You are not Alone!
116 Atheism & Humanism News Articles
for April 2018
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source
4-30-18 Restaurant fined for making black customers pay in advance
A Canadian human rights tribunal has ruled that a restaurant discriminated against black customers by making them pre-pay for their meal. Hong Shing Chinese Restaurant, in Toronto's Chinatown, has been fined C$10,000 ($8,000; £5,700). The money will go to former customer Emile Wickham, who filed the complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. Mr Wickham was celebrating his birthday with three black friends in 2014 when the incident occurred. He told the tribunal that when he and his friends sat down, they were the only black patrons in the restaurant. Their waiter told them it was "policy" to pay before they were served, he said. The group paid, but after Mr Wickham said he felt uncomfortable and began to ask other patrons if they had been asked to pay in advance. He told the tribunal they had not. He complained to the waiter, was offered a refund and left. Shortly after the incident, Mr Wickham filed the complaint with the human rights tribunal. In its response to the complaint, the late-night restaurant said it had implemented a new policy to ask patrons who were not regulars to pre-pay to avoid people "dining and dashing". But adjudicator Esi Codjoe found that there was no evidence that the other patrons were regulars or that this was indeed an official policy. In her ruling, Ms Codjoe wrote that Mr Wickham was treated as a "thief in waiting" because of his race. "His mere presence as a Black man in a restaurant was presumed to be sufficient evidence of his presumed propensity to engage in criminal behaviour," she wrote.
4-30-18 Dozens of migrants in caravan stuck at US-Mexico border
Dozens of migrants travelling in a caravan to seek asylum in the US have been stopped at the border. US border officials told some 150 people, many travelling with children, that the Mexico-US border crossing near San Diego was already full. It was not immediately known whether the migrants from Central America would be allowed in later or turned back but the group appears to be staying put. President Donald Trump says the caravan is a threat to the safety of the US. The group has been a frequent target for the US president, who has argued in his tweets that it showed the need to tighten immigration laws. He has asked states bordering Mexico to send troops to shore up security until his proposed border wall is built. The US has a legal obligation to hear asylum claims but the majority of claimants from Central America lose their cases. The caravan set off for the US on 25 March in southern Mexico, near the Guatemala border and at one point numbered more than 1,000 people. The group travelled by bus, train and on foot during its 2,000-mile (3,200km) trek to the US border, with many saying they were fleeing persecution and violence in their home countries. One of the group's organisers, Alex Mensing, told the BBC that no-one in the group had been processed by the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) at the San Ysidro crossing. Some of the members were allowed to cross a long bridge that led to US processing buildings but had to stop outside. In a statement, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said that "we have reached capacity at the San Ysidro port of entry". "Those individuals may need to wait in Mexico as CBP officers work to process those already within our facilities." A lawyer for the group was aghast that inspectors at the border were not ready for them. "We can build a base in Iraq in under a week. We can't process 200 refugees. I don't believe it," Nicole Ramos told the Associated Press news agency.
4-30-18 Why does the US still have 'debtors' prisons'?
Four in 10 Americans wouldn't have money to cover a $400 (£290) fine - so many serve time in jail instead. The BBC's Kim Gittleson explores why the US still has "debtors' prisons".
4-30-18 Why America will regret legalizing marijuana
The Democrats have a new moral crusade. It's youth-oriented and free of identity politics. It's got nothing to do with Trump, or Russia. Today's Democrats are fighting for your right to get baked. If you're skeptical, please understand that this is not just a plunge into unfettered hedonism. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) really said it all with his ostentatiously-titled Marijuana Justice Act, which decriminalizes the drug and also expunges older marijuana-related convictions. He's one of a growing crowd of Democrats who are lining up to tout the economic and moral blessings that might flow from legal weed. This is about freedom, they tell us. It's about opening opportunities to women and minorities. Frankly, we've just been very unfair to our spiky-leaved friend. The winds do seem to be changing on this issue, and not just among Democrats. President Trump, possibly in a peevish effort to snub his attorney general, has declared his willingness to "protect" states that have legalized pot. John Boehner, a longtime foe of marijuana, is now personally sitting on the board of a cannabis company. Proponents of legalization point to the tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in revenues that have sprung from Colorado's 5-year-old market. Everyone keeps repeating how the new laws have really "worked"; post-legalization, "the sky hasn't fallen." That's a disturbingly low bar. One wonders: Is empyrean collapse the only thing that might move Colorado to reconsider a decision that has filled the state with dispensaries, pot tourists, and rising numbers of homeless addicts? Changes in policy can be destructive even if they don't bring civilization to an end. If, as seems fairly likely, legal pot is soon available from sea to shining sea, how will our grandchildren view that decision? Will it seem to them that 2018 was the right time to throw open the gates to yet another recreational drug?
4-29-18 Can neural networks have mental health problems?
The downside to creating algorithms in our own image. Is my car hallucinating? Is the algorithm that runs the police surveillance system in my city paranoid? Marvin the android in Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy had a pain in all the diodes down his left-hand side. Is that how my toaster feels? This all sounds ludicrous until we realize that our algorithms are increasingly being made in our own image. As we've learned more about our own brains, we've enlisted that knowledge to create algorithmic versions of ourselves. These algorithms control the speeds of driverless cars, identify targets for autonomous military drones, compute our susceptibility to commercial and political advertising, find our soulmates in online dating services, and evaluate our insurance and credit risks. Algorithms are becoming the near-sentient backdrop of our lives. The most popular algorithms currently being put into the workforce are deep learning algorithms. These algorithms mirror the architecture of human brains by building complex representations of information. They learn to understand environments by experiencing them, identify what seems to matter, and figure out what predicts what. Being like our brains, these algorithms are increasingly at risk of mental health problems. (Webmaster's comment: We shouldn't design artifical intelligence to work like our brains. Our brains don't work that well. Just observe the people having mental problems, about half of the population.)
4-28-18 This new device can read your mind
Researchers from MIT have created a wearable device that "can recognize nonverbal prompts, essentially 'reading your mind,'" said Thuy Ong at The Verge. The AlterEgo — which loops around a user's ear, follows the jawline, and attaches underneath the mouth — contains electrodes that detect "neuromuscular signals in your jaw and face" that are activated by internal verbalizations, or the words you're saying in your head. Invisible to the human eye, the signals are fed into a machine-learning system that associates "specific signals with words," so a user can control other devices without any movements or audible voice commands. In the above video demonstrating the AlterEgo's capabilities, a completely still user scrolls through a streaming-video menu by simply thinking directions such as "down" and "right." In tests, the device showed 92 percent accuracy when trained on the relatively limited vocabulary of 20 words.
4-27-18 Ethics debate as pig brains kept alive without a body
Researchers at Yale University have restored circulation to the brains of decapitated pigs, and kept the organs alive for several hours. Their aim is to develop a way of studying intact human brains in the lab for medical research. Although there is no evidence that the animals were aware, there is concern that some degree of consciousness might have remained. Details of the study were presented at a brain science ethics meeting held at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda in Maryland on 28 March. The research has also been reported on this week in the MIT Technology Review. The work, by Prof Nenad Sestan of Yale University, was discussed as part of an NIH investigation of ethical issues arising from neuroscience research in the US. Prof Sestan explained that he and his team experimented on more than 100 pig brains. They discovered that he could restore their circulation using a system of pumps, heaters, and bags of artificial blood. As a result the researchers were reportedly able to keep the cells in the brain alive and capable of normal activity for as long as 36 hours. Prof Sestan is said to have described the result as "mind-boggling". If this could be repeated with human brains, researchers would be able to use them to test out new treatments for neurological disorders. But Prof Sestan is among the first to raise potential ethical concerns. These include whether such brains have any consciousness and if so deserve special protection, or whether their technique could or should be used by individuals to extend their lifespans - by transplanting their brains when their bodies wear out. (Webmaster's comment: Brains alive with total sensory deprivation. Humans deprived of sensory input quickly drives them insane. It would do the same to animals. This is unethical!)
4-27-18 The Catholic Church can be changed
Many conservative Catholics will resist it. But justice and mercy ought to be more important than doctrinal consistency. The Catholic Church is in the midst of an existential crisis. Can the church be changed — modernized into harmony with evolving norms on justice and mercy? Or must religious doctrine remain the same forever more? Nowhere is this conflict better illustrated than in New York Times columnist Ross Douthat's powerfully argued and elegantly written To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism. A convert to the church (along with the rest of his family) when he was a teen, Douthat describes himself, like a character in a mid-20th-century Catholic novel, as "the good bad Catholic or the bad good one, whose loyalty was stronger than his faith and whose faith was stronger than his practice, but who didn't want the church to change all the rules to make his practice easier because then what would really be the point?" The point, for Douthat, is the tension itself. Indeed, "the conflict between what I professed and how badly I fell short was part of what made the profession seem plausible, because a religion that just confirmed me in my early-21st-century way of life couldn't possibly be divinely revealed." Catholicism is about the capital-T Truth — and the truth is verified by its timelessness, by the fact that on the level of fundamental dogmas and doctrines about the character of God and the moral and spiritual destiny of humanity, the institution of the church does not, indeed cannot, change or evolve, because those dogmas and doctrines are founded on divine revelation. If that makes it harder to be a Catholic as human culture changes around the institution, that is itself a sign that the revelation was real — the rock on which Jesus Christ himself empowered St. Peter to construct his church roughly 2,000 years in the past.
4-27-18 How US police line-ups jail the innocent
British police have long dropped so-called identity parades but in the US the police line-up is still used, despite its obvious flaws. Campaigners want stricter rules to prevent more miscarriages of justice.
4-27-18 Kenya bans Rafiki ahead of Cannes debut over lesbian scenes
The first Kenyan film to debut at the Cannes Film Festival has been banned in Kenya due to its lesbian storyline. The film Rafiki, which means "friend" in Swahili, traces the love story between two young women. The Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) said the film "seeks to legitimize lesbian romance". KFCB warned that anyone found in possession of the film would be in breach of the law in Kenya, where gay sex is punishable by 14 years. The film's director Wanuri Kahiu wrote on Twitter that she believed "adults in Kenya had been denied the right to discern the content they want to watch". "I'm really disappointed because Kenyans already have access to watch films that have LGBT content, on Netflix, and in international films shown in Kenya and permitted by the classification board itself," she told Reuters. The film, which will be shown in Cannes next month, is adapted from the 2007 Caine Prize-winning short story, Jambula Tree, by Ugandan writer Monica Arac Nyeko. It follows two close friends, Kena and Ziki, who eventually fall in love despite their families being on opposing sides of the political divide. The ban has been criticised by the film's supporters on social media, as well as Kenya's National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC). The commission used the hashtag, #KFCBbansLesbianFilm, in a tweet announcing the ban. The hashtag sparked a number of supportive tweets from Kenyans who criticised homosexuality.
4-26-18 Anthropologists in Peru have unearthed the largest known child sacrifice
550 years ago, the Chimu people may have killed 140 children to appease their gods. A hellishly unprecedented scene — what anthropologists suspect is the largest known child sacrifice — has been unearthed on a bluff overlooking Peru’s northern shoreline. Around 550 years ago, members of the Chimú empire ritually killed and buried at least 140 children, ages 5 to 14, and 200 young llamas, says a team led by Gabriel Prieto of the National University of Trujillo in Peru and John Verano of Tulane University in New Orleans. “There are no other examples of child sacrifices anywhere in the world that compare to the magnitude of this Chimú event,” Verano says. The discovery was announced April 26 by National Geographic in Washington, D.C. Except for a few incomplete skeletons, excavated children and llamas displayed cuts on their breast bones and dislocated ribs indicating that their chests had been sliced open. Three adults buried nearby on the bluff, including two women with violent head wounds, may have participated in the sacrifice. Radiocarbon dating, mainly of ropes left around the llamas’ necks, puts the event at around 1450, shortly before the Inca conquered the Chimú in 1470. (Webmaster's comment: Don't forget the one million innocent children God sacrificed in his great flood!)
4-26-18 Starbucks under fire
Starbucks announced this week that it will close more than 8,000 U.S. stores for several hours next month to give staff “racial bias” training, after the arrests of two black men in a downtown Philadelphia outlet sparked widespread outrage. The men had asked to use the store’s bathroom; when the manager told them they had to purchase something, they refused and sat down, saying they were waiting for someone. The employee asked them to leave and called the police when they declined to do so. The two men were arrested for trespassing and held for nearly nine hours before being released without charge. Footage of the arrests went viral and sparked days of protests at the store. The coffee chain’s CEO, Kevin Johnson, apologized for the “reprehensible” incident and met the two men to offer a personal apology. Starbucks said the employee responsible was no longer with the company.
4-26-18 Justices strike down deportation law
Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch joined with the court’s four liberal-leaning justices this week to strike down a federal immigration law that allowed immigrants to be deported for violent crimes, ruling the law was unconstitutionally vague. The defendant in Sessions v. Dimaya, James Dimaya, was born in the Philippines and became a permanent U.S. resident in 1992, when he was 13 years old. The government sought to deport him following burglary convictions in 2007 and 2009. But the justices ruled 5-4 that the law’s definition of “aggravated felony” as any crime with a “substantial risk” of physical force was too broad to be applied consistently by the courts. “Vague laws invite arbitrary power,” Gorsuch wrote in his concurring opinion.
4-26-18 What a help we are!
The U.S. has accepted only 11 Syrian refugees fleeing the carnage of the country’s civil war so far this year, down from 15,479 in 2016 and 3,024 in 2017. “I think you can call it a backdoor ban, except that it’s so blatant,” said Becca Heller of the International Refugee Assistance Project.
4-26-18 America Last
Taunting, when Mexican-born boxer Francisco Vargas dominated and scored a technical knockout over Rod Salka, who wore trunks depicting a brick wall and the words “America First.” Vargas said his opponent’s trunks provided some “extra” motivation.
4-26-18 Absent U.S.
The Summit of the Americas, held every three years to cement ties between Western Hemisphere nations, was a desultory affair this year without the U.S. president in attendance. President Trump is the first U.S. president to skip the summit since it was founded in 1994; Trump remained in the U.S. to oversee the military operation in Syria. Venezuela wasn’t invited, because of its democratic backsliding under President Nicolás Maduro, and five other leaders stayed home. The summit is supposed to focus on open markets, hemispheric integration, and sustainable development. But “Trump does not believe in any of those three things,” says U.S. political scientist Greg Weeks. “It would be natural for leaders to wonder what the whole point is.”
4-26-18 Racist candidate?
