2-28-19 Religious conservatives will never abandon Trump
Religious conservatives are among the most reliable Republican voters. And while most evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016, many of them have been queasy about him ever since. Mormons, too, voted for him in underwhelming numbers. Indeed, as the journalist Tim Carney notes in his new book Alienated America, Trump did best with the GOP primary voters who attended church the least. So why is it that religious conservatives who voted so reluctantly for Trump — if they voted for him at all — now seem primed to do so in even greater numbers in 2020? Because for many of them, the alternative appears to be voting for late-term abortion and their own cultural marginalization. I write this as the Senate failed to advance the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, a bill mandating medical care for viable fetuses — supporters prefer "babies" — who survive abortions. Just three Democrats voted for it. All six Democratic senators currently running for president voted no. The legislation was inspired by moves in Virginia and New York to liberalize laws concerning late-term abortions. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who later became controversial for other reasons, defended the bill in his state as allowing what sounded to many ears awfully close to infanticide: "The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother." (Northam's spokesperson later denied this interpretation of his remarks.) Abortion is a huge issue — perhaps the most important voting issue — for many religious conservatives. It played a decisive role in moving evangelicals and conservative Catholics from the Democratic Party to the GOP in the 1970s and '80s, and the Democratic Party's continued leftward movement on this issue could keep them in the fold. Voting for a thrice-married, twice divorced man known for extramarital affairs, cavorting with Playboy models, vulgar talk, and an itchy Twitter trigger finger — to say nothing of the accusations of racism and sexual harassment or worse against Trump — certainly opens socially conservative Christians up to charges of hypocrisy. It also arguably makes it harder to reach other Americans, including young people, with their religious missions, or work with fellow Christians in communities of color.
2-27-19 US gun laws: House passes bill expanding background checks
The US House of Representatives has approved a bill expanding background checks for all gun sales, including those at gun shows and on the internet. The legislation is the most significant gun control measure to make progress in Congress in more than two decades. The Democratic-controlled House passed it by 240 votes to 190. The bill is unlikely to be approved in the Senate, where Republicans have a majority. President Donald Trump would also need to sign it for it to become law. The White House said on Tuesday Mr Trump's advisers would recommend that he veto the bill as it would apply "burdensome requirements" that were "incompatible with the Second Amendment's guarantee of an individual right to keep arms". Critics of the legislation, including many Republicans, say the changes would not have stopped many of the recent mass shootings, including the one at a high school in Parkland, Florida, last year in which 17 people were killed, which sparked student-led activism for stronger restrictions. Campaigners say there is strong public support for expanded checks and increasing dissatisfaction with congressional inaction. The Bipartisan Background Check Act seeks to close loopholes that allow people to buy guns without being subjected to a federal background check - under current law, private purchases are excluded from those checks. "This bill delivers that change: ensuring that people who are a danger to themselves and others cannot purchase a gun and perpetuate violence in our communities," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. But Representative Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee where the bill originated, said the legislation was ineffective because it "foolishly presumes criminals who flout existing laws will suddenly submit themselves to background checks." (Webmaster's comment: The Republicans and Trump will make sure that white supremacists and white nationalists can go on killing sprees whenever they get angry!)
2-27-19 Engineered yeast can brew up the active ingredients in cannabis plants
Genes from the cannabis plant have been added to yeast strains to enable them to make cannabinoids, key chemicals from the plant that have therapeutic value. The “cannayeasts” should make it possible to turn sugar into pure forms of many different cannabinoids, and to do so more cheaply and with less environmental damage than farming. “It gives us access to all these rare cannabinoids that might even be better therapeutics,” says Jay Keasling at the University of California, Berkeley, who led the team behind the work. Our bodies produce cannabinoids to help regulate everything from memory to appetite. Marijuana plants make more than 100 chemicals that can also bind to the cannabinoid receptors in our nervous system. The main cannabinoid in cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is what makes people feel “stoned” when they take cannabis. The next most abundant is cannabidiol (CBD). This helps reduce the symptoms of some forms of epilepsy, and may be useful for treating a few other conditions too. Various forms of CBD, such as e-spliffs, have become fashionable lately, and are claimed to have all kinds of benefits. (CBD is legal in many countries where cannabis remains illegal.) But extracting pure CBD or THC from plants, or making it from scratch, is difficult and expensive. Keasling says the genetically modified yeasts will produce pure cannabinoids more cheaply. “We can beat the economics of growing it on farms,” he says. “In part, it’s because there is a lot of manual labour in clipping the buds and all the things you have to do to grow cannabis.” What’s more, producing chemicals in yeast is less environmentally damaging than growing large amounts of a plant just to extract a chemical that is present in tiny quantities, he says.
2-27-19 Inside the Russian factory making the heaviest atoms in the universe
For 118 elements, the trends of the periodic table have held reasonably well. But we might soon make atoms so huge they break all the rules. NESTLED in thick pine forests north of Moscow, close to the Volga river, lies the town of Dubna. Not far from the centre is a leafy avenue of Soviet-era buildings. It is obvious when I visit that they have seen better days. The railway crossing on the approach is broken, its flashing lights constantly proclaiming the coming of a train that never passes. A few of the buildings have broken windows. In the street, there are liquid nitrogen containers with old baked bean cans acting as lids. But there is one place within this complex where something groundbreaking is happening. In a vast concrete hangar, workers in hard hats are busy assembling one of the most powerful research machines in the world. Next to me as I look on is the only living person to have an element named after him. Yuri Oganessian, Mr Element 118, is gazing almost lovingly at the 4-metre-wide metal disc in the centre of the hangar. This is one of the first components of a machine that will soon begin churning out chemical elements – but not ordinary ones. These elements will be superheavy, with atoms so huge that they stick around barely long enough to be sure they exist. By forging these exotic atoms in quantities sufficient to study properly for the first time, Oganessian and his machine should be able to answer some big questions about how our universe formed, and possibly give us a staggeringly powerful source of energy. He might even disprove some of the rules underpinning the periodic table itself. The birth of the modern table traces back to another Russian city, St Petersburg. It was there that a scientific consultant named Dmitri Mendeleev helped cut through the chaos that was chemical science 150 years ago. (Webmaster's comment: Besides the Chinese now the Russians are taking the lead in science over the United States!)
2-27-19 House votes to block Trump border wall national emergency
The US House of Representatives has voted to revoke President Donald Trump's emergency declaration over building a US-Mexico border wall. The bid to overturn the declaration now goes to the Republican-majority Senate, where some conservatives have said they will vote with Democrats. Mr Trump, who declared the emergency after Congress refused funding for the wall, has said he will veto the bill. The resolution passed the Democrat-led House by a margin of 245-182. Thirteen Republicans sided with Democrats in rejecting Mr Trump's national emergency, which suggests Congress would not have the two-thirds majority of both chambers needed to override a veto from the president. Lawmakers are using a provision from the National Emergencies Act to overrule the president, but it requires both chambers to vote for it and to complete voting within 18 days. The president has called the situation at the southern border a "crisis" and on 15 February, issued a declaration of emergency in order to bypass Congress and build a wall with military funding. Democrats say the declaration is unconstitutional and that Mr Trump has manufactured the border emergency. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said on Monday: "This isn't about the border. This is about the constitution of the United States. This is not about politics. It's not about partisanship. It's about patriotism."
2-26-19 Trump doesn't understand economics, says former Fed chair Janet Yellen
A former chair of the US central bank has sharply criticised President Trump's economic knowledge. On American Public Media's Marketplace programme, Janet Yellen said Mr Trump did not understand economic policy or the US Federal Reserve's purpose. She also said that Mr Trump's focus on the US-China trade deficit was misguided. The US and China have been in a year-long dispute, which has seen the imposition of trade tariffs. Ms Yellen, who left the Fed in 2018 and is now at the Brookings Institution research group, also said President Trump's attacks on current Fed chair Jerome Powell were harmful to the public's confidence in the central bank. Asked on Marketplace, the BBC's US radio partner, if she thought the president had a grasp of macroeconomic policy, she replied: "No, I do not." She went on to say Mr Trump did not seem to understand the Fed's two responsibilities of controlling inflation and supporting employment. "Well, I doubt that he would even be able to say that the Fed's goals are maximum employment and price stability, which is the goals that Congress have assigned to the Fed," Ms Yellen told the programme. On the trade gap with China, she said: "When I continually hear focus by the president and some of his advisers on remedying bilateral trade deficits with other trade partners, I think almost any economist would tell you that there's no real meaning to bilateral trade deficits, and it's not an appropriate objective of policy." Mr Powell declined to comment on his predecessor's remarks about Mr Trump. Appearing in front of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Housing Affairs Committee, Mr Powell told Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown who asked about Ms Yellen's remarks: "I won't have any comment on that for you senator." Ms Yellen was appointed as Fed chair by President Obama in 2014 and was the first woman to hold the position. Presidents traditionally keep the Federal Reserve chair who is in charge when they take office in place, but President Trump, as in so many cases, did not stick with that. One reason was thought to be her perceived resistance to deregulating the financial sector.
2-26-19 Alabama editor in KKK row replaced by black woman
An African-American woman will replace the editor of an Alabama newspaper who came under fire last week after calling for mass lynchings of Democrats. Elecia Dexter, 46, will take over as the Democrat-Reporter's editor and publisher, "moving the paper into a new direction", the paper said on Thursday. Longtime editor Goodloe Sutton, who made the comments about raiding Washington DC, still owns the paper. Alabama lawmakers applauded Sutton's departure and replacement. "The Democrat-Reporter has provided the community of West Alabama with quality news for over 140 years and you may have full confidence that Ms Dexter will continue in this tradition as well as moving the paper into a new direction," the newspaper said in a statement to US media. The announcement noted Dexter was entering her role "at a pivotal" and "challenging" time. It added that the newspaper had always been devoted to "integrity and excellence in journalism" under the leadership of Sutton and his wife, Jean. However, there was no apology from Sutton for his 14 February "Klan needs to ride again" article. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) is one of the oldest white supremacy groups in the US, formed just after the Civil War. The group was behind many of the lynchings, rapes and violent attacks on African Americans in the 1900s, and there are still some 5,000 to 8,000 members across the country, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Sutton had called for the KKK to raid gated communities in Washington DC in retaliation for Democrats proposing higher taxes, and later insisted he only wanted to hang "socialist-communists". The op-ed went viral last week, receiving nationwide condemnation, but it was not the first time Sutton published racist opinion pieces in his paper. (Webmaster's comment: This racist will not change his spots! Once this fervor loses the public eye for a while she will be forced out.)
2-25-19 Ex-security officials: 'No factual basis' for Trump wall
Fifty-eight former US national security officials are set to rebuke President Donald Trump's national emergency declaration to build a border wall. Their joint statement will reportedly say "there is no factual basis" for an emergency at the US-Mexico border. Former officials from both parties have signed the letter, including United Nations Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Mr Trump declared an emergency after Congress refused to pay for the wall. "Under no plausible assessment of the evidence is there a national emergency today that entitles the president to tap into funds appropriated for other purposes to build a wall at the southern border," the statement says, according to the Washington Post. The officials also note that contrary to Mr Trump's repeated claims of an illegal crossing "crisis" involving violent criminals and drugs, border crossings are at their lowest point in decades and most illicit substances cross through legal ports of entry. Secretary of State John Kerry, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, CIA Director Leon Panetta and National Security Adviser Susan Rice from the Obama administration have reportedly signed the letter. The 11-page statement comes a day ahead of a congressional vote to block the declaration - one Mr Trump has promised to veto. A coalition of 16 Democratic-led states are also suing Mr Trump's administration over what they call his "misuse of presidential power" regarding the southern border wall. On 15 February, after a record-long partial government shutdown, Mr Trump signed an emergency proclamation in order to obtain $8bn (£6bn) in funding for his border wall from military sources after Congress failed to approve his requested $5.7bn. (Webmaster's comment: Just who is liar Trump working for anyway? He's supposed to be working for the people of the United States!)
2-25-19 How Bernie Sanders would dismantle the American empire
At least when it comes to imperialist war, the last two decades of U.S. foreign policy have been as pointless as they have been gruesome. Foreign policy played little role in the 2016 Democratic primary, but 2020 might be different. Most of the field has concentrated so far on domestic questions, with few staking out much in the way of a signature perspective — with one exception: Bernie Sanders. As Peter Beinart writes at The Atlantic, Sanders has elucidated a platform that is strongly critical of America's imperial blundering, arguing instead for a return of neighborly internationalism and re-engagement with the United Nations. In the democratic socialist tradition, fighting imperialism has usually been a top priority (the vast Soviet empire notwithstanding). Sanders has the most thoroughgoing critique of American empire of any major candidate since George McGovern at least. But it raises the question: Would he be able to roll back the empire from the very pinnacle of imperial power? In the 2016 race, Sanders inadvertently revealed he didn't have all that much to say about foreign policy, only belatedly developing a perspective (which included a delicious slam on the butchery of Henry Kissinger, to be fair). But he has spent the last two years further developing his foreign policy thinking, notably hiring former Center for American Progress expert Matt Duss (subject of a recent profile in The Nation by David Klion). He gave two big foreign speeches over the last two years outlining his views. What Sanders would be able to achieve as president depends heavily on the nature of the American empire. In his first speech, he argued that the bloated defense budget was infringing on other national priorities, by eating up money and resources that could be spent at home, and quoted President Eisenhower's famous "A Chance for Peace" and "military-industrial complex" speeches to that effect. When we consider the last two decades of imperial war and domination (and much before that), the overwhelming impression is one of futility and waste. America has spent something like $6 trillion on just the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — and for what? It's not like U.S. businesses need those export markets, which have been ruined in any case by all the chaos and violence. Even the oil of Iraq could not possibly compensate for that much spending (for $4 trillion, about the cost of the Iraq War, we could have nearly bought half of Iraq's entire oil reserves outright at going prices). Indeed, with the rise of fracking the U.S. itself has become the world's largest oil producer.
2-23-19 History doesn't revolve around the rise of Europe
Let's not forget this! The center of a map tells you much, as does the choice where to begin a story, or a history. Arab geographers used to place the Caspian Sea at the center of world maps. On a medieval Turkish map, one that transfixed me long ago, we find the city of Balasaghun at the heart of the world. How to teach world history today is a question that is going to grow only more and more important. Last summer in the United States, a debate flared when the influential testing agency Advanced Placement (AP) announced a change to its attendant courses, a change in which "world history" would begin in 1450. In practice, beginning world history in 1450 becomes a story about how Europeans came to dominate not one but all the continents, and excludes the origins of alphabets, agriculture, cities, and civilization. Before the 1400s, it was others who did the empire-building; drove sciences, medicine, and philosophy; and sought to capitalize on and extend the trading networks that facilitated the flow and exchange of goods, ideas, faiths, and people. Under pressure, the AP College Board retreated. "We've received thoughtful, principled feedback from AP teachers, students, and college faculty," said a statement. As a result, the start date for the course has been nudged back 250 years to 1200. Consequently, said the board, "teachers and students can begin the course with a study of the civilizations in Africa, the Americas, and Asia that are foundational to the modern era." Where that leaves Plato and Aristotle, or ancient Greece and Rome, is unclear — but presumably none are "foundational to the modern era." That in itself is strange, given that so many of the most famous buildings of Washington, D.C., (for example) are designed in classical style to deliberately evoke the world of 2,000 years ago; or that Mark Zuckerberg, a poster boy for new technologies and the 21st century, admits to the Emperor Augustus as his role model. (Webmaster's comment: This is all about WHITE Supremacy isn't it!)
2-23-19 Rakbar Khan: Did cow vigilantes lynch a Muslim farmer?
A Muslim dairy farmer was stopped late one night last July as he led two cows down a track in rural Rajasthan, south of the Indian capital, Delhi. Within hours he was dead, but who killed him, asks the BBC's James Clayton - the "cow vigilantes" he met on the road, or the police? It's 4am and Dr Hassan Khan, the duty doctor at Ramgarh hospital, is notified of something unusual. "What were the police like when they brought him in? Were they calm?" I ask him. "Not calm," he says. "They were anxious." "Are they usually anxious?" I ask. "Not usually," he says, laughing nervously. The dead man is later identified by his father as local farmer Rakbar Khan. This was not a random murder. The story illustrates some of the social tensions bubbling away under the surface in India, and particularly in the north of the country. And his case raises questions for the authorities - including the governing Hindu nationalist BJP party. Rakbar Khan was a family man. He had seven children. He kept cows and he also happened to be a Muslim. That can be a dangerous mix in India. "We have always reared cows, and we are dependent on their milk for our livelihood," says Rakbar's father, Suleiman. "No-one used to say anything when you transported a cow." That has changed. Several men have been killed in recent years while transporting cows in the mainly Muslim region of Mewat, not far from Delhi, where Rakbar lived. "People are afraid. If we go to get a cow they will kill us. They surround our vehicle. So everyone is too scared to get these animals," says Suleiman. Everyone I speak to in the village where the Khans live is afraid of gau rakshaks - cow protection gangs. The gangs often consist of young, hardline Hindus, who believe passionately in defending India's holy animal. They believe that laws to protect cows, such as a ban on slaughtering the animals, are not being fully enforced - and they hunt for "cow smugglers", who they believe are taking cows to be killed for meat. Often armed, they have been responsible for dozens of attacks on farmers in India over the last five years, according to data analysis organisation IndiaSpend, which monitors reports of hate crimes in the media. (Webmaster's comment: Religious fanatics are everywhere!)
