Rio De Janeiro, Aug 22 (AP/UNB) — As fires raged in the Amazon rainforest, the Brazilian government on Thursday denounced international critics who say President Jair Bolsonaro is not doing enough to curb massive deforestation.
The growing threat to what some call "the lungs of the planet" has ignited a bitter dispute about who is to blame during the tenure of a leader who described Brazil's rainforest protections as an obstacle to economic development.
The president's defiance came as its own federal experts reported a record number of wildfires across the country this year, up 84 percent over the same period in 2018. Satellite images show smoke from the Amazon reaching across the Latin American continent to the Atlantic coast and Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest city, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
On Thursday, Bolsonaro said there was a "very strong" indication that some non-governmental groups could be setting blazes in retaliation for losing state funds under his administration. He did not provide any evidence.
Bolsonaro, who won election last year, also accused media organizations of exploiting the fires to undermine his government.
"Most of the media wants Brazil to end up like Venezuela," he said, referring to political and economic turbulence in the neighboring South American country.
London-based Amnesty International blamed the Brazilian government for the fires, which have escalated international concern over the vast rainforest that is a major absorber of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The rights group this year documented illegal land invasions and arson attacks near indigenous territories in the Amazon, including Rondonia state, where many fires are raging, said Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty's secretary general.
"Instead of spreading outrageous lies or denying the scale of deforestation taking place, we urge the president to take immediate action to halt the progress of these fires," Naidoo said.
The WWF conservation group also challenged Bolsonaro's allegations about NGOs, saying they divert "the focus of attention from what really matters: the well-being of nature and the people of the Amazon."
Brazil contains about 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest, whose degradation could have severe consequences for global climate and rainfall. Bolsonaro, who has said he wants to convert land for cattle pastures and soybean farms, won office after channeling outrage over the corruption scandals of the former government.
Citing Brazil's apparent lack of commitment to fighting deforestation, Germany and Norway have decided to withhold more than $60 million in funds earmarked for sustainability projects in Brazil's forests.
Filipe Martins, an adviser to Bolsonaro, said on Twitter that the Brazilian government is committed to fighting illegal deforestation and that many other countries are causing environmental damage.
The Amazon will be saved by Brazil and not "the empty, hysterical and misleading rhetoric of the mainstream media, transnational bureaucrats and NGOs," Martins said.
Panama City, Aug 22 (AP/UNB) — The U.S. acting homeland security secretary is meeting with officials of Central America and Colombia to discuss fighting drug trafficking and migrant smuggling.
Kevin McAleenan described Thursday's meeting as "one of the most important engagements we have on security collaboration in the region."
McAleenan called for "concrete international actions, investigations and interdictions."
Panama has been the bridge for migrants from Haiti, Africa and Asia who enter South America seeking to reach the U.S. border. Panama is also a route for cocaine moving up from South America.
Panama's minister of security said, "We have to put a stop to it."
Rolando Mirones said, "We do not want those people to come through here ... because allowing these people to come through here is sponsoring people who are criminals."
Salt Lake City, Aug 22 (AP/UNB) — Planned Parenthood clinics in several states are charging new fees, tapping financial reserves, intensifying fundraising and warning of more unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases after its decision to quit a $260 million federal family planning program in an abortion dispute with the Trump administration.
The fallout is especially intense in Utah, where Planned Parenthood has been the only provider participating in the nearly 50-year-old Title X family planning program and will now lose about $2 million yearly in federal funds that helped 39,000 mostly low-income, uninsured people. It plans to maintain its services — which include contraception, STD testing and cancer screening — but is considering charging a small copay for patients who used to get care for free.
Planned Parenthood in Minnesota is in a similar situation, serving about 90% of the state's Title X patients, and plans to start charging fees due to the loss of $2.6 million in annual funding.
The organization is concerned about the spread of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
"We believe there will be a public health crisis created by this denial of care," said Sarah Stoesz, the Minnesota-based president of Planned Parenthood North Central States. "It's a very sad day for the country."
Planned Parenthood and several other providers withdrew from the program earlier this week rather than comply with a newly implemented rule prohibiting participating clinics from referring women for abortions.
Anti-abortion activists who form a key part of President Donald Trump's base have been campaigning to "defund Planned Parenthood." Among its varied services it is a major abortion provider, and the activists viewed the grants as an indirect subsidy.
About 4 million women are served nationwide by the Title X program, which makes up a much bigger portion of Planned Parenthood's patients than abortion. But the organization said it could not abide by the abortion-referral rules because it says they would make it impossible for doctors to do their jobs.
Misty Dotson, a single mother in Utah, started going to Planned Parenthood as doctors' bills for treating recurring yeast infections mounted. The services became even more important when she gave up her employer-sponsored health insurance because she couldn't afford the $500 monthly bill.
She is unsure what she'd do if the family planning services she gets stop.
