U.S. judge approves injunction to delay WeChat restrictions

WeChat users had argued that strict limits on the Chinese-owned payment and messaging app would violate free-speech rights of Chinese-speaking Americans. (Petar Kujundzic/Reuters) A U.S. federal judge has approved a request from a group of WeChat users to delay looming U.S. government restrictions that could effectively make the popular app nearly impossible to use. In a ruling dated Saturday, Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in California said the government's actions would affect users' First Amendment rights as an effective ban on the app removes their platform for communication. WeChat is a messaging-focused app popular with many Chinese-speaking Americans that serves as a lifeline to friends, family, customers and business contacts in China. It's owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent. A group of WeChat users had made the request after the U.S. Commerce Department said Friday it would bar WeChat from U.S. app stores and keep it from accessing essential internet services in the country, beginning Sunday night at 11:59 p.m. The government cited national security and data-privacy concerns in taking action against WeChat and imposing similar restrictions on TikTok, another popular Chinese-owned app. The restrictions on TikTok were pushed back by a week Saturday after President Donald Trump said he supported a proposed deal that would make TikTok a U.S. company. WeChat users had argued the moves targeting the all-in-one app with instant-messaging, social media and other communication tools would restrict free speech. In the ruling, the court said that a WeChat ban "eliminates all meaningful access to communication in the plaintiffs' community," and that an injunction would be in the public interest. The U.S. government had earlier argued that it is not restricting free speech because WeChat users still "are free to speak on alternative platforms that do not pose a national security threat." Specific evidence about WeChat posing a national security threat was also "modest," according to Judge Beeler. The dispute over the two apps is the latest flashpoint in the rising tensions between the world's two largest economies, as the Trump administration attempts to counter the influence of China. Since taking office in 2017, Trump has waged a trade war with China, blocked mergers involving Chinese companies and stifled the business of Chinese firms like Huawei, a maker of phones and telecom equipment.

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Thai protesters reinstall plaque symbolizing democracy

A pro-democracy supporter fixes a plaque that declares, 'This country belongs to the people,' during a protest in Bangkok on Sunday. (Wason Wanichakorn/The Associated Press) Anti-government demonstrators occupying a historic field in the Thai capital on Sunday installed a plaque symbolizing the country's transition to democracy to replace the original one that was mysteriously ripped out and stolen three years ago, as they vowed to press on with calls for new elections and reform of the monarchy. The mass student-led rally that began Saturday was the largest in a series of protests this year, with thousands camping overnight at Sanam Luang field near the Grand Palace in Bangkok. A group of activists drilled a hole in front of a makeshift stage and, after Buddhist rituals, laid down a round brass plaque in cement to commemorate the 1932 revolution that changed Thailand from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. "At the dawn of Sept. 20, here is where the people proclaim that this country belongs to the people," reads part of the inscription on the plaque. In April 2017, the original plaque vanished from Bangkok's Royal Plaza and was replaced by one praising the monarchy. "The nation does not belong to only one person, but belongs to us all," student leader Parit "Penguin" Chirawak told the crowd. "Therefore, I would like to ask holy spirits to stay with us and bless the people's victory." Pro-democracy protesters sit on the road during a march near Sanam Luang in Bangkok on Sunday. (Gemunu Amarasinghe/The Associated Press) Another activist, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, said their demands do not propose getting rid of the monarchy. "They are proposals with good intentions to make the institution of the monarchy remain graciously above the people under democratic rule," Panusaya said. Still, such calls took the nation by surprise. Protesters' demands seek to limit the king's powers, establish tighter controls on palace finances and allow open discussion of the monarchy. Their boldness was unprecedented, as the monarchy is considered sacrosanct in Thailand, with a harsh law that mandates a three- to 15-year prison term for defaming it. The protesters later attempted to march toward the Grand Palace to hand over a petition seeking royal reforms to the head of the Privy Council, the king's advisers, but were blocked by police barricades. One of them, Panusaya, was allowed to deliver the petition, which was addressed to the king. It was received by a police official, who promised to forward it to the council. Just before the rally ended, Parit called for a general strike on Oct. 14, the anniversary of a popular student uprising in 1973 that ended a military dictatorship after dozens were killed by police. He also called for another protest Thursday outside parliament to follow up on their demands. 'Calling for democracy' Organizers had predicted that as many as 50,000 people would take part in the weekend's protest, but Associated Press reporters estimated that around 20,000 were present by Saturday evening. "By holding their protest on Sanam Luang — a long-time site of recreation and protest for the people, taken over in recent years by the monarchy — the protestors have won a significant victory," said Tyrell Haberkorn, a Thai studies scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Their resounding message is that Sanam Luang, and the country, belong to the people." The crowd were a disparate batch. They included an LGBTQ contingent waving iconic rainbow banners while red flags sprouted across the area, representing Thailand's Red Shirt political movement, which battled the country's military in Bangkok's streets 10 years ago. There were skits and music, and speakers gave fiery speeches late Saturday accusing the government of incompetence, corruption in the military and failing to protect women's rights. At least 8,000 police officers were reportedly deployed for the event. "The people who came here today came here peacefully and are really calling for democracy," said Panupong Jadnok, one of the protest leaders. Police officers guard the area surrounding the Grand Palace during a protest in Bangkok on Sunday. The student-led rallies that began Saturday are the largest in a series of protests this year to back demands for new elections and reform of the monarchy. (Wason Wanichakorn/The Associated Press) Their core demands were the dissolution of parliament with fresh elections, a new constitution and an end to intimidation of political activists. They believe that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who as army commander led a 2014 coup toppling an elected government, was returned to power unfairly in last year's general election because the laws had been changed to favour a pro-military party. Protesters say a constitution promulgated under military rule is undemocratic. Red Shirts link movement to rural Thais The students are too young to have been caught up in the sometimes violent partisan battles that roiled Thailand a decade ago, said Kevin Hewison, a University of North Carolina professor emeritus and a veteran Thai studies scholar. "What the regime and its supporters see is relatively well-off kids turned against them and this confounds them," he said. The crowd in front of the Grand Palace. (Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images) The appearance of the Red Shirts, while boosting the protest numbers, links the new movement to mostly poor rural Thais, supporters of former populist billionaire Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup. Thaksin was opposed by the country's traditional royalist establishment. The sometimes violent struggle between Thaksin's supporters and the conservative foes left Thai society polarized. Thaksin, who now lives in exile, noted on Twitter on Saturday that it was the anniversary of his fall from power and posed the rhetorical question of how the nation had fared since then. "If we had a good government, a democratic government, our politics, our education and our health-care system would be better than this," said protester Amorn Panurang. "This is our dream. And we hope that our dream will come true." Arrests for earlier actions on charges including sedition have failed to faze the young activists. They had been denied permission to enter the Thammasat University campus and Sanam Luang on Saturday, but when they pushed, the authorities retreated, even though police warned them that they were breaking the law.

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Thai protesters hold massive rally to push demands for democratic reforms

Pro-democracy protester Panupong Jadnok prepares to open an entrance gate of Thammasat University during Saturday's protest in Bangkok. (Sakchai Lalit/The Associated Press) Thousands of demonstrators defied police warnings and occupied a historic field in Thailand's capital on Saturday to support the demands of a student-led protest movement for new elections and reform of the monarchy. Organizers predicted that as many as 50,000 people would take part in the two-day protest in an area of Bangkok historically associated with political protests. A march is planned for Sunday. The early arrivals at Sanam Luang, a large field that has hosted major political demonstrations for decades, were a disparate batch, several with their own flags. An LGBTQ contingent waved their iconic rainbow banners, while red flags sprouted across the area, representing Thailand's Red Shirt political movement, which battled the country's military in Bangkok's streets 10 years ago. By the time the main speakers took the stage in the evening, Associated Press reporters estimated that about 20,000 people were present. People were still arriving as the nighttime program continued. As the evening progressed, there were skits, music and speakers on the stage. They touched on such issues as the alleged incompetence of the government, corruption in the military and women's rights. An estimated 20,000 people protested in Thailand's capital on Saturday against the government of former coup leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, with many demonstrators also calling for reforms to the monarchy. (Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images) The Grand Palace complex, a famous tourist destination whose golden highlights are dramatically lit at night, could be seen behind the side of the field opposite from the stage. At least 8,000 police officers reportedly were deployed for the event, which attracted the usual scores of food and souvenir vendors. "The people who came here today came here peacefully and are really calling for democracy," said Panupong Jadnok, one of the protest leaders. "The police have called in several companies of officers. I believe they can make sure the people are safe." Thailand continues to make history. The largest protest since 2014 in Sanam Luang, in front of the Grand Palace, a place where it was unthinkable to do something like that#19กันยาทวงอํานาจคืนราษฏร pic.twitter.com/8VbSop5VSU —@Laura_chiclana Demonstrators wore face masks but ignored a Thursday night plea from Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to cancel the event, which he said risked spreading the coronavirus and derailing the recovery of Thailand's battered economy. The core demands declared by the protesters in July were the dissolution of parliament with fresh elections, a new constitution and an end to intimidation of political activists. They have held a series of rallies since then. Claims pro-military party favoured They believe that Prayuth, who as then-army commander led a 2014 coup toppling an elected government, was returned to power unfairly in last year's general election because the laws had been changed to favour a pro-military party. A constitution promulgated under military rule is likewise undemocratic, they charge. The activists raised the stakes dramatically at an Aug. 10 rally by issuing a 10-point manifesto calling for reforming the monarchy. Their demands seek to limit the king's powers, establish tighter controls on palace finances and allow open discussion of the monarchy. Their boldness was virtually unprecedented, as the monarchy is considered sacrosanct in Thailand. A lèse-majesté (do wrong to majesty) law calls for a prison sentence of three to 15 years for anyone found guilty of defaming the royal institution. The students are too young to have been caught up in the sometimes violent partisan political battles that roiled Thailand a decade ago, Kevin Hewison, a University of North Carolina professor emeritus and a veteran Thai studies scholar, said in an email interview. "This is why they look and act differently and why they are so confounding for the regime," Hewison said. "What the regime and its supporters see is relatively well-off kids turned against them, and this confounds them." The appearance of the Red Shirts, besides boosting the protesters' numbers, links the new movement to the political battling that Thailand endured for a large part of the last two decades. The Red Shirts were a movement of mostly poor rural Thais who supported populist billionaire prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra after the army ousted him in a 2006 coup. Thaksin was opposed by the country's traditional royalist establishment. The sometimes violent subsequent struggle between Thaksin's supporters and foes left Thai society polarized. Thaksin, who now lives in exile overseas, noted on Twitter on Saturday that it was the anniversary of his fall from power and posed the rhetorical question of how the nation had fared since then. "If we had a good government, a democratic government, our politics, our education and our health-care system would be better than this," said protester Amorn Panurang. "This is our dream. And we hope that our dream would come true." Anti-government protesters storm through a police barricade during Saturday's rally at Sanam Luang, a large field that has hosted major political demonstrations for decades. (Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images) Arrests for earlier actions on charges including sedition have failed to faze the young activists. They had been denied permission to enter the Thammasat University campus and Sanam Luang on Saturday, but when they pushed, the authorities retreated, even though police warned them that they were breaking the law. Students launched the protest movement in February with rallies at universities around the country in reaction to a court ruling that dissolved the popular Future Forward Party and banned its leaders from political activity for 10 years. The party won the third-most seats in last year's general election with an anti-establishment stance that attracted younger voters, and it is widely seen as being targeted for its popularity and for being critical of the government and the military. Public protests were suspended in March when Thailand had its first major outbreak of the coronavirus and the government declared a state of emergency to cope with the crisis. The emergency decree is still in effect, but critics allege that it is used to curb dissent. Royalists have expressed shock at the students' talk about the monarchy, but actual blowback so far has been minor, with only halfhearted organizing efforts by mostly older royalists.

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Tropical storm Beta spurs hurricane fears in Texas

Here are the 10 AM CDT Key Messages for #Beta. pic.twitter.com/TPHxdsqPHH —@NHC_Atlantic An exceptionally busy Atlantic hurricane season was churning along Saturday as the Texas coast prepared for a tropical storm that's forecast to strengthen into a hurricane before breaching its shores in the week ahead. Both the city of Galveston and Galveston County on Saturday issued voluntary evacuation orders ahead of tropical storm Beta. Mayor Pro Tem Craig Brown said in a statement that high tides and up to 25 centimetres of expected rainfall would leave roads impassable, especially along the city's west end and low-lying areas. County Judge Mark Henry said during a Saturday news conference that his concern is also based on rising waters creating a storm surge and that a mandatory evacuation is not expected. "If you can survive in your home for three or four days without power and electricity, which we're not even sure that's going to happen, you're OK," Henry said. "If it's uncomfortable or you need life support equipment, maybe go somewhere else." Major Hurricane Teddy and Tropical Storm Beta will produce swells, rough surf and rip currents along portions of the East and Gulf Coasts and during the next few days. https://t.co/meemB5d6ch pic.twitter.com/T6YChp1fT6 —@NWS Tropical storm Beta was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, 495 kilometres east-southeast of Corpus Christi, Texas, and 395 kilometres south of Lake Charles, La., the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in an advisory. The system was forecast to become a hurricane on Sunday and triggered a tropical storm warning from Port Aransas, Texas, to Intracoastal City, La. In Lake Charles, La., where thousands of people remain without power more than three weeks after Hurricane Laura slammed into the coast, there are concerns that Beta could super-soak the region once again. Up to 15 centimetres is possible in some parts of the area, Donald Jones, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Lake Charles, said in a Saturday briefing. "A lot of people have been saying, `Is this going to be like Harvey? Is this going to be like Imelda?'" Jones said. "We're not talking about rainfall totals yet that are on the orders of magnitude that we saw with that." Imelda, which struck southeast Texas in 2019, was one of the wettest cyclones on record. Harvey dumped more than 127 cm of rain on Houston in 2017. However, if the storm ends up moving a bit slower than what's being forecast now, rainfall totals could be even higher than 50 cm, Jones said. "Harvey was a very specific and unique event, but we are talking about the same idea in terms of very heavy, heavy rainfall," he said. ⚠️ TROPICAL STORM WARNING⚠️ HURRICANE WATCH⚠️ STORM SURGE WATCHFor coastal portions of Harris County. .Forecasts for #BETA continues to change but the time to #prepare is NOW. 👉 Fill gas tanks 👉 Review plans👉 Stock kitsText BETA to 888777 for emergency alerts.#HouWX pic.twitter.com/sHjVSPk4BI —@ReadyHarris Beta had maximum sustained winds at 95 km/h and was moving northwest at three km/h. Forecasters were predicting up to 1.2 metres of storm surge along parts of the Texas coast that included Baffin Bay, Corpus Christi Bay, Galveston Bay and others. Wind, heavy rainfall and life-threatening surf and rip current conditions were also expected with the storm. Forecasters ran out of traditional storm names on Friday, forcing the use of the Greek alphabet for only the second time since the 1950s. Hurricane Teddy could reach Nova Scotia Meanwhile, Hurricane Teddy remained a powerful hurricane on Saturday, with maximum sustained winds at 195 km/h and moving northwest at 22 km/h. Teddy was centred 825 kilometres southeast of Bermuda less than a week after Hurricane Paulette made landfall in the wealthy British territory. A tropical storm warning was in effect for Bermuda. Large swells from Teddy were forecast to impact the Lesser Antilles, the Greater Antilles, the Bahamas, Bermuda and the U.S. East Coast. According to Environment Canada, Teddy is currently a Category 3 and is expected to slowly advance north over the next two days, passing east of Bermuda on Monday. That is when it will begin to accelerate toward Nova Scotia. It could reach the waters south of Nova Scotia on Tuesday as a Category 2 hurricane. WATCH | How Nova Scotia is preparing for Hurricane Teddy: Nova Scotia Power describes their plans for the upcoming hurricane set to hit N.S. on Tuesday 2:25 Parts of the Alabama coast and Florida Panhandle were still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Sally, which roared ashore on Wednesday. At least two deaths were blamed on the system, and hundreds of thousands of people were still without power late Friday. Misty Rae and Drew Ruthrauff were celebrating their sixth wedding anniversary as they cleaned up the damage at their Navarre, Fla., home. Everything in the couple's garage was destroyed, including their jeep and boxes of childhood memorabilia. "It's not really how we thought we were going to spend [our anniversary], but we're together and we're happy still," Drew Ruthrauff told the Pensacola News-Journal. "We're gonna get through this together and be better for it."

