Sioux Falls Atheists
Sioux Falls Atheists and Atheism, Agnostics and Humanism

123 Atheism & Humanism News Articles
for February 2018
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source

Sioux Falls Atheists News

2-28-18 NYC to pay Muslim women forced to remove hijabs for mugshots
New York City has reached a settlement with three women who had their Muslim headscarves removed by police before mugshots were taken in their arrest. Each woman will receive $60,000 (£44,000), an official with the New York City Law Department told BBC News. A lawyer for the women applauded the decision, calling it "a good step in the right direction" towards addressing police policy on head coverings. The case stems from a 2012 mugshot of a teenager suspected of fighting. The girl - identified in the court filing as "G.E." - refused to remove her hijab, or head covering, at a local Brooklyn precinct and was taken to a private room where a female officer took her photo. But after she was moved to the central booking station, officers said they were unable to take a second photo in private because the camera was in a fixed position. She was then required to removed her hijab for around 20 minutes in the presence of police and other prisoners - a move which her lawyer said left her feeling "exposed, violated and distraught". Her criminal case was dismissed but a civil case had been ongoing before Monday's settlement. Tahanie Aboushi, the lawyer who represented the three Muslim women, told the BBC that "the settlements are a good step in the right direction to address this issue not just for women who wear hijab but also for people of other faiths". In 2015, the New York Police Department issued new guidance to officers requiring them to tell detained suspects with head coverings that they can have their mugshot taken in private by an officer of their same gender. (Webmaster's comment: In order to have a civilized society we must have facial identification of suspects. Sorry but your religious beliefs will just have to take a backseat.)

2-28-18 Dick's Sporting Goods pulls assault-style rifles as Florida students return
As students at the Florida school where 17 people were recently killed returned to classes, a major gun retailer has announced it will stop selling the kind of weapon used in the attack. Dick's Sporting Goods, which has more than 600 shops, said it would no longer sell assault-style rifles, and backed "common sense gun reform". The move came as pupils and teachers made an emotional return to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Grief counsellors were on hand. In the aftermath of the 14 February shooting, pressure has mounted on US politicians to act on gun control and for corporations to cut ties with the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA). Firms including Hertz car rental, United airlines and Delta airlines have ended discounts to NRA members. Dick's Sporting Goods announcement also came as Florida lawmakers proposed a package of gun control measures, including a controversial bill to arm school staff, including teachers. "We have tremendous respect and admiration for the students organising and making their voices heard regarding gun violence in schools and elsewhere in our country," Dick's Sporting Goods said in a statement. "We have heard you. The nation has heard you." The retailer said it was committing itself to:

  1. No longer selling assault-style rifles (The company had stopped selling such weapons after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting but 35 shops run by a subsidiary had continued to do so.)
  2. Banning the sale of high-capacity magazines that allow more shots to be fired without reloading
  3. Not selling firearms to anyone under the age of 21

2-28-18 The gun lobby's biggest weakness
There are simply no good arguments against gun control. You can feel it in the air: the gun lobby's fear and the unstated realization on the part of its cheerleaders in the right-wing media and conservative commentariat that this time things could well be different, this time the momentum may lie on the other side, this time public opinion just might be slipping away from them. In the wake of the devastating school shooting in Parkland, Florida, there have been protests around the country, not to mention the unprecedented CNN town hall at which Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) faced fierce and unrelenting criticism from an overwhelmingly hostile crowd, and the parade of businesses cutting ties with a suddenly unpopular NRA. And now there's the ambitious gun control bill introduced in the House earlier this week by Democratic Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island. With the Republicans holding all the power in Washington, it doesn't have a chance of passage. But it looks like exactly what a sizeable chunk of the American electorate would like to see enacted: an amped-up reboot of the assault weapons ban of 1994, restricting the sale, transfer, production, and importation of a range of semi-automatic pistols and rifles. That bill faces near-certain defeat now, but it's the wave of the future. The number of gun-owning households is at a 30-year low, with rates of ownership the lowest among the young and fully four out of five of millennials prepared to declare that the U.S. has a problem with mass shootings. As we saw within the past generation with the very rapid shift toward acceptance of same-sex marriage, dramatic change can happen incredibly quickly when age becomes a significant variable in explaining where people come down on a polarized social issue. (With every passing day, those in favor of sticking with the status quo are replaced with those favoring reform.)

2-28-18 Judge: Remove Charlottesville Confederate statue tarpaulins
Tarpaulins covering two Confederate statues in Charlottesville, Virginia must be removed, a court has ruled. The city put up the sheeting in the days after a deadly far-right rally last August which left a counter-protester and two police officers dead. The city had argued the "shrouds" were meant to honour those killed and injured, but the judge found they interfered with park tourism. The judge also allowed a lawsuit to preserve the statues to move forward. Judge Richard Moore ruled on Tuesday that the black plastic sheeting over the monuments to Robert E Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson must be removed in the next 15 days. Judge Moore's decision was based on his opinion that the city had never defined how long the coverings would remain, and that they interfered with the public's ability to enjoy the parks. "Every day we have to walk by this emblem to white supremacy, it's causing irreparable harm to this community," Ben Daugherty, an organiser for a group called Showing Up for Racial Justice, told WCAV-News. (Webmaster's comment: Keeping the memory of black slavery alive. It may soon be back!)

2-28-18 If you hate bad body odour, you’re more likely to support Trump
A person’s response to badly-smelling body odours is linked to whether they hold right-wing authoritarian views, and can predict if they like President Trump. How disgusting is your boss’s bad breath? Your answer could reveal your political leanings. People with more authoritarian attitudes are more likely to be disgusted by foul-smelling body odours – and the more easily disgusted a person is, the more they are likely to support Donald Trump. Disgust is a universal human emotion that helps keep us safe from harmful substances, says Jonas Olofsson at Stockholm University in Sweden. Multiple studies have shown that the kind of disgust we experience when we come across something that might carry disease also spreads into other emotions, such as moral disgust. People who are socially conservative, for example, seem to feel disgust more strongly. Olofsson and his colleagues wondered if a person’s response to smell might reveal their politics. They asked 201 volunteers from around the world to complete an online survey, answering questions about how disgusting they found various hypothetical situations. Some of these involved smell, such as exposure to someone else’s body odour or using a toilet that smelled strongly of urine, while others didn’t, such as being close to someone with red sores covering their arms. Other questions in the survey measured right wing authoritarianism among the volunteers. These questions asked volunteers to what degree they agreed with authoritarian statements along the lines of “the old-fashioned ways are the best to live by” and “we need a strong leader to deal with an immoral society”. Olofsson’s team found that people who scored higher for disgust also tended to score more highly for right wing authoritarianism. Compared to visual or other cues, it was a high disgust-response to the thought of body odours that most strongly predicted if a person would rate highly for authoritarianism. The team got the same pattern when they repeated the experiment with 160 volunteers based in the US.

2-27-18 Let's be honest about what arming teachers means: We expect them to kill students
Giving teachers guns is the worst idea in the history of public policy. Anyone who has bothered to suggest even the most straightforward and commonsensical of additional gun control measures has found himself browbeaten by well-catechized right-wing obfuscators. If you use the phrase "assault rifle," they pretend that this is a journalistic neologism rather than a precisely defined term. If you point out that it is far easier to prevent someone from getting a driver's license in this country than to deny him access to semi-automatic weapons, they pretend that in the modern United States being able to play dress-up with Rambo gear is a more fundamental "right" than being able to drive a car. This is not to say that Second Amendment absolutists are unwilling to propose solutions of their own. Lately, they have fallen in love with the ludicrous notion, happily promoted by President Trump, that in order to prevent massacres like the one in Parkland, Florida, we must ensure that as many of our teachers as possible carry guns in their classrooms. I would call this "Swiftian," because it is certainly worthy of the Dean of St. Patrick's satirical art, but as far as I am aware its proponents are absolutely sincere in their view that every classroom in this country should be considered the potential scene of a Wild West shootout. This is the single stupidest public policy proposal floated in my lifetime. It is so vauntingly cynical, so painfully unimaginative, so glibly unquestioning of a status quo in which a certain number of students must simply be expected to attempt mass murder that it would be generous to refer to it as nihilistic. It is worth pointing out the vague and abstract nature of the language used by those pushing this ludicrous notion. Teachers, they say, should be capable of "neutralizing" "threats." Let's be honest about what that means. It is code for killing their students.

2-27-18 School to close due to nearby church's AR-15 rifle event
A Pennsylvania school has said it will close for a day while a nearby pro-gun church hosts an event inviting guests to bring their unloaded AR-15 rifles. School officials said there is no direct threat, but students would spend the day on a different school campus. The World Peace and Unification Sanctuary said it planned the ceremony before a school shooting left 17 people dead in Florida on 14 February. Authorities say the alleged gunman used a similar rifle in the attack. The Wallenpaupack Area School District Superintendent Michael Silsby told parents in a letter "there is no direct threat to our school or community". However, given the "nature of the event" and traffic concerns, students at Wallenpaupack South Elementary School would be re-located to a campus about 15 miles (24km) away, according to the letter. Mr Silsby added there would be increased security at school all week and parents would be allowed to keep their children home. The church, an offshoot of the Unification Church, said it planned the event months before a shooting in Parkland, Florida, where police say an AR-15 rifle was used to gun down 17 people. The event, described as a "mass wedding", will host hundreds of couples wishing to renew their vows using symbolic items like crowns and AR-15 rifles, according to church officials. Spokesman Tim Elder told the AP news agency the church believes the AR-15 rifle symbolises the "rod of iron" in the Bible's book of Revelation. (Webmaster's comment: Celebrating a weapon of mass murder. Just being a Christian doesn't mean you aren't a killer at heart!)

2-27-18 'Hitler bell' to remain in German church as a memorial
A village in Germany has voted to keep a controversial church bell embossed with a swastika and the words "All for the Fatherland - Adolf Hitler". The parish council of Herxheim argued that the Nazi-era bronze bell acted as a reminder for the nation's dark past. The 10-3 vote on Monday rejected an offer to remove and replace the bell by the Protestant Church of St James. Some parishioners were alarmed to find they had been married or had baptised their children under the "Hitler bell". The local parish council said the Nazi-era relic, which has hung in the church since 1934, should stay as "an impetus for reconciliation and a memorial against violence and injustice", AFP news agency reports. A memorial pointing to the controversial 240 kg (530 pounds) bell's history will now be fixed on the 1,000-year-old heritage-listed church, the Jakobskirche. Herxheim am Berg, in southwest Germany, has repeatedly found itself in the media spotlight since a former church organist complained about the bell's inscription. Until then its history had been largely unknown, and the bell had rung out every quarter of an hour. (Webmaster's comment: Ringing Loud and Strong for Hatred and Evil.)

2-27-18 Chancellor Merkel enters 'Germans only' food bank furore
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the latest politician to criticise a major food bank's decision to bar foreigners from receiving free food. The charity Essener Tafel called it a temporary restriction necessary because the share of foreigners using the food bank had soared to 75% in recent years. The charity says it helps about 16,000 poor people in Essen, a city in the western industrial Ruhr region. Vandals have sprayed "Nazis" on the charity's delivery vans. Mrs Merkel spoke out against Essener Tafel's new rule requiring visitors to show a German passport in order to receive food. "One shouldn't run services on the basis of such categorisations. That's not good. But it also shows the amount of pressure there is, and how many people are needy. That's why I hope they can find good solutions which do not exclude groups," she told the broadcaster RTL. An estimated 1.2 million asylum seekers entered Germany during the migrant crisis of 2015-2016, more than half from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The record influx boosted support for the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Essener Tafel is part of a national food bank group called Tafel. Essen is part of Germany's old coal-and-steel hub in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) state. The far-right AfD defended the charity's policy on Facebook (in German), saying "if you fight back, you're a Nazi". Like hundreds of other German food banks, Essener Tafel collects tonnes of surplus food at or past its sell-by date, which would otherwise be thrown away. The charity's managers are holding an emergency meeting now to tackle the row over its new policy, which took effect last month.

2-26-18 Anti-discrimination law covers sex orientation, court rules
A US federal court has ruled to protect gay employees in the workplace. The Manhattan court overruled prior decisions that said the opposite, saying "legal doctrine evolves". The 10-3 ruling by the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals was made after an openly gay skydiving instructor was fired for admitting his sexuality. President Trump's Justice Department previously said that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not cover sexual orientation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has argued that Title VII, which prohibits workplace discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex or national origin, should also protect employees from being discriminated against based on sexual orientation. The majority of the Manhattan court agreed, though three 2nd Circuit Court judges dissented. The court had previously ruled in 2000 and 2005 that sexual orientation was not covered under "sex" because it was not a biological gender. Chief Judge Robert A Katzmann said in a statement about the ruling: "We now conclude that sexual orientation discrimination is motivated, at least in part, by sex and is thus a subset of sex discrimination." The ruling only applies to the 2nd Circuit Court's jurisdiction, which covers the states of New York, Vermont and Connecticut.

2-26-18 Baidu can clone your voice after hearing just a minute of audio
Researchers at the Chinese search engine Baidu say their tech could create duplicate voices for people who can't speak, or be used to personalise digital assistants. Chinese search giant Baidu says it can create a copy of someone’s voice using neural networks – and all that’s needed to work from is less than a minute’s worth of audio of the person talking. Baidu researchers say the technology could create digital duplicate voices for people who have lost the ability to talk. It could also be used to personalise digital assistants, video game characters or automatic speech translation services. “A mum could easily configure an audio-book reader with her own voice to read bedtime stories for her kids,” says Sercan Arik at Baidu Research, who led the work. Voice cloning technology has improved rapidly in recent years. In 2016 Adobe released VoCo, which could mimic someone’s voice using 20 minutes of audio. Last year, Canadian start-up Lyrebird released a service letting anyone create a digital copy of their voice based on 1 minute of audio. Baidu’s research builds on its text-to speech synthesis system Deep Voice, which was trained on more than 800 hours of audio from 2400 speakers. It builds a model of human speech by learning what sounds go with what text and also learns the idiosyncrasies of each speaker it was trained on. (Webmaster's comment: More cutting-edge science and technology from China!)

2-26-18 Cars that run on supercapacitors could be charged in minutes
New material could lead to supercapacitors that hold more energy than lithium batteries and allow electric vehicles or smart phones to be charged in minutes A chance discovery could speed the development of electric cars and mobile phones that charge in just minutes. A company in the UK says it has developed simple prototypes of a new kind of supercapacitor that might be able to store more energy per volume than the batteries now used in cars and phones. What’s more, it should be relatively simple to manufacture. “This promises to make rapid charging possible for electric vehicles, as well as offering a much-needed low cost method of storing the transient output from renewable energy systems,” says Donald Highgate, research director at Superdielectrics in Hertfordshire, UK. Existing electric vehicles and mobile phones all use rechargeable lithium ion batteries. But these take hours to fully charge, wear out after a few hundred charges and can explode if they overheat. They also require rare metals like cobalt. That’s why many teams around the world are racing to develop alternatives, including various kinds of supercapacitors, which can be charged in just minutes. Some buses in China and Singapore are already partly powered by supercapacitors that are recharged by overhead connectors at bus stops. (Webmaster's comment: Why not from science in the United States. Many of our people have rejected science and our religion rejects science it doesn't agree with!)

2-26-18 Quantum trick lets one particle send messages two ways at once
For two people to send each other a message, it usually takes a minimum of two particles. But quantum superposition makes it possible with just one In the quantum world, particles behave as if they are in two places at once. It turns out this bizarre property allows two people to send each other one bit of information using a single particle – something that is impossible with classical communications. Say Alice and Bob each want to send the other a piece of information in the form of a 0 or a 1. In classical communications, each has to send the other a particle encoded with that information. So, you need two particles. Now, Philip Walther at the University of Vienna in Austria and his colleagues have shown that quantum mechanics can help flout this limitation. Their experiment involves a staple of quantum labs: something called the Mach-Zehnder interferometer. Once a particle enters the device, it is sent into a beamsplitter, which either transmits or reflects the particle. Because a quantum particle can be in two places at once, it can be thought of as both being transmitted and reflected by the beamsplitter simultaneously. It is then in a superposition, taking two different paths. After a while, these paths meet at a second beamsplitter. If the two paths are of equal length, the particle always exits the second beamsplitter via route A. If you change the length of one of the paths precisely, the particle exits the beamsplitter via route B. (Webmaster's comment: Why not from science in the United States. Many of our people have rejected science and our religion rejects science it doesn't agree with!)

2-26-18 Guns will not save you from tyranny
Do guns preserve freedom? Many conservatives believe they do. In one representative example, National Review's David French argued that we need a heavily armed citizenry in case the government turns tyrannical and America's private gun owners need to wield the threat of gunning down police and soldiers to preserve their liberty. Liberals typically wave such arguments away as a nonsense hypothetical. Are small arms — and even AR-15s — really going to be useful against armored cavalry, heavy artillery, and drone strikes? (For his part, French concedes this point: "The argument is not that a collection of random citizens should be able to go head-to-head with the Third Cavalry Regiment. That's absurd.") And as Ed Kilgore notes, this conservative interpretation of the Second Amendment is extremely recent — not to mention that it's a bit rich to hear coming from people who typically scream themselves hoarse about supporting the troops. But let's actually engage with this conservative argument on its merits. Indeed, history provides us many examples of times when people might have had an opportunity to use small arms against a tyrannical state. Did it work? The results are not encouraging for Second Amendment absolutists. Consider the American South, which was a brutal tyranny for most of its existence. First there was 250 years of chattel slavery, followed by about 12 years of genuine multi-racial democracy, followed by 90 years of Jim Crow tyranny — a racial caste system whose political foundation was white supremacist terrorism.

