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

62 Atheism & Humanism News Articles
for January 2020
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source


1-22-20 Architect of CIA's 'enhanced interrogation' testifies at Guantánamo tribunal
A US psychologist who helped develop the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" techniques has given evidence before a military tribunal in Guantánamo Bay. James Mitchell said he had only agreed to testify there because families of the 9/11 victims were present. Dr Mitchell and fellow psychologist Bruce Jessen developed the controversial interrogation methods, which included waterboarding. Five men held at Guantánamo are due to go on trial over the 9/11 attacks. The five include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged architect of the operation that targeted Washington and New York in 2001. Mr Mohammad has alleged he was repeatedly tortured during his detention in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. CIA documents confirm he was subjected to waterboarding - simulated drowning - 183 times. The four others - Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ammar al-Baluchi and Mustafa al-Hawsawi - were also interrogated by the CIA in a network of overseas prisons, known as "black sites", before they were passed on to the US military. At a pre-trial hearing in Guantánamo, lawyers for the accused are seeking to have evidence statements that their clients made to the FBI thrown out because of the CIA interrogation methods used to extract them. A group of relatives of 9/11 victims are observing the hearing in the court's spectator's gallery, although hidden from view by a curtain, the New York Times reported. Dr Mitchell, appearing as a witness, told one of the defence lawyers that he had agreed to testify "for the victims and families. Not you". "You folks have been saying untrue and malicious things about me and Dr Jessen for years," he added, according to the New York Times. The defendants looked on without showing emotion, reporters said. The hearing is expected to last two weeks. The full trial has been scheduled to start on 11 January 2021. All five defendants are charged with war crimes including terrorism and the murder of almost 3,000 people. If found guilty, they face the death penalty.

1-22-20 Holocaust row seethes as leaders gather in Israel
Peter Feuerman's birth certificate showed nothing of his real background. His Jewish parents escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto while his mother was pregnant with him during the Nazi occupation of Poland. The couple survived only after being smuggled into a gardener's building at the home of a contact they had made in the Polish underground. Dr Feuerman was born in 1944 with what he described as "false so-called Aryan documents" to hide his Jewish identity. His parents escaped before the Nazis demolished the ghetto, where at its height an estimated 400,000 Jews were trapped inside a 3.4 sq km (1.3 sq mile) area. Most were murdered at death camps or died of starvation or disease, among up to 3 million Polish Jews murdered by the Nazis. Now he speaks of a "political game" over the legacy of the Holocaust - because as he nears his 80s the stories of mass murder and survival from the start of Feuerman's life are at the centre of a row about the distortion of history by rival nationalist leaders in Europe. They ordered coffees but some sipped vodka and the talk turned to the Polish President Andrzej Duda. Mr Duda has said he will not attend this week's Holocaust remembrance ceremony at Yad Vashem, the official memorial centre in Jerusalem. His decision has threatened to overshadow the event which will bristle with world leaders and bring parts of Jerusalem to a standstill. It marks the 75th anniversary of the Soviet liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. More than a million people, mostly Jews, were murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz. The event is one of the biggest political gatherings in Israel's history - President Macron of France, US Vice-President Mike Pence and Britain's Prince Charles are due to speak. It will also focus on fighting anti-Semitism today, taking place four days before the annual remembrance service at Auschwitz itself, hosted by Poland.

1-22-20 South Korea transgender soldier to sue over dismissal
A transgender soldier in South Korea says she will sue the army after it dismissed her for violating regulations following her sex change. Byun Hui-soo, 22, joined the army as a man but had gender reassignment surgery last year after suffering from gender dysphoria and mental health issues. She accused the military of "deep-rooted intolerance" of sexual minorities. South Korea remains conservative on matters of sexual identity. Ms Byun's case has led to debate over the treatment of transgender soldiers as well as those from the wider LGBT community. All able-bodied South Korean men are required to carry out military service for nearly two years. During an emotional 45-minute appearance, the staff sergeant said she had wanted to stay in the army after her operation, which took place in Thailand in November. "I will continue to fight until the day I can remain to serve in the army. I'll challenge the decision until the end, to the Supreme Court," she said. She had not planned on having gender reassignment surgery, she said, but was recommended to do so by doctors at a military hospital where she was sent after suffering mental health problems. They arose from gender dysphoria - defined as distress from the internal conflict between physical gender and gender identity. "It was an extremely difficult decision to let my base know of my identity, but once I did, I felt much better," she said. "I thought I would finish serving in the army and then go through the transition surgery and then re-enter the army as a female soldier. But my depression got too severe," she added. Ms Byun said she had not expected to be forced to leave the army. Her superior officers had visited her in hospital and had been discussing where she would be redeployed after her treatment, she said. They had suggested she could become a role model for LGBT people in the armed forces, she said. "Apart from my gender identity, I want to show everyone that I can also be one of the great soldiers who protect this country," she added.

1-20-20 Virginia gun rally: Thousands converge on Richmond
Thousands of gun rights supporters have converged on the centre of the US city of Richmond to protest against tighter gun laws in the state of Virginia. Many arrived in the state capital openly carrying an assortment of firearms including assault rifles. Security is tight and a cordon is in force round the state legislature, where guns cannot be carried. Virginia's gun laws had been seen as permissive, but Democratic lawmakers passed restrictions in January. This angered gun-rights activists, many making long trips from other US states to attend the rally. The protest has raised fears of a repeat of the clashes seen in 2017 in the Virginia city of Charlottesville. A woman was killed there when a neo-Nazi drove his car into a protest against a white nationalist rally. President Donald Trump, with an eye on this year's presidential election, again tweeted support for the Richmond protesters and a defence of the US Constitution's 2nd Amendment on the right to bear arms. The organisers of the rally, the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), said they expected up to 50,000 people to attend. Democratic Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency, allowing him to ban guns from Capitol Square. Queues could be seen at entrances to the "pen". Police are using metal detectors to check for weapons. But elsewhere in the city, many activists proudly displayed them. Seven members of a neo-Nazi extremist group known as The Base, at least three of whom planned to travel to the rally on Monday, were arrested last week, the FBI announced. Armed militia members and right-wing extremists were expected at the rally. But the local Antifa, or anti-fascist movement, urged its followers not to go, citing safety issues, and said no counter-demonstration was planned. However, some Antifa activists who agree with some of the aims of the gun lobby, are attending.

1-20-20 Virginia gun rally: Authorities gear up for unrest in Richmond
Pro-gun campaigners are gathering in the US city of Richmond for a rally that the Virginia authorities fear could turn violent. State governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency ahead of the protest, banning firearms from the area around the Capitol building. The Lobby Day rally is an annual event, but several gun-control bills passed in January by the Democrat-led Virginia legislature - in a state where gun rights have historically been permissive - have angered gun owners and activists. The Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights group which organised the rally, said it expected as many as 50,000 people. Many of the buses laid on from neighbouring states were sold out before the weekend. Various groups including armed militia, right-wing extremists and local Antifa, or anti-fascist movement, were expected to attend. Christian Yingling, who led the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia during the violent clashes in Charlottesville in 2017, told the BBC he was hoping for a big turnout. "I'd like to see a lot of people, I really would. I know from chatter online that a lot of militia types are coming in from some distance... Texas, Illinois, elsewhere," he said. He said he hoped the rally would pass peacefully but feared it would not. "I think there's enormous potential for something to go wrong." At a rural community hall about 20 miles south of Richmond, dozens of people from different militia groups gathered on Sunday night to talk about tactics for the following day and about the broader threat to gun rights they see in Virginia. When Greg Trojan, one of the founders of the VCDL, asked how many people had travelled in from outside the state, more than half raised their hands. Many at the meeting said they hoped for a peaceful day. Some said they anticipated violence. (Webmaster's comment: You sell guns to white male brutes and you will get what they really want to do: Be Violent and Kill.)

1-20-20 What happens to the American-born children of asylum-seekers in Canada?
For mixed-nationality families, it can mean a painful choice: take their American children back to the parents' home country or have them return to the United States. t age 13, Sandra Morales traveled with her sister from Guatemala to Detroit where she eventually met her husband, Daniel Roblero. Like her, he'd left Guatemala as a teenager. The couple didn't have legal status in the U.S., but their six kids are all American citizens. They had never thought about leaving the country until President Donald Trump took office. "When Trump started to say there would be tougher laws against immigrants," Morales said, her husband, who had already been deported from the U.S. twice, told her: "I'm afraid. If I get caught again, what's going to become of the children if they catch you? What will the children do, and where will they be sent?" she said. Daniel Roblero had brothers living in Ontario who had managed to regularize their status — they encouraged him to come north. He and Morales also heard news stories about the country's welcoming attitude toward refugees, and ultimately decided to travel to Canada in March 2017, leaving a network of friends and extended family in Detroit. Their oldest son, Gimder Roblero, now 18, took it especially hard. "I'm not going to lie, but I cried when I came here because I'm so used to living in Detroit," Gimder Roblero said. Despite living so close to the border for most of his life, he said, "It was my first time coming here, and it felt weird for me." Now, as the family seeks asylum in Canada — which hasn't been favorable thus far — they face a difficult decision about whether to keep the family together or send their children back to the U.S. to live with other relatives. They're not alone. It was around the time that the Morales-Roblero family arrived in Ontario that Canada began to see a rise in requests for asylum from people who previously lived in the United States. As a part of that, said Andrew Brouwer, a refugee attorney at Legal Aid of Ontario, "We've seen more U.S.-citizen kids, of course, coming to Canada together with their non-U.S.-citizen parents."

1-19-20 Doris Miller: US Navy aircraft carrier to honour black sailor
The US Navy is to name its new aircraft carrier after a black sailor who fought in World War II. Doris Miller earned the Navy Cross for his actions during the Japanese attack on Hawaii's Pearl Harbor in 1941. At the time, the US military was strictly segregated on racial grounds. Miller became an icon for black Americans in the conflict. Naming the ship after the heroic sailor comes more than 78 years after the events that made his name. It will be the first time an aircraft carrier has been named after an African American. Until now, they have been named after famous battles, military leaders and US presidents. The official announcement is scheduled for Monday - Martin Luther King Jr's birthday - at Pearl Harbor. The bay is the site of a massive US naval station and the base of the country's Pacific Fleet. Miller was born in 1919 in Texas, the third of four sons. He was named Doris, as his mother had thought she was having a girl, but often went by the nickname "Dorie". Jim Crow laws - a system of policies that denied black Americans their rights and segregated them from their white neighbours - dominated in the south at the time. After dropping out of high school and struggling to find work, Miller joined the Navy in 1939 at the age of 20. "Navy policy at that time limited blacks to those duties that were manual, that they thought didn't require a whole lot of intellect," historian Regina Akers told CBS News. After training, Miller was made a mess attendant - someone who took care of the white officers - and in 1940 was assigned to the battleship West Virginia. Miller ran to help his fellow sailors. He first moved his mortally wounded captain to shelter, before manning an anti-aircraft gun - strictly against regulations, as a black sailor - and firing back at the hundreds of Japanese aircraft overhead. "It wasn't hard. I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine," he said afterwards, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command website. He fired until he ran out of ammunition, before helping his wounded shipmates. He abandoned ship with the survivors as the West Virginia sank to the bottom of the harbour.

