BBC 2024-03-04 16:32:20

US Supreme Court strikes down effort to disqualify Trump from Colorado primary election

The chairwoman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) – which filed a brief in support of their party’s frontrunner in this case – has hailed the court’s ruling.

Ronna McDaniel, who will be stepping down from her RNC post this month, says: “Today’s ruling confirms what Republicans have been arguing: the American people get to pick their candidates, not activists or bureaucrats.”

McDaniel also describes the initial ruling from Colorado’s top court to remove Donald Trump from the state’s ballot as, “pure election interference from the left.

“We look forward to continuing to fight and beat Democrats in court over the coming months.”

Haiti violence: Haiti gangs demand PM resign after mass jailbreak

The government of Haiti declared a 72-hour state of emergency on Sunday after armed gangs stormed a major Port-au-Prince prison. At least 12 people were killed and about 3,700 inmates escaped in the jailbreak.

Gang leaders say they want to force the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who had travelled abroad.

Gangs control around 80% of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Gang violence has plagued Haiti for years.

A government statement said two prisons – one in the capital and the other in nearby Croix des Bouquets – were stormed over the weekend.

It said the acts of “disobedience” were a threat to national security and said it was instituting an immediate night-time curfew in response, which started at 20:00 local time (01:00 GMT on Monday).

  • How gangs came to dominate Haiti

Haitian media reported that police stations were attacked, distracting authorities before the coordinated assault on the jails.

Among those detained in Port-au-Prince were suspects charged in connection with the 2021 killing of President Jovenel Moïse.

The latest upsurge in violence began on Thursday, when the prime minister travelled to Nairobi to discuss sending a Kenya-led multinational security force to Haiti.

Gang leader Jimmy Chérizier (nicknamed “Barbecue”) declared a co-ordinated attack to remove him.

“All of us, the armed groups in the provincial towns and the armed groups in the capital, are united,” said the former police officer, who is accused of being behind several massacres in Port-au-Prince.

Haiti’s police union had asked the military to help reinforce the capital’s main prison, but the compound was stormed late on Saturday.

On Sunday the doors of the prison were still open and there were no signs of officers, Reuters news agency reported. Three inmates who tried to flee lay dead in the courtyard, the report said.

A journalist for the AFP news agency who visited the prison saw around 10 bodies, some with signs of injuries caused by bullets.

One volunteer prison worker told the Reuters news agency that 99 prisoners – including former Colombian soldiers jailed over President Moïse’s murder – had chosen to remain in their cells for fear of being killed in crossfire.

They have now been transferred to a different prison.

The US embassy in Port-au-Prince on Sunday urged its citizens to leave Haiti “as soon as possible”. The French embassy said it was closing visa services as a “precaution”.

While Haiti has been plagued by gangs for years, the violence has further escalated since President Moïse’s assassination at his home in 2021. He has not been replaced and presidential elections have not been held since 2016.

Under a political deal, Mr Henry was due to stand down by 7 February. But planned elections were not held and he remains in post.

Speaking to the BBC’s Newsday, Claude Joseph – who was serving as acting prime minister when President Moïse was assassinated and who is now head of the opposition party called Those Committed to Development – said Haiti was living through a “nightmare”.

Mr Joseph said Prime Minister Henry wanted “to stay as long as possible in charge”.

“He agreed to step down on 7 February. Now he decides to stay, despite the fact that there are huge protests throughout the country asking him to step down – but it’s unfortunate that now those criminals are using violent means to force him to step down.”

In January, the UN said more than 8,400 people were victims of Haiti’s gang violence last year, including killings, injuries and kidnappings – more than double the numbers seen in 2022.

Many health facilities have stopped operating because of the bloodshed.

Anger at the shocking levels of violence, on top of the political vacuum, have led to several demonstrations against the government, with protesters demanding the resignation of the prime minister.

