From the restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba to the Pakistan school massacre and the Sydney cafe siege to Russia’s economic crisis, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.
From the restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba to the Pakistan school massacre and the Sydney cafe siege to Russia’s economic crisis, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.
British crooner Sam Smith’s album, In The Lonely Hour, passed the one million sales mark in the U.K. this week, which makes the debut the first album to sell a million copies in both the U.K. and the U.S. in 2014.
Upon hearing the news from the Official Charts Company (OCC), 22-year-old Smith said, “Thank you so much to every single person who has purchased my album.”
Other acts that have hit the one million sales mark include Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift, though neither act hit the milestone on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Guardian notes that 2014 was a year that initially saw sluggish music sales, but with “almost 35% of all albums are sold in the Christmas rush,” the last few weeks have seen a few artists — such as Smith — to thrive.
“We have two presidents: Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez,” declared Cuba’s then Vice President Carlos Lage in a visit to Caracas just under a decade ago. A couple of years later, in Havana, then Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez added, “At heart, we are just one government.”
It is likely not a coincidence that talks between the United States and Cuba—which culminated yesterday in an announcement that the two countries would begin to resume full diplomatic relations—began just after the death the former Venezuelan president who had bankrolled Cuba’s Revolution.
Today a beleaguered Venezuela no longer has the spare cash to fund the island’s beleaguered economy. The Castros likely realized this as Chávez’s presidency was coming to an end and were not keen for a return to the scarcity of the euphemistically titled Special Period of the 1990s, after the collapse of Cuba’s first patron, the Soviet Union. “We had nothing, no food and no money,” one elderly man told me in Havana not long ago. The Cuban economy contracted 35 percent between 1989 and 1993, and oil imports decreased 90 percent. Cuba was in desperate need of money.
Chávez, then a nascent politician on the make in Venezuela, saw Castro as a political mentor, a simpatico ally against the elites and imperialists who he blamed for the world’s ills. Chávez also oversaw some of the world’s largest oil reserves. Venezuela currently sends almost 100,000 barrels per day of oil to the island—more than half of Cuba’s consumption—as well as aid thought to be worth in total between $5 billion and $15 billion a year, or some 15% of Cuba’s GDP. (More precise figures are hard to come by given the opacity of both governments.)
But Chávez is dead, and today Venezuela’s economy is in tatters, exacerbated by a fall in the price of oil, which provides 96% of Venezuela’s foreign revenue. The country’s local currency on the black market has fallen 35% in the last month; annual inflation is at more than 60% and there is serious talk of default on Wall Street. Many economists are talking of a “perfect storm” brewing for current Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose approval ratings have fallen to the mid-twenties.
The lack of guaranteed support from Caracas would have made Cuban President Raúl Castro “much more eager to negotiate and given the U.S. leverage,” said Ted Henken, President of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy and author of several books on Cuba.
As Havana makes peace with Washington, Venezuelan authorities are left increasingly isolated. While Cuba and Venezuela held onto leftist principles, other countries in the region have in recent years taken more pragmatic policy decisions. “Obama has pulled the rug out from under Maduro,” said Christopher Sabatini, Senior Director of Policy at the Council of the Americas. “It’s going to be a lot easier for other U.S. allies in the region to swing away from Venezuela.”
In the last couple of weeks, in response to sanctions by Washington on top Venezuelan officials for alleged human rights abuses, Maduro has rallied against the U.S. “It shows a lack of respect!” boomed the mustachioed president to a few thousand supporters in Caracas on Dec. 15. “They can shove their US visas.” On Wednesday, though, Maduro praised Obama’s “gesture” towards Cuba. “How sad it is to have a government who 72 hours ago launched an anti-imperialist diatribe against Obama and now describes him as ‘courageous,’” said Jesús Torrealba, head of Venezuela’s opposition coalition.
Cuba learned its lessons from the Special Period and in recent years began to diversify. On the ground, rules have been loosened on private restaurants, guesthouses and the buying and selling of property. Cubans are even allowed Internet access, though only about 5 percent of the country can reach the Web. On a more global scale, international investors have come in; the Scarabeo 9 oil rig sailed into the Florida Straits in January 2012. It was Chinese-built, Italian-owned, and was to be used by Spanish, Norwegian and Indian firms, among others.
