Russian troops are entering Ukraine - this much is known - but whether they are mounting a "full-scale invasion," as one Ukrainian official told CNN, or are mistakenly crossing over, as Moscow itself claims, is uncertain.
Our northern neighbor's delegation to NATO had this useful tweet to remind everyone how, in its words, "Geography can be tough."
The message has been retweeted more than 17,000 times since it was posted Wednesday morning. No word yet of a Russian response.
I recently started a habit of listening to new music for Alt.Latino while reading. I'm on a new book called An Anthology Of Latin American Chronicles, a compilation of the best long-form journalistic pieces from contemporary Latin America. It's all non-fiction, yet as fantastical as you can get.
These days, reading about a trip to Pablo Escobar's secret zoo, the third gender among the Oaxacan people, or the unusual trajectory of a family heirloom during the Chilean dictatorship is accompanied by songs blasting in my ear. So I've made a point of picking music that softly transports me into this everyday world of Latin American beauty and horror, glory and pathos.
In the process, something wonderful happened: The text and the lyrics have begun to fuse together, and the stories I read have soft, cinematic, very Latin soundtracks. I've come to appreciate more than ever the storytelling legacy of Latinos, and how our music as much as our writing tells those stories. I'm sharing some of those songs on this week's show, which also features a broad and beautiful selection of Felix's favorite new music.
So join us on Alt.Latino as we listen to everyone from a Mexican legend to a French-Cuban duo that has us mesmerized. And, as a side note, if you're interested in reading An Anthology Of Latin American Chronicles yourself, I highly recommend it. If you don't speak Spanish, there doesn't seem to be a translation, but many of the authors featured in the anthology have works in English. You can find the list here.
Haiti's got talent.
Tamarre Joseph paces the stage, her sleek, short blue dress hugging her pencil thin frame. She works the hometown crowd, rapping "Nap rive peyi san restavek."
The thousands in the packed stadium jump and sing along. An entire section of men take off their shirts and wave them overhead.
A rain cloud hangs ominously over the national soccer stadium in downtown Port au Prince, blocking the view of the mountains beyond. At one end of the stadium sits a stage with the words "Chante Pou Libete" above their English translation: "Songs for Freedom."
"Nap rive peyi san restavek."
We will be a country without restaveks.
This concert, free to the public, was billed as a way to speak about the unspoken: Haiti's deplorably large population of restaveks — child slaves.
It's certainly unusual to have an American Idol-style competition for songs about slavery. And it's definitely ironic that this event is taking place in the home of the world's only successful slave revolt.
The 2013 Global Slavery Index ranks Haiti second in the world for modern slavery, with an estimated 200,000 to 220,000 slaves. Only Mauritania is worse. While that number includes adults, the vast majority are minors. Restavek roughly translates to "stay with" in Creole ("avec" is French for with). Often, families from the countryside send young children to live with wealthier families in Port au Prince, Haiti's capital. In exchange for a promised better life and education, the child will contribute to household chores like cooking, washing clothes, and fetching water.
In thousands of cases, children are forced into servitude: They take on most, if not all, of the household work, they're beaten and sexually assaulted, they never get the education they hoped to earn.
In June, Haiti's parliament passed a bill outlawing human trafficking, but the country remains on a U.S. government's trafficking watch list because of concerns over whether Haiti will implement the new rules. Advocates worry about enforcement, in part, because of the magnitude of the problem.
"This problem affects millions of people throughout Haiti, and it touches on several issues: gender inequality, illiteracy, overpopulation," says Joan Conn, executive director of the nonprofit Restavek Freedom Foundation.
Conn's organization seeks to bring a better life to these children. Her organization pays for tuition, uniforms and books for 800 children now living as restaveks and assigns a caseworker to each child. Many of the children were reported to the organization by concerned neighbors.
The foundation also sponsored Saturday's music contest.
Haiti has ten departments — the equivalent of states. Each held its own semifinal and sent a winner to compete in Port-au-Prince, with one exception. The more populous West Department had two entrants.
Underneath the stadium, in a makeshift dressing room, the eleven contestants and their backup bands take turns snapping photos and sitting in front of the lone industrial fan. Musicians dab sweat from their foreheads, pull stray threads from their suits and munch on Pringles, all the while sizing up the competition.
"They see me and they know I'll win," asserts Nadine Moncher, who won the preliminary contest in the Nippes Department with a song called "Stand Up for the Restavek."
Some contestants wrote from the perspective of a restavek, others incorporated dance into their performance, with young children playing the part of restaveks.
"Some of the contestants focused too much on the show," says event judge and music critic Myria Charles. "Most important were the words."
Borrowing from beauty pageants, the two emcees asked questions of the performers: What is the role of parents in ending restavek? What is the role of education in ending restavek? Can the Catholic and Protestant churches do more to end restavek?
Marthe Yoldie Saimphort, donning tattered clothes that a child slave might wear, belted cries for freedom in her forceful song "Mande Pou Libete." The rapt crowd grew even more excited with her answer to her question from the emcees.
"People have too many children in Haiti. That's the number one problem," she says, then turns to the audience and its thunderous cheering. "Parents can't afford all the children."
