You are not Alone!
135 Atheism & Humanism News Articles
for December 2017
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source
12-31-17 How a rising star of the religious right was 'ex-communicated'
When she filed for divorce, everything changed. late summer 1998, a lawyer named Barbara Duffy stood in front of an all-female jury inside the Tacoma, Washington, federal courthouse. She had just called her first witness in a trial that would drag on for 10 more days. The witness was her own client. "Have you ever been an ordained pastor?" asked Duffy, blond, pragmatic, and then in her mid-30s. "No," replied Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff, the plaintiff in this case and publisher of Gentle Spirit, an intentionally quaint magazine with old-style serif fonts and vintage illustrations. Seelhoff, then a 46-year-old mother of 11 with long, wavy hair and a warm face, founded the publication in 1989, gearing it toward large families living economically. The magazine paired cooking guides with articles on joy, loss, natural birth, and homeschooling — and it was the reason she took the stand that day. For five years, Gentle Spirit had enjoyed continuous bumps in readership, growing enough to fully support Seelhoff and her family — until controversy brought her business to a standstill. A year earlier, Seelhoff had sued a group of leaders in the Christian homeschooling movement — a politically influential, religious right subculture that originally embraced Seelhoff's articles on teaching at home. From the late 1980s up until 1994, she had been associated with this subculture, which treated homeschooling as part of a religious movement. Its architects, often referred to as the "four pillars," saw homeschooling as a mandate for conservative Christians, a way to raise up Bible-centered future leaders. The headship model, in which the man is considered the God-ordained head of the family, was common, as was the "Quiverfull" ideology — bearing as many children as God gave you, rejecting on principle any means of birth control, so you could have a "full quiver" of children to lead God's fight. Marriage was sacred, and Seelhoff had filed for divorce. Now, she alleged that certain of these leaders had conspired to financially cripple her magazine Gentle Spirit, punishing her for breaking rank. After months of depositions and paperwork, she had finally taken the stand. (Webmaster's comment: The religious right is sick beyond belief!)
12-30-17 Police shoot dead man after alleged Call of Duty 'swatting' hoax
A man has been arrested after an alleged "swatting" prank call led to police shooting dead a 28-year-old man. Andrew Finch was shot at his front door on 28 December in Wichita, Kansas. Police surrounded the home after receiving a hoax emergency call from a man claiming to have shot dead his father and taken his family hostage. The call stemmed from a row between two gamers playing Call of Duty online, US media say, although the address raided was apparently unconnected to either. Police have said they believe the report was an act of "swatting" where a person makes a false report to send police to another person or fake address. Audio of the emergency call has been made public. A man can be heard telling authorities that he had shot his father in the head, and claimed to have taken his mother and siblings hostage. The caller also said he had a handgun and had poured fuel over the house and wanted to set the property on fire. Police say they surrounded the address the caller had given, and were preparing to make contact with the suspect reportedly inside when Mr Finch came to the door. They said one round was released by officers after the 28-year-old failed to comply with verbal orders to keep his hands up, and appeared to move his hands toward his waist multiple times. Police say Mr Finch was later found to be unarmed, and was pronounced dead at a local hospital. A search found four of his family members inside, none of them dead, injured or taken hostage. His family told local media that he was not involved in online gaming. (Webmaster's comment: Another person is dead because of the police's shoot to kill, shoot first, ask questions later, policies! Their desire to kill something, anything, has to be curbed!)
12-30-17 How one Connecticut mosque is laying the groundwork for tolerant debate
When met with hate, Zahir Mannan tries to forgive and understand. The night of Nov. 14, 2015, was not the first time Ted Hakey, 50, went into his backyard in Meriden, Connecticut, and fired guns to let off some steam. It was the night after a deadly terror attack in Paris, and Hakey was furious. So he shot his Springfield Armory M1A .308-caliber rifle into the air. Some of those shots hit the Baitul Aman Mosque next door. Luckily, no one was in the building at the time. "I wanted to scare 'em, but the shots that hit were never supposed to hit," says Hakey, who admits he harbored significant hate for Muslims back then. His Facebook posts reflect that well enough. Prosecutors used some of those posts to build their case against him. The shooting got him six months in jail on federal hate crime charges, but leaders of the mosque argued he should be forgiven and not even serve jail time. Dr. Mohammed Qureshi, the mosque president, expressed this feeling to the judge at Hakey's sentencing. For 29-year-old Zahir Mannan, the criminal case was an opportunity to show Hakey and anyone else paying attention — which by then included the national media — what Islam is really about. Mannan is the director of outreach for the mosque, which is part of a sect of Islam called Ahmadiyya. Their belief that a 19th-century Indian religious leader named Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was the latest prophet after Muhammad, and the savior, is seen by some conservative Muslims as heretical. So Mannan shrugs off the Connecticut attack. It's hardly anything compared to what others of his faith encounter all over the world. (Webmaster's comment: Muslims are every bit as good as Christians. Many Americans just want to hate somebody, anybody, that is not them!)
12-29-17 Mental health care a 'national problem' says sheriff
A Mississippi sheriff says the United States has a "national problem" with how it treats mental health patients in the justice system. Greg Pollan was speaking after an investigation by the BBC and ProPublica into the case of Tyler Haire. Haire - who had a long history of mental health problems - was in jail for almost four years without trial while waiting to be assessed. He is now serving a seven-year sentence for stabbing his father's girlfriend. After committing the crime aged 16, Haire was detained in Calhoun County jail, Mississippi. He couldn't be tried until his mental health was assessed - which took 1,266 days because of a shortage of hospital beds for pre-trial defendants. Haire's victim, Shelia Hughes, survived, but lost part of her colon and suffered mental health problems afterwards. The BBC and ProPublica published their investigation this week. In a Facebook post, Sheriff Pollan said: "In law enforcement, we all work cases that have personal impacts on us. "Through my 30+ year career I have had my fair share of those that you just can't let go of. "One case that will stick with me long after my career is over is the case of Tyler Haire." He said that the local court system, including his sheriff's office and the prosecuting district attorney, had tried repeatedly to get Haire a mental health evaluation. With no outside help, the sheriff's team looked after Haire, giving him comic books and buying him confectionery. Sheriff Pollan added: "This case is not and was not unique to Calhoun County. "It's a state wide problem and it's a national problem that must be addressed." Dozens of legally innocent inmates are stuck in Mississippi's county jails every year, their trials delayed for months and years because the state is unable to give them a pre-trial mental evaluation.
12-29-17 The American empire is crumbling
How Trump is hacking away at the foundation of America's global power. America's power and global influence have plummeted like a stone during the Trump presidency. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently claimed otherwise in a New York Times op-ed, but he is obviously wrong.What President Trump is destroying is a product of the postwar years. In the years after the Second World War, America constructed what amounted to a globe-spanning empire, with the active assistance of Western Europe. The immediate justification was to build a military coalition capable of countering and containing the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc — and an important secondary objective was setting up a solid economic system to ensure prosperity, manage trade, and avoid depression. That empire carried out a slew of atrocities and war crimes — a variety of coups, pointless and failed wars, and abuse of powerless poor countries. Elsewhere, America made a cynical peace with brutal dictatorships. Africa and the Middle East especially did not fare well. But when it came to Western Europe, the U.S., Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, it worked out pretty well. Western Europe in particular, which was a smoking crater after the war, was rebuilt quickly under the astoundingly generous Marshall Plan. American policymakers realized that letting Europe fall to pieces in the interwar years was a disastrous error even on self-interested grounds. If democratic liberal capitalism was to survive, there was simply no alternative to setting up a functioning international system that actually provided economic and military security — for rich capitalist countries at least. Let capitalism blow itself up, and you get Hitler — but pick Europe up and put it back on its feet, and they'll have some money to buy American exports.
12-29-17 Justine Damond: US prosecutor delays decision on charges
A US prosecutor says more work needs to be done before deciding on whether to charge a policeman who shot dead an unarmed Australian woman. Justine Damond, 40, was killed by officer Mohamed Noor in July after she rang police to report a woman screaming outsider her Minneapolis home. Investigations into her death are ongoing. No charges have been laid against Mr Noor. The prosecutor had previously promised a decision by the end of the year. However on Thursday, he said the case needed more time and that the investigation and review would not be rushed. "It is more important to get it right than to get it done quickly," Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a statement. It comes two weeks after video emerged of Mr Freeman saying he was frustrated at the lack of evidence to charge Mr Noor, remarks he has since apologised for. Those comments prompted alarm from Ms Damond's family in Australia, who said they were "deeply concerned" the shooting was not being investigated properly. Ms Damond was unarmed and wearing pyjamas when she was shot by Mr Noor from a patrol car, authorities have said. She died from a single gunshot wound to her abdomen. Mr Noor has chosen not to speak to investigators about the shooting. The case sparked outcry in Australia and the US and led to the resignation of the Minneapolis police chief. (Webmaster's comment: The tactic: If they can just delay it long enough most people will forget it!)
12-29-17 The cops and politicians joining Canada's cannabis business
As Canada moves towards legalising recreational cannabis, there's a surprising group of entrepreneurs jumping into the market: cops and politicians. In 2015, former Toronto police chief Julian Fantino was "completely opposed" to marijuana legalisation and supported mandatory jail time for minor cannabis offences. Mr Fantino, who was also a Cabinet minister in the former Conservative government, criticised the now governing-Liberals' plan to legalise the drug, saying it would make smoking marijuana "a normal, everyday activity for Canadians". In November, along with former RCMP deputy commissioner Raf Souccar, he opened Aleafia, a "health network" that helps patients access medical cannabis. He also had a change of heart on legalisation, telling the Toronto Star newspaper he now supports it as long as it keeps pot away from children and criminals. In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, he said his 2015 comments were made "in a different era". Mr Fantino said his turning point on medical marijuana came when he was minister of veterans affairs and met ex-soldiers who relied on it. Marijuana activists who have fought against prohibition for decades - and sometimes faced subsequent criminal charges for their activities - were angry over Mr Fantino's reversal on pot. Prominent cannabis advocate Dana Larsen called Mr Fantino's decision to enter the market "shameful" and "unacceptable". "I would not buy from those people," he says, adding he would tell other marijuana users to do the same.
12-28-17 Alabama certifies election despite last-ditch Roy Moore legal case
Democrat Doug Jones has been certified as the winner of the Alabama senate race despite a last-ditch legal case by the defeated Republican Roy Moore. Republican state officials confirmed the 12 December special election result, one day after Mr Moore claimed election fraud and called for a re-run. Mr Moore had been expected to win the conservative state but he was dogged by allegations of child sexual misconduct. Mr Jones will be sworn in by Vice-President Mike Pence on 3 January. The former Alabama supreme court judge's legal case, filed late on Wednesday, alleged that there were voting irregularities in 20 precincts, which amounted to "systemic election fraud". The case, which was dismissed by a judge on Thursday, called for a fraud investigation and a new election. A spokesman for the Jones campaign, Sam Coleman, called it a "desperate attempt by Roy Moore to subvert the will of the people". "The election is over, it's time to move on," he added.
12-28-17 Roy Moore files last-minute lawsuit challenging Alabama result
Republican Roy Moore, who lost a recent Alabama senate election to his Democrat rival Doug Jones, has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to challenge the result. The lawsuit was filed the day before officials were due to certify Mr Jones the winner - two weeks after the vote. Mr Moore was expected to win the election in the deeply conservative state, but his campaign was dogged by allegations of child sexual misconduct. He refused to concede to Mr Jones, who won narrowly by about 20,000 votes. Mr Moore's lawsuit alleges that there were voting irregularities in 20 precincts and calls for a fraud investigation and a new election. One of the election experts cited in the suit is Richard Charnin, a conspiracy theorist who also claims there was widespread voter fraud against Donald Trump in the presidential election. Mr Moore's lawyer said the purpose of the complaint was to "preserve evidence of potential election fraud and to postpone the certification of Alabama's Special Election by Secretary of State John Merrill until a thorough investigation of potential election fraud, that improperly altered the outcome of this election". Mr Merrill told the Associated Press on Wednesday that he had no intention of delaying the canvassing board meeting and certification of the winner. "It is not going to delay certification and Doug Jones will be certified [on Thursday] at 1 pm and he will be sworn in by Vice-President Pence on 3 January," Mr Merrill said.
