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Refugees cling to hope of resettlement, even as world slams doors

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In 2016, Raghda*, who had fled civil war in Syria two years before, thought she might finally be on the way to finding a safe place to call home.

She had been given an interview appointment with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, but the day before she was due to attend the agency’s interview with her husband and four children, it was cancelled, she says.

Four years later, she is still waiting for an update.

“I only want to get out of this situation,” she told Al Jazeera. “I don’t care what country I will be resettled in as long as my family and I will have a better life.”

Raghda is one of 26 million refugees around the world awaiting what the UNHCR calls a durable solution to her displacement. Unable to return to Syria or stay permanently in Malaysia, which is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention and lacks a legal framework for refugees, she says her chance for a new home in a third country – resettlement – is also disappearing.

While the number of refugees globally is at an all-time high, the 1.44 million determined by UNHCR to be in need of resettlement far outpaces available options.

So far, fewer than 12,000 people have been resettled this year, which is likely to see record-low resettlement numbers, according to Shabia Mantoo, the global spokesperson for the UNHCR.

Although coronavirus-induced travel suspensions have played a role, resettlement places have plummeted since 2016, when more than 126,000 refugees were resettled globally. Since 2017, the annual number has not surpassed 65,000.

Historic low

A major factor is the dramatic cuts to United States resettlement admissions under President Donald Trump. The US, which has led the world in refugee resettlement since 1980, will resettle no more than 15,000 refugees in the coming fiscal year. That is 3,000 fewer than last year and the lowest refugee resettlement ceiling ever set by a US president.

Activists held a civil disobedience protest against ‘the decimation’ of the United States refugee resettlement programme in front of the US Capitol last year. The president has since cut places on the programme even further [File: Olivier Douliery/AFP]

Restrictive admissions allocations, combined with this low resettlement ceiling and increasing bureaucratic obstacles, will “leave out refugees from many of the world’s most harrowing refugee crises”, Nazanin Ash, vice president of global policy and advocacy at the International Rescue Committee, told Al Jazeera.

The US is not the only country cutting back on resettlement, however. On October 10, Australia announced it was reducing the number of people it was willing to take in to 13,750, compared with 18,750 previously.

The UNHCR and its partners launched a three-year strategy to increase resettlement opportunities and seek out complementary pathways, including through family reunification, work and study routes, in 2019. The agency’s Mantoo told Al Jazeera that to meet the strategy’s targets, resettlement countries had to do more.

“Refugee resettlement depends on collective action by as many countries as possible,” she said. “The result of every resettlement place cut in any country is one more vulnerable life in limbo. The world can do better.”

For the 180,000 refugees registered with UNHCR in Malaysia, which considers itself a transit country and not a permanent home, the opening of resettlement options is urgent.

Refugees in Malaysia are denied the right to work or to access government services including education, and must pay foreigner rates for medical care, which are multiple times higher than local rates, even with a 50 percent refugee discount. Those whose UNHCR status is pending, often for years, are considered undocumented and are vulnerable to arrest.

Refugees and asylum seekers lead an often precarious existence in Malaysia, which does not recognise the international convention on refugees. In May, some found themselves caught up in COVID-19 lockdowns in the Kuala Lumpur neighbourhood of Pudu, which is home to many refugees [Hasnoor Hussain/Al Jazeera]

“I always suggest to people not to come here, that living here is not so safe and it is difficult to earn an income, but people think coming here is better than dying,” said Dafer Sief, a Syrian community leader and advocate in Kuala Lumpur. “[UNHCR] has to push more in trying to help refugees resettle … There must be a solution.”

Al Jazeera contacted UNHCR’s Malaysia office for information about the average waiting time for interviews, and Ragdha’s situation, but had not received a response by the time of publication.

Those who do have the chance to resettle do not get to choose a country, but only to decide whether to accept the option that UNHCR presents to them.

‘Blessed to be here’

Today’s options look considerably different from those four years ago, when former US President Barack Obama set the US resettlement ceiling at 110,000.

Seng Awng, an ethnic Kachin from Myanmar, received a surprising offer during his resettlement interview in 2018.

“At that time the United States did not accept that many refugees, so the [UNHCR] office just gave us the opportunity of [South] Korea,” said Seng Awng, who spent ten years in Kuala Lumpur before resettling in South Korea with his mother and three younger sisters. “We felt we could start a new life here, so when the office assigned us to resettle here, we accepted it.”