A leading candidate for the Brazilian presidency was charged last week with hate speech against blacks, women, refugees, and LGBT people. The charges stem from a speech by Jair Bolsonaro last year in which, among other things, the far-right politician implied that Afro-Brazilians were too lazy even to procreate and that he would prefer his son to “die in an accident than show up with some dude with a mustache.” Bolsonaro, 63, shrugged off the charges as an overreach of political correctness. If convicted, he could face up to three years in prison, but the case is unlikely to be resolved before September’s presidential vote. A poll taken after his arrest showed Bolsonaro in a virtual tie with environmentalist Marina Silva.
4-26-18 Poll watch
27% of American voters think the Republican tax cut passed in December was a “good idea.” 36% see it as a “bad idea.” 53% believe the tax overhaul will lead to higher deficits and disproportionate benefits for the wealthy and big corporations.
By a 48% to 32% margin, Americans say former FBI Director James Comey is more believable than President Trump.
4-26-18 Sheep watch out in Louisiana
Louisiana’s animals, after the state Senate passed a bill banning bestiality. “[If] you vote against this bill, good luck explaining it,” said Sen. J.P. Morrell. Ten senators then voted against it.
4-26-18 We could still get wacked
Close shaves, when an asteroid nearly four times the size of one that leveled 500,000 acres of Siberian forest in 1908 missed Earth by only 119,500 miles last weekend. Startled astronomers had detected it less than a day earlier.
4-26-18 The next frontier in criminal justice reform
America's district attorneys are out of control. It's time to rein them in. America's prosecutors are out of control. Consider the case of Brittany Stephens, a young Louisiana mother who was charged with negligent homicide for the death of her 1-year-old daughter, Seyaira. Stephens and her child were riding in an SUV with family friends when they were hit at an intersection by an off-duty police officer driving 94 mph in a 50 zone. The SUV was destroyed, and Seyaira did not survive. Though Stephens was not driving and bears no responsibility for the crash, she was slapped with the exact same charge as the cop whose recklessness killed her little girl — all because she failed to accomplish the herculean feat of properly securing Seyaira's car seat. This is an unjust charge, a charge that never should have been made. And the reason it has been made is simple: Prosecutors can basically do whatever they want. Prosecutors in America, most commonly called district attorneys, have enormous and often unaccountable discretion. "They can choose how harshly to go after someone, how lenient to go after someone," explains John Pfaff, a Fordham University professor of criminal law. "They have tremendous power in that respect." The prosecutor in Stephens' case, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III, was not obliged to charge her. He did not have to pile a legal fight on top of the horror of losing an infant in a preventable accident. He chose to do so, and district attorneys across the country can and do make similarly cruel and unnecessary choices. They have significant control over whether a case is prosecuted, what charges are brought, whether it goes to trial or is settled out of court, what sentence is sought, and so much more.
4-25-18 Texas mid-terms: Record number of women standing
The women taking on Trump! A record number of women are standing for the 2018 US mid-term elections. Texas has seen one of the biggest jumps in the country.
4-25-18 Poor Well-Being Associated With Shift to Trump in 2016
U.S. counties in 2016 that took the biggest jump in voting Republican for president between 2012 and 2016 had residents who reported below-average satisfaction with their current lives and below-average optimism for the future. Accordingly, counties that shifted most strongly to the Democratic candidate reported above-average life satisfaction and higher optimism for the future.
- Counties with low life ratings more likely to shift to Trump in 2016
- Improved life satisfaction since 2012 linked to Clinton support
- Daily anger and worry show no relationship to voting shifts
4-25-18 Americans Have Little Confidence in Grads' Readiness for Work, College
A mere 3% and 5% of Americans say high school graduates are "very prepared" to be successful in college and the workplace, respectively. These findings from Gallup's most recent survey conducted for Communities in Schools reinforce a consistently negative public perception about the readiness of both high school and college graduates. And although this perception paints a rather dreary picture of the performance of our education system, Americans have very clear and consistent ideas (including across political lines) for what needs to be done to improve. Shifting from the perceived problem to potential solutions for improvement, Americans point to clear areas of opportunity. When asked what types of support would be most helpful in preparing students for success in college, the most commonly suggested strategies are "financial planning" and "social and life skills." Remarkably, Democrats and Republicans are equally likely to cite these strategies for improvement, making these suggestions an increasingly rare area of consensus across political affiliation.
4-24-18 NRA breaks 15-year fundraising record after Parkland shooting
In the wake of one of the deadliest US high school shootings, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has raised its biggest haul in donations in 15 years. The powerful gun lobby's political fund raised $2.4 million (£1.7 million) in March, filings submitted to the Federal Elections Commissions (FEC) show. The total marks the most it has raised in a single month since June 2003. March was the group's first month of fundraising since the Parkland school shooting in Florida left 17 dead. Most of the donations, which was $1.5m more than it raised last year during the same period, came from donors who gave less than $200 (£143), FEC records show. This is not the first time a shooting has resulted in a boost in donations. The NRA raised $1.1m (£787,000) and $1.5m (£1m) in January and February 2013, just after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut. While the NRA's Political Victory Fund does give money directly to political campaigns, the majority of its spending is indirectly linked to a candidate's campaign. In Florida, Republican Senator Marco Rubio received $9,900 (£7,000) from the NRA, but the group spent over $3m (£2.1m) indirectly to support his election, according to US media. (Webmaster's comment: Raising money in support of mass murder!) Gun control organisations have not seen the same donation momentum. Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit group advocating for gun control, raised just $13,580 (£9,700) for their political fund in March. March for Our Lives, the group founded after the Parkland shooting, did raise $3.5m (£2.5m) since February, but according to the fundraising page, half of the money went towards the Washington on 24 March. The rest went to the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
4-24-18 Stoner app lets cannabis users keep track of how high they are
A series of smartphone tests that score memory and reaction are intended to make cannabis use safer and lead to a better understanding of the drug. Dude, am I stoned? An app that tests memory, attention and reaction – traits that are often impaired by cannabis use – aims to answer that question by giving people a measurement of how well (or badly) they performed. Cannabis is now legal in a small but growing number of countries. Researchers at the University of Chicago made the app in the hope that it will make cannabis use safer, helping those who take it understand how the drug is affecting them. “One of our long-term goals is for the app to improve the safety of cannabis use by making individual users more aware of their impairment,” says team leader Harriet de Wit. Still in its trial period, the app – called Am I Stoned – is also designed to collect data from users, which the team thinks will contribute to the overall scientific understanding of how cannabis affects people. For example, there is some evidence that moderate cannabis might reverse brain aging in the elderly. The system was tested on 24 non-daily cannabis users who consumed a capsule containing either a placebo or 7.5 or 15 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the ingredient in cannabis that intoxicates users. Participants then completed a range of tests designed to detect impairment on a computer and on a smartphone to test their motor skills and behaviour. “The effects of THC on performance may be subtle, so we need highly sensitive tasks to detect impairments,” says team member Elisa Pabon.
4-23-18 Waffle House: Police body slam woman in cutlery fee row
When Chikesia Clemons was charged for plastic cutlery at a Waffle House in Alabama she cancelled her order and asked to speak to the district manager. Police were called to deal with the confrontation, and the situation escalated. (Webmaster's comment: The police war against "uppity" black people continues.)
4-23-18 American Public Opinion and the Holocaust
Americans rarely agree as overwhelmingly as they did in November 1938. Just two weeks after Nazi Germany coordinated a brutal nationwide attack against Jews within its own borders -- an event known as "Kristallnacht" -- Gallup asked Americans: "Do you approve or disapprove of the Nazi treatment of Jews in Germany?" Nearly everyone who responded -- 94% -- indicated that they disapproved. Yet, even though nearly all Americans condemned the Nazi regime's terror against Jews in November 1938, that very same week, 72% of Americans said "No" when Gallup asked: "Should we allow a larger number of Jewish exiles from Germany to come to the United States to live?" Just 21% said "Yes." Why this yawning gap between disapproval of the Nazi regime's persecutions and a willingness to aid refugees? Gallup polling on these topics during the Nazi era helps answer this question, providing important context for understanding Americans' responses to the threat of Nazism. Americans' widespread disapproval of the Nazi regime's treatment of Jews could not necessarily be assumed in 1938, given evidence that the U.S. was not immune from its own xenophobia and discrimination. Prejudice against Jews in the U.S. was evident in a number of ways in the 1930s. According to historian Leonard Dinnerstein, more than 100 new anti-Semitic organizations were founded in the U.S. between 1933 and 1941. One of the most influential, Father Charles Coughlin's National Union for Social Justice, spread Nazi propaganda and accused all Jews of being communists. Coughlin broadcast anti-Jewish ideas to millions of radio listeners, asking them to "pledge" with him to "restore America to the Americans." (Webmaster's comment: And Americans still are preaching restore America to the Americans!)
4-23-18 Crossing Divides: Europe 'more split' than decade ago
Most Europeans believe their countries are more polarised than 10 years ago, and 47% see their societies as less tolerant, a poll for the BBC suggests. In the online Ipsos Mori poll spanning 27 countries, 66% of people in Europe felt their nations were "more divided", the highest proportion worldwide. Politics emerged as the main cause of tension globally, being identified by some 44% of all 19,428 respondents. Half of Britons cited a divide between immigrants and nationals. It was the source of social division most commonly identified in the UK, followed by differences of religion (47%), ethnicity (41%) and political views (40%). The worldwide results showed that three-quarters of respondents agreed that their society was divided, with one-third of those saying it was "very divided". Fractures were also perceived to be growing deeper, with a clear majority saying their country was more polarized than 10 years ago. Only 16% of respondents believed divisions were less acute today. The poll collected information from 11 European countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Serbia and the United Kingdom. Serbia was where perceptions of differences were strongest, with 93% of respondents saying their society was either very or fairly divided. "All Europe shows a similar trend, with at least three out of four respondents saying that their respective society is very or fairly divided," said Ipsos Mori's Glenn Gottfried, who oversaw the fieldwork. Mr Gottfried said Europeans appeared to believe divisions had grown more pronounced.
4-23-18 Crossing Divides: Africans fight Hong Kong prejudice with football
In Hong Kong, locals rarely play football with immigrants. Not surprising, perhaps, when a third of Chinese Hongkongers don't want to sit next to members of other ethnic groups on public transport, live next door to them, or have their children as classmates to their own children, according to a survey by the NGO Hong Kong Unison. Is the beautiful game really powerful enough to overcome that kind of prejudice? Since 2016, a "refugee" football team - All Black FC - has been testing the theory as its players try to integrate, and build a better image for Africans in Hong Kong. The team's founder Medard Privat Koya is a former professional footballer from the Central African Republic. While his first players were almost all African asylum seekers, the squad has expanded to welcome Chinese locals and other ethnic minorities. "Football can bring all of us together," he reckons. "We can bring ideas, share experience and support each other." It's also a constructive use of time - which is valuable because asylum seekers aren't allowed to work in Hong Kong, even if they have lived in the city for years. Darius, an asylum seeker from Togo, arrived in Hong Kong five years ago. He's the team captain, and says football gives him a sense of purpose as they are not allowed to work. "It is really hard. It makes people feel they are dying slowly because you spend five or seven years of your youth life waiting. You really start wondering what's are you going to become in the future? "After all that time with no work, or training, what kind of job are you going to do? Who would hire you?" says Darius. When he became part of this team, it gave him hope.
4-22-18 Hungary's 'illiberal democracy'
Viktor Orban is leading Hungary away from the rule of law and human rights — but with popular support. How? (Webmaster's comment: He's using the same tactics as Trump and Hitler!)
- How has Orban changed Hungary? He is turning it into a crony capitalist state with what is effectively one-party rule. Viktor Orban's right-wing Fidesz party, which has had a supermajority in Hungary's parliament since sweeping to power in 2010, has changed the constitution and enacted stringent laws guaranteeing it dominance.
- How did he do it? By exploiting nationalism and fear of foreigners. Orban used government funds to wage a massive propaganda campaign depicting Hungary as under assault by Muslim and other dark-skinned immigrants and by liberals in the EU bureaucracy in Brussels.
- Do Hungarians approve of this? Mostly, yes. The election last week, giving Fidesz a third straight supermajority, had a strong turnout of 69 percent. Orban has succeeded in convincing Hungarians that only they can preserve Christianity in Europe from a rampaging horde of Muslim refugees.
- How did he do that? Orban closed Hungary's border and built a 100-mile, barbed-wire fence he later electrified. A propaganda campaign ensued, warning that Muslim immigrants would bring crime and rape Christian women.
- Who are his allies? A fierce anti-Communist during Hungary's Iron Curtain days, Orban is now pro-Russia and has eagerly courted Russian President Vladimir Putin. Orban has also praised and endorsed President Donald Trump, and cited Trump's "America First" nationalism as justification for his own nationalist policies.
- What can the EU do? Theoretically, it could cut off transfers and subsidies to Hungary — some $6 billion a year — and suspend its voting rights. This "nuclear option," though, would be vetoed by Poland, just as any penalty against Poland would be vetoed by Hungary.
- The Soros bogeyman: Liberal American financier and philanthropist George Soros has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in Hungary since 1989, financing educational and social projects, including Budapest's prestigious Central European University. Orban sees this promotion of human rights and the rule of law as a threat, and has demonized the Hungarian-born Soros, who is Jewish, in a propaganda campaign filled with anti-Semitic code words and stereotypes.
4-21-18 Colin Kaepernick: NFL quarterback receives Amnesty award for race protests
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has received Amnesty International's highest honour for his protests against racial injustice. The human rights organisation said Kaepernick "chooses to speak out and inspire others despite the professional and personal risks". Kaepernick first protested by sitting during the national anthem in August 2016, before opting to kneel instead. Other players followed suit, sparking criticism from President Donald Trump. Kaepernick received Amnesty's Ambassador of Conscience Award, which recognises "individuals who have promoted and enhanced the cause of human rights through their lives and by example". The 30-year-old has been without a team since he opted out of his contract with San Francisco in March 2017, but his protests against the treatment of black Americans, which came amid a series of deaths at the hands of armed police, remain hugely divisive in the US. Critics claimed that Kaepernick's actions were disrespectful to the American flag and to members of the armed forces which defend it. Angry fans posted videos of Kaepernick jerseys burning, and the sportsman said he had received death threats. Amnesty International's secretary general Salil Shetty described Kaepernick as "an athlete who is now widely recognised for his activism because of his refusal to ignore or accept racial discrimination". "Kaepernick's commitment is all the more remarkable because of the alarming levels of vitriol it has attracted from those in power," he added.
