Friday, January 31, 2020

Front-line protesters Wing and Tony, two 18-year-olds who began dating after attending many Hong Kong protests together, pose for a portrait. Normally quiet and reserved, the two have joined thousands of local teenagers in clashes with riot police, in a pro-democracy movement that has upended the city for seven months.
 Picture taken December 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis  
Reuters / Tuesday, January 28, 2020


Folding chairs and trash remain at the Wildwood convention center parking lot after the end of President Donald Trump's campaign rally in Wildwood, New Jersey, January 28, 2020. New Jersey supporters of Trump welcomed his first campaign rally in the state the same way they celebrate heroes from the New York Jets football team to native son Bruce Springsteen - with a tailgate party. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon
Photos of the week
Reuters / Wednesday, January 29, 2020
Folding chairs and trash remain at the Wildwood convention center parking lot after the end of President Donald Trump's campaign rally in Wildwood, New Jersey, January 28, 2020. New Jersey supporters of Trump welcomed his first campaign rally in the state the same way they celebrate heroes from the New York Jets football team to native son Bruce Springsteen - with a tailgate party. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon



Reuters / Tuesday, January 28, 2020
A Palestinian man places a shoe on a television screen broadcasting the announcement of U.S. President Donald Trump's Middle East peace plan, in a coffee shop in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank January 28, 2020. Trump proposed creating a Palestinian state as part of the plan, drawing Palestinian condemnation for imposing strict conditions and agreeing to let Israel maintain control of long-contested West Bank settlements. It includes what Trump called a four-year freeze by Israel on new settlement activity. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma


How your clothes become microfibre pollution in the sea

AFP/File / ODD ANDERSENA major source of marine pollution -- microscopic bits of polyester, nylon and acrylic -- has up to now gone largely unnoticed

From the polar ice cap to the Mariana Trench 10 kilometres below the waves, synthetic microfibres spat out by household washing machines are polluting oceans everywhere.

The world has woken up over the last year to the scourge of single-use plastics, from bottles and straws to ear swabs and throw-away bags, resulting in legislation to restrict or ban their use in dozens of countries.

A lot of this visible debris winds up in the sea, where it gathers in huge floating islands called gyres, entangles wildlife from turtles to terns, and hangs suspended in water like dead jellyfish.

But a major source of marine pollution -- microscopic bits of polyester, nylon and acrylic -- has up to now gone largely unnoticed, experts say.

Most people don't realise it, but "the majority of our clothes are made from plastic," said Imogen Napper, a researcher at the University of Plymouth.

"We wash our clothes regularly, and hundreds of thousands of fibres come off per wash," she told AFP, "This could be one of the main sources of the plastic pollution into the environment."

"How do we remove something that is so small?", she added.

A 2015 report from the Ellen McArthur foundation estimated that half-a-million tonnes of microfibres leached into waterways every year, with 53 million tonnes of new textiles produced annually.

The average family in the United States and Canada unleashes more than 500 million microfibres into the environment each year, according to the Ocean Wise organisation.

- Buy less clothing -

The vast majority of those minuscule bits of textile -- whether synthetic or not -- are intercepted during water treatment, but nearly 900 tonnes winds up in the ocean all the same.

In less developed countries, however, far more of those particles will not get intercepted, adding to the flood of plastic streaming into the sea.

Microplastics, say marine biologists, are almost certainly as harmful to microscopic ocean creatures as flimsy shopping sacs are to sea turtles.

But forensic clues are hard to come by, explains Peter Ross, co-author of the Ocean Wise report.

"The evidence disappears quickly, with weak or dead micro-organisms eaten by other species," he explained.

AFP/File / Gillian HANDYSIDERecent research has focused on how to reduce the volume of micro-pollution shed when we wash clothes

Recent research has focused on how to reduce the volume of micro-pollution shed when we wash clothes -- besides the obvious step of simply washing them less often.

"When you do the laundry, you can reduce the impact by lowering the temperature -- above 30 degrees Celsius textiles break down more easily," said Laura Diaz Sanchez, a campaigner for NGO Plastic Soup Foundation.

"Liquid detergent is better than powder, which has a scrubbing effect," she added. "Also, don't use a dryer."

Buying less clothing is likewise important: studies have shown first-time washings release by far the most microfibres.

"This is something we can stop," insisted Mojca Zupan, founder of the Slovenian-based startup PlanetCare.

"Your car has filters, your washing machine should have them too," she said, explaining how the ones she makes -- endorsed by the Plastic Soup Foundation -- are self-installing. "Every machine made from now on should be neutral to the environment."

- 'Fast fashion' culture -

There are other laundry gadgets that make environmental claims, some of them contested.

Spiky laundry balls -- themselves made of plastic -- and mesh bags to contain a load are also promoted as eco-friendly accessories for use in dryers.

"It may be useful to stop big entanglements but it doesn't do anything for tiny fibres," said Francesca de Falco, a researcher at the Institute for Polymers, Composites and Biomaterials in Italy.