Seng Awng’s family is one of six families resettled in South Korea that year, and among just over 200 refugees, nearly all from Myanmar, who have resettled there since 2015, when the country became the world’s 29th to offer refugee resettlement.

Arriving in Incheon, the family spent the next six months at a government-sponsored immigration reception centre studying Korean language, culture and society. The Korean government then rented the family a house in Gimpo, 16km (10 miles) west of Seoul,  and found Seng Awng a job at a plastics factory. The resettlement assistance package included one year of rent and a six-month stipend for food. Seng Awng has since found himself a new job at a steel factory, where including overtime, he works 60 to 80 hours a week.

Although he feels welcomed by the community, and especially the local church, Seng Awng says life in Korea has been challenging. “If you don’t have a strong will to try hard or courage to start a new life, I don’t really recommend [resettling] here,” he told Al Jazeera.

The United States once welcomed thousands of refugees to begin their lives anew, but US President Donald Trump has cut the numbers to their lowest level ever [File: John Moore/Getty Images/AFP]

But he is grateful South Korea was willing to give him a home at a time when so many other countries were closing their doors. “I think that no one should be a refugee, but in the meantime, I’m really glad that some countries still help refugees to resettle, including Korea … I feel really blessed to be here.”

Meanwhile, Raghda’s family has faced a host of difficulties. Her 11-year-old son has a health condition that requires frequent hospital visits, for which she had to pay the full foreigner cost for two years until she was recognised officially as a refugee by the UNHCR.

Her husband works 80 hours a week at a restaurant to keep the family afloat, while Raghda runs a small catering business from her home and cares for her son, for whom no special education programme is available at the refugee community school that is attended by her three other children and that is run by a charity organisation.

More than 3,200 refugees from Syria are currently registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia, and only 122 have been resettled to any country since 2017, according to the agency’s data.

But with nowhere else to go, Raghda is holding onto the hope of resettlement. “I want to have the chance to send my son to school,” she said. “I dream about having a normal life like everybody else … that one day I will be a citizen in a country where I will feel at home.”

Wael Qarssifi contributed to this report.

*A pseudonym was used for Raghda to protect her safety.

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What Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation will mean for environmental law and Joe Biden’s climate plan

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Amy Coney Barrett’s likely confirmation to the Supreme Court to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a Monday Senate vote will add a conservative sixth vote to an already-conservative majority, with potentially far-reaching implications for American law. Barrett’s confirmation will scramble the current distribution of power on the Court, displacing the chief justice as its putative center and pulling it rightward.

Most legal commentators expect that Barrett’s judicial philosophy of originalism and her advocacy of a more “flexible” approach to precedent will make her more likely to vote to overturn precedents like Roe v. Wade. Barrett also believes that judges should interpret statutes in accord with their “original public meaning,” a strict brand of textualism that tends to constrain agency regulatory power.

What can we predict about Barrett’s likely attitude toward environmental regulation, and climate change in particular? Would she vote to overturn Massachusetts v. EPA, the Court’s 2007 landmark holding that the Environmental Protection Agency may regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act? Would she vote to uphold the Trump administration’s rescission of the Obama-era greenhouse gas standards for the power sector, and its ambitious greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for cars, and uphold the administration’s far weaker rules?

What of the administration’s legal theory that when setting power plant standards, the EPA cannot consider grid-wide strategies like substituting natural gas for coal, even though Congress told the agency to use the “best system” of emission reduction? Or the administration’s theory that federal law preempts California from setting its own vehicle greenhouse gas standards, and, separately, that EPA can revoke California’s current waiver to set those standards? Would it be more difficult for a new Biden administration to adopt ambitious greenhouse gas rules with Barrett on the Court?

Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett leaves after testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the third day of her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on October 14, 2020.
Bonnie Cash/Getty Images

Barrett’s record on environmental issues is thin, so her views are a matter of speculation.

Outcomes in particular cases turn on the facts, the administrative record, and the quality of advocacy. Yet it seems fair to say that Barrett’s addition to the high court will cement a trend, already underway, to restrict the modern administrative state. A further tilt of the Court in the direction it is already going — skeptical of expansive regulation, unsympathetic to the idea that agencies should have some room to interpret their statutes broadly to solve new problems, and uninterested in reading statutes with their broader purpose in mind — certainly won’t help the cause of environmental protection or public health.