4-21-18 The problem with the American workforce
ere may be no greater truism than saying the economy is changing, and that tomorrow's work will be very different than the work people do today. As technology spreads and more industries automate, this "news" pops up even more frequently than ever. Nonetheless, in between these redundant accounts a truly new change has arisen–one that creates tremendous opportunity with one hand, and keeps the labor force from taking advantage of it with the other. To fully understand this new reality, let's first look at how it took shape. Since the turn of the 21st century, our economic landscape has suffered from the gradual weakening of three longstanding American traditions: a system of education that is relevant to the times; private and public investment in workforce training; and the preeminence of the traditional 9-to-5 job, as well as the assumptions of advancement that go with it. Decline in each of these traditions has eaten away a different corner of the economy. Over time, as the erosion in all three domains has spread and merged together with technological change, we have been left with a brand new problem: a job market mismatched to the skills and needs of our workforce. In the view of McKinsey, the global consulting firm, the upcoming shift of workers to new occupations "could be on a scale not seen since the transition of the labor force out of agriculture in the early 1900s." This dynamic has put American workers in a quandary. In many pockets of the economy, work opportunities do remain alive (and the glowing jobs report released in early March shows that a burst of new jobs can still occur from time to time). But a range of solid opportunities geared to the future is not widely accessible. In fact, our research suggests that those best able to adapt and thrive in the years ahead will be people who possess an entrepreneurial turn of mind, and the discipline to think like master craftsmen. Unfortunately, the American system of advancement has never been designed to prepare people for these requirements.
- Where did stable careers go? In your parents' day, it was reasonable to expect a structured, predictable path for career advancement that could last most if not all of your working life.
- The half life of skills: There is another reason for today's job instability: Skills that correlate with a specific occupation are becoming outdated with noticeable speed.
- The decline of employer investment: One would think companies would adjust to this change by ramping up their training programs, to keep the skills of their workforces relevant. In some cases, this is happening.
- Skill development, but the wrong kind: For millions of American workers, getting ahead in an age of automation will require more and different talents — in particular, the capacity for adaptability and entrepreneurialism.
(Webmaster's comment: But too many Americans want the same old unskilled job putting nut A on bolt B and a guaranteed salary to go with it. They do not want to work hard and do not want to learn new skills.)
4-20-18 National School Walkout: US students mark Columbine anniversary
Schoolchildren across the US plan to walk out of school on Friday to demonstrate against gun violence. The National School Walkout marks the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado. Connecticut high school pupil Lane Murdock set up the event in the wake of the Parkland shooting in Florida. Students will leave school at 10:00 across America's time zones. Schoolchildren in every state are expected to participate. The goal of the demonstration, which involves more than 2,000 schools, is to raise awareness of gun violence and to combat political inaction. Ms Murdock launched the National School Walkout campaign in the wake of the Parkland shooting in Florida. The protest started as a petition on the website change.org. More than 250,000 people have signed it. "I'm from Connecticut where Sandy Hook happened - I've been surrounded by this reality all of my life," she told the BBC. Participants on Friday will leave school and gather for 13 seconds of silence, in honour of the 13 victims of the Columbine shooting. The sample walkout agenda from the campaign says the students will not go back to school but instead will "make calls to their Senators' offices and flood social media with calls for reform".
4-20-18 Commonwealth summit: The countries where it is illegal to be gay
Gay rights activists from Commonwealth countries are demanding that laws banning homosexuality should be overturned. Campaigner Peter Tatchell has said people face violence and imprisonment just because they are gay. The British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, promised the Olympic diver Tom Daley that he would raise the issue at the Commonwealth summit. So, where is homosexuality still outlawed? There are 53 countries in the Commonwealth and most of them are former British colonies. Out of those, 37 have laws that criminalise homosexuality. That number may fall by one after a court ruling in Trinidad and Tobago this month found that laws banning gay sex were unconstitutional. However there may be an appeal. Many of the laws criminalising homosexual relations originate from British colonial times. And in many places, breaking these laws could be punishable by long prison sentences. The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (Ilga) monitors the progress of laws relating to homosexuality around the world. According to its research, there have been arrests for homosexual acts in 15 Commonwealth countries in the last three years. For instance, in 2017 the BBC reported that 40 men in Nigeria had been arrested during one weekend for performing homosexual acts.
4-20-18 Everyone Trump likes is telling him to fire Mueller. That's a bad sign.
Fox News and the GOP Congress are basically saying they'll have his back in a Saturday Night Massacre. en it comes to Robert Mueller's investigation, President Trump has an angel perched on one shoulder and a devil on the other. The angel tells him to let the special counsel's probe run its course, for the sake of himself, his party, and the integrity of the system. The devil tells him that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has no right to keep poking around in his business, and if Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein doesn't have the guts to fire him, then Trump ought to axe Rosenstein and replace him with someone who knows who the boss is. The angel and the devil are just metaphors, of course. What we really have is a debate swirling around Donald Trump, with everyone telling him what to do about Mueller and his other supposed enemies. But those with the most access to the president's psyche are the ones shouting most loudly to get rid of Mueller, Rosenstein, and anybody else who doesn't show the proper loyalty. Theirs is a campaign being waged not only through persuasion but now with the tools of institutional power, and the latest arena of conflict is over notes then-FBI Director James Comey wrote detailing his contacts with President Trump. The notes are currently part of the Mueller investigation, but Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is planning to issue a subpoena forcing the Justice Department to turn them over to congressional Republicans, which Justice has resisted up until now.(Webmaster's comment: Just like happened early in Hitler's Germany the rule of law will soon be suspended! It will then be the rule of whims by the new dictator!)
4-19-18 Gun homicides at new high
In 2016, gun homicides made up 74.5 percent of all homicides in the United States—the highest share of any year in the past century, an analysis of federal data reveals. The share of total homicides committed by gun was even higher than in the early 1920s, at the start of Prohibition, and in the early 1990s, at the peak of that decade’s crack-fueled crime wave.
4-19-18 Felt like an intimidation tactic
U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) pulled out a loaded .38 caliber handgun in a constituent meeting on gun violence, to demonstrate that guns “are not the problem.” Norman said he carries the weapon because “I’m not going to be Gabby Giffords”—the Arizona congresswoman who was shot by a disturbed man. Constituent Lori Carter said Norman’s display of a loaded gun during the meeting “felt like an intimidation tactic.” (Webmaster's comment: And that's exactly what it was!)
4-19-18 An innocent man’s lifetime in prison
Richard Phillips spent more time behind bars than any other wrongfully imprisoned person in American history, said Liv Kiely and Marlena Baldacci in CNN.com. The former Detroit autoworker went to prison 45 years ago after being convicted for the murder of Gregory Harris, who was dragged from his car and shot to death. Phillips, now 71, was exonerated last month after one of his alleged accomplices admitted to a parole board that he had lied, and that Phillips had nothing to do with it. “I am not bitter,” Phillips says. “I was upset at first, but mistakes happen in this world. No life is perfect. Everybody has problems. It would be unimaginable for me to be upset because I had problems, because everybody has them.” Phillips says he’s been amazed at the changes that have taken place since his imprisonment in 1972. “When I left the streets, if there were any phones at all, they were these big boot-like portable phones,” he says. “We didn’t have all these gadgets.” Phillips now hopes that his two children, who were ages 4 and 2 when he went to prison, will see his story and find him. “I’m so happy to be free, I’ll make any adjustment I have to make.” (Webmaster's comment: He was black of course!)
4-19-18 Sinclair: How it promotes its agenda
Trust me, Sinclair Broadcast Group is just as sinister as it looks, said Aaron Weiss in HuffingtonPost.com. I was briefly a news director with Sinclair, which, the country learned last week, ordered news anchors working at its 193 local television stations to all read the same Trumpian script denouncing “fake stories” and rampant media bias. The company, which is owned by wealthy Republican donors, has actually been forcing local anchors to read dictated political propaganda for years. In 2004, it forced its stations to run an anti–John Kerry “Swift Boat” documentary just before the presidential election. Nevertheless, when I joined a Sinclair-owned station in 2013, I was shocked by just how blatantly the company pushes stories that, if they ran in other countries, “we would rightly dismiss as state propaganda.” That’s why I, and many other journalists, have quit the company.
4-19-18 Bowing down to a Saudi dictator
Why did Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman get “a hero’s welcome” in the U.S.? asked Zack Beauchamp. The Saudi crown prince, nicknamed MBS, just completed a triumphant tour of the United States, where he “was received less like a human rights abuser and more like a visionary civil rights hero.” It’s no surprise that Trump’s White House would roll out the red carpet for a country that’s lavishly flattered this president. But journalists also hailed MBS as “revolutionary” for modest reforms like allowing women to attend soccer matches and drive cars, while Hollywood celebrities invited to a private dinner treated the prince like “a rock star.” His reforms—part of a carefully crafted public relations campaign—don’t change the fact that Mohammed is the de facto ruler of a country where political dissidents and gay men face the death penalty and women cannot marry, travel, or make other decisions without permission from their “male guardian.” The prince is also the chief architect of Saudi Arabia’s brutal war in Yemen, which has killed an estimated 10,000 people and left millions on the edge of starvation. His tour “was a triumph for his PR team,” and an embarrassment for America.
4-19-18 Whites run the show
Australia’s human rights commission has issued a damning report on the country’s lack of diversity in leadership. While 24 percent of the Australian population is non-European or indigenous, the government report said, minorities make up only about 5 percent of political or business leaders. Among federal and state department heads, 99 percent are of European extraction. In comparison, about 19 percent of lawmakers identify as racial or ethnic minorities in the U.S. Congress, as do 8 percent in Britain’s House of Commons. Australia’s race discrimination commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, said the findings should “challenge us to do better with our multiculturalism.” (Webmaster's comment: Don't worry, the non-whites will soon be denied the right to be in the US legislature by Presidential decree!)
4-19-18 Low Temperature Miracle?
Miracles, with the improbable survival of a Frenchman whose heart stopped beating for 18 hours after a heart attack. The man was found unconscious by a river, and doctors say the low temperatures saved his brain and other organs from permanent damage.
4-19-18 Syracuse University fraternity suspended over 'extremely racist' video
Syracuse University in New York has suspended a fraternity chapter after members were filmed using "extremely racist" and "homophobic" language, the university's chancellor said. Kent Syverud called the footage "extremely troubling and disturbing". The video came to the attention of the staff after it was published by a university newspaper on Wednesday. It shows students using racist, sexist, and homophobic language, as well as performing pretend sex acts. The video was reportedly posted to a secret Facebook page but was discovered and published by the university newspaper, the Daily Orange. The university suspended the engineering fraternity, Theta Tau, following protests by students on campus on Wednesday afternoon. "I am appalled and shaken by this and deeply concerned for all members of our community," Mr Syverud wrote in an email to all students. "The conduct is deeply harmful and contrary to the values and community standards we expect of our students. There is absolutely no place at Syracuse University for behaviour or language that degrades any individual or group's race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, disability or religious beliefs," he wrote. Speaking at one of the forums, Charity Luster, vice president of the university's National Society of Black Engineers, said: "I hope this event does not just spark a conversation on one video, but that it sparks a conversation around how people of colour and underrepresented people are treated on this campus." (Webmaster's comment: Racism now prevades our universities. It will be followed by segregation again, and then by legalized slavery of non-whites.)
4-19-18 Memphis 'punished' for removing Confederate statues
Republican lawmakers in Tennessee are withholding funds from the city of Memphis after it used a legal loophole to remove two Confederate monuments. The Republican-controlled House pulled money for the city's bicentennial plans next year in a last-minute amendment attached to a government spending bill. The statues depicted the leader of the US rebellion and a slave-trader who became the first Ku Klux Klan leader. Confederate statues have become a major flashpoint in a national race debate. Republican Andy Holt said on the House floor: "Today is a demonstration that bad actions have bad consequences, and my only regret about this is it's not in the tune of millions of dollars." He likened the removal of Confederate statues to the actions of the Islamic State (IS), which appeared to refer to the terror group's destruction of ancient sites like Palmyra in Syria. The grant that was withheld, which would have provided $250,000 (£175,000) for the city's bicentennial celebration, was dropped from a $37.5m government spending bill on Tuesday by House legislators. Democrats who represent the majority-black city called the move "racist". "You can boo all you want but let's call it for what it is," Memphis lawmaker Antonio Parkinson told Republicans at the raucous hearing where the bill passed by a vote of 87-5. "This is one of the most vile, racist acts I've seen happen in the legislature," he later told the Washington Post. (Webmaster's comment: You must support the slavers of 150 years ago or else! America is racist to the core.)
4-19-18 Lesbian mums can't register baby in Italy
Authorities in Turin, northern Italy, have refused to register the baby of a lesbian couple. Chiara Foglietta, a Turin councillor, underwent artificial insemination in Denmark and gave birth last Friday to baby boy Niccolo Pietro. Italian law sets strict rules for fertility treatment, making it available only to stable heterosexual couples. But Ms Foglietta has refused to pretend sex with a man led to Niccolo's birth. In a Facebook post, the centre-left councillor said "the staff [at the public records office] tell me 'you should declare that you had union (sexual intercourse) with a man, to get your boy registered. There is no formula allowing you to say that you had artificial insemination'." She said Niccolo was born because she and her partner Micaela Ghisleni wanted a baby, and "he is our son". "But to get him registered at the public records office I have to tell a lie," she said, adding that "every child has the right to know his or her own story, the combination of events that created him or her". Ms Foglietta received sperm from an anonymous donor at the clinic. In 2016, Italy passed a law recognising civil unions between same-sex couples. But many fertility procedures allowed in other EU countries are banned in Italy, under a 2004 law. There can be no screening or freezing of embryos; no sperm or egg donation; nor surrogacy or embryo research. The treatment is only provided for "stable heterosexual couples" shown to be clinically infertile.
4-18-18 Declare war on drug makers
How much money is a corpse worth? Not a nice peaceful-looking grandmother whose time had come surrounded by her family slipping away peacefully in the hope of resurrection, but a real George Romero cadaver keeled over with little pinpoint pupils and ashen skin and lungs clogged up with inhaled vomit? Would one of those cartoon money bags stuffed with $110,000 do it for you? Do the division. In the last two decades more than 200,000 Americans have died after overdosing on OxyContin and other opioids; many thousands more have been killed after switching from prescription drugs to heroin, which has become cheaper, more accessible, and, alas, far more potent. In roughly the same span of time, Purdue Pharma, the privately held corporation that manufactures OxyContin, has made more than $22 billion. (Purdue purchased the rights to the drug from the Sackler family, a clan of real-life billionaire super-villains who keep a very low profile despite plastering the world’s museums with their surname.) A decade ago they pled guilty to lying to the public about the addictive nature of their product and were fined $600 million, a tiny red droplet in their overflowing bucket of blood money. Since the beginning of his campaign President Trump has talked a big game about taking on what we euphemistically refer to as the opioid “crisis” or “epidemic” in this country. So far he has done very little of substance on behalf of the millions of Americans whose lives have been affected and may one day be ended by what we should really insist on referring to as pharmaceutical genocide.