Haiti: The basics

  • Population: 11.5 million (estimate)
  • Area: 27,800 sq km (slightly smaller than Belgium, about the same size as the state of Maryland in the US)
  • Location: Caribbean country sharing a border with the Dominican Republic
  • Languages: French, Haitian Creole

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Gaza war: Hopes for ceasefire falter ahead of Ramadan

Hopes had been high over the past week following talks in Paris that there could be a new Gaza ceasefire deal in place for the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan next week.

However, while Hamas has now sent a delegation to Cairo for further negotiations with Egyptian and Qatari mediators, Israel has not. This looks like a serious new block.

Israeli officials – quoted in local media – demand clear answers from Hamas on key issues as well as a list of the surviving Israeli hostages who could be released with an agreement.

Meanwhile, a senior Hamas official, Dr Basem Naim, told the BBC on Sunday that “practically, it is impossible to know who is still alive” because of continuing Israeli bombing.

“They are in different areas with different groups. We have asked for a ceasefire to collect that data,” he added.

Dr Naim went on to say that such “valuable information” about the hostages could not be given “for free”. He, and other senior Hamas figures, have also been continuing to demand a full ceasefire and withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, rather than a temporary truce.

The US and regional players with leverage will now be putting pressure on both Israel and Hamas trying to shore up recent progress on the potential deal.

  • US urges more aid for starving people in Gaza
  • Hope for Gaza ceasefire by next week, says Biden

This would reportedly see some 40 Israeli hostages released in exchange for about 10 times as many Palestinian prisoners being freed from Israeli jails.

More than 130 hostages are still believed to be held by Hamas. Israeli officials have said that at least 30 of them are dead.

Over the course of a proposed 40-day truce, there would be a surge in desperately needed aid entering into Gaza.

Without a deal, there is a higher threat of a further spread of tensions during Ramadan, which this year is due to begin on 10 or 11 March, depending on the lunar calendar.

Israel is expected to impose restrictions on access for Palestinians to the holiest Muslim site in occupied East Jerusalem, the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, citing its security concerns.

The site – which is also the holiest place in Judaism, known as Temple Mount – has often been a flashpoint for violence in the decades-old Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Hamas is well aware of international fears about a new conflagration and has previously used al-Aqsa to raise the stakes.

Last week, in a televised address, the leader of the Islamist group, Ismail Haniyeh, claimed Hamas was showing flexibility in negotiations, but also called on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem to march to the mosque to pray on the first day of Ramadan.

International pressure for a ceasefire deal has ratcheted up with the dire humanitarian conditions in Gaza where, according to the UN, hundreds of thousands of people are facing famine following nearly six months of war.

“Given the immense scale of suffering, there must be an immediate ceasefire for at least the next six weeks, which is what is currently on the table,” the US Vice-President Kamala Harris told an event in Alabama. “This will get the hostages out and get a significant amount of aid in.”

“People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane and our common humanity compels us to act,” Ms Harris went on.

Her comments were some of the strongest language used yet to describe the situation by a senior US government official and reflect the growing frustration within Washington – the closest ally of Israel – about developments in the war.

Increasingly what is happening on the ground in Gaza is hurting President Biden’s presidential re-election campaign.

In Israel, there is also intense domestic pressure on the war cabinet to agree a new deal from the families of the hostages.

Thousands of Israelis joined them for the last leg of a four-day solidarity march, which began close to the Gaza border at one of the sites that was a focus of the deadly 7 October Hamas attacks, and ended in Jerusalem on Saturday night.

They held up Israeli flags and posters of the hostages.

Speaking at the rally, Sharon Sharabi whose brother, Eli, is still believed to be held in Hamas captivity, said: “We’ve lost four members of our family, the Sharabi family – my family, your family. We do not intend – listen carefully, leaders of Israel – we do not intend to bring a fifth coffin here.”

J-Lo: The rise of intimate love life revelations

With J-Lo’s new documentary The Greatest Love Story Never Told spilling the beans on her relationship with Ben Affleck, as well as the publication of love letters from George Harrison and Eric Clapton to Pattie Boyd, what happens when stars decide to over-share?

Is it okay to kiss and tell? Lately, it seems that there’s no shame in it.