1-17-20 Boasting about war crimes
“Donald Trump is the war crimes president,” said Andrew Sullivan. During the 2016 campaign, he brazenly vowed to bring back torture as a military strategy and “exulted” in telling war crimes stories, such as an apocryphal tale about a general who used bullets dipped in pig’s blood to kill Muslims. Once in office, Trump nominated Gina Haspel as CIA director, ignoring objections that she oversaw torture of suspected terrorists under the Bush administration. Trump recently pardoned war criminal Eddie Gallagher, a rogue Navy SEAL called “freaking evil” by his SEAL colleagues, who turned him in for allegedly shooting and stabbing Iraqis—including civilians—for fun. Trump called Gallagher “one of the ‘great fighters’ in the U.S. military,” invited him to a party at Mar-a-Lago, and is likely to trot him out at campaign events. Before Trump, it was “unimaginable” for a president to exalt a war criminal—or to threaten to commit war crimes himself. Last week, the commander-in-chief warned he’d destroy cultural sites in Iran—a violation of international law—and backed down only after Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the military wouldn’t comply with such an order. For Trump, “military honor and the laws of war” are for chumps.

1-17-20 Letting Trump court cases drag on
Why are the courts taking so long to decide cases crucial to President Trump’s impeachment and chances of winning the 2020 election? asked Barry Friedman and Dahlia Lithwick. Federal courts have proven they can act “very quickly when circumstances demand it.” During Watergate, the Supreme Court even came back into session in July to rule on Congress’ demand for President Richard Nixon’s Oval Office tapes, ruling unanimously against Nixon. During the legal battle over the 2000 presidential election, the Supreme Court moved at “warp speed” to award the election to George W. Bush. But now that Trump is trying “to run out the clock” on court cases about his financial records and his refusal to let anyone who served in his administration testify before Congress, the courts—especially the Supreme Court—seem to be in no rush. Had the courts quickly ruled on the congressional subpoena issue, the House impeachment hearings might have included witnesses whose testimony would be badly damaging to Trump. Americans might also know by now why Trump is so desperate to hide his tax returns. Are Republican-appointed judges moving so slowly on crucial Trump cases for a reason? “Sometimes, not resolving a case in time for relief is a decision.”

1-17-20 Please leave
Iraq has asked the U.S. to develop a plan to withdraw its 5,300 troops from the country, but the Trump administration is refusing to do so. After a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad earlier this month, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi called Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and asked him to send representatives to Iraq to discuss withdrawal. “There are American forces entering Iraq and American drones in its sky without permission from the Iraqi government,” Mahdi said. Pompeo said Mahdi had mischaracterized the call, and insisted that the U.S. would continue its anti-ISIS mission. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the State Department and Pentagon are preparing to cut some $250 million in military aid to Iraq if Baghdad evicts U.S. troops. (Webmaster's comment: We have no right to have armed forces there. It is not our country!)

1-17-20 Seizing $7.2 billion to pay for the wall
President Trump is preparing to divert $7.2 billion in defense funding for border wall construction this year, five times what Congress authorized in the 2020 budget, The Washington Post reported this week. The money will again be repurposed from military construction projects and counter-narcotics initiatives. Dozens of Pentagon projects were halted last year, including the construction of schools on military bases, after the Trump administration reallocated $3.6 billion. Federal judges blocked that move, but last week the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the injunction, saying the county of El Paso, Texas and an activist group likely lack standing to challenge the diversion. Administration officials plan to build 885 miles of new fencing by spring 2022.

1-17-20 No sanctuary
Texas governor Greg Abbott said the state would no longer take in refugees, taking advantage of new federal policy letting states opt out of refugee resettlement. The policy has been challenged by pro-immigration groups, and has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge. If courts uphold the rule, it would be a marked shift for Texas, which in the past 18 years has taken in more refugees than any state except California. Though the mayors of Texas’ largest cities have urged Abbott to keep taking refugees, the governor said the state should focus on “those who are already here.” Forty-two governors have agreed to continue taking refugees; Texas is the first state to refuse. Immigration advocates said that opting out of the resettlement program wouldn’t keep refugees from moving to the state. “You can take the bus the next day and come to Texas,” one advocate said.

1-17-20 Deportees dumped
As part of its “safe third country” agreement with Guatemala, the U.S. has deported dozens of Central American asylum seekers to Guatemala with no planning for their resettlement. In some cases, families said, they were put on U.S. government flights without knowing what country they were going to or what to do once they arrived. Of the more than 143 Hondurans and Salvadorans sent to Guatemala since the deportation program started last month, only five have applied for asylum there, reports The Washington Post. Many are believed to have headed north to try to enter the U.S. again. Plagued by the same gang and drug violence that bedevils Honduras and El Salvador, Guatemala is not a safe country. Last year, some 264,000 Guatemalans were detained at the U.S. border—more than any other nationality.

1-17-20 FBI arrests three more members of right wing extremist group 'The Base'
Three more alleged members of a US neo-Nazi hate group have been arrested in Georgia, authorities say, in what appears to be a national operation. The arrests came on the same day that three suspected members of the same group were detained in Maryland and Delaware. All six men are reported members of white supremacist group The Base. One of the three was a Canadian army reservist who had been missing for several months after fleeing Canada. Patrik Matthews is believed to have illegally crossed into the US after his alleged affiliations with The Base were discovered. He was arrested alongside two others in the Maryland and Delaware operation. The FBI said Mr Matthews and two others planned to travel to a pro-gun rally on Monday in Richmond, Virginia. Virginia governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency on Wednesday ahead of the rally, to block attendees from carrying weapons near the grounds of the Capitol building, citing credible threats of violence. According to an arrest warrant from the Floyd County Police Department, the three Georgia men were arrested after an undercover FBI sting operation, and charged with attempted murder and participating in a criminal organisation. According to arrest affidavits, The Base is a racially motivated violent extremist group that sought to "accelerate the downfall of the United States government, incite a race war and establish a white ethno-state." Luke Austin Lane, Michael Helterbrand, and Jacob Kaderli were planning to "overthrow the government and murder a Bartow County couple" who they believed to be Antifa members, Floyd County police said in a statement. An unnamed member of The Base who crossed into the US illegally met with two members of those arrested in Georgia in October 2019 to discuss revenge attacks against his enemies, according to charging documents. The gang member, presumed to be Mr Matthews, is said to have called for the "death penalty" against anyone engaged in anti-fascist activities. (Webmaster's comment: Trump's support base is being arrested.)

1-17-20 Boeing: The gang that couldn’t fly straight
Amazingly, Boeing’s reputation has managed to hit a new low, said Natalie Kitroeff in The New York Times. The company released a catastrophically damning trove of documents to congressional investigators last week that included “conversations among Boeing pilots and other employees about software issues and other problems with flight simulators” for the 737 Max, the plane involved in two fatal crashes. Employees distrusted the plane and the training pilots would get to fly it. “Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft?” asked one in an email exchange. “I wouldn’t.” Another said the Max was “designed by clowns, who are in turn supervised by monkeys.” The messages “further complicate Boeing’s tense relationship” with the Federal Aviation Administration, which can’t be pleased to read the disdain with which Boeing treated regulators. “I still haven’t been forgiven by God for the covering up I did last year,” one employee said in 2018. The memorably incriminating quotes aren’t even the worst part here, said Dominic Gates and Steve Miletich in the Seattle Times. Boeing might say these were just employees blowing off steam, but there’s no way to explain away more “sober” internal emails that show “a culture that prioritized cost cutting over everything else.” The fact that we’re finding out about this now underlines “deep-rooted cultural problems at Boeing,” said Brooke Sutherland in Bloomberg.com. The company claims it brought these documents to the FAA in December as a “reflection of our commitment to transparency.” Please. That was nine months after the agency grounded the Max. “It defies reason that no one at Boeing knew that the company was sitting on another mountain of troubling messages.” After this episode, it’s going to be even harder to win back public confidence in the Max, said David Gelles in The New York Times. “According to Boeing’s own research, 40 percent of travelers are unwilling to fly” on the Max—if it ever returns to service. Boeing once “represented the pinnacle of engineering,” but its relentless focus on safety gave way to “obsessing over the bottom line.” Said Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the heroic pilot who landed a plane on the Hudson River, “We’ve seen this movie before, in places like Enron.” (Webmaster's comment: All corporations are the same: Profits First, Safety Second!)

1-17-20 A mugging in the hospital
A $25,000-a-year health-care plan didn’t protect me from a bad actor in an emergency situation, said Cynthia Weber Cascio. About a year ago, I developed acute appendicitis that came on rapidly overnight. “I felt so sick that we chose a nearby hospital, one we have long trusted for our family’s health,” and the ER doctor there said I would need surgery immediately. As I was about to be wheeled into the operating room, the surgeon informed me he didn’t take my insurance. “After asking about our occupations, he announced his fee for my laparoscopic appendectomy would be $15,000.” But there was no time for discussion. The surgeon’s bill later arrived totaling $17,000, and our insurance company suggested we negotiate the bill directly with the provider. That’s “akin to telling the victim of a mugging to ask the thief for her purse back. It’s uncomfortable and intimidating.” And emergency situations are “fertile ground for the opportunistic and unscrupulous. What if I had told the surgeon I thought his fee was too high? What would have happened?” Ultimately, I went to the Maryland attorney general’s office, which wrote a letter to the hospital, and we eventually settled on a payment of $3,000—an out-of-pocket cost that was still $670 above the customary rate for the procedure in our area.