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Ethiopia charges prominent critic with terrorism-related offences

Opposition figure Jawar Mohammed is seen during an interview with The Associated Press at his house in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in October 2019. (Mulugeta Ayene/The Associated Press) Ethiopia has charged its most prominent opposition figure, Jawar Mohammed, and 23 others with terrorism-related offences, telecom fraud and other crimes, the attorney general's office announced Saturday. They could face life in prison if convicted. They are scheduled to appear in court on Monday. The charges relate to deadly violence that erupted in July in parts of the capital, Addis Ababa, and the Oromia region after the killing of singer Hachalu Hundessa, a prominent voice in anti-government protests that led to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed coming to power in 2018. Authorities said more than 180 people were killed in July's unrest. Jawar, a media mogul-turned-politician, has huge support among youth in the Oromia region and returned to Ethiopia after Abiy took office and urged exiles to come home amid sweeping political reforms that led to him receiving the Nobel Peace Prize last year. The Oromo make up Ethiopia's largest ethnic group but had never held the country's top post until they helped bring Abiy to power. Now ethnic tensions and intercommunal violence are posing a growing challenge to his reforms. Jawar has become fiercely critical of the Ethiopian leader, most recently over the postponement of the general election once planned for August because of the coronavirus pandemic. The government's mandate expires late next month, and a new election date has not been set. Jawar has been detained since he and several thousand people were arrested during the July violence. His lawyers have repeatedly asserted he was locked up because of his political views and have called for his release. His lawyer, Tuli Bayissa, told The Associated Press that the charges astonished the legal team, and he couldn't comment on them because he found out only by reading the official announcement on social media. "This is unethical. I haven't heard anything like this," he said. He expects to receive details at Monday's court appearance. The coffin of Ethiopian singer Hachalu Hundessa is carried during his funeral in Ambo, Ethiopia, on July 2. (OBN via The Associated Press) Human rights groups have warned that such arrests show that Abiy's political reforms are slipping. Youth in Oromia have staged a number of recent protests calling for the release of political prisoners, including one in late August that left "scores" of people dead, according to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and witnesses who spoke to the AP. Abiy, in an opinion piece published this week in The Economist, wrote that "individuals and groups, disaffected by the transformations taking place, are using everything at their disposal to derail them. They are harvesting the seeds of inter-ethnic and inter-religious division and hatred." He rejected "dangerous demagogues." The prime minister also acknowledged alleged abuses by security forces during the bouts of unrest, saying that "given the institutions we have inherited, we realize that law-enforcement activities entail a risk of human-rights violations and abuse." Security reforms take time, he said.

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Trump urges Senate to vote 'without delay' on his U.S. Supreme Court pick, 6 weeks before election

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday, attends Georgetown Law's second annual Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lecture on Oct. 30, 2019, in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press) U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday urged the Republican-run Senate to consider "without delay" his upcoming nomination to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just six weeks before the election. The White House was making preparations to select a nominee for the seat held by Ginsburg, who spent her final years on the bench as the unquestioned leader of the court's liberal wing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, vowed on Friday night, hours after Ginsburg's death, to call a vote for whomever Trump nominated. Democrats said Republicans should follow the precedent they set in 2016 by not considering a Supreme Court choice in the run-up to an election. Trump made his view clear in a tweet Saturday: "We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices. We have this obligation, without delay!" .@GOP We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices. We have this obligation, without delay! —@realDonaldTrump Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said any vote should come after the Nov. 3 election. "Voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice to consider," he said. The impending clash over the vacant seat — when to fill it and with whom — is sure to significantly affect the stretch run of the presidential race, further stirring passions in a nation already reeling from the pandemic that has killed nearly 200,000 people, left millions unemployed and heightened partisan tensions and anger. McConnell, who sets the calendar in the Senate and has made judicial appointments his priority, declared unequivocally in a statement that Trump's nominee would receive a confirmation vote in the chamber. In 2016, McConnell refused to consider then-president Barack Obama's choice for the high court months ahead of the election, eventually preventing a vote. As the nation learned of Ginsburg's death on Friday at the age of 87, Trump was unaware, speaking for more than an hour and a half at a Minnesota rally without mentioning it. He huddled with aides after stepping off stage but acted surprised when he spoke with reporters moments later, saying he did not know she had died. The president told reporters that Ginsburg was "an amazing woman who led an amazing life." Aides had worried how the Minnesota crowd would react if Trump mentioned her death from the stage, according to a White House official not authorized to publicly discuss private deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity. President Donald Trump speaks about the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at Bemidji Regional Airport in Minnesota after a campaign rally on Friday. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press) But Trump had noted in his rally speech that the next presidential term could offer him as many as four appointments to the nine-member court, whose members are confirmed for life. "This is going to be the most important election in the history of our country, and we have to get it right," he added. A confirmation vote in the Senate is not guaranteed, even with a Republican majority. McConnell has not indicated if he will bring a vote before the election. Photos Life of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Typically it takes several months to vet and hold hearings on a Supreme Court nominee, and time is short ahead of the election. Key senators may be reluctant to cast votes so close to the election. With a slim Republican majority, 53 seats in the 100-member chamber, Trump's choice could afford to lose only a few. McConnell did not specify the timing, but trying for confirmation in a post-election lame-duck session if Trump had lost to Biden or Republicans had lost the Senate would carry further political complications. Democrats immediately denounced McConnell's move as hypocritical, pointing out that he refused to call hearings for Merrick Garland, Obama's pick, 237 days before the 2016 election. The 2020 election is 46 days away. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, in a tweet, echoed word for word what McConnell said in 2016 about the Garland nomination: "The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president." The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president. —@SenSchumer Trump said last month that he would "absolutely" try to fill a vacancy if one came up before the end of his first term. "I would move quickly, " Trump said in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. "Why not? I mean, they would. The Democrats would if they were in this position." Unveiled list of possible nominees Trump last week added 20 names to his list of candidates he's pledged to choose from if he has future vacancies to fill. He contrasted his list with unnamed "radical justices" he claimed Biden would nominate who would "fundamentally transform America without a single vote of Congress." Trump released a similar list in 2016 in a bid to win over conservative and evangelical voters who had doubts about his conservative credentials. Among those on his current list: senators Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton, former solicitor general Noel Francisco and Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, long a favourite of conservatives. The average number of days to confirm a justice, according to the Congressional Research Service, is 69, which would be after the election. But some Republicans quickly noted that Ginsburg was confirmed in just 42 days. Four Republican defections could defeat a nomination, while a tie vote could be broken by Vice-President Mike Pence. Romney could join defectors' vote Among the senators to watch are Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah and others. Collins is in a tight race for her own re-election, as are several other Republican senators, including Cory Gardner in Colorado. Murkowski and Romney have been critical of Trump and protective of the institution of the Senate. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is in a tight race for her own re-election, as are several other Republican senators. She's among some Republicans who have suggested that hearings for a Supreme Court justice should wait if a seat were to open. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press) Some Republicans, including Collins and Murkowski, have suggested previously that hearings should wait if a seat were to open. And because the Arizona Senate race is a special election, that seat could be filled as early as Nov. 30 — which would narrow the window for McConnell if the Democratic candidate, Mark Kelly, hangs onto his lead. In a note to his Republican colleagues Friday night, McConnell urged them to "keep their powder dry" and not rush to declare a position on whether a Trump nominee should get a vote this year. "For those of you who are unsure how to answer, or for those inclined to oppose giving a nominee a vote, I urge you all to keep your powder dry," McConnell wrote. "This is not the time to prematurely lock yourselves into a position you may later regret." McConnell argued that there would be enough time to fill the vacancy and he restated his argument that the 2016 Senate precedent — in which a Republican-held Senate blocked Obama's election-year nomination — did not establish a rule that applies to the Ginsburg case. Under McConnell, the Senate changed the confirmation rules to allow for a simple majority. Obama weighs in Obama called for Republicans to wait, saying "a basic principle of the law — and of everyday fairness — is that we apply rules with consistency and not based on what's convenient or advantageous in the moment." One difference from 2016 is that, despite the vacancy resulting from Ginsburg's death, conservatives have a working majority of five justices on a range of issues. When Antonin Scalia died four years ago, the court was divided between four liberals and four conservatives. The next pick could shape important decisions, including on abortion rights, as well as any legal challenges that may stem from the 2020 election. The 2018 hearings on Trump's second pick, now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh, turned into a bitter partisan battle after sexual assault allegations were made. Biden has promised to nominate a Black woman to the high court if given the chance. He has said he's also working on a list of potential nominees, but the campaign has given no indication that it will release names before the election.

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Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny says he's now more than 'technically alive'

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny walks down a staircase at Charité hospital in Berlin in this undated image obtained from social media on Saturday. (@NAVALNY/Instagram via Reuters) Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said he is recovering his verbal and physical abilities at the German hospital where he is being treated for suspected nerve agent poisoning but that he at first felt despair over his condition. Navalny, the most visible opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, fell ill on a domestic flight to Moscow on Aug. 20 and was transferred to Germany for treatment two days later. A German military lab later determined that the Russian politician was poisoned with Novichok, the same class of Soviet-era agent that Britain said was used on a former Russian spy and his daughter in England, in 2018. Navalny was kept in an induced coma for more than a week while being treated with an antidote. He said in a Saturday post on Instagram that once he was brought out of the coma, he was confused and couldn't find the words to respond to a doctor's questions. "Although I understood in general what the doctor wanted, I did not understand where to get the words. In what part of the head do they appear in?" Navalny wrote in the post, which accompanied a photo of him on a staircase. "I also did not know how to express my despair and, therefore, simply kept silent. "Now I'm a guy whose legs are shaking when he walks up the stairs, but he thinks: 'Oh, this is a staircase! They go up it. Perhaps we should look for an elevator,"' Navalny said. "And before, I would have just stood there and stared." Using social media account  The doctors treating him at Berlin's Charité hospital "turned me from a 'technically alive person' into someone who has every chance to become the Highest Form of Being in Modern Society again — a person who can quickly scroll through Instagram and without hesitation understands where to put likes," he wrote. The Kremlin has repeatedly said that before Navalny's transfer to Berlin, Russian labs and a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk found no sign of a poisoning. Moscow has called for Germany to provide its evidence and bristled at the urging of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Western leaders to answer questions about what happened to the politician. "There is too much absurdity in this case to take anyone at their word," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Friday. Peskov also accused Navalny's colleagues of hampering a Russian investigation by taking items from his hotel room out of the country, including a water bottle they claimed had traces of the nerve agent. Navalny's colleagues said that they removed the bottle and other items from the hotel room in the Siberian city of Tomsk and brought them to Germany as potential evidence. because they didn't trust Russian authorities to conduct a proper probe.

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McConnell vows Senate vote on Trump's pick to fill Supreme Court seat after Ginsburg's death

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed to bring to a vote whoever U.S. President Donald Trump nominates to fill the Supreme Court seat of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Associated Press) The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just over six weeks before the election cast an immediate spotlight on the high court vacancy, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly vowing to bring to a vote whoever President Donald Trump nominates. Democratic nominee Joe Biden vigorously disagreed, declaring that "voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice to consider." McConnell, in a statement just over an hour after Ginsburg's death was announced, declared unequivocally that Trump's nominee would receive a vote, even though he had stalled President Barack Obama's choice for months ahead of the 2016 election, eventually preventing a vote. Trump, in brief remarks to reporters after learning of her death, called Ginsburg "an amazing woman," adding that "she led an amazing life." He had continued with a campaign speech for about an hour after the nation learned of her death, and said later he had been unaware. He had boasted in the speech that the next presidential term could offer him as many as four appointments to the nine-member court, whose members are confirmed for life. WATCH | Ruth Bader Ginsburg's legacy and the impact of her death: CBC Washington correspondent Keith Boag and lawyer Marie Henein talk about the mark Ruth Bader Ginsburg has left on the world and what could happen with her vacancy in the United States Supreme Court. 6:28 Ginsburg's death could significantly affect the presidential race, further stirring passions in the deeply divided nation as the campaign pushes into its stretch run. Trump took the stage for a Minnesota rally not long before Ginsburg's death was announced. He spoke for more than 90 minutes, never mentioning it, apparently not alerted to the development. He spoke to reporters about her passing as he boarded Air Force One to return to Washington. Photos Life of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg But he did say in his speech that whoever is elected in November will have the ability to potentially fill several Supreme vacancies, declaring, "This is going to be the most important election in the history of our country and we have to get it right." Biden, returning to Delaware from his own campaign stop in Minnesota, praised Ginsburg upon his arrival. Ginsburg was "not only a giant of the legal profession but a beloved figure," he said. She "stood for all of us." Democratic presidential candidate and former vice-president Joe Biden speaks about Ginsburg's death in New Castle, Del., on Friday. (Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press) A confirmation vote in the Senate is not guaranteed, even with a Republican majority. Typically it takes several months to vet and hold hearings on a Supreme Court nominee, and time is short ahead of the election. Key senators may be reluctant to cast votes so close to the election. With a slim Republican majority, 53 seats in the 100-member chamber, Trump's choice could afford to lose only a few. McConnell did not specify the timing, but pushing a confirmation off to the post-election lame-duck session would carry other complications, including the political tangle of trying to push it through in the final weeks of the year after voters have decided control of the White House and control of the Senate. List of candidates Trump has made appointments to the federal judiciary, including two Supreme Court justices, part of his legacy and said last month that he would "absolutely" try to fill a vacancy on the high court if one came up before the end of his first term. "Absolutely, I'd do it," Trump said in an Aug. 11 interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. "I would move quickly. Why not? I mean, they would. The Democrats would if they were in this position." Trump last week added 20 names to his list of candidates he's pledged to choose from if he had future vacancies to fill. Trump speaks about Ginsburg's death in Bemidji, Minn., on Friday. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press) Trump tried to cast the list in contrast with judges who could be nominated if Biden wins in November, warning Biden would select "radical justices" who would "fundamentally transform America without a single vote of Congress," even though Biden has never outlined his list of potential picks and the Senate must confirm any nominee. Naming his possible choices, less than two months before the election, is aimed at repeating the strategy that Trump employed during his 2016 campaign, when he released a similar list of could-be judges in a bid to win over conservative and evangelical voters who had doubts about his conservative bonafides. The average number of days to confirm a justice, according to the Congressional Research Service, is 69 days, which would be after the election. The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court gather for a formal group portrait in Washington in November 2018. (J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press) Biden has promised to nominate a Black woman to the high court if given the chance. He has said he's also working on a list of potential nominees, but the campaign has given no indication that it will release names before the election. Democrats believe doing so would unnecessarily distract from Biden's focus on Trump's handling of the pandemic and the economy, while also giving the president and his allies fresh targets to attack. Trump, however, insisted that presidential candidates "owe the American people" a list of whom they'd consider because, aside from "matters of war and peace, the nomination of a Supreme Court justice is the most important decision an American president can make."

Continue Reading McConnell vows Senate vote on Trump's pick to fill Supreme Court seat after Ginsburg's death

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies of pancreatic cancer at 87

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is seen in Long Beach, Calif., in October 2010. Ginsburg died Friday due to complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer. She was 87. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters) U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday at her home in Washington, D.C., the court says. She was 87. Ginsburg died of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer, the court said. In July, she announced that she was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for lesions on her liver, the latest of several battles with cancer. Ginsburg spent her final years on the bench as the unquestioned leader of the court's liberal wing and became something of a rock star to her admirers. Young women especially seemed to embrace the court's Jewish grandmother, affectionately calling her the Notorious RBG, for her defence of the rights of women and minorities and the strength and resilience she displayed in the face of personal loss and health crises. WATCH | Notorious RBG, a woman's rights champion: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been turned into a feminist icon, thanks to an online blog 2:38 Those health issues included five bouts with cancer beginning in 1999, falls that resulted in broken ribs, insertion of a stent to clear a blocked artery and assorted other hospitalizations after she turned 75. Ginsburg resisted calls by liberals to retire during Barack Obama's presidency at a time when Democrats held the Senate and a replacement with similar views could have been confirmed. Instead, President Donald Trump will almost certainly try to push her successor through the Republican-controlled Senate — and move the conservative court even more to the right.

Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies of pancreatic cancer at 87

Amid Hurricane Sally recovery, forecasters say 3 storms form in Gulf of Mexico

Hundreds of thousands of people were still without power Friday along the Alabama coast and the Florida Panhandle in the aftermath of Hurricane Sally as officials assessed millions of dollars in damage that included a broken bridge in Pensacola and ships thrown onto dry land. While the cleanup pressed on, the record-shattering hurricane season notched another milestone: Forecasters ran out of traditional names for storms after three new systems formed in about six hours. That forced them to begin using the Greek alphabet for only the second time since the 1950s. In Loxley, Ala., Catherine Williams lost power and some of her roof to Sally. The storm also destroyed three pecan trees in her yard that she used to try to make ends meet. "There's no food, no money. I took my last heart pill today," said Williams, who has been laid off twice from her job as a cook because of the economic problems caused by COVID-19. She hoped that the Red Cross would soon show up at her home. Two people in Alabama were reported killed — a drowning and a death during the cleanup in Baldwin County. In Florida, authorities were looking for a missing kayaker who was feared dead in Escambia County. While cleanup from Hurricane Sally pressed on, the record-shattering hurricane season notched another milestone: Forecasters ran out of traditional names for storms after three new systems formed in about six hours. (National Hurricane Center) The supercharged Atlantic hurricane season has produced so many named storms that scientists ran out of traditional names as tropical storm Wilfred developed in the eastern Atlantic. It was only the second time that has happened since forecasters standardized the naming system in 1953. Wilfred was weak and far from land. Two hours after Wilfred took shape, the U.S. National Hurricane Center moved to the Greek alphabet when subtropical storm Alpha formed just off the coast of Portugal. It was followed later in the day by tropical storm Beta, which formed in the western Gulf of Mexico. The same practice will govern storm names for the rest of hurricane season, which lasts until the end of November. Here are the Greek names for the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season for reference. pic.twitter.com/YsrpliN9fF —@NHC_Atlantic The only other time the hurricane centre dipped into the Greek alphabet was the deadly 2005 hurricane season, which included Hurricane Katrina's strike on New Orleans. The onslaught of hurricanes has focused attention on climate change, which scientists say is causing wetter, stronger and more destructive storms. 'This could happen again' In Pensacola, Mamie Patterson was cleaning the yard of her cousin who was recovering from heart surgery after they lost power in a low-income neighborhood in Pensacola. Patterson's mother uses an oxygen machine that they took to an uncle's home to charge because he had power. She saw utility trucks all over the city and wondered when power would be restored in her neighbourhood, where several inches of water was standing in streets more than 48 hours after the storm. "We feel a lot forgotten back here," she said. "I hate to say it, but it's the ghetto neighbourhoods. We don't have lights." Mamie Patterson, left, helps her cousin clean up after Hurricane Sally in Pensacola, Fla., on Friday. (Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press) Elsewhere in the city, Karen Robinson sat on the steps of her first-floor apartment and rattled off a list of belongings ruined by 1.2 metres of water from Sally — clothes, shoes, furniture and food. It took months to recover from a 2015 flood after a heavy rainstorm sent nearly the same amount of water from a creek into the 200-unit complex. She was concerned because more than two months are left in hurricane season. "This could happen again. That's the problem," Robinson said as men tossed soggy items out of an apartment window nearby. In Louisiana, about 41,000 people remain without power around Lake Charles, where Hurricane Laura made landfall on Aug. 27. On Oak Island, N.C., which was ground zero for Hurricane Isaias on Aug. 3, some rental homes finally reopened by Labour Day. "It wasn't pretty. We had piles of sand everywhere, plies of debris everywhere, but the roads were open," Mayor Ken Thomas said. With the dunes that provide some protection to the island gone, Thomas said people will be nervous for the rest of the storm season. Karen Robinson takes a break after cleaning out her apartment in the aftermath of Hurricane Sally flooding in Pensacola on Friday. (Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press) "There's a hurricane for everyone out there," he said. Escambia County, which includes Pensacola, estimated that Sally caused at least $21 million US in damage to public infrastructure such as roads and drainage. It will likely cost an additional $8 million US to restore the sand washed away at Pensacola Beach, officials said. The year-old Three Mile Bridge that connects Pensacola to the beaches was heavily damaged in at least two places, and authorities do not know how much money or time it will take to fix. In several places along the Gulf Coast, ships washed up on shore. They included pleasure boats and even a replica of Christopher Columbus' ship the Nina, which docked in Pensacola to ride out the storm and came loose from its mooring. The vessel came to rest in mud and grass at a nearby marina. Back in the Atlantic, Hurricane Teddy was a powerful Category 4 storm about 1,370 kilometers southeast of Bermuda. The island was hit directly by Hurricane Paulette on Monday, and forecasters said a hurricane watch for Teddy may be issued soon. WATCH | CBC meteorologist Ryan Snoddon tracking Hurricane Teddy: Growing consensus says storm will reach the region on Tuesday into Wednesday, Snoddon says. 2:26

Continue Reading Amid Hurricane Sally recovery, forecasters say 3 storms form in Gulf of Mexico

California firefighter dies battling massive El Dorado blaze

A firefighter puts out a hot spot along Highway 38 northwest of Forrest Falls, Calif., part of the El Dorado Fire, on Sept. 10. (Will Lester/Orange County Register/AP) A firefighter died on Thursday in the San Bernardino National Forest as crews battled the El Dorado Fire, the U.S. Forest Service said in a news release. The El Dorado Fire erupted earlier this month after a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device was used by a couple to reveal their baby's gender, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said. The name of the firefighter was being withheld until family members are notified. The cause of the death was under investigation. "Our deepest sympathies are with the family, friends and fellow firefighters during this time," spokesperson Zach Behrens said in the release. Firefighters have also died battling the so-called Stagecoach and August Complex fires in the state this summer.  Q&A Former California governor Jerry Brown talks to CBC News about the worsening wildfire problem The El Dorado Fire has burned more than 19,000 acres (7,700 hectares) and was about 66 per cent contained, according to Cal Fire. Wildfires have burned more than three million acres in California this year and are blamed for at least 25 deaths. "I've been at this 23 years, and by far this is the worst I've seen," said Justin Silvera, a 43-year-old battalion chief with Cal Fire, on Thursday. Thousands of buildings destroyed Cal Fire's roughly 8,000 personnel have been fighting blazes from the Oregon border to the Mexico border, bouncing from fire to fire, said Tim Edwards, president of the union for Cal Fire, the nation's second-largest firefighting agency. California alone has spent $529 million US since July 1 on wildfires, said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director of Cal Fire. By comparison, the state spent $691 million the entire fiscal year that ended June 30. The August Complex Fire burns near Lake Pillsbury in the Mendocino National Forest in central California. It is among about two dozen fires not fully under control in the state. (Noah Berger/The Associated Press) California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that more than 17,000 firefighters were battling some 25 major fires in the state that had ignited in the past month, after an unprecedented lightning siege in mid-August. That total includes firefighters from agencies other than Cal Fire and from outside the state helping to battle blazes. In addition to the death toll, some 4,200 structures have been destroyed statewide and more than 38,000 people under evacuation. The wildfires racing across tinder-dry landscape in California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington have sent traces of smoke as far as Mexico, Canada and even Europe, according to satellite images.

Continue Reading California firefighter dies battling massive El Dorado blaze

Alexei Navalny aides cite water bottles in Siberia hotel as possible contamination source

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny is shown in a 2018 court appearance in Moscow, one of several times he has been arrested in the past in connection with his activism and criticism of President Vladimir Putin. Navalny is currently recovering from a poisoning in a Berlin hospital. (Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images) Colleagues of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said Thursday that a bottle of water with a trace of the Novichok nerve agent was found in his hotel room after his poisoning. Navalny fell ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow on Aug. 20 and was flown to Germany, where he was kept in an induced coma for more than two weeks as he was treated with an antidote. Members of his team accused the Kremlin of involvement in the poisoning, charges that Russian officials have vehemently denied. The Kremlin has bristled at calls from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders to answer questions about the poisoning, urging Germany to provide evidence of his poisoning. On Tuesday, Navalny posted a picture of himself from his bed in Berlin's Charite Hospital, hugged by his wife and children. "I still can't do almost anything on my own, but yesterday I managed to breathe on my own for the entire day," he added in the post. A video posted on Navalny's Instagram account on Thursday showed his team working around his hotel room in Tomsk before he left the city and collapsed on the flight back to Moscow. Navalny's Instagram said they returned to the room an hour after learning that he had become ill, accompanied by a lawyer, and packed the bottles and other items for further inspection. "Two weeks later, a German laboratory found a trace of Novichok on a bottle from the Tomsk hotel room," they said. "And then another three labs that took Alexei's samples proved that he was poisoned with it. Now we understand: It was done before he left his room to go to the airport." Tensions rise between Germany, Russia A German military lab has determined that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, the same class of Soviet-era agent that Britain said was used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, in 2018. On Monday, the German government said independent tests by labs in France and Sweden backed up its findings. The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is also taking steps to have samples from Navalny tested at its designated labs. The Kremlin has said that Russian doctors who treated him in the Siberian city of Omsk, where he was brought after the plane's emergency landing, found no sign that Navalny was poisoned. Russia has repeatedly prodded Germany to share Navalny's analyses and other medical data and compare notes with the Russian doctors. German officials have responded to Moscow's request for evidence by saying that Russian authorities must have the samples already, since Navalny spent two days in the Omsk hospital. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who cancelled a scheduled trip Tuesday to Berlin, said in a TV interview earlier this week that Russian authorities have conducted a preliminary inquiry and documented the meetings Navalny had before falling ill, but he emphasized that investigators need to see the evidence of his poisoning to launch a full criminal probe. Lavrov accused the West of trying to smear Russia and use the incident as a pretext for new sanctions against Moscow. He argued that Navalny's life was saved by the pilots of the plane who quickly landed in Omsk after he collapsed on board and by the rapid action of doctors there – something he said Western officials have failed to recognize.

Continue Reading Alexei Navalny aides cite water bottles in Siberia hotel as possible contamination source

U.S. judge blocks Postal Service changes that slowed mail, calling them 'politically motivated'

A person deposits letters into a U.S. Postal Service mailbox in Philadelphia. A U.S. judge has blocked controversial Postal Service changes that have slowed mail nationwide. (Rachel Wisniewski/Reuters) A U.S. judge on Thursday blocked controversial Postal Service changes that have slowed mail nationwide, calling them "a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service" before the November election. Judge Stanley Bastian in Yakima, Wash., said he was issuing a nationwide preliminary injunction sought by 14 states that sued the Trump administration and the U.S. Postal Service. The states challenged the Postal Service's so-called "leave behind" policy, where trucks have been leaving postal facilities on time regardless of whether there is more mail to load. They also sought to force the USPS to treat election mail as First Class mail. The judge noted after a hearing that Trump had repeatedly attacked voting by mail by making unfounded claims that it is rife with fraud. Many more voters are expected to vote by mail this November because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the states have expressed concern that delays might result in voters not receiving ballots or registration forms in time. "The states have demonstrated the defendants are involved in a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service," Bastian said. The judge ruled that the changes at USPS created "a substantial possibility many voters will be disenfranchised." (Rebecca Cook/Reuters) He also said the changes created "a substantial possibility many voters will be disenfranchised." Bastian, an appointee of former U.S. president Barack Obama, said he planned to issue a written order later in the day, but that it would be substantially the same as that sought by the states. Following a national uproar, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major donor to U.S. President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, announced he was suspending some changes — including the removal of iconic blue mailboxes in many cities and the decommissioning of mail processing machines. States asked court to block USPS changes But other changes remained in place, and the states — including the battlegrounds of Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada — asked the court to block them. The states sought to have the "leave behind" policy revoked; election mail treated as First Class mail rather than as slower-moving categories; the reinstallation of any mail processing machines needed to ensure the prompt handling of election mail; and asked that the court hold DeJoy to his promise to suspend other changes. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies during a House committee hearing Aug. 24 in Washington. Dejoy suspended some of the changes he made to the USPS following a national outcry. (Tom Williams/The Associated Press) Led by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the states said the Postal Service made the changes without first bringing them to the Postal Regulatory Commission for public comment and an advisory opinion, as required by federal law. They also said the changes interfered with their constitutional authority to administer their elections. At the hearing, Justice Department attorney Joseph Borson sought to assure the judge that the USPS would handle election mail promptly, noting that a surge of ballots in the mail would pale in comparison to increases from, say, holiday cards. He also said slow downs caused by the "leave behind" policy had gotten better since it was first implemented, and that the Postal Service in reality had made no changes with regard to how it classifies and processes election mail. DeJoy has repeatedly insisted that processing election mail remains the organization's top priority. "There's been a lot of confusion in the briefing and in the press about what the Postal Service has done," Borson said. "The states are accusing us of making changes we have not in fact made." Voters who are worried about their ballots being counted "can simply promptly drop their ballots in the mail," he said, and states can help by mailing registration form or absentee ballots early. Borson also insisted that the states were also required to bring their challenge not in court, but before the Postal Regulatory Commission itself — even though by law the commission has 90 days to respond. Bastian rejected that notion, saying there was no time for that with the election just seven weeks away. The states conceded that mail delays have eased since the service cuts first created a national uproar in July, but they said on-time deliveries remain well below their prior levels, meaning millions of pieces of mail that would otherwise arrive on-time no longer are. They also noted some of the effects the changes had already wrought: Michigan spent $2 million US earlier this year on envelopes that met election mail standards — only to learn that the Postal Service wouldn't treat them as first class mail. In Madison, Wisconsin, the number of ballots that weren't counted because they arrived late for the August primary doubled from the August 2018 primary. The other states suing include Washington, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia — all led by Democratic attorneys general. Pennsylvania is leading a separate multistate lawsuit over the changes, and New York and Montana have filed their own challenges.

Continue Reading U.S. judge blocks Postal Service changes that slowed mail, calling them 'politically motivated'

Initial jobless claims number in U.S. fell to still high 860,000 last week

The number of Americans losing their job is inching downward but is still well above the level it was at before COVID-19. (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press) The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to 860,000, a historically high figure that reflects economic damage from the coronavirus outbreak. Before the pandemic hit the economy, the number signing up for jobless aid had never exceeded 700,000 in a week, even during the depths of the 2007-2009 Great Recession. Now they've topped 700,000 for 26 straight weeks. The U.S. Department of Labour said Thursday that U.S. jobless claims fell by 33,000 form the previous week and that 12.6 million are collecting traditional unemployment benefits, compared with just 1.7 million a year ago. The pandemic has delivered an colossal shock to the economy. Until the pandemic upended the operations of American companies, from factories to family diners, weekly jobless aid applications had never exceeded 700,000 in the U.S. The overall economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, collapsed at an annual rate of 31.7 per cent from April through June, by far the worst three months on record, as millions of jobs disappeared. Analysis Post-COVID-19 economy will put people back to work, but it won't be in all the same jobs: Don Pittis The economy and job market have recovered somewhat from the initial shock. Employers added 10.6 million jobs from May through August, but that's still less than half the jobs lost in March and April. The recovery remains fragile, imperiled by continuing COVID-19 infections as schools begin to reopen, and the failure to deliver another economic rescue package in Washington. An extra $600 US in weekly unemployment benefits ran out July 31, squeezing households that had depended on the beefed-up payments. President Donald Trump issued an executive order Aug. 8 providing a scaled-back version of the expanded jobless aid. Most states signed up for federal grants that let them increase weekly benefits by $300 or $400. That program is expiring. Charissa Ward, 37, was furloughed in April from her job as a server at a restaurant in Disney's Hollywood Studios resort near Orlando, Florida. Since then, she's been helping at her partner's online retail business, applying for jobs and waiting to see what Disney will do. "We have no idea when we're going to get called back," she said. The extra $600 US in weekly jobless benefits didn't replace all her lost income but helped. The reduced $300 she received briefly from Trump's program made life "a little less stressful." But Ward said Congress needs to agree to another financial rescue and do "what's best for working people." Last week, nearly 659,000 people applied for jobless aid under a new program that extends eligibility for the first time to self-employed and gig workers, down from 868,000 the previous week. The figure for those seeking Pandemic Employment Assistance isn't adjusted for seasonal trends, so it's reported separately. Altogether, the Labour Department said that 29.8 million people are receiving some form of unemployment benefits, though the figure may be inflated by double-counting by states. Analysts also worry about evidence that the number of people collecting special pandemic aid has been swollen by cases of fraud in California. A summertime resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the South and West forced many businesses to close again in July — though the data firm Womply finds that closings have mostly stabilized over the last few weeks. Womply did find a sharp increase in spending at bars in southern and western states, including South Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama, as college students returned to campus. Unemployment claims "remain high even as economic activity is resuming more fully," Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, wrote Thursday. "The risk going forward continues to come from virus outbreaks and intermittent interruptions to activity. Overall, the labour market is less weak compared to April but remains at risk of permanent damage from repeated closures."