The documentary The Greatest Love Story Never Told, released on 27 February, is a self-styled celebration of Jennifer Lopez’s rekindled relationship with actor-filmmaker Ben Affleck. It takes its name from a book of love letters compiled by Affleck, and makes Lopez the latest in a stream of celebrities to share intimate correspondence with the public.

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Released in November, Barbra Streisand’s autobiography My Name is Barbra, a bestseller, included a gushing letter from co-star Omar Sharif pleading with Streisand to leave her husband for him. “The thing I want most in my life is to have you with me, to go everywhere together, to hold you in my arms, to put you to sleep and to wake you up. To kiss you, talk to you, love you with all my being… And all the time you’re singing to me,” he writes to her. “He had me until the line about my singing,” she mocks.

Pattie Boyd and George Harrison married in 1966 (Credit: Getty Images)

Pattie Boyd, the ex-wife of George Harrison and, later, Eric Clapton, is also taking up the trend, with Christie’s auctioning The Pattie Boyd Collection (8-22 March 2024), a huge lot featuring unseen photographs she took of her exes and private letters she received from them.

There’s a scribbled note from Harrison in green ink: “Pattie, don’t forget I love you.” And later, a besotted Clapton tries to lure Boyd away from him with a neatly written letter addressed to “Layla”, his nickname for her, and penned on a page torn from Of Mice and Men. “For nothing more than the pleasure past, I would sacrifice my family, my god, and my own existence,” he writes. The letter becomes increasingly desperate: “Am i a poor lover, am I ugly, too weak, too strong…?”

Alongside Harrison’s timeless ballad Something (1969), Boyd would inspire Clapton’s Layla (1971), one of rock’s most iconic guitar anthems. “Like a fool, I fell in love with you,” he sings. “You turned my whole world upside down.” In 1974, when the couple finally got together, Clapton wrote Wonderful Tonight as an ode to her.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Boyd said Clapton was aware of the sale. “He’s absolutely fine with me auctioning everything,” she said. With some letters valued in excess of £10,000, it’s clear that cashing in on celebrity secrets is extremely lucrative. As far as Boyd is concerned, selling her love letters is an act of sharing: “I’ve enjoyed them for many, many years, and now it’s time for other people to see and enjoy them,” she tells Christie’s. “It’s only right that I pass them on.”

Lopez’s decision to create a body of work based on her relationship with Affleck − which spans more than two decades with a 17-year hiatus in the middle − is an unusual one, given the circumstances of their 2004 split. It was “the massive amount of scrutiny around our private life”, explains Affleck in the documentary, that led to the pair breaking up just three days before their planned wedding.

Inviting interest

Now, Lopez appears to be actively inviting public interest in the couple. The serial romantic, who captured fans’ hearts when, after three failed marriages, she finally tied the knot in 2022 with first love Affleck, is laying their relationship bare with This is Me… Now, a semi-autobiographical album and film chronicling her search for love (released 16 February), and The Greatest Love Story Never Told, a documentary about the film’s creation. “I have decided to tell my story, or tell my truth, that I’ve never shared with anybody in the world, which is the truth about my personal life,” she announces in the documentary.

In her new autobiographical musical film This Is Me… Now: A Love Story, Lopez plays a character who tries to work out why she’s been so unlucky in love (Credit: Amazon Studios)

In an early scene, Lopez is filmed holding up a black file box. “This book is a book Ben gave me on our first Christmas back together. It is every letter and every email that we wrote to each other from 20 years ago and today,” she says. On the cover, Affleck has written: “The greatest love story never told by Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck 2001-2021 and counting”.

But Lopez has chosen to tell the story after all. To provide inspiration for This is Me… Now, the book of letters was even shared with her team, who, she says, “would thumb through it”, soon dubbing its compiler “Pen Affleck”. “She would pick one and she would let us touch them and read them,” says songwriter and collaborator Faangs in the documentary. Affleck was surprised to stumble upon this scene and tells the camera: “Things that are private, I’ve always felt, are sacred and special because, in part, they’re private, so this was something of an adjustment for me.”