1-17-20 Still a crime to take your life
When will Malaysia stop persecuting those who attempt suicide? asked M. Veera Pandiyan. Indonesia and the Philippines don’t lock up survivors of suicide attempts, and authoritarian Singapore this month decriminalized suicide. But while our Asian neighbors are busy treating their mentally ill citizens, Malaysia keeps incarcerating them. In 2017, just two weeks after trying to end her life, a 24-year-old woman had to appear in court, where a judge told her sternly that she must pay a $500 fine or go to jail for three months. The government says it is looking at changing the law, but the process is painfully slow. In the meantime, people are suffering. Ten percent of teens contemplated suicide in 2017, up from 8 percent in 2012. That might be because Malaysia currently has only 7,000 psychiatrists for a population of 32 million, and we’d need 20 times as many to reach the ratio that doctors say is necessary. Those Malaysians who can find a shrink often can’t afford one, because mental-health treatment isn’t covered by most health-insurance plans. But most Malaysians won’t even try to seek help, because of “stigma, discrimination, and neglect.” Depression is seen here as shameful. To help the mentally ill, the government needs to start at the top—first, by repealing our “archaic laws.”

1-17-20 Finding religion in the fine print
“How did God make it into millions of consumer contracts?” asked David Lazarus in the Los Angeles Times. Consider the one-year extended warranty offered by the eyewear chain LensCrafters. It excludes “‘damage from abuse’ as well as damage from ‘fire, collision, vandalism, theft, etc.’” But apparently that’s not enough: It also exempts damage resulting from “acts of God.” That would seem to include, “well, everything.” The roots of this clause can be traced as far back as a property-related case decided by an English court in 1581, which ruled that an “act of God”—a death—made the deal in question “null and void.” In recent years, it has evolved into “legal shorthand for unanticipated events beyond human control.” But according to one legal scholar, “there’s a reluctance to use a different phrase” because that one “has come to be well understood.”

1-17-20 Iran: An uprising over downed plane
Iranians have staged massive demonstrations against their oppressive theocratic regime in the past, said Jim Geraghty in NationalReview.com, but “this latest round of protests feels a little different.” After initially blaming mechanical problems, the government was forced to admit last week that its military—on high alert because it had just launched a retaliatory missile attack against U.S. bases in Iraq—accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane shortly after it took off from Tehran’s airport, killing 176 people, including 82 Iranians. Protesters took to the streets across the country, shouting “Death to liars!” and calling Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei a “murderer.” They tore up photos of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani—whose death Iran was avenging with its missile attack—and replaced them with images of dead passengers. The regime predictably blamed “U.S. adventurism,” and “yet a lot of Iranians are calling that nonsense—even after being subjected to anti-American propaganda for a decade.” Clearly, they’ve reached “their breaking point.”

1-17-20 Putin’s shake-up
The entire Russian government resigned this week after President Vladimir Putin announced sweeping constitutional changes that could secure his hold on power long after his presidential term ends in 2024. The proposed constitutional amendments would strengthen the powers of the parliament and prime minister at the expense of the presidency. Putin’s critics claim he is looking for ways to retain control after his presidency ends, one option being to become prime minister with greater powers. He previously swapped places with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in 2008 to get around the constitution’s two-term limit for the presidency. The new scheme will “allow Putin to remain in charge for an indefinite period,” said analyst Kirill Rogov. Putin said the new constitution will be ratified by referendum.

1-17-20 Being Moral
63% of Americans say that people can be moral without having a belief in God, while 36% think that people must have a belief in God to behave morally.

1-17-20 Pope vs. pope
A fight inside the Vatican took an unexpected turn this week after retired Pope Benedict XVI demanded his name be taken off a book that is widely seen as a critique of his successor. From the Depths of Our Hearts, co-written with Cardinal Robert Sarah, offers a staunch defense of priestly celibacy. It is being released just weeks before Pope Francis is expected to announce whether married men may be ordained in the Amazon to combat a shortage of priests there. Francis’ supporters claim that conservative clerics manipulated the 92-year-old Benedict into putting his name to the book. Following the outcry, Benedict said he no longer wished to be credited as co-author of the volume.

1-17-20 Brazil's culture minister sparks outrage by echoing Goebbels
A video in which Brazil's culture minister uses parts of a speech by Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Germany's propaganda boss, has sparked outrage. In the clip posted on the ministry's Twitter page, Roberto Alvim details an award for "heroic" and "national" art. Lohengrin by Wagner, Hitler's favourite composer, plays in the background. Reacting to the controversy, Mr Alvim said the speech was a "rhetorical coincidence". Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has been urged to fire him. Mr Bolsonaro, a former army captain with a conservative social agenda, has frequently accused Brazil's artists and cultural productions including schoolbooks and movies of "left-wing bias". He has not commented. In the six-minute video detailing the National Arts Awards, Mr Alvim says: "The Brazilian art of the next decade will be heroic and will be national, will be endowed with great capacity for emotional involvement... deeply linked to the urgent aspirations of our people, or else it will be nothing." Parts of it are identical to a speech quoted in the book Joseph Goebbels: A Biography, by German historian Peter Longerich, who has written several works on the Holocaust. "The German art of the next decade will be heroic, it will be steely-romantic, it will be factual and completely free of sentimentality, it will be national with great Pathos and committed, or it will be nothing." There was widespread condemnation on social media. But there were others who praised the video. In a post on his Facebook page, Mr Alvim said "the left was doing a fallacious remote association" between the two speeches, and that "there was nothing wrong with his sentence". "The whole speech was based on a nationalistic ideal for the Brazilian art and there was a coincidence with ONE sentence of a speech by Goebbels. I didn't quote him and I'd NEVER do it... But the sentence itself is perfect." He did not comment on the music that plays in the video. (Webmaster's comment: The Nazi culture and beliefs are are permeating the world's political leaders.)

1-17-20 Panama: Seven people found dead after suspected exorcism
The bodies of seven people have been found in a mass grave in an indigenous area of Panama where members of a religious sect were believed to be performing exorcisms, officials say. The victims included a pregnant woman, 32, and five of her children, aged one to 11. The sixth was a neighbour, 17. Fifteen other people were freed. Ten people have been arrested on suspicion of murder. The suspects and all victims were thought to belong to the Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous community. The grave was discovered after three villagers escaped and made their way to a local hospital last weekend, prosecutor Rafael Baloyes said. They then alerted authorities about several families being held by an indigenous-run sect. On Wednesday, police raided the community, located in a jungle region in north-west Panama some 250km (155 miles) from the capital Panama City. "They were performing a ritual inside the structure. In that ritual, there were people being held against their will, being mistreated," said Mr Baloyes. "All of these rites were aimed at killing them if they didn't repent their sins". Inside the makeshift church, officers found a naked woman, machetes, knives and a ritually sacrificed goat, Mr Baloyes said. The site was controlled by a religious sect called the New Light of God, believed to have been operating in the region for about three months. According to Mr Baloyes, the kidnapping and torture started last Saturday after one of the members claimed to have received "a message from God". The victims were then kidnapped from their homes, beaten and killed. The suspects, who include a minor, are expected to appear in court on Friday or Saturday. One of them is the father of the pregnant woman found in the grave, located some 2km from the makeshift church. Those rescued had bodily injuries and reportedly included at least two pregnant women and some children. Exorcism is a religious or spiritual ritual carried out to supposedly cure people of demonic possession. It remains controversial, in part due to its depiction in popular culture and horror films.

1-17-20 Chinese birth rate falls to lowest in seven decades
China's birth rate has fallen to its lowest since the formation of the People's Republic of China 70 years ago - despite the easing of the much criticised one-child policy. The birth rate was 10.48 per 1,000 in 2019 - the lowest since 1949, the National Bureau of Statistics said. The number of babies born in 2019 dropped by 580,000 to 14.65 million. The country's birth rate has been falling for years - posing a challenge for the world's second-biggest economy. Despite the birth rate falling, a lower death rate meant China's population hit 1.4bn in 2019, inching up from 1.39bn. But the falling birth rate is raising fears of a "demographic timebomb" - that is, a smaller working-age population having to support a bigger, retired population. China's birth rate is lower than the US, which stood at 12 per 1,000 people in 2017 (the most recent data available), but higher than Japan's figure of 8. In England and Wales, the birth rate was 11.6 in 2019, compared with 9 in Scotland. In Northern Ireland the figure was 12.1 in 2018 (the most recent data available). The overall global birth rate was 18.65 in 2017, according to the World Bank. In 1979, the Chinese government introduced a nationwide "one-child policy" - with various exceptions - to slow population growth. Families that violated the rules faced fines, loss of employment and sometimes forced abortions. But the policy has been blamed for a severe gender imbalance - with males still outnumbering females by more than 30 million in the 2019 figures. In 2015, the government ended its one-child policy, allowing couples to have two children. But that reform has failed to reverse the country's falling birth rate - despite a two-year increase immediately afterwards. Experts say this is because the relaxing of the policy did not come with other relevant changes that support family life - such as monetary support for child care and increased paternity leave. Most people can't afford more than one child, they say.

1-17-20 The Goop Lab on Netflix shows how easy it is to fall for bad science
Psychic readings, energy healing and vampire facials are just a few of the adventures had by actor and alternative health guru Gwyneth Paltrow and her team in her forthcoming Netflix series The Goop Lab. Goop, Paltrow’s natural health company, has already become a byword for unrestrained woo, but the TV series takes things to the next level. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can stick your fingers in your ears and pretend it isn’t happening. There is unlikely to be any escape from The Goop Lab after it is released on 24 January, judging by the current explosion of interest in Goop’s latest offering, a candle scented like Paltrow’s vagina, which has reportedly sold out. (Webmaster's comment: A absolute obscenity! The guys love it!) Like a car-crash unfolding in front of me, once I started watching The Goop Lab I couldn’t look away. In fact, it is so bad it is good – a masterclass in how to defend pseudoscience with a few logical fallacies, non-sequiturs and bit of cherry picking. Take the episode on energy healing, also known as Reiki healing. Practitioners say they can see energy fields around people’s bodies that are invisible to the rest of us and manipulate them with their hands. This looks as outlandish as it sounds. While the “patient” lies on a massage table, the practitioner, Paltrow’s personal healer, lightly touches or waves his hands over their body to twiddle their fields into place. Members of the Goop team jerk and arch their backs theatrically – they are either true believers or are going to heroic lengths to suck up to their boss. Most say they feel better afterwards, although one says it felt like an exorcism. As proof that it works, the show wheels out a 57-year-old man who says the technique cured him of numbness in his legs after cancer treatment. But this kind of nerve damage often fades with time, and the show doesn’t say how many people try it without success.

