Online Abuse Silences Women and Girls, Fuels Violence, Survey Shows

Pervasive online abuse and harassment pressure women and girls into censoring themselves on social media and fuel gender-based discrimination and violence, rights groups said on Monday.

About one in four women in Britain, the United States and six other countries said in a survey they had experienced online abuse or harassment.

More than 40 percent said the online abuse made them fear for their physical safety and more than half reported trouble sleeping, loss of self-esteem and panic attacks after the incidents, according to rights group Amnesty International.

About a third stopped expressing their opinions online or withdrew from public conversations as a result, Amnesty said.

“It’s no secret that misogyny and abuse are thriving on social media platforms, but this poll shows just how damaging the consequences of online abuse are,” said Amnesty researcher Azmina Dhrodia. “This is not something that goes away when you log off.”

Online harassment starts at a young age and may be more common for girls and teenagers than adults, according to U.K.-based child rights group Plan International.

Nearly half of girls aged 11-18 in the U.K. said they had experienced abuse or harassment on social media, Plan found in a survey earlier this year.

Like women, most of the girls said they stopped sharing opinions or otherwise changed their online behavior out of fear, according to Plan.

“Very young girls are learning that they need to take responsibility for harassment and abuse,” Kerry Smith of Plan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “What they are saying is that they are holding themselves back.”

Parents, teachers and police often respond to online abuse by taking away girls’ phones or telling them to go offline, which teaches victims that they are responsible for the problem, Smith said.

Online harassment, including crude comments on pictures or sexual references, teaches boys that it is okay to treat girls as sexual objects and to exercise power over them, which can lead to physical abuse and rape, she added.

Social media attacks are so common for female politicians that they deter women from running for office around the world, advocates and female lawmakers have said.

Companies and governments need to step up to make the internet a safe space for girls and women, campaigners said.

“Social media companies have a responsibility… to ensure that women using their platforms are able to do so freely and without fear,” said Amnesty’s Dhrodia.

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White House: Opioid Crisis Cost US Economy $504 Billion in 2015

Opioid drug abuse, which has ravaged parts of the United States in recent years, cost the economy as much as $504 billion in 2015, White House economists said in a report made public on Sunday.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) said the toll from the opioid crisis represented 2.8 percent of gross domestic product that year.

President Donald Trump last month declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. While Republican lawmakers said that was an important step in fighting opioid abuse, some critics, including Democrats, said the move was meaningless without additional funding.

The report could be used by the Trump White House to urge Republicans in Congress – who historically have opposed increasing government spending – to provide more funding for fighting the opioid crisis by arguing that the economic losses far outweigh the cost of additional government funding.

Using a combination of statistical models, the CEA said the lost economic output stemming from 33,000 opioid-related deaths in 2015 could be between $221 billion and $431 billion, depending on the methodology used.

In addition, the report looked at the cost of non-fatal opioid usage, estimating a total of $72 billion for 2.4 million people with opioid addictions in 2015. Those costs included medical treatment, criminal justice system expenses and the decreased economic productivity of addicts.

The CEA said its estimate was larger than those of some prior studies because it took a broad look at the value of lives lost to overdoses. The CEA also said its methodology incorporated an adjustment to reflect the fact that opioids were underreported on death certificates.

“The crisis has worsened, especially in terms of overdose deaths which have doubled in the past ten years,” the CEA said.

“While previous studies have focused exclusively on prescription opioids, we consider illicit opioids including heroin as well.”

Opioids, primarily prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl, are fueling the drug overdoses. More than 100 Americans die daily from related overdoses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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With Little Movement, NAFTA Talks Said to Run Risk of Stalemate

Talks to update the North American Free Trade Agreement appeared to be in danger of grinding toward a stalemate amid complaints of U.S. negotiators’ inflexibility, people familiar with the process said on Sunday.

The United States, Canada and Mexico are holding the fifth of seven planned rounds of talks to modernize NAFTA, which U.S. President Donald Trump blames for job losses and big trade deficits for his country.

Time is running short to reach a deal before the March 2018 start of Mexico’s presidential elections, and lack of progress in the current round could put the schedule at risk.

“The talks are really not going anywhere,” Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, the largest Canadian private-sector union, told reporters after meeting with Canada’s chief negotiator on Sunday. “As long as the United States is taking the position they are, this is a colossal waste of time,” said Dias, who is advising the government and regularly meets the Canadian team.