Cuba was likely well aware those small reforms would not be enough in the long run. There are a mixture of elements that have come together to allow this historic moment: from Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro themselves to mediators in the Vatican and Canada. Yet, the unwitting spur for the restoration of relations between the U.S. and Cuba may be Hugo Chávez himself, and the inability of his successors to manage Venezuela’s economy.
Vermont produced the most Peace Corps volunteers per capita than any other state in 2014.
According USA Today, for every 100,000 Vermont residents there are 7.8 volunteers—more than any other state. The second largest proportion of volunteers comes from Washington, D.C., where there are 6.7 volunteers for every 100,000 residents.
Volunteers from the storied government organization travel to areas around the globe to serve communities in the most need.
USA Today reports Vermont has taken the spot three times in the past five years. “Vermont is the happy hunting ground for Peace Corps. It really is Peace Corps heaven,” Elizabeth Chamberlain, spokeswoman for Peace Corps Northeast Regional Recruitment Office, told USA Today.
California, however, tops the list of states that produce the most total volunteers. In 2014, 926 Peace Corps members came from California, followed by New York, Washington, Florida, and Texas.
“To have an African doctor, who grew up in a shantytown in probably one of the most disadvantaged countries in the world, on the cover of TIME magazine’s Person of the Year is the right thing to do,” says Jackie Nickerson, the fine-art photographer who shot the cover of TIME’s Person of the Year.
This year, TIME chose to highlight the incredible work Ebola fighters are doing to bring to a stop an epidemic that has killed more than 6,000 people. TIME commissioned Nickerson and U.S. photographer Bryan Schutmaat to shoot more than 20 portraits in 12 locations around the world—from London to Geneva, Boston to Dallas, and all the way to Monrovia, Liberia.
“I was working on a job in Paris when Kira Pollack and Paul Moakley [the director and deputy director of photography at TIME] called me,” says Nickerson. “They told me they had this assignment for me and asked if I could go to Monrovia. I immediately knew this was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bear witness to this moment in history. There was no doubt in my mind that it was something I wanted to do.”
Nickerson was surprised. “I had actually never worked for TIME before,” she says. “I had no idea what the commission process was, so this call came out of the blue.”
Meanwhile, Schutmaat was in Amsterdam attending World Press Photo’s Joop Swart Masterclass when he received his phone call. “My schedule was very busy, and I thought [being in Europe wouldn’t work], but photo editor Natalie Matutschovsky, who’s been championing my work at TIME, just said: ‘That’s good, because two of the subjects we need you to shoot are in Europe already.’” The following week, he was on a flight to Geneva.
Both photographers were selected for their strong sense of aesthetics, which come from their fine-art backgrounds. “They are celebrated artists,” says Pollack. “There is a heartbeat to Nickerson’s portraits that lent itself to just the right mood for this project. She’s spent a considerable amount of time working throughout Africa. She is agile and informed on how to photograph in the harsh African light, and her portraits are honest and beautiful. Schutmaat’s studied portraits have an almost painterly quality. There is something very telling about capturing a body posture or a simple gesture.”
For weeks, TIME had been preparing for Nickerson’s assignment. “We talked to NGO workers, journalists and photographers who had been in the field before we decided to go ahead do this,” says Moakley. “We talked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and we packed everything we needed—including Personal Protective Equipment suits for all of us.”
TIME’s Africa Bureau Chief Aryn Baker, who spent the summer covering the Ebola epidemic, met Nickerson and Moakley in Monrovia. “Aryn did a lot of the work ahead of time as well,” says Nickerson. “With Paul, she had selected the sitters, so we had a very good idea of who we were going to shoot, so that made things incredibly easy for me.”
Few people would know Dr. Jerry Brown’s name. The Liberian doctor, who is featured on the first of five covers shot for TIME’s Person of the Year issue, opened his country’s first Ebola treatment center in early 2014, at a time when many of his colleagues failed to react to the growing epidemic. “There was a kind of gravity to the way Dr. Brown and his staff were working,” says Nickerson. “When we met [him], we had the idea to do something very simple against a plain color, something of a more formal portrait. And then, he invited us to go into the reception area where he gets dressed. It was a very simple, bare room. It had a single light bulb, and I just thought it captured the atmosphere and gravity of what they were doing.”
The photograph is not a staged shot: It’s a portrait that was caught in the middle of Brown’s regular dressing procedure.
