US to Proceed With Mexico Trade Pact, Keep Talking to Canada

U.S. President Donald Trump notified Congress on Friday of his intent to sign a trade agreement with Mexico after talks with Canada broke up earlier in the day with no immediate deal to revamp the tri-nation North American Free Trade Agreement.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said U.S. officials would resume talks with their Canadian counterparts next Wednesday with the aim of getting a deal all three nations could sign.

All three countries have stressed the importance of NAFTA, which governs billions of dollars in regional trade, and a bilateral deal announced by the United States and Mexico on Monday paved the way for Canada to rejoin the talks this week.

But by Friday the mood had soured, partly on Trump’s off-the-record remarks made to Bloomberg News that any trade deal with Canada would be “totally on our terms.” He later confirmed the comments, which the Toronto Star first reported.

“At least Canada knows where I stand,” he later said on Twitter.

Ottawa has stood firm against signing “just any deal.” 

​’Making progress’

But at a news conference Friday afternoon, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland expressed confidence that Canada could reach agreement with the United States on a renegotiated NAFTA trade pact if there was “goodwill and flexibility on all sides.”

“We continue to work very hard and we are making progress. We’re not there yet,” Freeland told reporters.

“We know that a win-win-win agreement is within reach,” she added. “With goodwill and flexibility on all sides, I know we can get there.”

The Canadian dollar weakened to C$1.3081 to the U.S. dollar after The Wall Street Journal first reported that the talks had ended Friday with no agreement. Canadian stocks remained 0.5 percent lower.

Global equities were also down following the hawkish turn in Trump’s comments on trade.

Lighthizer has refused to budge despite repeated efforts by Freeland to offer some dairy concessions to maintain the Chapter 19 independent trade dispute resolution mechanism in NAFTA, The Globe and Mail reported Friday.

However, a spokeswoman for USTR said Canada had made no concessions on agriculture, which includes dairy, but added that negotiations continued.

The United States wants to eliminate Chapter 19, the mechanism that has hindered it from pursuing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases. Lighthizer said on Monday that Mexico had agreed to cut the mechanism. For Ottawa, Chapter 19 is a red line.

Trump argues Canada’s hefty dairy tariffs are hurting U.S. farmers, an important political base for his Republican Party.

But dairy farmers have great political clout in Canada too, and concessions could hurt the ruling Liberals ahead of a 2019 federal election.

At a speech in North Carolina on Friday, Trump took another swipe at Canada. “I love Canada, but they’ve taken advantage of our country for many years,” he said.

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Big Names Bid Farewell to ‘Queen of Soul’

Notables gathered to pay tribute to soul singer Aretha Franklin during an epic, hours-long funeral service in Detroit, Aug. 31, 2018. Franklin died Aug. 16, 2018, of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76.

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Fake, Low Quality Drugs Come at High Cost

About one in eight essential medicines in low- and middle-income countries may be fake or contain dangerous mixes of ingredients that put patients’ lives at risk, a research review suggests.

Researchers examined data from more 350 previous studies that tested more 400,000 drug samples in low- and middle-income countries. Overall, roughly 14 percent of medicines were counterfeit, expired or otherwise low quality and unlikely to be as safe or effective as patients might expect.

“Low-quality medicines can have no or little active pharmaceutical ingredient [and] can prolong illness, lead to treatment failure and contribute to drug resistance,” said lead study author Sachiko Ozawa of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Or it may have too much active ingredient and cause a drug overdose,” Ozawa said by email. “If it is contaminated or has other active ingredients, then the medication could cause poisoning, adverse drug interactions or avertable deaths.”

Much of the research to date on counterfeit or otherwise unsafe medicines has focused on Africa, and about half of the studies in the current analysis were done there.

Almost one in five medications tested in Africa were fake or otherwise potentially unsafe, researchers report in JAMA Network Open.

Another third of the studies were done in Asia, where about 14 percent of medicines tested were found to be counterfeit or otherwise unsafe.

Antibiotics and antimalarials were the most tested drugs in the analysis. Overall, about 19 percent of antimalarials and 12 percent of antibiotics were falsified or otherwise unsafe.

While fake or improperly made medicines undoubtedly harm patients, the current analysis couldn’t tell how many people suffered serious side effects or died as a result of falsified drugs.

Researchers did try to assess the economic impact of counterfeit or improperly made medicines and found the annual cost might run anywhere from $10 billion to $200 billion.

While the study didn’t examine high-income countries, drug quality concerns are by no means limited to less affluent nations, Ozawa said.

“Even in high-income countries, purchasing cheaper medicines from illegitimate sources online could result in obtaining substandard or falsified medicines,” Ozawa said. “Verify the source before you buy medications, and make policymakers aware of the problem so they can work to improve the global supply chain of medicines.”

The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how counterfeit or poorly made medicines directly harm patients, however. And economic impact was difficult to assess from smaller studies that often didn’t include detailed methodology for calculating the financial toll.

