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

49 Atheism & Humanism News Articles
for December 2017
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source

12-11-17 Saudi Arabia to allow cinemas to reopen from early 2018
Saudi Arabia has announced it will lift a ban on commercial cinemas that has lasted more than three decades. The ministry of culture and information said it would begin issuing licences immediately and that the first cinemas were expected to open in March 2018. The measure is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 social and economic reform programme. The conservative Muslim kingdom had cinemas in the 1970s, but clerics persuaded authorities to close them. As recently as January, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al al-Sheikh reportedly warned of the "depravity" of cinemas, saying they would corrupt morals if allowed. Saudi Arabia's royal family and religious establishment adhere to an austere form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism, and Islamic codes of behaviour and dress are strictly enforced. (Webmaster's comment: Be very glad you don't live there!)

12-10-17 Scientists say alone time may be linked to creativity
You may be eagerly anticipating spending time with friends and family over the holidays. But you may also be dreading the obligation to do so, preferring to be alone. New research suggests that, as long as it isn't driven by fear, there's nothing inherently wrong with that impulse. In fact, it may stimulate a much-valued ability: creativity. When it comes to social withdrawal, "motivation matters," said University of Buffalo psychologist Julie Bowker. In the journal Personality and Individual Differences, she and two colleagues distinguish between three such catalysts, and discover they produce quite different results. The study featured 295 undergraduates at a large public university in the United States. Participants filled out a survey that allowed them to delineate specific reasons for avoiding social gatherings: shyness ("Sometimes I turn down chances to hang out with others because I feel too shy"), avoidance ("I try to avoid spending time with other people"), and unsociability ("I don't have a strong preference for being alone or with others"). People whose answers reflected shyness or avoidance scored low on creativity, and high on both types of aggression, an attitude presumably reflecting loneliness or frustration. But the opposite was true of unsociability. People who displayed that trait were less likely to engage in aggressive behavior, and more likely to report that they were creatively engaged. "Anxiety-free time spent in solitude may allow for, and foster, creative thinking and work," the researchers note. Rather than viewing unsociability "as a relatively benign form of withdrawal," this research suggests it "may be better characterized as a potentially beneficial form of withdrawal." (Webmaster's comment: When pumped up on a social media adrenaline high it's hard to imagine any person having creative thoughts!)

12-10-17 Art from inside Guantanamo Bay's prison
Ode to the Sea is a collection of artworks made by inmates from the controversial military prison, Guantanamo Bay. The exhibition is on display at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. (Webmaster's comment: Are all the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay really guilty of any crime? They have never been charged and tried in a court of law.)

12-9-17 What makes the human mind so special?
It might not be self-awareness, as many have thought for years. Everyone knows what it feels like to have consciousness: It's that self-evident sense of personal awareness, which gives us a feeling of ownership and control over the thoughts, emotions, and experiences that we have every day. Most experts think that consciousness can be divided into two parts: The experience of consciousness (or personal awareness), and the contents of consciousness, which include things such as thoughts, beliefs, sensations, perceptions, intentions, memories, and emotions. It's easy to assume that these contents of consciousness are somehow chosen, caused, or controlled by our personal awareness — after all, thoughts don't exist until until we think them. But in a recent research paper in Frontiers of Psychology, we argue that this is a mistake. We suggest that our personal awareness does not create, cause, or choose our beliefs, feelings, or perceptions. Instead, the contents of consciousness are generated "behind the scenes" by fast, efficient, non-conscious systems in our brains. All this happens without any interference from our personal awareness, which sits passively in the passenger seat while these processes occur. Put simply, we don't consciously choose our thoughts or our feelings — we become aware of them. If this sounds strange, consider how effortlessly we regain consciousness each morning after losing it the night before; how thoughts and emotions — welcome or otherwise — arrive already formed in our minds; how the colors and shapes we see are constructed into meaningful objects or memorable faces without any effort or input from our conscious mind.

12-8-17 Food delivery robots are teaching themselves how to cross roads
Until now, delivery robots have always needed humans to help them when things get tricky. Now machine learning has helped them work out how to manage without us. Ding dong! That’ll be the robot with my pizza. Such a scenario probably seems a bit far-fetched but, in the US and UK, delivery firms like JustEat and DoorDash are already experimenting using small robots to deliver groceries and meals. Currently these systems need human chaperones to monitor the robot’s progress, jumping in if it gets into trouble. But now Kiwi, a company based at the University of California, Berkeley, is using machine learning to teach its delivery robots how to cross the road safely, without any human intervention. It could be an important step in making these robots more autonomous, something that is vital if they are ever going to be delivering our dinners at scale. Such a system could also help delivery firms with the tricky ‘last mile’ problem of logistics – the fact that getting parcels to your door is the most expensive bit of the delivery process. Kiwi launched in April this year and lets students order food from campus restaurants via an app, to be delivered by its small fleet of robots. The robots use a mixture of camera sensors, lasers and an in-built map of the campus to find their way between restaurants and student addresses. (Webmaster's comment: The beginning of autonomous machine evolution?)

12-8-17 A world without doubt
"It is fake news."Ah, fake news. Such a useful concept. Totalitarian states have long known its power and utility, but autocrats are now taking lessons from the U.S. Crying "fake news" can magically erase any inconvenient evidence, whether it points to genocide, the destructive impact of rising global temperatures, Russia's election interference, or a favored politician's predations on teenage girls. The lying media made it all up! Our nation is having what philosophers might call "an epistemological crisis." That's a highfalutin way of saying many people no longer know what it's possible to know. If nothing the media reports can be trusted, if scientists are frauds, if there is no reliable source of information or verification — then how do you distinguish between "fake news" and reality? You cannot. This can be disorienting at first, but it can also be marvelously liberating: There is no objective truth — just what you want to believe, and the "biased" beliefs of the enemy. Thus, in Alabama, 71 percent of Republicans say they don't believe that senatorial candidate Roy Moore preyed on girls in their teens, despite the detailed accounts from eight women. The president's attorneys are now saying he can't be accused of obstruction of justice, even if he tried to shut down the Russia investigation, because "the president is the chief law enforcement officer." In 1984, George Orwell described a dystopian world in which citizens are taught: "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength." Surrender to the paradox, and you are free from all doubt.