1-16-20 US officials ground drones over espionage fears
US officials may put an end to a civilian drone programme because of their concerns about the unmanned aerial vehicles that are made in China. The officials are apparently worried that the Chinese-made drones could be used to spy on people in the US. After a volcano exploded in Hawaii in May 2018, US scientists used drones to save a man from the lava: "Follow the drone," they said. He made it through the jungle. Drones save people. They also map terrain, survey land and inspect pipelines. The scientists use drones for these and other purposes on a daily basis, and they have bragged about their successes in the field. Many of the aircraft are made by Chinese companies, though. They are now grounded because of concerns about espionage. The drones had been deployed for years by the scientists and others at the US Department of the Interior, a federal agency that manages national parks and other duties. But the head of the federal agency, David Bernhardt, is apparently now worried that the drones could be used for espionage. He is examining the agency's civilian drone programme in an effort to determine whether or not it should be continued. During this time, many of the drones are grounded, according to an agency spokeswoman, Melissa Brown. "Until this review is completed, the secretary has directed that drones manufactured in China or made from Chinese components be grounded," according to a statement she sent to the BBC. Drones that are used to fight fires and help rescue people are still allowed to fly, she added. News of the fleet's grounding was first reported in the Financial Times. Mr Bernhardt's review of the drone programme reflects a growing concern among US officials about Chinese technology and espionage. President Donald Trump has spoken in dark terms about China, saying that its leaders have "cheated" the US and that its intelligence agents spy on people here. Chinese officials deny the accusations. Despite the rhetoric, US-China relations have improved.

1-15-20 A Scheme of Heaven reveals what scientists can learn from astrology
Astrology is bunk, but a new book exploring its ancient history argues that it has crucial lessons for today's data science with its seemingly opaque algorithms. AT THE beginning of the 15th century, Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly predicted the arrival of the Antichrist through, among other astrological signs, the future orbital alignments of Saturn and Jupiter. He foretold that the Antichrist would appear in 1789, which turned out to be the first year of the French Revolution, touted as a triumph of rationalism over religious. Astrology has spawned such stories for millennia, surviving revolutionary France and the assault of modern science through a combination of celestial intrigue and good luck. In A Scheme of Heaven, data scientist Alexander Boxer tells the fascinating tale of astrology’s ascent in ancient Egypt and Babylon, its influence over the Roman Empire and Elizabethan England and its resurgence in contemporary popular culture. His entertaining book explains fallacies that have given astrology unmerited credibility, such as the “validation” of predictions so vague almost any event would fit them. Importantly, he also reveals how equivalent sloppiness may distort data science today, especially when researchers mine data sets so vast they find meaning in coincidence. Astrology is broadly based on a belief in the interconnectedness of the heavens and Earth, and the idea that occurrences in the world can be understood or foretold by the positioning of other planets. Practical implementation of these concepts was by no means trivial. “Astrology was the ancient world’s most ambitious applied mathematics problem,” writes Boxer. The task occupied some of the greatest minds, including mathematician Claudius Ptolemy and astronomer Johannes Kepler.

1-15-20 Vatican appoints first woman to senior role in Church
Pope Francis has made an Italian lawyer the first woman to hold a management position in the Vatican's most important office. Francesca Di Giovanni, 66, will serve as undersecretary for multilateral affairs in the Secretariat of State. She will be responsible for co-ordinating the Holy See's relations with groups including the UN. Pope Francis has been vocal in his support for women holding greater positions of authority in the Vatican. "I hope that my being a woman might reflect itself positively in this task, even if they are gifts that I certainly find in my male colleagues as well," she told Vatican media. Ms Di Giovanni has worked for the Vatican for 27 years and holds a law degree. She has specialised in areas including migration and refugees, the status of women, intellectual property and tourism. "The Holy Father has made an unprecedented decision, certainly, which, beyond myself personally, represents an indication of an attention towards women," she said. "But the responsibility is connected to the job, rather than to the fact of being a woman."

1-14-20 NikkieTutorials: Beauty YouTuber reveals she is transgender
Nikkie de Jager, an influential YouTuber with millions of fans, has revealed she is transgender in an emotional video. On Monday, the 25-year-old, who is from the Netherlands, shared a video titled "I'm coming out". In it, she explains her decision was forced by someone attempting to "blackmail" and publicly out her. Known as NikkieTutorials, she is one of the most influential names in the platform's beauty community. She has been sharing make-up tutorials and reviews for 11 years and has almost 13 million subscribers. Her success has seen her collaborate with celebrities including Lady Gaga, and last year she was named a global artistry adviser for Marc Jacobs beauty. De Jager opens the 17-minute video by saying she had always wanted to share her story on her own terms, but having had the opportunity "taken away" wished to reclaim her own "power". "I can't believe I'm saying this today to all of you for the entire world to see. But damn, it feels good to finally do it. It is time to let go and be truly free," she says in the introduction. "When I was younger, I was born in the wrong body, which means that I am transgender now." In the video, de Jager reveals she was born male but had always identified as female growing up. She said that by age six - with her parents' support - she began growing her hair out and by age seven or eight wore only female clothing. She then started taking hormones and growth suppressors at age 14 and was "fully transitioned" by 19, she explains in the clip. "Oh my god this is so liberating. You had no idea that for 11 years that I've had my channel, this has been with me, and I always wanted to share this with you," she tells her fans. "But I cannot believe that after today, the world will know. But there's one thing that I really, really want to make so clear to all of you. I am me. I am still Nikki. Nothing changes about that." At one point she addresses the people she says are threatening her and makes a middle-finger gesture, telling them: "This one's for you" She also expresses her hope that her video may help and inspire others. "If you feel like you're trapped and there's no way out, know that it gets better. Trust me, it gets better," she says towards the end of the clip.

1-13-20 Former Boeing chief Dennis Muilenburg leaves with $62m
Former Boeing chief Dennis Muilenburg has left the company with $62m (£48m) in compensation and pension benefits. (Webmaster's comment: That's nearly 1/2 million for each person killed by Boeing 737 Max.) Mr Muilenburg will not receive severance pay, according to a regulatory filing by Boeing. Boeing fired Mr Muilenburg in December to restore confidence in the firm after two deadly crashes involving its 737 Max plane. It said that Mr Muilenburg received the benefits he was "contractually entitled to" and that no annual bonus was paid. In addition to the $62m in compensation and pension benefits, Mr Muilenburg holds stock options that would have been worth $18.5m at the closing price on Friday. The planemaker also confirmed that David Calhoun, its new boss, could receive a bonus of $7m, subject to whether or not he can get the 737 Max flying safely again. Boeing said it was confident that Mr Calhoun was the right person "to strengthen Boeing's safety culture, improve transparency and rebuild trust". He was appointed as chief executive and president of Boeing having served on the firm's board since 2009. The figures were disclosed during a difficult week for the planemaker, when internal messages were released that raised further questions over the jet's safety. An employee said the plane was "designed by clowns" in one of the communications. Boeing has faced scrutiny since the fatal crashes of two 737 Max planes, which killed nearly 350 people. It is facing multiple investigations following the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. Dennis Muilenburg came under fire for his pay last year during an appearance before US lawmakers. They accused the firm of building "flying coffins" and engaging in a pattern of "deliberate concealment". (Webmaster's comment: Where's the life in prison time?)

1-13-20 Retired Pope Benedict warns Francis against relaxing priestly celibacy rules
Retired Pope Benedict XVI has issued a defence of priestly celibacy in the Catholic Church as his successor considers easing a ban on married men serving as priests. Pope Benedict made the appeal in a book co-authored with Cardinal Robert Sarah. It comes in response to a proposal to allow married men to be ordained as priests in the Amazon region. Pope Benedict, who retired in 2013, said he could not remain silent on the issue. In the book, Pope Benedict says celibacy, a centuries-old tradition within the Church, has "great significance" because it allows priests to focus on their duties. The 92-year-old says "it doesn't seem possible to realise both vocations [priesthood and marriage] simultaneously". It is rare for Pope Benedict, who was the first pontiff to resign in almost 600 years, to intervene in clerical matters. The Vatican is yet to comment on the book, which was previewed in part by French newspaper Le Figaro before its full publication on Monday. Vatican commentators have reacted with surprise to Benedict's intervention, suggesting it breaks with convention. "Benedict XVI is really not breaking his silence because he (and his entourage) never felt bound to that promise. But this is a serious breach," Massimo Faggioli, a historian and theologian at Villanova University, tweeted. The comments by Pope Benedict were described as "incredible" by Joshua McElwee, a journalist for the National Catholic Reporter. A theological conservative with traditional views on Catholic values, Pope Benedict pledged to remain "hidden from the world" when he retired, citing poor health. But since then, he has made his views known in articles, books and interviews, advocating a different approach to Pope Francis, who is seen as more progressive. Pope Benedict still lives within the walls of the Vatican in a former monastery.

1-12-20 The U.S. immigration system is full of hurdles for pregnant women and new mothers
ICE data show that detentions of pregnant women increased by more than 50 percent from 2016 to 2018 A 19-year-old Honduran woman was nearly separated from her newborn soon after giving birth while in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody this month, shortly after crossing the U.S. southern border. The teen had turned herself into CBP agents at the border while in labor, seeking medical services she could not get in Tijuana, Mexico, where she had been previously. "She asked the agent when she was going to be able to see her child, and they told her that she wasn't going to be able to see the baby and that she would be taken back to Border Patrol custody and returned to Mexico," said Erika Pinheiro, litigation and policy director of Al Otro Lado, a social justice legal organization representing the mother. Pinheiro told The World there have been numerous documented cases in which CPB or Immigration and Customs Enforcement have separated newborns from their mothers after births in U.S. custody. "There's actually probably dozens of cases like this every month along the U.S. border," she said. "And we're not entirely sure of the exact scope of the problem because most of it's done in secret." Following widespread media attention and public outrage, CBP officials announced that the young mother would be allowed to stay in the U.S. with her child as her asylum claim is adjudicated. Her case is just one example of the hurdles faced by pregnant migrant women and new mothers navigating the Trump administration's tightening immigration policies. ICE did not return The World's request for information regarding separations of newly born babies from their mothers. The Honduran teen could have been sent back to Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols — a Trump administration policy under which asylum-seekers crossing at the U.S. southern border are returned to Mexico to await their U.S. immigration proceedings. And while MPP does have exceptions for vulnerable migrants — such as those with health issues — the decision to send someone to Mexico often comes down to the discretion of individual border officers. "Inconsistent review of those exceptions to the 'Remain in Mexico' policy are leading to human rights violations," said immigration attorney Ruby Powers. "The whole concept is a violation of human rights law and policy because of the lack of access to medical and legal care, as well as being left in squalor and makeshift tents along the border — children, pregnant women, people with medical conditions are at the whim of whoever comes along."

