Advocate for disabled workers is 2017 CNN Hero of the Year

(CNN)“My children are not broken,” Amy Wright insists.

Most parents don’t have to declare their children’s fundamental value, but after two of 2017 CNN Hero of the Year Amy Wright’s kids were born with Down syndrome, it was clear that she would have to back them up every step of the way.
“When you become a parent of a child with special needs, you are instantly thrust into becoming an advocate,” Wright explained. “Trying to make people see the beauty in their lives that we see.”
    Wright’s advocacy took the form of a coffee shop. She opened Bitty & Beau’s Coffee in January 2016, named for her two children.
    On Sunday, it was clear that Wright, Bitty, Beau and the 40 disabled employees at the Wilmington, North Carolina, shop have an army of supporters.
    Wright was named the 2017 CNN Hero of the Year for her efforts to advocate for disabled people. The award is determined by online voters who selected Wright from among the top 10 CNN Heroes finalists.
    Wright will receive $100,000 to grow her cause. All of the top 10 CNN Heroes for 2017 will receive a $10,000 cash award. Donations made to each of their designated nonprofit organizations are also being matched up to $50,000.

      CNN Heroes: ‘Welcome to Bitty & Beau’s!’

    “It hit me like a lightning bolt: a coffee shop!” Wright said. “I realized it would be the perfect environment for bringing people together. Seeing the staff taking orders, serving coffee — they’d realize how capable they are.”
    Wright was presented with her top 10 CNN Hero award by actress Diane Lane, who said: “She opened a business where people like her son and daughter could work and shine.”
    Sunday’s CNN Heroes tribute show was a night of shining stars, salutes and tears — and a few laughs, too.
    Hosts Kelly Ripa and Anderson Cooper kicked things off live from New York’s American Museum of Natural History with a unique rendition of “Wind Beneath My Wings,” complete with jazz hands by Kelly.
    Presenters Christian Bale, Diane Lane, Alfre Woodard, Christopher Meloni, Gaten Matarazzo and others added star power to the night.
    Singer Andra Day and rapper-actor Common serenaded the crowd with their hit “Stand Up for Something” to wrap up the inspirational evening.
    “This is emotionally taxing,” joked comedian Jim Gaffigan.

    ‘A new lens’

    Heading to New York City to be honored among the other top 10 CNN Heroes was a special moment for Wright.
    “I’m so emotional, just reflecting on this journey,” she said during Saturday’s rehearsal. “I would’ve never imagined 13 years ago, when my son Beau was born, that I would be doing what I’m doing today. I’m just overwhelmed with emotion thinking about where we’ve been and where we hope to go.”
    Wright told CNN her goal with the shop is to improve the lives of employees and change the viewpoints of customers.
    “Bitty & Beau’s Coffee is a new lens, one that changes the way people see other people. It’s about human value. It’s about acceptance. It’s about inclusion. It’s about much more than a cup of coffee.”
    It’s working.
    “Bitty & Beau’s has helped me a lot with my confidence,” said employee Matt Dean.
    “My employees are not broken; 200 million people across the world living with an intellectual or developmental disability are not broken,” Wright said Sunday night, when accepting her top 10 CNN Hero award. “What is broken is the lens through which we view people with disabilities.”
    All of the top 10 CNN Heroes are impacting their communities in immeasurable ways:
    • Stan Hays, a Grand Champion pitmaster uses his barbecuing skills to feed people in need during disasters through Operation BBQ Relief.
    • Samir Lakhani established the Eco-Soap Bank, which recycles used hotel soap for better hygiene and job creation in Cambodia.
    • Jennifer Maddox‘s after-school program, Future Ties, provides a safe space for more than 100 children to learn, grow and succeed in Chicago.
    • Andrew Manzi‘s nonprofit, Warrior Surf, provides free six-week surf camps for veterans and their families, complete with therapy sessions on the beach.
    • Rosie Mashale and the organization Baphumelele provide care for more than 5,000 orphaned, abandoned or sick children in South Africa, many of whom have lost parents to AIDS.
    • Leslie Morissette‘s project, Grahamtastic Connection gives computers, iPads and robots to ill kids so they stay connected to friends, family and school.
    • Mona Patel created the San Antonio Amputee Foundation, which offers peer support, education, recreation and financial help for people who need prosthetic limbs.
    • Khali Sweeney‘s Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program provides around 100 Detroit children with training and academic tutoring five days a week.
    • Aaron Valencia founded the Lost Angels Children’s Project, an after-school program that focuses on classic car restoration.
    Also honored at Sunday’s event were the 2017 CNN Heroes Young Wonders, kids and teens who got an early start with their passion for giving. This group is determined to promote literacy, environmentalism, coding skills, nutrition and compassion.
    Donations made to the designated nonprofit organization of each Top 10 CNN Hero, via and, will be matched up to $50,000 per CNN Hero through January 7, 2018.
    Now in its 11th year, the Peabody Award and Emmy-winning “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute” has profiled more than 300 heroes and has received upward of 85,000 nominations from more than 100 countries.
    To learn more, like CNN Heroes on Facebook, follow @CNNHeroes on Twitter and use hashtag #CNNHeroes. Behind-the-scenes images can be seen on the CNN Heroes Instagram account.
    Donate to any of the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2017 by clicking the button below.