2-26-18 Are we willing to turn schools into prisons to protect kids from mass shootings?
Arming teachers and militarizing classrooms isn't compatible with America's idea of childhood. Are AR-15s really worth all that? Everybody wants to keep children safe in school. That, I hope, is a given. President Trump wants that. Democrats want that. Republicans want that. The NRA wants that, too. But the added tragedy of America's unique rash of school shootings is that, no matter how sad and angry and sickened everybody is after a slaughter of innocents, the federal government keeps doing nothing. Well, not nothing, exactly — in September 2004, five years and five months after the murder of 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado, the Republican-led Congress let the Federal Assault Weapons Ban expire. Four years later, in 2008, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court ruled for the first time that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to own firearms, not just in a well-regulated militia. On the state level, Republican-led governments have loosened gun laws and Democratic-led states have tightened them, to the extent allowed. After the murder of 14 teenagers and three adults at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week, the hot new alternative to gun control is fortifying — or, rather, fortress-ifying — America's schools. More specifically, Trump's big idea is to encourage 10-40 percent of American K-12 teachers to carry a concealed firearm to school, and to advertise that fact to deter shooters. The NRA approves of this idea — more guns in schools means more guns, gun owners, and gun sales, after all. And as the argument goes, nothing stops a bad guy with a gun as effectively as a good guy with a gun. (It should be noted, however, that the armed guard at Stoneman Douglas High did not stop the bad guy with a gun.)

2-26-18 Florida school shooting: NRA 'doesn't back any ban'
The US National Rifle Association (NRA) has said it does not support any gun ban following a shooting in a Florida school that left 17 people dead. The NRA's comments appear to go against President Donald Trump's proposals to tighten gun controls. Since the 14 February attack on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School the NRA has become a target of a campaign for tougher gun laws. On Sunday, some students returned to the school for the first time. Accompanied by their parents, they were back for what the authorities in Parkland described as "orientation". A variety of support services were available at the campus. Students are preparing to return full-time to their classrooms on Wednesday. Dana Loesch, a spokeswoman for the influential gun lobby group, told ABC News: "The NRA doesn't back any ban." She said the massacres like that in Florida were not caused by the NRA. Ms Loesch suggested there had been errors by local law enforcement agencies and a lack of action by politicians. Florida officials revealed after the shooting that an armed officer assigned to the school had stood outside the building during the shooting and not intervened. The NRA endorsed Mr Trump during his 2016 presidential election campaign. (Webmaster's comment: We've let the people who support mass killing weapons elect our President.)

2-26-18 The American who fled 'gay conversion' in Africa
A midnight taxi to the US embassy; an emergency flight home; a new life in New York. An ex-Muslim tells his story. Mahad Olad was in a Nairobi hotel room, looking at his mother. She was holding two articles from a student newspaper in New York. In the first article, Mahad, then 19, said he was atheist. In the second, he said he was gay. His mother - a Somali Muslim - could not tolerate it. She was sending him, she said, to a group of Sheikhs (tribal leaders). The Somali Sheikhs would reform him. Return him to the community. Make him Muslim. Make him straight. Mahad had read about gay conversion in Africa - the long, religious lessons; the abuse - and wanted no part. He was happy being gay. He was happy being ex-Muslim. He nodded, smiled, and told his mother he would do as she said. Then, after she left the room, Mahad made a phone call. As one door closed, another one opened. Ex-Muslims of North America is a group for people who leave Islam. Their slogan is: "We envision a world where every person is free to follow their conscience." Many of their members - often the children of immigrants - are shunned by their family. Some receive death threats. Mahad needed their help. From the hotel room, he called an Ex-MNA member in Minneapolis, the American city where he grew up.

2-25-18 Parkland's politics of pain
An outpouring of grief and anger always follows a deadly mass shooting. But in Parkland, Florida, students and parents are turning rage into activism. On a day when Parkland began burying its young dead, a dozen people stood on a street corner holding up "More Gun Control" signs as passing drivers honked and shouted in support. "Look what we started," said Carlos Rodriguez, 50, who was on his way to work when he stopped to join the protest last Friday. "Look at all these people. One match started a whole forest fire." This most peaceful and orderly of places has been devastated by the most violent and chaotic of acts. And amid the horse trails, bike paths, and gated communities of a city that prides itself on "country elegance," the response to a shooting last week that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has been a raw, growing, and furious burst of activism and demand for change. Hundreds of people filled the terrace of the Broward County federal courthouse over the weekend, where their echoing chants of "enough" and "not one more" weren't solemn — they were seething. None, perhaps, more so than Emma Gonzalez's. "If the president wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and how it should have never happened and maintain telling us that nothing is going to be done about it, I'm going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association," Gonzalez declared. "To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you! If you actively do nothing, people will continue to end up dead." In a nearly 10-minute address — her black tank top and tightly cropped haircut barely visible behind podium microphones that stood nearly as tall — Gonzalez slammed by name senators who have proposed softening gun laws. Every few moments, the Stoneman Douglas High senior raised her bracelet-covered right arm to wipe tears from her eyes. In her left hand she clutched her speech, written out by hand on a stack of college-ruled paper. She led the crowd in chants of "No more BS!"

2-25-18 Trump tax reform gives Buffett $29bn boost
US billionaire Warren Buffet says his conglomerate has received a profit boost of $29bn (£20bn) as a result of President Donald Trump's tax reforms, he says. Berkshire Hathaway reported a record quarterly and annual profit on Saturday. The Republican law reform, approved in December, cut the corporate tax rate to 21% from 35%. Mr Buffett, one of the richest men in the world, opposed the plan. In his letter to investors, Mr Buffett said the tax cut accounted for nearly half of the firm's gain in net worth during 2017. "A large portion of our gain did not come from anything we accomplished at Berkshire," he wrote. "Only $36 billion came from Berkshire's operations. The remaining $29 billion was delivered to us in December when Congress rewrote the US Tax Code." Non-partisan analysts had said the greatest beneficiaries of the tax package would be multinational corporations. Last month Barclays, a British bank, predicted that Berkshire Hathaway would be a major beneficiary. It said that after an initial windfall, its earnings could continue to rise by 12% on an ongoing basis. Republicans have argued that the tax reform will boost economic growth. Passing the bill through Congress was a major victory for President Trump. He called it "the largest tax cut in the history of our country" and a gift to the nation. The reforms give the vast majority of taxpayers lower tax bills in the immediate future. However those cuts expire in 2025. Mr Buffett, who believes in higher taxes for the rich, has said he would have preferred a different tax bill.

2-24-18 Florida shooting: US airlines join other firms in dropping NRA
Two major US airlines have joined a growing list of companies to cut ties with the National Rifle Association following the Florida school shooting. United and Delta airlines have both announced they are ending discounts for NRA members. The killing of 17 people in Florida has revived the gun control debate in the US, with student survivors playing a leading role in calling for change. Firms with links to the US gun lobby have faced calls for a boycott. Activists have flooded the NRA's corporate partners with comments on social media under the hashtag #BoycottNRA. The suspect in the attack, Nikolas Cruz, was said to be obsessed with guns and bought the semi-automatic rifle he allegedly used at the school in Parkland legally last year while aged 18. United and Delta airlines were the latest firms on Saturday to drop their ties to the powerful gun advocacy organisation. Between them they fly more than 300 million passengers a year. Other firms dropping ties to the NRA include:

  1. Enterprise Holdings, which owns rental car brands Alamo, Enterprise and National, said discounts offered to NRA members would end on 26 March.
  2. Another car rental firm, Hertz, also said it was ending discounts offered to NRA members.
  3. The family-owned First National Bank of Omaha said it would not renew NRA-branded credit cards, citing "customer feedback."
  4. Insurance firm Chubb said it had stopped underwriting an NRA-branded insurance policy three months ago.
  5. Software firm Symantec said it had stopped its discount programme with the NRA.
  6. Two removal firms, Allied Van Lines and NorthAmerican Van Lines, ended their affiliate relationship with the NRA and asked for their details to be removed from its website Insurer MetLife Inc also cut ties.

(Webmaster's comment: Boycott any business that has anything to do with the NRA or the gun manufacturers!)

BAN ASSAULT RIFLES

2-24-18 Florida shooting: Firms abandon NRA amid consumer boycott
Several US companies have cut ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA) amid calls for a boycott of businesses linked to the powerful gun lobby in the wake of the Florida school shooting. The firms include car rental giants Hertz and Enterprise, which had offered discounts for NRA members. The murder of 17 people has prompted renewed calls for tighter gun controls. Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott has backed calls to raise the minimum age for buying a gun from 18 to 21. (Webmaster's comment: Wow! What a difference that will make.) Mr Scott has been widely seen as an ally of the NRA who has previously opposed stricter laws in the state. However, he has come under mounting pressure to respond to the demands of students who survived the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Activists have tried to put pressure on the NRA since the shooting by targeting firms that offer discounts and other benefits to its members. They have flooded its corporate partners with comments on social media under the hashtag #BoycottNRA. Firms under pressure include delivery company FedEx and tech giants such as Amazon, which distributes NRA television programmes. On Thursday, the family-owned First National Bank of Omaha said it would not renew NRA-branded credit cards, citing "customer feedback". Enterprise Holdings, which owns the rental car brands Alamo, Enterprise and National, also said discounts offered to NRA members would end on 26 March. Other companies distanced themselves from the NRA on Friday. Those included MetLife Insurance, the Avis Budget Group, home security firm Simplisafe, two moving brands - Allied Van Lines and northAmerican Van Lines - and Symantec Corp which had offered discounts for its LifeLock identity theft product. Insurance firm Chubb also said it had stopped underwriting an NRA-branded insurance policy three months ago. In Florida, the president of the Florida Education Association, which represents teachers' unions, also called on the state to look at pension holdings in gun companies in a statement to the Miami Herald newspaper. (Webmaster's comment: Boycott any firm that has anything to do with The NRA! Especially Delta and United Airlines giving NRA members discounts. Call them up and tell them you will never fly on Delta or United as long as they support the NRA.)

2-23-18 7 scathing cartoons about Congress' subservience to the NRA
(Webmaster's comment: Worth reading but they're anything but funny!)

2-23-18 Sacrificed for the right of revolution
When Nikolas Cruz decided to turn his former high school into a slaughterhouse, he went to the Sunrise Tactical Supply store in a Parkland strip mall, put down $1,000 in cash, and pointed to an AR-15. He could have chosen a different semiautomatic rifle, or a handgun, or a knife, but he wanted a weapon designed for war. It was the same choice made by the Las Vegas shooter (who shot more than 400 people in 10 minutes), the Sutherland Springs shooter, the Newtown shooter, and so many others. A civilian knockoff of a weapon designed for battlefields, AR-15–style rifles are the perfect tools for mass killings — easy even for a novice Rambo to fire accurately, with little recoil, and customizable with handgrips, sights, and magazines of 30 to 100 rounds. For 10 years, the federal government banned assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines, but that law expired in 2004. Now the NRA and its allies fiercely oppose any renewal of the ban. Why? You'll hear various disingenuous arguments, but in The Federalist this week, John Davidson provides the answer that is the bedrock of all gun-control opposition. The Second Amendment, Davidson says, was not meant to merely protect hunting and self-defense. No: "The right to bear arms stems from the right of revolution." Weapons designed for war must remain legal, Davidson says, so that Americans can "overthrow their government if it becomes tyrannical." It's a terrible shame, he concedes, that AR-15s have been used to shoot up schools, concerts, workplaces, and churches — but the Second Amendment "is worth dying for." Seen from this perspective, the bullet-riddled dead of Parkland, Newtown, Las Vegas, et al. are necessary sacrifices; their slaughter enables liberty-loving Americans to maintain the option of armed rebellion. This core belief, which drives the intractable opposition to any form of gun control, is not often publicly discussed; until it's addressed and confronted, the carnage will continue. (Webmaster's comment: But none of these weapons will stop a Abrams Tank or a Drone with a Hellfire Missile.)

2-22-18 NRA and Florida: Seven things Wayne LaPierre blames after shooting
In the aftermath of the mass shooting at a Florida high school, the head of the powerful National Rifle Association has delivered a combative speech. Here are seven of the things Wayne LaPierre blamed.

  1. Insecure Schools
  2. Family Structure
  3. Mental Health System
  4. The FBI
  5. Mainstream Media
  6. Democrats
  7. European Socialists

(Webmaster's comment: Blame anything except the availablity of automatic and semi-automatic assault weapons. They should all be outlawed. They are mass killing machines.)

2-22-18 Outrage after US lawmaker links mass shooters to Democrats
A Republican US lawmaker from New York is facing political backlash after she claimed in a radio interview that many mass shooters tend to be Democrats. Democrats immediately condemned Claudia Tenney's remarks, which came a week after a school shooting left 17 people dead in Florida. She had been responding to a question about crime in the inner cities. A spokesman for the Democrats called her an "embarrassment" and her comments "unhinged, shameful and disgusting". Ms Tenney said in a statement on Wednesday night that she was "fed up with the media and liberals attempting to politicise tragedies and demonise law-abiding gun owners and conservative Americans every time there is a horrible tragedy". "While we know the perpetrators of these atrocities have a wide variety of political views, my comments are in response to a question about the failure to prosecute illegal gun crime," she added. "I will continue to stand up for law-abiding citizens who are smeared by anti-gun liberal elitists." In her interview with Albany radio station WGDJ, Ms Tenney said that she feared that "legal gun owners are going to be targeted" by new gun laws being proposed. "It's interesting that so many of these people that commit the mass murders end up being Democrats," Ms Tenney said. The interviewer claimed that most gun crimes occur "in what's euphemistically called the inner cities involving minorities, and they're the ones that Democrats generally are going to bend over backwards to protect". "Obviously there's a lot of politics in it," Ms Tenney said in response. She added that gun owners "have the least amount of crimes than virtually any other demographic". (Webmaster's comment: Except they are the ones causing the MASS MURDERS!)

2-22-18 Leslie Nope: NRA under fire for Parks and Rec gif
The National Rifle Association (NRA) is under fire after tweeting a gif from US TV show Parks and Recreation. In a post thanking spokeswoman Dana Loesch "for being the voice of over 5 million NRA members", the gun rights advocates included a gif of main character Leslie Knope, played by Amy Poehler. The show's co-creator, writer Michael Schur, responded by asking the NRA to remove the post. His comments have been widely shared. "Please take this down," Mr Schur wrote. "I would prefer you not use a gif from a show I worked on to promote your pro-slaughter agenda." (Webmaster's comment: And that's exactly what it is! Profits before human lives!)

2-22-18 The AR-15: Would a ban stem the bloodshed?
“Who is crazier?” asked Andrés Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald: Nikolas Cruz, 19, the troubled former student who shot 17 people dead last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School? Or the society that “let him buy an AR-15 rifle?” A civilian version of the M-16 developed for use in Vietnam, the semiautomatic AR-15 fires high-speed, low-caliber rounds that cause maximal damage within a human body, and it fires them very quickly, with little recoil to the shooter. Hence the horrifying death tolls of recent shootings in Las Vegas; Sutherland Springs, Texas; Orlando; San Bernardino, Calif.; and Newtown, Conn. Take it from a gun enthusiast, said George Skelton in the Los Angeles Times. The short-barreled AR-15 is “not a good hunting weapon.” For self-defense, a shotgun or a handgun is much more practical. The only real tactical reason to own an AR-15 with a 50-round magazine is “to kill lots of people in a few minutes.” That’s why the AR and its variants have become the “weapon of choice for mass killers” and why fully 68 percent of Americans, including 48 percent of gun owners, want them banned. It’s simple: If we want to curtail mass shootings in America, the first step is to “ban mass-shooting weapons.” Actually, it’s not so simple, said Jacob Sullum in Reason.com. “Americans own something like 15 million AR-15–style rifles.” That makes any confiscation program a nonstarter; it also tells us that these guns are “almost never used to commit violent crimes.” The fact is that rifles account for only about 2 percent of gun homicides each year, compared with 65 percent for handguns. Handguns were also used in 66 percent of mass shootings between 1982 and 2012, compared with only 14 percent for rifles. It may be true that so-called assault weapons have been used in the recent mass shootings with the highest death tolls, but if they’re banned, killers could easily turn to semiautomatic handguns or other rifles. (Webmaster's comment: Ban all automatic and semi-automatic weapons, rifle or handgun!)

2-22-18 Mass shootings this year
Some 28 different congressional districts have experienced a mass shooting so far this year, when a mass shooting is defined as four or more people shot in an incident. In 2017, more than 180 congressional districts did so—the equivalent of 40 percent of the House of Representatives.

2-22-18 Congress is not doing enough to prevent mass shootings
In a poll conducted after the Parkland, Fla., shooting, 77% of Americans say Congress is not doing enough to prevent mass shootings. 62% say President Trump is not doing enough. Americans are divided on whether or not to bring back the assault-weapons ban that expired in 2004. 50% support restoring the ban, while 46% are opposed. More than 70% of Republicans and independents supported banning assault weapons in 1999. Today, just 29% of Republicans do.

