Category Archives: USA

El Chapo drug trafficking trial: Mexican cartel boss found guilty

Drug photoEl Chapo twice escaped prison before his final capture in 2016. Photograph: Eduardo Verdugo/AP

The notorious cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has been found guilty of 10 counts of drug trafficking, at the end of a three-month New York trial that featured dramatic testimony of prison escapes, gruesome killings and million-dollar political payoffs.

Guzmán, who rose from poverty in rural Mexico to build a drug empire worth billions of dollars, is likely to spend the rest of his life in jail.

The 61-year-old showed no emotion as the verdict was read. Jurors had spent six days weighing the evidence against Guzmán, including testimony from more than 50 witnesses. Once the jury left the room, he and his wife Emma Coronel, put their hands to their hearts and gave each other the thumbs up sign. His wife shed tears.

US district judge Brian Cogan lauded the jury’s meticulous attention to detail and the “remarkable” approach it took toward deliberations. Cogan said it made him “very proud to be an American”.

Guzmán is set to be sentenced on 25 June. He is expected to receive life without parole.

The trial afforded a glimpse into the inner workings of the Sinaloa cartel, named for the Mexican state where Guzmán was born.

US prosecutors said he trafficked tons of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine into the United States over more than two decades, consolidating his power in Mexico through murders and wars with rival cartels.

Guzmán smuggled drugs into the US through secret tunnels, or hidden in tanker trucks, prosecutors said. The cartel would also conceal their cargo in the undercarriage of passenger cars and packed in rail cars passing through legitimate points of entry.

Witnesses testifying against Guzmán included former cartel lieutenants and a cocaine supplier who underwent plastic surgery to disguise his appearances. The court heard stories of Mexican workers getting contact highs while packing cocaine into thousands of jalapeño cans shipments that totaled 25 to 30 tons of cocaine worth $500m each year.

One cartel member turned government witness told of how Guzmán sometimes acted as his own hitman. The witness said Guzmán had kidnapped, beat and shot a man who had dared to work for another cartel. Guzmán then ordered his men to bury the victim while he was still alive.

In contrast to the weight of evidence presented by the prosecution, the defense case lasted just half an hour. Guzmán’s lawyers did not deny his crimes, instead arguing their client was a fall guy for government witnesses who were more evil than he was.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman urged the jury in closing arguments not to believe government witnesses who “lie, steal, cheat, deal drugs and kill people.”

Jurors spent six days weighing the charges against Guzmán, their deliberations complicated by the trial’s vast scope. The jury members, whose identities were kept secret, were tasked with making 53 decisions about whether prosecutors had proven different elements of the case.

The trial cast a harsh glare on the corruption that allowed the cartel to flourish. Colombian trafficker Alex Cifuentes caused a stir by testifying that former Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto took a $100m bribe from Guzman. Peña Nieto denied it, but the allegation fit a theme: politicians, army commanders, police and prosecutors, all on the take.

The tension at times was cut by some of the trial’s sideshows, such as the sight of Guzmán and his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, showing up in matching burgundy velvet blazers in a gesture of solidarity.

One day a Chapo-size actor who played the kingpin in the TV series Narcos: Mexico came to watch, telling reporters that seeing the defendant flash him a smile was “surreal”.

While the trial was dominated by Guzmán’s persona as a near-mythical outlaw who carried a diamond-encrusted handgun, the jury never heard from Guzmán himself, except when he told the judge he wouldn’t testify.

But recordings of intercepted calls gave the court plenty of opportunity to hear Guzman speak.

“Amigo!” he said to a cartel distributor in Chicago. “Here at your service.”

One of the trial’s most memorable tales came from Guzmán’s then girlfriend Lucero Guadalupe Sanchez Lopez. Sanchez testified that she was in bed in a safe house with an on-the-run Guzmán in 2014, when Mexican marines started breaking down the door.

She said Guzmán led her to a trap door beneath a bathtub that opened up to a tunnel that allowed them to escape.

Asked what he was wearing, she replied: “He was naked. He took off running. He left us behind.”

Guzmán had staged escapes from jail in 2014 and 2001. In the earlier breakout Guzmán hid in a laundry bin before being escorted to a mountainside hideaway by corrupt police officers.

In 2014 Guzmán escaped from a high-security jail via a mile-long lighted tunnel on a motorcycle on rails.

Acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker said the trial demonstrated the US government’s “tenacity and commitment to pursuing kingpins like Guzman”.