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    Acid Attack on Four U.S. Students Wasn’t Terror Act, France Says

    Paris (AP) — Four American college students were attacked with acid Sunday at a train station in France, but French authorities so far do not think extremist views motivated the 41 -year-old woman who was arrested as the alleged assailant, the local prosecutor's office and the students' school said.

    Boston College, a private Jesuit university in Massachusetts, said in a statement Sunday that the four female students were treated at a hospital for burns after they were sprayed in the face with acid in the city of Marseille. The statement said the four all were juniors studying abroad, three of them at the college's Paris program.

    "It appears that the students are fine, considering the circumstances, though they may require additional treatment for burns," Nick Gozik, who directs Boston College's Office of International Programs. "We have been in contact with the students and their parents and remain in touch with French officials and the U.S. Embassy regarding the incident."

    Police in France described the suspect as "disturbed" and said the attack was not thought at this point to be terror-related, according the university's statement.

    The Paris prosecutor's office said earlier Sunday that its counter-terrorism division had decided for the time being not to assume jurisdiction for investigating the attack. The prosecutor's office in the capital, which has responsibility for all terror-related cases in France, did not explain the reasoning behind the decision.

    A spokeswoman for the Marseille prosecutor's office told The Associated Press in a telephone call that the suspect did not make any extremist threats or declarations during the late morning attack at the city's Saint Charles train station. She said there were no obvious indications that the woman's actions were terror-related.

    The spokeswoman spoke on condition of anonymity, per the custom of the French judicial system. She said all four of the victims were in their 20s and treated at a hospital, two of them for shock. The suspect was taken into police custody.

    Boston College identified the students as Courtney Siverling, Charlotte Kaufman, Michelle Krug and Kelsey Kosten.

    The Marseille fire department was alerted just after 11 a.m. and dispatched four vehicles and 14 firefighters to the train station, a department spokeswoman said.

    Two of the Americans were "slightly injured" with acid but did not require emergency medical treatment from medics at the scene, the spokeswoman said. She requested anonymity in keeping with fire department protocol.

    A person with knowledge of the investigation said the suspect had a history of mental health problems but no apparent past links to extremism. The person was not authorized to be publicly named speaking about the investigation. Regional newspaper La Provence said the assailant remained at the site of the attack without trying to flee.

    France has seen scattered attacks by unstable individuals as well as extremist violence in recent years, including in Marseille, a port city in southern France that is closer to Barcelona than Paris.

    A driver deliberately rammed into two bus stops in Marseille last month, killing a woman, but officials said it wasn't terror-related.

    In April, French police said they thwarted an imminent "terror attack" and arrested two suspected radicals in Marseille just days before the first round of France's presidential election. Paris prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters the two suspects "were getting ready to carry out an imminent, violent action." In January 2016, a 15-year-old Turkish Kurd was arrested after attacking a Jewish teacher on a Marseille street. He told police he acted in the name of the Islamic State group.


    Angela Charlton in Paris and Crystal Hill in Boston contributed to the report.

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      Intel CEO Becomes Third Chief to Quit Trump Council After Riots

      Intel Corp.’s Brian Krzanich joined Under Armour Inc.’s Kevin Plank in becoming the latest chief executives to quit President Donald Trump’s council of U.S. business leaders, as membership on the panel has become enmeshed in the country’s volatile politics after violent riots in Virginia over the weekend.

      The moves come hours after Merck & Co.’s Kenneth Frazier first stepped down from the business council. Plank’s departure is a particularly sharp rebuke to Trump, after the Under Armour executive earlier this year came under fire for commenting that the president was a “real asset” for the country.

      "I resigned to call attention to the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues, including the serious need to address the decline of American manufacturing," Intel’s Krzanich said in a company blog post.

      Plank said in a tweeted statement that “Under Armour engages in innovation and sport, not politics,” while Merck’s Frazier said he quit “as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.” 

      Trump responded to Frazier with a couple jabs, tweeting late Monday that “@Merck Pharma is a leader in higher & higher drug prices while at the same time taking jobs out of the U.S.”

      Over the weekend, one woman was killed and many others were injured after a man in a car rammed a group of counter-demonstrators during a daylong melee in Charlottesville, Virginia. White supremacists and other hate groups had massed in the city to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

      Trump was widely criticized by U.S. lawmakers and other officials for not denouncing white supremacists in a statement on Saturday in which he said “many sides” were at fault for the violence. The president has repeatedly drawn fire for his relations with white nationalist groups and his handling of issues related to minorities.

      Speaking from the White House on Monday, Trump denounced white supremacists and declared racism “evil.”

      “To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence, you will be held accountable,” Trump said, calling for unity in the wake of the tragedy.

      The CEO departures show how corporate leaders are walking a narrow line in working with the Trump administration to help shape policy around taxes, immigration and other issues, while trying not to alienate customers in an increasingly tense political environment.

      Plank’s pro-Trump commentary earlier this year sparked an uproar from shoppers and very public dissent among Under Armour’s athletes, including his most-valued sneaker pitchman, basketball star Stephen Curry. The CEO in a television interview had declared that Trump is “pro-business” and a “real asset.”

      After a Wall Street analyst downgraded the company, Plank took out a full-page newspaper ad, saying his words praising Trump “did not accurately reflect” his intent. He said the company opposed the president’s executive order to ban refugees from certain countries.

