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

95 Atheism & Humanism News Articles
for December 2018
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source


12-31-18 Parkland school shooting survivors' anger at Louis CK routine
Survivors of the Parkland school shooting in Florida have hit out at comedian Louis CK after he was heard poking fun at them in a stand-up set. The leaked audio apparently came from one of his comeback routines a year after he admitted sexual misconduct. In it, he ridiculed the Parkland pupils who have become anti-gun activists. Survivor Ryan Deitsch tweeted: "It's a shame when you sink so low that your comeback plan is to make fun of school shooting survivors for speaking out." Another survivor, Sofie Whitney, said he "must be really intimidated by us kids". Alex Wind said the audience members who could be heard laughing and clapping at Louis CK's jokes were "just as much at fault". And Delaney Tarr, who had to hide in a cupboard from the gunman, added her voice. Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed in February's shooting, suggested the comic "come to our house and try out your new pathetic jokes". Jaime was one of 17 people who were killed when a 19-year-old expelled former student opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on 14 February. A group of students went on to set up the campaign group March For Our Lives to lobby for tighter gun control measures. In his routine, Louis CK could be heard making fun of the survivors, saying: "Why does that make you interesting? You didn't get shot. You pushed some fat kid in the way, and now I've got to listen to you talking?" A version of the comic's expletive-laden set was posted on YouTube on 30 December. Louis CK's career took a downturn after he admitted several instances of sexual misconduct in November 2017. He said he had "wielded power irresponsibly" and could hardly wrap his head around the "scope of hurt" he had caused. (Webmaster's comment: It all part of a white male brute's character. Rape them or shoot them or laugh about it!)

12-31-18 Trump is a bad president. What can we do about it?
An interview with John Kelly confirms, once again, that Trump is terrible at his job. Is America stuck with him? John Kelly threw President Trump under the bus. Kelly, Trump's outgoing chief of staff, was kind of subtle about it — he didn't call the president a "moron" or claim to be the author of the anonymous op-ed that said Trump administration officials are engaged in a clandestine defensive battle against the commander-in-chief's wishes. But Kelly did give a phone interview to the Los Angeles Times on Sunday that largely supported the impression that Trump is a dim bulb whose policies and policymaking processes are a mess. Of course, those messes were in no way Kelly's fault. "Frankly there was no system at all for a lot of reasons — palace intrigue and the rest of it — when I got there," he told the paper. Whatever his motives for granting the interview, Kelly ended up short-circuiting two of Trump's favorite talking points. The first? That much of the reporting on his administration is "fake news." Kelly joined a growing list of ex-Trump officials — including former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and soon-to-be-former Defense Secretary James Mattis — who have made their immense disapproval of their boss known on the record either as they exited or shortly after. What needs to be remembered is that these accounts pretty closely match the reporting of outlets like The Washington Post and The New York Times, along with books like Fire and Fury and Bob Woodward's Fear. Funny how all the people who leave the White House end up saying on the record what anonymous sources in the White House keep telling us in real-time. The second claim Trump likes to repeat, which Kelly dispelled, is that the administration is obstructed by the machinations of the "deep state." Kelly and other former officials have made clear that the president's problems are his own creation: His style of making decisions by impulsively tweeting them leaves the relevant government agencies ill-prepared to carry out his wishes — "I had very little opportunity to look at them," Kelly said of one set of orders. And that's when Trump's own handpicked appointees aren't slow-walking his policies, the sort of thing that can happen when you choose Cabinet members based on how they look and perform on TV instead of shared policy goals. No secret cabal of entrenched government bureaucrats is needed to trip you when you're stepping on your own feet. We end 2018, then, with fresh confirmation of what was already known: Donald Trump is bad at being president. That's unfortunate. Even more unfortunate: We could be stuck with two more years of this mess.

12-31-18 Mexico wall: Trump aide says concrete wall idea was dropped early on
The idea of a concrete wall on the US-Mexico border was dropped early in Donald Trump's presidency, his outgoing chief of staff John Kelly says. Mr Trump made the idea of a solid wall on the border a key pledge from the start of his presidential campaign in 2015. But by saying the idea of a concrete wall was dismissed long ago, Mr Kelly appeared to contradict the president. Mr Trump has tweeted the term "wall" 59 times this month alone. Mr Kelly will leave the White House on Wednesday after 17 months. Before leaving, he gave a rare interview to the LA Times, published on Sunday, in which he called the role a "bone-crushing hard job". "To be honest, it's not a wall," Mr Kelly said, when asked about plans for the border. The former Marine Corps general was initially appointed as Mr Trump's homeland security secretary before becoming chief of staff in July 2017. As soon as he did so, he told the LA Times, he sought advice from those who "actually secure the border". "They said, 'Well, we need a physical barrier in certain places, we need technology across the board, and we need more people,'" he said. "The president still says 'wall' - oftentimes frankly he'll say 'barrier' or 'fencing,' now he's tended toward steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it." "I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I'll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall." These were the words Mr Trump spoke on 16 June 2015 as he launched his presidential campaign. At the same time, he said Mexican "rapists" and drug dealers were entering the US. (Webmaster's comment: What Trump is saying is pure BS!)

12-31-18 Iran TV chief sacked over uncensored Jackie Chan sex scene
Iran's state broadcaster, Irib, has sacked the head of a regional TV channel after it broadcast a Jackie Chan film without removing a sex scene. A video posted online apparently by a viewer on Kish Island showed the Hong Kong martial arts star sleeping with a woman in the film Shinjuku Incident. Iranian media said the "immoral" scene was aired by Kish TV in "total violation of Irib's regulations". Physical contact between men and women is not permitted on screen in Iran. Censors are also said to be required to remove men and women exchanging "tender words or jokes", unveiled women, close-ups of women's faces and exposed necklines, as well as negative portrayals of police and bearded men. "Buses turn over, planes crash, ships sink... no-one is dismissed... A few seconds of Jackie Chan making love on Irib and immediately all staff in that section are sacked," wrote one person on Twitter. (Webmaster's comment: Religious states are capable of pretty much anything.)

12-31-18 Why legalising gay sex in India is not a Western idea
The decriminalisation of gay sex was arguably the biggest news story of 2018 in India. So, it wasn't surprising when it became a hotly debated topic at one of the year-end parties I recently attended in Delhi. The common consensus was that the Supreme Court's decision to strike down a colonial-era law has pushed the country towards adopting Western ideals of liberalism in India. "We are on par with countries like the UK, France and other European nations where homosexuality is legal," one of my friends excitedly announced. "We are now like the West when it comes to our attitudes toward LGBT people." Similar discussions have been taking place on social media where many agree with this view. But is it true? India's historians and mythology experts have differing views. Noted historian Harbans Mukhia says one has to know India's history to understand why the British made gay sex illegal. "The British brought their own rules to India, including the Section 377 which banned homosexuality and made it a criminal act. This law was enforced by them but it didn't conform with India's attitude toward homosexuality. It was more to do with their Christian belief systems," he says. He adds that the court's decision has taken India back to its roots. Other experts also believe that India had a more open attitude to homosexuality before the Raj and there is ample evidence of it in medieval history and mythology. Historian Rana Safvi says "love was celebrated in India in every form". "Whether ancient or medieval India, fluid sexuality was present in the society. One can see the depictions of homosexuality in the temples of Khajuraho and Mughal chronicles," she says.

12-29-18 Jewish sect members accused of kidnapping children in New York
Four members of a Jewish sect have been charged with kidnapping a young brother and sister in New York state. Prosecutors say the men belong to the ultra-Orthodox Lev Tahor group, which is based in Guatemala. They are accused of abducting a 14-year-old girl and her 12-year-old brother from the village of Woodridge, which is north of New York City. The men planned to take the pair back to Guatemala after their mother fled the sect six weeks earlier. The woman had reportedly feared for her children's safety and felt the group, which was founded by her father, was becoming more extreme under the leadership of her brother. Its teachings reportedly include that women must be veiled from head to toe in black tunics. The four men, aged between 20 and 45, are accused of kidnapping the siblings from their home on 8 December and taking them to a small airport near the city of Scranton in Pennsylvania. They were then flown to Mexico, but were located in the the town of Tenango del Aire on Friday morning and have since been reunited with their mother in Woodridge. (Webmaster's comment: Goes to show that not only Christians and Islamics have evil believers.)