4-18-18 Starbucks to shut over 8,000 US cafes for race training
Coffee chain Starbucks is to close more than 8,000 company-owned branches in the US for an afternoon next month to carry out "racial bias" training. The aim is to prevent discrimination in Starbucks stores. The move comes after the firm had to apologise over last week's arrest of two black men who were waiting to meet someone in a Starbucks in Philadelphia. Following the incident, protesters converged on the store and there were calls for a boycott of Starbucks. Starbucks' chief executive Kevin Johnson said he had been "learning what we did wrong and the steps we need to take to fix it". Mr Johnson said he had spent the last few days in Philadelphia. He has also met the two men who were arrested. In a joint statement, the men's lawyer and Starbucks said their discussions had been "constructive". Mr Johnson had apologised on behalf of the company and the conversation was continuing about how this "painful incident can become a vehicle for positive social change", the statement added. All Starbucks company-owned branches and corporate offices will be closed on the afternoon of Tuesday 29 May. Nearly 175,000 staff will receive the training, as will all future recruits. Days after the coffee company was forced to apologise to the Philadelphia men, footage has emerged of a apparent race-related incident in a Starbucks store in California. Brandon Ward, a black Starbucks customer in Torrance in southern California, posted a video on social media purporting to show an incident in January, in which he was barred from using a toilet - despite being a paying customer - while a white man who hadn't bought anything was allowed to use the facilities. (Webmaster's comment: America is still racist to the core!)
4-18-18 New York: James Marion Sims statue removed from Central Park
New York has removed a statue of a controversial 19th Century doctor from the city's Central Park. James Marion Sims, described as the "father of gynaecology", performed medical experiments on enslaved black women using no anaesthetic. Earlier this week, the city's Public Design Commission unanimously approved a decision to remove the statue following a review into "hate symbols". It has been moved 10 miles (16km) to the site of Sims's grave in Brooklyn. Born in 1813 in South Carolina, Sims became famous for his work to repair fistula, a widespread condition at the time which caused incontinence after childbirth. However, controversy has grown in recent years over his experimental surgeries on black slaves. The procedures were conducted without anaesthetics, and sometimes repeatedly. (Webmaster's comment: The statue should be DESTROYED!)
4-17-18 Millions of censored web pages discovered in massive study
Masses of web pages censored in China, Indonesia, Iran, and Turkey, have been discovered. They reveal the content each country is most intent on blocking. A huge swathe of web pages blocked by four countries has been discovered. The list of blocked sites is roughly ten times larger than previously documented and gives insights into the kind of content China, Indonesia, Iran and Turkey most commonly restrict online. In China, news and media, search engines and translators were some of the most common pages to be blocked and in Indonesia it was personal ads and shopping sites. By far the biggest category blocked in Iran was blogs and personal pages, with websites that explain how to avoid web filtering the next largest category. Turkey blocks many sites associated with gambling, which is tightly regulated there, but also, unexpectedly, a large number of dating sites too. In total the team found nearly six million censored web pages. One thing that couldn’t be tracked was content within social media – where state censors, particularly in China, are known to be highly active. For example, China recently tried to get Weibo, the country’s equivalent to Twitter, to ban content relating to homosexuality. The firm decided not to go ahead with the censorship following public outcry.
4-17-18 Exorcism: Vatican course opens doors to 250 priests
The Vatican has opened its doors for its annual exorcism course amid increasing demand among some of the world's Catholic communities. As many as 250 priests from 50 countries have arrived in Rome to learn how to identify demonic possession, to hear personal accounts from other priests and to find out more about the rituals behind expelling demons. Exorcism remains controversial, in part due to its depiction in popular culture and horror films. But there have also been some cases of abuse linked to exorcisms in a range of religious sects. The week-long Vatican course is described as the only international series of lectures of its kind. Entitled Exorcism and the Prayer of Liberation, it first opened its doors in 2005 and the number of priests attending has more than doubled since then. The event costs €300 (£260, $370) and covers the theological, psychological and anthropological background to exorcisms. Catholic priests in several countries have told the press there has been an increase in the numbers of people reporting signs of demonic possession. Last year Pope Francis told priests that they "must not hesitate" to refer parishioners to exorcists if they suffer from "genuine spiritual disturbances". Half a million people reportedly seek exorcisms every year in Italy, while a report by Christian think-tank Theos in 2017 said that the practice was also on the rise in the UK, in part due to the spread of Pentecostal churches. Some dioceses have developed their own courses to meet the growing demand, including in Sicily and the US city of Chicago. Father Gary Thomas, an American priest who has practised exorcisms for 12 years, says that one reason for the increase is that as society has begun to rely more heavily on social sciences, fewer churches have trained exorcists. The decline of Christianity has also led to an increase in superstitious practices, he believes.
4-17-18 Americans don't pay enough taxes
But it's at this time of year when you ought to consider that as an American, when it comes to taxes you've got it easy. In fact, we pay much lower taxes than most of our peer countries. In the United States, our tax-to-GDP ratio is about 26 percent, far below the 34 percent average of the advanced economies in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and drastically less than some European countries (Denmark tops the list at 46 percent). To some conservatives and libertarians, the appropriate response to those figures is, "That's why we're more free than them." But are we? If by "free" you mean "more vulnerable," then yes. We have chosen — whether we did it consciously or not — to create a system that makes it easier for a small number of people to get super-rich, but also makes life more cruel and difficult for everyone else. In your average social democratic European country, you pay more taxes, but you also get a lot in return: universal health coverage, free child care, generous paid family leave, and free college, for example. If you're Danish or French or German, there are certain things you just don't have to worry about, things that keep us Americans up nights. All of that is a choice. We choose to make health care a privilege, not a right. We choose to pay teachers so little they've been forced to walk off the job. We choose to have high rates of child poverty, and some of the highest levels of inequality in the industrialized world. Those are choices we make, and they start with how much we're willing to raise in taxes. (Webmaster's comment: Nevermind the rampant racism and bigotry in our country!)
4-17-18 Theresa May 'deeply regrets' UK's colonial anti-gay laws
British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she deeply regrets the UK's role in criminalising same-sex relations in its former colonies. The laws were passed under British rule and are still used in 37 of the Commonwealth's 53 member nations. There is a global trend towards decriminalising homosexual acts, but some countries, like Nigeria and Uganda, have imposed stricter laws. At a Commonwealth meeting, Mrs May said laws were "wrong then and wrong now". "Nobody should face discrimination and persecution because of who they are or who they love," Mrs May said in London as Commonwealth leaders gather for their summit, which is held every two years. "The UK stands ready to support any Commonwealth nation wanting to reform outdated legislation that makes such discrimination possible. "Across the world discriminatory laws made many years ago continue to affect the lives of many people, criminalising same-sex relations and failing to protect women and girls." The number of states that criminalise same-sex relations is decreasing annually, with Belize and the Seychelles repealing such laws in 2016. But in many socially conservative and religious countries in Africa, where homosexuality is a taboo, there has been resistance to calls to decriminalise same-sex relationships.
4-16-18 How George Bush broke the Post Office
President Trump wants to repair the United States Postal Service. And no doubt, it needs help: The USPS has reported net losses for 11 years running. Unfortunately, the president is obsessed with some relatively minor problems and ignoring what really needs fixing. Late last week, Trump created a task force to audit the Postal Service. "The USPS is on an unsustainable financial path and must be restructured to prevent a taxpayer-funded bailout," the executive order stated. The task force is supposed to deliver recommendations within 120 days, and to look into "the expansion and pricing of the package delivery market and the USPS's role in competitive markets." The order didn't mention Amazon by name. But many observers assume the online retail giant is the target of the inquiry — and for good reason. Trump has been on a tear recently, claiming the USPS gives Amazon discounted rates for delivering its packages, and gets fleeced in the process. Amazon relies on around 230,000 USPS workers to deliver many of its packages. As my colleague Ryan Cooper explained, the Postal Service is definitely giving the company some sort of deal, though the details are secret. Defenders point out the Postal Service is forbidden by law from charging less than the cost of delivery, though it could still be charging below-market rates. Yet that means the real victims of this arrangement are other private businesses. The Postal Service is basically helping Amazon under-price its competitors and secure monopoly market power. But for the USPS itself, e-commerce deliveries have actually been a recent source of revenue growth. While the Postal Service can and should get a better deal from Amazon, the one it's got is working out pretty well. So why is the USPS struggling financially?
4-16-18 Starbucks: Philadelphia arrests of black men 'reprehensible'
Starbucks' CEO has apologised for the "reprehensible" arrest of two black men for trespassing while waiting for a friend at the cafe. In an interview on Monday, Kevin Johnson said the Philadelphia branch manager who called police on the two men last week has now left the company. The men were arrested when a manager complained that they had not made a purchase. A Starbucks spokeswoman says the pair have agreed to meet with Mr Johnson. "The circumstances surrounding the incident and the outcome in our store on Thursday were reprehensible... they were wrong," Mr Johnson told ABC News on Monday morning. "Starbucks stands firmly against discrimination or racial profiling," he said in the blog post. During his interview, Mr Johnson added that it was "completely inappropriate to engage the police", and that Starbucks would conduct staff training to prevent "unconscious bias". Both men, who have not been officially named, were released shortly after their arrest, which was captured on mobile phone camera. Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said: "Black Philadelphians face daily indignities when they are simply trying to go about their business. This incident shows that Black people can't even 'wait while Black.'"
4-16-18 Facebook expels alt-right figurehead
Facebook has banned the American white nationalist who popularised the term "alternative right". Richard Spencer's page on the social network was removed on Friday along with two other pages he controlled: that of his National Policy Institute think tank, and one promoting his AltRight.com news analysis website. Facebook has not commented, but the BBC understands the blocks are permanent. Mr Spencer continues to have active accounts on Twitter and YouTube. Facebook's action follows its decision to expel the anti-Islamic group Britain First and its leaders last month. The US-based technology giant's terms and conditions state that it does not permit "hate speech", which it defines as including content that directly attacks people because of their race or ethnicity. Last week, Facebook's chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, told Congress that the "question of what is hate speech versus what is legitimate political speech" was an issue that he and his team "struggle with continuously". Mr Spencer has denied being a "white supremacist", but has spoken in favour of creating a North American country restricted to white people. He has also said he was proud of slavery, and has described Islam as being a "black flag".
4-16-18 China's Sina Weibo backtracks from gay content ban after outrage
Chinese social media network Sina Weibo has backtracked from a controversial gay content ban after a massive outcry. Last Friday the microblogging platform said that posts related to homosexuality would be taken down. It prompted a deluge of posts from outraged netizens protesting against the decision. On Monday, Sina Weibo said it would reverse the ban. Often described as China's answer to Twitter, Sina Weibo is one of the most popular social networks in the country. Last Friday Sina Weibo made a surprise announcement that it was launching a "clean-up campaign". It said that for the next three months, the platform would remove content including images, videos, text and cartoons that were related to pornography, violence, or homosexuality. "This is to further ensure a clear and harmonious society and environment," the network said in its statement, adding that it had already scrubbed more than 50,000 posts by then. Sina Weibo said it was initiating the clean-up because of stricter internet laws put in place last year, but it did not explain why it was only acting now. Chinese authorities have embarked on a campaign in recent years aimed at purging internet content that it deems inappropriate. By early Monday morning, the most censored search term on Weibo was "homosexuality", according to censorship tracker FreeWeibo. Over the weekend many in the LGBT community took to the network to protest against the decision, using hashtags such as #IAmGay# and #ScumbagSinaHelloIAmGay#. Some tried testing the ban and uploaded pictures of themselves with partners or gay friends or relatives. Among them was LGBT rights activist Pu Chunmei, whose impassioned post accompanied with pictures of her with her gay son quickly went viral.
4-16-18 Tune in your head? Mind-reading tech can guess how it sounds
We now have the ability to hear another person’s thoughts. Researchers have identified the brain activity involved in imagining sounds in your head. We now have the ability to hear another person’s thoughts. Researchers have identified the differences in brain activity linked to heard and imagined sounds, a finding that could lead to better communication devices for people who are fully paralysed. In 2014, Brian Pasley at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues eavesdropped on a person’s internal monologue for the first time. They got several people who had electrodes implanted in their brain to read text out loud while having their brain activity recorded. The team used this data to work out which neurons reacted to particular aspects of speech, and created an algorithm to interpret this information. They were then able to analyse the brain activity of people who were imagining speaking, and translate this into digitally synthesised speech. But their algorithm wasn’t perfect – it could only translate brain activity into extremely crude aspects of speech, which weren’t often easy to understand. To get clearer translations, they needed a better understanding of how the brain activity responsible for imagined sound differs from activity associated with actually hearing a real sound. Distinguishing between these two types of brain activity is a challenge, because it’s difficult to know exactly when someone is imagining a specific word and measure the activity associated with this.
4-15-18 Families caught in Trump's refugee clampdown
Under President Trump, the number of refugees admitted has dropped to its lowest level in 30 years - but what happens to families caught between the admissions process? From his new hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, 35 year-old Mohamed Chaghlil calls his elderly mother every day. She asks him if he's looking after himself, and about his love life. He asks her if she's getting her medicine, and promises they'll be re-united soon. But he knows it's a promise he can't keep. Mohamed and his parents escaped from the horrors of the Syrian civil war in December 2012. Taking refuge in Jordan, they applied to settle in the US. In the autumn of 2016, Mohamed's father died. Shortly afterwards, Mohamed was approved to travel to the US. It was a hard decision, but Mohamed and his mother believed she soon would join him. So Mohamed made the journey, arriving in America just weeks before President Trump was sworn in. But Mohamed's mother was now a widow, meaning checks on her application had to be carried out again. Then came President Trump's first travel ban. It paused refugee resettlement, and banned Syrian refugees indefinitely. More than a year later, Mohamed's mother is still waiting. The administration paused the refugee programme in order to bring in security checks which it said would protect Americans. But even after legal challenges to the travel ban opened the way for reunification cases like the Chaghlils, families are still waiting to see each other again. "It was already a two-year screening process. I don't think the new vetting procedures are having an impact on the safety of the US. It's just a way to delay the programme," says Mary Giovagnoli, chair of Refugee Council USA. Her group represents America's refugee resettlement agencies across the country. RCUSA also claims there's a bureaucratic go-slow in the screening programme, with fewer refugee interviews being scheduled abroad, and staff being re-assigned elsewhere. What's happening is "a meticulous effort to dismantle the refugee programme," she says.