Over four days, Nickerson, Moakley and Baker witnessed the commitment of dozens of health workers and body-retrieval teams. “Sometimes, we would be waiting to get access to someone and we’d be chatting to other people with incredible stories,” says the photographer. “It just never stopped. Their stories really touch you—the self-sacrifices that people are making. They are doing such a brilliant job.”
In the U.S., meanwhile, Schutmaat was meeting with Dr. Kent Brantly. The 33-year-old physician with Samaritan’s Purse was the first American citizen to be diagnosed with Ebola while working in Monrovia. “Kent was doing a lot of hard, selfless work to help people out,” says Schutmaat.“I met him at his church in Fort Worth, Texas. TIME’s photo editors and I felt that since he was a man of faith and since he was guided by that faith, it would be good to photograph him in there.”
Schutmaat had no idea then that it would be featured as part of the magazine’s Person of the Year franchise. “I just thought I was doing a big story on Ebola that would end up somewhere inside the magazine,” he says. “I didn’t think it would be such a huge deal.”
Nickerson was similarly in the dark: “Kira Pollack had said it could be an important story, and I knew that Person of the Year happened around this time of the year, but I didn’t dare to hope because I think there had always been people of status on the cover, and I couldn’t believe it was going to be a non-famous, African doctor on the cover.”
It was only when TIME’s photo editors ordered the final, high-resolution images that both photographers found out the real purpose of their work. “It’s probably the biggest privilege of my professional career,” says Nickerson. “There’s no question about it. Doing this whole story was a privilege.”
“I’m honored,” adds Schutmaat. “And to know that the editors at TIME would think that my photos would stand up next to Nickerson’s is pretty awesome.” A sentiment Nickerson reciprocates. “Bryan’s a great photographer. I love his work. I’m really happy to be sharing this story with him.”
Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent. Paul Moakley, TIME’s deputy director of photography, and Natalie Matutschovsky, a senior photo editor at TIME, edited this photo essay.
U.S. coal export capacity is running well below capacity, and as such, exporting coal from the U.S. west coast is a losing strategy.
That comes from a new report put out by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), which found that despite the very lofty plans by many coal companies to ship coal to rapidly growing markets in Asia, doing so would result in a financial loss.
The report finds that even existing coal export terminals are not running full tilt. The U.S. exports coal largely through ports on the east coast – at Hampton Roads, VA, and Baltimore, MD – and along the Gulf Coast. But even during one of the strongest years for coal exports, 2012, these ports were exporting much less than their nameplate capacity.
In 2012, east coast coal terminals only shipped out 68 million tons of coal, 64.8 percent of the total amount of coal it could handle at full capacity. The figures were similar for the combined ports on the Gulf Coast, which only ran at 66 percent of capacity.
Not only that, but coal exports have declined since their peak in 2012. But with a declining domestic market, why wouldn’t coal producers send more of their coal overseas? The reality is that the international coal market is highly oversupplied already. Coal prices at Newcastle, an important international benchmark, are only around $60-$70 per ton, half of their peak in 2011 at $132 per ton.
The coal glut has become so acute that Glencore, one of the world’s largest mining companies, decided on November 14 to close all of its Australian coal mines for three weeks beginning in mid-December due to oversupplies on the global market. That will mean reducing coal production by 5 million tons. “This is a considered management decision given the current oversupply situation and reduces the need to push incremental sales into an already weak pricing environment,” the company said in a statement.
A global glut in coal supplies means that the business case for U.S. coal exports is shrinking. The IEEFA report points to the case of Arch Coal as an example. In 2011 the company predicted that U.S. coal exports would reach 245 million tons by 2015. Other producers agreed. “The U.S. has lots of coal. It has a wonderful rail infrastructure. But the piece of the logistical puzzle that is weakest is terminals. To get to the next level of growth, the new terminals need to be built,” Jim Orchard, vice president of Cloud Peak Energy, told the AP in a 2012 interview.
But coal export terminals are running well below capacity, even before new terminals have been constructed. IEEFA concludes that given current market conditions, not only do proposed coal export terminals on the west coast not make sense, but it would be unprofitable for coal companies to export through them even if they are constructed.
And building them has become a big question mark. Out of six proposed coal export terminals in Washington State and Oregon, only two remain, owing largely to fierce opposition at the local level on environmental concerns.