12-29-18 A whole new world for free trade?
The final weeks of 2018 have been dramatic, to say the least. Global stock markets are roiling, disturbed in part by the anti-free market trade sentiment that continues to roll-out of Washington. Looking ahead to the new year, however, pro-free trade movements in Europe and in Asia are progressing. Two major agreements are about to come into effect that will bring together some of the world's biggest trading areas and economies. And they exclude the world's two biggest economies, the US and China, who are engaged in their own trade war. The first new trade agreement to come into effect in 2019 is the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP. It was known as the Trans Pacific Partnership until the US pulled out. The wide-ranging deal was salvaged by the 11 remaining members - Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam - and renamed. CPTPP now covers a market of nearly 500 million people and the economies included account for about 13% of the world's GDP. Importantly, it removes tariffs on an estimated 95% of goods traded between member countries.The EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement will create an open trading zone covering a market of more than 600 million people and nearly one third of the world's GDP. It has been in the making since 2013 and is the first trade deal to include an explicit reference to the Paris Agreement. It strengthens the EU and Japan's commitments around climate change and sustainable development. These two deals are in stark contrast to the US's increasingly protectionist policies. (Webmaster's comment: And China is building the world's largest rail transportation system stretching from Beijing to Norway and everything inbetween. The US customers will soon be huge losers.)

12-29-18 Freud, Jung, and the beginnings of psychoanalysis
A fast friendship turned bitter over a single issue. On February 27, 1907, at Berggasse 19 in Vienna, Sigmund Freud fell in love. The object of his affection was Carl Gustav Jung: 19 years younger than Freud, the young psychiatrist was already the clinical director of the prestigious Burghölzli Hospital and a professor at the University of Zurich. Jung had gained international recognition for his invention of the word-association test, and his practice was renowned for its gentle incisiveness. But when Jung read Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), he was startled by Freud's theory, and decided to go to talk with the man himself. And talk they did: For 13 hours, they plumbed the depths of the unconscious, the methods of psychoanalysis, and the analysis of dreams. Freud was hugely impressed by Jung's intellect, but his desire to sweep Jung into the psychoanalytic world was also politically motivated. As an intellectual movement, early psychoanalysis resembled a political party — perhaps even a nascent religion — with Freud as its immovable center. He called the expansion of psychoanalysis "the Cause," to be furthered by converting mainstream psychiatrists and ruthlessly expelling wayward epigones, such as Wilhelm Stekel, who had once called Freud "my Christ." Within the Freudian circle, ideas could be honestly criticized, but, as he told Lou Andreas-Salomé, "one must hold on to the homogeneity of the core, otherwise it is something else." In Freud's mind, the greatest obstacle faced by "the Cause" was anti-Semitism. Freud himself was an atheistic Jew, and all of the analysts who huddled together in Freud's living room to found the Wednesday Psychological Society (the world's first psychoanalytic association) were Jews. Freud feared that psychoanalysis would become so associated with Judaism that it would never catch on in mainstream science. "Our Aryan comrades are," he wrote to a friend, "quite indispensable to us; otherwise, psychoanalysis would fall victim to anti-Semitism." So Jung was everything Freud could hope for: talented, public-minded, a scion of the scientific establishment — and, above all, born without a drop of Jewish blood in his Swiss Protestant veins. "Only his appearance," Freud confided, "has saved psychoanalysis from the danger of being a Jewish national concern." It couldn't. Freud feared as much from the beginning of their relationship: He thought that the Christian son of a pastor might never be quite cleansed of his attraction to the mystical — at least not to the same extent as a godless Jew. At the heart of their break was what weight to give to the ethereal, the psychic, the occult, the unverifiable. For Freud, these diversions could ultimately be reduced to the libido, that is, to the sex drive. For Jung, they must be taken seriously and not explained away. By 1912, the cleft between the two men was widening. When they turned their gazes simultaneously to religion, it was enough to finish things off. Freud would end up producing Totem and Taboo (1913), which located the emergence of religion (and, indeed, culture itself) in the Oedipal complex. Jung, publishing a little before, offered a sweeping, chaotic argument that contained the seeds of the ideas for which he later became famous: the collective unconscious, archetypes, and — fatally for their relationship — a reconceptualization of the libido as a sort of "mental energy." (Webmaster's comment: And you thought these guys were rational!)

12-28-18 Trump threatens to shut Mexican border in demand for wall funding
Donald Trump has threatened to shut down the border with Mexico over illegal immigration if Congress fails to fund his proposed wall. "Either we build (finish) the Wall or we close the Border," the US president tweeted after nearly a week of deadlock in Washington over the federal budget. Confirming the threat to close the border was real, the White House said negotiations with Congress had stalled. The dispute has caused a partial US government shutdown. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are either on unpaid leave or continue to work but do not know when they will be paid. Both Congress chambers met for just a few minutes on Thursday but took no steps to end the closure. The House and Senate will now meet again on Monday. Later in the week, a new House will be sworn in, dominated by opposition Democrats who won the mid-term elections last month, but Mr Trump's Republicans will retain the Senate with a slightly larger majority. "We will be forced to close the Southern Border entirely if the Obstructionist Democrats do not give us the money to finish the Wall & also change the ridiculous immigration laws that our Country is saddled with," he tweeted on Friday. He is seeking $5bn (£4bn) to cover the cost of the wall but Democrats and some within Mr Trump's own party insist they will not approve it. In October Mr Trump made a similar threat when demanding action from Latin American governments to stop migrants, in what has become known as the caravan, trying to cross the Mexican border illegally. Mr Trump argued on Friday that the US had lost out to Mexico by $75bn a year under the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), which he replaced with a new deal with Mexico and Canada last month. (Webmaster's comment: Trump is no different than a criminal that threatens to harm you if you do not do what he says!)

12-27-18 Florida school shooting: What happened next?
It has been 10 months since Morgan Williams cowered under her teacher's desk as bullets were fired into her Florida classroom; 10 months since 17 people died in the halls and rooms of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School; 10 months since Morgan and her classmates found themselves at the centre of the battle for stronger gun control. Ten months in which she has been left feeling abandoned and exploited at the same time, struggling to come to terms with the reality of being a school shooting survivor. "It's frustrating because I know I'm not the same person I once was and I wish I didn't have this ongoing battle inside between the new me and the old me," the aspiring screenwriter told the BBC just before Christmas. "This is my senior year of high school and I absolutely hate it. It's the worst year of my life and I cannot wait until I finally graduate and move out of this area. "It's impossible trying to heal and move forward with my life when I have to see the building everyday." It took Nikolas Cruz less than six minutes from firing his first shot to his last to kill 17 people and injure 17 more on 14 February this year. Those few minutes changed the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas from regular teenagers to school shooting survivors. But these teens were determined to be more than just survivors. They were determined to be the last in a long line which traced a path from Columbine in 1999, through Sandy Hook in 2012 and led to Marjory Stoneman Douglas. As senior Emma Gonzalez said, "thoughts and prayers" - the stock response of so many US politicians - were no longer enough. (Webmaster's comment: There has been no real change. The EVIL will continue.)

12-26-18 Guatemalan boy detained at border dies in US custody
An eight-year-old boy from Guatemala has died in US government custody, officials say, the second migrant child to die in US detention this month. The border agency says the boy died on Monday night hours after showing signs of illness. A Texas congressman named him as Felipe Alónzo-Gomez. The child was detained with his father on 18 December after illegally crossing the US-Mexico border. A seven-year-old girl died earlier this month just hours after being detained. Jakelin Caal, also from Guatemala, developed a high fever and died of liver failure. Her funeral was held in her village on Tuesday. Thousands of migrants have travelled from Central America - mainly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador - to the US border. Many say there are fleeing persecution, poverty and violence in their home countries and plan to seek asylum in the US. (Webmaster's comment: Two immigrant child deaths in a month! Is this a new ICE terror tactic? Kill the immigrant children to reduce the incentive to immigrate to the United States?)