2-22-18 Millions of heavily armed Muslims
To fundamentally change the nature of the gun debate, all of America’s Muslims should join the NRA, said Mehdi Hasan. There are 3 million to 7 million Muslims in the country, and only 5 million NRA members, so a mass membership drive by Muslim-Americans “could effectively give them control of the organization.” More importantly, the prospect of millions of Muslims armed with AR-15s and other weapons of war would “petrify conservatives.” Just think of it: “glossy photos of hijab-clad women wielding AR-15 assault rifles at their local gun range; billboard ads claiming that ‘the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is...a good Muslim with a gun.’” Panicked Republicans would suddenly see the wisdom of universal background checks, longer waiting times on purchases, and other restrictions. You might even see some right-wingers “start questioning the hallowed Second Amendment itself.” Despite claiming to stand for all Americans’ gun rights, the NRA only cares about arming white Americans against their fear of dark-skinned criminals and terrorists. “So if your name is Muhammad or Ali or Omar, go strike a patriotic blow for gun control. Go sign up with the NRA.”

2-22-18 National defense,
National defense, after a think-tank study found that three-quarters of Americans ages 17 to 24 are ineligible for military service because they’re too fat, have criminal records, or didn’t graduate high school. The image of “hearty, scrappy” Americans who “can do anything,” the study’s co-author says, “is no longer accurate.”

2-22-18 Lesbian teacher fired
Parents of children attending a private Catholic school this week protested the firing of a popular first-grade teacher just days after she married her girlfriend. About 20 parents gathered at Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic School to demand more information about why Jocelyn Morffi was abruptly terminated after her wedding in the Florida Keys, but the school has refused to provide a specific reason. One of Morffi’s colleagues told The New York Times that teachers were called into a meeting after the firing and warned not to post pictures or attend events that condoned same-sex marriage, leaving the four teachers who attended the wedding fearing for their jobs. Parents described Morffi as a model teacher who coached basketball and organized students to distribute meals to the homeless. “This teacher has made such a contribution to the school,” said Samantha Mills, whose child was in Morffi’s class last year. “She just does everything in love.”

2-22-18 Wall Street’s Big Five
Wall Street’s Big Five—Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley—all gave their CEOs raises in 2017. The five chief executives were paid on average $25.3 million, up 17 percent from 2016. Combined total compensation for the group was $126 million—the highest annual tally since before the financial crisis.

2-22-18 Budding narco-state
The Netherlands is becoming a safe haven for gangs that traffic drugs and people, the Dutch police union said this week. After the country softened its stance on marijuana in the 1970s, letting small amounts of weed be sold at so-called coffee shops, it grew into a hub for drug trafficking. Now most of the ecstasy taken in Europe and the U.S. comes from Dutch labs run by Moroccan gangs, and half of the cocaine consumed in Europe enters through the Dutch port of Rotterdam. Officers say they are overwhelmed by drug gang–related crime but are powerless to cut off the criminals’ revenue sources. Amsterdam’s police chief, Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, said his force spent up to 70 percent of its time tackling gang-related hit jobs.

2-22-18 Trump endorses guns for teachers to stop shootings
US President Donald Trump has said arming teachers could prevent school shootings like that which left 17 people dead last week in Florida. Teachers carrying a concealed gun could end attacks "very quickly", he said. Mr Trump floated the proposal - long-championed by the powerful NRA gun lobby - as emotional survivors of the 14 February massacre urged him to take measures to stop similar attacks. The US leader called for improved background checks on gun buyers. "It's not going to be talk like it's been in the past," he said. President Trump listened to pleas for gun reform on Wednesday from about 40 students, teachers and families in the executive mansion's state dining room. Hundreds of teenagers from the Washington DC suburbs rallied outside at the time - some voicing support for arming teachers. Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow died in last week's attack - the second-deadliest shooting at a US public school - said: "We, as a country, failed our children." "It should've been one school shooting and we should've fixed it. And I'm pissed. It's my daughter I'm not going to see again," he went on to say. Mark Barden - whose son Daniel was killed in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut - said more guns was not the answer. "Schoolteachers have more than enough responsibilities right now, than to have to have the awesome responsibility of lethal force to take a life," he said. (Webmaster's comment: Arming teachers will just make them the first target for school shooters. Instead outlaw all automatic and semi-automatic weapons! They have only one purpose, killing lots of people.)

2-22-18 NRA head: Gun control advocates 'exploiting' Florida tragedy
The head of the most powerful gun lobby in the US has blamed Democrats and media for "exploiting" a school shooting that left 17 people dead. The head of the most powerful gun lobby in the US has blamed Democrats and media for "exploiting" a school shooting that left 17 people dead. Wayne LaPierre said "opportunists" are using the 14 February tragedy to expand gun control and abolish US gun rights. Mr LaPierre's comments came during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington. He also echoed President Donald Trump's call to arm teachers who are trained to carry concealed weapons. "As usual, the opportunists waited not one second to exploit tragedy for political gain," said Mr LaPierre, who is the executive director and CEO of the National Rifle Association (NRA). "They hate the NRA. They hate the second amendment. They hate individual freedom," he said, referring to the second amendment, which governs the right to bear arms. His comments were the powerful gun lobby's first more than a week after an alleged gunman opened fire on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and killed 17 people. Mr LaPierre lambasted the FBI for failing to follow up on a tip about the suspect, Nikolas Cruz, before the attack. He also criticised America's "European-style socialists" who are calling for more gun control. (Webmaster's comment: But Europe doesn't even have 1/10 the mass killings with guns that the United States has. Those "socialists" must be getting it right!)

2-22-18 Amnesty accuses President Trump of human rights violations
Human rights group Amnesty International has accused Donald Trump of "hateful" politics and of being a threat to human rights. "President Trump takes actions that violate human rights at home and abroad," the group said. Amnesty put Mr Trump in the same group as the leaders of Egypt, Russia, China, the Philippines, and Venezuela. The organisation was launching its annual report, staging the event in Washington for the first time. "The spectres of hatred and fear now loom large in world affairs, and we have few governments standing up for human rights in these disturbing times," said Salil Shetty, head of Amnesty. "Instead, leaders such as al-Sisi, Duterte, Maduro, Putin, Trump and Xi are callously undermining the rights of millions," referring to the leaders of Egypt, the Philippines, Venezuela, Russia, the US and China. It also called Mr Trump's travel ban - implemented days after he took office - a "transparently hateful move". The ban - which targeted a number of Muslim-majority countries - "set the scene for a year in which leaders took the politics of hate to its most dangerous conclusion", Mr Shetty said. The 400-page report summarises human rights issues of concern to Amnesty in 159 countries across the world.

2-21-18 Trigger warnings are taking over universities, but do they work?
Talk of trigger warnings and microaggressions are sweeping through university campuses, but some researchers question whether they have any psychological basis. WARNINGS before lectures. Speakers banned. Debate stifled. Students are increasingly making demands about what can and can’t be said on campus. This month, online magazine Spiked revealed that 55 per cent of UK universities are censoring speech. For many, it is a worrying sign that students are turning away from a diversity of thought that would promote critical thinking, the very thing university education is designed to support. But can students’ concerns be dismissed as mere political correctness? Or do trigger warnings and microaggression policies help prevent real psychological harm? Trigger warnings originated online as a way to alert people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that what they were about to see might trigger distressing flashbacks. They are now being used in universities as a heads-up to students that they might find course material upsetting. Although there has been no direct test of their effectiveness, it is well known that people are generally less stressed by threatening situations if they know about them in advance, because they feel more in control. This may be particularly true for people with PTSD. A study found that their startle response, a sign of anxiety, when exposed to unexpected loud noises was significantly higher than that of people with generalised anxiety disorder or no disorder. There was no difference between the groups when the noise was expected.

2-21-18 Work the crowd: How ordinary people can predict the future
Want to know if a dictator will be deposed? Or shares will crash? Intelligence agencies and firms are realising groups of everyday people can foresee what will happen. EVERY day after breakfast, Shannon Gifford would sit down at her computer for an hour and scour obscure corners of the internet for clues. The questions she was attempting to answer changed. Once she was trying to find out whether radioactive poison would be discovered in the body of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. At other times she was working out whether the price of oil would rise above $60 a barrel that year, or predicting the outcome of a forthcoming presidential election in Ghana. Gifford isn’t an investor, a spy or even an insatiably curious news junkie. Alongside hundreds like her, she was part of an extraordinary experiment to find out whether the wisdom of the crowd can predict the future. The answer surprised even the US intelligence officials behind the experiment. It turns out crowds really can make accurate predictions – so accurate, in fact, that they promise to permanently change how states analyse intelligence. We have known some of the benefits of collective wisdom since Aristotle, but a slightly more recent example features in the 2004 book The Wisdom of Crowds by journalist James Surowiecki. The opening pages tell the story of the day Charles Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton went to a country fair. Galton, a formidable scientist himself, asked people to guess the weight of an enormous ox. Most got it absurdly wrong, but the median guess of the 800-strong crowd was just 1 pound off the true weight of the ox, which for the record was 1198 pounds, or 543 kilograms.

2-21-18 Florida shooting survivors rally for stricter gun controls
Survivors of a Florida school shooting that left 17 people dead are marching in the state capital to press lawmakers to take more action on gun control. Students are due to meet legislators after marching to the statehouse. It is the first organised protest of the youth-led anti-gun movement that has swept the US since the attack. About 100 students arrived in Tallahassee hours before the state legislature rejected a ban on assault rifles like the one used in the attack. "We're here to ask for change and we're confident change will happen," said Noah Kaufman, 16, "We know the issues, and we know who is with us and who isn't." Many students said they stayed awake overnight to research legislation and write speeches. "This isn't a Democrat or Republican issue, it's a life issue," said Mr Kaufman. Under pressure to act, President Donald Trump on Tuesday backed a move to ban devices that can enable rifles to shoot hundreds of rounds a minute. This bump-stock accessory was used by a gunman in Las Vegas to kill 58 concert-goers last year. The president, who is a strong gun rights advocate, will host students and teachers at the White House on Wednesday for a "listening session" on gun control. (Webmaster's comment: Vote against any legislator endorsed or supported by the NRA!)

2-21-18 George and Amal Clooney pledge $500,000 to gun reform rally
George and Amal Clooney have said they are donating $500,000 to support students who will march to demand political action on gun control.. The Clooneys said they would also join students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for the 24 March rally in the nation's capital. "Our children's lives depend on it," the couple said in a statement. The "March for Our Lives" rally is being organised in the wake of last week's mass school shooting in Florida. Mr Clooney said in the statement: "Our family will be there on March 24 to stand side by side with this incredible generation of young people from all over the country, and in the name of our children Ella and Alexander, we're donating 500,000 dollars to help pay for this groundbreaking event." Amal Clooney, a human rights lawyer, gave birth to twins in 2017. Oprah Winfrey has announced that she will match the Clooneys' donation. "George and Amal, I couldn't agree with you more," she said in a tweet. Hollywood director Steven Spielberg also pledged to match the $500,000 donation. The "March for Our Lives" event is one of several rallies that will take place across the country on the same day. The demonstrations are being organised primarily by students, who say they aim to challenge politicians to take tougher action on gun control. The Clooneys are known to donate to political causes. (Webmaster's comment: Vote against any legislator endorsed or supported by the NRA!)

2-21-18 How to win the gun debate: Stop talking about guns
President Trump's 2016 campaign was relentless in its depiction of an on-the-brink America awash in crime. Never mind that most indicators showed the country was enjoying a respite from such troubles, with numbers dipping to levels not seen since the early 1960s. Trump shoved the statistics aside to paint a dystopian picture of a nation sinking under Death Wish-levels of murder and assault. And Trump, it was clear, wanted to be our Charles Bronson. Trump was right about one thing: There is American carnage. It's just different than what Trump described. And he seems utterly disinterested in helping us end it. Seventeen dead in Parkland, Florida. Twenty-six massacred in a Texas church. Fifty-eight slaughtered in Las Vegas. Hundreds more injured and maimed and traumatized, lives ruined and interrupted and ended. This is carnage, and it demands a solution. Yet Trump and his party have been utterly absent in finding solutions. Democrats shouldn't despair. They can change this. But it will require some counterintuitive thinking. Forget guns. It's time for liberals to recast America's mass killings as a crime problem. And it's time to cast politicians who sit on their hands in the face of such massacres — Trump chief among them — as soft on crime.

2-21-18 Stanley Majors: Life sentence for Oklahoma man who murdered neighbour
A man who was convicted of killing his neighbour after months of harassing his Arab-American family has been sentenced to life in prison for the hate crime. Stanley Majors was sentenced on Tuesday by a judge in Oklahoma for killing 37-year-old Khalid Jabara, whose family came to the US from Lebanon. Prosecutors say Majors stood at the front steps of the family's home and fatally shot Mr Jabara in August 2016. Family members say police failed to protect them despite many complaints. Prosecutors had requested during the trial that the judge show Majors no mercy in sentencing, saying he had not shown remorse for his crime. The Jabara family did not attend the sentencing hearing in Tulsa but said in a written statement that the killer's "time to turn his life around" had "come and gone". Majors had earlier been found guilty of committing a hit-and-run driving attack on Khalid Jabara's mother in 2015, leaving her with a broken nose and shoulder. After serving a jail sentence for that attack, he was released and continued to harass the family, police say. (Webmaster's comment: But they did nothing?) The family successfully received a protective restraining order and complained to police several times when he violated that order. They say that racist taunts and hate-filled rants continued to come from their next-door neighbour. His defence team had argued that he was mentally ill at the time of the shooting, and felt targeted by the Jabara family because he was gay. In addition to the sentence of life without the possibility of parole, he was also sentenced for violating Oklahoma's hate crime law.

2-20-18 Florida school shooting: Trump 'supportive' of better gun background checks
US President Donald Trump supports efforts to improve background checks on gun ownership, the White House says. He spoke with Republican Senator John Cornyn about a bipartisan bill that seeks to improve the checks in place before someone can buy a gun. The suspect in last week's Florida school shooting, in which 17 people died, bought his gun legally. Nikolas Cruz appeared in court on Monday. Students from the school have demanded action on gun control. It has emerged that Mr Cruz was able to buy seven rifles in the past year, despite being examined by Florida mental health workers in 2016, US media report. One of those was the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle used to carry out last Wednesday's attack. "While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Monday. (Webmaster's comment: Background checks, hell. Ban ownership of all automatic and semiautomatixc weapons!)

2-20-18 End ICE
America doesn't need a "papers, please" agency. The most notorious government agency under the Trump presidency is surely U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. The president may not be able to build his wall, but he can turn a horde of goons loose on America's schools, churches, and homes. In the spirit of bold policy ideas, allow me to propose a reform of ICE: Just get rid of it. There is simply no need to have an agency whose major task is rounding up and deporting otherwise law-abiding immigrants. Here is a brief and highly incomplete list of atrocities committed by ICE over the past year, compiled by Sean McElwee: Arresting fathers while dropping their kids off at school; staking out churches to round up people seeking sanctuary; deporting a successful businessman who has lived in the U.S. for 40 years; attempting to deport a veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan over a minor drug conviction; deporting an HIV-positive man to Venezuela, where a collapsed medical system means almost certain death; arresting, jailing for two weeks, and attempting to deport a doctor and green-card holder who has lived in the U.S. for 40 years over minor expunged charges from when he was 17; deporting the sole caregiver of a 6-year-old paraplegic boy; and even secretly compiling ways to strip citizenship from legal residents. Across the country, families are being ripped apart for no reason by a police force that is, quite simply, an anti-immigrant militia. ICE focuses special attention on its political enemies, arresting and deporting leaders of immigrant rights' groups (some of them are suing the agency over this practice). They even tracked down and arrested an unauthorized immigrant who had written anonymously in The Seattle Times about his longtime girlfriend being arrested. "You are the one from the newspaper," the agent said.

2-20-18 WHO warns of soaring rates of measles in Europe
Europe has seen a big surge in measles cases in 2017, which the World Health Organization says is a tragedy after a record low of 5,273 cases in 2016. Cases increased four-fold, with more than 20,000 people affected and 35 deaths. Fifteen European region countries, including the UK, had large outbreaks. Measles cases were highest in Romania, Italy and Ukraine. People shunning vaccination is part of the problem, say experts. Although research published 20 years ago about a possible link between the MMR vaccine and autism has been discredited, the scare it created damaged some people's trust of the vaccine. Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that can be deadly. The MMR vaccine can prevent it. The WHO says there have been declines in overall routine immunisation coverage, as well as consistently low coverage among some marginalised groups and interruptions in vaccine supply or underperforming disease surveillance systems. Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, from the WHO, said: "Every new person affected by measles in Europe reminds us that unvaccinated children and adults, regardless of where they live, remain at risk of catching the disease and spreading it to others who may not be able to get vaccinated. "This short-term setback cannot deter us from our commitment to be the generation that frees our children from these diseases once and for all." The UK saw 282 cases in 2017, linked to the continuing outbreak in Europe.

2-19-18 The lesbian pioneers who fooled Spain's Catholic Church
There was something unusual about the fresh-faced groom that day. The priest at the San Jorge church in A Coruña, north-western Spain, didn't see anything special, and the smattering of relatives in attendance weren't saying anything. But both 'Mario' and his bride, Marcela, were women. It was 1901, and the union between Elisa and Marcela remains the only known same-sex marriage in the history of the Spanish Catholic Church. But the couple's sweet victory over the conservative culture of early 20th Century Spain would be short-lived. They were to spend the rest of their lives on the run from persecution across two continents. Now Elisa and Marcela's story is to be made into a film by Isabel Coixet, whose latest movie The Bookshop, with Emily Mortimer and Bill Nighy, is soon to be released in the UK. "When I think about these two women and the courage it took for one of them to pretend to be a man, it was unbelievably brave," Coixet, who also wrote the script, told the BBC. "I was fascinated the first time I heard about the story, which almost raised more questions than it has answers. "We don't know what happened to them in the end, and how did they think they would get away with it?"