12-28-17 America's endless, invisible wars
I wonder how many Americans could accurately answer the question of how many wars the United States is currently waging. Leave aside the pesky details — you know, like an accurate list of the countries where American forces are engaged, the strategic case for our military actions in specific theaters of battle, and the overall cost of these wars in terms of blood and treasure. I'd be content to know that a solid majority of Americans were aware that we're currently at war in (at least) seven countries across the Greater Middle East: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Pakistan. I've added a parenthetical "at least" because our military engagements and commitments are so vast and amorphously defined that any list will almost certainly fall short of comprehensiveness. If we include covert operations, for example, we're almost certainly engaged in acts of war in several additional countries beyond those seven. And then there's the tendency among the members of our political class, including many journalists who cover it, to avoid using the term "war" for military actions that fall short of the deployment of ground troops — even when they include such acts of war as the firing of missiles at sovereign nations and the imposition or enforcement of naval blockades against them. So it's hard to know precisely how many wars the nation is currently waging. But let's say it's seven. How widely known is this? How many Americans are aware that 71 civilians were killed in Yemen over the weekend by a U.S-backed bombing campaign by Saudi Arabia? Or that our support for Saudi interference in the Yemeni civil war was begun, with barely any public explanation or justification, by the Obama administration? Or that Congress, empowered by the Constitution to declare and fund wars, has proven itself eager to shirk its responsibilities, allowing the White House and the Pentagon to prosecute endless, invisible wars across the globe with barely any democratic oversight?
12-27-17 The fog of troop deployments
How many troops does the U.S. military have deployed around the world, and what are they doing? The question is not merely a contemporary version of the sort of numbers-and-dates minutiae that plague the high school history student. We need to know the answer, because it is already difficult enough for the public to muster interest in foreign wars so far removed from our daily experience. If we are kept in the dark about the scale of our military's commitments abroad, our ignorance tempts us to greater and more dangerous apathy. That we are ignorant here is the fault of the Department of Defense, which has an extensive record of confusing and contradictory statements on how many American troops are doing what and where. This month, for example, a new DoD report said some 44,000 American soldiers are in "unknown" deployments overseas. When pressed, the Pentagon declined to elaborate. Then there are the active war zones, most notably Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. When the White House sent Congress an accounting of U.S. military presences in these three countries on Dec. 11, the letter left out troop totals altogether — perhaps because the executive branch can't seem to agree on how those totals should be reported. Consider the situation in Syria. On Dec. 6, the Pentagon said there were about 2,000 U.S. troops there, which is four times the previous official count of 503. That discrepancy is big, but the new number may be wrong, too. In late October, Army Maj. Gen. James B. Jarrard, who is commander of the U.S.-led Special Operations task force fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, told reporters there are "a little over 4,000 U.S. troops in Syria right now that are supporting efforts against" ISIS. Moments later, Jarrard claimed he misspoke, and a Pentagon representative, Eric Pahon, jumped in to tout the 503 figure we now know to be false.
12-27-17 How to crush Trump
Liberals, do not expect Robert Mueller to save you from President Trump. Only politics can stop Trump and the Republican Party. Many Democrats and liberals have spent 2017 fixated on the Russia-Trump story, especially the idea that Trump himself actively assisted Russian efforts to swing the election to him. Trump smells incredibly guilty of something, the circumstantial evidence is strong, and Mueller's investigation has already netted two guilty pleas (of George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn) and one indictment (of Paul Manafort). It is right and proper for this investigation to proceed. However, liberals should not delude themselves that it is definitely going to topple Trump like Watergate toppled Nixon. The American government is dramatically more corrupt than it was in the 1970s, and the Republican Party is rotten to the bone. If some smoking gun on Russia-Trump appears, there will be no Barry Goldwater-style intervention to usher Trump quietly from the White House. On the contrary, it's highly likely that if Mueller gets close to the president, Trump will simply fire him, and the Republican elite will help him do it. Republican hacks are already whipping themselves into a froth by smearing Mueller (who was appointed head of the FBI by George W. Bush) as some kind of deranged communist, and using that as a convenient excuse to carry out a partisan purge of the FBI. Republican congressional leaders, glorying in their latest transfer of wealth to the ultra-wealthy, will either look the other way — perhaps their upcoming plan to gut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — or join in the fun. The only Republicans who are meaningfully anti-Trump are a tiny handful of powerless, untrustworthy neoconservative warmongers. (Webmaster's comment: Hitler's control of America is closer than ever.)
12-24-17 A brief history of Christmas trees
For most Americans, a tinsel-decked tree is a holiday essential. But why do we put decorated firs in our homes? Here's everything you need to know:
- How did the custom start? As with many Christmas traditions, its roots go back to pagan times.
- When did Christians get on board? The Eastern European cities of Tallinn and Riga both claim to have hosted the first Christmas tree: Tallinn in 1441, Riga in 1510.
- What did Luther see? The German theologian was taking a nighttime stroll through a pine forest near his home in Wittenberg when he glanced up and was awestruck by the thousands of stars twinkling through the branches.
- When did the trees arrive in the U.S.? They were brought to Pennsylvania by German settlers and may have even played a part in the Revolutionary War.
- What about decorations? Thomas Edison's assistant, Edward Johnson, was the bright spark who dreamed up electric Christmas tree lights in 1882.
- What do other countries do? In Japan, you might find origami swans, paper fans, and wind chimes hanging from the branches; in Spain, a tree trunk is filled with goodies, like toffees, nougats, almonds, and dates.
- An upside-down controversy: A new front has opened up in the so-called War on Christmas: the upside-down Christmas tree.
12-24-17 Was the Star of Bethlehem real?
An astronomer analyzes what we know about the star that guided the wise men to Jesus. Bright stars top Christmas trees in Christian homes around much of the world. The faithful sing about the "Star of Wonder" that guided the wise men to a manger in the little town of Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. They're commemorating the Star of Bethlehem described by the Evangelist Matthew in the New Testament. Is the star's biblical description a pious fiction, or does it contain some astronomical truth?
- Puzzles for astronomy: To understand the Star of Bethlehem, we need to think like the three wise men.
- What could the 'star in the east' be? The astronomer in me knows that no star can do these things, nor can a comet, or Jupiter, or a supernova, or a conjunction of planets, or any other actual bright object in the nighttime sky.
- Astrological answers to astronomical puzzles: Astronomer Michael Molnar points out that "in the east" is a literal translation of the Greek phrase en te anatole, which was a technical term used in Greek mathematical astrology 2,000 years ago. It described, very specifically, a planet that would rise above the eastern horizon just before the sun would appear.
Together, a rare combination of astrological events (the right planet rising before the sun; the sun being in the right constellation of the zodiac; plus a number of other combinations of planetary positions considered important by astrologers) would have suggested to ancient Greek astrologers a regal horoscope and a royal birth.
12-23-17 Pot for pets: Could medical marijuana help your dog?
Alison Ettel, MBA, has never got high for fun, but she'd like to feed your dog cannabis. Why? Alison is the CEO of TreatWell Health, a Californian firm making medical marijuana products for people - and their canines. Her rivals include Treatibles, which sells a hemp oil "for animals of all kinds", and Pet Releaf, whose hemp dog treats look like fancy vegan snack-food. It may sound mad, but as more US states legalise recreational cannabis use, pot for pets is booming. Veterinary groups are cautious at best; but a mounting number of dog owners say the drug is easing their animals' anxiety and chronic pain. Firstly, the obvious question: No, they're not smoking it. Or eating it whole. Cannabis at human strengths can be toxic for dogs, so firms are making dog chews, oils and topical creams using cannabis extract. Some use marijuana, but more often it's hemp, which belongs to the same plant species. Both contain the compound Cannabidiol (CBD), which studies suggest can reduce inflammation, and combat seizures and anxiety. Melinda Hayes, who runs a medical cannabis delivery service in Los Angeles, gives TreatWell's cannabis tincture to Diva, her arthritic 12-year-old rescue dog. "She is in great health for a dog her age," she says, "and I attribute that to good genes, good food and the cannabis." The only side-effects she's heard of are sleepiness and increased thirst - "so you do have to make sure they have access to do their business regularly".
12-22-17 The science behind kids’ belief in Santa
The more live Santas young kids see, the stronger their conviction is that the Santas are real. Over the past week, my little girls have seen Santa in real life at least three times (though only one encounter was close enough to whisper “yo-yo” in his ear). You’d think that this Santa saturation might make them doubt that each one was the real deal. For one thing, they looked quite different. Brewery Santa’s beard was a joke, while Christmas-tree-lighting Santa’s beard was legit. Add to that variations in outfits and jolliness levels. But as I delved into the Santa-related research, I found I was wrong to think his omnipresence might throw my kids off. It turns out that the more kids see real, live Santa Clauses, the more likely they are to think he’s real. More exposure actually tracked with stronger belief, scientists reported in Cognitive Development in 2016. That got me wondering about this belief. Like many parents, I feel a little hint of unease when it comes to telling my trusting, innocent children a lie. But lots of parents conspire to tell this lie to their children. An AP survey from 2011 (the most recent I could find on this pressing issue) revealed that 84 percent of adult respondents believed in Santa as a child. Many of these former children had their Christmas beliefs shattered around age 8, other studies suggest. A fascinating paper from 1978 found that 85 percent of 4-year-olds believed in Santa. Five percent didn’t, and 10 percent were still thinking about it. But only 25 percent of 8-year-olds believed in Santa, with 20 percent not believing and 55 percent transitioning in their beliefs. Funnily enough, 60 percent of these same 8-year-olds still believed in the tooth fairy.
12-22-17 Trump's ambassador to Netherlands in 'fake news' blunder
The new US ambassador to the Netherlands has been caught out on Dutch television after a journalist quizzed him about comments he had made about Islamic extremism in the country. Pete Hoekstra denied he had ever said there were "no-go zones" in the Netherlands, calling it "fake news". But the Dutch journalist showed him a clip of the comments from 2015. The Trump appointee then appeared to deny the "fake news" term he had used earlier in the interview. The exchange left Wouter Zwart, US correspondent for Dutch broadcaster NOS, visibly confused in the short clip that has been widely shared on social media. (Webmaster's comment: Lying about Muslims and fake news is a Republican deliberate attempt to build hatred against Muslims and hatred of others who opposed the far right!)
12-22-17 Iran's moral police storm solstice parties to arrest 230 people
Iran's moral police have arrested 230 people at two winter solstice celebration parties in Tehran. The shortest day of the year is traditionally celebrated in Iran, where it is known as Yalda. Col Zulfikar Barfar, head of Tehran's moral-security force, said the partygoers had been drinking and dancing at the mixed parties. Drinking alcohol can be punishable by 80 lashes, although in recent years perpetrators are often fined instead. Morality police are known in Persian as Ershad, meaning guidance. They also ensure women adhere to Islamic dress code. Police said 140 of the people were arrested in a garden in the Lavasan area, while the other 90 were attending a celebration in the northern district of Fermaniyeh,
12-22-17 Jerusalem: UN resolution rejects Trump's declaration
The UN General Assembly has decisively backed a resolution effectively calling on the US to withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The text says that any decisions regarding the status of the city are "null and void" and must be cancelled. The non-binding resolution was approved by 128 states, with 35 abstaining and nine others voting against. It came after US President Donald Trump threatened to cut financial aid to those who backed the resolution. Following the vote, state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the US was exploring "various options" and no decisions had yet been made. The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of Israel's conflict with the Palestinians. city as its indivisible capital. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state and its final status is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks. Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and all countries currently maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv. However, President Trump has told the US state department to start work on moving the US embassy.
- The nine who voted against the resolution were the US, Israel, Guatemala, Honduras, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo
- Among the 35 abstaining were Canada and Mexico
- Those voting in favour included the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia and the UK) as well as key US allies in the Muslim world
- There were 21 countries who did not turn up for the vote.
(Webmaster's comment: United States proves again it's the biggest bully on the planet!)
12-22-17 Opioid crisis linked to two-year drop in US life expectancy
US life expectancy fell last year for a second year running for the first time in more than half a century, reportedly driven by the worsening opioid crisis. It was the first consecutive drop since 1962-63. The last two-year decline before that was in the 1920s. The previous fall in overall US life expectancy was a one-year drop in 1993, at the height of the Aids epidemic. Years of over-prescription of opioid painkillers in the US has created a nationwide addiction crisis, with patients turning to heroin and other street drugs when their prescriptions stop. "The key factor in all this is the increase in drug overdose deaths," said Robert Anderson, the chief of mortality statistics at the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), calling the two-year life expectancy drop "shocking". In 2016, 63,600 people died from a drug overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - up 21% from the previous year and three times the rate in 1999. Opioid-related overdoses increased by 28%, killing 42,249 people, mostly in the 25-to-54 age group. The 0.1-year overall drop in 2016 stems from a 0.2-year drop among men and no change among women, whose life expectancy at birth stayed at 81.1. A life expectancy drop again in 2017 would represent the first three-year fall since the catastrophic outbreak of Spanish flu 100 years ago.