4-15-18 Starbucks apologises amid backlash over arrest of black men
Coffee chain Starbucks has apologised after two black men were arrested while waiting for a friend at one of their shops in the US city of Philadelphia. Amateur video shows police placing the pair, who were accused by shop staff of trespassing, in handcuffs. The footage has been widely shared since it was posted on Twitter and has led to accusations of racial profiling. Starbucks chief executive Kevin Johnson said the video was "hard to watch" and that the actions taken were "wrong". In the incident, which took place on Thursday evening, the two men were approached by the store manager and asked to leave after they requested the use of the toilet without making a purchase, police said. In response, the men told staff that they were waiting for a friend and refused to leave. Philadelphia police commissioner Richard Ross said his officers were right to carry out the arrest after staff told them the pair were causing a disturbance and trespassing. "If a business calls and they say that someone is here that I no longer wish to be in my business, they [the officers] now have a legal obligation to carry out their duties," Mr Ross said. In a statement released on Saturday, Mr Johnson expressed "our deepest apologies" to the two men involved in the incident and said Starbucks would do "whatever we can to make things right". "The video shot by customers is very hard to watch and the actions in it are not representative of our Starbucks mission and values," Mr Johnson said. He added that the call to the Philadelphia police department should not have been made on the "basis" of the events which took place beforehand.
4-15-18 Why tech needs a 'regret test'
"Don't be evil" is clearly not good enough. What are the ethical responsibilities of companies that are able to manipulate human behavior on a massive scale? It's a question one hopes technologists and designers ask themselves when building world-changing products — but one that hasn't been asked often enough. Operant conditioning, intermittent reinforcement, the search for self-actualization — the techniques used by product managers at the world's largest companies are equal parts psychology and technology. As Sean Parker, founding president of Facebook, recently acknowledged, the company has long been engaged in the business of "exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology." Our gadgets and apps are more persuasive than ever. Yet for the makers of these technologies, few guidelines exist on how to change user behavior ethically. Without a standard, businesses tend to unthinkingly push the envelope in the never-ending quest for more engagement, more growth, and, ultimately, more profits. As one startup founder told me, "At the end of the day, I have an obligation to my investors and employees, and I'll do anything I can, short of breaking the law, to get people using my product." The tech industry needs to do better than the threat of jail time to decide to do the right thing. Thankfully, most technologists and designers I know are working to make people's lives better. Around the world, entrepreneurs aspire to build products customers love. Whether working at a large Silicon Valley tech company or out of a garage, they dream of moving people to action by offering them the next indispensable improvement to their lives, and most try to go about this in an aboveboard way. (Webmaster's comment: Other countries use jail time quite successfully. Only in the United States does it not work because there is no effort to rehabilitate.)
4-14-18 Welcome to the age of reputation
In a world where information is everywhere, we need to know who to trust. There is an underappreciated paradox of knowledge that plays a pivotal role in our advanced hyper-connected liberal democracies: The greater the amount of information that circulates, the more we rely on so-called reputational devices to evaluate it. What makes this paradoxical is that the vastly increased access to information and knowledge we have today does not empower us or make us more cognitively autonomous. Rather, it renders us more dependent on other people's judgments and evaluations of the information with which we are faced. We are experiencing a fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship to knowledge. From the "information age," we are moving towards the "reputation age," in which information will have value only if it is already filtered, evaluated, and commented upon by others. Seen in this light, reputation has become a central pillar of collective intelligence today. It is the gatekeeper to knowledge, and the keys to the gate are held by others. The way in which the authority of knowledge is now constructed makes us reliant on what are the inevitably biased judgments of other people, most of whom we do not know. Let me give some examples of this paradox. If you are asked why you believe that big changes in the climate are occurring and can dramatically harm future life on Earth, the most reasonable answer you're likely to provide is that you trust the reputation of the sources of information to which you usually turn for acquiring information about the state of the planet. In the best-case scenario, you trust the reputation of scientific research and believe that peer-review is a reasonable way of sifting out "truths" from false hypotheses and complete "bullshit" about nature. In the average-case scenario, you trust newspapers, magazines, or TV channels that endorse a political view which supports scientific research to summarize its findings for you. In this latter case, you are twice-removed from the sources: You trust other people's trust in reputable science.
4-13-18 Don’t blame academics like me for Facebook’s privacy crisis
Mark Zuckerberg wonders what is going on at Cambridge University – I can tell him, but he won’t like what privacy researchers have found, says Ross Anderson Mark Zuckerberg has tried to deflect blame for Facebook’s privacy crisis by pointing the finger at my university. “We do need to understand whether there was something bad going on in Cambridge University overall, that will require a stronger action from us,” he told the US Senate this week. There is a short answer to that, and a deeper one. The short answer is that when Aleksandr Kogan, the researcher whose “This Is Your Digital Life” app is at the heart of the current row, applied to use the data collected by his company in university research, our ethics committees turned him down flat. The reason? While the people who installed his app had consented to their data being used in research, their Facebook “friends” had not. The deeper answer goes back almost 10 years, to when I asked two PhD candidates to choose a topic. They said “Facebook privacy”. Seeing my astonishment, one of them said “We don’t expect a married guy like you to appreciate this, but in Cambridge all the party invitations come via Facebook, so if you’re not on Facebook you go to no parties, you meet no girls, you have no sex, so you have no kids and your genes die out. It’s a Darwinian imperative to be on Facebook. Yet you seem to have no privacy. We’re wondering if it’s possible to fix that.” Six months later, they gave it up as hopeless. Facebook operates by providing users with a false sense of security, of being in a private and intimate space, so they puts lots of sensitive information online – which Facebook’s advertisers can then use to target them. Opting out is made deliberately difficult.
4-13-18 An antiscience political climate is driving scientists to run for office
The same pro-science wave driving the March for Science is driving greater activism. The upwelling of science activism witnessed in last year’s March for Science led many to predict that a flood of scientists might leave the lab for the legislature. Now, on the eve of the second March for Science, a survey of the field suggests that’s the case. As many as 450 scientists-turned-politicians are throwing their hats into state, local, and federal campaigns, according to 314 Action. The advocacy group (named for the first three digits of pi) encourages and supports people with science and technology backgrounds interested in running for office. Founded in 2016, the group saw a huge surge in interest after Donald Trump was elected president, says 314 Action spokesperson Ted Bordelon. As many as 7,000 potential candidates reached out to 314 Action, though the realities of running have winnowed that number down. “The attacks on science certainly didn’t start with Trump,” Bordelon says. “But he has been a huge catalyst. That may be one of the bright spots of his presidency — more scientists saying they want to be in the ring when it comes to lawmaking.”
4-13-18 America should just stop all bombing
We've got better things to do. Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad apparently launched another chemical attack recently, and President Trump threatened to launch missiles at something (he wasn't clear what) in response. Russia retaliated by threatening to shoot down any missiles that were launched, and now we're in another good old-fashioned standoff with a nuclear superpower, with bloodthirsty maniac John Bolton at the president's side. Here's an idea. Let's just stop all bombing, just to see how it works out. Perhaps we might even become as skeptical of blowing people up as today's bipartisan consensus is in favor of it. The Trump presidency so far has featured a gruesome bloodbath of bombing deaths. The number of raids in Iraq and Syria have been drastically increased, and the rules of engagement have been drastically scaled back. Perhaps 6,000 civilians were killed by U.S. strikes in those countries in 2017, more than double that of 2016 — and according to an on-the-ground study, one in five coalition strikes resulted in a civilian death, a rate 31 times greater than the military casualty counts. Why do we keep doing this? Partly it is down to Trump's pathological self-centeredness and desire for violent retribution. But it also reflects the lack of any consistent skepticism of military intervention in either party. In hindsight, the isolationists missed that fascist Germany, Japan, and Italy were categorically different than the previous governments of Imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary. The particular vileness of Hitler and the Nazis was especially overlooked, not least because many isolationists, like Charles Lindbergh and Henry Ford, were sympathetic to fascism.
4-12-18 Money still can’t buy happiness
By most measures, the U.S. economy “looks pretty good,” said Heather Long in The Washington Post. GDP growth is on the rise, jobs are plentiful, and inflation is stable. What’s not to like? Plenty, it seems. Americans are “more glum now than they were during the Great Recession,” according to the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index. “In a surprise to the researchers,” 2017 turned out to be the worst year for well-being since 2008. Twenty-one states had “statistically significant declines” in well-being compared with 2016. People are “not content in their jobs and relationships,” with many blaming “politics and polarization” for feelings of “anxiety and bitterness toward work colleagues and family.” Even with a growing economy, financial fears haven’t dissipated. In a poll by Chapman University, half of respondents said one of their top fears is “not having enough money for the future.”
4-12-18 Parkland survivors: Conservatives hit back
The survivors of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting “are still under attack,” said Laurie Roberts in The Arizona Republic. Rather than engage with the young activists’ “impassioned call” for tighter gun-control laws, conservatives panicked by their eloquence have showered them with personal smears, vitriol, and ad hominem attacks. Fox News host Laura Ingraham last week mocked Parkland student David Hogg for being rejected by four colleges despite his 4.2 GPA. Hogg then called for advertisers to boycott her show, and at least 19 companies obliged—forcing the right-wing provocateur to apologize and take a week’s vacation. The attacks on the Parkland kids began with far-right conspiracy theorists, said Jeet Heer in New?Republic.com, and then spread to mainstream conservatives. Some falsely claimed Hogg wasn’t even at school during the Valentine’s Day shooting, and that he and his fellow activists are actually actors hired by liberal adults. Emma González, another activist Parkland survivor, was sneeringly described by a Republican candidate for the Maine State House as a “skinhead lesbian.” Actually, the Parkland teens are “winning the culture war,” said Benjamin Hart in NYMag.com. Their passion and organizing ability has “supercharged the gun-reform movement.” Polls show large majorities of Americans support their stated goals of universal background checks and banning assault-style rifles and large-capacity magazines. The “Gunshine State” of Florida has adopted several new restrictions on firearms. Walmart and other stores are limiting their gun sales. As the saying goes, when you’re “personally attacking the survivors of a school shooting, you’re losing.”
4-12-18 Why cops kill unarmed suspects
While “deeply disturbing,” the Sacramento police killing of Stephon Clark was not a crime, said David French. But “was the shooting proper? Is this how we want to train police to respond?” Clearly not. Police fired a fusillade of 20 shots at Clark in his grandparents’ backyard after responding to reports he broke car windows. Police said they thought that the confused and frightened Clark was holding a gun; it turned out to be an iPhone. Yes, routine arrests “can and do escalate.” But the two officers had other options than to shoot. They could have stayed behind cover and issued “strong verbal commands” to Clark rather than jump out and start firing when he didn’t quickly respond. Their approach—and that of too many police departments—was akin to the “immediate escalation and engagement you’d find in a war zone.” In Iraq, my fellow soldiers and I were trained to exercise more restraint than the Sacramento cops while on patrol, so that we didn’t kill civilians instead of terrorists. Cops, by contrast, are trained to believe every suspect is a potential killer and to shoot to kill whenever they feel threatened. “It’s time to change the rules.”
4-12-18 Europe: Have immigrants rekindled anti-Semitism?
French Jews are under assault, said Le Monde (France) in an editorial. The brutal killing last week of 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll, stabbed 11 times in her Paris home by a Muslim neighbor and his friend, was not an isolated incident. At least 11 French Jews have been murdered in anti-Semitic attacks over the past 12 years, including three children and a rabbi who were shot dead by an Islamist extremist at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, and 65-year-old Sarah Halimi, who was beaten to death and thrown from her balcony last year by a Franco-Malian man shouting “Allahu akbar!” France has also seen a resurgence of “ordinary anti-Semitism”: hateful insults hurled in the street, threatening graffiti painted on Jewish stores, the bullying of Jewish children in schools. It’s encouraging that thousands attended a march in honor of Knoll in Paris last week, but it’s not enough. French authorities must devote themselves to a “relentless struggle” against anti-Semitism to “soothe the legitimate concern and anger of the Jewish community.” This is “humiliating and agonizing for the Republic,” said Laurent Joffrin in Libération (France). How can we live with the fact that 10 percent of French Jews—some 60,000 people—have emigrated, mostly to Israel, in the past decade? Have we become a country people flee? While it is painful to point out, we must acknowledge that the common thread in all these attacks is that the assailants have been either Muslim immigrants or their French-born children. The traditional anti-Semitism of the far right hasn’t vanished, but we are now also facing a “new anti-Semitism, fueled by the obsessions of Muslim fundamentalists and tied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
4-12-18 Yes, there is a hell
The Vatican this week denied that Pope Francis had told a prominent Italian reporter that “There is no hell” and “Souls are not punished.” La Repubblica published a front-page story last week in which Eugenio Scalfari—a 93-year-old left-wing, anticlerical journalist who prides himself on not taking notes or recording interviews—claimed the pope made those surprising comments during a recent meeting. The Vatican said they were not “a faithful transcription of the Holy Father’s words.” Catholic Church doctrine affirms the existence of hell, where the souls of sinners suffer “eternal fire.” Scalfari, a longtime friend of the pope, has previously reported that Francis wants to allow divorced Catholics to receive communion, which the Vatican also later denied.
4-12-18 Teacher walkouts spread across red states
Tens of thousands of public-school teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky left classrooms and swarmed their state capitols this week, the latest in a wave of teacher protests in GOP-dominated states against cuts to pay, benefits, and school funding. Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Mary Fallin tried to head off the walkout by signing a bill last week that gives the state’s teachers—who earn an average of $41,834 a year, making them among the country’s lowest paid—an average raise of $6,100, their first pay hike in a decade. The bill also adds $51 million in education funding, paid for in part by a tax on oil and gas production. But for teachers fed up with overcrowded classes and tattered textbooks, it wasn’t enough. They demanded a $10,000 raise and an extra $200 million in school funding, and ringed the capitol, chanting, “No funding, no future!” In Kentucky, teachers rallied against pension reforms, shutting down dozens of school districts. The walkouts came a month after West Virginia teachers staged a nine-day strike that closed schools across the state, winning a 5 percent pay raise. The unrest shows that teachers have reached “a tipping point,” said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, a leading union. The next red state to erupt could be Arizona, where teachers have threatened to strike if they don’t get a 20 percent raise and more money for schools. This growing revolt is the “predictable result of the Republican model of governing,” said Paul Waldman in WashingtonPost.com. Oklahoma has slavishly followed conservatives’ tax-cutting philosophy, slashing rates for oil and gas companies and top earners. The inevitable budget shortfall has starved public services of funding and led to Oklahoma’s current educational crisis: “four-day school weeks, cold buildings, and decades-old textbooks.”
