Britain’s ‘Super Saturday’ as Brexit Vote Goes to Wire

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is battling to persuade lawmakers to back the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement he signed with the European Union, ahead of a special session in the British Parliament scheduled Saturday. The vote on the deal is set to go to the wire and is likely to prove critical for Britain’s future in or out of the EU.

Johnson’s Conservative Party doesn’t have a majority in the British Parliament, so the 10 votes of its allies, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), could be decisive.

However, the DUP has indicated it will vote against the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Johnson, because party leaders say it undermines Northern Ireland’s bond with the United Kingdom.

FILE – In this April 11, 2019 file photo, Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster, center, speaks to journalists after her meeting with European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier at EU headquarters.

“Saturday is not the end. Saturday is not even the beginning of the end, because there is a whole range of issues that have to be sorted out in the withdrawal agreement,” DUP leader Arlene Foster said Friday.

Without the DUP, the prime minister will have to persuade some opposition members of Parliament to break ranks  but opposition leaders have all rejected the deal, warning that it will give Prime Minister Johnson carte blanche to tear up regulations and workers’ rights. Only a few Labour Party MPs are expected to vote for the revised agreement.

If he loses, Boris Johnson must by law ask the EU for a Brexit extension, something he has repeatedly ruled out. Some EU leaders are also reluctant.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a media conference at an EU summit in Brussels, Oct. 18, 2019.

“I think we should stick to the October 31 deadline,” French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday. “I don’t indulge in political fiction so I’m not going to imagine a scenario where the British parliament votes this way or that way but I don’t think that any new extension should be agreed to. I think we now need to finish these negotiations and move onto the negotiations about the future relationship and finish them too.”

Even if the Withdrawal Agreement is passed, there are hurdles ahead, says Joelle Grogan, an EU law expert at Middlesex University.

“We need an Act of Parliament to make that law in the UK. We could see a lot of amendments to that act, maybe requiring something for example like another referendum.”

That might not be wholly welcomed in Brussels.

“The levels of polarization (in Britain) have increased so much over the past three years that I think a narrow “remain” victory wouldn’t solve those questions at all. And what it would mean for the EU would be that the UK would become an incredibly difficult member state, politically the governments would not be able to agree to any further EU integration,” says Larissa Brunner, a political analyst at the European Policy Center in Brussels.

With Boris Johnson gone, the Brussels summit of EU leaders Friday moved on to other issues, including the war in Syria and the accession of North Macedonia into the EU.

In Europe, for some, there is Brexit fatigue, and a hope that both sides can move on after more than three years of uncertainty.

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Netflix Releases Panama Papers Movie Despite Lawsuit

Netflix has released a movie based on the so-called Panama Papers despite an attempt by two lawyers to stop the streaming premiere.

“The Laundromat,” starring Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas and Meryl Streep, debuted Friday on Netflix after a limited release in theaters.

Two Panamanian lawyers, Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca, sued Netflix in federal court in Connecticut this week, saying the movie defamed them and could prejudice criminal cases against them. Netflix asked a judge to dismiss the suit but did not address the allegations.

The Panama Papers were more than 11 million documents leaked from the two lawyers’ firm that shed light on how the rich hide their money.

A judge ruled there was no valid reason to file the case in Connecticut and ordered it transferred to the Los Angeles-area federal court district.
 

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Cerebral Buttigieg’s Emotional Restraint Stands Out in Democratic Race

John McAnear, a 77-year-old Air Force veteran, stood in an audience of hundreds in suburban Des Moines with an oxygen tank at his side, wheezing as he implored Pete Buttigieg to protect the Department of Veterans Affairs. 
 
The Democratic presidential hopeful skipped any attempt to bond over their mutual military service. Instead, Buttigieg offered a list of proposals to fix the VA. 
 
Of the many ways the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is different from his better-known rivals, there is this: his ingrained emotional restraint in a show-all-tell-all era. 
 
“You don’t really get the warm fuzzies from him,” said Lisa Ann Spilman, a retired Air Force officer who attended Buttigieg’s event. “But I really like how intelligent and down-to-earth he is.” 

Personal connection
 
As Buttigieg, whose campaign appears better positioned organizationally in Iowa and financially overall than former Vice President Joe Biden’s, attempts to climb into the top tier of Democrats, voters will be taking a measure of him in all ways, including whether he can make the kind of personal connection they have come to expect, at least since Bill Clinton showed he could feel their pain. 
 