12-21-17 America's alien freakout
Forgive me for not being markedly enthusiastic about the news that the Pentagon has spent at least $22 million over the last decade studying unidentified flying objects. Contra Mulder, the truth is not out there. "Space" has become a mania, a cult, a crypto-ontology that undergirds all our assumptions about creation in ways we barely understand. The gleaming prospect of orange nebulae looms on dedicated Twitter accounts and in BuzzFeed listicles while the planet we have now, the one we are all quietly busy destroying in our thousand necessary ways, decays into irrelevance. For most of us, the destruction of Earth has already happened. Even the plants we can identify are uniform squares deposited in grids with instructions from Home Depot underneath our vinyl siding. A passage from a popular book written over a century ago full of references to sloe and purple loose-strife is meaningless. We have not forgotten the names of the flowers and the trees; we have never known them. The song-dreams they gave our ancestors have become nightmares of faux brick veneer, their pleasant spells exorcised in the name of the cruel mechanical gods — growth, free trade, globalism, democracy — we worship. When there is nothing left, not even the raw materials for manufacturing more carbon fiber reinforced polymers, we will all climb into crowd-funded spaceships bound for our new homes on some cold nameless rock in the middle of what is literally nowhere. This obsession with space is ridiculously adolescent. It is also vicious and inhumane, and founded upon a universally shared misapprehension. (Webmaster's comment: There has never been one shread of physical evidence to support Aliens From Outer Space! But neither has there been one shread of physical evidence to support a God either!)
12-21-17 Shocking drop in life expectancy shows US still in bad health
Amid a glut of drug overdoses, gun deaths and suicide, shorter lives and poorer health are becoming the new norm in the US. It's alarming, says Laudan Aron Five years ago, a groundbreaking report showed people in the US in worse health and dying younger than those in other rich nations. Today, despite the alarm the report generated, we learned that life expectancy in the country declined for a second year in a row – astonishing by any standard. The original report, released by the US National Research Council and Institute of Medicine and subtitled Shorter Lives, Poorer Health, documented a large and growing US “health disadvantage”. As my New Scientist commentary at the time explained, widespread evidence showed that compared with people in other wealthy democracies, people in the US under the age of 75 – men and women, rich and poor, of all races and ethnicities – die younger and experience more injuries and illnesses. Even a cursory look at developments over the past five years reveals why the country is still so unwell. Public policies and poor living conditions all play a part. The US is also in the midst of one of the worst drug epidemics in the nation’s history. It is a public health crisis that has been unfolding over two decades but only recently garnered urgent national attention. Drug overdoses, often from opioid use, now surpass road accidents as the leading cause of death from injury (as opposed to disease), for people in the US aged 25 to 64. More than 175 people die every day as a result of overdoses, the equivalent of two full 747 jumbo jets crashing every week somewhere in the country. Along with deaths attributable to alcohol and suicide, the overdoses have been branded “deaths of despair“. Compared with other rich nations, the US also continues to experience much higher rates of infant mortality and gun deaths. (Webmaster's comment: The failure of the United States is obvious. More of us are dying sooner. Praying doesn't work!)
12-21-17 Religious Giving Down, Other Charity Holding Steady
Slightly more than half of Americans (52%) say they have donated money to a religious charity over the past year, down 12 percentage points from the high of 64% who said they did so in 2005. At the same time, reported donations to secular charitable organizations have held steady at or near 75%. Description
- 52% of Americans donated to religious charities in 2017
- Down from a peak of 64% in 2005
- Little change in percentage who donated to charities overall
12-21-17 Congratulations, Republicans. You just gave Democrats the Senate.
Unless Republicans sharply and suddenly change course, they're headed toward electoral disaster. Yesterday Republicans succeeded, finally, in passing a tax "reform" abomination that is deeply, widely, and rightly reviled. As they were hastily and dutifully completing the task of selling out middle and working class Americans to give their donors cash for that critical third yacht, three new polls were released showing Republicans 12, 15, and 18 points down to Democrats in next year's race for the House of Representatives, numbers that would make it all but impossible for Republicans to preserve their majority in the chamber. At this point, smart gamblers are probably putting big, beautiful stacks of chips on the Democrats. Conservative analyst Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics, a man not known for hyperbole, tweeted that he expects as many as 40 seats to light up blue (Democrats only need 24), if not more. Public Policy Polling has been testing individual House contests this fall, and without even sniffing around all of the expected battleground races, found 25 where the Republican trails a generic or specific Democrat, with many more once-impregnable fortress districts that are crazy close. And Republicans, already weary from a schedule of mindlessly serving their well-heeled overlords, have another 11 months of frenzied lunacy from the most unhinged White House in American history to get through and a 2018 legislative agenda that could charitably be called empty and unpromising. These catastrophic numbers are all but certain to get worse by November 2018. For Republicans hopeful that people will warm to the very modest and very temporary tax relief that will be enjoyed by some, though not all, non-Richistanis, there is a small problem: 2018 taxes won't be filed until 5 months after the midterm elections, and people are unlikely to forgive the GOP its many treacherous trespasses this year because they found an extra 18 bucks in their weekly paycheck. And if they continue on this trajectory of achieving virtually nothing except torpedoing insurance markets and gift-wrapping tax goodies for real estate speculators, Republicans might hand the Democrats a filibuster-proof Senate majority over the next two cycles. (Webmaster's comment: The true desire of Republicans to rule the rest of humanity has been exposed. Anyone who can't make it without help should just die! It's the Libertarian way! Survival of fittest only!)
12-21-17 Justine Damond: Family 'concern' over US shooting probe
Relatives of an Australian woman shot dead by a US policeman say they are concerned the incident may not have been investigated properly. Justine Damond, 40, was killed after calling police to report a woman screaming outside her Minneapolis home in July. Last week, a US prosecutor said investigators had not "done their jobs" in examining her death. Ms Damond's father said he now felt "compelled" to comment on the case. "We are deeply concerned about the possibility that the initial investigation was not done properly and with greatest integrity and sense of completeness," John Ruszczyk told reporters in Sydney on Thursday. In a video released last week, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said he did not have sufficient evidence to charge Mohamed Noor, the officer who shot Ms Damond as she approached his police car in her pyjamas. "Who didn't do their jobs? Investigators. And they don't work for me. And they haven't done their job," Mr Freeman said. He later apologised for the comments, saying he did not know he was being recorded by activists who had confronted him over the case. Mr Ruszczyk said Mr Freeman's comments cast doubt on the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) investigation.(Webmaster's comment: She was in her pajamas. Therefore she wasn't dressed properly. She must be crazy. Therefore to protect myself I had to kill her! Another cop got away with murder!)
12-21-17 Kaci Sullivan: 'I gave birth as both genders'
Kaci Sullivan, from Missouri, first gave birth five years ago, before beginning to transition and start living as a man. Last month, he gave birth again after seven days in labour. Kaci conceived with partner Steven after a break from taking male hormones.
12-20-17 He was sent to a Holocaust concentration camp. Then German soldiers discovered he could paint.
When you step inside artist Kalman Aron's modest apartment in Beverly Hills, a lifetime of creation surrounds you. The walls are covered in paintings and finished canvases are stacked on the floors, a dozen deep. The paintings range from portraits to landscapes to abstract works. They're just a fraction of the roughly 2,000 pieces Aron says he's created over the decades. Born in Riga, Latvia, in 1924, Aron started sketching when he was 3. At age 13, he won a competition to paint a portrait of the country's prime minister. But then came the start of World War II; Germany invaded Latvia in 1941. As in the rest of Europe, the Nazis sought to isolate, imprison, and exterminate Latvia's Jewish population. Aron's family members were killed in the Riga ghetto and in concentration camps. He was imprisoned in seven concentration and labor camps over the course of four years, not knowing if he'd be alive the next day. But Aron was able to survive when German soldiers discovered his skills as an artist. Camp guards and officers asked Aron to make small portraits of family members in exchange for scraps of bread. Aron's artistic skills also helped shield him from grueling slave labor that killed many other Jewish inmates. "If I didn't have a pencil and paper I wouldn't be [alive]. So the pencil and paper did it," Aron says. After the war ended, Aron lived in a displaced persons camp in Austria and received a scholarship to attend Vienna's Academy of Fine Arts.
12-20-17 U.S. life expectancy drops for the second year in a row
For 2016, life expectancy decreased from 2015 for men but remained the same for women, the CDC reports. Life expectancy in the United States has decreased for the second year in a row, the first back-to-back drops in more than 50 years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. In 2016, life expectancy at birth was 78.6 years for the U.S. population as a whole. That’s 0.1 year less than in 2015. For men, life expectancy decreased from 76.3 years in 2015 to 76.1 years in 2016, while in women it remained the same, at 81.1 years. The new data, from CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, are published online December 21. Heart disease was the leading cause of death for 2016, followed by cancer, unintentional injuries such as drug overdoses and car crashes, chronic lower respiratory diseases including asthma, and stroke. Rounding out the top 10 causes of death were Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease and suicide. The overall drop in life expectancy is largely a result of an uptick in the age-adjusted death rates for unintentional injuries, Alzheimer’s disease and suicide, the report’s authors say. (Webmaster's comment: The big increase is in unintentional injuries, more men putting themsleves at risk and doing stupid things.)
12-20-17 The Great Republican Tax Heist of 2017
Republicans finally rammed their tax bill through the House and the Senate on Tuesday. And while they still need to go through the motions with one last House vote today, the game is up. This wretched piece of economic policy designed almost solely to transfer income and wealth to the very top of the income ladder is about to become law. As Greg Sargent shows, a large majority of the country will face tax hikes by 2027 — while over nine-tenths of the top 0.1 percent will get a tax cut averaging over $200,000. So it's not too surprising that the bill is horrendously unpopular. But because of that unpopularity (and its explosion of the deficit), Republicans had to resort to outright bribery to get it through. Anyone with a lingering shred of conscience, like Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), are getting personal tax breaks, while others like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan are reportedly going to resign in advance of public backlash. These Republican hogs are gorging themselves at the public trough — and unlike in years past, this time ordinary voters aren't getting even a few scraps. (Webmaster's comment: There has been a constant Republican push to reduce taxes on the rich and on the corporations since the 50's. Its paid off in ten's of billions for them and nothing for the rest of us. The great Libertarian ideal is being achieved, the rich and the corporations rule! )
12-20-17 US lifts ban on lethal virus experiments despite security risks
The US government has lifted a three-year ban on making lethal viruses in the lab, saying the potential benefits of disease preparedness outweigh the risks. Labs will now be able to manufacture strains of influenza, Sars and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers). The ban was imposed following safety breaches at federal institutions involving anthrax and avian flu. Now a scientific review panel will have to green-light each research proposal. It will only be allowed to go ahead if the panel determines there is no safer way to conduct the research and that the benefits it will provide justify the risk. Critics say such "gain-of-function" research still risks creating an accidental pandemic. But supporters of removing the ban say many US states are poorly prepared for an almost-inevitable outbreak of a deadly virus. "I believe nature is the ultimate bioterrorist and we need to do all we can to stay one step ahead," said Samuel Stanley, chairman of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, which provided guidance on the new policy. "Basic research on these agents by laboratories that have shown they can do this work safely is key to global security." The ban was imposed in 2014 after embarrassing safety lapses including:
- Dozens of workers at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) being exposed to anthrax bacteria
- Long forgotten vials of smallpox left in a cardboard box being discovered at a research centre near Washington
In addition, there was concern that research into transmissible pathogens, which is published, could be used to deliberately engineer a mutant virus. (Webmaster's comment: United States is moving towards doing research on biological warfare weapons.)