4-12-18 Editor’s letter
President Trump has a long enemies list, but Jeff Bezos has now shot up to number two, right behind Robert Mueller. Over the past week, the president unleashed a Twitter rant against Bezos and his company, Amazon, and threatened to use the federal government to punish him—thereby causing the company’s stock to plunge 8 percent and lose $75 billion in market value. (See Business.) Trump, aides say, is “obsessed” with Amazon and Bezos—largely because Bezos also owns The Washington Post, which has covered this administration aggressively. “How can I f--- with him?” the president has asked aides, sources tell Vanity Fair. The options under discussion include an anti-trust action, raising postal rates, and the cancellation of Amazon’s multibillion-dollar Pentagon contract. “It’s war,” White House sources warn. Say this about President Trump: He doesn’t hide his cards. His Twitter feed is a running MRI of his mind, revealing his obsessions, personal vendettas, and motives. The same week he was hurling threats at Amazon, he was tweeting lavish praise of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, whose owners have ordered its 173 stations to run pro-Trump commentary and attack “fake” news from other media, such as CNN. (See Best U.S. Columns.) Sinclair, as it happens, is seeking both Justice Department and FCC waivers to acquire another 42 stations. Does anyone doubt Sinclair will get a green light? Meanwhile, the Justice Department is blocking a merger of CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, with AT&T. Is that because Trump despises CNN? Other presidents have criticized individual companies and complained about press bias, but Trump’s blatant use of state power to punish specific TV networks, newspapers, and private companies who don’t kowtow to his will has no precedent—except in autocracies like Russia, Turkey, and Venezuela, where it was the first step in the erosion of freedom. That couldn’t happen here, of course. Trump’s own party wouldn’t stand for it. Would it?
4-12-18 Marijuana eaten by mice, say Argentina police officers
Eight Argentine police officers have been dismissed for blaming missing drugs on mice. Investigators discovered 540kg (1,191lb) of marijuana missing from a police warehouse in Pilar, north-west of Buenos Aires. The city's former police commissioner, Javier Specia, and fellow officers told a judge the drugs were "eaten by mice". Forensic experts doubted mice would see the drugs as food, and would have probably died if they had eaten it. A spokesperson for Judge Adrián González Charvay said that according to experts at Buenos Aires University, "mice wouldn't mistake the drug for food" - and even if they did, "a lot of corpses would have been found in the warehouse". The police officers will now testify in front of the judge on 4 May. The court will decide if the drugs are missing due to "expedience or negligence".
4-11-18 America sows chaos
Is America a force for order in the world today? Or for chaos? The question is prompted by President Trump's reaction to the apparent use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government in that country's long-running civil war. Trump is not the only Western leader considering taking military action; the French president, Emmanuel Macron, is actually leading the charge. Even though both men previously criticized hawks who favored intervening to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, both are now contemplating the use of force to uphold the international norm against the use of chemical weapons. Phrased that way, it sounds like if America does launch missiles or send troops, we'll be acting as a force for order, upholding international law and deterring other bad actors from using these kinds of barbaric weapons. But the veneer of this justification is paper-thin. Neither America nor France has any kind of warrant under international law to fire missiles whenever we believe some malefactor has committed a war crime, and it is blindingly obvious that no such warrant could possibly be generalized to the international community as a whole. But if it is a veneer of justification, what on Earth is it covering? Why would we be looking for excuses to get more deeply involved in Syria? A country as large and powerful as the United States, which played a formative role in the construction of so many multinational institutions, and with so many benefits to gain from international trade, should logically be a conservative, status-quo power. From that perspective, our most important goals should be preventing any serious rival from developing both the means and the motive to challenge our position, and preserving international order generally. Would either goal be furthered by intervention in Syria? It's hard to see how.
4-11-18 School shooting: US TV host quits over David Hogg tweet
A US TV and radio commentator is off the air after threatening a Florida shooting survivor with sexual assault. In a tweet, Jamie Allman had said he was "getting ready to ram a hot poker up David Hogg's ass". (Webmaster's comment: THE TRUE NATURE OF PRO-GUN LOBBY MEMBERS IS REVEALED! Many of them love violence and threatening violence and buying weapons designed solely to kill lots of people.) KDNL-TV accepted the resignation of the St Louis, Missouri, broadcaster on Tuesday while radio channel KFTK cancelled his morning talk show. Mr Hogg is a survivor of the Parkland high school shooting in February and a vocal anti-gun campaigner. Mr Allman, a conservative commentator, posted the tweet on 26 March. His page was locked shortly afterwards but a photo of the post has been widely shared online. Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner of KDNL-TV, announced Mr Allman's resignation and the cancellation of his show The Allman Report in a short statement. Sinclair owns roughly 200 local television stations across the US. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Entercom Communications - operator of KTFK - said the radio station has "parted ways" with Mr Allman and cancelled his show. Mr Allman is not the first conservative commentator to attack David Hogg. Laura Ingraham, host of The Ingraham Angle on Fox News, has lost a number of advertisers and was forced to apologise after mocking Mr Hogg for reportedly not getting into the California universities to which he applied, and for his grades. Ms Ingraham took a week's leave after tweeting her apology. However, Mr Hogg has in fact received an offer from UC Irvine, a University of California school in Orange County. (Webmaster's comment: The true nature of the pro-gun lobby revealed!)
4-11-18 School shooting: Teachers in Pennsylvania get 16in bats after Florida
A Pennsylvanian school district has given its teachers baseball bats in the fight against school shooters. All 500 teachers of Millcreek School District near Erie got a 16in (41cm) bat in the wake of the Parkland, Florida high school attack in February. Though the bats are largely symbolic, Superintendent William Hall said, they are there as a "last resort". "Unfortunately, we're in a day and age where one might need to use them to protect ourselves and our kids." The superintendent said the aim was to have a "consistent tool" for every teacher in every classroom. In March, another Pennsylvanian school district armed its teachers with buckets of rocks as a response to any potential shooter. Teachers received the bats after a training day on how to respond to shooters. They will be locked up in classrooms. Mr Hall said this was part of the district's shooting response plan, known by the acronym Trojan. This stands for Threat assessment, Run, Obstruct and barricade, Join forces, Attack, and Never give up. (Webmaster's comment: Instead of getting rid of the weapons designed for the sole purpose of killing people we are arming teachers with 16 inch bats. They are to stand up against a shooter armed with a semi-automatic weapon! They'll be the first to die! BAN ALL SEMI-AUTOMATIC WEAPONS.)
4-10-18 Homeland Security wants to monitor journalists. Time to sound the alarm.
The Department of Homeland Security intends to list and track hundreds of thousands of news outlets, journalists, bloggers, and "influencers" in traditional and new media alike. Its plan is to analyze targets' "sentiment," monitor "any and all" coverage of select news stories, and possibly share data with "federal, state, local, tribal, and private partners." If you find yourself skeptical of this proposal of mass state monitoring of the press, consider yourself a bonafide member of the "tinfoil hat wearing, black helicopter conspiracy theorists," DHS representative Tyler Houlton said Friday. It's all very routine, he argued, casting the project as an innocent means of "monitoring current events." Just shut up and let us do this, crackpots. Yet I am bareheaded, untroubled by black whirlybirds, and utterly unconvinced. Consider the practical incongruities. While a database of the sort DHS wants could be used to follow news stories, it isn't necessary for the job. From basic Google News alerts to subscription services with more robust analytic functionality, news tracking programs already exist. Likewise, if DHS needs "to build media lists based on beat, location, outlet type/size, and journalist role," as its specs document says, an existent public relations service would easily do the trick. The Department of Homeland Security in the Year of Our Lord 2018 is not the first entity to realize this information might be valuable to collect and analyze for more successful press release distribution. (Webmaster's comment: Hitler did the same thing. And had all negative news regarding him and the Nazi's deleted.)
4-10-18 Robots don’t take people’s jobs – they make new ones
A German study casts doubt on the story that automation will destroy jobs. Could it be true elsewhere? Robots are the great bogeymen of the 21st century. With their superhuman strength and non-stop work ethic many feel they are gunning for our jobs. But these fears may be overblown. The first comprehensive look at automation on the German economy suggests that robots created more jobs than they destroyed. People’s fears have been stoked by headlines warning of the robot take over. A 2013 Oxford University study, for example, suggests robots are poised to replace as much as 47 per cent of the US workforce and 35 per cent of the UK’s. Far from this apocalyptic scenario, automation resulted in an overall increase in jobs of between 1.5 and 1.8 per cent in Germany between 2011 and 2016. While robots claimed 5 per cent of jobs, more new ones were created. What’s more, most of these tended to pay better than those that had been lost. An industrial robot may replace a hundred workers, but there are knock-on effects that can add jobs elsewhere. “Now the company can produce the same good, but more cheaply. Demand goes up and they need to hire more people to fill the new demand,” says Melanie Arntz at the Centre for European Economic Research in Mannheim, Germany. Previous studies also overestimated the relationship between jobs that can be automated and those that will, says Arntz.
4-9-18 In the US, you don't have to kill to be a murderer
After police killed a burglary suspect in a shootout, the officer was not charged - instead a teenage boy who did not fire the gun has been found guilty of his murder. How do accomplice liability laws work? Lakeith Smith was 15 years old when he went along with four older friends on a burglary spree. A neighbour called police when the group went into a home in Millbrook, Alabama, and the responding officers surprised the teenagers as they were coming through the front door. The group turned and fled out the back door, and a shootout ensued. When it was all over, 16-year-old A'Donte Washington was dead with a bullet wound to his neck. It's never been in dispute that a Millbrook police officer shot and killed Washington - officer-worn body cameras captured the fatal confrontation. A grand jury declined to charge the officer, finding that the shooting was justified. Instead, Smith was charged and found guilty of his friend's murder. Last week, a judge sentenced him to 65 years in prison. Under Alabama's accomplice liability law, Smith is considered just as culpable in Washington's death as if he had pulled the trigger himself. "It's sad in my opinion," says Smith's defence lawyer, Jennifer Holton. "The cause of death was the officer's action." Alabama's law is an example of so-called felony-murder laws and they are very common throughout the US - only seven states do not have some type of law that expands the definition of murder to include an unintentional killing in the course of committing a felony. These laws also sweep up accomplices who, again, may not have directly caused harm, but were still a party in the felony that preceded the death. While rooted in English common law, felony-murder is a rare concept outside of the US. "Felony-murder is a lovely American fiction," says Michael Heyman, professor emeritus at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. "It's a fiction in that it attributes a killing to you that you need not have done by your own hand."
4-9-18 Catholics' Church Attendance Resumes Downward Slide
Weekly church attendance has declined among U.S. Catholics in the past decade, while it has remained steady among Protestants. From 2014 to 2017, an average of 39% of Catholics reported attending church in the past seven days. This is down from an average of 45% from 2005 to 2008 and represents a steep decline from 75% in 1955. By contrast, the 45% of Protestants who reported attending church weekly from 2014 to 2017 is essentially unchanged from a decade ago and is largely consistent with the long-term trend.
- Fewer than four in 10 Catholics attend church in any given week
- Catholic attendance is down six percentage points over the past decade
- Protestant attendance steady, but fewer Americans now identify as Protestants
4-9-18 Meet the 'fearless' drag queens of Beirut
Elias's hands tremble as he lights another cigarette. He's never done this before. He's worn the dress, the heels. He's practised the lip syncs. Tonight is his first real outing as Melanie Coxxx - the drag alter ego whom he likes to describe as a "fierce, fearless, fun, and sexy" queen. Those are all strengths he needs to rely on tonight - especially the fearless part. As he struts along the runway-esque entrance to one of Beirut's few and secluded gay bars, a crowd of people both in and out of drag awaits him inside. Their eyes rest on Elias as he comes in. He is here to walk in Lebanon's first-ever "mini ball", a type of competition in which contestants - drag queens, women, and, typically, gay men - come with wigs, gowns, high heels, and cinched-in waists to compete in extravagant runway looks, lip syncing skills and voguing. "I want Melanie to be known. I want everyone to talk about her," says Elias. A buzzing drag scene is evolving in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, where homosexuality is still technically illegal. Melanie Coxxx isn't the only new queen on stage tonight. Three years ago, the scene hardly existed, says Evita Kedavra, an Armenian-Palestinian drag queen and one of tonight's judges. Evita, who only wants to be quoted by his drag name to conceal his identity, was one of the first drag queens to start doing shows in Beirut's night clubs three years ago. "No-one had the balls to perform in drag yet back then," he recalls of his first show, which quickly turned into regular gigs at Beirut's gay bars. Since then, drag has moved to the forefront of Beirut's gay community.
4-8-18 Inside the White House Bible Study group
For the first time in at least 100 years, the US Cabinet has a bible study group. What do they learn? What does Donald Trump make of it? And why aren't women allowed to teach? Every Wednesday, some of the world's most powerful people meet in a conference room in Washington DC to learn about God. In total, 10 cabinet members are "sponsors" of the group. Not everyone attends every meeting - they are busy people - but they go if they can. Meetings last between 60 and 90 minutes, and members are free to contact the teacher after-hours. So who is the man leading the United States' most-influential bible study? Each class is led by a local pastor, but none is led by a woman. Why not? "There's no [Biblical] prohibition of female leadership in commerce, there's no prohibition of female leadership in the state, and there's no prohibition of female leadership over children," says Drollinger. "But there is a prohibition of female leadership in marriage, and female leadership in the church. And those are clear in scripture… it doesn't mean, in an egalitarian sense, that a woman is of lesser importance. It's just that they have different roles." (Webmaster's comment: More Evil in the White House!)
4-7-18 Vatican police arrest ex-diplomat over 'child pornography'
Police at the Vatican have arrested a priest who previously worked at the Holy See's US embassy on suspicion of possessing child pornography. Carlo Alberto Capella was taken into custody after an investigation. Monsignor Capella was recalled from the US in September 2017 after US authorities told the Vatican about a possible violation of child pornography laws by one of its diplomats. He was ordained in 1993 and joined the Vatican's diplomatic corps in 2004. The arrest could draw fresh attention to Pope Francis's efforts to snuff out child abuse in the Catholic Church. He has pledged zero tolerance but critics say he has not done enough to hold to account bishops who allegedly covered up abuse. Monsignor Capella's career took him to India and Hong Kong before his brief stint in the US, which lasted less than a year. After US authorities contacted the Vatican about the diplomat, he was moved home. The Vatican said it would investigate the case. A state department official told the Washington Post that the US government had asked for Monsignor Capella's diplomatic immunity be waived so he could be prosecuted in the US, but the request was refused. After Monsignor Capella was recalled from the US, police in Canada issued a warrant for his arrest on suspicion of possessing and distributing child pornography online. Pope Benedict XVI had made Mr Capella a Monsignor in 2008, granting him the rank "Chaplain of his Holiness". (Webmaster's comment: The church always protects its own!)