12-7-17 The coming Republican assault on the safety net
With Republicans looking like they're about to pass their tax bill into law, it's tempting to see it as a lone and perhaps pyrrhic victory amidst a year of bumbling failure. If you look purely at their legislative record, that may be true. But if we pull back our gaze, it begins to look like they're having more success than we realize. They have an extraordinarily ambitious agenda, one that involves not just a bunch of discrete policy changes, but a fundamental remaking of American life. They're on their way to seeing it fulfilled, and they're about to get started on the most important piece of the puzzle. The vision is one of an America that's more unequal and more cruel, where the wealthy and powerful accrue more wealth and power, and the rest of us find more obstacles in our way. In other words, "freedom." The tax cut will most certainly have this effect. At a moment when the richest 1 percent of Americans control 40 percent of America's wealth — a higher portion than at any time in the last 50 years — and corporate profits are near all-time highs, Republicans are about to pass a gigantic tax cut that mostly benefits the wealthy and corporations. And it isn't just that they're larding benefits on those who need it least; to pay for it, the bill will increase taxes on those making less than $75,000 and take health coverage away from millions. But that's just one half of the plan. Once the tax bill is done, we get to phase II: an all-out war on the safety net. In an act of positively awe-inspiring shamelessness, they plan to argue that our high national debt demands that we cut back social programs, right after they voted to increase the debt by $1.5 trillion.

12-7-17 The GOP’s embrace of Roy Moore
Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party is now complete, said James Hohmann. When the Republican National Committee reversed itself this week and decided to support and send funds to Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore despite allegations he sexually abused multiple teenage girls, it was meekly following the leadership of President Trump. Three weeks ago, the RNC withdrew its support from Moore as highly credible accusations mounted. But the president “came to identify with Moore” because he, too, was accused of sexual abuse by more than a dozen women last year; when polls showed that Moore might win, Trump gave him his full backing. GOP senators who’d earlier warned they might expel him from the Senate if he were elected immediately surrendered their principles, saying they’d leave the decision to Alabama’s voters. For the party of social conservatism to endorse a candidate accused of preying on teenagers is astonishing; the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, expressed his disgust, saying “no vote, no majority, is worth losing our honor and our integrity.” But “this is not your father’s GOP.” Trump—who cares only about winning—“is remaking the party in his image and infusing it with his sensibilities.”

12-7-17 Moore-mentum
President Trump endorsed Roy Moore’s Senate campaign this week, calling on Republicans to rally behind the candidate despite multiple allegations that he molested teenage girls. “Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama,” Trump tweeted, later phoning Moore to say, “Go get ’em, Roy.” The Republican National Committee, which severed ties with Moore after the allegations emerged, restored financial support for his campaign ahead of the Dec. 12 vote. Republican lawmakers had been softening their criticisms of Moore, who polls show is running neck and neck with Democrat Doug Jones in the special election to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walked back earlier statements that Moore should drop out, saying that he will “let the people of Alabama make the call.”

12-7-17 Lynching back on the table
Walmart has withdrawn from sale a T-shirt that threatened journalists with lynching. The shirt, with the slogan “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required,” was popular at Trump rallies last year. After the Radio Television Digital News Association complained that the T-shirt “openly encourages violence” against journalists, the retail giant took the shirt off its website, saying it “clearly violates our policy.”

12-7-17 SCOTUS lets travel ban take effect
The Supreme Court this week allowed the Trump administration’s revised travel ban to take effect, pending the results of legal challenges against it in lower courts. The third version of the ban, issued in September, affects the citizens of eight nations, six of them predominantly Muslim. The details vary by country, but the executive order bars most citizens from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad, and North Korea from entering the U.S., as well as some groups from Venezuela. Federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland had partially blocked parts of the latest ban from taking effect amid ongoing litigation. Judges on the 4th and 9th Circuit Courts of Appeals are set to hear arguments on those injunctions this week.

12-7-17 Supreme Court divided in gay wedding cake case
The Supreme Court appeared split this week over whether a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple is protected by the First Amendment, in a case that could have far-reaching implications for gay rights and religious freedom. In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, baker Jack Phillips argued that his First Amendment rights to free expression and free exercise of religion take precedence over Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. But in oral arguments, liberal justices expressed concern that ruling in Phillips’ favor would open the door to allowing businesses to discriminate. The conservative wing of the court appeared more sympathetic to Phillips, suggesting that a tolerant society must allow for some dissent based on religious principles. The decision will almost certainly come down to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s swing vote. Kennedy is considered a stalwart ally of gay rights—authoring the landmark opinion in 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized gay marriage—but he has also favored broad interpretations of free expression. Kennedy appeared to be torn between both sides. At one point, he suggested that a bakery with a sign saying “We don’t bake cakes for gay weddings” would violate the dignity of gay couples. Later, however, he said that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had been “neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs.”

12-7-17 Meet the 17-year-old who is suing her school
Mari Oliver, from Texas, refuses to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, as a protest for civil rights for African Americans. (Webmaster's comment: Very worth watching. She is a very courageous young women!)