      The president’s council has included top executives from Boeing Co., Dow Chemical Co. and Johnson & Johnson. A handful of CEOs have stepped down from two White House business groups, which have met only sporadically, over political controversies.

      The president hasn’t been shy about calling out businesses for perceived missteps. After his 2016 election victory Trump took aim at defense contractors Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp. for what he called the high cost of some aircraft, and muscled United Technologies Corp. unit Carrier into keeping a plant in Indiana after the company said it would be closed and production shifted to Mexico. 

      Corporate Pushback

      Trump created two CEO advisory groups early in his presidency. Blackstone Group CEO Steve Schwarzman leads one described as a strategy and policy forum, and Dow Chemical’s Andrew Liveris organized a manufacturing initiative. After an initial burst of activity and press attention, the councils have fizzled with neither meeting since April.

      Earlier this year, Elon Musk of Tesla Inc. and Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger quit the strategy and policy panel after Trump said he would withdraw from the Paris climate pact. Former Uber Technologies Inc. CEO Travis Kalanick quit in February after Trump’s executive order on immigration.

      Trump and a range of corporations have previously been at odds on other fronts.

      The administration drew criticism from a wide swath of companies over its executive order restricting immigration. More than 160 technology firms, including Inc., Facebook Inc., and Google corporate parent Alphabet Inc. joined a legal brief criticizing the order. Technology firms have also criticized the administration’s efforts to restrict access to H-1B visas for high-skilled workers, and eliminate an Obama Administration program that would have provided visas for foreign entrepreneurs who received startup funding.

      Other members of the Trump councils, including Lockheed Martin and PepsiCo Inc., declined to say whether they would follow the moves of the other executives in stepping down.

      Merck’s Prices

      Merck has in the past taken stands on social issues. In 2012, the company’s foundation ended funding for the Boy Scouts of America over the group’s exclusion of gays from its leadership ranks. Frazier is a registered Democrat, according to Pennsylvania voter records.

      Trump made U.S. drug prices an issue during the presidential campaign and after — at one point accusing drug companies of “getting away with murder.” While his rhetoric on the subject has cooled, the Food and Drug Administration has taken steps to try and bring more competition to the market for some drugs, and speed more generic drugs to the market.

      Frazier, in December, said his company has a “restrained” approach to price increases, calling aggressive price increases a foolhardy move by the industry. In a company report published this year, Merck said it has a “long history of making our medicines and vaccines accessible and affordable through responsible pricing practices.”

      For 2016, the list price on its drugs rose by 9.6 percent on average while the net price, which more closely reflects what is paid by consumers, rose 5.5 percent, according to the report.

      Merck shares were up 0.7 percent to $62.79 at 12:02 p.m. in New York, roughly in line with a broader advance in the U.S. stock market.

      Toby Cosgrove, the CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, plans to remain on the strategy and policy group, said Eileen Sheil, a spokeswoman for the health system. She said the group hasn’t met since April, and there are no meetings scheduled.

      Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein also took to Twitter Monday in response to the violence, citing former president Abraham Lincoln. “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” wrote Blankfein, whose inaugural tweet in June expressed disapproval over Trump’s decision to ditch the Paris climate accord.

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        Benchmark’s Uber Suit Signals End of Era for Imperious Founders

        When Uber Technologies Inc. backer Benchmark Capital filed a lawsuit against the startup’s founder Travis Kalanick for using allegedly fraudulent means to pack the board with his loyalists, it sent a strong signal that Silicon Valley’s so-called founder-friendly era is coming to an end.

        Going back years, venture firms have given Kalanick and his peers outsize control and influence over their companies. Critics say this has led founders to take a freewheeling approach to running their companies, loading up on shares for themselves and their friends and presiding over toxic workplaces.

        At the heart of the Benchmark lawsuit is a provision that venture capitalists say stands out for its deference to Kalanick, and is highly unusual. It allowed the Uber founder to personally appoint three new members to Uber’s eight-seat board, effectively letting him slant the board his way after he resigned. 

        According to Benchmark, Kalanick got investors to sign off on the measure “fraudulently,”  by, among other things, hiding “gross mismanagement” at the company. Jimmy Asci, a spokesman for Kalanick, said the lawsuit is “completely without merit and riddled with lies and false allegations.”

        On Friday three other investors sent a letter to Uber’s board, shareholders and Benchmark, saying the suit was designed to “hold the company hostage” and asked Benchmark to step down from the board. The investors are Sherpa Capital’s Shervin Pishevar, Yucaipa Companies’ Ron Burkle and Maverick’s Adam Leber. They didn’t immediately respond or couldn’t be reached for comment. Members of Uber’s board, not including Kalanick or Benchmark’s Matt Cohler, said they were “disappointed that a disagreement between shareholders has resulted in litigation,” according to an emailed statement.

        Kalanick is far from the only founder deemed to have abused investors’ trust in him. Other examples include Jawbone Inc. founder Hosain Rahman and Tanium Inc. Chief Executive Officer Orion Hindawi, who were both given considerable autonomy or control by boards and then disappointed in their leadership. Rahman led Jawbone into bankruptcy and has now launched a long-shot bid to become a player in medical devices. Hindawi was forced to apologize after past and current employees described abusive behavior that prompted a talent exodus. 

        In the 1990s, it wasn’t unusual for venture firms to replace founders as CEOs, usually because the investors believed the company needed a leader with more experience. That practice fell out of favor but has resurfaced in recent years.