Bottom line? There are no miracle solutions. "The only one would be to not wear any clothes at all," said Sanchez.
AFP/File / Manan VATSYAYANABuying less clothes also decreases microfibre pollution because first-time washings release by far the most microfibres

The best approach to tackle the problem is with separate solutions tailored to each step of the process -- clothing manufacture, washing, and treatment plants, said de Falco.

Each synthetic material has properties, such as the way in which it is woven, that may have an impact.

In an effort to do better, some brands work with scientists to test clothes particularly prone to shedding microplastics, such as down jackets and stretch T-shirts.

Are natural fibres the answer? Not so simple, experts say. Cotton, for example, requires huge quantities of water and pesticide when grown.

"Switching to natural alternatives is not really the answer because it can be very expensive and they have their own environmental problems," said Napper.

"We live in a 'fast fashion' culture -- when you consider how much we actually buy, it is quite scary."
Bayer considers new tactic in Roundup settlement talks

(Reuters) - As Bayer AG (BAYGn.DE) tries to settle U.S. lawsuits claiming that its weedkiller Roundup causes cancer, the company is considering a proposal that would bar plaintiffs’ lawyers involved in the litigation from advertising for new clients, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Bayer has said it is engaged in mediation to resolve the litigation, which has hit its share price since it acquired Roundup as part of its $63 billion takeover of Monsanto in 2018.

The company has denied claims that Roundup or its active ingredient glyphosate causes cancer, saying decades of independent studies have shown the product is safe for human use.

The person said that Bayer believes an agreement with plaintiffs’ attorneys to ban advertising would limit the company’s future legal exposure since the “vast majority” of U.S. law firms that would bring such claims would be bound by the agreement.

Bayer declined to comment.

German newspaper Handelsblatt reported on Thursday that Bayer was considering stopping retail sales of glyphosate while continuing to serve farmers, because the bulk of plaintiffs are private users. Bayer did not comment to Reuters on this report.

The company has ruled out putting a cancer warning on the weedkiller because market regulators such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have deemed it save to use, but that means lawsuits could keeping piling in.

In October, Bayer largely blamed law firms’ TV ad campaigns for the more than doubling of U.S. plaintiffs seeking damages to 42,700 within just three months.

A provision such as the one the company is considering could result in “dramatically fewer claims” so that the litigation is no longer a “big drag on Bayer’s balance sheet,” said David Noll, a professor at Rutgers Law School and expert in mass torts, who is not involved in the litigation.

In January, court-appointed mediator Ken Feinberg put the number of Roundup cancer claimants at more than 75,000, which includes those that have not been filed. Bayer said the claims it has been served with in court were below 50,000.

While such a provision is unusual, there is precedent.

As part of a 2013 settlement between Merck & Co and plaintiffs claiming the company’s Fosamax osteoporosis drug caused jaw injury, lawyers pledged that they did not intend to “solicit claims” that arose after the settlement.

Perry Weitz of Weitz & Luxenberg, one of the leading plaintiffs’ firms involved in the Roundup litigation, criticized an idea to bar firms from advertising for future clients.

“A company cannot ask a lawyer to enter an agreement to restrict his practice in the future,” he said.

He said there had not been “serious discussions about future cases,” but declined to elaborate.

Michael Miller of The Miller Firm, another major party in the talks, said that “it is possible, if done correctly, to manage the exposure to future claims.” He declined to elaborate. Three other plaintiffs firms who have brought the bulk of the claims - Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman; Andrus Wagstaff PC; Holland Law Firm - declined to comment. Moore Law Group PLLC did not respond to requests for comment.

Bayer’s shares have lost about 20% of their value since August 2018 when a California jury in the first lawsuit over Roundup found Monsanto should have warned of the alleged cancer risks. Bayer has lost two more jury verdicts and is appealing all three rulings.

Factbox: Bayer faces lengthy Roundup appeals and settlement talks continue

(Reuters) - Bayer AG’s (BAYGn.DE) shares have taken a hit since three consecutive U.S. juries awarded more than $2 billion in damages to cancer patients alleging that the company’s glyphosate-based weed killer, Roundup, caused their disease.

Bayer, which acquired Roundup maker Monsanto for $63 billion in 2018, denies the allegations, saying decades of studies and regulatory approvals have shown glyphosate and Roundup to be safe for human use.

But the company faces similar U.S. lawsuits by more than 42,700 plaintiffs and shareholders have rebuked Bayer’s top management over its handling of the Monsanto acquisition and the litigation it inherited.

The company’s shares have lost about 20% of their value since the first adverse jury verdict in August 2018.

Bayer has appealed or vowed to appeal all verdicts against it, but said the litigation will take some time to conclude as no case has been subject to appellate review to assess key legal rulings in the trials.

