TIME States

Young Children Are Getting Sick Working on U.S. Tobacco Farms

Tobacco farm - Warfield, VA
Tobacco farmer in Warfield, Va., on Aug. 30, 2013 Matt McClain—The Washington Post/Getty Images

A new Human Rights Watch report finds that child laborers, some as young as 7 years old, who work on tobacco farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, "get so sick that they throw up, get covered by pesticides and have no real protective gear"

Children as young as 7 years old are suffering serious health problem from toiling long hours in tobacco fields to harvest pesticide-laced leaves for major cigarette brands, according to a report released Wednesday.

New York City–based advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) interviewed more than 140 youngsters working on tobacco farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, where most American tobacco is sourced.

They reported nausea, vomiting, headaches and other health problems associated with nicotine poisoning, known colloquially as green tobacco sickness, which is common among agricultural workers who absorb the toxic substance through their skin.

“The U.S. has failed America’s families by not meaningfully protecting child farmworkers from dangers to their health and safety, including on tobacco farms,” said Margaret Wurth, HRW children’s-rights researcher and co-author of the report.

“Farming is hard work anyway, but children working on tobacco farms get so sick that they throw up, get covered by pesticides and have no real protective gear.”

Much of what HRW documented remains legal. While strict provisions govern child labor in industrial environments, U.S. agriculture labor laws are much looser, allowing 12-year-olds to labor for unlimited hours outside of school on any size of farm. On small farms, there is no minimum age set for child workers.

HRW called on tobacco giants to ensure safe working practices and source responsibly. The global tobacco industry generates annual revenues of around $500 billion, but some 6 million people die each year from smoking-related diseases.

Not everyone favors stricter controls. Republican Kentucky state senator Paul Hornback says he worked in tobacco fields from when he was 10 years old and doesn’t think further legislation is necessary. “It’s hard manual labor, but there’s nothing wrong with hard manual labor,” he told the Associated Press.

TIME Civil Rights

Idaho’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban Is Ruled Unconstitutional

Gay Marriage Idaho
Amber Beierle, left, and Rachael Robertson, photographed on Nov. 8, 2013, are one of the four couples who challenged Idaho's ban on same-sex marriages Joe Jaszewski—AP

U.S. District Magistrate Judge Candy Dale said the ban established in 2006 denies gay couples their fundamental rights, adding Idaho to the list of states where bans have recently been ruled unconstitutional: Arkansas, Virginia, Oklahoma, Michigan, Texas and Utah

Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional, a judge ruled Tuesday.

In the decision, U.S. District Magistrate Judge Candy Dale stated that the law stigmatized homosexual couples and denied gay and lesbian couples a fundamental right, the Associated Press reports.

The ruling was made in response to a challenge to the ban made by four same-sex couples in a lawsuit late last year.

The governor of Idaho, C.L. “Butch” Otter, said that he would appeal the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

“In 2006, the people of Idaho exercised their fundamental right, reaffirming that marriage is the union of a man and a woman,” he stated, according to AP.

“Today’s decision, while disappointing, is a small setback in a long-term battle that will end at the U.S. Supreme Court. I am firmly committed to upholding the will of the people and defending our Constitution.”

The ruling is the latest in a number of cases across the U.S., in which state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriages have been ruled unconstitutional. Judges have recently struck down bans on same-sex marriages in Arkansas, Virginia, Oklahoma, Michigan, Texas and Utah.


TIME States

Virginia’s Governor Challenges Abortion Clinic Regulations

Terry McAuliffe
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signs SB260, mental-health-reform legislation, at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, Va., on April 28, 2014 Ryan M. Kelly—AP

Terry McAuliffe has called for a formal review of the strict state health regulations levied against abortion clinics, following up on a campaign promise he made last year to undo the stringent codes responsible for closing five of the state's 23 clinics

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has called for a formal review of the strict state health regulations levied against abortion clinics that he said were both “extreme and punitive.”

The review ordered on Monday in Richmond, Va., could give the state’s health board an opportunity to undo the stringent codes implemented by Virginia’s previous Republican administration in 2013. Those rules were responsible for closing five of the state’s 23 abortion clinics.

“I am concerned that the extreme and punitive regulations adopted last year jeopardize the ability of most women’s health centers to keep their doors open and place in jeopardy the health and reproductive rights of Virginia women,” said McAuliffe.

Governor McAuliffe also appointed five new members to the health board, which harbors prochoice leanings, according to the Washington Post.

Conservative advocacy groups blasted the governor’s moves and labeled McAuliffe’s actions as “political payback” to lobbyists.

“The governor’s blatant politicization of a public health issue is one more example of his lack of concern for the women of Virginia,” wrote Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, in a statement released on Monday.