        Take GitHub Inc., the developer platform. In early 2014, a former Github employee, Julie Ann Horvath, complained that co-workers—going right up to company’s co-founder and CEO, Tom Preston-Werner—had harassed and discriminated against her. Preston-Werner ended up resigning after an internal investigation; in a more forgiving time, he might have taken a leave of absence and returned.

        The following year, Parker Conrad, founder and chief executive of Zenefits resigned after news broke that he was using unlicensed brokers to sell health insurance in several states.

        In those cases, the founders agreed to step down. In other instances, VCs have discovered that the relatively recent practice of ceding voting control has made forced resignations impossible.

        At venture-backed company Theranos, once valued at $9 billion and now worth next to nothing, disgraced founder Elizabeth Holmes controls 98 percent of voting shares. That has allowed her to continue as chief executive even after it turned out her vaunted blood-testing technology didn’t work, putting the company’s future in peril.

        One reason VCs tolerated over-privileged CEOS—at Theranos, Uber, Snap, and other companies—was because so much money flooded into tech, making it easy for founders of the most promising startups to shop around. Last year, $41.6 billion was raised by venture firms, the most since the dotcom era, according to the National Venture Capital Association.

        In an extreme case, at vegan food maker Hampton Creek Inc., most of the board, not founder Josh Tetrick,  was forced to resign after directors lost all rights due to the voting control they had allowed Tetrick to amass.

        But once again, venture firms are wising up.

        Today, while more late-stage private companies are creating classes of shares with extra voting power, only 27 percent of recipients of those shares are founders and management, according to a study by law firm Fenwick & West. Three years ago, 43 percent of recipients were founders and management, rather than investors.

        For a long time venture firms were loath to crack down on founders for fear they’d go elsewhere for capital. But that theory doesn’t really hold up, says angel investor Keval Desai, a backer of Optimizely, The RealReal and others. “Benchmark’s reputation has been built over many decades, and other entrepreneurs who have taken money from them will be proof that Benchmark isn’t in the business of suing their entrepreneurs,” he says. “Benchmark will be fine.”

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          Monsanto Was Its Own Ghostwriter for Some Safety Reviews

          Monsanto Co. started an agricultural revolution with its “Roundup Ready” seeds, genetically modified to resist the effects of its blockbuster herbicide called Roundup. That ability to kill weeds while leaving desirable crops intact helped the company turn Roundup’s active ingredient, the chemical glyphosate, into one of the world’s most-used crop chemicals. When that heavy use raised health concerns, Monsanto noted that the herbicide’s safety had repeatedly been vetted by outsiders. But now there’s new evidence that Monsanto’s claims of rigorous scientific review are suspect.

          Dozens of internal Monsanto emails, released on Aug. 1 by plaintiffs’ lawyers who are suing the company, reveal how Monsanto worked with an outside consulting firm to induce the scientific journal to publish a purported “independent” review of Roundup’s health effects that appears to be anything but. The review, published along with four subpapers in a September 2016 special supplement, was aimed at rebutting the 2015 assessment by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. That finding by the cancer-research arm of the World Health Organization led California last month to list glyphosate as a known human carcinogen. It has also spurred more than 1,000 lawsuits in state and federal courts by plaintiffs who claim they contracted non-Hodgkin lymphoma from Roundup exposure.

          Monsanto disclosed that it paid Intertek Group Plc’s consulting unit to develop the review supplement, entitled “An Independent Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate.” But that was the extent of Monsanto’s involvement, the main article said. “The Expert Panelists were engaged by, and acted as consultants to, Intertek, and were not directly contacted by the Monsanto Company,” according to the review’s Declaration of Interest statement. “Neither any Monsanto company employees nor any attorneys reviewed any of the Expert Panel’s manuscripts prior to submission to the journal.”

          Monsanto’s internal emails tell a different story. The correspondence shows the company’s chief of regulatory science, William Heydens, and other Monsanto scientists were heavily involved in organizing, reviewing, and editing drafts submitted by the outside experts. At one point, Heydens even vetoed explicit requests by some of the panelists to tone down what one of them wrote was the review’s “inflammatory” criticisms of IARC.

          “An extensive revision of the summary article is necessary,” wrote that panelist, John Acquavella, an epidemiologist at Aarhus University in Denmark, in a February 2016 email attached to his suggested edits of the draft. Alarmed, Ashley Roberts, the coordinator of the glyphosate papers for Intertek, forwarded Acquavella’s note and edits to Heydens at Monsanto, with the warning: “Please take a look at the latest from the epi(demiology) group!!!!”

          Heydens reedited Acquavella’s edits, arguing in six different notes in the draft’s margin that statements Acquavella had found inflammatory were not and should not be changed, despite the author’s requests. In the published article, Heydens’s edits prevailed. In an interview, Acquavella says that he was satisfied with the review’s final tone. According to an invoice he sent Monsanto, he billed the company $20,700 for a single month’s work on the review, which took nearly a year to complete.

          Monsanto defends the review’s independence. Monsanto did only “cosmetic editing” of the Intertek papers and nothing “substantive” to alter panelists’ conclusions, says Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president for global strategy. While the “choice of words” in the Declaration of Interest “was not ideal,” he says, “it didn’t change the science.”