Continue Reading Initial jobless claims number in U.S. fell to still high 860,000 last week

U.S attorney general Barr likens stay-at-home orders to slavery

U.S. Attorney General William Barr speaks at a news conference on Sept. 10 in Phoenix. Barr is being criticized by Democrats for comments this week encouraging the harshest penalties against some Americans arrested in protests, as well as those characterizing lockdowns as a grave threat to civil liberties. (Bob Christie/The Associated Press) Attorney General William Barr drew sharp condemnation Thursday for comparing lockdown orders during the coronavirus pandemic to slavery. In remarks Wednesday night at Hillsdale College in Michigan, Barr called the lockdown orders the "greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history" since slavery. "greatest intrusion on civil liberties" in history "other than slavery." Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 House Democratic leader, told CNN that Barr's remarks were "the most ridiculous, tone-deaf, God-awful things I've ever heard" because they wrongly equated human bondage with a measure aimed at saving lives. "Slavery was not about saving lives. It was about devaluing lives," said Clyburn, who is Black. "This pandemic is a threat to human life." This is not the first occasion that Barr has condemned stay-at-home orders. He has previously said that some orders were "disturbingly close to house arrest," and the Justice Department sent letters to several states warning that some of their virus-related restrictions might be unlawful. Prosecutors also filed statements of interest in several civil cases challenging some of the restrictions. New Jersey congressman Bill Pascrell Jr., reacting to the comments Wednesday, tweeted: "Bill Barr is drunk with power, an out-of-control fanatic, a frothing enemy of democracy. Barr should be impeached then stripped of his law licences for life." Barr was confirmed as attorney general in February 2019, even capturing three Democratic votes in the process. Some Democrats who voted against him had expressed hopes based on his record as attorney general in the early 1990s under George H.W. Bush that he would be a moderate voice in Donald Trump's administration. But many have questioned his objectivity since due to the Justice Department's intervention in the cases of Trump associates Michael Flynn and Roger Stone, and more recently, Trump accuser E. Jean Carroll. Sedition charges could be considered: Barr Democrats are also expressing concern about Barr's increasingly aggressive stance toward protests against police violence and for racial justice that have sometimes spilled into violence. In a private call with federal prosecutors across the country this week, Barr pushed his U.S. attorneys to bring federal charges whenever they could, keeping a grip on cases even if a defendant could be tried instead in state court, according to officials with knowledge of last week's call who were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity. Federal convictions often result in longer prison sentences. A protester gets arrested as police attempt to take control of the streets during Portland protests on Sept. 5. A considerable number of the federal charges laid in a summer of U.S. protests have occurred in the Oregon city. (Paula Bronstein/The Associated Press) During the call with U.S. attorneys, Barr raised the prospect that prosecutors could bring a number of other potential charges in unrest cases, including the rarely used sedition statute, according to the officials familiar with the call. Legal experts cautioned the use of that statute is unlikely, given its difficulty to prove in court. The Trump administration's crackdown has already led to more than 300 arrests on federal crimes in the protests since the death of George Floyd. An AP analysis of the data shows that while many people are accused of violent crimes such as arson for hurling Molotov cocktails and burning police cars and assault for injuring law enforcement, others are not. That's led to criticism that at least some arrests are a politically motivated effort to stymie demonstrations. Analysis Trump attempts a marketing makeover: Joe Biden as radical Marxist enabler "The speed at which this whole thing was moved from state court to federal court is stunning and unbelievable," said Charles Sunwabe, who represents an Erie, Pa., man accused of lighting a fire at a coffee shop after a May 30 protest. "It's an attempt to intimidate these demonstrators and to silence them," he said. Reaction from a Democratic congresswoman: Each day Bill Barr remains in his position, he does an injustice to justice in this country. He continues to dangerously use the DOJ as a political weapon because he sees himself not as the Attorney General for the American people but as the personal henchman for Donald Trump. https://t.co/ga5GR2GuXj —@RepJayapal Some cases are viewed as trumped up and should not be in federal court, lawyers say, including a teenager accused of civil disorder for claiming online "we are not each other's enemy, only enemy is 12," a reference to law enforcement. While many local prosecutors have dismissed dozens of low-level protest arrests, some are still coming down hard. A Pennsylvania judge set bail at $1 million for about a dozen people in a protest that followed the death of a knife-wielding man by police. The administration has seized on the demonstrations with an aggressive federal response. Trump claims he is countering rising crime in cities run by Democrats and has derided protesters, though the majority of them are peaceful. Pockets of violence have indeed popped up in cities, including Portland, Ore., where protests have devolved into clashes with law enforcement for weeks on end. Nights of looting and other unrest have occurred elsewhere: Rochester, N.Y., Minneapolis, Louisville, Ky., Washington, D.C., and Chicago. Federal officials were called into Kenosha, Wis., after large protests and unrest following the shooting of Jacob Blake and the gunning down of two protesters and subsequent arrest of a 17-year-old in their deaths. Notably, that teenager has not been charged with any federal crimes, nor a man accused of shooting and killing a demonstrator in Louisville following the death of Breonna Taylor. Black Lives Matter uses victims as 'props': Barr About one-third of the federal protest-related cases are in Portland, for crimes such as assaulting a deputy U.S. marshal with a baseball bat, setting fires and setting off explosives at the federal courthouse, and throwing rocks at officers. It is not clear whether protest-related arrests will continue apace. Demonstrations have slowed, though not necessarily because of the federal charges. Wildfires in the West and hurricanes in the South have lessened some of the conflict. Analysis Why Trump is betting his political life against Black Lives Matter protests Barr has said he does not believe there is systemic racism in police departments, even though Black people are disproportionately more likely to be killed by police, and public attitudes over police reforms have shifted. At the Hillsdale College event, he said it was a "small number" of cases while taking aim at the Black Lives Matter protest movement. "They're not interested in Black lives," Barr said, according to a report in the Washington Post. "They're interested in props, a small number of Blacks who are killed by police during conflicts with police — usually less than a dozen a year — who they can use as props to achieve a much broader political agenda." While Barr has gone after protest-related violence targeted at law enforcement, he has argued there is seldom a reason to open sweeping investigations into the practices of police departments. The Justice Department, however, has initiated a number of civil rights investigations into individual cases.

Continue Reading U.S attorney general Barr likens stay-at-home orders to slavery

Federal Reserve signals plan to keep U.S. interest rate near zero until 2023

Jerome Powell is chair of the U.S. central bank, the Federal Reserve, which signaled on Wednesday that it plans to keep interest rates near zero for at least three years. (Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press) The U.S. Federal Reserve adjusted its inflation target to seek price increases above two per cent annually, a move that will likely keep interest rates low for years to come. The Fed on Wednesday also left its benchmark short-term rate unchanged at nearly zero, where it has been since the pandemic intensified in March. Fed officials also indicated in a set of economic projections that they expect the rate to stay there at least through 2023. The Fed's benchmark interest rate influences borrowing costs for home buyers, credit card users and businesses. The Fed's statement says that because inflation has mostly fallen below its target of two per cent in recent years, Fed policymakers now "will aim to achieve inflation moderately above two per cent for some time." It also says it will keep rates low until inflation averages two per cent over an unspecified period. The change is significant for the central bank, because it means that Fed officials will accept higher inflation to make up for its previous shortfalls below two per cent. Previously, the Fed has ignored such shortfalls. Fed chair Jerome Powell first said last month that the Fed would seek inflation above two per cent over time, rather than just keeping it as a static goal. The change reflects a growing concern at the Fed that in recessions, inflation often falls far below two per cent, but it doesn't necessarily reach two per cent when the economy is expanding. Over time, that means inflation on average falls further from the target. As businesses and consumers come to expect increasingly lower inflation, they act in ways that entrench slower price gains. The Fed prefers a little inflation because that gives the central bank more room to cut or raise short-term interest rates.

Continue Reading Federal Reserve signals plan to keep U.S. interest rate near zero until 2023

Trump health appointee Michael Caputo takes 'leave of absence' following accusations of political meddling

Former Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Michael Caputo, seen here in May 2018, is stepping away from his position following accusations of political meddling. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters) The Trump administration health official embroiled in a furor over political meddling with the coronavirus response is taking a leave of absence, the government announced Wednesday. The Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement that Michael Caputo was taking the time "to focus on his health and the well-being of his family." Caputo, the department's top spokesman, apologized on Tuesday to his staff for a Facebook video in which he reportedly said scientists battling the coronavirus are conspiring against U.S. President Donald Trump and warned of shooting if Trump were to lose the November election. The Trump appointee also was accused of trying to muzzle a scientific weekly put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The department is so far standing by Caputo's boss, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, in the face of calls by congressional Democrats for his resignation. Caputo was heard on an HHS podcast asserting that Democrats don't want a coronavirus vaccine before the election in order to punish Trump. Although Trump has made the same assertion, with no evidence to support it, such broadsides are not in a department spokesman's normal portfolio. "There are people in the United States government on the Democrats' side ... [who] do not want a vaccine," Caputo said. "They don't want a vaccine until November 4th," he added, citing the day after the presidential election.  This week, Hamilton's McMaster University appeared to be distancing itself from a part-time faculty member who has been working with Caputo.  Caputo was named the top HHS spokesman in April, during a tense period in relations between the White House and Azar. Over the weekend, Caputo made headlines when Politico and the New York Times reported that his office had tried to gain control over a CDC publication known as the MMWR, or Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. In previous administrations, political appointees in the HHS secretary's office maintained a hands-off policy. The story took a strange turn Monday, after the Times reported about a live video hosted by Caputo on his personal Facebook page. In it, Caputo reportedly accused government scientists of conspiring against Trump as part of a "resistance." The message turned apocalyptic when Caputo reportedly predicted that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden would refuse to concede defeat to Trump in the election, and violence would break out. The Associated Press was unable to independently view the video. There are calls for the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press) HHS initially supported Caputo, with a statement calling him a "critical, integral part of the president's coronavirus response, leading on public messaging as Americans need public health information to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic." There was no immediate statement from the White House. Attempts to interview Caputo were unsuccessful. Officials at CDC have privately complained of recent efforts by political appointees at HHS to try to edit or press for changes in the agency's weekly MMWR publications, a go-to resource for public health professionals. MMWR articles are technical, but they reveal telling details. One published earlier this year noted that while Trump's travel restrictions dramatically reduced travel from China in February, nothing was being done at that time to restrict travel from Italy and Europe, where the coronavirus was spreading widely and rapidly. Analysis of virus samples from hard-hit New York in March suggested it was introduced there from Europe and other parts of the U.S., the CDC article reported. Caputo is an unswerving Trump loyalist. His recent book, The Ukraine Hoax, claims the president's "phony" impeachment was rooted in a vast conspiracy. His appointment at HHS was seen as an attempt by the White House to exert more control over Azar, whom other administration officials were trying to blame for the government's slow response in the initial weeks of the pandemic. At HHS, he's been closely affiliated with Operation Warp Speed, the government's effort to have millions of doses of a COVID-19 vaccine ready for distribution as soon as one is approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Caputo interviewed Dr. Moncef Slaoui, a top outside adviser to the vaccine effort, on an HHS podcast July 31. Commiserating with Slaoui over Democrats and news articles that were critical of the doctor, Caputo said: "I know that's hard to believe, but the people who are abusing you, and who are beating down Operation Warp Speed, and the incredible historic work that's going on, they don't want a vaccine until November 4th. I don't want to talk about politics here, but November 3rd is an important day. They don't want a vaccine now because of politics, sir."

Continue Reading Trump health appointee Michael Caputo takes 'leave of absence' following accusations of political meddling

Academy of Country Music Awards sober up amid COVID-19

Carrie Underwood performs onstage during the 2018 iHeartRadio Music Festival. Underwood is nominated for entertainer of the year at this year's Academy of Country Music Awards. (Kevin Winter) In a pre-pandemic world, the Academy of Country Music Awards advertised itself as country music's night to party with gambling, after-parties and a Las Vegas-style attitude. This year the red carpet, crowds and gambling are all replaced with COVID-19 tests, temperature checks and face masks. The awards show was delayed five months due to the pandemic and moved to Nashville, and the tone for Wednesday's show airing on CBS will be much more serious than in years past. "We're celebrating but we're not partying," said R.A. Clark, longtime executive producer of the show. The show will feature performances by Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton with Gwen Stefani and many more, but it's being rebranded this year as a "night of heart and hits" that will also reflect how hard the pandemic has hit many people this year, including in the music industry. Mickey Guyton, pictured at last year's Academy Country Music Awards in Las Vegas April 7, 2019, Guyton will perform her song What Are You Gonna Tell Her? at the CMA Awards Wednesday evening. ( Jordan Strauss/Invision/The Associated Press) Trisha Yearwood will perform a memorial tribute performance that will likely include Kenny Rogers, Joe Diffie, Charlie Daniels and John Prine, who all died in 2020. Country singer Mickey Guyton's performance of What Are You Gonna Tell Her? will highlight food insecurity. The ACMs will also showcase their charity contributions to unemployed workers in the music industry. Entertainer of the year Leading nominees include Dan + Shay, Old Dominion and Maren Morris, and all eyes will be on the entertainer of the year category. Carrie Underwood, who won the category in 2008 and 2009, seems a likely frontrunner against Eric Church, Luke Bryan, Luke Combs and Thomas Rhett after many feel she was overdue for an entertainer of the year win at the other major country awards show, the CMA Awards, last November. Bryan, who has also won entertainer of the year twice, said Underwood has risen to the qualifications. "I certainly believe that she's been an entertainer of all entertainers and brought so much grace and class and elegance to country music," said Bryan. Taylor Swift, seen performing in Carson, Calif, in this June 1, 2019, photo, will perform at the ACMs for the first time in 7 years Wednesday. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/The Associated Press) Swift, who makes her first return to the ACM stage in seven years, was the last female artist to win ACM entertainer of the year in 2011. Combs, who earned his first entertainer of the year nomination this year after winning new male artist of the year last year, could prove to be an upset after amassing incredible streaming numbers with his first two records and hitting the top of Billboard's country radio chart for nine consecutive singles. All five entertainer of the year nominees will open the show with a special medley, which Combs is hoping he doesn't mess up alongside the other seasoned performers. "I don't want to be the guy that shows up and is like, 'Oops! Guess that guy's not the entertainer of the year,"' said Combs with a laugh. Music nominated is from 2019 The eligibility period for this year's show was calendar year 2019 and voting ended before the pandemic hit, so the awards being handed out this late in the year may sound a little older than what is currently trending in country music. Grammy winners Dan + Shay have a chance to bring home an ACM award for pop star Justin Bieber in the song of the year category for 10,000 Hours. (John Rieti/CBC) Miranda Lambert, already the most awarded artist in ACM history with over 30 wins, looks to extend her five-time win streak in the album of the year category with her record Wildcard. But the crossover success of Maren Morris's album GIRL is also likely appeal to voters this year. Grammy winners Dan + Shay have a chance to bring home an ACM award for pop star Justin Bieber in the song of the year category for 10,000 Hours. Reigning entertainer of the year Keith Urban takes over show hosting duties this year and the show will be broadcast from three music venues, including the Grand Ole Opry House, the Ryman Auditorium and the Bluebird Cafe.

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Boeing, U.S. regulator made series of errors ahead of 737 Max crashes: congressional report

A Boeing 737 MAX jet taxis after landing at Boeing Field following a test flight in Seattle in June. (Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press) A House of Representatives committee issued a scathing report Wednesday questioning whether Boeing and government regulators have recognized the problems that caused two deadly 737 Max jet crashes and whether either will be willing to make significant changes to fix them. Staff members from the Democrat-controlled transportation committee blamed the crashes that killed 346 people on the "horrific culmination" of failed government oversight, design flaws and a lack of action at Boeing despite knowing about problems. The committee identified many deficiencies in the Federal Aviation Administration approval process for new jetliners. But both the agency and Boeing have said certification of the Max complied with FAA regulations, the 246-page report said. "The fact that a compliant airplane suffered from two deadly crashes in less than five months is clear evidence that the current regulatory system is fundamentally flawed and needs to be repaired," the staff wrote in the report released early Wednesday. The report highlights the need for legislation to fix the approval process and deal with the FAA's delegation of some oversight tasks to aircraft manufacturer employees, said committee chairman Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon. "Obviously the system is inadequate," DeFazio said. "We will be adopting significant reforms." Several Canadians are shown in Addis Ababa in March 2019 taking part in a memorial tree planting for victims of the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. (Tiksa Negeri/Reuters) He wouldn't give details of possible changes, saying committee leaders are in talks with Republicans about legislation. He said the committee won't scrap the delegation program, and he hopes to reach agreement on reforms before year's end. CBC in Ethopia 'I've been stuck on March 10th': Families of Ethiopian Airline victims return to site a year after crash The House report stems from an 18-month investigation into the October 2018 crash of Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia and the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March of 2019. The Max was grounded worldwide shortly after the Ethiopia crash, which killed 18 Canadian citizens. Paul Njoroge, a Toronto resident who lost his wife, three children and mother-in-law in the crash, characterized the report as a "clear dereliction duty by Boeing and the FAA in the design and certification process of the 737 Max," in a statement emailed to CBC News by Pamela Menaker from a law firm representing relatives of crash victims. "It's perplexing that despite the already exposed culture of malpractices by Boeing and the FAA, their principals continue to hubristically purport that 'safety is their No. 1 priority," he said. Regulators are testing planes with revamped flight control software, and Boeing hopes to get the Max flying again later this year or early in 2021, though the pandemic has complicated the outlook for the aviation industry. Statement to CBC News from Clifford Law on behalf of victim families: A U.S.-based lawyer representing families of Boeing crash victims released a statement following the transportation committee's report. The statement includes reaction from Paul Njoroge of Toronto, whose entire family was killed on a trip to Kenya to visit grandparents. pic.twitter.com/tMfG9F4vLL —@CBCAlerts Software flaw inadequately communicated The investigators mainly focused on the reason Boeing was able to get the jet approved with minimal pilot training: It convinced the FAA that the Max was an updated version of previous generation 737s. In fact, Boeing equipped the plane with software called MCAS, an acronym for Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, which automatically lowers the plane's nose to prevent an aerodynamic stall. Initially, pilots worldwide weren't told about the system, which Boeing said was needed because the Max had bigger, more powerful engines that were placed further forward on the wings than older 737s. The Fifth Estate Internal Boeing messages detail how pressure to cut costs eroded company's renowned safety culture In both crashes, MCAS repeatedly pointed the nose down, forcing pilots into unsuccessful struggles to keep the planes aloft. Committee investigators said they found several instances in which Boeing concealed information about MCAS from the FAA and airlines. Read the congressional report: Boeing, which is headquartered in Chicago and has its production facilities in Washington state, didn't disclose that MCAS worked off a single sensor called "angle of attack," which measures a plane's pitch. It also didn't disclose that a gauge that would have alerted pilots to a malfunctioning sensor didn't work on the vast majority of the jets. Boeing also concealed that it took a company test pilot more than 10 seconds to determine that MCAS was operating and respond to it, a condition that the pilot found to be "catastrophic," according to the report. Federal guidelines assume pilots will respond to this condition within four seconds. Four Boeing employees working as "authorized representatives" with permission to act on the FAA's behalf to validate aircraft systems knew about the test pilot's slow response. But there was no evidence that they reported this to the FAA, the report said. Another authorized representative raised concerns in 2016 about hazards of MCAS repeatedly pointing the plane's nose down, but the concerns never made it to the FAA. Repeated MCAS activation and faulty sensors "were the core contributing factors that led to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes more than two years later," the report said. Additional training would've lowered plane's cost According to the report, Boeing wanted to keep details about MCAS from the FAA so it wouldn't require additional pilot training. That would ruin Boeing's sales pitch for the Max — that pilots of older 737s wouldn't have to go through extensive simulator training to fly the new planes. Investigators found that Boeing had a financial incentive to avoid more pilot training. Under a 2011 contract with Southwest Airlines, Boeing would have had to knock $1 million US off the price of each Max if simulator training was needed. "That drove a whole lot of really bad decisions internally at Boeing, and also the FAA did not pick up on these things," DeFazio said. He added that Boeing had an internal meeting in 2013 and agreed never to talk about MCAS outside the company. At one point, MCAS was listed in pilot training manuals, but an authorized representative signed off on removing it, he said. In a statement, Boeing said it has worked to strengthen its safety culture and has co-operated with the committee. The company has incorporated many recommendations from committees and experts who have examined Max issues. 'Change is always hard' Boeing said it has learned from mistakes. "Change is always hard and requires a daily commitment, but we as a company are dedicated to doing the work," the statement said. The FAA said in a statement it looks forward to working with the committee to make improvements, and it's already making changes based on internal and independent reviews. "These initiatives are focused on advancing overall aviation safety by improving our organization, processes and culture," the FAA said, adding that it is requiring a number of design changes to the Max before it can fly again. When it came to FAA oversight, investigators said they found multiple examples of agency managers overruling technical and safety experts at the behest of Boeing. In an interview with investigators, Keith Leverkuhn, former Boeing general manager for the Max who was promoted in the company, said he considered development of the Max a success despite the crashes. "I do challenge the suggestion that the development was a failure," the report quotes him as saying. The Senate's commerce committee postponed a planned Wednesday meeting following up on changes to a bipartisan bill introduced in June giving the FAA more control over picking company employees who sign off on safety decisions. One improvement contemplated may be that a plane with significant changes from previous models would need more FAA review.