12-25-18 Thailand approves medicinal cannabis
Thailand's parliament has voted to approve cannabis for medical use, with a key lawmaker calling it a "New Year's gift" to the Thai people. Recreational use will remain illegal. Marijuana was used in Thailand as a traditional medicine, until it was banned in the 1930s. South East Asia has some of the world's toughest penalties for drug usage or possession, and Thailand is the first in the region to allow medicinal marijuana. Thailand's junta-appointed parliament voted to amend the Narcotic Act of 1979 on Tuesday. It happened after an extra parliamentary session was arranged to push bills through before the New Year's holidays, according to Reuters news agency. The amendment will become law when it is published in the government gazette, The Bangkok Post reported. "This is a New Year's gift from the National Legislative Assembly to the government and the Thai people," said Somchai Sawangkarn, chairman of the drafting committee, during the televised session. Consumers will be able to carry specified amounts necessary for medicinal purposes, if they have a prescription or recognised certificate, the Bangkok Post said.

12-25-18 Trump savages Federal Reserve as stock plunge worsens
President Donald Trump has lashed out at America's central bank as a stock market whose gains he once took credit for continued a historic plunge. Mr Trump said the Federal Reserve was "the only problem" of the US economy. Mr Trump's treasury secretary meanwhile scrambled to calm investors. The Dow Jones fell more than 650 points on Monday, and is on track for its worst December since 1931 during the Great Depression. On Tuesday morning, Japan's Nikkei was down about 5%. The turmoil comes amid a partial government shutdown, US-China trade tensions and reports the president has discussed firing Fed chairman Jerome Powell. Mr Trump continually boasted about Wall Street's steep climb during the first year of his presidency, but has sought to deflect blame since markets hit a rough patch in 2018. On Sunday US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin took the unusual step of calling the chief executives of America's six largest banks in a bid to soothe market jitters. On Monday, he called top market regulators and officials from the US central bank to allay fears about the economy. Mr Mnuchin hosted the call with the President's Working Group on Financial Markets to "discuss co-ordination efforts to assure normal market operations", according a treasury statement. The board of governors of the US Federal Reserve System, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission are on the working group. (Webmaster's comment: 18% drop in the market in less than 3 months! Making America Great Again with the Next Great Financial Disaster! Merry Christmas to America from Trump!)

12-25-18 What Einstein thought about God
How Einstein's relationship with faith influenced his scientific theories. "The theory produces a good deal but hardly brings us closer to the secret of the Old One," wrote Albert Einstein in December 1926. "I am at all events convinced that He does not play dice." Einstein was responding to a letter from the German physicist Max Born. The heart of the new theory of quantum mechanics, Born had argued, beats randomly and uncertainly, as though suffering from arrhythmia. Whereas physics before the quantum had always been about doing this and getting that, the new quantum mechanics appeared to say that when we do this, we get that only with a certain probability. And in some circumstances we might get the other. Einstein was having none of it, and his insistence that God does not play dice with the Universe has echoed down the decades, as familiar and yet as elusive in its meaning as E = mc2. What did Einstein mean by it? And how did Einstein conceive of God? Hermann and Pauline Einstein were nonobservant Ashkenazi Jews. Despite his parents' secularism, the nine-year-old Albert discovered and embraced Judaism with some considerable passion, and for a time he was a dutiful, observant Jew. Following Jewish custom, his parents would invite a poor scholar to share a meal with them each week, and from the impoverished medical student Max Talmud (later Talmey) the young and impressionable Einstein learned about mathematics and science. He consumed all 21 volumes of Aaron Bernstein's joyful Popular Books on Natural Science (1880). Talmud then steered him in the direction of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1781), from which he migrated to the philosophy of David Hume. From Hume, it was a relatively short step to the Austrian physicist Ernst Mach, whose stridently empiricist, seeing-is-believing brand of philosophy demanded a complete rejection of metaphysics, including notions of absolute space and time, and the existence of atoms. But this intellectual journey had mercilessly exposed the conflict between science and scripture. The now 12-year-old Einstein rebelled. He developed a deep aversion to the dogma of organized religion that would last for his lifetime, an aversion that extended to all forms of authoritarianism, including any kind of dogmatic atheism. (Webmaster's comment: Goes to show that even great intelligence can believe in supernatural things against all evidence.)

12-24-18 The immigrant nurses struggling to work in America
Language barriers and education requirements are huge hurdles to immigrants who want to get back to doing their job. When she was young, Francenette SaintLouis Défonce visited several hospitals in Haiti with her mom. Her mother was sick and often in pain, so they would go from doctor to doctor to see if someone could figure out what was wrong. During these visits, Défonce noticed how the people at the hospital worried about her mother. "And when I saw there was a lot of people that needed care," Défonce remembers. "I said, 'Let me be a part.'" Défonce went to school — three years to train as a nurse and then a year and half more to become a certified midwife. Then in 2010, soon after she got her certification, a massive earthquake struck Haiti. Défonce was dispatched to areas where there were few doctors. She worked with international medical teams and cared for women who were infected with HIV, and delivered their babies. "I saw people die in labor and delivery, when someone cannot afford care," Défonce says. "We lived a lot of things." Défonce felt like she found her calling. Then in 2016, she moved to New York to be with her husband. But in the U.S., nurses are required to be certified through state licensing exams. Francenette had left her country and her career behind. Immigrant workers in the U.S. today are more educated than ever before. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, they are just as likely to hold bachelor's degrees as U.S. citizens. But often that education doesn't translate into similar careers as citizens. And passing qualification exams — like the ones required in nursing — can be inordinately difficult. At the same time, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics have been warning of a coming nursing shortage. The U.S. needs to certify 1.1 million additional nurses in the next four years to keep up with the health-care needs of the aging population. In the past few years, colleges across the country have started programs to help foreign-born nurses enter the healthcare industry. Still, many immigrants who already work other jobs and have families have a hard time going back to school. (Webmaster's comment: I guess many American males would rather die than recieve healthcare from an immigrant. I say good riddance!)

12-24-18 Religion Considered Important to 72% of Americans
As many Americans prepare to celebrate Christmas, 72% say religion is important in their lives, including 51% who say it is very important. Christians' attachment to religion is even higher, as 62% find it very important. Although these findings, from a Dec. 3-12 Gallup poll, show that religion is still very important to a slim majority, they provide further evidence of the long-term decline in the importance of religion in Americans' lives. This decline has also been seen in Gallup's data on waning church attendance and self-identification with a particular religion.

  • Religion is important to 72% in U.S., including 51% "very important"
  • Record-low 46% in U.S. say religion can solve all or most problems
  • 78% think religion is losing its influence on American life

12-24-18 Italy circumcision kills toddler, with one man charged
A two-year-old boy has died from blood loss following a failed circumcision at a migrant centre in Italy. The boy's twin brother also underwent the procedure in Rome's north-western suburb of Monterondo and is recovering in hospital. A 66-year-old man has been charged with murder, according to Italian media. Some 5,000 circumcisions are performed in Italy each year but more than a third are carried out illegally, according to health charity Amsi. Cultural non-profit group Arci said the procedures had taken place at a refugee centre it runs with the local council in Monterondo. "It is a tragedy that leaves us speechless," Arci said in a statement on Facebook, adding that it would take civil action once those responsible for the child's death had been determined by police. The two boys, who have not been named, were born in Italy in 2017 to a Nigerian mother who has five other children in Nigeria. Local media say the mother had asked for the operations in respect for Nigeria's Islamic traditions, despite being Catholic herself. The medical credentials of the doctor are reportedly being questioned by police. Ansa said the man arrested was an American citizen of Libyan origin. (Webmaster's comment: Religious beliefs can kill your children!)

