Turkish Workshop Employs Syrian Minors to Produce Fake Life Jackets

Compliments of Todays Zaman 

İzmir police on Tuesday raided an underground manufacturer in the Konak district and seized a total of 1,263 fake life jackets that were produced with low-quality materials. Of the four workers at the workshop, two were discovered to be underage Syrians.

Employing Syrians has become commonplace in Turkey in the recent past as the growing population of refugees in the country provide a low-cost labor force for businesses. Even though the government previously declared an intention to issue work permits for Syrians, they are now mostly employed illegally and paid less than Turkish citizens for identical positions.

The life jackets seized in the raid included counterfeits of renowned brands padded with insulating materials, suitcase fabric and low-quality sponges used to make the life jackets look thick and safe.

The raid came on the same day that Turkish authorities found the bodies of 34 migrants, at least three of whom were children, washed up on the coast of İzmir and Balıkesir provinces after they had apparently drowned while trying to cross to the Greek island of Lesbos.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) puts the number of migrants who have died while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2015 at 3,771. Experts argue that fake life jackets selling at low prices are the primary reason for the high number of deaths at sea.

Life jackets conforming to standards should carry a descriptive label on them showing size, model, buoyancy level, a security certificate number and a list of proper usage areas written in four languages. They are produced with special water repellent materials that enable people to float for at least 12 hours even if the wearer is unconscious. Fake life jackets such as those confiscated in the İzmir seizure often absorb water and drag the user down.

Turkish media has previously reported that even street vendors in the provinces of İzmir and İstanbul have been selling cheap and poor-quality life jackets targeted at Syrians who have fled their civil war-torn country and who plan to make the perilous sea crossing to Europe in the hope of attaining better living standards.

While high-quality life jackets cost at least TL 75, depending on the size and model, shoe stores and grocers in İstanbul’s Aksaray district ask around TL 35 for a sub-standard jacket.

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Legislation Signed By Polish President Lets Government Control Public TV, Radio

Compliments of IB Times 

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda signed media legislation into law Thursday giving the government control over public television and radio, the Associated Press reported. The government argued that the bitterly contested move was necessary to ensure that the nation’s media remain “impartial, objective and reliable.”

The European Union and media watchdog groups have expressed concerns over the new law, which allows for the current heads of state radio and television networks, TVP1 and Polskie Radio, to be terminated and replaced by appointees of the treasury minister. TVP1 directors have already resigned, the Economist reported. The media law comes after another controversial law that targeted Poland’s constitutional court by increasing the number of judges required to agree on rulings.

The EU’s human rights commissioner urged Poland not to enact the media law, while the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said Warsaw was embarking on an “anti-democratic road” similar to that of Hungary.

“This new law, giving the government full powers to appoint and dismiss the heads of the public broadcast media, constitutes a flagrant violation of media freedom and pluralism,” said Alexandra Geneste, the head of Reporters Without Border’s EU-Balkans desk.

While Duda signed the media law Thursday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the commission would not provoke a showdown with Warsaw over it.

“Let’s not overdramatize. It’s an important issue. But we have to have friendly and good relations with Poland. Our approach is very constructive; we’re not bashing Poland,” Juncker said, the EU Observerreported.

The European Commission is scheduled to hold a debate next week on recent constitutional developments in Poland since the right-wing Law and Justice Party came to power in October. While Juncker has tried to reassure Warsaw, in the debate could conceivably lead to Poland losing voting rights within the 28-member EU, the Associated Press reported.

 

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Oil Price Falls Below $35 a Barrel to Fresh 11-Year Low

Compliments of BBC 

Brent crude sank by 4.2% to $34.88 a barrel, surpassing its late December fall, and taking the price to its lowest level since 1 July 2004.

The price of US crude dropped 3.3% to $34.77 a barrel.

The sharp falls followed a short-lived rally on Monday after Saudi Arabia broke diplomatic ties with Iran.

Analysts said fears over the worsening relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which had initially raised concerns about possible supply disruptions and boosted the oil price, had now been overtaken by pessimism over oil cartel Opec ever agreeing on a production ceiling.

How low?

