E-Cigarette Regulations Survive Industry’s Legal Challenge

U.S. rules for marketing e-cigarettes withstood a legal challenge by a maker of the devices and an industry group.

A federal appeals court in Washington on Tuesday upheld regulations by the Food and Drug Administration, stating that “e-cigarettes are indisputably highly addictive and pose health risks, especially to youth, that are not well understood.”

Nicupure Labs LLC and the Right to be Smoke Free Coalition argued that the FDA’s Tobacco Control Act rules on the marketing of new tobacco products should not be applied to e-cigarettes. The court said the rules were rational and not arbitrary.


Ready for prisoner swaps, Iran says US holding 20 Iranians

Iran said on Tuesday that American authorities are holding about 20 Iranian nationals in jail, its official news agency reported, a day after Tehran said it was ready for more prisoner swaps with the U.S.

A prisoner exchange over the weekend saw Iran free a Chinese-American scholar from Princeton who had been held for three years on widely criticized espionage charges. It was seen as a rare diplomatic breakthrough between Tehran and Washington after months of tensions.

“We told the American side that our figure is more or less 20 but this is not final,” IRNA quoted as saying Mohsen Baharvand, an aid to Iran’s foreign minister. The report didn’t provide further details on the claim.

According to Baharvand, U.S. authorities say that Iran is holding one American national and five dual U.S.-Iranian nationals. He said Iranian officials didn’t have “any orders” so far to begin talks on their release, though he suggested this could be the next “phase” in indirect negotiations between Tehran and Washington.

U.S. citizens held in Iran include U.S. Navy veteran Michael White, who is serving a 10-year espionage sentence, as well as environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian with U.S. and British citizenship also initially sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Also in Iran are 83-year-old Baquer Namazi and his son, Siamak Namazi, dual Iranian-American nationals facing 10-year sentences after they were convicted of collaborating with a hostile power. Baquer Namazi now is on a prison furlough. However, the Namazis say he remains unable to leave Iran.

Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, remains missing as well. Iran says that Levinson is not in the country and that it has no further information about him, but his family holds Tehran responsible for his disappearance.

Baharvand said Iran didn’t undertake direct talks with the U.S. for the weekend’s prisoner swap in Switzerland. The two sides only communicated through Swiss officials, who represent U.S. interests in Iran. Washington and Tehran have had no diplomatic ties since the 1979 Islamic revolution.


Pakistani PM urges UN action on Kashmir

Reiterating Islamabad’s demand for international intervention in Indian-administered Kashmir, Pakistani prime minister on Tuesday appealed to the “world’s conscience” to act against the “illegal annexation” of the valley with New Delhi.

On the World Human Rights Day, Khan condemned the “gross” human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir, especially after New Delhi’s controversial revocation of the valley’s long-standing special rights last August, which sparked worldwide criticism.

Human Rights Day has been observed every year on Dec. 10 since 1948, when nations in the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“On Human Rights day we must appeal to the world’s conscience, to upholders of international law & to the UNSC [UN Security Council] to act against the illegal annexation of IOJK [Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir] by the Indian Occupation govt.,” Khan said on twitter.

Condemning the Indian government’s “siege” of Kashmir, he demanded “an end to the gross abuse & atrocities being inflicted on Kashmiri men, women & children by Indian Occupation forces in violation of all Int Humanitarian & Human Rights Laws.”

“We salute & stand resolutely with the brave Kashmiris struggling for their right of self determination,” Khan added.

Meanwhile, the day is being observed as a “black day” by several groups in the Indian and Pakistani sides of Kashmir, against New Delhi’s controversial move.

Long-fraught ties between the two nuclear rivals have plummeted to a new low following the India move of scrapping the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, which is divided between the two neighbors in parts with both claiming it in full.

Many fear this step was an attempt to change the demography of the Muslim-majority state.

Since partition in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars — in 1948, 1965 and 1971 — two of them over Kashmir, in addition to a three-week long Kargil skirmish in 1999.

Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.

According to several human rights organizations, thousands of people have reportedly been killed in the conflict in the region since 1989.


Lukashenko plans to meet with Medvedev in December, media reports say

 Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko plans to meet with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who may come to Minsk for this specific purpose, before the end of the year, the Belarusian leader said on Tuesday at a meeting with the head of his administration Igor Sergeyenko and Chairwoman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly Natalya Kochanova, the news agency BelTA reported.

During a conversation with the Russian prime minister, they agreed to meet ahead of the New Year, he said.

“He (Medvedev) was pleased to agree that we’ll meet somewhere and find time for it. He says that he might even come to Minsk. I think we’ll find a place to meet,” Lukashenko said.

The Belarusian leader stated that it is important to synchronize watches on the integration agenda not just with the Russian president but with the prime minister as well. “There are issues which concern our governments. I’d like the conversation with Dmitry [Medvedev] to be held on certain issues,” Lukashenko said.

On December 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko held a lengthy meeting in Sochi at which they discussed avenues for further integration between Moscow and Minsk. The heads of state agreed to continue dialogue on this issue on December 20.


Intel Is First to Share Detailed Pay Disparities. It’s Not Flattering.

It’s not really a surprise that white and Asian men dominate the top pay tiers among Intel’s U.S. workforce. That’s been true in the tech industry for years. What’s unusual is the excruciating level of detail about pay disparity the chipmaker is releasing Tuesday to the public—information it could have kept secret.

In addition to its annual update on the outlook for women and people of color at the company, Intel on Tuesday released the results of a new report it sent to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that gives unprecedented pay, race and gender data for about 51,000 U.S. workers. Intel is the first company to release the otherwise private data.

The results are not flattering. Among 52 top executives at Intel, who all earn more than $208,000—the top pay band the EEOC tracks—29 are white men, 11 are Asian men and 8 are white women. The remaining tally is 1 each for Asian women, black women and black men, with no Hispanic men among executives in that top tier.

The ratio was similarly skewed across manager, professional and technician job classifications, with white and Asian men dominating top pay groups and women and people of color clustered in the lower bands. One in four white men at Intel are in the top salary tier, earning at least $208,000, a higher share than any other group. Rates are far lower for women and underrepresented minorities; less than 10% of black employees are top earners.

“It’s difficult to really fix what you aren’t being transparent about,” said Barbara Whye, Intel’s chief diversity and inclusion officer and a vice president in human resources. The chipmaker is making itself “very vulnerable,” she says, to “do the right things,” and she hopes her peers will follow and share pay information, too. “These are industry-wide problems,” Whye said. “They are going to require industry-wide solutions to resolve them.” So far, no other companies have said they’ll do the same. 

Intel joins a small but growing number of companies that have released gender and racial pay data, often under pressure from investors. The transparency may be laudable, but it is often overshadowed by what is revealed. Annual diversity reports from the biggest tech companies from the last half decade have shown scant progress in advancing the numbers of under-represented workers.

Companies that choose to release this kind of information risk backlash. Citigroup this year faced criticism after it voluntarily released median pay data that showed women at the bank earn 29% less than men do.

Intel’s report finds that within job types—not just at the top—white men dominate the highest salary band. Two-thirds of employees fall into a job group called “professionals,” which includes includes non-managerial office workers and programmers. Nearly all earn at least $80,000 per year, but white and Asian men have the highest salaries. Black, Hispanic and other minorities are overrepresented in the bottom half of the pay ranges. 

Even if the numbers look bad, companies will ultimately benefit more from leading on disclosure than they would from dragging their heels, said Natasha Lamb, managing partner at Arjuna Capital, which pressures companies to disclose gender pay data. The point is not to beat up on organizations for telling the truth, she said. “It’s much more important to have an accurate reflection of reality than to glaze over the simple truth,” she said. “These companies are not as diverse and equal as they could be.”