Here is a summary of pending appeals in the U.S. glyphosate litigation:

- The first Roundup jury verdict, a $289 million award in San Francisco state court in August 2018, later reduced to $78 million, is currently on appeal before California’s Court of Appeals, First Appellate District. Bayer in late April 2019 asked the appeals court to throw out the judgment, saying there was “no evidence” glyphosate could cause cancer.

Plaintiffs and Bayer have submitted all their briefs to the court, but no date for oral arguments has yet been scheduled.

- Bayer is also appealing the March 2019 verdict that awarded $80 million to a California man, later reduced to $25 million. The company in December filed its appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department have supported Bayer in that appeal, in a filing urging the court to reverse the verdict as regulatory reviews have found glyphosate to be safe and noncarcinogenic.

But just like California’s state court system, the 9th Circuit also is overwhelmed by a massive case load, hearing more cases than any other federal appeals court in the country. Legal experts said the court was unlikely to schedule arguments before the end of 2020.

- Bayer has said it would also appeal a massive $2 billion verdict issued by a California jury to a couple in May 2019. The judgment was later reduced to $86.7 million. As of Friday, Bayer has not yet filed an appeals brief in the case and any opening brief in the case is due by Feb 7.

What are the obstacles to Bayer settling Roundup lawsuits?

Tina Bellon

(Reuters) - Bayer AG (BAYGn.DE) is in mediation to potentially settle thousands of U.S. lawsuits claiming that the company’s Roundup weed killer causes cancer, but some legal experts said the cases raises novel questions that may prevent an easy settlement.

More than 42,700 plaintiffs claim Roundup causes a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Bayer to date has lost three U.S. jury trials in the Roundup litigation. The company is appealing or has vowed to appeal the decisions, saying Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate are not carcinogenic and safe for human use.

Legal experts outlined several obstacles the parties may face on the path towards settlement.


Settlements involving drugs, medical devices or consumer goods often result in the addition of a warning label, a recall or the outright discontinuance of a product. Those steps generally close the door to future lawsuits, making settlement costs and risks predictable.

Bayer has never publicly considered pulling Roundup off the market. The company in June announced a $5.6 billion investment to research and develop a glyphosate alternative.

Bayer unit Monsanto began selling Roundup in 1974 and while the formulation is no longer patent-protected, Roundup remains widely available today. Bayer has repeatedly said Roundup is safe and important to farmers who use the herbicide in combination with the company’s genetically modified seeds

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma on average can take up to 10 years to emerge, increasing the likelihood of claims being filed after the litigation has settled. Product liability settlements generally include a cut-off date for future claimants and need to be properly funded for a court to approve the agreement.

As long as the product continues to be sold without changes to the label, plaintiffs may continue to file lawsuits, said Elizabeth Burch, a law professor at the University of Georgia.


Plaintiffs lawyers, who claim the company manipulated the science, told Reuters they would insist on a cancer warning label as part of any Roundup settlement.

Such a warning has been rejected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates pesticides and repeatedly has found glyphosate to be safe.

The agency said it has finished a regulatory review that found glyphosate is not a carcinogen.

In a filing to a federal appeals court, which hears one of the appeals to a jury verdict, the EPA and the U.S. Justice Department backed Bayer and said it was unlawful for manufacturers to make label claims that differ from EPA approval.

David Noll, a professor at Rutgers Law School, said adding a cancer warning over a regulator’s explicit opposition presented unchartered legal territory.


To settle product liability litigation, companies generally set up a fund and the parties define criteria that current and future claimants must fulfill to receive compensation.

In the Roundup litigation, claimants could be divided into different groups depending on the frequency of their Roundup use and disease severity and length.

But Adam Zimmerman, a law professor at Loyola Law School, said defining those groups is complicated by the lack of a signature disease associated with Roundup, making it difficult to predict Bayer’s liability.

For example, in asbestos litigation, mesothelioma, a rare tissue cancer, was recognized as a signature disease caused by exposure to asbestos fibers.

Doctors recognize several risk factors leading to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but the disease is largely considered to have no known cause. Around 74,000 people in the United States are expected to be diagnosed with the disease in 2019, according to the American Cancer Society.

Settling claims might not preclude future lawsuits if the fund runs out of money. In the Agent Orange litigation, Vietnam War veterans were allowed to sue chemical companies decades after a settlement was reached because the compensation fund was depleted by the time they developed their diseases.

Cold and humiliated, Syrians displaced yet again by new Assad campaign

IDLIB, Syria (Reuters) - Khaled Sabri and his family huddle in the makeshift shelter in northern Idlib, still shell-shocked after fleeing the sudden bombardment of their rebel-held town earlier this week.

They are part of an exodus that has shaken northwest Syria, the last rebel redoubt in the country’s nine-year civil war, as hundreds of thousands push toward Turkey to escape a sudden and fast-moving advance by government forces.

Backed by heavy Russian airstrikes, President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have recaptured dozens of towns since last Friday in a major campaign that has stoked tensions between Ankara and Moscow and raised the specter of a new refugee crisis.

