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

113 Atheism & Humanism News Articles
for November 2019
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source

12-3-19 Malaysian minister criticises 'obscene, half naked' tattoo show in Kuala Lumpur
A Malaysian minister has called a tattoo exhibition "obscene" and ordered an investigation after pictures of half-naked men and women went viral. The minister for tourism, arts and culture said that while a permit was issued, there was no green light for any form of nudity at the event. Mohammadin Ketapi said the show "was not Malaysian culture...the majority of Malaysians are Muslim". Recently, there has been more debate about Islamic conservatism in Malaysia. The Tattoo Malaysia Expo drew participants from some 35 countries and was held over the weekend in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. The show has taken place since 2015, but only this year drew criticism from the government, which announced "firm action" against the organisers. "It is impossible for the ministry to approve of any programme that contains obscenity such as this," Mr Ketapi said in a statement. Pictures showed heavily-tattooed participants in semi-nude poses. Malaysian media blurred some of the images. Mr Ketapi said: "We will wait for the full investigation report and will not hesitate to take legal action if they are found to have been in violation of set conditions." Around 60% of Malaysia's 32 million people are Muslim, and critics say the country has been moving towards more religious conservatism. A religious court this year sentenced five men to jail, caning and fines for attempting gay sex. In 2018, two women were caned for lesbian sex in the conservative state of Terengganu.

12-3-19 Louis van Amstel says teacher 'bullied his son for having two dads'
A substitute teacher has been sacked from a school in Utah after allegedly berating the adopted son of Dancing With The Stars professional Louis van Amstel for having gay parents. Mr van Amstel accused the teacher of bullying his 11-year-old, who he is in the process of adopting. The teacher asked the class what they were thankful of for Thanksgiving. The boy said he was thankful for "being adopted by his two dads", according to Mr van Amstel. In response, the teacher allegedly said "that's nothing to be thankful for" and gave the class a lecture about homosexuality, Mr van Amstel said. The teacher has been fired by Kelly Services, the subcontracting company that hired her. Mr van Amstel, 47, vented his anger over the incident at a school in Cedar Hills, south of Salt Lake City, in a series of social media posts. The teacher, according to Mr van Amstel, told the boy that "two men living together is a sin". "The substitute teacher was giving her very clear opinion that two men is wrong, homosexuality is wrong," Mr van Amstel said. Three girls asked the teacher to stop, but when she did not, they complained to the principal, Mr van Amstel said. As the teacher was escorted from the school, she "continued to argue her point", school officials told Mr van Amstel. A spokesman for the Utah school district said "appropriate action has been taken". In a statement, Kelly Services said: "We are concerned about any reports of inappropriate behaviour and take these matters very seriously. "We conducted an investigation and made the decision to end the employee's relationship with Kelly Services."

12-3-19 Pisa rankings: Why Estonian pupils shine in global tests
Estonia is Europe's newest education powerhouse. It outperforms the major European economies, including the UK, in influential global education tests. These Pisa tests measure the ability of 15-year-olds to apply their skills and knowledge to real-life problem-solving in reading, maths and science. The OECD has run the tests since 2000, and most middle and higher income countries take part. The latest results are published on Tuesday. In the Pisa results published in 2016, Estonia came third in science while the UK was ranked 15th, and in reading Estonia was ranked sixth - far above the UK's 22nd place. UK spending on education is relatively high compared to the average across larger economies, but the same is not true of this small Baltic state. Estonia has made high quality early years education a priority. It's drop-off time at Kelmikula kindergarten in the capital, Tallinn. Mums Kristin Talvik and Elvira Uustalu both have six-year-old children in the oldest group. That means they'll start compulsory schooling next year at the age of seven, so parents rely on kindergarten to get them ready. "It's very important because learning will be so fast. He'll need to ask teachers questions, raise his hand, be brave" says Kristin. "The most important thing is that he is socially ready." Almost every child in Estonia comes to Kindergarten from the age of three, or even earlier. Parents have to make a contribution, but it is capped as a proportion of the minimum wage. So, for these Tallinn mums Kristin and Elvira, that means up to €80 (£70, $90) a month per child.

12-2-19 Amazon pulls Auschwitz-themed Christmas ornaments
Amazon has withdrawn a range of "Christmas ornaments" displaying images of a former concentration camp that sellers had posted on its website. The move followed a tweet from Poland's Auschwitz Memorial calling on the retailer to remove the "disturbing and disrespectful" merchandise. It included Christmas tree decorations, a bottle opener and a mouse-pad. All displayed scenes from the Nazi death camp where mass killing was conducted in World War Two. The Christmas merchandise featured images from Auschwitz including the railway line leading to its infamous gates, the barbed wire fences and the buildings where it housed victims - mainly Jews. The memorial and museum later posted an update to say the items had been removed and thanked social media users for their "activity and response" after the post attracted thousands of retweets. But later Auschwitz Memorial posted again to say "sadly, it's not over yet". It said it had found a "disturbing online product" from another seller - a computer mouse-pad bearing the image of a freight train used for deporting people to the concentration camps. Amazon said the "products in question have been removed". "All sellers must follow our selling guidelines and those who do not will be subject to action, including potential removal of their account," the company added. (Webmaster's comment: The Neo-Nazis are everywhere, even in our Christmas items.)

12-1-19 Cambodia's first gay dance company
Prumsodun Ok is a choreographer and founder of Cambodia's first gay dance company. He performs Khmer dance, an ancient dance form with roots in Buddhism, Hinduism and animist practices in the region. Khmer dance used to be performed by both men and women, but over the last few centuries has become associated mainly with female dancers. Prumsodun wants to revive male Khmer dancing - as well as use it as an expression of LGBT identity in Cambodia.

11-30-19 God's gift to America?
On Sunday, outgoing Secretary of Energy Rick Perry told Fox News viewers about a recent conversation he'd had with Donald Trump in which he told the president he was "the chosen one" placed by God in the White House. Perry made sure to add that he had given Trump a "one pager" on the imperfect Old Testament kings who God had appointed to carry out his plans. "Don't get confused here, sir," Perry claims he said to the president. "This is not a reflection that you're perfect, but that God's using you." As liberals predictably freaked out over Perry's words, other Trump backers quickly confirmed that, yes, Trump has been selected by God for the presidency, and Fox put replays of the discussion in heavy rotation. In an interview for the Christian Broadcasting Network, Nikki Haley also weighed in. "I think God sometimes places people for lessons and sometimes places people for change," she told CBN's David Brody. On the one hand, the comments from Perry and others aren't that surprising. Invoking God's ordination has become boilerplate language for how many white evangelicals talk about the presidency. As the religious right activist Gary Bauer explained back during George W. Bush's administration, "Evangelicals believe that no leader rises without God allowing that leader to rise." In his Fox News interview, Perry contended that God's divine appointments to the White House are bipartisan. "You know, Barack Obama doesn't get to be the president of the United States without being ordained by God," he said. On the other hand, what's happening now is far more than a generic theological statement about God's sovereignty over American politics. As with everything related to Trump, the religious rationalization of his presidency is hyperbolic and overblown. And it's operating on overdrive, repeated constantly since Trump's 2016 victory. While many Americans rightly chalked up Trump's unlikely election to the technicalities of the Electoral College, Trump's religious backers saw the hand of Providence at work. By imagining Trump's win as miraculous, white evangelicals could self-justify their controversial support for the thrice-married casino magnate who openly bragged about sexual assault and once declared he'd never needed to ask for God's forgiveness. God picks imperfect people, after all — even those who don't realize their own imperfection. That self-rationalization for voting for Trump, however, has given way to a sort of self-absolution for continuing to support him in light of his myriad imperfections in office, not least his debased character and rampant illegalities. That's why we're likely to hear a whole lot more of the "chosen by God" talk as the 2020 election nears. If God chose Trump, who are we to turn from him now? (Webmaster's comment: White Evangelicals are the height of Christian Evil!)

11-29-19 Danes see Greenland security risk amid Arctic tensions
Denmark has for the first time put mineral-rich Greenland top of its national security agenda, ahead of terrorism and cybercrime. The Defence Intelligence Service (FE) linked its change in priorities to US interest in Greenland, expressed in President Donald Trump's desire to buy the vast Arctic territory. Greenland is part of Denmark, but has significant autonomy, including freedom to sign major business deals. China has mining deals with Greenland. The FE's head Lars Findsen said Greenland was now a top security issue for Denmark because a "power game is unfolding" between the US and other global powers in the Arctic. In August the Danish government dismissed as "absurd" President Trump's suggestion of a US-Denmark land deal over Greenland. Mr Trump then cancelled a state visit to Denmark and called Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen "nasty". The US interest in Greenland goes back decades. The US has a key Cold War-era air base at Thule, used for surveillance of space using a massive radar. It is the US military's northernmost base, there to provide early warning of a missile attack on North America. The vast island is strategically located between North America and Europe, easing deliveries to many markets. In a statement to the BBC, the FE's Lars Findsen said: "We have decided to start this year's Intelligence Risk Assessment with a chapter on the Arctic, as the interests of the great powers in the Arctic have direct impact on and growing significance for the Kingdom of Denmark. "Despite the Arctic nations' shared ambition to keep the region free of security policy disagreements, the military focus on the Arctic is growing. A power game is unfolding between great powers Russia, the United States and China that deepens tensions in the region."

11-29-19 How Trump talks about women - and does it matter?
With a number of women running to take on President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, the president's language about his opponents will undoubtedly be a recurring issue. But is there really a gender difference to his attacks? In an interview, Mr Trump referred to career diplomat Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, not by name, but as "the woman". Ms Yovanovitch, who Mr Trump recalled from her post in May, testified in the public phase of the impeachment inquiry on 15 November. She told lawmakers she was removed in a smear campaign by those with "questionable intentions". Justifying his decision to oust her, the president told Fox & Friends last Friday he heard "bad things" about "the ambassador, the woman". "This was not an angel, this woman, okay? And there were a lot of things that she did that I didn't like." Mr Trump added that his staff felt they had to be kind because "she's a woman - we have to be nice." Professor Marianne LaFrance, a psychologist at Yale University, says this remark is a prime example of gendered language. "That referencing says she's not an individual, she's not a professional, she's first and foremost a woman," Prof LaFrance says. "One of the things that's interesting about women and language is that women are 'marked'." Men, she notes, are not usually referred to as a "male person". "But we find it often easy and useful to describe a person first and foremost as a woman. Not a politician - she's a woman politician. You don't often say he's a male politician." And once language is used to "mark" someone, it "taps into a whole universe of stereotypes" that are typically unconscious. "So in saying a female politician - before you've said anything else about her policies, her credentials, her professional standing - you've said a lot." Even before he became president, Mr Trump had a history of controversial comments about women. His comments in a 2005 Access Hollywood tape about grabbing women "by the pussy" are perhaps the most notorious, and made headlines in 2016.

11-29-19 New rules for gay and bisexual male blood donors found to be safe
New rules that make it easier for gay and bisexual men in the UK to donate blood have been found to be safe, but equal rights campaigners say they don’t go far enough to eliminate discrimination. Most rich countries, including the US and Australia, only allow men who have sex with men to donate blood if they have abstained from sex for at least 12 months, because men in these countries have a higher risk of getting HIV and hepatitis from sex. In the US, for example, two-thirds of new HIV infections result from male-to-male sexual contact. All donated blood is tested before it is used, but it takes time for recent HIV and hepatitis infections to become detectable, which is why most countries ask that higher-risk donors avoid sex for a period of time before giving blood. However, modern screening tests can detect HIV and hepatitis within one month of a person being infected. In November 2017, England, Scotland and Wales shortened the time that men who have sex with men have to abstain from sex before donating blood to three months, on the advice of the UK’s Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs. Two years in, this policy change hasn’t compromised the safety of the UK’s donor blood supply, says Katy Davison of Public Health England, who presented the first data at a meeting of the AABB international blood bank association in San Antonio, Texas. There was no significant rise in infected blood. Out of 2 million blood donations made in the UK in 2018, seven tested positive for HIV, compared with six in 2017. These donations were discarded and no transfusion recipients received HIV-infected blood, she told the meeting. In addition, 89 blood donations tested positive for hepatitis in 2018, compared with 102 the previous year. Blood transfusions resulted in one person becoming infected with hepatitis B and another with hepatitis E, but this was below the required rate of no more than one infection per 1 million transfusions.

11-27-19 Why Trump identifies with war criminals
Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder and several other charges pertaining "to a pattern of threatening and intimidating actions toward Afghans" as a platoon leader in Afghanistan. The ruling relied on the testimony of nearly a dozen of the men who served under him, accounts describing an "ignorant, overzealous, and out of control" officer who "hated the Afghan people" and spent his days "tormenting the locals and issuing death threats." Lorance's conviction included at least one crime every single day at the station in question. This month, President Trump pardoned Lorance and another U.S. soldier convicted of war crimes while restoring the rank of a third subject to similar accusations. "Just this week I stuck up for three great warriors against the deep state," Trump boasted at his Florida rally Tuesday night. His rationale for issuing the pardons was threefold: First, because he likes the military so much ("I will always stick up for our great fighters"); second, because he wanted to reunite the families separated by these convictions ("He hugged his parents; it was a beautiful, beautiful thing"); and third, because he wants U.S. soldiers to feel free to do whatever it takes to keep America safe ("People have to be able to fight"). This is a load of tripe with a dash of trolling. The bit about the beauty of reuniting families seems calculated to infuriate opponents of this administration's zero-tolerance policy of separating migrant families at the border. That's the trolling. As for the rest of it, what Trump actually likes is war crimes, and, I suspect, he sees parallels here to himself. He wants his own history of fighting dirty to be likewise excused. The president's affection for violence beyond the laws and norms of modern warfare is well-established. He expresses total confidence in the efficacy of torture, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and insists it should be employed even if it doesn't work ("They deserve it anyway for what they do to us"). In a 2016 op-ed, for example, Trump argued it is only political correctness that prevents the United States from drowning and beheading our enemies in the style of the Islamic State. He has waxed rhapsodic about the prospect of killing the families of terrorists — which is to say, murdering children because of the misfortune of their birth and slaughtering women who very possibly had no choice in their marriage. He has no interest in confining the U.S. military to the rule of law, whether domestic or international, instead envisioning himself as the war crime commander-in-chief: "If I say do it, they're going to do it."

11-27-19 Sweeping war crimes under the carpet
We Britons like to believe that we wage war “with as much decency and honor as may be possible,” said Ken Macdonald. But a yearlong investigation by The Sunday Times and the BBC has found there is compelling evidence that British soldiers carried out scores of war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq and that investigations into the abuses are being blocked by the government. Army whistleblowers said that in southern Iraq in 2003, members of the Scottish Black Watch battalion kidnapped local men from their homes and took them hooded and handcuffed to Camp Stephen, an unofficial detention site where they were brutally beaten and made to have sex with one another. Two innocent civilians are believed to have died at the camp. In Afghanistan, a special forces soldier was charged with murdering three Afghan children in 2012, shooting them in the head at close range as they drank tea. But after one British lawyer representing the Iraqis was found to have acted dishonestly, the government used his fraud as “an excuse to close all the inquiries down” as if they had no merit. This was a grave mistake. The U.K. helped set up the International Criminal Court as a venue for prosecuting crimes against humanity when “individual nations were too cowardly, incompetent, or unwilling to bring their own citizens to justice.” Are we now such a nation?

11-27-19 Absolutely not
“Presidents are not kings,” U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said this week, ruling that White House counsel Donald McGahn must testify before the House Judiciary Committee and striking a blow at President Trump’s efforts to stonewall investigations. The White House had ordered McGahn, whom Democrats have called the single most important witness for determining whether Trump obstructed the Mueller probe, to defy the House’s subpoena. Yet presidents, Jackson ruled, “do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control.” She called the administration’s legal claim of an “absolute immunity” that would shield top presidential advisers from testifying “fiction.” Many key potential witnesses in the House impeachment inquiry could now be compelled to testify, though the White House will appeal the ruling. If McGahn does testify, he could still invoke executive privilege to limit his testimony.

11-27-19 Revelations
Revelations, after outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced on Fox News that President Trump is “the chosen one,” who has been “sent by God to do great things.” Perry, 69, called Trump “a cancer on conservatism” before joining his administration.

11-27-19 The GOP’s ‘minority-rule’ project
Why are evangelical conservatives and Republicans so willing to defend President Trump’s “indefensible behavior”? asked E.J. Dionne Jr. They deeply fear the demographic and cultural changes transforming the electorate, and “want to lock in their current policy preferences, no matter how much the country changes or how sharply public opinion swings against them.” As the country grows less white and less conservative, GOP leaders are well aware that maintaining power will require minority rule, which is why they are aggressively pushing for voter-ID statutes and purging voter rolls. It’s also why Republicans adamantly defend the Electoral College; in 2020, Trump might lose the popular vote by up to 10 million and still be re-elected. Trump has bought off the evangelical vote by filling the federal courts and the Supreme Court with arch-conservatives who share their opposition to gay marriage and abortion. The wealthy and corporations also are counting on Trump’s judges to protect them. Since Trump is giving Republicans control of the courts for decades to come, everything else he does “is negotiable, or ignorable.” No matter what Trump says or does, Republicans won’t turn on him, because they believe he’s essential to their “minority-rule project.”