Governor McAuliffe has frequently pledged to stand like a “brick wall” against laws that would undercut women’s rights to abortions in the state.

TIME Crime

Reports: No Arrests Over Target Data Breach

Sign outside a Target store is seen in Arvada
The sign outside a Target store is seen in Arvada, Colo., on Feb. 14, 2014 Rick Wilking—Reuters

The arrest of Guo Xing Chen, 40, is not related to the theft of credit-card information at retail store Target, an official says. Media originally reported that police had detained a suspect for the $70 million data breach

A 40-year-old man arrested in Texas has been cleared of involvement in the massive data breach at U.S. retail giant Target, according to reports.

Local and national news initially reported that Guo Xing Chen was arrested over a much publicized theft of credit-card information believed to be worth some $70 million. However, a law-enforcement source close to the investigation has since told Reuters that his arrest was unrelated.

“This appears to be strictly a street level arrest that is not tied to the larger breach investigation,” said the unnamed official.

Over the Christmas holidays around 40 million payment records, as well as other customer information such as addresses and contact information, were stolen from the chain of stores. The Secret Service has been helping in subsequent investigations.


TIME States

‘American Idol’ Star Clay Aiken May Have Won a North Carolina Primary

Clay Aiken speaks to supporters during an election night watch party in Holly Springs, N.C., May 6, 2014.
Clay Aiken speaks to supporters during an election night watch party in Holly Springs, N.C., May 6, 2014. Gerry Broome—AP

Former American Idol Clay Aiken holds a slim lead in the Democratic primary in North Carolina's 2nd district as the final ballots are counted

Former American Idol star Clay Aiken appears to have won the Democratic primary in North Carolina, but the election is so close that it’s still too early to call a winner.

Clay Aiken, who’s running for House of Representatives in the state’s 2nd district, is ahead of his competitor Keith Crisco with 369 votes, the tally from the Board of Elections shows.

While that lands the former singing star just above the threshold of the 40% that candidates must clear to avoid a runoff, it is not enough for him to declare victory, as provisional, absentee and military absentee ballots are still being tallied. The last votes will be counted Monday.

Keith Crisco issued a statement Wednesday saying that he isn’t ready to concede yet.

“This election is still very tight,” he wrote in the statement according to Washington Post.

“I want the elections officials to have an opportunity to tally the votes and provide a report … to allow all the campaigns a chance to see the final numbers.”

Whatever candidate wins the election will face an uphill battle in the general election this fall, as the right-leaning district has a history of sending Republican candidates to Congress.

TIME cities

Beverly Hills Joins Celebrities in Condemning Brunei’s Anti-Gay Laws

The city council joined Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres in calling for the boycott of the iconic Beverly Hills hotel owned by the anti-gay sultanate of Brunei

The Beverly Hills council has joined Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres in condemning the government of Southeast Asian sultanate Brunei, which owns the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel and has passed new laws targeting gays and woman.

Brunei’s leader Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah introduced harsh anti-gay penalties last week that will eventually include death by stoning for homosexuality and adultery. The government owns the Beverly Hills hotel, which has seen the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Tom Cruise and Ozzy Osbourne and is a celebrated part of Los Angeles life.

The Beverly Hills City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday night urging the government of Brunei to divest itself of the Beverly Hills Hotel and other properties in the area, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The council was divided, however, on whether to boycott the hotel, the BBC reports, which employs 600 people, and pays about $7 million in bed taxes and $4 million in city taxes annually.

“They won’t stop the implementation of the new laws,” Christopher Cowdray, the hotel group’s chief executive said of the boycotts and protest but rather would “only hurt the [hotel’s] employees.” Cowdray added that Brunei had no plans to sell the hotels.

[L.A. Times]


Oregon Governor Performs Emergency CPR on Woman

Gov. John Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, spotted a woman in need of help from his car Monday evening and stopped to assist

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber performed emergency CPR on an unconscious woman in downtown Portland Monday.

The governor’s spokesperson Nkenge Harmon Johnson said the woman had “apparently overdosed” of heroin, CNN reports.

Kitzhaber saw the woman was in need of help when he was being driven to dinner Monday evening, and directed his driver to stop the car so he could assist her until emergency responders arrived on the scene.

Kitzhaber, a Democrat, is a former emergency room doctor and is running for a historic fourth term as Oregon’s governor.

Monday’s incident was not the first time Kitzhaber used his medical training on the campaign trail. Kitzhaber assisted a man who had a heart seizure during a 2010 gubernatorial debate.