“We fled with just the clothes we were wearing because of the heavy bombing,” said 55-year-old Sabri. His city Maarat al-Numan, the second biggest in Idlib, was re-captured on Tuesday in a major milestone for Assad’s stated goal of reclaiming all of Syria.

At the camp outside Maarat Misrin, a northern Idlib town about 20 km (12 miles) south of the Turkish frontier, dozens of families sheltered in plastic white tents, many unsure of where they would wind up.

Jennah, 10, said it was the second time her family had been displaced. Like many others, they had sought refuge in Idlib after being ousted from other areas earlier in the war.

“I was forcibly displaced from eastern Ghouta, and then we went to Maarat al-Numan and the Syrian regime launched a military campaign on Maarat al-Numan, so we came here.”

A United Nations report on Thursday estimated that 390,000 people have fled northwest Syria from Dec. 1-Jan. 27, 80% of them women and children.

Moscow and Damascus say they are fighting jihadist militants who have stepped up attacks on civilians in Aleppo in northern Syria, but rights groups and rescue workers say air strikes and shelling have demolished hospitals, schools and homes.

Turkey, which fears a fresh wave of migrants piling into it territory, adding to the more than 3.6 million Syrians already there, said on Friday it would not tolerate new threats near its border and would act militarily if needed.

Trucks crowded with civilians’ furniture, mattresses and rugs were seen on Friday hauling out of towns across much of Idlib and western Aleppo, another area of northern Syria hit hard over the past week.

“Today we are homeless, humiliated, oppressed and cold. We want to be returned to our homes and towns,” said a woman who called herself Um Abdallah, or Abdullah’s mother, 30, from Maarat al-Numan.Cold and humiliated, Syrians displaced yet again by new Assad campaign


Burger King says it never promised Impossible Whoppers were vegan

In a court filing on Thursday, Burger King said plaintiff Phillip Williams should have asked how Impossible Whoppers were cooked before ordering one that he said was “coated in meat by-products” at an Atlanta drive-through.

Burger King said reasonable customers would ask about its cooking methods, and Williams would have known he could request an alternative method had he done even “the smallest amount of investigation” on its website or by reading media reports.

Williams “assumed that an Impossible Whopper would satisfy his own particularly strict form of veganism ... solely because he asked a Burger King restaurant employee to ‘hold the mayo,’” Burger King said. “This claim has no basis.”
Lawyers for Williams did not respond on Friday to requests for comment.
Williams claimed in his Nov. 18 lawsuit in Miami federal court that Burger King “duped” him into buying the Impossible Whopper at a premium price and is seeking damages on behalf of all U.S. consumers who bought it.
Burger King is a unit of Toronto-based Restaurant Brands International Inc, which also owns the Canadian coffee and restaurant chain Tim Hortons and is overseen by Brazilian private equity firm 3G Capital.

Impossible Foods Inc, which helped create the Impossible Whopper, has said it was designed for meat eaters who want to consume less animal protein, not for vegans or vegetarians.

Burger King advertises the Impossible Whopper on its website at $4, down from its original suggested price of $5.59, and in mid-January added it to its two-for-$6 menu. In a statement, a spokesman said the product “continues to exceed expectations.”

The case is Williams v Burger King Corp, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida, No. 19-24755.


Record $4 billion Airbus fine draws line under 'pervasive' bribery


PARIS/LONDON/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Airbus bribed public officials and hid the payments as part of a pattern of worldwide corruption, prosecutors said on Friday as the European planemaker agreed a record $4 billion settlement with France, Britain and the United States.

The disclosures, made public after a nearly four-year investigation spanning sales to more than a dozen overseas markets, came as courts on both sides of the Atlantic formally approved settlements that lift a legal cloud that has hung over Europe’s largest aerospace group for years.

“It was a pervasive and pernicious bribery scheme in various divisions of Airbus SE that went on for a number of years,” U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan said.

The deal, effectively a corporate plea bargain, means Airbus has avoided criminal prosecution that would have risked it being barred from public contracts in the United States and European Union - a massive blow for a major defense and space supplier.

Prosecutors said individuals could still face criminal charges, however.

Airbus, whose shares closed down 1%, has been investigated by French and British authorities for alleged corruption over jet sales dating back more than a decade. It has also faced U.S. inquiries over suspected violations of U.S. export controls.

“In reaching this agreement today, we are helping Airbus to turn the page definitively” on corrupt past practices, French prosecutor Jean-Francois Bohnert said.

France’s financial prosecutor said the company had also agreed to three years “light compliance monitoring” by the country’s anti-corruption agency.

The U.S. Department of Justice said the deal was the largest ever foreign bribery settlement.


In a packed hearing at London’s Royal Courts of Justice, an Airbus lawyer said the settlements “draw a clear line under the investigation and under the grave historic practices”.

Outlining detailed findings, the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) said Airbus had hired the wife of a Sri Lankan Airlines executive as its intermediary and misled Britain’s UKEF export credit agency over her name and gender, while paying $2 million to her company. The airline could not be reached for comment.

