned shipping containers into an urban mall that merges directly with the London street. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Michael Sorkin, professor of architecture at City College of New York, points out that Westfield is an example of a kind of global urbanism. The Westfield mall is virtually indistinguishable from Dubai duty-free, he says, pointing out that the same generic multinational shops are now to be found not just in malls, but on the streets of cities. The effect is compromising and imperial a real estate formula.

Certainly, the Westfield World Trade Center seems to demonstrate that it is not the mall that is declining, but suburbia. The mall, meanwhile, is becoming urban.

In fact, a new breed of shopping centre is integrating so seamlessly into its urban surroundings that it can be difficult to draw any line between city and mall whatsoever. Londons Boxpark, Las Vegass Downtown Container Park and Miamis Brickell City Centre are examples of mall-like environments that try to weave into the street life of a city.

Across the Pacific Ocean from the Oculus, developers in China are experimenting even more radically, with new mall configurations catering to the rapid rise of domestic consumerism and quickly evolving tastes.

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Sino Ocean Taikoo Li in Chengdu, China, an outdoor mall with streets. Photograph: Oval Partnership

In the early 2000s, when enclosed malls were the standard, architect Chris Law of the Oval Partnership proposed an open city concept for San Li Tun, an area in Beijings central business district. He proposed to inject the big box with a heavy dose of public space. He says people had a common reaction to his plan: You guys are crazy.

Instead of laying out asphalt parking lots, Law wanted sidewalks and trees that would cool and shade pedestrian outdoor space. He designed the shops and restaurants around two distinct plazas one brimming with an interactive water feature and a massive screen to televise events, the other for quietly reading a book over a cappuccino.

Rather than designing the whole complex himself, he created a masterplan with an urban design framework for other architects to fill in, making it appear as if the complex grew organically just like cities do, Law says.

As a result, the mall has the look of a modern village complete with irregular facades and zigzagging alleyways. It became a large success, not least for being a pedestrian respite in a city of cars.

The developer then tasked Law to design another outdoor retail development in Chengdu near an ancient temple. Law respectfully designed structures with timber portal frames to match the cultural heritage, laying out the stores and restaurants along intimate, tree-lined lanes. He added a hotel, serviced apartments and an office tower to create a mixed-use district centred around intricate public space.

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An escalator gives the game away at this outdoor retail space in Chengdu, China. Photograph: HeZhenHuan

As innovative as his projects may be, we simply continued the urban pattern that has been around for hundreds of years, Law says. He mentions medieval cities such as Sienna, or those depicted on the Qingming scroll, where shops and food stalls lined thriving public space.

It raises the question: was the enclosed, suburban mall, located far from the city centre, a discontinuity? An invention for the age of cheap fossil fuel?

They certainly waste energy. The typical big box is thick and fat, says Ali Malkawi, professor of architectural technology at Harvard University and founder of the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities. In contrast, the outdoor retail village typically has a smaller ecological footprint. Thin structures allow for the possibility of natural ventilation and daylighting, and hence can be more energy-efficient, Malkawi says.

Malls first appeared in suburbs in the 1950s, when reducing energy was not a priority, says Malkawi, and they were only accessible by car. The more you move shopping away from where people live, the more you increase transportations impact on the environment, he says. (The transport sector accounts for nearly a quarter of all energy-related CO2 emissions.)

Architect Friedrich Ludewig of the firm Acme takes the idea a step futher. Knowing that the point to shopping in stores is to offer something physical that is interesting, otherwise we can do it all online, he designed a suburban mall extension in Melbourne around a town square, with a public library at its centre, not an anchor store.

Suburban
Offer something physical or we can all do it online … Friedrich Ludewig, whose suburban mall in Melbourne is designed around a town square with a public library (pictured) at its heart. Photograph: Acme

Customers prefer to be outside and to feel less artificial, Ludewig says of what is, in fact, an outdoor mall. His company has taken steps to create a seamless urban feel. There are guidelines for storefronts, including about colour, to ensure the visual coherence of the public space and avoid screaming yellow storefronts. When there are lots of people shouting, he said, you cant hear anyone.