TIME Environment

States Are Cracking Down on Face Wash

Vials of microbeads alongside products that use such small, plastic spheres.
Vials of microbeads alongside products that use such small, plastic spheres. Photo courtesy of 5 Gyres

Environmentalists are sounding alarms about microbeads, the tiny bits of plastic used in personal care products that researchers say are too small to be filtered out of water treatment plants, so they're ending up in oceans and lakes

If you’ve ever cleansed your face with a product that promised to gently exfoliate your T-zone, you may have been enjoying the effects of the latest scourge of environmentalists: microbeads.

Microbeads are tiny, round bits of plastic that are found in, among other things, personal care products made by companies like Johnson & Johnson and Proctor & Gamble. They’re so small that one will just cover Abraham Lincoln’s eye on a penny. More important, researchers have found that they’re too small to be sifted out at water treatments plants, so the tiny beads are flowing down bathroom sinks and ending up in America’s lakes and oceans. Though the effects of their presence are still being investigated, five states—California, New York, Illinois, Ohio and Minnesota—are considering bills that would proactively ban their use.

“The fundamental question is going to be: do we wait to take this material out until we prove that this microbead causes harm?” says Chelsea Rochman, a marine ecologist at the University of California, Davis, who specializes in microplastics research.

According to industry experts, microbeads started becoming popular with big companies about a decade ago as replacements for harsher scrubbing ingredients like pumice. Given how relatively new they are, there is little research specifically investigating how microbeads affect the environment. Still, Rochman says, there is plenty of evidence from research on other plastics suggesting that they’re probably causing more harm than good. In oceans and lakes, she says, bits of plastic “act like sponges,” soaking up toxins like pesticides and flame retardants that have also found their way into the ecosystem. And hundreds of species, from fish to plankton to wild-caught tuna, ingest bits of plastic, meaning those toxins could be ending up in the food chain.

Jay Ansell, a toxicologist with the trade association that represents personal care product companies, emphasizes that beyond the lack of research, there also isn’t hard proof that the beads researchers have found came from facial scrubs rather than paint or sand-blasting. Still, that hasn’t stopped many of the big companies represented by the Personal Care Products Council from taking steps away from the beads. Johnson & Johnson, which produces product lines like Clean & Clear and Neutrogena, has already announced that they’re not using microbeads in any new products and are reformulating all those that currently use them, with plans to eliminate their use entirely by 2017. Proctor & Gamble, maker of brands such as Olay, has made similar public vows.

“As an industry there was a feeling that this is certainly something we can do and we can do it today,” Ansell says of eliminating microbeads. “This is something we can live without.”

So why all the legislation, if companies aren’t pushing back? “This is a game of Whack-a-Mole,” says Stiv Wilson, policy director at 5 Gyres, an organization that studies plastic in the world’s watersheds. His group drafted the legislation that has served as a model in all the states that are currently considering bans. He says that laws are needed to keep big companies, however good-willed, beholden to certain timelines and to make sure smaller companies that might use microbeads don’t slip through the cracks. He believes that advocates only need two bills to become laws in U.S. states before it creates a “distribution nightmare” that will force companies’ hands.

Both Illinois and New York look poised to pass their bills. The Illinois measure has passed the Senate and moved on to the state House. In New York, companion bills have been introduced in both chambers, and the attorney general’s office is pushing their passage. Wilson says he’s confident that California could pass their bill too, though he’s less confident about the political circumstances in Minnesota and Ohio.

“It’s really important that these bills become law,” Wilson says. “There’s a history of companies saying they’re going to do something and then putting it off until forgotten … You’ve got to get some teeth behind these promises.” Though companies have not yet said what materials they might use as replacements, advocates have suggested natural products such as crushed walnuts and apricot shells.

An advocacy group operating under the banner “Beat the Micro Bead” is pushing similar reform in Europe. If you’re curious about whether a certain cosmetic contains microbeads, you can view their product lists here. In addition to face wash, Rochman says microbeads are also used in goods like toothpaste, toilet bowl cleaners and other cleaning products.

“This is a solvable problem,” says Wilson. “There’s plenty of places in the market that have demonstrated that you can get the same effect with other materials.” Whatever substitutes the companies end up using, expect more of them to be biodegradable.

TIME States

Native American Fishing Activist Billy Frank Jr. Dead at 83

Billy Frank Jr.
Billy Frank Jr. poses for a photo near Frank's Landing on the Nisqually River in Nisqually, Wash. Ted S. Warren—AP

Renowned campaigner who fought to secure fishing rights for Native American tribes in the Northwest and led civil-disobedience campaigns during the Fish Wars of the 1960s and '70s passed away Monday at age 83

After fighting for decades to persevere the fishing rights of Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest, activist Billy Frank Jr. died this week. He was 83 years old.