Particularly controversial was the decision to include a close-up of what is believed to be a copy of a 2002 letter from Affleck. It reads: “Life’s tough but you’re sweet. Thanks for the gift. Hope you like the flowers. You told me you could never have enough… I believe you. Bx.”

There’s no doubt that the “Bennifer” love story is epic, but some feel making their correspondence the basis for an artistic project risks tarnishing rather than elevating their narrative. Lopez’s producing partner Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas says in the film: “I wasn’t sure if I wanted her to reveal all this; I wasn’t sure if it was necessary.”

For Lopez, however, sharing a private letter or two serves a higher purpose. “I just want people to believe that love exists,” she says. “And if I can use my story to do that, then, as an artist, that’s what I should do.”

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What’s wrong with the second-hand clothing market?

Pre-owned clothing is a surging market with a cool reputation. Yet the economics don’t make sense, and most companies are struggling.

In the past decade, buying used fashion has become normalised and even glamorised, with celebrities getting in on the action through swaps and sales of their pre-owned designer clothing. Shoppers are paying TikTok stylists hundreds of dollars for “bundles” of thrifted clothing, and the fashion sponsor of the popular British reality show Love Island switched from a fast-fashion brand to eBay.

Sixty-seven percent of millennials in the UK shop second-hand, and according to a report commissioned by ThredUp, the online second-hand fashion retailer, two in five items in Gen Z’s closet are pre-owned. Every year since 2017, ThredUp has put out this report underlining the breakneck growth of the market. Its latest version of the report noted that by 2027, the value of the fashion resale market would double, to $3.5bn (£2.76bn).  

As large as the opportunity is, however, there’s a big problem. From local thrift shops to enormous online second-hand retailers, it’s hard to find pre-owned clothing businesses that actually turn a profit.

Supply > demand 

Online retailers have been packing up and shipping out second-hand clothes for years, focusing on growth over the bottom line, taking on large capital investments and, in some cases, going public. Despite this commitment, profits aren’t rolling in – even for the biggest players in the space.

The sheer volume of clothing that arrives at distribution centres for clothing resale companies, like ThredUp, can be overwhelming to process (Credit: Courtesy of ThredUp)

For instance, neither the American companies ThredUp nor its luxury cousin The RealReal are profitable, disappointing investors and dragging share prices below their IPOs. In 2022, fewer than two years after going public, the American peer-to-peer resale site Poshmark was acquired by a Korean tech company for $1.2bn (£950m), one-sixth of its IPO valuation. While the service is still available to American shoppers and sellers, the company no longer operates in the UK market.

The Lithuanian peer-to-peer fashion resale start-up Vinted has taken over in the UK, posting a pre-tax loss of €47.1m ($51m; £40.3m) in 2022. The British second-hand marketplace Depop posted a loss of £59m ($69m) in 2023. The bright spot is Vestiaire, which focuses on luxury resale. If its optimistic forecast is to be believed, it might be profitable by the end of the year.

This struggle affects every size, type and location of resellers. For-profit second-hand clothing sorters in the UK have been going out of business, citing high labour costs and the degrading quality of the clothing they receive. In New York City, Brooklyn residents bemoan standing in line for an hour to consign clothes at the famous store Beacon’s Closet, and getting paid just $18 (£14.20) for a full bag of old designer clothes. As early as 2016, market resellers in Ghana – one of the largest recipients of second-hand fashion from Europe – were also complaining about declining quality and profits, and it has only gotten worse since then. 

The problem is one of economics. With the rise of ultra-fast, ultra-cheap fashion brands, the volume of clothing produced and shipped globally continues to explode, and consumers are offloading more of it after just a few wears. 

According to a 2023 study, one large Swedish charity has to pay to have 70% of donated clothing incinerated because it is too low quality to sell in-store or export. Of the clothing that isexported to Ghana, 40% is trashed almost immediately.