11-27-19 Priests abused deaf kids
An Argentine court has sentenced two priests to more than 40 years in prison for sexually abusing children at a Catholic school for the deaf. Rev. Nicola Corradi, 83, an Italian, will likely remain under house arrest because of his age, while Rev. Horacio Corbacho, 59, will be sent to prison. The two men abused at least 10 children ages 4 to 17 at the school in Luján de Cuyo from 2004 to 2016; their victims were particularly vulnerable because they were forbidden from learning sign language, meaning they couldn’t report what was being done to them. Corradi had been accused of similar abuses at a school for the deaf in Italy in 2009 but was never charged. Victims who say they were abused at another Catholic institute, in the Argentine city of La Plata, are now seeking justice.

11-27-19 Rogue cop
A white police officer was convicted of manslaughter this week for killing an unarmed black man, Greg Gunn, steps from the house he shared with his mother. Gunn, 58, was stopped and patted down while returning home from a late-night poker game in 2016. Aaron Smith, 26, says Gunn fled, causing Smith to tackle him, tase him three times, hit him across the head with a police baton, and finally shoot him five times, first in the back. Prosecutors said Smith changed his story repeatedly, and his claim that Gunn swung a painter’s pole was undermined by the fact that Gunn was holding his baseball cap. Smith failed to turn on his body and dashboard cameras before the stop. The Montgomery Police Department was criticized for retaining Smith until his conviction. He now faces 10 to 20 years in prison.

11-27-19 Gun laws: The rebellion against enforcement
In rural America, “a resistance movement is boiling up,” said Gregory Schneider in The Washington Post. Dozens of counties, including 25 of New Mexico’s 33 and nearly two-thirds of those in Illinois, have declared themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries,” where sheriffs have “vowed to go to jail rather than enforce firearm restrictions.” Some communities have passed resolutions to the same effect, often using “boilerplate language” provided by the National Rifle Association. Why now? After recent Democratic victories spurred by urban and suburban constituencies fed up with mass shootings, some states either have passed or are considering laws expanding background checks, banning some types of guns, and raising the legal age of ownership to 21. Rural Americans brought up with guns see the new restrictions as proof that their “way of life” is being cast aside. “This draws a line in the sand,” said County Commissioner Josh Blake, after Lake County became Florida’s first “sanctuary” on Nov. 5. “And I hope it sends a message to what can be described as the authoritarian control freaks.” This is a troubling development for American democracy, said Algernon D’Ammassa in the Las Cruces, N.M., Sun-News. The Supreme Court has ruled that reasonable restrictions on guns are constitutional, and when citizens defy laws instead of trying to change them through the political system, the “erosion of representative governance” has begun. But there is a silver lining, said Laurie Roberts in The Arizona Republic. Officials in my state are clearly acting out of fear that the greater public is demanding a response to the mass shootings at schools, churches, synagogues, and offices. After so much senseless death, commonsense reform of our gun laws “can’t happen soon enough.”

11-27-19 Gay man flees
Russian authorities have launched a sexual assault investigation over a YouTube video in which a gay man answers questions from children about his life experiences. In the video, part of a series in which kids interview people from different walks of life, 22-year-old Maksim Pankratov chats with several children ages 7 to 13. Answering their questions, he says he realized he was gay at the age of 14 and that he can’t legally get married in Russia. Lawmaker Pyotr Tolstoy—a descendant of the author of War and Peace—demanded a police investigation of the video, declaring, “What I saw there can’t leave any parent unfazed.” Pankratov and the filmmaker, Victoria Pich, were inundated with death threats and fled abroad to avoid arrest. A 2013 law made teaching children about homosexuality a crime.

11-27-19 Cultural genocide
Leaked documents have revealed the Chinese Communist Party’s systematic efforts to stamp out the culture of the Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority from the Xinjiang region. Beijing says that the more than 1 million Uighurs and other Muslims being held in camps are there for voluntary job training. But one document leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists states outright that minorities are locked up to “wash brains, cleanse hearts, support the right, remove the wrong.” Artificial intelligence is used to identify those who need to be re-educated. Inside the camps, internees are graded on how well they speak China’s dominant Mandarin language and obey rules on everything from bathing to using the toilet. Inmates are only released when they hit a high enough score.

11-27-19 Anti-Semitic views still strong after 75 years
One in four Europeans holds strong anti-Semitic views, a new survey by the Anti-Defamation League found. In Spain, Belgium, Austria, Germany, and Italy, 49 percent said Jews are much more loyal to Israel than to their own country, and in Ukraine and Hungary, 71 percent said Jews have too much power in the world of business.

11-27-19 Critics say an EPA rule may restrict science used for public health regulations
The agency argues the proposed policy would increase transparency, but some scientists disagree. In science, transparency is typically considered a virtue. But a rule proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, billed as a means to keep environmental regulations rooted in reproducible science, is getting pushback from the scientific community. The proposal, titled “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science,” would require studies that factor into EPA rule-making to be based on publicly available data. Doing so, the agency argues, would ensure that other researchers could access that data and verify the findings of any study. The EPA administrator would be able to handpick allowances for studies whose data cannot be made public. But according to a Nov. 12 EPA news release, “this should be the exception instead of the way of EPA doing business.” That stipulation has some scientists worried that EPA regulations may then be able to ignore relevant evidence from many studies based on private information. Among the critics are editors of six major scientific journals — Science, Nature, Cell, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, PLOS and the Lancet — who voiced their concerns in a statement published online November 26 in Science. “We support open sharing of research data, but we also recognize the validity of scientific studies that, for confidentiality reasons, cannot indiscriminately share absolutely all data,” the authors write. Ignoring pertinent information in creating and updating policies like public health regulations simply because results are based on private data “would be a catastrophe.”

11-27-19 Bad medicine? Why rapid drug approvals may put your health at risk
Rushing medicines to market is supposed to help people in need. But relying on lower standards of evidence may ultimately cause more harm than good WEEKS before their due date, some women find themselves stunned, peering through glass at their baby, a tiny body covered in sensors and tubes, striving to stay in the world. Premature birth can be terrifying. Although survival rates for babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy have steadily improved, they are still significantly worse than those of babies born later, and the likelihood of longer-term health complications is higher. So any medication that could reduce that risk would be gratefully received – and has been. In 2011, a drug called Makena was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the basis of a small trial showing that it helped prevent preterm birth. Later, larger studies found that it didn’t. One hospital even reported higher rates of gestational diabetes among women given the drug. Then last month, a large trial found that Makena was no better than placebo; an FDA committee recommended withdrawing it from the market. The FDA has yet to decide. It isn’t just Makena. At drug approvals agencies around the world, more and more medications are being rushed to market after limited testing. Drugs are approved based on preliminary findings, or authorised for a particular use, then widely prescribed for something else. And hanging over the process is a worrying question: are these agencies working to protect the public or to further the interests of drug companies? We would all like to think that any treatment our doctors offer is the best option available for us, based on credible evidence. But not only do some approved drugs turn out not to work, they may be worse for us than doing nothing. Decisions made by the FDA or European Medicines Agency (EMA), which agree on approvals more than 91 per cent of the time, have international ramifications. The FDA recently announced an initiative with Canada and Australia for faster, simultaneous approvals of certain cancer medications, for instance. Even when collaboration isn’t direct, FDA decisions have ripple effects: the US process is viewed as the gold standard worldwide and drugs granted accelerated approval by the FDA or EMA can then be fast-tracked by authorities elsewhere.

11-26-19 Kamala Harris school plan: The two hours costing US parents thousands
Democratic presidential contender Kamala Harris has proposed new legislation to address a thorny parental problem - how to care for children whose school days end hours before the workday. Journalist Kara Voght explains why it sparked such a reaction and how this issue affects parents worldwide. In the US, the average school day is roughly seven hours long, beginning just after 8:00 and ending around 15:00, a vestige of an earlier era when it was less likely that both parents worked outside the home. Most schools begin their academic year in August and end it in June, with 180 schooldays in between. In the US, schools close for a two-day weekend and a handful of federal holidays, as well as an average of 29 addition days used for teachers' professional development, parent-teacher conferences, and additional vacation time. These specifications don't neatly align with the work demands most American parents face. Nearly 70% of parents with school-age children work a "9-to-5" schedule, and school closures during the year outpace what the average American has in holiday, vacation, and paid leave by nearly two weeks. Since fewer than half of all elementary schools offer after-school care, most parents either have to pay for private caregivers - which costs an average of $6,600 (£5,100) per year - or scale back their working hours to make up the difference. The professional sacrifice has typically fallen to mothers, a million of whom work less than full-time in order to provide caregiving responsibilities to elementary school-aged children. Low-income mothers and mothers of colour, whose jobs often grant less flexibility and time off, often shoulder even greater burdens that ask them to choose between caring for their children or having a job at all. Experts estimate that the United States loses $57bn in economic productivity each year thanks to the school calendar. Harris' proposal aims to address this discrepancy. Her bill, called the Family Friendly Schools Act, is a pilot programme that would give 500 schools that serve a high proportion of low-income families up to $5m dollars in grants to develop programming for students from at least 8:00 to 18:00 Monday through Friday. Schools would be expected to stay open every day of the school year except for weekends and federal holidays; if they want to close for any other reason, they need to provide a full day of enrichment activities for students. The longer day wouldn't require more classroom time, however; Harris imagines that school districts would work alongside community partners to develop "high-quality, culturally relevant, linguistically accessible, developmentally appropriate academic, athletic, or enrichment opportunities for students".

11-26-19 AI recreates videos people are watching by reading their minds
Artificial intelligence is getting better at reading your mind. An AI could guess what videos people were watching purely from their brainwaves. Grigory Rashkov at Russian research firm Neurobotics and colleagues trained an AI using video clips of different objects and brainwave recordings of people watching them. The recordings were made using an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap and the video clips included nature scenes, people on jet skis and human expressions. The AI then tried to categorise and recreate the videos from the EEG data alone. In 210 out of 234 attempts the AI successfully categorised each video, by providing tags such as waterfalls, extreme sports, or human faces. Visually, the AI seemed to have the most success in recreating the primary themes of the images, such as large shapes and colours. More nuanced details such as those found on human faces were more difficult to recreate with most appearing distorted and beyond recognition. Mind-reading AIs are still only looking at the surface of human thought, says Victor Sharmas from the University of Arizona. “What we are currently seeing is a caricature of human experience but nothing remotely resembling an accurate re-creation, he says.

11-25-19 Americans Now Support Life in Prison Over Death Penalty
For the first time in Gallup's 34-year trend, a majority of Americans say that life imprisonment with no possibility of parole is a better punishment for murder than the death penalty is. The 60% to 36% advantage for life imprisonment marks a shift from the past two decades, when Americans were mostly divided in their views of the better punishment for murder. During the 1980s and 1990s, consistent majorities thought the death penalty was the better option for convicted murderers.

  • 60% say life imprisonment the better punishment, up from 45% in 2014
  • This marks first time majority supports life in prison over death penalty
  • 56% still broadly favor using the death penalty for convicted murderers

11-25-19 Cannabis legalisation: Democrats argue over whether it leads to using other drugs
There's strong disagreement among Democratic contenders for the US presidency about legalising cannabis and it's been a flashpoint in their televised debates. Joe Biden, currently the leading contender in the race, won't be drawn either way. He wants more evidence about whether using it could act as a "gateway" to the use of harder drugs before it's legalised throughout the US. "Before I legalise it nationally," said Biden, "I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it." But other Democrats, such as Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, have attacked this approach, saying the evidence is clear-cut and that cannabis use should be legalised. Senator Booker, who supports legalisation, joked that he thought Mr Biden "might have been high" when he said he opposed legalisation. Senator Harris has said: "Let's be clear; marijuana isn't a gateway drug and should be legalised." Other senior Democrats such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren also say they support legalisation. Polling by the Pew Research Center shows that public support for legalisation has steadily increased in the last decade, with two-thirds of Americans now supporting it. Some 33 states have legalised medical cannabis, while 11 states and Washington DC have also legalised recreational use. But cannabis use remains illegal at the federal level. So is there evidence legalising cannabis could lead to the use of more dangerous substances? The US government's own National Institute on Drug Abuse states that "some research suggests that marijuana use is likely to precede use of other licit and illicit substances". It cites experiments on animals that show increased responsiveness to other drugs after being exposed to substances containing cannabis. However, it adds that cannabis is not unique - alcohol and nicotine have a similar effect. And it states that the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, "harder" substances.

11-24-19 How this Guatemalan family is grappling with the uncertain future of DACA
Sisters Karen Hernandez and Angela Velasquez say they remember the day in 2012 when then-President Barack Obama issued an executive order launching Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The program offered undocumented people like them, who were brought to the United States as children, work permits and temporary relief from deportation. They applied right away. "I took advantage of the opportunity as soon as it came out," said Velasquez. She was a teenager at the time. "I was like, okay, this is my chance." She got a retail job, which helped pay for college. Later she worked at an insurance company. DACA also allowed her older sister, Karen, to find work and in turn helped her obtain a master's degree in global health science. Then in 2017, President Donald Trump canceled DACA. It shook the sisters. "I was freaking out," said Velasquez, now 26 years old. "I started thinking, are we going to have to go back to Guatemala? It was scary." Uncertainty over the DACA program put the fate of some 700,000 beneficiaries into limbo. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments earlier this month in a legal challenge to Trump's termination of DACA. The Trump administration argued that Obama overstepped the boundaries of the presidency by creating the program — and that the judiciary should not be able to review the decision to terminate it. Meanwhile, lawyers arguing on behalf of DACA recipients argued the Trump administration did not follow procedure in ending the program. A decision may not come until next June. In the meantime, some DACA recipients who are tired of the uncertainty are taking matters into their own hands. Hernandez and her husband left the U.S. for Vancouver, Canada, in January. The two sisters, along with another sister and their parents, left rural Guatemala in the 1990s, while the country was still recovering from a civil war. The tourist visas that allowed them to enter the U.S. eventually expired, and all of them became undocumented. A younger brother, now 8 years old, was later born in the U.S., an automatic citizen.

11-24-19 People share fake news online even when they can tell it's not true
The spread of fake news on social media has been a problem for years. But there may be a simple solution to stop people sharing inaccurate information. Gordon Pennycook at the University of Regina in Canada and colleagues have found that people can identify fake news easily, but may unwittingly share misinformation on social media because they aren’t thinking analytically. The researchers presented more than 2500 people from the US with real headlines and images taken either from mainstream news stories or from a cache of stories that had been debunked by independent factcheckers as entirely false. In the first part of the study, some participants were asked to indicate if they would consider sharing the headlines on social media. Many said they would, whether or not the headline was actually true. In detail, it turned out that people’s likelihood of sharing a headline was more contingent on whether or not it supported their political beliefs. For instance, if a headline was false but concordant with someone’s political leanings – whether towards the political left or right – the chances of the person sharing it were 37.4 per cent. But the chances of sharing dropped to 24.0 per cent for headlines that were discordant with someone’s beliefs but true. As part of a follow-up study, the team asked another group of people to judge the accuracy of headlines before asking them whether or not they would consider sharing them on social media. They found that people who were given this accuracy prompt were significantly less likely to consider sharing false headlines. Building on this second finding, the researchers explored whether people using Twitter in their daily lives could be encouraged not to share stories that they suspect to be fake. The team identified thousands of users who had previously shared news from potentially misleading websites, and used Twitter bots to message almost 5500 of them. The researchers asked these users to rate the accuracy of a single non-political headline. Afterwards, they measured the trustworthiness of the news shared by these users, using a trustworthiness scale developed by independent factcheckers.

