Bayer offers $1.6 billion settlement in Essure birth control lawsuits

Healthcare company Bayer says it plans to fork over $1.6 billion to settle tens of thousands of claims filed by American women over its Essure birth control implant.

The device debuted in 2002, marketed especially to young mothers who had just given birth. About 2 million units were sold, 750,000 of them in the United States. In 2011, a New York woman started a Facebook group called Essure Problems. She and thousands of others began documenting debilitating struggles with pain and bleeding which they correlated with having the device implanted.

Essure is a metal coil wrapped in plastic fiber. When implanted in a woman’s Fallopian tubes, it is meant to damage the surrounding tissue and cause so much scarring from the wounds that the tubes would become blocked, thus preventing pregnancy.

For years the FDA insisted the device was safe, but in the face of pressure from the social media campaign, authorities reinvestigated. A subsequent report found that women with Essure had higher rates of bleeding, pain, and surgery, and similar pregnancy rates as other forms of birth control—in other words, side effects were worse, with no additional contraceptive benefit.

Bayer took the device off the market in 2018, but the news of the billion-dollar settlement marks a significant victory for the women leading the charge against this particularly damaging, some would say barbaric, birth-control device. —Margaret Brady

The United States announces long-awaited troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan

After decades of deployment of American troops to the Middle East, top U.S. commander in the Middle East Marine General Frank McKenzie announced Wednesday that “the United States has decided to reduce our troop presence in Iraq from about 5,200 to 3,000 troops during the month of September.” He later added, in reference to Afghanistan, that “We’re on a glide slope to be at 4,500 by the November time frame, late October, November time frame.”

This move signifies a de-escalation of American involvement in the Middle East. Some critics of the troop withdrawals fear that the U.S. is “abandoning the country to an uncertain fate at the hands of the Taliban.” But General McKenzie assured those worried about security issues that “at 4,500 we’re still going to be able to accomplish the core task that we want to accomplish, and we’ve shown more than ample goodwill in our willingness to demonstrate that we don't want to be an occupying force in this country, but we do have strategic interests, vital interests, that compel us to be certain that these entities such as Al Qaeda and ISIS can’t be guests there to attack the United States.”

Leaders of both Iraq and Afghanistan were consulted as part of the decision making, and possess American-trained combat troops that claim to be skilled in anti-terrorism efforts. —ML

Serbia and Kosovo sign historic peace agreement

Relations between Serbia and Kosovo, the latter of which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, have been dire since the Kosovo War in 1998 and 1999 in which Serbian police and the Yugoslav army committed genocide against ethnic Albanians in the region. Now, for the first time, Serbia and Kosovo have decided to normalize relations, meeting last week at the White House alongside President Trump as a mediator of the talks.

After two days of meetings, Serbian President Vucic and Prime Minister of Kosovo Republic Hoti announced that they had come to a historic agreement in which they would economically engage, with plans to implement infrastructure that will promote new jobs and more accessible transportation.

Further, the two leaders also announced that Serbia will move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Kosovo, which is majority Muslim, will, in a surprising move, “normalize ties and establish diplomatic relations” with Jewish-occupied Jerusalem. Serbian President Vucic praised the agreement, telling President Trump he is “profoundly grateful” for his mediation. Kosovo Prime Minister Hoti declared the agreement “a great moment for Kosovo and the region” after years of turmoil.

The European Union, however, has since then stepped in to voice its disagreement with Serbia’s decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A EU Foreign Affairs spokesman told reporters in Brussels that “any diplomatic steps that could call into question the EU’s common position on Jerusalem are a matter of serious concern and regret.” —Mariel Lindsay

“Gender reveal” pyrotechnics spark wildfire

A family celebrating finding out their baby’s sex inadvertently sparked a fire in San Bernardino County in California which grew to at least 10,000 acres this weekend.

CNN reports that surveillance video showed a couple and children venturing into some grass as another person lit a smoke-producing device. They immediately recognized their error as the tape reportedly shows the group desperately trying to put out the quickly-spreading fire.

CalFire investigator Capt. Bennet Milloy said, “It really is a tragedy, it's sad. They were hoping to remember the day in a different way.” The family is cooperating with authorities and while officials say arson laws were broken, it remains to be seen whether there will be any misdemeanor or felony charges as a result. Earlier this week, firefighters reported making good progress in containing the fire in the absence of strong winds.

It’s not the first time that a “gender reveal” has caused a blaze; a similar fire started in 2017 after a target was blown up with a high powered rifle in Arizona.

Milloy noted that 80 percent of fires are related to human activity and that people must exercise caution given how quickly fires can get out of control. “Gender reveal” cupcakes, balloons or confetti can provide a significantly less crispy alternative to sharing the excitement of a new baby’s sex. —MB

Tokyo Olympics will resume with or without COVID, says IOC director

Outside of both World Wars, the Olympics have never been cancelled. John Coates, vice-president of the International Olympic Committee, wants it to stay that way and is taking effort to postpone the Olympic Games rather than cancel them.

The Games will start on July 23 of next year, Coates said. Coates also heads the IOC'c Coordination Commission for the Tokyo Games. Originally, the Games would be about how Japan conquered the 2011 tsunami. Now, Coates calls them "the Games that conquered Covid."

Despite Coates' statement, polls show only one in four Japanese want the games to take place next year, with most backing either another postponement or a cancellation. Japanese officials said they will not delay the games a second time after 2021. —MW

Luby's and Fuddruckers are among the list of restaurants closing in 2020

A beloved casual restaurant chain Luby's will liquidate its business and distribute the proceeds to existing investors. In June, executives announced they wanted to sell the restaurant and its assets, which include Luby's Cafeterias, Fuddrucker's, real estate, and the company's culinary contract service business. On March 31, the cafeteria-style restaurant based in Houston, Texas halted operations in all 50 states.

Nationally, as of July 10, according to Yelp’s Q2 Economic Average Report, released Wednesday, there have been 26,160 total restaurant shutterings since the arrival of COVID-19, an increase of 2,179 from June 15. Of those closed, 15,770—or 60 percent— have permanently shut down.

Economists project that about 30 percent of all Texas restaurants will close or have to significantly shift their business models. About 20 percent of all Massachusetts restaurants have closed for good due to the pandemic, according to the state’s restaurant association, and nearly two-thirds of New York restaurants could close by the end of the year. —Melanie Wilcox

Remembering 9/11

Today marks the 19th anniversary of the attacks on September 11. If you haven't already, we encourage you to read our article from last year on the 9/11 Memorial Glade, which remembers "first responders, survivors, residents, and others who continue to bear the consequences of that day in their bodies and their spirits."

Good News of the Week

A woman who slept in a Kroger parking lot is now an employee

LaShenda Williams was homeless for a year, living out of her car which she parked most nights in a Kroger grocery store parking lot.

“I would lean my seat all the way back so no one would see me because, you know, I knew I wasn’t supposed to be there,” she told NBC News.

She got a second chance when Kroger employee Jackie Vandal, who runs hiring for the store, told Williams about an upcoming job fair last December. Vandal spent hours helping Williams fill out the online job application, and then hired her on the spot. In eight months Williams has earned enough money to get a one-bedroom apartment, which her co-workers helped furnish. “For the very first time in my life, now I know what love is. Now I know what friendship is,” Williams said. —MB

Watch of the Week

Sometimes you just need to watch an elephant drinking a bottle of milk. 

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