TIME The Brief

Israeli-Gaza Cease-Fire Talks at a Stalemate

Successful ceasefire negotiations in the Middle East seem unlikely

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Attempts to achieve peace between Israel and Gaza remain at a stalemate, with no progress made on a potential ceasefire. The fact that the nations who are trying to broker the peace — Egypt, Qatar, and Turkey — have their own unsettled disputes after the Arab Spring has been slowing negotiations down.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Cairo this week in attempt to encourage cease-fire agreements, but the Israeli military confirming a solider has gone missing in Gaza virtually eliminates the hope of a quick truce.

 

TIME Crime

Mystery White Flags on Brooklyn Bridge Provoke Social Media Frenzy

"We will not surrender"

The New York Police Department has removed a pair of white flags that mysteriously replaced the American stars and stripes on top of the Brooklyn Bridge Tuesday morning.

While the unexplained security breach is under investigation by police, the incident has incited a slew of social media confusion and some conspiracy theories.

Has Brooklyn surrendered?

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams issued a statement that no, “We will not surrender our public safety to anyone, at any time.”

Were the flags in question actually American flags that had been whitewashed? Oren Yaniv of the Daily News said yes:

Even more suspiciously still, the police folded the flags in a ceremonial manner after taking them down:

While Adams is approaching the confusing stunt very seriously — “If flying a white flag atop the Brooklyn Bridge is someone’s idea of a joke, I’m not laughing. The public safety of our city is of paramount importance, particularly our landmarks and bridges that are already known to be high-risk targets.” — others online are taking a lighter approach.

It’s a marketing stunt for a little-remembered British singer of the 1990s:

Some thought it was a message from the borough on the other side of the bridge:

Others speculated what Brooklyn might be giving in to:

If it helps, public officials aren’t sure either. In the words of an NYPD Deputy Commission for Public Information officer to Business Insider, “We don’t know anything.”

TIME poverty

Here Are the 5 Worst States for a Child’s Well-Being

Children try to do their homework at an evacuation shelter in a high school gymnasium in Kentwood, Louisiana on August 30, 2012.
Children try to do their homework at an evacuation shelter in a high school gymnasium in Kentwood, Louisiana on August 30, 2012. Frederic J. Brown—AFP/Getty Images

Child poverty rates are rising, but some states are better than others when it comes to kids' overall well-being

A new annual report on kids’ well-being finds that child poverty rates are rising across the country, with nearly a quarter of American children living in families below the poverty line.

The KIDS COUNT Data Book released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that poverty rates had dropped from 1990 to 2000, but began increasing again in the early 2000s. Data shows their health and education are improving, with teen birthrates and death rates at all-time lows and more children showing proficiency in reading and math.

But with families still recovering from the recession and fewer resources available from government programs like Medicaid—as well as higher housing and transportation costs—the report finds that kids are growing up in poor households that are having trouble escaping poverty.

Northern states tend to rank better than ones in the South for kids in terms of economic status, education, health and family and community, which the authors of the study attribute to smart investments in children’s health and educational programs. Here are the five states that rank the highest and lowest for kids’ overall well-being:

Lowest

50. Mississippi

49. New Mexico

48. Nevada

47. Louisiana

46. Arizona

Highest

1. Massachusetts

2. Vermont

3. Iowa

4. New Hampshire

5. Minnesota

TIME

California Firm Issues Nationwide Fruit Recall

Retailers that received the fruit include Costco and Trader Joe's

(CUTLER, Calif.) — A Central California company has issued a voluntary nationwide recall of specific lots of its fresh peaches, plums, nectarines and pluots over concerns of possible listeria contamination.

Wawona Packing says on its website that no illnesses have been reported and the recall is a precautionary measure.

The company said the recalled fruit was packed and shipped to retailers from June 1 through July 12.

Retailers that received the fruit include Costco and Trader Joe’s.

The recall came after internal testing at the packing house in Tulare County.