11-24-19 Pope urges abolition of nuclear weapons during Japan visit
Pope Francis has made an impassioned appeal for the abolition of nuclear weapons during a visit to Nagasaki, one of the two Japanese cities targeted by atomic bombs during World War Two. He decried the "unspeakable horror" of nuclear weapons and insisted they were "not the answer" for global peace. At least 74,000 were killed in Nagasaki by the attack by US forces in 1945. Two survivors of the bombing, now both in their 80s, presented the pontiff a wreath during the Sunday service. Pope France arrived from Thailand on Saturday for a four-day visit, which is only the second papal visit to Japan. Hundreds of people gathered in the pouring rain to hear him in Nagasaki. The Pope then attended a meeting at the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima, the site of the other atomic attack. In a sombre ceremony, the Pope unequivocally condemned the use of nuclear weapons. "This place makes us deeply aware of the pain and horror that we human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another," he said at the event in Nagasaki. During his speech, Pope Francis also took aim at their use as a deterrent and insisted peace is incompatible with the "fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation." He also criticised the money "squandered" on the weapons around the world and mentioned a "climate of distrust" hindering contemporary non-proliferation and arms control efforts. Sakue Shimohira, 85, and Shigemi Fukahori, 89, were two survivors who met with the Pope during the visit. "My mother and older sister were killed, charred," Ms Shimohira was quoted by AFP news agency as saying. "Even if you survived, you couldn't live like a human or die like a human... It's the horror of nuclear weapons." There are about 536,000 Catholics in Japan, according to Vatican News. The number makes up less than only 0.5% of the population - where Buddhism and Shintoism are the most popular religions. Nagasaki is known for being home to so-called "hidden Christians" who practiced their faith underground when it was banned during the 17th Century.

11-22-19 Pardoned soldiers: Are they war criminals?
President Trump wants war criminals to be “treated as heroes,” said Graeme Wood in Last week, he pardoned two soldiers accused or convicted of murder, and reversed the demotion of a third. One pardon went to Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who had served six years of a 19-year sentence for ordering his platoon to fire on three unarmed Afghan motorcyclists in 2012, killing two. Another pardon went to Army Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, accused of shooting an Afghan prisoner in 2010 and secretly burning his remains. Trump also restored the rank of Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher, who was recently acquitted of murdering civilians but convicted of taking trophy photos with a dead teenage ISIS prisoner, bragging to friends he’d executed him with a hunting knife. Defense Secretary Mark Esper adamantly opposed the pardons, which will only lead to more bad behavior and tell our enemies they’re “suckers” if they don’t also behave like savages. “Is that really how Trump views the U.S. military?” asked Iraq and Afghanistan veteran Elliot Ackerman in There’s a profound difference between “killing machines” and soldiers, whose “confidence to fight” comes from hard-earned discipline and unit cohesion. Soldiers who kill unarmed civilians in defiance of their training and their superiors “defile the uniform.” Pardoning them endangers U.S. troops, said former Army intelligence officer Benjamin Haas in The New York Times. When our soldiers kill civilians out of vengeance, it can turn the local population against them—and lead to attacks on our troops. Trump understands none of this, and “should have left the military justice system to do its job.”

11-22-19 Poll watch
70% of Americans think that President Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate Joe Biden and his son was wrong, while 25% say Trump did nothing wrong, including 65% of Republicans. 51% think Trump’s actions warrant impeachment and removal from office. 58% say they are following the impeachment hearings somewhat or very closely, with 18% saying they’re not at all following them closely.

11-22-19 Why Trump fears DACA victory
If Supreme Court conservatives end the DACA program protecting “Dreamers” from deportation, said Maggie Haberman, President Trump “may find himself in a political box of his own making.” During oral arguments on the administration’s attempt to throw out President Obama’s creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Chief Justice John Roberts strongly suggested that Obama went beyond his constitutional authority and that Congress should decide what to do with the 700,000 Dreamers brought here illegally as children. But if the court rules 5-4 to end DACA next year, it will dump the problem in Trump’s lap. He promised during the 2016 campaign to cancel DACA, and his anti-immigration base hates the idea of granting legal status or citizenship to anyone who came here illegally, even as an infant. But more than 70 percent of Americans support DACA, and TV images of ICE agents dragging away crying Dreamers could turn off the moderates, women, and Latinos Trump is trying to woo. Congress is unlikely to forge an immigration compromise during the heat of the campaign. For Trump, a Supreme Court victory in this case could be a loss.

11-22-19 Sandy Hook lawsuit: Why gunmakers are worried
“The wall of invulnerability around U.S. gun manufacturers just cracked a bit,” said Scott Martelle in the Los Angeles Times. The Supreme Court has refused to block a civil lawsuit against Remington Arms brought by the families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Under a law Congress passed in 2005, gunmakers are generally shielded from liability when their products are used to commit crimes, although victims can sue them for making defective products or violating local laws. The Sandy Hook families argue that Remington broke Connecticut state law by irresponsibly marketing weapons like the Bushmaster AR-15–style semiautomatic used by 20-year-old Adam Lanza, boasting of its lethal military firepower and urging young men to get “your man card reissued.” Even if Remington ultimately prevails, said Ed Kilgore in, the trial will damage the gun lobby. The Sandy Hook families plan to use the discovery process to gain access to internal documents and expose the gun industry’s closely guarded marketing strategies for selling assault-style weapons to high-risk customers. It’s about time, said The Hartford Courant in an editorial. Just as Big Pharma is being forced to answer for its role in fomenting the opioid crisis, the gun industry must also face accountability for the horrific massacres it has helped cause. “The people who sell the weapon of choice for mass killers are going to have to reveal exactly how they peddle their message that wielding a weapon designed for military combat makes sense for ordinary civilians.”

11-22-19 Is vaping more harmful than smoking?
In another worrying finding on vaping, two new studies have indicated that e-cigarettes could be more damaging to the heart than traditional cigarettes. If that research is correct, the health implications could be significant, because more Americans die each year from smoking-related heart disease (210,000 people) than from lung cancer (140,000). In the first study, which involved 476 people, researchers at Boston University compared the cholesterol levels of e-cig users, regular smokers, those who used both products, and nonsmokers. They found that the vapers had higher levels of unhealthy LDL cholesterol—which can gum up blood vessels—than nonsmokers. In the second study, researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles examined how the hearts of 10 smokers, 10 nonsmokers, and 10 vapers responded to a mild burst of exercise. The flow of blood went up in nonsmokers and tobacco smokers, although the increase in smokers was notably lower. E-cigarette users, however, effectively saw no increase. “There is a lot we still don’t know about e-cigarettes,” Sana Majid, author of the Boston University study, tells “It’s going to take time for us to understand how [they] affect your heart health.” There are already significant concerns about vaping’s effects on lungs: More than 2,000 vapers have been hospitalized in recent months with lung illnesses, and at least 42 have died. Scientists suspect many had vaped illicit liquids containing THC—the psychoactive compound in marijuana—that had been cut with vitamin E acetate, a sticky oil that can cling to the lungs.

11-22-19 Ban vaporized
President Trump abandoned a ban on flavored e-cigarettes after being advised that supporting it could hurt his re-election chances, The Washington Post reported this week. Trump had announced the crackdown in September, citing use by 5 million teenagers, and federal regulators subsequently approved a ban on all e-cigarette flavors except menthol and tobacco. Yet on Nov. 4, the night before a scheduled news conference, Trump reversed course, reportedly saying he feared job losses. He’d faced aggressive lobbying from the vape and tobacco industries and was shown polling data suggesting a ban could cost him in battleground states. He’d credited his wife, Melania, and daughter Ivanka for advocating for the ban, which coincided with a vaping-related illness that’s now caused more than 40 deaths. Trump “was just doing it for Melania and Ivanka,” a senior official told the Post.

11-22-19 PAY OR DIE!
A new Gallup poll shows 34 million Americans reported having had a friend or family member who died in the past five years because they could not afford needed medical treatment or medications. Meanwhile, nearly 23 percent of American adults—about 58 million people—said they were unable to pay for a medication their doctor had deemed necessary in the past year.

11-22-19 Health care: A plan to make hospitals publish prices
The Trump administration released a plan last week to force hospitals and insurers to get more transparent about pricing, said Berkeley Lovelace Jr. in The new rule would require hospitals to “post their standard charges for services, including the negotiated rates with insurers and the discounted price a hospital is willing to accept directly from a patient if paid in cash.” The administration already required a published list of “sticker” prices, but hospitals and insurers often kept their negotiated rates secret.

11-22-19 A minimum-wage test
Towns on the New York–Pennsylvania border provide a “natural experiment” for how minimum-wage hikes could impact employment, said Jeanna Smialek in The New York Times. While Pennsylvania has “stuck by the $7.25 federal minimum” wage, New York has been gradually increasing its minimum to hit $12.50 by 2020. As a result, wages have “shot up in New York state’s southern counties.” Chautauqua County in New York, for instance, borders Pennsylvania’s Erie County and is similar in many ways. But as “restaurants in Chautauqua have seen annual pay climb by about 30 percent since 2012,” those in Erie County have climbed just 14 percent, and “restaurants in Chautauqua have continued hiring.” The adjustments have not been painless. Meeder’s, a diner on the border, raised prices this year to help with labor costs and has turned more to automation. But customers “barely noticed” the changes, and the diner has avoided layoffs.

11-22-19 Campus shattered
Nearly a dozen racist incidents this month have rocked Syracuse University, escalating this week when a white supremacist manifesto was sent to several students at a campus library. Law enforcement authorities are investigating who posted the anti-Muslim screed, which was originally circulated by the Christchurch, New Zealand, mass shooter. Students organized sit-ins and professors canceled classes after slurs and swastikas turned up in graffiti around campus. Syracuse suspended all social activities at fraternities after a group of students, including members of Alpha Chi Rho, berated a female black student with racial slurs. Soon after the manifesto was posted, a Jewish-Mexican professor reported receiving a threat in her work email telling her to “get in the oven where you belong.” Professors, students, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo slammed the private university’s response to the events, and a Syracuse booster offered $50,000 for information on anyone responsible.

11-22-19 Opposes legalizing marijuana
Former Vice President Joe Biden said he opposes legalizing marijuana at the federal level, on the grounds that more study is needed to determine if it’s a “gateway drug” leading to harder-substance use. However, Biden says he supports medical marijuana and that weed should be decriminalized.

11-22-19 The Holocaust survivor who produced Schindler’s List
Branko Lustig was a 10-year-old prisoner at Auschwitz when Nazi guards ordered him to stand in the front row at a hanging. The young Croatian Jew watched as seven inmates were brought to the gallows and, moments before the bench was kicked out from under them, shouted in Yiddish, “Remember how we died! Tell the story about us!” Lustig would do just that. Years after his 1945 liberation, Lustig embarked on a career in film that eventually took him to Hollywood. There, in 1994, he shared the Best Picture Oscar for producing Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust epic, Schindler’s List. “I hope I fulfilled my obligation to the innocent victims of the Holocaust,” he said at the award ceremony. Lustig was born in the city of Osijek “in what then was Yugoslavia and today is Croatia,” said The Washington Post. Most of his family was killed in World War II; his grandmother died in a gas chamber. When British troops liberated Bergen-Belsen, where he had been transferred from Auschwitz, “Lustig heard the sound of bagpipes and concluded he was dead.” The music, he recalled thinking, must have been “angels playing.” He began work on Yugoslavian films in the 1950s, said The Hollywood Reporter. A job as a location manager on 1971’s Fiddler on the Roof “led to more international work,” including as assistant director on the Oscar-winning The Tin Drum and supervisor on the Holocaust drama Sophie’s Choice, another Oscar winner. But Lustig said his greatest achievement was the founding with Spielberg of the USC Shoah Foundation, which has recorded the testimony of more than 50,000 Holocaust survivors. “It’s important that we not forget,” he said. “If you forget, [the Nazis] will have really beat you.”

11-22-19 Humility
Humility, after a Kentucky man won a three-year court battle to personalize his license plate with the phrase “IM GOD.” A federal judge ruled that Ben Hart, AN ATHEIST, had a First Amendment right to say what he wanted on his vanity plate.

11-22-19 High-tech chastity belts
High-tech chastity belts, with the news that evangelical Christians are licensing software programs to detect pornography being loaded onto their digital devices. The programs then alert “accountability partners” such as pastors or friends to intervene.

11-22-19 Russians under threat over gay Q&A video
A criminal investigation in Russia has been opened under the charge of "sexual assault" after a video in which children ask a gay man questions about his life and sexuality was posted online. Real Talk hosted a series where children meet people with different life experiences and ask unscripted questions. The interview with the gay man did not include any discussion of sex, but the deputy speaker of parliament filed a complaint with police. "Promoting" homosexuality to young people was banned in 2013 - punishable by a fine. But the repercussions for those involved in this video are far more serious.

11-21-19 Florida: 145 graves of an African-American cemetery found under school
The graves of 145 people have been discovered under a high school in Tampa, in the US state of Florida. They are part of Ridgewood Cemetery, a mid-20th Century cemetery for the poor. The coffins - buried 3-5ft (1-1.5m) deep - were discovered using ground-penetrating radar after the school was alerted about the possible location of the cemetery. Records indicate more than 250 people were buried there, most of them African Americans, the school district said. Up to 77 of them were infants or small children. The city opened Ridgewood in 1942 and sold it off to a private company in 1957. The school district acquired the land in 1959, opening King High School in 1960. Today, the site consists of open land and the school's agricultural building. As for the graves that have not been accounted for, some may have been moved or not picked up by the radar because they have deteriorated or, in the case of children, their small size. "I am sick of this. This hurts deeply," Yvette Lewis, president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was quoted as saying by the Tampa Bay Times. "It was hate toward people who looked like me. It deeply saddens me that people can hate you this much, that they can treat you less than."

11-20-19 When robots are ultra-lifelike will it be murder to switch one off?
Sentient machines with empathy and morality are coming. We urgently need to make some life-and-death decisions about their rights “HELLO, I’m Scout. Want to play?” My daughter has a toy dog that yaps and comes out with a few stock phrases. When it gets too annoying, I don’t hesitate to turn it off. I sometimes think about “losing” Scout, or even “accidentally” breaking it, acts that would be cruel to my daughter but not to the dog. But for how much longer will this be true? Technology is getting better all the time. What will it mean if we can create a robot that is considered alive? If I find myself annoyed by such a robot, would it be wrong to turn it off? Would that be the same as killing it? The answer isn’t obvious. Many people already regard robots more sensitively than I do. At Kofukuji temple near Tokyo, Japan, Buddhist priests conduct services for “dead” Aibo robot dogs. In Japan, inanimate objects are considered to have a spirit or soul, so it makes sense for Aibos to be commemorated in this way. Such sentiments aren’t confined to Japan, however. Julie Carpenter, a roboticist in San Francisco has written about bomb disposal soldiers who form strong attachments to their robots, naming them and even sleeping curled up next to them in their Humvees. “I know soldiers have written to military robot manufacturers requesting they fix and return the same robot because it’s part of their team,” she says. This is attachment. You might feel the same about an old coat, yet no one will argue that a coat is sentient. Even machines that seem very human-like, such as Alexa, Siri and those capable of face or voice recognition, have internal states that are completely different from those of humans or animals. “They have no consciousness, no awareness, no emotions, no attachments,” says Bernd Stahl of De Montfort University, UK. “Speaking of the ‘death’ of a robot is thus a metaphor similar to the ‘death’ of your car or phone when they stop functioning.” Yes, at the moment it is a metaphor. But it is feasible that we will one day make a sentient machine that has empathy and moral agency. Then what?

11-20-19 Racist manifesto sent to students at Syracuse University, reports say
An investigation is under way after US officials received reports a "white supremacist manifesto" was sent to students at Syracuse University. It was the latest in a spate of racist incidents that have been reported on the upstate New York campus. The school said it has added security as the reports are investigated. But critics - including some students and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo - say the university's response has not been sufficient. The manifesto was posted online late Monday night before allegedly being sent to the phones of several students inside a campus library via Apple AirDrop, a file-sharing service. Police say the manifesto appears to be the same one written by the man suspected in the massacre at two New Zealand mosques in March. It did not contain a specific threat to Syracuse University. Mr Cuomo, in a statement on Tuesday, criticised university Chancellor Kent Syverud's response, demanding a probe into the surge of racist incidents. The Democrat governor said: "They have not been handled in a manner that reflects this state's aggressive opposition to such odious, reckless, reprehensible behaviour. That these actions should happen on the campus of a leading New York university makes this situation even worse." Mr Syverud promised action and acknowledged "concrete concerns related to the environment for diversity and inclusion on our campus". A criminal investigation has been opened, with the FBI assisting local and state law enforcement. Since early November there have been several reports of racist incidents targeting various groups, including black, Asian and Jewish students. On Saturday night, racial slurs were allegedly hurled at a black female student by members of a fraternity. In response, the school suspended the fraternity involved as well as social activities for all fraternities. Days before that, a swastika was drawn in the snow on the lawn of an apartment complex where students live. There have also been multiple accounts of racist graffiti towards black and Asian students in campus buildings.

