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WTO Ruling on Meat Labels Shows Free Trade Pacts Can Trump Safety Rules

HeadlineMay 19, 2015

In a blow to consumer advocates, the World Trade Organization has struck down U.S. labels on meat products indicating where an animal was raised and slaughtered, saying they put Canadian and Mexican products at a disadvantage. The case was brought by Canada and Mexico alleging violations of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. The ruling validates the concerns of critics of another free trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, who say it would undermine food safety rules to benefit corporations. In a statement, Food and Water Watch said the ruling "proves that trade agreements can and do trump U.S. laws. This is a chilling reminder that our very democracy is at stake in these trade deals," they said. Last week the Senate advanced a bill to give Obama fast-track authority to present the secretive TPP to Congress for an up-or-down vote with no amendments. But Obama faces opposition from fellow Democrats, including Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who issued a report Monday highlighting how the United States has broken its promises to enforce labor standards in past trade pacts, allowing child labor and violence against union organizers to continue abroad. Meanwhile, another spat has shown how free trade pacts may undermine U.S. financial regulations. Canada’s finance minister has alleged the Volcker Rule restricting U.S. banks trading foreign debt violates NAFTA, and has demanded an exemption for Canada.

More Headlines fromMay 19, 2015

U.S. Vows to Help Iraqis Retake Ramadi from ISIL

May 19, 2015

The self-proclaimed Islamic State has reportedly solidified its hold on the key Iraqi city of Ramadi after capturing it from Iraqi forces on Sunday. There were reports of militants throwing bodies into the Euphrates River. Meanwhile, thousands of Iranian-aligned Shiite militia fighters are reportedly gathering east of Ramadi in a bid to help retake the city, as the United States has launched airstrikes. State Department spokesperson Jeff Rathke acknowledged the loss of Ramadi was a setback, but pledged continued U.S. support.

Jeff Rathke: "We’ve always known that the fight would be long and difficult, especially in Anbar province. And so there’s no denying that this is a setback, but there’s also no denying that the United States will help the Iraqis take back Ramadi. As of today, we are supporting the Iraqi security forces and the government of Iraq with precision airstrikes and advice to the Iraqi forces. Our aircraft are in the air searching for ISIL targets, and they will continue to do so until Ramadi is retaken."

Report: Boko Haram Rapes Hundreds in Nigeria

May 19, 2015

The militant group Boko Haram has reportedly raped hundreds of women and girls in Nigeria as part of a deliberate strategy to assert control over rural areas. The New York Times reports the women described being locked in houses by the dozens and raped by militants, who sometimes seek to intentionally impregnate them.

Colombia: 62 Killed as Landslide Engulfs Town

May 19, 2015

In northwest Colombia, heavy rains have triggered a massive landslide which killed at least 62 people. Many residents were sleeping when the landslide engulfed the municipality of Salgar, reportedly sweeping away nearly the entire town of Santa Margarita.

Guatemala: Protesters Call for President to Resign over Corruption Ring

May 19, 2015

Guatemalan protesters are calling for President Otto Pérez Molina to resign amidst a corruption scandal which has forced the resignation of his vice president and seen tens of thousands take to the streets. Last month, authorities issued arrest warrants for 22 people accused of taking part in a criminal network which took bribes in exchange for lower customs taxes. Those arrested included the current and former heads of the tax administration, and the private secretary of Vice President Roxana Baldetti, who subsequently resigned. On Saturday, an estimated 60,000 people took to the streets in cities across the country to call for President Pérez Molina to step down.

New Ukrainian Law Honors Nationalist Groups That Aided Nazis

May 19, 2015

Ukraine has vowed to prosecute two men it accuses of being elite Russian soldiers captured in country’s restive east. Russia has claimed the men are no longer active soldiers. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has signed new legislation praising Ukrainian nationalist groups with links to the Nazi Holocaust as freedom fighters. The new law honors a number of groups which aided the Nazis, including the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which is also accused of murdering up to 100,000 Polish civilians during World War II. On Monday, the United States signed a second $1 billion loan guarantee to help Ukraine fight Russian-backed rebels and boost its economy.