“Billy dedicated his life to protecting our traditional way of life and our salmon. For more than 60 years,” read a statement by the Nisqually tribe Monday.

“Billy was in the center of action on behalf of the Nisqually people and of Native Americans throughout our country.”

Washington Governor Jay Inslee remarked that the state had “lost a true legend.”

“Billy was a champion of tribal rights, of the salmon, and the environment,” Inslee wrote online. “He did that even when it meant putting himself in physical danger or facing jail.”

After being arrested in 1945 at the age of 14 while trying to catch salmon, Frank would go on to be taken into custody more than 50 times over the course of his life for illegally fishing in waters his ancestors had relied on for centuries.

“We ceded all this land to the United States for a contract to protect our salmon, our way of life, our culture,” Frank told the Associated Press during an interview in 2012.

“We’re gatherers and we’re harvesters. And they forgot about us. They built their cities, they built their university. They built everything, and they forgot about us tribes.”

Frank’s resistance to state-imposed limits on fishing led to a historic civil rights struggle, known as the Fish Wars, from the dozens of Northwest tribes who demanded that the treaties their ancestors first signed with white settlers be honored and their way of life persevered.

The movement was vindicated in the mid-1970s when a district court declared that 20 tribes in the Pacific Northwest were privy to half of the region’s annual fish harvest.

TIME States

Gay-Marriage Advocates Eye Conservative Oklahoma for Latest Push

There's no question about same-sex marriage on the ballot in Oklahoma, but advocates are still targeting it for their latest push, just as a federal appeals court considers a challenge to the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions

For all the strides same-sex marriage advocates have made in recent years, a deep-red state with nothing on the ballot about the issue this year seems at first glance like an odd target for activists to set in their sights. But that’s exactly what they’re doing in Oklahoma.

A pro-gay-marriage group deployed a statewide advertising campaign in Oklahoma on Monday. Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, a group helping to fund the campaign, said the absence of urgent public debate makes this the perfect time to reignite a conversation in Oklahoma that can be very emotionally charged, on both sides.

“What we want to do is take this out of the political back and forth and just have a heart to heart conversation at a time when people have a chance to just take a deep breath and think it through,” Wolfson told TIME. “They’re being asked to open their hearts and think about real people and real values, such as the golden rule, and think about who gay people are in Oklahoma.”

The ad tells the story of the Cuyler family and their ranch near Fort Sill in rural, southwestern Oklahoma. At the ranch, decorated Vietnam veteran Ed Cuyler and his wife Robbie live with their daughter Deedra, her partner, Amber, and their three kids. Deedra and Amber were married in Massachusetts in 2011, but their marriage isn’t recognized in Oklahoma due to the state’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning recognition of same-sex marriages.

With its rural aesthetic and the appeal to family values, the ad is designed for a wide swath of the state’s population, including people outside of the urban centers of Tulsa and Oklahoma City, a demographic not generally assumed to be sympathetic to arguments in favor of same-sex marriage.

“We’d talk to legislators who would say, ‘There’s no gay people in my district,’” said Troy Stevenson of the Freedom Oklahoma coalition, which produced the ad with Freedom to Marry. “Well we know that’s not true.”

Stevenson met the Cuyler family in February during his group’s annual lobbying day at the state capital. Deedra and Amber came with their twins. Stevenson said after learning more about the family—with the kids, the ranch, and the father’s personal journey toward accepting his daughter’s family—he knew he’d found a couple for a TV spot.

The ad comes as 10th Circuit Court Appeals is expected to rule within weeks on a challenge to Oklahoma’s same-sex marriage ban, which was overturned by a federal judge in Tulsa in a landmark ruling last January. In recent months Freedom to Marry has also run similar ads in Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah, where a legal challenge to that state’s same-sex marriage ban is also being weighed by the 10thCircuit. The ads are part of Freedom to Marry’s national effort to cultivate support throughout the country for same-sex marriage in advance of the next time the Supreme Court takes up the issue, with the hope the court will find public opinion has shifted and Americans are ready for a sweeping decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

The conventional wisdom says proponents of same-sex marriage face a steep uphill battle in Oklahoma. The Atlantic used aggregated polling data from the region in 2012 to find that 35 percent of Oklahomans support same-sex marriage, but reliable, up-to-date polling on the question doesn’t appear to exist. Freedom Oklahoma intends change that with a statewide poll after the ad run, with the goal of having data to sort through within the month.

“It’s been an uphill battle all over the country,” Stevenson said. “Here in Oklahoma there’s a perception it’s going to be much harder. In talking to Oklahomans every day. I think there’s a lot more support than people understand.”

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