12-24-18 Google and Amazon urged to follow Apple's 'anti-gay app ban'
Campaigners have thanked Apple for removing an app from its store that they said stigmatised LGBT people. The software promoted a US religious group that says homosexual practice is sinful and that its members should help "call up" others to their natural-born "biblical gender". Apple's store now says the app is not available, but the tech firm has not commented on the matter. Google and Amazon continue to offer Android versions of the app. The Christian organisation involved, Living Hope Ministries, has told NBC News that it plans to challenge Apple's action. The Arlington, Texas-based body is not related to a UK-based church that goes by the same name. Apple's rules state that apps should not include content that is "defamatory, discriminatory, or mean-spirited" including commentary about sexual orientation. Living Hope Ministries' app had been on the iOS App Store for several years, but was flagged as objectionable by Truth Wins Out on Thursday. The Chicago-headquartered non-profit campaigns against homophobia. It launched an online petition against the app after the group's founder claimed to have been given "the run-around" by Apple's staff when he called them to complain about the app's existence on its platform. In 2014, Apple's chief executive Tim Cook became the first Fortune 500 company leader to announce he was homosexual, and earlier this year told CNN that being gay was "God's greatest gift to me".

12-24-18 Sending astronauts to Mars would be stupid, astronaut says
One of the first men to orbit the Moon has told BBC Radio 5 Live that it's "stupid" to plan human missions to Mars. Bill Anders, lunar module pilot of Apollo 8, the first human spaceflight to leave Earth's orbit, said sending crews to Mars was "almost ridiculous". Nasa is currently planning new human missions to the Moon. It wants to learn the skills and develop the technology to enable a future human landing on Mars. Anders, 85, said he's a "big supporter" of the "remarkable" unmanned programmes, "mainly because they're much cheaper". But he says the public support simply isn't there to fund vastly more expensive human missions. "What's the imperative? What's pushing us to go to Mars?" he said, adding "I don't think the public is that interested". Meanwhile, robotic probes are still exploring Mars. Last month, the InSight lander, which will sample the planet's interior, successfully touched down at Elysium Planitia. In a statement, Nasa said it was "leading a sustainable return to the Moon, which will help prepare us to send astronauts to Mars". "That also includes commercial and international partners to expand human presence in space and bring back new knowledge and opportunities." (Webmaster's comment: A giant dumb waste of money which runs a high risk of severly damaging the health of the astronauts.)

12-23-18 US shutdown could stretch into January, Trump aide warns
A partial US government shutdown over budget spending could continue right up to the opening of the next Congress on 3 January, a Trump aide has said. The shutdown began at midnight Friday after opposition Democrats resisted President Donald Trump's demand for $5bn (£4bn) for his Mexico border wall. Mr Trump's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, suggested Democrats were "beholden" to their left wing. A Democratic senator said his party opposed any funding for the wall. "That's correct," Sen Jeff Merkley told an ABC news interviewer when asked if his party was not going to approve any money for the Trump administration's project. "None." Earlier, the party offered a sum of $1.3bn for border security. Mr Trump himself took to Twitter on Sunday to defend his plans for the border with Mexico. "It's very possible that this shutdown will go beyond the 28th and into the new Congress," Mr Trump's acting chief of staff told ABC. "This is what Washington looks like when you have a president who refuses to sort of go along to get along." In a separate interview for Fox News, he said he was waiting to hear from Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer about a new Republican offer, without specifying the sum. Speaking to ABC's This Week programme, Sen Merkley said a "30-foot concrete wall" and "30-foot steel spikes" were "not the smart way". His Republican Party controls both chambers of the outgoing Congress and the budget was indeed passed by the House on Thursday by 217 votes to 185. However, he needs to find 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate, where the Republicans currently have 51, so he needs to enlist the support of Democrats there. Nine of 15 federal departments, including State, Homeland Security, Transportation, Agriculture and Justice began partially shutting down after funding for them lapsed at midnight (05:00 GMT Saturday). Hundreds of thousands of federal employees will have to work unpaid or are furloughed, a kind of temporary leave. (Webmaster's comment: Trump is not making America great again. He is making everyone miserable, immigrants and Americans alike!)

12-23-18 The truth about the North Pole
As it melts, Santa's headquarters is becoming a geopolitical flash point. Here's everything you need to know:

  1. Where is the North Pole? Its exact location is surprisingly ... polarizing. There are technically four North Poles.
  2. Why does Santa live there? St. Nicholas, a wiry 3rd-century Christian who used his inherited wealth to benefit children, lived in present-day Turkey.
  3. Who got there first? Frederick Cook claimed to have planted an American flag at the North Pole on April 22, 1908, after nearly starving to death during a three-month trek with two other men.
  4. Why is that? The icy path to the pole is melting. "The Arctic is going through the most unprecedented transition in human history."
  5. What's at the pole now? Not much, except a confusing number of flags. Peary declared the pole the property of the U.S., but nobody seems to have listened.
  6. Who gets it? It isn't clear. In 2008, five Arctic coastal nations agreed to settle disputes using terms set by the United Nations.
  7. The pole's mythical status: Various monarchs funded explorations to the North Pole, mainly in search of a sea route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific, but they were also enchanted by the pole's mythical significance.

12-22-18 US shutdown looks set to drag through Christmas
A partial US government shutdown is set to continue through Christmas with no deal in sight to break the impasse over budget spending. The Senate, which must pass a deal, has now adjourned until Thursday. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump will stay on in Washington for the festive period, cancelling holidays in Florida. The shutdown began at midnight on Friday after Democrats resisted Mr Trump's demands for $5bn (£4bn) for his Mexico border wall. Mr Trump warned there could be "a long stay" in the talks and Democrats told him: "You must abandon the wall." Vice-President Mike Pence stressed that negotiators were still talking. Nine of 15 federal departments, including State, Homeland Security, Transportation, Agriculture and Justice began partially shutting down after funding for them lapsed at midnight (05:00GMT Saturday). Hundreds of thousands of federal employees will have to work unpaid or are furloughed, a kind of temporary leave. This is the third time US federal funding has lapsed so far this year, although the other two were brief. (Webmaster's comment: Our Christmas present from our President's temper tantrum!)

12-22-18 US referee tells wrestler to cut dreadlocks or forfeit match
An inquiry has been ordered after a referee told a US high-school wrestler he would have to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit a match. Teenager Andrew Johnson chose to have his hair cut at the venue, and went on to win his bout for Buena Regional High School in New Jersey. Video of the incident went viral on Twitter, with some accusing referee Alan Maloney of racial discrimination. He had been accused of making a racial slur to a black colleague in 2016. It has been recommended he not officiate pending a review, although some officials said he was following the rules for the sport in this case. Andrew Johnson was reportedly given just seconds to make up his mind at the bout in Mays Landing, southern New Jersey. The video shows the hair being cut away by a coach or trainer and Mr Johnson then winning in overtime to help his school to victory over Oakcrest High School. Frankel wrote: "Epitome of a team player." The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association recommended Mr Maloney not officiate until a review had been completed. The state's civil rights division will also review the incident. Amol Sinha, of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, told The Inquirer: "He shouldn't have had to make the choice of cutting his hair or forfeiting the match. This doesn't seem to be about hair. It seems to be about race." The paper quoted Democratic state lawmaker John Armato as saying that this was "a clear act of racial discrimination" and that the referee should be banned. (Webmaster's comment: Attacking blacks for anything they can think of seems to be a white prerogative!)

12-22-18 US government partially shuts down over border wall row
A partial US government shutdown has taken effect after US lawmakers failed to break a budget impasse. President Donald Trump, who has to sign off on any deal, is insisting at least $5bn (£4bn) be included for his long-promised wall along the Mexican border. In the absence of a deal, funding for about a quarter of US federal agencies lapsed at midnight (05:00GMT Saturday). Both the House and Senate are set to be back in session at noon on Saturday (17:00GMT) to try to resolve the issue. Meanwhile, nine of 15 federal departments, including State, Homeland Security, Transportation, Agriculture and Justice are now partially shutting down. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees will have to work unpaid or be put on temporary leave. This is the third time US federal funding has lapsed so far this year, although the other two were brief. (Webmaster's comment: All because our spoilt child president is having a temper tantrum over not getting his way! What a wonderful Christmas present from our president!)