12-20-17 How Trump’s ‘ban’ on science words could harm public health
Reports that the leading US public health agency is banned from using words like "vulnerable" suggest a worrying belief in not fixing inequality. The Trump administration has reportedly banned the leading US public health agency from using certain words in a budget proposal due next year. And what words: vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based and science-based. The choice reflects the Trump camp’s well-known dislike of science. But more subtly, it reveals a less-noticed dislike of equality, which research suggests could be deeply rooted in the psychology of Trump supporters. This is a problem, not just because equality is central to traditional US beliefs, but because it is integral to public health. On Friday The Washington Post reported that at a meeting the previous day, officials at the US Department of Health and Human Services told finance officers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – the country’s leading public health agency – not to use the seven terms in a draft budget for the president’s 2019 budget proposal. This is due to go to Congress in February. The report sparked outrage in the scientific world, prompting the head of the CDC, Brenda Fitzgerald, to tweet “there are no banned words at CDC”. But the proposal came from the Department of Health, which runs the CDC, and it hasn’t fully denied the Post report. Spokesperson Matt Lloyd merely said it was a “mischaracterization of discussions”. He hasn’t offered a better characterisation. But comments by officials suggest that rather than a ban on words, the discussion was an effort, in the face of major proposed cuts in federal health funding, to get the CDC budget past members of Congress who see those words as ideological red flags.
12-20-17 UN Jerusalem vote: US 'will be taking names'
The US says it "will be taking names" during a UN General Assembly vote on a resolution criticising its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Permanent representative Nikki Haley warned member states that President Donald Trump had asked her to report on "who voted against us" on Thursday. The draft resolution does not mention the US, but says any decisions on Jerusalem should be cancelled. On Monday, the US vetoed a similar motion at the UN Security Council. The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of Israel's conflict with the Palestinians. Israel occupied the east of the city, previously occupied by Jordan, in the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state and its final status is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks. Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and all countries currently maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv. However, President Trump has told the US state department to start work on moving the US embassy. (Webmaster's comment: This is United States trying to rule the world by threats!)
12-20-17 Poland judiciary reforms: EU takes disciplinary measures
The EU has launched unprecedented disciplinary measures against Poland, saying its planned judicial reforms threaten the rule of law. It said 13 new laws in two years have allowed the government to "interfere significantly" in the judiciary. Poland has been given three months to address the concerns. But the Polish conservative government called the decision "political". It has said the reforms are needed to curb inefficiency and corruption. The disciplinary measures, called Article 7, could lead to the suspension of Poland's voting rights at EU summits. But Hungary has said it would block such a move, known as the "nuclear option", that requires the approval of all member states. After almost two years monitoring the situation in Poland, the European Commission - the EU executive - said this was a matter of "common concern" for the bloc, and asked the government to:
- Not apply lower retirement age to current judges
- Remove the discretionary power of the president to prolong the mandate of Supreme Court judges
- Remove the new retirement regime for judges including the discretionary powers of the Minister of Justice
- Restore the independence and legitimacy of the Constitutional Tribunal
The Commission's deputy head, First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, who has conducted talks with the Polish government led by the Law and Justice party (PiS), said there was "no other option" as the "entire structure was affected". (Webmaster's comment: Standing up against the up-and-coming dictatorship!)
12-19-17 Gay, lesbian and bisexual high schoolers report ‘tragically high’ suicide risk
Adolescents considered sexual minorities are more vulnerable to suicidal behaviors than their heterosexual peers. High school students who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual are more likely to report planning or attempting suicide compared with their heterosexual peers, a new study finds. In a nationwide survey in 2015, 40 percent of adolescents who identified as one of these sexual minorities or said they were unsure of their orientation reported seriously considering suicide. Thirty-five percent reported planning suicide, and 25 percent reported attempting suicide. That’s compared with 15 percent, 12 percent and 6 percent, respectively, for heterosexual high schoolers, researchers report in the Dec. 19 JAMA. The risk of suicidal behavior among sexual minority youth is “tragically high,” says Anna Mueller, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, who was not involved in the study. The results come more than 15 years after the first study to provide nationwide evidence of the elevated risk of suicidal behavior in sexual minority youth. The new research uses the 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which queried public and private high school students in every state and Washington, D.C. More than 15,500 teens responded. About 89 percent of participants reported they were heterosexual. Two percent identified as gay or lesbian, 6 percent as bisexual, and 3 percent reported they were not sure. The survey did not include transgender as a response option. Sexual minority youth often struggle with mental health problems because of social stigma and harassment, Mueller says (SN Online: 3/1/17). Difficulties can be overt — as when teens are bullied by peers or rejected by family members — or subtle, she says. “Just fearing how their family or friends may react to their sexual orientation can isolate youth and profoundly harm their mental health.”
12-19-17 2018 preview: Opioids will kill tens of thousands more people
Tens of thousands of people will die from opioid drug use next year, as the US epidemic worsens. It is thought there were more than 53,000 opioid-related deaths there in 2016. Official tallies won’t be released until next year, but a number of states – among them Missouri, Mississippi, Connecticut and Maryland – have already reported higher opioid-related death rates for 2017 than for 2016. While prescription painkillers have played a role in the epidemic, crackdowns mean many now get opioids on the street – including fentanyl, which can be 100 times more powerful than heroin. Given its trajectory, this trend is expected to worsen next year. In 2016, there were over 21,000 fentanyl-related deaths – more than double the number in 2015 – meaning the drug overtook heroin as a cause of death. It isn’t just a US problem. Drug-related deaths have been rising in Europe, and there were more than 60 fentanyl-related deaths in the UK in 2017. Governments are finally taking notice. Next February, medication containing codeine will no longer be sold over the counter in Australia, where codeine-related deaths have more than doubled since 2000. This October, President Donald Trump declared a national public health emergency in the US. But any improvements there next year are likely to be achieved by local areas and individual states rather than by a government that seems reluctant to commit any emergency funding to the crisis.
12-19-17 White House to 'temporarily' shut petition website
The White House has said it will be shutting down its website for petitions from midnight on Tuesday until a new one is set up in late January. The "We The People" site was set up by the Obama administration in 2011. It promised a response to all petitions drawing more than 100,000 signatures but the Trump administration has not responded to any since January. The White House said its new platform would save taxpayers more than $1m (£746,500) a year. The total budget of the White House for 2018 is $55m and its information technology budget for the year is $4.94m. A White House official told the Associated Press news agency that the administration would "respond to public concerns next year" and that all existing petitions would be reinstated then. The petition platform was set up under Barack Obama in 2011 as part of his digital democracy initiative. At the time, the White House said that the platform would "give all Americans a way to create and sign petitions on a range of issues affecting our nation". If a petition receives more than 100,000 signatures within a 30-day period, the White House is supposed to issue an official response to it. Since January, popular petitions that have drawn the required number of signatures include one that calls for President Trump's resignation and another that demands he release his tax returns. However, since the start of the Trump administration, all of the petitions that have met this threshold have gone unanswered. The site has been successful at highlighting issues affecting under-represented groups in particular. In 2015, in response to the petition posted on the site after the death of a transgender teenager, President Obama called for an end to "conversion therapy" for gay and transgender teens. (Webmaster's comment: The up-and-coming United States dictatorship has no interest in hearing the vocies of the people!)
12-19-17 Amtrak Washington train crash: Investigators focus on speed
A US passenger train that derailed, killing three people, was travelling at 80mph (130km/h) on a curve with a speed limit of 30mph, data from the train's rear engine indicates. It happened in Washington state during rush hour on Monday and officials say 72 people were taken to hospital. A number of those injured are reported to be in a serious condition. Authorities said all carriages had now been searched, but would not rule out a rise in the number of dead. Bella Dinh-Zarr said the 12-carriage train had engines at the front and rear. The back engine's data recording had been retrieved, she said, and "preliminary indications are that the train was travelling at 80mph on a 30mph track". (Webmaster's comment: Many countries have developed high-speed rail (over 160 mph) to connect major cities, including Austria, Belgium, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Uzbekistan. China has over 14,000 miles of high speed rail. Only the United States is still working at the rail speeds for steam locomotives!)
12-19-17 The secret to becoming more efficient
6 new tips for managing your time. It's hard to be efficient. Sometimes it feels like the world doesn't make any sense. Sometimes you don't make any sense. And sometimes it feels like it's all a conspiracy. As we'll see shortly, these are all, in a way, true. Dan Ariely is the king of irrational behavior. Not that he's more irrational than you or I, but he's studied an impressive amount of it. Dan is a behavioral economist at Duke University and the New York Times bestselling author of three wonderful books. Most recently he's turned his attention to the irrationality of how we use our time and has helped create a new smart-calendar app, Timeful. What's great is the data from Timeful is helping us learn things about what works and what doesn't as it relates to productivity. I gave Dan a call to hear what he had to say about how we can improve time management, how to be efficient and how to get more done.
The 6 tips in a nutshell:
- The world is not designed to help you achieve your long term goals. Passivity is not going to get you where you want to go.
- Control your environment or it will control you. Optimize your workspace for what you need to achieve.
- Write the things you need to do down on your calendar. You're more likely to do what you write down.
- You have about 2 hours of peak productivity, usually early in the morning. Protect those hours and use them wisely.
- Meetings, email, multitasking, and structured procrastination are the biggest time wasters.
- No, you don't need an email break. Switching tasks reduces effectiveness as your brain transitions. The more you do it, the less effective you are.
12-18-17 The GOP tax bill's biggest boondoggles
Here's what experts have already uncovered. You'll be able to file your taxes on a postcard. That was the sales pitch the Republican Party made when it started out on tax reform. The whole idea was to make the tax code simpler and fairer. Now the House and Senate have hashed out a final compromise bill, which they plan to vote on this week. Jammed through at incredible speed, with virtually no public hearings or debate, the tax bill is a complete mess of glitches, opaque wording, and complications. Despite the bill's rapid-fire pace, a group of tax experts was able to survey the tax code changes and compile at least some of the major problems. Not only will the Republicans' tax bill increase the ways the wealthy and connected can game the tax code and avoid paying their fair share — it will likely make the tax system vastly more complicated, not less.
- The GOP tax bill encourages shady tax shenanigans.
- The GOP tax bill will deform important state and local property tax deductions.
- The GOP tax bill will screw up attempts to bring jobs and investment back to America.
12-18-17 Austria protest as far right Freedom Party tastes power
Thousands of protesters rallied in central Vienna against Austria's new coalition government of conservatives and far right, during its swearing-in. Among the banners were ones saying "Don't let the Nazis govern". The Freedom Party (FPÖ) - the junior partner - is the only far-right party to get into power in the EU. The FPÖ and People's Party (ÖVP) plan to implement stricter rules for asylum seekers, after immigration proved a major concern for Austrian voters. The coalition says Austria will stay in the EU. The new chancellor is Sebastian Kurz, 31 - Europe's youngest leader. There was a heavy police presence outside the Hofburg Palace during the swearing-in. About 6,000 people demonstrated against the new coalition, the BBC's Bethany Bell reports. The FPÖ was founded by former Nazis in the 1950s, but today it denies any connection with Nazi ideology. (Webmaster's comment: Right from 1984: Freedom Party means Dictatorship Party! )
12-16-17 CDC gets list of forbidden words: Fetus, transgender, diversity
The forbidden terms are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.” The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “fetus” and “transgender” — in official documents being prepared for next year’s budget. Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden terms at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. In some instances, the analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of “science-based” or “evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the person said. In other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered. The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC, “will continue to use the best scientific evidence available to improve the health of all Americans,” HHS spokesman Matt Lloyd told The Washington Post. “HHS also strongly encourages the use of outcome and evidence data in program evaluations and budget decisions.” The question of how to address such issues as sexual orientation, gender identity and abortion rights — all of which received significant visibility under the Obama administration — has surfaced repeatedly in federal agencies since President Trump took office. Several key departments — including HHS, as well as Justice, Education, and Housing and Urban Development — have changed some federal policies and how they collect government information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. (Webmaster's comment: 1984 here we come!)
12-15-17 Don't fall for the scam to destroy Medicare and Social Security
The Republican tax bill is moving closer and closer to passage. If the GOP manages to ram it through, make no mistake about what's next: a pell-mell rush to eviscerate social insurance programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. It's a simple trick: You blow up the deficit with tax cuts for the rich, then feign shock at the deficits you just caused, then insist that the only way to "get the debt under control" is by slashing social programs to the bone. Don't buy this nonsense, not from Ayn Rand worshipers like House Speaker Paul Ryan, and not from the more moderate deficit scolds who make up the Beltway's spineless and squishy center. America can easily provide for a decent standard of living for retired people, and decent medical care for the elderly and those in need. All that is necessary is raising taxes a bit — mainly on the rich. The Republican line on this is so transparently duplicitous it barely requires refutation. They are trying to stuff as much money as possible into the pockets of the rich, and take as much as possible from the pockets of the middle class and poor. A distracted child could understand the theft that is taking place. However, there is a larger moderate contingent that has long advocated for cuts to Social Security and Medicare. One powerfully misleading argument towards this end is the generational warfare take, most recently presented by Eric B. Schnurer, who presents as some kind of astounding revelation the fact that Social Security and Medicare are funded by taxation of mostly young, non-retired people. Thus Social Security and Medicare is "the grandparents stealing from the grandchildren."