Historically, Opec has cut production to support prices. But led by Saudi Arabia, by far the group’s most powerful member, the group has resolutely refused to trim supply this time.

Rising tensions over Saudi Arabia’s execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr mean that any agreement is now deemed less likely than ever.

“With relations between Opec kingpins Saudi Arabia and Iran at a historic low point, it solidifies an already unlikely scenario that Opec might cut output,” said Barclays analyst Alia Moubayed.

Since mid-2014, oil prices have slumped 70% mainly because of oversupply. This in turn is largely due to US shale oil flooding the market.

At the same time, demand has fallen because of a slowdown in economic growth in China and Europe.

Iranian oil exports are also expected to rise later this year once Western sanctions against Tehran for its nuclear programme are lifted, increasing the oversupply of oil.

Opec is hoping that refusing to cut production will help to drive US shale producers out of business, believing that they will fall victim to lower prices long before its own members, and has forecast that prices will recover to $70 a barrel by 2020.

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Protesters Demand Canada Cancel $15B Saudi Contract

Compliments of Ottawa Citizen 

The protesters, drawn mainly from Shia Muslim groups in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, staged peaceful demonstrations at the base of the Peace Tower, and outside the embassies of the United States and Saudi Arabia.

They called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take meaningful action to condemn the Saudis for their flagrant human rights abuses — even if it means damaging Canadian commercial and political interests.

“We’re here today to ask the government to rethink its policy when it comes to Saudi Arabia,” said Toronto Imam Asad Jafri, one of the protesters. “The hypocrisy has to stop.”

The Saudi government executed 47 people convicted of terrorism-related charges on Saturday, sparking outrage across many parts of the Middle East, including Iran where Shias form a majority.

Earlier this week, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion announced that the Liberals would not rescind the contract negotiated by the former Conservative government to supply light armoured vehicles to the Saudis.

“Almost all of our allies are selling weapons to Saudi Arabia,” he argued on Tuesday. “It’s part of the world in which we live.”

Although Dion denounced Riyadh for the mass execution, he said Canada would damage its own reputation by scrapping the contract.

Protesters demanded Wednesday that the Liberal government pay more than lip service to the protection of human rights.

“I was disappointed by the government,” said protester Adil Rizvi, or Toronto. “Their words do no match their actions. We realize it’s a big contract, but we really feel we shouldn’t be compromising when those jobs are created by the blood of other people.”

“Saudi Arabia is one of the worst violators of human rights in the world,” he said. “And the light armoured vehicles being manufactured here in Ontario are being shipped to Saudi Arabia to quell a just uprising.”

Asad Jafri called the $15 billion deal with Saudis “hurtful”.

“Forget anger; it’s hurt,” he said. “They killed our leader, our scholar al-Nimr, for no reason, and our government is quiet? The deal speaks more loudly than their words. It’s a shame, it’s upsetting, especially when Trudeau’s platform was all about change.”

Jafri call Sheikh al-Nimr a man of peace and freedom. “In Saudi Arabia, his only crime was that he wanted basic human rights,” he said.

Jaffar Hasmhi, a protest organizer from Ottawa’s Muslim Society, said Canada should also push to have the Saudis stripped of their position on the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Saudis were voted onto the council in what some British politicians allege was a secret vote-trading deal in 2013.

“In their own country, they’re abusing their own people so how can they judge other nations?” asked Hashmi. “It makes no sense that a country that starts this new year by executing 47 people is on the UN Human Rights Council.”

Meanwhile, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union has repeated criticism of Algonquin College for operating a technical college inside Saudi Arabia.

Algonquin professor Jack Wilson, an OPSEU vice president, said it’s “improper for (Algonquin) to be dealing with a regime that so flagrantly violates basic human rights.”

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Reducing Sugar Content in Sugar-Sweetened Drinks by 40 Percent Over 5 Years Could Prevent 1.5 Million Cases of Overweight and Obesity

Compliments of Eureka Alert 

to an average reduction in energy intake of 38.4 kcal (calories) per day by the end of the 5th year and this would lead to an average reduction in body weight of 1.20kg in adults, resulting in a reduction in overweight and obese adults by approximately 0.5 million (1.0%) and 1.0 million (2.1%) respectively. This would in turn prevent 274,000-309,000 obesity-related type 2 diabetes over the next two decades.

