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Climate to conflict, Davos’ post-COVID return has full plate

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By Jamey Keaten And Masha Macpherson in Davos

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — Davos — the hub of an elite annual gathering in the Swiss Alps — is back, more than two years after the coronavirus pandemic kept its business gurus, political leaders and high-minded activists away. There’s no shortage of urgent issues for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting to tackle.

With their lofty ambition to help improve the state of the world, forum organizers have their work cut out for them: there are soaring food and fuel prices, Russia’s war in Ukraine, climate change, drought and food shortages in Africa, yawning inequality between rich and poor, and autocratic regimes gaining ground in some places — on top of signs that the pandemic is far from over.

It’s hard to predict if the high-minded discussions will yield substantial announcements that make headway on the world’s most pressing challenges.

The war in Ukraine will be a key theme. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will speak on opening day Monday by video from Kyiv, while the country’s foreign minister and a sizable delegation of other top Ukrainian officials will be on hand. They’ll be joined this week by leaders like German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“There’s no business as usual,” forum President Borge Brende told The Associated Press, saying Ukraine is not the only worry. “It is also climate change. It is also that the global growth is slowing, and we have to avoid that this very weak recovery ends with a new recession because we have very limited ammunition to fight a new recession.”

“A new recession will lead to increased unemployment, increased poverty,” he added. “So much is at stake.”

President Vladimir Putin’s war means Russian business and political leaders haven’t been invited to Davos this year. There will be no traditional “Russia House” social festivities with caviar and vodka spreads for the elite attendees of its evening fun.

Instead, critics — notably including Ukrainian tycoon Victor Pinchuk and the country’s Foreign Ministry — have seized on some symbolism and vowed to voice their disgust, which is shared by many around the world.

“This year, Russia is not present at Davos, but its crimes will not go unnoticed. The ‘Russia War Crimes House’ takes place inside the former Russia House,” organizers of the rechristened venue said in a press release.

Opening Monday, the venue will feature photos of crimes and cruelties that Russian forces are accused of perpetuating. Some victims will speak out — including Anatoliy Fedoruk, the mayor of Bucha, a town near Kyiv where images of killings of civilians drew outrage worldwide.

“It’s important to understand what is really happening in Ukraine,” said Bjorn Geldhof, artistic director of PinchukArtCentre, which is helping organize the exhibit. “Part of this exhibition is also to bring back a human face to those people who have become victim of these Russian war crimes.”

Brende, the forum president, says scores of CEOs and other business leaders will be looking into ways the private sector can support Ukraine, “in the situation where Russia is breaking international law, international humanitarian law, and not sticking to the U.N. Charter.”

Not everyone believe Davos is the place where solutions can be found.

A few dozen anti-capitalist demonstrators marching behind a “Smash WEF” banner clashed Friday with police in Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city, a sign of simmering antagonism against economic elites whom they accuse of putting profits over people. Police used rubber bullets and pepper spray to disperse the crowd in what was deemed an unauthorized gathering.

While Ukraine will capture attention on the meeting’s first day, climate and environmental issues will be a recurring, constant theme as the forum looks to future challenges as much as the current ones.

One-third of the roughly 270 panel discussions through Thursday’s finale will focus on climate change or its effects, with extreme weather, efforts to reach “net zero” emissions and finding new, cleaner sources of energy on the agenda.

Forum managers — who have faced criticism about hosting wealthy executives who sometimes fly in on emissions-spewing corporate jets — have increasingly tried to play their part and inoculate themselves against accusations of hypocrisy: Over the last five years, they say they have offset 100% of the carbon emissions from the organization’s activities by supporting environmental projects.

Experts say offsets can be problematic because there’s no guarantee they’ll deliver on reducing emissions.

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Crime

July 4 parade shooting leaves 6 dead, 30 hurt; man detained

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HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (AP) — A shooter fired on an Independence Day parade from a rooftop in suburban Chicago, spraying the crowd with gunshots initially mistaken for fireworks before hundreds of panicked revelers of all ages fled in terror. At least six people were killed and at least 30 wounded.

An hourslong manhunt during which residents hunkered down in businesses or received police escorts to their homes ended with a traffic stop and brief chase Monday evening, when authorities detained a man they described as a person of interest. They gave no motive for the attack in Highland Park, a close-knit community on the shores of Lake Michigan that has long drawn the rich and sometimes famous

The July 4 shooting was just the latest to shatter the rituals of American life. Schools, churches, grocery stores and now community parades have all become killing grounds in recent months. This time, the bloodshed came as the nation tried to find cause to celebrate its founding and the bonds that still hold it together.

“It definitely hits a lot harder when it’s not only your hometown but it’s also right in front of you,” resident Ron Tuazon said as he and a friend returned to the parade route Monday evening to retrieve chairs, blankets and a child’s bike that he and his family abandoned when the shooting began.

“It’s commonplace now,” Tuazon said. “We don’t blink anymore. Until laws change, it’s going to be more of the same.”

The shooting occurred at a spot on the parade route where many residents had staked out prime viewing points early in the day for the annual celebration.

