12-31-19 Alex Jones ordered to pay $100,000 in Sandy Hook defamation case
US radio host and prominent conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been ordered to pay $100,000 (£76,000) in legal fees and court costs in a defamation case against him.The case has been brought by the father of a child killed in the Sandy Hook mass school shooting in 2012. Mr Jones has long claimed on his show and Infowars site that the attack was "completely fake" and a "giant hoax". Twenty children - all under the age of 10 - and six adults were killed. In a 20 December ruling, Judge Scott Jenkins of Travis County District Court in Texas said Mr Jones and his lawyer had intentionally disregarded an October court order to produce witnesses and other materials to the plaintiff in the lawsuit, Neil Heslin, US media report. Mr Heslin's son, six-year-old Jesse Lewis, was killed in the shooting. The judge said their failure to co-operate "should be treated as contempt of court". In two separate orders issued the same day, the judge told Mr Jones to pay $65,825 and $34,323 in lawyer fees incurred by Mr Heslin. Added to an earlier October order against Infowars, Mr Jones and Infowars have been ordered to pay $126,023.80 over the case, even before it reaches trial, reports say. "It's hardly a surprise that someone like Alex Jones would soon find himself in contempt of court, but now he is learning there are severe consequences to his utter disrespect for this process," Mark Bankston, one of Mr Heslin's lawyers, said in an email to the Daily Beast. Mr Bankston is quoted as saying by the New York Times that he expects trial in the defamation case to be scheduled before the end of next year. The lawsuit filed in Travis County by Mr Heslin alleges Mr Jones accused him of lying about holding his son's body with a bullet hole in his head, according to the complaint. The lawsuit was filed in Texas, where Mr Jones lives and works. Mr Jones is facing a number of lawsuits filed by several families of the victims. Mr Jones had implied the parents were actors seeking to undermine laws allowing private gun ownership. (Webmaster's comment: Alex Jones has never been right about anything!)
12-31-19 West Virginia prison cadets fired over Nazi salute
At least 30 US prison cadets have been fired after a photo emerged showing them giving what appears to be a Nazi salute. The image shows the cadets at the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation making the gesture below a sign that reads "Hail Byrd!", referring to a class instructor. The state governor announced on Monday that the cadets would be fired. The picture was taken on their graduation day on 27 November. "As I said from the beginning, I condemn the photo of Basic Training Class 18 in the strongest possible terms," Governor Jim Justice said in a statement. "This kind of behaviour will not be tolerated on my watch in any agency of state government." In addition to those who appeared in the photo, two trainers and a cadet were dismissed earlier. It shows around 30 blurred faces and appears to have been recently shot for the state's "Basic Training Class #18". The photo does not include names of the employees and the location is not known. The class reportedly took place from 21 October to 27 November. The text referred to class leader Kassie Byrd, the state's Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety said. According to a report from the department, a member of staff expressed her concerns to Ms Byrd after receiving the photo. Ms Byrd responded by saying there was nothing wrong with the picture, the report said. She explained the caption by saying: "They do that because I'm a hard-ass like Hitler." None of the names of those dismissed have been officially released.
12-30-19 Republicans are still trying to steal your health insurance
epublicans failed to repeal ObamaCare in 2017 by a single vote in the Senate. But they are still trying to drive a stake through its heart in secret — using yet another tendentious legal Calvinball case to try to get the courts to strike it down as unconstitutional. With a recent decision from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, there are some signs that it might actually happen. As the 2020 election campaign picks up, it's worth remembering that the Republican Party is dead set on taking millions of Americans' health insurance away, or failing that, making it as expensive and terrible as possible, by any means they can dream up. First, the legal background. The suit is Texas vs. United States, filed by a number of right-wing state attorneys general. It is very obviously a backfilled pretext trying to get through judicial activism what the Republican Congress could not pass. Here's how the logic goes. Back in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that ObamaCare could stand in part by reinterpreting its individual mandate to buy insurance as a tax. Then, in 2017, Congress passed a tax cut for the rich that also got rid of the individual mandate tax — leaving a legal requirement with no teeth. So the suit argues the mandate must be struck down since you can't have a tax that collects no money — and because, when Congress was designing ObamaCare, most agreed that the individual mandate was a key part of the law, the whole thing needs to go. (The Trump administration has also refused to defend the law.) As Slate's Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern explain, on the legal merits this argument is absolutely preposterous. The suit argues that Congress repealed ObamaCare in secret with the 2017 tax bill despite voting against an explicit repeal that very same year. And when Congress was designing the ACA, they included the individual mandate because all the liberal wonks agreed you needed one to stave off the dreaded cost death spiral within the ObamaCare exchanges. The Supreme Court has previously held that a law can stand with an unconstitutional portion removed so long as it is "fully operative" without it — and not only does it turn out that you don't actually need the individual mandate to keep the exchanges functioning, there are tons of parts of ObamaCare that have nothing to do with the mandate or exchanges at all, like the Medicaid expansion or allowing children to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26.
12-30-19 Humanity's decade of disillusionment and decline
The 2010s were an age of ever-increasing frustration and ever-diminishing expectations. Looking back on a historical period from its end is a dicey proposition. Even when it is clear that a turning point has been reached, it is often hard to know with any certainty which way things are about to turn. At the end of the 1960s, how many confidently predicted that the moon landing would mark the high point of America's manned space program? Or, at the end of the 1970s, how many foresaw that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan would prove the last gasp of a dying empire? So it is with some trepidation that I look back over the course of the 2010s and try to sum them up. Unfortunately, the first draft of recent history doesn't make for pleasant reading. It's not hard to make a case for the passing era as the Downer Decade, an age of ever-increasing frustration, and ever-diminishing expectations. The end of the 2000s, in spite of the fiasco of the Iraq War and the disaster of the financial crisis, was a relatively hopeful period in America, particularly in terms of the prospects for functional governance. America's first black president had been granted the strongest governing mandate since Lyndon Johnson: a decisive popular and electoral vote majority combined with control of the House and filibuster-proof control of the Senate. But that moment was evanescent in the extreme. The 2010s began with a ferocious Tea-Party-led reaction that cost Democrats not only control of the House but of a host of governorships and state legislatures. Those losses ushered in six years of gridlock and escalating brinkmanship. The decade ends with the third impeachment in American history, of the relentlessly polarizing President Trump, playing out in an even more obviously partisan fashion than the impeachment of President Clinton. It is difficult for Americans to even imagine government from a widely popular center anymore.
12-30-19 Monsey stabbing: NYC mayor vows action on anti-Semitism 'crisis'
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced a series of measures to tackle a "crisis" of anti-Semitic attacks, following a mass stabbing. Mr de Blasio said security would be stepped up in Jewish areas and schools would teach students to tackle hate. At least five people were injured in the knife attack at a rabbi's house in New York state on Saturday. President Donald Trump called for unity to fight "the evil scourge" of anti-Semitism following the attack. Witnesses said the attacker burst into the house in Monsey, north of New York City, which was hosting a Hanukkah celebration, pulled out a large knife and began stabbing people. The suspected knifeman, named by police as Grafton Thomas, 37, of Greenwood Lake, New York, has been charged with attempted murder. He pleaded not guilty, and is being held in jail with his bail set at $5m (£3.8m). On Sunday night, his lawyer Michael Sussman issued a statement on behalf of his family which said Mr Thomas "has a long history of mental illness and hospitalisations". "He has no history of like violent acts and no convictions for any crime," it said. "He has no known history of anti-Semitism and was raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races. He is not a member of any hate groups." Just a day before the attack, Mr de Blasio had announced extra police patrols in three areas of Brooklyn with large Jewish populations following a spate of anti-Semitic incidents. "The spirit we bring today is one of resolve and relentlessness. We will keep adding as many measures as it takes to end this crisis," he told reporters on Sunday. Mr de Blasio said additional officers would now be deployed to the districts of Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Borough Park. "People in the community will see our officers present in front of houses of worship and out on the streets. We have to give people a sense of security, and we have to show that this horrible trend we've seen over the last weeks will be stopped dead in its tracks," he said.
12-30-19 Gay in Nigeria: 'Everybody sees me as an abomination'
Five years ago, the Nigerian government signed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, essentially banning gay relationships. Activists say the law has worsened discrimination against sexual minorities in the highly religious country. They also claim there’s been a rise in instances of extortion and blackmail of the LGBTQI+ community by security forces. Half a decade after the law passed, our correspondent Mayeni Jones investigates what life is really like for Nigeria’s gay community.
12-29-19 The 2010s were an economic disaster
Policymakers from both parties completely blew it in the aftermath of the financial crisis and the Great Recession. As 2019 comes to a close, American policymakers must face a harsh truth: The last decade was an economic disaster. If the 2020s are going to be any better, our leaders will have to learn from their mistakes — or simply be replaced. For all the talk of recovery, this decade began with the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. Unemployment spiked to 10 percent, and it took most of the last ten years for it to come back down. As nice as a 3.5 percent unemployment rate is, it's also something that almost never happens. Furthermore, our current good times look a less good under the surface. The government's definition of unemployment can leave out a lot of people. This year, the portion of people who got jobs each month who wouldn't even have been counted among the unemployed the month before reached 75 percent. That's by far the highest it's been in the last three decades. The percentage of working-age Americans who have jobs only returned to its pre-Great Recession peak in the last few months. (It still has a ways to go before it returns to its previous peak, just before the 2001 recession.) Beyond that, job quality — in terms of pay, benefits, hours, security, and more — has also deteriorated. Employment may be widely available again, but a lot of that employment is fundamentally worse than it was in decades past. Americans' wages still aren't growing as fast as they were before the crash, according to both the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Atlanta Fed. In fact, the Atlanta Fed finds that wage growth's peak in 2007 never got as high as its peak in 2000 — a similar pattern to prime-age employment. In the 2010s, productivity growth — the rate at which the economy learns to create more value with less inputs — also fell lower than it's been in decades. (Though it may finally be picking up again.) Finally, if you look at economic output just before the Great Recession and draw a line continuing that growth at the same trend, it turns out the 2010s didn't close the gap at all. Once the recovery from 2008 began, the economy just started growing again at a permanently lower trend line. Trillions-worth of annual economic activity — jobs, wealth creation, living standards — simply vanished this decade, with no sign we will ever recover.
12-29-19 US saw highest number of mass killings on record in 2019, database reveals
The US suffered more mass killings in 2019 than any year on record, according to researchers. A database compiled by the Associated Press (AP), USA Today and Northeastern University recorded 41 incidents and a total of 211 deaths. Mass killings are defined as four or more people being killed in the same incident, excluding the perpetrator. Among the deadliest in 2019 were the killings of 12 people in Virginia Beach in May and 22 in El Paso in August. Of the 41 cases in 2019, 33 involved firearms, researchers said. California had the highest number of mass killings per state, with eight. The database has been tracking mass killings in the US since 2006, but research going back to the 1970s did not not reveal a year with more mass killings, AP reported. The year with the second-highest number of mass killings was 2006, with 38. Though 2019 had the highest number of incidents, the death toll of 211 was eclipsed by the 224 people who died in mass killings 2017. That year saw the deadliest mass shooting in US history, when 59 people were gunned down at a festival in Las Vegas. Many mass killings in the US fail to make headlines because they involve family disputes, drug deals or gang violence, and don't spill into public places, the researchers said. The number of mass killings in the US had risen despite the overall number of homicides going down, said James Densley, a criminologist and professor at Metropolitan State University in Minnesota. "As a percentage of homicides, these mass killings are also accounting for more deaths," he told AP. Prof Densley said he believed the spike was partly a consequence of an "angry and frustrated time" in US society, but he added that crimes tended to occur in waves. "This seems to be the age of mass shootings," he said. Gun ownership rights are enshrined in the second amendment of the US constitution, and the spike in mass shootings has done little to push US lawmakers towards gun control reforms. In August, following deadly attacks in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, President Donald Trump said "serious discussions" would take place between congressional leaders on "meaningful" background checks for gun owners. (Webmaster's comment: But no such discussions have taken place.)
12-29-19 Monsey stabbing: Attack was domestic terrorism, NY governor says
The stabbing at a rabbi's house in New York state was "domestic terrorism", state governor Andrew Cuomo says. Hatred based on race, colour and creed was an "American cancer spreading in the body politic", the governor told a news conference. He called for a domestic terrorism law in the state to prosecute such crimes. At least five people were stabbed in the attack in Monsey, north of the city of New York. The attacker was later arrested in New York's Harlem area. Witnesses said the attacker burst into the house, which was hosting a Hanukkah celebration, pulled out a large knife and began attacking people. Guests reportedly threw tables and chairs at the man, who then attempted to enter a synagogue next door before fleeing in a car. However his vehicle registration was passed to police and license plate scanners picked up the car as it entered New York City, where he was detained. He described the attack as "very disturbing" but said it was not an isolated incident, adding that hostility based on race, religion and immigration status was spreading across the country. "It is domestic terrorism. These are people who intend to create mass harm, mass violence, and generate fear based on race, colour, creed. That is the definition of terrorism," he said. "Just because they don't come from another country doesn't mean they are not terrorists. They should be prosecuted as domestic terrorists." "We are not going to let this poison spread. No one else can defeat this county, but this country can defeat itself," he added. The attack came a day after New York police said officers were stepping up patrols in heavily Jewish districts following a spate of anti-Semitic threats and attacks. Two of the victims were still in hospital, police said. A man brandishing a machete attacked a Hanukkah celebration at the rabbi's property in Monsey - an area with a large population of ultra-Orthodox Jews. The incident happened at about 22:00 on Saturday (03:00 GMT Sunday).
12-29-19 Trump faces criticism after sharing tweet naming alleged whistleblower
US President Donald Trump is facing staunch criticism for retweeting a post that included the alleged name of the whistleblower whose complaint led to the president's impeachment. Mr Trump shared a post from a user named @surfermom77, who described themselves as a "100% Trump supporter". The retweet seemed to disappear from the president's timeline for a period but was visible again later. Mr Trump has repeatedly called for the whistleblower to be identified. The US has federal laws that guarantee the protection of whistleblowers, designed to shield those who come forward with evidence of wrongdoing by the government. In November, lawyers for the whistleblower - who is said to work in the US intelligence community - issued a cease-and-desist warning to the president, saying their client was "in physical danger". But the president ignored the warning and continued to call for them to be named. Previous posts by @surfermom77 - the Twitter user retweeted by President Trump - include anti-Islam content and posts spreading the false conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama was a Muslim. According to a report by the Associated Press, the account bears the hallmarks of an automated "bot" account, "including an unusually high amount of activity and profile pictures featuring stock images from the internet". The account's profile picture - a stock photo of a woman in business attire that was pulled from the internet - was changed on Saturday to an image of Mr Trump. Facebook has a policy of banning posts that name the alleged whistleblower, the New York Times reported, but Twitter does not. In a statement issued to the Associated Press, Twitter said the @surfermom77 tweet was "not a violation of the Twitter Rules" (Webmaster's comment: Trump has clearly broken the law and should be arrested and imprisoned!)