If fruit juices were excluded from SSBs, the corresponding reduction in energy intake and body weight would be 31.0 kcal/day and 0.96 kg respectively. This would result in a 0.7% (0.3 million cases) reduction in overweight and a 1.7% (0.8 million cases) reduction in obesity, which would in turn prevent around 221,000-250,000 diabetes cases over two decades. The predicted impact was greater in adolescents, young adults, and individuals from low income families who consume more SSBs.

The authors say: “The appreciation of sweetness can adapt to gradual changes in sugar intake, and it is unlikely that the proposed strategy will influence the consumers’ choice provided the gradual reduction is done over five years.”

They add that previous research has shown that the calories lost from SSBs are unlikely to be replaced by other sources, and that a reduction in added sugar has little influence on the cost and price the product and therefore is unlikely to affect sales and profit of the soft drink industry. It is therefore potentially attractive to industry, although some parts of the industry–for instance, the sugar industry–may be resistant.

The authors continue: “The proposed strategy could lead to a profound reduction in energy intake from sugar-sweetened beverages and could therefore lower the prevalence of overweight, obesity, and type 2 diabetes in the long term. These findings provide strong support for the implementation of the proposed strategy.”

They conclude that “Individuals should also reduce their consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in the long term, but this can be difficult because of the advertising power of industry. Our proposed strategy provides an innovative and practical way to gradually reduce energy intake from sugar-sweetened beverages and its combination with other strategies, including a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, would produce a more powerful effect.”

Writing in a linked Comment, Dr Tim Lobstein, Director of Policy, World Obesity Federation London, UK, and Curtin University, Perth, WA, Australia, says that the study brings a very positive message to policy makers.

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Iran Accuses Saudis of Hitting Yemen embassy

Compliments of BBC 

State media quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying planes had deliberately targeted the site.

But some later reports in Iran said missiles had struck only in the vicinity of the embassy.

Residents and witnesses in Sanaa reported there was no damage to the main embassy building.

Although the incident may turn out to be less serious than initially feared, the BBC’s Arab Affairs Editor Sebastian Usher says the growing row between Saudi Arabia and Iran could derail peace efforts in Syria and Iraq, as well as in Yemen.

The row began after Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia executed a Shia cleric, Nimr al-Nimr.

Iranian protesters in Tehran, angry at the execution, then attacked the Saudi embassy, leading Saudi Arabia to cut off diplomatic relations.

A number of Saudi allies have followed suit in taking diplomatic action against Iran.

Meanwhile on Thursday Iran banned the import of all Saudi goods, according to a statement read on Iranian state TV.


Analysis: BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner

Ever since the Saudi-led air campaign began against Yemen’s Houthi rebels last March, there was always a risk that the cold war between the region’s two big rivals, Saudi Arabia and Iran, could ignite into something more serious.

The Saudis accuse Iran of smuggling in arms by sea to equip the Shia Houthis, who retain control over the capital and much of the country. Saudi officials have even claimed that Iranian military commanders are on the ground there, helping to direct the Houthis.

Both Iran and the Houthis deny this. The reality is that the Houthis owe most of their military gains to support from renegade Yemeni army units loyal to ousted ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Saudi Arabia’s military spokesman says its coalition has asked for precise co-ordinates of foreign embassies in the Yemeni capital so it can avoid hitting them. Angry as the Saudis are about the ransacking of their embassy in Tehran, it would have been a major escalation if they had carried out a deliberate, direct hit on Iran’s embassy in retaliation.


‘Deliberate action’

The Saudis accuse Iran of supporting the Houthis in Yemen militarily – a charge it denies.

It is not clear whether the Iranian embassy was fully functioning, but a number of countries have withdrawn their staff or relocated missions to the port city of Aden in the past year.

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Deputy Who Arrested Sandra Bland Fired and Indicted for Perjury

Compliments of ABC 

Sandra Bland’s family is reacting to the news that the Texas state trooper who arrested Bland during a traffic stop has been charged and will be fired.