“This conviction serves as an irrefutable message to the kingpins that remain in Mexico, and those that aspire to be the next Chapo Guzmán, that eventually you will be apprehended and prosecuted,” Whitaker said.

Guzmán’s lawyers, meanwhile, said they would appeal the verdict.

“We were faced with extraordinary and unprecedented obstacles in defending Joaquin, including his detention in solitary confinement,” the lawyers said in a statement.

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/12/el-chapo-mexican-drug-kingpin-guilty-drug-trafficking

 

 

Venezuela moves to replace US executives on Citgo board

Citgo photoCitgo is facing unprecedented challenges to its finances and management after the US imposed sanctions on PDVSA [File: Reuters]

Venezuela’s state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) is taking steps to remove at least two American executives from the board of directors of its United States’ refining subsidiary, Citgo Petroleum Corp, according to people close to the matter.

Citgo is facing unprecedented challenges to its finances and management after the US government last week imposed tough sanctions on PDVSA designed to prevent oil revenue from going to leftist President Nicolas Maduro.

The US and dozens of other nations have refused to recognise Maduro, viewing his re-election last year to another six-year term as fraudulent.

Venezuelan’s self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido is setting up bank accounts with US help that would take income accrued by Citgo, Venezuela’s top foreign asset, to finance an interim government.

Maduro has denounced Guaido as a US puppet who is seeking to foment a coup.

The board of Houston-based Citgo includes at least two US citizens, Art Klein and Rick Esser, as well as Venezuelans Asdrubal Chavez, Frank Gygax, Nepmar Escalona, Simon Suarez and Alejandro Escarra, according to one of the people familiar with the matter.

Citgo also has an executive board that includes the refiner’s general managers, its corporate treasurer and the controller, and other vice presidents.

PDVSA and Citgo did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. Esser and Klein did not immediately reply to emails and phone calls seeking comment on their status, the news agency said.

It was unclear if PDVSA’s board has already approved the changes at Citgo’s board and who would replace the American executives.

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/venezuela-moves-replace-executives-citgo-board-190209175503677.html

Democrats push for a Green New Deal to combat climate change

Democrat photoAlexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks during a march organised by the Women’s March Alliance [File: Caitlin Ochs/Reuters]

Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Democratic Senator Ed Markey on Thursday laid out the goals of a Green New Deal to transform the US economy to combat climate change while creating thousands of jobs in renewable energy.

Ocasio-Cortez and Markey say the plan will achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in 10 years, setting a high bar for Democrats who plan to make climate change a central issue in the 2020 presidential race.

The resolution is the first formal attempt by politicians to define the scale of legislation to create large government-led investments in clean energy and infrastructure to transform the US economy.

“The Green New Deal fully tackles the existential threat posed by climate change by presenting a comprehensive, 10-year plan that is as big as the problem it hopes to solve while creating a new era of shared prosperity,” according to a summary of the resolution released by the politicians on Thursday.

Ocasio-Cortez said she will immediately begin to work on legislation that would “fully flesh out the projects involved in the Green New Deal”.

Republicans have already criticised the initiative, waving off any kind of proposal as heavy-handed. The Trump administration does not believe action on climate change is necessary and is focused on increasing production of oil, gas and coal on federal and private land.

Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado, said at a climate change hearing in the House natural resources committee on Wednesday that the policy was akin to a “Soviet five-year plan”.

The non-binding resolution outlines several goals for the United States to meet in 10 years, including meeting 100 percent of power demand from zero-emissions energy sources.

It also calls for new projects to modernise US transportation infrastructure, de-carbonise the manufacturing and agricultural sectors, make buildings and homes more energy efficient and increase land preservation.

Ditching fossil fuel
The Green New Deal also aims to create an economic safety net for “front-line” communities that will be affected by a radical shift away from fossil fuel use.

“We … need to be sure that workers currently employed in fossil fuel industries have higher-wage and better jobs available to them to be able to make this transition, and a federal jobs guarantee ensures that no worker is left behind,” according to a summary of the plan.

The Green New Deal was put into the media spotlight by a youth coalition called the Sunrise Movement and Ocasio-Cortez, 29, the youngest woman to serve in Congress.

Markey, a veteran Congressman from Massachusetts, introduced sweeping climate change legislation a decade ago, which passed in the House but was blocked in the Senate.

At least a half dozen Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls have said they would adopt Green New Deal policies, without offering specifics.