12-21-18 US stocks suffer worst week in a decade
US stocks suffered one of the worst weekly falls in a decade as trade tensions with China, interest rate rises and a possible government shutdown rattled markets. All three indexes closed lower, with the technology-focused Nasdaq down 20% since its peak, placing it in so-called "bear market" territory. The Dow Jones Industrial Average recorded its biggest weekly drop in percentage terms since 2008. The S&P 500 fell 7% for the week. It is the biggest weekly percentage drop since August 2011 while the Nasdaq's 8.36% decline is the sharpest since November 2008. The Dow Jones fell 6.8% during the week. After years of gains, US investors are fleeing stocks, worried about a range of factors likely to hit corporate profits, including slowing economic growth domestically and abroad. (Webmaster's comment: Welcome to the new Bear market, thanks to the president. Another Christmas present.)

12-21-18 Trump has the government teetering on the edge of chaos. Is anyone surprised?
In the 21st century tech era, "disruption" has become a buzzword. We've been trained to think of disruption as unambiguously positive — messy, maybe, but always done in the service of upending staid and outdated approaches best left behind. Reality, though, is more complex: Disruption can have good or bad consequences; often, it's a mix of both. Disruption is often painful, and the people who feel the most pain are usually not the instigators of the chaos. If done for its own sake, without a larger vision to guide, the forces of disruption can be likened to a toddler knocking over a pile of blocks just to see what happens — briefly interesting, but ultimately kind of pointless. That brings us, naturally, to President Trump. The United States has reached a moment of high, extreme disruption: a stock market in free fall, a government poised to shut down, and a national security establishment in uproar. Each of these developments is at least partly the result of the president's actions: The already-nervous markets are being made even more jittery by the ongoing budget fight. That fight seems likely to lead to a shutdown since Trump, under pressure from his right wing, has announced he won't sign a budget bill that doesn't include his border wall funding. And Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned in protest over the president's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. All of this, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller is still lurking out there, somewhere. We were promised that America would be made greater. Instead it seems like the country and its governance are teetering on the edge of chaos. That Trump's presidency has arrived at this fulcrum wasn't just predictable — it was kind of the point. When his candidacy gained steam during the early weeks and months of 2016, some supposedly smart conservatives hopped on board the bandwagon quickly and, seemingly, a bit cynically: They didn't think Trump was a good man or a smart man, necessarily. But they looked at what the elite establishment had created over the previous 15 years — America was trapped in unending wars abroad, the economy at home was sluggish even in recovery — and decided that Washington's pile of blocks needed a good toppling.

12-21-18 Supreme Court rejects Trump asylum ban on illegal migrants
The US Supreme Court has ruled against the Trump administration's policy to deny asylum to any migrants crossing the US-Mexico border illegally. The top court rejected the policy 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the court's liberals. Federal judges had previously stayed the asylum ban, ruling it tried to circumvent existing laws granting anyone the right to asylum in the US. The government had described the policy as a way to address the border crisis. Conservative justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh dissented. The court offered no opinion, just a document noting the order upholding the lower courts' ruling against the ban. On 9 November, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation stating that only asylum claims made at official ports of entry would be heard. Lower federal courts blocked the policy from going into effect soon after. In Solicitor General Noel Francisco's request to the Supreme Court to give the proclamation the go-ahead, he claimed the president's decree was for border security and to discourage dangerous crossings. The petition claimed that migrants entered the US illegally and then claimed asylum, allowing them to remain in the country while their cases were being processed - even if those cases were unlikely to be granted. "These measures are designed to channel asylum seekers to ports of entry, where their claims can be processed in an orderly manner; deter unlawful and dangerous border crossings; and reduce the backlog of meritless asylum claims." The government added that the temporary ban would "assist the president in sensitive and ongoing diplomatic negotiations" with Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which issued the legal challenge to the ban, said the policy was unjustifiable and unfair. The ACLU noted that many legitimate asylum seekers, fearing for their lives, enter illegally "through no fault of their own".

12-21-18 Thousands of Canadians have signed petitions to ban conversion therapy
Thousands of Canadians have rallied behind two petitions calling for a nationwide ban of conversion therapy. It's part of a wider global trend condemning the practice. Peter Gajdics came out as gay to his family when he was 23. His staunchly Catholic parents rejected his homosexuality, and he left home. But Gajdics found himself struggling with deep depression and with feeling alienated and estranged, and his doctor referred him to a psychiatrist. That psychiatrist centred on Gajdics' sexuality as the problem, telling him that abuse he suffered as a child created a "false notion" that he was homosexual. "So the goal in my therapy would be to work through my 'trauma' and therefore I would revert to my innate heterosexuality," says Gajdics. "Everything about my therapy became focused to do that." The treatments grew increasingly intense. He was prescribed a cocktail of psychiatric medications - antidepressants, a sedative and more - and told they were necessary "to silence the noise" of his homosexuality. The young Canadian man spent six years under the psychiatrist's care, eventually moving into a house with other patients, "isolated from the world, definitely not talking to family or former friends, which was prohibited". He finally left the treatment, got off the medications, and sued the doctor for medical malpractice. (Webmaster's comment: Vice-President Pence wants to force all homosexuals to be cured using electroshock threatments. That'll cure them alright, burn their brains out.)

12-21-18 Fresh Hungary 'slave law' protests in Budapest
Thousands of people have joined fresh protests in Hungary against a new so-called "slave law" that nearly doubles how much overtime employees can work. The protesters marched to the office of President Janos Ader, angry that he signed the legislation. Prime Minister Victor Orban says it gets rid of "silly rules" so that those who want to earn more can work more. The new law boosts the overtime employers CAN DEMAND from 250 to 400 hours a year. Meanwhile payment for this overtime can be delayed by up to three years. Trade unions are opposing the reform and have threatened to organise a general strike, AFP reported. Earlier the leader of the left-wing opposition MSZP party Bertalan Toth called for the protests to continue. "We will target those that the Fidesz regime caters to with their laws," he said. Local councils in the city of Szeged and the northern town of Salgotarjan have passed resolutions vowing not to implement the new law. (Webmaster's comment: Another new dictatorship implementing slave labor on it's citizens.)

12-21-18 Trump vows 'very long' government shutdown over border wall
US President Donald Trump has threatened a "very long" government shutdown if Democrats do not fund his long-promised border wall. In a series of tweets, Mr Trump demanded $5.7bn (£4.5bn), which was passed by the House of Representatives, but is expected to fail in the Senate. "Shutdown today if Democrats do not vote for Border Security!" he tweeted. If no deal is reached, parts of the US government will begin to close at midnight on Friday. The Senate is expected to vote at around midday on Friday on a measure that the House approved a day earlier by 217-185. The Republican president was meeting senators from his own party beforehand, according to the White House, to discuss "the funding bill and the importance of border security". Any partial shutdown would be the third such closure of federal agencies in 2018. And if it occurs, it may not be settled until after the New Year, when Democrats take control of the House.

12-20-18 U.S. Support for Central American Refugees Exceeds Norm
As thousands of Central American refugees wait to have their asylum applications processed by U.S. border authorities, Americans are slightly more likely to approve (51%) than disapprove (43%) of letting these refugees into the U.S. That level of support exceeds the historical norm -- in most prior refugee situations, Americans were more likely to disapprove than approve of allowing them entry.

