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France Threatens to Scrap Trade Deal With South America Over Amazon Fires

France said Friday that it would block efforts to reach a major trade deal between the European Union and Brazil in an escalation of tensions over fires ravaging the Amazon rainforest.Leading a growing wave of European anger, a French presidential statement said, “The decisions and statements from Brazil these recent weeks show clearly that President [Jair] Bolsonaro has decided to not respect his commitments on the climate, nor to involve himself on the issue of biodiversity.”As a result of Brazil’s actions, the statement said, France now opposes an EU trade deal “in its current state” with the Mercosur bloc of South American nations, which includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said they supported France’s stance, which came ahead of a Group of Seven (G-7) summit in France this weekend.Under increasing pressure about the wildfires, Brazil’s president said Friday that he might send the military to battle the massive blazes.Bolsonaro did not say when the armed forces would get involved but suggested that action could be soon.Thousands of wildfires burning in the Amazon rainforest threaten to wipe out large parts of a vital ecosystem.A woman holds up a banner saying ‘ Their life does not belong to us’ during a demonstration against the wildfires in the Amazon outside the Brazilian embassy in Paris, Aug. 23, 2019.On Thursday, Bolsonaro accused his French counterpart of having a “colonialist mentality” for saying the Amazon wildfires should be at the top of the G-7 summit agenda.”The French president’s suggestion that Amazon issues be discussed at the G-7 without participation by the countries in the region evoke a colonialist mentality that is out of place in the 21st century,” Bolsonaro tweeted Thursday.He said countries that send money to Brazil for the Amazon are not doing it out of charity but “with the aim of interfering with our sovereignty.”Images from U.S. satellites show smoke blanketing South America from the thousands of fires burning in the Amazon.”Our house is burning. Literally,” Macron tweeted Thursday. “The Amazon rainforest, the lungs which produce 20% of our planet’s oxygen, is on fire. It is an international crisis.”Bolsonaro has said his government lacks the resources to fight the fires in such a huge area.Environmentalists put much of the blame on Bolsonaro, saying he encourages farmers and others to burn land for development and pasture.Brazil’s neighbors, Bolivia and Paraguay, have also struggled to contain fires that have gotten out of control in high winds. On Friday, a U.S.-based super tanker aircraft arrived in Bolivia to help with the firefighting effort.The Amazon rainforest is the world’s biggest ecosystem. Environmentalists call it “the world’s lungs” because it creates 20% of the globe’s oxygen and is able to absorb carbon dioxide, the gas primarily responsible for global warming.The Amazon is also home to much of Brazil’s indigenous population and thousands of species of mammals, birds and reptiles.

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Overstock CEO Resigns Over Relationship With Alleged Russian Spy

The chief executive of the e-commerce firm Overstock.com has stepped down over his relationship with an alleged Russian intelligence operative jailed for meddling in U.S. politics. 
 
Patrick Byrne only recently admitted that he had a close relationship with Maria Butina for three years, during the period when she beguiled top Republican and National Rifle Association officials with talk of strengthening Moscow-Washington relations and her flair with guns. 
 
He said in an eccentric company statement last week that he had been pulled into the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by the “deep state” and “men in black,” charging that the FBI probe was “political espionage” more than law enforcement. 
 
On Thursday he resigned, saying he had become “already far too controversial” to run the company and that he did “not wish to disrupt possible strategic discussions” about its future. 
 
“The news that I shared is bubbling (however haphazardly) into the public,” he said. 
“Though patriotic Americans are writing me in support, my presence may affect and complicate all manner of business relationships, from insurability to strategic discussions regarding our retail business.” ‘Romantic’ ties to Byrne
 
Butina is serving 18 months in jail after becoming the only Russian arrested and convicted in the sprawling three-year investigation into Russian election meddling. 
 
With the backing of a Kremlin powerbroker, she parried her supposed grass-roots Russian gun rights group into a bridge into U.S. conservative politics, drawing the attention of U.S. counterintelligence though she had no direct links to Moscow’s main spy agencies. 
 
She appears to have had what her lawyer termed a “romantic” relationship with Byrne at the same time she lived with her boyfriend, a Republican operative, in Washington while attending graduate school at American University. 
 
Byrne has said he cooperated with the FBI investigations, but has not made public the details of that or of his relationship with Butina. 
 
His resignation came as Overstock.com, which sells furniture online, endures mounting losses as total revenue rose last year to $1.8 billion. 
 
The company’s shares plunged on Aug. 12 after he confirmed press reports of his involvement with Butina and his entanglement in the FBI Russia probe. 
 
Byrne had reportedly been searching for a buyer for the retail business while he focused on a blockchain venture, which he discussed at length in his resignation letter Thursday. 
 
The company said Thursday that Overstock veteran Jonathan Johnson would become interim chief executive. 