          In July 2016, the journal’s editor, Roger McClellan, emailed his final instructions to Roberts at Intertek on what the paper’s Acknowledgment and Declaration of Interest statements should include. “I want them to be as clear and transparent as possible,” he wrote. “At the end of the day I want the most aggressive critics of Monsanto, your organization and each of the authors to read them and say—Damn, they covered all the points we intended to raise.”

          Specifically, McClellan told Roberts to make clear how the panelists were hired—“ie by Intertek,” McClellan wrote. “If you can say without consultation with Monsanto, that would be great. If there was any review of the reports by Monsanto or their legal representatives, that needs to be disclosed.”

          Roberts forwarded McClellan’s emails, along with a more technical question, to Heydens, who responded, “Good grief.” The Declaration of Interest statement was rewritten per McClellan’s instructions, despite being untrue. There was no mention of the company’s participation in the editing.

          Monsanto’s editorial involvement appears “in direct opposition to their disclosure,” says Genna Reed, a science and policy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy. “It does seem pretty suspicious.”

          In response to questions, McClellan wrote in an email on Aug. 7 that he’d been unaware of the Monsanto documents and has forwarded the matter to the journal’s publisher, Taylor & Francis, in Abingdon, England. “These are serious accusations relative to scientific publishing canons and deserve very careful investigation,” he wrote. “I can assure you that Taylor and Francis, as the publisher, and I, as the Scientific Editor of , will carefully investigate the matter and take appropriate action.” A Taylor & Francis spokeswoman says it has begun an investigation.

          The Monsanto documents, more than 70 in all, were obtained through pretrial discovery and posted online by some of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, who claim Monsanto missed a 30-day window to object to their release. Monsanto says it was blindsided by the disclosures and has asked U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco to order the documents pulled from the web and to punish the attorneys for violating confidentiality orders. Says Monsanto’s Partridge: “It’s unfortunate these lawyers are grandstanding at the expense of their clients’ interests.”

          Other emails show that Monsanto’s lead toxicologist, Donna Farmer, was removed as a co-author of a 2011 study on glyphosate’s reproductive effects, but not before she made substantial changes and additions to the paper behind the scenes. The study, published in Taylor & Francis’s , served to counter findings that glyphosate hampers human reproduction and development. Partridge says Farmer’s contributions didn’t warrant authorship credit. While almost all of her revisions made it into the published paper, her name doesn’t even show up in the acknowledgments.

            BOTTOM LINE – Monsanto has long noted that independent scientists have vouched for the safety of its Roundup herbicide. Court data show its employees edited some of those reviews.

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            Lucifer Heat Wave Keeps Parts of Europe in Red Alert

            Belgrade, Serbia (AP) — No wonder it's been dubbed "Lucifer."

            A relentless heat wave that gripped parts of Europe this week has sent temperatures soaring to record highs for several days, causing at least two deaths and prompting authorities to issue severe weather warnings.

            "It is just too much," real estate agent Sasa Jovanovic, 52, said during an early morning walk in Serbia's capital, Belgrade, where the temperature was forecast to hit 39 degrees Celsius (102.2 degrees Fahrenheit) Saturday. "Sometimes it feels as if I cannot breathe."

            The extreme heat stifling Serbia, Romania, Croatia and parts of Spain, France and Italy has fueled wildfires, damaged crops and strained energy and water supplies. Authorities in some areas issued traffic restrictions and banned outdoor work during the hottest part of the day.

            Spain's national weather service on Saturday issued an emergency warning for high temperatures in 31 of the country's 50 provinces as forecasts predicted temperatures of up to 44 C (111.2 F).

            Western and northern Europe, in contrast, was experiencing colder and wetter weather.

            Although southern Europe is used to scorching summers, meteorologists have warned that hot spells lasting several days aren't that common.

            The public health institute in Belgrade issued heat instructions, telling people to keep wet towels on windows if there is no air conditioning, and avoid physical strain and alcohol.

            Thousands of residents sought refuge from the heat at the city's recreation area, swimming in the local lake and the Danube or the Sava rivers. Some of those who ventured to the city center dipped their feet or wet their hair in the fountains.

            The high temperatures came as a shock to Australian Mira Balic, who was visiting Serbia at a time when it's winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Belgrade was among the hottest cities in Europe on Saturday and hotter than Egypt's capital, Cairo — which is normally far hotter than central Europe.

            "I came here from Australia, where the temperature is 4 degrees (Celsius; 39.2F," Balic gasped. "This heat is killing me!"

            Animal rights groups urged citizens to place plastic bowls with water outside their buildings and in parks for the city's many stray dogs.

            In Croatia, health authorities have reported a surge in emergency calls over the past week. They appealed to the thousands of tourists vacationing along the country's Adriatic coast to be careful on the beaches and while traveling.

            In Romania, police banned heavy traffic on major roads in daylight hours during the weekend because of the heat wave, while trains slowed down. A train service in southern Serbia also was delayed earlier this week after tracks buckled in the heat.

            Romania reported two heat-related deaths — a 45-year-old man collapsed and died Friday while working in a field in the northeast, while a 60-year-old man died of a heart attack in the street in an eastern port Thursday.

            The state railway company in neighboring Hungary said it would distribute water at busy terminals. At the Budapest Zoo, Beliy and Seriy, a pair of 2-year-old polar bear cubs, were given huge chunks of ice and freezing-cold watermelons to help them withstand the weather conditions.

