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Coronavirus: Church leaders call for wearing of face coverings

A sign directing people located inside a church

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Church leaders ask worshipers to wear face coverings

The leaders of NI’s four main Christian churches have asked parishioners to wear face coverings during services.

The heads of the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church, Catholic and Presbyterian Churches said it was their responsibility “to ensure that our services of worship are safe places”.

The move comes following consultations with health authorities.

The statement said face coverings should be used alongside two-metre social distancing.

“We join with Christian church leaders all over this island in formally recommending and encouraging the use of face coverings at all services of worship, along with the ongoing maintenance of two-metre physical distancing, from Sunday 30th August 2020, and earlier if practicable,” the statement said.

“It has become increasingly clear that the wearing of face coverings, in conjunction with hand washing etc… is likely to reduce the spread of coronavirus, thus helping to protect others.

“Their use is therefore one way in which we can evidence protection for the most vulnerable, support for our health workers, and practical love for our neighbours.”

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OPEC-Shale Peace Prospects Crumble Hours After Historic Call

(Bloomberg) — Just hours after one of the most powerful officials in the biggest U.S. oil state was invited to OPEC’s inner sanctum in June, propspects for a rapprochement between two historically antagonistic crude powers began to unravel.

Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton said Friday he was invited by OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo to attend the group’s summer meeting in Vienna. But even as the surprise announcement reverberated across U.S. and international petroleum circles, Sitton’s proposal to curb Texas crude output for the first time since the 1970s was criticized by fellow regulators.

“While I am open to any and all ideas to protect the Texas Miracle, as a free-market conservative I have a number of reservations about this approach,” Wayne Christian, chairman of the Texas commission that oversees the oil industry, said in a statement. If Texas cuts supply, “there is no guarantee other nations, or even states will follow suit.”

Sitton, an entrepreneur and Republican Party activist virtually unknown outside the Lone Star state, proposed Texas would curb oil output by 10% in exchange for an equivalent gesture by the cartel that controls more than one-third of global production.

Stability Quest

The third commissioner, Christi Craddick, also expressed doubts about capping production, according to a person with direct of knowledge of the situation

Sitton’s outreach came at the end of a brutal two-week stretch in which international crude lost almost half its value, triggering layoffs, cash crunches and the steepest dive in Permian Basin oil drilling in more than three years. The demand-sapping spread of coronavirus was compounded with the unraveling of the Saudi-Russia supply compact on March 6.

“We all agree an international deal must get done to ensure economic stability as we recover from Covid-19,” Sitton said in a tweet after his conversation with Barkindo.

Although Sitton’s proposal appears to face an uphill battle, the potential consequences of an OPEC-Texas agreement would be hard to overstate. The cartel’s primacy over world crude markets is unrivaled; Texas pumps more than 40% of U.S. oil and as a standalone entity gushes more than every member of the cartel except mighty Saudi Arabia.

Such a tie-up would also confront Russian President Vladimir Putin with a formidable and heretofore unimaginable foe in using petroleum as a geopolitical weapon.

As it stands, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and U.S. shale producers are caught in the middle of a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, which has helped to drive crude prices to an 18-year low.

‘Total Meltdown’

U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told Fox Business he’s aware of the Texas proposal, but he said his agency isn’t “not part of that conversation.”

“There are state laws that are available to Governors, state regulators if you will, to manage production within the states,” he said.

Sitton wrote in a Bloomberg Opinion piece on Friday that the federal government could coordinate output cuts with Saudi Arabia and Russia to calm the market.

Riyadh and Moscow have been locked in a bare-knuckle fight for market share for three weeks after they failed to agree on a response to the oil-demand crash, and dissolved a partnership that had coordinated oil supplies for three years.

In addition to his philosophical objections, Christian cited the state agency’s lack of experience in throttling back output by thousands of independent companies. “Our IT capabilities to handle this process are limited at best,” he said.

It wouldn’t be the first time Sitton has split with his fellow commissioners. Last year, Craddick nominated Christian to serve as chairman, even though tradition dictated that Sitton would lead the agency as he ended his six-year term.

In a shocking upset earlier this month, Sitton lost the Republican primary election to Jim Wright, a rancher and chief executive of an oilfield-service company. Two Dallas lawyers, Chrysta Castañeda and Roberto Alonzo, will compete in a May runoff for the Democratic nomination to challenge Wright. No Democrat has won election to the commission in more than 25 years.

‘Uniquely Catastrophic’

OPEC officials have often said that U.S. shale drillers, the biggest contributors to the oil surplus that has emerged this decade, should help shoulder the burden of rebalancing the market. With depressed prices forcing a flurry of job cuts, they may now be willing to join in.