11-20-19 Why almost everyone believes in an afterlife – even atheists
Most people hold curiously similar ideas about life after death, suggesting there is more to it than religion, fear or an inability to imagine not existing. RICHARD WAVERLY was a 37-year-old history teacher. One day he was driving to work, tired after a late night and hungry from skipping breakfast. He was also in a bad mood following a row with his wife, who he suspected of having an affair. At a busy junction, he lost control, drove into a telegraph pole and was thrown through the windscreen. The paramedics said he was dead before he hit the pavement. This story is fictitious, but when psychologist Jesse Bering narrated it to volunteers, he discovered something you probably couldn’t make up. Asked questions such as “do you think Richard knows he is dead?” and “do you think he wishes he had told his wife he loved her before he died?”, large numbers of volunteers answered yes. For many, who had already professed a belief in the afterlife, this was no big surprise. However even people who totally rejected the idea of life after death – so-called extinctivists – also answered yes. That experiment was done in 2002. Since then, Bering – who is now at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand – and others have confirmed and extended its findings. Confronted with the finality of death, the majority of us, dogged rationalists included, cling on to the belief that it isn’t the end. “Most people believe in life after death,” says psychologist Jamin Halberstadt, also at the University of Otago. “That’s amazing. Science has changed the way we think about almost every aspect of our lives, including deathHumans aren’t the only animals with an awareness of death. Elephants and dolphins are fascinated by corpses of their kin and chimps have been observed performing what some primatologists say are elaborate funerary rituals. We have no way of knowing whether they have a concept of an afterlife, but we know for sure that humans do. Archaeological evidence for afterlife beliefs goes back at least 12,000 years, when bodies started to be buried with useful stuff to take to the other side. But such beliefs are far from a thing of the past. Surveys done regularly since the 1940s consistently show that about 70 per cent of US citizens believe in some form of life after death – a number that is mirrored across the developed world. What’s more, as Bering found, even the 30 per cent who say they don’t, often do. When he asked extinctivists whether they agreed with the statement “conscious personality survives the death of the body but I am completely unsure of what happens after that”, 80 per cent said yes.

11-20-19 From mushroom shrouds to cyber funerals, a 21st-century guide to death
Death isn't what it used to be, and with so many end-of-life options to choose from it is never too soon to start contemplating your demise. IF YOU planted an apple tree in the ground where your mum had been composted, would you eat the apples?” It isn’t a question you hear every day. But that’s the whole point of a death cafe: to get people talking about something we typically choose to ignore. I had come to the end of the line, the London Underground’s District Line, to get my first taste of the experience. Fuelled by tea and cake, the conversation meandered from powers of attorney and whether a sudden death is better than a terminal illness to living wills and biodegradable burials – hence the apples. But I wasn’t here to think about what to do with my mother. The assignment was to embrace the end of my own life. Honestly, it felt a bit daft to begin with: I’m 37 and, as far as I know, in good health. As it turns out, though, that first visit to a death cafe was the start of a brief journey that would open my eyes – not only to what I can do to prepare, and the adventures my cadaver might enjoy, but also to how the very act of contemplating death can improve my life. We are all going to die, and we know it. Yet people don’t generally think about death, never mind discuss it. That might be because it is far removed from most of us. In the West, death is outsourced: the dying itself is medicalised, while the aftermath is sanitised and stage-managed. Or it might be the result of deep-rooted fear. According to the influential terror management theory, a desire to transcend death is the driving force behind all manner of human behaviours, from art to belief in the afterlife. Either way, brushing it under the carpet isn’t doing us any good, says psychologist Mireille Hayden, co-founder of Gentle Dusk, which seeks to lift the taboo around discussing death. “It tends to isolate people facing death or bereavement because nobody knows how to talk to you,” she says. “It also makes it difficult for your relatives when the time comes because in most cases the family have never discussed what the dying person wants.”

11-20-19 Exclusive: Humans placed in suspended animation for the first time
Doctors have placed humans in suspended animation for the first time, as part of a trial in the US that aims to make it possible to fix traumatic injuries that would otherwise cause death. Samuel Tisherman, at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told New Scientist that his team of medics had placed at least one patient in suspended animation, calling it “a little surreal” when they first did it. He wouldn’t reveal how many people had survived as a result. The technique, officially called emergency preservation and resuscitation (EPR), is being carried out on people who arrive at the University of Maryland Medical Centre in Baltimore with an acute trauma – such as a gunshot or stab wound – and have had a cardiac arrest. Their heart will have stopped beating and they will have lost more than half their blood. There are only minutes to operate, with a less than 5 per cent chance that they would normally survive. EPR involves rapidly cooling a person to around 10 to 15°C by replacing all of their blood with ice-cold saline. The patient’s brain activity almost completely stops. They are then disconnected from the cooling system and their body – which would otherwise be classified as dead – is moved to the operating theatre. A surgical team then has 2 hours to fix the person’s injuries before they are warmed up and their heart restarted. Tisherman says he hopes to be able to announce the full results of the trial by the end of 2020. At normal body temperature – about 37°C – our cells need a constant supply of oxygen to produce energy. When our heart stops beating, blood no longer carries oxygen to cells. Without oxygen, our brain can only survive for about 5 minutes before irreversible damage occurs. However, lowering the temperature of the body and brain slows or stops all the chemical reactions in our cells, which need less oxygen as a consequence.

11-20-19 Why the line between life and death is now more blurred than ever
Brains resurrected after death, communications with people in comas and advances in cryogenics all suggest that life's end is less final than we thought FOR the Egyptians, death was simple. You stopped breathing and your friends and family bid you farewell. Then they poked a hook up your nose and scraped out your brain, safe in the knowledge that they would see you again in the afterlife. These days, figuring out the difference between life and death has got more problematic. For starters, there is no globally agreed definition of death, which means you can be pronounced dead in one country yet wouldn’t be in another. Then there is the recent discovery that death doesn’t happen in an instant, but over weeks. Add to that the inevitable storm generated by experiments revealing that brains can be resuscitated hours after death. No wonder scientists, philosophers and even the Vatican are asking how we should decide when dead really is dead. Until the mid-20th century, our definition of death was unambiguous: you were dead when you stopped breathing and had no pulse. Things got complicated with the invention of the ventilator, a machine that could maintain breathing for a person who would otherwise be declared dead. At about this time, doctors began transplanting organs from the dead into the living and found that they could increase the success rate by using a ventilator to provide the donor heart with oxygen. These “beating-heart cadavers” were legally alive even though their brains had ceased to function. The resulting quandary of how to remove an organ without committing murder eventually led to the 1980s Uniform Determination of Death Act in the US, which introduced the concept of brain death. Now you could be pronounced dead either when your heart had stopped or when all areas of your brain had irreversibly ceased to function.

11-19-19 India is entering a new dark age
And its citizens have lost the will to fight this descent ven when India was an economic basket case of the world, it was a political and spiritual bright spot that guaranteed basic freedoms to its people and offered a refuge to Westerners seeking peace and spiritual wisdom. But under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is going backwards on every front: Its economy is in a free-fall (with growth at a six-year low and unemployment at a 45-year high); its polity is becoming authoritarian; and its dominant religion, Hinduism, is growing intolerant. But what's even more depressing is that the country seems to have lost its will to fight this descent into darkness. Nothing speaks to that more poignantly than its muted reaction to two developments in just the last few weeks. One concerns the exiling of a journalist. The other is the Supreme Court's ruling in the 27-year-old Babri mosque case involving land that both Muslims and Hindus claim as their own. In a raw exertion of authoritarianism, the Modi government moved to strip journalist Aatish Taseer of his Overseas Citizen of India status, akin to a Green Card, essentially banishing him from the country where he grew up. The official line is that Taseer, who was born in England to an Indian mother and a Pakistani father, committed fraud by failing to reveal his father's heritage on his OCI application. This accusation is beyond absurd given that Taseer comes from an extremely prominent family whose history has been public knowledge for decades. Indeed, Aatish's father, Salmaan Taseer, whom he didn't even meet till he was 21, was the governor of the province of Punjab in Pakistan. His 2011 assassination by Muslim fanatics who hated him because he was a progressive reformer and vehemently opposed his country's blasphemy laws made international headlines. Meanwhile, Aatish's mother, Tavleen Singh, who never married his dad and brought Aatish to India when he was an infant, is a famous Indian journalist who arguably did more than any scribe in the country to put Modi in the prime minister's chair. She is a Sikh and a "liberal." Yet she broke ranks with her community and her peers to back Modi from the very start. She penned column after column backing Modi's line that the then-ruling Congress Party was dynastic, corrupt, and nepotistic and deserved to be thrown out. She pleaded that Modi, who talked up the cause of economic development, deserved a chance — never mind that in 2002 he had presided over a Muslim pogrom in the state of Gujarat where he was chief minister.

11-19-19 Stalkerware: The secret apps people use to spy on their partners
Apps that secretly give people access to their partners' smartphones are growing in prominence, but is the threat being taken seriously? “Catch cheating spouses” the website for California-based HelloSpy, a smartphone app, says. There is a photo of a woman with a bruised face and a man grabbing her arm. Infidelity is easier these days because of online social networks and mobile phones, the page claims. But the “good news” is that technology can reveal infidelity too, it says. On the site for another app, FlexiSpy, I seek help from a customer support agent. During a web chat, I say, “I think my wife is cheating.” The agent, whether human or bot, immediately asks whether I have physical access to her phone so I can install the app. Neither HelloSpy nor FlexiSpy responded to a request for comment on these marketing practices. The sale of such apps is permitted in both the US and UK, but these disturbing examples demonstrate how the software easily slips into a legal grey area.The software itself is perfectly legal. For example, an employer might tell an employee that their work phone will be loaded with software that records everything they do. The employee’s consent may be explicitly granted in that case. However, software can also be installed surreptitiously on someone’s device to snoop on their messages and phone calls. The use of such “stalkerware” seems to be on the rise. “Accessing the contents of someone’s phone now is accessing their life,” says Lucy Purdon at campaign group Privacy International. “We are very concerned about this.” Once installed, stalkerware can be set up so as to be practically invisible to the phone’s owner. It might be used, for example, to monitor their location and movements using GPS. It can provide access to any text messages or pictures they send, or record everything they type. In some cases, stalkerware can even switch on the device’s microphone to eavesdrop on private conversations.

11-19-19 Chick-fil-A drops charities after LGBT protests
US fast-food chain Chick-fil-A has changed its charitable giving policies, which had been criticised by LGBT activists. The restaurant company has faced protests over its opposition to same-sex marriage, including donations to campaign groups. It said its giving would now focus on education, homelessness and hunger. The firm did not explain the decision, except to say it wanted to offer "more clarity" about its donations. It also revealed a list of recipients for 2020 donations which did not include two organisations - the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) and the Salvation Army - that have come in for criticism over their policies on homosexuality. The controversy began in 2012 following comments by chief executive Dan Cathy against same-sex marriage. Since then, politicians and activists in Boston, New York and other cities have spoken out or proposed to ban the family-owned company, which operates about 2,400 outlets across North America. Mr Cathy has said previously that he regrets taking a public stance on same-sex marriage, though he has not recanted his view, which he tied to his Christian faith. Last month, the landlord of the chain's first UK outpost, in Reading, said it would not renew the shop's lease after a protest by LGBT rights campaigners. Chick-fil-A has already stopped donations to a slew of groups that campaign against same-sex marriage. In 2018, the Chick-fil-A foundation donated $1.65m to the FCA and $115,000 to the Salvation Army. The FCA asks participants to adhere to a sexual purity policy that bans homosexual relations and sex outside marriage. It did not respond to a request for comment. The Salvation Army said it was "saddened" to learn of Chick-fil-A's decision and disputed the claim that its policies are hostile to the LGBT community. "We serve more than 23 million individuals a year, including those in the LGBTQ+ community," the charity said. "We... greatly appreciate those partners and donors who ensure that anyone who needs our help feels safe and comfortable to come through our doors.

11-19-19 LGBT refugees: Life in Kenya after fleeing Uganda
Ugandan Mbazira Moses and his friends are trying to rebuild their lives after fleeing anti-gay discrimination. They ended up in a safe house in Kenya earlier this year, after attacks in the Kakuma refugee camp where they were staying after applying for asylum. We follow them in the months leading up to a landmark ruling in Kenya in May, where the country's High Court was reviewing a colonial-era law banning gay sex. In response to allegations about attacks at the Kakuma refugee camp, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) told the BBC: "Efforts by UNHCR continue to make sure LGBTI persons in Kakuma are able to live with a degree of physical safety and security... Security for refugees is provided by the state authorities, not UNHCR."

11-18-19 William Barr's chilling vision of unchecked presidential power
Even judged by the frenetic pace of the Trump era, the competition for most dismal bit of political news was especially fierce last week. There were, of course, the impeachment hearings about the president's attempted extortion of a foreign power to get it to investigate his political rival. And President Trump's intimidating tweet about Friday's witness, former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. And his pardoning of alleged war criminals. And his long-time confidante, Roger Stone, being sent to prison. And the Republican National Committee channeling large sums of money into the president's pocket by opting to hold its winter meeting at the Trump Doral Resort. And evidence that the senior presidential adviser in charge of immigration policy, Stephen Miller, is an avid reader and purveyor of white nationalist literature. And Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeatedly humiliating the president and the country during his visit to the White House. Yet all of that moral debasement and rank corruption may pale in long-term significance in comparison to one more event that took place last week: a speech delivered by Attorney General William Barr on Friday at a convention of the conservative legal organization The Federalist Society. Most of the early controversy about the speech has understandably focused on its furious partisanship. It is highly unusual for the senior federal law enforcement official in the country to adopt the strident language of political pundits. Yet there Barr was, denouncing "the Left" for engaging "in the systematic shredding of norms and undermining of the rule of law," suggesting that "so-called progressives treat politics as their religion" and "holy mission," and accusing the political opposition to the administration in which he serves of using "any means necessary to gain momentary advantage in achieving their end, regardless of collateral consequences and … systematic implications." But this tirade was part of a larger argument. And it is that larger argument that made the speech truly important — and especially troubling.

11-18-19 The fight to get citizenship for descendants of German Jews
A British lawyer is accusing the German government of violating the country's constitution by refusing to restore the citizenship of thousands of people descended from victims of the Nazis. He argues that the law began to be misapplied under the lingering influence of former Nazis in the 1950s and 60s, and that it's still being misapplied today. James Strauss has lived all his life in New York but in the 1930s his family ran an inn and butcher's business in the town of Gunzenhausen, south of Nuremburg. It was here that an event known as the Bloody Palm Sunday pogrom took place in March 1934, with the inn at its epicentre. As Nazis rioted in the town, two Jews were murdered and Julius Strauss, James's father, was beaten unconscious and locked up in the town's jail. The pogrom is recognised by historians as one of the worst anti-Semitic incidents in Germany prior to the Kristallnacht attacks in November 1938. The ringleader, Kurt Baer, a member of a Nazi paramilitary force known as the SA, was tried and jailed - but soon released by a Nazi-sympathising judge. He then returned to the inn to take revenge, shooting and seriously wounding the 27-year-old Julius and murdering his father Simon. (Baer was later sentenced to life imprisonment, but pardoned after four years.) As soon as he was able to, Julius fled Germany in fear of his life and settled in New York, where he met and married another German Jewish refugee. But he never fully recovered from the attack as the lead bullets could not be removed from his body, and he died as a result of his injuries in 1956, on his son James's ninth birthday. Almost 60 years later, in 2015, James Strauss decided to make a trip to Gunzenhausen. "There I met lovely young people from the junior high school and local officials who had worked hard to commemorate this terrible incident," he says. "I was blown away by their knowledge."

11-17-19 Panorama Investigation: War crimes scandal exposed
Operation Northmoor was set up in 2014 to examine allegations of executions by British Special Forces. It had linked dozens of suspicious killings on night raids. One of those included three children and a 20-year-old man who were killed by a British soldier in 2012 in the village of Loy Bagh in Afghanistan. British detectives have now told Panorama that Special Forces tried to cover-up what happened to avoid being prosecuted for war crimes.

11-16-19 Why serial killers kill
There have been 220,000 unsolved murders in the U.S. since 1980. Are serial killers to blame? Here's everything you need to know:

  1. How many serial killers are there? Since 1900, there have been 3,000 identified American serial killers who've collectively killed nearly 10,000 people, says Dr. Michael Aamodt, who oversees the Radford University/Florida Gulf Coast University Serial Killer Database. The FBI defines a serial killer as someone who kills two or more people in separate events.
  2. What makes a serial killer? Probably a combination of genetics and experience. Research shows that certain genes can predispose people to violence. (One gene, particularly, the so-called warrior gene, is present in about 30 percent of the population and has been linked to increased aggression.) Many serial killers also experienced childhood trauma or early separation from their mothers.
  3. What role does society play? The teeming, impersonal nature of the modern world is fertile soil for creating serial killers, experts say. Five hundred years ago, the average citizen lived in a small community, traveled rarely if at all, and might have come into contact with 100 "strangers" over the course of his lifetime.
  4. How do they choose targets? Serial killers often prey on the most marginalized members of society. Little, for one, managed to evade detection for so long by preying on prostitutes, drug addicts, and homeless women.
  5. How many are active? Data suggest that American serial killing peaked in the 1980s and has declined since then. The FBI says only 1 percent of murders today are committed by serial killers, and that it's harder for them to go undetected, because of DNA evidence, public cameras, stricter parole laws, and the use of databases.
  6. The century of mass killings: Many factors are credited with the growth in the number of serial killers during the 20th century. Some have cited the creation of the interstate highway system, which gave predators greater mobility and a vulnerable pool of ­victims — hitchhikers.