4-6-18 The Religious Regions of the U.S.
The Southwest and Southeast regions of the United States lived up to their reputation as the home of the nation's Bible Belt in 2017, producing nine of the nation's 11 most religious states. In contrast, the Pacific and New England regions have 10 of the 11 least religious states for the year. Forty-five percent of Americans living in the Southwest and 43% in the Southeast are "very religious" -- a classification based on how important people say religion is to them and how often they attend religious services. They are the only two of the nation's eight regions with at least 40% of their residents classified as very religious. The percentage is below 30% in the Pacific and New England regions, while religiosity is in the 30s across the center of the country from the Rockies to the Mid-Atlantic.
- 45% in Southwest are "very religious," the most religious U.S. region
- 26% are "very religious" in New England, the least religious region
4-6-18 How the pursuit of happiness has led to profound despair
For a country that likes to think of itself as the greatest in the world, the United States sure does seem to produce a lot of miserable people. As Andrew Sullivan highlights in his recent tour de force feature in New York magazine, the key to grasping the significance of the opioid crisis for contemporary American life is the realization that it's an epidemic of people (in most cases accidentally) taking fatally high doses of powerful drugs designed to alleviate suffering. Often users become hooked on these painkillers, and end up killing themselves instead, because they're trying to relieve physical discomfort from an acute injury or chronic malady. But once the original cause fades, the contrast between the doped-up euphoria of the drug-induced high and the comparative dull, throbbing ache of life in 21st-century America frequently makes the choice clear and easy: living in a haze of ecstatic numbness is preferable, even if it runs the significant risk of accidental death. The opioid epidemic began and remains most deadly in those parts of the United States that have fallen behind in America's relentless meritocratic rat race — first in rust belt towns and small cities with few economic prospects and fewer cultural resources, more recently among the urban poor. But even those who are closest to ending up at the very top of the meritocracy — teenagers with top grades and top test results from top schools — have their own forms of pain, their own ways of suffering, and their own (often far more expensive and far less deadly) methods of coping. At least that's the impression one gets from reading "Homework therapists' job: Help solve math problems, and emotional ones," an illuminating and disturbing New York Times article about the trend of upper-class families hiring therapists to help their kids manage acute problems with anxiety, stress, and the organization of their jam-packed and overly regimented lives.
4-6-18 Gun owners need to wise up about police violence
Spring has hardly arrived, and already the season has seen the deaths of two black men, both shot by law enforcement when they were unarmed and posing no serious threat. Sacramento's Stephon Clark was shot six times in the back, and lay bleeding in his grandparents' backyard for several minutes while the officers who shot him looked on from a safe distance. It turned out that his "gun" was only a cell phone. Saheed Vassell was shot 10 times by New York City officers, as he held out the metal pipe that they mistakenly took for a gun. Vassell suffered from bipolar disorder, and neighbors described him as friendly and harmless. California is now considering legislation that would make it easier to prosecute police officers following a lethal shooting. Conservatives will instinctively wish to oppose this, but they should reconsider. Police accountability is an uncomfortable subject on the political right, but that's going to have to change as debate rages over the Second Amendment. Conservatives should be anxious to persuade their fellow citizens that private gun ownership is consistent with high standards of citizen safety. It's very hard to make that case when terrified police are gunning down unarmed citizens. As these incidents illustrate, there is a relationship between police violence and gun violence in general. Everyone knows at this point that Americans own a lot of guns. Compared with other developed nations, we have a fairly high murder rate but astronomical rates of lethal police violence. The disparities here are really eye-popping. In some European countries, lethal police shootings may number in the single digits across an entire year. Here, we're falling just short of a thousand per annum, and those trends have been surprisingly stable since 2015. It's not surprising that aggressive policing has become a source of civic unrest.
4-5-18 Our society’s sympathy for white killers
Why do white murderers receive more sympathy than black victims? asked Jamelle Bouie. “Take Mark Anthony Conditt, the 23-year-old who terrorized Austin with a series of bombings.” Instead of labeling Conditt—raised as a home-school religious conservative—a terrorist, a hater, or a mass murderer, police called him “a very challenged young man” whose confession was “an outcry” about his dysfunctional personal life. Similarly, the Associated Press described 17-year-old school shooter Austin Rollins, who murdered his ex-girlfriend in Maryland last week, as a “lovesick teenager.” If a killer is white and male, law enforcement and the media treat him as “a full individual entitled to respect and dignity”—troubled, but not evil. But black or Muslim men who kill are usually portrayed as thugs or terrorists, and their crimes are often treated as representative of their entire community. Even nonwhite victims are often portrayed negatively. Consider Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, whose typical teen experiments with marijuana were used to justify why it was right to shoot them dead in the street. “This is racism, but it’s not the crude hatred of the white supremacist.” Even in 2018, you still need to be white to be recognized as a “full person.”
4-5-18 The unseen casualties
In the past two decades, more than 187,000 American students have experienced a shooting during school hours, said journalists John Woodrow Cox and Steven Rich. The resulting fear and survivor’s guilt can linger for years. Thirteen at Columbine.Twenty-six at Sandy Hook. Seventeen at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Over the past two decades, a handful of massacres that have come to define U.S. school shootings are almost always remembered for the students and educators slain. Death tolls are repeated so often that the numbers and places become permanently linked. What those figures fail to capture, though, is the collateral damage of this uniquely American crisis. Beginning with Columbine in 1999, more than 187,000 students attending at least 193 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus during school hours, according to a yearlong Washington Post analysis. Many are never the same. Every day, threats send classrooms into lockdowns that can frighten students, even when they turn out to be false alarms. Thousands of schools conduct active-shooter drills in which kids as young as 4 hide in darkened closets and bathrooms from imaginary murderers. “It’s no longer the default that going to school is going to make you feel safe,” said Bruce D. Perry, a psychiatrist and one of the country’s leading experts on childhood trauma. “Even kids who come from middle-class and upper-middle-class communities literally don’t feel safe in schools.” (Webmaster's comment: When I was going to school during the 50's and 60's we never even thought about it.)
4-5-18 March for Our Lives: A tipping point?
On a crisp and beautiful spring day last week, “we witnessed a new dawn in the struggle against gun violence,” said E.J. Dionne Jr. in WashingtonPost.com. Led by the young survivor-activists of the Parkland, Fla., massacre, some 800,000 students and parents gathered in Washington, D.C., and hundred of thousands more at 844 sister events nationwide for the “March for Our Lives,” in protest against school shootings. Huge crowds chanted their way through New York, Houston, Los Angeles, and other cities, holding signs reading “Hunting season is over” and “I want to read books, not obituaries” and demanding reasonable gun-control measures—including universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Usually, the public outrage after a shooting fizzles out and gives way to sad resignation, said Amanda Petrusich in The New Yorker. This time, “something feels profoundly different.” As fearless young speakers railed against the National Rifle Association, “the energy on the street was crackling.” Then Parkland student Emma Gonzalez led a dramatic, unforgettable silence lasting six minutes and 20 seconds—the time it took her former Marjory Stoneman Douglas classmate to gun down 17 students and teachers. In the long political struggle against the NRA and its cult of gun rights absolutism, could this finally be “a tipping point?” Why, then, did so many teens and parents fill the streets all over the country? asked German Lopez in Vox.com. After the massacres in Newtown, Parkland, Las Vegas, and so many other places, Americans are heartsick and fed up, and “gun control is incredibly popular.” Some 91 percent of voters polled by Fox News favor universal background checks, and 60 percent support an assault-weapons ban. Congress has failed to act mainly because the NRA has historically had the edge on “issue intensity.” For years, gun rights supporters have been far more likely to make guns their top ballot-box priority—the NRA having successfully framed any form of gun control as “a tangible loss” of their rights. Now, though, the Parkland students have flipped the script: Don’t children have a right not to be shot? Their heartfelt stories of their friends’ slaughter—as kids hold up signs reading “Am I Next?”—have demonstrated “the human, personal cost of unabated gun violence in a very public manner.” With the midterms approaching, this powerful movement might “actually sway votes.”
4-5-18 Rick Santorum
Former Republican senator turned CNN analyst, who advised that rather than campaigning for “phony gun laws,” activist teens would be better off “taking CPR classes” to help save their fellow students after they’ve been shot.
4-5-18 Students armed with rocks?
Five-gallon buckets of river stones have been placed in every classroom in a Pennsylvania school district for students to throw at active shooters. Blue Mountain School District Superintendent David Helsel chose river stones in particular because “they’re the right size for hands.” Aspiring school-shooters are now on notice, Helsel said, that “they will face a classroom full of students armed with rocks, and they will be stoned.” (Webmaster's comment: Every student standing up with a rock would become a obvious first target.)
4-5-18 Police shooting
California’s attorney general announced he was stepping in to oversee the investigation into the fatal police shooting of Stephon Clark, 22, an unarmed black man killed in his grandparents’ Sacramento backyard, hours after Clark’s family made an emotional plea for justice over his death. Protests erupted in Sacramento following Clark’s killing; he was shot as police responded to a 911 call that someone had been breaking car windows in the neighborhood. Officers initially said Clark had advanced toward them holding an object. Videotape showed one officer shouting “gun, gun, gun” before he and another officer fired 20 shots at Clark. Afterward, they could only find a cellphone by his body. “Why didn’t you shoot him in the arm? Shoot him in the legs? Send in dogs? Send in a Taser?” said Clark’s weeping grandmother Sequita Thompson at a news conference, amid ongoing demonstrations in the city. “Why, why, why?”
4-5-18 Remington Outdoor
Remington Outdoor, the oldest gun manufacturer in the U.S., has filed for bankruptcy. The company, founded in 1816, says that sales have dropped significantly since President Trump’s election because consumers no longer fear a total gun ban. (Webmaster's comment: Hopefully they go out of business!)
4-5-18 Sabotaging a top U.S. export
In President Trump’s “zero-sum view of the world,” trade surpluses are everything, said Catherine Rampell. Why, then, does he seem “hell-bent on destroying one of our winningest exports: higher education”? The U.S. hosts more international students than any other country in the world. Foreign students spent $39.4 billion on U.S. educational services in 2016, compared with the $7.5 billion Americans forked out on education overseas. That educational trade surplus of nearly $32 billion is close to our surplus in civilian aircraft, and yet doesn’t even include what foreign students spend here on food, housing, and consumer goods. And because students from overseas often pay double or even triple the tuition of their in-state peers, they “typically subsidize” American students, especially at cash-strapped public universities. But international enrollment, after climbing for decades, fell 4 percent last fall, to just under 809,000. The top reasons for not enrolling, according to a recent survey, were “feeling unwelcome in the United States” and visa issues. Trump’s policies, including his effort to sharply curtail the ability of international students to work here after graduation, are also deterring foreign students. Higher education is a thriving, profitable export center. But if we’re not careful, it won’t be for long.
4-5-18 Holocaust survivor murdered
. Two men were arrested this week for the brutal murder of an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, a killing that prosecutors said was motivated by anti-Semitism. Mireille Knoll was stabbed 11 times in her apartment in a working-class Paris neighborhood, and her body partly burned. One of the suspects, a neighbor of North African origin whom Knoll had known since he was a child, “said that Jews have money, and that was the reason he attacked her,” said Francis Kalifat, head of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France. As a child in Nazi-occupied France, Knoll narrowly escaped being rounded up with some 13,000 French Jews in 1942—almost all were subsequently murdered in Auschwitz.
4-5-18 Battle over census citizenship question
At least 12 states said this week they would sue to block the Trump administration from adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 census, amid a wider battle over illegal immigration. The Commerce Department, which oversees the census, said it would resume asking people whether they are citizens—a practice abandoned in 1960—to help enforce the Voting Rights Act, which is designed to protect minority voters. But California and other Democratic-led states argue the question is unconstitutional and would deter both legal and illegal immigrants from answering the census altogether. That could result in undercounts of these populations, they said, and cause some states with high numbers of minorities to receive fewer House seats.
4-5-18 So how flat is it?
An amateur rocket scientist with ambitions of traveling into space to prove that the Earth is flat survived a successful test flight in a steam-powered craft he built in his own garage. “Mad” Mike Hughes, a 61-year-old limousine driver, launched himself almost 2,000 feet above the Mojave Desert in California. After a hard landing aided by two parachutes, he complained of a backache and some cuts. “I’ll feel it in the morning,” Hughes said. “Am I glad I did it? Yeah. I guess. I manned up and did it.”
4-5-18 The craziest late-to-work excuses
The rain, a pileup on the freeway—“The boss has heard them all,” said Gene Marks in The Washington Post. Excuses for being late to work are essentially the same in every industry, according to a CareerBuilder survey of more than 1,000 HR managers. The most common reasons for employee tardiness are pretty “familiar,” with traffic (51 percent), oversleeping (31 percent), and the weather (28 percent) topping managers’ lists. That doesn’t mean a few workers haven’t also offered up some whoppers. Among the most unique and creative excuses bosses have heard: “I was here, but I fell asleep in the parking lot,” “my fake eyelashes were stuck together,” and “an astrologer warned me of a car accident on a major highway, so I took all back roads.” Another that “raised eyebrows”: “I had morning sickness”—from a male employee. “One thing’s for sure: innovation is not dead in America.”
4-5-18 South Korean university boycotted over 'killer robots'
Leading AI experts have boycotted a South Korean university over a partnership with weapons manufacturer Hanwha Systems. More than 50 AI researchers from 30 countries signed a letter expressing concern about its plans to develop artificial intelligence for weapons. In response, the university said it would not be developing "autonomous lethal weapons". The boycott comes ahead of a UN meeting to discuss killer robots. Shin Sung-chul, president of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (Kaist), said: "I reaffirm once again that Kaist will not conduct any research activities counter to human dignity including autonomous weapons lacking meaningful human control. "Kaist is significantly aware of ethical concerns in the application of all technologies including artificial intelligence." He went on to explain that the university's project was centred on developing algorithms for "efficient logistical systems, unmanned navigation and aviation training systems". Prof Noel Sharkey, who heads the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, was one of the first to sign the letter and welcomed the university's response. "We received a letter from the president of Kaist making it clear that they would not help in the development of autonomous weapons systems. "The signatories of the letter will need a little time to discuss the relationship between Kaist and Hanwha before lifting the boycott," he added. Until the boycott is lifted, academics will refuse to collaborate with any part of Kaist.