12-29-19 Why Canada's cannabis bubble burst
More than a year ago, Canada made recreational cannabis legal. So why are people still buying it on the black market? When Canada legalised marijuana just over a year ago, it seemed like anyone who was anyone wanted to break into the market. The media nicknamed the frenzy Canada's "green rush", as investors like Snoop Dogg and the former head of Toronto's police force clamoured to get a slice of the multi-billion-dollar-pie. But like the gold rush of the 1850s, the lustre would soon fade, leaving prospectors in the dust. "It didn't take a rocket scientist to recognise that these stocks were trading on fantasy and not on fundamentals," says Jonathan Rubin, CEO of New Leaf Data Services. With decades of experience in the energy commodities markets, Mr Rubin saw the legalisation of cannabis in states like Colorado and California in the US (and later Canada) as a "once in a lifetime" opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a brand-new commodity. "I had this epiphany that this is going to be a commodity just like any other commodity," he told the BBC. What that meant was that like the price of wheat or pork, the wholesale price of cannabis was going to fluctuate with the market. So instead of investing in the cannabis itself, Mr Rubin started New Leaf to track the price of cannabis in states where it was legal. Investors and others in the industry pay for access to this data. This business model has given Mr Rubin an interesting vantage point of how the market has unfolded. In Canada, he says, the rollout has been disappointing. "They haven't had the growth in sales and earnings that they've envisioned," he said. "I don't want to say it's a failure, but there's definitely frustrations." Wholesale prices have dropped by about 17% since New Leaf started tracking data, which has kept profit margins tight for producers. Sales have also slowed, according to Statistics Canada.
12-28-19 The evangelical resistance?
At the time of year when Christians around the world are supposed to unite in celebration of their savior's birth, this Christmas has been a particularly fractious time for white evangelicals in America. Last week, Christianity Today, a leading evangelical magazine, published an editorial condemning Trump's "immoral character" and calling for his removal from office. "That he should be removed," the editorial, written by outgoing editor-in-chief Mark Galli, contended, "we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments." It was a stance that nearly broke the internet — the publication's website temporarily went down as millions tried to read the piece — and revealed the fault lines in a religious movement that is often viewed as a monolithic political force. No sooner had Christianity Today published its words than the piece drew heavy and vitriolic pushback from other conservative Christian voices. Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, scoffed on Fox News that the publication ought to be renamed "Christianity Yesterday" for being "out of step with the faith community" when it came to Trump. Shortly after, nearly two hundred evangelical leaders signed a letter expressing their "dissatisfaction" with the editorial for supporting what it called the "entirely-partisan, legally-dubious, and politically-motivated impeachment." Secular media pounced on the controversy, seemingly surprised that an evangelical outlet had taken such a stand while also deeming the fracas as part of what The Daily Beast called the "spiraling evangelical Christian civil war." That's an overstated assessment of a rather imbalanced divide, but the Christianity Today editorial does point to a committed and principled NeverTrump evangelical movement that has held steadfast since 2015 and which draws a sharp contrast with the spineless Congressional Republicans who, in toto, have folded in complete submission to Trump.
12-28-19 Edward Gallagher: Navy Seals called platoon leader 'freaking evil'
A US Navy Seal who was tried for war crimes was described by members of his unit as "evil", "toxic", and "perfectly OK with killing anybody", according to footage obtained by the New York Times. The case of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher gained national attention when President Trump championed him. Gallagher was demoted by the Navy after his trial earlier this year but Mr Trump reversed the decision. In doing so, the president contradicted the Navy's most senior leaders. Mr Trump recently hosted Gallagher and his wife at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, and described the soldier at a rally as one of the country's "great fighters". Gallagher denied any wrongdoing, claiming the case against him was concocted by disgruntled members of his unit who wanted to force him out. The video recordings obtained by the New York Times show Navy Seals giving evidence to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). They have never been shown publicly before, the Times reported. The soldiers from Alpha Platoon Seal Team 7 were visibly nervous and some broke down into tears as they recalled what they had witnessed. "The guy is freaking evil," said Special Operator Craig Miller. In a separate interview, Special Operator First Class Joshua Vriens, a sniper, described their platoon chief as "toxic". Special Operator First Class Corey Scott said: "You could tell he was perfectly OK with killing anybody that was moving." Gallagher was accused of stabbing a captured teenager Islamic State fighter to death and randomly shooting civilians while serving in Iraq, including a young girl. Footage from a helmet camera showed the former unit chief approaching the body of the semi-conscious IS fighter in May 2017. The camera was then shut off, but three members of Gallagher's unit testified that he stabbed the boy in the neck with his hunting knife, before holding an impromptu ceremony over the body as if it were a trophy. A photograph taken at the scene showed Chief Gallagher posing over the body, holding the boy's hair in one hand his hunting knife in the other.
12-28-19 India Citizenship Act protests: 'Our son was shot dead by police'
At least 19 people have died in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in recent weeks amid violent protests over a controversial new citizenship law. The police are accused of using excessive force, and Muslims say they fear losing their rights in the world's largest democracy. Vikas Pandey and Anshul Verma report from one of the worst-hit places, the city of Kanpur.
12-26-19 The future is so much more housebound than we expected
Futurists of a century ago were distinctly optimistic. They envisioned a 21st century of convenience, prosperity, and speed. Everything would get bigger and shinier and faster. Flying cars, jetpacks, weekend jaunts to the moon and back, and highways — highways everywhere! Highways in the air; highways under the sea; highways on roofs; roads layered like a lasagna, so you could have pedestrians on top of slow cars on top of fast cars on top of trains. The details differed, but the trend is evidence of an assumption that people of the future would always be out and about. Why we'd need to race around our cities at such a frenetic pace is not clear — many predictions from the same era forecast an all-robot economy in which work is no longer necessary or at least greatly reduced — but racing we would be. Maybe it's just shopping? I don't know. Whatever the reason, omnipresent highways would let us do it in record time. The actual future, the future in which we find ourselves today, went in a very different direction. There is still plenty of work to be done. The only "robot" I own has a single skill (vacuuming) and requires regular rescue from the slightly uneven part of my kitchen cabinets. The wild new means of transportation our great-grandparents imagined for us have not materialized. Instead, we have focused our inventive energies on finding ways to stay home. The future is so much more housebound than anyone expected. This is not all bad. Among my Amazon subscriptions are toilet paper, toothpaste, guinea pig food, trash bags, and water filters. Having this stuff delivered saves time, and it also keeps me from wandering about Target, buying pretty things I absolutely don't need. The housebound economy is also incredibly useful for people who are literally housebound. "Disabled or chronically sick people who legitimately can't leave their couches now have more ways to get the groceries they need," writes Reason's Liz Wolfe. "People who are too old to drive no longer have to fear a loss of mobility when they lose their licenses."
12-25-19 Michael Bloomberg says his presidential campaign used prison labour
US presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg has said that his campaign "unknowingly" used prison workers to call voters on his behalf. The billionaire Democrat said he had cut ties with a vendor which operates two call centres in state jails. Mr Bloomberg said he learned about the company's use of prison labour only after receiving a call from a reporter. He entered the election race in November with one of the largest-ever political ad buys. His campaign's use of prison labour was first reported by news site The Intercept, and confirmed by Mr Bloomberg in a statement on Tuesday. "We do not support this practice and we are making sure our vendors more properly vet their subcontractors moving forward," said the former New York mayor. According to The Intercept, Mr Bloomberg - using a third-party vendor - hired call centre company ProCom to make phone calls for his campaign. The firm operates two centres in Oklahoma state prisons. An unidentified source told The Intercept that incarcerated people were contracted to make calls from at least one of these prisons - a minimum-security women's prison with a capacity of over 900 inmates. Matt Elliott, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, told CBS News that inmates could earn $1.45 (£1.12) an hour working for call centres. "We believe this type of work helps prepare inmates for release," he said. In a tweet Stu Loeser, Mr Bloomberg's long-time spokesman, said the campaign "didn't know" that "a vendor of a vendor of a vendor used prison labour". (Webmaster's comment: Unsoliciated phone calls are one of the banes of our society. We should not be training prison inmates to make them.)
12-25-19 'I sent my seven-year-old across the border alone'
More parents are resorting to sending their children across the US-Mexico border alone in a bid to get around asylum rules.
12-24-19 Christian magazine editor quits in row over Trump's evangelical support
Evangelical support for US President Donald Trump is back in the spotlight after the resignation of a leading journalist for Christian Post magazine. Journalist Napp Nazworth's departure follows an op-ed from another Christian outlet calling for Mr Trump's removal. The ensuing outcry has served as a proxy war among US evangelists over Mr Trump's largely unchallenged grip on the religious right. He has claimed overwhelming evangelical support since taking office. So what is behind this conflict and what are the consequences for the president? Last week, after the US House of Representatives voted to impeach Mr Trump, Christianity Today published an editorial by editor-in-chief Mark Galli urging the president's removal. Deriding Mr Trump's "grossly immoral character", Mr Galli described the president's expulsion from office as a Christian imperative: "Not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments". Mr Trump "attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president's political opponents," Mr Galli wrote. "That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral." And the magazine - founded by one of the most influential preachers of the 20th Century, Billy Graham - went even further, pointing the finger at evangelicals who have remained devoted to the president "in spite of his blackened moral record". "Remember who you are and whom you serve," Mr Galli wrote. Since Mr Trump became president, he has laid claim to resounding support from evangelical Christians - bolstered by his selection of evangelical Mike Pence as his vice-president. In the 2016 presidential election, 80% of self-identified white, born-again or evangelical Christians voted for Mr Trump, according to analysis by Pew Research Center. Mr Trump's success among evangelicals follows a political pattern in the US: in every presidential election since 2004, white, born-again and evangelical Christians have, on the whole, voted for the Republican nominee. (Webmaster's comment: Shows you where evangelical's morals really are.)
12-24-19 There's a shortage of early childhood educators — immigrant teachers could be the solution
In a classroom at Mt. Hood Community College in northeast Portland, Oregon, adults sing a children's song in English and Spanish. They're learning how songs can improve communication among young children who come from homes where English is not the primary language. The adult students — all immigrants — are English learners themselves. They're working to earn the Child Development Associate credential, one of an array of requirements that are increasingly needed to work as a teacher for children under 5 years of age. America faces a shortage of early childhood teachers. It's due in part to chronically low wages for a job that is often stressful — making it difficult to recruit, train, and retain these workers. At the same time, public and private early-learning centers are strengthening their minimum qualification requirements for preschool and daycare educators. Those higher standards are making it harder to fill open positions. The shortage comes amid a nationwide push to expand early education. Universal preschool is a popular proposal among Democratic presidential candidates. States and cities have been experimenting with ways to offer early childhood education to more families. The classes at Mt. Hood aim to fill some of the gap in Oregon by tailoring the CDA credentialing course to the needs of immigrants, who comprise nearly one in five early-childhood educators in the U.S. Participants in the program, which launched in 2018, attend English classes two evenings per week and child development workshops two Saturdays per month. They also get help from a career coach to find jobs in their field. The program is funded by a state grant, and it's free to participants. One of the students in the class is Lulose Claude, 37, an immigrant from Haiti, where she used to be a social worker. She and her family moved to the U.S. in 2017, and she decided to become an early childhood educator. "I love children, and it's so close to the social work," she said. "It's not like teaching children how to write and read. No, it's to teach them how to be ready for life, for the school, for the future."
12-24-19 US recalls ambassador to Zambia after gay rights row
The US has recalled its ambassador to Zambia amid a diplomatic row after he criticised the imprisonment of a gay couple, embassy sources have said. Last month, Daniel Foote said he was "horrified" that a judge had sentenced the men to 15 years in prison after they were caught having sex in 2017. The government accused him of trying to dictate policy, and President Edgar Lungu declared him persona non grata. Zambia is a deeply conservative society where homosexual acts are illegal. "You cannot ask a government to make a decision at gun point - 'because we are giving you aid, we want you to do this' - you can't," Zambia's Foreign Minister Joseph Malanji told the BBC last week. Last month, a High Court in the capital, Lusaka, sentenced Japhet Chataba and Steven Samba to 15 years in jail. The couple had booked into a lodge, and a worker peeped through an open window and saw them having sex, the court heard. In a statement earlier this month, Mr Foote said he was merely expressing "my belief about a law and a harsh sentencing I don't agree with". He warned of a "decaying relationship" between the two nations, and said the Zambian government wanted diplomats "with open pocketbooks and closed mouths". Mr Foote said millions of dollars of donor aid had been misappropriated, but there had been no "assertive corruption prosecutions". Zambia is one of the largest per-capita recipients of US aid, getting about $500m (£390m) annually. It is rare to hear of an African state forcing a superpower to recall its ambassador but Zambia has managed to do it. "We don't want such people in our midst. We want him gone," President Lungu said. So Mr Foote's return to Washington is a victory for the government, but will it last? The US could retaliate by cutting aid, especially after Mr Foote raised concern about the misappropriation of donor funds. Zambia's constitution identifies the country as Christian. Many citizens believe homosexuality is a sin, but they also believe theft is a sin.
12-23-19 Boeing chief fired but 737 concerns persist
Boeing has fired its chief executive, Dennis Muilenburg, in a bid to restore confidence in the firm after two deadly crashes involving its 737 Max plane. More than 340 people died in the disasters, prompting accusations that Boeing put profit before safety. (Webmaster's comment: Never forget that in America it's profits before safety.) Families of the victims welcomed Mr Muilenberg's resignation as overdue. But they said Boeing's decision to replace him with a long-time board member raised questions about its commitment to change. Boeing named David Calhoun, who has served on the firm's board since 2009 and is its current chairman, as chief executive and president. "While the resignation of Mr Muilenburg is a step in the right direction, it is clear that the Boeing Company needs a revamp of its corporate governance," said Paul Njoroge, who lost his wife, three children and mother-in-law when Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed in March. Mr Calhoun "is not the right person for the job", he added. Zipporah Kuria, whose father was also killed on the Ethiopian Airlines flight, said Mr Muilenburg should have been replaced "a long time ago" but responsibility for the crashes is shared. "I feel as though a lot more people should have resigned including the person who's becoming CEO," she told the BBC. (Webmaster's comment: There should be serious prison sentences for Boeing executives.) Then on Friday, the company's reputation took another hit when its Starliner spacecraft suffered technical problems that prevented it from taking the right path to the International Space Station. Boeing's board said it had "decided that a change in leadership was necessary to restore confidence in the company moving forward as it works to repair relationships with regulators, customers, and all other stakeholders". Mr Calhoun, a private equity executive, will take over from 13 January. Lawrence Kellner, a board member since 2011, is to become non-executive chairman immediately. "Under the company's new leadership, Boeing will operate with a renewed commitment to full transparency, including effective and proactive communication with the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration], other global regulators and its customers," it said. (Webmaster's comment: It's all just words!)
12-22-19 Marcial Maciel: Mexican founder Legionaries of Christ 'abused 60 minors'
At least 60 children were abused by Marcial Maciel, founder of the ultra-conservative Catholic order Legionaries of Christ, an investigation has found. The report, published by the Roman Catholic group, said 33 priests in the order abused at least 175 minors since it was founded in 1941. In 2006, Maciel was ordered to retire to a life of penitence after years of allegations of sexual abuse of minors. He died two years later at the age of 87 without facing his accusers. "There are probably more cases of abuse than those in the report and the statistics will have to be updated regularly," the report said. It added that a process of "reparation and reconciliation" had begun with 45 of the victims. According to the report, six of the 33 accused priests died without being tried, one was convicted, and one is currently awaiting trial - and has "already [been] removed from clerical status". Another 18 are still part of the organisation, but they have been removed from tasks where they interact with the public or with children. The report added that 14 of the 33 priests were also victims themselves, which it said highlighted the "chains of abuse", where "a victim of a Legionnaire, over time, becomes in turn an aggressor". Several men publicly accused Maciel before his death of sexually assaulting them while they were in a seminary from the 1940s to the 1960s. At the time he fiercely denied it, saying in 2002: "I never engaged in the sort of repulsive behaviour these men accuse me of." In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI ordered him to retire as head of the Legionaries of Christ over the allegations, which had been ignored by his predecessor Pope John Paul II when they first emerged. After Maciel's death in 2008, it was discovered that he had also fathered several children. (Webmaster's comment: The Catholic Church is a clear and present danger to all children!)