Taming the government beast

A majority of justices on the Court already are wary of the “behemoth” that is the US administrative state, with the most pronounced antipathy coming from another relatively new addition, Justice Neil Gorsuch, who has argued passionately that agencies must be reined in. To greater or lesser extents, Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, and Chief Justice John Roberts have all warned of the dangerous accretion of administrative power. (Such views have gained traction in Congress too. In Barrett’s confirmation hearings, Republican Sen. John Kennedy fulminated against the administrative state, calling it a “rogue beast.”)

This attitude, which her record and judicial philosophy suggest Barrett may share, makes it less likely that the Court will defer to administrative agencies like the EPA when they pursue expansive regulation.

In theory, the Supreme Court still adheres to the general principle that courts should defer to agency interpretations of vague statutory provisions, providing they are reasonable. Known as Chevron deference, this principle assumes that Congress intends expert agencies to resolve statutory ambiguities in the first instance. But the Court has been taking a narrower view of Chevron — finding that it applies in fewer and fewer instances to a smaller scope of cases, and certainly not in the big cases where the agencies are doing ambitious things.

In particular, the Court is disinclined to give agencies much leeway to apply old statutes to new problems, even when those statutes are broadly worded. The Court increasingly prefers to send questions of major economic and political importance back to Congress for clearer instructions. While sensible-sounding on its face, this approach overlooks the possibility that Congress already did speak, when it gave the agency broad power in the first place.

All of this is to say that even before Barrett’s confirmation, the Court was growing more miserly about deference, and especially skeptical of far-reaching rules with big consequences that rely on new legal interpretations, like the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.

Barrett subscribes to a brand of textualism that looks askance at exertions of agency authority not rooted in explicit statutory text, which seems to align her with the major questions canon. Given the difficulty of passing new legislation, especially in an era of hyperpartisanship, the systematic application of this canon to send matters back to Congress is a one-way ratchet to regulatory stasis.

Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch (L) and Brett Kavanaugh attend the State of the Union address in the chamber of the US House of Representatives on February 4, 2020.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

A majority of the Court also seems open to reviving the “non-delegation” doctrine, a constitutional principle that limits Congress’s ability to grant broad powers to agencies. The Court has not struck down a statute on this basis in 85 years, but just last year, three justices indicated their willingness to do so, and Alito said he would join them if a fifth vote could be found. Barrett, whose constitutional originalism might well align with a strict view of non-delegation, could provide the fifth vote. (So might Kavanaugh, who was not yet seated when the case was argued.)

Barrett’s views on standing seem restrictive. She has authored several opinions denying standing to plaintiffs for lacking a concrete and particularized injury. Her brand of constitutional interpretation and close embrace of Justice Antonin Scalia’s judicial philosophy suggests that she would look more skeptically at permissive standing rules, certainly more than Justice Ginsburg did. For example, a Justice Barrett likely would have sided with the dissent and voted to deny standing to the petitioners in Massachusetts v. EPA.

Raising the bar for standing would make access to courts disproportionately harder for environmental plaintiffs, because they often seek review for widely shared or indirect harms, and frequently ask the court to remedy agency underregulation. By contrast, industry can always get standing for direct economic harms, to air their grievances about overregulation.

Barrett has praised Scalia’s approach to the Affordable Care Act, which he found unconstitutional under the commerce clause. That could spell trouble for certain environmental statutes, like the Endangered Species Act, which has been challenged repeatedly as insufficiently related to interstate commerce. Lower courts consistently have upheld the act, but the Supreme Court has not ruled on its constitutionality. At a minimum, Barrett is expected to endorse Scalia’s narrow view of the EPA’s authority over wetlands under the Clean Water Act.

On the particular environmental law cases that people wonder most about, these are my best guesses about the difference Barrett will or won’t make: It is unlikely the Supreme Court will overturn Massachusetts v. EPA, since the Court tends not to overturn precedents about statutory interpretation, although it seems likely that Barrett would have voted differently than Ginsburg did in that case. (And indeed, if Massachusetts were relitigated today, with the Court’s current lineup, it likely would come out the other way.)