In 2015, Intel set a goal to have women make up at least 26% of its workforce by 2020. The company met that last year and is working to increase the percentage of women among top executives now to 26%, too, Whye said. Intel says representation among its total U.S. workforce and for technical employees has improved—underrepresented workers make up 15.8% of the company up from 14.6% last year. Women as a percentage of the workforce fell slightly to 26.5% from 26.8%.

Overrepresentation of white men in the highest-paying jobs contributes to the nation’s wage gap: American women earn 20% less than men do, and the gap is even wider for women of color. Intel’s disclosure shows that these disparities can’t be fixed simply by raising the salaries of women and minorities. Whye said the company’s task is to help underrepresented groups get promoted into more lucrative roles and keep them there. 

The data provided to the EEOC covered 2017 and 2018 and was collected from nearly all U.S. companies for the first time this fall under an initiative started by President Barack Obama. By law, the forms stay private unless a company makes them public. 

This could be the only time the EEOC collects worker pay broken down by race, sex and ethnicity, making Intel’s disclosure a unique window into company compensation, and how it results in wage gaps. The agency has been soliciting the data since July and could continue to do so until January under a federal judge’s order. But the EEOC has said it won’t pursue future collections in this form. 

In the U.K. where companies are required to publicly report wage gaps between male and female workers, the disclosures have shown the benefits and limits of transparency, said Harini Iyengar, a lawyer who advocates for equal pay in Britain. “A lot of members of the public who don’t pay an interest generally in labor market issues are quite shocked at the scale of the pay disparity,” she said. “So that’s been very positive because people are genuinely shocked.”

But so far the nation-wide initiative has not resulted in measurable change, she said: “What I’m seeing is collective hand-wringing about, ‘Oh no, this is not good enough. But look everyone else in our industry sectors is in the same boat. So that’s all right then.’”


Democrats unveil Trump impeachment articles, including abuse of power, obstruction of Congress

House Democrats announced two articles of impeachment Tuesday against President Donald Trump – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – pushing toward historic votes over charges he corrupted the U.S. election process and endangered national security. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, flanked by the chairmen of the impeachment inquiry committees, stood at the Capitol in what she called a “solemn act.” Voting is expected in a matter of days in the Judiciary Committee and by Christmas in the full House. Trump insisted he did “NOTHING” wrong.

“He endangers our democracy, he endangers our national security,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the Judiciary chairman announcing the charges before a portrait of George Washington. “Our next election is at risk… That is why we must act now.”

Trump tweeted ahead of the announcement that impeaching a president with a record like his would be “sheer Political Madness!”

The outcome, though, appears increasingly set as the House prepares for voting, as it has only three times in history against a U.S. president.

In drafting the articles of impeachment, Pelosi is facing a legal and political challenge of balancing the views of her majority while hitting the Constitution’s bar of “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Some liberal lawmakers wanted more expansive charges encompassing the findings from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Centrist Democrats preferred to keep the impeachment articles more focused on Trump’s actions toward Ukraine. House Democrats have announced two articles of impeachment charging President Donald Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The charges unveiled Tuesday stem from Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to announce investigations of his political rivals as he withheld aid to the country.


Israel’s Leviathan field to start supplying gas this month

Leviathan, Israel’s largest offshore natural gas field, will start supplying the local market by the end of December, followed by exports to Egypt and Jordan soon after, Reuters reported on Monday.

“Within 2-3 weeks we will open the wells and start to supply the gas,” said Binyamin Zomer, vice president for regional affairs at Texas-based Noble Energy.

“Before the end of the year we will start supplying the domestic market, and in the weeks right after that we will export to Egypt and Jordan,” Zomer told the annual Israel Energy and Business Convention, according to the report.

Noble Energy discovered the Leviathan field, located in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Haifa, in 2010.


Turkey Turned Into ‘Middle-Earth’ Under Erdogan, Opposition Says

Turkish politics is having another run-in with the inhabitants of “Middle-earth.”