11-15-19 Alt-right email thread
Presidential adviser Stephen Miller routinely promoted white nationalist sites and sources before joining the White House, according to 900-plus emails leaked this week that he sent editors at Breitbart News in 2015 and ’16. Miller, a driving force behind many of President Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, argued against giving Mexican victims of 2015’s Hurricane Patricia temporary refuge in the U.S. and cited a link from VDARE, a site that endorses the “white genocide” theory that people of color are scheming to overtake whites. Miller also slammed Amazon for halting sales of Confederate flags after the 2015 massacre in a Charleston, S.C., black church. In other emails, Miller urged Breitbart writers and editors to read Camp of the Saints, a dystopian novel resurrected by the alt-right that depicts refugees as murderers and rapists. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said the emails exposed Miller as a “bona fide white nationalist.”

11-15-19 DACA in doubt
The Supreme Court’s conservative majority appeared poised this week to let the Trump administration shut down a program protecting 700,000 young immigrants known as “Dreamers.” During oral arguments, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said President Trump made a “considered decision” in 2017 to wind down Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era program shielding some immigrants brought in illegally as children from deportation. Opponents of Trump’s action have argued the administration gave no policy justification for ending the program, pulling the rug out from people who’d relied on the government’s assurances. Trump once called DACA beneficiaries “good, educated, and accomplished young people,” but more recently he’s claimed that they are “no angels.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor called the decision to end DACA “a choice to destroy lives.” Also this week, the court let families of victims in the 2012 Newtown, Conn., school shooting sue gunmaker Remington Arms, maker of the gunman’s AR-15–style rifle.

11-15-19 Marijuana is still illegal under federal law
Residents of Chicago Public Housing could face eviction for marijuana use, even though the drug will soon be legal for both medical and recreational use in Illinois. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, the housing authority warns, so those who consume it in public housing will still be guilty of “drug-related criminal activity.”

11-15-19 The slave who won reparations
Afree black woman, Henrietta Wood, sued the man who kidnapped and enslaved her, said historian W. Caleb McDaniel in Smithsonian Magazine. Her victory made national news—but was forgotten by history. On April 17, 1878, 12 white jurors entered a federal courtroom in Cincinnati to deliver the verdict in a now-forgotten lawsuit about American slavery. The plaintiff was Henrietta Wood, described by a reporter at the time as “a spectacled negro woman, apparently 60 years old.” The defendant was Zebulon Ward, a white man who had enslaved Wood 25 years before. She was suing him for $20,000 in reparations. Two days earlier, the jury had watched as Wood took the stand; her son, Arthur, who lived in Chicago, was in the courtroom. Born into bondage in Kentucky, Wood testified, she had been granted her freedom in Cincinnati in 1848, but five years later she was kidnapped by Ward, who sold her, and she ended up enslaved on a Texas plantation until after the Civil War. She finally returned to Cincinnati in 1869, a free woman. She had not forgotten Ward and sued him the following year. The trial began only after eight years of litigation, leaving Wood to wonder if she would ever get justice. Now she watched nervously as the 12 jurors returned to their seats. Finally, they announced a verdict that few expected: “We, the Jury in the above entitled cause, do find for the plaintiff and assess her damages in the premises at Two thousand five hundred dollars.” Though a fraction of what Wood had asked for, the amount would be worth nearly $65,000 today. It remains the largest known sum ever granted by a U.S. court in restitution for slavery. But Wood’s name never made it into the history books. When she died in 1912, her suit was already forgotten by all except her son. Today, it remains virtually unknown, even as reparations for slavery are once again in the headlines.

11-15-19 Hounding a Holocaust survivor
It is to Italy’s “infinite shame” that a Holocaust survivor and national treasure now needs a police escort, said Pierluigi Battista. Liliana Segre, 89, is so respected for her teachings about the horrors of Auschwitz that last year she was made senator for life—an honor accorded only to former presidents and the highest-achieving citizens. But ever since Parliament last month approved a proposal by Segre to create a commission to combat anti-Semitism and racism, she has been bombarded with up to 200 death threats and hate messages a day. Some “anti-Semitic rogues” even posted on social media that she belongs in an incinerator. Two police officers now accompany the senator for life everywhere. Yet physical protection is not enough. “All of Italy must defend Liliana Segre.” Members of the League and other right-wing, xenophobic parties that abstained from the vote on the anti-racism commission should step up now and say that, despite their political differences, they support Segre as a Jewish Italian. Instead, League leader Matteo Salvini has downplayed the threats against her, saying he, too, gets death threats. Is he too obtuse to see the difference? His critics hate his politics, while Segre’s hate her for who she is: a Jew. “The battle against anti-Semitism is a nonnegotiable value.” Anyone who disagrees is not fit to lead Italy.

11-14-19 Analyzing Surveys on Banning Assault Weapons
Where does the American public stand on the issue of banning assault weapons? Based on new research conducted over the past several months, and on a review of other recently published results, our summary conclusion is that a clear majority of about six in 10 Americans currently support such a ban.

11-14-19 US Senator blocks move to say Armenian mass killing was genocide
A US Senator has blocked a resolution to formally recognise the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War One as a genocide. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said lawmakers should not "sugarcoat history or try to rewrite it". Mr Graham's objection came hours after he attended a meeting with US President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The vote on the issue was viewed by Turkey as highly contentious. To become official policy, the resolution needed to be approved by both houses of Congress and then be signed by the president. It passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 405 to 11 in October, shortly after Turkey's military offensive against Kurdish fighters - allied to the US in fighting the Islamic State (IS) group - in northern Syria. The resolution was blocked by Mr Graham on Wednesday when it reached the Senate. Under Senate rules, a single senator can block any resolution. "I just met with President Erdogan and President Trump about the problems we face in Syria by the military incursion by Turkey. I do hope that Turkey and Armenia can come together and deal with this problem," he told the Senate floor. Mr Graham is a staunch ally of President Trump, but has vocally criticised his administration for withdrawing troops from north-eastern Syria ahead of the Turkish military operation against Kurdish forces. Last month Mr Erdogan described the House of Representatives vote as "worthless" and the "biggest insult" to Turkish people. In contrast, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan hailed the move as "a bold step towards serving truth and historical justice". (Webmaster's comment: The Republicans and Trump are unlikely to sign anthing that finds an old dictorship guilty of anything!)

11-13-19 Deepfakes are terrible for democracy, but Facebook is a bigger threat
This changes everything | Doctored videos are a menace, but we have more to fear from unscrupulous politicians taking advantage of Facebook's targeted ads, writes Annalee Newitz. PUNDITS in the US are arguing over a technology that is used almost exclusively for elections and pornography. I am referring to deepfakes, videos manipulated with simple apps to swap out faces, distort words and make it look like politicians are starring in hot XXX movies. The fate of deepfakes could change the course of democracy. And that feels very on-brand for the US right now. Technologists first warned about the power of machine learning to create convincing doctored videos back in 2017. Some deepfakes are so well done that it is impossible to distinguish them from legitimate footage. What if political operatives created a video making it appear that their opponents were doing something illegal or worse? After all, President Donald Trump has already assisted an attempt to undermine the credibility of Californian Democrat and House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi by tweeting a deepfake of a speech where her voice was distorted to make it seem like she was drunkenly slurring her words. Fearing more scenarios like this, California passed a law last month that will forbid the use of deepfakes in the 2020 presidential election. Politicians are voicing legitimate concerns, but they are worried about the wrong targets. Dutch cybersecurity firm Deeptrace released a report last month showing that nearly 96 per cent of deepfakes are revenge porn, videos where a victim’s face has been swapped onto a porn star’s body. We have yet to see the expected avalanche of deepfake political propaganda. In fact, bracing for the onslaught of such deepfakes has distracted us from the real fake menace: targeted political ads on social media platforms.

11-13-19 Idaho library user 'hides books criticising Trump'
A librarian in the US state of Idaho says a mystery visitor is hiding books that criticise President Donald Trump or contain liberal viewpoints. Bette Ammon, a librarian in Coeur d'Alene, said the patron had left a note saying they wanted to keep "propaganda" away from young people. As well as anti-Trump literature, books on LGBTQ+ issues, gun control and women's suffrage have been hidden or refiled as fiction. No-one has been caught as yet. Ms Ammon told the BBC that some of the books were found hidden in the gaps behind books already on the shelves. The note she received read: "I am going to continue hiding these books in the most obscure places I can find to keep this propaganda out of the hands of young minds." The note, written on a comment card left for the library, added: "Your liberal angst gives me great pleasure." Although library staff reportedly have their suspicions about who is moving the books, no-one has been caught in the act so far. After a local TV station ran a story about the library, someone contacted Ms Ammon praising the actions of the individual, saying the library only stocks "liberal" books, according to the New York Times. Ms Ammon said the library contains books with a wide variety of views, including those praising President Trump. "There's a saying that a good library has something in it to offend everyone and we're pretty proud that we fit that criteria. We have books serving a diverse community," she added. If caught, the mystery patron will face what Ms Ammon called the "ultimate punishment" - being banned from the library.

11-13-19 Cirque du Soleil founder detained for growing cannabis on private island
The co-founder of global circus company Cirque du Soleil has been detained for growing cannabis on his private island in the South Pacific. Billionaire Guy Laliberte turned himself in to police in French Polynesia. The Canadian entrepreneur is due to appear in court on Wednesday. In a statement, Mr Laliberte's company Lune Rouge denied he was growing the plant on his private island of Nukutepipi for commercial gain. It said that he used cannabis for "medical" and "strictly personal" purposes. "Guy Laliberte completely dissociates himself from any rumour implicating him... in the sale or traffic of drugs," it said. Local television station Polynesie Premiere reported that police questioned an associate of Mr Laliberte weeks ago on suspicion of drug possession. They reportedly found images of marijuana plantations on the associate's cell phone. In 2015, Cirque du Soleil was sold to US and Chinese investors, but Mr Laliberte retains a minority stake in the company.

11-12-19 Is China gaining an edge in artificial intelligence?
"China is betting on AI and investing in AI and deploying AI on a scale no other country is doing," says Abishur Prakash, a futurist and author of books about the effect of artificial intelligence (AI) on geopolitics. As developments in AI accelerate, some in the US fear that the ability of China's powerful central government to marshal data and pour resources into the field will push it ahead. The country has announced billions in funding for start-ups, launched programmes to woo researchers from overseas and streamlined its data policies. It has announced news-reading robots and AI-powered strategy for foreign relations. Perhaps most alarming to the US are its efforts to incorporate it into its military. In the last few years, Washington has toughened oversight of Chinese investments, banned US firms from doing business with certain Chinese companies and increased criminal prosecution of alleged technology theft. "What the Trump administration is doing is a sign... the US knows that its geopolitical power will be redefined and reconfigured by this era," said Mr Prakash, who works at the Toronto-based Center for Innovating the Future. These developments come amid political tension between the two nations. Yet, some analysts worry the US response is counterproductive, arguing that cutting off access to US microchips, for example, could simply accelerate Chinese efforts to develop their own alternatives. The Trump administration has imposed tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods - retaliation for "unfair" practices it says are aimed at giving China an advantage in the field. The White House has also pressed universities to review their relationships with Chinese partners and threatened to restrict student visas. It is even said to be looking at rules against certain US investments in China - once nearly unthinkable in free-market America.

11-12-19 Daca: US Supreme Court seems to back Trump on key immigration case
The US Supreme Court appears ready to overturn an Obama-era programme that protects nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants from deportation. The White House tried to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) policy in 2017 as part of an immigration crackdown. During oral arguments, the court's conservative justices seemed sympathetic to the White House stance. A ruling is due by June 2020, just before the US presidential election. President Barack Obama set up Daca in 2012 to protect immigrants who as young people entered the US illegally or overstayed a visa. These 660,000 migrants, mostly Hispanic, are known as "Dreamers". Questions asked by the court's five conservative-leaning justices on Tuesday did not indicate any doubt over whether President Donald Trump's Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had the authority to cancel the programme. As the hearing began, hundreds of Daca supporters rallied outside the Capitol Hill court, forcing police to temporarily close the street in front of the Supreme Court. The court has nine justices and five of them are viewed as conservative leaning. Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, who were both appointed by Mr Trump, asked questions on Tuesday that were interpreted by observers as well-disposed towards the president's position. Justice Kavanaugh called the White House's decision to cancel the programme a "very considered decision" that adequately weighed the policy's legality with its impact. Justice Gorsuch noted that even if the court ruled in favour of the "Dreamers" it would only prolong uncertainty for them. "What good would another five years of litigation... serve?" he asked. Chief Justice John Roberts - who was appointed by Republican President George W Bush - is expected to be the pivotal vote in the case. His questions on Tuesday did not reveal how the likely-tie breaker plans to ultimately vote.

11-12-19 Poland reacts angrily to Netflix Nazi death camp documentary
Poland's prime minister has written to streaming company Netflix insisting on changes to The Devil Next Door, a documentary about the Nazi death camps. Mateusz Morawiecki said a map shown in the series locates the death camps within modern-day Poland's borders. This misrepresents Poland as being responsible for the death camps, when it was actually occupied by Germany in World War Two, Mr Morawiecki said. Netflix told Reuters it was aware of concerns regarding the documentary. Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939, which marked the beginning of the war. The Germans built concentration camps including at Auschwitz, killing millions of people, most of them Jews. Mr Morawiecki said in his letter to Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, that it was important to "honour the memory and preserve the truth about World War II and the Holocaust". He accused "certain works" on Netflix of being "hugely inaccurate" and "rewriting history". The prime minister attached a map of Europe in late 1942 to the letter, as well as an account by Witold Pilecki, who was voluntarily imprisoned in Auschwitz and wrote about his experiences after successfully escaping. "I believe that this terrible mistake has been committed unintentionally," Mr Morawiecki added. Last year, Poland introduced laws criminalising language implying Polish responsibility for the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany. However, an international outcry prompted the government to remove the threat of three-year jail terms. More than five million Poles were killed during World War Two, including up to three million Jews who were murdered in the Nazi Holocaust. The death camps were planned and operated by occupying German SS units. There were, however, some Polish atrocities against Jews and other civilians during and after the war. In 1941, Polish villagers in Jedwabne, perhaps at the instigation of the Nazis, rounded up more than 300 of their Jewish neighbours and burned them alive in a barn.

11-12-19 Millions in U.S. Lost Someone Who Couldn't Afford Treatment
More than 13% of American adults -- or about 34 million people -- report knowing of at least one friend or family member in the past five years who died after not receiving needed medical treatment because they were unable to pay for it, based on a new study by Gallup and West Health. Nonwhites, those in lower-income households, those younger than 45, and political independents and Democrats are all more likely to know someone who has died under these circumstances.

  • 34 million adults know someone who died after not getting treatment
  • 58 million adults report inability to pay for needed drugs in past year
  • Little progress seen by Trump administration in limiting rising drug costs

11-12-19 DACA is doomed
No matter how the Supreme Court rules, the program remains in danger. The Supreme Court is scheduled today to hear arguments about the future of DACA. That it has to address this issue at all is bizarre. The Court, after all, is where the country goes to resolve its biggest and most intractable disagreements. But the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — which protects many young migrants from deportation — is something Americans of all stripes actually support. As many as nine in 10 poll respondents say the so-called "DREAMers" should have a path to citizenship. Crucially, that is a view shared by most Republicans, even though President Trump announced the end of the program in 2017. DACA is popular. So it shouldn't be that difficult to save the program, right? Bipartisan majorities of Congress — the Democratic House and the Republican Senate — could vote to make DACA permanent. In the face of such popular majorities, the president might sign it. (He has occasionally signaled a willingness to do so in exchange for border security guarantees.) The DREAMers could stop worrying about their future and settle down, secure in their American-ness, to helping build this country that they claim as their own. That hasn't happened. And while it would be nice if the Supreme Court could just step in and fix that issue for everyone — assuming that the newly conservative majority on the Court is inclined to do so — the truth is that DACA will probably remain an endangered program no matter what happens today. Why? The case before the Court turns on a pretty narrow question of law. The debate isn't whether Trump had the right to bring DACA to an end, but whether his administration gave the wrong reason for doing so. The administration said that former President Obama overstepped his authority when he created DACA by executive order in 2012, and that the White House had no legal choice but to end the program. The Supreme Court might agree. Or it could decide — as lower courts have — that Obama had the authority to create DACA, and that the Trump administration's reasoning for ending the program was based "on an erroneous view of what the law required." If that happens, the Trump administration would probably be given the chance to go back to the drawing board and come up with a proper reason for ending the program. Still, if Obama had the discretion to create the program, there is little question that Trump has the authority to pull the plug — what a president can make, a president can unmake — even if he didn't quite go about it properly the first time around.