12-7-17 Ex-policeman Michael Slager jailed for shooting Walter Scott
A former South Carolina police officer has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for fatally shooting an unarmed African-American motorist. Michael Slager committed second-degree murder when he shot Walter Scott, 50, in the back as he fled arrest after a traffic stop, a judge ruled. "I forgive you," relatives of Scott told Slager, 36, in court, as they spoke about the death's impact on them. A bystander recorded mobile phone video of the April 2015 shooting. Experts say that without a video of the shooting, the former officer probably would not have been fired from the force nor have faced murder charges. Judge David Norton told the court that Slager, who is white, had "lived a spotless life" before the shooting. "Regardless, this is a tragedy that shouldn't have happened," he added. Lawyers for Slager had argued in court that he opened fire on Scott because he thought he had taken his police-issued stun gun during their scuffle. The case ended in a mistrial in 2016, and rather than face another jury, the former North Charleston officer pleaded guilty in May to a federal charge of violating the victim's civil rights. (Webmaster's comment: Finally a little justice for the victims of police murder!)

12-7-17 Daniel Shaver: Police officer not guilty of murder
A police officer charged with the murder of an unarmed man in the US state of Arizona has been found not guilty. Philip Brailsford shot and killed 26-year-old Daniel Shaver in the hallway of a hotel in early 2016. Bodycam footage of the incident, released after the verdict, showed Mr Shaver on his knees asking officers not to shoot him just before he was killed. Mr Brailsford was acquitted of murder and a lesser manslaughter charge. Mr Shaver was shot five times with a semi-automatic rifle as he crawled towards the officers, sobbing. Prosecutors argued that the officer had responded appropriately, according to his training, when Mr Shaver reached towards his waistband - because he believed there was a concealed firearm there. Mr Shaver was confronted by police responding to a report of a man pointing a gun out of his hotel room window in January 2016. The police report said he showed guests in his hotel room a rifle he used for work, killing birds. It later emerged that the rifle was an airsoft or pellet gun, rather than a genuine firearm. (Webmaster's comment: The police look for any excuse to kill and get away with it!)

12-7-17 Lord's Prayer: Pope Francis calls for change
Pope Francis has called for a translation of a phrase about temptation in the Lord's Prayer to be changed. The current wording that says "lead us not into temptation" is not a good translation because God does not lead humans to sin, he says. His suggestion is to use "do not let us fall into temptation" instead, he told Italian TV on Wednesday night. The Lord's Prayer is the best-known prayer in Christianity. The pontiff said France's Roman Catholic Church was now using the new wording "do not let us fall into temptation" as an alternative, and something similar should be used worldwide. "Do not let me fall into temptation because it is I who fall, it is not God who throws me into temptation and then sees how I fell," he told TV2000, an Italian Catholic TV channel. (Webmaster's comment: Arguing about what an imaginary being does is such a waste of time!)

12-7-17 US House votes to expand concealed carry gun rights
The House of Representatives has voted to allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons between states, accomplishing a decades-long firearms lobby goal. The Republican-controlled chamber passed the bill by 231-198, in their first major gun legislation since a 2012 Connecticut school massacre. Republicans said the bill would allow gun owners to travel without having to worry about conflicting state laws. The measure will need a handful of Democrats' support to pass the Senate. To make the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act more palatable, Republicans have included measures to strengthen the national background check system. The legislation would also mandate a study of "bump stock" rapid fire devices, used in October's mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada. Though Wednesday's vote in the House was largely along party lines, six Democrats crossed the aisle to back the bill. Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association, hailed the vote as "a watershed moment" and the culmination of 30 years of lobbying. But opponents said it would trample on laws in some states with tighter restrictions on carrying loaded guns in public, such as New York and California. It would permit those with concealed-carry certificates to bring a gun into any state that allows concealed weapons, even where the standards for granting such permits vary widely. Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat from Colorado, said the bill was an attempt to restrict the rights of states with tighter gun controls. "Georgia has no business, no right, to tell Colorado what its laws should be," Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty said the legislation would "hamstring law enforcement and allow dangerous criminals to walk around with hidden guns anywhere and at any time".

An international comparison of gun-related killings as a percent of all homicides

Top 10 civilian gun-owning countries

Worst mass shootings in the US since 1991

12-7-17 US inner-city children suffer ‘war zone’ trauma
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is well known as an issue for returning soldiers. But it is far more pervasive in US inner cities. For the BBC's America First? series, Aleem Maqbool is exploring health and social issues where the US, the richest country in the world, does not perform well in international rankings.

Gun murder rates (per 100,000)

12-7-17 What do the new ‘gay genes’ tell us about sexual orientation?
Two gene variants have been found to be more common in gay men. New Scientist looks at what this tells us about the way biology shapes our sexuality. Two gene variants have been found to be more common in gay men, adding to mounting evidence that sexual orientation is at least partly biologically determined. How does this change what we already knew?

  • Didn’t we already know there were “gay genes”?
  • What’s new about the latest study?
  • What genes did they find and what do they do?
  • What is the other gene?
  • Are all men who have the “gay” variants of these genes gay?
  • What about women who are gay? Are there “lesbian genes”?
  • Why should we care about the genetics of being gay?

12-7-17 Australian parliament approves same-sex marriage
Same-sex marriage will become legal in Australia after a historic bill was passed in the House of Representatives. An overwhelming majority of MPs voted to change the Marriage Act, eight days after a similarly decisive result in the Senate. The vote set off immediate celebrations in parliament, prompting cheers, applause and even a song. The result brings an end to more than a decade of robust and often bitter debate on the issue. "What a day for love, for equality, for respect," said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. "Australia has done it." The legislation sailed through parliament without amendments after Australians overwhelmingly supported the reform in a voluntary national poll. Australia's governor-general is expected to approve the bill in the coming days, marking its official passage into law. Emotional MPs hugged each other before supporters in the public gallery began singing "I am, you are, we are Australian". Earlier, many supporters had gathered on the lawn outside parliament. They included prominent same-sex marriage advocates, including former Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe and local comedian Magda Szubanski. More than 100 MPs had spoken on the legislation after it was tabled in the House of Representatives. Many senators and MPs related personal stories in explaining why they supported the bill. One MP's speech ended with a marriage proposal - a first for the lower house.