“I feel and our family feels it’s long overdue. It’s something that should have happened at the inception of this case and this entire situation,” said Sharon Cooper.

Instead, the process to fire Trooper Brian Encinia started Wednesday after a grand jury charged Encinia with perjury, alleging he lied – in writing – about Sandra Bland’s traffic stop.

“I feel like it’s acknowledgement for some of his actions, but not the totality of it. And that’s the problem that we have,” Cooper said.

“It’s an assault on her and he should have been indicted for a lot more than perjury,” said Larry Rogers Jr., attorney for the Bland family.

Trooper Encinia wrote in a probable cause affidavit that Bland was “combative and uncooperative.” A grand jury indicted him for what unfolded.

“The indictment was issued in reference to the reason he removed her from her vehicle,” Special Prosecutor Shawn McDonald said.

The reason, Trooper Encinia wrote, was to “conduct a safer traffic investigation.” The grand jury found that to be false. Outside the Texas courthouse, two dozen protesters showed up.

“To give him a perjury, he did more than that. He assaulted her. She should have never been pulled over or arrested in the first place,” protester Jinaki Muhammad said.

Bland died three days later inside the Waller County jail. The coroner ruled her death a suicide after she was founding hanging in her cell. But now that the grand jury investigation is over, the family hopes to learn more.

“It’s the end of their investigation, but it also puts in a position like we have wanted to from the onset, to get the evidentiary information that we have asked for from the very beginning,” Cooper said.

Trooper Encinia’s perjury charge is a misdemeanor. He could face on year in jail and up to a $4,000 fine.

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Internal Email: Michigan ‘Blowing Off’ Flint Over Lead in Water

Compliments of NBC 

Six months before Michigan’s governor declared a state of emergency over high lead levels in the water in Flint, his top aide wrote in an email that worried residents were “basically getting blown off by us.”

“I’m frustrated by the water issue in Flint,” Dennis Muchmore, then chief of staff to Gov. Rick Snyder, wrote in the email to a top health department staffer obtained by NBC News.

“I really don’t think people are getting the benefit of the doubt. Now they are concerned and rightfully so about the lead level studies they are receiving,” Muchmore said.

“These folks are scared and worried about the health impacts and they are basically getting blown off by us (as a state we’re just not sympathizing with their plight).”

The problem began in April 2014 when Flint switched from Detroit’s water supply to save money and began using water from the Flint River, which has a high salt content.

That corroded the pipes it flowed through and lead from those pipes — which had been undisturbed by Detroit’s less corrosive water — leached into the system.

Marc Edwards, a professor at Virginia Tech who has been testing Flint water, says treatment could have corrected much of the problem early on — for as little as $100 a day — but officials in the city of 100,000 people didn’t take action.

“There is no question that if the city had followed the minimum requirements under federal law that none of this would have happened,” said Edwards, who obtained the Muchmore email through a Michigan Freedom of Information Act request.

Even after tests in February 2015 showed alarming levels of lead in a Flint home, officials publicly assured residents there was no threat.

Pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha didn’t buy it. She began an independent study and discovered that lead levels in children had doubled or even tripled since the city switched its water supply.

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Lawyers Went to Rahm Emanuel, Then Quashed the Laquan McDonald Video

Compliments of The Daily Beast 

City of Chicago lawyers, after meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, demanded the Laquan McDonald family bury the video showing the killing of their son by a police officer.

Emanuel said last month that Stephen Patton, Chicago’s corporation counsel, briefed him “towards the end of March” about what the dashboard-camera video showed and about the proposed $5 million settlement with McDonald’s estate. After that briefing, Patton’s second-in-command, Thomas Platt, drafted settlement language to keep the dash-cam video hidden for at least several years, according to emails reviewed by The Daily Beast (PDF).

Michael Robbins, an attorney for the McDonald estate, balked at the demand.

“The provision as drafted, that we maintain the confidentiality, of the materials—principally the dash-cam-video—until the criminal charges are concluded, which could be in effect for years, is entirely unreasonable,” he wrote to Platt on April 6. “Nor was any such broad sweeping confidentiality provision discussed during our meetings.”