2-23-19 Vatican abuse summit: Cardinal says files were destroyed
A senior Roman Catholic Cardinal has said that files documenting child sexual abuse were destroyed, allowing offences to continue. German Cardinal Reinhard Marx told a conference on paedophilia in the Church that procedures to prosecute offenders "were deliberately not complied with". "The rights of victims were effectively trampled underfoot," he said. The unprecedented four-day summit has brought together 190 bishops from across the world. The Catholic Church has faced growing pressure amid long-running cases of sexual abuse of children and young men, with victims accusing it of failing to tackle the issue. "Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed, or not even created," Cardinal Marx told the third day of the conference in the Vatican. "Instead of the perpetrators, the victims were regulated and silence imposed on them." He urged greater transparency in the Catholic Church's response to the issue, adding: "It is not transparency which damages the church but rather the acts of abuse committed, the lack of transparency or the ensuing cover up." On Friday, Cardinal Marx - who is one of nine advisers to the pope, known as the C9 - met survivors of abuse and members of the global organisation Ending Clergy Abuse. Hundreds of victims have protested outside the Vatican, calling for justice and zero tolerance over the issue. The conference was called for by Pope Francis, who earlier this month admitted that abuse of nuns by members of the clergy had included sexual slavery. Last week, a former Catholic cardinal was defrocked over historical sexual abuse allegations.
2-22-19 U.S. cardinal defrocked
Pope Francis expelled the disgraced ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick from the Catholic priesthood last week, making the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., the highest-ranking American cleric to be defrocked in the church’s global sex-abuse scandal. McCarrick, 88, was found guilty in a church trial on numerous counts of sexually abusing minors and sexual misconduct with adult seminarians and priests—including soliciting sex during confession. He was forced to resign as cardinal last year. “Nothing can give me back my childhood,” said James Grein, who accused McCarrick of sexually abusing him for decades from age 11. “With that said, today I am happy that the pope believed me.” In the past few decades, more than 1,000 priests worldwide have been defrocked for sexual misconduct.
2-22-19 Gay Priests
At least 30 to 40 percent of Catholic priests in the U.S. are gay, according to multiple estimates by researchers and dozens of interviews with priests. Some are sexually active, and some are not, but priests said the widespread homosexuality within their ranks is an open, though rarely discussed, secret. (Webmaster's comment: Being a gay priest is fine, sexually abusing children is not!)
2-22-19 Abrams’ defense of a massacre
President Trump’s appointment of Elliott Abrams as special envoy for Venezuela has resurrected the memory of “one of the worst mass killings in modern Latin American history,” said Raymond Bonner. In a “testy exchange” in Congress last week, Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar pushed Abrams to explain why he tried to downplay the horrific 1981 El Mozote massacre in El Salvador while working in the Reagan administration. The U.S. was sending military and economic aid to the Salvadoran government in order to defeat a left-wing insurgency there. In one operation, a Salvadoran government death squad trained by the U.S. murdered more than 900 peasants at a church in El Mozote. The death squad executed the men with machine guns, then burned the convent where the women and children had been herded, incinerating them alive. The Nazis did the very same thing in Russia! At the time, Abrams dismissed the massacre as “communist propaganda.” He also routinely defended and excused the Salvadoran government’s slaughter of peasants, students, and anyone considered anti-government, including Archbishop Óscar Romero. No wonder Trump picked Abrams as his point man in Venezuela. “As his record in El Salvador suggests, Abrams will say whatever is necessary to accomplish the administration’s will.”
2-22-19 Parkland’s traumatized survivors
The massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School left deep psychic wounds, said Patricia Mazzei in The New York Times. Here, survivors reflect on a year of grief, fear, and activism. The name “Parkland” has become a shorthand for the tragedy that many hoped would mark the beginning of the end of school massacres. But ask the survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in more quiet moments about the awful year since last Feb. 14 and they tell you a different, more personal story. About innocence lost. Dreams undone. Grief delayed. There is the boy who took five bullets to protect his classmates. A hero, the headlines proclaimed. He wanted to be a professional soccer player. “Now I don’t do anything,” he said. There is the young woman who tells people about her best friend, because if she calls him her boyfriend, it does not seem sufficient to convey what they were. Soul mate: That is what he had told her she was to him. Told her before he died. And there are the famous faces, the students everyone thinks they know, who on a recent morning stood at a nearby elementary school where a local charity quietly unveiled a mural, the last of 17 community service projects created to honor each of the victims. David Hogg, the one who went on CNN and dared adults to act like one, lay on a basketball court and painted in a hibiscus flower. Emma González, the one who “called BS” on politicians who were not serious about gun control, crouched barefoot before the wall, cut out a paper stencil and sang along to the Beatles’ song “Here Comes the Sun.” To think of them, and of this upscale suburban high school, as mere symbols of tragedy ignores the complicated tapestry of sadness, fear, and defiance that is now forever part of it—and will be long after the last of these students graduates. In all the activity of the past year, the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, the tour across the country registering voters, the investigations, the hearings, finishing senior year, getting into college—some said they had not had time to take the measure of what they had lost. In a series of interviews, members of the Stoneman Douglas community—students, parents, teachers—reflected on the past 12 months. They did not want to relive that day. They did not want to argue about politics. They did not want to talk about the gunman’s pending trial for capital murder. This is what they wanted to do: mourn.
These are their stories, in their own words.
Anthony Borges, 16: The five bullet wounds he took as he barricaded a classroom door to protect other students have healed, remarkably. But his recovery is far from over. And the prospect of being asked to testify in court looms in the future.
Anna Crean, 16: Now a sophomore, she was inside the freshman building where the shooting took place. Her lab partner, Alyssa Alhadeff, was killed. So were two of her creative-writing classmates. During the interview, loud squawks from birds flying overhead made her jumpy.
Tori Gonzalez, 18: She’s a senior whose boyfriend, Joaquin Oliver, known as Guac, was killed in the shooting, months before he was expected to graduate. Only in December did she take what she considered the first step toward healing: planting a memorial garden at the school to commemorate the lives lost. She keeps the flowers Joaquin gave her last Valentine’s Day—his “last act of love,” she calls them—in a vase.
Manuel Oliver, 51, and Patricia Oliver, 52: Like many other parents, Joaquin Oliver’s mother and father have become dedicated activists since their son’s death. One of them was elected to the local school board. While the families don’t all share the same political views, they stay in touch and occasionally meet, knowing they are bound by the pain of losing a child.
Sarah Lerner, 38: An English and journalism teacher and yearbook adviser at Stoneman Douglas, she compiled stories from shooting survivors into a book. Two of her students, Jaime Guttenberg and Meadow Pollack, were killed.
2-22-19 Parkland: One year later, what has changed?
It’s been one year since the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School changed the gun conversation in this country “by laying the bleeding bodies of their classmates across the nation’s heart,” said Charles Pierce in Esquire.com. When 17 people were shot down in Parkland, Fla., last year, I was prepared for more of the usual outpouring of “thoughts and prayers” followed by no action whatsoever. Instead, Parkland students Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, and others demanded more. They organized massive marches, lobbied lawmakers, and took their case to “every media platform that exists.” In the last year, Florida and eight other states have adopted “Red Flag” laws allowing family and law enforcement to restrict dangerous individuals’ access to guns. Democrats won numerous competitive House districts by campaigning for gun control. “The Parkland kids did that.” Despite Parkland, Americans remain divided on gun control, said Emily Stewart in Vox.com. In a “familiar pattern,” the surge of support for greater gun control after Parkland has faded. Immediately after the shooting, 71 percent of Americans said there should be tighter gun laws. A recent poll found that slipping to 51 percent. But the intensity on the gun control side is stronger than before, so “things still may be shifting in a different direction.” Meanwhile, the carnage continues, said Helaine Olen in The Washington Post. Over the past year, 1,200 children 18 or younger have died from gun violence. In a country that overprotects its kids, this ongoing slaughter “is both a tragedy and a national embarrassment.” (Webmaster's comment: Nothing has changed! We are just as murderous a nation in love with guns as we were before!)
2-22-19 Workplace shooting
After being dismissed last week from the warehouse where he worked for 15 years, Gary Montez Martin shot and killed five co-workers, ultimately dying in a shoot-out that injured five police officers. Montez Martin, 45, used a Smith & Wesson handgun despite a felony conviction that should have prevented him from purchasing the weapon. He pleaded guilty in 1995 to aggravated battery after repeatedly assaulting a former girlfriend in Mississippi, at one point hitting her with a baseball bat and stabbing her with a knife. He served three years in prison and disregarded a 2014 order to relinquish his Illinois firearms license. Among the dead is Trevor Wehner, an intern on his first day of work at the Henry Pratt manufacturing plant. There were four other mass shootings in the U.S. last weekend; in Clinton, Miss., four hostages were killed after a 12-hour standoff following a domestic dispute.
2-22-19 Longer prison terms don’t help
Austria’s coalition government is only pretending to protect women, said Michael Völker. The ruling center-right Austrian People’s Party and its junior partner, the far-right Freedom Party, have just announced a raft of tougher sentences for violent crimes, particularly those with female victims. Rape, for example, will now carry a mandatory minimum prison sentence of two years, up from one. “Whoever goes after women and children in Austria,” said Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, “has earned a tough punishment.” That sounds fair and reasonable—“but it isn’t.” Numerous experts, including many of those the government consulted for its review of sentencing laws, say that increasing the penalties for crimes such as rape, assault, and murder “does little or nothing” to reduce the rates of those crimes. Perpetrators of such acts don’t worry about the consequences, and so adding years to their sentences won’t deter them. It would be far more useful to invest in victims’ rights programs and rape-prevention measures. But that would involve real effort and community engagement. It’s far easier to exploit the recent spate of rapes and murders committed by foreigners that have gained so much media attention. The government is stoking society’s “lust for vengeance” to give us a symbolic policy that won’t stop crime and won’t help victims. (Webmaster's comment: 2 Years for rape? It should be 20!)
2-22-19 The legal fight over Trump’s ‘national emergency’
A coalition of 16 states this week sued to block President Trump from building a wall on the southern border after he followed through on threats to use emergency powers to obtain construction funding in defiance of Congress. Trump declared a national emergency on the Mexican border after grudgingly signing a bipartisan budget deal without most of the border wall funding he’d demanded, in order to prevent another government shutdown. Invoking the National Emergencies Act of 1976, Trump plans to divert about $6.7 billion in spending approved by Congress for other uses toward building at least part of the border wall that was the centerpiece of his presidential campaign. National emergencies have been “signed by other presidents,” Trump said in a Rose Garden news conference. “There’s rarely been a problem. They sign it. Nobody cares.” President Trump’s emergency declaration is a “dangerous fraud,” said Bloomberg.com. “To begin with, there’s no emergency at the border.” The larger issue, however, is Trump’s blatant assault on the constitutional separation of powers. Congress alone has the power of the purse. Lawmakers have granted the White House limited emergency powers to deploy resources in times of genuine crisis, when events move faster than the ordinary budget process. But that legal leeway was never intended to allow presidents to spend money on projects Congress has explicitly rejected. It’s “disgraceful” that McConnell and other Republicans would condone this. So here it is—proof that the president “really does seek unconstitutional powers,” said Yascha Mounk in Slate.com. Autocrats throughout history have trumped up “emergencies” and threats of foreign invasion to consolidate their power. “It would be tempting to think that a similar course of action would be impossible in the United States.” But our system of checks and balances depends on Congress protecting its constitutional turf. After pleading with Trump not to declare an emergency, McConnell and the GOP are caving in once again—an alarming “dereliction of duty.” Is there any power grab by this authoritarian president Republicans would refuse to accept? (Webmaster's comment: 61% of Americans disapprove of Trump declaring a national emergency to build the border wall, including 94% of Democrats and 63% of independents. 85% of Republicans approve of the emergency declaration.)
2-22-19 A greater legal threat than Mueller
The prosecutors who pose the biggest legal threat to President Trump may not be working for special counsel Robert Mueller, said Darren Samuelsohn. As Mueller continues to dig into evidence of Russian collusion, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) is aggressively pursuing several broader investigations into Trump’s activities. The SDNY, which has been nicknamed “the Sovereign District” for its feisty independence, has jurisdiction over Trump’s New York–based campaign operation and businesses—“subjects that aren’t protected by executive privilege.” In an investigation of Trump’s pre-election payoffs to a porn star and a Playboy model, the SDNY has already stated in court papers that the president took part in a crime. It recently demanded the financial records from Trump’s inaugural committee, as prosecutors explore whether there were illegal foreign donations or an exchange of favors for money. The SDNY has recruited a “perfect storm of witnesses,” including Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, and deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates. Trump has reportedly raged to his aides and lawyers about the SDNY, but is largely powerless to stop them. He has good reason to be worried.
2-22-19 Hoda Muthana: Father of IS bride sues US to allow her return
The father of an Alabama college student who left the US to join the Islamic State (IS) group is suing the government over her right to return. Ahmed Ali Muthana filed the lawsuit Thursday, accusing the Trump administration of an "unlawful attempt" to revoke Hoda Muthana's citizenship. Ms Muthana has said she is willing to face federal charges upon her return. But President Donald Trump has ordered officials to bar the former IS propagandist from entering the US. Ms Muthana, now 24, grew up in Alabama and travelled to Syria to join IS when she was 20, withdrawing from college and using her tuition money to purchase a ticket to Turkey without her family's knowledge. She now has an 18-month-old son and is fighting for the right to re-enter the country with him. The lawsuit emphasises that Mr Muthana is not arguing against any prosecution from the US government over Ms Muthana's actions in Syria, but wants lawful recognition of her US citizenship and the citizenship of her child. Ms Muthana has "publicly acknowledged her actions and accepted full responsibility," a statement announcing the lawsuit said. "In Ms Muthana's words, she recognises that she has 'ruined' her own life, but she does not want to ruin the life of her young child." (Webmaster's comment: If she is an American citizen her rights must be recognized. Let her and her child return and then charge her with any crimes she may have committed. Then try her and if convicted sentence her. This is a nations of laws not of powerful persons ruling by decree. That's how it worked in the dark ages.)
2-22-19 United Kingdom: Should ISIS brides be allowed home?
Britain has turned its back on its ISIS brides, said Michael Segalov in The Guardian. When Shamima Begum left the U.K. with two teenage school friends to join ISIS in 2015, we all pitied her. There was consensus that the 15-year-old “was an innocent child who’d been groomed online.” Now that Begum has turned up in a Syrian refugee camp, unrepentant but asking to come home to her family in east London, the narrative has changed. Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he was prepared to block the return of anyone who traveled abroad to join a terrorist group, and it appears that most Britons want him to do just that. Why are we being so callous? Begum, now 19, has been through an incredibly traumatic ordeal. As the wife of a Dutch jihadist 12 years her senior, she bore two children who died of malnutrition and disease and just days ago gave birth to a third in the camp. She’s a “brainwashed young woman,” and she needs our help. (Webmaster's comment: At 15 she was a child not capable of making a rational decision regarding her life. She hasn't a clue. So bring her back and fix her with therapy!)
2-22-19 Lynch The Democrats
The editor of a small-town Alabama newspaper has called for the Ku Klux Klan to “ride again” and “clean out D.C.” of Democrats. Goodloe Sutton, 79, publisher and editor of The Democrat-Reporter in Linden, voiced his controversial opinion in an editorial, and when asked to clarify it, said he hoped the Klan would “get the hemp ropes out, loop them over a tall limb, and hang all of them.”
2-22-19 Anti-Semitism surges
Thousands of people marched in cities across France this week to condemn a rise in anti-Semitic attacks, some of which have emanated from the Yellow Vest anti-government movement. Yellow Vests screamed “Dirty Jew!” and “Go home to Israel!” at noted Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut during a Paris demonstration last weekend; Finkielkraut had been one of the few French intellectuals who supported the movement. Meanwhile, about 100 graves at a Jewish cemetery near Strasbourg were vandalized with swastikas this week. The government recorded 541 anti-Semitic incidents last year, up 74 percent from 2017. “Anti-Semitism is spreading like a poison,” said Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.
2-22-19 Judge grants US citizenship to twin son of same-sex couple
A twin boy born to American and Israeli same-sex parents was wrongly denied US citizenship when his twin brother was not, a US judge has ruled. The judge in Los Angeles found that the state department was wrong to request biological evidence that the boy was blood-related to his American father. The US had originally only granted citizenship to his brother after his test showed DNA from the American dad. The case was one of two filed on behalf of gay American couples with twins. Pro-LGBT immigration group Immigration Equality, which brought the case on behalf of parents Andrew and Elad Dvash-Banks, cheered the ruling. "This is a huge victory for Ethan Dvash-Banks and his family," said Aaron C Morris, executive director of Immigration Equality. "Ethan will no longer be considered the undocumented twin of his brother Aiden," said Mr Morris, who also acts as a lawyer for the couple. US District Judge John F Walter of the Central District of California ruled on Thursday that the Trump administration's US Department of State had wrongly interpreted a statute related to birthright citizenship, and found that blood is not relevant. He said the fact that the parents are married is sufficient enough to grant Ethan his American citizenship. The courts "have come to the conclusion that there is no biological requirement to pass citizenship if you are a married couple," Mr Morris told the BBC, adding that the parents are feeling "greatly relieved". "They were living with a child that was basically considered to be undocumented and now they have proof from a federal judge that he is a citizen just like his twin brother." (Webmaster's comment: Our new authoritarian governement under Trump does not support humans and human rights! They are blantantly anti-human!)