11-12-19 Daca: Dreamers take fight with Trump to Supreme Court
The US Supreme Court is to hear arguments in the case of an Obama-era immigration programme the White House has sought to end since 2017. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) policy protects 700,000 undocumented youths from deportation. The top court took up the case after lower courts ruled the administration did not adequately explain why it was ending the programme. A decision is expected in 2020, months before the presidential election. The lower court rulings do not contest the administration's right to end Daca, but they have criticised its "capricious" explanations for why it was doing so. However, the case could lead the Supreme Court to issue a key ruling on a president's power regarding immigration policy. Immigration has been one of President Donald Trump's signature campaign issues. The Daca programme affects an estimated 700,000 young people who entered the US without documents as children. Another million people were eligible but did not apply for the scheme. Most of them are from Mexico and other Latin American countries. A 2012 executive order created by former President Barack Obama shields these so-called "Dreamers" from deportation and provides work and study permits. President Obama signed the order following failed negotiations for immigration reform on Capitol Hill. In order to qualify for Daca, applicants under the age of 30 are required to submit personal information to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including addresses and phone numbers. They must go through an FBI background check and have a clean criminal background, and either be in school, recently graduated or have been honourably discharged from the military. In exchange, the US government agrees to "defer" any action on their immigration status for a period of two years. It is only available to individuals residing in the US since 2007. (Webmaster's comment: Since the Republicans and Trump control the Supreme Court the People will lose.)

11-12-19 'I was detained for speaking Spanish in the US'
Ana Suda and a friend were stopped by police in Montana for speaking Spanish. The video of the incident in May 2018 went viral and Ana's life has since been turned upside down.

11-12-19 Poland nationalists hold huge Warsaw march
Far-right groups turned out in force to mark Polish Independence Day. They and other nationalists took over the centre of the capital Warsaw. Speakers praised Catholic, conservative traditions and some attacked the EU. Poland won independence in November 1918, but lost it when Nazi Germany invaded in 1939. (Webmaster's comment: The Nazis are back by the tens of thousands!)

11-10-19 People with more empathy may actually increase political divisions
You might think that a little more empathy would help to heal the divisions in US politics, but it could actually worsen the situation by increasing polarisation. Elizabeth Simas at the University of Houston, Texas, and her colleagues surveyed 1000 people in the US. The team found that those with a disposition for “empathic concern”, one of several traits that make up general empathy, seem to be more politically polarised. They hold a more favourable opinion of their own preferred party, whether Republican or Democrat, along with a more unfavourable opinion of the opposing one. To explore this further, Simas surveyed around 1200 students, randomly splitting them into two groups. Each participant was shown a different version of an article about a protest on a university campus. The article told the story of a public event with either a Democrat or a Republican speaker, which is halted by protests from the other side. When the police try to move in, a bystander is struck by a protester. In a series of questions afterwards, students with low empathic concern took the same view on whether the speech should have been stopped, irrespective of the speaker’s party. Students who were more empathic, however, were happier to censor speakers they disagreed with. They did care more overall about the bystander’s welfare, but that concern showed a partisan bias too, being less sympathetic if the bystander wanted to hear a speaker from the side the student disagreed with. “It’s like an emotional contagion to a certain degree,” says Simas. “I’m sharing the pain with somebody I connect with, so I don’t like the cause of the pain… We’re certainly not claiming that empathy is horrible and bad. Our presentation is saying, ‘Look, this is a complex thing’.” “Moral emotions evolved to help us navigate a world where tribal solidarity likely offered a huge advantage in survival. Thus, it makes good sense that empathy might be in-group oriented,” says Eric Groenendyk at the University of Memphis, Tennessee.

11-8-19 Trump wants whistleblower named despite 'physical danger'
US President Donald Trump has called for the whistleblower who triggered the impeachment inquiry to be unmasked, ignoring a cease-and-desist warning. On Thursday a lawyer for a whistleblower told the White House that Mr Trump's rhetoric was placing his client and family in physical danger. Undeterred by the letter, Mr Trump renewed his attacks on the whistleblower and lawyer on Friday. The individual's identity has so far been fiercely guarded by Democrats. In August the whistleblower filed a report that eventually triggered impeachment proceeding against Mr Trump. The report expressed concern over a phone call a month earlier in which Mr Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, a Democratic front-runner for the 2020 US presidential election. In Thursday's letter, sent to White House counsel Pat Cipollone, the whistleblower's lawyer Andrew Bakaj cites many examples of the president's "fixation" on the identity of his client in his comments to the media, at rallies and on Twitter. "Such statements seek to intimidate my client - and they have," Mr Bakaj writes. He continued: "Should any harm befall any suspected named whistleblower or their family, the blame will rest squarely with your client." (Webmaster's comment: The bottom line is that Trump is all but issuing a "License To Kill!" How is that possible in a nation that supports rights to life like America?)

11-8-19 Subpoena upheld
A federal court rejected President Trump’s effort to block his accounting firm from turning over eight years of personal and corporate tax returns to Manhattan prosecutors this week. Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said the Supreme Court should hear an appeal, noting, “The issue raised in this case goes to the heart of our republic.” Trump’s lawyers have argued he has absolute immunity from state and federal criminal investigation—an immunity his lawyers say would extend even to shooting someone on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. Judges, though, said they were not convinced that this case differs from the Supreme Court precedent ordering President Nixon to supply a grand jury with White House tapes. However, in its decision the court sidestepped the question of presidential immunity, saying that since the subpoena was served not on Trump but on his accountants, “compliance does not require the president to do anything at all.”

11-8-19 The economy: Has Trump helped or hurt?
Welcome to “‘The Greatest Economy in American History!’” said Catherine Rampell in The Washington Post. That, at least, is how President Trump tweet-greeted last week’s news that the U.S. economy grew at an annualized rate of 1.9 percent in the third quarter. Once upon a time, under President Obama, Trump tweeted that a 1.9 percent growth rate portended “deep trouble for the economy!”…so was he right then or is he right now? The truth is that most economists think 2 percent growth will now be typical for the U.S., but it’s “way lower than you’d expect given the massive fiscal stimulus policymakers have been pumping into the economy.” Government spending has surged under Trump, with the annual deficit now nearing $1 trillion. Trump promised that the GOP’s $2 trillion tax cut in 2017 would boost growth to “4 percent, 5 percent, and even 6 percent.” Instead, corporations have largely used the windfall they got from having their tax rate cut from 35 percent to 21 percent to buy back shares, rather than investing it in equipment and workers. The numbers don’t lie, said Greg Ip in The Wall Street Journal. Trump’s “tax cut has underdelivered,” which can only be good news for the Democratic candidates seeking to replace him and reverse it. “Unemployment isn’t falling for everybody,” said Andrew Van Dam in The Washington Post. Thanks to Trump’s reckless trade war with China, which was supposed to help American workers, the U.S. manufacturing sector actually shrank over two straight quarters this year, putting it technically in recession. Investment in new factories and offices plunged by an alarming 15.3 percent in the third quarter, and unemployment is actually rising in manufacturing-dependent states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—which of course are vital to Trump’s reelection chances. Mining jobs are down, and so are exports. Trade-war uncertainty is making even nonmanufacturing companies skittish about new investment, said Robert Samuelson, also in The Washington Post. Yet the only policy proposal we hear from the White House is the “monstrously bad idea” of more tax cuts.

11-8-19 Barr backlash
British officials were taken aback by the Trump administration’s request that they help it investigate American intelligence agencies, British media reported last week. Attorney General William Barr is overseeing a criminal investigation into the origins of the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. U.S. intelligence concluded unequivocally that Russian hacks and covert social media campaigns were aimed at helping President Trump win the election; some commentators have speculated that Barr wants to discredit that conclusion. “They are basically asking, in quite robust terms, for help in doing a hatchet job on their own intelligence services,” one diplomat told Independent? Barr has also asked Italy and Australia to investigate. (Webmaster's comment: The second most evil man in America!)

11-8-19 Preaching the gospel of Trump
President Trump has appointed a “shameless religious grifter” as the White House’s adviser to faith-based groups, said Bonnie Kristian. Televangelist Paula White belongs to the “prosperity gospel” movement, which teaches that God will reward those who demonstrate their faith with worldly success, money, health, and happiness. Conveniently, this often means sending a check to preachers like White, who’s been married three times and lives in an opulent mansion. An “offering” of $75 or more, White’s website says, “WILL release you from your past and align your future for [God’s] blessing!” Prosperity gospel is a perversion of basic Christian teachings, in which God becomes “a divine vending machine.” It also preys on the desperate and vulnerable. Polling has shown those making $10,000 a year or less are twice as likely to believe in prosperity gospel than those making $35,000 to $50,000. Trump has borrowed from the same fraudulent playbook. “He promises his base a newly great America bristling with strong farms and reliable factory jobs.” But both sectors have gone into decline as a result of his disastrous policies. White “is a perfect fit for this presidency”: Like Trump, she is a grifter who specializes in “giving desperate people false hope for personal gain.”

11-8-19 Faith-based organizations?
The Department of Health and Human Services says it is ending an Obama-era rule prohibiting organizations receiving federal grants from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender. The rule change, affecting organizations collectively receiving about $500 billion annually in grant money, will enable any faith-based organization to refuse to hire gay or transgender people or to work with people who don’t share its religion.

11-8-19 Acid attack
A white man told a Latino U.S. citizen to “go back to your country” before throwing battery acid in his face outside a Mexican restaurant this week. Mahud Villalaz, 42, who left Peru 19 years ago, says a stranger asked him, “Why did you come here and invade my country?” before splashing him with a container of acid, causing second-degree burns on his face and third-degree burns on his neck. Police arrested Clifton Blackwell, 61, who’s under investigation for a possible hate crime after a surveillance camera captured the assault. Villalaz says Blackwell confronted him for parking too close to a bus stop, and after Villalaz moved his truck, Blackwell continued to berate him on the sidewalk in the heavily Latino neighborhood. “This anger toward people from other countries is being fed by our president,” Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett said.

11-8-19 War crimes
Afghan paramilitary forces trained and backed by the CIA have committed war crimes, Human Rights Watch said last week. In a 53-page report that followed a two-year investigation, the group said the units carried out executions of civilians, launched bloody attacks on medical facilities, and ordered indiscriminate airstrikes—all violations of international law. The CIA said that unlike the Taliban, it conducts its operations “under a robust system of oversight.” The U.S. military provides the paramilitaries with intelligence and air support, and CIA contractors and Army Rangers often patrol with them. Since President Trump loosened the rules of engagement for U.S. forces in Afghanistan two years ago, civilian deaths from airstrikes have soared, from 142 in 2016 to at least 579 so far this year.

11-8-19 American racist deported
An American white supremacist was detained in Norway this week just hours before he was to speak at an international far-right conference in Oslo. Greg Johnson, who promotes a “white genocide” conspiracy theory through his Counter-Currents Publishing group, was to address the Scandza Forum, a network that promotes anti-Semitic and racist views. “He stands for and communicates an extreme right-wing ideology,” police spokesman Martin Bernsen said. “There’s a danger that it can result in violence.” In a 2012 blog post, Johnson wrote that he had “respect” for Anders Breivik, the Norwegian far-right terrorist who killed 77 people—most of them teenagers—in 2011. Johnson said authorities had misrepresented his views on Breivik and that he does not condone violence. Johnson was deported to Hungary, where he has a residence permit.

11-8-19 Far-right protests greet Georgia gay film premiere
Protests have been taking place in Tbilisi over the premiere of Georgia's first LGBTQ film, And Then We Danced. Directed by Levan Akin, the film tells the story of how Merab, a traditional Georgian dancer, discovers his sexuality while training in the National Georgian Ensemble. In an interview with Variety magazine, the award-winning Georgian-Swedish director said he wanted to show "the challenges of dealing with homosexuality in a conservative society, the hope in a new generation and the roles of art and tradition". And Then We Danced has already won several awards, including at the Chicago International Film Festival and the Sarajevo Film Festival. It has also been screened at other film festivals, including in Cannes and London. Sweden has selected the film as its entry for the best international feature film award for the Oscars. However, it has attracted controversy with protests from both church-goers and conservative groups. Mr Akin has already condemned nationalist groups calling on people to fight against "dark forces" in Georgia. A Georgian LGBTQ rights group, the Equality Movement, asked the police to provide security at the premiere. Georgia's Orthodox Church criticised the film's premiere, calling the screening "an attack against the church". Social media users have been quick to enter the debate. Nationalist group Alt-Info posted a video in which a man "Zurab Makharadze" calls on everyone who shares the same ideology to join the protest. Zurab also mentions "an informational and ideological war between conservatism and liberalism" and says the film premiere is only a part of the war.

11-8-19 Four-day workweek
Microsoft tested a four-day workweek in Japan and saw sales per employee rise 40 percent compared with a year earlier. The number of pages printed out fell by 59 percent, electricity consumption dropped 23 percent, and 94 percent of employees were satisfied with the program.The Washington Post

11-8-19 The 1950s were not really great
People on both sides of the political aisle are “waxing nostalgic for the 1950s,” said Noah Smith. “Many on the right wish for a return to the country’s conservative mores and nationalist attitudes, while some on the left pine for the era’s high tax rates, strong unions, and lower inequality.” But most objective measures show that things are much better now. At the end of the 1950s, “more than half of black Americans lived below the poverty line.” Many people now remember the decade as a time when a single breadwinner could provide for a family. But “a third of women worked in the ’50s, showing that many families needed a second income even if it defied the gender roles of the day”—and the women who did work had little chance for fulfilling careers. The “good old factory jobs” were often hard and dangerous. And Americans spent more time working: 2,264 hours a year in 1952, compared with 1,707 today. And what did workers call home? The average floor area of a single-family house in 1950 was 983 square feet, the size of a one-bedroom apartment today. Yes, the 1950s were a decade of progress and hope, but “the point of progress and hope is that things get better later.” And they did.

11-8-19 How Many Americans Believe in God?
Though a 2018 Gallup poll found that U.S. church membership has reached an all-time low of 50%, and one in five Americans does not identify with any religion, most of the country still expresses belief in God. Exactly how large that majority is, however, depends on how nuanced the response options are. Gallup has asked this question three different ways in recent years, with belief varying across them from 87% to 64%. The highest level of belief (87%) comes from a simple yes/no question, "Do you believe in God?" which Gallup last asked in 2017. Belief drops to 79% when respondents are given three options, one being God is something they believe in. The rest are either not sure whether they believe in God or firmly say they do not believe in God. Belief in God appears even lower when isolating just those from the five-part question who say they are "convinced" God exists, 64%. While all three measures of belief have exhibited declines, this group's drop has been the steepest. The array of Gallup results leads to the conclusion that putting a percentage on Americans' belief in God depends on how you define "belief." If the standard is absolute certainty -- no hedging and no doubts -- it's somewhere around two-thirds. If the standard is a propensity to believe rather than not to believe, then the figure is somewhere north of three-quarters.

11-8-19 The medieval Catholic Church may have helped spark Western individualism
Early religious decrees transformed families and, in turn, whole societies, a new study says. During the Middles Ages, decrees from the early Catholic Church triggered a massive transformation in family structure. That shift explains, at least in part, why Western societies today tend to be more individualistic, nonconformist and trusting of strangers compared with other societies, a new study suggests. The roots of that Western mind-set go back roughly 1,500 years when a branch of Christianity that later evolved into the Roman Catholic Church swept across Europe and beyond, report human evolutionary biologist Joseph Henrich and colleagues in the Nov. 8 Science. Leaders of that branch became obsessed with what they saw as incest, the researchers say, and launched a “marriage and family program” that eventually banned marriages between even distant cousins, step-relatives and in-laws. Church policies also encouraged marriage by choice instead of arranged marriages, and small, nuclear households, with couples living separately from extended family members. Using historical, anthropological and psychological data, Henrich and his colleagues show that the Church’s policies helped unravel the tight, cohesive kin networks that had existed. In places under the Church’s influence, a Western-style mind-set has come to dominate, the team says. “Human psychology and human brains are shaped by the institutions that we experience and the most fundamental of human institutions are our kinships [and] the organization of our families,” says Henrich, of Harvard University. “One particular strand of Christianity … got obsessed with this and altered the direction of European history.”