But the Court does not need to overrule Massachusetts to cabin EPA. It can simply read the EPA’s regulatory power narrowly, as I argued above. Barrett’s vote is not decisive on that score — the Court was headed in that direction already.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wears a protective mask as he stands in an elevator at the US Capitol on October 20, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

Barrett’s impact on a Biden climate plan

On the pending litigation over Trump’s regulatory rollbacks, like the power plant and fuel efficiency standards, there are a lot of remaining “ifs.” If Joe Biden wins the presidency, his Justice Department will ask the courts to hold those cases in abeyance until the agencies can reconsider the underlying rules. Presumably, a President Biden would want to reverse the Trump reversals and pursue a more ambitious greenhouse gas regulatory program.

It will be somewhat harder now for a president to use the Clean Air Act aggressively to set climate policy. But even before Barrett’s nomination, it’s not as if the Biden campaign, or the environmental advocacy community, was thinking that the Supreme Court would be a sympathetic forum for far-reaching climate rules.

Even so, there is plenty a Biden administration could accomplish using EPA’s and other agencies’ existing legal authority, just by restoring and strengthening the rules the Trump administration has gutted — for example by setting strong standards for power plant carbon dioxide, methane emissions, fuel efficiency, appliances, and the like. A lot of progress can be made without embracing the riskiest legal positions, because technological advances and market conditions have shown what industry can achieve, which provides a sound basis for ambitious standards.

Biden has pledged to pursue legislation in tandem with using executive power to tackle climate change. There is no question that to achieve his goal of net-zero economy-wide emissions by 2050, Congress will need to legislate.

What if Trump wins?

If President Trump wins reelection, the litigation over EPA’s regulatory rollbacks will play out and could reach the high court. With Barrett’s vote, it is incrementally more likely that the Court would endorse the Trump administration’s cramped view of EPA’s authority to regulate existing power plants. Reversing that decision would then require Congress to amend the Clean Air Act, which the Democrats could do if they retain the House and flip the Senate, especially if they jettison the filibuster rule for legislation, as has been done for judicial appointments. Congress would need a two-thirds vote to override a Trump veto.

It is less clear that the Supreme Court would endorse the Trump administration’s theory that California is preempted from setting vehicle greenhouse gas standards by the energy conservation law that assigns fuel efficiency to the Transportation Department. Preemption cases involve delicate questions of state and federal power, and conservative justices sometimes depart from their strict textual tendencies in resolving them.

The Supreme Court already opined, in Massachusetts v. EPA, that fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards are legally distinct and can live harmoniously together — and the Obama administration demonstrated that they could. But if the Court did find California preempted, new legislation would be needed to reverse that holding.

The Court could take an alternative route and uphold EPA’s revocation of California’s waiver on the theory that climate change does not affect California uniquely or create “compelling and extraordinary conditions” in the state. Fixing that decision would not require Congress, though; a new administration could simply issue a new waiver.

Much will turn on how the Court decides these legal questions, if it decides them. Depending on the reasoning, a future president might still have flexibility to reverse course.

Demonstrators wearing face masks hold placards while...
Demonstrators wearing face masks hold placards calling on Congress to suspend the Supreme Court confirmation process at Freedom Plaza in Washington DC, on October 17.
Photo by John Lamparski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In each case, the Court would also evaluate whether the Trump administration’s weaker standards are rational and sufficiently supported by the administrative record. On such questions, a Justice Barrett, along with a majority of the Court, might well reject the rules, which rest on tenuous scientific and economic arguments. Even conservative judges bristle at shoddy agency work, which no one has done more of than the Trump administration. Still, it is not clear that Barrett’s vote would change the outcome in any particular one of these cases.

If Supreme Court nominations are a mood, however, the mood for EPA is grim. In truth, it has been growing grimmer since Justice Gorsuch filled Justice Scalia’s seat and Justice Kavanaugh replaced Justice Kennedy. The Court, with Barrett as a reliable fifth or sixth vote, is now more likely to take an especially problematic combination of views: a cramped view of agency authority when an agency seeks to regulate; a permissive view of agency authority when an agency seeks to deregulate; a restrictive view of Congress’s power to delegate; a more skeptical view of Congress’s Commerce Clause power; and a narrower view of Constitutional standing. That conservative blend does not bode well for the modern regulatory state — certainly not for environmental regulation.

Justice Ginsburg wrote several important environmental law decisions, including EME Homer, upholding EPA’s innovative market-based strategy to control inter-state air pollution, and AEP v. Connecticut, reinforcing EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. She was not an environmental law hero like Justice William O. Douglas or Justice John Paul Stevens, the author of Massachusetts v. EPA, but she was open to the idea that achieving the broad purposes of environmental law requires EPA to have some flexibility.