Permian oil explorer Parsley Energy Inc. said the industry needs a coordinated approach, and railroad commission caps on state oil output could be one part of the solution. “This is a uniquely catastrophic time for the industry, and as such we need to think outside of our normal course of action,” Chief Executive Officer Matt Gallagher said Friday in an email.

But American Petroleum Institute Senior Vice President Frank Macchiarola blasted the proposal as “shortsighted” and “anti-competitive” efforts that will “harm U.S. consumers and American businesses.”

“It seems totally irrational that the solution to the disruptive behavior of Saudi Arabia and Russia would be to imitate OPEC,” Macchiarola said in a phone interview.

(Updates with Texas regulator’s objections starting in 13th paragraph)

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©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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Residents call on B.C. government to overhaul dangerous road to Sasquatch Mountain Resort

People who live near Sasquatch Mountain Resort are calling on the B.C. government to overhaul the road where a landslide trapped hundreds of people at the top of the mountain for days.

The landslide that came down Friday night after days of heavy rain tore out a section of Hemlock Valley Road, which is the only route up and down the mountain.

No one was injured, but up to 500 people were forced to spend multiple nights at the resort until helicopters brought several of them down over the weekend. A pilot vehicle escorted the rest of the guests out through the road this week.

People stranded at Sasquatch Mountain escorted safely out of resort area

But residents who live in the community near the resort say it’s only a matter of time before another road failure leads to injury or even death.

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“There’s potholes, there’s extreme weather [on the road], in the past 18 months there’s been a lot of logging activity, too,” said Christine Nielsen, whose family owns a cabin in the area. “All of that has contributed to the washout.

“You know, best case scenario, maybe you blow a tire because you hit a pothole. Worst case scenario, you’re killed.”

Hundreds stranded on Sasquatch Mtn. finally home.

Hundreds stranded on Sasquatch Mtn. finally home.

Nielsen says while her family has only recently moved into the area, she’s talked to longtime residents whose concerns about the road go back 20 to 30 years.

“I have friends here that went up as children and are like, ‘I remember driving that road and I was always so terrified,’” she said. “And, you know, here we are. They come up and they visit us 20 years later.”

Power restored, supply chain started for people trapped at Sasquatch Mountain Resort

The Ministry of Transportation estimated Saturday it would take five to six days to reopen the road to alternating single-lane traffic as crews clear the landslide and repair the washed-out section. The road was still closed Wednesday night.

It’s not yet clear how extensive the repairs will be beyond simply making it passable. The ministry says it is meeting with stakeholders to determine next steps.

Hundreds airlifted off B.C. mountain​ resort after landslide

Hundreds airlifted off B.C. mountain​ resort after landslide

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said until the next phase of action is announced, the priority is getting the road reopened.

“Obviously an assessment needs to take place on exactly the state of the road, and what needs to be done to fix it,” Farnworth said.

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But Nielsen says that’s not good enough. Her husband has started a petition calling on the province to improve the road beyond its previous condition, accusing the government of letting it “deteriorate to a state where a catastrophe like this was inevitable.”

Hundreds trapped on Sasquatch Mountain Resort after landslide cuts off road access

As of late Wednesday night, the petition had gained over 2,000 signatures, closing in on its goal of 2,500.

Nielsen says with Sasquatch planning a massive expansion — one the province says will be the foundation of a revenue-sharing agreement with the local Sts’ailes First Nation — it’s up to the government to ensure the expected increase in tourists and residents have a safe road to travel on.

“The resort is going to get a lot more attention and people coming up there, but who’s going to come up there when you know the road is in the state that it’s in?” she asked.

“Sometimes we feel like it’s going to take like a tragedy or someone getting hurt or even killed to actually get the government to step up and fix the road.”

—With files from Aaron McArthur

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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U.S. House Democrats call for $760 billion in infrastructure spending over five years

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Democrats on Wednesday will unveil a proposed $760 billion infrastructure spending bill over five years that aims to rebuild sagging roads and bridges and reduce carbon pollution.

FILE PHOTO: The new Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge (R) that is to replace the current Tappan Zee Bridge (L) over the Hudson River is seen in Tarrytown, New York, U.S., August 24, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar

The proposal is also intended to get U.S. President Donald Trump to return to the bargaining table. Trump campaigned in 2016 on boosting infrastructure spending by at least $1 billion over a decade but focused first on tax cuts and health care reform after taking office.