Hanging over the negotiations is the very real threat that Trump could make good on a threat to scrap NAFTA.

Canada and Mexico object to a number of demands the U.S. side unveiled during the fourth round last month, including for a five-year sunset clause that would force frequent renegotiation of the trade pact, far more stringent automotive content rules and radical changes to dispute settlement mechanisms.

Calls for greater US flexibility

“Our internal view as of this morning is that if any progress is to be made, the United States needs to show some flexibility and a willingness to do a deal,” said a Canadian source with knowledge of the talks.

“We are seeing no signs of flexibility now,” added the source, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation. However, a NAFTA country official familiar with the talks said Canada had not yet submitted any counterproposals to the U.S. demands.

Dias said the United States was showing some signs of flexibility over its sunset clause proposal after Mexican officials floated a plan for a “rigorous evaluation” of the trade pact, but without an automatic expiration.

U.S. negotiating objectives that were updated on Friday appeared to accommodate the Mexican proposal, saying the revised NAFTA should “provide a mechanism for ensuring that the Parties assess the benefits of the Agreement on a periodic basis.”

Canada and Mexico are also unhappy about U.S. demands that half the content of North American-built autos come from the United States, coupled with a much higher 85 percent North American content threshold. Officials are due to discuss the issue from Sunday through the end of the fifth round on Tuesday, Flavio Volpe, president of the Canada’s Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, said there was little chance of making substantial progress on autos in Mexico City, as the U.S. demands were still not fully understood.

“I don’t expect a heavy negotiation here,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the talks.

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US Envoy to Russia Slams Moscow’s Pending Curbs on US-funded News Outlets

The U.S. ambassador to Russia on Sunday attacked Moscow’s move toward forcing nine United States government-funded news operations to register as “foreign agents” as “a reach beyond” what the U.S. government did in requiring the Kremlin-funded RT television network to register as such in the United States.

Ambassador Jon Huntsman said the Russian reaction is not “reciprocal at all” and Moscow’s move toward regulation of the news agencies, if it is implemented, would make “it virtually impossible for them to operate” in Russia.

WATCH: Ambassador Jon Huntsman

He said the eight-decade-old Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) under which RT has registered as a foreign agent is aimed at promoting transparency, but does not restrict the television network’s operation in the United States.

Russia’s lower house of parliament approved amendments Wednesday to expand a 2012 law that targets non-governmental organizations, including foreign media. A declaration as a foreign agent would require foreign media to regularly disclose their objectives, full details of finances, funding sources and staffing.

Media outlets also may be required to disclose on their social platforms and internet sites visible in Russia that they are “foreign agents.” The amendments also would allow the extrajudicial blocking of websites the Kremlin considers undesirable.

The Russian Justice Ministry said Thursday it had notified the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and seven separate regional outlets active in Russia they could be affected.

“It isn’t at all similar to what we’re doing under FARA — it’s a reach beyond,” Huntsman said. “And, we just think the principles of free media, in any free society and democracy, are absolutely critical to our strength, health, and well-being. Freedom of speech is part of that. So, that’s why I care about the issue. That’s why we in the embassy care about the issue. And, it’s why we’re going to follow the work that is going on in the Duma and the legislation that is being drafted, very very carefully, because we’re concerned about it.”

The Justice Ministry said the new requirements in Russia were likely to become law “in the near future.”

VOA Director Amanda Bennett said last week that if Russia imposes the new restrictions, “We can’t say at this time what effect this will have on our news-gathering operations within Russia. All we can say is that Voice of America is, by law, an independent, unbiased, fact-based news organization, and we remain committed to those principles.”

RFE/RL President Tom Kent said until the legislation becomes law, “we do not know how the Ministry of Justice will use this law in the context of our work.”

 

Kent said unlike Sputnik and other Russian media operating in the United States, U.S. media outlets operating in Russia do not have access to cable television and radio frequencies.

“Russian media in the U.S. are distributing their programs on American cable television. Sputnik has its own radio frequency in Washington. This means that even at the moment there is no equality,” he said.

Serious blow to freedom

The speaker of Russia’s lower house, the Duma, said last week that foreign-funded media outlets that refused to register as foreign agents under the proposed legislation would be prohibited from operating in the country.