On defense deals, Airbus hired and disguised payments to a close relative of a government official in Ghana with no aerospace experience in connection with a sale of military transport planes, the SFO said. Ghana’s government could not immediately be reached.

Court filings in Britain and the United States outlined efforts to keep relationships and payments secret, including the use of code names such as ‘Van Gogh’ and payments described as “medications and dosages prescribed by Dr Brown”.

The SFO said Airbus sponsored a sports team owned by AirAsia executives while negotiating airplane orders.

AirAsia officials have strongly denied any wrongdoing in connection with the 2012 sponsorship agreement between the Caterham Formula 1 racing team and Airbus’ then parent EADS.

AirAsia could not immediately be reached for comment.

The British investigation also identified bribery allegations involving Taiwan’s TransAsia Airways, Garuda Indonesia and Citilink Indonesia.

Garuda and Citilink did not immediately respond to requests for comment. TransAsia went bankrupt in 2018.

The U.S. court documents outlined bribery and lavish hospitality involving plane sales to China.


French and U.S. prosecutors said the settlement covered Airbus only as a company and any current or former employees involved in related crimes could still be open to prosecution.

“With this settlement we’ve completed a first phase ... we are now going to have to examine individual responsibilities,” French prosecutor Bohnert told reporters.

The UK’s SFO last year abandoned attempts to prosecute individuals following what was then a record bribery settlement with engine maker Rolls-Royce in 2017.

At the center of the Airbus case was a decades-old system of third-party sales agents run from a now-disbanded headquarters unit that at its height involved some 250 people and several hundreds of millions of euros of payments a year, sources familiar with the matter have said.

Airbus has said it halted payments in 2014 after discovering false statements on the use of agents to Britain’s’ export credit agency and later took its findings to UK authorities.

An internal investigation, which racked up legal bills of around 100 million euros a year, led to a board-driven clearout of top management and plunged Airbus into years of self-examination, hampering its sales efforts.

The probe also triggered an internal row over responsibility for lapses, with Airbus employees insisting they had no control over the choice of agents or offset deals handled under a separate entity, EADS, the former Airbus parent company.

Others say the system, whose roots go back decades to an era when payments to win deals were tolerated and tax-deductible, was an open secret in the company and French political circles where it was intertwined with influence-building abroad.

Airbus to pay around 1 billion euros in UK slice of global bribery settlement

LONDON (Reuters) - Airbus, the world’s largest aircraft maker, will pay just under 1 billion euros ($1.11 billion)in a British settlement to draw a line under a three-and-a-half year criminal investigation into allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption.

The deal under a three-year Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), ratified in London’s High Court on Friday, means the European planemaker avoids prosecution in London in a case that spanned transactions involving more than a dozen countries.

UK prosecutors said Airbus failed to prevent individuals associated with the company from bribery involving Malaysia’s AirAsia and AirAsia X, SriLankan Airlines, Taiwan’s TransAsia Airways, Garuda Indonesia and Citilink Indonesia. They said the case also involved the sale of military aircraft to Ghana.

Earlier on Friday France’s prosecutor said the plane maker would pay a total of 3.592 billion euros in global corruption fines once settlements are reached.

U.S. judge approves Airbus deferred prosecution agreement over bribery probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan on Friday approved a deal to resolve the Justice Department’s probe into charges airplane Airbus SE violated anti-bribery laws and export controls.

“It was a pervasive and pernicious bribery scheme in various divisions of Airbus SE that went on for a number of years,” Hogan said in court.

Under the deal, Airbus is paying about $4 billion worldwide. Airbus will pay the U.S. Treasury about $527 million, a U.S. prosecutor said in a court hearing Friday. Airbus will face oversight from an outside monitor. Prosecutors will not pursue criminal prosecution against the company over the next three years as long as they are in compliance with the agreement. 

Airbus says it's settled with U.S., Britain, France over corruption cases

By Clyde Hughes

If approved, the settlements would end years-long 
investigations of the planemaker involving reports of corruption and bribery. 

Jan. 28 (UPI) -- Airplane manufacturer Airbus announced on Tuesday it has reached settlements with British, French and United States authorities over accusations of bribery and corruption.

Toulouse, France-based Airbus said it couldn't give details of the agreements, but said settlements were reached in principle.

Investigations began in Britain and France more than three years ago following accusations of corruption involved in Airbus jet sales. An inquiry was similarly started in the United States over suspected violations of export controls.

Settlements with each of the three nations would still require court approval.

"These agreements are made in the context of investigations into allegations of bribery and corruption as well as compliance with the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations," Airbus said in a statement.

Analysts told The Financial Times Airbus could ultimately pay more than $3 billion in fines -- possibly surpassing the $738.5 million plea bargain to settle similar charges with Rolls-Royce in 2017.