The Green New Deal would be paid for “the same way we paid for the original New Deal, World War II, the bank bailouts, tax cuts for the rich and decades of war – with public money appropriated by Congress”, Ocasio-Cortez said.

The government can take an equity stake in Green New Deal projects “so the public gets a return on its investment”, she added.

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/democrats-push-green-deal-combat-climate-change-190207152008741.html

 

Kurds in Iraq say US withdrawal from Syria a mistake

Iraq photoPeshmerga fighters say they captured these ISIL armoured vehicles that were filled with explosives [Jennifer Glasse/Al Jazeera]

by Jennifer Glasse

Mala Qara Village, Iraq – A pair of armoured vehicles parked in a corner of the Peshmerga headquarters in northern Iraq form a stark reminder of the threat the region is facing by ISIL.

“They were full of explosives when we captured them,” Kurdish Peshmerga commander General Sirwan Barzani said, as he discussed the battle his forces fought two years ago against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).

ISIL fighters came within 25km of Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, before the Peshmerga got the upper hand in continuous battles, retaking control of towns in the region from 2014 to 2016.

While ISIL has since been driven from Mosul and other towns and villages in northern Iraq, they are still active in the area, Barzani said.

The current Kurdish-run Peshmerga front line is situated along the high ridge running north from the town of Makhmur, about 65km southwest of Erbil to Gwer, behind which ISIL fighters are hiding in the caves and on cliff faces on steep hills, Barzani said; it is terrain that makes it difficult to dislodge them.

A military operation last year to rid the area of ISIL was only partially successful, Barzani said, blaming constraints placed on his battle plan by Iraqi officials and US and coalition forces.

Barzani says there are other pockets of ISIL fighters to the south and west of the Peshmerga front lines, but the areas are controlled by Iraqi forces, so there is nothing he can do about them.

There is an uneasy cooperation between the Iraqi military and the Kurdish-run Peshmerga. They worked together against their common enemy, ISIL, but relations soured in October 2017 when Iraqi forces backed by Iranian militias retook control of oil-rich Kirkuk and other contested areas that Kurdish forces had held since 2014.

The Iraqi offensive came in the wake of a Kurdish referendum on independence that the Iraqi leadership in Baghdad and much of the rest of world dismissed as illegal.

The US, a long-time ally of the Iraqi Kurds, did nothing to stop the Iraqi military advance.

With the announcement by the Trump administration about the US withdrawal from Syria, Barzani said he is concerned the US will abandon the Syrian Kurds, who have been essential in the fight against ISIL.

US withdrawal
Major General Jabbar Yawar, secretary-general of the Peshmerga ministry, said, “It is very important that the US stays in both Iraq and Syria and keep playing the leadership role in the global coalition against ISIS.”

Yawar denied Iraq’s Peshmerga work with their Syrian counterparts, often called the Rojava Peshmerga named after the Kurdish region in eastern Syria.

“As Peshmerga forces, we have no connection with Rojava or any interference whatsoever. For us, it is the matter of another country, Syria, and we have no hand in any of it,” Yawar said.

He said Iraqi Peshmerga have fought inside Syria only once.

“During the ISIS attack on Kobane we were formally asked to send reinforcements, which we did with the coordination from the coalition forces and the Peshmerga stayed there for a year,” Yawar told Al Jazeera.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proposed a so-called “safe zone” inside Syria running east of the Euphrates river to the border.

Barzani said that will force Syria’s Kurdish fighters, who so far have been allied with the United States, to make a deal with Damascus.

“The fighters they will go to [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad], they will have an agreement with him, of course, it’s very clear,” Barzani said.

The US announcement, which came as a surprise to its allies, could undermine any leverage US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) might have had with Assad.

There are no details yet of who will be in charge of the safe zone, but Erdogan has said he will establish it himself if he does not get international support.

‘Fighting for land’
Barzani said Erdogan will use the buffer zone drive Kurds out, as they did in the Syrian Kurdish town of Afrin last March.

“If the fighters belonging to Turkey and the terrorists belonging to Erdogan will be there, they will be fighting for the land. It’s not a safe zone, it’s a warzone,” Barzani said.

Privately, Kurdish politicians said they are concerned any Turkish advance in Syria could cause another influx of refugees into Iraq’s Kurdish region, which currently hosts about 250,000. They note Erdogan’s “security zone” includes all Kurdish areas east of the Euphrates and a US pullout would be considered a defeat in the eyes of Syrian allies Russia and Iran.

