Cardi B wins big at MTV VMA, a show that feels flat
By MESFIN FEKADU
AP Music Writer
Tuesday, August 21
NEW YORK (AP) — With most of music industry’s top acts absent — from Beyonce to Bruno Mars — the MTV Video Music Awards lacked star power and felt flat, and some of the winners turned heads — for the wrong reasons.
Exhibit A: Camila Cabello beat out Drake, Mars, Cardi B, Ariana Grande and Post Malone for artist of the year.
“I can’t believe this is for me,” Cabello said Monday onstage.
Neither can we.
Exhibit B: Jennifer Lopez, Cardi B and DJ Khaled won best collaboration for “Dinero” — a song that has peaked at No. 80 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart — besting the record-setting hit “Meant to Be,” by Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line, and Mars and Cardi B’s anthemic “Finesse” remix.
The show, at Radio City Music Hall in New York, lacked oomph with its performances, too: Grande, backed by several female dancers, was a bore during “God Is a Woman,” but added some excitement when she was joined by her mother, grandmother and cousin onstage at the end of the performance. Travis Scott, whose album is No. 1 for a second week, had strong energy while onstage, but the performance felt like it belonged more to singer James Blake, who is featured on Scott’s album and performed just as long as Scott during the segment.
Scott closed with kind words: “Rest in peace the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin.”
Hopefully that wasn’t MTV’s tribute to one of music’s best singers of all-time, who died last week.
Lopez, who earned the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award for lifetime achievement, provided the night’s most energetic performance. She started off slow — Kylie Jenner and Scott’s unamused faces perfectly captured the vibe — but she hit a strong stride when she sang old smashes like “Jenny from the Block,” ”I’m Real” — where Ja Rule joined her onstage — and “All I Have,” which showed the skilled dancer’s vocal range.
But Lopez’s speech was more stirring than her fun performance: She was emotional as she thanked her children and beau Alex Rodriguez onstage at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
She was teary-eyed and looked at her “two little angels,” as she called them, and said, “I stand here stronger and better than ever … so thank you Max and Emme.” She called Rodriguez, who filmed her performance with his phone, “my twin soul.”
“My life is sweeter and better with you in it,” she said.
While Lopez’s speech went for the heart, Cardi B aimed for jokes. The rapper, in her well-known silly demeanor, “opened” the show — not with a performance, but with cute jokes. The new mom was onstage pretending to hold a baby, but she then revealed to the audience that it was actually a Moonman, which she won earlier in the night for song of the summer for her No. 1 hit, “I Like It,” with Bad Bunny and J Balvin.
Cardi B, who gave birth last month, also won best new artist and said people told her she was “gambling your career” when she decided to become a mother.
“I had the baby, I carried the baby and now I’m still winning awards,” she said.
She also seemed to take aim at Nicki Minaj, who while promoting her new album last week said other musicians have hired fans to listen to their music.
Cardi said she’s been blessed with fans “that you can’t buy,” looking into the camera and shouting an expletive.
Cardi B was the top contender of the night with 10 nominations. For the top prize, Cardi B and Mars were competing with Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” Drake’s “God’s Plan,” Beyonce and Jay-Z’s “Apes—t,” Cabello’s “Havana” and Grande’s “No Tears Left to Cry.” But only Cardi B and Grande were on hand for the evening’s festivities.
Nicki Minaj won the first televised award — best hip hop — and checked comedian Tiffany Haddish for dissing girl group Fifth Harmony, now on hiatus.
After congratulating ex-Fifth Harmony member Cabello on her five nominations, presenter Haddish said sarcastically, “Hi Fifth Harmony.” When Minaj accepted an award moments later, she looked to Haddish and said, “Don’t be coming for Fifth Harmony because Normani is that (chick).” Normani currently has her first hit apart from the group with the Khalid-assisted “Love Lies.”
Minaj, who has been a trending topic this week after she madly tweeted about why her new album debuted at No. 2 behind Travis Scott, also provided the first bleeped moment of the night when she told the audience to listen to her Apple Music radio show this week to hear “who the (expletive) of the day award is going to.”
There was a political moment when Logic was joined onstage by young immigrants wearing T-shirts that read, “We are all human beings,” to protest the Trump administration’s separation of migrant children from their parents after they illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. The rapper, best known for the suicide prevention anthem “1-800-273-8255,” wore a T-shirt that read, “(Expletive) the wall.”
Grande won best pop video and thanked her fiance Pete Davidson “for existing.”
As for the top nominees, Beyonce and Jay-Z were behind Cardi B with eight bids for “Apesh—t,” filmed at the Louvre museum in Paris. Gambino’s “This Is America,” which tackles racism and gun violence, earned him seven nominations, while Drake, who gave away $1 million to Miami residents in his “God’s Plan” clip, scored seven nods.
Avicii, who died in April, won for best dance for “Lonely Together” alongside Rita Ora.