2-19-18 Iceland's mooted circumcision ban sparks religious outrage
Religious groups have condemned a bill in Iceland's parliament that would ban circumcision for non-medical reasons. The draft law would impose a six-year prison term on anyone guilty of "removing part or all of the [child's] sexual organs", arguing the practice violates the child's rights. Jewish and Muslim leaders however have called the bill an attack on religious freedom. Iceland would be the first European country to ban the procedure. The country is thought to have roughly 250 Jewish citizens and around 1,500 Muslim citizens. MP Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir of the Progressive Party, who introduced the bill at the start of the month, said: "We are talking about children's rights, not about freedom of belief. "Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come above the right to believe." Iceland passed a law in 2005 banning female genital mutilation, and supporters of this move have compared it to that law. The latest bill (in Icelandic) says circumcision "involves permanent interventions in a child's body that can cause severe pain". If it passes its first reading, the draft law will go to a committee stage before it can come into effect. (Webmaster's comment: It's about time somebody stopped this barbaric practice. It's genital mutilation pure and simple.)

2-18-18 Florida school shooting: Students to march on Washington
Young survivors of Wednesday's school shooting in Florida have announced a national march on Washington to demand political action on gun control. Student organisers told US media that they were determined to make Wednesday's shooting a turning point in the national gun debate.The attack, which left 17 students and staff members dead, was the deadliest US school shooting since 2012. Yesterday protestors chanted "shame on you" to US lawmakers and the president. Mr Trump said last year he would "never" infringe on the right to keep arms - a long-running and contested debate within the US. In his first public comments on the gun control issue since the attack, Mr Trump blamed the Democrats for not passing legislation when they controlled Congress during the early years of Barack Obama's administration. Speaking on US television networks on Sunday morning, student survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas announced their March for Our Lives campaign. They are planning to march on Washington on 24 March to demand that children and their families "become a priority" to US lawmakers. They want other protests to happen simultaneously in other cities on the same day. "We are losing our lives while the adults are playing around," Cameron Kasky, a survivor from the school said. It is one of many student-led protests amassing support on social media in the wake of Wednesday's attack. On Saturday students and their parents - as well as politicians - took part in an emotionally-charged rally in Fort Lauderdale, close to Parkland. Arguably the most memorable moment came when high school student Emma Gonzalez took to the podium and attacked the US president and other politicians for accepting political donations from the National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful gun rights lobby group. "If the president wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and... how nothing is going to be done about it, I'm going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association," said Ms Gonzalez. "It doesn't matter because I already know. Thirty million dollars," the 18-year-old said, referring to NRA donations during Mr Trump's presidential campaign.

Prayers and condolences are not enough! Our government officials need to TAKE ACTION or STEP DOWN!

2-18-18 In Florida aftermath, US students say 'Never Again'
The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were well practised on how to respond in an active shooter situation - the school has lockdown drills, security systems and restricted entrances. But a sole gunman on Valentine's Day was still able to kill 17. From the school's survivors, and other students across the US, movements have sprung up in its aftermath rejecting what has been dubbed the "new normal" for their generation. Thousands of teenagers, including many still too young to vote, have become grassroots activists. Social media has become a tool for their ideas and campaigns to spread. Their calls for gun control are not different to those in the aftermath of other tragedies - but the maturity and voracity of the students publicly voicing their demands has led many on social media to say this time feels different. "In Newtown the students were so young they couldn't stand up, but trust me - we are going to be the change," Parkland survivor Alex Wind told the BBC. As Wednesday's atrocity took place, he was forced to huddle in darkness with 60 other students for over an hour and a half as shots rang out throughout their school. Alex and four of his friends founded the Never Again campaign in the immediate aftermath. Now over a dozen of them are tirelessly campaigning and making the rounds on US cable news networks to share their message that the school's survivors will not back down. "It is absolutely insane that a 19-year-old cannot purchase alcohol but can walk in and buy an AR-15 - a weapon of war, by all means a weapon of mass destruction," he said. "You don't need this to protect your home or your family, its absolutely absurd you can sell it commercially." (Webmaster's comment: We do not need semi-automatic weapons for any kind for hunting. They are killing machines for humans! And the NRA supports their sale for profits!)

2-17-18 Florida school shooting: A killer comes to 'paradise'
Students re-live Wednesday's shooting in Florida - and demand tougher gun laws from their government. Where would you expect a school shooting to happen? Where would you expect 17 people to be shot in the head, in the heart, in the arms and legs, while waiting for home-time? Not here, surely. Not among the palm trees and picket fences. Not among the golf courses, the gated communities, the fortnightly farmers' market. Lanny James, 77, spends the winter in Margate, 5 miles (8km) from Parkland. He bought his place four years ago, but has been coming to Florida since 1976. He was playing golf when he heard the news. Four dead when he finished his round; 17 dead when he got home. "I just love South Florida," he says. "But this is supposed to be paradise. These things aren't supposed to happen." But they did happen: here, where the sky is blue, the grass is green and it's legal for 18-year-olds to buy semi-automatic rifles. At 14:06 local time (19:06 GMT) on Wednesday, Nikolas Cruz got into an Uber. At 14:19 (19:19 GMT), he got out at Stoneman Douglas, the school that expelled him last year. Cruz, 19, walked into the school and took out his rifle, which he bought 12 months earlier. At 14:21 (19:20 GMT), he started shooting. Two minutes later, the fire alarm went off. Darryl Verna, 17, knew the alarm wasn't a drill. They had a drill that morning, and they never happen twice a day. But he didn't think it was serious. "I thought it was a prank at first," he says. So, like he did that morning, he went outside, by the gates, and waited for the alarm to stop. Darryl's friend, Kaleb Martinez, 16, was also outside. Like Darryl, he wasn't worried.

2-18-18 The battle over 'chain migration'
President Trump wants to limit family-based immigration as part of an overall reform of the system. Why? Here's everything you need to know:

  • What is 'chain migration'? The term itself remains a point of heated contention. Formally known as "family reunification," it's the process by which U.S. citizens and green-card holders can sponsor their relatives to come and live here, too.
  • Which relatives can come in? Trump has contended that "a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives." But that's not really true.
  • What are the standards? Sponsors have to prove that their annual household income is 125 percent of the poverty line — at least $20,300 for a two-person household — and show that they can support their family member without government aid. Every visa applicant also has to go through a criminal and terrorism background check.
  • What about the benefits? Advocates say that America was built on family-based immigration, with previous waves of Italian, Irish, German, Jewish, Polish, and other immigrants bringing over family members once they got a foothold in America. Those relatives helped them settle in their communities, start family businesses, and contribute to the national economy.
  • What do critics say? Restrictionists say the situation has gotten out of hand. The foreign-born population of the U.S. has quadrupled since 1970; immigrants who arrived from 1981 to 2000 sponsored an average of 1.77 relatives to join them, but the most recent are sponsoring an average of 3.46, according to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS).
  • What has Trump proposed? As part of a broader package that includes a border wall and a path to citizenship for 1.8 million "DREAMers," or children who were illegally brought to the U.S., Trump wants to limit sponsorship to the "nuclear family" — that is, to spouses and children under 21 only. But even if Congress did pass much tighter restrictions on families, authorities would still have to process the nearly 4 million people already on the waiting list.
  • What's in a name? "Amnesty." "DREAMers." "Anchor baby." The immigration debate has become a war of words, as both sides seek to frame the issues with terms that shape perceptions and drive popular opinion. Trump has successfully weaponized "chain migration," which in 2016 was used zero times on Fox News; in 2017, it appeared 295 times, according to Media Matters.

2-18-18 Israel rebukes Poland PM for 'Jewish perpetrators' remark
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has sharply rebuked his Polish counterpart for saying that Jews were among the perpetrators of the Holocaust. He said the remarks by Mateusz Morawiecki at the Munich Security Conference were "outrageous". Mr Netanyahu said they showed "an inability to understand history". The dispute comes weeks after Israel condemned a new Polish law making it illegal to accuse the Polish nation or state of complicity in Nazi crimes. The legislation was signed into law by President Andrzej Duda but also referred to the country's highest court to consider its constitutionality. What did Mr Morawiecki say in Munich? He was responding to an Israeli journalist who asked if anyone who said there were Polish collaborators in the Holocaust would be considered a criminal in Poland under the new law. Mr Morawiecki said: "It's extremely important to first understand that, of course, it's not going to be punishable, not going to be seen as criminal to say that there were Polish perpetrators - as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian.... not only German perpetrators." What does the new Polish law state? It says that "whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich… shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years". But it adds the caveat that a person "is not committing a crime if he or she commits such an act as part of artistic or scientific activities". (Webmaster's comment: Some polish people did take part in robbing and killing the Jews. That is a fact! The hatred of Jews was in every country in Europe and in the United States.)

2-18-18 The mystery of Toronto's gay village killings
For years, there were whispers in Toronto's gay community about a serial killer stalking the community. Now that one of their own has been charged with the murders of five missing men, they wonder why the police didn't act sooner. In a small park in the heart of Toronto's Gay Village, about 200 people assembled in the snow to mourn the victims of an alleged serial killer. Many wore armbands painted with the words "love", "heal", "rise", "grieve". The words were later used in a call-and-response between organisers and the large crowd. "Today we grieve," they said, and the word echoed back from the crowd. "Today we resist. Today we heal. Today we rise. Today, of all days, we love." But as the names of the victims were read out into the winter air, there was only silence. In January, police charged Bruce McArthur with five counts of first degree murder for the deaths of Andrew Kinsman, 49, Majeed Kayhan, 58, Soroush Mahmudi, 50, Dean Lisowick 47, and Salim Esen, 44. McArthur has not yet entered a plea and the police investigation is ongoing. Officials believe there may be more victims. The arrest confirmed the worst fears of many in the Village, who for years had whispered that a serial killer might be targeting their community. "Too many people for too long in our community have been lost," said Troy Jackson, who hosted the community vigil. Located at the intersection of Church Street and Wellesley Street, Toronto's Gay Village has been the city's enclave for the LGBT community since the 1960s. It's also been more than a neighbourhood - a home away from home for many who may feel marginalised because of their sexuality.

2-17-18 White House refuses to release photo of Trump gun law repeal
The White House has refused to release a photo of President Donald Trump signing a law making it easier for some people with mental illness to buy guns. Despite repeated requests from CBS News, the White House press office has issued only a one-line response. Mr Trump last year repealed an Obama-era rule allowing the names of certain people on mental health benefits to be entered into a criminal database. The controversy follows a shooting by a suspect who had mental health issues. Nikolas Cruz is accused of using a legally-purchased rifle to kill 17 people at his former high school in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday. In a tweet, Mr Trump called the gunman "mentally disturbed" and vowed to "tackle the difficult issue of mental health" during a speech to the nation. But the Republican president's critics noted his own annual budget proposed this week would cuts hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for mental health programmes. CBS News says it requested a copy of the image - which White House photographers confirm exists - 12 separate times by phone or email. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders has only said in a note dated 19 April 2017: "We don't plan to release the picture at this time." CBS News asked the White House again on Thursday to release the photo, but has not received a response. Legislation is often signed into law with much fanfare at the White House, including photo-ops, press conferences and even gifts to selected participants.

2-17-18 Florida shooting: Senators singled out over gun lobby funds
As the US reels over the latest shooting at a high school campus in Parkland, Florida - the 18th so far in 2018 - "thoughts and prayers" from public figures are not all being well received on social media. Screenwriter Bess Kalb, who writes for Jimmy Kimmel Live, has been singling out senators who are tweeting their condolences by responding with the amount of money they have received from the National Rifle Association (NRA): When GOP chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted that her heart was breaking for those affected, Ms Kalb's response that GOP candidates took more than $17m (£12m) from the NRA was retweeted more than 7,500 times and liked 11,000 times. The figures that Ms Kalb used are based on an article from the New York Times in October 2017 following the Las Vegas shooting. The paper produced a list of all the thoughts and prayers expressed by senators and the money they had received from the NRA during the year 2016-2017. In response to Florida's senator Marco Rubio's post that "Today is that terrible day you pray never comes" Ms Kalb wrote the figure $3,303,355. After Congressman Ken Buck wrote how devastated he felt about the shooting, Ms Kalb simply posted "$800,544 from the NRA."

2-17-18 New Zealand goose: How one blind bisexual bird became an icon
A memorial is being held for a New Zealander who spent most of his life as a loving partner, caring father and an icon of the LGBT community. Thomas the goose died 6 February at almost 40 years old and is being buried beside his partner on Saturday. "Thomas has been such an iconic and well-loved bird," said Craig Shepherd, who runs the Wellington Bird Rehabilitation Trust where Thomas spent his last years. "It's lovely that he is going to be buried where he spent most of his life." But how exactly did a goose end up an icon? It all started around 1990 when a black swan named Henrietta flew in to the Waimanu lagoon, located in a small town on New Zealand's Kapiti Coast. Due to a damaged wing, she was unable to fly with the other swans and was often alone until a few years later when a white goose named Thomas arrived. The duo quickly formed a bond and Thomas was very protective of Henrietta, even scaring off any humans or dogs that came near her. But after 18 blissful years together, a new young female swan entered the equation and was often spotted with Henrietta. No one thought much of it, assuming that they were both females. The shocker came when the new swan laid an egg. It turned out that Henrietta was in fact a male swan who had mated with the new female swan. "It's very hard to establish the gender of mature black swans," said Michael Peryer, the tour guide at the Waikanae Estuary where the lagoon is located. "So it turned out in fact that Thomas and Henrietta - who was really a Henry - had 18 happy gay years together." Henrietta was re-named Henry, and the new young swan was given the name Henrietta.

2-16-18 There's nothing futile about the gun debate
. When politicians campaign for office, they usually portray themselves as potent and powerful, even when they aren't. Elect me, they say, and everything will be transformed, no matter how absurd it is to think that some backbench freshman member of Congress is going to "change the way they do business in Washington" or "get our economy back on track." There is one area, however, where politicians (especially those from one party) work hard to tamp down expectations and say that there's really nothing they can do about one of the country's most pressing problems: guns. The party, of course, is the Republicans. And after yet another massacre inside a school committed with a military-style rifle, they want to make sure everyone understands that passing laws — the thing they are elected to do — is pointless, so there's really no point in trying. The blood hasn't even been cleaned off the floor before you can find prominent Republicans saying that gun violence is like the weather. You might want to prepare for it — give your kids active shooter drills, like you'd put an umbrella in your bag if you think it might rain — but it certainly can't be stopped. As Marco Rubio said on Thursday, the day after 17 of his constituents were slaughtered in Parkland, "I'm trying to be clear and honest here, if someone's decided to commit this crime, they'll find a way to get the gun to do it." His colleague Ted Cruz told Fox & Friends, "We have seen that evil can occur whether at Parkland or at a church in Central Texas, or in schools across the country. There are murderers. Evil is, sadly, always present." What are you gonna do? (Webmaster's comment: Make all semi-automatic weapons and weapons with more than 5 bullets in rifles and more than 6 bullets in revolvers illegal! All other weapons are designed to do one thing only, KILL LARGE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE!)

2-16-18 Gun violence has irrevocably warped American childhood
I was 6 years old when 12 students and one teacher were murdered at a high school in Columbine, Colorado. I don't remember much about the immediate aftermath of the mass shooting — how it was talked about on the news, what President Bill Clinton said on TV, or the many stories about survivors that would follow. What I do remember is that my mom picked me up from elementary school that day, and that I could tell she was scared. With the abstract understanding of a 6-year-old, I knew she was scared for me. As I grew up, that fear, she has since told me, faded "for some reason or denial" — and for me, it blessedly never took root. It is only now that I can look back and realize that I was among the last groups of Americans to go through high school — I graduated in 2011 — and not have "school shooting" as a fear gnawing away somewhere in the back of my mind. This week, watching teenagers run as fast as they could from their high school, waved on by men made anonymous by their SWAT gear and weapons, this realization hit me hard. A mother said on CNN that her daughter had practiced lockdown drills at school. A father told a local affiliate that he had demanded that his daughter, who was sheltering in place, turn off her phone so it wouldn't buzz or vibrate and alert the shooter to where she was hiding. As my colleague Matthew Walther chillingly observed, the parents and students in Parkland, Florida, "understood that what was happening was something called a 'school shooting,' an event with known conditions and procedures and conventions, something that has happened 230 times in this country since 2013." They knew — with the same robotic instinct with which one would stop, drop, and roll — exactly what to do.

2-15-18 Companies: Remington files for bankruptcy
Legendary gun manufacturer Remington filed for bankruptcy this week after struggling with a heavy debt load and a collapse in gun sales, said Eliza Ronalds-Hannon and Polly Mosendz in Bloomberg?.com. The company, which dates to 1816, experienced a sharp decline in sales last year after Donald Trump’s win “erased fears among gun enthusiasts about losing access to weapons.” In 2007, private--equity mogul Stephen Feinberg purchased Remington and “saddled it with almost $1 billion in debt.” The Chapter 11 filing “will let Remington stay in business while it works out a plan to turn around the company and pay its creditors.” (Webmaster's comment: Shut it down permanently!)