12-21-19 A democracy in peril
Where 2020 might take us. On the cusp of a new year, it is customary to express some hope and optimism. Summoning cheery thoughts about 2020, however, requires a bit more sunniness than I or, I suspect, most of you can muster. The year will likely start with the impeachment trial in the Senate, which is sure to degenerate into another depressing display of shameless hypocrisy and post-truth partisanship. The Democratic primaries will follow, unleashing a fresh round of generational warfare that will either leave people under 35 or over that age deeply dissatisfied with the nominee. And then we will move into the general election, which promises to be the ugliest presidential election of our lifetimes — a sustained Category 5 hurricane of negative ads, disinformation (of both foreign and domestic origin), and fear bordering on panic. In the Trump era, Republicans and Democrats have come to view each other as invading zombie armies hell-bent on their America's destruction. The potential for an election disaster is very real. In one possible scenario, President Trump narrowly loses, denounces the results as a fraudulent coup — millions of illegal votes! hacking by Ukraine and China! — and refuses to vacate the White House. At his urging, armed supporters battle protesters in the streets. Would Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders insist Trump leave? (Webmaster's comment: this is also my greatest fear. The White Nationalists will take over the goverment and form a White Nationalist dictatorship led by Trump!) That's no longer clear. In another scenario, Trump loses the popular vote but wins again in the Electoral College. Traumatized Democrats can't bear this repeat of 2016, and refuse to accept Trump's legitimacy. An even more perilous scenario: The vote count is too close to call, with confrontational recounts in several swing states and perhaps a Supreme Court intervention. Democracies die, political scientists tell us, when the credibility of elections and vital institutions is eroded and the rule of law is destroyed. Let's hope our democracy can survive the next election, and the tumultuous year to come.
12-21-19 Woman charged for running over teen 'because she was Mexican'
A woman has been charged with attempted murder after telling police in Iowa that she deliberately drove into a girl because she appeared "Mexican". The victim, who is 14, sustained "numerous injuries" in the incident. Police say she was struck while walking to a local school, near Des Moines, on the evening of 9 December. They initially appealed for the public's help in identifying the hit-and-run before Nicole Marie Poole Franklin was arrested. "Investigators determined that this incident was an intentional act, not an accident," Clive police said in a Thursday statement announcing the attempted murder charge. Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Police Chief Michael Venema said he was "shocked" by the suspect's admission. "Franklin told investigators that she ran the girl over because she was, in her words, 'a Mexican'," Chief Venema said. "She went on to make a number of derogatory statements about Latinos to our investigators." "I want to say, in the strongest terms possible, that there is no place in our community, or any other for that matter, for this type of hatred and violence," he added. The 42-year-old was already being held in a jail over a separate assault allegedly committed the same day, police said. Police have set the bail amount for the attempted murder charge at $1m (£770,000) and say they are looking into the possibility of filing hate-crime charges. The victim suffered concussion and severe bruising but has since returned to school, AP reports. (Webmaster's comment: Are the true spots of the White Nationalists coming to the surface?)
12-21-19 Space Force: Trump officially launches new US military service
President Donald Trump has officially funded a Pentagon force focused on warfare in space - the US Space Force. The new military service, the first in more than 70 years, falls under the US Air Force. At an army base near Washington, Mr Trump described space as "the world's newest war-fighting domain". "Amid grave threats to our national security, American superiority in space is absolutely vital," he said. "We're leading, but we're not leading by enough, but very shortly we'll be leading by a lot." "The Space Force will help us deter aggression and control the ultimate high ground," he added. The funding allocation was confirmed on Friday when the president signed the $738bn (£567bn) annual US military budget. The launch of the Space Force will be funded by an initial $40m for its first year. (Webmaster's comment: Russia and China are the only nations capable of putting people into space. America will only end up with many soldier's deaths because of poorly designed American space military equipment. Remember it's profits first, safety second in America!)
12-20-19 Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft fails to reach ISS due to a broken clock
Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft will be unable to reach the International Space Station during its first test flight. The spacecraft launched as expected on 20 December and made it into orbit around Earth, but a problem occurred about 30 minutes after lift-off from Cape Canaveral in Florida. By that point, Starliner was already in space and should have fired its thrusters to raise its orbit even higher, so that it matched the orbit of the ISS – but it didn’t. In a statement, Boeing said that the spacecraft is in “a safe and stable configuration” as engineers figure out what to do next. However, NASA head Jim Bridenstine said in a press conference that too much fuel has already been burned and that even though Starliner is still raising its orbit, it won’t be able to reach to the ISS. According to Bridenstine, the issue was an anomaly with one of Starliner’s clocks, which made the spacecraft’s systems behave as if the mission was further along than it was and use up much of its fuel too early. It isn’t yet clear why the clock was wrong, but Boeing has placed Starliner in an orbit that will allow it to land in New Mexico on 22 December. The company will run more tests during the remainder of the flight and after the spacecraft lands. After those tests, NASA and Boeing will decide whether more test flights are needed. “This morning’s launch was a test flight, which is why it flew a mannequin instead of an astronaut,” says space consultant Laura Forczyk. “Failures are expected during testing.” The Starliner craft is designed to carry astronauts into space, and Bridenstine said that because the problem was an automation issue, having crew members on board may well have saved the mission. Starliner’s first crewed flight was scheduled for its next test in early 2020, but now it will probably be postponed, says Forczyk. Delays with Boeing and SpaceX, both of which have been contracted to build capsules to shuttle NASA astronauts to the ISS, have already led NASA to consider purchasing more seats aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. (Webmaster's comment: Boeing products are a clear and present danger to all that would ride in them!)
12-20-19 Ripping off his own charity
As “a sign of how far gone we are,” Americans are just shrugging off the fact that the president of the United States has admitted he was stealing from his own charity, said Jack Holmes. Last week, New York state officials announced that President Trump had paid $2 million in a court-ordered judgment for using the Trump Foundation for personal gain—but amid the nonstop noise of the Trump circus, that news “barely made a splash.” People saw the headline and thought, “Well, yeah, of course Donald Trump ran a crooked charity.” But we really should be appalled. With funds that donors contributed for firefighters’ widows, veterans, and other good causes, Trump illegally paid more than $250,000 to settle lawsuits against his for-profit businesses; bought a $20,000, 6-foot portrait of himself; and funneled millions into his own 2016 campaign events. The grift goes back as far as 1989, when he used $7 of the foundation’s money to pay Don Jr.’s Boy Scout initiation fee. Just think about that: “seven dollars,” from “a self-styled Rich Guy.” Any other politician would be destroyed for such outrageous corruption, but Trump “can just brazenly lie about it.” Even his supporters know he’s a crook, and simply don’t care.
12-20-19 The world gives up on free trade
Britain’s voters have made clear that the era of global economic integration is over, said Peter Goodman. The commanding victory for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party ensures a “splintering of the European trading bloc” and “the most consequential upsurge of economic nationalism in generations.” For decades after World War II, the international order was built on free trade as the alternative to centuries of international conflict. The new world order, by contrast, is based on Trumpian thinking: “Multilateralism is for suckers.” Trump imposes tariffs by fiat, justifying them on national-security grounds. Now Britain is headed down a similar path, abandoning Europe in the hope it can hammer out better bilateral trade agreements with nations like India, Australia, China, and the U.S. China, meanwhile, has come to see trade hostilities “as part of an American bullying campaign” and has launched its own nationalist response. Economists “point to history, notably the Great Depression, which was deepened by a wave of tit-for-tat trade protectionism,” for a hint of where all this can lead. But the public isn’t listening. Trump’s trade war is applauded by his base, while across Europe “furious popular movements have fixed on trade as a threat to workers’ livelihoods.” Globalization, it seems, had a good run.
12-20-19 Stop-work order
A federal judge blocked the Trump administration last week from diverting $3.6 billion in defense funds to construct a southern border wall, citing legislative restrictions crafted by House Republicans in 2014 to curtail President Obama’s powers. Those rules prevent a president from unilaterally moving to “increase,” “eliminate,” or “reduce” budget funds authorized by Congress—in Obama’s case, repurposing funds from the space program. U.S. District Court Judge David Briones said Trump had unlawfully sought to increase the $1.375 billion approved by Congress for border-wall construction to $3.6 billion, and a federal judge in California ruled similarly days later. Briones did approve $2.5 billion shifted from separate Pentagon funding to wall construction as a “counterdrug activity.” Although the Trump administration told contractors to stop wall construction to comply with the court order, it pledged to appeal the rulings.
12-20-19 Anti-Semitism: Redefined by Trump’s order
President Trump’s new executive order “will not protect anyone against anti-Semitism, and it’s not intended to,” said Masha Gessen in NewYorker.com. Last week the president instructed the Department of Education to withhold federal funds from colleges that fail to police anti-Semitism, with Judaism included for the first time as a protected class under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The point of the order was to establish an “absurdly” broad definition of anti-Semitism to include opposition to the state of Israel or its policies, such as that voiced by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement popular on some campuses. Under this new policy, criticism of the current Israeli government’s policy of “apartheid” for Palestinians qualifies as hate speech. This “deeply authoritarian” formulation is already having its desired effect, said Jesse Singal in NYMag.com. Duke University and the University of North Carolina recently remade their joint Middle East studies program because the Trump administration decided it was biased against Israel. Do we really want the government to decide what speech is permitted about the heated Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Solidarity? asked Clarence Page in the Chicago Tribune. Days before signing this order, Trump called Jewish businesspeople “brutal killers” and “not nice people at all,” and said they had to support him, even if they don’t like him, to protect their “wealth.”Portraying Jews as greedy, unethical businessmen is about as anti-Semitic as it gets. Trump may support Israel, but under his presidency white-supremacist groups have flourished and incidents of anti-Semitism are on the rise. Reasonable people may ask: “Could President Trump be charged under his own executive order?”
12-20-19 Racism spreads
An Iowa man is denying any racist motive for surrounding his home with painted swastikas and Confederate flags. William Stark lives next to a school with a mostly nonwhite student body and has refused school officials’ request that he take down what they say is a racist display. “They don’t know their history, evidently,” he says.
12-20-19 Merkel’s warning to Germans
After 14 years in office, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has finally visited Auschwitz, said Nico Fried. Merkel has made official visits to other Nazi death camps and she has traveled to the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem four times. But it wasn’t until earlier this month that she laid a wreath at Auschwitz, where more than 1 million Jews died in the Holocaust. There, she announced Germany’s second gift of $67 million to maintain the memorial. “Remembering the crime, naming the perpetrators, and honoring the victims with dignity is our responsibility,” said Merkel, who will leave office in 2021. “Being aware of this responsibility is at the heart of our national identity.” These are strong words for Germans to hear, and they are more necessary now that “racism, hatred, and historical revisionism are spreading again.” In June, a neo-Nazi killed German politician Walter Lübcke; in September, a white supremacist tried to massacre Jews in a synagogue in Halle on Yom Kippur, killing two bystanders when he couldn’t get into the building. A survey this year found that 27 percent of Germans hold anti-Semitic beliefs, while 41 percent think Jews talk about the Holocaust too much. It’s “never the wrong time” for a German leader to visit Auschwitz—but now was especially timely.
12-20-19 India: Fury over anti-Muslim discrimination
A new Indian law that equates “citizenship with religion” and appears to discriminate against Muslims has sparked such violent protests that it may have to be withdrawn, said The Times of India in an editorial. The unrest began earlier this month in the northeastern state of Assam—where more than a third of the population is Muslim—and quickly spread across the nation. In New Delhi, police this week blasted protesting Muslim students with tear gas and rubber bullets and beat them with wooden sticks. Clearly, the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi “miscalculated the intensity of the blowback” that the law would engender. The government insists the Citizenship Amendment Act is not discriminatory but in fact protects against “religious persecution,” said Prabhash Dutta in India Today. The law extends citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, and Christian migrants from three neighboring countries—Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan—that have Islam as a state religion. Non-Muslims are presumed to be discriminated against there, so India will continue to welcome them here. But Muslim migrants are not considered to have fled persecution and so aren’t entitled to amnesty. The act is already being challenged in court because some claim it violates the Constitution. “The mask is off and the claws have been bared,” said P. Chidambaram in the Financial Express. Modi’s new law is just the latest step in a plot to further marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims—about 15 percent of the country’s population. His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has always sought Hindu supremacy and recently promised to create a National Register of Citizens that will require all Indians to prove that they or their ancestors were living in India before 1971. Yet when Assam ran a pilot program last year, it found that many Indians lacked the necessary official documents. A shocking 4 million people—13 percent of the state’s population—were left off the citizenship rolls, many of them Bengali Hindu migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. So Modi’s party came up with the Citizenship Amendment Act to grant amnesty to those Hindus. Muslims were left out because denying citizenship to India’s Muslims is the registry’s express purpose. Already, the government is building camps where it intends to house Muslims ahead of mass deportations.
12-20-19 Get out of jail free
After losing his re-election bid in November, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin issued a staggering 428 pardons before leaving office last week. One went to Patrick Baker, sentenced in 2017 to 19 years in prison for posing as a law enforcement officer and fatally shooting a man in a home-invasion robbery. Baker’s family held a fundraiser that raised $21,500 for Bevin, and Baker’s brother and sister-in-law each gave an additional $4,000. In his pardon order, Bevin said the evidence against Baker was “sketchy at best,” to which sentencing Judge David Williams said, “I’ve never seen a more compelling or complete case.” Bevin also cited shoddy evidence when pardoning Micah Schoettle, convicted of raping a 9-year-old, and Delmar Partin, convicted of murdering and decapitating his former lover. Kenton County prosecutor Rob Sanders called the pardons “an abomination.”
12-20-19 Not OK
Two U.S. Military Academy cadets and a Naval Academy midshipman were seen on TV last week at the annual Army-Navy football game flashing a possible “white power” hand gesture. Posing for ESPN’s pregame show, the students made a downward “OK” sign at least five times—an increasingly popular sign among white supremacists that resembles the letters WP. One student made the gesture behind the head of a nonwhite cadet. Both academies said they are investigating the students’ intentions. Before the game, West Point officials dropped the slogan GFBD—“God forgives, brothers don’t”—from rally flags used at football games after it came to light that the phrase is popular among white-supremacist prison and motorcycle gangs. Responding to the “OK” controversy, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he doesn’t believe white supremacy is “an issue in the military.” Navy won the game, 31-7.