However, since the law’s language is so broad, it potentially could be used to target any foreign media group, especially if it is in conflict with the Kremlin. “We are watching carefully… to see whether it is passed and how it is implemented,” said Maria Olson, a spokeswoman at the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

The Russian amendments, which Amnesty International said would inflict a “serious blow” to media freedom in Russia if they become law, were approved in response to a U.S. accusation that RT executed a Russian-mandated influence campaign on U.S. citizens during the 2016 presidential election, a charge the media channel denies.

The U.S. intelligence community concluded in early 2017 that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed a campaign to undermine American democracy and help real estate mogul Donald Trump win the presidency. A criminal investigation of the interference is underway in the United States, as are numerous congressional probes.

The foreign registration amendments must next be approved by the Russian Senate and then signed into law by Putin.

RT, which is funded by the Kremlin to provide Russia’s perspective on global issues, confirmed last week it met the U.S. Justice Department’s deadline by registering as a foreign agent in the United States.

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Britain to Submit ‘Brexit Bill’ Proposal Before December EU Meeting

Britain will submit its proposals on how to settle its financial obligations to the European Union before an EU Council meeting next month, finance minister Philip Hammond said on Sunday.

British Prime Minister Theresa May was told on Friday that there was more work to be done to unlock Brexit talks, as the European Union repeated an early December deadline for her to move on the divorce bill.

“We will make our proposals to the European Union in time for the council,” Hammond told the BBC.

Last week, May met fellow leaders on the sidelines of an EU summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, to try to break the deadlock over how much Britain will pay on leaving the bloc in 16 months.

 

She signaled again that she would increase an initial offer that is estimated at some 20 billion euros ($24 billion), about a third of what Brussels wants.

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European Cities Battle Fiercely for Top Agencies Leaving UK

Brexit is still well over year away but two European cities on Monday will already be celebrating Britain’s departure from the European Union.

 

Two major EU agencies now in London — the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority — must move to a new EU city because Britain is leaving the bloc. The two prizes are being hotly fought over by most of the EU’s other 27 nations.

 

Despite all the rigid rules and conditions the bloc imposed to try to make it a fair, objective decision, the process has turned into a deeply political beauty contest — part Olympic host city bidding, part Eurovision Song Contest.

 

It will culminate in a secret vote Monday at EU headquarters in Brussels that some say could be tainted by vote trading.

 

The move involves tens of millions in annual funding, about 1,000 top jobs with many more indirectly linked, prestige around the world and plenty of bragging rights for whichever leader can bring home the agencies.

 

“I will throw my full weight behind this,” French President Emmanuel Macron said when he visited Lille, which is seeking to host the EMA once Britain leaves in the EU in March 2019. “Now is the final rush.”

 

At an EU summit Friday in Goteborg, Sweden, leaders were lobbying each other to get support for their bids.

 

The EMA is responsible for the scientific evaluation, supervision and safety monitoring of medicines in the EU. It has around 890 staff and hosts more than 500 scientific meetings every year, attracting about 36,000 experts.

 

The EBA, which has around 180 staff, monitors the regulation and supervision of Europe’s banking sector.

 

With bids coming in from everywhere — from the newest member states to the EU’s founding nations — who gets what agency will also give an indication of EU’s future outlook.

 

The EU was created as club of six founding nations some 60 years ago, so it’s logical that a great many key EU institutions are still in nations like Germany, France and Belgium. But as the bloc kept expanded east and south into the 21st century, these new member states see a prime opportunity now to claim one of these cherished EU headquarters, which cover everything from food safety to judicial cooperation to fisheries policy.

 

Romania and Bulgaria were the last to join the EU in 2007 and have no headquarters. Both now want the EMA — as does the tiny island nation of Malta.

 

“We deserve this. Because as we all know, Romania is an EU member with rights and obligations equal with all the rest of the member states,” said Rodica Nassar of Romania’s Healthcare Ministry.

 

But personnel at the EMA and EBA are highly skilled professionals, and many could be reluctant to move their careers and families from London to less prestigious locations.

 

“You have to imagine, for example, for the banking authority, which relies on basically 200 very high-level experts in banking regulatory matters to move to another place,” said Karel Lannoo of the CEPS think tank. “First of all, to motivate these people to move elsewhere. And then if you don’t manage to motivate these people, to find competent experts in another city.”

 

As the vote nears, Milan and Bratislava are the favorites to win the EMA, with Frankfurt, and perhaps Dublin, leading the way for the EBA.

