U.N. To Review Thai Trafficking Status

GENEVA, Switzerland, Aug. 5 (UPI) — The United Nations is interested to hear about Thailand’s progress in controlling the trafficking of people, a U.N. special envoy said.

Joy Ngozi Ezelio, the U.N. special envoy on human trafficking, in a statement said she was visiting Thailand next week for meetings regarding human trafficking.

“I look forward to engaging in constructive dialogue with the government to discuss progress and remaining challenges in the fight against trafficking in persons,” she said in a statement.

Reports from the U.S. State Department suggest women and children are trafficked to the United States, Asian and European countries for sexual and labor purposes.

Reports indicate that while the practice is declining because of improved economic conditions, many women in poor Thailand communities are trafficked domestically for sexual exploitation.

Meanwhile, Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of the fugitive former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, became Thailand’s prime minister-elect Friday following a vote in Parliament.

She becomes the first woman and 28th prime minister of Thailand after her Pheu Thai Party won in national elections.

Thailand’s king must fist approve the election results, however.

IRS: 1,470 Millionaires Paid No Income Tax

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5 (UPI) — The Internal Revenue Service says 1,470 of 235,000 U.S. millionaires paid no income tax in 2009.

The IRS said millionaires comprised less than 1 percent of the 140 million tax returns filed in 2009 and that 8,274 U.S. citizens claimed incomes of $10 million or more.

The tax rate for those earning $1 million or more is 24.4 percent, up from 23.1 percent in 2008 but less than the 28.5 percent rate they paid in 2002, Politico reported Friday.

The IRS said the numbers are based on 2008 incomes, during the worst of the recession, meaning incomes for that year were considerably lower than normal.

The agency said the majority of Americans — 97 percent — reported incomes of less than $200,000. The average income reported in 2009 was $54,283, a drop of 6 percent, or more than $3,500 over 2008, the lowest level since 1997.

The average tax rate declined from 12.5 percent in 2008 to 11.4 percent in 2009, the report said.

The IRS said the amount of unemployment benefits claimed on tax returns nearly doubled from 2008 to 2009.

Conductor Forgiven For Ejecting Girl, 11

KUMLA, Sweden, Aug. 5 (UPI) — The adult sister of an 11-year-old girl kicked off a train in Sweden because she didn’t have a ticket says she has forgiven the conductor.

“I forgive her for what she’s done and I ask SJ [the train company] to allow her to keep her job,” said Grace Kayenga, whose sister Neema was removed from the train.

The Local, a Swedish newspaper, said the same conductor who sold the Kayengas a ticket later ejected the younger sister when she couldn’t produce a ticket or come up with the money to purchase one.

Grace Kayenga, who is 22, said she was told she only needed to purchase one adult ticket and her sister would travel free because she’s under 15.

When Grace Kayenga went to use a restroom, the conductor asked Neema for her ticket.

“The conductor that threw my sister off had sold us the ticket herself just a little while before,” Grace Kayenga said.

The younger girl was told to leave the train at a station in Kumla, about 12 miles south of Orebro.

Grace Kayenga said she spent a night worrying about her sister but discovered the next day a local woman had cared for her.

“I don’t want to think any more about it,” Grace Kayenga said. “I found my sister. She’s my best friend and it would’ve been a catastrophe if anything had happened to her.”

The conductor was suspended by SJ pending a review of the incident.

Joel Osteen To Preach At Chicago Ballpark

CHICAGO, Aug. 5 (UPI) — Televangelist Joel Osteen will deliver a sermon Saturday at U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox, officials said.

Osteen, pastor of Houston’s Lakewood Church, held his first stadium event at Yankee Stadium in New York in 2009. He told the Chicago Tribune it was such a success he booked Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and that both events drew nearly 50,000 attendees.

“We never dreamed we would be doing big stadiums,” Osteen said. “I didn’t know if we could do it but it all sold out. It just all fell into place for Chicago.”

Poll: Americans Unhappy With Congress

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5 (UPI) — Just 14 percent of Americans approve of how Congress handled the debt-ceiling crisis, a New York Times/CBS News poll indicates.

Eighty-two percent disapproved of Congress’ performance in the survey released Friday.

The debt-battle brought the United States within hours of defaulting on its obligations for the first time.

Seventy-four percent of those polled said members of Congress don’t deserve to be re-elected.

Forty-seven percent of respondents disapproved of how President Barack Obama is doing his job and 46 percent voiced satisfaction.

Republicans fared worse than Democrats in the poll. Seventy-two percent of respondents disapproved of how Republicans handled the debt crisis; 66 percent disapproved of the Democrats’ performance.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had his popularity decline in the poll. Fifty-seven percent of respondents disapproved of how Boehner is doing his job in contrast to 41 percent in mid-April.

The telephone poll was conducted Aug. 2-3 with 960 adults across the United States. Its margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

U.S. Unemployment Dips To 9.1 Percent

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5 (UPI) — The United States added 117,000 jobs in July and the unemployment rate dropped from 9.2 percent to 9.1 percent, the Labor Department said Friday.

Job gains in May and June were revised upward by a combined 56,000, the department said.

Private-sector companies hired 154,000 workers but governments at all levels reported job cutbacks, trimming the overall gain to 117,000 jobs.