            Some 15 wildfires have been reported in Albania, and dozens of others throughout the region. Hot and dry weather has scorched crops amid fears of water shortages in Italy and Serbia as authorities appealed for care in consumption.

            In the Alpine nation of Slovenia, authorities reported earlier this week the first-ever "tropical night" at 1,500 meters (4,920 feet) in the mountains, meaning temperatures were higher than 20 C (68 F) during the night.


            Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania; Predrag Milic in Podgorica, Montenegro; Joseph Wilson in Madrid, and Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Hungary, Ivana Bzganovic from Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.

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              Doctor delivers a baby right before she gives birth to her own

              A big day.
              Image: Shutterstock / Angyalosi Beata

              A doctor in Kentucky and her patient will always remember their babies’ birthdays.

              Amanda Hess, an OB/GYN in Frankfort, Kentucky, was in the hospital as she prepared to give birth to her daughter. While she waited, Hess heard another expectant mother who was closer to giving birth.

              The doctor went to the room, where a woman who happened to be one of her patients was fully dilated. The doctor on call was on his way to the hospital, but the baby was coming. So Hess stepped in and handled the delivery right before she went back to her own room to give birth.

              I just put on another gown to cover up my backside and put on some boots over my shoes, to keep from getting any fluid and all that stuff on me, and went down to her room and I knew her,” Hess told WKYT.

              “She was just glad to be able to get to push and have the baby out and not have to wait any longer,” she added.

              Then, Hess gave birth to her own daughter, Ellen Joyce.

              Congratulations to the two mothers! Now time for maternity leave.

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              Skinny Obamacare Repeal Could Still Disrupt Insurance Markets

              After failing to repeal or replace Obamacare, Senate Republicans are slimming down their ambitions to target the one piece of the health law they loathe most, in what’s being called a “skinny repeal.”

              For insurance companies, that may be the most problematic health-overhaul option yet.

              The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate requires everyone to have health coverage and penalizes those who choose to go without it. Making the purchase of coverage compulsory is meant to distribute risk evenly among healthy and sick people and keep overall costs down. 

              But Obamacare’s requirement has been a far from perfect solution to prod people to buy insurance. The penalties are far less than the cost of insurance, and people who skip out on coverage can still buy it later. President Donald Trump has even suggested that he won’t enforce the mandate.

              Insurers have taken notice. Many have raised premiums or pulled out of certain markets as healthier people decide to forgo coverage. They warn that overturning the mandate will only create more instability.

              “Eliminating the individual coverage requirement by itself will likely result in fewer people covered and a deterioration of the risk pool, which will increase premiums,” the trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans said in a letter to lawmakers on Thursday.

              Penalty Puzzle

              In 2015, more than 19 million people either claimed an exemption from the mandate or paid a penalty for not having insurance — more than the 11.7 million who signed up for private coverage under the law that year.

              Of those who didn’t have coverage, 12.7 million were people who claimed an exception, according to the Internal Revenue Service, including some who weren’t eligible for subsidies under Obamacare despite having lower incomes, because they lived in states that didn’t fully implement the law. About 6.5 million people paid an average $470 penalty for not having insurance, the IRS said in a statement. The agency hasn’t yet released 2016 numbers.

              “I don’t buy the argument that this paltry penalty with a feckless mandate, I don’t buy that it is the major deterrent that people think it is,” Robert Moffit, a senior fellow in health policy studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said in an interview. The Heritage Foundation backs repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

              Nonetheless, many insurers have already begun to prepare for a world without an individual mandate, whether it comes through a change in law or in enforcement. ConnectiCare Inc., a Connecticut-based insurer, said that it increased its rates by 2.3 percent to account for such a scenario.

              “Even a perception that the mandate will not be enforced will affect consumer behavior in a manner that will erode the risk pools in the individual market,” the company said in a filing to the state’s insurance department.

              Another smaller insurer, BridgeSpan Health, said that it would pull out of counties in Oregon. It attributed its smaller footprint to “a weakened federal mandate to have health insurance coverage.”

              “The only thing insurers know today — and have throughout this entire year — is that nothing is certain,” said Ceci Connolly, chief executive officer of the Alliance of Community Health Plans. “And the uncertainty has been increasingly problematic from a business perspective, especially for nonprofit community plans that often run on margins of 2 percent or less.”

              Less Coverage, Higher Costs

              The Congressional Budget Office estimated Wednesday that a skinny repeal could result in 16 million more people uninsured in a decade than under Obamacare. The nonpartisan agency projected previously that premiums could climb about 20 percent compared to Obamacare if the individual mandate was repealed, according to an estimate it issued in December.

              Younger, healthier people dropping insurance because they no longer get penalized for not having it could “make coverage more unaffordable and inaccessible,” the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association said in a statement Wednesday.

              “Republicans are in a box,” James Capretta, a resident fellow at the conservative-leaning think tank American Enterprise Institute, wrote in RealClear Health. “They have argued repeatedly that they need to pass legislation to steady the insurance marketplace, but they are proceeding with legislation that will almost certainly have the opposite effect.”

              It’s unclear whether Senate GOP leaders will muster enough votes to pass a skinny repeal. The proposal’s prospects already face challenges in the House after Representative Mark Meadows said the conservative Freedom Caucus he leads won’t support it, possibly setting up a scenario where both chambers would have to work out a compromise.