12-6-17 Trump's unintentionally profound insight into American politics
All the way back in 2005, Donald Trump stumbled on what would become the fundamental operating principle of today's Republican Party. And we have Billy Bush to thank for bringing it to light. The shamed former NBC host re-emerged this week, after a year out of the public eye in which he claims to have conducted rigorous soul-searching over the notorious Access Hollywood tape. Bush wrote an op-ed for The New York Times looking back on his role in President Trump's 2005 confession, revealed in the closing weeks of the 2016 campaign, and said that that on one occasion, when "I called him out for inflating his ratings" on The Apprentice, the future president replied, "People will just believe you. You just tell them and they believe you." At that moment, it might have seemed like the sentiment of an amoral sociopath, one who had learned from long experience that if you're rich enough and brazen enough, you can get away with behavior that ordinary people feel qualms about. But it would also turn out to be a profound insight into contemporary politics, one that the Republican Party has now adopted as one of its fundamental principles. Not that the GOP was afraid to lie before it raised Trump up as its champion. But they've decided that they really can say anything, no matter how ridiculous, obviously false, or morally repellent it might be. People — or at least some people — will just believe them, and even change their own beliefs to match those of their political leaders. For starters, Roy Moore. For a while, the party seemed genuinely torn over supporting someone who thinks homosexuality should be illegal, Muslims should be banned from serving in Congress, and judges can ignore the law if they think it's what scripture commands — and oh yeah, who has been credibly accused by multiple women of everything from hitting on them to outright sexual assault when they were teenagers, allegations that are backed up not only by people they knew at the time but by people who were acquainted with Moore as a man in his 30s who was known around town for dating high school girls and hanging around the local mall to hit on them. (Webmaster's comment: Just appeal to the worst within people. It works everytime!)

12-6-17 Trump smashes a national treasure
Nothing says "Republican Party" more than destroying national monuments for private profit. I grew up in remote rural Utah, near Capitol Reef National Park, and was raised by a couple of river guides. I spent much of my childhood in the back seat of an Isuzu Trooper, exploring the spectacular canyon country of southern Utah and Arizona. I was unsurprisingly strongly in favor of President Obama's executive action designating the Bears Ears National Monument not far from my hometown — and a big fan of President Clinton's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I've personally driven, camped, and hiked all over the region, and I can say confidently that it's one of the most beautiful and precious places that exists in the world. So I suppose it's no surprise that President Trump is taking a jackhammer to both places, in the greatest reduction in public land protection in American history — all for the highly probable benefit of ranchers, oil drillers, and coal miners. It's akin to giving the Sistine Chapel to Eric Trump so he can sell off the frescoes in hacked-off chunks. Various environmentalist groups have filed suit to block the move, but Trump might well prevail in court. The Antiquities Act is broadly worded, and grants the president sweeping power to declare national monuments. Presidents Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson both previously shrunk monuments, so there's a precedent as well. However, shrinking is not all Trump is doing here. For the Bears Ears National Monument, he would cut it into two pieces 85 percent smaller than its current size: the Shash Jaa National Monument, and the Indian Creek National Monument. This would leave out the Dark Canyon Wilderness and Cedar Mesa, both packed with American Indian relics like the Doll House and Moon House ruins.

12-6-17 US homeless people numbers rise for first time in seven years
The number of homeless people in the United States has increased for the first time since 2010. ust under 554,000 people were homeless, a report from the department of housing and urban development said. West Coast cities like Los Angeles, as well as New York, contributed significantly to the rise. Los Angeles saw the number of homeless inhabitants rise to 55,000 - an increase of almost a quarter in a single year. The annual estimate, due to be unveiled later, was seen in advance by the Associated Press news agency. Other cities recording a large increase include Seattle, San Diego and Sacramento. The relatively large increases in those areas have pushed the national figure up by a little under 1%. Speaking to America's NPR radio, Housing and Development Secretary Ben Carson noted that in cities like Los Angeles and New York rents were rising "much faster" than incomes. The government, he added, needed to work with community groups and non-profit and religious organisations, to combat the problem.

12-5-17 Trump travel ban: Supreme Court lets restrictions take full effect
The US Supreme Court has ruled President Donald Trump's travel ban on six mainly Muslim countries can go into full effect, pending legal challenges. The decision is a boost for Mr Trump's policy against travellers from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. The ruling covers the third version of the directive that the president has issued since taking office. Seven of the nine justices lifted injunctions on Monday imposed by lower courts against the policy. Only liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor would have allowed the president's order to remain blocked.Federal appeals courts in San Francisco, California, and Richmond, Virginia, will hear arguments this week on whether the latest iteration of the policy is lawful. The Supreme Court noted it expects those courts to reach decisions "with appropriate dispatch". The case will eventually end up back in the Supreme Court. Monday's decision suggests America's top judicial body may ultimately rule in favour of the administration, say legal analysts. David Levine, a University of California Hastings law school professor, told the Associated Press news agency: "It suggests that from their understanding, the government is more likely to prevail on the merits than we might have thought."(Webmaster's comment: One step closer to a Nazi state! LGBT's are next on the agenda!)

12-5-17 'Gay wedding cake' case comes before US Supreme Court
The US Supreme Court hears arguments on Tuesday in the case of a gay couple turned away by a Colorado bakery as they tried to buy a wedding cake. In 2012, baker Jack Phillips refused to make David Mullins and Charlie Craig such a cake, saying it was against his Christian belief. A legal battle ensued, with Colorado's court finding that the baker's actions represented unlawful discrimination. The baker says this violates his rights to religious freedom and free speech. In July 2012, Mr Mullins and Mr Craig went to Mr Phillips's Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, near Denver, to order a cake for a party to celebrate their planned marriage in Massachusetts later that year. But Mr Phillips refused, saying it was his "standard business practice not to provide cakes for same-sex weddings". Instead, he offered them other products, including birthday cakes and biscuits.The couple later filed a successful complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Colorado bans businesses from discriminating against customers based on race and sexual orientation. In 2015, Colorado's appeals court upheld the decision, with the state's supreme court later denying review of the case.