“I’ll call you,” Platt wrote Robbins on April 7.

That was the same day that Emanuel was fighting for his political life in a runoff election after he failed to win 50 percent of the primary vote in the February. (Emanuel won with 56 percent against Chuy Garcia.)

Emanuel had maintained since McDonald’s death that he has never seen the dash-cam video, but the emails prove the mayor knew exactly what the footage showed when city lawyers negotiated a deal that would at least delay the video’s release. Attorneys for McDonald’s estate sent Platt screenshots of the video and a detailed description:

“After Laquan immediately spun to the ground, graphic puffs of smoke from ricochet shots establishes that Officer Van Dyke continued to fire his weapon for approximately 16 seconds after Mr. McDonald laid helplessly in the street.”

Emanuel’s lawyers were offering $5 million in hush money to keep this hidden just weeks before the runoff election. And the biggest part of the deal—that McDonald family attorneys agreed to keep the video to themselves until criminal proceedings were concluded—just so happened to be inked the day after Emanuel was re-elected.

The first draft was sent to the McDonald estate’s lawyers by Platt on March 31. The draft said that the estate would only be free to release the video after potential charges were dismissed by a prosecutor or after a criminal trial was over. Emanuel and his underlings at the Law Department would have preferred this, because it meant the video would have been buried under lengthy legal proceedings that could have taken years.

On April 8, one day after Platt’s phone call, the McDonald estate’s attorneys suddenly agreed to keep the dash-cam video hidden. The only thing that changed in the settlement agreement regarding the video was the deletion of a line that said the estate agreed with the city releasing video would harm ongoing criminal investigations.

One week later, the City Council voted unanimously to approve the $5 million settlement in just 36 seconds. Emanuel banged a gavel to mark the approval and the end—or so he thought—of the greatest threat to his mayoralty.

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How One Deal Changed Nevada’s Solar Initiative

Compliments of Solar Thermal Magazine 

Following the decision by Governor Brian Sandoval’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to terminateNevada’s rooftop solar industry just days before Christmas, SolarCity®  announced that it has been forced to eliminate more than 550 jobs in the state. Where possible, the company will relocate affected employees to business-friendly states.

The PUC’s decision to change the rules to punish existing solar customers after the state encouraged them to go solar with rebates is particularly callous and leaves Nevadans to question whether the state would ever place the financial security of regular citizens above the financial interests of NV Energy.

“I contacted Governor Sandoval multiple times after the ruling because I am convinced that he and the PUC didn’t fully understand the consequences of this decision, not only on the thousands of local jobs distributed solar has created, but on the 17,000 Nevadans that installed solar with the state’s encouragement,” said Lyndon Rive, SolarCity’s CEO. “I’m still waiting to speak to the Governor but I am convinced that once he and the Commissioners understand the real impact, that they will do the right thing.”

SolarCity announced on December 23 that as a result of the PUC decision, it had to cease solar sales and installation in the state effective immediately. Other Nevada solar companies with higher cost structures than SolarCity are expected to collectively lay off thousands of additional Nevadans in the coming months.

“Telling employees they can no longer work for SolarCity is the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” continued Rive. “These are hard-working Nevadans and a single government action has put them out of work. This is not how government is supposed to work.”

SolarCity has also closed a training center in West Las Vegas that it opened a little over a month ago. The November press release announcing its opening contained this statement from Governor Sandoval: “I’m proud to celebrate the opening of SolarCity’s new training center, which will makeNevada the regional hub for training workers in the jobs of the 21st century. Our homegrown solar industry has already created over 6,000 good Nevada jobs, and has tremendous potential to continue driving innovation, economic diversification, and opportunity in the Silver State.”

Fortunately, there are other voices speaking up for solar employees and customers.  The Nevada Bureau of Consumer Protection is attempting to protect Nevadans by filing a motion to halt implementation of the PUC’s ruling, stating that the order’s impact “is not consistent with the Governor’s stated objectives of SB 374 or the Governor’s initiatives and focus to increase jobs and employment forNevada residents.”

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