  • 51% of Americans approve of admitting Central American refugees into U.S.
  • Support for allowing these refugees entry is greater than historical average
  • Americans' opinions on refugees are highly politicized

12-20-18 Republican women keep defecting to the Democratic Party
A funny thing is happening in my home state of Kansas right now: Republican women keep defecting to the Democratic Party. State Sen. Barbara Bollier was the first to announce her exit last week, switching parties after 10 years as a legislator. She was quickly followed by outgoing State Rep. Joy Koesten, who was defeated earlier in the year by a conservative primary challenger. Then, on Wednesday, two more GOP women jumped ship: State Sen. Dinah Sykes and State Rep. Stephanie Clayton. It's starting to look like a trend. On one hand, maybe this isn't a surprise: A Democratic woman, Laura Kelly, just won the state's governorship, and last month's midterm elections turned out to to be the kind of "wave election" for Democrats that often sparks a few elected officials to switch parties to get on the winning side. But a closer look suggests the rest of the country should take notice of this trend — and President Trump and today's GOP should be deeply concerned about their respective futures. "When anything is going to happen in this country," William Allen White once wrote, "it happens first in Kansas." And in the famously red state of Kansas, women are leaving the GOP. It's notable that the three defecting women who will remain in the legislature are actually making a sacrifice. The Republican Party still retains large majorities in both the Kansas Senate and Kansas House of Representatives — which means each woman is ditching the chance to share in the spoils that come with being in the majority party. Instead, they'll share in the futility of being in the opposition — something the normal rules of political self-preservation usually discourage. "Switching to the majority party is one thing," University of Houston political scientist Boris Shor notes. "Switching to the minority party is something entirely different." So why did they leave?

12-20-18 How decorating for Christmas sends people to the ER
Lights, trees and visiting Santa are all potential hazards. Holiday season revelers beware. Lights, ornaments and Christmas trees may land you in the emergency room. More than an estimated 173,000 people in the United States were injured by Christmas trees, lights and other holiday-related decorations from 2007 to 2016. Even visiting Santa resulted in an estimated 277 children being injured, scientists report online November 28 in Advances in Integrative Medicine. Researchers in Australia and Germany extrapolated from injury reports collected by hospitals that are part of the U.S. National Electronic Injury Surveillance System to estimate the number of Christmas-related injuries nationwide during the 10-year period. Among the holiday hazards:

  • Oh no, Christmas tree! Almost 23,000 people were estimated to have been injured by Christmas trees or stands.
  • Decking the halls: More than 148,000 people got decked along with the halls, the researchers estimate.
  • Old Saint Nick: Over the study period, three children had to go to the ER after falling off Santa’s lap, and, in 2014, one little girl ran away from Santa and cut her face on a shelf.

12-20-18 US passes first anti-lynching law after Senate vote
The United States Senate has unanimously approved a bill to make lynching a federal crime in the country. Three black senators introduced the bill in June to allow lynching to be charged as a hate crime alongside existing crimes such as murder. For much of US history, lynchings were rarely prosecuted at all. More than 200 anti-lynching bills have been introduced to Congress since 1918, all of which have been voted down. (Webmaster's comment: How can we even begin to claim we are a nice nation?) Lynching is murder by a mob with no due process or rule of law. In the US South in the 19th and 20th Centuries, thousands of African Americans were lynched by white mobs, often by hanging. In a tweet, Senator Kamala Harris - one of the bill's architects - said the vote was "history." The bill was a bipartisan effort. It was first introduced earlier this year by Ms Harris and Cory Booker - both Democrats - and by Republican Senator Tim Scott. According to the text of the bill, at least 4,742 people were reported lynched in the US between 1882 and 1968. It says 99% of all perpetrators had escaped punishment and called lynching "the ultimate expression of racism in the United States". "Today, we have righted that wrong and taken corrective action that recognizes this stain on our country's history," Booker said in a statement following the vote on Wednesday. The bill needed the backing of 60 Senators to pass. All 100 members voted in favour of the bill including Bernie Sanders, the former Democrat presidential contender, and Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, the Senator Majority Leader. "I thought we did that many years ago," Mr McConnell said earlier this year in an interview with Sirius XM radio. "If we need one at the federal level, I certainly will support it," he said. Presiding over the vote was Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Mississippi Republican who stirred controversy last month after joking that she would attend a "public hanging" if invited by a supporter. The first anti-lynching bill was introduced to Congress 100 years ago by Republican Representative Leonidas Dyer of Missouri. The bill passed the House but was opposed by Democratic senators from southern states and failed to pass the Senate. (Webmaster's comment: Over 5,000 black men, women and even children were lynched if they even looked at white people in the wrong way!)

12-20-18 Trump supporters' anger at his 'retreat' on border wall
Supporters of US President Donald Trump have turned on him after he was denied a possible last chance to secure funding for his planned border wall. Late on Wednesday, the US Congress approved a bill to keep federal agencies funded until February. The Republican president was foiled in the Senate by members of his party, who refused to grant him any of the $5bn (£4bn) he wants for a US-Mexico wall. Two years on, Mr Trump has been unable to deliver on his key campaign promise. Congress faces a Friday midnight deadline for averting a partial shutdown of the federal government because they cannot agree a spending plan. Because of the political gridlock, the Senate has only been able to approve a seven-week extension of existing funds. The House of Representatives is expected to act on the legislation later this week. President Trump was quick to voice his displeasure, saying on Twitter on Thursday that he would not sign any bill that does not include the wall. But he has repeatedly threatened to shut down the government unless funding for his wall is included in budget bills, only to sign the spending legislation once it reaches his desk. (Webmaster's comment: Instead of the the 20 plus billions for the wall we could provide decent housing and employment for over 100,000 migrants per year for years to come!)

12-20-18 US bank 'sorry' for calling police on black man cashing pay cheque
A bank in Ohio has apologised for calling police on a black man who was attempting to cash his pay cheque. Paul McCowns, 30, had gone to the Huntington Bank branch in Brooklyn, Ohio - a suburb of Cleveland - with his first cheque from his new job. After providing two forms of ID and giving his fingerprints, as requested, the bank staff refused to cash the cheque, and asked him to leave. Unbeknownst to Mr McCowns, they also called police who later detained him. "It was highly embarrassing," Mr McCowns told Cleveland 19 News. The incident on 1 December occurred after Mr McCowns arrived at the bank to cash his cheque of over $1,000 (£800), earned after three weeks in his new job. Because he does not have an account with Huntington Bank, they required him to provide two forms of ID, and also insisted that he provide his fingerprints. After multiple cashiers examined the cheque, he says, they refused to cash it and asked him to leave. But without informing Mr McCowns, they had also called 911 and reported that he was trying to cash a fraudulent cheque. Police handcuffed him and put him in a squad car as they called his employer, who he said told officers: "'Yes, he works for me, he just started, and yes, my payroll company does pay him that much.'" (Webmaster's comment: The prejudice against black people is still alive and as bad as ever.)

12-18-18 Trump retreats on US government shutdown threat over wall
US President Donald Trump is backing down on his threat to shut down the government after Democrats refused to grant him the funding to build the wall he wants on the border with Mexico. The White House has identified other funding sources for the project, says spokeswoman Sarah Sanders. Mr Trump is seeking $5bn (£3.9bn) from Congress to start work on the wall. Several federal agencies will shut down on Friday if Congress and the president fail to reach agreement on funding. It was not immediately clear what Mrs Sanders was referring to when she mentioned potential alternative sources of funding for the wall. During Tuesday's White House briefing, the White House spokeswoman told reporters Mr Trump had "asked every [federal] agency to look and see if they have money that can be used for that purpose". But Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer said the president does not have the ability to move funds around without congressional approval. "And they're not getting it for the wall," he added. Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Tuesday that building a wall would be "a waste of money." Lawmakers have said they are prepared only to grant $1.6bn for border security, but that none of that money can be used for constructing a wall.