“America’s infrastructure is in crisis,” Democrats will say, according to a fact sheet. “For decades we have relied on a 1950s-era transportation system that has failed to keep pace.”

In April, Trump and Democratic leaders agreed to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure, without hashing out a way to pay for it. Weeks later, Trump abruptly canceled a follow-up meeting after criticizing congressional investigations.

The Democrats’ plan calls for new spending on roads, bridges, rail, public transit, water, internet expansion, electric grids, aviation and “brownfield” land that was possibly contaminated after previous industrial use.

Democrats want to spend $329 billon over five years on surface transportation, with a focus on fixing the 47,000 structurally deficient U.S. bridges. They would also provide $1.5 billion to support the development of an electric vehicle charging network.

A White House spokesman declined to comment.

With a presidential election looming, many doubt Congress will be able to tackle infrastructure this year but lawmakers face a Sept. 30 deadline to reauthorize surface transportation spending.

A Senate panel in July voted to authorize $287 billion in federal government spending over five years on surface transportation needs, a 27% jump, but Congress has not been able to agree on how to pay for it.

Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee said in a statement they believe Congress can pass infrastructure legislation this year; they argue Congress must find a new way to fund road repairs since existing gasoline tax revenue has not kept pace.

Congress abandoned the practice of largely requiring road users to pay for road repairs and has not hiked the federal gas tax since 1993. Since 2008, Congress has transferred about $141 billion in general revenues to the Highway Trust Fund.

To maintain existing spending, Congress will need to find $107 billion over five years, government auditors say.

Democrats would invest $105 billion in transit, $55 billion in rail spending and $30 billion in airport investments. They would also dedicate $86 billion to expand internet access.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Kim Coghill

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Now the longest serving professional athlete in Toronto, Kyle Lowry has found a place to call home

PHILADELPHIA—It takes a few seconds for Kyle Lowy to digest the information when it’s mentioned him in a quiet moment in the Raptors locker room.

He’s getting dressed after his 507th regular season Raptors game and he has been told he is the longest-serving professional athlete in Toronto, with more time with the Raptors than Morgan Rielly has spent with the Maple Leafs or Jonathan Osorio with TFC or, well, anybody with the Blue Jays.

“That’s pretty bizarre,” he says.

Whether that’s an indictment of the other Toronto franchises or a testament to Lowry’s abilities or just a sign of the peripatetic life of professional athletes is hard to say. It’s probably a little bit of all three things.

But for whatever the underlying reason might be, Lowry’s longevity in Toronto is impressive, especially given that he figured he’d be in the city and country for a short time.

“I thought I was going to be here for a year, two years, and be long gone,” the 33-year-old, six-foot guard said. “Come up here for business and that’s about it but, at the end of the day, I think the perseverance and the work I’ve put in and the belief the organization has in me means something.”

Lowry is not a particularly warm and fuzzy guy who’ll publicly profess undying love for anything other than his family, the city (Philadelphia) where he was born and raised, his NFL Eagles and Villanova University.

And maybe that’s why he doesn’t get all the adulation that is due him for what he has accomplished in the city and the impact he’s had on the franchise.

He joked this week about the social media chatter that suggested maybe he came back too soon from a broken thumb in light of two consecutive losses at home, and that he is still a bit of a contrarian so there are factions of the media that don’t sing his praises all the time.

“People talk, you deal with it and keep doing your job,” he said. “At the end of the day, it don’t really matter to me because as long as my wife and kids and my family are happy, we’re all happy.”

But he has a sense of belonging in Toronto that means a lot to him. He owns a year-round residence in the city and he does outside-the-spotlight things just because. He might never say “I am Toronto” but that’s truer than you might think.

“We made it home. We’ve got a home here — I’m here September to June — so it’s been home,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it, I’ve come to really understand it, take the good with the bad.”

There has been far more good than bad with Lowry and the Raptors. No matter what anyone feels or thinks about him or how he’ll eventually be remembered, he has presided over the greatest era in franchise history.

Since got here — in a July 2012 trade with Houston that cost the Raptors a journeyman in Gary Forbes and a draft pick that ended up with Oklahoma City (Steven Adams) — the Raptors have been one of the consistently good-to-great franchises in the league.

Lowry has been the one constant in a run that has included last June’s NBA championship, another appearance in an Eastern Conference final, a 370-225 regular-season record going into Sunday’s game and six straight playoff appearances.

He has re-signed with the Raptors twice when free agency was a possibility, and he was rewarded for his service and his sparkling play with a one-year contract extension worth $31 million (U.S.) in October.