2-21-19 US Coast Guard officer hoped to 'kill every person on the earth'
A US Coast Guard officer has been arrested on suspicion of planning a terror attack, court documents show. Police found a cache of weapons and ammunition at the Maryland home of Christopher Paul Hasson. The self-proclaimed white nationalist had drawn up a list of targets including prominent Democratic politicians, according to prosecutors. He is said to have drawn inspiration from the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik. "The defendant intends to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country," US District Attorney Robert Hur said in the court documents, requesting that he be held in detention pending trial. Mr Hasson is charged with unlawful possession of a firearm and controlled substances, but prosecutors say these "current charges, however, are the proverbial tip of the iceberg". "The defendant is a domestic terrorist, bent on committing acts dangerous to human life that are intended to affect governmental conduct." The 49-year-old is a lieutenant at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington and lives in the Maryland suburb of Silver Spring. The Coast Guard confirmed that a member of the service had been arrested, and said he was no longer employed at the agency's headquarters. Fifteen guns and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition were found in Mr Hasson's basement flat along with illegal drugs, the attorney's office said. When agents raided his home, they discovered a locked case with more than 30 vials of human growth hormone, a steroid that prosecutors say he took thinking that it would "increase his ability to conduct attacks". Officials say he also had ordered more than 4,200 pills of the narcotic Tramadol since 2016, as well as synthetic urine in order to pass random drug tests at work.
2-21-19 Why the next president should tear down Trump's wall
For America's sake, every Democrat running for president should pledge to demolish any wall Trump manages to build. For 20 years, the shining moment for the Republican Party was Ronald Reagan, standing in Berlin, commanding Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Needless to say, today's Republican Party is no longer Reagan's. Today's GOP belongs to President Trump, though America does not. Trump is a historically unpopular president, his party lost the House in spectacular fashion in the last election, and he just declared a very unpopular "national emergency" to sidestep Congress and use the military to build his slightly less unpopular border wall. It's likely Trump will be able to build some of his wall — with America footing the bill. The next president should demolish whatever Trump manages to erect. Not out of spite, but out of necessity. Trump took executive action on his border wall because that was really the only option he had left. He was unable to get Congress to open America's wallet for more than 55 lousy miles of border fencing, even after two years during which his party controlled Congress, even after shutting down the government for 35 days. The 1976 law he used, the National Emergencies Act, has been used quite a few times by numerous presidents, but it has never been used quite like this, to pursue a controversial policy goal after Congress repeatedly declined to fund it. Seizing the power of the purse specifically given to Congress by the U.S. Constitution is legally questionable, taking money from military construction and drug interdiction accounts is politically problematic, and declaring what's been happening along the U.S.-Mexico border for decades an "emergency" borders on lexicological abuse. It's also entirely counter to the stated opinion of the U.S. intelligence agencies.
2-21-19 The toxic legacy of the Vietnam War
Agent Orange was the most notorious chemical defoliant sprayed by US forces over Vietnam to destroy jungles and vegetation during the Vietnam war. Agent Orange contained dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals known to man. From the 1960s, doctors in Vietnam began to see a sharp rise in birth defects, cancers and other illnesses linked to exposure to Agent Orange. Decades later, Vietnamese are still being affected. Witness speaks to Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong about her struggle against the toxic legacy of the war. (Webmaster's comment: And has America compensated Vietnam for this War Crime. Of course not!)
2-21-19 Pope Francis: Concrete action needed against child abuse at Church
Pope Francis has said the world expects "concrete measures" to tackle child sexual abuse by priests and not only "simple and obvious condemnations". At a summit to discuss the scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church, he said "the cry of the little ones seeking justice" had to be heard. Details of sexual abuse have emerged across the world and the Church has been accused of covering up crimes. Survivors say new safeguarding protocols are needed to protect minors. The unprecedented four-day summit at the Vatican is being attended by the heads of all national bishops' conferences from more than 130 countries. The Vatican has tried to reduce expectations with the Pope previously saying the conference - called Protection of Minors in the Church - represented only the beginning of a conversation. The 82-year-old pontiff is under serious pressure to provide leadership and generate workable solutions to what is the most pressing crisis facing the modern Church. "The holy people of God look at us and await from us not simple and obvious condemnations, but concrete and effective measures to put into place. Concreteness is required," he said in a short opening statement. "I ask the Holy Spirit to support us in these days and to help us to transform this evil into an opportunity for awareness and purification. May the Virgin Mary enlighten us to try to cure the serious wounds that the scandal of paedophilia has caused both in children and in believers." (Webmaster's comment: Condemnations? These child sex abusers should all get serious prison time!)
2-21-19 First Vatican summit on child sex abuse
Catholic bishops are meeting to discuss the Roman Catholic church's response to the sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy for the first time. The Vatican says it wants four days of reflection and discussion with survivors and it is likely to be a defining moment for Pope Francis. The BBC spoke to Brigitte, who is a survivor of child sex abuse, and to David Gibson, from Fordham University's Centre of Religion.
2-21-19 Most Blacks Rate Race Relations With Whites as Bad
Americans' perceptions of race relations have changed little since 2016. White and black Americans diverge in their opinions on the quality of relations between various racial and ethnic groups. Americans are generally positive about relations between racial groups, but much less so about black-white relations.Interestingly, there is a noticeable difference between black vs. white views on relations between groups. Black Americans tend to rate relations between themselves and whites, as well as relations between whites and Hispanics, more negatively than either whites or Hispanics do. In fact, in both of these comparisons, blacks clearly differ from the other two groups.
- 51% of all Americans describe black-white relations as good
- 54% of whites, 40% of blacks say black-white relations are good
- Most black Americans rate relations with whites as bad
2-20-19 Drag queen story hour in America's Bible Belt
Drag queen story hours - events where drag performers read to children - are moving out of the big cities and coming to conservative southern US states. A group of drag queens stand in a small room at the back of a public library in South Carolina, their bright outfits in contrast with the beige walls. Children file in and quickly scan the larger-than-life characters before turning their attention to running around and playing. "There are five drag queens walking around this room and not one kid has walked up to us and said 'you're so weird'," says drag queen Rylee Hunty. "Kids exist in their own fantasy world and we fit into that." The children assemble on the floor in front of Rylee as she starts to read. After a page or so, she is interrupted by a young girl who stands up and offers Rylee her bracelet because she's "a princess". Outside the library, armed police watch over groups of protesters and counter-protesters chanting at each other in the rain. Each side representing a different view of the future of the American South. Drag Queen Story Hour was established in San Francisco in 2015, and has since spread across the US and around the world. While the Greenville story hour is not officially linked to the organisation, it is part of a growing movement to bring these events to Middle America. Jonathan Hamilt, a co-founder of Drag Queen Story Hour in New York, told the BBC they have seen "an exponential growth in the number of events in more conservative, rural and southern states over the last year". "We have chapters in Nebraska, Indiana and Alabama. I think it is partly a reaction to the political landscape of the US right now and a need for more queer programming for children." Mr Hamilt says events in rural areas "definitely see more protests". "When you leave big liberal areas, people tend to be more conservative. Their fear can come out as anger."
2-20-19 Catholic cardinals urge end of 'homosexual agenda'
Two prominent Roman Catholic Church cardinals have urged an end of what they call "the plague of the homosexual agenda", telling bishops to break their complicity over cases of sexual abuse. In an open letter, Cardinals Burke and Brandmüller say the Church has wrongly blamed the abuse of power by clergy as the main cause of the scandals. Instead, they say the cases involve priests who have "gone away from the truth of the Gospel". They also openly criticise the Pope. Stories of sexual abuse of minors have emerged across the world and the Church has been accused of covering up crimes committed by priests. Their letter comes on the eve of an extraordinary summit of bishops in Rome called by Pope Francis as an effort to deal with the scandals rocking the Church. Cardinals Raymond Burke, from the US, and Walter Brandmüller, from Germany, reject that the cases of abuse are a result of "clericalism" - a group of men abusing their power, and protecting each other. The cardinals belong to the traditionalist wing of the Church, where many believe homosexuality is a root cause of the clerical abuse, and are both outspoken critics of Pope Francis. "The plague of the homosexual agenda has been spread within the Church, promoted by organized networks and protected by a climate of complicity and a conspiracy of silence," they said. "Sexual abuse is blamed on clericalism. But the first and primary fault of the clergy does not rest in the abuse of power but in having gone away from the truth of the Gospel." In the Catholic hierarchy, cardinals are second in importance only to the pontiff, and there are currently 223 of them. Cardinal Burke has links to former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon, who will reportedly be in Rome during the summit. Mr Burke is president of the advisory board of the right-wing Dignitatis Humanae Institute, which is setting up a leadership course with Mr Bannon's help. Meanwhile, Cardinal Brandmüller caused controversy last month when he blamed homosexuality for the cases of sexual abuse at the Church.
2-20-19 Americans Less Satisfied With Treatment of Minority Groups
Americans' satisfaction with the way several minority groups are treated in society has fallen in recent years. Significantly fewer Americans now than in 2016 are satisfied with the way immigrants, blacks, Hispanics and Asians are treated. As a result, figures for the treatment of blacks and Hispanics now join those for immigrants and Arabs below the majority level. Among blacks, just 18% are satisfied with the way society treats blacks, down from 32% in 2016 and a high of 47% in 2013. Whites and Hispanics are also less satisfied with the treatment of blacks than they were three years ago.
- Fewer satisfied with the treatment of blacks, Hispanics, immigrants, Asians
- Democrats, blacks are significantly less satisfied compared with 2016 survey
- More now say blacks are treated less fairly than whites in a variety of situations
2-19-19 House launches probe of US nuclear plan in Saudi Arabia
The US is rushing to transfer sensitive nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia, according to a new congressional report. A Democratic-led House panel has launched an inquiry over concerns about the White House plan to build nuclear reactors across the kingdom. Whistleblowers told the panel it could destabilise the Middle East by boosting nuclear weapons proliferation. Firms linked to the president have reportedly pushed for these transfers. The House of Representatives' Oversight Committee report notes that an inquiry into the matter is "particularly critical because the Administration's efforts to transfer sensitive US nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia appear to be ongoing". President Donald Trump met nuclear power developers at the White House on 12 February to discuss building plants in Middle Eastern nations, including Saudi Arabia. And Mr Trump's son-in-law, White House adviser Jared Kushner, will be touring the Middle East this month to discuss the economics of the Trump administration's peace plan. Lawmakers have been critical of the plan as it would violate US laws guarding against the transfer of nuclear technology that could be used to support a weapons programme. They also believe giving Saudi Arabia access to nuclear technology would spark a dangerous arms race in the volatile region. Saudi Arabia has said it wants nuclear power in order to diversify its energy sources and help address growing energy needs. But concerns around rival Iran developing nuclear technology are also at play, according to US media. Previous negotiations for US nuclear technology ended after Saudi Arabia refused to agree to safeguards against using the tech for weaponry, but the Trump administration may not see these safeguards as mandatory, ProPublica reported. Mr Trump is reportedly "directly engaged in the effort".
2-19-19 New York City bans hair discrimination to fight racism
The New York City Commission on Human Rights has released guidelines against targeting people on the basis of their hairstyle, classing this as racist discrimination. The guidelines aim to protect the rights of New Yorkers in schools, work places and public places, where black people are disproportionately affected by policies banning hairstyles such as afros, cornrows and locs. A report from the commission said black hairstyles are often deemed "unprofessional" and by limiting how workers and students wear their hair, organisations "perpetuate racist stereotypes". NYC Human Rights Commissioner Chair Carmelyn P Malalis said hairstyle policies were not about professionalism but rather a way of "limiting the way black people move through workplaces, public spaces and other settings". She said the guidelines will help organisations "understand that black New Yorkers have the right to wear their hair however they choose without fear of stigma or retaliation". Brittny Saunders and Demoya Gordon were both part of the team at the commission writing the guidelines and could offer personal experiences of hair discrimination. "When I started work, I chemically straightened my hair because I understood that the expectation would be that I would present myself with straight hair," said Ms Saunders. "It would be against expectations to have natural hair." "You police yourself accordingly," agreed Ms Gordon. "When I started going to interviews at law firms I knew that there would already be a lot of scepticism about my place as a black woman in that space and that wearing my locs down would not be considered 'professional'. "It was almost 6 years into my career that I stopped pinning my locs up and started wearing them down most of the time. "It was only when I moved from working in a law firm to a non-profit organisation that I felt able to do this and even then I would still wear it up when I had to go to court or take a deposition." Businesses found to have flouted the guidelines could face fines of up to $250,000 (£191,000).
2-20-19 LGBT group severs links with Navratilova over transgender comments
A US-based organisation that campaigns for LGBT sportspeople has cut its links with tennis legend Martina Navratilova over comments she made about male-to-female transgender athletes. The 18-times Grand Slam winner wrote it was "cheating" to allow transgender women to compete in women's sport as they had unfair physical advantages. Athlete Ally said the remarks were transphobic and perpetuated myths. It said it had sacked the star from its advisory board and as an ambassador. In an article for the British newspaper The Sunday Times, Navratilova wrote: "A man can decide to be female, take hormones if required by whatever sporting organisation is concerned, win everything in sight and perhaps earn a small fortune, and then reverse his decision and go back to making babies if he so desires." She added: "It's insane and it's cheating. I am happy to address a transgender woman in whatever form she prefers, but I would not be happy to compete against her. It would not be fair."Trans sportswomen quickly hit back. Rachel McKinnon, who last year became the first transgender woman to win a world track cycling title, called the comments "disturbing, upsetting and deeply transphobic". In its statement, Athlete Ally said Navratilova's comments were "transphobic, based on a false understanding of science and data, and perpetuate dangerous myths that lead to the ongoing targeting of trans people through discriminatory laws, hateful stereotypes and disproportionate violence". It added: "This is not the first time we have approached Martina on this topic. In late December, she made deeply troubling comments across her social media channels about the ability for trans athletes to compete in sport. We reached out directly offering to be a resource as she sought further education, and we never heard back." Athlete Ally said Navratilova joined as an ambassador and was honoured with an Action Award at the group's first annual gala in 2014. She has since taken part in advocacy campaigns including signing an open letter calling on the International Basketball Federation (Fiba) to overturn its ban on the hijab and an open letter speaking out against an anti-trans bill in Texas in 2017.
2-19-19 Mexico border wall: US states sue over emergency declaration
A coalition of 16 US states led by California is suing President Donald Trump's administration over his decision to declare an emergency to raise funds for a Mexican border wall. Mr Trump made the declaration on Friday to bypass Congress after it refused to approve $5.7bn (£4.4bn) for the wall. The states say they want to block his "misuse of presidential power". The Democrats oppose funding Mr Trump's barrier, a key campaign pledge, and have vowed to contest his plan. The president's announcement came after he signed a spending bill to avoid another government shutdown that granted him only $1.375bn for new border barriers. Mr Trump said he had not needed to declare the emergency but had done so in the hope of obtaining the funds for the wall more quickly. Analysts say these comments could undermine his legal arguments. The lawsuit filed on Monday seeks to stop Mr Trump acting on his emergency declaration to build the wall, saying the president does not have the power to divert funds approved by Congress to pay for his project. It says Mr Trump's decision is "unconstitutional and unlawful" and that "by the president's own admission" an emergency declaration is not necessary."We're suing President Trump to stop him from unilaterally robbing taxpayer funds lawfully set aside by Congress for the people of our states. For most of us, the office of the presidency is not a place for theatre," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said. Joining California in the lawsuit were Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Virginia and Michigan. The states - all of them but Maryland governed by Democrats - say the lawsuit aims to protect their residents, natural resources and economic interests. They argue that Mr Trump's order to divert funds would cost them millions of dollars. The White House has not commented on the lawsuit, filed in the court for the Northern District of California. (Webmaster's comment: Humanity is under assault by Trump, Roger Stone, the KKK, and the Neo-Nazis!)
2-19-19 Roger Stone sorry for judge crosshair post
Roger Stone has apologised to a US judge after posting on Instagram an image of her next to what appeared to be the cross-hairs of a gun sight. The ex-Trump campaign adviser was arrested in January and charged with seven counts as part of Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. In a comment alongside the image of Judge Jackson, who is overseeing his trial, Mr Stone called the special counsel a "deep state hit-man". Mr Stone's post, now taken down, also called the legal proceedings a "show trial" and Judge Jackson "a [former US President Barack] Obama appointed judge who dismissed the Benghazi charges against Hillary Clinton". In 2017, Judge Jackson dismissed legal action against Mrs Clinton taken by the parents of two of the four Americans killed in a 2012 attack on the US consulate in Libya. Judge Jackson also dismissed a related claim Mrs Clinton, who was US secretary of State at the time, had defamed the parents by lying about them in the press. In a letter filed with the court, Mr Stone wrote: "Please inform the court that the photograph and comment today was improper and should not have been posted. "I had no intention of disrespecting the court and humbly apologise to the court for the transgression." He also posted on Instagram: "A photo of Judge Jackson posted on my Instagram has been misinterpreted. "This was a random photo taken from the internet. "Any inference that this was meant to somehow threaten the judge or disrespect court is categorically false." Stone has been ordered to appear at a hearing on the 21st to explain the social media post. "Defendant is ordered to show cause at a hearing to be held on Thursday 21, 2019" stated an electronic filing signed by Judge Berman.(Webmaster's comment: He threatens a judge and now says it was a mistake. He didn't get away with it and now he's sorry!)