Continue Reading Boeing, U.S. regulator made series of errors ahead of 737 Max crashes: congressional report

U.S. gov't releases 'playbook' for free COVID-19 vaccines for Americans

The U.S. federal government outlined a sweeping plan Wednesday to make vaccines for COVID-19 available for free to all Americans. (David Greedy/Getty Images) The U.S. government outlined a sweeping plan Wednesday to make vaccines for COVID-19 available for free to all Americans, even as polls show a strong undercurrent of skepticism rippling across the land. In a report to Congress and an accompanying "playbook" for states and localities, federal health agencies and the Defence Department sketched out complex plans for a vaccination campaign to begin gradually in January or possibly later this year, eventually ramping up to reach any American who wants a shot. The Pentagon is involved with the distribution of vaccines, but civilian health workers will be the ones giving shots. The campaign is "much larger in scope and complexity than seasonal influenza or other previous outbreak-related vaccination responses," said the playbook for states released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among the highlights: For most vaccines, people will need two doses, 21 to 28 days apart. Double-dose vaccines will have to come from the same drug maker. There could be several vaccines from different manufacturers approved and available.  Vaccination of the U.S. population won't be a sprint but a marathon. Initially, there may be a limited supply of vaccines available, and the focus will be on protecting health workers, other essential employees, and people in vulnerable groups. CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the National Academy of Medicine, and other organizations are working on priorities for the first phase. A second and third phase would expand vaccination to the entire country.  The vaccine itself will be free of charge, and patients won't be charged out of pocket for the administration of shots, thanks to billions of dollars in taxpayer funding approved by Congress and allocated by the Trump administration.  States and local communities will need to devise precise plans for receiving and locally distributing vaccines, some of which will require special handling such as refrigeration or freezing. States and cities have a month to submit plans. Researchers look at a sample of a respiratory virus at Novavax labs in Gaithersburg, Md. There is widespread concern that potential coronavirus vaccines are being rushed. (Abdrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images) Skepticism over rushed vaccine Some of the broad components of the federal plan have already been discussed, but Wednesday's reports attempt to put the key details into a comprehensive framework. Distribution is happening under the umbrella of Operation Warp Speed, a White House-backed initiative to have millions of doses ready to ship once a vaccine is given what's expected to be an emergency use approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Several formulations are undergoing final trials. But the whole enterprise is facing public skepticism. Only about half of Americans said they'd get vaccinated in an Associated Press poll taken in May. Of those who wouldn't get vaccinated, the overwhelming majority said they were worried about safety. To effectively protect the United States from the coronavirus, experts say upwards of 70 per cent of Americans must either be vaccinated or have their own immunity from fighting off COVID-19. SECOND OPINION What the level of COVID-19 immunity in Canada could mean for the vaccine hunt Since the poll, questions have only mounted about whether the government is trying to rush COVID-19 treatments and vaccines to help U.S. President Donald Trump's re-election chances. Before the Republican National Convention in August, the FDA granted authorization for treatment of COVID-19 patients with plasma from people who have recovered, even though some government scientists were not convinced the clinical evidence was strong enough. And last week it was reported that Michael Caputo, a Health and Human Services Department political appointee, tried to gain editorial control over a weekly scientific publication from the CDC. U.S. President Donald Trump is hoping a COVID-19 vaccine will increase his re-election chances in the upcoming presidential race. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images) As public confidence in core health agencies has taken a beating, Trump administration officials have been forced to play defence. "We are working closely with our state and local public health partners … to ensure that Americans can receive the vaccine as soon as possible and vaccinate with confidence," HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement Wednesday. "Americans should know that the vaccine development process is being driven completely by science and the data." That could be a tough sell. In the AP poll, one in five Americans said they would not get a coronavirus vaccine; 31 per cent said they were unsure.

Continue Reading U.S. gov't releases 'playbook' for free COVID-19 vaccines for Americans

4 Afghans charged with arson for fire at Lesbos refugee camp

A woman carries a child past flames after a major fire broke out in the Moria migrants camp on the Greek Aegean island of Lesbos, on Sept. 9. (Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images) Four Afghan migrants have been charged with arson for alleged involvement in fires that destroyed most of a large refugee camp on the eastern island of Lesbos, Greek authorities said. The men, who have not been named, were led to a court on the island on Wednesday to be formally charged. They were later returned to police detention after being given three days to prepare their testimony. Migrants sit inside the burnt Moria Camp. Thousands of asylum seekers fled for their lives as the huge fires ripped through the camp . (Anthi Pazianou/AFP/Getty Images) The fires swept through the overcrowded camp at Moria last week, prompting more than 12,000 migrants and refugees to flee. Nobody was hurt. Most of them remain without shelter, camped on a roadside near the gutted camp. Two other migrants allegedly involved in setting the fires are underage, and are being held by police on the Greek mainland. They have not been formally charged. The government maintains that the fires at Moria were set deliberately by migrants protesting confinement after the site was locked down due to an outbreak of COVID-19. Athens on Tuesday urged the European Union to jointly run new refugee camps on Greece's eastern islands as part of an overhaul of the EU's migration policies. An asylum-seeker retrieves his belongings from his burnt down tent as fires continue to rage for a second night in the Moria migrant camp. (Byron Smith/Getty Images)

Continue Reading 4 Afghans charged with arson for fire at Lesbos refugee camp

Hurricane Sally makes landfall in Alabama with punishing rain

This GOES-16 GeoColor satellite image taken Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET., and provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows the spread of Hurricane Sally as it moved slowly toward the coast from the Gulf of Mexico. (NOAA/The Associated Press) Hurricane Sally made landfall Wednesday near Gulf Shores, Ala., as a Category 2 storm, pushing a surge of ocean water onto the coast and dumping torrential rain that forecasters said would cause dangerous flooding from the Florida Panhandle to Mississippi and well inland in the days ahead. Moving agonizingly slow at just under five kilometres per hour, Sally finally came ashore at 4:45 a.m. local time with top winds of 165 km/h, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Sally's northern eyewall had raked the Gulf Coast with hurricane-force winds and rain from Pensacola Beach, Fla., westward to Dauphin Island, Ala., for hours before its centre finally hit land. Some 150,000 homes and businesses had lost electricity by early Wednesday, according to the poweroutage.us site. A curfew was called in the coastal Alabama city of Gulf Shores due to life-threatening conditions. In the Panhandle's Escambia County, Chief Sheriff's Deputy Chip Simmons vowed to keep deputies out with residents as long as physically possible. The county includes Pensacola, one of the largest cities on the Gulf Coast. "The sheriff's office will be there until we can no longer safely be out there, and then and only then will we pull our deputies in," Simmons said at a storm briefing late Tuesday. This for a storm that, during the weekend, appeared to be headed for New Orleans. "Obviously this shows what we've known for a long time with storms — they are unpredictable," Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson IV said. A man walks though a flooded parking lot as the outer bands of Hurricane Sally come ashore Wednesday in Gulf Shores, Ala. The storm, which has now made landfall, is bringing heavy rain, high winds and a dangerous storm surge from eastern Louisiana to western Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images) Stacy Stewart, a senior specialist with the hurricane centre, told The Associated Press said the rainfall will be "catastrophic and life threatening" over portions of the Gulf Coast, Florida panhandle and southeastern Alabama, and will continue well after landfall, with the storm producing heavy rainfall Wednesday night and Thursday over portions of central and southern Georgia. Sally was a rare storm that could make history, said Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the hurricane centre. "Sally has a characteristic that isn't often seen and that's a slow forward speed and that's going to exacerbate the flooding," Rappaport told the AP. He likened the storm's slow progression to that of Hurricane Harvey, which swamped Houston in 2017. Up to 76 centimetres of rain could fall in some spots, and "that would be record-setting in some locations," Rappaport said in an interview Tuesday night. Flash flooding warning for Mississippi Although the hurricane had the Alabama and Florida coasts in its sights Wednesday, its effects were felt all along the northern Gulf Coast. Low-lying properties in southeast Louisiana were swamped by the surge. Water covered Mississippi beaches and parts of the highway that runs parallel to them. Two large casino boats broke loose from a dock where they were undergoing construction work in Alabama. In Orange Beach, Ala., Chris Parks, a tourist from Nashua, N.H., spent the night monitoring the storm and taking care of his infant child as strong winds battered his family's hotel room. Their return flight home was cancelled "I'm just glad we are together," Parks said. "The wind is crazy. You can hear solid heavy objects blowing through the air and hitting the building." Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves urged people in the southern part of his state to prepare for the potential for flash flooding. As Sally's outer bands reached the Gulf Coast, the manager of an alligator ranch in Moss Point, Miss., was hoping he wouldn't see a repeat of what happened at the gator farm in 2005, when about 250 alligators escaped their enclosures during Hurricane Katrina's storm surge. Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Tours Manager Tim Parker said Sally has been a stressful storm because forecasters were predicting a storm surge of as much as 2.75 metres in his area. He felt some relief after surge predictions shifted. Here is the 6 AM CDT 9/16 update for #Sally: Hurricane-force winds spreading inland over southeastern Alabama and the western portion of the Florida Panhandle. Catastrophic and life-threatening flooding likely along portions of the north-central Gulf Coast. pic.twitter.com/AqSlKJ1Zmx —@NHC_Atlantic After dumping rain on the coast Wednesday, Sally was forecast to bring heavy downpours to parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas later in the week. Sally's power was an irresistible draw for some in its path. With heavy rains pelting Navarre Beach, Fla., and the wind-whipped surf pounding, a steady stream of people walked down the wooden boardwalk at a park for a look at the scene Tuesday afternoon. Rebecca Studstill, who lives inland, was wary of staying too long, noting that police close bridges once the wind and water get too high. With Hurricane Sally expected to dump rain for days, the problem could be worse than normal, she said. "Just hunkering down would probably be the best thing for folks out here," she said.

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Yoshihide Suga named Japan's prime minister, succeeding Abe

Yoshihide Suga stands up after being elected as Japan's new prime minister at parliament's lower house in Tokyo on Wednesday. (Koji Sasahara/The Associated Press) Japan's Parliament elected Yoshihide Suga as prime minister Wednesday, replacing long-serving leader Shinzo Abe with his right-hand man. Suga had been chosen as leader of the ruling party on Monday, virtually assuring he would succeed Abe, who resigned earlier in the day because of ill health. Suga, who was chief Cabinet secretary in Abe's government, is to launch his own Cabinet later Wednesday. Suga has stressed his background as a farmer's son and a self-made politician in promising to serve the interests of ordinary people and rural communities. He has said he will pursue Abe's unfinished policies, and that his top priorities will be fighting the coronavirus and turning around an economy battered by the pandemic. Abe said before the change was official that as a lawmaker, he will support Suga's government and he thanked the people for their understanding and strong support for the upcoming leadership under Suga. "I devoted my body and soul for the economic recovery and diplomacy to protect Japan's national interest every single day since we returned to power," Abe told reporters at the prime minister's office before heading into his final Cabinet meeting. "During this time, I was able to tackle various challenges together with the people, and I'm proud of myself." Suga gained the support of party heavyweights and their followers early in the campaign on expectations he would continue Abe's line. Japan's outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe waves as he leaves the prime minister's office Wednesday. Abe and his Cabinet resigned Wednesday, clearing the way for his successor Yoshihide Suga to take over after parliamentary confirmation later in the day. (Eugene Hoshiko/The Associated Press) Suga has been a loyal supporter of Abe since Abe's first stint as prime minister from 2006 to 2007. Abe's tenure ended abruptly because of illness, and Suga helped him return as prime minister in 2012. Abe, 65, has ulcerative colitis and his current treatment requires IV injections. He said last month his condition has improved but, facing ongoing treatment and physical weakness, he decided to resign. Suga has praised Abe's diplomacy and economic policies when asked about what he would like to accomplish as prime minister. Suga, who does not belong to any wing within the party and opposes factionalism, says he is a reformer who will break down vested interests and rules that hamper reforms. He says he will set up a new government agency to speed up Japan's lagging digital transformation. In a reshuffle of the ruling party key posts, however, Suga evenly allocated top posts to key factions, a balancing act seen as a return of favour for their support in the leadership race. Diplomatic skills unknown Suga said he will appoint "reform-minded, hard-working people" to the new Cabinet. About half of the members in the Abe Cabinet are expected to be retained or shifted to different ministerial posts. Media reports say some key ministers, including Finance Minister Taro Aso, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto, and Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, the son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, will stay. Abe's younger brother, Nobuo Kishi, is reportedly tapped as defense minister, replacing Taro Kono who is expected be shifted to administrative reforms minister. Compared to his political prowess at home, Suga has hardly travelled overseas and his diplomatic skills are unknown, though he is largely expected to pursue Abe's priorities. The new prime minister will inherit a range of challenges, including relations with China, which continues its assertive actions in the contested East China Sea, and what to do with the Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed to next summer due to the coronavirus. And he will have to establish a good relationship with whomever wins the U.S. presidential race.