12-20-19 Poland lower house approves controversial judges law
Poland has approved a controversial law which makes it easier to dismiss judges critical of the governing party's judicial reforms. The legislation passed by 233 votes to 205 in the lower house of parliament in Warsaw on Friday. It came just hours after the European Commission urged Poland to reconsider the proposed changes. Demonstrators rallied in their thousands across Poland earlier this month to protest against the law. On Wednesday, the country's Supreme Court warned that Poland could be forced to leave the EU over its reforms. The law now goes to the Senate after passing on Friday. The upper chamber cannot block the legislation, though it can delay it. Under the legislation, championed by the socially conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party government, judges can be punished for engaging in "political activity". Any judge that questions the legitimacy of other judges nominated by the National Council of the Judiciary might be handed a fine, have their salaries cut, or in some cases be dismissed. The PiS changed the law in 2018 allowing the lower house of parliament - which it controls - to choose the members of that council. PiS alleges that Poland needs the reforms to tackle corruption and make the judicial system more efficient, arguing it is still haunted by the communist era. The party also insists that other EU countries allow politicians to take part in selecting judges. But critics fear it has curtailed the independence of the judiciary in Poland. The EU has accused the party of politicising the judiciary since it came to power in 2015. (Webmaster's comment: Making it easier for dictators to get rid of any opposition.)
12-20-19 Suing the gunmaker
Victims of a 2018 mass shooting in Toronto have filed a $114 million class action lawsuit against Smith & Wesson, accusing the U.S. gunmaker of failing to introduce safety features that could have prevented the attack. Gunman Faisal Hussain killed two people and wounded 13 more on Toronto’s bustling Danforth Avenue using a stolen M&P .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol. The lawsuit says Smith & Wesson agreed in 2003 to incorporate “smart gun” technology—such as fingerprint scanners and radio frequency chips—that would have locked the weapon when it was picked up by an unauthorized user such as Hussain. But Smith & Wesson, says the suit, delayed the rollout of that tech; the gunmaker has yet to comment. “This is an industry that has refused to modernize,” said Malcolm Ruby, lawyer for the victims.
12-20-19 No more secrecy?
In what the Vatican is calling an “epochal” change, Pope Francis this week ruled that “pontifical secrecy” no longer applies to the sexual abuse of minors. The church previously kept secret its own investigations of sexual abuse cases, in order, it said, to protect the privacy of victims and the reputations of the accused priests. Now files from those investigations can be given to law enforcement or government investigators upon request—potentially revealing the names of thousands of suspected pedophiles. In Illinois alone, the Catholic Church is believed to have withheld the names of 500 pedophile priests. “At last, a real and positive change,” tweeted Marie Collins, an Irish abuse survivor.
12-20-19 Citizenship Act protests: How a colonial-era law is being used in India
A draconian colonial-era regulation is being used to shut down protests against a controversial new citizenship law in India. On Thursday, the ban was imposed in parts of the capital, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh state and some areas of Karnataka state, including the city of Bangalore. Thousands of protesters were detained in many cities as they turned up in defiance of police orders. Section 144, as the provision is called, authorises officials to prohibit, among other things, a gathering of more than four people if they fear a possible violation of law and order. The law gives powers to state governments and the local police. Breaking the law is a criminal offence. Many believe the law has been misused to try to stifle protests. Constitutional law expert Gautam Bhatia says problems have arisen in reconciling the law with the constitutional guarantee of free speech and the right to freedom of assembly. The constitution allows for reasonable restrictions to be placed on these rights in the interest of public order. Courts have debated what constitutes a reasonable restriction - and have ruled that freedom of expression can be restricted on grounds of public order only when it involves incitement to imminent violence or disorder.So the authorities, says Mr Bhatia, must demonstrate a "very clear and proximate risk to public order and a threat to public peace" before they can impose such a restriction. "For example if you know that a mob is gathering somewhere and there are going to be incendiary speeches directing the mob to burn down buildings then you can preventively restrict that assembly. But you can't simply restrict these rights just on the basis of a possible fear that some people at some point can turn violent. That would defeat the entire purpose of having the right in the first place."
12-20-19 New Zealand is destroying military-style guns after ban
Police in New Zealand are destroying military-style guns and rifles ahead of 21 December, when it becomes illegal to carry or possess them. The ban comes after the Christchurch mosque shootings, in which 51 people were killed in March.
12-19-19 Fifteen years in Iowa jail for burning pride flag
A US judge has handed down a sentence of at least 15 years to a man who stole an LGBT pride flag from a church and burned it outside a strip club. Adolfo Martinez, 30, admitted to the media that he took the flag from Ames United Church of Christ due to his animosity towards homosexuals. He was found guilty last month of hate crime harassment, reckless use of fire and being a habitual offender. The incident occurred around midnight on 11 June in downtown Ames, Iowa. Police say the crime spree began at Dangerous Curves, a strip club, when police were called because a man was making threats. By the time they arrived, he had already been kicked out by bar staff. After leaving the club, Martinez then travelled to the church and ripped down its flag. He then returned to the strip club where he used lighter fluid to burn the flag in the street. He also threatened to burn down the bar. He was arrested later that day, and told local media in a jail house interview that he was "guilty as charged". "It was an honour to do that. It's a blessing from the Lord," he said, explaining that he did it because he "opposed homosexuality". "I burned down their pride, plain and simple," he told KCCI-TV. The interview was entered into the trial as evidence against him. Church pastor Eileen Gebbie, who identifies as gay woman, says she agrees that Martinez' actions were motivated by hatred. "I often experienced Ames as not being as progressive as many people believe it is, and there still is a very large closeted queer community here," she told the Des Moines Register when he was convicted in November. "But 12 people that I don't know, who have no investment in me or this congregation, said this man committed a crime, and it was a crime borne of bigotry and hatred." Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds said Martinez was the first person in the county's history to be convicted of a hate crime. (Webmaster's comment: It's about time!)
12-19-19 Installing democracies may not work without prior cultural shifts
It’s long been unclear if democratic values in a society or democratic institutions come first. When the United States invaded Iraq in the early 2000s, President George W. Bush pledged to turn the autocratic nation into a democracy. “Iraqi democracy will succeed, and that success will send forth the news from Damascus to Tehran that freedom can be the future of every nation,” Bush said in a speech in November 2003. The idea that installing a democracy in a country causes a populace to embrace democratic values, such as respecting the rights and freedoms of all people, has often influenced the foreign policy decisions of the United States and other countries. Yet a recent study of the attitudes of almost 500,000 individuals worldwide suggests that Bush and others have that equation backwards. Such interventions will likely fail unless a country’s citizens have already adopted values that accompany democracy, researchers report December 2 in Nature Human Behaviour. U.S. politicians often debate whether it’s better to intervene and spread democratic values or let other countries police themselves, says study coauthor Luke Matthews, an anthropologist at the nonprofit RAND Corporation in Boston. “But in both political parties, there’s not enough humility about whether or not we can export democracy.” In 1950, only 20 countries were democratic, characterized by practices such as a free and open electoral process and checks on executive power. By 2000, that number had reached 60. Understanding the mechanisms through which democracies arise — particularly sorting out which comes first, democratic institutions or democratic values — has been challenging as the surveys social scientists use to measure these values emerged only over the last several decades. (Webmaster's comment: We no longer have a democracy in the United States. It's obvious that Presidential Power rules! Dictatorship must follow.)
12-19-19 Citizenship Act protests: Thousands held across India for defying ban
Indian police have detained thousands who defied a ban on protests against a controversial new citizenship law. The ban has been imposed in parts of the capital Delhi, and throughout the states of Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. Mobile data services were suspended in some parts of Delhi close to protest sites. There have been days of protests across India, some violent. The new law offers citizenship to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The police order, based on a severely restrictive law, prohibits more than four people from gathering in a place. (Webmaster's comment: Another dictatorship on its way!) But tens of thousands of people took to the streets in cities the length and breadth of the country, including in Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Patna and Chandigarh. While Thursday's protests have largely been peaceful so far, two people were sent to hospital with critical injuries after violent clashes between demonstrators and police in Mangalore, according to the city's police commissioner. Similar clashes were reported in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, where city buses were also burnt. Civil society groups, political parties, students, activists and ordinary citizens put out a steady stream of messages on Instagram and Twitter, urging people to turn out and protest peacefully. Among those who were briefly detained were Ramachandra Guha, a prominent historian and outspoken critic of the government, in the southern city of Bangalore; and political activist Yogendra Yadav in Delhi. Speaking to the BBC's Newshour programme, Mr Guha said he had been arrested with hundreds of others from various different backgrounds, "which clearly shows that a large section of Indians are actually opposed to this discriminatory legislation". Protests are continuing in some cities, such as Delhi and Bangalore, while thousands have gathered in Mumbai. Bollywood actors and filmmakers are expected to join the demonstration there.
12-19-19 US immigration: Migrants camped on US border endure cold snap
Freezing temperatures hit the city of Ciudad Juárez on Wednesday, putting at risk hundreds of migrants who have set up camp near bridges linking the Mexican city to the United States. About 550 people waiting to apply for asylum in the US are staying in tents on the streets near the border crossing points, regional government officials say. Nearly half of them are children younger than 12. Most of them are Mexican nationals fleeing poverty and high levels of crime. With temperatures dropping below freezing this week and predicted to stay low throughout the weekend, Mexican officials tried to move those living on the streets into shelters such as El Buen Samaritano (The Good Samaritan). But many of those camped outdoors said they did not want to leave for fear of missing their spot in the queue of those crossing the bridges to seek asylum. The US Customs and Border Protection agency has introduced strict limits on the number of people it allows to file asylum claims at ports of entry every day under an informal policy called "metering". This creates a backlog on the Mexican side of the border where the wait can be anything from days to months. A waiting list kept by Mexican officials in Ciudad Juárez currently runs to 1,200 names. The officials say they are seeking a meeting with their US counterparts to create a system in which those next on the list can be located and taken to the border without the need to camp out by the border bridges. The numbers of those in the camps has dropped since August from 3,500 to 550, with many of those leaving saying they feared exposing their children to the winter temperatures.
12-18-19 ICE's long campaign of silence
Migrants deserve the right to protest their own mistreatment. In early September, immigrants held at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia took action to protest inhumane conditions at the facility. About 70 men, predominantly from Cuba and Nicaragua, stayed in the recreation yard all night with shirts and bed sheets proclaiming their handwritten message "libertad" along with signs that said "help." The next day, about 20 men inside the facility, one of the largest immigration detention centers in the country owned by the private prison company CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corporation of America), also began protesting in support of the men outside. The facility's response to these peaceful protests, according to those who were there, was to brutally attack the migrants with pepper spray and rubber bullets. Subsequently, the entire facility was placed on lockdown for three days and anyone alleged to have participated in the protests was put in solitary confinement before being transferred or deported. While in solitary, one man fighting back tears told Project South, the organization we both work for: "We are afraid. I am not OK... they are trying to keep us quiet." ICE has denied they used rubber bullets in response to the protest. The right to protest is a human right that must be protected for everyone, especially those fighting unjust and cruel systems of oppression. Yet detained immigrants continue to face abusive treatment and brutal repression when they stand up for their rights. As we mark International Migrants Day this week, we must reaffirm our commitment to shut down these detention centers, along with the unjust legal systems they serve, and to support immigrants' fight for basic human rights and dignity. The men protesting at Stewart were not only objecting to the inhumane conditions at the facility but also the unjust immigration system and immigration judges who continue to deny asylum at abnormally high rates, regularly deny parole and bond, or set bond at prohibitively high amounts. In a letter to Project South, one man from Cuba wrote that he was denied parole and asylum, "because in this center no one wins; I have my evidence and it doesn't matter to them... I have so many things to recount to you that I could never finish; you cannot imagine the wrongs that they do to us here and only for being immigrant."
12-18-19 France loves them, the US hates them. Why do roundabouts divide us?
They’re safer than other kinds of road junction, require less energy for lights and result in less pollution from vehicles. But will they ever conquer the world? SOMEONE in a car with tinted windows slaloming between lanes once pranged my bicycle’s back end on the Lambeth Bridge southern roundabout in London. The wheel ended up slightly squashed, but there was no damage to life and limb. As an impoverished student, the £200 cash offered to sort myself out, no questions asked, came in quite handy. I mention this only because this very same roundabout, with iconic views of Big Ben and Parliament, features in a notorious scene in the 1985 film National Lampoon’s European Vacation. Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, is on a family holiday in London and trying desperately to exit it. In failed attempts to manoeuvre his bright yellow rental car from the inside to the outside lane, he suffers several near misses with other traffic. Night falls with the Griswolds still circling. Both scenes serve to transport us down a peculiar byway of technological progress: the vexed transatlantic history of the roundabout. This is a story to be entered cautiously, taking due note of already circulating traffic. And be warned: we may end up where we started. Roundabouts have become part of the street furniture in many parts of the world. They are good at what they do, too. According to the US Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), a one-way gyratory system with four feeder roads reduces severe crashes by 78 per cent compared with a crossroads controlled by traffic lights, and by 82 per cent compared with one controlled by stop signs. “There’s two things,” says Jeff Shaw at the FHWA. “First, they reduce speed through the intersection. And they trade off right-angle crashes for crashes that are more of a merging or a diverging type.” I can vouch for that: it’s the reason I still have ankles.
12-17-19 Trump says Armenia massacres were not genocide, directly contradicting Congress
The Trump administration has said it does not consider the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 to be a genocide, contradicting a unanimous vote by the US Senate. The historic vote last week incensed Turkey, which has always denied that the killings amounted to a genocide. Turkey's foreign ministry on Friday summoned the US ambassador to express its anger over the vote, accusing the US of "politicising history". Armenia says 1.5 million were killed in an effort to wipe out the ethnic group. The killings took place in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, the forerunner of modern-day Turkey. "The position of the administration has not changed," said State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus in a statement on Tuesday. "Our views are reflected in the president's definitive statement on this issue from last April," she said. In a statement last April on the anniversary of the killings, Mr Trump said the US paid tribute to the victims of "one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century", but he did not use the word genocide. Instead he encouraged Armenians and Turks to "acknowledge and reckon with their painful history". In the wake of two votes last week in the US House and Senate to recognise the massacres as genocide - a long-awaited symbolic victory for Armenians - Turkey's authoritarian president Recip Tayyip Erdogan threatened to shut down Incirlik air base, which is based in Turkey and hosts US nuclear warheads. Mr Erdogan also said he could close Kurecik radar base as a threat of US sanctions hung over Turkey after its recent military offensive in Syria. He called the votes - known as simple resolutions - "worthless" and the "biggest insult" to Turkish people. Simple resolutions do not bind the president, leaving him free to ignore them. (Webmaster's comment: Trump always sides with dictators since he wants to become one!)
12-17-19 Toronto shooting victims file $114m lawsuit against Smith & Wesson
Toronto's Danforth Avenue shooting victims have launched a class action lawsuit against US gun maker Smith & Wesson. A statement of claim filed in a Canadian court alleges the gunmaker was negligent for not incorporating "smart gun" technology in the firearm used in the shooting. The proposed class action is seeking C$150m ($114m; £87m) in damages. Two people were killed and 13 injured in the attack on 22 July, 2018. Smart gun technology prevents unauthorised users from firing a weapon by using different forms of identification, like finger or palm prints, or other locking devices. The statement of claim filed at the Ontario Superior Court on Monday says Smith & Wesson had agreed to incorporate smart gun technology into its new weapons in 2003, and was aware that thousands of handguns are stolen each year. The 40 series, introduced in 2005, did not include that technology. That includes the M&P40 semi-automatic pistol used by the shooter, Faisal Hussain. His Smith & Wesson firearm was stolen. He shot at restaurant patrons and pedestrians outside on a busy street in Toronto's Greektown district on a summer evening. Hussain killed himself following an exchange of gunfire with police. He was not licensed or authorised to use a firearm. "[The] defendant knew the handgun was an ultra-hazardous product that posed a substantial likelihood of harm to the public," says the statement of claim. "In the circumstances, [the] defendant owed a duty to the Class to ensure that any handguns it made available to the Canadian market were designed and manufactured to implement technology that would prevent unauthorised users from causing the very type of harm and injury suffered by the Class members." Smith & Wesson, which is based in Springfield, Massachusetts, has yet to comment publicly. A judge must still decide whether the suit should proceed as a class action. None of the claims has been tested in court.