2-15-18 The military: Why Trump wants a parade
“Well, of course the president who claimed bone spurs to dodge the Vietnam War wants the biggest, bestest military parade ever,” said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. President Trump, apparently envious of France’s Bastille Day parade, has ordered the nation’s highest-ranking military leaders to start making plans for a grand procession of tanks, missiles, and marching soldiers down Pennsylvania Avenue. It was probably inevitable. Trump, a narcissistic authoritarian who openly admires the world’s dictatorial strongmen, no doubt “envisions a display of military might like the parades we used to see file past the Kremlin reviewing stand in the days of the Soviet Union.” But not a soul on earth “doubts the overwhelming strength of the U.S. military.” A parade would serve only Trump’s insecure ego, as tens of thousands of soldiers, generals, and spectators saluted their preening commander in chief.

2-15-18 Killing 4,000 Americans a week
The flu and the pneumonia cases it causes are killing 4,000 Americans a week, and were responsible for 1 in 10 of all U.S. deaths in the first week of February. The number of flu-related illnesses being reported now is as high as at the peak of the swine flu epidemic in 2009.

2-15-18 Job seekers
Job seekers, after a study found that more than 1 in 3 staffers in the Trump White House left their positions in the first year. The 34 percent departure rate is more than triple President Obama’s.

2-15-18 Immigration effort to protect Dreamers collapses in US Senate
The US Senate has failed to pass any of four proposals on immigration, including protections for young immigrants brought to the US illegally. Support for the most promising bipartisan bill failed after President Donald Trump called it a "total catastrophe" and threatened to veto it. The legislative collapse leaves the status of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) recipients in limbo. Mr Trump ended Daca and gave Congress until 5 March to find a solution. Daca recipients, known as so-called Dreamers, had been protected from deportation under the Obama-era programme that President Trump rescinded in September. He gave Congress a six-month window to find a pathway for citizenship for the 1.8m people affected, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell imposed a deadline on his chamber to pass an immigration bill by the end of this week. The leading bipartisan bill was brought to the floor by Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine. It offered $25bn (£17bn) for border security, including funds for Mr Trump's planned wall along the US-Mexico border, as well as protections for so-called Dreamers. But the White House railed against the bill, saying it would weaken enforcement of current law and encourage more illegal immigration. "This amendment would drastically change our national immigration policy for the worse by weakening border security and undercutting existing immigration law," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement ahead of the vote on Thursday. US Attorney General Jeff Sessions also spoke out against the bill. The proposal fell short of the 60 votes needed, with 54 senators for it and 45 others against the measure. Mr Trump urged senators to support a bill brought to the floor by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley. The Trump-backed measure received the fewest votes, with only 39 members supporting it. A third measure focusing just on Daca and border security, brought by Republican John McCain and Democrat Chris Coons, fell short 52-47. A fourth measure focused on punishing so-called sanctuary cities, which refuse to co-operate with federal immigration enforcement efforts, also failed.

2-15-18 The transgender teenager who helped change Australia
Trans woman Georgie Stone's young life has been marked by firsts and achievements. Notably, the 17-year-old Australian led a high-profile petition to end a "discriminatory" legal barrier. Gary Nunn reports from Sydney. The successful campaign by Georgie, and others, affects thousands. In a landmark ruling in November, it was decided that young transgender people in Australia will no longer have to go through the nation's Family Court to access hormone treatment - a vital stage of transitioning. It was, Georgie says, "unfair and discriminatory that we had to ask a complete stranger who isn't an expert for treatment that affects our bodies, after we'd already been approved by medical professionals". Australia was the only country where this step was deemed necessary, yet no application was ever refused. Georgie knows first-hand how "stressful and harmful" this step was; she was one of the last people required to do it. "It felt weird," she says. "I was powerless - I was 15, and there was someone up there making a very important decision about my body. It was out of my hands, but I knew this was really wrong." Aged two, Georgie told her mum she "wanted a vagina". By two-and-a-half, she knew who she really wanted to be, but a long and sometimes painful journey was ahead. She describes it as a "mixed bag" but stresses her gratitude for her parents' support. "I was bullied, but I had friends and a twin brother who stood up for me," she says. "My primary school made me use the disabled toilets, wouldn't let me wear the female uniform and didn't know how to support me." Georgie grew up before there was much consideration around pronouns: "I'd be called out for a line as George or 'he'. That'd really hurt, but people didn't know any better." When she first visited Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital in 2007, Georgie, then aged seven, was the only patient that year to receive treatment for gender dysphoria. By eight, Georgie had fully transitioned within the family; by nine she'd done so publicly. Aged 10, she became the youngest person in Australia to be granted hormone blockers by the court. At 15, she started hormone replacement therapy and, about a year later, her story was featured on a top-rating TV programme, Australian Story.

2-15-18 How will the Trump administration grapple with America's gun violence?
We can discuss the murder of 16 students and a coach at a high school in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday without talking about guns if it will make you feel safer. But it wouldn't be a very realistic conversation. Since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, in which 20 young children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, were murdered, "there have been at least 273 school shootings nationwide," including on college campuses, The New York Times reports. "In those incidents, 439 people were shot, 121 of whom were killed." Since Colorado's Columbine shooting in 1999, when two students murdered 12 of their peers and one teacher, "more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus," The Washington Post adds. "That doesn't count dozens of suicides, accidents, and after-school assaults that have also exposed children to gunfire." This is a real problem, and at some point, America will have to deal with it — or agree to live with it. Sandy Hook happened at the end of former President Barack Obama's first term, and Congress tried to do something — anything — but did not. You could see Obama age each time he addressed a mass shooting, getting visibly sadder and angrier with each speech. Parkland, Florida, is the first big mass shooting of Donald Trump's presidency where the targets were school children. What will he do? (Webmaster's comment: We've put the means for indiscriminate mass killings in the hands of violence loving American males so what did we expect?)

2-15-18 Transgender woman breastfeeds baby in first recorded case, study says
A transgender woman has been able to breastfeed a baby in the first recorded case of its kind, researchers say. The 30-year-old wanted to breastfeed after her pregnant partner said she did not want to do it herself, according to the Transgender Health journal. She was able to breastfeed after taking a course of drugs and breast pumping, the US case report said. A UK expert said the "exciting" research could lead to more cases of transgender women breastfeeding. The woman had been on hormone replacement therapy for six years, but had not gender reassignment surgery, when she approached doctors with the aim of breastfeeding the child. Before the baby was born, doctors put her on a three-and-a-half-month course of treatment to help her artificially produce milk, usually given to women who have adopted babies or who have them via surrogates. This included breast pumping, taking hormones produced by biological mothers, a drug which can stimulate milk production and a male hormone blocker. As a result, the woman was able to produce a "modest but functional" amount of breast milk - some 8oz a day. Researchers said this was the baby's only source of nutrition for its first six weeks, during which time her growth, feeding and bowel habits were "developmentally appropriate". After this, the baby also started having formula milk because not enough breast milk was being produced. The baby is now six months old and she continues to be breastfed as part of her diet, the study's authors said.

2-14-18 Chinese police use face recognition glasses to catch criminals
. SMART glasses have found a new use: fighting crime. In the past two months, seven fugitives and 26 people travelling with fake ID have been apprehended by pol ice at Zhengzhou train station in China thanks to glasses with built-in face recognition. According to local media, some were wanted for alleged involvement in human trafficking. The firm that developed the GLXSS Pro smart glasses, LLVision, says the face recognition feature is 99.4 per cent accurate. If a match can’t be found then the officer can send a photo to be checked against a central database. The glasses are very light so the police officers can wear them all day, says Zhang Xin at LLVision. Police in three Chinese provinces – Henan, Shandong and Xinjiang – are using the technology. Some highway patrol officers are doing so when they check drivers’ licences, for instance. It can also be used for licence plate recognition. There are reports that police in Abu Dhabi will soon use smart glasses to help identify people suspected of a crime. US police departments have undertaken trials in the past, says George Jijiashvili at CCS Insight, a technology consultancy firm. Though there may be some resistance among the public, he says it is likely that US and European police forces will start using smart glasses more regularly soon. (Webmaster's comment: Again China takes the lead.)

2-14-18 Real-life Lord of the Flies experiment led us up the warpath
Muzafer Sherif’s notorious experiment with children is held up as proof that conflict is in our blood – but a look behind the scenes tells a different story. IN THE summer of 1954, a bus pulled into Robbers Cave State Park in the mountains of rural Oklahoma. The dozen 11-year-old boys on board, all of them strangers to each other, craned to catch a glimpse through the dusty windows of what for most of them was their first summer camp. For a week they explored the park, swam in a creek, and hiked in and around mountain caves. They didn’t know that a couple of days later, a second group arrived, also believing they had the park to themselves. Social psychologist Muzafer Sherif and his team, disguised as camp counsellors, watched each group bond and form its own identity. The two groups named themselves the Rattlers and the Eagles, each with flag, anthem, dress code, leaders and followers, as well as shared rules and standards. “They staked out their territory,” Sherif’s research assistant, O.J. Harvey, told me. “Everything was ‘our’ – ‘our hideout’, ‘our creek’.” The Rattlers felt particular ownership of the baseball field, which they had cleared and marked out. Gradually, each group became aware of the other: when the Rattlers discovered some empty cups in their hideout and heard the sounds of others playing on the baseball field, they began to resent the interlopers. Finally, Sherif brought the two groups together in five days of competition, in everything from baseball to tent-pitching. The winners would be awarded a group trophy and a handsome jackknife for each boy, the losers nothing. From their first interaction on the baseball field, the Rattlers and the Eagles regarded each other with hostility and suspicion, according to Sherif. Throughout the tournament, the adults fanned rivalry between them, covertly stacking the odds against one team, then the other, increasing the tension and keeping the scores neck and neck. (Webmaster's comment: The children were egged on by the adults so this was a highly biased experiment in social interaction and proved nothing.)

2-14-18 Stormy Daniels: Trump lawyer admits paying porn star
The long-term personal lawyer of US President Donald Trump has admitted privately paying an adult film star $130,000 (£95,000) in 2016, in a statement to US media. It follows US media reports that the porn actress known as Stormy Daniels was paid to sign an agreement stopping her discussing an alleged affair. She first said she had a relationship with Mr Trump in a 2011 interview. The lawyer has previously said Mr Trump "vehemently denies" it occurred. "Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms Clifford [Stephanie Gregory Clifford, her real name], and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly," Michael D Cohen told the New York Times. He said he told the Federal Election Commission the same after a watchdog group filed a complaint about the payment, claiming that it had served as an "in-kind" political contribution to Mr Trump's campaign. "The payment to Ms Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone," Mr Cohen said. In a 2011 interview with InTouch magazine, the actress said she began a sexual relationship with Mr Trump in 2006, shortly after Melania Trump gave birth to his son Barron. The reports re-emerged in January when the Wall Street Journal reported that she was paid to sign a non-disclosure agreement in the run up to the 2016 election, which prevented her from discussing the alleged liaison. (Webmaster's comment: What a Man! "Making America Great Again" one illicit sexual encounter after another!)

2-14-18 Daca: Second judge blocks Trump move to end Dreamers scheme
A second US judge has blocked the White House from ending a programme barring the deportation of immigrants brought illegally to the US as children. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) programme cannot end in March as President Donald Trump had planned, a New York City judge ruled. The decision comes a month after another judge ruled it must stay in place as legal challenges play out. The US Supreme Court is due to consider a White House appeal of that ruling. President Donald Trump in September rescinded the Obama-era scheme, which protects some 800,000 people and provides temporary permits for work and study. He delayed enforcement to give Congress until 5 March to enact a replacement plan for Daca recipients, known as "Dreamers". But US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in New York on Tuesday ruled that his reasons for revoking the programme were too arbitrary and could not stand. He ordered the Trump administration to process Daca renewal applications under the same terms that applied before the president's September order. The New York decision is similar to one issued on 9 January by US District Judge William Alsup, who said the justice department's argument that the scheme was illegal was based on a "flawed legal premise". The San Francisco judge ordered the government to process renewal applications from people who had previously been covered, but not for those who had never before received protection under the scheme. After Tuesday's ruling, a US Department of Justice spokesman reaffirmed the administration's stance that former President Barack Obama unlawfully implemented the programme and it was therefore unconstitutional.

2-14-18 The lies we tell ourselves about America's forever wars
Enough with this conspiracy of silence. It's become commonplace for many Americans to remark on the frequency and flagrancy of President Trump's lies. But that's nothing compared to the lies Americans tell ourselves on a daily basis about our nation's actions around the world. Dishonesty and prevarication have become hallmarks of the forever war we've been waging since 9/11. We all tend to engage in this, though as usual, the Trump examples are particularly egregious. On Monday, the day the White House released its budget proposal for 2019, the president tweeted, "This will be a big week for Infrastructure. After so stupidly spending $7 trillion in the Middle East, it is now time to start investing in OUR Country!” If only! The truth is that Trump's budget (which won't be adopted by Congress in anything like its current form) actually proposes spending just $200 billion on infrastructure, while also drastically cutting discretionary and entitlement spending and increasing military expenditures by 2 percent on top of the major increase contained in the two-year budget approved last week. All told, Trump's 2019 budget would set military spending 13 percent higher (at a grand total of $716 billion) than what President Obama proposed in his 2017 budget. Trump can ridicule the cost of our wars in the Greater Middle East all he wants, but the spending is bound to continue on his watch, and at an even faster rate than it did under his predecessor. It would be one thing if we had even the slightest indication that the American electorate was fully aware and approved of the fact that the country is waging war in more than half a dozen countries simultaneously, or that the U.S. maintains roughly 800 military bases in no fewer than 70 countries scattered across the globe. But alas, there is no sign at all of this awareness. We lie to ourselves about our forever wars. Ignorance is bliss. (Webmaster's comment: And none of these countries have attacked us and none have the capability. We are a nation of might over right.)

2-14-18 Transgender woman is first to be able to breastfeed her baby
An experimental treatment regimen has enabled a transgender woman to exclusively breastfeed her baby for six weeks, during which time the baby grew healthily. A 30-year-old transgender woman has become the first officially recorded to breastfeed her baby. An experimental three-and-a-half-month treatment regimen, which included hormones, a nausea drug and breast stimulation, enabled the woman to produce 227 grams of milk a day. “This is a very big deal,” says Joshua Safer of Boston Medical Center, who was not involved with the treatment. “Many transgender women are looking to have as many of the experiences of non-transgender women as they can, so I can see this will be extremely popular.” The transgender woman had been receiving feminising hormonal treatments for several years before she started the lactation treatment. These included spironolactone, which is thought to block the effects of testosterone, and progesterone and a type of oestrogen. This regimen enabled her to develop breasts that looked fully grown, according to a medical scale that assesses breast development based on appearance. She had not had any breast augmentation surgery. When her partner was five-and-a-half-months pregnant, the woman sought medical treatment from Tamar Reisman and Zil Goldstein at Mount Sinai’s Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery in New York City. Her partner had no interest in breastfeeding, she explained, so she would like to take on that role instead. A hormone called prolactin usually stimulates the production of breastmilk in women who have just given birth, but this chemical isn’t available as a lab-made drug. Instead, the woman decided to try using a nausea drug called domperidone to trigger breastmilk.

2-13-18 Face-recognition software is perfect – if you’re a white man
Three leading face-recognition systems correctly identified white men 99 per cent of the time but did badly at identifying women with darker skin. Face-recognition software can guess your gender with amazing accuracy – if you are a white man. Joy Buolamwini at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology tested three commercially available face-recognition systems, created by Microsoft, IBM and the Chinese company Megvii. The systems correctly identified the gender of white men 99 per cent of the time. But the error rate rose for people with darker skin, reaching nearly 35 per cent for women. The results will be presented at the Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency in New York later this month. Face-recognition software is already being used in many different situations, including by police to identify suspects in a crowd and to automatically tag photos. This means inaccuracies could have consequences, such as systematically ingraining biases in police stop and searches. Biases in artificial intelligence systems tend to come from biases in the data they are trained on. According to one study, a widely used data set is around 75 per cent male and more than 80 per cent white. (Webmaster's comment: I'll bet they were designed by white men and mostly standarized on white men. Exactly what you would expect in a highly racist society!)

2-13-18 Record 21 States See Decline in Well-Being in 2017
Nearly half of U.S. states saw their well-being scores decline by a statistically significant margin in 2017, according to the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index. And, for the first time in nine years of tracking changes in state well-being, no state saw statistically significant improvement from the year before. The 21 U.S. states that saw their well-being drop in 2017 shattered the previous record set in 2009 amidst the Great Recession, when 15 states had lower well-being than the year before. The large number of states with declines in well-being in 2017 is particularly notable given that Americans' confidence in the economy and perceptions of the job market are substantially better in 2017 than they were in 2009.