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Backup driver charged in fatal autonomous Uber vehicle crash

An Uber self-driving car drives down 5th Street on March 28, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif. A back-up driver has been charged with negligent homicide in the fatal 2018 crash involving one of Uber's autonomous vehicles. ( Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) The backup Uber driver involved in the first self-driving vehicle fatality has been charged with negligent homicide for being distracted in the moments before fatally striking a woman in suburban Phoenix. Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel's office said on Tuesday that Rafaela Vasquez was charged on Aug. 27 in the 2018 crash in Tempe that killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg. She pleaded not guilty during a hearing on Tuesday. Her attorney did not immediately respond to an inquiry from The Associated Press. Prosecutors declined in March 2019 to file criminal charges against Uber, as a corporation, in Herzberg's death. Vasquez, 46, told investigators that she didn't use her cellphones before the crash. But the National Transportation Safety Board concluded Vasquez's failure to monitor the road as she watched the television show The Voice on her phone was the main cause of the crash. The contributing factors cited by the board included Uber's inadequate safety procedures and ineffective oversight of its drivers, Herzberg's decision to cross the street outside of a crosswalk, and the Arizona Department of Transportation's insufficient oversight of autonomous vehicle testing. The board also concluded Uber's de-activation of its automatic emergency braking system increased the risks associated with testing automated vehicles on public roads. Instead of the system, Uber relied on the human backup driver to intervene. The Uber system detected Herzberg 5.6 seconds before the crash. But it but failed to determine whether she was a bicyclist, pedestrian or unknown object, or that she was headed into the vehicle's path, the board said. Cars pulled following crash The death reverberated throughout the auto industry and Silicon Valley and forced other companies to slow what had been a fast march toward autonomous ride-hailing services on public roads. Uber pulled its self-driving cars out of Arizona the day before the NTSB issued a preliminary report on the crash, eliminating the jobs of about 300 people who served as backup drivers and performed other jobs connected to the vehicles. Gov. Doug Ducey prohibited Uber from continuing its tests of self-driving cars after Herzberg was run over. WATCH | Future of self-driving cars called into question following 2018 crash: Jesse Hirsh, president, Metaviews, on whether Uber's quest for a self-driving future may have sustained damage after collision 6:55 A toxicology report showed that Herzberg tested positive for methamphetamine. Vasquez had previously spent more than four years in prison for two felony convictions — making false statements when obtaining unemployment benefits and attempted armed robbery — before starting work as an Uber driver, according to court records. Vasquez's first name was listed on a driver's licence as Rafael, but police say Vasquez identifies as a woman and goes by the first name of Rafaela. The decision not to criminally charge Uber in Herzberg's death was made by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, whose officer handled the case after the prosecutor's office in metro Phoenix cited a potential conflict of interest for having previously participated in a public-safety campaign with Uber. The case was returned to prosecutors in metro Phoenix after the decision not to charge Uber had eliminated the conflict of interest. A trial for Vasquez is scheduled for Feb. 11, 2021.

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Maine officials connect 5 coronavirus deaths to a wedding reception

The Big Moose Inn on Millinocket Lake in Millinocket, Maine is seen in this Aug. 18, 2020 file photo. A COVID-19 outbreak connected to a wedding reception held at the inn in early August has led to more than 175 cases of the virus and at least five deaths, state officials say. (Linda Coan O'Kresik/The Bangor Daily News/The Associated Press) At least five people have died in connection to a coronavirus outbreak that continues to sicken people in Maine following a wedding reception held over the summer that violated state virus guidelines, public health authorities said. The August wedding reception at the Big Moose Inn in Millinocket is linked to more than 175 confirmed cases of the virus, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday. Maine authorities have identified overlaps between the wedding reception and outbreaks elsewhere in the state. An employee of the York County Jail attended the wedding, Maine CDC officials have said. Maine health officials have also said a staff member from a Madison long-term care facility, which is the site of four of the five deaths, attended the event. The virus cases stemming from the wedding have spanned hundreds of kilometres in a state that had largely controlled the spread of the coronavirus through the summer. Maine has reported fewer than 5,000 cases of the virus in total since March. But the growing number of cases related to the wedding, which exceeded the state's guidelines of 50 people or fewer at indoor gatherings, could undo some of that progress if it continues to swell. Authorities have said more than 65 people attended the wedding. THE LATEST Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Tuesday The wedding was also officiated by pastor Todd Bell of Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford. The Maine CDC is currently investigating to determine if an outbreak at the church is connected to the wedding outbreak. Calvary Baptist Church issued a statement on Tuesday that said "a number of Calvary Baptist Church members attended" the wedding reception. The statement said the church is taking precautions to limit the spread of the virus, and it will defend its right to continue holding services. "The Calvary Baptist Church has a legal right to meet. The authority of a local Christian church, a Jewish synagogue, or a Muslim mosque to gather for their respective religious services is a time-honoured part of our nation's history since its inception," the statement said. "These religious activities are also fully protected under the First Amendment to our United States Constitution." Bell has been critical of government attempts to control coronavirus, and videos show he has held services without the use of physical distancing. He hired a lawyer known nationally for defending the religious rights of churches. Bell did not respond to a request Tuesday for comment.

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Louisville to pay family of police shooting victim Breonna Taylor $12M, bring in police reforms

The shooting death of Breonna Taylor at the hands of police in Louisville, Ky., sparked months of protests and calls nationwide for the officers to be criminally charged. (Sam Aguiar/The Associated Press) The city of Louisville will pay $12 million US to the family of Breonna Taylor and reform police practices as part of a lawsuit settlement months after Taylor's slaying by police thrust the Black woman's name to the forefront of a national reckoning on race, Mayor Greg Fischer announced Tuesday. Taylor's death sparked months of protests in Louisville and calls nationwide for the officers to be criminally charged. The state's attorney general, Daniel Cameron, is investigating police actions in the March 13 fatal shooting. "I cannot begin to imagine Ms. Palmer's pain, and I am deeply, deeply sorry for Breonna's death," Fischer said, referring to Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer. At Tuesday's news conference Palmer said "we must not lose focus on what the real job is, and with that being said, it's time to move forward with the criminal charges, because she deserves that and much more." The lawsuit, filed in April, alleged the police used flawed information when they obtained a "no-knock" warrant to enter Taylor's apartment in March. Taylor, 26, was shot several times, and police found no drugs at her home. "We won't let Breonna Taylor's life be swept under the rug," said Ben Crump, an attorney for Taylor's family, on Tuesday. Tamika Palmer, mother of Breonna Taylor, speaks on Aug. 28 at a march in Washington. Her daughter was shot to death by police in March in a so-called no-knock raid. (Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press) Crump said the $12 million settlement is the largest such settlement given out for a Black woman killed by police. He also called for charges against the officers and urged people to "say her name," a phrase that has become a refrain for those outraged by the shooting. Fischer said the civil settlement has nothing do with the criminal investigation. Settlement details broadcast over loudspeaker The news conference was broadcast over a loudspeaker in downtown Louisville and protesters listened as they sat around a memorial to Taylor. In the time since Taylor's shooting, her death — along with that of George Floyd and others — has become a rallying cry for protesters seeking a reckoning on racial justice and police reform. High-profile celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and LeBron James have called for the officers to be charged in Taylor's death. Palmer's lawsuit accused three Louisville police officers of blindly firing into Taylor's apartment the night of the March raid, striking Taylor several times. Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, was in the apartment with her and fired a single shot that struck an officer in the leg. Walker said he didn't hear police announce themselves and said he thought he was guarding against an intruder. The warrant was one of five issued in a wide-ranging investigation of a drug trafficking suspect who was a former boyfriend of Taylor's. That man, Jamarcus Glover, was arrested at a different location about 16 kilometres away from Taylor's apartment on the same evening. Louisville has banned no-knock warrants The city has already taken some reform measures, including passing a law named after Taylor that bans the use of the no-knock warrants. No-knock search warrants allow police to enter without first announcing their presence. Police typically use them in drug cases over concern that evidence could be destroyed if they announce their arrival. Mayor Fischer fired former police chief Steve Conrad in June and last week named Yvette Gentry, a former deputy chief, as the new interim police chief. Gentry would be the first Black woman to lead the force of about 1,200 sworn officers. The department has also fired Brett Hankison, one of the three officers who fired shots at Taylor's apartment that night. Hankison is appealing the dismissal. The largest settlement previously paid in a misconduct case was $8.5 million in 2012, to a man who spent nine years in prison for a crime he did not commit, according to news reports.

Continue Reading Louisville to pay family of police shooting victim Breonna Taylor $12M, bring in police reforms

Israel, 2 Gulf nations seal new accords at White House ceremony, angering Palestinians

From left to right, Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Donald Trump and U.A.E. Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan participate Tuesday in the signing of the Abraham Accords, normalizing relations between Israel and some of its Middle East neighbours. (Tom Brenner/Reuters) Declaring it "the dawn of a new Middle East," U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed historic diplomatic pacts with Israel and two Gulf Arab nations that he hopes will lead to a new order in the Mideast and cast him as a peacemaker at the height of his re-election campaign. Hundreds of people massed on the sun-washed South Lawn of the White House to witness the signing of agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The bilateral agreements formalize the normalization of the Jewish state's already thawing relations with the two Arab nations, in line with their common opposition to Iran and its aggression in the region. "We're here this afternoon to change the course of history," Trump said from a balcony overlooking the South Lawn. "After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East." The agreements do not address the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While the U.A.E., Bahrain and other Arab countries support the Palestinians, the Trump administration has persuaded the two countries not to let that conflict keep them from having normal relations with Israel. Trump's political backers are looking for the agreements to boost his standing as a statesman with just seven weeks to go before the Nov. 3 election. Until now, foreign policy has not had a major role in a campaign dominated by the coronavirus, racial issues and the economy. The pandemic was in the backdrop of the White House ceremony, where there was no physical distancing and most guests didn't wear masks. The agreements won't end active wars, but supporters believe they could pave the way for a broader Arab-Israeli rapprochement after decades of enmity and only two previous peace deals. Skeptics, including many longtime Mideast analysts and former officials, have expressed doubts about their impact and lamented that they ignore the Palestinians, who have rejected them as a stab in the back by fellow Arabs. During the ceremony, Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the brother of Abu Dhabi's powerful crown prince, thanked Israel for "halting the annexation of Palestinian territories," although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that Israel has only temporarily suspended its plans to annex West Bank settlements. "Today, we are already witnessing a change in the heart of the Middle East — a change that will send hope around the world," Al Nahyan said. Even the harshest critics have allowed that the agreements could usher in a major shift in the region should other Arab nations, particularly Saudi Arabia, follow suit, with implications for Iran, Syria and Lebanon. Other Arab countries believed to be close to recognizing Israel include Oman, Sudan and Morocco. "We are very down the road with about five different countries," Trump told reporters before the ceremony. Palestinians burn pictures of U.S. President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan during a protest Tuesday in Gaza. (Khalil Hamra/The Associated Press) In addition to the bilateral agreements signed by Israel, the U.A.E. and Bahrain, all three are signing a document dubbed the Abraham Accords after the patriarch of the world's three major monotheistic religions. "This day is a pivot of history," Netanyahu said. "It heralds a new dawn of peace." "Despite the many challenges and hardships that we all face — despite all that, let us pause a moment to appreciate this remarkable day." The Palestinians have not embraced the U.S. vision. Palestinian activists held small demonstrations Tuesday in the West Bank and in Gaza, where they trampled and set fire to pictures of Trump, Netanyahu and the leaders of the U.A.E. and Bahrain. Israel concerned about F-35 sales Even in Israel, where the accords have received widespread acclaim, there is concern they might result in U.S. sales of sophisticated weaponry to the U.A.E. and Bahrain, thus potentially upsetting Israel's qualitative military edge in the region. Trump said he is OK with selling military aircraft to the U.A.E.. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also welcomed the agreements but said she wants to learn details, specifically what the Trump administration has told the U.A.E. about buying American-made F-35 aircraft and about Israel agreeing to freeze efforts to annex portions of the West Bank. Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani said Bahrain would stand with the Palestinians. "Today is a truly historic occasion," he said. "A moment for hope and opportunity." Analysis Having rejected Trump's peace plan, Palestinians worry 'what will happen next?' And while the U.A.E. and Bahrain have a history of suppressing dissent and critical public opinion, there have been indications that the agreements are not nearly as popular or well received as in Israel. Neither country sent its head of state or government to sign the deals with Netanyahu. Bahrain's largest Shia-dominated opposition group, Al-Wefaq, which the government ordered dissolved in 2016 amid a years-long crackdown on dissent, said there is widespread rejection of normalization. Al-Wefaq said in a statement that it joins other Bahrainis who reject the agreement to normalize ties with the "Zionist entity," and criticized the government for crushing the public's ability to express opinions "to obscure the extent of discontent" at normalization. The ceremony follows months of intricate diplomacy headed by Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, and the president's envoy for international negotiations, Avi Berkowitz. On Aug. 13, the Israel-U.A.E. deal was announced. That was followed by the first direct commercial flight between the countries, and then the Sept. 11 announcement of the Bahrain-Israel agreement.

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U.S. reacts angrily to losing WTO ruling on China tariffs

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, seen during congressional testimony earlier this year, cited the decision as proof that the World Trade Organization isn't equipped to deal with what he characterizes as China's unfair trade advantages. (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press) A World Trade Organization panel ruled Tuesday that Trump administration tariffs on $200 billion US worth of Chinese goods are illegal, vindicating Beijing even if the United States has all but incapacitated the WTO's ability to hand down a final, binding verdict. The decision marks the first time that the Geneva-based trade body has ruled against a series of high-profile tariffs that U.S.President Donald Trump's government has imposed on a number of countries — allies and rivals alike. Trump has repeatedly claimed that the WTO treats the U.S. unfairly. In its decision, the WTO's dispute settlement body ruled against the U.S. government's argument that China has wrongly engaged in practices harmful to U.S. interests on issues including intellectual property theft and technology transfer. The ruling, in theory, would allow China to impose retaliatory tariffs on billions' worth of U.S. goods. But it is unlikely to have much practical impact, at least in the short term, because the U.S. can appeal the decision and the WTO's appeals court is currently no longer functioning — largely because of Washington's single-handed refusal to accept new members for it. Analysis Is the global trading system unravelling before our eyes? Here is where things stand The appeals court issues final rulings in trade cases and stopped functioning last year when the terms of two of its last three judges expired with no replacements. That means the United States can appeal the decision "into the void," said Timothy Keeler, a lawyer at Mayer Brown and former chief of staff for the U.S. Trade Representative. "This panel report confirms what the Trump administration has been saying for four years: The WTO is completely inadequate to stop China's harmful technology practices," said U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer in a statement. He said the U.S. had presented "extensive evidence" of China's intellectual property theft and the WTO has offered no fixes for it. "The United States must be allowed to defend itself against unfair trade practices, and the Trump administration will not let China use the WTO to take advantage of American workers, businesses, farmers, and ranchers," he said. Abolish the WTO: Republican senator Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, one of the prominent China critics in the Republican Party, said it was "more evidence that the WTO is outdated, sclerotic, and generally bad for America. USA should withdraw and lead the effort to abolish it." The Chinese ministry of commerce said the ruling was "objective and fair" and called on the U.S. to respect it. The U.S. tariffs target two batches of Chinese products. Duties of 10 per cent were imposed on some $200 billion worth of goods in September 2018, and were jacked up to 25 per cent eight months later. An additional 25 per cent duties were imposed in June 2018 against Chinese goods worth about $34 billion in annual trade. Breaking U.S. presents plan to drop duties on aluminum imports after Canada threatens retaliation The Trump administration has justified the sanctions under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, once a common tool used by the U.S. government to impose sanctions — and recently revived by Trump. The U.S. argued that China's actions had amounted to "state-sanctioned theft" and "misappropriation" of U.S. technology, intellectual property and commercial secrets. The WTO panel ruled that the U.S. measures violated longstanding international trade rules because they only applied to products from China, and that Washington had not adequately substantiated its claim that the Chinese products hit with the extra duties had benefited from the allegedly unfair Chinese practices.

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Former British MP Charlie Elphicke sentenced to prison for sexual assaults

Charlie Elphicke, left, is shown speaking in the House of Commons in April 2019 while serving as a Conservative MP. (Reuters TV) A former lawmaker from Britain's governing Conservative Party was sentenced to two years in jail after being found guilty of sexually assaulting two women. Charlie Elphicke, 49, whose wife, Natalie, succeeded him last year as the Member of Parliament for Dover in southern England, was convicted in July of assaulting his first victim, his children's nanny, in 2007 and the second, a researcher, in 2016. "You are a sexual predator who used your success and respectability as a cover," said Judge Philippa Whipple, adding that he had told a pack of lies to the jury, his wife, his party's officials and the police. "You suggested to each woman that this was something they wanted, that they had encouraged, that they had enjoyed. That was not true. They had not encouraged you or led you on. Your behaviour was also an abuse of power." She jailed him for two years, saying he would serve up to half behind bars, and he was ordered to pay 35,000 pounds ($59,300 Cdn) in costs. Southwark Crown Court was told Elphicke, who represented Dover between 2010 and 2019, became sexually suggestive, lunged at the nanny and groped her in 2007 while his wife was away. He paid her in cash to keep it secret from his wife. Nine years later, he forcibly kissed the parliamentary worker, telling her: "I am so naughty sometimes, aren't I?" On another occasion he sexually touched her again despite her having said she had no interest in him. Elphicke said he did kiss the first woman but stopped when she did not reciprocate, and while he was "besotted" with the second woman, he said he did not touch her. His wife, who is still the lawmaker for Dover, said her 25-year marriage was over after her husband's conviction.