Officials say they shut down the lines, retrofitted some equipment and sanitized the facility. Subsequent tests have been negative.

Clovis-based Wawona Frozen Foods is a separate company and is not involved in the voluntary recall.

Listeria bacteria can cause a dangerous flu-like illness.

TIME Washington

Better Weather Aiding Washington Wildfire Fight

Western Wildfires
A plane drops water from Fishtrap Lake on a stubborn fire burning near the lake in Lincoln County, Wash., on July 20, 2014 Jesse Tinsley—AP

But the fire was just 2% contained on Monday.

(SPOKANE, Wash.) — Calmer winds and cooler temperatures helped firefighters go on the offensive Monday against a destructive wildfire that has charred hundreds of square miles in Washington state and is the largest in state history.

The Carlton Complex of fires in north-central Washington had burned about 379 square miles, fire spokesman Andrew Sanbri said Monday. That would make it the largest wildfire in the state since record-keeping started.

“There is optimism in the air, but we don’t want to give the impression that all is good,” Sanbri said. “Things are improving.”

The fire was just 2 percent contained Monday.

Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers was also encouraged.

“Right now there’s honestly no wind,” Rogers said Monday night, noting that rising evening winds complicated earlier firefighting efforts. “I’m hoping this is helping.”

Fire crews quickly attacked a new fire east of Tonasket on Monday, Rogers said. A half-dozen homes were briefly evacuated, but the fire burned past them with no destruction.

Residents of a couple of dozen additional rural homes were told to leave Monday, but Rogers said that was just a precaution.

Cooler temperatures and higher humidity continue to be in the forecast, but the area is also on “lightning watch” Tuesday through Thursday. “We don’t need any more lightning,” Rogers said.

At 243,000 acres, the Carlton Complex was larger than the Yacolt Burn, which consumed 238,920 acres in southwestern Washington in 1902 and was the largest recorded forest fire in state history, according to HistoryLink.org, an online resource of Washington state history. The Yacolt Burn killed 38 people.

Rogers has estimated that 150 homes have been destroyed already, but he suspected that number could rise. The fire is being blamed for one death.

Firefighters on Monday had planned to burn fuel on the north side of the fire to help build a fire line, but that operation was canceled, fire spokesman Don Carpenter said.

Firefighters were hampered by the loss of electricity in the area due to downed power lines and poles, which hurt communications. There was no estimate on when utilities would be restored.

The forecast for Monday and Tuesday called for lighter winds and lower temperatures, said Spokane-based National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Koch.

Then on Wednesday a vigorous front is expected to cover Washington, bringing rain to much of the state. But it will also bring lightning, Koch added.

“We may get some rain where we need it, but we may also experience some lightning that could cause some new ignitions,” he said.

The fire has created smoky conditions and reduced air quality in much of eastern Washington and northern Idaho.

One man died of an apparent heart attack while fighting the fire near his home, Rogers said.

Rob Koczewski, 67, was stricken on Saturday while he and his wife were hauling water and digging fire lines near their home. Koczewski was a retired Washington State Patrol trooper and U.S. Marine, Rogers said.

There are more than 1,600 firefighters battling the flames, assisted by more than 100 fire engines, helicopters dropping buckets of water and planes spreading flame retardant, Sanbri said.

Many towns in the scenic Methow Valley remain without power and have limited landline and cellphone service. Fully restoring power to the area could take weeks, Okanogan County Public Utility District officials told KREM.

More than 100 Washington National Guard soldiers are supporting state Department of Natural Resources firefighters, state spokesman Mark Clemens said Monday. National Guard helicopters have dropped more than 500,000 gallons of water on the fires.

TIME Detroit

Detroit to Temporarily Halt Water Shutoffs

Customers have an additional 15 days to come forward if they cannot pay

The Detroit Water and Sewage Department announced Monday that it will halt its impending water shutoffs for 15 days to allow residents more time to show they cannot pay their bills.