2-19-19 Alabama newspaper editor calls on KKK to lynch Democrats
The editor and publisher of a local paper in Alabama is under fire for penning an editorial calling for mass lynchings by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The opinion piece ran in his print-only newspaper, the Democrat-Reporter, last Thursday, Goodloe Sutton told another newspaper. He said Democrats were going to raise taxes and that the KKK should hang them and raid Washington DC. Alabama lawmakers have called for Sutton to resign. The editorial began garnering attention online after students from Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, tweeted photographs of the article. Sutton could not be immediately reached for comment on the matter. He was once a celebrated journalist, commended for his ethics by other news outlets - including the New York Times and American Journalism Review. A short editorial piece published without a byline on 14 February was entitled: "Klan needs to ride again." "Time for the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again," the article said, referencing the KKK's terrorising raids through black communities. "Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats are plotting to raise taxes in Alabama... This socialist-communist ideology sounds good to the ignorant, the uneducated, and the simple-minded people." "Seems like the Klan would be welcome to raid the gated communities up there." Sutton later confirmed to the Montgomery Advertiser that he had written the article. "If we could get the Klan to go up there and clean out DC we'd all been better off," he said. "We'll get the hemp ropes out, loop them over a tall limb and hang all of them." "It's not calling for the lynchings of Americans. These are socialist-communists we're talking about." Sutton also told the paper he did not believe the Klan was a violent organisation. "They didn't kill but a few people. The Klan wasn't violent until they needed to be." (Webmaster's comment: The EVIL is back, but has it really ever left us?)
2-19-19 Jewish graves desecrated near Strasbourg in eastern France
Some 80 graves have been desecrated with swastikas at a Jewish cemetery in eastern France, local officials say. The damage was discovered on Tuesday, ahead of nationwide marches against a rise in anti-Semitic attacks. It occurred at a cemetery in the village of Quatzenheim, on the night of Monday into Tuesday, town hall officials told the franceinfo website. President Emmanuel Macron has condemned anti-Semitic abuse after a prominent intellectual was targeted. Police stepped in to protect the philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut, after he was bombarded with insults and anti-Jewish taunts by a group of "yellow vest" protesters in Paris at the weekend. Mr Macron visited the cemetery to inspect the damage on Tuesday, before he heads to the Paris Holocaust memorial. "It's important for me to be here with you today," he told local leaders and members of the Jewish community. The Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has warned that anti-Semitism is "spreading like poison" in the country, with a series of anti-Jewish incidents reported in central Paris last weekend. These included post-boxes featuring a Holocaust survivor's portrait being vandalised with swastikas. Official data suggested there had been a 74% rise in anti-Semitic attacks in France last year. Jewish groups have also been warning that a rising far right across Europe has been promoting anti-Semitism and hatred of other minorities. Crime data from Germany released last week revealed that anti-Semitic offences had increased by 10% over the past year - including a 60% rise in physical attacks. Attacks have been blamed on both the far right and Islamists. (Webmaster's comment: The EVIL is back, but has it really ever left us?)
2-18-19 50 Cent: Claims police told to 'shoot' rapper investigated
Police in New York are investigating claims a senior officer told members of his team to "shoot" the rapper 50 Cent. It's alleged Deputy Inspector Emanuel Gonzalez made the remark in June last year at a police roll-call for a boxing match which the star was due to attend. 50 Cent said on Sunday he was taking the threat "very seriously" and was consulting with his lawyers. The New York Police Department told Radio 1 Newsbeat the matter "is under internal review". The New York Daily News reported that Deputy Inspector Gonzalez told his officers to shoot the rapper "on sight" but later tried to pass it off as a joke. It's claimed at least one other person at the event reported the comment to the NYPD internal affairs department. One month before, Dect Insp Gonzalez reportedly filed an aggravated harassment complaint against 50 Cent. He said the rapper had threatened him on Instagram - in response to claims that Dect Insp Gonzalez had unfairly investigated one of 50 Cent's favourite nightclubs. 50 mocked the complaint in posts online, suggesting the police get "back to fighting crime". Writing on social media following news of the internal NYPD investigation into Dect Insp Gonzalez, 50 Cent said he was concerned that he was "not previously advised of this threat by the NYPD". He described Dept Insp Gonzalez as a "gangster with a badge" but told his Twitter followers: "Keep in mind there are some good people working in law enforcement. "Like the officers that reported what he said to them." (Webmaster's comment: Many police departments are obviously laced with homicidal racists! They even openly discuss killing blacks.)
2-18-19 Can female politicians make America healthy again?
Recent studies show having women in government is good for a nation's longevity. This year, a record number of women entered public office. In the U.S. House of Representatives, 102 women, plus four non-voting female territorial delegates, now make up nearly 25 percent of the chamber. In the Senate, five new women were elected in November's midterms, bringing the total number of female senators to a historic 25. These numbers are encouraging for a lot of reasons, but perhaps one of the most surprising has to do with the nation's overall wellbeing. A recent Canadian study suggests the number of women in government is directly tied to national health. For the study, which was published in the journal Social Science & Medicine — Population Health, researchers examined the percent of women elected to public office in Ottawa and across Canada's 10 provinces over the past five decades and found that electing more women made "real and substantive contributions" to the population's health. They also found that having more women in government was empirically predictive of a country's mortality rates. This is welcome news for health advocates: The average life expectancy in America has fallen three years in a row, and nearly 40 percent of American adults are obese. Retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling even warned our declining health could be bad for national security, saying, "Unless we see significant change in physical activity and nutrition in America our national security will be affected." So, can the new class of female lawmakers turn the tide? The connection between women in government and national health is hard to pinpoint, but it seems to come down to how female politicians prefer to allocate government spending. The Canadian study found elected women prioritize governing on "behalf of women and children" more than their male counterparts, and are more apt to distribute funds "based on their experiences either as women in the labor force or as mothers." As a result, they're more likely to push for more generous social policies like universal health care, subsidized childcare, and for a more egalitarian distribution of resources. They also advocate for social equality and better women's rights. Previous research shows government spending on these kinds of social programs is connected to an increased life span. For example, a 2016 study demonstrated that income inequality can dictate who lives longer. As Vox puts it, between 2001 and 2014, "the richest Americans gained about five years of longevity, while life expectancy for the poor didn't budge." Another recent study titled "Shorter lives in stingier states" found Americans die earlier in part because of our country's parsimonious welfare system. The 2016 report determined national life expectancy would be nearly four years longer if the U.S. matched the average benefits of other high-income nations with more generous systems.
2-18-19 YouTube aids flat earth conspiracy theorists, research suggests
YouTube is playing a significant role in convincing some people that the Earth is flat, research suggests. A study quizzed people at flat earth conferences and found most cited videos viewed on the site as a key influence. They were won over by videos which claimed to amass evidence proving the Earth was not a spherical planet. YouTube needed to do a better job of ensuring visitors get accurate information alongside such videos, said the researcher behind the study. "There's a lot of helpful information on YouTube but also a lot of misinformation," Prof Asheley Landrum from Texas Tech University, who carried out the study, told The Guardian. The algorithms the site used to guide people to topics they might be interested in made it easy to "end up down the rabbit hole" of misinformation, said Prof Landrum. "Believing the Earth is flat is of itself is not necessarily harmful, but it comes packaged with a distrust in institutions and authority more generally," she added. The study involved interviews with 30 attendees at two conferences. Questioning revealed YouTube had suggested the flat earth videos after attendees had watched other clips at home about conspiracy theories. Some said they only watched the videos to criticise them but were won over by the arguments being advanced. The results from Prof Landrum's study were presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Science this weekend. Prof Landrum said there was a need for scientists and science advocates to produce their own YouTube videos that answered and debunked the claims of flat earthers and conspiracy theorists. "The only tool we have to battle misinformation is to try and overwhelm it with better information," said Prof Landrum. (Webmaster's comment: Conspiracy theorists have only a few brain cells. They are reverting to being primitive humans!)
2-17-19 The sixth mass extinction
The populations of the world’s wild animals have fallen by more than 50 percent, and humanity is to blame. (Webmaster's comment: If it takes us 100-200 years to kill off 75% or more of all species THAT IS A MASS EXTINCTION. 100-200 years was only a blink of the eye in previous extinctions! Mass extinction events do not happen overnight. It might take 100's of years for the full effect of an asteroid strike or a massive volcanic eruption to play out. So will human devastation of most animal life.)
- What’s gone wrong? As the human population has swelled to 7.5 billion, our species’ massive footprint on planet Earth has had a devastating impact on mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and marine life. We’ve driven thousands of species to the edge of extinction through habitat loss, overhunting and overfishing, the introduction of invasive species into new ecosystems, toxic pollution, and climate change.
- How many species are already extinct? Scientists can only guess. Earth is home to between 9 million and as many as 1 trillion species—and only a fraction have been discovered. Vertebrate species have, however, been closely studied, and at least 338 have gone extinct, with the number rising to 617 when one includes those species “extinct in the wild” and “possibly extinct.”
- How many species are endangered? There are 26,500 species threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global network of some 16,000 scientists. That includes 40 percent of amphibian species, 33 percent of reef-building corals, 25 percent of mammals, and 14 percent of birds. There are now only 7,000 cheetahs left, and the number of African lions is down 43 percent since 1993.
- Is a mass extinction underway? Possibly. Many scientists now believe humans are living through a “mass extinction,” or an epoch during which at least 75 percent of all species vanish from the planet. The previous five mass extinctions occurred over the past 450 million years; the last one occurred about 66 million years ago, when the aftermath of a massive asteroid strike wiped out the dinosaurs.
- How fast is this happening? Extremely fast. Species extinction is an ordinary part of the natural processes of our planet; in fact, 99 percent of all species that ever lived on Earth are gone. It’s the pace of recent extinctions that is alarming. More than half of the vertebrate extinctions since 1500 have occurred since 1900.
- What are the consequences? Potentially enormous. The loss of species can have catastrophic effects on the food chain on which humanity depends. Ocean reefs, which sustain more than 25 percent of marine life, have declined by 50 percent already—and could be lost altogether by 2050. Insects pollinate crops humans eat.
- Can extinct species be resurrected? Using DNA technology, scientists are working on re-creating species that have disappeared. The technology, called “de-extinction,” is likely at least a decade off, although there are a few possible ways to go about it.
2-17-19 Yellow-vest protests: Macron condemns anti-Semitic abuse
French President Emmanuel Macron has condemned anti-Semitic abuse directed at a prominent intellectual by a group of "yellow vest" protesters in Paris. Police stepped in to protect the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut after he was bombarded with insults and anti-Jewish taunts in the French capital. President Macron said it was an "absolute negation" of what made France great and would not be tolerated. Tens of thousands took part in anti-government protests on Saturday. Prosecutors have now opened an investigation into the incident, and France's interior minister said on Sunday that a suspect alleged to be the "main perpetrator" had been identified by the authorities. Police used tear gas to control crowds as the so-called "yellow vest" (gilets jaunes) demonstrators took to the streets for the 14th consecutive weekend across the country. About 5,000 turned out in Paris, officials said. Officers in Paris intervened to form a barrier after a group of individuals involved in the march confronted Mr Finkielkraut and started verbally insulting him. The 69-year-old Jewish academic told Le Parisien newspaper that he heard people shouting "dirty Zionist" and "throw yourself in the canal". He told newspaper Journal du Dimanche he felt an "absolute hate" directed at him, and would have been afraid for his safety if the police were not there, although he stressed that not all of the protesters were aggressive. Mr Finkielkraut, the son of Polish immigrants, has previously expressed sympathy for the protesters, but also voiced criticism of the movement. He said that President Macron had spoken with him by telephone on Saturday to offer his support. The incident comes after Interior Minister Christophe Castaner warned that anti-Semitism was "spreading like poison" in the country, with a series of anti-Jewish incidents reported in central Paris last weekend. These included post boxes featuring a holocaust survivor's portrait being vandalised with swastikas. (Webmaster's comment: Anti-Jewish hatred is spreading all over Europe, AND in the United States!)
2-16-19 Mexico border wall: Trump faces fight in the courts
President Trump faces legal challenges to his decision to use emergency powers to build a wall on the US border with Mexico. California and New York said they would take legal action to challenge his move to bypass Congress and secure funding for the project. Building the wall was a key pledge of Mr Trump's campaign. Democrats said it was a "gross abuse of power" and vowed to contest it "using every remedy available". On Friday, Mr Trump signed the emergency declaration along with a spending bill aimed at preventing a repeat of a recent government shutdown. Declaring an emergency could give him access to billions of dollars. Mr Trump announced the plan after Congress refused funding for the wall. Within hours, the first legal challenge against the declaration of national emergency was launched. A liberal advocacy group, Public Citizen, sued on behalf of a nature reserve and three Texas landowners who have been told the wall may be constructed on their properties. Governor Gavin Newsom of California dismissed the president's decision as "political theatre". "He's been embarrassed, and his base needs to be fed," he told reporters. "Fortunately, Donald Trump is not the last word. The courts will be the last word," he added. New York state's Democratic attorney general, Letitia James, said the state would not "stand for this abuse of power and will fight back with every legal tool at our disposal." The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said it would file a lawsuit in the coming days to curb "this blatantly illegal executive action". On Friday the two most senior Democrats - House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democrat leader Chuck Schumer - said they would challenge the "power grab by a disappointed president" in Congress and in the courts. Ms Pelosi also seized on a remark by Mr Trump in response to a question from a reporter, in which he said he "didn't need to do this". Analysts suggest that this remark could undermine Mr Trump's case that the country is facing an emergency. (Webmaster's comment: Trump is counting on his lackeys in the Supreme Count!)
2-16-19 Texas detention centre stops force-feeding migrants
A US immigration detention centre in the state of Texas has stopped force-feeding migrants, officials say. Six men on hunger strike at a centre in El Paso were being fed forcibly through plastic nasal tubes. Relatives said it was causing severe nosebleeds and vomiting, while the UN warned it could amount to torture. Earlier this week a US district judge told Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop force feeding two of the men. ICE officials told AP that a total of 12 detainees in El Paso were refusing food in protest against conditions at the detention centre. The detainees, mainly from Cuba and India, say guards verbally abuse and threaten to deport them. They are also protesting against the length of time they are being detained while they await legal proceedings. Another four men were on hunger strike in Miami, Phoenix, San Diego and San Francisco, ICE said last month. (Webmaster's comment: "The Brutes Of ICE" would make a great film about "Making America Great Again!")
2-16-19 Aurora shooting: Five killed by sacked man at Illinois firm
A man who was being fired from his job shot dead five people and injured several others at his workplace in the US state of Illinois, police say. The gunman was killed during an exchange of fire with police officers. Five officers were shot and wounded. The shooting took place at a manufacturing company in Aurora, a suburb about 40 miles west of Chicago. Police named the gunman as Gary Martin, 45, who had worked at the Henry Pratt company for 15 years. Aurora police chief Kristen Ziman said late on Friday they had information that his employment was being terminated that day. Officers declined to speculate on a motive for the attack, but the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper reports that his family say he was "stressed out" by being made redundant by the company, which makes valves for large water pipes. (Webmaster's comment: Typical American male brute who is looking for any excuse to kill something or somebody when he is angry!)
2-15-19 Border face-off
President Trump traveled south to the Rio Grande this week to rally support for a border wall, while former Rep. Beto O’Rourke held a counter-rally in his hometown, less than a mile away. Behind a sea of signs that read “Build the Wall” and “Finish the Wall,” Trump didn’t wait long to take a shot at the Democratic phenom, calling him “a young man who’s got very little going for himself, except he’s got a good first name.” O’Rourke, 46, touted El Paso’s low crime rates, telling his rallygoers, “We’re not safe because of walls but in spite of walls.” Trump insisted that fencing along the border had cut El Paso’s crime rate and counseled his supporters not to trust crime statistics, which showed no such decline. The city’s Republican major has also rebuffed wall proposals; at his rally, Trump called the mayor “full of crap.”
2-15-19 Baptist church scandal
About 380 Southern Baptist church workers were accused of sexual misconduct over the past 20 years, according to an investigation published this week by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. The 380 include ministers, youth pastors, Sunday school teachers, and church volunteers, about 220 of whom were convicted or took plea deals, while dozens more have pending cases. Some of the accused continued to work in the church. Their victims exceed 700 in number, many of whom were ostracized by their churches or urged to forgive their abusers and get abortions. Children as young as 3, the report says, “were molested or raped inside pastors’ studies and Sunday school classrooms.” Leaders at the Southern Baptist Convention are accused of concealing or mishandling victims’ allegations. SBC President Rev. J.D. Greear called abuses described in the report “pure evil.”/p>
2-15-19 Democratic lawmaker accused of anti-Semitism
Freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar apologized this week after sparking a firestorm of criticism from both Democrats and Republicans for suggesting that Israel’s allies in Congress were motivated solely by money. The Somali-American triggered outrage with a tweet in which she said that U.S. lawmakers’ support for the Jewish state is “all about the Benjamins baby,” using slang for $100 bills. When Omar was asked where that cash was coming from, she tweeted “AIPAC!” referring to the pro-Israel lobbying group. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders decried the Minnesota representative’s “use of anti-Semitic tropes”—namely that wealthy Jews use their fortunes to secretly manipulate politicians. Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy promised to take action to punish Omar for spreading “hatred.” Omar, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, apologized the following day and thanked “Jewish allies and colleagues” for teaching her about “the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.” This is not the first time that Omar, a campaigner for Palestinian rights, has been accused of anti-Semitism. Just weeks earlier, she was forced to make amends for a 2012 tweet in which she said that Israel had “hypnotized” the world. Republicans have some nerve criticizing Democrats, said Zack Beauchamp in Vox.com. Trump peddled anti-Semitic imagery in his campaign, and McCarthy tweeted last year that prominent Jewish Democrats were trying to “buy” the midterms. Still, even if GOP outrage comes in bad faith, Democrats have to crack down on anti-Semitism or risk the fate of Britain’s Labour Party. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who once called Hamas and Hezbollah his “friends,” made anti-Semitism mainstream in the party. Now 40 percent of British Jews say they’d leave the country if Labour took power. “If the line isn’t drawn somewhere, the results for Jews—who remain a vulnerable minority—can be devastating.”