How long he stays remains a question, like it is with every athlete in every sport. As a proven winner with a championship pedigree, he may be a valuable trade chip for president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster to play next spring or even next summer and then the title of “Longest Serving Toronto Athlete” will be passed to someone else.

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For now, though, it’s the guy who thought he’d blow in and out of town with barely a ripple.

“They’ve rewarded me and for the most part, the city has showed me unbelievable love and that’s why I give back as much as I can,” he said. “I give back with my Holiday Assist (Christmas program), my (Thanksgiving) turkey drive. I want to do as much as I can.

“It’s home.”

Doug Smith

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Call for respect for press freedom and journalistic independence in Europe – VoxEurop (English)

At the conference it is organising in Paris on 6 December, the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) joined forces with other organisations defending press freedom to call on European institutions and governments to adopt effective measures to protect the Fourth estate for the sake of democracy. VoxEurop joins the call.

Association of European Journalists

Reporters Without Borders

European Federation of Journalists

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom

South East Europe Media Organisation

the International Press Association

Meeting in Paris, this 6 December,

We note that, while European journalists enjoy a generally privileged situation compared to many other regions of the world, Europe is no longer a completely safe place for the profession and for press freedom. Indeed we observe that Europe is the part of the world where press freedom has deteriorated the most in recent years.

With the erosion of the “European model”, as mentioned by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in its latest report on press freedom around the world, journalists have become the target of increasingly virulent, even violent, attacks by political leaders. Using social networks to bypass the sometimes critical mediation of professional journalists, politicians no longer hesitate to designate the press as an outright adversary. They call on their supporters to attack news organisations reputed to be hostile, and obstruct the work of journalists through judicial harassment. This phenomenon is all the more obvious given the current trend of societies towards polarization, which is making public debate increasingly fraught.

Over the past five years, the AEJ, the EFJ, RSF and the eleven other partner organisations of the Council of Europe Platform for the Protection of Journalism have reported 256 serious violations of press freedom in the member states of the European Union, including 60 cases of violations of the physical integrity of journalists (including 14 murders of journalists in France, Poland, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Malta). Of these 256 press freedom violations in the EU, public authorities were the direct source of the threat in 57% of cases.

In addition, there have been breaches of the rule of law in several member states of the European Union and the Council of Europe. These weaken the democratic framework essential for the existence of a free and independent press and, by also attacking public broadcasting, prevent it from playing its essential role fully, particularly during elections. If the rule of law is not respected, the press and the judiciary are at the mercy of politicians.

To this can be added the growing mistrust of elites, supposedly including journalists, as well as measures restricting individual freedoms and press freedom adopted by governments under the guise of combating terrorism, and economic difficulties linked to the crisis in the media sector.

Against this background, with the press under attack, the credibility of journalists is undermined, public support falters, and a sense of impunity sets in among those who are the subject of investigative journalism.

In addition to the threats and insults of political leaders, we see interference by state authorities and attacks by criminal organisations operating in Europe, which target investigative journalists in particular. In addition to the high-profile cases of Daphne Caruana Galizia and Ján Kuciak, physical attacks and death threats by mafia groups against journalists are frequent in several countries.

While we welcome the efforts made so far by the European Union and the Council of Europe to respect the rule of law and freedom of the press, we believe that this is not enough to guarantee a healthy and safe environment for this freedom to be fully exercised. For this reason we ask Europe’s political leaders, and the institutions of the European Union:

  • To address judicial harassment and “gag procedures” (SLAPPs, strategic lawsuits against public participation) by adopting legislative measures that afford effective protection to journalists against such practices, whose sole purpose is to limit journalists’ freedom of expression, and by ensuring a favourable and safe environment in which journalists can work;

  • To put an end to the application of exorbitant criminal sanctions, including prison sentences, in defamation proceedings in all European states;

  • To ensure that measures to protect press freedom and pluralism are implemented effectively by the European Union, by expressly assigning this competency to a member of the European Commission;

  • To ensure the pluralism and independence of public-service broadcasting so that it can fully play its public-service role of informing citizens in an inclusive and pluralistic manner, by putting in place effective safeguards against political interference, in particular with regard to appointments to editorial posts;

  • To create an effective early warning mechanism against any violation of press freedom along the lines of the Council of Europe’s “Platform to strengthen the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists”;

  • To guarantee the integrity of the public space against the spread of false news, while fully preserving freedom of information and freedom of speech;

  • To impose democratic guarantees in the digital space so as to guarantee freedom of opinion and expression, as promoted by the “Information & Democracy” initiative launched by Reporters Without Borders;