12-5-17 Trump shrinks Utah monuments angering environmentalists
President Donald Trump has dramatically scaled back two public outdoor parks, or national monuments, in Utah. He declared an 85% cut to the state's 1.3m acre Bears Ears National Monument and a 50% cut to its 1.9m acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Native American tribes and environmental groups say they will file lawsuits against the policy. But it will be welcomed by ranchers and business interests who view such monuments as federal land grabs. Speaking in the capitol building in Salt Lake City, Mr Trump said: "Some people think the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington. "And guess what, they're wrong," Mr Trump said. He said former presidents had "severely abused" the law by declaring swathes of territory off limits to drilling, mining, grazing, road traffic and other activities. (Webmaster's comment: It's all about more money for the already rich isn't it.)

12-5-17 Tennessee students hold protests over racist messages
Students in Tennessee have protested against what they say is a lack of action by school leaders after racist threats circulated on social media. One of the posts, which were allegedly exchanged between students, used racist slurs and referenced "stringing up" black people. Those responsible were ordered to write a 10-page essay as punishment, according to the students. The local school board says it is investigating the posts. Around 200 students held a sit-in protest over the response at the school on Monday, with more staging a walkout, local media reported. One of the organisers, Malik Green, told local news channel WREG Memphis he felt school administrators had tried to sweep the matter "under the rug". "We just can't stand for it anymore and we needed to take action." Mr Green said. Angelina Ferrer, who skipped her classes to participate in the protest, told Buzzfeed News that she felt the alleged sanction that the students were handed was not severe enough. (Webmaster's comment: White supremacists advocate lynching blacks again and the punishment is writing an essay! They should be in prison. Another step closer to a Nazi state!)

12-5-17 Ice age caves discovered underneath city of Montreal
Amateur explorers have discovered a network of 15,000-year-old caves underneath a Canadian city. The passageway, which is at least 200 metres long (660ft), was formed during the last ice age underneath what is now the city of Montreal. The "once in a lifetime" October find by Luc Le Blanc and Daniel Caron was the result of years of trial and error. Connected to the Saint-Léonard Cavern, the cave network is six metres deep and parts must be traversed by boat. For years, Mr Le Blanc and Mr Caron, both members of the Quebec Speleological Society, believed there must be another set of caves connected to Saint-Léonard Cavern near Parc Pie XII in the Saint-Léonard neighbourhood of Montreal, but they did not know exactly where. Then in 2014, the pair got their first inkling of what might be underneath when dowsing rods - a wooden rod commonly used to find groundwater - found a small fissure in the ground. The fissure was too small to explore, but it gave them hope. A year later, they attached a camera to the rod and got their first glimpse inside the caves. "You could see there was something, there was more cave beyond that fissure," Mr Le Blanc told the BBC. But it would take two years before the pair found a part of the ground soft enough to dig into. Like the Saint-Léonard Cavern, these tectonic passageways were formed during the last ice age from the pressure of the glacier above. The weight of the ice weakened the passageway's limestone ceiling and Mr Le Blanc and Mr Caron were eventually able to break through.

12-4-17 Focus on liberty and purity may change anti-vax parents’ minds
Why do some parents choose not to vaccinate their children against deadly diseases? The moral ideas of purity and liberty may play a role. Vaccines save lives, so why do some parents prefer not to get their children vaccinated against deadly diseases? It seems the ideas of purity and liberty have a big influence. Avnika Amin at Emory University, Georgia, and her team surveyed more than 1000 adults in the US who had at least one child aged 12 or younger. They assessed the parents’ attitudes towards vaccinations, as well as how much emphasis they put on each of six moral values: authority, fairness, harm, loyalty, purity and liberty. These values are all known to affect judgement and decision-making. “We thought it might be interesting to see if maybe these intuitive values were associated with health decisions,” says Amin. The team found that 73 per cent of parents got low scores when it was assessed whether they have concerns about vaccinations, but 11 per cent showed some hesitancy around vaccinations, and 16 per cent were highly hesitant. Compared with those who weren’t very worried, the medium hesitancy parents were twice as likely to place a high emphasis on purity as a moral value. And high hesitancy parents were twice as likely to emphasise purity and liberty, but half as likely to stress authority, compared with low hesitancy parents. When the team looked at the claims made on anti-vaccination websites, they found that these often appeal to the same moral values. A better understanding of how moral values affect vaccination attitudes could help public health officials show parents that childhood vaccinations are actually in line with certain values, says Amin.(Webmaster's comment: The choice to not vaccinate a child is a choice to kill it!)

12-4-17 Trump obscene remarks were real - TV host Billy Bush
Former NBC TV host Billy Bush has confirmed that he heard Donald Trump boasting about grabbing women by the genitals in a 2005 recording. In the New York Times, he said the US president was "indulging in revisionist history", amid reports Mr Trump now questioned whether the tape was real. Mr Trump originally apologised for the remarks, which came to light a month before he won last year's election. Top Republicans condemned the tape, but most still backed Mr Trump's campaign. In his opinion piece, the former co-anchor of NBC's Access Hollywood show said he and seven others who had witnessed the remarks were convinced they were "listening to a stand-up act". "He said it. 'Grab 'em by the pussy,'" Bush wrote. "Of course he said it. And we laughed along, without a single doubt that this was hypothetical hot air from America's highest-rated bloviator." But Bush said that after reading accounts by 20 women who have come forward to accuse Mr Trump of unwanted sexual advances, he now knew better. "President Trump is currently indulging in some revisionist history, reportedly telling allies... that the voice on the tape is not his. This has hit a raw nerve in me," Bush added. He said the president was "wantonly poking the bear" as the US was trying to come to terms with years of sexual abuse and misconduct against leading figures in the media and entertainment industry. Mr Trump has denied any allegations against him of sexual misconduct and threatened to sue his accusers. (Webmaster's comment: But of course that never happened. He would have been found guilty!)