The report “provides important validation of what is largely already known,” Tim Mackey of the Global Health Policy Institute in La Jolla, California, writes in an accompanying editorial.

“It is important to note that although the study is comprehensive, its narrow scope means it only provides a snapshot of the entire problem, as it is limited to studies conducted in low- and middle-income countries and to those

medicines classified as essential by the World Health Organization.”

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Coca-Cola Hopes for Caffeine Hit as It Buys Costa Coffee Chain

Coca-Cola is hoping for a caffeine-fueled boost with the acquisition of British coffee chain Costa.

Costa is Britain’s biggest coffee company, with over 2,400 coffee shops in the U.K. and another 1,400 in more than 30 countries, including around 460 in China, its second-biggest market. Coca-Cola said Friday it will buy the Costa brand from Whitbread for 3.9 billion pounds ($5.1 billion) in cash.

The deal, expected to close in the first half of 2019, comes on the heels of Coca-Cola’s announcement earlier in August that it was buying a minority ownership stake in sports drink maker BodyArmor for an undisclosed amount. Coca-Cola’s other investments in recent years have included milk that is strained to have more protein and a push into sparkling water.

The move is Coca-Cola’s latest diversification as health-conscious consumers, at least in America, move away from traditional soda.

Rival PepsiCo, meanwhile, recently bought carbonated drink maker SodaStream, which produces machines that allow people to make fizzy drinks in their own homes.

Coca-Cola already owns the Georgia and Gold Peak coffee brands, which make bottled and canned drinks, but the purchase of Costa could allow it to compete with brands like Starbucks.

Coffee is growing by 6 percent a year, making it one of the fastest-growing beverage categories in the world, said James Quincey, Coca-Cola president & CEO.

“Hot beverages is one of the few remaining segments of the total beverage landscape where Coca-Cola does not have a global brand,” he said.

Coca-Cola has over 500 brands in its stable including Fanta, innocent smoothies and Powerade sports drinks. In 2017, it generated operating income of $9.7 billion on revenues of $35.4 billion.

Without being specific about expansion plans, Quincey said in a video posted on Coca-Cola’s website that the company would “over time” look to take Costa “to more people in more places.”

Costa doesn’t currently have a presence in North or South America, but Quincey indicated that one potential early expansion route would be to use Costa’s vending operation and grow the company’s ready-to-drink products. In addition to its shops, Costa has self-serve coffee machines in grocery stores and gas stations.

Whitbread bought Costa for 19 million pounds in 1995, when it had just 39 shops. In recent years, Whitbread has invested heavily in Costa’s expansion overseas, but had been looking to siphon off the business to generate funds for the expansion and for its other business, the budget hotel chain Premier Inn.

Then Coca-Cola got in touch with what Whitbread said was a “highly compelling” offer. The Whitbread board unanimously backed the deal.

Whitbread will use a “significant majority” of the net cash proceeds — around 3.8 billion pounds after taking into account such things as transaction costs — returning cash to shareholders. Some will be used to pay down debt and to make a contribution to the pension fund.

Doing so, Whitbread said, would “provide headroom” to further expand the Premier Inn budget hotel chain in Britain and Germany.

Whitbread’s share price soared 17 percent in early afternoon trading in London.

Nicholas Hyett, equity analyst at London-based stockbrokers Hargreaves Lansdown, said Costa will get “lots of care and attention” from Coca-Cola.

“Its global reach should turbo-charge growth in the years to come, and hot drinks are one of the few areas of the wider beverages sector where the soft drinks giant doesn’t have a killer brand,” he said.

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US Ports Fear Tariffs Could Reduce Ship Traffic, Jobs

Ports and ground terminals in nearly every state handle goods that are now or will likely soon be covered by import tariffs. Port executives worry that this could mean a slowdown in shipping that would have ripple effects on truckers and others whose jobs depend on trade.

The Associated Press analyzed government data and found that from the West Coast to the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico, at least 10 percent of imports at many ports could face new tariffs if President Donald Trump’s proposals take full effect.

Since March, the U.S. has applied new tariffs of up to 25 percent on nearly $85 billion worth of steel and aluminum and various Chinese products, mostly goods used in manufacturing.

Trump said in a recent tweet, “Tariffs are working big time.” He has argued that the tariffs will help protect American workers and force U.S. trading partners to change rules that the president insists are unfair to the United States.

In New Orleans, port officials say a tariff-related drop in shipments is real, not merely a forecast. Steel imports there have declined more than 25 percent from a year ago, according to the port’s chief commercial officer, Robert Landry.

The port is scouting for other commodities it can import. But expectations appear to be low.

“In our business, steel is the ideal commodity,” Landry said. “It’s big, it’s heavy, we charge by the ton so it pays well. You never find anything that pays as well as steel does.”

The port of Milwaukee imports steel from Europe and ships out agricultural products from the Midwest. Steel imports haven’t dropped yet because they are under long-term contracts, said the port director, Adam Schlicht. But there has been “an almost immediate halt” in outbound shipments of corn because of retaliatory duties imposed by the European Union on American products.