He also thinks about the right ratio between landscaping and paving of the open spaces, and makes an effort to think about the city planning of how the space is used throughout the day. We spend a lot of time thinking: what does it feel like at Wednesday morning 11am?, when there are not a lot of shoppers around. He also argues that outdoor malls save money by having open spaces and buildings that are naturally ventilated rather than air-conditioned.

Above all, however, he says: It shouldnt feel like something is wrong. He describes a feeling akin to what is known as the uncanny valley: the hypothesis that when human replicas appear almost (but not quite) real, they trigger disgust and revulsion because they seem unhealthy.

Langham
Langham Place, like many Hong Kong malls, is deliberately placed to capture natural pedestrian flows. Photograph: Alamy

The city of Hong Kong solves this issue by going one step further it weaves malls into the very urban fabric.

The city counts more than 300 shopping centres. Most do not perch on asphalt parking lots, but on subway stations and underneath skyscrapers. Hong Kongs transit provider is also a real estate developer, and has capitalised on the value created by its subway stops: it sandwiches malls between stations and skyscrapers, establishing pedestrian streams that irrigate the shopfronts.

Tens of thousands of people often work, live and play in a single megastructure, without ever having to leave. And the mall is deliberately placed on the intersection of all pedestrian flows, between entry points into the structure and the residential, office, and transit functions. These malls are, by design, impossible to miss.

Langham Place, for instance, is a 59-storey complex in Hong Kong that includes retail, a five-star hotel and class-A office space. It is connected to the subway with its own tunnel and pulls in an estimated 100,000 people per day.

My whole life is here, says Katniss. She works in the buildings office, where she also shops, eats her meals and watches movies. Even on her daysoff, she enjoys going on dates in the malls soaring atrium, and drinking coffee near the huge escalator.

This expresscalator whisks people up four storeys in a matter of seconds. To get shoppers back down, the Jerde Partnership designed an ingenious retail-lined downward spiral path, shaped like a corkscrew. Langham Places retail portion alone measures 15 storeys, which is a skyscraper in its own right a vertical mall.

On both sides of the Pacific, the mall is not dead. It has simply transformed into an integrated part of cities themselves.

For Sorkin, that comes with a risk. While the idea of the shopping mall becoming urban has a certain appeal, the net effect is to turn the city into a shopping mall.

Stefan Als books include Mall City: Hong Kongs Dreamworlds of Consumption and The Strip: Las Vegas and the Architecture of the American Dream

Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter and Facebook to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/mar/16/malls-cities-become-one-and-same


US Federal Reserve raises interest rates to 1% in bid to hold off inflation

Fed chair says US economy in strong health as she announces third rate rise since 2008 and the first of several expected this yearJanet Yellen discusses interest rate rise live updates

The US Federal Reserve has sought to head off rising inflation with a third interest rate rise since the 2008 financial crash and the second in three months, taking the base rate from 0.75% to 1%.

The central bank set aside concerns about the impact of higher interest rates on consumer spending to confirm analyst projections that it is prepared to increase rates several times this year to keep a lid on inflation as it rises above its 2% target level.

The Feds chair, Janet Yellen, said a wide range of indicators showed the US economy was in rude health, allowing its interest rate setting committee to push rates back towards historically normal levels. Policymakers voted nine to one to raise rates.

Speaking after the decision, Yellen said she had met Donald Trumps treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, a couple of times but had only been introduced to the president himself.

I fully expect to have a strong relationship with secretary Mnuchin, she said. We had good discussions about the economy, about regulatory objectives, the work of the FSOC [Financial Stability Oversight Council] global economic developments, and I look forward to continuing to work with him. She said she had had a very brief meeting with Trump and appreciated that as well.

Earlier in the day the Department of Commerce said retail sales had inched up by 0.1% in February, and that they had been better than it had previously estimated in January.

US interest rates

The Department of Labor said consumer prices were 2.7% higher in February than a year earlier. After excluding the costs of food and energy, inflation was 2.2%. A housing market index from the National Association of Home Builders also surged to its highest level since 2005.

US stock markets moved up on the news, rising 90 points in the minutes after the decision, and US crude rose 2%. The increases were modest following Yellens signals in December that interest rates were on an upward path. Investors were also caught out by Yellens bullish comments in the wake of the announcement and by projections showing that 11 of her 17 policymaking colleagues saw borrowing costs rising another three times in 2017.