12-4-17 Russia-Trump: President criticised for attacking FBI
Donald Trump is under fire for saying the FBI's reputation is "in tatters" over its probe into alleged collusion between Russia and his campaign. Ex-FBI head James Comey and ex-attorney general Sally Yates, who were both fired by Mr Trump, led the criticism. Republican senator Lindsey Graham said his comments and tweets on ongoing investigations were at his "own peril". Meanwhile there have been suggestions the US president may have admitted obstructing justice in his tweets. Mr Trump posted a barrage of criticism on Sunday morning, saying the FBI's reputation was "in tatters" and was the "worst in history", while again accusing it of failure in its treatment of his former opponent for the presidency, Hillary Clinton. Mrs Clinton was investigated by the FBI ahead of the election after it emerged she had used a private email server to conduct state department business, but no charges were brought against her or her team. The president seized on news that an FBI officer had been dismissed from the investigation after he was discovered to have made anti-Trump remarks in text messages, tweeting: "Report: 'ANTI-TRUMP FBI AGENT LED CLINTON EMAIL PROBE' Now it all starts to make sense!" Mr Trump denies that his team colluded with Russia to get him elected, but four members of his inner circle have now been charged as part of the FBI inquiry lead by Robert Mueller. (Webmaster's comment: The chickens are coming home to roost and that makes Trump very nervous doesn't it!)

12-4-17 The long history of the Second Amendment
Where did the right to bear arms come from? The Second Amendment to the Constitution states simply: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." That language and that idea were clearly important to the Founding Fathers. The Second Amendment is rooted in multiple sources: English law; America's revolutionary experience; and contemporary European political thought. In short, the basic idea was that a people have a right to defend themselves against tyranny; and that if a government breaches the social contract with its people, the people have a right to overthrow that government. Popular access to arms is the sine qua non of such an ideal. This argument lies at the heart of the Declaration of Independence when the colonists overthrew the rule of the king of Great Britain. So, in a sense, every American celebrates this idea every year. It's hard to imagine the generation that launched the American Revolution doing so without embracing the ideas in the Second Amendment. For the colonists, the fear of tyranny was very real. Absolute monarchy was the norm in mainland Europe. Conformity in religion and politics was enforced by large standing armies. The idea of popular sovereignty was heretical. Abuses in Europe were well-publicized and made even more real by some of the victims ending up in America as refugees. One glaring example was the persecution of Protestants in France in the 1680s. Soldiers were billeted in Protestant homes and allowed to steal and abuse the inhabitants until they converted to Catholicism or left the country. Some of these Huguenot refugees found new homes in America. (Webmaster's comment: The idea that any group in America could stand up against the military might of our armed forces with their pathetic little pop-guns is ludicrous. One hellfire missile from a drone would be all it would take.)

12-2-17 How war shapes nations — and destroys them
The changing role of political violence. ganized violence — the term war boils down to — has long been a unifier of peoples. Archeological evidence shows that nearly half those who lived during the last part of the Stone Age in Nubia, an area along the southern reaches of the Nile River, died violent deaths. Many other tribal societies through the ages have shared this mortality pattern, which suggests large-scale mobilization for killing rather than widespread random violence. Orchestrating raids on neighboring Nubian settlements took coordination among villagers, as did fending them off. Attackers and defenders alike had to marshal resources, make plans and build trust among one another in order to fight effectively. Cooperation, mutual dependence, trust — even in killing others — are building blocks of political order, the foundational elements of states. The advent of agriculture was a prerequisite to long-term human settlements — cities — of any significant size. It gave rise to larger societies, capable of bigger and more elaborate wars. For the dynasties of ancient China, the empires of Mesopotamia, and, centuries later, the kingdoms of Europe, waging war was one of their reasons for being. Frederick William founded and built Prussia to wage war against its many hostile neighbors. Prussia's clashes with regional rivals during the 17th and 18th centuries made the nation we know today as Germany. Across the Atlantic, in the mid-18th century, the Seven Years' War helped to galvanize American colonists against the British, setting them on the path to form a nation of their own. Across this long history from the Stone Age to the modern era, the basic political formula remained the same. Disparate elements of a society learned to cooperate outside familial structures in order to arm themselves for plunder, defense — or both. They formed hierarchies, bureaucracies, and institutions that endured and evolved. For emerging nations, the aftermath of the wars imparted important shared experiences too. Defeat could be even more unifying than victory.

12-1-17 Trump-Russia: Six big takeaways from the Flynn deal
Special Counsel Robert Mueller just dropped the hammer. Again. On Friday it was Michael Flynn's turn "in the barrel", to borrow a line from Trump confidant Roger Stone. The former national security adviser pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about December 2016 conversations he had with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak and pledged to "fully co-operate" with Mr Mueller's ongoing investigations. Mr Flynn has admitted he misled the FBI about his discussions regarding new sanctions imposed on Russia by the Obama administration following evidence of alleged meddling in the 2016 election. There had been hints this was coming, after word last week that Mr Flynn's defence lawyers had stopped co-operating with the Trump legal team. The president's own scattershot behaviour on Twitter this week could also have been a key tell, like a trick knee acting up before a big storm. So why is this being billed as a major development in the ongoing investigation into possible Trump campaign ties to Russia? Let us count the ways.

  1. Trump's inner circle has been breached
  2. Flynn is talking
  3. Flynn is contradicting the White House line
  4. Mr Mueller could be building an obstruction of justice case
  5. Only the tip of the iceberg?
  6. The independent counsel investigation is wide-ranging

12-1-17 Research Flat Earth
A limousine driver is fighting the government for the right to fire himself 1,800 feet above the Mojave Desert in a homemade, steam-powered rocket so that he can prove the Earth is flat. “Mad” Mike Hughes had billed his debut flight as a first step toward ultimately photographing Earth from outer space and proving that previous photos showing a round planet were faked. “I don’t believe in science,” Hughes says. Federal officials blocked Hughes from taking off from public land in Amboy, Calif., so he plans to take off from private property. “It’s not easy,” he says of his mission, “because it’s not supposed to be easy.”