2-15-19 ‘Religious freedom’ isn’t for Muslims
So now we know what the Supreme Court’s conservatives mean by “religious freedom,” said Wajahat Ali. By a 5-4 vote, the court last week allowed Alabama to proceed with its execution of Domineque Ray, a convicted murderer and convert to Islam, even though the state had denied his request to have his imam at his side as he was killed. The state did offer to have a Christian prison chaplain present. “How would these five justices have responded if all the facts were the same but Ray were a Christian?” As Justice Elena Kagan noted in her dissent, the ruling violates the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which forbids the government from favoring one religion over another. In ruling after ruling, the conservative justices have given Christianity special status and shielded it from laws that govern everyone else, such as in the ruling allowing a Christian to refuse to bake a cake for a gay wedding; Muslims, meanwhile, can be discriminated against with impunity, as in President Trump’s travel ban. But if “religious liberty” allows you “not to bake and sell a cake, maybe it should also allow you to have an imam at your own execution.”
2-15-19 The 400 richest Americans
The 400 richest Americans have more wealth than the 150 million adults who make up the bottom 60 percent of the country’s wealth distribution, according to a new study by University of California at Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman. “U.S. wealth concentration seems to have returned to levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties,” Zucman writes.
2-15-19 Where Your Money Goes
Despite all the attention tech gets, the biggest five insurance and health benefits companies have greater revenues than the FAANGs—Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google. The top five health insurers and benefit managers expect $787 billion in revenue for 2019, compared with $784 billion for the FAANGs. Pharmacy benefit manager CVS, the biggest of the health-care group, expects revenues of $246 billion.
2-15-19 Socialism: What it really means
Like other Republicans, President Trump is worried about the creeping menace they call “socialism,” said Paul Krugman in The New York Times. “America will never be a socialist country,” he proclaimed in his State of the Union address. But what do Trump and the Right actually mean when they cry “socialism”? Certainly not enormously popular programs like Medicare and Social Security, or the regulations that “temper the excesses of a market economy.” In fact, what the Left actually wants is “a market economy, but with extreme hardship limited by a strong social safety net and extreme inequality limited by progressive taxation.” In other words, a “social democracy” like Denmark or Norway, not a Marxist autocracy like Venezuela. In Venezuela, said Greg Ip in The Wall Street Journal, the government has seized the oil industry and other means of production, planting the seeds for the country’s economic collapse. Here, Democrats are proposing steeply progressive taxes and programs such as “Medicare for all” that are “certainly liberal, probably radical, possibly unwise. But socialist? Hardly.” This semantic argument is missing the point, said Cass Sunstein in Bloomberg.com. Few Democrats advocate that the government seize and operate private industry; when they use the term “democratic socialist” or “Green New Deal,” they are thinking of Franklin Roosevelt’s attempts to save capitalism from its excesses. Progressives are advocating addressing the nation’s massive income inequality, through better access to health care, higher taxes on the wealthiest, and job-creation efforts for struggling Americans. “But please,” let’s not call these ideas “socialist.” It just distorts and confuses a very important debate.
2-15-19 Call to ban killer robots in wars
A group of scientists has called for a ban on the development of weapons controlled by artificial intelligence (AI). It says that autonomous weapons may malfunction in unpredictable ways and kill innocent people. Ethics experts also argue that it is a moral step too far for AI systems to kill without any human intervention. The comments were made at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington DC. Human Rights Watch (HRW) is one of the 89 non-governmental organisations from 50 countries that have formed the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, to press for an international treaty. Among those leading efforts for the worldwide ban is HRW's Mary Wareham. "We are not talking about walking, talking terminator robots that are about to take over the world; what we are concerned about is much more imminent: conventional weapons systems with autonomy," she told BBC News. "They are beginning to creep in. Drones are the obvious example, but there are also military aircraft that take off, fly and land on their own; robotic sentries that can identify movement. These are precursors to autonomous weapons." Ryan Gariepy, chief technological officer at Clearpath Robotics, backs the ban proposal. His company takes military contracts, but it has denounced AI systems for warfare and stated that it would not develop them. "When they fail, they fail in unpredictable ways," he told BBC News. "As advanced as we are, the state of AI is really limited by image recognition. It is good but does not have the detail or context to be judge, jury and executioner on a battlefield. "An autonomous system cannot make a decision to kill or not to kill in a vacuum. The de-facto decision has been made thousands of miles away by developers, programmers and scientists who have no conception of the situation the weapon is deployed in." (Webmaster's comment: For the American military terrorizing the ememy by killing its civilians is has been a key strategy for over 100 years!)
2-15-19 The story of historically black colleges in the US
When Kamala Harris, one of the early frontrunners for the 2020 Democratic nomination, talked about the importance of the university she attended, she shone a spotlight on historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). "When the federal government gives attention to HBCUs we end up having a profound impact on black people in America," said the California senator, when asked about her alma mater, Howard University, in an interview following the launch of her presidential bid. HBCUs like Howard, one of the top ranked and most well known historically black universities in the country, are recognised around the globe. Dr Gracie Lawson-Borders, dean of Howard's school of communications, says that for a lot of the students "this opportunity to be accepted at Howard, at Bennett or at any HBCU is just a part of their growing war chest of preparation to make a difference in this world". Historically black colleges and universities, commonly called HBCUs, were created to provide higher education to disenfranchised African Americans in the United States, who were otherwise prohibited from attending most colleges. The first and oldest HBCU, Cheyney University, was founded in 1837 in Pennsylvania. At the time, Blacks were not allowed to attend most colleges and postsecondary institutions, as a result of slavery and segregation. Under the 1965 Higher Education Act, HBCUs were officially defined as institutions of higher learning that were accredited and established before 1964. The act allocated federal grants and funding to those colleges and universities. These institutions would become largely responsible for the black middle class composed of doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers and other professionals. HBCUs continue to produce black celebrities, professionals, and leaders. The two oldest HBCU medical schools Meharry Medical College and Howard University are responsible for more than 80% of African American doctors and dentists practicing in the US today, according to the US Department of Education. Notable African American alum - like Senator Kamala Harris - aren't far and few. The long list of successful African Americans who attended HBCUs include civil rights leader Martin Luther King, the first African American US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, media mogul Oprah Winfrey and director Spike Lee - to name a few.
2-15-19 Trump to declare emergency over Mexico border wall
Democratic and Republican politicians have sharply criticised President Trump's plan to use emergency powers to pay for a border wall with Mexico. Mr Trump is due to declare the emergency shortly in an attempt to bypass Congress, which has refused to approve $5.7bn (£4.4bn) for the wall. Senior Democrats accused the president of a "gross abuse of power". Several Republicans also voiced concern. Building a border wall was a key pledge in Mr Trump's election campaign. Declaring a national emergency would give Mr Trump access to billions of dollars for his project. The president agreed on Thursday to sign a spending bill that does not include finance for the wall. Disagreement over the issue led to a 35-day government shutdown early this year - the longest in US history. The spending bill is due to be signed shortly to avert another shutdown. Citing unnamed White House officials, US media outlets reported that the president would sign the emergencies act at the same time. The National Emergencies Act contains a clause that allows Congress to terminate the emergency status if both houses vote for it - and the president does not veto. With a comfortable majority in the House, Democrats could pass such a resolution to the Senate. The Republicans control the Senate, but a number of Republican senators have been vocal in their unease about the president invoking a national emergency. The dissenting Republicans include 2012 presidential contender and new senator for Utah Mitt Romney, Florida senator Marco Rubio, and the senator from Maine Susan Collins, who said the move was of "dubious constitutionality". The resolution would however still require Mr Trump's signature to pass, allowing him to veto it. A supermajority in both houses of Congress is needed to overturn a presidential veto. (Webmaster's comment: We don't need to stop immigration. We need to stop this President!)
2-15-19 Republicans don't care about the Constitution, and Trump's national emergency proves it
The president is circumventing the rule of law his party has long claimed to hold so dear. t is bad for the country and worse for the Constitution that President Trump has decided to bypass Congress and declare a national emergency in order to start building his long-sought, long-promised wall on the southern border. But there is the small consolation of a thin silver lining: One more pillar of Republican conservatism has been revealed as a hollow pose. The pillar, in this case, is the GOP's claim to be more Constitutional than thou — the party's longstanding insistence that it is most faithful to the words and vision of the Founders, and thus more dedicated to "American" notions of freedom and liberty. Clearly, that assertion is false. The Constitution is pretty clear on this point: Congress has the power of the purse. The president does not. By declaring an emergency, Trump is circumventing the rule of law his fellow Republicans have long claimed to hold so dear. And he is doing so with the full support of his party's leaders. "I indicated to him I'm going to support the national emergency declaration," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday, announcing the president's decision on the Senate floor. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — who once warned starkly about the dangers of Trumpism — followed up with some cheerleading of his own, as did Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.). Sure, there are some Republicans, like Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who are protesting the president's planned move. Whether that opposition amounts to anything, though, remains to be seen.
2-15-19 US border agency sued for detaining two Spanish speakers
Two US citizens are suing US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) after they were detained in Montana for speaking Spanish. Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez were held by a CBP officer last May after he heard them speaking Spanish in a grocery store. Agent Paul O'Neal questioned the US citizens for about 40 minutes and asked to see identification. Both believed they were being detained, according to court documents. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed the suit on behalf of Ms Suda and Ms Hernandez. "Speaking Spanish is not against the law," ACLU staff attorney Cody Wofsy wrote in a press release, arguing this CBP action "reflects an out-of-control agency emboldened by a vehemently anti-immigrant administration." The lawsuit seeks to stop the CBP from detaining anyone without cause for speaking Spanish or for their accent, as well as compensatory and punitive damages. Ms Suda, who was born in Texas, recorded the original incident on her phone. Ms Hernandez was born in California. Agent O'Neal says in the footage that he was asking for their identification because they were "speaking Spanish, which is very unheard of up here". Once the incident went public the agency said it was "committed to treating everyone with professionalism, dignity and respect". The CBP's nondiscrimination policy prohibits using racial and ethnic stereotypes to conduct stops or searches, but the language over how agents decide to question people is vague. Census data says about 41 million people speak Spanish at home in the US. The country is the second largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world, with more Spanish speakers than Spain itself when bilingual people are included. (Webmaster's comment: The ignorant male brutes at ICE will use any excuse to arrest "Mexicans!")
2-15-19 Parkland anniversary: Moment of silence marks one year since school shooting
A US community devastated by a school shooting one year ago has marked the tragic anniversary with quiet mourning. Seventeen people were shot and killed by an ex-student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) in Parkland, Florida on 14 February 2018. Students and educators across the country also marked the day with vigils, moments of silence, art projects and other demonstrations. The school mass shooting spurred a renewed effort towards gun control. (Webmaster's comment: But virtually nothing has been done.) Schools in Broward County - the southern Florida region where 14 students and three school staff members were killed - operated on a regular schedule, but students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas held a "non-academic" day devoted to commemoration and healing. Classes at MSD ended before 14:20 local time, the moment the shooting began a year ago. "Although we mourn from the lives that we've lost through a horrific act of hate and anger, I believe that we must also celebrate the possibilities of what can be through love and support," superintendent Robert Runcie said outside the school on Thursday. Schools across the state of Florida held a moment of silence at 10:17 local time, to honour the 17 people killed in the gun attack. The city of Parkland sponsored a day of service at a park near the school and held a moment of silence, with a vigil later in the evening. Mental health professional and comfort dogs were there to assist grieving students throughout the day.
2-14-19 Parkland, one year later
A year ago today, a gunman walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and committed murder. When Nikolas Cruz was done pulling the trigger, 17 students and staff members were dead, another 17 were injured, and countless others at the school were left traumatized by their brush with violence. If the massacre at Parkland was yet another warning about the deadliness and destructiveness of America's gun culture, the reception afforded the Parkland survivors was also telling — a sign that our politics have become so destructive that we can't even treat crime survivors with a measure of respect. That should seem counterintuitive, right? Hogg, who was 17 at the time, wasn't culpable for the attack in any way — he was one of the survivors. But he went on CNN to lash out at politicians he said had failed to protect him and his fellow students from gun violence — and within weeks, he and other Parkland students, including Cameron Kasky and Emma Gonzalez, organized a national "March for Our Lives" to rally young people nationwide in favor of gun restrictions. Hogg, Kasky, Gonzalez, and many of their fellow survivors didn't accept victimhood; they became activists instead. As a result, they have been treated with unbelievable levels of contempt and ridicule by those who disagree with and fear their message. Any chance that they would be treated as what they were — young people who lived through an unimaginable horror, kids who deserved an extra measure of protection from the ugliness of the world instead of being given another helping — was almost immediately lost. Just six weeks after the attack, GQ published a story describing how the "sliming" of anti-gun Parkland survivors had gone mainstream — National Review, a respectable conservative outlet, had labeled Hogg and his fellow activists "demagogues" and "useful idiots." A week after the attack, Dinesh D'Souza — the conservative activist pardoned by President Trump for his conviction on campaign finance violations — mocked Parkland survivors as they watched Florida legislators vote down a gun control bill. "Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs," he tweeted. D'Souza later apologized. In March, The Washington Post reported that a fake photo of Gonzalez was circulating on the internet, purporting to depict her tearing the Constitution in half. In reality, she'd torn a gun target in half at a rally. That same month, Fox News' Laura Ingraham mocked Hogg on Twitter, noting his application had been rejected at four colleges where he'd applied, and accusing him of "whining" about it. She apologized and backtracked after advertisers began to abandon her show.
2-14-19 Gay couples sue Japan over right to get married
Thirteen same-sex couples across Japan are taking legal action on Thursday against the government, demanding the right to get married. They are suing for symbolic damages, arguing that being barred from marriage violates their constitutional rights. Should the courts agree, it would mean same-sex unions will have to be permitted in future. While Japan does not allow gay marriage, surveys suggest there is strong support for the case. The 13 couples will all file their case on Valentine's Day, in different Japanese cities. Ai Nakajima, 40, from Japan, and 31-year old German Tina Baumann are among them. The two have been together since 2011 when they met in Berlin. After living a few years in Germany, they moved to Japan. But living as a same-sex couple was very different in the two countries. "Japanese society is by nature very conservative," Ms Nakajima told the BBC. Many of their friends don't dare to out themselves as homosexual and hide their partners from families and even friends. Though Japan is a very traditional country, polls indicate that the vast majority of younger Japanese support same-sex marriage. Since 2015, some cities have issued certificates for same-sex couples, but they are not legally binding and merely call on businesses to accord equal treatment. "So while among younger people there is an overwhelming support for gay marriage, politicians tend to be older and are very hesitant when it comes to changing things," Ms Nakajima says. The 13 couples know their court cases will draw public attention to their struggle, of course - but there is genuine hope that they might be successful. "We are prepared to take this to the supreme court," Ms Nakajima explains. "If we have to take that route, it might take more than five years."
2-13-19 Anti-Semitism: Germany sees '10% jump in offences' in 2018
The German government has revealed a sharp increase in the number of anti-Semitic offences recorded last year. Crime data, detailed in German media on Wednesday, says 1,646 crimes were linked to a hatred of Jews in 2018 - showing a yearly increase of 10%. It comes just a day after French politicians spoke out about a sharp rise of incidents in their own country. French Interior minister, Christophe Castaner, has warned that anti-Semitism is "spreading like poison". Over the weekend there were a series of anti-Semitic incidents reported in central Paris - including Swastika vandalism on post-boxes featuring a holocaust survivor's portrait. The latest data from Germany was released after a request from a member of the far-left Die Linke party. That information was then shared with German newspaper, Der Tagesspiegel. data revealed a total jump in anti-Semitic offences of about 10%. It also revealed a 60% rise in physical attacks - with 62 violent incidents recorded, up from 37 in 2017. Josef Shcuster, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said the news shows that government action is "urgently needed". "The latest numbers are not yet official, but at least they reflect a tendency - and that's scary," he said in a statement to the BBC. "What had already solidified as a subjective impression among Jews is now confirmed in the statistics. "Considering that acts below the threshold for criminal liability are not covered, the picture becomes even darker." Jewish groups have warned about the rise of far-right groups in fostering anti-Semitism and hatred of other minorities throughout Europe. Last year, a survey of thousands of European Jews revealed that many were increasingly worried about anti-Semitism. (Webmaster's comment: In America too! In America we just mass murdered 11 of them. Hatred for no reason except that they are not Christians!)
2-13-19 Cameron Kasky: How being a student gun control activist took its toll
After surviving the Parkland school massacre in Florida in February 2018 Cameron Kasky helped lead a youth campaign for gun control. But the strain of his experiences - in the school, and in the media spotlight - left him anxious and depressed. A year later, writes the BBC's Tom Gillett, his focus is on dialogue with his former opponents. On 14 February 2018 a former pupil entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. After six minutes and 20 seconds of carnage, three teachers and 14 of Cameron Kasky's fellow students lay dead. The geography teacher Scott Biegel, whom Kasky had known well, died protecting his students from gunfire. When the shooting broke out, Kasky had been rushing to pick up his younger brother from a special needs class. Hustled into the nearest classroom, the brothers spent the remainder of the attack hiding in the dark, not knowing if the door would be opened by the shooter or a rescuer. There he stayed in touch with events outside via his mobile phone. "I saw videos, when we were in the room, of people being killed. They were going round Snapchat," he says. "It was very familiar to me. I grew up with these. I was born in 2000 - that was not long at all after Columbine," he says, referring to the Columbine school massacre the previous year, where 12 schoolchildren and a teacher were murdered by two teenage gunmen, who then killed themselves. As Kasky was to tweet after the attack: "I am part of the Mass Shooting Generation, and it's an ugly club to be in." It was the reaction of the teenage Parkland pupils immediately after the events of that day that made the response to this attack unique. An outraged determination set in among Kasky and a small group of his friends.