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US Supreme Court: Justice Ginsburg Treated for Tumor on Pancreas

The Supreme Court says Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has completed radiation therapy for a tumor on her pancreas and there is no evidence of the disease remaining.The court said Friday the tumor was “treated definitively and there is no evidence of disease elsewhere in the body.” 
 
In a statement, the court said a biopsy performed July 31 confirmed a “localized malignant tumor.” The court said Ginsburg does not need any additional treatment but will continue to have periodic blood tests and scans.The court said Ginsburg canceled an annual summer visit to Santa Fe but has otherwise maintained an active schedule during treatment.Ginsburg, who is 86, has had several bouts with cancer beginning in 1999. In December 2018, she had surgery for cancerous growths on her left lung. 

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Russian Doctor Has Trace of Radiation After Explosion

Over Russian 100 medical workers who helped treat victims of a recent mysterious explosion at a military testing range have undergone checks and one man has been found with a trace of radiation, officials said Friday.The Aug. 8 incident at the Russian navy’s range in Nyonoksa on the White Sea killed two servicemen and five nuclear engineers and injured six. It was followed by a brief rise in radiation levels in nearby Severodvinsk, but authorities insisted it didn’t pose any danger.The Arkhangelsk regional administration said Friday that 110 medical workers have undergone checks, and that one man was found with a low amount of radioactive cesium-137 in his muscle tissue. It said the man’s health isn’t in danger and argued that he could have got the radioactive isotope with food.The statement followed Russian media reports claiming that dozens of medical workers were exposed to radiation.FILE – This photo taken Oct. 7, 2018, shows a village of Nyonoksa, northwestern Russia.The reports claimed that medical teams at the Arkhangelsk city hospital hadn’t been warned that they would treat people exposed to radiation and lacked elementary protective gear. They said that Russia’s security agency forced the medical workers to sign non-disclosure papers.The workers, who spoke on condition of anonymity fearing official reprisals, said many doctors and nurses felt angry about the authorities putting their lives at risk by concealing the vital information.Contradictory accounts Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov shrugged off the reports, questioning the veracity of anonymous sources. He also alleged that certain forces that he didn’t name could be interested in making false allegations about radioactive threats.Russian officials’ changing and contradictory accounts of the incident drew comparisons to Soviet attempts to cover up the 1986 explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the world’s worst nuclear disaster.The Russian Defense Ministry at first denied any radiation leak in the incident even as the authorities in nearby Severodvinsk reported a spike in radiation and advised people to stay indoors and close windows. Terrified residents rushed to buy iodine, which can help reduce risks from exposure to radiation.Radiation readingsRussia’s state weather and environmental monitoring agency said the peak radiation reading in Severodvinsk on Aug. 8 briefly reached 1.78 microsieverts per hour in just one neighborhood — about 16 times the average. Peak readings in other parts of Severodvinsk varied between 0.45 and 1.33 microsieverts for a couple of hours before returning to normal.The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization said earlier this week that several Russian radiation monitoring stations went silent shortly after the explosion. Observers saw that as part of an effort to conceal the radiation data, which could help determine the technology that was being tested at the time of the explosion.President Vladimir Putin has hailed the victims, saying they were doing “very important work for the nation’s security,” but kept mum on what type of weapon they were testing. Some, including U.S. President Donald Trump, said the explosion occurred during tests of Russia’s prospective Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile that was code-named “Skyfall” by NATO.  

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Russian Court Extends Detention of former US Marine Accused of Espionage 