The announcement occurred the same day 10 residents, along with several organizations, filed a lawsuit asking Detroit’s U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes to restore service, the Detroit Free Press reports.

More than 7,500 customers had their water shut off by the city in April and May as part of the financially troubled city’s crackdown on unpaid bills following a long period of lax enforcement.

“In case we have missed someone who has legitimate affordability problems, this will allow them to come to us to see if they can work out payments,” said DWSD spokesman Bill Johnson, who said that he was unaware of the lawsuit. “We’ve always maintained that what we were doing was a collection effort — not a shutoff effort.”

Residents and community activists claim the city is violating constitutional and contractual rights by ending water service for those who owe money.

“Water provided through public utilities is a necessity of modern life and continued access to it is a property right accorded due process protections,” read the lawsuit filed Monday.

On Friday, Kevyn Orr, the city’s emergency manager, said that no one who could not afford water would have to go without it.

The department’s director, Darryl Latimer, said the city is beginning outreach efforts to educate residents about financial assistance and payment options to those with a documented need.

[Detroit Free Press]

TIME Cancer

It’s Unlikely Tobacco Company Will Pay $23.6 Billion

Based on the industry's track record, the second-largest tobacco company probably won't pay the billions in damages it owes to a Florida widow

Big Tobacco took a hit on Friday when a court ordered the second-largest tobacco company in the U.S. to pay damages to a Florida widow who had sued them for her husband’s smoking-related death. However, it’s unlikely that the company will pay full price for its negligence.

Although the verdict will likely stand, tobacco company R.J. Reynolds says it plans to appeal the $23.6 billion that the jury determined it owed widow Cynthia Robinson. Based on the industry’s track record, that will likely result in them paying far less.

Robinson’s husband, Michael Johnson, began chain-smoking when he was 13-years-old and died at the young age of 36 in 1996. A decade after her husband’s untimely death, Robinson took the cigarette-makers to court, saying they were not forthcoming about the extremely harmful effects of their product, suing them for not informing the public that smoking was addictive. And almost another decade later, she proved her case.

Unsurprisingly, R.J. Reynolds, whose holding company Reynolds American Inc. recently announced a $27 billion deal to buy out rival Lorillard, contested the verdict. “Regardless of the rhetoric surrounding this case, the damages awarded are grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law,” said Jeff Raborn, vice president and assistant general counsel for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in a statement sent to TIME. “We will file post-trial motions with the trial court promptly, requesting that the verdict in the case be set aside. We are confident that the law will be followed and the punitive damages verdict will not be allowed to stand.”

Raborn is probably right.

“It is quite likely, bordering on certainty, that the amount of punitive damages will be reduced, though it is unclear how much,” says John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University known for his successful litigations against the tobacco industry. There’s not a lot of dispute among the legal community that the verdict will be reduced–probably substantially. Prior verdicts against Big Tobacco demanding billions in court have been reduced to millions–something the industry, which spends about $23 million on cigarette marketing each day, can pay off rather comfortably. In 2009, Phillip Morris failed to overturn a $79.5 million punitive-damages ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court, and business continued as usual.

“This doesn’t set a legal precedent, but the result of this verdict has people asking how much money will it take to deter tobacco companies? Previous verdicts against tobacco companies have been treated as just the cost of doing business,” says Richard Daynard, a law professor at Northeastern University who specializes in tobacco control. So far, no verdict has changed the economic fundamentals of the industry. But this time, the industry might being feeling less confident.

“I think this is the first time in many years that tobacco companies are going to have to start thinking about really doing something different,” says Daynard. After all, it’s likely we will see many more cases like Robinson’s land similar verdicts in Florida, and it’s possible that similar lawsuits will start to pop up nationwide.