Dennis de Jong, the managing director of the currency trader UFX.com, said: Given the bloating effect Donald Trumps presidency has had on US inflation, it would have been more of a surprise had Fed Chair Janet Yellen not announced a rate hike at todays Federal Reserve meeting.

Trumps grand plans for American infrastructure spending have signalled an about-turn for US economic policy after just one rate increase in ten years, weve now seen two in the space of three months, and plenty more are expected for 2017.

This all spells bad news for US borrowers, who will likely have to foot a larger bill over the coming months. With at least three more hikes on the cards by the end of the year, todays news could hit many where it hurts the most the pocket.

US CPI

Some economists argue that weak wages and productivity growth in the US will limit the Feds rate increases to a handful before reaching a peak at around 2%.

Gus Faucher, the deputy chief economist at the stockbroker PNC, said: I think the concern, in terms of why the Fed is raising rates now, is that inflation is picking up. The unemployment rate is 4.7% and thats putting upward pressure on prices.

He told the Guardian economic forces were acting against a return to interest rate levels of 4-5% seen before the 2008 crash.

We have slower labor force growth because of the ageing of the baby boomers, [and thus] slower productivity growth in terms of output per worker, he said. That has reduced the potential for long-run growth, its reduced inflationary pressures, and I think rates in the future will be lower than they have been in the past.

US retail sales

Faucher also said further interest rate rises could dent consumer spending, which has come to rely on cheap loans.

I do think eventually that higher interest rates are going to have an impact on rates for car loans, so that may be a problem for automakers. It may be a problem for big-ticket durable items, home appliances, stuff like that. There is a ceiling on those effects, though, and Faucher doesnt think they will affect home loans.

There isnt much bleed over into mortgage rates; its mostly the short-term borrowers, he said.

Fed policymakers are known to be concerned that the tax cuts and extra government spending Trump has demanded could overheat the economy and lead to a deep recession. Should that happen, the Fed will want to have substantial interest rates in place.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/mar/15/us-federal-reserve-raises-interest-rates-to-1


Montpellier in the spotlight: development mania in France’s fastest-growing city

This sun-kissed city has just become Frances seventh largest on the back of students, biotech … and a lively skanking scene

This compact, sun-kissed city of 275,000 people, located six miles inland from Frances Mediterranean coast, should be passing Strasbourg as the countrys seventh-biggest. Any time now.

Often overlooked for the bigger southern metropolises of Toulouse and Nice, and even Provenal tourist-draws such as Avignon and Arles, Montpellier has been the fastest growing French city over the last half-century, more than doubling in size from only 119,000 in 1962.

Growing pains

Spend five minutes on 18th-century plaza Place de la Comdie, and youll feel the livening effects of the citys massive student intake, who comprise up to one-third of residents. But for some people, the growth has been too abrupt.

My feeling is that the city has lost a bit of its soul, says Marie Laure Anselme-Martin, 70, from a local family going back four generations. There are very few Montpellirains with real roots only about 15% of the population now. You could put us all in the zoo.

The citys journey from poky provincial capital started in the 1960s, when it was first swollen by the influx of pieds-noir (Christian and Jewish people whose families had migrated from all parts of the Mediterranean to French Algeria) and Spanish exiles from Franco. Enter outspoken socialist mayor Georges Frche. This frank mayor once declared he would name the municipalitys cleaning-supplies room after Franois Mitterand: Un ptit president, une petite salle. (A small president, a small room.) His development programme including the love-it-or-hate-it neoclassical Antigone quarter, and later the Jean Nouvel-designed town hall, a kind of black Rubiks cube made Montpellier Frances urbanist laboratory. Montpellier took off with him, says Anselme-Martin, even though she stood in opposition to Frche as a municipal councillor. When he arrived, the city raised the bar very high.

City in numbers

300 Annual days of sunshine.

2,680 Species in the Jardin des Plantes, Frances oldest botanical gardens.

82 Points with which Montpellier HSC did a Leicester and unexpectedly won the French football championship in 2011-12 for the sole time in their history. (Theyre currently mid-table.)