Buttigieg chafes at being labeled an emotionless technocrat, and his supporters cite his intellectual agility as his main draw, particularly against someone like President Donald Trump, whose strained relationship with the truth is so frequently on display.  

FILE – Pete Buttigieg speaks during a Democratic presidential candidates debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, Oct. 15, 2019.

In a candidate debate Tuesday, Buttigieg showed rare outward fire, pointedly challenging Senator Elizabeth Warren on her health care plan and former Representative Beto O’Rourke on gun control. “I don’t need lessons from you on courage, political or personal,” Buttigieg said to O’Rourke. 
 
“I don’t mind being a little professorial at times,” Buttigieg acknowledged in a conversation with reporters last month. He added, “Sometimes I think I’m misread because I’m laid back. I’m misread as being bloodless.” 
 
But to describe him as wooden or mechanical gets it wrong. Upbeat in his trademark white shirt with sleeves half-rolled, Buttigieg projects energy and youthful diligence. 
 
He’s not a fiery podium speaker like Senator Bernie Sanders. He isn’t given to big hugs or open self-reflection, like Biden and Warren. 
 
In interactions with voters, Buttigieg’s style is evolving. During a late-summer stop in southeast Iowa, he noted his mother-in-law “is alive because of the Affordable Care Act,” but he moved on without describing her illness or asking if his audience had similar experiences. 
 
It’s notable because Buttigieg is trying to frame his message around empathy in what he calls the nation’s “crisis of belonging.” 

Misfiring
 
And it does not always work. When the question turned to cancer at the Iowa State Fair, he said before discussing his plans, “Cancer took my father earlier this year, so this is personal,” skipping over any elaboration of the pillar Joe Buttigieg was to his only child. 
 
When the questioner noted her family’s loss, he said politely, “I’m sorry. So, we’re in the same boat,” and then turned to a discussion of research. 
 
Buttigieg’s mother, Anne Montgomery, said that in boyhood her son was fun, curious, literate and multitalented but “a reserved person.” 
 
“It’s been a part of his life for a long time,” she said in an Associated Press interview. 
 
What Buttigieg suggests is his tendency to “compartmentalize” has been a liability for some other candidates, most notably for the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, Michael Dukakis.  

FILE – Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks with local residents at the Hawkeye Area Labor Council Labor Day Picnic, Sept. 2, 2019, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

He offered an almost programmatic answer when asked during a nationally televised debate if he would support the death penalty if his wife were raped and murdered. 
 
Dukakis, who lost in a landslide, acknowledges today that he “botched it” and that his answer fed the narrative that the pragmatic, policy-oriented Massachusetts governor was emotionless. 
 
Buttigieg, Dukakis told the AP, is warm and thoughtful, “but he also happens to be very, very bright, and that, I think, is the biggest part of his appeal.” Dukakis has endorsed his home state senator, Warren. 
 
“He’s not a typical politician,” said Kelsie Goodman, an associate principal for a Des Moines area high school who first saw Buttigieg at an event last month. “And he’s an intellectual judo master.” 
 
As the campaign progresses, there are signs Buttigieg is becoming more comfortable opening up. 
 
At an outdoor event at Des Moines’ Theodore Roosevelt High School last Saturday, he ignited laughter and cheers for his answer to a question about how he would approach debating Trump. 
 
“We know what he’s going to do, and it just doesn’t get to me. Look, I can deal with bullies. I’m gay and I grew up in Indiana. I’ll be fine,” he deadpanned. 

Concern for husband
 
In a rare personal revelation, he told reporters on a bus ride across northern Iowa that he dreaded the thought of his husband, Chasten, being subjected to the cruelties of modern politics. 
 
“Another agonizing feeling is to watch that happening to someone you love,” he said. “At least if it’s happening to me, I can go out there and fight back.” 
 
Still, what Buttigieg’s most vocal advocates praise as his coolness so far seems to be doing little to dampen views of him in Iowa, where he has invested heavily in time and money in hopes of a breakthrough finish. In a September CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll, 69% of likely Iowa caucus participants said they viewed Buttigieg favorably, second only to Warren. 
 
Where Buttigieg clearly connects personally is along the rope line with supporters and when the merely curious meet him after he leaves the stage. 
 

FILE – Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg meets with people at a campaign event Aug. 15, 2019, in Fairfield, Iowa.