  • To support the “Journalism Trust Initiative”, also launched by RSF, which aims to promote freedom, independence, pluralism and reliability of information, as well as other similar initiatives and projects from other organisations recognised by the journalism community;

  • To set up educational programmes on media and news in late primary, and secondary, education;

  • That the European Parliament periodically assess respect for press freedom in all EU member states and candidates for membership, particularly during election campaigns;

  • To extend the powers of the European Ombudsman so that this office may verify compliance with the European Charter of Fundamental Rights not only by the European institutions but also by all its member states;

  • That the member countries of the European Union and the Council of Europe implement without delay Recommendation 2016/4 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe “on the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists and other media actors”;

  • That the member countries of the European Union and the Council of Europe ensure that the United Nations: 1. adopt the “International Convention on the Safety and Independence of Journalists and Other Media Professionals” proposed by the International Federation of Journalists, so that crimes and attacks against journalists worldwide no longer go unpunished, and 2. create the mandate of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Safety of Journalists, called for by a coalition of more than 100 organisations and media.

A free and independent press is the best guarantee for the proper functioning of democratic institutions, and a bulwark against authoritarian abuses and manipulation of public opinion. It is in everyone’s interest that the press remains this way, and the duty of public authorities to ensure it.

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Canadiens call up defenceman Otto Leskinen from Laval Rocket

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Ageing Japan bomb survivors back pope’s anti-nukes call

Nagasaki (Japan) (AFP) – Kenji Hayashida thought about committing suicide in the years after an atomic bomb was dropped on his hometown of Nagasaki.

On Sunday he will hear Pope Francis call there for a world without nuclear weapons, a message 81-year-old supports passionately.

Like many ageing survivors of the attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Hayashida hopes the pope can bring fresh international attention to the cause of nuclear abolition, and also keep alive the memory of the devastating bombings.

A day before the pope arrived in the city, Hayashida and fellow local Catholics were rehearsing the hymns they will perform for Francis when he delivers mass in Nagasaki.

“We must not use nuclear weapons. I don’t even think nuclear deterrence works,” Hayashida told AFP at a church in the southwestern Japanese city.

He said he was “certain” that the pope — who once hoped to become a missionary to Japan — would send a strong anti-nuclear message.

Hayashida and his fellow choir members have been practicising for two months to prepare for the historic moment.

But the pope’s visit has special significance for those, like him, who survived the nuclear bombings at the end of World War II.

Hayashida was seven at the time of the US attack. He lost his mother and two brothers, and suffered severe burns on his head, arms and legs.

“I felt something was wrong with my head and I touched it. Then I saw blood all over my hand,” he recalled.

It took him more than six months to walk again and he became reluctant to go out for fear of people staring at his injuries.

– A ‘living hell’ –

At least 74,000 people were killed in Nagasaki when the bomb was dropped on August 9, 1945, three days after a first nuclear attack in Hiroshima killed around 140,000.

The attacks are still marked annually in Japan, but many survivors fear people are forgetting the dangers posed by nuclear weapons.

“We must not repeat the atrocity of nuclear bombs,” Minoru Moriuchi, an 82-year-old Catholic survivor in Nagasaki, told AFP.

“The Pope never meddles with politics but I hope people listening to his message will think seriously about the nuclear issue.”

Moriuchi described a “living hell” after the bombing.

“My father’s sister ran away to our house with her two children and I never forgot this sight — their bodies were reddish-black and completely burnt”

“Four other relatives were brought in… but they didn’t look like humans,” he said.

The pope’s visit comes at a time when many survivors feel the international consensus on the danger posed by nuclear weapons is being eroded.

North Korea has continued to fire short-range projectiles and test weaponry, while the US and Russia failed to renew a Cold War-era nuclear pact in August, triggering renewed fears of an arms race.

Next year will also see talks reviewing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which seeks to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and technology.

– A world ‘without survivors’ –

“The world is in a critical situation,” said Masako Wada, a 76-year-old survivor of the Nagasaki attack.

“In today’s Japan, not many people know about nuclear abolition. People don’t relate to the issue.”

She fears history is in danger of being forgotten as survivors age.

“Survivors are on average in their 80s. I’m horrified when I imagine the world without survivors telling their stories,” she said.

For Hayashida, the pope’s visit carries a special personal resonance because of the Christian Catholic faith that helped guide him through the aftermath of the attack.

“It wasn’t easy when I was young. I never say this to my wife, but I even thought of committing suicide before getting married,” he said.

But he now believes that God wanted him to live.

“My life was extended by the providence of God. I was left to live… to protect the faith.”

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