Among them was Nicolas Toledo, who was visiting his family in Illinois from Mexico. He was shot and died at the scene, his granddaughter, Xochil Toledo, told the Chicago Sun-Times. Also killed was Jacki Sundheim, a lifelong congregant and “beloved” staff member at nearby North Shore Congregation Israel, which announced her death on its website.

Dozens of fired bullets sent hundreds of parade-goers — some visibly bloodied — fleeing. They left a trail of abandoned items that showed everyday life suddenly, violently disrupted: a box of chocolate cookies spilled onto the grass; a child’s Chicago Cubs cap; baby strollers, some bearing American flags.

“There’s no safe place,” said Highland Park resident Barbara Harte, 73, who had stayed away from the parade fearing a mass shooting, but later ventured from her home.

Highland Park Police Chief Lou Jogmen said a police officer pulled over Robert E. Crimo III about 5 miles (8 kilometers) north of the shooting scene, several hours after police released the man’s photo and warned that he was likely armed and dangerous.

Authorities initially said Crimo, whose father once ran for mayor of Highland Park, was 22, but an FBI bulletin and Crimo’s social media said he was 21.

Police declined to immediately identify Crimo as a suspect but said identifying him as a person of interest, sharing his name and other information publicly was a serious step.

Lake County Major Crime Task Force spokesman Christopher Covelli said at a news conference “several of the deceased victims” died at the scene and one died at a hospital. Lake County Coroner Jennifer Banek said the five people killed at the parade were adults, but didn’t have information on the sixth.

Police have not released details about the victims, but Toledo’s granddaughter told the Sun-Times that Toledo had spent most of his life in Morelos, Mexico. Xochil Toledo said she remembers looking over at her grandfather, who was in his late 70s, as a band passed them.

“He was so happy,” she said. “Happy to be living in the moment.”

Xochil Toledo said her father tried to shield her grandfather and was shot in the arm; her boyfriend also was shot in the back and taken by someone to nearby hospital because they weren’t sure there would be enough ambulances for all the victims.

Roberto Velasco, Mexico’s director for North American affairs, said on Twitter that two Mexicans were also wounded.

Sundheim had spent decades on the staff at North Shore Congregation Israel, early on teaching at the congregation’s preschool and later serving as Events and B’nei Mitzvah Coordinator, “all of this with tireless dedication,” the congregation said in its statement announcing her death.

“Jacki’s work, kindness and warmth touched us all,” the statement said.

NorthShore University Health Center received 26 patients after the attack. All but one had gunshot wounds, said Dr. Brigham Temple, medical director of emergency preparedness. Their ages ranged from 8 to 85, and Temple estimated that four or five were children.

“It is devastating that a celebration of America was ripped apart by our uniquely American plague,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at a news conference.

“While we celebrate the Fourth of July just once a year, mass shootings have become a weekly — yes, weekly — American tradition.”

Since the start of the year, there have been 15 shootings where four or more people have been killed, including the Highland Park one, according to The Associated Press/USA TODAY/Northeastern University mass killing database.

The shooter opened fire around 10:15 a.m., when the parade was about three-quarters through, authorities said.

Highland Park Police Commander Chris O’Neill, the incident commander on scene, said the gunman apparently used a “high-powered rifle” to fire from a spot atop a commercial building where he was “very difficult to see.” He said the rifle was recovered at the scene. Police also found a ladder attached to the building.

Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering told NBC’s “Today” show that she did not know where the gun came from but that it was “legally obtained.”

President Joe Biden on Monday said he and first lady Jill Biden were “shocked by the senseless gun violence that has yet again brought grief to an American community on this Independence Day.”

In recent days, Biden signed the widest-ranging gun violence bill passed by Congress in decades, a compromise that reflected at once both progress on a long-intractable issue and the deep-seated partisan divide that persists.

Crimo, who goes by the name Bobby, was an aspiring rapper with the stage name Awake the Rapper, posting on social media dozens videos and songs, some ominous and violent.

In one animated video since taken down by YouTube, Crimo raps about armies “walking in darkness” as a drawing appears of a man pointing a rifle, a body on the ground and another figure with hands up in the distance.

Crimo’s father, Bob, a longtime deli owner, ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Highland Park in 2019, calling himself “a person for the people.”

The community of about 30,000 on Chicago’s north shore has mansions and sprawling lakeside estates and was once home to NBA legend Michael Jordan. John Hughes filmed parts of several movies in the city, including “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Sixteen Candles” and “Weird Science.”

Gina Troiani and her 5-year-old son were lined up with his daycare class ready to walk onto the parade route when she heard a loud sound that she believed was fireworks — until she heard people yell about a shooter.

“We just start running in the opposite direction,” she told The Associated Press. “There were people that got separated from their families, looking for them. Others just dropped their wagons, grabbed their kids and started running.”

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Foody contributed from Chicago. Associated Press writers Martha Irvine and Mike Householder in Highland Park; Mike Balsamo and Bernard Condon in New York; David Koenig in Dallas; Jeff Martin in Woodstock, Georgia; Fabiola Sánchez in Monterrey, Mexico; and Jim Mustian in New Orleans contributed reporting.