  • For the first time, zero states saw statistically significant improvement from prior year
  • South Dakota and Vermont top nation for the first time, followed by Hawaii
  • West Virginia has lowest well-being, followed by Louisiana

2-13-18 Inside the Free Fall in U.S. Leadership Ratings in 2017
Shifts in U.S. Approval Largest Among Educated, Higher-Income, Urban Dwellers. Ratings of U.S. leadership fell in nearly every part of the world in the first year of Donald Trump's presidency, dragging median approval to a record-low 30%. Curious about the true depth of a "Trump effect" on U.S. leadership ratings, we created a model to estimate the change in the probability that a similar respondent who approved of U.S. leadership in Barack Obama's last year also approved in Trump's first year. The model revealed evidence of a Trump effect in all major demographics, but the effect was more acute among some groups than others. Approval of U.S. leadership dropped across all demographic groups during Trump's first year, but groups that typically give U.S. leadership higher approval ratings -- those with more education, those earning higher incomes and those who live in urban areas -- registered the largest declines. Holding other demographic variables at mean values, the probability that a respondent with a tertiary education (12 years or more of formal education) approved of U.S. leadership fell from 60.7% in 2016 to 40.8% in 2017, an absolute decline of 19.9 percentage points. Similarly, urban dwellers' approval decreased 19.4 points, and earners in the top income quintile dropped by 17.1 points.

2-13-18 The dwindling ambition of the religious right
There was a time in the not-so-distant American past when social conservatives dreamed big. Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority in 1979 in part to fight for Christian prayer in public schools. During the 1980s, social conservatives from both parties pushed hard to regulate and restrict obscenity in pop music. As he prepared to run for re-election, Democratic President Bill Clinton made a play for social conservative voters by strongly supporting the Defense of Marriage Act. Eight years later, Republican President George W. Bush's re-election campaign worked closely with social conservatives to try and get a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Those big ideas are long gone. Today, social conservatives are dreaming very small. The conservative evangelical Protestants who have long been the foot soldiers of the religious right may be thrilled with President Trump's judicial appointments (and so willing to overlook his mountain of personal moral failings), but that excitement has nothing to do with ambitions to take back the country in the name of traditional moral values. On the contrary, evangelicals and their conservative Catholic allies today engage in politics from the position of a defensive crouch, anxiously hoping sympathetic judges will protect them from bullying at the hands of an administrative state empowered by anti-discrimination law to stamp out various forms of religiously grounded "bigotry."

2-13-18 Eric Radford: Skater is first openly gay man to win Winter Olympics gold
Canadian figure skater Eric Radford has said he "might explode with pride", after becoming the first openly gay male Winter Olympics champion. Radford took gold at the Pyeongchang Games in the team figure skating event, alongside his partner Meagan Duhamel. The pair performed a beautiful routine set to Adele's Hometown Glory. US skater Adam Rippon, the first openly gay athlete to reach the US Winter Olympics team, won bronze in the same event at the Gangneung Ice Arena. He skated to Coldplay's O, and Arrival of the Birds by Cinematic Orchestra. The team figure skating, which debuted four years ago, sees each nation compete in the men's, women's, pairs', and ice dance disciplines. The team with most points overall takes the gold medal. They join openly bisexual Dutch speed skater Ireen Wust - her nation's most successful Olympian with 10 medals, including golds from four consecutive Games. After his win, Radford, 33, wrote on Twitter: "This is amazing! I literally feel like I might explode with pride."

2-13-18 Transgender first for Australian football as Hannah Mouncey is accepted
The Australian Football League (AFL) has agreed for the first time to allow a transgender footballer to play women's football at state level. Hannah Mouncey, 28, who previously played at local level in Canberra, hopes to take to the field in the state of Victoria this season. The AFL said it wanted everyone to be able to play Australian rules football. Before she began her gender transition in 2015, Mouncey played for the Australian men's handball team. The AFL's decision means she can now partake in any of its affiliated state leagues during the 2018 season. In a statement uploaded to Twitter, she thanked her supporters - but not the AFL itself. "I think it would be highly inappropriate for me to thank the AFL for allowing me to do something open to every other Australian, which the science and research has supported all along," she said.

2-12-18 Syed Jamal deportation: Kansas rallies behind detained teacher
A chemistry professor who has been in the US for more than 30 years is facing deportation for visa infringements, sparking a desperate battle waged by his family and his community in Kansas. Almost every Sunday afternoon, 14-year-old Taseen Jamal and his two younger siblings would go to the local sports centre with their father, Syed Ahmed Jamal, to play basketball or soccer. This Sunday, the three children spent their afternoon holding placards and marching in a rally to seek his release from a west Texas detention centre, where he is locked-up facing imminent deportation. Mr Jamal, a 55-year-old Bangladeshi-born chemistry professor, was arrested on his front lawn nearly two weeks ago by immigration officials as he stepped out to drop his daughter to school in Lawrence, Kansas. His wife and other two children rushed out but even before they could say goodbye, he was led away in handcuffs. An immigration court has temporarily halted his deportation in response to a motion to rescind and reopen the case but, according to his attorney, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has already filed its opposition to it and Mr Jamal's future now hangs on the judge's ruling that is expected any day. "If it goes against him, Mr Jamal can be deported even before his family gets to know of it," says his lawyer, Rekha Sharma-Crawford. He has been moved from a detention centre in Missouri to a facility near El Paso, Texas, close to the border. The attorney fears this has been done deliberately so that he can be moved out of the country within minutes, thereby depriving him of the chance to appeal any further. "They have done it before and the families got to know of it only after they got a call from the home country," says Ms Sharma-Crawford.

2-12-18 How IQ tests are used to justify the death penalty
Research has identified embedded racism in IQ tests. As a concept, IQ is terrible. The idea that we can reduce intelligence to a simple number, quantifiable in a test, exacerbates inequality in numerous racist, classist, sexist, and ableist ways. Not only do people have worth beyond their measurable cognitive ability, but IQ also routinely awards higher numbers to abled middle- and upper-class white males, reinforcing pre-existing ideologies in the name of "science." Over the last many decades, scholars and activists have pushed back against the regime of IQ testing in all contexts, often successfully. Now, prosecutors in at least eight states have been hiring experts to testify about the racist use of IQ in order to kill more black and brown men. The Supreme Court has slowly been carving out exemptions to the death penalty for people with intellectual disabilities. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that people with intellectual disabilities could not be executed, but left it up to the states to determine who is or is not eligible for that protection. In 2014, in Hall v. Florida, the court ruled that a state can't use a simple IQ cut-off. Then, in last year's Moore v. Texas, the court ruled that states must consider the best psychiatric and medical information about disability when determining disabled status. Still, IQ testing continues to play a major role, with a threshold of around 70 serving as the cutoff score, below which a person cannot legally be executed. Here's where "ethnic adjustments" come in. The practice, as documented by attorney Robert Sanger in a 2015 article in the American University Law Review, adjusts IQ scores upward for people of color convicted of capital crimes.

2-12-18 'I couldn't mourn my grandmother because I had my period'
Although still a sensitive subject in many Indian families, menstruation had never been taboo in mine - until an emotional reunion revealed a generational divide. "Does anyone have a tampon?" I asked as I left the bathroom. Several members of my family, who had been chatting animatedly over mugs of hot sweet tea, were abruptly silent. We were all packed in a modest hotel room in Rameswaram, an island off the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The unnatural moment of stillness was instantly noticeable for two reasons - the sudden peal of rain beating against the windows, and the fact that there is rarely silence when my family, who live on three continents and talk every day on WhatsApp, get to be together. My aunt, who had been lying casually on her hotel bed, stood up to reach for her handbag. She pulled out a sanitary towel and handed it over to me. "This will tide you over until we can stop by a pharmacy," she said. And looking rather sadly at me, she added: "You know what this means, don't you?" I didn't. "You won't be able to come to the temple." I would have to wait with the driver outside the temple. "There are certain times when human beings are considered ritually impure, as upon contact with a dead body, or excreta and so on. Women are considered so during periods," he says,

2-10-18 An Appalachian haven for LGBTQ people
These gender-nonconforming people feel safer in rural West Virginia than they ever did in the big city. Up the narrow, winding roads where the Appalachian Mountains cut through West Virginia, the countryside is dotted with squat one-story homes. Some are decorated with American flags and covered in slabs of cheap plywood; other homes are sturdier buildings painted with delicate country motifs. In each yard, animals wander freely, and golden sunlight bounces off the purple wildflowers and rolling meadows. One small town here, a settlement established in the 1800s, has a Walmart, a gas station, a Wendy's fast food restaurant, and a handful of churches. Down a forked road, half an hour outside town, the pavement turns to gravel and the landscape changes to deep forest. It's here that Honeybee Williams' new home comes into view, its sharp, modern angles contrasting with the softness of the countryside and her surrounding 65-acre farm. On a summer afternoon, Williams, a 26-year-old transgender woman from Maryland, sits at a long, rectangular table in the garden in front of her new home, wearing a lacy pink dress and braiding a piece of grass, her dirty blonde hair tucked into a ponytail at the nape of her neck. Williams and a small group of young transgender people are working to transform this Appalachian community, with its dwindling population and flailing economy, into a place where LGBTQ people can rebuild local ecosystems and fight for environmental justice and sustainability.

2-10-18 Saudi women should not have to wear long robes, top cleric says
Saudi women should not have to wear the abaya, a long loose-fitting robe used to cover their bodies in public, a top religious cleric has said.. Sheikh Abdullah al-Mutlaq, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, said women should dress modestly, but this did not have to mean wearing the abaya. Saudi women are currently required to wear the garment by law. The cleric's intervention comes amid moves to modernise Saudi society and relax restriction on women. "More than 90% of pious Muslim women in the Muslim world do not wear abayas. So we should not force people to wear abayas," Sheikh Mutlaq said on Friday. It is the first time a senior cleric has made such a statement, which may form the basis of Saudi law in the future.

2-9-18 Trump doesn't get the 'best people.' He gets the worst. Here's why.
"I'm going to surround myself only with the best and most serious people," Donald Trump said in 2015. "We want top of the line professionals." Oddly enough, that doesn't seem to have been what happened. In fact, President Trump seems to have gone out of his way to surround himself with the worst people — a collection of grifters, liars, swindlers, resume padders, domestic abusers, and just hard-core, unadulterated jerkwads. I'm sure there are some very fine people who work for President Trump. But there's a reason we keep hearing stories like that of Rob Porter, the president's staff secretary who was accused by both his ex-wives of domestic violence — and still got that very sensitive job, which includes being a kind of traffic cop for every document that crosses the president's desk, despite the fact that those ex-wives told the FBI about Porter's behavior when they were interviewed as part of his background check. The Porter scandal exposes personnel problems that go beyond Porter himself. As CNN reported, "Senior aides to President Donald Trump knew for months about allegations of domestic abuse levied against top White House staffer Rob Porter by his ex-wives, even as Porter's stock in the West Wing continued to rise." That included Chief of Staff John Kelly, who knew that the allegations were the reason Porter's security clearance was being held up (the White House has yet to explain how Porter could possibly have performed the staff secretary job without a security clearance). And Kelly is quite a piece of work himself. In recent months he has slandered a congresswoman, said that the Civil War happened because of "a lack of an ability to compromise," and said DREAMers who didn't sign up for DACA "were too lazy to get off their asses."

2-8-18 The cost of Trump’s reality show
Donald Trump’s presidential reality show has great ratings, said Matthew Yglesias, but it’s “blinding us to what matters.” While the country is engrossed in such spectacles as the Nunes memo and Trump’s latest tweet, important news is getting lost. Just a few examples: The Labor Department suppressed a report that the Trump administration’s proposed new rule allowing restaurant owners to keep employee tips could cost workers billions of dollars a year. The Centers for Disease Control is facing an 80 percent funding cut from its efforts to fight infectious disease outbreaks, in the midst of the worst flu season in years. And there were two major passenger train derailments to serve as a reminder of our crumbling infrastructure. It’s not that the media didn’t cover these and other important stories, but they were completely drowned out by the Trump Show. Sometimes, the firestorms the president generates play to his advantage; other times, they backfire spectacularly. “But either way, it’s an absolute disaster for the understanding of public affairs.” Staid stories about what the federal government is actually doing might be “less exciting than Trump’s Twitter beefs,” but they have “real impact on real people’s real lives.” Governing is not a TV show.

2-8-18 Law: Labor Dept. rule on tips prompts investigation
A proposed Trump administration rule could “give restaurants and other employers more control over workers’ tips,” said Noam Scheiber in The New York Times, but the process has prompted criticism and an investigation. The Labor Department proposed in December to require workers to share tips with bosses so the money could be distributed to other employees. Critics said the move would allow employers to essentially pocket gratuities. The Labor Department’s inspector general is now investigating after it was reported that officials had buried an analysis that found the change would drain “billions” from workers’ pockets.

2-8-18 Massachusetts head teacher comes out to school as transgender
For the Stanley Elementary School principal, it was an announcement years in the making. Shannon Daniels explains why she wanted to come out as transgender to the parents and students at her school - and how they've responded.

2-8-18 Is it worth it?
The cost of keeping Guantánamo Bay open to house 41 remaining accused terrorists is more than $440 million a year—nearly $11 million per inmate.

2-8-18 Gerrymandering slap
The U.S. Supreme Court this week refused a request from Republican state lawmakers in Pennsylvania to block a decision nullifying the state’s congressional map before this year’s midterm elections. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in January that the map outlining the state’s 18 congressional districts violated the state’s constitution, because of flagrant gerrymandering that favored Republicans. Pennsylvania officials now have until Feb. 15 to submit a new map. The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court not to intervene was expected, as Pennsylvania’s decision was based entirely on state law. The new map is expected to help Democrats in their efforts to regain the House of Representatives in November. Although Pennsylvania voters are closely divided between Republicans and Democrats, Republicans hold 13 of the state’s 18 House seats.

2-8-18 The migrant crisis is fueling racist violence
The “nightmare of racist terrorism” has come to Italy, said Antonio Polito. In a two-hour shooting spree last week, far-right extremist Luca Traini drove around the central Italian city of Macerata opening fire at every dark-skinned person he saw. Five African men and an African woman were wounded in the attack. Traini, who has a neo-Nazi tattoo on his forehead, allegedly gave a Nazi salute as he was arrested, with an Italian flag draped over his shoulders. “We must now open our eyes to what Italy is becoming.” We have grown inured to hate speech in daily conversation, to a mode of expression that describes those who disagree with us on matters of immigration as the enemy. We must oppose this. Yet we must also recognize that “the chaotic, uncontrolled, illegal way” migrants have flooded our cities “has provoked resentment and rancor even among decent people.” Macerata has become a hub for human trafficking, where African girls are sold to work on the street. And just days before the shootings, the dismembered remains of an 18-year-old Italian girl were found in the city; a Nigerian drug dealer has been arrested in connection with her killing. “Does tolerance mean tolerating this? Of course not.” It is childish to blame Traini’s violence on critics of immigration. We ought to be able to criticize both this untenable migrant situation and criminals who target migrants.

2-7-18 Majority Remains Satisfied With Acceptance of Gays in U.S.
The majority of Americans (56%) remain satisfied with the acceptance of gays and lesbians in the U.S., as they have been for the past five years, amid victories in the movement to legalize same-sex marriage. The latest figure is slightly lower than the high of 60% recorded in 2016, but well above the percentages of 41% or below measured between 2001 and 2012.

  • 56% of Americans satisfied, 38% dissatisfied with acceptance of gays
  • 23% of U.S. adults are dissatisfied because they seek greater acceptance

(Webmaster's comment: Over two years now acceptance has dropped 4% and non-acceptance has increased 4% reversing the trend of 15 years. Republican and Christian hatred of gays is increasing. Vice-President Pence wants to force them all to be cured using electroshock therapy. Burn it out of their brains!)

2-7-18 California judge sides with baker in 'gay cake' row
A California baker can refuse service to same-sex couples over her religious objections and right to free speech, a Superior Court judge has ruled. A bakery owner's lawyers argued that making the cakes violates her Christian beliefs and free religious expression. The judge ruled the act of making cakes is protected as artistic expression and does not violate a state anti-discrimination law. A similar case in Colorado is awaiting a US Supreme Court decision. "A wedding cake is not just a cake in a Free Speech analysis. It is an artistic expression by the person making it that is to be used traditionally as a centerpiece in the celebration of a marriage," Kern County Superior Court Judge David Lampe wrote. Tastries Bakery owner Cathy Miller said she was "very happy to serve everything from my cases to anybody", but she could not "be a part of a celebration that goes against my lord and saviour". The US Supreme Court is set to rule on a similar case involving Colorado baker Jack C Phillips, who argues that he can refuse service to same-sex couples based on the First Amendment right to free speech and free exercise of religion clause. The court heard arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission case in December. The California case began when Ms Miller refused service to Mireya and Eileen Rodriguez-Del Rio, who requested a cake without any words or messages. According to court documents, Ms Miller said she would refer their order to competitor bakery Gimme Some Sugar "because she does not condone same-sex marriage".

2-7-18 How Google and Facebook hooked us – and how to break the habit
Big tech companies avoid taxes and have taken over our lives and created monopolies – but what can we do about it and how much change do we really want? RARELY has a thumbs up led to such bad feeling. Back in 2009, Justin Rosenstein created Facebook’s “Like” button. Now he has dedicated himself to atoning for it. Rosenstein’s voice is far from a lone one. A decade ago, society was wide-eyed at the possibilities of social networks, web search, smartphones and online shopping. The Google motto “Don’t be evil” expressed a prevailing optimism about how the internet, and the companies shaping it, would create a better, more open world. No longer. “Just a few years ago, no one could say a bad word about the tech giants,” says Martin Moore of King’s College London. “Now no one can say a good word.” Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon variously avoid tax, crush competition and violate privacy, the complaints go. Their inscrutable algorithms determine what we see and what we know, shape opinions, narrow world views and even subvert the democratic order that spawned them. In 2018, a “techlash” is in full flow. There is broad agreement that something must be done about big tech. But must it? And if so, what? To understand big tech’s peculiar power, it helps to get to grips with the roots of its success, and they lie deep in the human psyche. Take the Like button. On the face of it, there is a lot to like about it. Why bother typing out a negative comment to a post, when you can communicate a positive response to something else with a click? “It was a conscious exercise to inject more positivity into the world,” says Rosenstein. But it also unleashed a monster inside us. Desperate for the approval of others, and never long satisfied when we get it, we became hooked into an endless loop of posting and reciprocal clicking: thrilled when the Likes clocked up, despondent when they didn’t. (Webmaster's comment: Given the opportunity to do evil and not be accountable people have lined up droves. Especially on Facebook and other social media.)