              Tight Timeline

              Insurers are asking for more certainty than a skinny repeal bill would provide, and the timeline is tight. In many states, they’re supposed to set final premiums by the middle of August.

              Companies have also warned of serious disruption to the markets if the Trump administration stops making payments the companies use to reduce low-income customers’ costs. On Wednesday, Anthem Inc. threatened to hasten its retreat from Obamacare’s marketplaces unless the government makes a firm commitment to fund the program.

              Without the subsidies, called cost-sharing reduction payments, Anthem said it would need to boost rates for its ACA-compliant plans as much as 18 percent to 20 percent. In some markets, Anthem would probably quit instead, the company told investors on a conference call.

              “If we aren’t able to gain certainty on some of these items quickly, we do expect that we will need to revise our rate filings to further narrow our level of participation,” Anthem Chief Executive Officer Joseph Swedish said.

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                Elderly Drivers Are Wreaking Havoc on Japan’s Roads

                In the past several weeks alone, elderly Japanese drivers have been wreaking havoc across the country: breaking through median barriers into oncoming traffic, plowing over pedestrians crossing the road, and smashing into other cars. In all these cases, somebody was killed.

                And as Japan’s population continues to age — meaning more and more older drivers are behind the wheel — the problem is only getting worse: Drivers aged 75 and over were connected to 459 fatal accidents last year, 13 percent of Japan’s total, up from 7.4 percent a decade earlier, National Policy Agency data show. Stopping the carnage on the roads is an "urgent problem," the agency said in a statement.

                "Preventing road accidents caused by changes in the physical condition of drivers is an urgent issue that needs to be dealt with," Mineko Baba, of Keio University’s Center for Integrated Medical Research, wrote in a research report last year. “Laws and society haven’t caught up to the situation of the rapidly increasing number of dementia patients."

                Currently, one quarter of Japanese are 65 or older, and the proportion is forecast to reach 38 percent within five decades.

                A vehicle driven by an 87-year-old man plowed into a group of school children in Yokohama in Oct. 2016.
                Photo: Kyodo News via Getty Images

                In one of the worst recent incidents, last October an 87-year-old man crashed his light truck into a group of children walking to school in Yokohama, killing a 6-year-old boy and injuring two others. This year in June, a 74-year-old woman killed a man driving the other way in Fukuoka after jumping the median. One of the most recent reports, on July 15, was of a 69-year-old man arrested on suspicion of negligent driving after his light truck collided with another vehicle in Fukushima, killing a 65-year-old man.

                To read more about aging Japan, click here.

                The issue is a “major challenge” for authorities, said Hiroki Sasaki, an accident investigator and former policeman based in the northern city of Sendai. 

                The government is stepping up efforts to get the most dangerous seniors off the road. Changes to the law took effect in March requiring drivers over 75 to take a cognitive test when renewing their licenses or if they commit offenses such as running a red light or turning into the wrong lane. Those who fail are ordered to undergo a medical exam. If they flunk that, they’re stripped of their licenses. As many as 15,000 licenses a year may be forcibly revoked, the National Policy Agency projects.

                National Policy Agency

                Despite the carnage wrought by Japan’s seniors, Japan’s overall death toll on the roads has been declining for years, reaching a 67-year low of 3,904 deaths in 2016, police figures show. As a result, the percentage involving elderly drivers has nearly doubled.

                Older drivers are also increasingly volunteering to hand over their licenses. Under a program that’s been in place for almost two decades, 345,000 people relinquished their driving credentials in 2016, up 21 percent from a year earlier. In the first three months after the new law took effect, 1,271 old people a day on average returned their licenses, up from 946 a day in 2016, according to the National Police Agency.

                One of them is Katsutoshi Kamei, a 79-year-old retiree from Tokorozawa, west of Tokyo, who gave up his license in November after hearing about the increase in accidents. He said he wanted to stop driving “before something like that happened.”

                Seniors take a simulated driving test at a driving school in Kofu, Yamanashi in 2015.
                Photographer: Kyodo News via Getty Images

                Some companies are offering incentives for senior citizens to hand over their driving papers. Elderly people who give up driving in Tokorozawa are offered a year of free transportation on a community bus service that runs throughout the city, plus 20 percent off purchases at Mister Donut, a unit of Duskin Co. Other perks include a 10 percent discount on a local home-help service, 10 percent off taxi fares and even discounts on funeral services.

                Banks and insurance companies are also getting in on the act. Bank of Kyoto Ltd. gives a 1 percentage point discount on car loans for anyone living with a senior citizen who has given up the keys. Awa Bank Ltd., on the western island of Shikoku, offers an additional 0.3 percentage point on time deposits for elderly folks who stop driving. MS&AD Insurance Group Holdings Inc. said last month it’s developing an in-car box that sounds a warning if the vehicle goes outside a predetermined area or drives the wrong way and alerts family members via a smartphone app.

                Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism

                Giving up the car keys can be tough for people who live away from public transport or are the only driver in the household. Older people sometimes overestimate their own cognitive abilities, according to researchers. It’s also an issue of independence, of giving up personal freedom and reconciling with old age.