In these moments, he has met people who describe their own stories of stepping out of the shadows, as Buttigieg did coming out as a gay man in 2015. Buttigieg regularly mentions Iowa teenager Bridgette Bissell, who described the courage she took from meeting him to announce she was autistic. 
 
Similar moments, Buttigieg said, prompted him to build his campaign around repairing Americans’ sense of connectedness. 
 
In Waterloo recently, local organizer Caitlin Reedy introduced Buttigieg to hundreds at a riverside rally, explaining that she was drawn to him by having experienced the uneasiness of sharing her diagnosis with diabetes. 

Picturing ‘unification’
 
Leaning forward in his chair on the bus the next day, Buttigieg said the campaign was teaching him how people — feeling left out racially, ethnically, culturally, economically — yearn to connect. 
 
“Where it comes from is going through the process of understanding that you’re different,” he said, “and then understanding that that’s part of what you have to offer.” 
 
“Join me in picturing that kind of presidency,” he told more than 600 in Waterloo, “not for the glorification of the president, but for the unification of the people.” 

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UN: Afghan Civilian Casualties Reach Record High

A United Nations mission in Afghanistan said more civilians have been killed or injured in the past quarter than in any three-month period in the last decade.

A report released Thursday said the 1,174 civilian deaths and 3,139 injuries in the third quarter of this year marked a 42% increase compared with the same period last year.

 In the previous quarter, 785 civilians were killed and 1,254 were wounded.

The latest figures brings to more than 8,000 the number of casualties in the first nine months of 2019. The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said most of those were caused buy anti-government insurgents.

The report said women and children accounted for more than 41% of casualties this month, with 631 children being killed and 1,830 injured.

“The harm caused to civilians by the fighting in Afghanistan signals the importance of peace talks leading to a cease-fire and a permanent political settlement to the conflict; there is no other way forward,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan. “Civilian casualties are totally unacceptable, especially in the context of the widespread recognition that there can be no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.”
 

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Does ‘Pink Tax’ Force Women to Pay More than Men?

Not only do women already earn 82 cents for every dollar a man makes, but they also pay more for personal products and services like razors, shampoo, haircuts and clothes.

This so-called “pink tax” follows a woman from the cradle to the grave, over her entire life span, according to the research, including a 2015 report from the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA).

The New York City DCA analyzed almost 800 items in 35 product categories and found that items for female consumers cost more than products for men across 30 of those categories.

Overall, women’s products cost 7% more than similar products for men. Women pay more than men for comparable personal care products 56% of the time.

Image from “From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of being a Female Consumer” study conducted by New York City Department of Consumer Affairs.

The report found women pay: 

 — 7%  more for toys and accessories  

—  4%  more for children’s clothing

—  8% more for adult clothing 

—  13% more for personal care

—  8% more for senior/home health care products

Baby clothes specifically for girls cost more than clothes for boys. Girls’ shirts can cost up to 13% more than boys’ clothes. Toys marketed to girls cost up to 11% more than toys for boys, even when it’s the exact same item in different colors.

“I have no doubt that it’s real,” says Surina Khan, CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California. “We just have to go to any store, and you can see that, let’s say, a pink razor blade versus a blue one that men use, the pink one costs more. Haircuts cost more. Women’s clothing cost more. It’s definitely present and part of our reality.”

It even costs more for women to get old.

The report found that braces and supports for women cost 15% more; canes cost 12% more; and personal urinals 21% more for female senior citizens. 

At a Washington-area store on Oct. 17, 2019, comparable adult diapers are the same price except that the women’s packet contains one less diaper than the men’s packet.

The price differences suggest women pay a yearly “gender tax” of about $1,351, despite buying the same products and services as men.

“I absolutely think it’s gender discrimination,” Khan says. “Some people will say that it’s more expensive to cut women’s hair, but that is clear gender discrimination, because really it depends on whether you have long hair or short hair, about the amount of time that it takes to cut your hair. Many women have short hair. They shouldn’t have to pay more than a man for a short haircut.”

The National Retail Federation, which calls itself the world’s largest retail trade association, declined to comment for this article. However, Steven Horwitz, a professor of economics at Ball State University, says the price differences are similar to discounts for senior citizens. 

“Senior citizens aren’t as fussy about when they see the movie, but they are fussier about what price they’re willing to pay for it, so we give them discounts,” Horwitz says. “Sellers engage in this behavior all the time. What bothers us about this one is that the way they’re dividing up groups is by gender.”