Robinson’s case is one of thousands of lawsuits referred to as an “Engle progeny,” which was developed after a $145 billion verdict in favor of a class action lawsuit led by Dr. Howard A. Engle, a Miami Beach pediatrician. The award was voided in appeals court, under the finding that individual smokers could not make up a class. Though the tobacco industry did not have to pay the award, which was the largest punitive damages payment decided by a jury, the decision opened the floodgates for individual cases to head to Florida court with the support of the Engle case, which proved that the tobacco industry knew cigarettes were addictive, and failed to warn the public.

“The [Robinson] case indicates that juries, when a case is properly presented, are willing to sock it to tobacco companies,” says Banzhaf. “They are angry as hell at these tobacco companies, and when an attorney presents a strong case, they are willing to hit them, and hit them hard.”

Banzhaf says the case will likely motivate attorneys in other states that are less gung-ho to take on Big Tobacco. Lawyers in states like New York, California, and Washington with good tobacco control track records, he said, are likely “salivating” at the future possibilities.

Banzhaf believes that the public is finally grasping the health implications of smoking and is now willing to punish those that profit from it. The numbers seem to support this claim: smoking rates are down 2.8% since 2005 according to CDC data, and smokers can be charged up to 50% more under Obamacare. “Clearly the public is angry. But the courts have to allow damages that are substantially higher than ordinary damages,” says Banzhaf.”Hitting them with $16 million is pocket change.”

It will be no surprise if the final bill for R.J. Reynolds is significantly lower than what the Florida jury determined to be sufficient, but it’s encouraging for the pending cases. “About 70% of Engle cases that have gone to verdict have gone in favor of the plaintiff,” says Daynard. “There are thousands more of these cases pending. Any of them could produce a jury verdict like this because it’s the same misbehavior.”

Unfortunately, the tobacco industry can also produce the same appeals solution they’ve achieved successfully in the past.

TIME

5 Crazy Junk Food Combinations

You gonna finish that pickle juice Popsicle?

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Crack open a beer and grab a sandwich because it’s National Junk Food Day.

In honor of the day, here are some zany junk food combos that have to be seen to be believed. So spread that beer, crack open a sandwich and get ready to take snacking to a whole different level.

TIME cities

San Francisco Shower Bus Offers Hygiene to the Homeless

Nonprofit hopes shower bus can offer dignity to some homeless residents

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An old public bus in San Francisco has been converted into a portable shower station to provide hygienic bathrooms to the homeless.

The bus, converted by nonprofit LavaMae, contains two private showers and toilets and provides towels and soap. The creators say it’s more about providing individual comfort than ending homelessness.

But despite the fact that the showers could help some homeless people stay clean as public showers around the city close, they don’t enjoy unanimous support.

Some critics say that the buses, which are largely funded by big donations from companies like Google, are a perfect example of San Francisco’s widening gap between the super-rich and the very poor.

TIME National Security

Friend of Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect Guilty of Obstructing Justice

Azamat Tazhayakov
In this courtroom sketch, defendant Azamat Tazhayakov, a college friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, sits during a hearing in federal court in Boston on May 13, 2014. Jane Flavell Collins—AP

Azamat Tazhayakov is the first of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's friends to be put on trial for obstructing the investigation

A federal court found a friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev guilty of obstruction of justice and of conspiring to obstruct justice for interfering with the investigation.

Azamat Tazhayakov, a former University of Massachusetts Dartmouth student, faces a possible 20-year sentence for the obstruction charge and five years for the conspiracy charge, the Boston Globe reports.

The 12-member U.S. District Court jury deliberated for 15 hours over the course of three days. The sentencing has been set for Oct. 16, according to U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz.

Prosecutors argued that Tazhayakov knew of another friend, Dias Kadyrbayev, who allegedly removed evidence from Tsarnaev’s room a few days after the bombing and worked with him to help protect Tsarnaev.

Tazhayakov is the first of three friends of Tsarnaev to be put on trial on charges related to hindering the investigation. Tsarnaev’s trial is scheduled to begin in November.

[Boston Globe]

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