2-12-19 The Democrats' total capitulation on the border
What did Democrats receive for gifting Trump so much at the border? Nothing. epublican and Democratic lawmakers last night reportedly came to an agreement on border enforcement funding to avert another government shutdown before the Friday deadline. Yet after all this drama, it's unclear if Democrats accomplished much beyond virtue signaling to their base. If anything, they may have given Trump a green light to forge ahead with his draconian interior enforcement agenda without any meaningful oversight of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Details of the deal are still trickling in but it seems clear that after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pledged not to give Trump even a "dollar" for his wall, Democrats agreed to hand him $1.375 billion to build a 55-mile long barrier in the Rio Grande Valley. They're trying to spin this as mere "pedestrian fencing." Trump, who is never shy of staring a gift horse in the mouth, is saying it’s not enough. But it's pretty clear that Democrats gave in. In addition, they agreed to hand the Department of Homeland Security an additional $1.7 billion for border security, including technology at ports of entry, more officers and, as an afterthought, some humanitarian aid. Handing Trump some wall money might have been worth it if Democrats had got something in return like legalizing the DREAMers (folks who've grown up in America after being brought to the country without proper authorization as minors) and others whose temporary protected status Trump scrapped. But Democrats failed to even put this on the table despite many hints by Republicans that they would consider a DREAMer-for-wall deal. The Democratic Party seems to be more interested in rallying their base with the issue than actually solving it. Even worse, Democrats capitulated to the administration's demand for maintaining its inflated detention bed capacity to house unauthorized immigrants, the lynchpin of its draconian enforcement actions. (Webmaster's comment: Trump is setting up a prison camp system just like the Nazis did with ICE agents as the Nazi SS troops!)
2-12-19 Arkansas white supremacist gang arrested in string of violent crimes
Federal prosecutors in Arkansas have indicted 54 members of a white supremacy gang for allegedly committing acts of violence and drug dealing. The indictment names 54 people with ties to the New Aryan Empire, a white supremacist group which is known for Nazi swastikas and Heil Hitler salutes. The charges, including murder, conspiracy, and drug trafficking, are part of Operation To The Dirt. Prosecutors say the gang first formed in an Arkansas jail in 1990. In a news conference on Tuesday, Deputy Assistant Attorney General David Rybicki said the group is also known to intimidate witnesses and in one case burned an informant's face with a hot knife. The New Aryan Empire (NAE) "has moved from our prisons to our neighbourhoods," Mr Rybicki said, adding that they count roughly 5,000 people as members. As part of the operation - named for a gang code that refers to being a member for life - authorities seized 69 guns, 25lbs (11kg) of methamphetamine and over $70,000 in drug money. US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas Cody Hiland said he plans to prosecute the case under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, otherwise known as the RICO Act. The act, which has been used to prosecute other organised criminal groups, allows prosecutors to target leaders who order other people to commit crimes on their behalf.
2-12-19 Parkland anniversary: Students around the world on US school shootings and their own fears
This week marks one year since the Parkland school shooting in Florida, where 17 people were killed. School shootings are feared by a majority of American teenagers, a study from Pew Research Center suggests. Students in Australia, India, Lebanon and the UK reveal their feelings on gun violence in US classrooms and their biggest personal fears.
2-12-19 Trump supporter attacks BBC cameraman at El Paso rally
A supporter of US President Donald Trump has attacked a BBC cameraman at a campaign rally in El Paso, Texas. Sporting a Make America Great Again cap, the man shoved and swore at the BBC's Ron Skeans and other news crews before being pulled away. Mr Skeans said the "very hard shove" came from his blindside. "I didn't know what was going on." Mr Trump saw the attack and confirmed Mr Skeans was well with a thumbs up after it happened. The president has had a fractious relationship with the media from the very start of his time in office. He has claimed journalists are "the enemy of the people" and slammed the "fake news" for reports he deems unfavourable. Mr Skeans said the man almost knocked him and his camera over twice before he was wrestled away by a blogger. (Webmaster's comment: Trump's rhetoric encourages physical attacks on the news media!)
2-12-19 Chris Pratt denies claims that his church is anti-LGBTQ
Chris Pratt says the church he attends is not "anti-LGBTQ" after Ellen Page said it was homophobic. Page, who is openly gay, replied to a tweet that said Pratt was going to discuss his "spiritual side" on a US talk show. She said "but his church is infamously anti-LGBTQ so maybe address that too?" Neither has named which church it is in their correspondence, but Pratt, 39, responded on his Instagram story to defend his place of worship. He said: "It has recently been suggested that I belong to a church which 'hates a certain group of people' and is 'infamously anti-LGBTQ.' Nothing could be further from the truth. "I go to a church that opens their doors to absolutely everyone." Page, who is known for her roles in Juno and Inception, later tweeted again to say: "If you are a famous actor and you belong to an organisation that hates a certain group of people, don't be surprised if someone simply wonders why it's not addressed." Pratt said that "despite what the Bible says about divorce," his church was "there for me every step of the way" during his marriage split from actress Anna Faris, and that it provides "love and support" regardless of "sexual orientation, race or gender". Pratt said he is not a "spokesman for any church" and that "we need less hate in this world, not more. I am a man who believes that everyone is entitled to love who they want free from the judgment of their fellow man".
2-12-19 Why so many people believe conspiracy theories
Did Hillary Clinton mastermind a global child-trafficking ring from a Washington pizzeria? No.Did George W Bush orchestrate a plot to bring down the Twin Towers and kill thousands of people in 2001? Also no. So, why do some people believe they did? And what do conspiracy theories tell us about the way we see the world? Conspiracy theories are far from a new phenomenon. They have been a constant hum in the background for at least the past 100 years, says Prof Joe Uscinski, author of American Conspiracy Theories. They are also more widespread than you might think. "Everybody believes in at least one and probably a few," he says. "And the reason is simple: there is an infinite number of conspiracy theories out there. If we were to poll on all of them, everybody is going to check a few boxes." This finding isn't peculiar to the US. In 2015, University of Cambridge research found most Britons ticked a box when presented with a list of just five theories. These ranged from the existence of a secret group controlling world events, to contact with aliens. This suggests that, contrary to popular belief, the typical conspiracy theorist is not a middle-aged man living in his mother's basement sporting a tinfoil hat. "When you actually look at the demographic data, belief in conspiracies cuts across social class, it cuts across gender and it cuts across age," Prof Chris French, a psychologist at Goldsmith's, University of London, says. Equally, whether you're on the left or the right, you're just as likely to see plots against you. "The two sides are equal in terms of conspiracy thinking," Prof Uscinski says, of research in the US. "People who believe that Bush blew up the Twin Towers were mostly Democrats, people who thought that Obama faked his own birth certificate were mostly Republicans - but it was about even numbers within each party."
2-11-19 380 Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers accused of sexual misconduct.
Since 1998, about 380 Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct, according to a sweeping investigation by two Texas newspapers. The Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News also found that in the past 20 years, more than 700 victims have been abused, with some urged to have abortions and forgive their abusers. The newspapers said their investigation included "examining federal and state court databases, prison records and official documents from more than 20 states and by searching sex offender registries nationwide." In Texas alone, the newspapers interviewed police and district attorneys in 40 counties. "Ultimately, we compiled information on 380 credibly accused officials in Southern Baptist churches, including pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers and volunteers," the newspapers said. "We verified that about 220 had been convicted of sex crimes or received deferred prosecutions in plea deals." Of those 220, 90 remain in prison and 100 are registered sex offenders, according to the report. The investigation comes as other religious bodies, including the Catholic Church, face accusations of widespread sexual abuse of its members, especially children, over decades. But unlike the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations, the Southern Baptist Convention is a collection of 47,000 autonomous churches, with little power to force churches to comply with policies. "The SBC presents no governing policies to churches because the SBC is not a governing organization; it is a service organization. Each church is self-governing," said Sing Oldham, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention.
2-11-19 Blackface governor Ralph Northam calls slaves 'indentured servants'
Virginia Democratic Governor Ralph Northam has defended calling slaves "indentured servants" in his first TV interview since a racism scandal broke. Mr Northam, who has admitted to wearing blackface, told CBS a historian told him "indentured" was a more accurate term for America's first slaves. Plans have meanwhile stalled to impeach Virginia's Lt Gov Justin Fairfax, who is accused of sexual assault. The state capitol has been plunged into turmoil by the twin scandals. During the CBS interview aired in full on Monday, Mr Northam was grilled over his college yearbook photo, which shows two people - one wearing blackface makeup and the other in Ku Klux Klan robes. Mr Northam was asked why he initially apologised for the photo before backtracking and denying he was either in the picture. "When you're in a state of shock like I was, we don't always think as clearly as we should," Mr Northam said, adding that he had "overreacted" by issuing an immediate apology. "I will tell you that later that night I had a chance to step back, take a deep breath, look at the picture and said, 'This is not me in the picture'," he said. Mr Northam has already admitted that he once "darkened his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume" on a separate occasion in 1984. Asked whether he would resign, Mr Northam said: "I'm not going anywhere." The governor's damage-limitation efforts risked making matters worse when he told the interviewer that 400 years has passed since the "first indentured servants from Africa landed on our shores". CBS presenter Gayle King, who is African American, said: "Also known as slavery." According to Encyclopedia Virginia, which is produced in partnership with the Library of Virginia, the first Africans to arrive in Virginia were sold in exchange for food in August 1619 from the English ship White Lion. Unlike indentured servants, who were typically released after paying off the debt of their voyage to America, black slaves were rarely freed."
2-11-19 Ilhan Omar: Congresswoman apologises for 'anti-Semitic' tweet
New Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar has apologised for tweets implying US lawmakers only support Israel because of lobby money. She faced widespread condemnation for suggesting the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) was buying influence for pro-Israel policies. Republicans and Democrats alike said the tweets stoked anti-Semitic tropes about Jews and money. The Minnesota lawmaker has previously been accused of anti-Semitism. Ms Omar released a statement "unequivocally" apologising for her tweets on Monday, following an apparent conversation with Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi about the row. "Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes," Ms Omar said. "We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity." Ms Omar added that she still believes lobbyists are "problematic" in US politics - "whether it be Aipac, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry".
2-10-19 Why injustice goes unreported
Black women lie at a dangerous intersection of identities. As decades-old sexual assault allegations increase, so does the question: Why didn't women report it sooner? Shame, fear of reprisals, and the unfortunately common belief that they are responsible for provoking the offender are just a few of the many reasons why women choose not to report a threat, harassment, or assault. Of course, individual women will have their own unique reasons but, as a group, black women are the least likely to report. Surveys point in part to cultural reasons, ranging from pressure to protect black men to not putting personal business in the street. Notably, however, black women also say that they don't think anything good will result from reporting. What we are or aren't able to imagine after we've been victimized matters because the action we take will be the one that we can imagine bringing the desired outcome — and if we can't imagine it, we won't act on it. Black women don't report at the same rates as other women because black women can't imagine being treated justly. The 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume said that "nothing is more free" than the human imagination. Perhaps. But for some of us, imagination is overwhelmed by dehumanizing experience. As a result, we are paralyzed, and the kind of imagining involved in taking action is undermined. The range of imaginable outcomes directly impacts the range of possible courses of action that the imagination presents to the mind. Depending on what we imagine as an outcome, we might decide to alert the authorities — or, alternatively, we might decide not to tell anyone, let alone the authorities. What we imagine as a desirable, realistic outcome will guide us to the action that we imagine will bring it about. What we imagine will depend on what we've experienced, and if we can't imagine an action bringing about the desired outcome, we won't take that action. As a black woman, I hold affirming beliefs about myself balanced against the reality that society doesn't share them. This is what the sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois in 1903 called double consciousness — seeing myself in one way, while simultaneously aware that oppressive society sees me in another — and it truncates the faculty of imagination. It takes the mind on a wild, dizzying ride that dead-ends in a paltry selection of actions to bring a desirable outcome. Black women navigate life doubly, even triply conscious at the intersections of gender, race, and sexuality, polluted with traffic and noise. Our situation is unique. (Webmaster's comment: They are black and they are women and for that they are guilty and are the target of the over 50 million male brutes in America and at the bottom of the American INJUSTICE system!)
2-9-19 How Islam spread through the Christian world
Islamization took the Middle East by storm in a surprising way. There are few transformations in world history more profound than the conversion of the peoples of the Middle East to Islam. Starting in the early Middle Ages, the process stretched across centuries and was influenced by factors as varied as conquest, diplomacy, conviction, self-interest, and coercion. There is one factor, however, that is largely forgotten but which played a fundamental role in the emergence of a distinctively Islamic society: mixed unions between Muslims and non-Muslims. For much of the early Islamic period, the mingling of Muslims and non-Muslims was largely predicated on a basic imbalance of power: Muslims formed an elite ruling minority, which tended to exploit the resources of the conquered peoples — reproductive and otherwise — to grow in size and put down roots within local populations. Seen in this light, forced conversion was far less a factor in long-term religious change than practices such as intermarriage. The rules governing religiously mixed families crystallized fairly early, at least on the Muslim side. The Quran allows Muslim men to marry up to four women, including "People of the Book," that is, Jews and Christians. Muslim women, however, were not permitted to marry non-Muslim men and, judging from the historical evidence, this prohibition seems to have stuck. Underlying the injunction was the understanding that marriage was a form of female enslavement: If a woman was bound to her husband as a slave is to her master, she could not be subordinate to an infidel. Outside of marriage, the conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries saw massive numbers of slaves captured across North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Female slaves of non-Muslim origin, at least, were often pressed into the sexual service of their Muslim masters, and many of these relationships produced children. (Webmaster's comment: As we suspected. More sex for men was at the center of this spread.)
2-8-19 America's bewildering imperialism
merica's relations in the world are in a state of severe flux in the Trump era. The president loves to denounce NATO, but the alliance is expanding. He also delights in expressing warm feelings for Vladimir Putin at the same time that the administration's policies often put us on a collision course with the country Putin leads. We're preparing to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan at the same time that we're saber-rattling with Iran and Venezuela. And Trump is preparing for negotiations with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, a man Trump once threatened with nuclear annihilation but whom he now considers a pen pal. Despite occasional impressive efforts to make this mishmash of impulses and reactions cohere, there is very little about it that makes any kind of broader strategic sense — at least not that the president or leading members of his team have attempted to articulate. Trump has no interest in democracy promotion. He's not a foreign policy realist. He's reflexively hostile to alliances and treaties. There's no sign he favors military restraint in dealing with recalcitrant rivals on the world stage. He hates some dictators (the Iranian mullahs, Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro, Kim 18 months ago) and loves others (Putin, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Kim today). And so on and so forth through a long list of clashing words and actions. If you hope to break the stranglehold of the bipartisan pro-interventionist consensus on foreign policy thinking in the nation's capital and devise a more sustainable and humane alternative, then there may be cause for expressions of modest support for at least some of the Trump administration's moves. (That's why I've sometimes cautiously praised them.) But that shouldn't blind us to just how confused the U.S. looks and sounds on the world stage — or to the deepest sources of that confusion, which go far beyond the ignorance and impulsiveness of Donald Trump himself.
2-8-19 Taiwan’s separate status, says China’s leader, Xi Jinping, is “a wound to the Chinese nation left by history.” Is a crisis coming?
When was Taiwan part of China? Taiwan, 110 miles from the mainland, was inhabited by Austronesian-speaking aborigines before being annexed by the Qing dynasty in 1683. Japan captured it and ruled it from 1895 to 1945, when Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese nationalist leader, took it back in the name of the post-imperial Republic of China. In 1949, Chiang’s Kuomintang lost China’s civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communists and fled to Taiwan, which inherited the Republic of China name, while on the mainland Mao declared the People’s Republic of China. Each government insisted it represented all of China. Washington took Taiwan’s side, seeing it as a bulwark against communism during the Cold War. Taiwan, as the Republic of China, represented China at the United Nations until 1971. How was Taiwan governed? For decades, it was authoritarian, just as China is now. Chiang’s party, the Kuomintang (KMT), imposed martial law until 1987, imprisoning tens of thousands of dissidents and executing some 4,000. Yet Taiwan also grew rich: Its economy exploded in the 1960s, until by the early 2000s it led the world in production of computer equipment and bicycles. After Chiang died in 1975, Taiwan began to evolve from a one-party state controlled by the KMT into a thriving democracy of 23 million people. It held free elections in 1992, and had its first partisan transition in 2000, when the opposition Democratic Progressive Party took power. Last year, Taiwan increased its use of direct democracy by adopting one of the most citizen-friendly systems for ballot initiatives and referendums in the world. (Webmaster's comment: Chiang Kai-shek was a bloody dictator and the United States supported him.)