12-15-17 U.S. religion is increasingly polarized
Moderate forms of organized worship are losing ground while evangelicalism maintains a steady foothold. There’s both inspiring and troubling news for holiday worshippers. Unlike other historically Christian Western nations, the United States is not losing its religion, say sociologists Landon Schnabel of Indiana University Bloomington and Sean Bock of Harvard University. But America is becoming as polarized religiously as it is politically, the researchers report online November 27 in Sociological Science. Intense forms of religion, such as Christian evangelicalism, have maintained their popularity for nearly 30 years, Schnabel and Bock find after analyzing almost 30 years of U.S. survey data. At the same time, moderate forms of religion, such as mainline Protestantism, have consistently lost followers. Religious moderates’ exodus from their churches stems partly from a growing link between religion and conservative politics, exemplified by the rise of the religious right in the late 1980s, the researchers suspect. Political liberals and moderates who already felt lukewarm toward the religion of their parents increasingly report identifying with no organized religion, especially if leaders of their childhood churches have taken conservative stances on social issues. Many Americans still report that they believe in God and pray, so they haven’t turned to atheism, the scientists say. Population trends also favor intense forms of religion, Schnabel holds. Mainline Protestantism’s decline from 35 percent of the U.S. population in 1972 — about 73.5 million people — to 12 percent in 2016 — nearly 39 million people — reflects low fertility rates among these Protestants and limited numbers of new adherents from immigration and conversion. Opposite trends among U.S. evangelicals helped their form of intense Christianity surge from 18 percent of the population in 1972 to a steady level of about 28 percent from 1989 to 2016.
12-15-17 The way we were in 2017
How are we feeling? Troubled. 59% of Americans say we’re at the lowest point in our country’s history that they can remember, and 63% say concerns about the nation’s future are a major source of stress in their lives (American Psychological Association). Many fear that partisan politics is splitting the country in two: 70% say the nation’s political divide is at least as big as during the Vietnam War and 39% think this lack of unity is the new normal (Washington Post/University of Maryland). If the Founding Fathers were alive today, 79% think, they’d be disappointed with the U.S. (Fox News). Yet there are some causes for optimism. 43% believe the economy is good or excellent, the highest number in a decade (CNBC), and 58% say they’re moving closer to realizing their career and financial aspirations—the highest number since 2013.
Whom do we blame for America’s problems? For many, it’s the man in the Oval Office. 66% say he’s done more to divide than unite the country (ABC News/Washington Post). Yet his core support remains solid: 22% of Americans say they’d still approve of Trump even if he shot someone on Manhattan’s 5th Avenue (Public Policy Polling). The presidency isn’t the only institution that’s slumped in the eyes of the public. 81% have an unfavorable opinion of Congress (Gallup) and 45% say they have almost no confidence in the press (Reuters/Ipsos). Indeed, 65% think the mainstream media is filled with “fake news” produced by agenda-driven partisans on both the left and right (Harvard-Harris). But many Americans might not accept that finding: 61% say they don’t trust public opinion polls.
12-15-17 Trump faces a #MeToo moment
President Trump was pulled back into the national debate over sexual harassment this week after three women who accused him during the 2016 campaign of groping or forcibly kissing them renewed their allegations, leading New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and other Democrats to call for the president’s resignation. The three women, among more than a dozen to accuse Trump of sexual harassment and assault during his real estate and reality-TV career, told their stories again on Megyn Kelly’s NBC show and at a joint news conference, where they asked Congress to investigate Trump’s alleged misconduct. One accuser, Jessica Leeds, said Trump had tried to put his hand up her skirt during a flight to New York some three decades ago. Another, former Miss USA contestant Samantha Holvey, said it was “heartbreaking” to watch Trump’s electoral victory last year. “Now it’s just like, ‘Alright, let’s try round two.’ The environment’s different.” Gillibrand said the allegations were “very credible” and demanded Trump resign. The president struck back with tweets dismissing the women as fabricators and Gillibrand as a “lightweight.” He claimed the senator “would come to my office ‘begging’ for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them).” Gillibrand and other Democrats said Trump’s comment was laden with sexual innuendo and denounced it as a “sexist smear.” The White House rebuffed the criticism as well as calls for a congressional investigation, saying the accusations had already been litigated in Trump’s favor “in a decisive election.”
12-15-17 The Week Editor’s letter
Never in my lifetime, even in the 1960s, has the country felt so fractured—so close to a civil war. Our one nation, allegedly indivisible, has cracked open along fault lines of culture, class, religion, and partisan identity, creating chasms of mutual incomprehension and disdain. Politics has devolved into a winner-take-all blood sport. Virtually everything is politicized, from football to wedding cakes. In the coming year, special counsel Robert Mueller would seem likely to conclude that President Trump obstructed justice in the Russia investigation. Mueller may point to other high crimes and misdemeanors as well. It’s impossible to predict how Congress and the nation will respond—or what will happen if Trump decides to fire Mueller—except that what follows will be convulsive. Our democracy will be sorely tested; in the crucible, we will discover whether character, decency, truth, and the rule of law still matter. I’d like to think we will pass the test.
12-15-17 Kids’ health program on the brink
Congress isn’t expected to renew funding for the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program until at least January, Axios.com reported this week, leaving many state programs in imminent danger of running out of money. Funding for the joint state-federal program, which provides health insurance for 9 million low-income children, expired at the end of September. Some states, including Virginia and Colorado, have warned families that their children’s coverage will end by Jan. 31 if Congress doesn’t renew funding, and Connecticut and Utah are expected to send similar notifications this month. Congress included temporary measures to keep CHIP running for the rest of the year in its most recent stopgap spending bill, but lawmakers have yet to fund the program for 2018.
12-15-17 Police video
A graphic video of a police officer shooting an unarmed man who had been sobbing and pleading for his life sparked outrage this week, and renewed calls for excessive-force training for law enforcement. The bodycam footage was released a day after a jury acquitted the white officer, Philip Brailsford, of murder and manslaughter charges in the 2016 shooting death of 26-year-old Daniel Shaver, also a white man. The video, which was shown during Brailsford’s trial, shows police confronting Shaver, who had been drinking, in the hallway of a Mesa hotel, where guests had reported seeing a man with a gun. Shaver is seen crying and complying with commands from multiple officers, saying, “Please do not shoot me.” Brailsford then shoots Shaver five times shortly after ordering him to crawl toward him. It later emerged that Shaver had been showing off a pellet gun he used for his job as exterminator, but wasn’t carrying a weapon at the time.
12-15-17 The Democrats’ shocking win in Alabama
In a stunning setback for President Trump and the Republican Party, Democrat Doug Jones this week beat scandal-ridden former judge Roy Moore to become Alabama’s next U.S. senator. The first Democrat to win a Senate seat in the deep-red state since 1992, Jones secured just under 50 percent of the vote, about 1.5 percent more than his opponent. When he is sworn in, likely in early January, it will reduce the GOP’s Senate majority to 51-49. Alabama’s special election to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old seat burst into the national spotlight in November, when The Washington Post reported that Moore was accused of making sexual advances to teenage girls—one as young as 14, another who said he sexually assaulted her at 16—when he was in his 30s. The allegations prompted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans to drop their support and funding. But Trump, encouraged by his firebrand former strategist Steve Bannon, stuck by the controversial candidate and strongly urged his supporters to back him. After Jones’ victory, Trump claimed that he had supported incumbent Sen. Luther Strange in the GOP primary because he thought Moore would struggle in the general election. “I was right!” he tweeted. Jones, a 63-year-old former prosecutor, overcame Alabama’s deep-red demographics with a large turnout by African-Americans and strong support from affluent suburban residents. Jones, who will hold the seat until Sessions’ original term expires in 2020, said the race had been about “dignity and respect,” and “the rule of law.” Moore called for a recount and said he would “wait on God.”
12-15-17 Legalize same-sex marriage
Australia became the 26th nation in the world to legalize same-sex marriage last week. The Netherlands was the first country to take this step, in 2000.
12-15-17 First caste killing conviction
Six people were sentenced to death this week for hacking to death a low-caste Dalit man who married a Hindu woman of a higher caste. The brutal March 2016 slaying outside a shopping mall in Tamil Nadu state was captured on security cameras as the man, Sankar, 22, collapsed in a pool of blood and his wife, Kausalya, who was severely wounded, screamed for help. The footage sparked protests in Tamil Nadu and calls for punishment. Indian media said the sentence was the first time the death penalty had been imposed on those involved in a so-called honor killing of a member of the Dalit caste, formerly known as untouchables. Kausalya’s father was among those convicted.
12-15-17 Going to the movies
Saudi Arabia says it will allow movie theaters to open in the country for the first time in 35 years, part of a wide-ranging modernization push led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Theaters have been banned there since the 1980s, when the kingdom began enforcing an ultraconservative version of Islam that prohibits mixing between men and women. The government said films shown in cinemas would be censored to comply with strict moral codes, including a ban on nudity and sex, and there could be political restrictions. Wonder Woman, for example, was banned in several Arab countries because the blockbuster’s star, actress Gal Gadot, is from Israel. Prince Mohammed’s reform may face resistance. The grand mufti, Saudi Arabia’s top Islamic authority, has called cinemas “a depravity.”
12-15-17 Synagogue firebombed
A gang of masked attackers threw Molotov cocktails at a synagogue in Gothenburg this week, just hours after protests in the city against the U.S.’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Police arrested three migrants, ages 18, 20, and 21, in connection with the arson. Two of the men are reported to be from Syria and one from the Palestinian territories; all deny any wrongdoing. Firebombs were also thrown at a chapel in a Jewish cemetery in Malmo, days after 200 people protested the Jerusalem declaration in the city by chanting, “We’re going to shoot the Jews.” Muslim and Christian faith leaders condemned the attacks. “There is no place for anti-Semitism in our Swedish society,” said Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.
12-15-17 Crackdown on press
Poland’s government has fined the country’s most-watched private TV station $420,000 for its coverage of opposition protests in Parliament last year—news reports that officials said encouraged behavior that threatened the nation’s security. Critics said that the penalty, exceedingly steep by Polish standards, is intended to make the U.S.-owned TVN24 curb its criticism of the ruling nationalist Law and Justice party. The channel extensively covered last year’s demonstrations, when thousands of Poles rallied outside Parliament and liberal opposition lawmakers occupied the legislature’s main chamber to protest a Law and Justice plan to ban journalists from the building. The government later dropped the proposal.
12-15-17 Net neutrality rules weakened by US regulator
Restrictions on US broadband providers' ability to prioritise one service's data over another are to be reduced after a vote by a regulator. The Federal Communications Commission voted three to two to change the way "net neutrality" is governed. Internet service providers (ISPs) will now be allowed to speed up or slow down different companies' data, and charge consumers according to the services they access. But they must disclose such practices. Ahead of the vote, protesters rallied outside the FCC's building to oppose the change. Many argue the reversal of rules introduced under President Barack Obama will make the internet less open and accessible. The decision is already facing legal challenges, with New York's attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, announcing he will lead a lawsuit challenging the FCC's decision.
12-15-17 Does net neutrality mean the end of the internet as we know it?
Hyperbole and misinformation followed the US decision to end net neutrality. It's important to know what's really at stake, says Aaron Mak. After the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal net neutrality regulations on Thursday, reactions on Twitter were strong. Many despaired about the possible end of access to a free and open internet, while others urged neutrality supporters to not give up the fight by calling their representatives in Congress and keeping an eye on the various state governments and advocacy groups that are planning to sue the FCC. Even before Thursday’s vote, people were warning that you might have to pay an itemised fee to access sites like Twitter if net neutrality – the principle that internet service providers treat all content equally – ends. While technically possible, this scenario is highly unlikely. After the decision, hyperbole and misinformation were out in full force. Again, one of the most common fears was that consumers were going to have to pay extra fees to access certain websites. The initial debate over net neutrality during the Obama administration concerned regulations protecting websites. Based on prior discourse, there is little to no precedent for the idea that customers would be charged more to reach a particular site. Internet service providers, if they do change their policies after the repeal of net neutrality, are more likely to charge websites higher fees to reach consumers. This dynamic could end up prioritising more established sites that can afford higher connection speeds, while putting smaller sites at a disadvantage if they don’t have the requisite funds. (Webmaster's comment: The bottom line is that one way or another we'll have to pay more!)