37 Percentage of youth unemployment in the city testament to ongoing economic stagnation in the south, and Montpelliers reputation as a cushy beach-bum option.

and pictures

Theres a Lynchian frisson to Montpellier by night, according to photographer Yohann Gozard. His local nightscapes are currently showing at La Panace gallerys Retour sur Mulholland Drive exhibition.

#sunset #montpellier #france

A post shared by Laurena Stanos (@laurenastanos) on

History in 100 words

Unlike its illustrious neighbours, Montpellier has no Greek or Roman heritage. First mentioned in AD 985, it grew to prominence in the Middle Ages, thanks partly to a school of medicine that quickly became a European leader and is now the worlds oldest active medical faculty. Former pharmacist Anselme-Martin says Montpelliers research culture is one of its highlights: I bathed in it. Ive got lots of friends in the research world, theyre people I appreciate because theyre humble. Open-mindedness was key: in 1180, William VIII decreed that anyone, including Jews and Muslims, could practice in Montpellier though not apothecaries, as Nostradamus, expelled for being one, would learn. Today, the medico-botanical influence is still evident in the scores of biotech and agribusiness companies.

Montpellier in sound and vision

Profound late-career Truffaut or misogynist misstep, depending on who youre talking to, the great director let his wandering eye rove on Montpelliers streets for 1977s The Man Who Loved Women. Here is local directors Yann Sinics airborne tribute to the film.

The Meds little-known skanking outpost, Montpellier has a vibrant roots-reggae scene dating back to the late 1990s. Since 2010, record label Salomon Heritage has taken the reins broadcasting the Jamaican sound system tradition to the Languedoc and further afield.

Whats everyone talking about?

Surprisingly for a small city, Montpellier has ranked high in recent studies of Frances most congested places, rivalling Marseille and Paris. Its less surprising when you look at the thick tangle of arterial roads and exurban sprawl surrounding it. Cutting a 12km scar through the red loam to the south of the city since 2014, is the massive A9 building site currently the countrys largest motorway construction project, designed to siphon off all non-commuter traffic and reroute it southwards.

Whats next for the city?

With real-estate development sprouting up on every side, Montpelliers mayor, Philippe Saurel, is still fixated on showy flagship projects. The Belaroia (jewel in Occitan) is a new luxury hotel and apartments complex expected to be completed opposite central Gare St Roch at the end of 2018, where a fifth tram line a new axis linking villages to the north and southwest may intersect by 2025.

Then there is the flashy 55m LArbre Blanc tower, stylistically situated between Japan and the Mediterranean. Anselme-Martin has her doubts: These showcase buildings are they going to work? Can people afford this housing? Because Languedoc-Roussillon is nearly Frances poorest region. Not much work, a lot of unemployment.

There are certainly signs of development mania. The overarching Occitan region recently withdraw its share of funding for a new 135m out-of-town train station already under construction, after learning that only four TGVs a day will stop there on its initial opening in 2018.

With all this activity, one thing is sure: Nantes, Frances sixth biggest city with a population of about 285,000, is now in Montpelliers sights.

Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro)

Au tour de @montpellier_ davoir sa photo spatiale! Je crois bien avoir loup de peu la Grande-Motte et Palavas-les-Flots #Proxima pic.twitter.com/BpGbVAG2wr

January 30, 2017

Close zoom

The lively but slightly-too-Saurel-friendly Gazette de Montpellier is the local Time Out. MontpellierCityCrunch is the buzziest events guide. The underground-orientated Jacker magazine is Montpelliers answer to the Beastie Boys Grand Royale.

Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter and Facebook to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/mar/13/montpellier-spotlight-development-mania-france-fastest-growing-city


Fukushima disaster evacuees told to return to abandoned homes

People who fled after March 2011 nuclear meltdown face losing housing subsidies if they do not go back, despite radiation fears

Thousands of people who fled the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant six years ago have been told they must return to their homes or lose housing subsidies, despite lingering concerns over radiation in their former neighbourhoods.

The instruction, condemned by campaigners as a violation of the evacuees right to live in a safe environment, will affect an estimated 27,000 people who were not living inside the mandatory evacuation zone imposed after Fukushima became the scene of the worst nuclear accident in Japanese history.