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Canadian security firm GardaWorld launches $5B hostile takeover bid of Britain's G4S

Garda has gone public with its offer to buy out British security firm G4S after the target company rebuffed previous private negotiations. (Carl Recine/Reuters) GardaWorld, the world's largest privately owned security company, said Monday it was making a cash offer worth 3 billion pounds, or $5.2 billion Cdn, for G4S, a London-based rival that has rejected or ignored the Canadian company's previous approaches. Montreal-based GardaWorld said it decided to publicize its revised bid of 190 pence per share to pressure G4S's board into talks. G4S responded by saying the bid "significantly undervalues the company and its prospects." "Shareholders are strongly advised to take absolutely no action in relation to the new proposal," G4S said. G4S shares jumped 25 per cent to close at 182.45 pence on the London Stock Exchange. The stock is still down more than 40 per cent from its peak in June 2017. GardaWorld doesn't list its shares on a stock exchange. Since last year, London-based BC Partners has been the controlling shareholder in the Quebec company after reaching a $5.2 billion deal in exchange for a 51 per cent stake. GardaWorld founder Stephan Cretier owns 43 per cent, while the remainder belongs to other managers of the company. Cretier, who is chief executive officer of GardaWorld, said in a statement that "we believe that the combined business's operations will offer a better future for all those who depend on G4S." He wasn't available for interviews Monday. Employees across the world G4S, which employs more than 500,000 people in 85 countries, said its financial performance has been "particularly resilient" since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In July, G4S posted underlying first-half earnings of 97 million pounds (or about $167 million), the same as for the year-earlier period. Revenue fell 1.5 per cent to 3.35 billion pounds (just over $5.6 billion). In a letter dated Aug. 31 sent to the board of the British company, Cretier acknowledged that these results have exceeded expectations, which were not very high in the current context. He also recalled that the first proposal was 102 pence per share, roughly half of the current offer.

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Alexei Navalny seen for 1st time since poisoning, in picture with family

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny posted a picture of himself from his hospital bed in Germany on Tuesday, looking gaunt but alert and saying that he was happy to be breathing on his own finally after being poisoned with a nerve agent. The Instagram post was the first image of the 44-year-old released since he was taken to Berlin's Charité hospital two days after falling ill on a domestic flight in Russia on Aug. 20. "Hi, this is Navalny," he wrote in the Russian-language post. "I have been missing you. I still can't do much, but yesterday I managed to breathe on my own for the entire day." Navalny had been kept in an induced coma for more than a week as he was treated with an antidote before hospital officials said a week ago that his condition had improved enough for him to be brought out of it. On Monday, the hospital said he had been removed from mechanical ventilation and was able to leave his bed for "short periods of time." In the photo, Navalny is being given a hug by his wife, Yulia, and is flanked by his two children as he sits upright in his bed in a hospital gown, and his statement even had the ring of his well-known sarcastic humour. "Just on my own, no extra help, I didn't even use the simplest valve in my throat," he said of being able to breathe without ventilation. "I liked it very much. It's a remarkable process that is underestimated by many. Strongly recommended." Despite his recovery, doctors have said they cannot rule out long-term health issues associated with the poisoning. Navalny's spokesperson, Leonid Volkov, refused to give any details on Navalny's condition or possible plans after his recovery when reached by The Associated Press on Tuesday. A German military lab has determined that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, the same class of Soviet-era agent that Britain said was used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England in 2018. On Monday, the German government said independent tests by labs in France and Sweden backed up its findings. The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons also is taking steps to have samples from Navalny tested at its designated labs, Germany has said. Merkel, Macron deem poisoning a 'criminal act' The Kremlin has bristled at calls from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders to answer questions about the poisoning, denying any official involvement. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has accused the West of using the incident as a pretext to introduce new sanctions against Moscow. French President Emmanuel Macron's office said he had expressed "deep concern over the criminal act" that targeted Navalny directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday. LISTEN | On Alexei Navalny and the history of poisonings of Russian activists: Alexei Navalny is the most prominent opposition figure in Russia, an anti-corruption crusader and a frequent Kremlin critic. But right now, Navalny is comatose in a German hospital after a suspected poisoning. Today on Front Burner, Chris Brown from CBC's Moscow bureau explains why Navalny might have been targeted, by whom, and the potential fallout. 21:08 The Kremlin said Putin in the call "underlined the impropriety of unfounded accusations against the Russian side," and emphasized Russia's demand for Germany to hand over analyses and samples. Putin also called for joint work by German and Russian doctors. Berlin has rejected suggestions from Moscow that it is dragging its heels on sharing evidence. With Germany's findings corroborated by labs abroad, "we do not expect the bringer of the bad news — namely us — to be attacked further, but rather that they should deal with the news itself," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Monday of Russian authorities. Asked why no samples from Navalny have been given to Russia, his spokesperson noted that "Mr. Navalny was in Russian treatment in a hospital for 48 hours." Russian doctors who treated Navalny in Omsk said no evidence of poisoning could be found.

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Slow-moving Hurricane Sally expected to drench Alabama, Mississippi

Deputy Jarred Bazile, of the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff department, monitors a checkpoint before the possible arrival of Hurricane Sally on Monday in Shell Beach, La. The storm is threatening to bring heavy rain, high winds and a dangerous storm surge from Louisiana to Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images) Hurricane Sally, a plodding storm with winds of 137 kilometres per hour, crept toward the northern Gulf Coast early Tuesday as forecasters warned of potentially deadly storm surges and flash floods with up to two feet of rain and the possibility of tornadoes. Hurricane warnings had stretched from Grand Isle, La., to Navarre, Fla., but forecasters, while stressing "significant" uncertainty, kept nudging the predicted track eastward, easing fears in New Orleans, which was once in Sally's crosshairs. On the current track, the storm is forecast to reach land near the Alabama-Mississippi state line by late Tuesday or early Wednesday. Stacy Stewart, a senior specialist with the National Hurricane Center, said Tuesday that people should continue to take the storm seriously since "devastating" rainfall is expected in large areas. People could drown in the flooding, he said. "This is going to be historic flooding along with the historic rainfall," Stewart said. "If people live near rivers, small streams and creeks, they need to evacuate and go somewhere else." Alex Vidmar, centre, and Darrin Manning board up a business as Hurricane Sally approaches in Ocean Springs, Miss., on Tuesday. (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters) The storm was moving at only 4 km/h before dawn on Tuesday, centred at 8 a.m. ET about 170 kilometres south-southeast of Biloxi, Miss., and 110 kilometres east of the mouth of the Mississippi River. It was packing maximum sustained winds of 140 kilometres per hour. Forecasters expect Sally to turn northward Tuesday afternoon, moving near the coast of southeastern Louisiana later in the day, and then travel slowly north-northeastward through Wednesday, with top winds increasing to 177 km/h, nearly Category 3, before blowing ashore. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared an emergency in the Panhandle's westernmost counties, which were being pummelled by rain from Sally's outer bands early Tuesday. The threat of heavy rain and storm surge was exacerbated by the storm's slow movement. President Donald Trump issued emergency declarations for parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on Monday, and tweeted that residents should listen to state and local leaders. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey sought the presidential declaration after the National Weather Service in Mobile, Ala., warned of the increasing likelihood of "dangerous and potentially historic flooding," with waters rising as much as 2.7 metres above ground in parts of the Mobile metro area. Slow moving Hurricane Sally will approach the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama today before likely making landfall late tonight or early Wednesday. Very heavy rainfall will accompany this system which is likely to produce widespread life-threatening flash flooding. pic.twitter.com/hjeo0cMYBJ —@NWSWPC It all seemed a distant threat Monday afternoon in Waveland, Miss., as a shirtless, barefooted Trevor Claunch, of nearby Bay St. Louis, got in some last-minute beach time. But there were signs of trouble coming. Claunch marvelled at how the Gulf waters had already crept over swaths of sandy shore and infiltrated bike paths and parking lots. "Without any rain, and it's already all the way up — I honestly want to stick around and see where it goes," said Claunch. But he wasn't taking any chances. "We're going to go inland," he said. Expected to regain strength Sally achieved hurricane strength Monday and quickly intensified to a Category 2 storm with 161 km/h winds. Its maximum sustained winds dwindled to a Category 1 by early Tuesday, but forecasters expect it to grow stronger again before landfall. While the threat to Louisiana appeared to be easing, flood control authorities remained on guard, closing gates along networks of waterways that could be pushed over their banks by the possible surge from the Gulf. The southwestern part of the state was pummelled by Hurricane Laura on Aug. 27 and an estimated 2,000 evacuees from that storm were sheltered in New Orleans, mostly in hotels. Monday marked only the second time on record, forecasters said, that five tropical cyclones swirled simultaneously in the Atlantic basin. The last time that happened was in 1971. None of the others were expected to threaten the U.S. this week, if at all, and one was downgraded to a low-pressure trough Monday evening. The extraordinarily busy hurricane season — like the catastrophic wildfire season on the West Coast — has focused attention on the role of climate change. Scientists say global warming is making the strongest of hurricanes, those with wind speeds of 177 km/h or more, even stronger. Also, warmer air holds more moisture, making storms rainier, and rising seas from global warming make storm surges higher and more damaging. Fabian Barreto loads sandbags into his pickup truck in preparation for Hurricane Sally in Gulfport, Miss., on Monday. (Alyssa Newton/The Sun Herald/The Associated Press) In addition, scientists have been seeing tropical storms and hurricanes slow down once they hit the United States by about 17 per cent since 1990, and that gives them the opportunity to unload more rain over one place, as 2017's Hurricane Harvey did in Houston. People along the coast appeared to be taking the storm seriously even as it remained offshore. Coastal casinos shut down under orders from the Mississippi Gaming Commission. Motorists filled a convenience store parking lot in Ocean Springs, Miss., as they topped off gas tanks and stocked up on ice, beer and snacks. "It's second nature to us. It would have already been done but I had to work," Zale Stratakos said as she helped her mother, Kimberly Stratakos, fill three plastic gasoline cans. As It Happens Louisiana man says his city 'looks like a bomb went off' after Hurricane Laura

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Boat capsizes near Libya; 2 dozen migrants presumed dead

Migrants wearing lifejackets on a rubber dinghy are pictured during a rescue operation by the MSF-SOS Mediterranee run Ocean Viking rescue ship, off the coast of Libya in the Mediterranean Sea in February 2020. (Hannah Wallace Bowman/MSF/Handout/Reuters) The U.N. migration agency said Tuesday that a boat carrying migrants bound for Europe capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya, leaving at least two dozen people drowned or missing and presumed dead, the latest shipwreck off the North African country. Safa Msehli, a spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration, told The Associated Press that Libya's coast guard intercepted three boats on Monday, and one of them had capsized. She said the coast guard retrieved two bodies, and survivors reported 22 others were missing and presumed dead. At least 45 survivors on the three boats were returned to the shore. All migrants were men, with a majority from Egypt and Morocco, she said. "This new tragedy signals yet again the need for increased search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean. Instead, we are seeing restrictions on NGOs and long, unnecessary stand-offs," Msehli said. 2nd sea tragedy in 2 months The shipwreck was the latest maritime disaster involving migrants seeking a better life in Europe. In August, a boat carrying dozens of migrants capsized leaving at least 45 people drowned or missing and presumed dead, marking the largest number of fatalities in a single shipwreck off the coast of the North African country. Libya, which descended into chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, has emerged as a major transit point for African and Arab migrants fleeing war and poverty to Europe.

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Residents brace as Hurricane Sally threatens U.S. Gulf Coast

Residents fill sandbags as Hurricane Sally approaches in Bay St. Louis, Miss., on Monday. (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters) Hurricane Sally, one of five storms lined up as if on a conveyor belt across the Atlantic, churned toward the Louisiana-Mississippi coast Monday with rapidly strengthening winds of at least 145 km/h and the potential for as much as 60 centimetres of rain that could bring severe flooding. Storm-weary Gulf Coast residents rushed to buy bottled water and other supplies ahead of the storm, which was expected to reach Louisiana's southeastern tip around daybreak Tuesday and make its way sluggishly northward into Mississippi on a path that could menace the New Orleans metropolitan area and cause a long, slow drenching. Forecasters said it could be a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 169 km/h by the time it nears the coast. It could be Louisiana's second pounding from a hurricane in less than three weeks. Jeremy Burke lifted things off the floor in case of flooding in his Bay Books bookstore in the Old Town neighbourhood of Bay St. Louis, Miss., a popular weekend getaway from New Orleans, about 95 kilometres to the west. The streets outside were emptying fast. "It's turning into a ghost town," he said. "Everybody's biggest fear is the storm surge, and the worst possible scenario being that it just stalls out. That would be a dicey situation for everybody." This satellite image provided by the NOAA shows five tropical cyclones churning in the Atlantic basin on Monday. The storms, from left, are Hurricane Sally over the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Paulette over Bermuda, the remnants of tropical storm Rene, and tropical storms Teddy and Vicky. (NOAA via AP) Sally is perhaps the least welcome guest among lots of company: For only the second time on record, meteorologist Philip Klotzbach said, five tropical cyclones were churning simultaneously in the Atlantic basin. In addition to Sally were Hurricane Paulette, which passed over a well-fortified Bermuda on Monday and was expected to peel harmlessly out into the North Atlantic, and Tropical Storms Rene, Teddy and Vicky, all of them out at sea. As of mid-afternoon, Sally was about 260 kilometres southeast of Biloxi, Miss. Sally's sluggish track could give it more time to drench the Mississippi Delta with rain and push storm surge ashore. People in New Orleans watched the storm's track intently. A more easterly course could bring torrential rain and damaging winds to Mississippi. A more westerly track would pose another test for the low-lying city, where heavy rains have to be pumped out through a century-old drainage system. Workers board up businesses in preparation for the arrival of Sally in New Orleans on Monday. (Kathleen Flynn/Reuters) Even with a push toward the east, New Orleans, which is on Lake Pontchartain, will be in the storm surge area, said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy. He said New Orleans "should be very concerned in terms of track." The National Hurricane Center forecast storm surges of up to 3.4 metres, including 1.2 to 1.8 metres in Lake Pontchartrain and roughly one metre in downtown Mobile, Ala., a city of about 189,000 people. In eastern New Orleans, drainage canals were lowered in anticipation of torrential rains, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said. New Orleans police went on 12-hour shifts, and rescue boats, barricades, backup generators and other equipment were readied, Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said. Police are seen at a checkpoint in Shell Beach, La., on Monday. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images) On Aug. 27, Hurricane Laura blow ashore in southwestern Louisiana along the Texas line, well west of New Orleans, tearing off roofs and leaving large parts of the city of Lake Charles uninhabitable. The storm was blamed for 32 deaths in the two states, the vast majority of them in Louisiana. Other Gulf Coast states urged residents to prepare for Sally. In Jackson, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said the hurricane could dump up to 51 centimetres of rain in the southern part of the state. Shelters opened, but officials urged people who are evacuating to stay with friends or relatives or in hotels, if possible, because of the coronavirus. A truck plows through seawater after winds from Sally mixed with the high tide caused flooding in Waveland, Miss., on Monday. (Lukas Flippo/The Sun Herald via AP) People in shelters will be required to wear masks and other protective equipment, authorities said. "Planning for a Cat 1 or Cat 2 hurricane is always complicated," Reeves said. "Planning for it during 2020 and the life of COVID makes it even more challenging." Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey closed beaches and called for evacuations. As #HurricaneSally continues heading closer to the Gulf Coast, we must give individuals time to prepare for the anticipated impacts of this storm. All AL beaches are closed effective today at 3:00 p.m. & I'm recommending an evacuation of flood-prone areas south of I-10. #ALwx —@GovernorKayIvey

Continue Reading Residents brace as Hurricane Sally threatens U.S. Gulf Coast

Tropical storm Sally strengthens into hurricane, U.S. Gulf Coast braces for landfall