12-18-18 Donald Trump's troubled charity foundation to shut down
US President Donald Trump's troubled charity foundation has agreed to close down amid allegations that he and others illegally misused its funds. The move was announced by the Attorney General of New York State, Barbara Underwood, who will supervise the distribution of its remaining monies. She has accused Mr Trump and his three eldest children of using it for private and political gain. The foundation's lawyer accused her of attempting to politicise the matter. This is just one of several legal cases currently swirling around Mr Trump and his family. Others include a wide-ranging special counsel investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia headed by former FBI chief Robert Mueller. Ms Underwood said the case against Mr Trump and his children Donald Jr, Ivanka and Eric would continue. In a statement, she said there had been "a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump Foundation - including unlawful co-ordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and wilful self-dealing, and much more". She continued: "This amounted to the Trump Foundation functioning as little more than a chequebook to serve Mr Trump's business and political interests." Under the terms of the deal to shut down the foundation, Ms Underwood said, it could only be dissolved under judicial supervision and could only distribute its assets "to reputable organisations approved by my office". She added: "This is an important victory for the rule of law, making clear that there is one set of rules for everyone. "We'll continue to move our suit forward to ensure that the Trump Foundation and its directors are held to account for their clear and repeated violations of state and federal law." (Webmaster's comment: Trump and his three eldest children are a buch of crooks and they all should be in jail!)

12-19-18 Amphibian that buries head in sand named after Donald Trump
US presidents tend to receive their fair share of honours, but Donald Trump may want to ignore his latest one. A newly discovered amphibian that buries its head in the sand has been named after him, apparently in response to his comments about climate change. The Dermophis donaldtrumpi, which was discovered in Panama, was named by the head of a company that had bid $25,000 (£19,800) at auction for the privilege. The company said it wanted to raise awareness about climate change. "[Dermophis donaldtrumpi] is particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change and is therefore in danger of becoming extinct as a direct result of its namesake's climate policies," said EnviroBuild co-founder Aidan Bell in a statement. The small, blind, creature is a type of caecilian that primarily lives underground, and Mr Bell drew an unflattering comparison between its behaviour and Mr Trump's. "Burrowing [his] head underground helps Donald Trump when avoiding scientific consensus on anthropomorphic climate change," he wrote. (Webmaster's comment: Forever Trump will be known as the creature that buries his head in the sand!)

12-19-18 US bans 'bump stock' gun device used in mass shootings
The Trump administration has banned the use of bump stocks, devices that let rifles fire like machine guns, after promising to do so earlier this year. The final date to destroy or turn in the devices is 21 March, said White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. The push to ban bump stocks followed the deadly mass shootings in Las Vegas in October 2017 and Parkland, Florida in February. Pro-gun advocates have said they are prepared to fight the rule in court. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker signed the new regulation on Tuesday, and it is expected to be published in the Federal Register on Friday. Bump stocks, or slide fire adapters, allow semi-automatic rifles to fire at a high rate, similar to a machine gun, but can be obtained without the extensive background checks required of purchasing automatic weapons. Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock used a bump stock to fire rapidly into the crowd, killing 58 last year. Following the Las Vegas shooting, lawmakers began discussing a ban on the devices. In February, 17 people were shot and killed at a high school in Parkland, Florida, reigniting the gun control debate, though bump stocks were not used in that attack. Shortly after, President Donald Trump directed the Department of Justice to look into changing regulations so that bump stocks would be classified as machine guns, which are illegal to possess in most cases. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had previously ruled that bump stocks did not qualify as machine guns and thus would not be regulated. The Gun Owners of America lobby issued a statement on Tuesday saying they have prepared a lawsuit against the ATF and the justice department on behalf of the "half a million bump stock owners" forced to part with their "valuable property". "Agencies are not free to rewrite laws under the guise of 'interpretation' of a statute, especially where the law's meaning is clear," said Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America. (Webmaster's comment: They just want the right to kill people, a lot of people!)

12-19-18 US Senate passes sweeping criminal justice reform bill
The US Senate has passed a sweeping criminal justice reform bill seeking to address concerns that the US locks up too many of its citizens. The First Step Act, which has been championed by US President Donald Trump, passed by a vote of 87-12. The bipartisan measure found unlikely support from hardline conservatives and progressive liberals alike. The US leads the world in number of jailed citizens. Around 2.2m Americans were in jail in 2016, figures show. The bill, which is expected to be debated in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, only affected federal prisoners which make up approximately 10% of the total US prison population. Moments after the vote passed, President Trump tweeted: "America is the greatest Country in the world and my job is to fight for ALL citizens, even those who have made mistakes." It also retroactively changes guidelines that differentiate between powder and crack cocaine - a change which could affect up to 2,600 prisoners according to the Marshall Project. It allows for more criminals to serve their sentences in halfway houses or under home confinement, and requires offenders to be jailed within 500 miles (800km) from their families. It bans shackling pregnant prisoners and mandates that tampons and sanitary napkins be available to women. It reduces the mandatory minimum sentences for serious drug crimes, and authorises $375m (£297m) in federal spending for job training and educational programmes for prisoners. New Jersey Democratic Cory Booker hailed the legislation as "one small step [which] will affect thousands and thousands of lives". All 49 Democrats in the Senate voted in favour of the bill, with several citing how prisons are disproportionally filled with minority groups. Twelve conservative law-and-order Republican senators voted against the bill, after filing several failed amendments in an attempt to halt some reforms that are intended to release more convicts back into their communities.

12-18-18 How best to talk to your science-denying relatives this Christmas
Trying to change someone's mind is no easy task, but researchers have studied the various pitfalls when it comes to correcting scientific myths. FAMILY gatherings can bring up contentious topics we prefer to avoid, and with the festive season in full swing, it might be hard to dodge your more science-averse relatives. At some point, you know they will start spouting falsities, such as: “HIV doesn’t cause AIDS”, “Genetically modified foods are not safe to eat”, “Climate change is a conspiracy” or “Vaccines cause autism”. (Again, all these statements are untrue.) If this happens, you don’t have to just sit there quietly fuming. “Is it worth making an effort to correct people?” says Jason Reifler at the University of Exeter, UK, who studies ways of challenging misperceptions. “I think so.” Obviously, it is inherently more difficult to refute false beliefs than to spread them. Anyone can parrot a lie, but it usually takes a bit of time and knowledge to explain why a statement is wrong. Take a classic: “The climate has always changed, it’s nothing to do with humans.” To counter this, you need to explain how the world is now warming at an unprecedented rate, when otherwise it would be cooling slightly were it not for our carbon dioxide emissions. If you don’t know the specifics, there are websites such as Skeptical Science that debunk common myths. But sometimes there are shortcuts to make your point convincing. “Parallel” arguments can often highlight logical flaws very effectively, says John Cook of George Mason University, Virginia, who set up Skeptical Science after arguing with his father-in-law. For instance, the “climate is always changing” myth is like claiming that because people have always stolen from each other, leaving your house unlocked won’t up the risk of burglary.

12-18-18 Who do we trust when human and machine intelligence disagree
A faulty sensor – and the automated action it led to – are being blamed for the loss of Lion Air flight JT 610. Is it time for AI to take a back seat, asks Peter Lemme. ON 29 October, Lion Air flight JT 610 crashed into the sea off Jakarta with the loss of 189 lives. The investigation continues, but flight information recovered from the wreckage indicates that the pilots were battling with the autopilot. In a situation like that, who should we rely on: human or machine? The automated system was supposed to correct the aircraft’s pitch. Instead, it repeatedly pushed the nose down towards the ground. Thirteen minutes after take off, the plane was lost. Every time something is added to make a plane safer, new ways are created to make it less safe. In 1988, the first commercial jets arrived that made machines the leaders. The pilots can only operate within boundaries set by the machine. For the first time, pilots trusted the onboard artificial intelligence to stop them from doing something stupid. Pilots can’t know everything that is happening. To prevent them being overwhelmed with information, the data made available is only that which is deemed necessary to take the required action. Problems noted by the aircraft that don’t require pilot action are logged for the maintenance crew to read later. Thus a pilot’s awareness must stretch across multiple realities, in which the aeroplane behaves differently depending on its status. These realities are distinguished by all the combinations of failures that might be encountered. Many of these combinations can never be fully anticipated, even by a machine intelligence. Humans are able to adapt to new realities better than any AI, especially because they hold human traits like sacrifice, trust, judgement and a disparate knowledge base to draw from.