We will miss her vote, and her voice. Barrett’s will be very different.

Jody Freeman is the Archibald Cox Professor of Law and director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School, and a leading scholar of administrative law and environmental law.

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Hit-Boy Is Tired of Making Money for His Publishing Company

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Unpaid Royalties is a series about the myriad ways that the music industry exploits Black artists—and what’s being done to change them. Read more here.

Last month, Kanye West sparked a conversation about predatory record deals when he posted  hundreds of pages of his record contract with Universal Music Group on Twitter, claiming that modern deals are designed to leave the artist in debt to the label. While some people called out West for being hypocritical, perhaps the most memorable reply came from Los Angeles producer Hit-Boy. On Instagram, the 33-year-old said that while he was no longer “a fan of Kanye on a personal / human level,” he agreed with the rapper’s characterization of the industry: Since signing a publishing deal with Universal Music when he was just 19, he’d been locked into “the worst publishing contract” his lawyers had ever seen, one that gave him a $50,000 advance at signing but still treats him like newcomer, he told VICE.  “Slave deals are still very real /rampant in 2020,” he concludes in the post, echoing Kanye’s comparison of the music industry and the NBA to “modern day slave ships.”

By all appearances, Hit-Boy, aka Chauncey Hollis, is one of the most successful producers in the game. After earning his first placement in 2007, he popped onto the world’s radar after producing “Ni**as in Paris” with Jay-Z and West in 2011. Seven Grammy nominations and two actual awards later, he’s showing no signs of slowing down: In this year alone, he’s executive-produced albums by Big Sean and Nas, in addition to gathering production credits with Lil Baby, Jay Electronica, and Tee Grizzley. As he previously told VICE, he’s sitting on other collaborations, too, with artists ranging from 03 Greedo to Justin Timberlake. But, as he explained on Instagram, appearances can be deceiving in the record industry.

“Im 33 now and have multiple Grammys, produced a lot of your favorite artists biggest songs on top of turning in over 450+ records since I first signed and @umpg still doesnt have it in them to simply be fair,” he wrote. “If they’re doing this to me with all I’ve accomplished through hard work I can only imagine the kids who don’t have big placements/ proper guidance.”

Hit-Boy has a long history of speaking out against his struggle in an industry notorious for wringing money out of talent without fair compensation. In fact, he’s been committing these grievances to wax for years—including some of his experiences working with West’s own G.O.O.D. Music label, which he signed with in 2011. “Flew out to work on Watch the Throne, felt like I had to sign to G.O.O.D,” he rapped on “Show Me” in 2015. Even then, he felt undervalued, rapping that he’d been “made to feel less than what I’m worth.”

He’s also compared his contract to one of an incarcerated dealer whose territories have been taken over. On his 2017 song “The Mob,” Hit-Boy does a prison phone-style outro where he complains about “crackers shipping out of state” without his permission, “everything is on contract.” On his 2019 album The Chauncey Hollis Project, he alludes to the situation with UMG a bit more directly. “Ten plus in this shit and they still doubt Hit / I should hand ni**as a contract, like fill out this,” he raps on “All Business.” “Burn your contract, call the firefighters,” he quips on “Levitating.”

If a consistent and prolific producer like Hit-Boy can be locked in a deal that his lawyers consider remarkable in its awful terms, up-and-coming artists and producers are likely to fall into similar traps. VICE caught up with Hit-Boy to hear the details of his own situation, what needs to change in the industry, and his advice for new producers fielding offers in the industry.

VICE: You mentioned in a previous interview that some things in record contracts need to be extinct. Can you speak on some of the specifics?
Hit-Boy: Whatever language it is that holds people in contracts and doesn’t make sense—whether it’s on the publishing side, with MDRC [Minimum Delivery Release Commitment, which stipulates a number of songs are produced and released per year] or whatever other thing they put in contracts for you to not be able progress through your deal properly. With all the songs I’ve done, they should be at least able to look at that and say, “This deal no longer makes sense for this guy.” But since they’ve got the paperwork signed, they don’t have to move. But it’s just wrong, period. And they know it, too.

What was it like in 2007 to be presented with a big contract, trying to make sense of whether it’s good or not?
Ah, man. Honestly, after I signed the deal, I just went into producer mode and I was moreso trying to prove myself musically. When I made a hit, that was my whole thing. I’m trying to make hits; I’m trying to get paid. I’m trying to do my shit. So I didn’t realize until even later. When I initially signed, it was moreso about the opportunity, and being in a position where the artist is coming through. I wasn’t just at the house making beats; I actually had a studio setup, with different artists pulling up every day.