At a Washington-area store on Oct. 17, 2019, a 2.7 oz. bottle of men’s deodorant cost 20 cents less than a comparable women’s deodorant in a smaller 2.6 oz. size.

Horwitz also says the real problem is that girls and women are socialized to want the pink items.

“There is no reason why women shouldn’t be able to walk into the drugstore and buy the men’s razors. Right?” he says. “And if they did, and if they were clear that they didn’t care, there wouldn’t be a more expensive women’s version.”

Congress is making a move to end the pink tax. In April, Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, and Republican Congressman Tom Reed of New York, introduced a bipartisan bill with 50 co-sponsors. The Pink Tax Repeal Act would require that comparable products marketed toward men and women be priced equally. 

“I think that if you’re charging women more and people are paying it, then there’s motivation to do that. But it’s discriminatory, and it needs to stop,” Khan says. “It has a cumulative effect over our lifetime because if we’re paying more for products, and earning and owning less, then it’s basically contributing to gender inequality.”

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Oil Washes Up on Tourist Beaches in ‘Brazilian Caribbean’

Crude oil contaminating the northeastern coast of Brazil has reached the town of Maragogi, one of the region’s main tourist beaches, its mayor said Thursday.

Images on local television showed dozens of people in Maragogi, known for its natural pools of crystalline water, shoveling and raking the sand in an attempt to remove the sludge from the coast. The region is known as the “Brazilian Caribbean.”

As a truck from Brazil’s environmental agency loaded up with oil-stained sand, some volunteers, apparently without supervision from authorities, joined the work with small shovels.

Environmental regulator Ibama reported there are at least 178 locations in nine Brazilian states that have been affected by the oil. In terms of expanse, it is Brazil’s largest-ever environmental disaster, according to David Zee, an oceanographer at Rio de Janeiro’s state university.

Workers remove oil from Viral Beach, in Aracaju, Brazil, Oct. 8, 2019. The oil that has been polluting Brazil’s northeastern beaches since early September is likely coming from Venezuela, according to a report by Brazil’s state oil company.

The government’s response has been questioned by ocean experts and environmental NGOs such as Greenpeace. As in Maragogi, in recent weeks many Brazilians have worked to remove oil from the contaminated beaches without proper equipment or instruction from authorities.

“Just like with the spread of fires in the Amazon, the government again was late to respond,” Ricardo Baitelo, coordinator of Greenpeace Brazil, said to The Associated Press.

The Brazilian Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles, rebuffed the criticism Wednesday and told local press all necessary means had been adopted for the crude’s identification and collection.

Ibama did not respond to The Associated Press’s phone and email requests for information regarding the number of people and equipment working on the operation.

The origin of the oil remains a mystery. Salles said it likely originated in Venezuela, which Venezuela’s government denies, and that the circumstances of the spill are unknown.

Authorities’ primary hypothesis is that the crude spilled into the water from a boat navigating near Brazil’s coast.

Workers from Ibama, state-run oil company Petrobras and other volunteers have collected hundreds of tons of crude, but the mysterious oil slicks could continue to wash ashore.

A sign reads “Nature at Risk: Against the Abrolhos Threatening Oil Auction” during protest against the opening of the area near the Abrolhos National Park for oil exploration. Brazil’s environment minister Ricardo Salles speaks, in Brasilia, Brazil.

A month and a half after oil began appearing on the coast, Salles said he did not know how much oil was still at sea and could reach the mainland in coming days.

Zee expressed concern the oil spill could advance toward the south of Bahia state and damage the Abrolhos region that contains one of the nation’s largest coral reefs.

“The more time that passes with new oil appearing, it’s confirmed that the ocean is absorbing ever more toxic substances, some of which are carcinogenic. The contaminated zones will take at least 25 years to recover,” said Zee. “Brazil has no emergency plan, equipment, nor trained personnel to intervene in a disaster situation like this.”
 

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Trump Defends His Decision on Syria After Rebuke by Own Party Members

U.S. President Donald Trump faced a strong rebuke from lawmakers of both parties Wednesday over his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northeastern Syria. The withdrawal was quickly followed by Turkey’s assault on Syrian Kurds, who were a key U.S. ally in the fight against Islamic State terrorists. The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Thursday in favor of a resolution condemning Trump’s decision. Trump says he is demanding a halt to Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.
 

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