12-14-17 Roy Moore says Alabama election 'tainted' by outside groups
Roy Moore says he will not accept defeat in Alabama's election, arguing the vote was "tainted" by outside groups trying to stay in power. In a four-minute video on YouTube, the hardline Republican lashed out after Democrat Doug Jones claimed victory in Tuesday's election. Mr Moore railed against gay rights, abortion, and "the right of a man to claim to be a woman and vice versa". Democrats will hold the Alabama senate seat for the first time in 25 years. "We are indeed in a struggle to preserve our republic, our civilisation and our religion," Mr Moore said in fire-and-brimstone remarks. The election race, he claimed, was "tainted by over $50 million from outside groups who want to retain power and their corrupt ideology". Mr Moore crashed to defeat after he was engulfed by multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, including child molestation. "In this race," he said, "we have not received the final count to include military and provisional ballots." He added that he was awaiting final certification of the results. Mr Jones won 49.9% of the vote compared to Mr Moore's 48.4%, a margin of nearly 21,000 votes out of 1.3 million cast, US media report. Alabama's secretary of state has said overseas ballots can continue to come in until Tuesday next week. But he said it was "highly unlikely" the Democrat will not be formally declared the winner. (Webmaster's comment: Roy Moore Is No More!)
12-14-17 How to thwart Trump's cruel crackdown on the DREAMers
President Trump is presenting lawmakers with a Sophie's Choice on the DREAMers: Acquiesce to his draconian immigration enforcement designs, or watch him banish these blameless individuals. DREAMers — immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally when they were children — were one group of immigrants whom, during the campaign, Trump had assured he would leave undisturbed. Even as he pledged to enact a travel ban targeted at Muslims, institute "extreme vetting," and restore the notorious Operation Wetback program to eject other undocumented immigrants, he promised to "take care" of the DREAMers because he had a "big heart." But apparently his heart shrank once in office, because in September, he scrapped former President Barack Obama's DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, which gave about 700,000 of roughly one million DREAMers a two-year reprieve from deportation. Instead, Trump passed the buck, asking Congress to enact legislation legalizing DREAMers by March. That wouldn't have been so bad if Trump had actually meant to spur Congress to hand permanent legal status to these individuals, which only legislation can do. Instead, Trump is using his suspension of DACA to advance a sweeping anti-immigration agenda. The only way to avoid a moral stain on this country is for members of both parties to stand their ground and refuse to pass a government-funding bill that doesn't contain a clean DREAMer fix.
12-14-17 Racism row over 'Dutch only' rental ad
Picture the scene. You traipse around viewing properties with your partner. Eventually you find "the one" and submit all the necessary paperwork - only to be told the landlord only wants tenants who are of "Dutch descent". In other words... not you. This is exactly what happened to a Dutch-Moroccan couple. The estate agent's email explained: "The owner has chosen to only rent to people of Dutch descent. I am sorry to have to report this to you." One of the applicants, Ihsane Bachar, posted a screen grab of the rejection note on Facebook, accompanied by the message: "I know there is a lot of racism, but effort is done to disguise it as we often see on the labour market. "Apparently this also applies to the housing market. I'm more shocked by the fact that it has become dead normal to discriminate. Being tactical is no longer necessary, although I appreciate the honesty of the person who typed this mail." Some comments urged her to press charges. Others were surprised most by the unusually overt discrimination. The couple are Dutch citizens and hold Dutch passports. I rang the estate agent, Goedhart Makelaars, based in the village of Rijnsaterwoude between The Hague and Amsterdam, for a response. However, the instant I told them I was from the BBC they hung up. One of their representatives emailed the Dutch public broadcaster to explain why they delivered the blunt note. "Of course I can tell the couple a nonsense story but the owner said this explicitly. We did not invent that ourselves. We do not have problems with people," the representative told them.
12-14-17 The story of Colorado's first same-sex marriage
How a lovable rogue named Helen Hilsher — disguised as a man — married her sweetheart. the winter of 1911, a handsome young man arrived in Meeker, Colorado. He wore a smart suit and introduced himself to the residents as John Hill — or Jack, as he preferred to be called. No one in that small White River Valley town had ever seen him before. He was in his early 20s, and had come from the east, he said, to be revived by the bracing western winds. His first job in the town, however, was not out on the plains, but at the local saloon owned by one John Davitt. Handsome and well-mannered, Jack was instantly popular with the Davitt House's patrons, working his way up from dishwasher to barroom porter, before finally achieving the status of bartender. Though he did not join the town's men in their drinking — a quirk which soon earned him the title of "Davitt's teetotaller" — the men did not begrudge him his temperance. Jack was adept at minding his own business, turning his attention to a dirty glass or unswept floor when their profanities drifted across the bar towards him. If he heard them at all, or disapproved of their risqué talk, he did not show it, and for this he earned their unspoken respect. Jack's stoical charm was not only popular with the men of the town. Enamored of his thick curls and smooth face, tanned from his work on the ranches, the local girls looked with interest upon their newcomer. Within a week of his arrival, they had rechristened him "Handsome Jack," and within three they had collectively voted him "the most handsome and captivating" man in town, according to the Herald Democrat. The people of Meeker weren't to know — at least not yet — that this quiet youth who mixed their drinks with sober care and politely returned their blushing glances in the town's streets had, only six years previously, been living under a very different name in nearby Coal Creek, Colorado. Indeed, as recently as 1907, "Jack Hill" had been known not as a barman but as a teacher — a young woman by the name of Helen A. Hilsher.?
12-13-17 We’re homing in on the pathways that shape sexual orientation
WE’RE homing in on the pathways that shape sexual orientation – in men, at least. The latest findings reveal genes and antibodies that seem to be part of the complex biology behind homosexuality. Studies of sexuality have largely tended to focus on men, and for decades there has been evidence that sexual orientation is partly heritable in men. Genetic variations in regions of the X chromosome and chromosome 8 were linked to homosexuality in the mid-1990s, but no specific genes had been found. There was also no explanation for why men are more likely to be gay if they have older brothers, known as the “fraternal birth order effect”. Now, for the first time, two genes that may influence how sexual orientation develops have been identified, while another team’s work may explain the fraternal birth order effect. Alan Sanders at NorthShore University, Illinois, and his colleagues compared DNA from 1077 gay and 1231 straight men. Scanning the men’s entire genomes, the team spotted two genes whose variants seem to be linked to sexual orientation (Nature Scientific Reports, doi.org/cg94). One of the genes sits on chromosome 13. Other research has found that this gene, called SLITRK6, is active in the hypothalamus brain region a few days before male mice fetuses are born. “This is thought to be a crucial time for sexual differentiation in this part of the brain,” says neuroscientist Simon LeVay, who in 1991 discovered that hypothalamus size differs between straight and gay men. The other gene, TSHR, is on chromosome 14 and helps control thyroid function. TSHR function is known to be disrupted in a genetic thyroid condition called Grave’s disease, and this disorder is more common in gay men.
12-13-17 Effortless thinking: Thoughtlessly thoughtless
Why are the ideas that come most effortlessly to us often misguided, asks Graham Lawton. “We all have a tendency to think that the world must conform to our prejudices. The opposite view involves some effort of thought, and most people would die sooner than think – in fact they do so” THESE words are still as true today as when Bertrand Russell wrote them in 1925. You might even argue that our predilection for fake news, conspiracy theories and common sense politics suggests we are less inclined to think than ever. Our mental lassitude is particularly shocking given that we pride ourselves on being Homo sapiens, the thinking ape. How did it come to this? The truth is, we are simply doing what people have always done. The human brain has been honed by millions of years of evolution – and it is extraordinary. However, thinking is costly in terms of time and energy, so our ancestors evolved a whole range of cognitive shortcuts. These helped them survive and thrive in a hazardous world. The problem is that the modern milieu is very different. As a result, the ideas and ways of thinking that come to us most effortlessly can get us into a lot of trouble.
12-13-17 Effortless thinking: Why life is more than a zero-sum game
Them-or-us fears about limited resources, fuel supplies and immigrants damage society – but do the true calculations and the result can be altogether better. Children often bicker over who got the most cake or pop. But even as adults, we are acutely sensitive to the fair allocation of resources. Say there are 500 places at a local school, dished out according to who lives closest. Just before term starts, a large immigrant family is moved into a council house near the school and takes five of the places. No matter how liberal you are, it is hard not to think “Not fair!” Plenty of evidence suggests that immigrants contribute more to an economy than they take out. Yet the intuitive belief that they are extracting an unfair share of resources is hard to shake. Blame it on our zero-sum bias. In a classic zero-sum situation, resources are finite and your loss is my gain. Many situations in life follow this pattern – but not all. Unfortunately, this subtlety tends to pass us by. At best, seeing competition where none exists can blind us to opportunity. At worst, it has very unpleasant consequences. Zero-sum thinking was an evolutionary adaptation to a time when we lived in small bands of hunter-gatherers, says neuroscientist Dan Meegan at the University of Guelph in Canada. Under those circumstances, resources such as food and mates were finite and often scarce, so more for one person meant less for another. Today, however, things are different.
12-13-17 Effortless thinking: Beware the voice of your inner child
The wind is alive, heat flows and the sun moves across the sky – childish intuitions shape our world, and can skew views on things like climate change. Children, it is often said, are like little scientists. What looks like play is actually experimentation. They formulate hypotheses, test them, analyse the results and revise their world view accordingly. That may be true, but if kids are like scientists, they are rubbish ones. By the time they enter school, they have filled their heads with utter nonsense about how the world works. The job of education – especially science education – is to unlearn these “folk theories” and replace them with evidence-based ones. For most people, it doesn’t work, and even for those who go on to become scientists, it is only partially successful. No wonder the world is so full of nonsense. Folk theories – also known as naive theories – have been documented across all domains of science. In biology, for example, young children often conflate life with movement, seeing the sun and wind as alive, but trees and mushrooms as not. They also see purpose everywhere: birds are “for” flying, rocks are for animals to scratch themselves on and rain falls so flowers can drink. In physics, children conclude that heat is a substance that flows from one place to another, that the sun moves across the sky, and so on. For most everyday purposes, these ideas are serviceable. Nevertheless, they aren’t true.
12-13-17 Effortless thinking: Why stereotyping is an evolutionary trap
Survival in the jungle dictates judging everything on first impressions – but life in the urban jungle demands a subtler set of rules. We are born to judge others by how they look: our brains come hardwired with a specific face-processing area, and even shortly after birth, babies would rather look at a human face than anything else. Within their first year, they become more discerning, and are more likely to crawl towards friendly looking faces than those who look a bit shifty. By the time we reach adulthood, we are snap-judgement specialists, jumping to conclusions about a person’s character and status after seeing their face for just a tenth of a second. And we shun considered assessments of others in favour of simple shortcuts – for example, we judge a baby-faced individual as more trustworthy, and associate a chiselled jaw with dominance. Unfair, it may be, but it makes good evolutionary sense. Ours is an ultra-social species, so being able to quickly assess whether someone is friend or foe and whether they have the power to help or hurt us is important survival information. But there is a problem. As psychologist Alexander Todorov of Princeton University points out, more often than not, our first impressions are wrong. It’s not clear why, but he suggests that poor feedback and the fact that we meet many more strangers than our prehistoric ancestors would have, both play a part.
12-13-17 Effortless thinking: We’re all suckers for a celebrity
What makes Her Maj majestic? Or gives someone the X factor? The answer lies in our nomadic past, and it is leading us badly astray today. If you ever meet the queen of England, there are certain rules you are advised to follow. Do not speak until spoken to. Bow your head, or curtsey. Address her first as “your majesty”, then “ma’am”, but “your majesty” again upon leaving. Don’t make the mistake of calling her “your royal highness” – that is for other members of the royal family, pleb! And don’t expect her to thank you for the £40 million plus she gets every year from the public purse, or for paying to have her house done up. Apply some rational thought and this is all very puzzling. What has the queen done to deserve such treatment? What makes her “majestic”? Why is her family “higher” than yours? If humans were a wild species of primate, you would conclude that the queen must be the dominant female. But dominance has to be earned and kept, often by physical aggression and threats, and is always up for negotiation. Nobody defers to the queen out of fear that she will beat them up if they don’t, and nobody is secretly plotting a leadership challenge. Human societies do have dominant individuals, but what the queen possesses is something quite different: prestige. And we are suckers for it.