“That was the point that I realized I was in a terrible deal so they didn’t have to give me any money.”

You signed your Universal deal in 2007, but you said it wasn’t until you had a track on Watch the Throne in 2011 that you realized it was fucked up.
Right. So that was almost five years later. I didn’t even realize I had to catch an actual big hit to be able to go back and be like, Damn, ok, what’s going on? It took years for me to even know, so that’s already messed up. From my personal situation, it’s a lot of trickery. Even the lawyer that did my deal, he didn’t end up being my actual lawyer. The original team I had basically hired him as a dummy lawyer to put me in this contract so they didn’t look like the bad guy, when at the end of the day, they really are the bad guy.

Wayno [VP of Asylum Records] said something. I was watching Everyday Struggle, [and] Wayno was like, “Man, I’m sure when Hit-Boy produced ‘Ni**as in Paris’ they waved that big bag in front of him, and it looked good at the time.” That wasn’t even the point when I got any bread. That was the point that I realized I was in a terrible deal so they didn’t have to give me any money. It’s crazy that’s how people think, when that’s not even what happened. I was just scratching the surface of understanding how fucked up my situation was.

“People in the building—I don’t even want to get into names, but there are people in the UMPG building that have said, ‘This is unethical; this is wrong. This is not right.’”

Why do you think there’s a system in place that even a producer with your credits is not happy?
[The corporations] only having the knowledge—the true knowledge of what the deals are saying. And money, at the end of the day. I’m printing free money for them because, shit, they didn’t have to invest nothing, and I’m steady getting placement after placement, album after album, it’s like, “Ok, we’re just getting free money at this point. We don’t have to advance him through his deal because the old terminology says this.” I feel like that’s wrong. People _in the building_—I don’t even want to get into names, but there are people in the UMPG building that have said, “This is unethical; this is wrong. This is not right.”

We’ve talked about how it’s hard to think about having a hit, number-one single when you’re signing your first deal, imagining the points within it even coming to fruition. Is there any advice you’d give young producers, things they should look out for that could bite them in the ass later on
Even when you have a lawyer, get a second opinion. Try to dig deep into terms; try to have a clear understanding. Know the exit plan. Know that if it goes on for this many years and this amount of time, then we both just walk away from the shit.

Don’t take anybody’s one opinion as everything. Take gems from as many people as you can, and just try to put it together and form your own idea of what’s supposed to be going on.

With producers now labeling themselves as artists on songs, does that help at all in terms of leverage?  Nah, it just helps with the branding. With [Nipsey Hustle’s Grammy Award-winning 2019 single] “Racks in the Middle,” I’m glad Nip was open to [crediting me], because the song was originally mine anyway, so it was just love for him to feature me on it. If I wasn’t featured on it, I wouldn’t have got a trophy.

If you’re a new producer—say, just out of high school—how do you know which opinions to trust when you’re talking about legalese and specific terminology?
That’s the thing. You don’t, man. Me, personally—I had to bump my head over and over, really get into the dungeon and make some hits to even open the gates and open my eyes. Everybody’s gonna have a different story, but if anybody was to read this or see this: Just try to be patient and gather as much information as you can from as many people as you can.

Are there things you’ve thought about, changes you want to see as far as artists getting more equitable deals in the future?
Anything that’s going to hold somebody in a deal for fuckin’ 14, 28—however many years. Some shit just don’t add up. I can’t really speak on the exact terminology and what it means, but however they’re setting the shit up, or they had it set up prior, is all wrong.

“A lot of people going, ‘I’m in the same situation.’ Or people that were in a situation like me.”

What has the label’s response been since you started speaking out in interviews and on Instagram?
We have been in some talks, but at the end of the day, I feel like it’s still not adding up to the amount of work I’ve put in for what they’re trying to offer me. Any extra time in this deal, at this point, feels like I’m a prisoner or—I know everybody’s using the “slave” term, “slave” deal, whatever, but it can feel like that because you turn in so many joints and it’s like, Ok, you’re still trying to tell me that I haven’t done enough to progress out of this? They can still treat me like the guy I was when I was 19. They know they only gave me $50,000. That’s really all they ever have to risk: Me not making the $50,000 back. They never risked any other money on me. They never took a chance on me. They’ll try to fix it up like they’re trying to help you out, but really they’re not.