None of the contestants was a restavek. They'd seen them in their hometowns, but few had ever spoken with them.
"I see them in my neighborhood and at church, and I know if I didn't have a mother and father I could be one, too," Saimphort says.
"I saw them growing up, but I didn't know them too well," concedes Abdias Noncent.
"My mother was a restavek, so I'm singing for her," says Edriss Neptune, a tall singer with a cropped beard. His song demands families take the bucket out of a restavek's hands and replace it with a pencil.
In Port au Prince, Tamarre Joseph says, "you know who they are because they stay up later and wake up earlier" than other children.
All 11 contestants perform and answer questions. Then the judges retreat to a dimly lit room underneath the stadium. One light barely illuminates the coffee table they sit at. Curtains block the only window. Four armed members of the Haitian National Police protect the room. No one explains why protection is necessary.
After 45 minutes, the judges emerge from their cavern and hand the envelope to the emcee. As a drizzle begins, the excitable but dwindling crowd starts to chant "Rain! Rain! Rain!"
The top three contestants win cash prizes, provided by the Restavek Freedom Foundation. Third place is about $1,000, second place double that, and the grand prize winner about $4,000. In a country where 80 percent of people live on $2 a day, these are serious stakes.
Third place goes to one of the two Port-au-Prince contestants: Gitanie Guerrier. Sporting a bright pink princess dress, she smiles as a volunteer accidentally slips the second place medal around her neck.
Runner-up Hedson Lamour does not hide his disappointment. In his white tuxedo and tails, he looks dejectedly at the ground, ignoring his oversize check. Hours before, was prancing around the stage, singing about a caring onlooker who stopped the beating of a restavek.
To most in the audience, the top prize was a foregone conclusion.
Marthe Yoldie Saimphort sealed the win early in the evening with her confident answers and thoughtful performance. When she exited the stage after her song, police in fatigues rushed to snap photos. Overwhelmed, she cried.
For the second time of the evening: She cries — this time, wearing a green gown and holding a check for $4,000.
"Restaveks live in fear. They want to run away, but they know they can't," Saimphort says. "People need to know they can help."
Later this year, she'll have the chance to spread the word further, when the Restavek Freedom Foundation flies her to the United States to record an album.
Beijing has rejected U.S. claims that one of its fighter jets acted recklessly in intercepting a U.S. Navy maritime patrol plane in the South China Sea last week, warning Washington to curtail or discontinue "close surveillance" flights near Chinese territory.
"According to different situations we will adopt different measures to make sure we safeguard our air and sea security of the country," Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said at a news briefing.
"If the United States really hopes to avoid impacting bilateral relations, the best course of action is to reduce or halt close surveillance of China," Yang said.
As we reported last week, the Pentagon says a Chinese Su-27 made "aggressive and unprofessional" approaches of the U.S. P-8 Poseidon in international waters about 135 miles east of Hainan island. The Pentagon said the Chinese warplane made several passes under and alongside the P-8, coming within 30 feet or so.
The Associated Press says:
"China has long complained about U.S. surveillance flights that just skim the edge of China's territorial airspace. However, Yang said such flights this year have become more frequent, are covering a wider area and are coming even closer to the Chinese coast.
"U.S. sea and air surveillance missions occur most frequently during Chinese military exercises or weapons tests, raising the risk of accidents and misunderstandings, Yang said.
"That was a likely reference to an incident last December in which China accused a U.S. Navy cruiser, the USS Cowpens, of having veered too close to China's sole aircraft carrier in the South China Sea during sea drills. That nearly led to a collision with a Chinese navy ship in the most serious sea confrontation between the two nations in years."
We take a quick break from the heaviness this week for a bit of celebrity news: "Brangelina" has officially tied the knot.
A spokesperson for Brad Pitt, 50, and Angelina Jolie, 39, confirmed that the couple were married in a private ceremony Saturday in Correns, France.
The Associated Press reports that a California judge presided over the ceremony at Chateau Miraval, which was attended by family and close friends. The couple's six children participated in the nondenominational civil ceremony. Jolie was escorted down the aisle by her sons Maddox, 13, and Pax, 10, according to the news service. Daughters Zahara, 9, and Vivienne, 6, served as flower girls, while daughter Shiloh, 8, and son Knox, 6, were ring bearers.
The nuptials came as a surprise to many fans. The relationship between Pitt and Jolie has been a topic of celebrity news since they became a couple after starring in the 2005 film Mr. and Mrs. Smith. They got engaged in 2012 but made it clear they were in no rush to walk down the aisle because of their support for same-sex marriage. Pitt once told talk show host Ellen DeGeneres that he and Jolie "would not be getting married until everyone in this country has the right to get married."
Pitt later told The Hollywood Reporter that:
"We made this declaration some time ago that we weren't going to do it till everyone can. But I don't think we'll be able to hold out. It means so much to my kids, and they ask a lot. And it means something to me, too, to make that kind of commitment."
This is the second marriage for Pitt, who divorced actress Jennifer Aniston in 2005, and the third for Jolie, who was previously married to actors Jonny Lee Miller and Billy Bob Thornton.
The Times of Malta reports that the couple were on their way to Malta to shoot their second film together, By the Sea.
So far, no photos of the ceremony have surfaced.