The meltdown in three reactors occurred after a magnitude-9 earthquake on 11 March 2011 triggered a powerful tsunami that killed almost 19,000 people along Japans north-east coast and knocked out the plants backup cooling system.

As a voluntary evacuee, Noriko Matsumoto is among those who will have their subsidies withdrawn at the end of this month, forcing them to make a near-impossible choice: move back to homes they believe are unsafe, or face financial hardship as they struggle on living in nuclear limbo.

Many of the other evacuees I know are in the same position, Matsumoto said at the launch of Unequal Impact, a Greenpeace Japan report on human rights abuses affecting women and children among the 160,000 people who initially fled from areas near the plant. As of last month, almost 80,000 were still displaced.

Matsumoto said: They would still have to contend with high radiation if they returned, but the government is forcing them to go back by withdrawing housing assistance thats tantamount to a crime.

At the time of the incident, Matsumoto was living with her husband and their two daughters in the city of Koriyama, 43 miles (70km) west of the stricken facility, well outside the area where tens of thousands of people were ordered to leave.

Matsumoto initially stayed put, but three months later, with her youngest daughter, then aged 12, having nosebleeds, stomach ache and diarrhoea, she left her husband behind and took their children to Kanagawa prefecture, more than 150 miles south of Fukushima.

She said: The government is playing down the effects of radiation exposure Yet people who dont return to places like Koriyama after this month will be left to fend for themselves. They will become internally displaced people. We feel like weve been abandoned by our government.

Many of the people who left their homes of their own volition after the triple meltdown were mothers and their young children, who experts say face greater risks to their health from prolonged exposure to relatively low levels of radiation.

The voluntary evacuations have forced families to live apart, while parents struggle to earn enough money to fund their new accommodation and keep up mortgage payments on their abandoned homes.

Kazuko Ito, a lawyer and the secretary general of Tokyo-based NGO Human Rights Now, said: The government has a responsibility to protect the human rights of evacuees, but it doesnt not recognise this obligation. Instead, it downplays the health impact of the accident, especially the dangers associated with long-term radiation exposure.

In an arrangement repeated among thousands of other Fukushima families, Matsumotos husband decided to stay in Koriyama, a city of 330,000 people that was never subject to an evacuation order, and run their restaurant, rather than risk becoming unemployed by joining his wife and children in Kanagawa. The high cost of travel means the family gets together once every two months.

The housing subsidy for households of two or more people from Matsumotos neighbourhood is typically 90,000 yen (640) a month, according to local officials, who say some households will receive smaller sums after the subsidy is withdrawn.

Matsumoto said: The nuclear accident is to blame for this situation, yet its been turned around to make it look like its our fault, like we are being selfish.

Residents who were not living in the mandatory evacuation zone when they fled have been campaigning to retain housing subsidies, in a challenge to the authorities attempts to convince more evacuees that some neighbourhoods have been properly decontaminated.

Campaigners have called on the government to declare Fukushima neighbourhoods unfit for human habitation unless atmospheric radiation is brought to below one millisievert (mSv) a year, the maximum public exposure limit recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.

While 1 mSv a year remains the governments long-term target, it is encouraging people to return to areas where radiation levels are below 20 mSv a year, an annual exposure limit that, internationally, applies to nuclear power plant workers.

Matsumoto said the unprecedented decontamination effort in Fukushima had brought radiation levels in and around her home to below government-set limits, but insisted that children were still at risk from hotspots in places such as parks and forests. Those areas have not been decontaminated, she said. Its true that atmospheric radiation has been lowered, but thats not the case on the ground and in the soil.

At the end of this month, evacuation orders will be lifted in four more towns and villages near Fukushima Daiichi, with only those closest to the plant, where radiation is more than 50 mSv a year, still off-limits.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/10/japan-fukushima-nuclear-disaster-evacuees-forced-return-home-radiation


‘Trump lies all the time’: Bernie Sanders indicts president’s assault on democracy

Exclusive: the former presidential candidate suggested that Donald Trumps false claims serve a purpose to push the United States toward authoritarianism

Bernie Sanders has launched a withering attack on Donald Trump, accusing him of being a pathological liar who is driving America towards authoritarianism.