Have other artists or producers reached out to tell you to keep going, or ask what they can do for you?
Definitely. All types of artists—major, major artists. I don’t want to put no names out there, but a lot of respect. A lot of producers—my DMs have just been flooded with people showing respect. A lot of people going, “I’m in the same situation.” Or people that were in a situation like me.

Was there an idea at the beginning that if you made hits and you fulfilled your end of the bargain, shit would work out?  That’s how I always looked at it. And it’s frustrating to know that, even to this day, I haven’t got my deal right. I don’t know. It’s a lot.

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COVID Is Ruining One of the Most Important Traditions of Mexico’s Day of the Dead 

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MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s annual Day of the Dead festival has become perhaps the country’s most emblematic cultural event, known internationally for its colorful skeletal Catrina face-paint and costumes. But locally, it’s an important time for families to come together to grieve and celebrate the lives of loved ones lost.

However, the Mexican government’s top coronavirus official warned the country this week that the upcoming festivities on November 1 and 2 could cause even more deaths in a country that is already number four on the global list of fatalities

“[Day of the Dead] has an important significance in Mexican culture. It’s expected that in an adverse situation, like the biggest pandemic of the last 100 years, it will have even greater significance,” said Assistant Health Secretary, Hugo López-Gatell. “There are people who have lost their lives, there are families in pain, and it’s a moment of emotional, spiritual reconciliation.”

But that also could be the problem.

“Cemeteries are places of congregation. There is no doubt from a technical, scientific, public health point of view, that they become high-risk places of contagion,” warned López-Gatell on October 20. “And from the further away people come, the higher the risk.”

Traditionally, during the Day of the Dead, families come together and spend the night at the graves of their loved ones, listening to musicians who tour the cemeteries, and toasting their dead with mezcal or other beverages. They believe that the spirits of their dead relatives return to visit those they left behind.

López-Gatell suggested that the only way to safely allow the nighttime ritual would be to “stagger” gravesite visits, but ultimately this was each municipality’s decision because the Mexican constitution clearly states that they have jurisdiction over their own cemeteries, not the federal government.

This sort of recommendation, without federal government enforcement, has become par for the course for the Mexican government’s response to the coronavirus, which has come under fire from both national and international health experts.

After an initial two-month quarantine that began in late March, the government’s response to the coronavirus and a potential reopening revolved around the implementation of a stoplight system where each state receives a weekly designation between red, orange, yellow, or green. This ranking provides a recommendation to state governments about the level of coronavirus-related-restrictions. But by mid-October, Mexico tallied over 850,000 coronavirus cases and more than 85,000 deaths, and even those numbers are believed to be widely undercounted.

“Mexico does very little testing, and testing is focused on only very symptomatic cases. So only people who have quite severe symptoms are tested, which skews our data significantly,” said Dr. Laurie Ann Ximénez-Fyvie, the Head of the Molecular Genetic Laboratory at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

“(The stoplight system) is a good strategy, if they used the right variables to change the lights,” said Ximénez-Fyvie. “But they are focused mainly on hospital occupancy to show which states are doing well or not, and that’s a horrible parameter.”

Hospital occupancy rates in Mexico remain below maximum capacity because the lack of easily available community testing causes a lot of people to die at home, due mostly to the fear of going to a designated coronavirus hospital when they first develop minor symptoms in case they are wrong, she explained. Then, the ones who do go to the hospital die quickly after arrival because they wait until it’s too late, so the hospital beds become vacant again. This, combined with a lack of contact tracing means, in her opinion, that the true amount of contagion and death in the country is being widely undercounted by the government.

As Day of the Dead approaches, all Mexican states are out of the red zone on the stoplight system, but only one has moved to completely reopen in green. The rest are divided almost equally between orange and yellow where ambiguity about implementation and procedure is common.

The government has also canceled a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City, in favor of a virtual event, to prevent the spread of COVID. The parade, a relatively new and non-traditional spectacle in Mexico City, includes tens of thousands of participants who dance through the downtown streets in celebration of the holiday.

 While it may be easy to cancel a massive event like a parade, it remains to be seen how small cities and towns in rural Mexico will react to the recent government recommendations to not crowd the cemeteries. And whether families will abstain, or not, from a lifelong tradition in a year that has generated an unprecedented need to mourn. 

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