"It would put me in a very dangerous position," said Dotson, who works as an executive assistant for an accounting and consulting firm. "It covers so many things: STD testing, emergency contraception, birth control, lifesaving cancer screenings ... you name it, they have treated me for it."
Planned Parenthood said it's dedicated to maintaining its current services in Utah, but CEO Karrie Galloway acknowledged it won't be easy and could cause some "pain on all sides."
She said the organization plans to lean heavily on donors to make up the funding gap while staff members assess how they'll cope. Among the possibilities are instituting copays of $10-$15 per visit, shortening hours and trimming spending. She doesn't plan to lay off staff, but said she may not be able to fill jobs when people leave or retire.
Minnesota is planning fees as well.
"We'll continue to offer all services, and keep clinic doors open, but we'll be charging patients on a sliding scale who we didn't charge before," Stoesz said. "Vulnerable people who previously were able to access birth control and STD testing for free will no longer be able to do so."
Elsewhere, the impact of Planned Parenthood's withdrawal will vary from state to state.
In the Deep South there will be little impact because Planned Parenthood did not provide Title X services in most of the region's states. Governments in some Democratic-controlled states, including Hawaii, Illinois, New York and Vermont, say they will try to replace at least some of the lost federal funding.
In Washington state, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee — fresh from quitting the presidential campaign — vowed to join that group of states. His administration is pulling Washington out of Title X because of the new rule and will ask the Legislature to make up for the $4 million in federal funding that will be lost.
"We will not comply with their dangerous, unconstitutional, illegal rules," Inslee said Thursday. "We will make sure this health care continues."
The chief operating officer for Planned Parenthood of the Greater Northwest and Hawaiian Islands, Rebecca Gibron, said Southern Idaho could be hit hard by the changes, with other health care providers in the area saying they can't fill the gap if the roughly 1,000 low-income women served by Planned Parenthood in Twin Falls are no longer able to receive care.
"This was not money that can simply be made up by raising dollars from donors," Gibron said. "We have rent to pay, we have staff salaries ... there are limits to what we are able to do in terms of providing free care without the Title X program."
Among other providers withdrawing from Title X is Maine Family Planning, which oversees a network that serves about 23,000 patients per year and will be losing $1.8 million in annual funding. Its CEO, George Hill, said the organization will rely on reserves and intensify fundraising efforts to bridge the gap while seeking more aid from the state.
In anticipation of the changes, Democrats in neighboring New Hampshire added about $3.2 million in the state budget they passed earlier this year to make up for the federal funding. But that's on hold after Republican Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed the budget in June for other reasons.
Planned Parenthood will continue to participate in Medicaid, the federal health-coverage program for low-income Americans. That's Planned Parenthood's biggest source of government funding — about $400 million or more annually in recent years. The Republican-controlled legislatures in Texas, Iowa and Missouri have taken steps to block that flow of funds in their states.
Maryann Martindale, executive director of the Utah Academy of Family Physicians, said most Title X clients earn slightly too much money to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford employer-based or private health insurance.
Olympia, Aug 22 (AP/UNB) — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who has ended his climate change-focused 2020 presidential bid, is set to announce Thursday that he'll seek a third term as governor.
Two people close to Inslee told The Associated Press that Inslee planned to make the announcement in an email to supporters. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the announcement publicly.
Inslee, who made fighting climate change the central theme of his presidential campaign, announced Wednesday night that he was ending his campaign after nearly six months.
Inslee said that he was confident that Democrats would select a nominee who would champion climate change issues but that it had become clear that he wouldn't be the person selected. Inslee said he was not endorsing anyone but would support whoever is the nominee.
"I believe we're going to have a candidate to fight this battle," he said on MSNBC. "I'm inspired by the people I've met across the country. I'm not going to carry the ball but we're going to make sure somebody is."
Inslee, who had previously been scheduled to visit New Hampshire on Thursday, will now be back in Washington state for a morning news conference at Planned Parenthood in Seattle regarding the Title X family planning program.
While the filing deadline for the state's 2020 elections isn't until next May, three Democrats had already signaled they would run for governor, but only if Inslee didn't: Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and King County Executive Dow Constantine. The political dominos continued with Democratic candidates lining up to run for attorney general and lands commissioner if Ferguson and Franz end up not seeking reelection to their posts.
Franz said Wednesday night that she's not disappointed that she won't be entering the governor's race, saying that she loved her current job and has "a lot of work to do."
State Republican Party Chairman Caleb Heimlich said that he thinks Inslee could be vulnerable in a reelection bid.
"Getting elected to a third term is a tough task," he said. "And doing so on the heels of a failed presidential campaign where you sent a message to voters that you want a different job, that doesn't sit very well."
A few Republicans have already announced plans to run for governor, including Phil Fortunato, a state senator, and Loren Culp, the police chief of Republic, in eastern Washington. A Republican has not occupied the governor's office in more than three decades.