12-13-17 Effortless thinking: Why we’re all born to be status quo fans
There are no right answers in the world of politics – but whether we’re drunk or just pressed for time, the less we think, the further to the right our answers lean. If you’ve ever talked politics in the pub near closing time, chances are it wasn’t an especially enlightened or right-on discussion. When researchers in the US loitered outside a bar in New England and asked customers about their political views, they found that the drunker the punter, the more right wing their leanings. That wasn’t because right-wing people drink more, or get pissed more easily. Wherever people stood on the political spectrum when sober, alcohol shifted their views to the right. Why might that be? The researchers, led by Scott Eidelmanat the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, point out that alcohol strips away complex reasoning to reveal the default state of the mind. And that is why they were chatting to drunks: they were using drunkenness to test the hypothesis that low-effort, automatic thought promotes political conservatism. The team also found that they could push people to the right by distracting them, putting them under time pressure or simply telling them not to think too hard. Participants who were asked to deliberate more deeply, in contrast, shifted their political thinking to the left. Similar effects have been seen with the three core components of conservative ideology: preference for the status quo, acceptance of hierarchy and belief in personal responsibility. All three, the researchers say, come naturally to the human mind. We think that way without trying, without even noticing. More liberal views, in contrast, require effortful deliberation.
12-13-17 Effortless thinking: Adapting our need to feel part of the gang
Tribalism is a very human trait not just on the football field. But what can fuel discrimination is a force we can harness for good. Desmond Morris was 45 when he went to his first ever football match – a club game in Malta, where he lived at the time. He had no interest in football, but had been pestered into it by his young son. For the elder Morris, it was an awesome experience. Fighting between rival fans caused the match to be abandoned before half-time. Most people would have been put off for life, but Morris – the author of the bestselling books Manwatching and The Naked Ape – was captivated. What had caused people to behave so passionately over something as meaningless as a football game? On his return to England in 1977, Morris became a director of Oxford United FC so he could closely observe the culture of football – the players, directors and, above all, the fans. Four years later, he published his conclusions in The Soccer Tribe, which argued that football is essentially tribal. Each club is a tribe, with territory, elders, doctors, heroes, foot soldiers, modes of dress, allies and mortal enemies. Morris saw this as a modern expression of a deep-rooted evolutionary instinct. For thousands of years, our ancestors lived in small nomadic bands of mostly related individuals in frequent conflict – and occasional alliance – with neighbours over scarce resources. Tribes made up of individuals prepared to fight for a common good had a competitive edge over those that weren’t, so tribalism was selected for by evolution. We are one species, but we instinctively and effortlessly identify with smaller groups.
12-13-17 Effortless thinking: The god-shaped hole in your brain
Is that rustle in the dark a predator, or just the wind? It pays to think something causes everything – a survival trait that makes us all hard-wired to believe. If God designed the human brain, he (or she) did a lousy job. Dogged by glitches and biases, requiring routine shutdown for maintenance for 8 hours a day, and highly susceptible to serious malfunction, a product recall would seem to be in order. But in one respect at least, God played a blinder: our brains are almost perfectly designed to believe in him/her. Almost everybody who has ever lived has believed in some kind of deity. Even in today’s enlightened and materialistic times, atheism remains a minority pursuit requiring hard intellectual graft. Even committed atheists easily fall prey to supernatural ideas. Religious belief, in contrast, appears to be intuitive. Cognitive scientists talk about us being born with a “god-shaped hole” in our heads. As a result, when children encounter religious claims, they instinctively find them plausible and attractive, and the hole is rapidly filled by the details of whatever religious culture they happen to be born into. When told that there is an invisible entity that watches over them, intervenes in their lives and passes moral judgement on them, most unthinkingly accept it. Ditto the idea that the same entity is directing events and that everything that happens, happens for a reason.
12-13-17 Effortless thinking: It pays to resist revenge’s sweet taste
When people get their just deserts, it lights up our brain’s pleasure centres. But sweeter still is learning to combine this with our natural taste for forgiving. It is, according to popular wisdom, a dish best served cold. However you like yours, there’s no denying that revenge is tasty. We get a hunger for it, and feel satisfied once we’ve had our fill. You can see why if you look at what’s going on in your head. Brain scanning reveals the neural pathway of the revenge process, according to criminologist Manuel Eisner of the University of Cambridge. The initial humiliation fires up the brain’s emotional centres, the amygdalae and hypothalamus. They inform the anterior insular cortex, which evaluates whether you have been treated unfairly. If so, the prefrontal cortex steps in to plan and execute retaliation. Finally, the brain’s pleasure centre, the nucleus accumbens, swings into action to judge whether the revenge is satisfactory. Revenge appears to be a universal human trait. A study of 10 hunter-gatherer groups found that all of them had a culture of vengeance. The list of wrongs that need to be avenged is also common across all societies. It includes homicide, physical injury, theft, sexual aggression, adultery and reputational damage to oneself, loved ones or members of your tribe. The concept of “an eye for an eye” also runs deep, with punishment usually being roughly proportional to the crime.
12-13-17 Alabama election: Democrat Jones defeats Roy Moore in Senate upset
Doug Jones has become the first Democrat in 25 years to win a US Senate seat for Alabama, after a bitter campaign against Republican Roy Moore. His unexpected victory deals a blow to President Donald Trump, who backed Mr Moore, and narrows the Republican majority in the Senate to 51-49. Mr Moore has so far refused to concede, saying "it's not over". He fought a controversial campaign, in which allegations surfaced of sexual misconduct with teenage girls. Mr Moore, a firebrand conservative who has said he believes that homosexual activity should be illegal, has repeatedly denied the claims against him. The contest was for the seat vacated by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year. Alabama will have a Democrat in the US Senate. It's an outcome that seemed all but impossible a year ago and still seemed unlikely even as voters headed to the polls on Tuesday. The ramifications of this unexpected victory are clear. The Republican majority in the Senate will narrow, considerably improving the chances Democrats could gain control of the chamber in the 2018 mid-term elections. It could also be seen as a rebuke of President Donald Trump, who gave full-throated support to Roy Moore even when other leaders in his party were hesitant. After winning governor races in Virginia and New Jersey in November, some Democratic supporters will be hoping that an anti-Trump electoral wave is forming. But Moore was such a flawed candidate that it may be too early to tell. (Webmaster's comment: Donald Trump tumbles to earth with a bump!)
12-13-17 Roy Moore defeat: Five consequences of Alabama election
Christmas has come early for Democrats, who notched a surprise win in Alabama in one of the most unpredictable, improbable Senate races in modern memory. But what kind of mark will this vote leave on US politics? The last time Alabama elected a Democratic US senator was 25 years ago. Since then the state has been moving steadily to the right - in 2016, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton there by nearly 30 points. There are few, if any, US states as ruby-red conservative. And yet a plurality of voters have sent Democrat Doug Jones to the US Senate. There is a risk in reading too much into these results in Alabama, given the unique circumstances. The Republican candidate had a cloud of controversy hanging over his head - not just from allegations of sexual impropriety, but also a history of inflammatory statements and legal run-ins that knocked him out of the Alabama Supreme Court twice. The former judge had a loyal base of support, but there were traditionally Republican voters who found his views on homosexuality, Muslims and civil rights distasteful. Despite his obvious flaws as a candidate with any broad appeal, the impact of this defeat will be felt in several ways.
12-13-17 Alabama upset: What Jones victory over Moore means for Trump
Democrat Doug Jones victory over Republican Roy Moore in deeply conservative Alabama could have real consequences for President Donald Trump, the BBC's Nick Bryant explains.
12-13-17 USA Today editorial says Trump unfit to clean Obama's toilet
The editorial board of USA Today has said President Donald Trump is "unfit to clean the toilets" in Barack Obama's library or shine George W Bush's shoes. The scathing editorial comes after Mr Trump claimed a female senator "would do anything" for campaign cash - words which some regarded as sexual innuendo. "Rock bottom is no impediment for a president who can always find room for a new low," the newspaper added. USA Today is not known for publishing such blistering editorials. One of the nation's highest-circulated newspapers, it usually includes an "opposing view" column with each opinion piece. But during the 2016 election, the newspaper broke its tradition of not endorsing a presidential candidate by publishing an editorial outlining why, it argued, Mr Trump was "unfit for the presidency". Although USA Today did not endorse his challenger Hillary Clinton, it told their readers to vote "just not for Donald Trump". Its latest editorial came a day after Mr Trump tweeted that New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand had "come to my office 'begging' for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them)". Mrs Gillibrand earlier this week called on Mr Trump to resign over allegations of sexual harassment by multiple women. By Wednesday, five other Democratic senators had joined her call. USA Today responded: "A president who would all but call Sen Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W Bush. "This isn't about the policy differences we have with all presidents or our disappointment in some of their decisions. "Obama and Bush both failed in many ways. They broke promises and told untruths, but the basic decency of each man was never in doubt."
12-13-17 Roy Moore's shocking loss reveals the cost of Republican lunacy
In an astounding upset, Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama special election to the U.S. Senate. It was the seat that Attorney General Jeff Sessions won in 2014 running unopposed with over 97 percent of the vote — and a state President Trump won by nearly 28 points. Contrast the modern Republican Party, which enjoys a highly unusual level of political dominance, with that of the Democratic Party of the mid-1930s, which was even more dominant. The Democrats of Franklin D. Roosevelt's day had their share of problems (most notably having to rely on racist conservative Dixiecrats as part of the coalition) but fundamentally, the New Deal Democrats were a functioning political party. They catered to a large majority of the population and their policies did redound to the benefit of that population, creating enthusiastic support for the party. Modern Republicans, by contrast, are barely even pretending that their policies are going to be widely popular and successful. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell occasionally produce some half-hearted lies about turbocharged economic growth, but their words are belied by their actions. In both the failed attempt at ObamaCare repeal and the tax bill that is on the verge of passage, Republicans have made a mockery of legislative procedure — holding almost no hearings or markups, and in the case of the tax bill, literally scribbling in the margins of the draft in the middle of the night. They are doing this because those bills are wildly unpopular (indeed, they would cause untold misery and death), and they want to ram them through before the public gets wind of what's going on.
12-13-17 Doug Jones' victory is an epic disaster for Republicans
st night the people of Alabama succeeded narrowly in doing the right thing by rejecting an accused serial sex predator who believes that the Bible should supersede American laws and dispatching his Democratic opponent, a decent man who once prosecuted KKK bombers, onward to the United States Senate. By rejecting Roy Moore, one of the worst human beings ever to run for public office in the history of this country, Alabamians decisively humiliated the hapless, reeling President Trump and his hate-addled former adviser Stephen Bannon, both of whom were all-in for their Gulf Coast Crackpot. There is no spinning such a shocking, epic disaster for Republicans. By sticking with Roy Moore as their standard bearer in this election long after any sensible group of parents would have removed him from the PTA or thrown him out of the pool party, Republican primary voters and their cowardly, politically suicidal leaders may ultimately cost their party control of the Senate for the second time in six years. With their endless arrogance and inexplicable resentment, they threw away one of the safest Senate seats in the history of the American republic. Democrats now need just to protect their incumbents and make relatively easy pickups in Arizona and Nevada to bring the entire Trump presidency, including judicial appointments, to a halt next November. Full stop. But that is not what any of them did. Because when these Republicans sidle on up to the corner of Right Thing Way and Shameful Capitulation Road, they choose capitulation. Every. Single. Time. The president hesitated, but threw his weight behind Moore earlier this month. With few exceptions, congressional Republicans either endorsed Moore or retreated into a pitiful silence. Collectively, they realized their candidate was an unapologetic accused child predator and a lawless authoritarian and they all climbed on board the Scumbag Hindenburg with him anyway, shouting slurs and outrages right up until the glorious moment last night when their ship burst into flames on national TV. They'll live for the rest of their lives with the rotting moral stench of having supported Roy Moore.
12-13-17 Is there a limit to what science can understand?