2-8-19 Asprey’s quest for 180
At 45, David Asprey thinks he’s only 25 percent of the way through his lifespan, said Rachel Monroe in Men’s Health. The founder of Bulletproof Coffee, which popularized adding a slice of butter to your morning joe, Asprey views superhuman longevity as central to his new career as a wellness guru. Last year, he endured what he calls “the most extensive stem-cell treatment that’s ever been done on a person at one time.” A surgeon extracted bone marrow from his hips, filtered out stem cells, and injected them into every joint in Asprey’s body, his spinal cord, and his cerebral fluid. “And then they did all the cosmetic stuff,” he says. “Hey, I’m unconscious, you’ve got extra stem cells—put ’em everywhere!” He plans on repeating the procedure twice a year, and claims to have already spent at least $1 million on his quest to live until 180. At his home in British Columbia, he takes 100 supplements a day, religiously follows a low-carb, high-fat diet, bathes in infrared light, chills in a cryotherapy chamber, and relaxes in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. As Silicon Valley’s wealthy elite become obsessed with “biohacking,” Asprey wants to be the movement’s face. “Is living a long time a kind of superpower?” he asks. “Yes. Although I might die trying.”
2-8-19 How to roll back mass incarceration in America
We can have both less crime and less punishment. America's prison system is a horrifying, gulag-esque state of affairs. The fraction of the American population that is incarcerated is seven times that of Italy, and 15 times that of Japan. The nation has only just started to grasp this reality, thanks in many ways to the efforts of activist groups and movements like Black Lives Matter. And leading Democrats have expressed at least rhetorical commitment to rolling back mass incarceration. But few politicians have reckoned very much with what this would actually entail. The reality is that America's criminal justice resources need to be radically rebalanced away from punishment and towards investigation and due process. The eventual goal should be cutting down crime so imprisonment is largely unnecessary. The three main pillars of punishment for criminal acts are certainty, speed, and severity. Criminal justice scholars say that, when it comes to actually deterring crime, the first two are drastically more important than the third. The reason is that potential criminals rate the likelihood of getting caught and the perception of how fast punishment will strike far, far ahead of a careful consideration of how bad the sentence will be. A sure belief that one will be punished quickly is orders of magnitude more effective than trying to get criminals (who are overwhelmingly impulsive young men) to think about the marginal risk of spending more years in prison. But American crime policy has emphasized severity far, far ahead of either certainty or speed. Law-and-order politics was based on a heavily racialized desire for vengeance against criminals who were partly imagined in the first place — though rooted in genuine distress over the terrible crime surge in the mid-20th century. Coldly rational strategies for reducing crime barely entered into the equation. The result was an incarceration spree similar in its scope and brutality to the slave labor camps of the Soviet gulag — and that nevertheless failed to dent crime much at all. The best evidence suggests the 1990s-2010s fall in crime had little or nothing to do with mass incarceration; after all, the partial rollback of such policies in states like New York has not caused a converse surge in crime.
2-8-19 Universal income study finds money for nothing won’t make us work less
For the last two years the Finnish government has been giving 2000 unemployed people a guaranteed, no-strings-attached payment each month. It is the world’s most robust test of universal basic income, and the preliminary results, released this morning, seem to dispel some of the doubts about the policy’s negative impacts. Universal basic income comes in different flavours, but the essence of the idea is to give everyone a guaranteed income that covers their basic needs, like housing and food. Crucially, the income is the same for everyone all the time – it does not get reduced if, for example, a person gets a job or a salary increase. The Finnish results were hotly anticipated because the experiment’s careful design promised robust evidence on UBI. “This is an exceptional experiment, both socially and globally,” said Pirkko Mattila, Finland’s Minister of Social Affairs and Health, at a press conference. The experiment began in December 2016. Kela, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, randomly selected 2000 people aged between 25 and 58 from across the country who were on unemployment benefits. It then replaced those people’s benefits with a guaranteed payment of €560 a month. They would continue receiving the payments whether they got a job or not. The experiment ended on 31 December 2018 and preliminary results were published this morning. It compared the income, employment status and general wellbeing of those who received the UBI with a control group of 5000 who carried on receiving benefits. There was no difference between the two groups in terms of the number of days in employment in 2017 – both groups worked on average 49 days. The UBI trial group only earned €21 less on average than the control group during 2017.
2-8-19 Finland basic income trial left people 'happier but jobless'
Giving jobless people in Finland a basic income for two years did not lead them to find work, researchers said. From January 2017 until December 2018, 2,000 unemployed Finns got a monthly flat payment of €560 (£490; $685). The aim was to see if a guaranteed safety net would help people find jobs, and support them if they had to take insecure gig economy work. While employment levels did not improve, participants said they felt happier and less stressed. When it launched the pilot scheme back in 2017, Finland became the first European country to test out the idea of an unconditional basic income. It was run by the Social Insurance Institution (Kela), a Finnish government agency, and involved 2,000 randomly-selected people on unemployment benefits. It immediately attracted international interest - but these results have now raised questions about the effectiveness of such schemes. Universal basic income, or UBI, means that everyone gets a set monthly income, regardless of means. The Finnish trial was a bit different, as it focused on people who were unemployed. Another popular variation is 'universal basic services' - where instead of getting an income, things like education, healthcare and transport are free for all. Although it's enjoying a resurgence in popularity, the idea isn't new. In fact, it was first described in Sir Thomas More's Utopia, published in 1516 - a full 503 years ago. Such schemes are being trialled all over the world. Adults in a village in western Kenya are being given $22 a month for 12 years, until 2028, while the Italian government is working on introducing a "citizens' income". The city of Utrecht, in the Netherlands, is also carrying out a basic income study called Weten Wat Werkt - "Know What Works" - until October.
2-8-19 The secret language of lesbian love: The wives, mothers and friends who hide their sexuality
Over a period of a few months, the BBC spoke to dozens of young lesbians in a country where homosexuality is illegal. They told us about their day-to-day lives and how they use secret memes to connect with each other on social media platforms and chat apps. We have substituted those images with that of a violet for the purpose of this report. The violet does not belong to the group in Burundi or - to the best of our knowledge - any other LGBT+ groups in East Africa or the Great Lakes. The peak of the midday sun has passed. It’s mild enough to kick a ball around, not oppressive enough to feel faint in the heat. It’s a great day to meet friends in the park. The women are in high spirits, chatting animatedly, playfully sketching patterns on each other using body paint, and sharing a picnic. They meet once a month, in different places. Sometimes in public but mostly behind closed doors. Most of them are wearing jeans and T-shirts in various colours, patterns and styles. The T-shirts are important because printed on each one is a discreet, matching symbol. It’s an in-joke – a sign of their identity and independence. Something only they understand. This could be a group of friends in any park, in any country. But this is Burundi, where being who they are is against the law. The women, who are all in their 20s and early 30s, haven’t known each other long. “We’d be in so much trouble if people know who we are,” Nella says. They could be fined or imprisoned. But there is also the danger that people within their own communities may turn on them. “The worst is death,” says Nella.
2-7-19 WhatsApp’s message limit isn’t enough to halt the spread of fake news
A limit on forwarding messages has been extended from India to the rest of the world, but more needs to be done by all parties, says Sarvjeet Singh. In the US and Europe, Facebook stands accused of facilitating the spread of propaganda and fake news. In India, Facebook’s subsidiary WhatsApp is under the same pressure, charged with the spread of misinformation from political parties, and more dangerous material: last year, at least 35 people in India were killed by violent mobs incited by rumours of child abduction spread through WhatsApp. How do we fight back? Following an outcry, and under government pressure in its biggest market, WhatsApp limited users in India to forwarding a single message just five times. Now the company has rolled out this limit globally. The WhatsApp message limit came about after the Indian Information Technology minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, threatened WhatsApp and other social media platforms with abetment to violence if they didn’t take adequate and prompt action in fighting the spread of misinformation. Around 10 million people are connecting to the internet in India every month and, for many, it is their first interaction with people outside their immediate community and, more significantly, with mass media. With it, they encountered stories of child snatchers prowling the area, a common rumour. These were forwarded onto others because people believed them, and were scared. The app made it possible for the messages to spread far and wide in a very short time. As a result, angry mobs killed dozens of innocent men and women.
2-7-19 Voting systems that let losing side win may increase overall happiness
In a democratic election, the winning side is the one that gets the most votes – at least, normally. A test of alternative voting systems has found that in some cases, it is actually possible to increase overall satisfaction by delivering a result in which a minority decision prospers. Alessandra Casella of Columbia University and Luis Sanchez of Cornell University in New York tested two voting systems in a survey ahead of a state-wide Californian ballot in 2016. Rather than one vote per person, the systems – known as storable and quadratic votes – give people multiple votes to allocate to a range of issues. “The ingenuity of the voting schemes is that they induce the voter to reveal her priorities sincerely,” says Casella. The researchers asked 600 California residents about four issues that were likely to be included on the ballot. They selected issues that were unlikely to result in a landslide, but about which some voters would feel strongly – such as requiring law enforcement to report undocumented immigrants. Survey respondents were first asked to rate how important each issue was to them, and how they would vote in each proposal (in favour, opposed, or abstain). For storable votes, participants were then granted one extra vote to support a proposition that they felt strongly about. For quadratic voting, respondents were given a choice of extra, weighted votes to express their strength of feeling. For example, a voter could choose to cast an additional vote on each proposal, each weighted as 1, or to cast only one additional vote on a single issue, but with a weight of 2. These priorities were factored into the final outcome by counting the weighted number of cast votes, rather than the total number of voters, to reach a majority.
2-6-19 Pope admits clerical abuse of nuns including sexual slavery
Pope Francis has admitted that clerics have sexually abused nuns, and in one case they were kept as sex slaves. He said in that case his predecessor, Pope Benedict, was forced to shut down an entire congregation of nuns who were being abused by priests. It is thought to be the first time that Pope Francis has acknowledged the sexual abuse of nuns by the clergy. He said the Church was attempting to address the problem but said it was "still going on". Last November, the Catholic Church's global organisation for nuns denounced the "culture of silence and secrecy" that prevented them from speaking out. The Pope's comments come amid long-running allegations of sexual abuse of children and young men by priests at the Church. Speaking to reporters while on a historic tour of the Middle East on Tuesday, the pontiff admitted that the Church had an issue, the roots of which lie in "seeing women as second class". He said that priests and bishops had abused nuns, but said the Church was aware of the "scandal" and was "working on it", adding that a number of clerics had been suspended. "It's a path that we've been on," he said. "Pope Benedict had the courage to dissolve a female congregation which was at a certain level, because this slavery of women had entered it - slavery, even to the point of sexual slavery - on the part of clerics or the founder." Pope Francis said sexual abuse of nuns was an ongoing problem, but happened largely in "certain congregations, predominantly new ones". "I think it's still taking place because it's not as though the moment you become aware of something it goes away." The female congregation dissolved in 2005 under Pope Benedict was the Community of St Jean, which was based in France, Alessandro Gisotti of the Vatican press office told CBS News.
2-6-19 The only time Trump got specific last night was when he demonized immigrants. How revealing.
Not a word about Americans killed or menaced by white supremacists. Not a word about gun violence. It's always immigrants. For Trump, it was only ever immigrants. ast night the president of the United States tried to strike a new tone, one that despite occasional moments of unity and humor, likely convinced no one who wasn't already wearing a red hat. The threadbare policy vision advanced in his speech was as absurd as any of his daily, febrile Twitter hallucinations, even if more seriously stated. And while President Trump's speechwriters managed to steer him away from his rally-standard free association act, the address' absence of even cursory policy signals how little he cares about solving the country's many pressing problems. From the moment someone unloaded a bottomless trunk full of elderly white men, i.e. Trump's Cabinet, onto the House floor to the address' merciful denouement 84 minutes later, the president failed to change the narrative of his presidency or to advance a plausible policy vision for the next year. If you are part of the 41 percent of Americans who enjoyed the president's first two years in office, you almost certainly took pleasure in last night's proceedings. The event was at times cleverly stage-managed, particularly in its focus on the quickly disappearing Greatest Generation heroes. The expected procession of human props and callouts was, particularly by the standards of this administration, impressive in its execution and in the scope of its emotional appeal. The sniffing was kept to a minimum. But President Trump's closing encomium to the past glory of America could not hide the emptiness of his vision for our politics today. "We do the incredible. We defy the impossible," the president said with a flourish toward the end. But he didn't point to any incredible or impossibility-defying proposals for today's America. Instead President Trump leaned heavily into his fearmongering about immigrants and his longed-for border wall, as he spent a substantial portion of his speech — a full 20 percent of the word count — spewing hate and lies and pitifully begging for Congress to meet his demands. Despite rumors that this would be a unifying moment, he banged on again about duct-taped women and MS-13 and various malcontents and "illegal aliens" making their way across our border to murder people, steal jobs, and wreak havoc on middle America. "Year after year, countless Americans are murdered by criminal illegal aliens," he said, confirming how desensitized we have become to the president's sick fixation on people who are killed by immigrants, to the exclusion of basically all other manifestations of violence. That this ugliness, including the exploitation of grieving crime victims, was wrapped in perfunctory concern about human trafficking should not fool anyone. Not a word, of course, about Americans killed or menaced by white supremacists. Not a word about gun violence. It's always immigrants. For Trump, it was only ever immigrants.
2-6-19 State of the Union 2019: Trump claims fact-checked
US President Donald Trump's speech was filled with praise for the strong economy. But did his numbers add up?
- "Wages are rising at the fastest pace in decades" This is exaggerated. Last year, average hourly earnings increased by 85 cents, or 3.2%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This isn't the highest for decades though; it's the highest since 2009.
- "We have created 5.3 million new jobs and importantly added 600,000 new manufacturing jobs" This is another exaggeration. From Jan 2017 to Jan 2019, the US added 4.9 million jobs in total, including 454,000 in manufacturing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
- "African-American unemployment has reached its 'lowest levels ever recorded" This is true. In May 2018, unemployment for African Americans fell to 5.9%, the lowest figure since the 1970s (when the BLS started breaking down the figures by race). This followed on from a similar trend under the Obama administration. It was recorded as 6.8% in January 2019.
- "Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs" This is true. Many other countries directly negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to regulate the prices. The US spent $1,443 per capita on pharmaceutical costs in 2016, compared to a range of $466 to $939 in 10 other high income countries, including the UK, Australia, Canada and Japan, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
- "The United States is now the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world" True - according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), an independent energy statistical agency - it is the leading global oil and natural gas producer. Output has risen beyond Russia and Saudi Arabia, which have been limiting production to boost prices.
- El Paso "was one of the most dangerous cities in the country" President Trump made the claim while focusing on the "national crisis" of illegal immigration and called on Congress to back his plans for a border wall. He said the Texan city of El Paso - on the Mexican border - "was one of the most dangerous cities in the country", until a barrier went up. This is false.
US fake university: India anger after students arrested
India has made a diplomatic protest to the US after 129 Indian students were arrested for enrolling in a fake university. The University of Farmington, advertised as based in Michigan state, was run by undercover agents from the Department of Homeland Security to expose "pay-to-stay" immigration fraud. Prosecutors say those who enrolled knew that the facility would be illegal. However, Indian officials say the students may have been duped. On Saturday, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) issued the protest to the US embassy in Delhi, expressing concern over the arrests and demanding consular access to those detained. "Our concern over the dignity and wellbeing of the detained students and the need for immediate consular access for Indian officials to the detainees was reiterated," the ministry said. The fake university was set up in 2015 to try to catch foreign nationals who had initially travelled to the US on student visas and wanted to stay in the country, US media reported. A website for the University of Farmington showed pictures of students in classes and libraries, or relaxing around a grassy campus. It advertised tuition for undergraduates at $8,500 (£6,500) a year and $11,000 a year for graduate students. It also had a fake Facebook page with a calendar of events. But court papers released last week showed that the employees of the University of Farmington were undercover agents for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). The "campus" was an office at a business park in a Detroit suburb. Separately, eight people who allegedly acted as recruiters were charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud and "harbouring aliens for profit". (Webmaster's comment: Massive fraud and entrapment by ICE!)
2-3-19 Fighting back against the billionaires
As a wave of bankruptcies hits the retail sector, workers want to know why their bosses are coming out ahead. The fall of Sears, once an icon of American retail might, has hit Bruce Miller hard. The 56-year-old started at the department store out of high school, rising to be a senior auto technician. But since Sears closed his New Jersey location last April, he has lost his health insurance and his house. Now his pension is at risk. For Mr Miller's bosses, however, fortunes look brighter. Veteran journalist Michelle Celarier has estimated that longtime Sears chairman and former chief executive Eddie Lampert has made nearly $1.4bn (£1.1bn) off his investment in the company, thanks to performance fees, dividends and other payments. Meanwhile, its top 340 executives were collectively granted a potential $25m in bonuses in December, just months after the firm declared bankruptcy. "It's utterly ridiculous to me," says Mr Miller, who is now relying on odd jobs to help pay bills. "How can you reward somebody for driving a business into the ground?" Laments like Mr Miller's have surfaced repeatedly in recent years, amid a wave of bankruptcies in the US retail sector that has claimed household names such as Toys R Us, Payless Shoe Source and Nine West. Much of the blame has focused on the disruption caused by online shopping. But analysts say many of the firms have another feature in common: investors who took control of the retailers, loaded them with debt, and extracted fees, dividends and other assets for their own benefit. Sears, for example, spent millions purchasing its own stock - inflating prices in a win for shareholders such as Mr Lampert, who became chair of the firm in 2005, after arranging its merger with Kmart. Sears later borrowed more than $2bn from his hedge fund, ESL Investments, as it struggled to remain in operation. It also sold off parts of the business, including hundreds of properties and the mail-order catalogue Lands End, to companies affiliated with Mr Lampert. Sears is now a shadow of its former self, having closed almost 3,000 stores and cut more than 250,000 jobs since 2007. Eileen Appelbaum, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, says those deals limited Sears' ability to invest in the future - just as the need to compete with online shopping made those investments critical. That is a pattern seen repeatedly in the recent retail failings, she said. "They want to blame everything that happens on Amazon," she says. "The fact that they have starved these organisations of resources ... that's the real story." (Webmaster's comment: This is why we should TAX THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS OUT OF THE RICH! Limit their net worth to less than 10 million!)