2-7-18 The doctor who exposed the UK’s terrible experiments on patients
In the 1960s, British medics took sometimes fatal liberties with unsuspecting patients in the name of science. Maurice Pappworth wasn't having any of it. MAURICE PAPPWORTH was a “pestilential nuisance”, according to his obituary. It was meant as a compliment. A whistle-blower before the modern meaning of the term was invented, he exposed how many of his fellow doctors in the 1960s, often at British teaching hospitals, were treating their patients with as much respect as lab rats, and sometimes killing them in the process. In his explosive 1967 book, Human Guinea Pigs, he revealed how unsuspecting patients were being “subject to mental and physical distress which is in no way necessitated by, and has no connection with, the treatment of their disease”. They were being sacrificed to science by “wolves in white coats”, said one reviewer of his book. And not just in hospitals: in prisons, orphanages and psychiatric centres, too. The book created headlines around the world, and Pappworth pulled no punches, likening the situation to the foul work of doctors in Nazi concentration camps. With the war so recent, this comparison inevitably whipped up outrage among his peers. This was an era in which British doctors could seemingly do no wrong, and a TV series that featured real operations – Your Life in Their Hands – was top of the ratings. Yet Pappworth noted that many doctors had near contempt for both their patients and the notion of consent. As one researcher put it to him, it was “useless to explain to a charwoman what was going to be done, because she couldn’t possibly understand”. In the wake of the trials of Nazi physicians at Nuremberg, judges proposed that doctors follow a Nuremberg Code, part of which was to elicit informed consent before people were used in experiments. British doctors had long resisted ethical codes in general and the Nuremberg Code in particular, so Pappworth took no prisoners: his book named names, accusing dozens of doctors of abusing their positions to carry out risky and sometimes lethal experiments. And he paid a price. (Webmaster's comment: Just like the Medical Profession did in Ameica with its experiments with syphilis and radiation and hallucinogenic drugs. Scientific advancement was more important than human lives.)

2-7-18 Chinese police use face recognition glasses to catch criminals
Police caught twenty-six people carrying fake IDs and another with links to human trafficking by using smart glasses with automatic face recognition. For the past two months, cyborg police officers have screened travellers passing through Zhengzhou railway station in China. The officers, wearing smart glasses with built-in face recognition, have caught seven fugitives and 26 fake ID holders already. According to local media, some of the fugitives were wanted for alleged involvement in human trafficking cases. Zhang Xin, at LLVision, the firm that developed the GLXSS Pro smart glasses, says the glasses are very light so the police officers can wear them all day. Feedback so far been positive, she says. The face recognition feature is 99.4 per cent accurate, according to LLVision. If a match can’t be found then the officer can transfer their photo of someone’s face over the internet for checking against a central database. In total, police in the three Chinese provinces of Henan, Shandong and Xinjiang are currently using the technology. Some highway patrol officers are using it when checking drivers’ licences for instance, but the system offers licence plate recognition, too. LLVision has kept the weight of the glasses down by connecting them via wire to a separate device with a screen. It looks a bit like a smartphone and contains an external battery, allowing for the glasses to be used for about 10 hours at a time. Smart glasses have moved on from the days of Google Glass, points out Jim Kovach at CrowdOptic. “They are less conspicuous, the battery life is much better now – a lot of things have been solved since those early days,” he says. (Webmaster's comment: The Chinese taking the lead again.)

2-7-18 Trump's new wage proposal is a plutocratic farce
Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Republicans want to steal from employees earning a modest wage and give it to their employers. For many on the left, Republicans' reverse Robin Hood principle is obvious — even though it sounds like an agitprop caricature of the GOP. But in the case of new rules being considered by the Trump administration's Department of Labor, it is quite literally true. If the administration adopts the proposed rules, employers will be permitted to pocket their workers' tips, as long as those workers are paid minimum wage. One left-leaning think tank plausibly estimates that this will result in an annual loss of billions of dollars of income for restaurant service workers and a consequent gain for their employers. In the scheme of our $18 trillion economy, that may sound trivial. But it's obviously significant to the waiters and waitresses who will see a major salary cut if the changes go into effect — and it's especially revealing because of what it tells us about today's Republican Party. The GOP was the U.S. party more likely to defend the interests of big business long before Ronald Reagan brought supply-side economics and the Laffer Curve into the Oval Office. Still, those innovations were significant — not least in the ideological justifications that accompanied them. Why should ordinary Americans vote for and cheer on a party that primarily helps wealthy capitalists by cutting their taxes and eliminating burdensome regulations? Because it's the latter who start the businesses and create the jobs. Make things easier for capital, and capital will reward workers with income and the benefits that go along with it. (Webmaster's comment: That's bullshit and always has been!)

2-7-18 Trump tells Pentagon 'to top' France military parade
US President Donald Trump has asked the Pentagon to organise a large military parade in the nation's capital. The president made the request of top military chiefs in late January, after reportedly being impressed by a French Bastille Day parade last year. "It was one of the greatest parades I've ever seen," he later said. "We're going to have to try and top it." Democrats compared the plan to displays of military might organised by autocratic nations. The plan was first revealed by the Washington Post, before being confirmed by the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders. "President Trump is incredibly supportive of America's great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe," she said. "He has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation." Military displays in Washington DC are usually only used to mark victory at the end of a war. The Pentagon is now looking at the details of the event, though one White House official told the Washington Post plans were still at a "brainstorming" stage. Commentators say a US parade would be extremely expensive, given the cost of bringing military hardware and personnel to the capital and protecting its streets from tanks designed for war zones. "What an absurd waste of money!" tweeted Representative Jim McGovern. "Trump acts more like dictator than president. Americans deserve better." (Webmaster's comment: This parade is right out of Hitler's playbook. Be sure to have all the soldiers goose stepping!)

2-7-18 Poland Holocaust law: France criticises 'ill advised' text
France has joined the US and Israel in criticising Poland's new Holocaust law, describing the text as "ill advised". "You should not rewrite history, it's never a very good idea," Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said. Polish president Andrzej Duda signed the law on Tuesday. It outlaws accusing Poland of complicity in Nazi crimes committed under occupation. The US has expressed "disappointment". Israel is worried the law could stifle the truth about the role of some Poles. There are also fears Holocaust survivors could face criminal charges for giving testimony that incriminates Poles. In a televised address, Mr Duda said the aim of the law was to safeguard Poland's image abroad. "[The bill]... protects Polish interests... our dignity, the historical truth... so that we are not slandered as a state and as a nation." The legislation, approved by the Senate last week, also "takes into account the sensitivity of those for whom the issue of historical truth, the memory of the Holocaust is incredibly important", he added. Mr Duda said he would send the text to the Constitutional Tribunal to check whether its regulations comply with the Polish constitution. This is expected to happen within a week. (Webmaster's comment: Many Poles did take part in the slaughter of the Jews and theft of their property. That's the truth! This law is part of the long range movement to sanitise the Nazis!)

2-6-18 Trump's cover-up in Afghanistan
How the Trump administration is hiding the truth about the Afghanistan surge from the American people. The U.S. military is losing in Afghanistan, and the Trump administration is covering up the extent of the failure. That is the only possible conclusion from the news that the Pentagon, for the first time, is now redacting portions of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reports detailing yet another few months of fiasco. "This is the first time SIGAR has been specifically instructed not to release information marked 'unclassified' to the American taxpayer," an agency spokesperson noted in a statement last week. When thinking about lost American wars, my mind inevitably turns to how America treats its soldiers and veterans when they aren't getting shot at or blown up. Take the Super Bowl, for instance, which prominently worships the troops. The hyper-patriotic opening ceremonies, with the gigantic flag and the national anthem and the soldiers (for which the Pentagon often pays handsomely, it should be noted) are present in all NFL games, of course, but they reach a sort of paroxysm of hysterical nationalism at the Super Bowl. And that, of course, is only the tip of a vast cultural iceberg of Thank You For Your Service at airports, restaurants, movies, and myriad other public events. But the rhetorical grandiosity of the troop worship in American society seems roughly inversely proportional to the actual care and consideration shown to veterans in real life. They do have the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is chronically underfunded but at least mostly functional. But there is no broader welfare state to help homeless veterans, and the VA is still falling short when it comes to PTSD and suicide.

2-6-18 Trump's cruel quest to rid America of foreign-born workers
President Trump insists that the changes to immigration law he's proposing in exchange for protecting DREAMers — a nickname for those illegally brought to America as children — would make our country's immigration system, like Canada's, more merit-based. That would be awesome if it were true. Unfortunately, it is a complete lie. In fact, it is like saying that kneecapping someone would make them a better sprinter. It is true that Canada's immigration system, though not perfect, is far superior to America's in many respects. Canada admits the vast majority of foreigners based on a point system that gives more weight to those with college degrees, youth, job offers, and English or French speaking skills. Foreigners who earn the requisite points are granted permanent residency — along with their nuclear family members — within a matter of months. That is a far cry from how things work in America. Here, most high-skilled foreigners have to go through a painfully arduous process to obtain green cards. First, their employer has to undertake the frustrating and expensive process of sponsoring them for an H-1B visa. This involves entering their name in the annual visa lottery, which gets over twice as many entries as it has slots. Even if they are among the lucky who land the coveted visa, they have to wait for years to obtain their green cards. Wait times for Indian and Chinese tech workers are running close to 20 years currently. Why? Because every country gets the same fixed annual green card allowance. So a massive backlog has developed for countries that are major donors of technical talent to America. During much of this time, these tech workers are stuck in their jobs, because switching might push them to the back of the green card queue.

2-6-18 Is America having second thoughts about free speech?
The free speech wars are getting worse, but it seems that none of the warring factions quite grasp the character of the dispute — or precisely what's at stake. At the figurative center of the clash is the norm of near-absolute freedom of speech and expression, which its defenders like to treat as the American default. A number of ideological challenges have arisen in recent years to overturn this norm. On many college campuses, groups of left-leaning students insist that free speech should be conditional on speakers adhering to explicit standards of diversity and avoiding the infliction of emotional harm on the members of marginalized groups through the spreading of "hate." From the opposite ideological direction, President Trump believes that the government should "take a strong look" at libel laws to keep news organizations from subjecting his own administration to negative coverage. Finally, from the center-left come calls to use anti-discrimination law to punish organizations that oppose the legitimacy of same-sex marriage and accommodations for transgender people. If that happens — either by passing new laws that explicitly add to existing anti-discrimination statutes or by courts treating the members of these groups as protected classes covered by existing law — the result will almost certainly be a significant constriction of speech, as those holding more conservative views will face sanction for expressing them in public. Those are the trends — and each one looks to the others like the onset of democratic decline.

2-6-18 Poland President Duda 'will sign' controversial Holocaust bill
Poland's president says he will sign a controversial Holocaust bill, despite angry protests from Israel and the US. Andrzej Duda defended the legislation, which will make it illegal to accuse Poland of complicity in such Nazi crimes committed under occupation. The Polish government says it aims to stop the Polish nation or state being blamed for the atrocities. But Israel has raised concerns it could stifle the truth about the involvement of some Poles. There are also fears Holocaust survivors could face criminal charges for giving testimony that incriminates Poles. In a speech on Tuesday, Mr Duda said the bill "protects the Polish interests... protects our dignity, the historical truth, so that we could be judged fairly in the world, so that we would not be slandered as a state and as a nation". He acknowledged that individual Poles did commit crimes against Jews during World War Two. But he said the Polish state bore no responsibility because it ceased to exist following the invasion by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. He said there had been no systematic collaboration of Polish institutions. In a gesture to Israel, Mr Duda said he would send it to the Constitutional Tribunal to check whether its regulations comply with the Polish constitution. But that will happen after he has signed the bill into law. (Webmaster's comment: No law will hide the truth that many polish people attacked, killed, and stole the property of Jews.)

2-5-18 Super Bowl: Philadelphia win sparks mayhem in city
Incidents of rioting and looting have taken place in the US city of Philadelphia as fans celebrated a historic Super Bowl win on Sunday. Social media pictures showed scenes of chaos as 100,000 Philadelphia Eagles' fans took to the streets. A police officer is among those reported injured. Cars and shopfronts have been destroyed and looted. Almost 10,000 tuned into a public police radio, with #phillypolicescanner trending nationally on Twitter. Despite bracing for chaotic celebrations, authorities were overwhelmed following the Eagles's 41-33 win against the New England Patriots. One officer was heard saying on the police scanner: "It's endless, chief. Endless." People were reported brawling, flipping over cars, scaling the City Hall gates, mounting garbage trucks, and attempting to tear down traffic lights and lamp posts. Some fans jumped into crowds from a height, but not without injury, as one police officer reported, saying: "This is extremely horrible. We need rescue here, we got someone horribly injured from a fall." (Webmaster's comment: A failing civlization finds any excuse for violence and destruction and theft. This is what makes America Great?)

2-5-18 President Trump: NHS 'going broke and not working'
US President Donald Trump has claimed the NHS is "going broke and not working" as he targeted rival Democrats pushing for a universal health system. In his tweet he also said "thousands of people are marching" about it. This was believed to be a reference to a Save the NHS march on Downing Street on Saturday demanding more funding for the health service. UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt hit back on Twitter, saying he was "proud" of the UK's system. President Trump's tweet came after ex-UKIP leader Nigel Farage appeared on Fox And Friends, one of the president's favourite shows, talking about the weekend march. "Dems want to greatly raise taxes for really bad and non-personal medical care," Mr Trump tweeted. In response, Mr Hunt said that while he "disagreed with claims made on that march", no-one wanted "to live in a system where 28 million people have no cover". He added: "NHS may have challenges but I'm proud to be from the country that invented universal coverage - where all get care no matter the size of their bank balance." Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn - the leader of the UK opposition - also hit back, saying: "People were marching because we love our NHS and hate what the Tories are doing to it." He added: "Healthcare is a human right." (Webmaster's comment: What's not working is American Healthcare! We die younger, and have higher maternal and infant mortality rates than any of the countries in Europe. Even Cuba has better healthcare than we do. FOR PROFIT HEALTHCARE DOES NOT WORK!)

2-5-18 Wikipedia has become a science reference source even though scientists don’t cite it
Phrases from Wikipedia pages on hot scientific fields end up in published papers, a study finds. Wikipedia: The settler of dinnertime disputes and the savior of those who cheat on trivia night. Quick, what country has the Nile’s headwaters? What year did Gershwin write “Rhapsody in Blue”? Wikipedia has the answer to all your burning trivia questions — including ones about science. With hundreds of thousands of scientific entries, Wikipedia offers a quick reference for the molecular formula of Zoloft, who the inventor of the 3-D printer is and the fact that the theory of plate tectonics is only about 100 years old. The website is a gold mine for science fans, science bloggers and scientists alike. But even though scientists use Wikipedia, they don’t tend to admit it. The site rarely ends up in a paper’s citations as the source of, say, the history of the gut-brain axis or the chemical formula for polyvinyl chloride. But scientists are browsing Wikipedia just like everyone else. A recent analysis found that Wikipedia stays up-to-date on the latest research — and vocabulary from those Wikipedia articles finds its way into scientific papers. The results don’t just reveal the Wiki-habits of the ivory tower. They also show that the free, widely available information source is playing a role in research progress, especially in poorer countries.

2-4-18 ‘Death: A Graveside Companion’ offers an outlet for your morbid curiosity
New book explores the how humans have tried to understand death through the ages. Death: A Graveside Companion makes for an unusual coffee-table book, with its coppery etched Grim Reaper on the cover. Yet you may be surprised by how much fun it is to pore through the book’s lavish artwork of skulls, cadavers and fanciful imaginings of the afterlife. There is, after all, a reason for the term “morbid curiosity.” It’s only natural for people to try to understand and come to terms with their inevitable demise, and as the book reveals, it is only in modern Western society that the topic of death has become so taboo. Even as recently as Victorian times, the book notes, the dead were laid out in the family parlor, their hair cut off and twisted to make decorative mementos to hang on the wall. As a founder of New York City’s now-closed Morbid Anatomy Museum, Joanna Ebenstein has set out to help change modern attitudes, by giving us permission to let our morbid curiosity loose. “It is my hope that this book might act as a gesture towards redeeming death, to invite it back into our world in some small way,” she writes. “It is precisely by keeping death close at hand and coming to terms with its inevitability that we are able to lead full rich lives.”