Since the start of the investigations, most of Airbus's top management team have been replaced or retired -- including former CEO Tom Enders, who was one of several people investigated in 2017 by Austrian authorities in a separate case.


Alleged leader of Iraqi al Qaeda group arrested in Arizona

(Reuters) - A man accused of killing two police officers while acting as the leader of an al Qaeda group in the Iraqi city of Fallujah was arrested in Phoenix, Arizona, federal officials said on Friday.

Ali Yousif Ahmed Al-Nouri, 42, is wanted in Iraq on charges of premeditated murder of the Iraqi police officers in 2006, according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Arizona.

An Iraqi judge issued a warrant for Al-Nouri’s arrest and the government there issued an extradition request to the U.S. Justice Department, the statement said.

The Justice Department sought an arrest warrant for Al-Nouri and he was taken into custody on Thursday in Phoenix.

He appeared before a federal magistrate judge in Phoenix on Friday in connection with proceedings to extradite him to Iraq, the statement said.

According to the Iraqi government, al-Nouri was the leader of an al Qaeda group in Fallujah which planned operations targeting Iraqi police.

The statement noted the details in the Iraqi complaint were allegations that had yet to been proven in court.

Al-Nouri’s extradition would have to be certified by the U.S. court and the U.S. Secretary of State would then decide whether to surrender him to Iraq, the statement said.

It was not immediately possible to contact Al-Nouri for comment or determine whether he had hired a lawyer.

The statement did not provide information on when Al-Nouri entered the United States or how long he had lived in Phoenix.

Reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Lincoln Feast.
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

U.S. envoy warns Palestinians against raising opposition to U.S. peace plan at U.N.

Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft warned the Palestinians on Friday that bringing their displeasure with the U.S. peace plan to the world body would only “repeat the failed pattern of the last seven decades.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will speak in the U.N. Security Council in the next two weeks about the plan, Palestinian U.N. envoy Riyad Mansour said on Wednesday, adding that he hoped the 15-member council would also vote on a draft resolution on the issue.

However, the United States is certain to veto any such resolution, diplomats said. That would allow the Palestinians to take the draft text to the 193-member U.N. General Assembly, where a vote would publicly show how the Trump administration’s peace plan has been received internationally.

Craft said that while the Palestinians’ initial reaction to the plan was anticipated, “why not instead take that displeasure and channel it into negotiations?”

“Bringing that displeasure to the United Nations does nothing but repeat the failed pattern of the last seven decades. Let’s avoid those traps and instead take a chance on peace,” she told Reuters.

Craft said the United States was ready to facilitate talks and that she was “happy to play any role” that contributes to the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan unveiled by U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday.

Mansour said on Thursday: “There is not a single Palestinian official (who) will meet with American officials now after they submitted an earthquake, the essence of it the destruction of the national aspirations of the Palestinian people. This is unacceptable.”

Israel’s U.N. mission signaled on Tuesday that it was preparing for the Palestinians to pursue U.N. action, saying in a statement that it was “working to thwart these efforts, and will lead a concerted diplomatic campaign with the U.S.”

Former Belgian-Nicaraguan political prisoner calls for probe into Ortega government

MANAGUA (Reuters) - Nicaragua’s best known former political prisoner, Amaya Coppens, is calling for international organizations to investigate alleged abuses by the government of President Daniel Ortega.

Coppens, 25, a Belgian-Nicaraguan dual national, was a key figure in the anti-government street protests that swept across Nicaragua in April 2018 before being quelled by police and paramilitary forces. About 325 people died in the unrest.

Coppens spent seven months in prison after police raided a hideout used by protesters and activists in September 2018. She alleges she was punched and psychologically tortured in prison, while others were physically tortured.

Coppens became Nicaragua’s most high profile street protester in detention after her case was highlighted by Belgium and the European Union. After her release she become a prominent activist and vocal critic of Ortega.

Nicaragua’s government, which denies harming prisoners, charged Coppens with “terrorism” offences but freed her last June as part of an amnesty.

Coppens, in an interview with Reuters, called for international groups to probe the government, which she said was “violated and trampled” the human rights of Nicaraguans.

“We are demanding that international organizations come to investigate what happened here,” Coppens said in the capital Managua.

“The cases of torture are not isolated and continue to occur in prisons,” she said.

The government did not respond to a request for comment.

Coppens was arrested again in November after bringing water to a group of mothers who were on a hunger strike to highlight their children’s continued detention by the Ortega government.

She was charged with firearms trafficking offences but the case was suspended on Thursday.

Brazilians sent to Mexico by U.S. say they don't understand why

Jose Luis Gonzalez

CIUDAD JUAREZ (Reuters) - Bewildered, sad and disappointed, Brazilians migrants sent from the United States to Mexico this week were left wondering how they had ended up in another country whose language they do not understand.

The United States on Wednesday began sending some Brazilian migrants who had crossed the border with Mexico back there to await their U.S. court hearings under a program known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP).