Much of the corn, he said, “is just staying in silos. They are filled to the brim.”

Many other ports have been humming along and even enjoyed an unexpected bump in imports during June and July as U.S. businesses moved up orders to ship before the new tariffs took effect. That started with manufacturing goods and is now spreading to retail items for back-to-school and Christmas.

“Some of my retail customers are forward-shipping the best they can to offset proposed tariffs,” says Peter Schneider, executive vice president of T.G.S. Transportation, a trucking company in Fresno, California.

Port officials were encouraged by this week’s announcement that the United States and Mexico had reached a preliminary agreement to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, hoping it might lead to reduced trade barriers. Canada’s participation in any new deal to replace NAFTA, though, remains a major question mark.

The port officials continue to worry, though, that Trump will make good on a plan to expand tariffs to an additional $200 billion in Chinese imports — a list that includes fish and other foods, furniture, carpets, tires, rain jackets and hundreds of additional items. Tariffs would make those items costlier in the United States. And if Americans buy fewer of those goods, it would likely lead to fewer container ships steaming into U.S. ports.

The impact will be felt keenly at West Coast ports like Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, relying on information from his port officials, said his port — the biggest in the United States — could suffer a 20 percent drop in volume if the additional $200 billion in tariffs are imposed against Chinese goods.

Jock O’Connell, an economist in California who studies trade, said he doubts a downturn would be so severe — that would match the slump that accompanied the global recession of 2008 — “but we will see a definite impact.”

Here are some of the key findings from the AP analysis:

–  U.S. tariffs will cover goods that are imported at more than 250 seaports, airports and ground terminals in 48 states.

  • At 18 of 43 customs districts — including those representing ports around Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Orleans and Houston — at least 10 percent of their total import value could be covered by new tariffs if all Trump’s proposals take effect.

  • Retaliatory duties by China and other countries cover $27 billion in U.S. exports.

Eugene Seroka, executive director of the Los Angeles port, worries that “if tariffs make it too expensive to import, there will be an impact on jobs.”

Seroka and others don’t expect layoffs on the docks. Union longshoremen — whose average pay last year on the West Coast was $163,000, according to the Pacific Maritime Association, which negotiates for the ports — often have contract provisions ensuring that they are paid even if there’s no work. And there are fewer of them than there were a few decades ago because the advent of shipping containers has reduced the need for people on the docks.

Dwayne Boudreaux, an International Longshoremen’s Association official in Louisiana, said, though, that his stevedores are handling about 10 percent less steel from Japan because of the new tariffs.

“We don’t think it’s going to [get] worse,” he said. But, he added, “who knows — that could change from the next press conference.”

The impact might be greater on truck drivers and warehouse workers. Fewer will be needed, according to O’Connell.

Many drivers who deliver shipping containers from the dock to warehouses are independents contracted by trucking companies, and they don’t get paid if there is nothing to haul. Some might leave the profession, said Weston LaBar, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association in Long Beach, California.

“It’s hard to retain drivers,” he said. “If we don’t have work for those drivers, we’re worried they will leave for some other segment of the trucking business or go into another business, like construction.”

Less shipping means less revenue for the ports — something that could limit their ability to pay for expansion and improvement projects, according to Kurt Nagle, president of the American Association of Port Authorities. He said U.S. ports are in the midst of a planned $155 billion in infrastructure spending from 2016 through 2020.

The current trade war was foreshadowed in January by steep U.S. tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines. It exploded with the U.S. tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum. Then came two rounds of duties targeting about $50 billion in imports from China — punishment against that country for pressuring U.S. companies to transfer technology and intellectual property to Chinese companies.

Along the way, China, the European Union, Turkey, Canada and Mexico imposed retaliatory duties on U.S. goods including farm products and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

This week, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office finished six days of hearings on a plan to hit another $200 billion in Chinese imports with 10 percent duties. Trump has said that if China continues to retaliate he could eventually add tariffs on $450 billion in Chinese goods, nearly 90 percent of that country’s 2017 exports to the U.S.

Trade wars are usually temporary. President George W. Bush abandoned his steel tariffs after less than two years.

Milwaukee’s port director worries, however, that damage from the current trade dispute could linger. Canada is increasing corn exports to Europe, and Brazil is trying to pick up the slack in soybean exports to China.

“Others are already picking up that business,” Schlicht said.

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Mourners Pay Final Respects to Aretha Franklin at Public Viewing

Thousands of mourners have come to pay their respects to music legend Aretha Franklin, who will be laid to rest Friday in Detroit, Michigan. A star-studded roster of performers and speakers are scheduled to attend. From Washington, VOA’s Jill Craig has more.

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Canada, US Push Toward NAFTA Deal by Friday

Top NAFTA negotiators from Canada and the United States increased the pace of their negotiations Thursday to resolve final differences to meet a Friday deadline, with their Mexican counterpart on standby to rejoin the talks soon.