11-8-19 Judge orders Trump to pay $2m for misusing Trump Foundation funds
A New York judge has ordered President Donald Trump to pay $2m (£1.6m) for misusing funds from his charity to finance his 2016 political campaign. The Donald J Trump Foundation closed down in 2018. Prosecutors had accused it of working as "little more than a chequebook" for Mr Trump's interests. Charities such as the one Mr Trump and his three eldest children headed cannot engage in politics, the judge ruled. Mr Trump hit out at the ruling, saying "every penny" went to charity. "I am the only person I know, perhaps the only person in history, who can give major money to charity ($19m), charge no expense, and be attacked by the political hacks in New York State," he wrote in a statement posted to Twitter. He accused New York's attorney general, Letitia James, who brought the civil lawsuit, of "deliberately mischaracterising this settlement for political purposes". Judge Saliann Scarpulla said Mr Trump had "breached his fiduciary duty" by allowing funds raised for US veterans to be used for the Iowa primary election in 2016. "I direct Mr Trump to pay the $2,000,000, which would have gone to the Foundation if it were still in existence," she wrote, saying it must be paid by Mr Trump himself and should go to eight charities he has no relationship to. Mr Trump said the case had been resolved and that he was "happy to donate" $2m to the Army Emergency Relief, Children's Aid Society, City Meals-on-Wheels, Give an Hour, Martha's Table, United Negro College Fund, United Way of Capital Area and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Ms James said Mr Trump had admitted to "personally misusing funds at the Trump Foundation". She had asked Judge Scarpulla to ban Mr Trump from ever running a charity again. However, this was not imposed. Donald Trump Jr, Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump - who were also directors of the Trump Foundation - are required to undergo mandatory training "on the duties of officers and directors of charities", Ms James said. The case was opened following an investigation into the Trump Foundation by the Washington Post in 2016.

11-7-19 Megan Rapinoe on racism, equal pay and LGBT rights
Megan Rapinoe is one of the biggest names in sport after leading the USA to victory at the Women's Football World Cup this year. Don’t be fooled by the pink hair and big smile though, Rapinoe is using her platform to lead the fight for equality in sport. In a wide ranging interview with Radio 1 Newsbeat’s sports reporter Eleanor Roper she chats about racism in football, equal pay, LGBTQ+ rights and the possibility of a career in politics.

11-7-19 Italy Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre under guard amid death threats
An 89-year-old Holocaust survivor in Italy has been assigned police guards for protection after receiving hundreds of threats on social media. Liliana Segre, who was sent to the notorious Auschwitz death camp at 13, has been subjected to a barrage of anti-Semitic messages in recent days. It comes after Ms Segre, an Italian life senator, called for parliament to establish a committee to combat hate. The motion passed despite a lack of support by Italy's right-wing parties. Members of the nationalist League party, led by Matteo Salvini, the centre-right Forza Italia and the far-right Brothers of Italy all abstained from the vote in Milan last week. The motion called for the establishment of an extraordinary commission in Italy to combat all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, incitement to hatred and violence on ethnic and religious grounds. Ms Segre said after the vote that the abstentions made her feel "like a Martian in the Senate". "I appealed to the conscience of everyone and thought that a commission against hatred as a principle would be accepted by all," she said at the time, Italy's La Repubblica reported (in Italian). Since then, she has reported receiving as many as 200 hate messages a day. Some of the threats have been so serious that the prefect of Milan, Renato Saccone, held a meeting on Wednesday with the committee for security and public order, where it was agreed that Ms Segre needed police protection. The measures that were approved include Ms Segre being accompanied in public by two paramilitary carabinieri officers. Meanwhile, the Milan public prosecutor's office said it had opened an investigation into the hate messages targeting the senator and had requested the assistance of Italy's anti-terror police. (Webmaster's comment: The Nazis are back and a threat to all of mankind!)

11-7-19 Milwaukee man charged with hate crime over parking spot acid attack
Police in Wisconsin have charged a man with a hate crime after a Peru-born US citizen had acid thrown in his face and was told to go back to his country. Mahud Villalaz, 42, suffered second-degree burns to his face on Friday in a dispute over a parking spot in Milwaukee, says a criminal complaint. Clifton Blackwell, 61, is charged with first-degree reckless injury in a hate crime using a dangerous weapon. Mr Villalaz became a US citizen in 2013. Mr Villalaz told BBC's US affiliate CBS News: "He just approached me with those hated words, 'Go back to your country.'" He added that the liquid, which he believes was battery acid, burned through two layers of his clothing. Three days after the attack, authorities searched Mr Blackwell's residence and found "muriatic acid, four bottles of brand name Kleen-Out sulfuric acid, two bottles of Kleen-Out drain opener (100% lye), and Parkerizing cleaner", the criminal complaint says. If convicted on all three counts, Mr Blackwell could face up to 35 years in jail. The charge of first-degree reckless injury carries a maximum sentence of 25 years, with an additional five years each for using a dangerous weapon and committing a hate crime. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Mr Villalaz said he was feeling better and would like to move on from the incident. "It has been wonderful to see that there are many people who worry about others, not only Latinos but white people... everybody," the welder said in Spanish, according to CNN. "Let's unite and live in peace with our neighbours." Milwaukee Alderman Jose Perez condemned the attack as "heinous".

11-7-19 Martin Luther King's name removed from Kansas city street
Voters in Kansas City, Missouri, overwhelmingly approved the removal of Martin Luther King's name from a major road, months after it was renamed. The proposal to remove Dr King's name claimed almost 70% of a public vote, preliminary results show. The council voted in January to rename The Paseo, a 10 mile (16km) boulevard in the city's mostly black east side. But the change sparked a battle, with opponents arguing that residents had not been properly consulted. Some residents said they felt their neighbourhood was losing its identity. Opponents of the name change set up the Save The Paseo group earlier this year. In April, it gathered enough signatures to put the removal to a vote. More than 1,000 streets worldwide are said to bear the name of Dr King, with at least 955 found in the US. Kansas City is one of the only major US cities without a street named after the civil rights icon. Those who wanted Dr King's name removed said they respect his legacy, but criticised the council's decision to push the change through by waiving a requirement that 75% of property owners on the boulevard should approve it. "I overwhelmingly heard from my constituents that they did not want it," Alissia Canady, who served as councilwoman for the district that encompasses The Paseo, told the BBC. "There were African American property owners that did not agree with this way of honouring Dr King." Ms Canady, who is black, said the council had been aware that "the political will was not there". "They rushed to put the signs up with the hope that once the signs were up people would be afraid to take them down. That was the rhetoric: Kansas City can't be the city that takes Dr King's name down," Ms Canady says. The Kansas City Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) - an organisation founded by Dr King - led efforts to keep the street's name in his honour. They did not respond to a request for comment.

11-6-19 Tucson: Voters in liberal US city reject sanctuary city status
Voters in Tucson have overwhelmingly rejected a move to become a "sanctuary city" - a city with policies to aid undocumented immigrants. The measure would have put more restrictions on how police enforce immigration laws. Activists pushed the bill to give a voice to the Latino community in Arizona state's second-largest city. But opponents argued Tucson was already immigrant-friendly and that the measure would do more harm than good. In an interview before the vote on Tuesday, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild was quoted by AP news agency as saying: "The city of Tucson, in all respects except being labelled as such, operates as a sanctuary city." The mayor and city council members - who are all Democrats - were worried about unintended consequences of becoming an official sanctuary city, like losing millions of dollars in state and federal funding. President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticised sanctuary cities and has threatened to withhold their access to funding. A federal court ruled in June that the administration could consider a city's enforcement of immigration laws when deciding how to distribute federal funds. Mr Rothschild also said the initiative would have placed unnecessary burdens on officers even on issues unrelated to immigration. The ballot measure was intended to counter a 2010 Arizona immigration law known as SB1070, which sparked mass protests and boycotts of the state. After revisions to the bill, courts upheld the requirement for police officers to check immigration status of people they suspected to be in the US illegally. While Tucson voters rejected the sanctuary city measure, they also elected the city's first Latina mayor, Regino Romero.

11-6-19 Buffalo Wild Wings customers speak after racist incident
Players, coaches, and parents of two youth basketball teams demanded further action at an emotional press conference on Tuesday, after being asked to move seats at a restaurant in Naperville, Illinois. A customer had complained about sitting next to the party because of their race. Buffalo Wild Wings said they fired two managers involved and banned the customers who made the complaint permanently from all of the restaurant's locations nationwide.

11-6-19 Virginia elects woman who gave president the finger
A woman who was fired for raising her middle finger at US President Donald Trump's motorcade has been elected to local office in Virginia. Juli Briskman's hand gesture went viral in 2017, leading to her losing a job with a government contractor. The single mother won more than 52% of the vote to be elected district representative in Loudoun county. At the state level, US Democrats have seized full control of the Virginia legislature. A picture of Ms Briskman cycling and "flipping off" President Trump's motorcade as it passed her spread across the internet in October 2017. Shortly after, Ms Briskman used the image as a profile picture on her social media accounts. Her employer, Akima LLC, said the image was "lewd" and "obscene" and fired her for violating its social media policies, she told the Huffington Post. The company did not respond to the BBC's request for comment at the time. Ms Briskman had reportedly been working as a marketing analyst for the government contractor for six months, but said she didn't regret making the gesture. On Tuesday night, Ms Briskman celebrated her election in a tweet linking to the offending image. Ms Briskman told AFP she ran on a platform prioritising education, woman's rights and environmental issues. She added her campaign showed she was more than "just the person that rode my bike one day and flipped off the president". The results of the state elections mean the Democrats have full control of both legislative chambers in Virginia for the first time in more than 20 years.

11-6-19 Naomi Oreskes asks "why trust science" in an age of denialism
In Why Trust Science?, Naomi Oreskes's asks bold questions but knows there are no clear answers – and critiques herself as the book unfolds. “I DON’T want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to the scientists.” That is what climate activist Greta Thunberg told the US Congress in September when she offered a report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) rather than her own words as testimony. But why would anyone choose to listen to carefully dehumanised, committee-speak science over the impassioned, but not impartial, rhetoric of real human beings? Because facts outweigh opinions, say science insiders. The trouble is, as Naomi Oreskes points out in her fascinating new book, Why Trust Science?, that is because we have faith in science. In the end, none of us can actually come up with a convincing answer to the question at the heart of this discussion: why trust science? Maybe because it works. Surely the results of social experiments like vaccination speak for themselves? Death and damage from diseases such as measles and smallpox have been radically reduced by inoculation. Or we could cite the laws of physics: if you blanket Earth in a gas that absorbs infrared radiation, trapping heat, it has to experience significant warming. Ah, but how do outsiders know this is true? Frustrating as it seems, Oreskes argues that this is a valid question. Scientists, she says, “need to explain not just what they know, but how they know it”. But attempts to do this can confound the problem. Take IPCC reports. They are the voice of scientific consensus on climate change: thousands of scientists contribute, and their findings, researched over decades, are distilled into a digest of objective facts by teams of scientist-writers. These reports aren’t designed to be page-turners, nor to convey scientists’ anguish at the dire situation. They are cool presentations of the scientific conclusions and how they were reached. “In suppressing their values and insisting on science’s neutrality, scientists have gone down a wrong road” Perhaps, Oreskes suggests, that is why they have made so little impact on global policy-makers. “The dominant style in scientific writing is not only to hide the values of the authors, but to hide their humanity altogether,” she says. “The ideal paper is written… as if there were no human author.”

11-6-19 The many benefits of a 4-day work week
Why even companies might want their employees to work less. An old idea might be slowly creeping back into the economic mainstream: A four-day work week. The latest flirtation happened in Japan, where Microsoft's local division tried giving its employees five consecutive Fridays off over the summer — and found sales per employee jumped 40 percent during the period. Meeting times were cut, the office consumed fewer resources, and nearly everyone said they were satisfied with the program. Nor is Microsoft the first company to find that experiments with shorter work weeks actually improve the bottom line. In fact, a four-day work week could come with all sorts of benefits: In productivity, in lower stress, in happier lives, and in more economic justice. Back in the 1930s, the economist John Maynard Keynes famously predicted that work weeks would eventually fall to 15 hours — or roughly two-day weeks — as technology advanced and economies became more productive. The logic for this is pretty simple: If a society increases the amount of wealth an hour of labor can produce, people can take the benefits of that in one of two ways: They can work more and take home more income, or they can take the same income home and work less. Of course, it hasn't worked out that way. Advanced economies have cut the amount of hours their workers put in each year by all sorts of amounts. At the cutting edge, the Netherlands has roughly a four-day work week already. But most advanced countries fall well short of that mark, never mind two-day weeks. And none fall shorter than America. As my colleague Ryan Cooper lays out in a new paper, America barely reduced hours for its average employee at all over the last five decades. As much as news stories paint Japan as overworked, the U.S. is even worse: In 2016, the average American put in 1,781 hours on the job — more than any other advanced nation. The amount of GDP we produce per hour is greater than just about any other developed Western economy. But the total hours we work is much higher. We haven't translated more productivity into more leisure at all.

11-6-19 Virginia elects woman who gave president the finger
A woman who was fired for raising her middle finger at US President Donald Trump's motorcade has been elected to local office in Virginia. Juli Briskman's hand gesture went viral in 2017, leading to her losing a job with a government contractor. The single mother won more than 52% of the vote to be elected district representative in Loudoun county. At the state level, US Democrats have seized full control of the Virginia legislature. A picture of Ms Briskman cycling and "flipping off" President Trump's motorcade as it passed her spread across the internet in October 2017. Shortly after, Ms Briskman used the image as a profile picture on her social media accounts. Her employer, Akima LLC, said the image was "lewd" and "obscene" and fired her for violating its social media policies, she told the Huffington Post. The company did not respond to the BBC's request for comment at the time. Ms Briskman had reportedly been working as a marketing analyst for the government contractor for six months, but said she didn't regret making the gesture. On Tuesday night, Ms Briskman celebrated her election in a tweet linking to the offending image. Ms Briskman told AFP she ran on a platform prioritising education, woman's rights and environmental issues. She added her campaign showed she was more than "just the person that rode my bike one day and flipped off the president". The results of the state elections mean the Democrats have full control of both legislative chambers in Virginia for the first time in more than 20 years.

11-6-19 The many benefits of a 4-day work week
Why even companies might want their employees to work less. An old idea might be slowly creeping back into the economic mainstream: A four-day work week. The latest flirtation happened in Japan, where Microsoft's local division tried giving its employees five consecutive Fridays off over the summer — and found sales per employee jumped 40 percent during the period. Meeting times were cut, the office consumed fewer resources, and nearly everyone said they were satisfied with the program. Nor is Microsoft the first company to find that experiments with shorter work weeks actually improve the bottom line. In fact, a four-day work week could come with all sorts of benefits: In productivity, in lower stress, in happier lives, and in more economic justice. Back in the 1930s, the economist John Maynard Keynes famously predicted that work weeks would eventually fall to 15 hours — or roughly two-day weeks — as technology advanced and economies became more productive. The logic for this is pretty simple: If a society increases the amount of wealth an hour of labor can produce, people can take the benefits of that in one of two ways: They can work more and take home more income, or they can take the same income home and work less. Of course, it hasn't worked out that way. Advanced economies have cut the amount of hours their workers put in each year by all sorts of amounts. At the cutting edge, the Netherlands has roughly a four-day work week already. But most advanced countries fall well short of that mark, never mind two-day weeks. And none fall shorter than America. As my colleague Ryan Cooper lays out in a new paper, America barely reduced hours for its average employee at all over the last five decades. As much as news stories paint Japan as overworked, the U.S. is even worse: In 2016, the average American put in 1,781 hours on the job — more than any other advanced nation. The amount of GDP we produce per hour is greater than just about any other developed Western economy. But the total hours we work is much higher. We haven't translated more productivity into more leisure at all.

11-5-19 Trump fiddles while California burns
President Trump is an awful president even when he isn't committing high crimes and misdemeanors. We were reminded of that truth Monday, when his administration notified the international community that the United States is officially withdrawing from the Paris climate accord. The decision is entirely Trump's to make. There is no abuse of power, no illegal quid pro quo, no undermining of democracy involved. Leaving the accord is simply a terrible, selfish decision. Also on Monday, California continued to burn. Over the last two years, in fact, wildfires have burned 5,000 square miles in the state. The two stories are related, of course. An August study in the journal Earth's Future found that climate change has driven a fivefold growth in the annual size of the state's burned area since the early 1970s. "Human-caused warming has already significantly enhanced wildfire activity in California, particularly in the forests of the Sierra Nevada and North Coast, and will likely continue to do so in the coming decades," the study's authors wrote. So it was galling to see Trump's allies greet Monday's accord withdrawal by taking a victory lap. "The U.S. is proud of our record as a world leader in reducing all emissions, fostering resilience, growing our economy, and ensuring energy for our citizens," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a tweet. "Ours is a realistic and pragmatic model." It is true that U.S. emissions declined for much of the decade preceding Trump's election — an overall drop of 12 percent between 2005 and 2017, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. But it is also true that Trump's policies have tried to reverse some of the factors that led to the decline. According to the center, during those 12 years "electric power sector emissions fell 27 percent as a result of a shift from coal to natural gas, increased use of renewable energy, and a leveling of electricity demand." The Trump administration, of course, has done everything it can to reverse the decline of coal — on Monday, for example, it announced a rollback of Obama-era rules that limited the amount of heavy metals and ash that coal plants allowed in the nation's groundwater. The White House has also sought to make big cuts at the federal department that funds clean energy research.