It is one of several moves by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump aimed at reducing the number of people seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. Since the program began a year ago, more than 57,000 non-Mexican migrants have been returned to Mexico.

“I don’t understand why I was sent here,” said Brazilian migrant Tania Costa, adding that she did not understand Spanish and had been unable to communicate with Mexican officials. “Why did they return me to Mexico and not Brazil?

She said U.S. officials had not explained to her that she would be sent to Mexico. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ten Brazilian migrants were sent to Mexico under MPP on Wednesday, according to Enrique Valenzuela, who heads the civil protection services in Chihuahua state. The program was previously limited to Spanish speakers.

Among them were Costa and her six-year old daughter. They had left Belo Horizonte in the southwestern state Minas Gerais, Brazil just over a week ago, she said.

“I had heard of people who managed, so I tried as well,” she said. “I had a court date, everything was scheduled, but they didn’t let me stay there.”

She was getting death threats because of her inability to pay her debt, she said, and that she had no job. “They said since we don’t want to go back to Brazil, because we’re being threatened, then we have to return to Mexico,” she said.

U.S. Border Patrol caught roughly 17,900 Brazilians at the southwestern border with Mexico in the last fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 2018. The figure was a sharp increase from 1,500 arrests a year earlier.

“I would like to return to the United States,” said Costa. “They gave us a court date, but in April. And we have no way to get back to Brazil.”

U.S. farm bankruptcies hit an eight-year high: court data

P.J. Huffstutter

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. farm bankruptcy rates jumped 20% in 2019 - to an eight-year high - as financial woes in the U.S. agricultural economy continued in spite of massive federal bail-out funding, according to federal court data.

According to data released this week by the United States Courts, family farmers filed 595 Chapter 12 bankruptcies in 2019, up from 498 filings a year earlier. The data also shows that such filings - known as “family farmer” bankruptcies - have steadily increased every year for the past five years.

Farmers across the nation also have retired or sold their farms because of the financial strains, changing the face of Midwestern towns and concentrating the business in fewer hands.

“I just had a farmer contact me last week, telling me he can’t get financing for his inputs this year and he doesn’t know what to do,” said Charles E. Covey, a bankruptcy attorney based in Peoria, Illinois.

Chapter 12 is a part of the federal bankruptcy code that is designed for family farmers and fishermen to restructure their debts. It was created during the 1980s farm crisis as a simple court procedure to let family farmers keep operating while working out a plan to repay lenders.

The increase in cases had been somewhat expected, bankruptcy experts and agricultural economists said, as farmers face trade battles, ever-mounting farm debt, prolonged low commodity prices, volatile weather patterns and a fatal pig disease that has decimated China’s herd.

Even billions of dollars spent over the past two years in government agricultural assistance has not stemmed the bleeding.

Nearly one-third of projected U.S. net farm income in 2019 came from government aid and taxpayer-subsidized commodity insurance payments, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The court data indicates those supports did help prevent a more serious economic fallout, said John Newton, chief economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Some of the biggest bankruptcy rate increases were seen in regions, such as apple growers in the Pacific Northwest, that did not receive much or any of the latest round of trade aid from the Trump administration.

The bankruptcy data “signals that things have not turned around,” said John Newton, chief economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation. “We still have supply and demand uncertainty. If we see prolonged low prices, I wouldn’t expect this trend to slow down.”US farmers are filing for bankruptcy at the highest rate since 2011

Gina Heeb Jan. 30, 2020

Julie Pace/AP Photo

An increasing number of American farmers struggled to make ends meet in 2019.
There were 595 Chapter 12 farm bankruptcies filed last year, according to court filings reviewed by the American Farm Bureau, a 20% increase from 2018.

Trade tensions have added to a range of growing challenges in the sector, from severe weather to low commodity prices.

An increasing number of American farmers struggled to make ends meet in 2019 as trade tensions added to a range of growing challenges in the sector, from severe weather to low commodity prices.

There were 595 Chapter 12 farm bankruptcies filed last year, according to court filings reviewed by the American Farm Bureau, a 20% increase from 2018. That was the highest level since 2011 when the nation was still in recovery following the Great Recession.

The rise in farm bankruptcies came even as President Donald Trump ramped up a nearly $28 billion subsidy program for agricultural producers hurt by trade disputes. The program included direct payments to mitigate losses of grain and pork exports, which fell sharply as the Trump administration escalated tariff standoffs with China and US allies.

Farm-related income from crop and livestock sales would have been at the second-lowest level in the last decade without that program in 2019, according to the American Farm Bureau. Midwestern farmers also faced record flooding last year.

But farmers have grown more optimistic in recent weeks. Trump signed a revised version of the North American Free Trade Agreement on Wednesday, which was expected to increase Canadian dairy market access for American farmers. As part of a separate trade truce, China said this month it would increase purchases of food products from the US.

"Farm financial conditions in 2020 will come down to – notwithstanding any other black swans – a race between the additional grain and oilseed supplies … and any demand boosts for US agriculture that results from these new and enhanced trading opportunities," the farm group said in a statement.