Despite some contentious issues still on the table, the increasingly positive tone contrasted with U.S. President Donald Trump’s harsh criticism of Canada in recent weeks, raising hopes that the year-long talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement will conclude soon with a trilateral deal.

“Canada’s going to make a deal at some point. It may be by Friday or it may be within a period of time,” U.S. President Donald Trump told Bloomberg Television. “I think we’re close to a deal.”

Trilateral talks were already underway at the technical level and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo was expected to soon rejoin talks with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, possibly later on Thursday, people familiar with the process said.

Trump said in a Bloomberg interview: “Canada’s going to make a deal at some point. It may be by Friday or it may be within a period of time,” Trump said. “I think we’re close to a deal.”

Negotiations entered a crucial phase this week after the United States and Mexico announced a bilateral deal on Monday, paving the way for Canada to rejoin talks to modernize the 24-year-old accord that underpins over $1 trillion in annual trade.

The NAFTA deal that is taking shape would likely strengthen North America as a manufacturing base by making it more costly for automakers to import a large share of vehicle parts from outside the region. The automotive content provisions, the most contentious topic, could accelerate a shift of parts-making away from China.

A new chapter governing the digital economy, along with stronger intellectual property, labor and environmental standards could also work to the benefit of U.S. companies, helping Trump to fulfill his campaign promise of creating more American jobs.

Trump has set a Friday deadline for the three countries to reach an agreement, which would allow Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to sign it before he leaves office at the end of November. Under U.S. law, Trump must wait 90 days before signing the pact.

The U.S. president has warned he could try to proceed with a deal with Mexico alone and levy tariffs on Canadian-made cars if Ottawa does not come on board, although U.S. lawmakers have said ratifying a bilateral deal would not be easy.

Dairy, dispute settlement

One sticking point for Canada is the U.S. effort to dump the Chapter 19 dispute-resolution mechanism that hinders the United States from pursuing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases. Lighthizer said on Monday that Mexico had agreed to eliminate the mechanism.

Trump also wants a NAFTA deal that eliminates dairy tariffs of up to 300 percent that he argues are hurting U.S. farmers, an important political base for Republicans.

But any concessions to Washington by Ottawa is likely to upset Canadian dairy farmers, who have an outsized influence in Canadian politics, with their concentration in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

 “Ultimately, we’ve got huge issues that are still to be resolved,” said Jerry Dias, head of Canada’s influential Unifor labor union. “Either we’re going to be trading partners or we’re going to fight.”

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Microsoft to Contractors: Give New Parents Paid Leave

Microsoft will begin requiring its contractors to offer their U.S. employees paid leave to care for a new child.

It’s common for tech firms to offer generous family leave benefits for their own software engineers and other full-time staff, but paid leave advocates say it’s still rare to require similar benefits for contracted workers such as janitors, landscapers, cafeteria crews and software consultants.

“Given its size and its reach, this is a unique and hopefully trailblazing offering,” said Vicki Shabo, vice president at the National Partnership for Women and Families.

The details

The new policy affects businesses with at least 50 U.S.-based employees that do substantial work with Microsoft that involves access to its buildings or its computing network. It doesn’t affect suppliers of goods. Contractors would have to offer at least 12 weeks of leave to those working with the Redmond, Washington-based software giant; the policy wouldn’t affect the contractors’ arrangements with other companies. Leave-takers would get 66 percent of regular pay, up to $1,000 weekly.

The policy announced Thursday rolls out over the next year as the company amends its contracts with those vendors. That may mean some of Microsoft’s costs will rise to cover the new benefits, said Dev Stahlkopf, the company’s corporate vice president and general counsel.

“That’s just fine and we think it’s well worth the price,” she said.

Microsoft doesn’t disclose how many contracted workers it uses, but it’s in the thousands.

The new policy expands on Microsoft’s 2015 policy requiring contractors to offer paid sick days and vacation.

Facebook

Other companies such as Facebook have also committed to improve contractor benefits amid unionization efforts by shuttle drivers, security guards and other contract workers trying to get by in expensive, tech-fueled regions such as the San Francisco Bay Area and around Washington’s Puget Sound.

Facebook doesn’t guarantee that contract workers receive paid parental leave, but provides a $4,000 new child benefit for new parents who don’t get leave. A much smaller California tech company, SurveyMonkey, announced a paid family leave plan for its contract workers earlier this year.

Washington state law

Microsoft said its new policy is partially inspired by a Washington state law taking effect in 2020 guaranteeing eligible workers 12 weeks paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child. The state policy, signed into law last year, follows California and a handful of other states in allowing new parents to tap into a fund that all workers pay into. Washington will also require employers to help foot the bill, and will start collecting payroll deductions next January.

A federal paid parental leave plan proposed by President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, could rely on a similar model but has gained little traction.

“Compared to what employers are doing, the government is way behind the private sector,” said Isabel Sawhill, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who has urged the White House and Congress to adopt a national policy.