The longer term outlook doesn’t look any better. China, the ultimate market that coal companies around the world are competing for, just announced that it would cap its coal consumption by 2020. Coming on the heels of the most recent climate change deal that China agreed to with the United States, limits on coal consumption will severely dampen the market for coal exporters moving forward.
Weak market conditions both at home and abroad are already hitting the bottom line for many American coal companies. Some are in serious financial trouble. Two major coal producers – Patriot Coal and James River Coal – have declared bankruptcy in recent years. And more could be coming. Arch Coal, in particular, has raised worries about the possibility of bankruptcy.
“We are planning for a somewhat reduced coal marketplace, in terms of prices and demand, through at least next year, with only a possible slight improvement in the years beyond,” the head of Murray Energy Corp., a coal producer, said in September 2014 at an industry conference.
In light of these conditions, west coast coal export terminals don’t make any sense.
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To-mah-to, to-may-to, Princess Diana, Lady Di: Britain and the U.S. have long been nations divided by a common language and no more so than in America’s joyous mangling of royal names and titles. “Kate Middleton” ceased to exist on April 29, 2011, yet still she bestrides the U.S. press when not erroneously promoted to Princess.
These divisions are set to be highlighted in the coming days as “Princess Kate” a.k.a. the Duchess of Cambridge and her husband, the Duke (also correctly known as Prince William), arrive Stateside on Dec. 7 for a three-day trip to New York City. William will nip to Washington, D.C., too, to attend an anticorruption conference at the World Bank, as part of his campaign to protect endangered species. This will be the couple’s first U.S. trip since they dazzled California as newlyweds in 2011 and for both offers a first-ever taste of New York City.
Media nostrils both sides of the Atlantic are already quivering. It’s not just that the visit offers a potential break from a bleak news cycle, though it will certainly do that. In a world of declining circulations, Kate has the power to sell print. She can break the Internet fully clothed and even — perhaps especially — while pregnant. Her second child — the soon-to-be fourth in line to the throne — is due in April, apparently sharpening public interest rather than diminishing it. Her neat silhouette routinely makes headlines. Kate is frequently said to be “flaunting” or “showcasing” her “bump”, as if she has the power to detach it when she leaves home.
In their fascination with Kate and the odd institution she represents, the U.K. and U.S. media are closely aligned. Nevertheless coverage of the trip will differ markedly either side of the pond because the nature of the relationship with royalty differs markedly in each country, as does media culture. The two nations are divided not only by a common language, but by their shared history.
In Britain, William and Kate, together with Harry, are the most popular royals after the Queen; support for the monarchy has risen while trust in most public institutions has fallen. Still you’d be hard-pressed in London and other sophisticated cities such as Manchester and Glasgow to find many people who openly enthuse about royalty the way some Americans and other foreigners do. Overseas journalists who flocked to London in the summer of 2013 to cover the birth of baby George came with instructions from their editors to cover the spontaneous celebrations they imagined would break out across the capital to welcome the Windsor offspring. Some canny publicans did spot a marketing opportunity to sell cut-price beer, but most Londoners went about their business as usual.
The British media reflects and reinforces this duality, covering most everything the royals do but often with an edge — of humor, skepticism, sometimes anger. That’s partly because U.K. mainstream media outlets, for all they are ringed by more legal restrictions than their U.S. equivalents, are notably less inclined to reverence. That, in turn, is not unrelated to the strange reality of British life that still sees “subjects,” not citizens, bending the knee to a monarch. Britain and the U.S. have in common the lowest social mobility in the Western world, but the American Dream, though mostly exactly that, a dream, has created a nation of optimists.
By contrast, the notion that some people are born superior to others is hardwired into the British system, sparking the resentment that often animates the British media and the wider population. British people are uncomfortable at being seen to celebrate the royal family, the premier symbols of inequality, despite the polls that show a majority of Britons harbor a soft spot for them. Add to that another facet of Britishness that the Windsors perfectly embody — an impulse to reticence that stands in sharp contrast to the American facility for delighted gush — and you begin to understand the scale of the chasm that separates the two cultures.
A pivotal moment of divergence took place in New York in 1783. The Cambridges are set to arrive in the city 231 years after British troops finally abandoned their foothold there. It had taken a long and bloody war before the Westminster Parliament — and Britain’s then monarch, “mad” King George III — acknowledged the loss of their former colony. The intervening centuries of American independence from the Crown have redrawn American attitudes to many things, including to the Crown itself.