Obama Bans Certain Military Gear to Police Departments

May 19, 2015

President Obama has unveiled an executive order restricting the federal provision of military equipment to local police departments. The new measure bars police from receiving weaponized aircraft, grenade launchers and armored vehicles which run on tracked wheels. But departments can still obtain gear like riot shields and tank-like mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, or MRAPs, if they give additional justification. Speaking in Camden, New Jersey, Obama said the rules would rebuild trust between communities and police.

President Obama: "Today, we’re also releasing new policies on the military-style equipment that the federal government has in the past provided to state and local law enforcement agencies. You know, we’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people the feeling like there’s an occupying force as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them, can alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message. So we’re going to prohibit some equipment made for the battlefield that is not appropriate for local police departments."

170 Charged After Biker Gang Shooting in Texas

May 19, 2015

Authorities in Texas have charged 170 members of rival motorcycle gangs with engaging in organized crime following a shootout which left nine people dead. Waco Police Sergeant W. Patrick Swanton said biker groups made threats against law enforcement "throughout the night" after the shooting.

Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton: "At last count, we have 170 individuals that we have arrested and are booking or have been booked into the McLennan County Jail. Those individuals are being charged with engaging in organized crime in reference to the shooting at Twin Peaks, which is a capital murder. It’s a capital murder because of the number of victims that were killed in one episode here."

Video: No Indictment for Texas Cop Who Killed Unarmed Mexican Man

May 19, 2015

A grand jury in Texas has declined to indict a Grapevine police officer for fatally shooting an unarmed Mexican man on the side of the highway during a traffic stop in February. On Monday, police released dashboard camera video showing Rubén García Villalpando, a father of four, obeying Officer Robert Clark’s instructions to keep his hands in the air, as Clark holds him at gunpoint and screams profanity at him. García wanders toward the officer with his hands still on top of his head and disappears from the frame, just seconds before Clark opens fire. Grapevine police released a version of the footage narrated by Police Chief Eddie Salame, who attempts to justify the shooting.

Eddie Salame: "We’ve also heard suggestions that Mr. Villalpando was not a threat because at times his hands are raised. But it would only take seconds for him to change the position of his hands if he comes close enough to attack the officer. Between the time Mr. Villalpando begins walking toward Officer Clark and the time Officer Clark utilizes deadly force, Mr. Villalpando had been told more than 20 times to stop approaching the officer. Officer Clark does not fire his weapon until Mr. Villalpando is close enough that he could physically attack him or try to obtain his weapon."

But police have never claimed García Villalpando reached for Officer Clark’s weapon or attacked him. An autopsy showed García was drunk. He did not have a gun. García was one of three unarmed Mexican citizens killed by police in the United States over a period of less than a month.

Miami Beach Police Sent Hundreds of Racist, Sexist Emails

May 19, 2015

In Florida, Miami Beach police have issued new policies after acknowledging 16 officers sent more than 200 racist, sexist, homophobic and pornographic emails, which may have jeopardized dozens of cases. The emails include an image of a gameboard labeled "Black Monopoly," where every square reads "Go to Jail," and a photo of a bruised woman with the caption "Domestic violence. Because sometimes, you have to tell her more than once." Two of those involved were high-ranking officials; one has retired, the second was fired. A new policy requires police to report email misuse by fellow officers.

Seattle Protesters Blockade Terminal Housing Shell Oil Rig

May 19, 2015

In Seattle, Washington, protesters have continued their campaign against Shell’s plans to drill for oil in the remote and pristine Arctic this summer. About 200 people gathered at the Port of Seattle to block the entrance to a terminal where Shell has docked its massive Arctic-bound Polar Pioneer drill rig.

Texas Blocks Cities and Towns from Banning Fracking

May 19, 2015

And Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott has signed a new measure preventing cities and towns from banning the oil and gas drilling technique known as fracking. The measure also limits the ability of local communities to control where fracking takes place. It comes in response to a voter-approved ban on fracking in the city of Denton, where residents expressed environmental and health concerns about gas exploration within a few hundred feet of homes. Similar industry-backed bids to curb local control over fracking have appeared in other states.

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