Sawhill said it is “very unusual and very notable” that Microsoft is extending family leave benefits to its contract workers. Microsoft already offers more generous family leave benefits to its own employees, including up to 20 weeks fully paid leave for a birth mother.

Pushing the feds

Microsoft’s push to spread its employee benefits to a broader workforce “sends a message that something has to happen more systematically at the federal level,” said Ariane Hegewisch, a program director for employment and earnings at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Until then, she said, it’s helpful that Microsoft seems willing to pay contracting firms more to guarantee their workers’ better benefits.

“Paid family leave is expensive and they acknowledge that,” Hegewisch said. Otherwise, she said, contractors with many employees of child-bearing age could find themselves at a competitive disadvantage to those with older workforces.

Republican state Sen. Joe Fain, the prime sponsor of the measure that passed last year, said Microsoft’s decision was “a really powerful step forward.”

By applying the plan to contractors and vendors around the country, “it really creates a pressure for those state legislatures to make a similar decision that Washington made.”

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Argentina Boosts Interest Rate to 60%; Peso Sinks

Argentina’s Central Bank on Thursday increased its benchmark interest rate to 60 percent — the world’s highest — in an effort to halt a sharp slide in the value of the peso, which plunged to a record low.

The peso fell more than 13 percent against the dollar, closing at an all-time low of 39.2 per greenback, after slipping about 7 percent the day before.

The Central Bank said in a statement that it was hiking its benchmark interest rate by 15 percentage points to 60 percent in response to the currency problems and the risk of greater impact on local inflation, which is already running at about 30 percent a year.

The tumult in the exchange market came a day after President Mauricio Macri said he was asking for an early release of some International Monetary Fund money under an $50 billion backup financing arrangement approved earlier.

Some experts said the announcement, combined with the interest rate hike, had the unintended effect of fueling the crisis of confidence.

“I think today’s interest hike announcement will do nothing but leave investors even more jittery,” said Monica de Bolle, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“I’m finding it difficult to understand why, after yesterday’s announcement about front-loading more of the IMF funding, the government thought the hike was warranted,” she said. “Hyperactivity starts to look like desperation.”

Macri has struggled to calm markets and bring confidence to Argentines who continue to lose purchasing power. Many are frustrated with layoffs, higher utility rates and a rise in poverty levels.

Many also have bad memories of the IMF and blame its free-market economic policies for contributing to the country’s worst crisis in 2001-02, when one of every five Argentines went unemployed and millions fell into poverty.

Seeing journalists filming screens showing the exchange rates in downtown Buenos Aires, Ruben Montiel, 55, burst out: “Macri is an embarrassment!”

“You can’t live like this. The prices of everything go up on a daily basis,” he said. “There’s no work, utility rates have gone through the roof … people are sleeping on the streets.”

Macri, a pro-business conservative who came into office in 2015, had promised to trim Argentina’s fiscal deficit, reduce poverty and curb inflation. He cut red tape and tried to reduce the government’s budget deficit by ordering layoffs and cutting utility subsidies, but it triggered labor unrest.

Then in December, officials announced a rise in the inflation target, which caused investors to begin doubting Macri’s commitment to taming price rises.

Meanwhile, the peso slumped against the dollar as rising U.S. interest rates lured investors to pull greenbacks out of Argentina.

That caused jitters among Argentines, who have been used to stashing away dollars as a cushion since the 2001 crisis, when banks froze deposits and put up sheet-metal barricades as thousands of protesters unsuccessfully tried to withdraw their savings. Dozens died in protests and looting in December 2001 as the economy unraveled and Argentina eventually suffered a record $100 billion debt default.

“The government will need to shuffle its cabinet and strike deals with provincial governors for next year’s budget,” said Argentine economist Marcos Buscaglia. “In the short-term, the government just needs to stop this crisis.”

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Trump Cancels Pay Raise Federal Workers Were Due in January

President Donald Trump informed Congress on Thursday that he was canceling pay raises due in January for most civilian federal employees, citing budget constraints. But the workers still could see a slightly smaller boost in their pay under a proposal lawmakers are considering.

Trump said he was axing a 2.1 percent across-the-board raise for most workers as well as locality pay increases averaging 25.7 percent and costing $25 billion.

“We must maintain efforts to put our nation on a fiscally sustainable course,” said Trump, who last year signed a package of tax cuts that is forecast to expand the deficit by about $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

Trump cited the “significant” cost of employing federal workers as justification for denying the pay increases, and called for federal worker pay to be based on performance and structured toward recruiting, retaining and rewarding “high-performing” workers and “those with critical skill sets.”

His announcement came as the country heads into the Labor Day holiday weekend.

Democrats sound off

The Democratic Party immediately criticized the announcement, citing the tax cuts Trump signed into law last December. The law provided steep tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, and more modest reductions for middle- and low-income individuals and families.

“Trump has delivered yet another slap in the face to American workers,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez.