2-4-18 Costa Rica election: Gay marriage debate dominates campaign
Voting is under way in Costa Rica's presidential election after a campaign dominated by same-sex marriage. Last month, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights based in Costa Rica ruled such alliances should be recognised. The court's decision led to a backlash in the Central American country. A conservative Christian evangelical preacher who has campaigned against same-sex marriage has become the most popular candidate. The binding court ruling required the small but deeply Catholic Costa Rica to legalise same-sex marriage. In recent weeks, preacher Fabricio Alvarado surged to the top of opinion polls, campaigning against same-sex marriage. In all, 13 candidates are running to replace President Luis Guillermo Solis of the centre-left Citizen's Action Party. Mr Alvarado represents the right-wing National Restoration Party. He has gone from also-ran, with just 2% support, to the leading candidate with 17% in a crowded field, according to a poll released on 31 January by the University of Costa Rica. However, more than a third of the electorate appear to be undecided. A run-off on 1 April seems certain as no candidate is likely to win the 40% of the vote required to win in the first round.

2-3-18 Philippines gripped by dengue vaccine fears
Fears over a dengue vaccine in the Philippines have led to a big drop in immunisation rates for preventable diseases, officials have warned. Health Under-Secretary Enrique Domingo said many parents were refusing to get their children vaccinated for polio, chicken pox and tetanus. The fears centre on Dengvaxia, a drug developed by French company Sanofi. Sanofi and local experts say there is no evidence linking the deaths of 14 children to the drug. However, the company had warned last year that the vaccine could make the disease worse in some people not infected before. Dengue fever affects more than 400 million people each year around the world. Dengvaxia is the world's first vaccine against dengue. The mosquito-borne disease is a leading cause of serious illness and death among children in some Asian and Latin American countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). "Our programmes are suffering... (people) are scared of all vaccines now", he warned. Mr Domingo added that vaccination rates for some preventable diseases had dropped as much as 60% in recent years - significantly lower that the nationwide target of 85%. Mr Domingo expressed concerns about potential epidemics in the Philippines - a nation of about 100 million people, many of whom are impoverished.

2-3-18 Holocaust law wields a 'blunt instrument' against Poland's past
In 2012, Barack Obama made an uncharacteristic gaffe that set off a small diplomatic crisis - he referred to the "Polish" - and not "Nazi" - death camps of the Second World War. But under a bill passed by Poland's lower house of parliament this week, someone using similar language in future might be prosecuted. Put forward by the ruling right-wing Law and Justice Party, the bill would make it a crime to accuse Poles of being complicit in the Holocaust, punishable by up to three years in prison. President Andrzej Duda has indicated he will likely sign it into law. "There was no participation by Poland or the Polish people as a nation in the Holocaust," he said on Monday. There is widespread agreement among historians that some Polish citizens did participate in the Holocaust, by betraying, even murdering Polish Jews. But there is disagreement over whether those acts add up to wider Polish complicity — a nuanced historical debate that the Polish government now seeks to legislate. "This is history as a tool, as a means for a nationalistic government to accuse everyone else of betraying the nation while painting itself as the only true carriers of the Polish flag," said Anita Prazmowska, a professor of Polish history at the London School of Economics (LSE). "It is a blunt instrument." It is also a product of the current political moment in Poland, where 60,000 nationalists took to the streets in November to denounce Islam and immigration, and where historians see a once progressive post-Soviet state taking a dark turn towards right-wing populism. (Webmaster's comment: The Nazis told the Poland people they could do whatever they wanted to with the Jews. Many Polish people then stole Jewish property and some even brunt Jews to death.)

2-2-18 How to control a machine using your mind
Imagine being able to make a machine do your bidding with your thoughts alone, no button pressing, typing, screen tapping or fumbling with remote controls, just brain power. Well, this sci-fi scenario could be closer to reality than you think. Bill Kochevar's life was changed, seemingly irrevocably, when he was paralysed from the shoulders down following a cycling accident nearly a decade ago. His future looked bleak. But last year he was fitted with a brain-computer interface, or BCI, that enabled him to move his arm and hand for the first time in eight years. Sensors were implanted in his brain, then over a four-month period Mr Kochevar trained the system by thinking about specific movements, such as turning his wrist or gripping something. The sensors effectively learned which bits of the brain fired up - and in what sequence - for each movement. Then, when 36 muscle-stimulating electrodes were implanted into his arm and hand, he was able to control its movements simply by thinking about what he wanted to do. Within weeks, he could feed himself again. "This research has enhanced my ability to be able to do things," he told the BBC last year. Research teams are also working on mind-controlled wheelchairs, and on using sensors to allow people who are completely paralysed to give yes-and-no answers through the power of thought. But this technology doesn't just have health-related applications. Many tech companies are exploring brain control as a user interface. Recently, for example, car maker Nissan unveiled a "brain-to-vehicle" headset that monitors a driver's brainwaves to work out what you're about to do - before you do it. The aim of the system is to allow the vehicle to respond that split-second more quickly than a driver's natural reaction time.

2-2-18 Leaked photos suggest China may now have a hypersonic railgun
A ship-mounted electromagnetic railgun, firing projectiles at more than Mach 6 over great distances, could let China dominate the seas. Photos published online yesterday suggest that China may be testing a ship-mounted electromagnetic railgun. If confirmed it would make China the first nation to develop such a superweapon, with potential implications for the power-struggle between China and the US in Asia. A railgun uses electromagnetic force to fire projectiles along electrically charged rails at very high speeds. The US has been developing its own railgun technology over the last 10 years. In tests, prototype weapons shot projectiles at speeds around 7800 kilometres an hour – more than Mach 6 – with a range of around 150 kilometres. But after sinking $500 BILLION into the project, the US government pulled the plug last year. China appears to be ploughing ahead, however. Making a railgun that would be reliable in combat is hard because of the huge pressures exerted on the structure of the gun. Mounting it on a ship adds extra challenges. If China succeeds, it could change the balance of power at sea, says Justin Bronk at the Royal United Services Institute in the UK. “There isn’t really a known defence mechanism against a railgun shot at high Mach numbers,” he says. “It’s too fast and too small for current anti-ship missile and anti-aircraft defence systems.” “If they can get it integrated as a major component into their future fleet arsenal, it will give them a really significant edge over the US navy,” he says. (Webmaster's comment: Another first for China. They can make the technology work, the United States cannot. Their engineers are simply better than ours.)

2-2-18 The big lie about immigration
As an advocate of moderation, I’d like to be able to claim there’s “a reasonable middle ground on immigration,” said David Brooks. But “when you wade into the evidence, you find that the case for restricting immigration is pathetically weak.” Restrictionists insist the country currently has too many immigrants, both legal and illegal, and that they’re competing for jobs and eroding America’s culture. But let’s look at rural America, from New England down to Appalachia and over to the upper Midwest. These places are often 95 percent white, with few immigrants. Are they thriving? “Quite the opposite.” These are some of our country’s most blighted communities, with few new businesses and jobs, widespread family breakdown, and rampant opioid addiction. Immigrants, on the other hand, show far more traditional American values than the native-born: Ambitious and optimistic, they start new businesses at twice the rate of non-immigrants, have fewer out-of-wedlock children, and commit less crime. The second and third generations of Hispanic and Asian immigrants are indeed assimilating, intermarrying, and even identifying themselves as white. It’s no wonder some native-born Americans resent immigrants, who are proving that the American Dream still works—if you’re willing to do anything to succeed.

2-2-18 Watching Cozy Bear
The Dutch government played a key role in discovering Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant reported last week. Agents with AIVD, the country’s domestic intelligence agency, broke into computers used by the Russian hacking group Cozy Bear in mid-2014, and then watched in real time as the Russians targeted the U.S. State Department, Congress, and the Democratic National Committee. AIVD passed that intelligence to the CIA and NSA. The Dutch spies also traced Cozy Bear’s computers to a room in a Moscow building, hacked the security camera in the hallway outside, and observed visits by members of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service. (Webmaster's comment: But Trump won't admit it. Whose side is he on?)

2-2-18 America’s opioid epidemic
America’s opioid epidemic is on track to claim 1 million lives by 2020. Every day, more than 175 Americans die from drug overdoses—the equivalent of a 737 crashing and killing all the ­passengers on board every single day.

2-2-18 The people who think mass shootings are staged
Mass shootings in the United States are a depressingly familiar occurrence. But why do conspiracy theories spring up and spread so rapidly online in the aftermath of such horrific events? There is a mass shooting in the US an average of once a day, according to data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive. After each big shooting, a familiar script follows. Thoughts and prayers are proffered. #PrayFor(InsertLatestTownHere) trends on Twitter. Rival politicians argue about when the best time to talk about gun control might be. And then most of the world seems to move on and forget about it, until the next one. To that script, a disturbing and relatively new phenomenon has been added. Victims are increasingly forced to fend off allegations that the shooting never happened, fuelled by conspiracy theorists on social media. Among keyboard mourning and 280-character fury, a small but determined minority spring up in the wake of mass shootings to insist that events were staged - concocting monstrously complex tales involving "crisis actors", the "deep state" and accusations that attacks are "false flag" murders being used, for example, as a pretext to institute gun control reforms. On 1 October 2017, Stephen Paddock took position in a Las Vegas hotel room and opened fire. Police say he acted alone. His motives remain unclear, but he killed 58 people and injured hundreds more before he was found dead in his room from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. And within a day, survivors were already getting hounded on social media. "Let me explain something for people who clearly don't get it," wrote one, Crystal Huber, on Facebook. "Just stop already with the conspiracy ideas... have some respect for people who experienced this in real life and not just in social media!" she wrote.

2-2-18 Los Angeles school shooting by girl, 12, 'was unintentional'
A shooting by a 12-year-old girl at a Californian school is thought to be unintentional, Los Angeles police say. The girl has been charged with "negligent discharge of a firearm" after the incident left five injured. A 15-year-old boy, who was shot in the head, and a 15-year-old girl, who was shot in the wrist, are both in a stable condition and are expected to make a full recovery. A semi-automatic handgun was recovered at the scene. It happened at 08:55 local time (16:55 GMT) on Thursday at Salvador Castro Middle School in the Westlake district. An 11-year-old boy, a 12-year-old girl and a 30-year-old woman sustained minor injuries but were not shot directly. A student who was at the classroom at the time told ABC News that he believed the girl thought the weapon was a toy gun and "didn't mean to" shoot anyone. According to a website tracking US Gun Violence Archive, there were over 2,000 unintentional shootings in the country in 2017. This incident is the 166th accidental shooting so far this year. It is also one of at least three shooting incidents at US schools in recent weeks. On 23 January a student in Kentucky opened fire on fellow students, shooting 17 and killing two. A day earlier, a 16-year-old student was apprehended after wounding a student at a Texas school.

2-2-18 'I broke away from a strict homeschooling community cult'
When you're very young, your parents or guardians are responsible for nurturing and teaching you as you grow up, but how do you know if you are getting a good upbringing? The news that a teenager escaped from her home in California, where she and her 12 siblings were held in shackles by their parents, sent shockwaves across the world. But what happens to children who are brought up under such restricted conditions? Judy (not her real name) told the BBC about what life was like for her living in a "homeschool community" in Oregon, USA. "I was raised in a homeschool religious cult which encouraged parents to set up their own little schools and renew their marriage vows, just like the Turpin family. I recognise some of their behaviours. "When my parents got together they were disenchanted by the overly free and 'hippy' style of living that was sweeping across the country. They wanted children to live a different life instead of one with no morals or rules. "They had heard about Bill Gothard, founder of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), who was a really big deal in Oregon. They attended his seminars and embraced the IBLP homeschooling curriculum wholeheartedly. "He was an icon, kind of like a prophet. The seminars involved a week of intensive brainwashing. He was the authority. His word was the law. "My parents started homeschooling in the late 1980s and for over 30 years our family became part of this closed community with similar values."

2-2-18 Kidnap by cop
The disappearance of a Mexican teenager for five days last week has turned a spotlight on the country’s often corrupt and brutal police. Officers detained Marco Antonio Sánchez, a promising 17-year-old student from a middle-class neighborhood in Mexico City, after accusing him of having stolen the cellphone he was using. When his parents couldn’t find him in the court system, they suspected police had abducted Marco, and they began holding daily protests that morphed into a national social media campaign. Five days later, police in a suburb found the boy wandering, disoriented and bruised, and took him to a hospital. His cousin told Excélsior newspaper that Sanchez had been “badly beaten,” can’t recognize his own parents, and “can barely speak.” Police are believed to be responsible for much of Mexico’s epidemic of disappearances; more than 34,000 people have vanished since 2006.

2-2-18 Anti-Semitism runs deep in fraternities
The far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) just can’t rid itself of its nostalgia for Nazism, said Oliver Pink. It was revealed last week that the Teutonic fraternity Germania, of which FPÖ candidate Udo Landbauer is deputy head, has a songbook filled with Nazi imagery and a song celebrating the slaughter of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust, with lyrics including “Step on the gas, old Teutons, we’ll get a seventh million.” Landbauer claims he never saw the book or heard such a song, but that’s not really the point. The problem is that the FPÖ draws much of its membership from backward-looking, ethnic German–only student clubs that have no place “in the year 2018.” The FPÖ is in Austria’s governing coalition, having taken 20 percent of the vote last fall, yet it is still far from mainstream. Despite party leader Heinz-Christian Strache’s efforts to make the FPÖ look respectable, “all it takes is a little scratching on the shiny surface and the ugly brown stains beneath start showing again.” Certainly not all members are Nazi sympathizers, but far too many “simply lack the sensitivity, the perspective, the sense of horror” that every decent Austrian should feel about the Holocaust. Austrian Teutonic fraternities must “clean out their stables—down to the last corner.”

2-2-18 Poland: Don’t call us complicit in the Holocaust
Fact: Poles were complicit, said Lahav Harkov in The Jerusalem Post (Israel). More than 90 percent of Polish Jews—some 3 million people—were slaughtered in the Holocaust. “You don’t get to numbers like that without cooperation.” In the town of Jedwabne in 1941, Poles rounded up Jewish families and burned them alive in a barn. After the war, anti-Jewish violence erupted in towns and cities across Poland, often when Holocaust survivors tried to return to their homes. Yes, many brave Poles hid Jews from the Nazis, and no, Poles did not create the death camps. But when I posted about Polish complicity on Twitter, thousands of Poles responded, telling me I was an example of “that treacherous lying Jewish media” and “the reason Jews are killed and thrown out of every country they try to live in around the world.” Way to prove you’re not anti-Semitic, guys. Sadly, anti-Semitism is thriving in Poland, particularly in the ruling Law and Justice party, said Dominika Wielowieyska in Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland). Not every member is a bigot, of course, but the party does “give a platform” to such people. Former Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz has blamed Jews for communism and referenced the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the forged book that purports to outline a Jewish plot to take over the world. And Law and Justice politicians praised last November’s nationalist march through Warsaw, in which 60,000 demonstrators chanted “white Europe” and “pure blood.” It doesn’t help that the lower house passed the bill on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

2-1-18 It’s time to label all meat as stunned or unstunned at slaughter
One solution to concern over how animals are killed for our plates is labelling that makes this welfare distinction plain on all meat, says Danny Chambers. The call for a ban is becoming a perennial one, but the continual focus on the religious element of slaughter is getting in the way. It simply heightens emotions and diverts attention from the key concern, which is animal welfare. It is the distinction between stunned and non-stunned slaughter, not religious vs non-religious, which should be front and centre. As they stand, the calls for change are often enthusiastically shared online by far-right groups. In a post-Brexit climate in which many ethnic and religious minorities feel victimised, allowing people with a xenophobic, Islamophobic or anti-Semitic agenda to hijack this is making sensible debate difficult. It’s nigh on impossible when people feel as though their religion is being attacked. Why is this an issue at all? Animals in the UK are legally required to be stunned immediately before slaughter to render them unconscious during the procedure, unless being slaughtered for religious reasons. Animals stunned immediately before slaughter are unconscious when their throats are cut. This means they are not aware of the severing of the major blood vessels that allows rapid bleeding out and death. Animals not stunned are fully conscious and die when enough blood has been lost. Not only is bleeding out while still conscious stressful, inducing panic, but the animal will inhale blood through the severed trachea, and animals undoubtedly experience pain. Conscious sheep retain consciousness for up to 20 seconds once their throats are cut, cattle for up to 2 minutes, and poultry even longer. (Webmaster's comment: Barbaric Jewish and Islamic Religious Practice. Ban It! Arrest those who do it!)

2-1-18 Retreat, America
President Trump wants to ratchet up America's military engagement. We should do the opposite. The most disturbing part of President Trump's first State of the Union address was his war-peddling bombast on North Korea. In a clear echo of George W. Bush's fulmination against Iraq in 2002, Trump argued that "North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland. … We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and to our allies." In this, as in other policy arenas, a reliable heuristic to find sensible, wise policy is what we might call the Costanza Doctrine: Whatever Trump is proposing, do the opposite. If Trump is angling for war in North Korea, America should push for peace. If Trump wants to build a wall on our border with Mexico and deport millions of immigrants, America should give full amnesty to all of them. And so on. The same is true of our many brushfire conflicts around the globe, which many of the warmongers whispering in Trump's ear want to pour gasoline on. America should do the opposite. Nearly all of these conflicts should be ended, and American soldiers brought home. American troops were deployed in well over 150 countries, and Special Forces in 138 countries as of 2016. Lest you think this accounts for just a random troop stationed here or there, overall, as of September 2017, there were significant deployments of over 1,000 troops in 19 countries: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Belgium, Cuba, Djibouti, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Jordan, South Korea, Kuwait, Qatar, Spain, Syria, Taiwan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom, according to a Pentagon spreadsheet. (Webmaster's comment: America is at war with the world. Why? It has not attacked us.)

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