12-17-19 Pope lifts 'pontifical secret' rule in sex abuse cases
The Pope has declared that the rule of "pontifical secrecy" no longer applies to the sexual abuse of minors, in a bid to improve transparency in such cases. The Church previously shrouded sexual abuse cases in secrecy, in what it said was an effort to protect the privacy of victims and reputations of the accused. But new papal documents on Tuesday lifted restrictions on those who report abuse or say they have been victims. Church leaders called for the rule's abolition at a February Vatican summit. They said the lifting of the rule in such cases would improve transparency and the ability of the police and other civil legal authorities to request information from the Church. Information in abuse cases should still be treated with "security, integrity and confidentiality", the Pope said in his announcement. He instructed Vatican officials to comply with civil laws and assist civil judicial authorities in investigating such cases. The Pope also changed the Vatican's definition of child pornography, increasing the age of the subject from 14 or under to 18 or under.Charles Scicluna, the Archbishop of Malta and the Vatican's most experienced sex abuse investigator, called the move an "epochal decision that removes obstacles and impediments", telling Vatican news that "the question of transparency now is being implemented at the highest level". The Church has been rocked by thousands of reports of sexual abuse by priests and accusations of cover-ups by senior clergy around the world. Pope Francis has faced serious pressure to provide leadership and generate workable solutions to the crisis, which has engulfed the Church in recent years. Pontifical secrecy was designed to protect sensitive information such as communications between the Vatican and papal embassies - in a similar fashion to the secrecy applied to diplomatic cables. But it was also applied over the years to judicial cases, to protect the privacy of victims and the identities of those accused. Critics said pontifical secrecy had been abused by some Church officials to avoid co-operation with the police in abuse cases.
12-17-19 Boeing to temporarily halt 737 Max production in January
Boeing will temporarily halt production of its troubled 737 Max airliner in January, the manufacturer said. Production of the jet had continued despite the model being grounded for nine months after two deadly crashes. More than 300 people died when two 737 Max aircraft crashed in Indonesia and Ethiopia after reported problems with a new feature. Boeing had been hoping to have the planes back in the air by the end of this year. But US regulators made it clear that they would not be certified to return to the skies that quickly. Boeing is one of the largest US exporters. The company said in a statement that it would not lay off workers associated with the 737 Max, but the stoppage is likely to affect suppliers and the wider economy. "Safely returning the 737 Max to service is our top priority," the aircraft manufacturer said. "We know that the process of approving the 737 Max's return to service, and of determining appropriate training requirements, must be extraordinarily thorough and robust, to ensure that our regulators, customers, and the flying public have confidence in the 737 Max updates." Last week a congressional hearing was told that US aviation regulators were aware, following the first crash in Indonesia in October 2018, that there was a risk of further accidents. The Federal Aviation Authority's analysis suggested there could be more than a dozen more crashes over the lifetime of the aircraft unless changes were made to its design. Despite that, the 737 Max was not grounded until after the second crash in Ethiopia in March 2019. (Webmaster's comment: But why aren't the executives who pushed for continuing flights in spite of the evidence not going to prison?)
12-16-19 Bill Bryson: We have not addressed the issue of ageing
What we do about poor health and quality of life in old age is something society has not come to terms with and is going to be a real problem, the writer Bill Bryson has warned. “Medical science can keep your body going, it can keep your heart ticking away and all your systems functioning really well, but what it can’t do is give you quality of life that goes on forever,” he told BBC Hardtalk’s Stephen Sackur.
12-16-19 Hallmark apologises for pulling same-sex ads
The chief executive of Hallmark Cards has apologised for its decision to withdraw television advertisements featuring same-sex couples. The company's cable network pulled the ads for wedding registry and planning site Zola under pressure from the conservative group One Million Moms. The decision drew criticism on social media and calls for a boycott. Hallmark said it would reinstate the adverts and attempt to re-establish its partnership with Zola. "We are truly sorry for the hurt and disappointment this has caused," Hallmark's president and chief executive Mike Perry said. In a statement posted to its website, Hallmark said it would "be working with [advocacy group] Glaad to better represent the LGBTQ community across our portfolio of brands." The original decision to withdraw the adverts drew criticism from a number of high-profile gay figures, including Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. The Netflix US Twitter account also criticised the decision, as did California Governor Gavin Newsom. The #BoycottHallmarkChannel hashtag, which was launched by Glaad, featured in over 16,000 tweets as of Sunday afternoon. Saturday Night Live performed a skit which mocked Hallmark's decision, concluding with the line: "This is Emily Cringle for Hallmark, reminding you to stay straight out there." The original decision to withdraw the advert was prompted by complaints from a conservative activist group. One Million Moms is an online project of the American Family Association, which is a long-time opponent of gay rights.
12-16-19 Tiffany Haddish's Black Mitzvah and her journey of Jewish discovery
The Eritrean-American comedian Tiffany Haddish has celebrated her Bat Mitzvah. The Jewish coming-of-age ceremony - normally marked when a girl turns 12 - signifies a stepping into religious maturity, and a commitment to keep the commandments of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible containing the foundations of Jewish law. It was held on the same day as both her 40th birthday and the release of her Netflix comedy special Black Mitzvah, in which she pays tribute to her Jewish heritage. Her journey reflects the experience of many black Jews who have either rediscovered their roots or felt a strong spiritual attraction to Judaism. Haddish first met her Eritrean Jewish father at the age of 27. But it was when she took a DNA test confirming her Jewish ancestry that she really began reconnecting with the faith. She started taking Hebrew lessons and studying the Torah, and has said her Bat Mitzvah was a way to honour her African Jewish ancestors. Haddish has said that she hopes sharing her experience will encourage other African-Americans to connect with their roots. Exactly how many people could be included in this journey is very hard to establish. That is in part because there are differing definitions of what actually makes someone Jewish. Traditionally, Judaism is passed through the maternal line, but some see that having one Jewish grandparent is enough to establish a connection with the religion. While there are others who self-identify as Jewish. Calculating the number of Jews in Africa is impossible, according to Dr Edith Bruder author of The Black Jews of Africa. "These are communities that are fluid," she told the BBC. "There are so many ways of being a Jew in Africa." The biggest community by far is in South Africa and is largely made up of people whose families migrated from Europe.
12-15-19 How to get the most out of the final months of life
A sociologist explains the importance of recognizing death as a normal part of life to empower people to discuss difficult issues. e are all going to die — and most of us will be able to see death coming, months or even years before it happens. That foreknowledge means we should embrace the end of life as a distinct life stage, just like childhood, adolescence, and maturity, says Deborah Carr, a sociologist at Boston University. In the 2019 Annual Review of Sociology, Carr and her co-author, Elizabeth Luth of Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, explore how to make the most of this final stage in our lives. Carr spoke with Knowable about how to find a good death. In past centuries, people tended to die younger, but more important, they tended to die quickly after they became ill. The end of life was basically a week, if that. People died at home. Today, with people dying of conditions like dementia and cancer, someone can experience a month or 10 years between diagnosis and actual death. And today, ventilators and feeding tubes allow people to prolong the length of their life, even if not the quality of life. So it's a longer and more uncertain stage than in the past. I think that is one of the main objectives. And that's a new construct. In the days when people died suddenly, death was really a discrete event. You didn't have to find ways to soothe them or provide music or other amenities. Today, because people tend to die over prolonged time periods, there's a real emphasis on ensuring that the quality of that experience, whether it's a week, a month, or six months, is as positive as possible. A good death typically has several pillars. First and foremost is freedom from pain. A sizeable portion of dying patients have physical pain and difficulty breathing. So the use of painkillers, palliative care, devices that allow someone to breathe comfortably, is very important. Another is self-determination. Dying patients and their families want to have some control over the process. They want to choose where they die: at home or in a hospital. They want to choose what kind of treatment they get, whether they get life support. And the third pillar is a broad category called death with dignity. People want to be treated as a whole person. They want their spiritual and psychological needs met. People even think about planning a funeral that has their favorite music and foods. They want to die being the human being they were in their younger years.
12-14-19 This center is a haven for Mexico's LGBTQ seniors
Gustavo Pérez's memories of growing up as a gay man in Mexico City are scarred by discrimination and struggle. Still, he said, his youth was a happier time. The 80-year-old has struggled with something even harder in his old age: loneliness. Pérez often spent several days with no one else to talk to — until a few months ago, when he walked by a rainbow flag in his neighborhood and discovered it was a day center for LGBTQ senior citizens. It has now become his second home. "I'm going to die soon, so I need to use my time well," Pérez said earnestly, dressed in a black leather jacket, matching knee-high riding boots and dyed jet-black hair. "I need to talk to other people." The center, called Vida Alegre, Spanish for "Happy Life," was founded just over a year ago by Samantha Flores, an 87-year-old transgender woman. Nothing similar exists in the country. Flores, a prominent, longtime LGBTQ rights activist in Mexico City, said the need for the center was always obvious. Through her work, she would meet many older LGBTQ people who had mental health issues stemming from loneliness and family rejection. "Loneliness is a big problem," she said. "I've had people come in, older gay men, sobbing and pouring their hearts out to me about how unhappy they are." The center, she added, is an "oasis" for many who visit. The space is just one room, separated by a giant bookshelf. One wall is affixed with a crucifix, an important item for Flores, who is Catholic. Some people gather to watch films, while others prefer to sit and chat. Around 20 people were there on a recent afternoon. The week before, over 50 people crammed into the small space to watch a documentary about Flores' life. Two computers sit along one wall where members learn how to type and use the internet. The backroom can be rearranged to host their cinema club or gatherings over food. Another wall was decorated for the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday, where members commemorated famous LGBTQ people in Mexico who have died.
12-13-19 Food stamps: Who should be eligible?
“The Trump administration has decided that not enough people are going hungry in America,” said Paul Waldman in The Washington Post. Nearly 3 million people could lose eligibility for food stamps under new rules dramatically tightening requirements for the program. Able-bodied adults without children are already required to work or receive job training for 20 hours or more per week to get about $134 in monthly food stamps for longer than three months. A new policy finalized last week will make it tougher for states to waive those requirements for areas with unemployment levels higher than the national average. Another proposed rule would bar families with more than $2,250 in assets from receiving food stamps. So, if you have a used car to get to a minimum-wage job, “you’d be considered too rich to get food stamps.” These heartless rules will hurt workers earning minimum wage at Walmart or fast-food restaurants, and leave their kids with “rumbling in their stomachs.” That thinking is “misguided,” and based on misconceptions, said Catherine Rampell in The Washington Post. Getting about $1.83 a day for food—the average benefit for a family—is hardly a disincentive to work. Most food stamp participants do work, but often in unstable or low-wage jobs that leave them periodically unemployed. Many other recipients are disabled. Besides, since recipients spend their food stamps in local stores, government research shows economic activity increases by $1.50 for every dollar spent on food stamps. Unfortunately, this administration has decided “that it doesn’t suck enough to be poor.”
12-13-19 Another record broken
A record 33% of Americans say they delayed getting medical treatment last year because of cost.
12-13-19 Deaths are up, births are down
“The economy is in robust good health, but our social fabric isn’t,” said Rich Lowry. U.S. fertility rates dropped for the fourth straight year in 2018, and are down 15 percent since 2007, with women having an average of 1.73 children during their lifetime—below the replacement rate for a couple. Survey data shows that this is primarily because the share of women who are married continues to fall, especially in the fertile age group under 30. Meanwhile, life expectancy in the U.S. has also been in decline since 2014—making us an outlier among other advanced nations, whose life expectancy continues to go up. Why? Far too many Americans are dying in the prime of their life, between ages 25 and 64, as a result of diseases of despair—addiction, overdoses, and suicide. In 2017, an astonishing 150,000 Americans died from drug or alcohol abuse or suicide—“more than U.S. combat deaths in World War I, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War combined.” These disturbing trends, toward “less procreation and more self-destruction,” should prompt some “soul-searching.” There is “something profoundly wrong with the state of the union.”
12-13-19 Naval base shooting: Trump defends the Saudis
When a Saudi Arabian pilot killed three Americans and wounded eight others at a naval base in Florida, President Trump’s “first instinct” was to “tamp down any suggestion that the Saudi government needed to be held to account,” said David Sanger in The New York Times. Within hours, he announced that King Salman had called with regrets, then added that the king would “take care of the families and loved ones of the victims.” Trump, who has long-standing business ties to the kingdom and exempted it from a travel ban targeting majority-Muslim countries, did not provide any “assurance that the Saudis would aid in the investigation.” Nor did Trump ever use the word “terrorism.” There’s another critical question, said Joel Mathis in TheWeek.com. “Why is the U.S. still so intertwined with Saudi Arabia’s government?” America has been the world’s top oil producer since 2013, and we no longer depend on the Saudis’ oil. As a supposed ally, the Saudis are little better than our enemy Iran: The kingdom imprisons and tortures dissenters, still engages in “second-class treatment of women,” bombs and starves the people of Yemen, and orchestrated the “gruesome assassination” of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. With Trump, all foreign policy is personal, said Max Boot in The Washington Post. Trump has publicly stated that he has sold the Saudis $50 million worth of real estate. Today, the royal family continues to book hundreds of rooms in his hotels, single-handedly turning one of them profitable. Trump’s “policy is ‘Me First,’ not ‘America First.’” That’s why, with three Americans dead, he acted as if he were “auditioning for the job of press secretary at the Saudi Embassy.”
12-13-19 The U.S.’s Putin party
As a young refugee from the oppressive Soviet Union, I joined the Republican Party largely because of its “moral clarity” in opposing the “Evil Empire,” said Max Boot. That’s why it sickens me to see today’s GOP transformed into “the party of Russia.” We now have a Republican president who lavishes praise on Russia’s authoritarian leader Vladimir Putin while advancing Moscow’s interests whenever possible—pushing for Russia to be admitted to the G-7, handing Syria to Russia, undermining Ukraine’s war against Russian aggression. He’s been joined in spreading Russian disinformation by congressional Republicans and Fox News, which now falsely claims Ukraine engaged in “2016 election interference.” Trump’s white-nationalist supporters are even expressing admiration for Putin, portraying him “as a champion of Christianity, traditional values, and the white race.” Incredibly, Fox host Tucker Carlson said last week, “We should probably take the side of Russia” in its conflict with democratic, pro-Western Ukraine, and 40 percent of Republicans now view autocratic Russia as “an ally,” despite its ongoing campaign of aggression against the democratic West. This is both bizarre and heartbreaking. By following Trump’s lead on Russia, “the Republican Party has become all that it once despised.”