Under the law, the 2.1 percent raise takes effect automatically unless the president and Congress act to change it. Congress is currently debating a proposal for a slightly lower, 1.9 percent across-the-board raise to be included in a government funding bill that would require Trump’s signature to keep most government functions operating past September.

Unions representing the 2 million-member federal workforce urged Congress to pass the 1.9 percent pay raise.

“President Trump’s plan to freeze wages for these patriotic workers next year ignores the fact that they are worse off today financially than they were at the start of the decade,” said J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 700,000 federal workers.

“They have already endured years of little to no increases and their paychecks cannot stretch any further as education, health care costs, gas and other goods continue to get more expensive,” added Tim Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

Cox said federal worker pay and benefits have been cut by more than $200 billion since 2011, and workers are currently earning 5 percent less than they did at the start of the decade.

Higher deficit estimates

In July, the Trump administration sharply revised upward its deficit estimates compared to the estimates in the budget proposal it sent Congress in February. The worsening deficit reflects the impact of the $1.5 trillion, 10-year tax cuts, as well as increased spending for the military and domestic programs that Congress approved earlier this year.

The administration’s July budget update projected a deficit of $890 million for the fiscal year that ends September 30, up from the February estimate of $873 billion. The $890 billion deficit projection represents a 34 percent increase from the $666 billion deficit the government recorded in 2017.

For 2019, the administration is projecting the deficit will again top $1 trillion and stay at that level for the next three years.

The only other period when the federal government ran deficits above $1 trillion was the four years from 2009 through 2012, when the government used tax cuts and increased spending to combat the 2008 fiscal crisis and the worst economic downturn since the 1930s.

Representative Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat who represents many federal workers, blamed what he said was Trump’s mismanagement of the federal government.

“His tax bill exploded the deficit, and now he is trying to balance the budget,” Connolly said.

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Fans Flock to Her Father’s Church to Salute Franklin

Before the world marks the end of Aretha Franklin’s life at her funeral Friday, fans gathered a day early to celebrate her in the place where her faith was forged and her voice was first discovered, singing signature gospel classics like Amazing Grace and Precious Lord.

The line for the public viewing at New Bethel Baptist Church stretched for more than a half mile Thursday afternoon. Fans wearing a variety of T-shirts bearing Franklin’s image mourned her loss with a smile. There were spontaneous bursts into song and cheers for the Queen of Soul as they waited to enter the sanctuary.

Shouts of “We love you!” “Ree Ree!” and “Let the Queen through!” could be heard as the white 1940s Cadillac hearse drove down Linwood Street and pulled up to the front of New Bethel. The crowd jockeyed to snap photographs and cellphone videos of Franklin’s bronze casket as it was taken into the church just before noon.

 

WATCH: Mourners Pay Final Respects to Aretha Franklin at Public Viewing

‘A lifelong fan’

“I had to be here,” said Joyce E. Stroud, who traveled from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to say goodbye to the icon she first met at a concert in California many years ago.

“I met Aretha when I was 23 years old in San Francisco at the Fillmore West when she did that historic three-day concert,” Stroud said. “That was the first time I was introduced to her and I’ve been a lifelong fan.”

Several dignitaries were also expected to pay their respects at Thursday’s viewing, which was opened to the public after the tremendous outpouring of support throughout the week. Thousands attended the two days of public viewings at The Wright Museum.

The sight would’ve been truly humbling, even for a diva, said Michael Eric Dyson, a friend of Franklin’s who attended the New Bethel viewing and will speak at her service.

“She would be deeply honored and appreciative of the fact that people, for three days, have poured out of every vestibule and crevice of this city and country to travel long miles to recognize her genius,” he said.

Linda Swanson, executive vice president of Swanson Funeral Home, echoed the sentiment. The funeral home, which has been in Detroit for 60 years, also handled the arrangements for Franklin’s father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin, who preached at New Bethel from 1946 to 1979.

“We, the Swanson family, also love the citizens of Detroit, and so it just swells our hearts with pride and joy to see the city turning out to honor this queen eternal,” she said.

Photos, roses

Inside New Bethel, the scene was reverent, with gospel music softly playing as a sea of ushers guided mourners into the red-carpeted inner sanctum, decorated with pictures of Franklin and more lavender and pink roses, which also surrounded her at the public viewing earlier this week at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

Ever the performer, Franklin gave viewers yet a third outfit change — this time, a sparkling rose gold gown. Matching earrings complimented short cropped curls, and the ensemble was completed with gold-sequined Christian Louboutin heels. She has also worn head-to-toe red in honor of her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, and baby blue.

Upon exiting the church, fans were able to write notes of support and condolence on posters taped to the wall.

The Swanson Funeral Home has declined to say what Franklin’s final outfit will be for Friday’s service, but it will almost certainly be different. The funeral is expected to begin at 10 a.m. at Greater Grace Temple and will last at least five hours.