A Russian court has extended by more than two months the detention of a former U.S. Marine accused of espionage.In a closed hearing in Moscow’s Lefortovo Court Friday, the presiding judge prolonged Paul Whelan’s detention until October 29th — the latest phase in an eight-month investigation by the country’s Federal Security Services, or FSB, that appears to be grinding toward presentation of formal charges by year’s end. “I am innocent of any charges resulting from this political kidnapping, No crime ever occurred,” said Whelan, 49, in a statement hurriedly read as police forced journalists from the courtroom following the judge’s ruling. Accused spy and former US Marine Paul Whelan in a Moscow court today proclaiming his innocence from espionage charges. The court prolonged his detainment until October 29th pending an ongoing FSB investigation. pic.twitter.com/UmxGz6Z4io— Charles Maynes (@cwmiii3) August 23, 2019“The latest that we’ve seen from the investigation plays into the hands of the defense,” Whelan’s Russian lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, said after the ruling. “Paul’s version that this crime was merely a provocation is justified in our view. Investigators think otherwise.”If convicted, Whelan faces the possibility of 10- to 20 years in prison.Entering the courthouse in handcuffs and led by masked police, the former Marine complained of rough treatment by authorities despite health issues. “They are dragging me along even though I have a medical condition which prohibits it,” said Whelan.  In the initial open phase of the hearing, Whelan said he was in “great pain” and had repeatedly told the prosecutor about abuse and injuries at the hands of FSB and prison officials. Whelan said that despite his complaints, no action was taken. “The prosecutor is allowing unlawful acts that violate human rights, acts that violate Russian law by the FSB,” Whelan said. “The prosecutor’s office knows about this and has done nothing. Therefore she needs to go.” The judge rejected Whelan’s request but paused proceedings so that a doctor could conduct a brief medical examination.  Whelan’s lawyers later clarified that the former Marine was considering possible surgery in a Moscow hospital for a hernia in his groin. The U.S. Embassy in Russia said it has asked the Russian Foreign minister “for immediate consular access” to meet with Whelan and “to speak with him about his serious health allegations.”We’ve asked @MFA_Russia for immediate consular access to meet with #PaulWhelan to speak with him about his serious health allegations. The health and welfare of U.S. citizens abroad is our highest priority. https://t.co/ltmUCVKQ9g— Andrea Kalan (@USEmbRuPress) August 23, 2019Whelan’s complaints also extended to the court proceedings themselves. “There’s no judicial process here, no due process,” said Whelan, noting prison officials had informed him of the court hearing just two hours prior. “I was not given notice for this hearing. I have not seen my attorneys for more than a month for consultation. I did not have an opportunity to talk to them or look at their documents,” he added.He also questioned the abilities of his court-appointed Russian translator and sharply criticized the closed-door nature of the hearings — a standard practice for espionage cases, say Russian officials. “This is part of the cover up,” said Whelan, as the judge ordered journalists out of the room. Whelan, who in addition to American citizenship, holds passports from Canada, Ireland, and Britain, was arrested by FSB agents in December of last year in a downtown Moscow hotel, after allegedly accepting classified materials on a computer ‘thumb’ flash drive.  Whelan has repeatedly denied the charges, insisting he was in Moscow for a friend’s wedding and had accepted the drive from a Russian acquaintance without knowing or ever viewing its contents.The case has proven an additional irritant to already strained relations between the United States and Russia over larger issues such as Syria, Ukraine, and Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.  Whelan has called on U.S. President Donald Trump to intervene on his behalf, asking the American leader “to tweet your intentions” about a case that Whelan has labeled “the Moscow goat rodeo.” While U.S. officials, including National Security Adviser John Bolton, have criticized Russia for providing scant evidence of Whelan’s wrongdoing, they have also stopped short of proclaiming his innocence, according to Whelan’s family members. Whelan had a message Friday for those following his case.“Only listen to what I say. Do not trust anyone else.” 

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EU Nations Taking In Migrants Stranded on Rescue Ship

Malta has agreed to allow a charity ship carrying 356 migrants, including more than 100 minors, mainly from Sudan, to dock. Malta gave the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking permission to dock after six European Union countries reached an agreement to take in the migrants. The ship has been anchored in the Mediterranean for two weeks, awaiting port access.  France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal and Romania are taking in the migrants. The French news agency reports that no migrants will remain in Malta. Luca Pigozzi, one of the doctors onboard the rescue vessel, said recently the migrants are traumatized and waiting in the confined space of the ship has only worsened their psychological conditions. Jay Berger, a Doctors Without Borders project coordinator, said the situation on the Ocean Viking is “shameful” and “inhumane.”  He said, “leaving migrants on boats for weeks until the crisis becomes an emergency is becoming the new norm.”
 

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US-China Trade War Is Good News for Some Countries

As with any war, there are winners and losers. That is also the case with the U.S.-China trade war.As the two countries battle, companies affected by high tariffs are looking to manufacture their products elsewhere, and businesses outside of the U.S. and China are seeing economic booms.Two factories in Vietnam currently make electric bicycles for Pedego, an American company based in Fountain Valley, California. Eighty percent of Pedego’s bike parts used to be from China, but not anymore.“Now, we’re probably 70% in Vietnam, and 30% in Taiwan,” said Don DiCostanzo, Pedego’s co-founder and CEO.
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FILE – China Shipping Company containers are stacked at the Virginia International’s terminal in Portsmouth, Va., May 10, 2019.Return manufacturing to USManufacturing and outsourcing in a global economy is a fickle business, however. Any weather disruptions, political instability or the emergence of a cheaper competitor can cause businesses to shift to a different manufacturing hub.“Manufacturing has shown itself to be mobile in a way that we never could have imagined years ago,” Klowden said.Some companies in the U.S., such as Pedego, eventually would like to manufacture their products in America.“A number of companies would like to move manufacturing back to the U.S. just because of proximity to market because of stability. The catch is that manufacturing that moves back to the U.S. employs dramatically fewer people than it would have 20, 30 years ago,” Klowden explained.Any business that manufactures in the U.S. and can successfully compete in the global economic would use automation and robotics.“These robots, you don’t have to pay them overtime, and they don’t have to take time off, and they work 24/7,” Pedego’s DiCostanzo said. “So, the idea of robotics and the efficiency of a robot could actually drive the prices down.”DiCostanzo is part of a coalition of American bike manufacturers that is pushing for legislation to exempt bicycle assembly-related components from tariffs for 10 years, action that could spur the opening of automated bike factories in the U.S.