12-13-19 Rush-hour shoot-out
At least 18 law enforcement officers fired shots in a crowded intersection last week, killing two robbery suspects in a chaotic shoot-out that also killed a bystander and a UPS driver whose truck had been hijacked. Frank Ordonez, 27, was filling in for a colleague on an unfamiliar delivery route when he was abducted by two men fleeing a jewelry store they’d attempted to rob after posing as postal workers. The suspects, Lamar Alexander and Ronnie Hill, both 41, exchanged fire with the store owner, and a ricocheting bullet hit one female employee in the forehead. They fled in Ordonez’s truck before getting trapped in rush-hour traffic. Officers swarmed the truck and used cars stuck in the standstill for cover. The gun battle also killed a 70-year-old man on his way home from work. (Webmaster's comment: This is not how to "Serve and Protect.")
12-13-19 Vape makers must disclose chemicals
The Food and Drug Administration can regulate e-cigarettes as it does tobacco products, requiring distributors to disclose the ingredients in liquids that are vaporized and inhaled, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled this week. The court affirmed a ruling that the FDA can regulate “components” of tobacco products, even vape liquids that don’t contain tobacco. A Florida manufacturer of liquids used in e-cigarettes sued the FDA, claiming its product is a healthy alternative for smokers. “Given the relatively unknown and potentially grave risks of e-cigarettes to all users, and their extraordinary allure to middle- and high-school students, we cannot agree,” the appeals court said. It also rejected a claim that the company’s First Amendment rights are violated by a ban on e-cigarette free samples. (Webmaster's comment: People are dying from these lethal concoctions. Let's get rid of them.)
12-13-19 College: No easy fix as costs keep climbing
Prepare yourself for a $400,000 price tag for college, said Alia Wong in TheAtlantic.com. A new analysis found that the sticker price to attend the University of Chicago will pass the $100,000-per-year mark by 2025, and “at least a handful of other U.S. colleges”—Harvey Mudd College, Columbia University, and Southern Methodist University—“will follow suit soon after.” While only 42 percent of Chicago’s undergraduates paid the full tuition cost in the 2016-17 school year, those sticker prices keep growing, and colleges are becoming “more dependent than ever on tuition for revenue.” Colleges have turned to “complex financial math” to balance high tuition with discounts and financial aid, said Pete D’Amato in The Hechinger Report. Some of their calculations, though, may have backfired. One survey found that about half of families “would never consider a school with high tuition,” regardless of aid. Higher-performing students were even more likely to “rule out colleges with a high price tag.” For those who already have college debt, some Democratic candidates have urged a “fresh start,” said Annie Nova in CNBC.com. One proposal, from Warren, would wipe out up to $50,000 of college debt. There’s a bipartisan push to enact some relief even before the election. The Department of Education may soon offer income-sharing agreements that would let students delay repayment until they get a job following graduation, with the borrower “on the hook for a certain percentage of income” after that. House members also want to reduce the number of federal repayment plans from 14 to two. Currently, it is “a complicated system critics say leads to needless defaults.” Not every proposal has been well received, said Aarthi Swaminathan in Yahoo.com. Sen. Rand Paul last week unveiled “a plan to fix the student debt crisis” by letting borrowers withdraw up to $5,250 from their 401(k) or IRA account tax- and penalty-free for tuition or student loans. Critics, however, say Rand just kicks the can down the road with a plan that’s “detrimental to Americans’ future security.” (Webmaster's comment: In Europe a college education is basically free even for international students! You can go to Norway, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Austria, Greece, or France.)
12-13-19 Anti-indigenous violence
Two indigenous leaders were killed and two more wounded in a drive-by shooting on an Amazon reservation this week, not far from where an indigenous “forest guardian” was shot dead last month during a confrontation with illegal loggers. Members of the Guajajara tribe were returning from a meeting with power company officials when they were shot at by assailants in a moving car. Brazil’s Indigenous Missionary Council said that in the first nine months of 2019, 153 indigenous territories were invaded by illegal loggers and miners—more than double the number in 2018. The council blamed President Jair Bolsonaro’s push to open up the Amazon to commercial interests, and his open hostility to protections for indigenous land.
12-13-19 No asylum for Muslims
India has passed a law that gives amnesty to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan—but not to Muslims, who could be expelled. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government says Muslims are excluded because they can find refuge in neighboring Muslim countries like Pakistan, while Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs cannot. Critics say the law is unconstitutional because India was founded as a secular state with equal rights for all religions. Once India implements its National Register of Citizens, another Modi project, millions of Muslims who cannot prove that they or their forebears were living in India before 1971 could be deported.
12-13-19 Jews targeted
Investigators believe a man and woman were targeting Jews this week when they attacked a kosher market with long rifles after killing a detective. The pair died in an hours-long firefight with police that made the city resemble a war zone. The suspects, David Anderson and Francine Graham, reportedly posted rants online about Jews and police and left behind a “rambling” manifesto before driving a U-Haul van to the Jewish market and opening fire, killing four people, including two members of the city’s growing Hassidic community. Anderson and Graham are also prime suspects in another Jersey City killing. The attack came after Jersey City Detective Joe Seals approached their van at a nearby cemetery and was shot in the head. Two officers were injured in the shoot-out. Investigators later found a live pipe bomb inside the van. Sources said Anderson was a onetime follower of the anti-Semitic Black Hebrew Israelite movement.
12-13-19 Controversial speech
Jewish groups expressed outrage over President Trump’s speech to pro-Israel conservatives last week, in which he said Jews will become “my biggest supporters” to protect their wealth from his 2020 rivals. He called Jews in businesses like real estate “brutal killers” and “not nice people” who had no choice but to back him over a Democrat like Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Trump said most Jews cheered his moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, while his critics “don’t love Israel enough.” The remarks drew laughs and chants of “four more years,” but several organizations called Trump’s stereotypes and demands that Jews demonstrate loyalty to Israel anti-Semitic. Days later, Trump signed an executive order allowing the federal government to withhold funds from colleges fostering anti-Semitism. The order says calling Israel a “racist endeavor” is evidence of anti-Semitic intent, a claim some believe could suppress legitimate protests.
12-13-19 Bad training
Two instructors at a corrections officers’ academy were fired last week after a photo surfaced of a trainee class giving a Nazi salute. The 34 people photographed in uniform were suspended without pay. The blurred trainees appeared below the text “Hail Byrd!”—echoing “Heil Hitler!” and referencing one of their instructors at Glenville State College. Republican Gov. Jim Justice called the photo “intolerable” and ordered all involved to be fired. Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy said the cadets had been trained in identifying white-supremacist groups. “I cannot stress enough how this betrays the high standards and professionalism of the men and women of corrections,” he said. In recent months, West Virginia corrections officers have been accused of sexually assaulting female inmates and covering up wrongful deaths.
12-13-19 ‘The Afghanistan Papers’: The lies behind America’s longest war
In contrast to the bloody debacle in Iraq, the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan is still viewed by many Americans as “the necessary war,” said Sarah Jones in NYMag.com. But this is the week that illusion dies. The Washington Post just published “The Afghanistan Papers,” a trove of 2,000 documents obtained after a three-year legal battle with the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The papers reveal in shameful, sickening detail that from its outset, the longest war in U.S. history—18 years and counting—has been an unwinnable “black hole, sucking in money and lives.” The administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump have all falsely insisted the U.S. was making “some progress.” The Afghanistan War has claimed at least 115,000 lives, including 2,400 U.S. military personnel, and cost the U.S. about $2 trillion, said Lara Jakes in The New York Times. Our rebuilding efforts alone have cost $133 billion, more than we spent (even adjusted for inflation) to rebuild all of Western Europe after World War II. And for what? Some scant improvements in Afghan quality of life, and the installation of a “faltering democracy” that the resurgent Taliban will likely overthrow if the U.S. ever leaves. Good for The Washington Post, said Army veteran Adrian Bonenberger in TheNewRepublic.com, but “you could have just asked us.” Those of us on the ground in Afghanistan knew all along that the war was “an aimless train wreck.” Yes, we built a few schools, medical clinics, and roads, and annihilated countless “high-value targets,” with “the occasional wedding party thrown in.” But the troops being cycled in and out “were fighting and dying to achieve objectives that no elected leader could fully articulate.” The Post titled its scoop after the Pentagon Papers, the leaked documents that in 1971 turned the public decisively against the Vietnam War, said Rod Dreher in TheAmericanConservative.com. The Afghanistan Papers should have the same impact. Let this be the end of Americans “dying in and for Afghanistan. Bring the troops home.”
12-13-19 How Haley rewrites history
After a white supremacist murdered nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, said historian Adam Domby, then–Gov. Nikki Haley did the right thing by ordering the Confederate battle flag to be lowered from the South Carolina Statehouse’s grounds. The shooter had posted photos of himself posing with the Confederate flag. As the daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley, a Republican, seemed to recognize that the flag was a symbol of racial division and hate. “So much for that.” Last week, Haley—who has apparent ambitions to succeed President Trump—declared that the Charleston shooter had “hijacked” the flag, which she said had previously been a symbol of “service, sacrifice, and heritage.” History shows that this is a lie. The flag was first raised at the Statehouse in 1962 as a defiant response to federal orders to desegregate the state. Earlier, in 1948, the pro-segregation Dixiecrat party displayed the battle flag and photos of Robert E. Lee as part of its “openly racist” campaign. Ever since the Civil War ended, the Confederate banner has stood for defiant nostalgia for the “slaveholders’ republic” that secession created. Haley and those to whom she is pandering are promoting “false memories of America’s past.”
12-13-19 How to Be a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century
However weak the state of democracy looks today, said Tony Barber in the Financial Times, “much of the world was in an even darker place only a few generations ago.” In his “strangely comforting” new survey of eight 20th-century dictators, Dutch-born historian Frank Dikötter tells us that Mussolini, Mao, Hitler, Stalin, and their lesser imitators inflicted more pain and damage than any of today’s strongmen but also—eventually—came to ignominious ends. To Dikötter, who previously wrote an acclaimed trilogy on Mao, the most salient feature common to each dictatorship was a cult of personality. Each ruler fostered the appearance of widespread public support while silencing critics through fear. And those tactics worked—for a time. “Dikötter’s final point is his best,” said Edward Lucas in The Times (U.K.). He argues that the distrust tyrants cultivate in the end becomes their undoing, because they cease hearing the advice and information they need to run their countries. But that doesn’t seem a sufficient reason to conclude, as Dikötter appears to, that all’s well that ends well, said Sheila Fitzpatrick in TheGuardian.com. He argues that excepting North Korea’s, the cults established by the book’s featured dictators ultimately collapsed, forfeiting all hold on the nations once subject to them. By his reckoning, dictatorship is also clearly on the decline. “That’s reassuring. Perhaps it would be churlish to ask how we got so lucky.”
12-13-19 New Kentucky governor restores voting rights to ex-felons
The newly elected governor of Kentucky Andy Beshear has restored the right to vote to up to 140,000 people with non-violent felony convictions - a move praised by rights groups. The Democratic governor's executive order applies to those who have already completed their sentences. The US state bans convicts from voting for life, unless a governor intervenes. About 10% of Kentucky's voting age population - some 312,000 people - are currently not allowed to vote. That figure rises to more than a quarter for the voting age black population. Ex-felons can only win back their right to vote via a reprieve from the state government. Before signing the executive order on Thursday, Mr Beshear criticised the state's high rate of disenfranchisement for convicts. "I believe it is an injustice that their ability to fully rejoin society by casting a vote on election day is automatically denied regardless of the circumstances of their offense," he said. "When people vote, they're showing they're invested in our democracy, in our society and in their communities." In issuing the executive order, the governor followed in the footsteps of his father Steve Beshear, a former governor of the state who signed a similar order in 2015. Republican governor Matt Bevin scrapped that order after taking office later the same year, but Mr Bevin was ousted by Mr Beshear by a narrow margin in November's gubernatorial election. Blair Bowie, a US attorney at the Campaign Legal Center, said the governor's order would be a "major victory for the rights restoration movement". "But the order must be well-crafted to meet its goals," he said in a statement. Only two other states, Iowa and Virginia, still permanently remove voting rights from those with felony convictions. Several states, including Florida, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana, have recently passed laws allowing released convicts to vote.
12-13-19 New Jersey attack 'may be domestic terror fuelled by anti-Semitism'
A gun attack on a Jewish supermarket in New Jersey is being investigated as domestic terrorism driven by anti-Semitism and hatred of police, officials say. The FBI is now overseeing the investigation into the attack in Jersey City, where four people were killed. Police shot two suspected attackers after a four-hour standoff. The suspects were identified as David Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50. "The evidence points towards acts of hate," state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said. "We are investigating this matter as potential acts of domestic terror, fuelled both by anti-Semitism and anti-law enforcement beliefs." He said the attackers had only fired on people in the supermarket and police officers. "You can see clearly from the video that the individuals that engaged, the cowards that took down those innocent victims, engaged only with folks in that store and the law enforcement community," Mr Grewal said. "You can see people that walked by, they didn't target them." Mr Grewal said a pipe bomb had been recovered from the suspects' van, which had been equipped with bulletproof panels, along with five guns. Investigators had found a note at the scene, he added, but nothing that could be described as a manifesto had been found. Officials believe the suspects acted alone. US media have reported that one of the suspects had made anti-Semitic and anti-police social media posts online before the attack. At least one of the suspects appeared to be interested in a group called the Black Hebrew Israelites, whose believers say they are the true descendents of ancient Israelites, officials said. The group is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. But Mr Grewal said no official link with the group had been established. Earlier Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop tweeted that "hate and anti-Semitism" had no place in the city.
12-13-19 Turns out I'm Jewish after all
I left Judaism 20 years ago. Anti-Semitism has inexorably pulled me back. Being Jewish has become hard again. After decades when Jews in America permitted themselves to believe they had finally found a welcoming home in a majority Christian, creedally universalist country, things have begun to shift in familiar and terrifying ways. Jews have been murdered in synagogues and kosher delis in the United States. They are regularly harassed and beaten on the streets of American cities. Swastikas scrawled on walls, acts of attempted arson and vandalism at synagogues, shouted slurs — the stories add up, amplifying one another and mixing with similar and worse stories from abroad. Over a hundred gravestones in a Jewish cemetery in France were spray-painted with swastikas earlier this month. It was the latest in a seemingly endless series of incidents across the continent. And of course leaders (and would-be leaders) of nations, along with prime-time TV pundits, now actively encourage such demonization, turning Jewish philanthropists into scapegoats, blaming them for a wide range of injustices. As enemies of the Jewish people have always done. It's a painful spectacle for anyone committed to liberal ideals of pluralism and tolerance. But it's especially, existentially, agonizing for Jews themselves — even for bad, part-time Jews like me. I was born Jewish — my father is the son of orthodox Jewish immigrants from Central Europe (Poland and Austria), and my mother a convert — but for much of the past two decades, that hasn't much mattered. I grew up identifying as a Jew, but we never worshipped at a synagogue (even on high holy days). I received no Jewish education. There was no Hebrew school. No bar mitzvah. By the time I started to sense religious stirrings in my late 20s, I knew far more about Christian, and especially Catholic, theology and moral teaching than I did about Judaism. Plus, by then I'd gone and done what American Jews are often warned against doing (and yet increasingly do anyway): I married a non-Jew. That my wife's family hoped and expected our children to be raised Catholic made the path forward obvious. I would repudiate my upbringing by converting to Catholicism. As regular readers know, the conversion didn't take. After 17 years, in August 2018, I publicly renounced Catholicism. The decision was mainly motivated by disgust at the church's systematic sexual perversion and corruption. But there was also something else going on.