Venezuela’s ‘desperate’ currency devaluation won’t save its economy from collapse
August 22, 2018
Benjamin J. Cohen
Professor of International Political Economy, University of California, Santa Barbara
Benjamin J. Cohen does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
University of California provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Venezuela recently announced one of the most dramatic currency reforms in history in a move that essentially devalues the bolivar by about 95 percent.
Its ironically named bolivar fuerte, meaning “strong,” first introduced 10 years ago, will be replaced by a new “sovereign” version at a conversion rate of 100,000 to one sovereign. At the same time the government’s official exchange rate will be bumped from 285,000 bolivars per dollar to 6 million.
In my experience as a scholar of currencies, I have rarely seen a devaluation this large. In effect, Venezuela has confessed that its money has become virtually worthless and it is time to start over.
But is a new start even possible?
Hyperinflation on steroids
The reason for the reform is clear: inflation.
In recent years, price increases in Venezuela have accelerated exponentially and have long since entered the realm of hyperinflation, which is like inflation on steroids. Almost all countries experience some inflation but rarely at a rate higher than low double digits. Hyperinflation is when the rate surpasses 50 percent or more and begins to accelerate uncontrollably to triple digits and beyond.
In today’s Venezuela, domestic prices are rising at an annualized rate of 108,000 percent. And economists at the International Monetary Fund estimate that by the end of the year the rate could top 1 million percent – imagine the price of milk tripling every minute.
For families on fixed incomes, the effect of this is devastating. Money that once sufficed to put a full meal on the table suddenly cannot even buy a loaf of bread. Household essentials that were once easily affordable require wheelbarrows of cash.
That’s why I believe these are the desperate acts of a harried government rapidly running out of options.
Odds of success
Venezuela is hardly the first country to respond to out-of-control inflation with a currency redenomination. Many other nations over the years have found themselves in the same bind.
In one decade, from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, neighboring Brazil burned its way through no fewer than four currencies, from the cruzeiro to the cruzado to the cruzado novo to the cruzeiro real, each time lopping off three zeros. During the same period, Argentina did the same. And more recently, in the first decade of the new millennium, Zimbabwe repeated the agony, lopping off six and later nine zeros as one new dollar followed another.
Regrettably, redenomination on its own can do little to rein in inflation. Mainly, all it does is make life easier for ordinary citizens for a while.
In Venezuela, a cup of coffee that last week cost as much as two million bolivars will now sell for a mere 20 bolivars. Venezuelans will no longer need a calculator and a backpack or two of cash when they go out to buy groceries. Prices will descend from the stratosphere.
But the benefit will be short-lived if nothing else is done to slow inflation. If prices in the local café or produce market continue to rise, purchasing power will again be eaten away. Prices will return to the stratosphere.
What devaluation is supposed to do
The key element of a currency reform is devaluation, which in principle is meant to stimulate domestic economic growth.
In the conventional textbook model, a devaluation simultaneously lowers the foreign price of exports and raises the domestic price of imports, hence expanding demand for domestic exportables and import substitutes. In other words, foreigners buy more of a country’s goods because they’re suddenly cheaper. At the same time, foreign goods become more expensive, encouraging locals to buy more domestic substitutes. The greater production that results, in turn, would then be expected to ease inflationary pressures.
But textbook models, as any student of economics quickly learns, are simple – if not simplistic – affairs that rely on a lot of hidden assumptions that may turn out to be misleading. In the real world, complications are everywhere.
In Venezuela’s case, 98 percent of export revenues are derived from oil, whose price is set in world markets in dollars, not locally in bolivars. Devaluation of the bolivar will not change the price paid for Venezuelan crude.
This is a problem faced by many developing nations that rely extensively on commodity exports, including Brazil and Zimbabwe. Their lack of control over world market prices is ignored in standard textbook models.
Likewise, in an economy like Venezuela’s, which has become so specialized in terms of what it produces, there’s little domestic capacity to manufacture goods that can substitute easily for imports, regardless of their price. Venezuelans cannot suddenly start producing the vehicles or medical equipment or heavy machinery that in recent decades have been purchased abroad. That is another complication unaccounted for in conventional models.
Worst of all, devaluation may actually exacerbate the very problem it was meant to ease – namely, inflation. The more an economy relies on imports – as Venezuela does – the more the rising prices of imports will add to the cost of living, thus reinforcing the expectation among citizens that inflation will continue to accelerate, driving up wages and prices even more.
Misery loves company
Venezuela is not alone in its misery.
Economic history is littered with examples of nations that have found themselves enmeshed in a vicious circle of inflation leading to devaluation leading to further inflation, and so on.
Brazil also has a long history of hyperinflation and currency devaluation. AP Photo/Altamiro Nunes
This happened to many European countries, especially Britain and Italy, following the oil crisis of 1973, when petroleum prices quadrupled. It happened to Brazil along with many other Latin American nations during the region’s “decade of lost growth” in the 1980s.
And it is happening today to Turkey, where the Turkish lira has lost 40 percent of its value since January and inflation is rapidly accelerating.