1-12-20 Thailand 'run against dictatorship' draws thousands
Thousands of people have taken part in park runs across Thailand to protest against the military-backed government and call for more political freedom. At least 10,000 people registered for the Run Against Dictatorship in the capital, Bangkok. Some 3,000 had put their names down for a similar event in another Bangkok park in support of Prayuth Chan-ocha. The former military ruler was returned to power as prime minister in elections last year. Thailand has been buffeted by political instability for years, largely a battle between supporters of the military and former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The country's military has a history of intervening in politics and has seized power 12 times since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932. Mr Prayuth, a retired general, led the military coup that removed Thaksin's sister Yingluck in 2014. In Bangkok, many anti-government protesters shouted "Prayuth, get out!" and "Long live democracy" as they jogged past a light security presence. Parallel events were held in other cities across the country. Many showed the three-finger salute used during the anti-government protests in 2014, a gesture featured in the Hunger Games series that symbolises unity amid struggle. The main run in Bangkok was considered one of the biggest shows of dissent against Mr Prayuth's government. It followed a large rally held last month by Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a billionaire who has emerged as a fierce critic of the prime minister. "We want people to feel that to come out and demand our rights and express ourselves is something that can be done," Tanawat Wongchai, who organised Sunday's event, was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying. In another park of the capital, a smaller "Walk to Cheer Uncle" event took place to show support for the government and Mr Prayuth - Thais have nicknamed the prime minister Uncle Tu.

1-11-20 Trump is setting up a massive nuclear crisis with Iran
Forget about deterrence. Trump has broken all three cardinal rules about avoiding war. Republican analysts and officials spent most the week taking a macabre and unearned victory lap, celebrating President Trump's rub-out of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and the tepid Iranian response. Lee Smith, in the New York Post, called it "a strategic victory for President Trump," that could result in "a political masterstroke." The Daily Wire's Ben Shapiro, with his trademark magnanimity, declared on Twitter that "deterrence worked, you f---ing numbskulls." Dead Soleimani Fever even spread to the theoretically sane, with Time columnist Ian Bremmer calling it "a win for Trump" and claiming that negotiations are now more likely. It's all a bit premature. While Iran chose not to further escalate this week, the situation remains combustible. The most significant danger is still an Iranian decision to pursue immediate nuclear breakout, something the president's blundering and blustering has made much more likely. First, the fog of war created by the president's decision to assassinate Soleimani led to tragedy, as Iran seems to have accidentally shot down a planeload of innocent civilians. While most of the blame goes to whichever incompetent Iranian operator pulled the trigger, the reality is that all 176 of those people, including 63 Canadians, would be alive today if the U.S. had not carried out its hit on Soleimani. For another, we should remember that a month passed between the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the outbreak of WWI. More importantly, just because both the Trump administration and senior Iranian leadership seem to share an aversion to full-scale war and pulled back from the brink this time doesn't mean that the Soleimani killing was costless for the U.S. Far from it.

1-11-20 Texas governor to reject new refugees under Trump order
The Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, has said the state will not accept new refugees under the US government's resettlement programme. The decision means Texas will become the first state known to do so. Last year US President Donald Trump signed an executive order allowing states to opt out of the programme. On Friday, Mr Abbott said Texas had done "more than its share in assisting the refugee resettlement process". Refugee agencies have criticised the move, with one calling it "deeply disappointing". Texas has large refugee populations in several of its major cities. In the 2018 fiscal year, Texas took in 1,697 refugees - more than any other state, but a large drop from 4,768 in the previous fiscal year. Justifying his decision in a letter to the US State Department, Mr Abbott argued that the state should be focused on "those who are already here, including refugees, migrants, and the homeless - indeed, all Texans". On that basis, Mr Abbott said he "cannot consent to initial refugee resettlement" in 2020, but added that the decision "does not deny any refugee access" to the US. Refugees who are already settled in other states, Mr Abbott said, will be allowed to move to Texas if they choose. However, resettlement agencies say they would not have access to federal resettlement benefits, such as housing. In September last year, President Trump announced that states must actively consent to any resettlement of refugees after June 2020. So far, the governors of more than 40 other states have said they will opt in to the government programme. Mr Trump has made reducing immigration a key aim of his administration. The president has slashed the number of refugees allowed into the country for the 2020 fiscal year to 18,000 - a record low. About 30,000 refugees were resettled in the US during the previous fiscal year. The previous lowest admissions figure was in 2002, after the 9/11 attacks, when about 27,000 refugees were allowed into the US. (Webmaster's comment: Helping non-whites is no longer allowed to be an American value.)

1-11-20 The history of scientists dismissing spiritual experiences
Reasons not to scoff at ghosts, visions, and near-death experiences. There is a long tradition of scientists and other intellectuals in the West being casually dismissive of people's spiritual experiences. In 1766, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant declared that people who claim to see spirits, such as his contemporary, the Swedish scientist Emanuel Swedenborg, are mad. Kant, a believer in the immortality of the soul, did not draw on empirical or medical knowledge to make his case, and was not beyond employing a fart joke to get his derision across: "If a hypochondriac wind romps in the intestines it depends on the direction it takes; if it descends it becomes a f–––, if it ascends it becomes an apparition or sacred inspiration." Another "enlightened" enemy of other-worldly visions was the chemist and devout Christian, Joseph Priestley. His own critique of spirit seership in 1791 did not advance scientific arguments either, but presented biblical "proof" that the only legitimate afterlife was the bodily resurrection of the dead on Judgment Day. However, there is good cause to question the overzealous pathologization of spiritual sightings and ghostly visions. About a century after Kant and Priestley scoffed at such experiences, William James, the "father" of American scientific psychology, participated in research on the first international census of hallucinations in "healthy" people. The census was carried out in 1889-97 on behalf of the International Congress of Experimental Psychology, and drew on a sample of 17,000 men and women. This survey showed that hallucinations — including ghostly visions — were remarkably widespread, thus severely undermining contemporary medical views of their inherent pathology. But the project was unorthodox in yet another respect because it scrutinized claims of "veridical" impressions — that is, cases where people reported seeing an apparition of a loved one suffering an accident or other crisis, which they had in fact undergone, but which the hallucinator couldn't have known about through "normal" means. The vicinity of such positive findings with "ghost stories" was reason enough for most intellectuals not to touch the census report with a bargepole, and the pathological interpretation of hallucinations and visions continued to prevail until the late-20th century. (Webmaster's comment: There is No God, No Devil, No Heaven, No Hell, No Supernatureal Anything!)

1-10-20 How they see us: Will Europe support U.S. on Iran?
“The killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani will go down as a turning point” in the history of the Western alliance, said Christiane Hoffmann in Der Spiegel (Germany). It’s not just that U.S. President Donald Trump failed to consult with or even inform his European allies before launching the drone strike that killed the head of Iran’s notorious Quds Force. It’s also that he has abandoned Western values altogether. With his threats to destroy Iranian cultural treasures should Tehran retaliate, Trump has shown his willingness to violate international law and adopt the barbarism of the Taliban, which demolished Afghanistan’s famed Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001. Europe “must distance itself” from this “madman in the White House” who has set America “so clearly against Western principles.” Sadly, our leaders have not done so. In a meek joint statement, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson merely called on Iran to refrain from escalation. The U.S.’s failure to give advanced warning to its NATO partners was a shocking breach of the alliance, said Rui Tavares in Público (Portugal). In the event of Iranian retaliation, many NATO countries have troops in harm’s way. Britain has some 400 troops in Iraq, and Italy more than 1,000 peacekeepers in Lebanon. And if Iran hits the U.S., we will be obliged to come to America’s aid because Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty “states that an attack on one ally is an attack on all states.” It doesn’t matter that America started this mess. Remember, Iran was contained and abiding by the 2015 nuclear deal—signed by the U.S., the European Union, Russia, China, and other powers—until Trump withdrew from the pact in 2018 and slapped punishing sanctions on Tehran. The EU tried to keep the deal alive, but Tehran has now signaled it is beyond resuscitation.

1-10-20 Asylum anger
Mexico is upset over a Trump administration decision to send Mexicans who seek asylum in the U.S. to Guatemala instead. “It’s a decision that worries us and a decision that we cannot agree with,” said Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S., Martha Bárcena. The U.S. signed a “safe third country” pact with Guatemala last year that will see Hondurans and Salvadorans who seek asylum in the U.S. settled there, even though the State Department considers it one of the world’s most dangerous countries. Now Guatemala will also host Mexican asylum seekers, many of whom fear they’ll be targeted by drug gangs. “Imagine if they send us there,” said Manuela Morales, 37, who has been waiting for months in a Mexican camp near the U.S. border for her asylum claim to be processed. “We’ll be killed directly.”

1-10-20 Anti-Semitism: America’s growing crisis
America is in the midst of “the worst wave of sustained anti-Semitic violence in our nation’s history,” said Marc Baker, Jeremy Burton, and Robert Trestan in The Boston Globe. Over the past 14 months, there have been dozens of attacks on Jews and numerous threats and incidents of vandalism and arson against synagogues, cemeteries, and homes. This ugly pogrom began when a white supremacist massacred 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018; six months later, another opened fire at a synagogue in Poway, Calif., killing one and wounding three. On Dec. 10, an anti-Semitic couple killed three people at a kosher grocery in Jersey City. On Dec. 28, a masked man stabbed five people at a rabbi’s house in Rockland County, N.Y. Over Hanukkah, at least 10 anti-Semitic incidents occurred in the New York area alone, with people being punched and attacked simply because they are Jews. “We have seen this during other times and in other countries,” but never before to this extent in America. The “conventional wisdom” has blamed an invigorated white nationalist movement and its “avatar in the White House,” President Trump, said Batya Ungar-Sargon in Forward.com. But we’ve learned in recent months that many attackers have no specific political ideology; the majority of those who’ve perpetrated the New York assaults are African-American. The blame actually lies with neither the far right nor anti-Zionists on the left but with the rise of extremism in general—and the flourishing of the ancient conspiracy theory that “secretive Jewish power” controls the world. Anti-Semitism has existed for more than 1,000 years, said Benjamin Wittes in TheAtlantic.com. People on the Left and Right who blame only one ideology are using anti-Semitism “as a weapon” rather than seriously confronting a growing problem. We’d better take the problem seriously, said Frida Ghitis in CNN.com. Throughout history, anti-Semitism has served as “the canary in the coal mine” for societies that are unraveling. When “the beliefs and ideals” that hold a society together crumble, people in different groups start viewing one another not as countrymen but as rivals, traitors, and “the other.” Jews are usually the first group to be targeted as scapegoats. History tells us that it will be deeply dangerous if anti-Semitism continues to grow in the U.S., “and not just for the Jews.” (Webmaster's comment: The Nazis are back!)