11-5-19 Xiaomi smartphone has 108 megapixel camera
Chinese tech giant Xiaomi has unveiled the world's first mainstream handset to feature a 108 megapixel camera. The extra high-resolution sensor was developed by Samsung, which has yet to feature it in its own products. The firms say the benefit is that it delivers "extremely sharp photographs that are rich in detail". However, one early test of the tech indicates that its images contain more digital distortions than those produced by lower-resolution smartphones. For now, the Mi CC9 Pro Premium has only been announced for the Chinese market, where the base model costs 2,799 yuan ($400; £310). But Xiaomi has said it will use the same component in the Mi Note 10, which will be be launched on Wednesday and sold more widely. The firm is currently the world's fourth-bestselling smartphone vendor, according to research firm Canalys, with a market share of 9.1%. Its sales are rapidly growing in Europe and it has just announced its intention to expand into Japan in 2020. Until now, 100MP+ sensors have typically been the preserve of medium-format digital cameras, which can cost tens of thousands of pounds. Trying to squeeze lots of resolution into a smaller smartphone component runs the risk of increasing cross-talk, a phenomenon where the electrical activity of one pixel spills into its neighbours, as they are packed so closely together. This results in digital noise in the final image. In addition, since each pixel needs to be smaller than normal to fit into the same space, each receives less light, causing further problems in low-light conditions. Samsung's Isocell Plus sensor partly addresses these problems by being larger in size than most smartphone sensors. But its key innovation is that its pixels are arranged in groups of four, with each set sharing the same colour filter to detect red, green or blue light.

11-4-19 Recalled US ambassador felt 'threatened' by Trump
A recalled US ambassador at the centre of the Trump impeachment inquiry said she felt threatened by a cryptic remark the president made about her on a call. Ex-envoy to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch told Congress she was "very concerned" by President Donald Trump's comment in the phone call with Ukraine's leader. Mr Trump told his counterpart: "Well, she's [Ms Yovanovitch] going to go through some things." Democrats have just released the first transcripts from closed-door testimony. The Republican president is accused of trying to pressure Ukraine into investigating unsubstantiated corruption claims against his US political rival, Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden, who worked with a Ukrainian gas company. During the 25 July call with President Volodymyr Zelensky - a rough transcript of which has been released by the White House - the US president also described Ms Yovanovitch as "bad news". That call triggered the current congressional impeachment investigation that could seek to remove Mr Trump from office for alleged abuses of power. In her testimony from 11 October released on Monday, she said she had been "shocked" by what the president said. "I didn't know what it meant," Ms Yovanovitch said. "I was very concerned. I still am." The House Intelligence Committee released Ms Yovanovitch's testimony on Monday. The career diplomat said that when she sought advice from the US Ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, a Trump donor, he suggested Ms Yovanovitch tweet praise of the president. "You need to go big or go home," Mr Sondland allegedly told her. Ms Yovanovitch testified that she did not think she could follow the advice. Ms Yovanovitch added that Mr Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani had begun efforts to discredit her in late 2018 as he effectively ran a shadow foreign policy on Ukraine. Mr Giuliani wanted to investigate Mr Biden and his son in order to find information "that could be possibly damaging to a Presidential run", the diplomat testified. Mr Giuliani also enlisted Ukraine's chief prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, to spread "falsehoods" about her in order to "hurt" her "in the US", according to Ms Yovanovitch.

11-4-19 64% of Americans Want Stricter Laws on Gun Sales
Nearly two in three Americans say that laws covering the sale of firearms should be made stricter (64%), while 28% say the laws should be kept as they are. Few Americans (7%) would like the laws to be made less strict.

  • 28% want current laws to remain the same; 7% want them to be less strict
  • Desire for stricter laws much greater among Democrats than Republicans
  • National handgun ban remains unpopular: 29% support outright ban

11-4-19 Can neighborhood outreach reduce inner-city gun violence in the U.S.?
Researchers are looking into how intervention programs cut homicide rates. The gunshots ripped through a house party before dawn on Chicago’s South Side. By the time the 27-year-old victim arrived by ambulance at a hospital, he was dead from multiple bullet wounds. Unlike the violence seen in classic turf wars among gangs fighting over, say, control of an illegal drug market, no gang leader had ordered the Sept. 1 killing of Yarmel Williams. Instead, he had apparently been targeted following a war of words over social media. Known on the street and online as 051 Melly, Williams belonged to one of Chicago’s many informal, neighborhood groups, or cliques, of young, African-American men who follow a deadly code: perceived slights and past slayings of friends by rivals must be avenged through the barrel of a gun. Neighborhood clique members “live in their own, isolated culture that glorifies gun violence and warps how they see themselves as black men,” says Lance Williams, a professor of urban studies at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago who is not related to Yarmel Williams. Cliques have names and members who formerly belonged to different, even rival, Chicago gangs that have since dissolved. But unlike gangs, cliques have no top dogs. Instead, each person decides on his own, often spontaneously, whether to shoot someone. Personal beefs can quickly turn deadly. Well-intentioned laws won’t stop shootings by young men competing over whose clique has scored the most fatalities, Williams says, who has studied youth violence and worked 30 years among Chicago gang and clique members. So currently proposed gun control legislation is unlikely to deter this inner-city violence. Instead, some researchers are looking into the effectiveness of outreach programs that deal directly with violence-prone individuals to dissuade them, and perhaps peers they later encounter, from gun crime. Williams calls for innovative education, job opportunities and gun violence prevention programs. “Policy makers need to understand that we have to rebuild healthy identities and world views,” he says.

11-4-19 UAE prisoners denied HIV treatment - Human Rights Watch
Foreign detainees in at least one United Arab Emirates (UAE) prison are being denied lifesaving HIV treatment, according to Human Rights Watch. Former prisoners of Dubai's central jail told the group that treatment was often delayed, interrupted or denied altogether. International guidelines on human rights in prisons say inmates have a right to medical services. The BBC has contacted the UAE's embassy in London for comment. Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement that non-citizen prisoners were not given the same access to treatment as Emirati prisoners in Dubai's Al Awir Central Jail. "The UAE has an obligation to provide health care, including antiretroviral medicines, to all prisoners in their custody without discrimination," said Michael Page, HRW's deputy Middle East director. Foreign HIV-positive prisoners previously held at Al Awir said they received regular testing every three to six months, but were not granted consistent access to treatment. They also said prison officials were "indifferent" to requests for care, and that some prisoners were detained without charge "because they tested positive for HIV". Prisoners with HIV are kept separate from other inmates and report experiencing stigma and systemic discrimination. One source told HRW that a prisoner recently fell ill after nearly four months without treatment, and had test results showing warning signs for the onset of Aids. As a member state of the United Nations, the UAE is committed to a worldwide effort to end Aids by 2030. UN standards on human rights and prisons state that prisoners should be provided with necessary medical treatment. Earlier this year, UN human rights experts condemned the poor conditions in which a UAE activist was being held. They said Ahmed Mansoor - imprisoned for "defaming" the country on social media - had no bed or water in his cell and was subject to prolonged periods of solitary confinement that might amount to torture.

11-3-19 TUS judge blocks Trump immigrant health insurance rule
A US judge has temporarily blocked a rule proposed by President Donald Trump that would require immigrants to prove they will have health insurance within 30 days of arrival in the US, or can pay for medical care. Judge Michael Simon, a district judge in Oregon, granted a preliminary injunction against the proposal. Seven American citizens and an NGO had filed a lawsuit opposing the rule. They argued it would block hundreds of thousands of legal migrants. The lawsuit said the number of immigrants who enter the US with family-sponsored visas would drop considerably, or be eliminated altogether. Judge Simon said the potential damage to families justified a US-wide ban. "Facing a likely risk of being separated from their family members and a delay in obtaining a visa to which family members would otherwise be entitled is irreparable harm," his legal order read. Would-be immigrants had been struggling to establish how to get the required insurance coverage. The US healthcare system is complex, and has not generally catered to people yet to arrive there. The policy is part of Mr Trump's effort to shift the US away from a family-focused immigration system. Judge Simon's 28-day temporary restraining order will prevent the rule from coming into effect on 3 November, but the legal battle is likely to continue. The Trump administration has argued that legal immigrants are about three times more likely to lack health insurance than US citizens, and that taxpayers should not bear their medical costs. However, US policy experts say immigrants are less likely to use the healthcare system than American citizens. Research from George Washington University found that recent immigrants without insurance made up less than a tenth of 1% of US medical fees in 2017.

11-3-19 UFC: Raucous reception for Trump at Mixed Martial Arts
Donald Trump was met with raucous boos - and some cheers - on Saturday as he attended the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in New York. The US president attended the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) event with high-ranking Republicans and his sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump. A small anti-Trump protest was held at the Madison Square Garden arena. It comes less than a week after the president was booed at the baseball World Series in Washington DC. Chants of "lock him up" echoed around the stadium earlier in the week - a reference to a chant sometimes heard at Mr Trump's political rallies, which calls for the imprisonment of his former presidential rival Hillary Clinton. The reception was mixed on Saturday night, however, with cheers and clapping heard from some spectators, and boos and profanities from others. Signs reading "Remove Trump" and "Impeach Trump" were also spotted in the crowd. Mr Trump is currently facing an impeachment probe relating to allegations he pressured Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his rival in the 2020 White House race, former Vice President Joe Biden. As video of the crowd spread on social media, his son Donald Jr hit back on Twitter, saying the reception had been "overwhelmingly positive" and that UFC President Dana White - a long-time friend of the president's - had called it "the most electrifying entrance he's seen in 25 years".

11-2-19 Why televangelist Paula White is the perfect Trump administration hire
Though she rejects the label, televangelist Paula White is part of the prosperity gospel movement, which goes by many names: "Name it and claim it." "Health and wealth." "Word of faith." "Seed faith." Even just "faith." What these titles to varying degrees reveal and obscure is the transactional nature of this scam at the fringes of Christianity. God wants to give you money, good health, and happiness, the prosperity gospel preacher says, but you've gotta work with him a little first. You have to demonstrate the sincerity of your faith — do for him before he'll do for you — and as it turns out, a really great demonstration of faith is sending a check to this very preacher, who just happens to be in the market for a new personal plane. White also happens to be the latest Trump administration hire, reportedly brought on to advise on the White House's Faith and Opportunity Initiative. This is exactly right. A shameless religious grifter is a perfect fit for this presidency, an administration built on giving desperate people false hope for personal gain. To the outside observer, the prosperity gospel may look like a mere extension of more theologically conservative and liturgically demonstrative types of Christianity, a close relative of fundamentalism, evangelicalism, or Pentecostalism. There is overlap with each, to be sure, but the prosperity gospel is a unique creature. Though popular around the world, especially in the Global South, it has American roots and what Kate Bowler, a professor of religion at Duke Divinity School, has described as a "triumph of American optimism over the realities of a fickle economy, entrenched racism, pervasive poverty, and theological pessimism." There are two chief problems with the prosperity gospel. One is its clever theological perversion, which offers a funhouse mirror take on basic Christian affirmations that God loves us, wants good things for us, and is working through his people toward a final victory over evil, sin, and death itself. In the prosperity gospel's telling, God is a divine vending machine: You put in your coin of faith (check or credit also accepted) and out pops your health, wealth, and victory, the latter degraded from a cosmic triumph to positive feelings about your personal life. The New Testament speaks often of the necessity of self-denial, the reality of suffering (including suffering because of your faith), and the dangers and temptations of wealth. The prosperity gospel offers "your best life now," purchasable escape from pain, and wealth as proof of God's favor. God here is a means, not an end. The second problem with the prosperity gospel is its utterly inexcusable targeting of vulnerable people. This movement does not flourish among the upper class. Those who make $10,000 or less per year are twice as likely to adhere to the prosperity gospel as those making $35,000 to $50,000 per year. It is but a slight exaggeration to say the only people getting the promised wealth are those making the promises. The reality of poverty is not overcome by opportunistic religious lies.

11-2-19 Dresden: The German city that declared a 'Nazi emergency'
A city in eastern Germany has declared a "Nazi emergency", saying it has a serious problem with the far right. Dresden, the capital of Saxony, has long been viewed as a bastion of the far-right and is the birthplace of the anti-Islam Pegida movement. Councillors in the city - a contender for the 2025 European Capital of Culture - have now approved a resolution saying more needs to be done to tackle the issue. But opponents say it goes too far. "'Nazinotstand' means - similar to the climate emergency - that we have a serious problem. The open democratic society is threatened," local councillor Max Aschenbach, who tabled the motion, told the BBC. Mr Aschenbach, from left-leaning satirical political party Die Partei, said he believed it was necessary to take action because politicians were not doing enough to "position themselves clearly" against the far-right. "The request was an attempt to change that. I also wanted to know what kind of people I'm sitting with in the city council of Dresden," he said. The resolution acknowledges that "right-wing extremist attitudes and actions... are occurring with increasing frequency" and calls on the city to help victims of far-right violence, protect minorities and strengthen democracy. Mr Aschenbach said adopting the motion showed the city council's commitment to fostering "a free, liberal, democratic society that protects minorities and resolutely opposes Nazis." Mr Aschenbach's resolution was put to a vote by Dresden's city council on Wednesday night. It was approved by 39 votes to 29, with Germany's governing Christian Democrats (CDU) among those to have rejected it, according to local media reports. (Webmaster's comment: Nazis are pure EVIL! Anything we can do to curtail them should be legitimate!)

11-1-19 Anti-Semitism has increased
84% of Jews in America say they believe anti-Semitism has increased over the past five years. Since 2014, 23% of Jews have experienced an anti-Semitic remark through phone, mail, or in person, and 21% have been attacked online. 31% say they have publicly avoided wearing things that would identify themselves as Jews. 47% say that Jewish institutions they have been a part of have been attacked in some way.

11-1-19 Booing the president: Was it justified?
President Trump is “an avid sports fan,” yet he “stays away from most sporting events,” said Christine Brennan in USA Today. “Now we know why.” After the Washington Nationals’ public address announcer introduced him during Game 5 of the World Series, the hometown D.C. crowd greeted him with “intense and long-lasting” boos. A lusty chant of “Lock him up!” followed “for several minutes” from the outfield and upper deck. Trump, who rarely travels beyond the protective bubble of his rallies and properties, is the only president since William Taft in 1910 not to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at a Major League Baseball game. He hasn’t even attended a single game. “Odds are, he won’t come back anytime soon.”

11-1-19 “Way too out there with his gayness.”
A Missouri jury has awarded nearly $20 million to a gay police officer who was told to “tone down” his gayness. Sgt. Keith Wildhaber was passed over 23 times for promotion, with superior officers describing him as “fruity” and “way too out there with his gayness.” The jury foreman said the award sends a message that “if you discriminate, you are going to pay a big price.”

11-1-19 Boeing: How could the CEO know so little?
Members of Congress this week confronted Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg with evidence that “numerous people inside Boeing were aware of the potential dangers” of Boeing’s troubled emergency warning system, said David Gelles and Natalie Kitroeff in The New York Times. Rep. Pete DeFazio (D.-Ore.) produced an email showing that as early as 2015 Boeing employees asked what would happen if the airplane’s “angle of attack” sensor failed. Other documents showed that Boeing knew pilots could face “catastrophic” failure if they “took 10 seconds to respond” to the sensor’s warning. With victims’ families seated behind him, Muilenburg acknowledged that, “We have work to do.” The most revealing exchange in Muilenburg’s Senate hearing was with Sen. Ted Cruz (R.-Texas), said Brooke Sutherland in Pressed by Cruz, Muilenburg said he was “generally aware” of documents that raised questions about the Boeing 737 Max, but he “relied on his counsel to provide that information to the appropriate authorities.” Muilenburg passing the buck left Cruz fuming. And he was right to fume. Muilenburg said he found out about “bombshell” messages from Boeing’s test pilots “over the last couple of weeks when it became public news.” A full year after the plane’s first crash, that kind of ignorance from the CEO is “inexplicable.” (Webmaster's comment: It's profits first, safety second as always for executives!)

113 Atheism News & Humanism News Articles
for November 2019

Atheism News & Humanism Articles for October 2019