To alleviate Venezuela’s inflationary spiral – and Turkey’s – it will be necessary to go to the source, which is excessive spending by the government funded by printing more money. In reality, it does not matter how the currency is denominated or how often it is devalued if the central bank keeps the printing press running night and day to satisfy fiscal appetites.
A saner monetary policy will not solve all of Venezuela’s economic and political problems, but it is the place to start. Without a cap on the financing of public debt, the vicious circle of inflation cum devaluation will go on without end.
Is China worsening the developing world’s environmental crisis?
August 22, 2018
Assistant Professor of International Trade and Global Studies, Arizona State University
Jonas Gamso does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Arizona State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
The developing world is in the midst of an environmental crisis. Simply breathing the air is a leading cause of death.
One recent study found that pollution is to blame for a fifth of sub-Saharan Africa’s infant deaths. Another showed that exposure to toxins or other dangerous substances in the air killed over 9 million people in 2015 alone, with 92 percent of those deaths occurring in developing countries – this is more people than were killed by AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined in that same year. In Latin America, over one-third of deaths from lung cancer, stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were estimated to stem from air pollution in 2012.
There are many reasons behind these troubling trends, but one looms especially large: China’s booming economy. Not only has this created an environmental crisis in China itself, but the nature of its trade with developing nations threatens their air, water and soil as well.
Over the last decade, China has become the biggest trade partner to continental Africa and to several countries in Latin America, homes to some of the world’s poorest people. At the same time, air pollution has surged in many of these countries, especially in Africa.
Are these two trends linked? My new study published in June tries to answer that question. I also wondered, could a country’s governing institutions make a difference?
The map shows the level of air pollution across the world based on annual mean emissions of microscopic atmospheric particulate matter. Green signals low levels of pollution while dark red reflects very high levels. World Health Organization
The environmental cost of trade
Most economists agree that trade helps generate economic growth and development.
Unfortunately, these benefits often come with costs, such as environmental degradation. Developing countries are especially susceptible to this side effect because they often export pollution-intensive goods like fossil fuels and metals and have weak environmental regulations.
Western governments have increasingly been pushing developing countries to protect their environments via trade agreements. NAFTA, for example, was the first U.S. trade agreement to include legally binding environmental conditions – something that is now a standard element. A similar trend occurred in Europe, where binding environmental provisions became fixtures in trade agreements around 2006.
In contrast, China does not push its partners to strengthen environmental protections. For this reason, trading intensively with China is especially likely to generate high levels of pollution in developing countries.
Links between China’s trade and pollution
Against this backdrop, I investigated whether trade with China affected sulfur dioxide emissions and environmental illnesses in 58 Latin American and sub-Saharan African countries from 2001 to 2010.
To capture how intensively they trade with China, I measured sample countries’ trade volume in U.S. dollars as a share of their gross domestic product. I then conducted statistical tests to determine whether this measure of trade correlates to two relevant indicators of pollution: sulfur dioxide emissions and a measure of environmental public health developed by researchers at Yale. I also controlled for a series of other variables to isolate the relationship between trade and pollution.
My findings show that pollution levels of many developing countries rose in tandem with trade to China – but not all of them.
Interestingly, the environmental impact of trading with China appears to depend on characteristics of countries’ governments. Those countries with high quality of governance, as measured by researchers at the Quality of Government Institute, did not experience heightened air pollution or environmental illness when they traded at high levels with China.
In countries with strong governance, such as Chile, Gambia and Tanzania, which scored near the top of my sample, trading with China had little impact on sulfur dioxide emissions and environmental public health.
On the other hand, trading intensively with China worsened the air quality in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Paraguay, which all ranked among the worst in governance.
A big share of the trade developing countries tend to have with China is in fossil fuels, such as the coal that fires this power plant in Xuzhou, China. Reuters/Muyu Xu
Two ways to fix this
The good news is that my research shows that China’s impact can change. In two ways.
One is by finding ways to improve governance in the developing world. Governance quality encompasses bureaucracy, law and order and transparency. Countries with stronger bureaucracies can manage a multipronged policy agenda that promotes trade while protecting the environment. Governments capable of ensuring law and order are able to enforce environmental rules and regulations. Transparent institutions reduce opportunities for corruption that undermine efforts to protect the environment, such as bribery of public officials.
Collectively, these features of good governance protect countries’ environments and offset negative impacts that would otherwise be generated by trading intensively with China.
At the same time, China could change its ways and do more to push for stronger environmental laws abroad. Western countries tend to do this already because of lobbying efforts by both environmentalists and producers that compete with Mexican firms, who fear being at a competitive disadvantage if developing countries have weak environmental laws.
As wages continue to grow in China, the Chinese government will face similar pressures from domestic producers to do the same. It is perhaps telling that China recently signaled its interest in global environmental leadership.
Until there’s a change, however, China’s growth will continue dirtying the air in many of the countries that trade with it most, and their environmental crisis will worsen.