Michael Tarm, Kathleen Foody And Roger Schneider, The Associated Press

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Companies could face hurdles covering abortion travel costs

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By Barbara Ortutay And Dee-ann Durbin

After the U.S. Supreme Court revoked the federal right to an abortion that’s been in place for half a century, companies like Amazon, Disney, Apple and JP Morgan pledged to cover travel costs for employees who live in states where the procedure is now illegal so they can terminate pregnancies.

But the companies gave scant or no details on how they will do this and it’s not clear if they will be able to — legally — while protecting employees’ privacy and keeping them safe from prosecution.

“Most employers were not prepared for Roe to be overturned, and even those that were didn’t realize the law would literally be changed the next minute,” said Brian Kropp, a vice president at the consulting firm Gartner. “They’re trying to play catch-up.”

Kropp said many companies announced plans to offer travel benefits without the infrastructure in place to make them work. Some, he added, are creating supplementary policies that employees can buy to cover abortion travel, while others are contacting insurers to see if travel can be added to their current plans. Others are trying to figure out how to offer a benefit without breaching employees’ privacy.

“Are employees going to have to tell their manager they are going to have to travel from Texas to California to have an abortion?” Kropp said.

The answer is no — but they would likely have to tell human resources or a similar department that they are pregnant and want to get an abortion, said Sharona Hoffman, a health law professor at Case Western Reserve University. The company or its health insurer would then provide money upfront or a reimbursement after the fact.

Hoffman called the travel cost pledges a “generous benefit” from companies, and said she would not be surprised “if this becomes a practice that more companies undertake — just without trumpeting it,” for fear of the backlash that can come with public statements on a divisive issue such as abortion.

“It’s not necessarily altruistic,” she said. “It also makes some sense for companies to not have a bunch of employees that are highly distressed because they have unwanted pregnancies and have to carry the child to term.”

For now, most big companies offering an abortion travel benefit will likely add it to existing health care plans, said Jonathan Zimmerman, a partner with the law firm Morgan Lewis who helps companies develop and maintain their benefits.

Big companies are generally self-insured, which means they pay for all claims and have more flexibility to decide what the plans will cover. A third party then processes the claims on their behalf.

That’s the case at outdoor clothing company Patagonia, which updated its health coverage last fall to add travel costs for employees after Texas’s law banning most abortions went into effect. Patagonia said abortion and travel costs are administered in the same manner as other medical services, ensuring confidentiality for employees.

Restaurant review company Yelp said its abortion travel benefit is also administered by its health insurance provider. Yelp has told its employees that if they do use the travel benefit, Yelp will not have access to the details of the service.

Microsoft, meanwhile, noted that it already covers abortion, as well as gender-affirming care, for its employees and has now extended the coverage to include travel expenses for “these and other lawful medical services” if they are not available in an employee’s home state.

Smaller companies may have fewer options. They typically buy health insurance for their employees from insurers that are subject to state regulations. Those companies have less flexibility to design benefits, and they may operate in states that ban abortion.

Dr. Ami Parekh, chief health officer at Included Health, which offers health care navigation services and virtual care for employers, said it is “quite a scramble” right now for large employers to navigate this fast-moving landscape.

“They’re moving as fast as they can,” Parekh said. “And I bet you they’re going to be nimble and change as needed as things come up.”

For instance, some companies are offering to pay for a partner to travel with the person getting the abortion.

With the legal landscape shifting quickly, even adding travel benefits to a current medical plan carries some risk. In May, 14 state lawmakers in Texas sent a letter to Lyft warning the company to rescind its abortion travel benefit, saying they plan to introduce legislation that would ban companies from doing business in Texas if they pay for abortions or reimburse abortion-related expenses.

That said, no such legislation has been enacted as of now in Texas or anywhere else. It is also not against the law to travel to states where abortion is legal, Hoffman noted. There are efforts afoot, however, to change that.

And while the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, protects sensitive patient information, it can be overruled in cases where a crime has been committed. That’s the case now in states where abortion has become a crime.

“It’s challenging for employers to navigate what is a rapidly evolving legal landscape,” said Sharon Masling, the head of Morgan Lewis’s reproductive rights task force. “There’s going to be a lot of litigation over the next few years.”

Beyond the legal questions, abortion travel benefits also present some thorny workplace issues, Kropp said. Employees who don’t support abortion may be angry that their company is paying for other employees’ travel, for example. Even those who do support abortion may question why the company isn’t paying them to travel for fertility treatments or transgender health care, he said.

This is why it’s likely, experts say that some companies are offering travel benefits but aren’t making public announcements about it.

“My sense is most employers are trying to very quickly figure out what’s best for their employees and dependents,” Parekh said. “And not all employers want to spend the energy to be very public about that at this moment in time.”

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Associated Press staff writers Haleluya Hadero and Anne D’Innocenzio in New York and Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island contributed to this story.

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