Governors in Washington state aren't subject to term limits, though most haven't served more than two terms. The last three-term governor in Washington was Republican Gov. Dan Evans, who served from 1965 until 1977.
Inslee, 68, became the third Democrat to end his presidential bid after U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California pulled out of the primary last month, followed by former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper last week.
While Inslee had qualified for the first two presidential debates this summer, he struggled to gain traction in the crowded Democratic field and was falling short of the requirements needed to appear on two high-profile stages next month: the third DNC debate in Houston and a CNN town hall focused on climate change, Inslee's key issue.
He had recently hit one of the markers — 130,000 unique donors. But he had yet to reach 2% in any poll and would have needed to hit that level of support in four qualifying polls.
Inslee is a former congressman and served as Democratic Governors Association chairman in 2018, when the party flipped seven Republican-held gubernatorial seats. He kicked off his campaign in March in Seattle, standing in front of a blue-and-green campaign logo with an arc of the Earth, declaring climate change the nation's most pressing issue.
Inslee was a champion for the clean energy industry in Congress and wrote a book on the topic. And he's pushed for state policies to curb greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming. On the day he announced his presidential bid, the state Senate passed a key piece of his legislative climate agenda, a measure that seeks to eliminate fossil fuels like natural gas and coal from the state's electricity supply by 2045. The measure was later passed by the House and signed by Inslee in May.
In addition to pushing for a dedicated debate on climate change, Inslee's campaign has been rolling out climate proposals, including calling for the nation's entire electrical grid and all new vehicles and buildings to be carbon pollution free by 2030. He's also proposed a clean break between the federal government and the fossil fuel industry, ending tax breaks for oil companies and banning all drilling and extraction on federal lands and beneath federal waters.
Inslee released his sixth and final climate proposal, a plan focused on agriculture and farmers, hours before he announced he was dropping out of the race.
In a video released Tuesday on Twitter, Inslee thanked supporters for helping him pass the 130,000 individual donor mark.
"Together we have put the climate crisis front and center in the 2020 race," he said. "And thanks to you, every candidate knows they have to have a robust plan to defeat the climate crisis."
Hong Kong, Aug 22 (AP/UNB) — Hong Kong riot police faced off briefly with protesters occupying a suburban train station Wednesday evening following a commemoration of a violent attack there by masked assailants against supporters of the anti-government movement.
Near the end of the event, the police began what they called a "dispersal operation, using minimum force" after some protesters blocked roads and flashed laser pointers at officers.
Police with riot shields faced off at the station entrance against a group of remaining protesters, who sprayed a firehose and spread soap on the floor to slow a police approach, while piling up trash bins, a wheelchair and umbrellas in a makeshift blockade.
They also discharged fire extinguishers, creating a cloud obscuring visibility. The station's entrance shutters were lowered, barricading the protesters inside.
The confrontation ended without further incident, as police retreated and protesters left on trains.
The black-clad protesters flooded earlier into Yuen Long station to commemorate the July 21 rampage by a group of men suspected of organized crime links, in what was a shocking escalation of the city's summer of protest.
The protesters observed a moment of silence, then covered their right eyes, a reference to a woman who reportedly suffered a severe eye injury from a police projectile.
Many sat on the station floor, while others walked slowly around the concourse in a protest march.
Chanting "Liberate Hong Kong" and "Revolution of our times," they also drew attention to what they say is the lack of progress by police in investigating the attack, which left both protesters and bystanders injured. Protesters have accused the police of colluding with the attackers by delaying their response, but authorities have denied it.
Police say they have arrested 28 people in connection with the attack but haven't charged anyone yet. They say some of those arrested have triad links, referring to organized crime syndicates.
The anti-government protests began more than two months ago and have spiraled into a political crisis, with supporters demanding full democracy and an investigation into alleged police brutality.
The Yuen Long attack came after a massive protest was winding down in July. The assailants, all clad in white in contrast to the protesters' black, swung wooden poles and steel rods, injuring 45 people.
Also Wednesday, China said a staffer at the British consulate in Hong Kong has been given 15 days of administrative detention in the neighboring mainland city of Shenzhen for violating regulations on public order.
The case is stoking fears that Beijing is extending its judicial reach to semi-autonomous Hong Kong.
"The relevant employee is a Hong Kong resident, not a British citizen," so the case is "purely the internal affairs of China," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily briefing.
A small group of supporters gathered outside the British consulate to demand the U.K. government step up efforts to secure the release of the man, Simon Cheng Man-kit, chanting "Save Simon now!"
Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China brooked no foreign interference in Hong Kong but understood foreign countries' concerns about the safety of their citizens and investments and was determined to maintain the territory's stability and prosperity under the "one country, two systems" framework, which gives Hong Kong wide autonomy.
"We believe the government of the special administrative region can maintain (foreign nationals') proper legal rights. All sides should understand and support the special region government in stemming violence and chaos using the law and take an objective and fair stance on this," Wang said, according to a statement on the ministry's website.