                Losing the right to drive and the independence that accompanies it may also hasten physical decline and contribute to dementia, said Hiroshi Takahashi, a former professor of welfare policy at the International University of Health and Welfare Graduate School who advises governments on elderly care. Policies should encourage innovation to give seniors more options for mobility, such as self-driving cars, he said.

                "The government is restricting their movements without giving alternative mobility options, which makes it really difficult for them to stop driving,’’ he said.

                Takao Inui, a elderly resident of Tokyo’s Shibuya district who drives a Suzuki Cruze, said he uses his car about once a week for shopping or when his wife needs to go somewhere, and has no plan to give up for perhaps three years. While public transportation is readily available, he prefers to drive.

                "I’m aware that at 77, things are starting to get dangerous, so I’m very careful when I drive,’’ he said. "If I got sick or something scary happened, then I’d have to think about it — although I guess that might already be too late.’’

                Kamei, the 79-year-old retiree from Tokorozawa, now relies on his 69-year-old wife to drive him around. 

                “The way she’s going, I think she’ll be okay for another 10 years or so,” he said. “And I guess it’ll be taxis after that.”

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                  Trumps Modest Proposal for a Nafta Revamp

                  Donald Trump has gone squishy by stages on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he once called “the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere.” In April, aides persuaded him not to abrogate the 23-year-old trade pact with Canada and Mexico. On July 17, moderates scored another victory: The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative released objectives for renegotiating Nafta that aim to tune it up, not gut it. “Overall this looks like a Nafta modernization. It’s not like the whole of Nafta is up for grabs,” says Antonio Ortiz-Mena, a senior adviser at Albright Stonebridge Group, a Washington ­diplomacy advisory firm, who ­previously headed the economic affairs section of the Mexican Embassy.

                  Even after Trump relented last spring on killing the three-way pact, some analysts expected he would direct U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to take a hard, nationalistic line in talks on updating it. After all, in January the president had threatened a 20 percent tariff on Mexican goods to pay for the border wall. There are no such threats in the trade rep’s letter to Congress spelling out the administration’s objectives. The administration is OK with maintaining tariff-free, quota-free trade among the three countries.

                  True, there’s some harsh language about Nafta in the 18-page document. “Since the deal came into force in 1994, trade deficits have exploded,” it says. “For years, politicians promising to ­renegotiate the deal gave American workers hope that they would stop the bleeding. But none followed up.” Trump, it says, is finally doing what others only promised.

                  But that campaign-style language is confined to the introduction. What follows are mostly mainstream ideas for furthering trade liberalization, such as speeding goods through customs and ensuring that health and safety regulations aren’t ­manipulated to block imports.

                  In fact, many provisions the administration is seeking in a new Nafta were negotiated into the Trans-Pacific Partnership—ironic, since one of Trump’s first acts was to pull the U.S. out of it. Among those provisions: unfettered cross-border data flows; regulatory harmonization; stronger labor and environmental standards; and a ban on currency manipulation (which Canada and Mexico don’t do anyway). “He’s taking Nafta and making it look more like the TPP but with fewer countries,” says Todd Tucker, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a think tank in New York.

                  Canada and Mexico responded positively, with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland saying her country welcomed the opportunity to ­modernize the treaty to “reflect new realities” and Mexico’s economy ministry saying in a statement it “will contribute to defining with greater clarity the subjects to negotiate and the timing for the modernization process.” Congress now has a chance to shape the administration’s negotiating strategy before the talks, which will begin on Aug. 16.

                  Trump has frequently expressed annoyance that the U.S. runs deficits in merchandise trade with Canada and Mexico, viewing it as evidence that the countries aren’t playing fair. That ­perspective surfaces in the trade rep’s letter. The first ­objective listed in the document is: “Improve the U.S. trade balance and reduce the trade deficit with the NAFTA countries.”

                  That anti-deficit language worries ­free-traders, who say it’s not reasonable to expect balanced trade with each trade partner. To put it in individual terms, the average person runs a trade deficit with her auto mechanic but a trade surplus with her employer. Countries are the same: Mexico logs a trade surplus with the U.S. and a deficit with the rest of the world. Shrinking trade gaps with Canada and Mexico is “not something achievable through trade policy,” says Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington and a staff member of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Obama. “You’re inevitably setting yourself up for failure if that’s your goal.” The document, however, gives no indication that Trump is prepared to punish Canada or Mexico if bilateral deficits fail to narrow. “There is nothing that could be ­considered radical,” says Eric Miller, president of Rideau Potomac Strategy Group, a Washington advisory and lobbying firm.

                  In a nod to a key priority of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the document seeks to ensure that goods don’t qualify for zero tariffs unless they really do come from one of the three signatory countries. Ross has expressed concern that some products said to be made in Mexico are actually largely Chinese in content. Nafta’s rules of origin refer generally to North American content, while the letter seeks more sourcing from “the United States and North America.” The insertion of the United States into the phrase could be a way to placate nationalists in the administration.

                  Negotiators from all three countries are aiming to button up the treaty revisions before 2018 ­elections in Mexico and the U.S. That “may be achievable” because the countries already agreed to big chunks of the new agenda during the TPP talks, says Robert Holleyman, who was a deputy U.S. trade representative under Obama. On the other hand, he says, “this is something you could imagine being a ­multiyear exercise.”

                    BOTTOM LINE – Trump nixed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but many of the Nafta modifications his administration is seeking are straight out of the 12-nation trade pact.

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