Conservationists vs chainsaws

When a UK environment group set out to save a Sumatran forest, they were met by landless settlers who also laid claim to the land. In a story published in February by The Guardian, Colm O’ Molloy, Stabile ’13, narrates what happened next and reveals what are at stake in Harapan, a logged over rainforest the size of greater London that is owned and managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

O’ Molloy worked on this project while enrolled in the Stabile program. He traveled to Indonesia to document a different type of environmental conflict. This one does not involve a big logging company cutting down a forest for profit. Instead, this is a story of how landless migrants settling in logged over rainforests found themselves at odds with a conservation group.

In 2007, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds bought Harapan as part of an effort to save and replant Sumatran rainforests. The environmentalists soon found themselves in conflict with migrant farmers who were cutting down the trees, even as the RSPB was planting new ones. Satellite data shows that since 2007, Harapan has lost at least four times as much forest as it has replanted with trees.

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Reconstructing a kidnapping

This week’s issue of the BBC Magazine features a report on kidnappings in the Sahel written by four students from the Stabile Class of 2012. The report, “Is it Right to Pay Ransoms?” reconstructs a 2009 kidnapping of four Europeans – an elderly retired teacher from Germany, a Swiss couple and a British citizen named Edward Dyer. All four were driving down a desert highway after taking part in an annual concert of Tuareg music on the Mali-Niger border in 2009.

The German and Swiss hostages were eventually released after several months when their governments paid ransom. But Dyer was shot and then beheaded by Islamist militants belonging to the Al Qaeda in the Maghreb or AQIM. The UK government bans paying ransom to abductors.

The students – Derek Kravitz, Colm O’Molloy, Jan Hendrik Hinzel and Lindsey Bever – began reporting this project while they were enrolled in the Stabile program. They spoke with the released hostages, negotiators, security consultants and government officials. They also found evidence of the payoffs, including minutes of a special government meeting in Switzerland. The minutes showed that Swiss government ministers had agreed to make a payment to reimburse the costs of freeing the two Swiss citizens.

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Subsidies for deadbeat adoptive parents

Hundreds of adoptive parents in New York City are continuing to receive monthly subsidies of up to $1,700 even if they have sent the children elsewhere – to the streets or in foster care. Nick Nehamas, Stabile’14, found this out while researching his master’s project, which was published today by the New York Daily News.

“Because of a confusing tangle of bureaucratic rules and a lack of city oversight,” Nehamas wrote, “the parents can continue receiving the government subsidies for months, and even years, until the child turns 21.”

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The global kidnap business

n the fall of 2012, a group of students in the Stabile program proposed what seemed an audacious investigative reporting project: kidnap-for-ransom as a global business and the rise of an industry made up of insurers, mediators and security experts that assist companies and organizations who find themselves ensnared in abdication.

This week, the students’ work was on the cover of G2, the Guardian supplement. The story takes off from the recent beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley, who was abducted in Syria in 2012 by armed men believed to be members of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The abductors demanded ransom but none was paid.

As Derek Kravitz and Colm O’Molloy (Stabile ’13) wrote: “The chances of getting him out alive were already slim: he was an American and he didn’t have insurance. Today, whether a hostage kidnapped by militants overseas is released boils down to nationality and whether or not the hostage works for an employer with ‘kidnap and ransom,’ or K&R, insurance.

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Faulty sanctions

Maya Srikrishnan of the Stabile Class of 2014, began looking into problems faced by welfare recipients in New York City who found their benefits cut for apparently flimsy reasons. The results of her investigation were published this week in a story in The New York World. She was also interviewed about the story by WNYC.
Srikrishnan found that the Human Resources Administration (HRA), the city department that administers public assistance programs, routinely sanctions poor New Yorkers receiving cash assistance, but those penalties are often reversed when recipients’ appeal. In many cases, the HRA didn’t even attempt to defend the sanction.

The numbers are revealing: About 20 percent of all households receiving cash assistance are in sanction status. This means they risk risk of being penalized or are already being penalized with reduced benefits for alleged infractions. When recipients appealed the penalty during the 2012 fiscal year, the city lost the appeal more than 80 percent of the time.

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