2-3-19 The rocky history of desegregation in New Orleans
Clutching a small purse, six-year-old Leona Tate walked into McDonogh 19 Elementary School in New Orleans and helped to desegregate the South. Images of that November morning in 1960 are seared into the national memory: Tate and three other little first-grade girls in white dresses and hair ribbons walking into New Orleans schools, flanked by federal marshals and heckled by hateful crowds. From that day forward, Tate, now 64, knew that her lifelong mission was to make the world a more equitable place. Within a few years, Tate will have a new base for that mission, when the non-profit Leona Tate Foundation for Change finishes its renovation of her former school in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward. Tate is a practical person. Yes, she knows that many schools in New Orleans and across the country have been resegregated. She's heard some people say that her walk in 1960 led to token integration, at best. Others tout the idea that segregated schools and institutions are inevitable, the inescapable result of bureaucracy, housing patterns, or poverty. Tate listens and disagrees. She believes her walk into McDonogh 19 was important then — and she firmly believes that she can help make more strides against racism today. Her plan is to open an educational center on desegregation within her former school. Once an elegant peach-stucco building, McDonogh 19 was flooded in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina's storm surge and by a great wave of water from the Industrial Canal levee, which buckled and broke several blocks away. Disaster clean-up crews sent the first floor's sodden contents to a landfill and shuttered the building. It's now been closed for nearly 15 years. Despite the building's state of disrepair, Tate's vision for the space is clear. On a recent visit with developers and museum designers, she stood on the building's gutted first floor and described her plans for the center. First, she'd like visitors to understand the basic facts of those years, she says. Tate's parents were able to enroll her in McDonogh 19 because of the United States Supreme Court's landmark 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which declared school segregation unconstitutional. Though many other cities fought desegregation orders, New Orleans, like Little Rock before it, became a national flashpoint for white supremacy during years of vehement court battles, legislative end-runs, and family sacrifice. Because schools desegregated so slowly in New Orleans — by one grade each year — Tate's struggles were shared to some degree by thousands of local black schoolchildren: Hers was the desegregation generation. Almost all of Tate's years in public school — from first grade to high school graduation — were spent within the turmoil of newly desegregated schools. The story's breadth is rarely explained, says Tate, who wants visitors to McDonogh 19 to learn the history, within the very space where history was made. "I want people to experience what it was like, what we had to endure once we got to school," she says. "I want them to see how hard it was for us to get in there."
2-2-19 A history of the southern border
Fences are a relatively new addition to the U.S.'s 1,954-mile boundary with Mexico.
- How was the border established? After the U.S. victory in the Mexican-American War in 1848, Mexico was forced to sign over 525,000 square miles of territory, including what is now California, Nevada, and Utah, as well as parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming.
- When did that change? Congress passed the first major immigration restrictions in 1882, barring Chinese laborers from entering the U.S.
- Why did security increase? Because of a surge in Mexican immigration. During World War II, a temporary guest worker program was created to send Mexican laborers to manpower-starved American farms, and over the next 22 years some five million braceros would work in the U.S.
- What did the government do? President Jimmy Carter's administration proposed the construction of a fence along the most heavily trafficked parts of the border in 1979, but scrapped the idea following a backlash at home and in Mexico.
- When did the fences go up? The first major physical barriers were constructed in the 1990s under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
- Did the strategy work? To a large degree. The fences have no doubt made it harder to cross the border, especially in populated areas.
- The original border fence: The first federally funded border fence went up in 1911. But it wasn't built to keep people out. Instead, it was meant to stop tick-infested cattle from wandering into the U.S.
2-2-19 Mind-controlled robot lets you weld metal without using your hands
Welding is going hands-free. A mind-controlled robot can weld metal together after receiving mental instructions from its operator. The person controlling the robot wears an electroencephalography (EEG) cap, which measures the brain’s electrical activity via the scalp. They then look at a screen that has several pre-selected metal seams for the robot to weld. Each option on the screen flickers in turn and the operator stares at their choice. When their chosen option flickers, it generates a specific electrical response in the brain detectable by the EEG. By matching the electrical responses to the timing of the options displayed, the robot can identify where the operator was looking and therefore which welding seam they want to proceed with. If the operator is happy the robot understands their choice, they push a button to kick the robotic welder into action. The system was created by Yao Li and Thenkurussi Kesavadas at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Robot welders are widely used in vehicle manufacturing, for increasing efficiency and reducing labour costs. But they can also pose a safety risk to human factory workers: in 2015, a Volkswagen employee was killed in a German factory when a robot grabbed and crushed him, although accidents like this are rare. The hands-free nature of the robot could help operators perform task from further away. The robot also has a built-in camera for detecting if it comes close too close to a person’s skin to try to avoid accidents. The next step will be to develop smart robots that can respond intuitively to the factory environment and adjust their movements based on the behavior of operators around them, says Li.
2-1-19 Washington state in state of emergency
Washington state has declared a state of emergency since an outbreak of the measles virus hit Clark County, with at least 34 cases of the highly infectious and sometimes fatal viral illness. Washington is one of 18 states that permit parents to opt their children out of mandatory measles vaccines for philosophical reasons. In Clark County, 7.9 percent of students got exemptions from vaccination last year. (Webmaster's comment: Some human beings can be so stupid!)
2-1-19 Duct-taping a broken presidency
In the Trump presidency, said Dana Milbank, government officials are constantly scrambling “to use federal resources in vain attempts to turn the president’s lies into truth.” These efforts began right after Trump was inaugurated, when he demanded that the National Park Service prove his false claim that his crowd was larger than President Obama’s. Trump set up a now disbanded federal commission to prove that voter fraud was rampant; had aides lie to justify his claim that thousands of Middle Easterners had been arrested at the Mexican border; and even got White House officials to put out a doctored video to make it look as if CNN reporter Jim Acosta had manhandled a young female staffer. The latest act of “reverse engineering” occurred last week, after Trump repeatedly claimed that sex traffickers were smuggling scores of helpless women bound and gagged with duct tape in windowless vans across the southern border. After border experts were quoted as saying this wasn’t true, a senior Border Patrol official emailed an urgent request to agents seeking “any information that you may have” to back up the president’s duct-tape fantasy. So far, nothing. “They say you can fix anything with duct tape. But using it to repair a presidency?”
2-1-19 Intelligence chiefs contradict Trump
A U.S. intelligence assessment of global threats released this week concluded that North Korea is unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities, whereas Iran is not currently pursuing a bomb—findings at odds with President Trump’s foreign policy statements. Several other takeaways from the annual report contradict White House policy postures: ISIS remains a formidable threat and is capable of attacking the U.S.; there is no security crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border; and Russia is still committed to waging “information warfare” on the U.S. political system. The report also found that recent U.S. trade policies are straining alliances. Trump blasted his intelligence officials on Twitter, calling them “extremely passive and naïve” regarding Iran.
2-1-19 Europe's coming anti-liberal empire
For those who support the European Union, the good news of recent months has been that Brexit is unfolding so disastrously in the U.K. that the temptation of some to bolt from the bloc has faded across the continent. But the bad news is that those who despise the bureaucrats in Brussels may have found a new strategy to advance their aims — and one that has a much greater chance of succeeding. Instead of fighting the EU, the anti-liberals now hope to capture it. The first big push to make that happen will take place from May 23 to May 26, when elections for the European Parliament will be held across 28 member countries. The idea is simple: Parties that oppose the neoliberal policies of the EU aim to forge a right-wing popular front — and perhaps even a truly big-tent anti-liberal movement that includes both right- and left-wing populist parties — that can win a large block (and maybe even a plurality) of seats in the legislative body. The rudiments of such transpartisan anti-liberal coalitions already exist, with some of them holding political power. Italy is governed by a coalition of a far-right anti-immigrant party (La Lega) and an upstart anti-liberal-populist party (Five Star). In Hungary, Viktor Orbán's explicitly anti-liberal Fidesz holds a solid majority, but the country's second most popular party (Jobbik) is even further right. Austria's chancellor is a member of the conservative People's Party, but its vice-chancellor is a member of the far-right Freedom Party. Those countries and some others (Poland, the Czech Republic) are already poised to send large anti-liberal delegations to the European Parliament. But what if the anti-liberal right begins to make common cause with the anti-liberal left against the neoliberal governing class of the EU? (Webmaster's comment: The voices for freedom have all but loss in America. Now they may lose in Europe!)
2-1-19 Taxing the rich: An increasingly popular idea
To the horror of Republicans, “soaking the rich” is clearly now a popular idea, said Eric Levitz in NYMag.com. A few weeks ago, Democratic wunderkind Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) went on 60 Minutes and advocated a 70 percent top marginal tax rate on income above $10 million. Now presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has proposed a 2 percent annual tax on fortunes above $50 million, and a 3 percent tax on assets above $1 billion. These proposals are surprisingly popular: A Fox News poll finds 70 percent support increasing taxes on incomes over $10 million, with just 24 percent opposed. Warren’s plan is “an inspiring idea whose time has come,” said Jared Bernstein in The Washington Post. Her wealth tax would only affect 75,000 families, yet still raise a whopping $2.75 trillion over 10 years—which “speaks to the extent of wealth concentration in this country.” It’s also a corrective of a “rigged” tax code that unfairly favors how the rich make most of their money—through interest, dividends, and capital gains—over income earned through work. But you don’t have to be a Marxist to see the wisdom in using taxation to prevent oligarchy, said Jamelle Bouie in The New York Times. Today, accumulated wealth exerts enormous influence over how we’re governed. In a 1785 letter to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson warned of the pernicious effect of concentrated wealth, saying “enormous inequality produc[es] so much misery to the bulk of mankind.” He advocated taxes on wealth that rise “in geometrical progression.” Seen through this lens, Warren’s and Ocasio-Cortez’s plans seem less revolutionary than “a course correction” to restore some balance to our economy and our democracy.
2-1-19 So Tax The Rich
Overall, 56% of Americans favor a “Medicare for all” plan. But support drops to 37% if it would require them to pay more in taxes. (Webmaster's comment: So tax the rich. No one needs tens of millions, hundreds of millions or BILLIONS!)
2-1-19 Health care: Fighting high drug prices
Old drugs are still getting big new price hikes. The drug industry “is shattering lobbying records,” said Sam Baker in Axios.com—“a sign of just how much the industry believes is on the line” in an intense battle over drug prices. What’s roiling Big Pharma? For one thing, Democrats in the House of Representatives are kicking off an investigation into prescription costs. They also have a raft of proposals to beat back prices, including plans to allow drug imports from Canada and let Medicare negotiate lower drug prices. Drugmakers “had to know this was coming the second they saw last November’s election results,” but it’s losing traditional allies as well. Chuck Grassley (R.-Iowa), the new, much less “pharma-friendly” head of the Senate Finance Committee, supports the Canadian import idea, too. The industry wants the national debate to focus on exciting new drug advances. But now it’s trying to defend steep price increases on old drugs, including insulin, “whose staggering price hikes have stoked particular rage.” Let’s talk about insulin, said David Lazarus in the Los Angeles Times. Eli Lilly’s version is called Humalog. “I have type 1 diabetes and rely on Humalog to keep me alive, so I’m not a bystander in this conversation.” Back in 1996, Humalog cost $21 a vial. Today it’s approaching $300. Lilly just announced an $8 billion purchase of another drug company. I’m subsidizing that. So was the 26-year-old who died because he couldn’t afford $1,300 a month for his daily insulin doses. In four years, from 2012 to 2016, the cost of insulin for the average diabetic patient essentially doubled, from $2,900 to $5,700 per year, said Bob Herman in Axios.com. The industry’s response? Pointing fingers at insurers and pharmacy benefit managers. They say that rebates to insurers and coupons for patients cover much of the cost, and that the real problem is with “high deductibles and other insurance designs.” There are steps you can take now to cut your own costs, said Walecia Konrad in CBSNews.com. One is using new drug-pricing apps such as GoodRx and RxSaver to compare prices, which can vary widely, “even in the same ZIP code.” And there’s one surprising option: Pay cash instead of using your insurance. Yes, “consumers spend hours trying to find insurance plans that cover the drugs they use.” But in fact the direct cost can be less than a co-pay. For example, a common generic for Lipitor carries a $40 co-pay under many plans: A discounting pharmacy might bring that price down to $9. Until recently pharmacists were barred by insurance company contracts from telling you about cheaper alternatives. New rules bar these gag orders, but pharmacists may not volunteer this information and are “only obligated to tell you if you ask.”
2-1-19 Transgender sterilization
Japan’s Supreme Court has upheld a law that requires transgender people to be sterilized if they want to legally change their gender. Transgender campaigners had asked the court to overturn the 2004 law, which requires any person wishing to alter their gender on legal documents to have “no reproductive glands or reproductive glands that have permanently lost function.” The court unanimously threw out the appeal, saying the law was constitutional and prevented “problems” in parent-child relations that could cause societal “confusion.” Transgender advocates were upset by the ruling. “It is unthinkable in this day and time that the law requires a sex-change operation to change gender,” said lawyer Tomoyasu Oyama. The court did encourage lawmakers to review the law regularly so it keeps pace with changing social values.
2-1-19 Only gay lawmaker flees
Brazil’s only openly gay congressman has fled the country, citing death threats and a growing climate of homophobia. Jean Wyllys, a leading gay-rights activist and former reality show star, was re-elected for a third term last October but has chosen not to be sworn in this month. “For the future of this cause,” he said, “I have to stay alive. I don’t want to be a martyr.” Wyllys said Brazil was no longer safe following the murder last year of Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco, a political ally, and the election of President Jair Bolsonaro, a virulent opponent of gay rights. Soon after Wyllys made his announcement, Bolsonaro tweeted “Great day!” and a thumbs-up emoticon.
2-1-19 Here’s what makes satire so funny, according to science
An analysis of The Onion headlines reveals the mechanics of humor writing. Good news for aspiring satirists: Scientific analysis of real and joke headlines has uncovered a hack for writing witty one-liners. To identify the secret ingredients of satire, researchers compared farcical headlines with nearly identical, but unfunny headlines. The investigation, presented January 31 at the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence, revealed a strategy for changing words in serious statements to make them satirical. The technique could help AI write its own jokes or distinguish satire from fake news (SN: 8/4/18, p. 22). The researchers compiled a dataset of satirical and serious headlines using the online game Unfun.me, where players edit humorous headlines from the satirical publication The Onion as little as possible to make them serious. These tweaks “put a finger onto the exact switch that induces the humor,” says Robert West, a computer scientist École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland. He and coauthor Eric Horvitz, director of Microsoft Research in Redmond, Wash., amassed about 2,800 serious versions of nearly 1,200 headlines. Most of the joke headlines followed a common logical structure, which West and Horvitz call “false analogy.” Words switched between spoof and serious headlines share a crucial similarity, as well as a fundamental difference. Consider the humorless headline “BP ready to resume oil drilling” and its comedic counterpart “BP ready to resume oil spilling.” Subbing spilling for drilling works because both share the critical commonality of being activities famously associated with BP, but with one being intended and the other accidental. West and Horvitz identified several types of oppositions between words in serious and satirical headlines, such as modern versus outdated, human versus animal and obscene versus not.
2-1-19 America's shameful history of border cruelty
President Donald Trump has taken to calling the situation at the border not just a security "crisis" but also a "humanitarian" one. He should know because he created it. But even before Trump's zero-tolerance enforcement policy unleashed new horrors, inhumanity at the border was part and parcel of America's immigration enforcement. The silver lining, however, is that Trump's open embrace of such policies is inviting a level of scrutiny — and generating a level of disgust — that might pave the way for reform. Hardly a day goes by when some shocking story doesn't break about this administration's treatment of immigrants — or suspected immigrants. ICE recently detained a 27-year-old decorated Marine vet with mental health issues who is an American citizen. Why? Because he is Hispanic so it likely assumed he was here illegally. It is also becoming apparent that the administration separated far more than "just" 2,700 migrant kids from Central American parents seeking asylum as originally thought. Indeed, we are finding out now that separations started as soon as President Trump entered the Oval Office and before former Attorney General Jeff Sessions even formally embraced the policy. Worse, the administration failed to keep proper records when taking away the kids and, therefore, we can't be sure it'll ever be able to reunite all of them. As if all this is not bad enough, it implemented its policy of mass detaining children and parents without proper preparations. Hence, it is housing many of them in constantly lit, freezing-cold holding pens meant for drug dealers. The migrants reportedly sleep wrapped in thin blankets on mats or aluminum foil on cement floors with poor food and scarce running water to shower or brush their teeth. Toddlers were being herded in hastily constructed "tender-age shelters" or equally horrible facilities. Abuse is reportedly rampant. A state review of a Virginia detention facility found that immigration authorities used restraining techniques on children that included shackling and strapping them to chairs and placing mesh bags over their heads and sometimes even sending them into solitary confinement if they misbehaved. Videos of an Arizona facility show staffers shoving kids and dragging them across rooms by their hair. The sad part, however, is that the Trump administration isn't the first to use such tactics — it has merely scaled them up. Every president over the last century and a half has allowed similar abuse.