Mississippi coast residents Kim Miller and Monty Graham fill sandbags Sunday in preparation for Hurricane Sally, which was predicted to make landfall Tuesday. (Alyssa Newton/The Sun Herald/The Associated Press) Storm-weary Gulf Coast residents prepared for a new weather onslaught as tropical storm Sally strengthened into a hurricane on Monday.  As of 12:20 p.m. ET, the hurricane was located about 220 kilometres east-southeast of the Mouth of the Mississippi River, with maximum sustained winds of 140 km/h, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.  Jeffrey Gagnard of Chalmette, La., was spending Sunday in Mississippi helping his parents prepare their home for Sally — and making sure they safely evacuated ahead of the storm. "I mean, after Katrina, anything around here and anything on the water, you're going to take serious," he said as he loaded the back of his SUV with cases of bottled water in a grocery store parking lot in Waveland, Miss. "You can't take anything lightly." Gagnard said he planned to head back across the state line to prepare his own home for the winds and rain Sally was expected to bring to the New Orleans area. Forecasters from the NHC in Miami expected Sally to reach shore by early Tuesday, bringing dangerous weather conditions, including risk of flooding, to a region stretching from the western Florida Panhandle to southeast Louisiana. "I know for a lot of people this storm seemed to come out of nowhere," said Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. "We need everybody to pay attention to this storm. Let's take this one seriously." Edwards urged people to prepare for the storm immediately. He also said there are still many from southwestern Louisiana who evacuated from Hurricane Laura into New Orleans — exactly the area that could be hit by Sally, which is a slow-moving storm. 'Trying to stay calm' In Mandeville, a city about 56 kilometres north of New Orleans, resident Chris Yandle had purchased a week's worth of groceries and moved all his patio furniture into his family's house in preparation for the storm. 11 AM CDT UPDATE: NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft finds that #Sally has strengthened into a hurricane with 85 mph max sustained winds. Special advisory to follow shortly. https://t.co/tW4KeFW0gB pic.twitter.com/elyQPCgELT —@NHC_Atlantic "I'm mostly trying to stay calm — especially with a family of four and a dog to worry about," Yandle said. "I've lived through many hurricanes growing up in Louisiana, but I haven't felt this anxious about a hurricane in my life." Mississippi officials warned that the storm was expected to coincide with high tide, leading to significant storm surge. "It needs to be understood by all of our friends in the coastal region and in south Mississippi that if you live in low-lying areas, the time to get out is early tomorrow morning," Gov. Tate Reeves said late Sunday. Damaging winds, dangerous storm surge In Waveland, Miss., Joey Chauvin used rope to tie down a tall wooden post topped with a statue of a pelican that serves as a marker at the driveway leading to his weekend camp. He said a matching pelican marker on the opposite side of the driveway was washed away in tropical storm Cristobal earlier this summer. That storm pushed more than one metre of water into the area. "If this one hits the coast as a Cat 2, I'm thinking we're gonna have at least six to seven feet of water where we're standing at," Chauvin said. "So, yeah, we're definitely not going to stay." Pensacola, on Florida's Panhandle, was bracing for 25 to 38 centimetres of rain. Sally could produce as much as 61 centimetres of rain by the middle of the week, forecasters said. This satellite photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows Sally churning north toward the Gulf Coast of the U.S. (NOAA/The Associated Press) "That system is forecast to bring not only damaging winds but a dangerous storm surge," said Daniel Brown of the NHC. "Because it's slowing down, it could produce a tremendous amount of rainfall over the coming days." For only the second time in recorded history, there are five tropical cyclones churning in the Atlantic basin, meteorologist Philip Klotzbach said. The entire island of Bermuda, where homes are built to withstand major hurricanes, was inside the eye of Hurricane Paulette on Monday morning. Once a tropical storm, Rene was forecast to become a remnant low Monday. Teddy became a tropical storm Monday morning, and forecasters said it was expected to become a hurricane later in the week.  Meanwhile, tropical depression 21 has strengthened into storm Vicky in the Atlantic and is expected to be short lived with its weakening to begin around Tuesday night, NHC said on Monday. The system is located about 565 kilometres west-northwest of the Cape Verde Islands, packing maximum sustained winds of 75 km/h. A mandatory evacuation has already been issued in Grand Isle, La., ahead of Sally. On Saturday, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued a mandatory evacuation order for Orleans Parish residents living outside of the parish's levee protection system. All northern Gulf Coast states are urging residents to prepare. "It is likely that this storm system will be impacting Alabama's Gulf Coast," said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. "While it is currently not being predicted as a direct hit to our coastal areas, we know well that we should not take the threat lightly."  She urged residents to prepare and stay informed of the storm's path in the coming days.

Continue Reading Tropical storm Sally strengthens into hurricane, U.S. Gulf Coast braces for landfall

Jewish settler in West Bank sentenced to life for killing 3 Palestinians, including toddler

Amiram Ben-Uliel speaks to his wife Orian from behind a glass pane during a sentencing hearing on June 9. The 25-year-old Jewish man from the West Bank settlement of Shilo has been sentenced to life in prison. (AFP via Getty Images) An Israeli court on Monday handed down three life sentences to a Jewish extremist convicted in a 2015 arson attack that killed a Palestinian toddler and his parents. The Lod District Court in May found Amiram Ben-Uliel guilty of murder for the killing of 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh by firebombing his home in the West Bank village of Duma. The toddler's mother, Riham, and father, Saad, later died of their wounds. Ali's four-year-old brother Ahmad survived the attack. The court said Ben-Uliel's "actions were meticulously planned, and stemmed from the radical ideology he held, and racism." It said the punishment was "close to the maximum penalty prescribed by the law." The 2015 arson attack came amid a wave of vigilante attacks on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank by suspected Jewish extremists. The deadly firebombing in Duma touched a particularly sensitive nerve, drawing condemnation from across Israel's political spectrum. Motive appears to be retaliation Critics, however, noted that lesser non-deadly attacks, such as firebombings that damaged mosques and churches, had gone unpunished for years. And as the investigation into the Duma attack dragged on, Palestinians complained of a double standard, where Palestinian suspects are quickly rounded up and prosecuted under a military legal system that gives them few rights while Jewish Israelis are protected by the country's criminal laws. "What will the court's decision give me? What will it give to Ahmad?" the child's grandfather, Hussein Dawabsheh, told reporters outside the courtroom on Monday. "It won't return anything to him." Nasser Dawabsheh, a relative of the victims, stands in one of rooms of the burnt house in the Israeli-occupied West Bank village of Duma on May 18. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP/Getty Images) The convicted man's wife, Orian Ben-Uliel, told reporters after the sentencing that "the judges didn't seek justice or truth. They decided to incriminate my husband at any price." She said the family would appeal to Israel's Supreme Court. The Shin Bet internal security service had said Ben-Uliel confessed to planning and carrying out the attack, and that two others were accessories. It said he claimed the arson was in retaliation for the killing of an Israeli by Palestinians a month earlier. Ben-Uliel, 25, belonged to a movement known as the "Hilltop Youth," a leaderless group of young people who set up unauthorized settlement outposts, usually clusters of trailers, on West Bank hilltops — land the Palestinians claim for their hoped-for state. Ahmad Dawabsheh, the survivor of the arson attack, sits in his grandparents' home in Duma on May 18. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP//Getty Images) The Hilltop Youth have been known to attack Palestinians and even to clash with Israeli soldiers in response to perceived moves by the government to limit settlement activity. Later in 2015, Israel faced a wave of stabbing, shooting and car-ramming attacks by Palestinians. Most were carried out by lone attackers with no connection to militant groups.

Continue Reading Jewish settler in West Bank sentenced to life for killing 3 Palestinians, including toddler

A big chunk of Greenland's ice cap has broken off

In this image proved by the European Space Agency, ESA, showing the glacier section that broke off the fjord called Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden, bottom, which is roughly 80 kilometers (50 miles) long and 20 kilometers (12 miles) wide, the National Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland said Monday Sept. 14, 2020. (European Space Agency via AP) A big chunk of Greenland's ice cap, estimated to be some 110 square kilometres (42.3 square miles), has broken off in the far north east Arctic which scientists say is evidence of rapid climate change. The glacier section broke off the fjord called Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden, which is roughly 80 kilometres (50 miles) long and 20 kilometres (12 miles) wide, the National Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland said Monday. The glacier is at the end of the Northeast Greenland Ice Stream, where it flows off land and into the ocean. Annual end-of-melt-season changes for the Arctic's largest ice shelf in Northeast Greenland are measured by optical satellite imagery, the survey known as GEUS said. It shows that the area losses for the past two years each exceeded 50 square kilometres (19 square miles). The ice shelf has lost 160 square kilometres (62 square miles), an area nearly twice that of Manhattan Island, New York, since 1999. "We should be very concerned about what appears to be progressive disintegration at the Arctic's largest remaining ice shelf," said GEUS professor Jason Box. "Another massive chunk of vital sea ice has fallen into the ocean," said Greenpeace spokeswoman Laura Meller who is aboard the organization's ship Arctic Sunrise at the edge of the sea ice. "This is yet another alarm bell being rung by the climate crisis in a rapidly heating Arctic." Last week, Ruth Mottram, an ice scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute in Copenhagen, said, "again this year, the ice sheet has lost more ice than has been added in the form of snow." "What is thought-provoking is that if we ... had seen this meltdown 30 years ago, we would have called it extreme. So in recent years, we have become accustomed to a high meltdown." In August, a study showed that Greenland lost a record amount of ice during an extra-warm 2019, with the melt massive enough to cover California in more than 1.25 metres (4 feet) of water.

Continue Reading A big chunk of Greenland's ice cap has broken off

Paul Rusesabagina of Hotel Rwanda fame formally charged with terrorism offences

Paul Rusesabagina, centre, is shown in a Kigali court with his lawyers David Rugaza, right, and Emeline Nyembo, left. Rusesabagina's family say they had little notice of the court appearance. (AFP/Getty Images) A Rwandan court on Monday charged Paul Rusesabagina, whose story inspired the film Hotel Rwanda, with terrorism, complicity in murder and forming an armed rebel group. Rusesabagina pleaded not guilty to all 12 charges and said he denied the accusations when he was questioned by Rwandan investigators. Rusesabagina, 66, asked to be released on bail, citing poor health that has caused him to be taken to hospital three times in the week that he has been held in Rwanda. "I request that I am given bail and I assure the court that I will not flee from justice," Rusesabagina said. The court said it will rule on his bail application on Thursday. Rusesabagina, credited with saving more than 1,000 lives during the 1994 genocide, appeared in handcuffs in Kagarama Court in the capital for a pre-trial hearing, in which the prosecution requested court permission to continue detaining him until investigations are completed. George W. Bush presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rusesabagina, who sheltered people at a hotel he managed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, on Nov. 9, 2005. (Jason Reed/Reuters) Rusesabagina was represented by Rwandan lawyers David Rugaza and Emeline Nyembo, who his family outside Rwanda have criticized as state-imposed representation. According to the local press, my father was today for the first time brought before a court for a parody of justice, played in the absence of the lawyers chosen by the family. We have no hope that he can receive fair justice in Rwanda. #FreeRusesabagina @freethehero pic.twitter.com/1zTrZ3aId8 —@ckanimba Rwandan authorities accuse him of supporting the armed wing of his opposition political platform, which has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks inside Rwanda. They point to a video posted online in 2018 in which he expresses support for the National Liberation Front and says, "The time has come for us to use any means possible to bring about change in Rwanda, as all political means have been tried and failed." Rusesabagina in the past has denied funding rebel groups and said he was being targeted over his criticism of Kagame's government and alleged rights abuses. It remains a mystery how Rusesabagina, who has lived in Texas in recent years, disappeared from a trip to Dubai late last month and appeared in custody in a country his family says he would never return to voluntarily. Amnesty calls for transparent proceedings Neither his lawyers nor the prosecution explained the circumstances under which Rusesabagina arrived in Kigali. The Rwandan court said the suspect was arrested at Kigali International Airport, contradicting the earlier police version that he was arrested through "international co-operation." When Rwandan President Paul Kagame spoke on national broadcasting about the case, he indicated that Rusesabagina may have been tricked into boarding a private plane in Dubai that took him to Rwanda. Amnesty International called on the Rwandan authorities to guarantee Rusesabagina his right to a fair trial. "The lack of transparency around the arrest of Paul Rusesabagina and reports that he has been denied access to the lawyer hired by his family are red flags that cannot be ignored as the authorities prepare for his trial," said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's director for East and Southern Africa. Rusesabagina's daughter Carine Kanimba told The Associated Press that the family was not even aware he was to appear to court Monday as the state-appointed lawyers didn't inform them. She said they learned of the court hearing through the media. "This is a travesty of justice," Kanimba said of the hearing. Speaking on the phone from Belgium, she said her father was the victim of an abduction, disappearance and extraordinary rendition from Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, to Kigali, Rwanda. Rusesabagina has been a vocal critic of the Kagame government and has not lived in Rwanda since 1996. He holds Belgian citizenship and is a resident of the U.S., with then-president George W. Bush in 2005 awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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Belarus president meets with benefactor Putin in Russia

Protesters with old Belarusian national flags march Sunday in Minsk during an opposition rally. (TUT.by/The Associated Press) Belarus's authoritarian president visited Russia on Monday in a bid to secure more loans and political support, as demonstrations against the extension of his 26-year rule entered their sixth week. Alexander Lukashenko's talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi come a day after an estimated 150,000 people flooded the streets of the Belarusian capital, Minsk, demanding Lukashenko's resignation. The interior ministry said 774 people were arrested in Minsk and other cities of Belarus for holding unsanctioned rallies on Sunday. Protesters in Belarus have dismissed Lukashenko's re-election for a sixth term in the Aug. 9 vote as rigged. The United States and the European Union have criticized the election as neither free nor fair and urged the Belarusian leader to engage in talks with the opposition, a demand he rejected. In a bid to win Moscow's support, the 66-year-old former state farm director has tried to cast the protests as an effort by the West to isolate Russia, which sees its neighbour as a key bulwark against NATO and a major conduit for energy exports to Europe. Russia and Belarus have a union treaty envisaging close political, economic and military ties, but they have often engaged in acrimonious disputes. Before the election, Lukashenko repeatedly accused the Kremlin of pressing Belarus to abandon its independence. But with the U.S. and the EU criticizing the election and readying a package of sanctions, Lukashenko now has to rely squarely on Russia's support. Opposition figures pan meeting, alliance Despite frictions in the past, the Kremlin abhors the prospect of public protests forcing the resignation of the nation's leader, fearing it could embolden Putin's critics at home. Putin quickly congratulated Lukashenko on his re-election and promised to send Russian police to Belarus if protests there turn violent, noting that there is no need for that yet. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko greets Russian officials during a welcoming ceremony upon his arrival in Sochi on Monday. (Andrei Stasevich/BelTA/Reuters) Moscow has also signalled it's ready to discuss the restructuring of Belarus's $1 billion US debt to Russia, a key issue in Monday's talks between Putin and Lukashenko. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the main opposition challenger who moved to Lithuania a day after the vote under pressure from the authorities, warned Putin that any agreements he may reach with Lukashenko will not stand. "I'm very sorry that you have opted to have a dialogue with the dictator and not the Belarusian people," she said Monday. "Any agreements signed with Lukashenko, who lacks legitimacy, will be retracted by the new government." Pavel Latushko, a former culture minister and ambassador to France who was forced to leave Belarus after joining the opposition's Coordination Council, warned that while the Kremlin is standing by Lukashenko now, it may move later to engineer his departure. "Lukashenko discredits himself each day, and when he completely loses his authority, it would be easier for Moscow to replace him," Latushko told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Poland. "The Kremlin already has made a decision and is moving to fulfil a careful plan to have Lukashenko removed." UN rights council to meet As Belarusian authorities continued to target the opposition with pressure and arrests, the United Nations Human Rights Council agreed to hold an "urgent debate" on Belarus on Friday. German ambassador Michael von Ungern-Sternberg, who requested the debate on behalf of the European Union, said the council "should not stay silent on this matter." Western and Latin American countries supported the motion, while Venezuela and the Philippines sided with Belarus. African nations mostly abstained. The European Union and the UN have expressed concerns about Belarus's recent election and its treatment of protesters. Protesters are seen on Sunday in front of the Belarusian embassy in The Hague, the Netherlands. (Koen Van Weel/ANP/AFP/Getty Images) In a speech on Monday, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet voiced concern over reports from Belarus indicating "unnecessary or excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, thousands of arrests, many of them apparently arbitrary, and hundreds of allegations of torture or ill treatment, including against children, with some reports indicating sexual violence." "Re-establishing social peace in Belarus requires far-reaching dialogue, reforms and accountability for grave human rights violations," she said. All allegations of torture by the security forces should be documented and investigated, she added.

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France, Sweden confirm presence of Novichok in Alexei Navalny tests

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is shown at a 2018 opposition rally in Moscow. Russia has denied any involvement in poisoning Navalny, a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images) Specialist labs in France and Sweden have confirmed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok, the German government said Monday. A German military laboratory previously confirmed the substance in his samples. German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert said that the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has also received samples and is taking steps to have those tested at its reference laboratories. "Independently of the ongoing examinations by the OPCW, three laboratories have now confirmed independently of one another the proof of a nerve agent of the Novichok group as the cause of Mr. Navalny's poisoning," Seibert said in a statement. He said Germany had asked France and Sweden for an "independent review" of the German findings using new samples from Navalny. Navalny, the most visible opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was flown to Germany two days after falling ill on Aug. 20 on a domestic flight in Russia. Berlin has demanded that Russia investigate the case. Seeking answers from Moscow Seibert on Monday renewed Germany's demand that "Russia explain itself" on the matter. He added that "we are in close consultation with our European partners on further steps." The Kremlin has bristled at calls from Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders for Russia to answer questions in the case, denying any official involvement and accusing the West of trying to smear Moscow. Russian authorities have prodded Germany to share the evidence that led it to conclude "without doubt" that Navalny was poisoned with a military nerve agent from the Novichok group, the same class of Soviet-era chemical weapons that British authorities said was used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, in 2018. Berlin has rejected suggestions from Moscow that it is dragging its heels. WATCH l Sept. 2: Germany says tests conclude Navalny dosed with Novichok: Doctors in Germany say they have proof that Alexei Navalny, a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was poisoned by Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent. 1:55 Navalny was kept in an induced coma for more than a week as he was treated with an antidote, before hospital officials said a week ago that his condition had improved enough for him to be brought out of it. It isn't clear when Berlin's Charite hospital will next issue an update on his condition.

Continue Reading France, Sweden confirm presence of Novichok in Alexei Navalny tests