1-10-20 Church shooting: The ‘good guy’ theory
Ashooting at a Texas church “has revived the debate” over whether more people carrying guns makes society safer or more dangerous, said Dave Montgomery in The New York Times. In late December, a drifter with a lengthy criminal record “rose from the pews” of the West Freeway Church of Christ near Fort Worth, pulled a shotgun out from under his coat, and killed two congregants. No fewer than six worshippers “drew their weapons and began moving up the aisles,” as volunteer security guard Jack Wilson—a firearms instructor, gun range owner, and former reserve sheriff’s deputy—took aim and killed the shooter with a single shot to the head. Afterward, gun-rights advocates like Texas State Rep. Jonathan Stickland pointed to the episode as proof that “a good guy with a gun” can prevent a massacre. President Trump hailed the 2017 state law that allows worshippers to carry weapons into churches and synagogues. Turning Wilson’s heroism into a “PR tool” is deceptive, said Elvia Díaz in The Arizona Republic. Wilson was no “ordinary parishioner,” but rather a highly trained firearms professional who kept his cool when the shooting began. He’s exactly the kind of person “you want around with a firearm,” as opposed to a panicky civilian exchanging fire with a madman in a crowded church, movie theater, or school hallway. The shooter, Keith Thomas Kinnunen, 43, was definitely not a person you’d want to have a firearm, said The Washington Post in an editorial. His ex-wife described him as “a violent, paranoid person” who claimed he was battling a demon, and a judge once deemed him mentally incompetent to stand trial. Yet in a state with some of the loosest gun laws in the country, he somehow obtained a weapon. “Instead of turning churches and schools into armed camps,” we should focus on “keeping guns away from people who shouldn’t have them.” Strong, national background checks would be a good start.

1-10-20 Mass killings
Forty-one mass killings (defined as an event in which four or more people die, excluding the perpetrator) occurred in the U.S. during 2019—the most of any year since the 1970s. In all, 211 people died, fewer than the 224 tallied during 2017, when a gunman killed 58 people in Las Vegas.

1-10-20 Pardons probed
Kentucky’s new Republican attorney general formally requested an FBI probe last week into pardons issued by former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin after his failed re-election bid Bevin’s decision to pardon or commute the sentences of more than 650 people, including a man convicted of repeatedly raping and assaulting a 9-year-old girl, drew criticism from both parties, including from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Though Bevin’s orders benefited more than 300 nonviolent offenders, he was accused of also granting favors to supporters. One pardon went to Patrick Baker, who’d served two years of a 19-year sentence for homicide and robbery. Baker’s brother had hosted a fundraiser for Bevin, and a GOP megadonor appealed to Bevin to pardon Baker, who has insisted he was framed by the police. Attorney General Daniel Cameron said he’d assist federal and local investigators.

1-10-20 Irreconcilable
The United Methodist Church announced plans last week to split into two branches, in a schism over same-sex marriage. The country’s second-largest Protestant denomination, with roughly 9 million members, expects to let a “traditionalist” wing break off and take $25 million. The remaining United Methodist Church would allow gay marriages and LGBTQ clergy for the first time, but any local church could vote to defect with the traditionalists (and take its building with it). The announcement heads off contentious sanctions that were set to take effect against pastors who officiated at gay weddings: a one-year suspension without pay for a first offense and removal from the clergy for a second. The Nashville-based church’s large following in Africa has fiercely opposed liberal reform. Church leaders will vote on finalizing the split at their worldwide conference in May.

1-10-20 Hindu mob attacks university
Shouting “Hail Lord Ram!”—a Hindu god—dozens of masked men stormed one of India’s most prestigious universities this week, beating male and female students and professors with rods and bricks and injuring at least 42 people. Police called to the scene did not intervene and allowed the attackers to leave without arrest. Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi has long been a bastion of left-wing, secularist politics, and many of those brutalized had vocally opposed a new citizenship law passed by the Hindu nationalist government that is widely seen as anti-Muslim. “The mob violence could not have been possible without the active connivance of the administration and deliberate inaction by Delhi police,” said the JNU teachers’ union.

1-10-20 Boeing 737 Max: Worker said plane 'designed by clowns'
The release of a batch of internal messages has raised more questions about the safety of Boeing's 737 Max. In one of the communications, an employee said the plane was "designed by clowns". The planemaker described the communications as "completely unacceptable". The 737 Max was grounded in March 2019 after two fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, which killed almost 350 people in total. Boeing said it had released the hundreds of redacted messages as part of its commitment to transparency. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and US Congress were given unredacted versions of the communications last month. "These communications do not reflect the company we are and need to be, and they are completely unacceptable," Boeing said. One unnamed employee wrote in an exchange of instant messages in April 2017: "This airplane is designed by clowns who in turn are supervised by monkeys." The documents, which have been published by the Washington Post, appear to show that Boeing rejected pilots being trained on simulators, which would have led to higher costs for its customers, making its aircraft less attractive. "I want to stress the importance of holding firm that there will not be any type of simulator training required to transition from NG to Max," Boeing's 737 chief technical pilot at the time, Mark Forkner, said in a March 2017 email."Boeing will not allow that to happen. We'll go face to face with any regulator who tries to make that a requirement." On Tuesday this week, Boeing reversed its position by recommending 737 Max simulator training for all pilots. These messages refer to Boeing employees telling lies, covering up problems and treating regulators with contempt. They reinforce the impression - already expressed vividly by whistleblowers and in Congressional hearings - that Boeing was a company that had lost its way, focused on maximising production and keeping costs down, rather than on safety. (Webmaster's comment: As I've said before for American companies it's PROFITS FIRST, SAFETY SECOND! Company executives need to be sent to prison for long prison sentences for human injury of any kind!)

1-10-20 US House votes to limit Trump war powers on Iran
The US House of Representatives has approved a largely symbolic resolution seeking to limit President Donald Trump's ability to make war on Iran. The measure passed the Democratic-run chamber 224-194, but faces an uphill climb in the Republican-held Senate. It aims to mandate congressional approval for any conflict with Iran, except in cases of an imminent attack against the US. Neither the US nor Iran has declared plans for further military action. Iran this week fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing American forces, injuring no-one, after the US last week killed a senior Iranian commander in a Baghdad drone strike. Thursday's measure directed the president to "terminate the use of United States Armed Forces" against Iran unless granted congressional authorisation. It offered an exception when necessary to "defend against an imminent armed attack". Even if the House measure cleared Congress, it would not face a potential Trump veto because it is known as a concurrent resolution, which does not require a presidential signature. The proposal cited the 1973 War Powers Act, which granted Congress the ability to check the president's power to commit the US to armed conflict. But legal questions remain unresolved as to whether Congress can use a concurrent resolution to bind the president. The Democratic leader of the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said earlier on Thursday she did not believe Mr Trump had made the US safer after last week's drone strike that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California called the resolution a "meaningless vote", while Republican House Whip Steve Scalise dismissed it as "a press release?. Mr Trump, a Republican, had tweeted that he hoped "all House Republicans will vote against Crazy Nancy Pelosi's War Powers Resolution". (Webmaster's comment: Trump makes us less safe by his commission of war crimes!)

1-10-20 Trump says he deserves Nobel Peace Prize not Abiy Ahmed
US President Donald Trump seems to think that he was overlooked for last year's Nobel Peace Prize. "I'm going to tell you about the Nobel Peace Prize, I'll tell you about that. I made a deal, I saved a country, and I just heard that the head of that country is now getting the Nobel Peace Prize for saving the country. I said: 'What, did I have something do with it?' Yeah, but you know, that's the way it is. As long as we know, that's all that matters... I saved a big war, I've saved a couple of them." A video clip of him talking to supporters at a campaign event in Toledo, Ohio, on Thursday evening was shared on Twitter: Although he did not name the Nobel Peace Prize winner or the country, it is clear that Mr Trump was referring to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Mr Abiy, 43, is Africa's youngest head of government. He came into office in April 2018 after months of anti-government protests forced his predecessor to resign. Mr Abiy has introduced massive liberalising reforms to Ethiopia, shaking up what was a tightly controlled nation. He freed thousands of opposition activists from jail and allowed exiled dissidents to return home. He has also allowed the media to operate freely and appointed women to prominent positions. And in October last year, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize - the only head of state to win the prize since Mr Trump was elected in 2016. The Norwegian Nobel Committee said Mr Abiy was honoured for his "decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea". The two countries fought a bitter border war from 1998-2000, which killed tens of thousands of people. Although a ceasefire was signed in 2000, the neighbours technically remained at war until July 2018, when Mr Abiy and Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki signed a peace deal. So for two decades, the long border was closed, dividing families and making trade impossible. (Webmaster's comment: NO PEACE PRIZE for Trump the war criminal!)

1-10-20 China has developed the world’s first mobile quantum satellite station
The world’s first portable ground station for sending and receiving secure quantum communications is up and running. The station has successfully connected to China’s Quantum Science Satellite, nicknamed Mozi, which was launched in August 2016. Ji-Gang Ren at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei and his colleagues used the mobile station to send a secure data transmission from Jinan in north-east China. Unlike the ground station used when Mozi launched, which weighed more than 10 tonnes, the mobile station weighs about 80 kilograms and is small enough to be installed on top of a car. The significant downsizing comes with a slight reduction in transmitting power. The mobile ground station transmits data at a rate of between 4000 and 10,000 bits per second, compared with about 40,000 bits per second for larger stations, says Ren. The team used the mobile ground station to perform quantum key distribution, a form of secure communication in which particles of light, called photons, are transmitted. It enables two parties to share a secret key that is used to encrypt and decrypt information. A key was relayed via Mozi between the mobile ground station in Jinan and a fixed station in Shanghai. Building a mobile quantum ground station was motivated by demand from users, such as the state-owned Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), for equipment that didn’t require purpose-built infrastructure, says Ren. ICBC and the People’s Bank of China are already using satellite-based quantum key distribution between distant cities, such as Beijing in north-east China and Urumqi in the far north-west. Portable ground stations will be used by these banks in the near future, says Ren. They are also being used by the municipal government in Jinan.