The biggest increases occurred in healthcare with 31,000 new jobs, retail 26,000 and manufacturing 24,000.

Average hourly wages rose 10 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $23.13, the Labor Department said.

Famine Relief Hurt By Food Delays

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Aug. 5 (UPI) — Famine relief efforts in Somalia are hampered more by delays in procuring food and funds than by militants banning access to certain areas, organizers said.

Staff members at relief organizations said a huge problem in responding to the crisis is the time it takes to buy food abroad and ship it to the hardest-hit areas, The Guardian reported Friday.

“The limits on our action are more on the side of logistics than access,” said Anna Schaaf, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Nairobi in neighboring Kenya. “To purchase 3,000 tons of food and get it there is a long process.”

UNICEF officials said it takes 20 days to procure soy-blend products from India and double the time from Europe. Despite sending 11 flights to Somalia this week, the U.N. agency said its efforts were “still not to scale and not enough.”

Tony Burns, director of operations for Saacid, the oldest non-government organization in Somalia, told The Guardian that despite the size of the crisis “funding is still very difficult to get.”

The militant organization al-Shabaab makes responding difficult because it has banned some relief organizations — such as the United Nation’s World Food Program — from territory it controls. The militant group controls parts of southern Somalia, where the main famine zone is. UNICEF, ICRC and Saacid are not barred by al-Shabaab.

“Al-Shabaab is an issue in responding to the famine,” Burns said, “but for us it’s more about finding the resources so we can help people.”

33 Trapped Chilean Miners – Revisited

COPIAPO, Chile, Aug. 5 (UPI) — Most of the 33 Chilean miners who became celebrities after spending 69 days trapped in an underground mine are still trying to cope, a review indicates.

After captivating a world audience, guest appearances on television shows and sporting events, an exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington and even a line of action toys, most of the men have been unable to find a new line of work and have been forced to return to the mine in Copiapo, The Washington Post reported Thursday. They also are trying to cope with the mental and physical health issues resulting from the accident.

Some of the miners have been publicly criticized for speaking engagements as they sue the government that rescued them, alleging it allowed a dangerous mine to operate, the Post’s one-year follow-up indicated. While the miners don’t pick up the tab for trips, few of the men say they have made money off their appearances.

“There are people, for example, in a store who walk up and get angry at you. I didn’t choose to travel, I don’t have the money to travel,” Edison Pena said in a radio interview. “And if we had remained underground? And if there were only a big cross with our pictures on it? Would that be better?”

Shift foreman Luis Urzua joined the public-speaking circuit but most miners have financial problems and many remain traumatized, Jean Romagnoli, one of the lead doctors in the rescue operation, told the Post.

“They are taking uppers, downers, stabilizers,” Romagnoli said. “They don’t understand why they are taking them but they are fed up with pills. It is not pills they need, but the tools to deal with fame and the tools to renovate themselves.”

Last month, movie producer Michael Medavoy announced he bought the rights to their story and likely will begin filming in 2012. A contract the miners signed stipulates that they will share certain revenue, including proceeds from any authorized book or movie deal.

The men could receive settlements from either of the two lawsuits they filed. One suit is against the government, the second was filed against the mine owners.

Panetta: Cuts Could Damage U.S. Defense

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5 (UPI) — Congress must look at ways to increase revenue because the military could be crippled from further cuts, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.

Panetta said Thursday cuts beyond the $400 billion in savings planned over the next decade could weaken the military and make it difficult to defend the United States from future attacks, The Washington Post reported Friday.

“We’re already taking our share of the discretionary cuts as part of this debt-ceiling agreement and those are going to be tough enough,” Panetta said in his first news conference as defense secretary. “I think anything beyond that would damage our national defense.”

The first round of defense cuts are part of a debt-reduction plan approved by Congress to cut about $1 trillion from government budgets over a decade. A bipartisan congressional panel will identify a second round of cuts worth $1.5 trillion later this year.

If the panel can’t agree on the second round of cuts, an automatic trigger would cut an additional $600 billion from the Pentagon’s budget.

“You cannot deal with the size deficits that this country is confronting by simply cutting the discretionary side of the budget,” Panetta said.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the cuts would be debilitating and capricious.”

“We cannot allow that effort to go so far and cut so deep that it jeopardizes our ability to deal with the other very real and very serious threats we face around the world,” said Mullen, who joined Panetta at the news conference.

Rain, Flooding Threaten Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Aug. 5 (UPI) — Heavy rain and possible flooding from dissipating Tropical Storm Emily threatened thousands of Haitians living in temporary shelters Friday, forecasters said.

In Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, about 12,000 U.N. peacekeepers were on emergency standby.

People living in locations where the worst of the storm was expected were relocated into shelters, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

The Haitian government issued an alert warning residents that rainfall associated with Emily could produce dangerous flooding and mudslides.

Even as Emily falls apart, the National Hurricane Center said it could dump 6-12 inches of rain on Haiti and the Dominican Republic, with isolated amounts of up to 20 inches possible, CNN reported.

The Dominican Emergency Operation Center said more than 5,000 people in the Dominican Republic fled their homes because of heavy rains due to Emily, The Miami Herald reported.

The storm degenerated as it hit the mountains of the island of Hispaniola Thursday, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

The storm could reconstitute itself but South Florida likely would experience only some rough seas and possibly weekend rain, the Herald reported.