The Peshmerga say the most convincing argument for the US to stay is the continued presence of ISIL in the region.

“For us, the Peshmerga, ISIS is not finished. They still carry out terrorist acts especially in areas called disputed territories in Kirkuk, Diyala, Salahaddin, Makhmour and around Mosul. They carry out daily attacks and they have even grown in strength,” Yawar said.

“Even Syrian Democratic Forces SDF say that the US forces should stay. ISIS is still a global terrorist organisation. It may have lost the land and the caliphate, but it still exists and it is dangerous.”

 

 
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/kurds-iraq-withdrawal-syria-mistake-190201120707894.html

Rubio: Blocking aid to Venezuela is a ‘crime against humanity’

Rubio photoSen. Marco Rubio. Credit: Rich Koele_Shutterstock

Washington D.C., (CNA) – Sen. Marco Rubio has called the humanitarian and political impasse in Venezuela “unsustainable,” and compared a blockade stopping food and medical aid from entering the country to a war crime.

The senator said leaders of the country’s security forces must choose between their orders and the needs of their families, neighbors and fellow citizens.

In a Feb. 8 interview with CNA, Rubio said that orders to prevent aid from crossing the border are illegitimate and should be refused by officers.

“They are being asked to do something that is illegitimate, they are being asked to do something that – if this were an armed conflict – would be a war crime,” Rubio said.

“Under the Geneva Conventions, the denial of the transit of food and medicine to civilian populations would be a war crime – that’s what they are being asked to participate in.”

The Republican senator from Florida is a key strategist and advisor to the Trump administration on the U.S. response to the political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

Rubio said that while international support is important, the escalating humanitarian and political crisis can only be ended by Venezuelan leadership.

“Ultimately it falls upon the Venezuelan people, and by that I include members of the National Guard, the armed forces, and the police forces, to decide their own destiny and their own future.”

“The international community is here to help and support, but this is their cause.”

On Jan. 23, President Donald Trump recognised opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the legitimate interim president of the country. Nicolas Maduro has refused to recognize Guaidó, and clings to power through his control of the military.

Maduro succeeded Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in 2013. In 2017, the U.S. Treasury Department called Maduro “a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people.”
Rubio told CNA that Maduro must relinquish power to bring stability to a country that has seen more than 3 million people flee the country since 2015 amid spiralling inflation, food shortages and mass demonstrations.

The circumstances under which Maduro might be persuaded to abandon power are unclear, the senator said.

“Do I think Maduro is going to exit power eventually? Absolutely. Do I think he is going to do it willingly? I don’t know. But a lot of that depends on the people holding him up,” the senator said.

“Here’s the bottom line: the rank and file military does not support Maduro, but they are not willing to face the very grave consequences of breaking with him.”

These leaders, Rubio said, have the opportunity and responsibility to allow aid into the country.

“There are four or five senior military leaders, starting with the defense minister [Vladimir Padrino López], who if they were to recognize the interim government, that would be the end of the Maduro regime.”

If military leaders recognize the interim government, Rubio told CNA, they could also benefit from amnesties offered by the interim government but “that window is closing, on them and on the country.”

“The further this goes, the likelier it is that senior military leaders like [defense minister Vladimir] Padrino will disqualify themselves from the ability to receive domestic and international amnesty: because they deny food and medicine and thereby commit a crime against humanity; because they try to follow orders and attack unarmed protestors and civilians.”

“It’s in their hands, they can decide to change the trajectory of Venezuela.”

In the meantime, protests continue in the country and, according to Rubio, the Venezuelan people “are well aware” that the Maduro and his loyalists stand between them and the flow of foreign aid into the country.

“There is no way, if current trends continue, that Maduro holds on to power,” Rubio said. “The question becomes: how does he leave? Does he leave through a negotiated exit or does some other even occur that forces his hand?”

Earlier this week, Maduro issued a request for Pope Francis to act as a mediator in resolving the political standoff.

While the pope said that such a request for mediation would have to come from “both sides,” Cardinal Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo, Apostolic Administrator of Caracas, appeared to pour cold water on the notion of papal intervention, telling Argentina’s Radio Continental Feb. 6 that the suggestion was “non-viable.”

Rubio told CNA the request for papal mediation is a delaying tactic on the part of Maduro.