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Democratic Presidential Contenders Scramble to Make September Debate

Among the more than 20 Democratic presidential hopefuls, the scramble is on to qualify for the next candidates’ debate in September.The debate is now set for Sept. 12-13 in Houston, Texas.Former Obama administration Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro got some good news this week, when he became the 10th Democrat to qualify for the debate, the third such event.Several other Democrats likely will not make the cut for the next debate, however, hampering their chances of building support in the crowded and at times chaotic primary battle.Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro and his son Cristian tour the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, Aug. 9, 2019.Looking to surgeFor Castro, a whirlwind of campaigning paid off when he qualified.“I believe we can get stronger and stronger. We still have five months to go until the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. And by that time, if we work hard, I can be a front-runner,” Castro told supporters last week in New Hampshire. He was referring to two of the state-level events that are part of the party’s delegate-selection process before its national convention in July in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.It is a different story for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio takes a photo with a fairgoer at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, Aug. 11, 2019.De Blasio is among those Democrats scrambling to meet the tougher polling and fundraising requirements to qualify for the September debate.“It is a tough goal for us. We have been working at it and what I am looking at is if we cannot get into the September debate, to get into (the one in) October,” de Blasio told reporters in New Hampshire.Tougher rulesCandidates must register at least 2% support in four polls and register 130,000 individual campaign contributors to qualify for the September Houston debate.Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney is among those not likely to make the next debate, although he hopes to remain in the race long enough to compete in the early caucuses and primaries, beginning in February.“The role that Iowa and New Hampshire play is to find other candidates that maybe the national media is not focusing on as much,” Delaney told reporters in New Hampshire last week. “So doing well in one of these two early states is really important.”U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker, center, talks to a supporter after speaking at a Gun Violence Prevention roundtable in Los Angeles, Aug. 22, 2019.Shrinking fieldThe large Democratic field has slowly begun to shrink with the exit of Washington Governor Jay Inslee, and former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s decision last week to drop out of the presidential race and to run instead for the Senate.“This is no time to walk away from the table. I know changing Washington is hard, but I want to give it a shot,” he said in announcing his Senate bid in a campaign video.Other Democrats are hanging in despite low poll numbers, including New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.Booker has qualified for the September debate and is counting on a strong performance to vault him into contention.He recently made a pitch to Democratic activists in Iowa that he would be the strongest nominee to take on President Donald Trump next year, urging them to “stand together and work together and love together and overcome his darkness with our light!”Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., center, laughs while speaking with reporters, Aug. 18, 2019, at the Hillsborough County Democrats Summer Picnic, in Greenfield, N.H.Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar has also qualified for the Houston debate and told reporters in New Hampshire last week she would stick to her strategy in coming weeks.“I plan to keep taking it to Donald Trump. I plan to keep making the case for an optimistic, economic agenda for this country,” she said.Debate stakesThe campaign road will get harder for those who miss the September debate, USA Today political reporter and analyst Susan Page said.“We have our third set of debates coming up in early September and it is a little harder to qualify for those debates. We think those numbers (of candidates) will come down. And once a candidate does not make the debates, it gets harder for him or her to raise money to get supporters to stay in,” she told VOA.
Democratic Presidential Contenders Scramble to Make September Debate video player.
Embed” />CopyWATCH: Democratic Presidential Contenders Scramble to Make September DebateThere are still more than 20 contenders in the race, and the next few months will be a make-or-break time for several of those who are not performing well, Brookings Institution analyst Darrell West said.“I see a number of candidates probably dropping out over the next one or two months, certainly the ones who do not qualify for the upcoming September debates, they are going to see their money dry up and they are going to lose the media platform, so their candidacies will basically be over,” he said.The September debate will be a one-night event if no more candidates qualify, but could go two nights if others qualify before Aug. 28. Billionaire impeachment activist Tom Steyer and Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard are two contenders seen as having a good shot at qualifying.Biden still leadsFormer Vice President Joe Biden continues to lead the Democratic field, followed by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, California Senator Kamala Harris and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.They will all be on the debate stage next month.Biden got encouraging news in a CNN poll this week, jumping back to a double-digit lead over Sanders and Warren. Biden was at 29% support, up seven points from the same survey in late June.Sanders trails with 15%, followed closely by Warren with 14%. Harris and Buttigieg both registered 5% in the same poll.Also on the debate stage next month will be former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke and entrepreneur Andrew Wang, who continues to build a strong following online.