1-9-20 The world is abandoning America
At a moment of crisis, the United States appears to stand nearly alone. For three years, President Trump has tried to disentangle the United States from the burdens of world leadership. This week, it appears he has succeeded. One of the most notable aspects of the crisis between the United States and Iran is how little the international community rallied to America's side. Yes, Israel's government applauded the president for "acting forcefully" in the assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, but many other traditional U.S. allies were at least a bit muted in their responses, and a few actively distanced themselves. The government of Iraq voted to cast out American troops. Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, said he wouldn't "lament" Soleimani's death, but joined other European leaders in calling on both sides to stop the escalation of violence. Saudi Arabia sent a delegation to Washington, D.C., asking the president to pull back from the brink of war. And while Israel offered its public support to the U.S., Netanyahu also reportedly told his cabinet that "the assassination of Soleimani isn't an Israeli event but an American event. We were not involved and should not be dragged into it." Times have changed. Even in 2003, when the United States invasion of Iraq was widely unpopular around the world, America was able to muster a much-mocked "coalition of the willing" of some four dozen countries — mostly lesser powers — to act as allies, either by sending troops or with mere expressions of support. Britain remained a steadfast ally during that time, but at the cost of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair's reputation and political support: He will forever be remembered in his home country as George W. Bush's "poodle." Now? At a moment of crisis, the United States appears to stand nearly alone in the world. Much of this is Trump's fault. At home, there has been criticism of the White House's failure to brief lawmakers on the Soleimani assassination — but most important U.S. allies were also given the silent treatment ahead of the attack. Israel, of course, was the exception to this rule, along with some of Trump's guests at Mar-a-Lago. The result has been barely disguised irritation from governments around the world — particularly countries, like Canada, that also have troops in the region.

1-8-20 Embracing flat Earth science denialism can help us overcome it
Our positive experiences with flat Earthers show how we can combat science denialism by embracing it, not spurning it, say David Westmoreland and Connor McCormick. THERE are about 3 million people in the US who believe our planet is flat. Buoyed by social media and increased publicity due to the Netflix documentary Behind the Curve, their numbers are growing. You should meet them. If you do, they are likely to ask: “How confident are you that the Earth is round? How do you know?” What would you say? We have a better idea than most. For the past year, we have met regularly with our local flat-Earth group. We gather in a cafe around a flat table, marked by a sign of yellow Lego bricks shouting “FLAT EARTH” on a green background. Passers-by throw furtive glances at the sign, then at us. The meetings are intriguing. The flat-Earthers aren’t joking. They honestly believe that Earth is flat and stationary, that satellites don’t orbit and that Antarctica isn’t a real continent, but a ring of ice encircling the planet like salt on a margarita glass. It isn’t that they are ignorant about science – certainly not compared with the average citizen. The Pew Research Center recently reported that people in the US scored an average of 6.7 out of 11 on a multiple-choice science quiz. We gave it to 20 of our flat-Earther friends. Their average score was 10. But they do question everything about mainstream science. Flat-Earthing is like buying internet service. It comes with optional extras: denial of gravity, anti-vaccination allegiance, rejection of Albert Einstein’s relativity. People bundle, picking and choosing the package they like best. Some of this is commendable. A questioning attitude is, after all, a distinctive mark of rationality and central to the empirical process. Flat-Earth activists stand out among science deniers in setting up instruments, taking measurements and sharing results. We have collaborated with them to try to determine whether a lake’s surface follows a round planet’s predicted curve, and how much shadows lengthen at higher latitudes on the winter solstice, with as-yet inconclusive results. True, these “experiments” may be poorly designed. But flat-Earthers care about truth, even if their conclusions differ from our own.

1-6-20 The hawks were wrong about everything
We are watching the real-time collapse of several generations of aggressive U.S. policy in the Middle East. n Iraq and Iran — and in the Middle East generally — America's hawkish establishment has gotten just about all the important questions wrong. The hawks have been mistaken about so much for generations now, both strategically and morally. It is time to stop listening to them. Need proof? Ask yourself this question: Has any foreign policy decision in recent U.S. history gone so clearly and quickly wrong as the assassination of Iran's Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani? Soleimani was killed Friday. Over the course of the ensuing weekend, the following occurred:

  1. U.S. officials warned Americans to leave Iraq — and, for safety's sake, to avoid approaching the embassy in Baghdad. Back at home, cities started bracing for possible terrorist attacks. Soleimani's death was supposed to make Americans safer, but the reaction of authorities clearly suggested the opposite had happened.
  2. Iranian leaders announced they will no longer abide by the limits of the Obama-era agreement that had put a long-term pause on their nuclear program. That's no surprise, given that President Trump had long since torn up that agreement and imposed sanctions on Iran, starting the cycle of tit-for-tat escalation that culminated in Soleimani's death. Trump backed out of the deal saying he could get a better one. Instead, Iran's nuclear program may be proceeding and we are on the cusp of outright war.
  3. Iraq's parliament voted to expel American troops from the country. Trump, continuing to demonstrate his utter disregard for that country's sovereignty, threatened sanctions if Iraq follows through — and said he would demand payment for U.S. improvements to an Iraqi base occupied after America's 2003 invasion. We promised to be liberators in Iraq; now Trump has retroactively decided we should act as conquerors and colonizers instead. The invasion was a failure, but Trump — who criticized the war — has now made the results worse.
  4. The sanctions threat came after Trump threatened to commit war crimes — attacks on Iranian cultural sites — as retaliation for any Iranian attacks on U.S. people or assets. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tried to walk back that threat, but the president on Sunday night doubled down. America's moral credibility abroad, already in shaky standing, probably suffered a grievous blow — as well it should.
  5. Saudi Arabia, which has no love for Iran — and is engaged with Iran in a proxy war in Yemen — sent a delegation to Washington to plead for cooler heads to prevail. "They are telling Trump, 'Please spare us the pain of going through another war that would be destructive to the region,'" Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a political science professor, told Bloomberg News. Even Saudi Arabia wants no part of the mess Trump is making.

What a disaster. Events proceeded so quickly it became reasonable to wonder if we are watching the real-time collapse of several generations of aggressive U.S. policy in the Middle East. If so, the catastrophe will have been well-earned — both by Trump and by the hawks who have proven so enduringly influential in his administration. They have been wrong about everything.

1-5-20 Trump says US ready to strike 52 Iranian sites if Tehran attacks
President Trump has warned the US is "targeting" 52 Iranian sites and will strike "very fast and very hard" if Tehran attacks Americans or US assets. The president's remarks followed the US assassination of Qasem Soleimani, a top Iranian general, in a drone strike. Soleimani's killing was a major escalation between the two nations, and Iran vowed to take "severe revenge". Writing on Twitter, Mr Trump accused Iran of "talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets". He said the US had identified 52 Iranian sites, some "at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture", and warned they would be "HIT VERY FAST AND HARD" if Tehran struck at the US. The president said the targets represented 52 Americans who were held hostage in Iran for more than a year from late 1979 after they were taken from the US embassy in Tehran. Shortly after the president's tweets were posted, the website of a US government agency appeared to have been hacked by a group calling itself "Iran Cyber Security Group Hackers". A message on the American Federal Depository Library Programme site read: "This is a message from the Islamic Republic of Iran. "We will not stop supporting our friends in the region: the oppressed people of Palestine, the oppressed people of Yemen, the people and the Syrian government, the people and government of Iraq, the oppressed people of Bahrain, the true Mujahideen resistance in Lebanon and Palestine, [they] will always be supported by us." The web page contained a doctored image of President Trump, depicting him being hit in the face and bleeding at the mouth. "This is only small part of Iran's cyber ability!" read text on the site. (Webmaster's comment: Trump wants a war and is taking actions to get one. A war would keep the focus off his many other failings. It will cost thousands of American lives and ten's of thousands of civilian lives in the Middle East! Is this how you Make America Great Again? With mass murder?)

1-5-20 Qasem Soleimani: Iraqi MPs back call to expel US troops
Iraqi MPs have passed a resolution calling for foreign troops to leave the country after the US killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike at Baghdad airport last week. Parliament in Baghdad also called for a ban on foreign forces using Iraqi land, airspace or water for any reason. The US has some 5,000 military personnel in Iraq, mainly as advisers. Thousands of Iraqis attended a funeral procession for Soleimani before his body was flown to Iran. Iraq finds itself in a difficult position as an ally both of neighbouring Iran and of the US. Thousands of US troops remain in the country to assist in the broader struggle against the Sunni Muslim Islamic State (IS). But the government sees the killing as a violation of its sovereignty, and of the terms of the coalition presence in Iraq. Meanwhile, a variety of Shia Muslim militia groups in Iraq are supported by Iran, and there are concerns that parts of Iraq's population sympathetic to Iran have been alienated by the killing, and that militant groups may seek revenge. Iraq's parliament met as hundreds of thousands of people turned out in Iran to mourn Soleimani. The non-binding resolution was passed by the Iraqi parliament on Sunday after the caretaker Prime Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, called for an end to the foreign military presence in a speech to MPs. Calls for revenge have multiplied in Iran since Soleimani's assassination, which has thrown US foreign policy in the Middle East into question. (Webmaster's comment: Middle East countries call for an end to the indiscriminate killing of their citizens by the United States!)

1-5-20 Qasem Soleimani: Mourning begins in Iran
The body of Qasem Soleimani, a top Iranian general killed in a US drone strike, has been brought back to Iran. Footage filmed by Iran Press shows huge crowds taking to the streets of the Iranian city of Ahvaz, marking the beginning of ceremonies in his honour. General Soleimani's burial will take place in his home town of Kerman on 7 January. (Webmaster's comment: Trump has created a martyr!)

1-3-20 Trump's perilous delusions about Tehran
The United States brazenly assassinated Iran's most senior security and intelligence official, Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad on Thursday, in a dangerous and wildly illegal act of escalation with no discernible underlying policy goal. For Iran hawks, Soleimani had become a boogeyman, a shadowy figure at whose feet we could place responsibility for the past 30 years of unmitigated American policy disaster in the Persian Gulf. Yet Soleimani, though an important operator, was not at all the cause of Iranian foreign policy behavior or America's regional struggles. His assassination proves that President Trump is under the sway of a very dangerous delusion: that because he personally does not want a full-on shooting war with Tehran, he can engage in any insane provocation he likes without triggering one. Sooner or later, he is going to run out of luck. The murder of Soleimani is only the most recent manifestation of the Trump administration's dangerous policy of escalation with Iran. The president has consistently brought his very worst instincts to the Persian Gulf and to the Iranian file in particular. He sees Iranian aggression and perfidy behind everything, and reads almost all policy decisions through the lens of a paranoid and implacable hostility to Tehran. He has obviously spent too much time alone in rooms with smooth-talking Saudi majesties and potentates eager to have the United States sign on to another long era of bottom-lining Gulf Arab sovereignty with American lives and treasure. Trump wants to bully the Iranians while simultaneously making it clear that he is terrified of an actual shooting war with Tehran. Here more than anywhere else, his total lack of even a cursory understanding of the history of U.S.-Iranian relations or even a third-grader's grasp of Tehran's motivations and goals is painfully obvious. He simply cannot fathom why Iran acts the way it does, cannot conceptualize that the regime has its own security goals and needs, and believes that Iranian leadership will respond positively to the kind of loose gangster bravado that the president regards as sufficient to achieve the easy foreign policy 'wins' he and his team dream of tweeting about triumphantly.