“He’s already done this before, the Vatican tried to mediate [in 2016] and it was a fiasco – they walked away from it knowing that he wasn’t sincere.”

“Maduro has a very simple plan: to buy time until he can fracture the opposition and the world’s attention is diverted to some other crisis and away from Venezuela.”

“That’s the model he has followed and he’s trying to pull it off one more time.”

The Venezuelan standoff began Jan. 10, when Maduro was inaugurated at the start of his second term. Both the National Assembly and the Venezuelan bishops’ conference declared at that time Maduro’s 2018 reelection to be invalid. Guaidó declared himself the nation’s interim leader Jan. 23.
Rubio paid tribute to Guaidó and other opposition leaders in the country, noting the real dangers they face.

“I have tremendous admiration for the risk that they are taking,” Rubio said. “They have always been at risk, there are a significant number of opposition leaders dead, in jail, or in exile as a result of this regime.”

But, he said, those committed to seeing genuine democracy in Venezuela recognize that they have had no other practical option than to put themselves at risk.

“As they themselves will tell you, the alternative would be for them to surrender and give in and live under this tyranny or have to leave their country.”

The senator told CNA that direct intervention by U.S. personnel – military or otherwise – remains “a controversial concept.”

“What there is a strong international consensus behind is that Maduro should not stand in the way of humanitarian relief reaching people who are literally dying,” Rubio said, but the moral imperative lay primarily on those carrying out Maduro’s orders.

“If Maduro is going to order that aid be blocked, then it is incumbent upon those that he is ordering not to follow those orders.”

“The military and its leaders are going to have to choose: do we follow these illegitimate orders that are hurting our own people or do we actually help them to reach the starving people of Venezuela, in many cases their own parents, their own siblings, their own families, their own neighbors.”

Rubio said that direct intervention is not something currently being contemplated in Washington. But, the senator noted, it remains an option to protect American personnel, including those trying to deliver food, medicine, and other aid to the country.

“Any U.S. personnel who comes in danger as a result of actions of the Maduro security forces- there will be grave consequences for it, they are well aware of it and they should govern themselves accordingly.”

“The plan here is not to have a caravan of American soldiers or aid workers entering Venezuela, the plan is to hand this over to whoever the interim government directs so that they can distribute in a non-political way.”

“The goal is to distribute the aid through non-governmental, non-political organizations inside Venezuela, for them to distribute through Caritas for the Catholic Church, the Red Cross and other NGOs that are operating within the country.”

Maduro’s security forces, who have erected roadblocks to prevent aid from entering the country, stand between food and medicine stockpiled across the Colombian border and Venezuelan organizations ready to distribute it.

Rubio said that while international pressure and consensus is important, responsibility for resolving the impasse lies with the soldiers blocking aid from entering the country. The senator suggested they should stand down.

“The choice is theirs.”

 

 
https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/rubio-blocking-aid-to-venezuela-is-a-crime-against-humanity-21754

Appeals court upholds La. law regulating abortion clinics

abortion photoThe March for Life in Washington, D.C., Jan. 22, 2015. Credit: Addie Mena/CNA

New Orleans, La.- The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday rejected a request from abortion rights’ advocates to rehear a case challenging a Louisiana law that requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

The Jan. 18 decision effectively upholds its earlier ruling in favor of the bipartisan law, known as the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, or Act 620. Unless an appeal to the US Supreme Court is filed, it will take effect Jan. 28.

A three judge panel of the Fifth Circuit had upheld Act 620 in September by a 2-1 vote. Abortion rights’ advocates were asking the court to rehear the case en banc – by a greater share of the court’s judges.

“I applaud the Fifth Circuit’s decision to reject the abortion providers’ latest legal challenge to Louisiana’s pro-life and pro-woman admitting privileges law,” said Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. “Act 620 is common-sense measure that ensures women will receive proper care if they have complications.”

The Fifth Circuit voted 9-6 to reject the petition for rehearing en banc.

Act 620 was authored by Democratic State Rep. Katrina Jackson, who authored the legislation and is chair of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus. She has said the law is about “the safety of women.”

It was passed in 2014 by an 88-5 vote in the Louisiana House, and a 34-3 vote in the Senate.

The Unsafe Abortion Protection Act requires that abortion doctors have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic.

The law also clarifies that informed consent protections also apply to chemical abortions, procured by ingesting mifepristone, and that chemical abortions must be reported anonymously to the Department of Health and Hospitals, which already tracks surgical abortions. Doctors who perform more than five abortions per year must also maintain proper licensing.