Research Flat Earth

12-1-17 Immigration agents unleashed
Immigration arrests have soared under President Trump. Who is being swept up in the raids? ICE agents still target known criminals in their raids on workplaces and homes, but are now arresting any undocumented immigrants they encounter in those raids. During a series of July raids, in which ICE arrested 650 people, 70 percent weren’t targets of the raid, but were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. ICE is also going after “low-hanging fruit,” undocumented immigrants known to agents. This includes the 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who have been granted a stay of deportation for medical or family reasons provided they show up for semiannual check-ins with ICE agents. Some of them are now being arrested at their check-ins. In one widely publicized case, Guadalupe García de Rayos of Phoenix, a mother of two U.S.-born children who has lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years, was detained at her annual check-in and deported to Mexico the next morning.

  • What’s changed?
  • Who’s being arrested?
  • How are immigrants responding?
  • What’s the justification for that?
  • Is Trump’s strategy working?
  • Does ICE’s campaign face other obstacles?
  • The cost of deportation

12-1-17 Gun Sales
Gun sales are soaring in the wake of recent mass shootings and talk of tightening gun regulations. The FBI received 203,086 requests for instant gun background checks on Black Friday—nearly a 10 percent increase from the year before and a new record for background checks in a single day.

12-1-17 SCOTUS allows Maryland assault weapons ban
The Supreme Court delivered a blow to gun-rights advocates this week by declining to hear appeals challenging Maryland’s ban on semi-automatic rifles and Florida’s open-carry restrictions. Plaintiffs backed by the National Rifle Association had sued Maryland officials in 2013 after the state outlawed guns including the AR-15 and AK-47 in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre. The Florida case involved a man arrested for openly carrying a holstered handgun, in violation of state law. Although the Supreme Court has found that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to keep handguns at home, the justices have refused to overturn other state restrictions. Last year, the court left bans on assault weapons in place in New York and Connecticut.

12-1-17 Trump retweets bigot
President Trump caused outrage in the U.K. this week after he retweeted three anti-Muslim videos posted by a leader of the extreme-right group Britain First. The xenophobic group is known for posting false information, and of the three videos—“Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!” and “Muslim destroys a statue of Virgin Mary!”—the first depicts an attacker who is neither Muslim nor a migrant and the second shows a riot in Egypt. The original tweeter, Britain First’s Jayda Fransen, was convicted of aggravated harassment last year after she hurled abuse at a woman wearing a hijab. Prime Minister Theresa May said Trump was “wrong” to promote Britain First, which “peddles lies” to “stoke tensions.” (Webmaster's comment: One bigot supports another.)

12-1-17 Delusions
Delusions, with reports that President Trump has told a Republican senator and aides he’s no longer sure it’s his voice on the infamous Access Hollywood tape, bragging about grabbing women “by the p---y.”

12-1-17 Trump takes control of consumer watchdog agency
The Trump administration won a legal struggle over control of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this week, after a federal judge denied a request from an Obama-era holdover to block the White House from appointing an interim head for the watchdog agency. The fight erupted after Obama appointee Richard Cordray, who has been the CFPB’s sole formal director since its inception in 2011, resigned last week and said his deputy, Leandra English, would serve as acting director until the Senate confirmed his replacement. The Trump administration struck back hours later, naming White House budget director Mick Mulvaney as acting director of the agency, which aims to protect consumers from exploitation by banks and other financial firms. English then filed a lawsuit to stop Mulvaney’s appointment, arguing that the Dodd-Frank Act that established the agency gave Cordray sole power to name an acting director. Federal Judge Timothy Kelly sided with Trump, ruling that the 1998 Federal Vacancies Reform Act gives the White House the authority to appoint a replacement. English is expected to appeal. Republicans have long criticized the CFPB, claiming its rules hobble bank lending and hurt investment and job creation. The CFPB is “a total disaster” that has “devastated” financial firms, Trump tweeted. “We will bring it back to life!”

12-1-17 Big Sugar’s deception
Newly uncovered documents add to mounting evidence that sugar executives used tobacco industry tactics to mislead consumers for decades, burying early evidence of the harmful health effects of sugar consumption. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found records of animal research commissioned in 1968 by a sugar industry trade group. A British scientist was paid to investigate the effects of sugar on the gut bacteria of rodents. The study’s early findings showed that sugar is metabolized differently from starches, such as beans and grains. Animals fed sucrose (table sugar) produced high levels of an enzyme linked to hardened arteries and bladder cancer. These findings were never published. In fact, the trade group halted the study before it was finished, indicating that the health damage caused by sugar was suppressed in order to preserve profits. “This is continuing to build the case that the sugar industry has a long history of manipulating science,” the study’s author, Dr. Stanton Glantz, tells The New York Times. The Sugar Association disputes this claim, arguing the animal research was discontinued due to delays and budgetary concerns.

12-1-17 Corporate tax cuts: Will workers benefit?
It’s become a mantra for Republicans: If you cut corporate taxes, businesses will pay workers more, said Jim Puzzanghera and Don Lee in the Los Angeles Times. The White House has promised that cutting corporate taxes from 35 to 20 percent will lead to such a surge in growth and wages that the average household will receive $4,000 a year more. But most economists are far less bullish. Corporate profits are already hovering near historic highs, and unemployment is near historic lows—yet raises average an anemic 2.5 percent, and employee wages as a share of the economy “have been trending down.” Most of the benefits have flowed to shareholders via dividends and stock buybacks that enrich executives, who get bonuses for higher stock prices. When White House economic adviser Gary Cohn recently asked a meeting of about three dozen CEOs how many planned to invest a tax windfall back in their businesses, only three raised their hands. “Why,” Cohn asked, “aren’t the other hands up?”