1-3-20 America is guilty of everything we accuse Iran of doing
Donald Trump drastically escalated the United States' ongoing conflict with Iran on Thursday night by ordering the assassination of Iran's General Qassem Soleimani with an airstrike on the Baghdad International Airport. It takes what was arguably already a war (with an economic blockade and regular skirmishes with Iranian proxy forces) to a straight-up shooting war. Events like this bring out the absolute worst in the American foreign policy community. Many conservative writers and thinkers, including former National Security Adviser John Bolton, the Hudson Institute's Michael Doran, and Commentary's Noah Rothman, openly cheered this Putin-style cold-blooded murder of a foreign statesman. Other more supposedly nonpartisan commentators uncritically parroted Trump administration assertions that Iran was planning something bad. Every top Democratic presidential candidate except Bernie Sanders was careful to foreground that Soleimani was a bad guy before condemning the assassination in their initial comments. The truth is that Soleimani was not all that different from any of about five dozen current and former American politicians and bureaucrats — if anything, he was considerably more restrained about the use of force. Yes, he was involved in a lot of bloody wars — but so was every American president since 2000, and besides half the wars he fought in were started or fueled by the United States. It's just another instance of America's gigantic hypocrisy when it comes to war. So yes, Soleimani has fueled a lot of nasty conflicts and killed a lot of people, directly or indirectly, many of them American soldiers — though it's worth noting also that much of his recent effort has been dedicated to fighting ISIS (with great effectiveness, by all accounts) in a tacit uneasy alliance with U.S. forces.

1-3-20 Qasem Soleimani: US kills top Iranian general in Baghdad air strike
Iran's most powerful military commander, Gen Qasem Soleimani, has been killed by a US air strike in Iraq. The 62-year-old spearheaded Iranian military operations in the Middle East as head of Iran's elite Quds Force. He was killed at Baghdad airport, along with other Iran-backed militia figures, early on Friday in a strike ordered by US President Donald Trump. Mr Trump said the general was "directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions of people". Soleimani's killing marks a major escalation in tensions between Washington and Tehran. Under his leadership, Iran had bolstered Hezbollah in Lebanon and other pro-Iranian militant groups, expanded its military presence in Iraq and Syria and orchestrated Syria's offensive against rebel groups in the country's long civil war. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said "severe revenge awaits the criminals" behind the attack. He also announced three days of national mourning. Soleimani was widely seen as the second most powerful figure in Iran, behind the Ayatollah Khamenei. The Quds Force, an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, reported directly to the ayatollah and Soleimani was hailed as a heroic national figure. But the US has called the commander and the Quds Force terrorists and holds them responsible for the deaths of hundreds of US personnel. President Trump, who was in Florida at the time of the strike, tweeted an image of the American flag shortly after the news broke. Tweeting again on Friday, Mr Trump said Soleimani had "killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans... and was plotting to kill many more" and "should have been taken out many years ago". "While Iran will never be able to properly admit it, Soleimani was both hated and feared within the country," he said. (Webmaster's comment: This amounts to a deliberate act of war on another country by our government!)

1-3-20 US announces countrywide ban on flavoured e-cigs
The US has announced a countrywide ban on some e-cigarette flavours amid concerns about vaping among teens. The ban applies to mint and fruit flavours that are offered in cartridge-based e-cigarettes, like the popular pods sold by Juul. The US will continue to allow menthol and tobacco flavours, as well as fruit flavours delivered in other ways. The action has been under consideration for more than a year, with several states passing similar rules. South Korea, India, Brazil are among the dozens of countries that have announced sweeping vaping bans. Others, like China, have announced restrictions. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the Trump administration wanted to continue to offer adults an alternative to traditional cigarettes, while responding to concerns about growing addiction to a new product among teens. "By prioritizing enforcement against the products that are most widely used by children, our action today seeks to strike the right public health balance," he said. Fifty-five people have died and more than 2,500 people have been hospitalised with injuries linked to vaping, US health regulators say. nvestigators have said they believe vitamin E acetate, which is sometimes added to marijuana vaping products, is playing a role. Citing the crisis, President Trump said in September the US would ban all e-cigarette flavours except tobacco, but the administration loosened its position after pushback from the industry. "We have to protect our families. At the same time, it's a big industry. We want to protect the industry," Mr Trump said this week. Juul, the biggest e-cigarette company in the US, had already pulled its flavoured pods from the market, but Thursday's action forces competitors to make a similar move, within 30 days. Advocates for stricter rules have said that teens will switch to menthol if other options are eliminated. But officials said they would take steps against menthol and tobacco flavoured e-cigarettes if the Food and Drug Administration sees that their use among teens is rising.

1-2-20 4 lies about America's perpetual wars
Enough is enough. merican policy in the Greater Middle East is a wasteful and pointless mess that's depleting American resources, endangering American lives, and making a mockery of American ideals. If you doubt it, just open your eyes to the evidence. Go ahead and peruse the Afghanistan Papers, The Washington Post's exhaustive reporting on the lies that three administrations have told the American people about the prospects for success in what is now easily the nation's longest war. Or read coverage of the chaos in Libya nine years after we intervened to topple its government. Or inform yourself about the crimes committed by Saudi Arabia, with our backing and support, in Yemen. Or follow the news of how our efforts to thwart Iran's ambitions in Iraq have inadvertently sparked a spasm of anti-American outrage that led our heavily fortified embassy in Baghdad to be overrun by protesters. How long will our country expend its blood and treasure attempting to impose its will on this part of the world? The answer should be that we'll stay not one day longer than it takes to extract our forces from the region. America is long overdue to come home from its three-decade-long Mideast misadventure. This isn't a call for the "isolationism" that all-purpose interventionists are always warning against. It's a call for sobriety and clear-sighted honesty about America's vital interests and a tough-minded evaluation of whether our actions from North Africa to South Asia in the 30 years since the first Gulf War have furthered those interests. Those who favor keeping or expanding our presence in the region make a series of assertions, every one of which collapses on closer inspection.

  1. "We need the oil." This may have been a compelling argument when we first inserted large numbers of American forces into the region to defend Saudi oil fields from Saddam Hussein's army in the wake of the Iraqi dictator's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
  2. "American forces are needed to impose stability/counter Iranian aggression in the region." Since 2001, the U.S. has been playing a game of Whack-a-Mole with the Taliban in Afghanistan. We've overthrown the government of Iraq, empowering Iran by eliminating its strongest regional rival and sparking an insurgency and civil war that gave birth to the Islamic State.
  3. "Our military presence in the region is necessary to defend democracy." The problem with this rationale is that our definition of democracy is hopelessly contradictory. We usually intend it to mean "help the locals adopt American-style political and economic reforms and join the liberal international order."
  4. "Withdrawal will make us look weak." Since the end of the Cold War, foreign policy thinking in the nation's capital has degraded. Often it deploys childishly simple dichotomies, like the Manichean alternatives of "strength" and "weakness"

1-2-20 Trump has created a foreign student crisis
A company that spurned talent it badly needed couldn't thrive. The same is true for a country. But that isn't stopping the Trump administration from blithely driving foreign students into the open arms of other countries with its ill-advised immigration policies. For three years in a row, the number of new foreign students enrolling in American universities has fallen. In the 2015-16 academic year, 300,743 new foreign students enrolled. That number dropped to 269,383 in 2018-19, a decline of 10.4 percent as per the data of Open Doors, the Institute of International Education's (IIE) annual report that tracks university enrollments. Nor is the situation likely to improve in the academic year currently underway given that a snapshot survey of 500 universities by the IIE this fall found declining enrollment — although full stats won't be available until later in 2020. When enrollments initially started plummeting, many people blamed external factors like better educational opportunities at home or Saudi Arabia's decision to yank government scholarships from Saudi students studying abroad rather than this administration's anti-immigration agenda. While other things might have had an effect on the margin, if they were the main cause, then other countries would be experiencing a decline too. The opposite is the case. National Foundation for American Policy's Stuart Anderson points out that Canada has been attracting a record number of international students in recent years. In 2017, it experienced a 20 percent spike and then another 16 percent the following year, a phenomenon that Canadians call the "Trump bump." Meanwhile, Australia experienced a whopping 47 percent increase in new foreign students between 2015 and 2018. In particular, America is losing Chinese students while Australia is gaining them. One likely reason is that Trump has called them all spies (an absurd accusation given that that 9 out of 10 would prefer to stay on and work in America rather than return to the communist dictatorship) and threatened to ban them from the country in a naked bid to force Beijing to succumb to his trade demands.

1-1-20 How the U.S. immigration system nearly tore this LGBTQ couple apart
It's impossible for most LGBTQ migrant couples to prove their partnership to U.S. officials, which often leads to separation. After living as an openly gay couple in Honduras, Oscar Juarez Hernandez and Darwin Garcia Portillo thought the United States was the last place where their inability to get married might get in the way of their future together. In March 2019, Juarez Hernandez and Garcia Portillo entered the United States at the San Ysidro port of entry in San Diego expecting to claim asylum based on persecution in Honduras due to their sexual identities. However, soon after they arrived, border officers separated them, telling Garcia Portillo he would be sent to a for-profit detention facility in Louisiana. Juarez Hernandez was sent to detention in Colorado. Due to the widely different asylum approval rates by state, there was a chance that would be the last time they saw each other. In Colorado, 22 percent of asylum claims were granted in fiscal year. Louisiana, by contrast, granted less than 10 percent of claims. "I watched them through a tiny crack in the wall, taking Darwin away in handcuffs," Juarez Hernandez says, recalling the moment that he realized he might never see his partner again. "They didn't even let us hug goodbye." If Juarez Hernandez and Garcia Portillo had been married, things might have worked out differently. While they likely still would have been separated while waiting for their asylum cases to be processed, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services policy states that a married asylum seeker can sponsor their spouse through "derivative asylee" status, a process which essentially ensures that they can remain together so long as they can present a marriage or civil union certificate. However, for most LGBTQ couples coming from Central America, it is logistically impossible to get married before arriving to the United States. In Honduras — and most other Latin American countries — same-sex marriage is illegal, making it impossible for most LGBTQ migrant couples to prove their partnership to U.S. officials. No legal document recognizes their relationship. Therefore, they could have easily found themselves in a situation where one person was granted asylum, while the other was deported. "If a couple is not married, there is no way to link them in the immigration system," said Allegra Love, executive director of Santa Fe Dreamers, an organization that supports recently-arrived LGBTQ migrants. While this U.S. policy also impacts unmarried heterosexual couples, it is particularly devastating for LGBTQ couples, who often fled their home countries because of their sexual orientations and romantic relationships.


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Atheism News & Humanism Articles for December 2019