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Sexually Transmitted Diseases Seeing Record Increases, CDC Says

The number of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States is hitting record highs, according to latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Nearly 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were diagnosed in 2017, says the CDC. This is the fourth year of increases in STDs and the figures broke 2016’s record by more than 200,000 cases.  

Chlamydia remained the most common condition reported to the CDC. More than 1.7 million cases were diagnosed in 2017, with 45 percent among 15- to 24-year-old females. 

Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis often go undiagnosed and untreated, leading to conditions including infertility, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth in infants, and increased HIV risk. 

“We are sliding backward,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, in a news release. “It is evident the systems that identify, treat and ultimately prevent STDs are strained to [a] near-breaking point.

“Diagnosed cases of gonorrhea increased 67 percent from 333,004 to 555,608 cases, and nearly doubled among men, from 169,130 cases to 322,169 in preliminary data for 2017. Diagnosed cases among women increased for the third year in a row from 197,499 to 232,587.

Syphilis diagnoses increased 76 percent, from 17,375 to 30,644 cases. Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men made up almost 70 percent of primary and secondary syphilis cases where the gender of the sex partner is known in 2017. Primary and secondary syphilis are the most infectious stages of the disease.

Researchers say the increases in STDs can be attributed to socioeconomic factors like poverty, stigma, discrimination, and drug use.

While most of the diseases are curable with antibiotics, gonorrhea continues to be resistant to nearly every class of antibiotics used to treat it, with the exception of ceftriaxone. 

In 2015, the drug azithromycin was added to treatment for gonorrhea to help delay resistance to ceftriaxone. New CDC findings show that emerging resistance to azithromycin is on the rise in laboratory testing.

“We expect gonorrhea will eventually wear down our last highly effective antibiotic, and additional treatment options are urgently needed,” said Gail Bolan, M.D., director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention in a press release. “We can’t let our defenses down — we must continue reinforcing efforts to rapidly detect and prevent resistance as long as possible.”

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Prince Harry, Wife Meghan Attend Hit Musical Hamilton in London

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan attended a performance of the hit musical Hamilton on Wednesday to raise money for a charity which works with children affected by HIV in southern Africa.

At the end of the show, Harry and the musical’s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda  addressed the audience, said a statement from Harry’s Kensington Palace residence.

Hamilton is an unconventional take on the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States, blending, hip-hop and rap, rhythm and blues and ballads.

The London production, housed in the refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre, is the show’s first foray outside of the United States after successful runs in Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles as well as Broadway in New York.

Harry married Hollywood actress Meghan Markle in May, at a royal wedding that included a gospel choir and other nods to her African American heritage.

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Cholera Outbreak Stirs Panic in Algeria

Algerian health authorities claim the situation is under control after a cholera epidemic in at least four provinces caused more than 60 confirmed cases of the disease, with several deaths reported.

Residents in a village of Tipaza province are drinking water from a spring government officials claim is infected with the cholera virus. But residents counter the spring is safe to drink from and that the government analysis is mistaken.

Cholera outbreaks have been confirmed in Tipaza, Blida, Algiers, and Bouira provinces.   More than 130 people have been hospitalized with suspected cases of cholera this month and more than 60 cases were confirmed.  At least three people have died, according to Algerian media.

Algeria’s health minister, Mokhtar Hazblawi, recently said health officials have been doing their best to keep on top of the situation.

He says since the disease surfaced, the health ministry has devised a strategy to control it and stop it from spreading.

Issam Eddin Bouyoucef of the El Hadi Flici Hospital Center, which treats infectious diseases in Algiers, told Al Hurra TV hundreds of people have come to the hospital fearing they were suffering from cholera.  

He said patients must be quarantined and the disease isolated. He stressed his hospital has set up a specialized isolated wing to treat patients while they recover, once the disease has been confirmed.

Bouyoucef said many people have been panicking, mistaking stomach ailments for cholera. Local media report consumers are buying up large quantities of mineral water.

An elderly resident of capital Algiers told Al Hurra TV he was afraid of the potentially deadly disease and thinks that a large number of people who live in his area have been sickened.

Physician Mohammed Gamary complained to a local TV station the media uncovered the cholera epidemic before the government did. He said doctors in Khazrouna, where the disease was first detected, should have sounded the alarm when they noticed the unusual number diarrhea cases.

Pharmacies in Algiers have been selling large quantities of salts to treat diarrhea, while many people have been avoiding fruit and vegetables, which they fear may be contaminated with the cholera virus.

 

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WHO: Africans Living Longer, Healthier Lives

The World Health Organization says Africans are living longer and healthier lives.  But the WHO warns that that millions on the continent still face the challenge of chronic diseases.  

News of the uptick came in Dakar this week where WHO representatives met with officials from 47 African countries.

Healthy life expectancy on the continent rose from 44.4 years at the turn of the century to 53.8 years in 2015. Overall life expectancy climbed from 50.8 years to 61.2.

 

Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, said that two factors were mostly responsible for the change.