Trump declared on Twitter in early January that farmers were "really happy" with the two new trade agreements but sought to highlight efforts to soften the blow of two years of trade tensions.

"I hope the thing they will most remember is the fact that I was able to take massive incoming Tariff money and use it to help them get through the tough times!" he added.


Declaring That 'Disability Rights Are Civil Rights,' Sanders Unveils 'Most Progressive' Plan of 2020 Field

"Every person with a disability deserves the right to live in their community and have the support they need to thrive."
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks to 
the crowd during the 2019 South Carolina Democratic Party State Convention
 on June 22, 2019 in Columbia, South Carolina. 
(Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Friday unveiled a comprehensive plan to safeguard and strengthen the rights of people with disabilities that advocates celebrated as the "most progressive" proposal put forth so far by any 2020 Democratic presidential primary candidate.
"Disability rights will factor into virtually every area of policy-making in a Bernie Sanders administration."
—Sanders campaign
Recognizing that people with disabilities have long fought to be included and treated equally in the United States, the Sanders plan declares that "it's time for us to acknowledge that disability rights are civil rights, and that a society that does not center the voices and needs of people with disabilities has yet to fulfill its most basic obligations."
"As we near the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we need a president who will champion both protecting and expanding the rights of the tens of millions of Americans with disabilities," the proposal continues. "Disability rights will factor into virtually every area of policy-making in a Bernie Sanders administration."
Through both executive action and legislative policy, Sanders would advance disability rights, in part by rolling back attacks from the Trump administration, such as by reversing the "cruel eligibility rule" for the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. A Sanders administration would work to end wait lists and expand those benefits by "putting a stop to SSI's draconian asset test and marriage penalty, and raising the SSI benefit level to 125 percent of the poverty level, lifting millions out of poverty."
Sanders' sweeping disability plan addresses everything from healthcare, housing, and education to transportation, jobs and wages, and voting rights. As president Sanders, would "create a National Office of Disability Coordination, run by a person with a disability, focused on coordinating and making disability policy to advance the full inclusion of people with disabilities" and work to pass the Disability Integration Act.
The plan "places particular priority on the humanitarian crisis in our country created by the incarceration of people with mental illness." Sanders would use executive authority to leverage the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Olmstead decision, which found that unjustifiably segregating of people with disabilities in institutions is illegal, "to ensure states fund the voluntary, community-based mental health services that can save lives and keep people in the community." He would also pressure states to eliminate waiting lists for home and community-based services.
"Every person with a disability deserves the right to live in their community and have the support they need to thrive," Sanders said in a statement. "This right must be available to all, free of waiting lists and means tests. It is our moral responsibility to make it happen."
TIME reported Friday that "while disability rights advocates have expressed some support for many of the other Democratic candidates' proposals—particularly Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren's, which was released earlier this month—Sanders' plan is the most ambitious."
Rebecca Cokley, director of the Center for American Progress' Disability Justice Initiative, told TIME that "starting off with community integration shows that the Sanders campaign is clearly in touch with the energy and priorities of the grassroots."
Cokley has advised various 2020 candidates on their disability plans, including Sanders and Warren, who once worked as a special education teacher. One element of Sanders' plan that stood out to Cokley is the climate element: "I'm struck by Sanders' ability to think through how to make the Green New Deal inclusive of the disability community."
In addition to incorporating his Green New Deal, Sanders' disability plan also connects to other pieces of his presidential platform—including his Housing for AllJobs for AllMedicare for All, and public education proposals. Sanders would ensure that the federal government provides 50% of funding for students with disabilities, going beyond the 40% commitment established with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
"It is by far the most progressive disability plan in the field. It's particularly amazing how it takes such a firm stance against mental health institutionalization and coercive treatment," Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán, a disability justice advocate who also helped with Sanders' proposal, told The Hill. The outlet noted that she previously raised concerns about mental healthcare provisions proposed by Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who has since left the primary race.
"This is an issue of fundamental civil rights."
—Bernie Sanders
Sanders' new plan—released ahead of the Iowa caucuses, the nation's first nominating contest, on Monday—came as new national polling showed the senator in a "dead heat" with former Vice President Joe Biden, who has not yet released a disability plan.
In a lengthy Twitter thread Friday, health policy expert Ari Ne'eman, who helped develop Sanders' plan, pointed out that one of the executive actions would include "unwinding Iowa's disastrous Medicaid Managed Care implementation."
"As Iowans have discovered," the plan says, "handing over control of Medicaid-funded disability and aging services to for-profit companies puts people with disabilities and older Americans at serious risk." Sanders would instruct the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to reject renewals and new proposals to put such services under the control of for-profit organizations.
"Nearly thirty years after the ADA, it is unacceptable that people with disabilities do not enjoy full equality and inclusion everywhere in America, and we will not wait to advance disability rights," Sanders said Friday. "This is an issue of fundamental civil rights."