In an age of rapid-cycling, disposable celebrity, royals — and especially glamorous royals like Kate and, before her, Diana — slot neatly into the dwindling ranks of true A-listers, the globally and enduringly famous. The Cambridges’ planned Dec. 8 excursion to take in a basketball match between the Brooklyn Nets and the Cleveland Cavaliers is expected to place the couple in ringside seats alongside showbiz royalty including Beyoncé and Jay-Z. To U.S. observers, such a juxtaposition is pure entertainment. To Britons, it represents a more complex brew.
William and Kate will be acting as standard-bearers for the U.K., emissaries for the government’s “Britain is GREAT” campaign, helping to promote tourism, British goods and services and inward investment. There’s little about the shiny young couple with one small child and another on the way to dislike. As the Cambridges bask in unfettered American admiration, their compatriots back home will feel a corresponding warmth. For some this will be pride, for others something closer to a blush.
The names Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber have largely vanished into the annals of Christmas tormentors, but their greatest triumph lives on. “Silent Night,” which Mohr wrote the lyrics for (in German) in 1816 and Gruber put to music two years later, is the most recorded Christmas song in the modern era of the holiday’s substantial oeuvre.
To determine this fact, TIME crawled the records at the U.S. Copyright Office, which offers digitized registrations going back to 1978, and collected data on every Christmas album recorded since that time. “Silent Night,” it turns out, is not merely the most popular carol; with 733 copyrighted recordings since 1978, it is nearly twice as dominant as “Joy to the World,” a distant second with 391 records to its name.
As one might surmise, songs that are no longer under their original copyright are considerably more prominent on modern Christmas albums, given that one needn’t share the holiday windfall. This lends an obvious advantage to the ecclesiastical hymns and tunes, like “O Holy Night” and “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” As intellectual property lawyer Paul C. Jorgensen explains, this does nothing to prevent artists from copyrighting their own recording of a song and collecting royalties whenever a radio station wants to play it–assuming the other 732 renditions weren’t to taste.
Nor is it strictly limited to American recording artists. “A lot of international artists will go ahead and register things in the United States,” Jorgensen said.
To determine secularity, TIME measured the likelihood that a song appears on the same album with either “What Child Is This?”, a decidedly devout 1865 tune, or “Jingle Bell Rock,” roughly it’s polar opposite. (The choice of those two songs is rather arbitrary, but proved in trial and error to offer the clearest dichotomy.) In true Christmas spirit, “Silent Night” aptly bridges that great divide: It co-headlines with just about anyone.
This project began by downloading every copyrighted recording of “Jingle Bells,” then expanding to every song on the same album as “Jingle Bells,” and so forth until the universe of Christmas music was exhausted. The data only includes “sound recording” records from the Copyright Office, as opposed to sheet music arrangements, videos, and other formats in which one might copyright a song. Variations on the same material, such as “O Christmas Tree” and “O Tannenbaum,” where grouped as one song.
Design by Alexander Ho
Drug overdose deaths more than doubled from 1999 to 2012, according to a new CDC National Center for Health Statistics’s report.
The new data shows drug overdose deaths from drugs like painkillers and heroin have risen from 6.1 per 100,000 population in 1999 to 13.1 in 2012. Drug overdose deaths involving heroin in particular have nearly tripled over the time period.
According to the report, in 2012 alone, there were 41,502 drug overdose deaths, of which 16,007 involved opioid analgesics and 5,925 involved heroin.
It’s no question America has a painkiller problem. An earlier CDC report from July revealed that 46 people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers every day. The data also showed that doctors in the U.S. wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, which comes out to enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills. States with overall higher rates were primarily in the south.
The city of Chicago has even gone after Big Pharma, filing a lawsuit in June 2014 arguing that pharmaceutical companies deceptively marketed opioid painkillers like Percocet and OxyContin to manage chronic pain, even though they have a low success rate come with a high addiction risk.
The CDC recommends increase use of prescription-drug-monitoring programs that use databases to track prescriptions for painkillers so that states can identify problem areas where over-prescribing is more prevalent. The agency also recommends the implementation of policies that would lower prescribing rates to risky patients.