 

“What produced this result is a huge increase in access to treatment [of] HIV-AIDS, and in the better prevention and management of malaria,” Moeti said.

But the WHO says the type of disease that most commonly affects Africans is also changing.  

While the number of deaths from diarrheal disease, respiratory infections, and HIV is falling, chronic conditions – such as cancer and heart disease – are claiming more lives.

Death rates from non-communicable diseases have remained steady since 2000 while the other top ten causes of mortality in Africa have fallen by 40 percent.

The WHO says health services in Africa have been slow to adapt to the new health challenges.

Humphrey Karamagi, sustainable development goal coordinator for the WHO, says the health needs of African youth are too often overlooked.

“The kind of health challenges that adolescents face are quite different from what we have been used to responding to – drug use, adolescent obesity and so on.”

Many African health officials and experts point to a lack of funding, but Stanley Okolo, head of the West African Health Organization, says that is overly simplistic.

“There is health, which is an issue in terms of investment and health funding. But there is also an issue in terms of health systems and how you can deliver better value for the money you have. And both have to be tackled simultaneously,” Okolo said.

African nations spend an average 40 percent of their health budgets on medical products, while barely a fifth goes to medical staff and infrastructure.

Health officials from Kenya, Nigeria and Cabo Verde say they are responding to the rise in non-communicable diseases by focusing on prevention and promoting healthy lifestyles.

 

 

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Netflix, Amazon Hope to Woo India with Local Stars, Stories

As entertainment giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime woo Indian audiences, they are investing millions of dollars in making films and serials locally. And for Bollywood, one of the world’s most glitzy movie industries, the entry of video streaming services with deep pockets has opened new opportunities.

“When a Bollywood film releases, I have access to audiences in metro cities like Mumbai and Delhi for just a few weeks. On Netflix, my film could reach global audiences,” said Dibakar Banerjee, Mumbai-based filmmaker. Banerjee is one of the four top Bollywood directors who produced “Lust Stories,” a collection of four short films for the video streaming platform this year.

Besides a handful of films like Lust Stories, Netflix has released two original series in the Hindi language in a blaze of publicity. Massive billboards in India’s big cities announced last week the release of Ghoul a horror show with a supernatural twist. An action-packed thriller, Sacred Games set in the Mumbai underworld, starring top Bollywood star Saif Ali Khan, released in July.

Netflix presence known

Since launching in India in 2016, Netflix has been making its presence felt in Indian homes with popular American shows. But as it eyes a market that will have more than half a billion smartphone and Internet users by 2020, it is focusing on producing local content. Even in movie-crazy India, a massive drop in data costs is expected to turn the web into the prime platform for entertainment.

“We have witnessed a huge appetite for entertainment,” said Jessica Lee, Netflix’s vice president for communications-Asia. “Our content investment in India has scaled at a very fast pace, in fact one of the fastest we have ever made in any country launched.”

Amazon, whose subscription is much more affordable than Netflix, has also released several original Indian series, such as a drama about professional cricket and stand-up comedy specials.

Local competition

The American giants are up against stiff competition. For example, the subscriber base of Netflix in India trails local video services that are cheaper and have already made inroads. Hotstar, which offers sports, entertainment and movie channels, dominates India’s streaming landscape. Established Indian TV companies are investing their own money in online platforms.

But in a country where television is dominated by soap operas, analysts say Netflix hopes to offer higher quality content to win over the urban elite that can fork out $8 for the cheapest monthly subscription and has already shown an appetite for tuning into popular American shows like Stranger Things and 13 Reasons Why.

“They are mainly riding on the fact that they will be producing original content of a quality and genre, which possibly will not be available on the other platforms,” said Frank D’Souza, a media and entertainment analyst at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Mumbai.

Thirst for varied entertainment

That is where shows such as Sacred Games with a splash of big Bollywood names are likely to play a key role, after all, Bollywood has always been king of entertainment in India. It has been noticed: The Economist said the show announces the arrival of prestige television in the country.

In a young country thirsty for more varied entertainment, bolder shows could also be the key to winning viewers, entertainment analysts say.

D’Souza points to an advantage video streaming services enjoy: India censors movies and television but does not censor Internet content. 

“It gives them the ability to push the envelope a bit in terms of what is the kind of content that they can create and that too in the local language,” D’Souza said.

That is also a bonus for Indian filmmakers and storytellers, who always had to keep an eye on the country’s sometimes heavy-handed censor board. In the short films, Lust Stories for example, all four filmmakers focused on women and their desires, a subject that has remained largely unexplored in a country where conventional romances have been the staple fare. Scenes of sex and gruesome bloodshed in Sacred Games are not the stuff of India’s usual television shows.

For Indian artists, the entry of Netflix and Amazon has widened the canvas for storytelling and tapping a global audience, says director Banerjee, who is hugely optimistic about the potential of video streaming services. 

“It is exciting. It is giving a new platform to filmmakers,” he said. “People have been ringing me from other countries after watching Lust Stories.”

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