12-1-17 The GOP plan to remake the courts
Republicans hope to pull off a “breathtaking” court-packing scheme, said Ronald Klain in The Washington Post. Under a plan being floated by Steven G. Calabresi, the co-founder of the powerful Federalist Society, the GOP would use its control of Congress to increase the number of judges on the lower federal courts by 33 to 50 percent—in a single year. That would enable President Trump to name as many as 650 new judges to lifetime appointments, twice as many as President Obama did in eight years. Trump already is remaking the judiciary by filling the 103 judicial vacancies that GOP obstruction kept open during the Obama years. But the flood of far-right extremists Trump is already appointing is apparently “not enough for conservatives.” How ironic, said Linda Greenhouse in The New York Times. The conservative movement “has spent the past generation railing against judicial activism,” but now openly advocates weaponizing the judicial system for political ends.

12-1-17 Trade: Automakers push back on NAFTA demands
Detroit auto executives this week asked Vice President Mike Pence “to pump the brakes” on some of the Trump administration’s proposed reforms to NAFTA, said Keith Laing in DetroitNews.com. The group, which included executives from GM, Fiat Chrysler, and Ford, told Pence that the changes “could add thousands to the cost of a car in the United States.” The industry is deeply concerned about a proposal to increase “the minimum percentage of parts that must be made in the U.S. for a car to qualify for duty-free treatment under NAFTA.” The next round of NAFTA talks will begin Jan. 23 in Montreal.

12-1-17 Harassment scandal: How to draw lines
Almost two months after Harvey Weinstein was outed as a serial sexual predator, “idols are falling so fast it’s hard to keep track,” said Masha Gessen in NewYorker.com. Dozens of prominent men have already “lost jobs, deals, film roles, and more,” and there are scores of others facing accusations. In the court of public opinion, the “burden of proof” has clearly shifted “from the accuser to the accused.” Most people are cheering this cultural sea change, but there’s a serious danger of overreaction—“a sex panic.” In our eagerness to root out all harassers, the “presumption of innocence” is vanishing. It wouldn’t be the first time Americans have overreacted to “vaguely defined and wildly exaggerated” sexual threats, said Christina Hoff Sommers in the New York Daily News. We had a gay panic in the 1950s, with thousands of federal workers forced out of their jobs; in the 1980s, “a panic over satanic abuse in day-care centers put many innocent people in prison.” If we don’t distinguish between “truly unacceptable behavior and lesser annoyances,” men will fear any workplace interaction with women. Well, that was predictable, said Caitlin Flanagan in TheAtlantic.com. Saying there’s “a sex panic” because women are finally rebelling against “having their asses grabbed” is no different than the Mad Men–era men complaining that women who slapped away their unwanted advances were “frigid” or “uptight.” Exposing men who treat women’s bodies as playthings is not “a witch hunt”—it’s a necessary and long-overdue corrective to an endemic problem. A lot of men say they no longer know where the line is, said Christine Emba in The Washington Post. It’s simple: Don’t hit on or touch co-workers and subordinates. Stop thinking of every attractive woman as a possible sexual conquest. Maybe that means a less sexualized culture, but it’s a small price to pay to allow women “to exist unmolested in their workplace.”

12-1-17 Apology to gay Canadians
In an emotional speech to Parliament, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered a historic apology to LGBT Canadians for decades of “state-sponsored, systematic oppression and rejection.” Trudeau said that from the 1950s to the ’90s, the government actively persecuted gay people, particularly those in public service—firing them, forcing them to resign, or even jailing them for being gay. “It is our collective shame that you were so mistreated,” he said. “And it is our collective shame that this apology took so long. Many who suffered are no longer alive to hear these words. And for that, we are truly sorry.” Trudeau’s government has introduced a bill to expunge the records of those convicted of historical same-sex offenses.

12-1-17 Abandoning Asia to China
Is U.S. President Donald Trump prepared to cede the entire South China Sea to Beijing? asked Murray Hiebert in the Nikkei Asian Review (Japan). China has territorial disputes with five countries over these waters, and has been bolstering its dubious claims by building artificial islands “and equipping them with airfields, radar installations, and missile shelters.” Just before Trump’s November trip to the region, China unveiled a powerful new dredging vessel that can collect nearly 212,000 cubic feet of sand from the seabed every hour and move it away to create new land features. Yet Trump said barely a word about China’s outrageous behavior, presumably out of “hope that he could get more help from Beijing on North Korea’s nuclear program.” Without U.S. support for their claims, Taiwan and Vietnam may end up following the lead of the Philippines, which has apparently decided to trade its maritime territory for promises of Chinese investment. If Trump fails to challenge Beijing, the Chinese military will turn the South China Sea “into a Chinese lake within the next decade or two.”

12-1-17 US delays ban on 'unsafe' cluster bombs
The Pentagon is putting off indefinitely a ban that was due to take effect in 2019 on older models of cluster bombs which are less safe. The weapons scatter bomblets across a wide area, some of which fail to explode, posing a threat to civilians. The US military had been hoping to update them with munitions that they say explode at least 99% of the time. But it now admits that safety technology hasn't progressed enough to replace existing stockpiles. "Although the Department seeks to field a new generation of more highly reliable munitions, we cannot risk mission failure or accept the potential of increased military and civilian casualties by forfeiting the best available capabilities," said a Pentagon policy memo, seen by Reuters news agency. The memo called cluster munitions "legitimate weapons with clear military utility". The US is not a signatory to a 2010 treaty which bans the use of cluster bombs because of their indiscriminate nature and the risk they pose to civilians both during and after being dropped. The UK, France, Germany and Japan are among 108 states to have signed the treaty. (Webmaster's comment: No way is the United States going to reduce it's ability to kill and terrorize civilians. It's been using death and terror against civilians for over 125 years.)

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