4-5-18 Killer AI boycott row shows there is research we can’t accept
A South Korean university has dismissed fears it would work on killer robots. The dispute reflects growing worries over autonomous weapons, says Paul Marks. When artificial intelligence and death meet, a flood of headlines is rarely far behind. Last month, they were about a self-driving Uber that ran over and killed a woman as she crossed a road in Arizona. And then a Tesla, driven by its software, hit a central reservation in the US, killing the driver. While there is fierce debate over the real-world capabilities of driverless cars, there is one area where there is broad support for keeping AI at bay: weapons that can target and fire without human oversight. Cue more headlines about AI and death this week with the announcement of a threatened boycott of a South Korean university over fears it would work on such weapons. More than 50 AI and robotics experts said they would stop collaborating with tech research institute KAIST if this were the case. In February, KAIST announced it was establishing a Research Center for the Convergence of National Defense and Artificial Intelligence, alongside sponsor Hanwha Systems, an arms-maker. However, the centre’s stated aims didn’t exclude weapons that let machine intelligences choose and destroy their own targets. The signatories demanded that the institution doesn’t “develop autonomous weapons lacking meaningful human control”. In response, KAIST last night affirmed that it wouldn’t create such weapons and that the research centre was committed to meaningful human control in its projects. It looked likely that the boycott would be called off. Toby Walsh, professor of AI at the University of New South Wales, Australia, and lead signatory of the letter, broadly welcomed KAIST’s assurance. But he still worries about the unpredictability of military AI systems, especially those that use machine learning.
4-5-18 Google should not be in business of war, say employees
Thousands of Google employees have signed an open letter asking the internet giant to stop working on a project for the US military. Project Maven involves using artificial intelligence to improve the precision of military drone strikes. Employees fear Google's involvement will "irreparably damage" its brand. "We believe that Google should not be in the business of war," says the letter, which is addressed to Google chief executive Sundar Pichai. "Therefore we ask that Project Maven be cancelled, and that Google draft, publicise and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology." The letter, which was signed by 3,100 employees - including "dozens of senior engineers", according to the New York Times - says that staff have already raised concerns with senior management internally. Google has more than 88,000 employees worldwide. In response to concerns raised, the head of Google's cloud business, Diane Greene, assured employees that the technology would not be used to launch weapons, nor would it be used to operate or fly drones. However, the employees who signed the letter feel that the internet giant is putting users' trust at risk, as well ignoring its "moral and ethical responsibility". "We cannot outsource the moral responsibility of our technologies to third parties," the letter says. "Google's stated values make this clear: every one of our users is trusting us. Never jeopardise that. Ever. "Building this technology to assist the US government in military surveillance - and potentially lethal outcomes - is not acceptable."
4-5-18 Cyclist Juli Briskman sues after losing job for Trump insult
A US cyclist who was sacked over a viral photo of her making an obscene gesture to President Donald Trump's motorcade is suing her former employer. Juli Briskman was fired by government contractor Akima LLC in November 2017 after a press photographer travelling with the president captured the image. "Americans should not be forced to choose between their principles and their paychecks," her lawsuit states. Her lawyers argue her right to free speech was violated by the firing. Ms Briskman, 50, was on a weekend bike ride in October 2017 in the Washington DC suburbs when she encountered the armoured presidential motorcade. A pool photographer shared the image with journalists, and it quickly became the fodder of late-night TV comedians. "I never imagined that my 'one-finger salute' to the Presidential motorcade and its occupant would cost me my job," the single mother of two teenagers said in a statement accompanying her lawsuit. After she was fired, an online fundraiser to help her find a new job raised over $130,000 (£92,000). "This lawsuit I filed today is not just about me. It's about telling @realDonaldTrump that the government's tax dollars cannot buy employees' off-duty obedience," she tweeted on Wednesday. The lawsuit was filed in Fairfax, Virginia, by the group Protect Democracy, which describes itself as a nonprofit "dedicated to preventing our democracy from declining into a more authoritarian form of government".
4-5-18 Why are female mass shooters so rare?
Nasim Aghdam's attack at YouTube HQ was a rare occurrence: only 4% of mass shooters in the US are female.
4-4-18 Culture clash: Why are some societies strict and others lax?
Nations differ vastly in how much store they set by rules. Understanding why can help foster communication, cooperation and even change for the better. Every culture is riddled with unwritten rules, such as ones on punctuality. They are the invisible scaffold that frames the behaviour of individuals so that the collective can function in a frictionless and productive way. But the rigour of these rules and the exactitude with which they are enforced varies dramatically. Some nations tolerate singing in an elevator, swearing during an interview or entering a bank barefoot, for example, while others frown upon such behaviours. Perhaps these aren’t mere quirks. Perhaps the best way to understand societies is to look at their social norms. That is the argument being made by cultural psychologist Michele Gelfand at the University of Maryland in College Park. She and her colleagues describe societies with strict, rigorously enforced norms as “tight” and those with more laissez-faire cultures as “loose”. They argue that this key difference underpins all sorts of others, from creativity and divorce rates to the synchronicity of public clocks. What’s more, they believe they know why some nations are tighter than others – and how to influence social norms. If they are right, this could clear up many cross-cultural misunderstandings, not just between nations, but also within countries, corporations and households. Ever since 1961, when Stanley Milgram started persuading people to obey his commands to give others electric shocks, experimenters have manipulated social rules and observed the pressure people feel to conform. However, researchers tended to study norms within societies – Western ones, mainly – rather than between them. One person to buck the trend was Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede.
4-4-18 Mind-reading headset lets you Google just with your thoughts
A mind-reading device can answer questions in your head. It works by picking up signals sent from your brain when you think about saying something. SILENTLY think of a question and I will answer it. That might sound like a magic trick, but it is the promise of AlterEgo, a headset that lets you speak to a computer without ever uttering a sound. It’s not quite a mind reader, but it is close. The device brings us a step closer to a world where we can interact seamlessly with machines using only our thoughts. AlterEgo’s creators believe that rather than embarrassingly saying things like “OK Google” or “Hey Siri” and then dictating an email or ordering a pizza, eventually we will just think it instead. AlterEgo is far from perfect, but shows what may one day be possible. When you think about speaking, your brain sends signals to the muscles in your face, even if you don’t say anything aloud. The current AlterEgo prototype (pictured above) has a hook that slips over the right ear and sensors placed at seven key areas on the cheeks, jaw and chin. The sensors can eavesdrop on these speech-related signals, before artificial intelligence algorithms decipher their meaning. The device can currently recognise digits 0 to 9 and about a hundred words. AlterEgo is directly linked to a program that can query Google and then speak the answers back via built-in bone conduction headphones, which transmit the sound in a way that nobody else can hear. This means that the wearer can gain access to the world’s biggest information source using only their mind. “It gives you superpowers,” says Arnav Kapur, who created the device with Pattie Maes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab.
4-4-18 YouTube shooting: Female suspect 'angry over video postings'
The suspect in a gun attack at YouTube's HQ in California had expressed anger over its treatment of her video postings, media reports say. Police in San Bruno, California, say there is no evidence yet that the attacker knew the victims, a 36-year-old man said to be in a critical condition, and two women aged 32 and 27. On her website she also ranted against YouTube, saying: "Videos of targeted users are filtered and merely relegated, so that people can hardly see their videos." She also quotes Adolf Hitler, saying: "Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it." (Webmaster's comment: Exactly what Trump does!) She also wrote: "There is no equal growth opportunity on YouTube or any other video sharing site. Your channel will grow if they want [it] to!" Such "active shooter" incidents are overwhelmingly carried out by men - an FBI report found that out of 160 incidents between 2000-2013, only six of the people who opened fire were women. (Webmaster's comment: That's less than 4%.)
4-4-18 'Clear bags don't make me feel secure'
Two survivors of the Florida school shooting speak about having to wear transparent bags to class. (Webmaster's comment: Clear backpacks will prevent nothing!)
4-4-18 Wall Street falls on trade tit-for-tat
Trade tensions between China and the US have been ramped up after Beijing responded to US plans for putting new taxes on hundreds of Chinese imports. China said it would place 25% trade tariffs on 106 US goods, including soybeans, aircraft and orange juice. The tit-for-tat action comes hours after Washington detailed about 1,300 Chinese products it intended to hit with tariffs - also set at 25%. (Webmaster's comment: So much for Republican's, conservative's and capitalist's principle of "Free Enterprize!" Trade wars always hurt the consumer because everybody has to pay more for goods. Especially since the United States can not make anything less expensive anytime soon.)
4-3-18 Florida shooting: Students return to school with clear backpacks
Students at the school in Florida where 17 people were killed in a shooting in February have returned to class for the first time with transparent bags.. The new measures were announced soon after the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. The shooting led to pupils launching an extensive social media campaign, culminating in a national march for tighter gun laws last month. But students have argued that the new bags will not prevent future attacks. The new rules about the clear rucksacks, which were provided to students for free, came into effect on Monday as classes resumed after the spring break. Other security measures announced last month include mandatory new ID badges for students, with plans also in place for airport-style security scanners. A number of security breaches were reported in the weeks following the killings. The gunman's brother was charged with trespassing on the school grounds and three students were arrested - two for carrying weapons and one for making threats on social media. Students have doubts about the backpacks for several reasons. Some said that the bags would not have prevented the 14 February attack, as the gunman was not a student at the time, while others pointed to the logistical challenges the bags pose, with over 3,000 students at the school. (Webmaster's comment: This is a pathetic joke! It will prevent nothing!)
4-3-18 Superintendent: Why teachers carry guns in Fayetteville
A school superintendent in Texas has told BBC Radio 5 live why some teachers carry guns in his school. Jeff Harvey runs Fayetteville School, which joined the ‘Guardian Program’ in the past few months, and is one of at least 170 schools in the state taking part. The school is 18 miles from the nearest police station. (Webmaster's comment: Our nation will soon be one of armed camps armed to the hilt to protect ourselves from angry males with semi-automatic weapons! But all we'd need to do is ban all semi-automatic weapons!)
4-2-18 Oklahoma teacher strike: 'I have 29 textbooks for 87 pupils'
Three teachers in Oklahoma open up their classrooms to show the impact of funding cuts in the US state. They explain why they're joining thousands of other teachers to skip school and protest on 2 April.
4-2-18 Muslim woman sues Michigan hospital after attack
A 19-year-old Muslim woman is suing Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn, Michigan after she was attacked in the emergency room by a man. Her lawyer says the attack may have been religiously motivated. (Webmaster's comment: No non-white is safe from male white supremacists!)
4-2-18 'I used to be a slave'
Rani Hong was born in Kerala, India. She was kidnapped from her family, sold into slavery, and then sold into adoption. She now works as a Special Advisor to the UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking. This is her story.
4-2-18 The scourge of right-wing terrorism
America has experienced a slew of terrorist attacks over the last year from secret ISIS cells across the country. One man drove his car through a crowd of demonstrators, killing one of them, another murdered a gay Jewish man, and another stabbed two people to death on a train. Overall at least 20 people were killed in this way in 2017 — more than twice as many as the previous year. Just kidding! I was actually referring to right-wing extremists who have done all those things. Everyone can return to their normal daily business. In seriousness, it's becoming increasingly apparent that the United States has a sizable right-wing terrorism problem, and authorities are not doing nearly enough to combat the problem. It's something the next presidential administration will have to be prepared for. Now, that is not to endorse the psychotically belligerent response law enforcement typically uses against suspected Islamist terrorists. There is no need to stack every conservative evangelical church with informants trying to incite gullible or mentally ill parishioners into committing acts of terror, or to assassinate extremist right-wing propagandists (and occasionally their children) with drone strikes, or to throw Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer in Guantanamo Bay without trial indefinitely. Furthermore, the universe of violence in this country is many orders of magnitude greater than that of terrorism. Murders, assaults, suicides, and car crashes happen in the tens of thousands every year, not dozens. Those problems deserve a priority arguably well above terrorism.
4-2-18 Seven dead in massive India caste protests
Seven people have died amid violent protests involving tens of thousands of protesters from the Dalit (formerly untouchable) community across India. They have taken to the streets to protest against a Supreme Court order that they say weakens a law designed to protect lower caste communities. Train services have been affected and some main roads blocked in a number of states where protests turned violent. The federal government has asked the court to review its decision. In its ruling, the court had said that the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, popularly known as the SC/ST Act, had been "misused" in the past. Caste violence continues to be a problem in the country. More than 40,000 crimes against lower castes were reported in 2016 alone, according to official statistics. (Webmaster's comment: It's not just in America that the ruling class is racist!)
4-1-18 The unseen casualties of school shootings
In the past two decades, more than 187,000 American students have experienced a shooting during school hours. The resulting fear and survivor's guilt can linger for years. Thirteen at Columbine. Twenty-six at Sandy Hook. Seventeen at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Over the past two decades, a handful of massacres that have come to define U.S. school shootings are almost always remembered for the students and educators slain. Death tolls are repeated so often that the numbers and places become permanently linked. What those figures fail to capture, though, is the collateral damage of this uniquely American crisis. Beginning with Columbine in 1999, more than 187,000 students attending at least 193 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus during school hours, according to a yearlong Washington Post analysis. Many are never the same. Every day, threats send classrooms into lockdowns that can frighten students, even when they turn out to be false alarms. Thousands of schools conduct active-shooter drills in which kids as young as 4 hide in darkened closets and bathrooms from imaginary murderers. "It's no longer the default that going to school is going to make you feel safe,” said Bruce D. Perry, a psychiatrist and one of the country's leading experts on childhood trauma. "Even kids who come from middle-class and upper-middle-class communities literally don't feel safe in schools.” Samantha Haviland understands the waves of fear created by the attacks as well as anyone. At 16, she survived the carnage at Columbine High, a seminal moment in the evolution of modern school shootings. Now 35, she is the director of counseling for Denver's public school system and has spent almost her entire professional life treating traumatized kids. Yet she's never fully escaped the effects of what happened to her on that morning in Littleton, Colorado. The nightmares, always of being chased, lingered for years. Even now, the image of children walking out of schools with their hands up is too much for her to bear. Teens today "were born and raised in a society where mass shootings are a thing,” she said, recalling how much her community and schoolmates blamed themselves for the inexplicable attack by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. "These students are saying, ‘No, no — these things are happening because you all can't figure it out.' They're angry, and I think that anger is appropriate.” Mass shootings at predominantly white schools draw the most attention from journalists and lawmakers, but The Post has found that children of color are far more likely to experience campus gun violence — nearly twice as much for Hispanic students and three times as much for black students. In total, the Post found an average of 10 school shootings per year since Columbine, with a low of five in 2002 and a high of 15 in 2014. Less than three months into 2018, there have been 11 shootings, already making this year among the worst on record. Overall, at least 130 kids, teachers, and family members have been killed in assaults during school hours, and another 254 have been injured. Schools in at least 36 states and the District of Columbia have experienced a shooting. They happened in big cities and small towns, in affluent suburbs and rural communities. What all of them had in common was the profound damage they left behind.