 

 

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New Orleans Elects Its First Woman Mayor

LaToya Cantrell, a City Council member who first gained a political following as she worked to help her hard-hit neighborhood recover from Hurricane Katrina, won a historic election Saturday that made her the first woman mayor of New Orleans.

 

The Democrat will succeed term-limited fellow Democrat Mitch Landrieu as the city celebrates its 300th anniversary next year. 

 

“Almost 300 years, my friends. And New Orleans, we’re still making history,” Cantrell told a cheering crowd in her victory speech.

Immigrant wins council seat

Voters also made history in a New Orleans City Council race. 

 

Cyndi Nguyen defeated incumbent James Gray in an eastern New Orleans district. An immigrant who fled Vietnam with her family when she was 5 in 1975, Nguyen is the organizer of a nonprofit and will be the first Vietnamese-American to serve on the council.

 

Mayor’s race

In the mayor’s race, Cantrell was the leader in most polls before the runoff election, she never trailed as votes were counted.

 

Her opponent, former municipal Judge Desiree Charbonnet, conceded the race and congratulated Cantrell late Saturday. Later, complete returns showed Cantrell with 60 percent of the vote. 

 

The two women led a field of 18 candidates in an October general election to win runoff spots. 

 

Landrieu earned credit for accelerating the recovery from Hurricane Katrina in an administration cited for reduced blight, improvements in the celebrated tourism economy and economic development that included last week’s announcement that a digital services company is bringing 2,000 new jobs to the city. 

 

But Cantrell will face lingering problems. Crime is one. Another is dysfunction at the agency overseeing the city’s drinking water system and storm drainage — a problem that became evident during serious flash flooding in August. 

 

About 32 percent of the city’s voters took part in last month’s election. It was unclear whether turnout would surpass that on Saturday.

 

Cantrell faced questions about her use of a city credit card. Charbonnet had to fight back against critics who cast her as an insider who would steer city work to cronies.

 

Katrina a theme

Katrina was a theme in the backstory of both candidates. Cantrell moved to the city from California. Her work as a neighborhood activist in the aftermath of Katrina in the hard-hit Broadmoor neighborhood helped her win a seat on council in 2012. 

 

Charbonnet, from a well-known political family in New Orleans, was the city’s elected recorder of mortgages before she was a judge. In the campaign she made a point of saying hers was the first city office to re-open after Katrina, providing critical property records to the displaced.

 

Former state civil court Judge Michael Bagneris, who finished third in last month’s race, endorsed Cantrell, as did Troy Henry, a businessman who also ran for the post last month. 

 

University of New Orleans political science professor Edward Chervenak said the endorsements appeared to help Cantrell overcome revelations that she had used her city-issued credit card for thousands of dollars in purchases without clear indications that they were for public purposes. The money was eventually reimbursed, but questions lingered about whether she had improperly used city money for personal or campaign expenditures. 

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U.S. General Says He’d Resist ‘Illegal’ Nuclear Strike Order From Trump

The top U.S. nuclear commander was quoted as saying Saturday that he would resist President Donald Trump if he ordered an “illegal” launch of nuclear weapons.

CBS News said Air Force General John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), told an audience at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, Canada, that he had given a lot of thought to what he would say if he received such an order.

“I think some people think we’re stupid,” Hyten said in response to a question about such a scenario. “We’re not stupid people. We think about these things a lot. When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?”

CBS said Hyten, who is responsible for overseeing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, explained the process that would follow such a command.

“As head of STRATCOM, I provide advice to the president, he will tell me what to do,” he said.

“And if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I’m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’ And guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?’ And we’ll come up [with] options, with a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that’s the way it works. It’s not that complicated.”

Hyten said running through scenarios of how to react in the event of an illegal order was standard practice, and added: “If you execute an unlawful order, you will go to jail. You could go to jail for the rest of your life.”

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Hyten’s remarks.

They came after questions by U.S. senators, including Democrats and Trump’s fellow Republicans, about Trump’s authority to wage war, use nuclear weapons, and enter into or end international agreements, amid concern that tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs could lead to hostilities.

Trump has traded insults and threats with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and threatened in his maiden U.N. address to “totally destroy” the country of 26 million people if it threatened the United States.

Some senators want legislation to alter the nuclear authority of the U.S. president, and a Senate committee on Tuesday held the first congressional hearing in more than four decades on the president’s authority to launch a nuclear strike.

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