12-12-19 India is laying the groundwork for a mass faith-cleansing
Many people expected Prime Minister Narendra Modi's landslide re-election victory this summer to spell trouble for India's pluralistic democracy. But few appreciated just how much trouble. This week, in two days flat, the Modi government pushed through both chambers of parliament the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB). This law uses a good cause as a Trojan horse to advance a radical faith-cleansing agenda that has more than a passing similarity with the shocking policies that China has deployed against its Uighur Muslim minority. On the surface, CAB is a mass amnesty bill of the kind that pro-immigration advocates in America can't even dream of. It amends India's Citizenship Act to hand expedited citizenship — not mere legal status — to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Christians from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh currently living in the country without authorization. But it conspicuously leaves out Muslims. This means that the Ahamadiyyas, who belong to a reviled Islamic sect in Pakistan, are out of luck — as are the Rohingya from neighboring Myanmar. The omission of the Rohingya lends a lie to the official explanation for excluding Muslims, namely, that the bill is aimed at handing relief only to persecuted minorities in India's neighboring countries, not members of the majority population. But Myanmar is a majority Buddhist country that has subjected the minority Rohingya to some of the most grisly bloodletting in modern times. Yet they didn't qualify. This kind of anti-Muslim discrimination isn't the worst feature of the citizenship bill, however. What makes it even more abominable is that it lays the legal groundwork for a wholesale attack on the rights of India's 140 million Muslim citizens, not just unauthorized Muslim refugees.
12-11-19 New Jersey killers 'targeted' Jewish supermarket
Police in New Jersey say a Jewish supermarket was the target of a gun attack which left six people dead on Tuesday, including the two suspects. No motive has yet been given, but the mayor of Jersey City tweeted on Wednesday morning that "hate and anti-Semitism" had no place in the city. The gun battle began when the suspects killed a detective across town, then drove a rental van to the market. Security video shows them firing on the market before going inside. Investigators believe that the three people found dead inside the kosher market were killed by the attackers, who were also found dead inside the building following a four-hour standoff with police. On Wednesday morning the mayor of Jersey City, Steven Fulop, told reporters that street cameras showed the suspects "slowly" drive towards the market, then "calmly open the door with two long rifles and begin firing from the street" into the shop. Public Safety Director James Shea added that video shows they parked their van "and immediately began firing on the location". Asked how police are certain the shop was targeted, he said that they "bypassed" many other people walking on the street to attack the store. The attackers have not yet been publicly identified. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that one of the suspects had made anti-Semitic and anti-police social media posts online, but that has not yet been confirmed. Jersey City Police Chief Mike Kelly said on Tuesday that violence first erupted at a cemetery about one mile (0.6km) from the grocery store just after 12:00 local time (17:00 GMT) on Tuesday. Local media reported that confrontation between police and the suspects was linked to a murder investigation, but this has not been confirmed by authorities. It is believed that Detective Joseph Seals, 39, who was part of a state-wide programme to confiscate illegal guns, was killed when he approached the two suspects who were driving a van that was suspected to have played a role in a recent homicide.
12-11-19 'Our parents ran a secret gay porn empire'
It wasn't the most obvious career choice for Karen and Barry Mason, and not one they could talk about openly. But for years the couple ran LA's best-known gay porn shop, and distributed adult material across the US. Outwardly they were a respectable family. Karen had been a journalist on well-known newspapers in Chicago and Cincinnati. Barry had worked as a special effects engineer in the film industry, including Star Trek and 2001 Space Odyssey. They had met at a Jewish singles night and their three children went to Shabbat services, prayer meetings and studied hard at school. Working as an inventor in the mid-1970s, Barry developed a safety device for kidney dialysis machines - but the company he was about to sell it to asked for insurance policies he couldn't afford, and the project suddenly collapsed, leaving the family in urgent need of cash. It was then that Karen spotted a job advert in the LA Times - for someone to distribute Hustler magazine and other merchandise produced by porn magnate Larry Flynt. And so the Masons entered the porn industry. They turned out to be good businesspeople. Within the first few weeks, and with very little effort, Karen and Barry received 5,000 orders, driving all over LA by car to deliver them. Though Hustler was a straight porn magazine, Flynt soon took over some failing gay porn publications and these too became part of the Masons' portfolio. A few years later, when the owner of LA's most famous gay porn bookshop, Book Circus in West Hollywood, got into financial trouble, they were in a position to take it over. It was 1982 and the shop, which Barry and Karen renamed Circus of Books, was more than just a hardcore porn store, it was a refuge and a meeting place for LA's gay community. The children, Micah, Rachel and Josh, were given strict instructions, when they visited the shop, never to look at or touch any of the products. They also had it drummed into them never to tell their friends the shop's name.
12-9-19 Why I'm a libertarian defeatist about Medicare-for-all
The first time I heard the phrase "Medicare-for-all," I thought, "Oh, so that's how it happens. That's how America gets single-payer health care." I'm not excited at the prospect. But I am resigned to its inevitability and unenthused about the realistic alternatives. I'm a libertarian health-care defeatist. My reasoning here is pretty simple: As Americans from across the political spectrum agree, our present health insurance system sucks. Compared to similar countries, we pay more for worse outcomes — and the complexity! Heaven forbid anyone ever get a straightforward answer on what a procedure costs. The whole thing is intolerably expensive and convoluted. Moreover, U.S. health care hasn't been in striking distance of a free market for decades, and the obstacles to getting there seem insurmountable. So if the principle of the thing is already irreparable, and I'm pretty sure it is, we may as well simplify. And Medicare-for-all — at once familiar and radical and sneakily difficult to argue against if you aren't also calling for an end to Medicare proper, which neither major party is — just might be the marketing that sells it. I'd be surprised if the United States didn't have some sort of universal, state-provided health care, maybe under the Medicare brand, within about 10 years. A bit of history may here be in order. Contrary the suggestion of GOP apoplecticism c. 2010, ObamaCare was hardly the introduction of state meddling in the health-care market. Before the Affordable Care Act, the Cato Institute's Michael Tanner notes at National Review, "[n]early all health care was subsidized in some way, either directly or indirectly." The government already "directly paid for more than half of all health-care spending," and the "third-party and even fourth-party payment mechanism[s]," which paid 87 cents of every health-care dollar, "insulated consumers from the cost of their health-care choices and drove up both spending and prices." Meanwhile, Tanner continues, "provider cartels, both insurers and medical professionals, used regulatory and licensing barriers to protect themselves from competition and inflate prices." (Webmaster's comment: Nevermind that Universal Healthcare works in Europe and costs less than 1/3rd of what healthcare does in America! And is better than it is in America. You live longer and there are fewer deaths in childbirth. Libertarians want a survival of the fittest economy. Doctors can charge anything they want and even more if you're dying. If you can't pay for care you die! Tough Luck! And you walk down the street packin heat shooting it out with anyone who disagrees with you. The fastest draw is in the right! Back to no law except the law of the gun! It's the Libertarian way.)
12-7-19 How robocalls became America's most prevalent crime
Today, half of all phone calls are automated scams. Is there any way to stop this incessant bombardment? Here's everything you need to know:
- Why so many robocalls? Automated telephone calls might be America's most prevalent form of lawbreaking, with more than 180 million such calls every day. A 2009 law that banned unsolicited, prerecorded telemarketing has failed to stem the explosion of calls seeking to steal information or scare people into scams.
- How do robocallers work? Two inventions are behind the robocall scourge. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) dialing — the technology used by apps like Skype — lets scammers place millions of calls a day, costing just $0.006 per minute if a call is answered. The other breakthrough is "neighborhood spoofing," which disguises robocalls to appear on caller ID with the same area code as the number being dialed, instead of an 800 number or distant area cod
- What are common scams? Many Americans have been called by a fake Social Security Administration representative, who claims that the recipient's Social Security number is compromised, asks for the number, and then uses it to commit identity theft.
- Does anyone fall for them? Only a small number of people do, but a lousy yield is still highly profitable. For all the millions of New Yorkers who hung up on the Social Security scam this year, by October, 523 suckers had lost $5.8 million, police said.
- Are robocalls policed? The FTC blocked more than a billion illegal robocalls in June, but meaningful enforcement can still seem hopeless. Robocallers now place calls from a huge volume of numbers to avoid detection.
- Can robocalls be stopped? Adding your number to the federal Do Not Call registry is moderately effective for avoiding traditional telemarketers but useless for escaping fraudulent robocalls.
- The king of the robocall: Adrian Abramovich lived in one of Miami's gated oceanside communities in a house filled with art and posters from Scarface and Goodfellas. The house doubled as the office from which Abramovich, an Argentine immigrant, allegedly made 96,758,223 illegal robocalls over three months in 2016.
12-7-19 North America’s first English settlers were unlucky scientists
The first English people to settle permanently in the Americas included early scientists, known as “chymists”, who battled hunger and disease in an ill-fated bid to find gold. In the early 17th century, the English were eager to explore and exploit North America. It had been just over 100 years since Columbus’s first transatlantic voyages, and during that time, the Spanish had removed large quantities of gold and silver from South and Central America. The English failed to find gold – but while this has previously been put down to a lack of skill, it turns out geology was to blame. A team led by Umberto Veronesi at University College London and Marcos Martino´n-Torres at the University of Cambridge has just completed an analysis of 400-year-old scientific equipment unearthed at Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. The team studied fragments that came from crucibles – vessels in which rock samples can be heated and melted to analyse their chemistry and reveal valuable metals and minerals – and examined the residues stuck to the interior walls. It found a number of different chemicals, suggesting that the Jamestown chymists analysed a variety of rocks and experimented with different chemical additives in an effort to work out how to extract the maximum amount of gold or silver. The crucible residues also suggest the settlers might have succeeded in making brass – a useful copper and tin alloy. But there were no rich mineral deposits near Jamestown, and the small quantities of precious metals and alloys the chymists did recover failed to impress their financial backers in England. They were accused of idleness and incompetence – a label that stuck even into the 20th century, says David Givens, director of archaeology at the Jamestown Rediscovery project.
12-6-19 Was Trump chosen by God?
Was President Trump chosen by God to lead our nation? asked Jay Parini. In a recent interview with Fox News, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said he believes—and told Trump personally—that the president is “the chosen one,” sent to achieve the Lord’s will. This belief has spread like “a strange virus” among other evangelical Trump supporters. They contend that God often uses imperfect men to achieve his aims, such as the biblical King David, an adulterer. As a practicing Christian and son of a Baptist minister, I nonetheless find Trump to be an odd choice to further Jesus Christ’s message of love, forgiveness, and selflessness. Jesus asked us “to curb our anger, not even to hold a grudge.” He insisted that “one cannot serve two masters, God and money,” and that “we should treat others as we wish ourselves to be treated.” Does this sound like Trump? He embodies rage, vengeance, greed, dishonesty, and cruelty. Proclaiming Trump as “the chosen one,” moreover, implies that all world leaders are chosen by God, including Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Ayatollah Khamenei. True Christians know that our world is “a deep mystery,” and that only the arrogant think they know “what the Divine has in mind.”
12-6-19 Health care is eating the economy
It’s conventional wisdom that middle-income Americans are feeling squeezed, but most explanations pass over the most important reason, said Robert Samuelson: health-care costs. Many of the Democratic presidential candidates’ policies—such as Medicare for All, free college tuition, subsidies for child care—come with good intentions, but they don’t address the elephant in the room. Our uncontrolled medical spending is crowding out almost everything else. In the early 1960s, “health spending was about 2 percent of federal outlays.” Now it is one-third. Health-care spending makes up 18 percent, or almost one-fifth, of our entire economy. “Imagine what we could do if U.S. health spending had been held to, say, 12 percent of GDP. We’d have $1.2 trillion to spend on other things.” Ironically, much of the Democrats’ rhetoric about how health care is “right” turns out to be “self-defeating and ultimately undesirable.” It makes almost any effort to curb spending subject to attack as “cruel or immoral.” If the government can’t cut health spending, it reduces “spending on other programs, raises taxes, or bloats deficits.” These effects are felt keenly by middle-income and poor Americans, because medical costs consume more of their incomes. And if we can’t stabilize those costs, “expect the squeeze to continue indefinitely.”
12-6-19 How Europe pays for its welfare state
Some Democratic presidential candidates “insist that America could afford a European-style welfare state if only it taxed the rich more heavily,” said The Wall Street Journal. But a close look at Europe’s taxation policies shows that countries have “learned the hard way that the rich aren’t rich enough to pay for their entitlements,” and balance their budgets by heavily dunning the middle class. Germany, for example, imposes a 42 percent rate on married households earning $124,000, whereas in the U.S., such a couple pays 22 percent. Sweden’s top rate of 55 percent kicks in with individual earnings as low as $47,000, and in the U.K., taxpayers earning just $64,000 pay a 40 percent rate. Governments also slap workers with hefty payroll taxes they call “social insurance contributions” that are far higher than America’s Social Security and Medicare deductions, and impose a Value Added Tax of 21 percent on all consumer purchases, regardless of a buyer’s income. As a result, Europe’s tax system takes more than half of most people’s wages and is far less progressive than the U.S.’s. Beware politicians who claim they can finance free college, day care, and health care for all by taxing billionaires. “The middle class will pay, because that’s where the real money is.” (Webmaster's comment: But it works so well. People are better off and happier in Europeon Welfare States than people in the United States.)
12-6-19 U.S. refugee admissions flatline
The U.S. admitted zero refugees in October, the first time that’s happened in nearly three decades, The Washington Post reported last week. The Trump administration effectively halted admissions while it delayed approving a refugee ceiling for the 2020 fiscal year. In the meantime, hundreds of flights to the U.S. were canceled for approved refugees, some of whom saw their eligibility expire as the moratorium dragged on. The new refugee ceiling will allow 18,000 admissions this year, an all-time low. In addition to refugees, other legal immigrants face new hurdles. During Trump’s first two years in office, denials of H1Bs—the most common visa for skilled workers and a frequent target of immigration hard-liners—more than doubled, as did wait times for citizenship.
12-6-19 Ignoring the fears of ethnic minorities
Germany’s ethnic minorities are quietly seething, said Ferda Ataman. Just a few weeks after a neo-Nazi tried to shoot up a synagogue on Yom Kippur and ended up killing two passersby, the main theme in the media is that many Germans feel political correctness is threatening their freedom of speech—specifically, their right to use racist terms. Hate crimes rose 20 percent from 2017 to 2018, and in the east, voters are throwing their support behind far-right, xenophobic parties who want to expel anyone who isn’t an ethnic German. In response, pundits reach out to these white voters to try to understand what’s driving them to embrace extremists, but they don’t ask minorities—including Asian-Germans, Turkish-Germans, Afro-Germans—how we feel about this scary trend. They lump us together as outsiders, when many of us are third-generation Germans. Germany is our native land, where our grandparents worked, paid taxes, died, and yet many of us have a “Plan B” for fleeing if it all comes crashing down. It’s not fair: We don’t want to leave. Minority Germans are model citizens, well-behaved and not prone to marching in the streets, but make no mistake: “They are angry. I am angry.” And we will make our anger known at the ballot box.
12-6-19 Let us love one another?
The Christmas Parade in Troy, Tenn., has been canceled, after the inclusion of a “Love Everybody” float. Float creator Dwight Tittle, 47, said he was inspired by the Bible’s exhortation “Let us love one another.” But since his float includes an LGBT rainbow, threats and complaints led to the town canceling the parade due to “scheduling conflicts.”