When the Fifth Circuit upheld Act 620 in September, it found that the law does not impose a substantial burden on women seeking to procure abortion.

Act 620 was challenged in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2016 Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision.

In that case, the high court struck down a Texas law that required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, and abortion clinics to meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers. In the 5-3 vote, the majority found that the law put an “undue burden” on a women’s right to an abortion, posing a “substantial obstacle” to that right without showing the necessary benefits of its regulations to women’s health.

Considering Louisiana’s law in light of Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Fifth Circuit wrote that “the facts in the instant case are remarkably different from those that occasioned the invalidation of the Texas statute in WWH.”

“Here, unlike in Texas, the Act does not impose a substantial burden on a large fraction of women under WWH and other controlling Supreme Court authority. Careful review of the record reveals stark differences between the record before us and that which the Court considered in WWH.”

“The Louisiana Act passes muster even under the stringent requirements of WWH,” wrote Circuit Judge Jerry E. Smith.
Similarly, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in September ruled that Missouri may enforce its own law mandating that doctors who perform abortions have hospital privileges and that abortion clinics to have the same standards as similar outpatient surgical centers.

The Eighth Circuit also cited the Hellerstedt case, saying that decision analyzed purported benefits of the law at issue related to abortion in Texas, not Missouri, and that it found courts should consider the asserted benefits of a law.

Fifth Circuit Judge James L. Dennis dissented from the court’s decision not to rehear the challenge to Act 620, asserting it is “in clear conflict” with the Hellerstedt decision and that “the panel majority’s attempt to distinguish WWH is meritless because it is based on an erroneous and distorted version of the undue burden test required by WWH and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey.”

Landry welcomed the majority’s decision not to rehear the challenge to Act 620, saying: “The Fifth Circuit once again affirmed what we have repeatedly said: our law is both factually and legally different from the Texas law that the Supreme Court ruled against.”

“I once again thank Representative Katrina Jackson for authoring this public safety legislation and Solicitor General Liz Murrill for preserving the Legislature’s intent,” he added.

When the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act was passed in 2014, there were five abortion clinics in Louisiana. By the time the Fifth Circuit upheld the law in September 2018, there were three, in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport.

The day before it declined to rehear the challenge to Act 620, the Fifth Circuit vacated a previous injunction barring Texas from stripping Planned Parenthood affiliates of Medicaid funding.

Circuit Judge Edith Jones affirmed that Texas has the right to exclude a healthcare provider from Medicaid funds, and criticized the Planned Parenthood affiliates’ argument that the Office of Inspector General has insufficient expertise to determine the qualifications of abortion providers.

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/appeals-court-upholds-la-law-regulating-abortion-clinics-20560

Don’t kiss your hedgehog: US health officials’ warning after salmonella spike

health photoPrickly response: hedgehogs shouldn’t be kissed, says the CDC. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters

By Sam Wolfson

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has taken the unusual measure of advising Americans not to kiss or snuggle their pet hedgehogs.

It comes after a CDC investigation found that 11 people in the United States had contracted a rare strain of salmonella, known as Salmonella typhimurium, since October. It’s emerged that 10 out of the 11 were in close contact with hedgehogs before becoming ill.

The 11 people were in eight different states, including three in Missouri and two in Minnesota. The CDC said it was unclear if the pet hedgehogs came from “a common supplier”.

Officials have warned hedgehog owners not to “kiss or snuggle hedgehogs, because this can spread salmonella germs to your face and mouth and make you sick”. Owners are also advised not to “let hedgehogs roam freely in areas where food is prepared or stored, such as kitchen”.

One person has been hospitalised and no deaths have been reported.

In 2012 there was another major outbreak of Salmonella typhimurium in which most people affected had come into contact with a hedgehog. During that outbreak there were a total of 26 cases and eight people were hospitalised.

Some hedgehogs have become social media stars in the past few years, and their cute photos have racked up thousands of likes. Darcy the hedgehog, named after the former Smashing Pumpkins bassist D’arcy Wretzky, has more than 294,000 followers.

The humanisation of celebrity hedgehogs perhaps explains why people feel more compelled to kiss them, but having one as a pet remains illegal in many US states including Georgia, California and Hawaii, as well as Washington DC and New York City. These bans are mostly in place because of fears around disease.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jan/28/hedgehog-pets-cdc-health-salmonella