In an interview with the Guardian, the independent senator from Vermont, who waged a spirited campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, gave a bleak appraisal of the new White House and its intentions.

He warned that Trumps most contentious outbursts against the media, judiciary and other pillars of American public life amounted to a conscious assault on democracy.

Trump lies all of the time and I think that is not an accident, there is a reason for that. He lies in order to undermine the foundations of American democracy.

Sanders warning comes 50 days into the Trump presidency at a time when the country is still reeling from the shock elevation of a real estate businessman and reality TV star to the worlds most powerful office. In that brief period, the new incumbent of the White House has launched attacks on former president Barack Obamas signature healthcare policy; on visitors from majority-Muslim countries, refugees and undocumented immigrants; and on trade agreements and environmental protection programs.

Speaking to the Guardian in his Senate office in Washington DC, Sanders said that he was concerned about what he called Trumps reactionary economic program of tax breaks to billionaires and devastating cuts to programs that impact the middle class. But he reserved his most excoriating language for what he believes are the presidents authoritarian tendencies.

He charged Trump with devising a conscious strategy of lies denigrating key public institutions, from the mainstream media to judges and even the electoral process itself, so that he could present himself as the sole savior of the nation. The aim was to put out the message that the only person in America who stands for the American people, the only person in America who is telling the truth, the only person in America who gets it right is the president of the United States, Donald Trump.

Trumps fragile relationship with the truth has been one of the distinguishing features of his fledgling administration. He astonished observers by calling a judge who issued a legal ruling blocking his travel ban a so-called judge, accused Obama without producing any evidence of wiretapping Trump Tower, and claimed falsely that up to 5 million votes had been cast illegally in the November election.

Sanders, however, suggested the lies all serve a purpose. To underline his point, Sanders compared the 45th president with the 43rd. George Bush was a very conservative president, I opposed him every single day. But George Bush did not operate outside of mainstream American political values.

While the media spotlight remains firmly on Trump and the daily bombardment of his Twitter feed, quietly and largely unmarked, Sanders, the self-styled democratic socialist senator, is spearheading a nationwide resistance to the new administration. The Brooklyn-born politician is working in tandem with, though at arms length from, former senior advisers in his presidential campaign to rouse for a second time the vast army of young people who flocked to his cause in 2016.

He said that despite what he sees as the virulent threat of Trump, he finds comfort in the evidence that the resistance is already in full swing. You are seeing a very active progressive movement. Our Revolution a group which came out of my campaign other groups, the spontaneous Womens March, thats all an indication of the willingness of the American people to fight back for democracy.

Trumps end goal was to end up as the leader of a nation which has moved in a significant degree toward authoritarianism, he said. The only way to defeat that trend is for massive grassroots resistance, and clearly we are seeing that right now.

As examples of what he meant, Sanders pointed to the 150 rallies in 130 congressional districts that were held in one recent weekend alone. The events mobilized tens of thousands of people demanding meetings with their members of Congress to protest against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Sanders made a specific appeal to his Republican colleagues in Congress to join him in this resistance. He addressed himself directly to those Republicans who believe in democracy, who do not believe in authoritarianism. It is incumbent upon them, in this moment in history, to stand up and say that what Trump is doing is not what the United States is about, its not what our constitution is about. They have got to join us in resistance.

He added: I hope in the coming months to be working with some conservative Republicans, who I disagree with on every economic and environmental issue you can imagine, to say to this president that you are not going to undermine American democracy.

The Vermont senator also remarked on the ongoing inquiry into alleged connections between the 2016 Trump campaign and the Russian government under Vladimir Putin. Intelligence agencies have accused the Kremlin of trying to distort the presidential election in Trumps favour by hacking into Democratic email accounts.

Russia played a very heavy role in attempting, successfully, I think, to impact our election. That is unacceptable, Sanders said.

We need to know what kind of influence the Russian oligarchy has over Trump. Many people are astounded. Here he is, seemingly in strong disagreement with Australia, with Mexico, with long-term allies; but he has nothing but positive things to say about Mr Putin who is an authoritarian leader.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/10/bernie-sanders-donald-trump-lies-democracy


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