12-6-19 Trump's food stamp cuts are cruel politics and bad economics
The move will hurt hundreds of thousands of Americans and hamstring a critical recession response mechanism. On Wednesday, the Trump administration made a unilateral policy change to cut back the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), colloquially known as food stamps, with the result being that hundreds of thousands of Americans who previously received the benefits will now be ineligible. In the grand scheme, this isn't that surprising: The Republican Party has tried again and again to cut SNAP and the rest of the anti-poverty safety net — most recently under the guidance of former Republican Speaker of the House and "serious wonk" Paul Ryan. What is noteworthy is that President Trump was supposed to herald a different kind of Republican Party: more skeptical of elites, more sympathetic to the hard-working "forgotten" people. That GOP efforts to strip struggling Americans of aid have continued or even increased in intensity under Trump simply throws the destructiveness of this obsession into particularly sharp relief. Let's begin with the basic policy and economics. SNAP is one of the country's most important safety net programs, providing aid to roughly 40 million people per month in 2018, and considerably more in the depths of the last recession. Under current law, able-bodied adults without children or other dependents are already limited to receiving SNAP benefits for three months every three years, though they can receive them for longer if they are either working or in training programs. More important for our purposes here, states are also able to get waivers from the federal work requirements to allow those specific recipients to stay on the program longer when unemployment is higher. The amount of waivers issued jumped after the 2008 crisis, but is now back to its pre-crisis norm.
12-6-19 West Virginia prison staff suspended over Nazi salute
Several US prison employees have been suspended after a photo emerged showing training class participants giving what appears to be a Nazi salute. The image shows employees at the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation making the gesture below a sign that reads "Hail Byrd!", referring to a class instructor. State Governor Jim Justice has called for the employees to be fired. Officials have also informed faith and community leaders about the photo. It shows around 30 blurred faces and appears to have been recently shot for the state's "Basic Training Class #18". The photo does not include names of the employees and the location is not known. The class reportedly took place from 21 October to 27 November. The text referred to a class leader, the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety said. "I condemn the photo of Basic Training Class #18 in the strongest possible terms," Governor Jim Justice told The Washington Post. "I have directed Secretary Jeff Sandy of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety to continue actively investigating this incident, and I have ordered the termination of all those that are found to be involved in this conduct." In a letter to employees at the facility, Mr Sandy said that several people had already been suspended. "It is distasteful, hurtful, disturbing, highly insensitive and completely inappropriate," he said. "It betrays the professionalism I have seen time and time again displayed and practiced by our brave correctional employees." The department had informed faith leaders and community leaders of the photo, Mr Sandy added. "We have asked for their help to address it effectively, including with recommended changes or additions to our training programs," he wrote.
12-6-19 Wedding planning websites curb promotion of US plantation venues
Four major US wedding planning websites will restrict the promotion of venues that idealise former slave plantations. Pinterest, the Knot Worldwide and Brides said they would limit plantation advertisements, in some cases removing adjectives that romanticise the venues such as "charming" or "elegant". Planning platform Zola has removed all the listed plantations from its site. The changes follow calls from civil rights group Color of Change to bar the promotion of plantations outright. "The decision to glorify plantations as nostalgic sites of celebration is not a compassionate one for the black women and justice-minded people who use your site," the organisation wrote in a letter to Zola executives, according to BuzzFeed News, which first reported the changes. "In fact, 'classic,' 'elegant,' and 'glamorous,' are just a few of the tags that your site uses to describe the places where many of your readers' ancestors were tortured and stripped of their most fundamental rights," Color of Change wrote. These plantations - scattered across the American South - remain, for many, a painful reminder of the country's legacy of slavery and racism. At the height of slavery, the National Humanities Center estimates that there were over 46,000 plantations stretching across the southern states. But they have also become a popular choice for weddings. A simple web search for "plantation weddings" will call up venues in Louisiana, South Carolina and Virginia promising "beautiful backdrops" featuring "columned mansions" and "moss-covered oaks". An enduring source of controversy, the modern use of slavery plantations has been the source of heightened debate in recent years. A post on Reddit in September asking if it was reasonable to skip a best friend's wedding because it was held on a plantation received over 1,000 comments on both sides of the argument.
12-6-19 What happens when governments crack down on scientists just doing their jobs?
Human rights take a back seat when state leaders try to control the narrative. On a sunny day in March 2016, Turkish forensic physician Sebnem Korur Fincanci drove into Cizre, a town in southeastern Turkey. The government had just lifted a 79-day curfew meant to help the Turkish military rout out members of the separatist PKK, or Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Turkey has long fought to keep insurgents from creating a separate Kurdish country, and has designated the PKK as a terrorist organization. Like most people outside of Cizre, Fincanci had no idea what had transpired during the lockdown. She arrived to a devastated city. The air, she says, smelled of burnt flesh. Houses were riddled with bullet holes, the furniture inside burned or bashed with sledgehammers. Residents led her to three bombed-out buildings. Fincanci entered one and saw within the basement rubble a jawbone and a pair of eyeglasses. She could immediately tell that the jawbone was a child’s. Fincanci had not brought her forensic tools. She had assumed that this visit was preliminary, a time to talk with Cizre residents about their medical needs. So, she snapped pictures of the bone, the glasses and the surrounding debris with her cell phone. Residents later confirmed that the building had been home to a young family. A few days later, Fincanci wrote a report and posted it on the website of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, a volunteer organization she helped found in 1990. She also sent the report to Turkey’s internal affairs office. Fincanci wrote that the military had committed atrocities against innocent civilians. She demanded a full investigation. Instead, in June 2016, the government charged her with spreading terrorist propaganda. “I was arrested and sent to prison,” Fincanci says.
12-5-19 William Barr is shockingly clear about his authoritarianism
William Barr, the top federal law enforcement officer in the United States, is fast becoming the nation's chief advocate for an authoritarian vision of American government. First came his October 11 speech at the University of Notre Dame in which the attorney general embraced a deeply anachronistic vision of religion in American public life. It was a story of a morally upstanding Republican majority upholding biblically based Judeo-Christian piety and righteousness against an aggressive minority faction of liberals and progressives who use positions of cultural and political power to impose an agenda of moral relativism on the nation. As Ross Douthat, a religious conservative himself, pointed out in a critical column on the speech, this construal of the American scene distorted reality in multiple ways. What Douthat didn't say is that, by seeking to convince religious conservatives that they have the American majority on their side and that it's crucially important for the future of American democracy that this side prevail in its battle against godless relativists, Barr was providing a justification for using all the powers of the federal government to bring about that outcome. Five weeks later came Barr's even more alarming speech to the conservative legal group The Federalist Society. Here he described the presidency (and because of that, American self-government itself) as under siege by Congress and the courts. The greatest achievement of the American constitutional framers, he claimed, was the creation of a strong, independent, and unitary executive. And yet the liberals and progressives in charge of these other branches of government do everything in their power to hobble and weaken the presidency, which should, and will, do everything it can to reaffirm its distinctive powers and prerogatives.
12-5-19 50 years ago, income inequality was severe in the U.S. It still is
Over the last half century, the gap between the haves and the have-nots in the United States has persisted. The share of the total national income going to the poorest 20 percent of the [United States] has increased very little in the past 20 years … only from 5.1 to 5.4 percent … between 1947 and 1967. The proportion of the low-earning group that is nonwhite has remained at about 21 percent, which is more than twice the proportion of nonwhite families in the country as a whole. And census figures reveal that a greater proportion of the bottom fifth … reside in the South. There’s still a wide gap between the haves and the have-nots in the United States. In 2018, the lowest-earning fifth of the population earned only about 3 percent of the nation’s total income, while the highest-earning fifth raked in about 52 percent. Income disparities between racial groups have also endured, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. In 2018, the average income was about $87,200 for Asian American households, $70,600 for white households, $51,500 for Hispanic households and $41,400 for black households. Poverty rates follow a similar trend: about 10.1 percent of Asian, 8 percent of white, 17.6 percent of Hispanic and 20.8 percent of black households fell below the poverty line, in which a household’s income isn’t enough to meet the family’s basic needs. America’s poorer populations are still concentrated in the South. In 2018, residents of the Northeast, West and Midwest earned an average $70,100, $69,500 and $64,100, respectively. Those in the South earned a substantially lower $57,300. Southern communities also suffer higher poverty rates — about 13.6 percent in 2018, compared with 10.3, 11.2 and 10.4 percent in the Northeast, West and Midwest, respectively. And those regional contrasts could become more severe with climate change (SN: 6/29/17).
12-4-19 Altruism 2.0: How to use science to make charitable acts go further
Effective altruists use evidence and reason to maximise the impact of their kindness. Joshua Howgego follows their lead to see if it can help him do good better. THE Athena Hotel in Blackpool, UK, looks like any ordinary seaside guest house. Behind the net curtains, it is anything but. The guests, who typically stay for months, have been selected because they share a common mission, one so important that they can’t waste precious time cooking, doing laundry or holding down a normal job. They have come to Blackpool to save the world. This is the world’s first hotel for “effective altruists”, people who take an evidence-based approach to helping others. It was purchased in 2018 with the proceeds of a cryptocurrency investment to allow data-driven philanthropists to dedicate themselves to improving and saving as many lives as possible. And yes, Blackpool was chosen for a reason. The 17-room hotel was a bargain at £130,000, freeing up the proprietor’s cash to subsidise the various projects being pursued. When I first read about this place, I felt a twinge of guilt. Like many of us, I like to think I am a good person. I spend a few evenings a month volunteering with a charity that helps people with debt problems. I give money to my church. And I buy the occasional sandwich for homeless people. Learning about the hotel made me wonder if I could do good better. Investigating how turned out to be a discombobulating experience. My principles were challenged in ways I never expected, and I ended up pondering some bizarre questions, not least how to think about the future of humanity. One thing is for sure: doing good is more complicated than you might think.The origins of effective altruism can be traced to a thought experiment devised in the 1970s by philosopher Peter Singer. Imagine you walk past a shallow pond and see a child drowning. Should you wade in and save the infant, even though it means getting your clothes muddy? Most people will answer yes in a split second. But if we do it in this case, Singer argued, why wouldn’t we do the same for people dying of malaria or from unsafe drinking water or any other of the easily preventable poverty-related conditions that persist in parts of the developing world?
12-4-19 Science's fake news problem: How funding pressures drive bad research
CLAIMS of “fake news” within the UK Houses of Parliament are nothing new. This time, however, the charge has been laid not at the door of politicians, but of scientists. And it was scientists themselves making the claims. They came at a meeting I attended last week where the British Neuroscience Association (BNA) launched a fightback against bad science with its “Credibility in Neuroscience” campaign. The problem isn’t just that some findings turn out to be wrong. It is, after all, the point of science to be constantly questioning, testing and refining hypotheses. The BNA campaign claims that the entire structural edifice of academia now encourages mistakes to be made. This starts with well-meaning efforts by managers and funders to judge researchers’ productivity. That is done by gauging how many papers they write and the prestige of the journals that publish them, as quantified by their “impact factor” – basically, an average of how often the papers they publish are cited by other papers. Researchers’ publication records increasingly govern every aspect of their career success, including pay rises, future jobs and funding for new projects. In this “publish or perish” culture, it is in their interests to produce a blizzard of papers that are groundbreaking and flashy, so as to get published in high-impact journals. With an eye to maintaining their impact factor, journals are incentivised to publish such papers, rather than ones that, for example, describe attempts to replicate others’ work. The resulting system is the antithesis of how good science should be done, namely by tackling questions in a thoughtful and systematic way and by testing and retesting any unexpected result in different labs and circumstances. Prime evidence of how bad things have become is the replication crisis in psychology, where doubts have been raised over classic findings such as priming, the idea that behaviour can be changed by subtle, unconscious cues. In psychiatry, a review published this year called into question two decades of work on a link between depression and a gene affecting the brain chemical serotonin. “It wasn’t just that people said it mattered and it didn’t, it’s that we built whole castles in the air on it mattering,” said psychologist Dorothy Bishop of the University of Oxford at the BNA event.
12-4-19 France anti-Semitism: Jewish graves defaced with Nazi swastikas
More than 100 graves at a Jewish cemetery in France have been defaced with Nazi swastikas in the latest in a wave of anti-Semitic attacks. Vandals spray-painted the gravestones in the eastern town of Westhoffen, near Strasbourg, days after another incident in a nearby village. In response, President Emmanuel Macron said France would fight anti-Semitism "until our dead can sleep in peace". France is home to a Jewish community of about 550,000 - the biggest in Europe. "Jews are and make France," Mr Macron said in a tweet on Tuesday evening. "Those who attack them, even in their graves, are not worthy of the idea we have of France," he said. France's north-eastern Alsace region, on the border with Germany, has been marked by a series of anti-Semitic acts in recent months. Chief Rabbi Haïm Korsia said he was "outraged and horrified to learn of the desecration of yet another cemetery in Alsace". As well as swastikas, the number 14 was used, a slogan linked to a white supremacist slogan. The prefect of the Bas-Rhin region, Jean-Luc Marx, visited the site to express his support for the Jewish community. The Westhoffen cemetery houses about 700 graves, including those of several relations of former Prime Minister Léon Blum, France's first Jewish leader before and shortly after World War Two. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, on a visit to the cemetery on Wednesday, said the attack was "an expression of pure hatred" and announced the creation of police taskforce against hate. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe expressed "revolt and disgust at the anti-Semitic inscriptions in two communes of Bas-Rhin", adding: "The perpetrators of these acts must be found and punished." Last week, anti-Semitic tags were daubed on the walls of the town hall in Rohr, not far from Westhoffen. Jewish officials said one of the slogans in the attack on Rohr appeared to refer to the Jewish cemetery at Westhoffen. Another town hall was attacked in the Bas-Rhin area in April, while in February, Nazi symbols and anti-Semitic slogans were spray-painted on more than 90 graves in the Alsace village of Quatzenheim. (Webmaster's comment: The Nazis are back! Death camps will soon follow!)
12-3-19 'English Only': The movement to limit Spanish speaking in US
There are an estimated 41 million Spanish speakers in the US and that number is increasing. Yet there is also a small but vocal movement to restrict the spread of Spanish. "This is a country where we speak English. It's English. You have to speak English!" Donald Trump often said during his 2016 US presidential campaign. The then presidential candidate made this point to cater to his supporters but he also used it as a strategy against some of his adversaries in the race for Republican Party nomination. One particular target was rival and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who sometimes expressed himself in Spanish. Mr Trump's tough approach to immigration paid off among sectors of the electorate that somehow share his opinion that "in the States United you have to speak English". However, Mr Trump's demand has no legal basis: the US has no official language. Videos on social networks show people criticising others for speaking Spanish in public places. The message of these videos is clear. If you are in this country, you have to speak its language. Those viral attacks generally do not occur against tourists who speak Dutch, French or Italian, for example. They are usually directed against people who speak Spanish and who, because of their work or simply because of their physical appearance, are classified as immigrants. "These reactions against people who speak Spanish are probably not new," Heidi Beirich, a researcher at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), tells BBC Mundo. "But Donald Trump unleashed feelings that were not expressed publicly so often before." The SPLC monitors hate groups in the US, which they define as any organisation that - based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities - has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.
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.