Meral Aksener, leader of the opposition Iyi Party, has invoked British author J.R.R. Tolkien and his epic fantasy novel “the Lord of the Rings” in rounding on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s almost absolute grip on power.

“The Ring is the executive presidency,” Anadolu Agency cited Aksener as saying on Tuesday in Ankara, referring to Turkey’s presidential system of governance that’s been widely criticized for weakening the state’s separation of powers since it was introduced last year.

Aksener also likened Erdogan’s son-in-law, Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, to Gollum — Tolkien’s fictional character who was corrupted by the power of the Ring. Big construction companies, meanwhile, are the Nazgul, the wraiths who obtained immortality as servants of the main antagonist in the saga, she said.

In 2016, a court found a family doctor guilty of insulting Erdogan via a social media post that appeared to compare him to Gollum. The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson weighed in on that case, saying that the pictures posted were rather those of the character’s alter-ego, Sméagol.

Erdogan pursues “absolute power,” while Turkey is on the brink of an abyss, Aksener said, reflecting the joint opposition’s repeated condemnation of his authoritarian rule.

Her nationalist Iyi Parti commands 39 lawmakers out of 589 in total. The party won almost 10% of votes in the 2018 general election.


Turkish-backed militants loot historical artifacts in northern Syria: SOHR

The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) says Turkish-backed militants are plundering historical artifacts in Syria’s northwestern province of Aleppo and smuggling them over the border to sell in Turkey.

The Britain-based war monitor group, citing reliable sources requesting anonymity, reported on Tuesday that the militants have been systematically looting antiquities in the Afrin district, particularly in the city of al-Nabi Hori – also known as Korsh — ever since Turkish military forces and their Syrian proxies launched an operation to push Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militants away from a “safe zone” along Syria’s border with Turkey.

The SOHR highlighted that Turkish-affiliated militants, namely members of the so-called Soqoor al-Shamal terror group, have been carrying out indiscriminate excavations by heavy machinery in the area, seriously damaging cultural layers at numerous archaeological deposits.

The operations have also led to the destruction of fragile historical artifacts such as glassware, porcelain ware, pottery and mosaic paintings.

On November 6, 2019, a worker at an illegal excavation site posted on Facebook pictures of three mosaics and other artifacts.

“The publisher made no mention of the location of the paintings or the identity of people shown in the picture. The paintings, nevertheless, strongly indicated that they have been recovered from a mountainous site controlled by Turkish-backed militants.

“The fact was later corroborated after a number of people pressed the publisher to reveal the exact location of the findings, and he said they had been recovered in al-Nabi Hori,” the sources said.

He had to remove the Facebook post a few days later after a journalist tried to communicate with him to investigate the originality of the paintings.

On October 9, Turkish military forces and Ankara-backed militants launched a long-threatened cross-border invasion of northeastern Syria in a declared attempt to push YPG militants away from border areas.

Ankara views the US-backed YPG as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey since 1984.

On October 22, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a memorandum of understanding that asserted YPG militants had to withdraw from the Turkish-controlled “safe zone” in northeastern Syria within 150 hours, after which Ankara and Moscow would run joint patrols around the area.

The announcement was made hours before a US-brokered five-day truce between Turkish and Kurdish-led forces was due to expire.


House collapse kills 17 in southern India

At least 17 people were killed on Monday in a rain-related incident in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, officials said.

A portion of a 15-foot (4.5-meter) wall fell on the adjoining houses burying alive the inmates, news agency Press Trust of India said.

Efforts are ongoing in Nadur village to pull out those trapped inside, officials said, confirming the death toll.

Rescue workers with the assistance of locals have retrieved bodies from the debris, police said.

Rains have completely drenched several districts of Tamil Nadu in the last 24 hours.

Five people were killed in rain-related incidents in the state on Sunday. 

Schools and colleges have been shut in affected areas.

Meanwhile, the country’s weather services office has predicted heavy rainfall for the next two days in the coastal districts.


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