“There’s an oversupply of clothes,” says Liz Ricketts, co-founder and executive director of The Or Foundation, a non-profit that researches Ghana’s Kantamanto market, one of the world’s largest clothing exchanges. “And it’s lowering the perceived value, and the real value, of everything.”

A significant amount of manual labour is involved in processing pre-owned clothing (Credit: Getty Images)

Hidden costs

Processing second-hand products is labour-intensive – and it’s costly for businesses. “We treat waste as if it is a free resource. Sure, you might give it away for free, but it takes a tremendous amount of effort and labour and skill to try to re-commodify that thing that you gave away,” says Ricketts. “Reuse is based on the quality and the condition of the individual item, which means that it requires a human touch and a human eye to assess that.”

Second-hand clothing companies have realised the difficult economics of processing old clothes for resale. To shore up business, some are changing their models for acquiring pre-owned clothing. ThredUp is now charging consumers and brands alike to process their old clothing, whereas sending along a “Clean Out Kit” was previously free

“You’re doing effectively reverse, single-SKU fulfilment, which is incredibly difficult, incredibly expensive and incredibly inefficient,” says Dylan Carden, a US-based research analyst at the investment firm William Blair.

We treat waste as if it is a free resource. Sure, you might give it away for free, but it takes a tremendous amount of effort and labour and skill to try to re-commodify that thing that you gave away – Liz Ricketts

Rising costs can mean rising price, a jarring realisation for consumers who come to the market expecting deals and steals. In some cases, labour costs can push the price of second-hand clothing over the price of new products of similar quality. A recent investigation by The Telegraph called thrift shopping in the UK a “right rip-off”, citing the example of a used Primark sweater that was priced higher than a new one.

The dirty secret of the resale industry is that despite its reputation as an eco-friendly alternative to fast fashion, second-hand fashion is often subsidised by the sale of new clothing. For example, 80% of products on eBay, long seen as a second-hand success story, are new. The Swedish resale site Sellpy’s expansion to new markets and investment in technology was made possible by its strategic partnership with H&M – and H&M’s profits come from selling large amounts of new fast fashion.

Thomas Bauwens, an economist and assistant professor in collective action and sustainability at Rotterdam School of Management, believes that we would have to completely rethink what we consider a “good” or “healthy” economy for second-hand retail to succeed. In a 2021 article in the Journal of Resources, Conservation and Recycling, Bauwens argued that, in a growth-based economy, companies trying to implement sustainable practices such as take-back, repair, resale and recycling are “quickly outpriced and driven out of the market by cheaper, non-circular competitors”.

A climate imperative

Some experts believe the key to making the pre-owned clothing market work is by not only treating it as a for-profit business – but also as an environmental imperative.

In the US, second-hand luxury retailers. such as The RealReal are making a splash with consumers, but have not performed for investors (Credit: Getty Images)

“The resale [industry] as we know it today – not the thrift shopping from when we grew up – is in its infancy,” says Rachel Kibbe, CEO of the trade group American Circular Textiles. She believes the second-hand clothing market should receive funding for capital-intensive sorting and recycling infrastructure to reduce labour costs, the same way other climate-focused initiatives are subsidised. 

William Blair’s Carden thinks ThredUp and its ilk could benefit from government regulation that requires companies use certain technology to reduce labour costs. For instance, scannable tags on garments can pull up information and photos on each item instantly, which would slash the amount of manual labour required to sort clothing.

These kinds of changes are not only eco-friendly, but may also lead some resellers to profitability as they introduce efficiencies and scale up business models with new, state-of-the-art fulfilment centres and technology. 

Reducing the oversupply of clothing could also be key. “I don’t see a world where second-hand and upcycled and recycled products are going to be competitive if we don’t reduce the production of new clothes,” says Ricketts. Her organisation is calling for a government policy that would include a reduction of the production of new clothes by 40%.

Whether the second-hand clothing market is a bubble ready to burst, or an industry with untapped potential, experts agree the current situation is untenable. “We need infrastructure, we need labour, we need capital,” says Kibbe. “Because how else are we going to solve this thing called the climate crisis?”