Maybe science can't answer all the complex questions. Where does that leave us? Albert Einstein said that the "most incomprehensible thing about the Universe is that it is comprehensible." He was right to be astonished. Human brains evolved to be adaptable, but our underlying neural architecture has barely changed since our ancestors roamed the savannah and coped with the challenges that life on it presented. It's surely remarkable that these brains have allowed us to make sense of the quantum and the cosmos, notions far removed from the "commonsense" everyday world in which we evolved. But I think science will hit the buffers at some point. There are two reasons why this might happen. The optimistic one is that we clean up and codify certain areas (such as atomic physics) to the point that there's no more to say. A second, more worrying possibility is that we'll reach the limits of what our brains can grasp. There might be concepts, crucial to a full understanding of physical reality, that we aren't aware of, any more than a monkey comprehends Darwinism or meteorology. Some insights might have to await a post-human intelligence. (Webmaster's comment: I've been saying the same thing for a long time. You could teach chimps how to drive a car but they'll never understand how to fix the engine. Humans are smarter than chimps, and they understand how to use many of the physical laws of the universe, but not why those laws are what they are and what's behind them. Human intelligence has its limits.)
12-13-17 Sad ‘pigs’ have been filmed apparently mourning a dead friend
Famously clever animals like chimps and monkeys seem to grieve for dead comrades, but now even wild relatives of pigs called peccaries have been seen mourning. PIG-LIKE animals called peccaries have been seen apparently mourning their dead. The discovery adds to the growing list of species that have exhibited signs of grief. It came from a science fair project. Peccaries are hoofed mammals found in the Americas. Also known as javelinas or skunk pigs, they resemble pigs and wild boar. However, the two actually belong to different, albeit closely related, families. Peccaries are social animals and often live in groups. In January, 8-year-old Dante de Kort was watching a herd of five collared peccaries (Pecari tajacu) behind his house in Arizona. One of them seemed to be ill. The next day, he found a dead adult female and the rest of the herd nearby. Dante was intrigued, and he had a school science fair coming up. So on the third day after the animal’s death, he approached the body – now up a hill from the house, where it had been moved because of the smell – and set up a camera trap. Whenever an animal approached the body, the motion-sensitive camera took a video. Dante captured footage over the next two weeks and put his findings onto a poster. At the regional science fair, his poster caught the attention of Mariana Altrichter at the nearby Prescott College. Altrichter is co-chair of the Peccary Specialist Group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature. She left Dante a note asking to talk.
12-12-17 America's dawning authoritarianism
What does it feel like when a liberal democratic country turns the corner into authoritarianism? America is changing. It isn't always obvious and flagrant — like Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announcing that some opposition parties will not be allowed to take part in the country's 2018 elections, or the Polish government changing the way the courts oversee the nation's laws in order to advance the agenda of those currently in power. And neither are these changes necessarily all things that have happened only since President Trump's election last year. Even if the authoritarian drift accelerated with Trump's rise, it didn't begin with him. He is its expression. We need to do everything we can to ensure he doesn't end up being its culmination. Doing that requires keeping our eyes open for and taking note of longer-term trends and signs of authoritarian drift that are sometimes difficult to detect. The easiest and most obvious examples are those in which government officials say and do things that clearly transgress longstanding liberal-democratic norms that constrain government power. Think of the president's penchant for attacking the news media, including statements at rallies that seem designed to incite violence against reporters. Just this past weekend Trump made a point of singling out Dave Weigel of The Washington Post for verbal abuse and calling for him to be fired — all because Weigel tweeted a misleading photograph, which he promptly deleted, seeming to show a Trump rally in Florida with low attendance. That's the kind of behavior that more common to dictators than American presidents. Beyond Trump himself (and the stream of blatant lies that flow from his White House), there's the Justice Department's efforts to prosecute a group of protesters arrested on the day of Trump’s inauguration last January. As HuffPost reports, the six defendants face "felony charges that could potentially land them in federal prison for decades." That could stifle acts of protests in the nation's capital for years to come — and as Vox's Matthew Yglesias notes, it could even be treated by some municipalities as "a dry run … for an authoritarian crackdown on any form of protest." Then there are the examples of creeping authoritarianism that are welcomed or at least passively accepted by citizens. (Webmaster's comment: Like I've said, "Dictatorship here we come!")
12-12-17 The long journey to reveal the Oregon Trail's racist history
As the U.S. grapples with its legacy of prejudice, one parent is bringing the fight to Oregon public schools. Last spring, Layna Lewis dropped her daughter off at Irvington Elementary School in Portland, Oregon for the fourth-grade class' overnight trip to Oregon City, where the kids would learn about the Oregon Trail by participating in hands-on activities. As is the custom for this trip, which is considered a tradition for many Oregonians, the kids that morning were dressed in pioneer garb. Lewis, who is African American and Native American, was disturbed watching kids of color running around in their bonnets, knowing they wouldn't have been able to own land in the days of the Oregon Trail. "It was glaringly inaccurate," she says of the field trip, concerned that the racial dynamics of the time were being glossed over. Shortly after, Lewis made an eight-minute video called "Oregon FAIL" where she interviewed four girls in the class about the field trip, which has been organized by the Multnomah Education Service District (MESD) since 1998 and serves 3,000 students around the state. In the video, the girls, one of whom is her daughter, recall how narratives about people of color and Native Americans had been omitted in the lessons, which are taught by high school volunteers. "It makes me wonder about my ancestors' history and where were they in this story?" one black girl says to the camera, in response to the question Lewis posed asking them to relay their experience of the field trip. Another girl says Native Americans were treated "like side characters. Throw them out, get away." The video was posted in a neighborhood Google group. News of it made its way to Irvington School's then-principal, Kathleen Ellwood, who is not originally from Oregon and only attended the field trip's evening square dance. She claims she wasn't familiar with the educational aspects of the trip and was surprised by the content in the video. (Webmaster's comment: Don't have pride in our past. We don't deserve it!)
12-12-17 Debt relief for defrauded students halted under Trump, says report
The US Education Department has stopped cancelling student debts for people defrauded by failed for-profit schools, according to its Inspector General. A new report by the independent auditor says affected borrowers face mounting interest and other financial burdens. Before leaving office, President Barack Obama passed new laws speeding up debt cancellations for defrauded students. But under President Donald Trump and his Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, cancellations have ground to a halt. Ms DeVos has delayed the implementation of Mr Obama's reforms, saying they would create costs for taxpayers. According to the Inspector General's report, the Education Department under Ms DeVos has received 25,991 debt cancellation claims, denying two and approving none. During Mr Obama's final months in office, from 1 July 2016 to Mr Trump's inauguration in January 2017, the Education Department received 46,274 claims, approving 27,986 and denying none. In 2015, a huge for-profit school network, Corinthian Colleges, collapsed after investigations into fraud and malpractice in the company led the government to cut off federal funds. Nearly 80,000 students were left facing debts to the Education Department, despite the department having authority to cancel debts when schools have violated students' rights or broken the law. (Webmaster's comment: Of course the rich don't care, they have LOTS of money. The less well off? You're SCREWED!)
12-12-17 Trump attacks 'begging' Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
US President Donald Trump has attacked Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a day after she called on him to resign over sexual misconduct allegations. Mr Trump said the New York senator was "begging" him for campaign donations and "would do anything" for cash. Ms Gillibrand and several women who accuse the president of sexual harassment urged Congress on Tuesday to investigate their claims. Mr Trump branded their accusations "fabricated" and "FAKE NEWS!" In Wednesday morning's tweet, the US president accused Ms Gillibrand of being a lackey to Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer. "Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office 'begging' for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump," the US president posted. "You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak out about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office." "President Trump should resign. But, of course, he won't hold himself accountable. Therefore, Congress should investigate the multiple sexual harassment and assault allegations against him."
12-12-17 Alabama Senate race: Trump candidate under spotlight as state votes
Alabama voters are heading to the polls in a Senate election that could have wider implications for Donald Trump. Republican candidate Roy Moore, a former Alabama judge who is embroiled in allegations of child sex abuse, has been endorsed by the US president. Mr Trump's support is at odds with much of the Republican establishment, who have distanced themselves from the 70-year-old Christian conservative. The race between Mr Moore and Democrat Doug Jones has been too close to call. Mr Moore denies claims by several women that he made unwelcome sexual advances, mostly when they were teenagers. However, the scandal has put a Senate seat in Alabama within reach of Democrats for the first time in more than two decades. (Webmaster's comment: Sexual predators have the opportunity to put another sexual predator besides Trump in government.)
12-12-17 Anti-vax views must not derail France’s compulsory vaccine law
The nation is about to make 11 childhood vaccines mandatory, but unless anti-vax echo chambers are tackled, the law may not fulfil its promise, says Laura Spinney. A new law takes force in France on 1 January to up the number of mandatory childhood vaccines to 11 from three. It has provoked a polemic, but the law is sound. If there is a problem here, it is the neglect by officials of the main drivers of vaccine hesitancy. France isn’t the first nation to get tough, as anti-vaccination views rose widely after the Wakefield scandal in the UK. Most recently, Italy passed a similar law in July, and a number of US states have also adopted a stricter stance on vaccinating children. However, France has the world’s worst anti-vax attitudes: a 2016 survey showed that 41 per cent of people there say vaccines are unsafe. The hope is the law will reverse a 20-year fall in vaccine coverage that has eroded herd immunity and raised the risk of epidemics. To prevent outbreaks of measles, for example, it is recommended that 95 per cent of the population be inoculated. France, stubbornly below that target, saw 24,000 cases of measles between 2008 and 2016. Of those, 1500 got pneumonia, 34 had neurological complications and 10 died. Against this backdrop, the new law makes sense. The additional vaccines – for whooping cough, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae, pneumococcus and meningococcus C – are currently recommended in France but not obligatory, although the distinction has no clinical or epidemiological grounds. (Webmaster's comment: The idea that people must be free to be unvaccinated and then walk around as disease carriers is ridiculous!)
12-11-17 We may know why younger brothers are more likely to be gay
An immune response in some pregnant women’s bodies may explain the “fraternal birth order effect” – that men are more likely to be gay the more older brothers they have. The more older brothers a boy has, the more likely he is to be gay when he grows up – an effect called the “fraternal birth order effect”. Now it seems that increasing levels of antibodies in a mother’s immune system could play a role. Anthony Bogaert at Brock University, Canada, and his team think that some women who are pregnant with boys develop antibodies that target a protein made by the Y chromosome. Our immune systems make antibodies to recognise foreign molecules, which have the potential to be from dangerous bacteria. But pregnant women sometimes also produce antibodies against fetal molecules – for example, if their fetus has a different blood group. Bogaert’s team wondered if maternal antibodies might play a role in shaping sexual orientation. The team collected blood from 142 women, and screened it for antibodies to a particular brain protein that is only made in males. They thought this would be a good candidate, because it plays an important role in how neurons communicate with each other, and because it is produced on the surface of brain cells, making it relatively easy for antibodies to find and detect it. They found that the mothers of gay sons with older brothers had the highest levels of antibodies against this protein, followed by the mothers of gay sons with no older brothers. Women who had straight sons had less of these antibodies, while women with no sons had the least.
12-11-17 Canada, provinces reach tax deal for recreational marijuana
Canada's provinces will be getting the lion's share of the lucrative taxation revenues from legal cannabis. The provinces have agreed in principle to a two-year tax sharing agreement that gives them a 75% cut of those eventual revenues. Canada's governing Liberals are planning to legalise and regulate recreational marijuana by July 2018. Provinces had rejected an earlier proposal to share the tax revenues 50-50 with the federal government. In October, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau proposed a 10% federal excise tax on recreational cannabis products that should not exceed $0.78 (C$1.00; £0.58) per gram, or 10% of the sale price. He also proposed that the revenues be shared equally between the two levels of government. Provinces rejected that proposal, arguing they would bear most of the costs related to setting up the distribution framework for recreational marijuana, regulating the drug, as well costs related to policing and public health. Each province is responsible for setting out the framework for the distribution of cannabis within its territory, and for regulating its distribution and retail sales. After meeting with his provincial and territorial counterparts on Monday, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced the sweetened revenue-sharing deal. Under the agreement, the federal government will keep a 25% share to a maximum of $78m per year. Any additional revenue above will be redistributed to the 13 provinces and territories.
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.”
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".
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.
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.
- Trump's inner circle has been breached
- Flynn is talking
- Flynn is contradicting the White House line
- Mr Mueller could be building an obstruction of justice case
- Only the tip of the iceberg?
- 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.”
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.)
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.)