12-18-18 Snake-oil sellers must no longer be able to hide behind charity status
UK regulators are cracking down on charities that promote bogus treatments. But will it be enough, asks Tom Chivers. CHARITIES offering unproven or pseudoscientific treatments will face new regulations from the UK Charities Commission. Will this be enough to protect vulnerable people? There is a special role in British society for charities, especially during the season of giving. You can donate to everything from school sports days to Siberian tigers, but to qualify for tax breaks, the recipients must show, with evidence, that there is a public benefit to what they do. But, last year, I found that some charities offering complementary and alternative medicine seemed to be playing fast and loose with the words “evidence” and “benefit”. One large charity was offering to pay for autistic children to have pseudoscientific treatments to “cure” autism. Another was promoting similar treatments, including a bleach-like substance called MMS. A third claimed that Wi-Fi made you ill. There is no good scientific evidence for any of these claims. Last week, the UK Charities Commission announced that it will be stricter in its demands for evidence. Specifically, if a group claims that alternative treatments can reduce the symptoms of, or cure, a condition, it will have to support that claim with scientific, peer-reviewed evidence. It doesn’t mean that every charity will have to dig out a meta-analysis to prove that aromatherapy joss sticks smell nice, say. If a charity claims only to offer “relief and comfort”, less stringent forms of evidence like personal testimony will do. But those claiming they can treat cancer will need to show that what they are doing actually works.

12-18-18 New Zealand to hold cannabis referendum in 2020
New Zealanders will vote on legalising recreational cannabis in a referendum during the 2020 general election, the country's justice minister said. A vote was promised by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Labour Party last year during cross-party talks, which helped to form a coalition government. It comes a week after lawmakers gave medicinal cannabis the green light. An opinion poll last year suggested two thirds of New Zealanders favoured legalisation. "We know when it will be, we have a commitment that it will be binding, and now it is just a question on filling in the detail from there," said Justice Minister Andrew Little, following a decision by the country's cabinet on Monday. New Zealand's left-wing Labour Party is part of a three-way coalition government, with the centrist Green Party and populists New Zealand First (NZF). The partnership was formed after inconclusive elections last year led to a hung parliament. The Greens have welcomed the referendum decision. "We've had countless opinion polls for decades now, confirming New Zealanders are positively well ahead of political action on the issue of cannabis law reform," the party's spokesperson Chloe Swarbrick said in a statement. "This binding referendum presents an opportunity to have the will of the people trigger meaningful legislative change," she added. However the NZF leader Simon Bridges called the vote was a "cynical" move to distract voters from other issues around the general election.

12-17-18 US shutdown: Empowered Democrats refuse funds for Trump wall
US President Donald Trump's signature campaign pledge to build a wall along the US-Mexico border is at stake in a major budget battle this week. A partial government shutdown is looming on Friday if Congress cannot agree funding for federal agencies. Newly empowered Democrats are refusing White House demands for $5bn (£3.9bn) towards constructing such a wall. Mr Trump said last week he would be "proud" to shut down his own government if he does not secure the funding. The Republican president has been unable to loosen legislative purse strings for the project, even with his party controlling both the Senate and House of Representatives for nearly two years. That challenge is only likely to get more difficult once Democrats formally regain control of the lower chamber of Congress from January. Most people in the US - 57%, according to a new poll - want Trump to back down on the issue of the border wall and allow the government to continue its work. But he refuses to cave. His decision to dig in his heels and say he's ready to shut down the government to get what he wants is Vintage Trump: he knows his base will love his contrary stance. And, as his critics in Congress point out, he also knows his position will create a stir and distract people from other issues - such as the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election. In the end, the government's work will continue one way or another (lawmakers will ensure that). And Trump will complain. For him, being obstreperous is a win-win.

12-17-18 US 'bans Yemen mum from visiting dying toddler in California'
The Yemeni mother of a dying boy in California is being prevented from seeing him due to a US ban on visitors from her country, the family says. Two-year-old Abdullah Hassan was born with a brain disease that doctors say he will not survive. His relatives say his mother wants to see him one last time before they take him off life-support. His father says the boy's mother cannot come to the US due to the Trump administration's travel ban. Abdullah and his father are American, says the family. "All she wishes is to hold his hand for the last time," the boy's father, Ali Hassan, 22, told the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday. He said the boy would probably die if he is taken to Egypt, where his mother is currently living. Mr Hassan's wife, Shaima Swileh, is currently seeking a waiver from the US Department of State to travel to the US urgently. Soon after he took office, US President Donald Trump imposed travel restrictions on mainly majority Muslim countries. The executive order went through several versions before being upheld by the US Supreme Court this summer. It bans nationals of Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen from entering the US. (Webmaster's comment: We deserve the cruel reputation our country's people have!)

12-17-18 E-cigarette use among US teens rises dramatically, study says
The use of electronic cigarettes by US teenagers has dramatically risen this year, a new report says. The percentage of 12th grade students, typically aged 17-18, who reported vaping nicotine rose to 21% from 11% in 2017, a survey by the University of Michigan said. Researchers say the trend is reversing declines in the number of adolescents who use nicotine. The survey asked students if they had vaped over the preceding 30 days. The Monitoring the Future study, based on interviews with 45,000 students across the country, said this was the largest single-year increase in its 44-year history, surpassing a surge in marijuana smoking in the 1970s. "The policies and procedures in place to prevent youth vaping clearly haven't worked," said Richard Miech, the survey's lead author. "Vaping is reversing hard-fought declines in the number of adolescents who use nicotine... These results suggest that vaping is leading youth into nicotine use and nicotine addiction, not away from it." There was no significant change in the use of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and other popular drugs, the report said, while binge drinking saw a sharp decline in 2018 among 12th grade students.

  • Among 8th grade students, nicotine vaping increased from 3.5% to 6.1%.
  • The rate of use among 10th grade students rose from 8% to 16%.
  • For students in grades 9 through 12 the increases mean at least 1.3 million additional teenagers who vaped.
  • Marijuana vaping is also increasing.

12-16-18 Is it morally wrong to believe something without evidence?
The pitfalls of blind belief. You have probably never heard of William Kingdon Clifford. He is not in the pantheon of great philosophers — perhaps because his life was cut short at the age of 33 — but I cannot think of anyone whose ideas are more relevant for our interconnected, AI-driven, digital age. This might seem strange, given that we are talking about a Victorian man whose most famous philosophical work is an essay he wrote nearly 150 years ago. However, reality has caught up with Clifford. His once seemingly exaggerated claim that "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence" is no longer hyperbole but a technical reality. In The Ethics of Belief (1877), Clifford gives three arguments as to why we have a moral obligation to believe responsibly, that is, to believe only what we have sufficient evidence for, and what we have diligently investigated. His first argument starts with the simple observation that our beliefs influence our actions. Everyone would agree that our behavior is shaped by what we take to be true about the world — which is to say, by what we believe. If I believe that it is raining outside, I'll bring an umbrella. If I believe taxis don't take credit cards, I make sure I have some cash before jumping into one. And if I believe that stealing is wrong, then I will pay for my goods before leaving the store. What we believe is then of tremendous practical importance. False beliefs about physical or social facts lead us into poor habits of action that in the most extreme cases could threaten our survival. If the singer R. Kelly genuinely believed the words of his song "I Believe I Can Fly" (1996), I can guarantee you he would not be around by now. But it is not only our own self-preservation that is at stake here. As social animals, our agency impacts on those around us, and improper believing puts our fellow humans at risk. As Clifford warns: "We all suffer severely enough from the maintenance and support of false beliefs and the fatally wrong actions which they lead to." In short, sloppy practices of belief-formation are ethically wrong because — as social beings — when we believe something, the stakes are very high. (Webmaster's comment: If science has proven it, ACCEPT IT! You will be right 98% of the time!)

12-16-18 How the global trade in tear gas is booming
When the US border control agents used tear gas against migrants seeking asylum at the southern border, it was a high-profile incident in a decade that has seen rising use of tear gas around the world. On the surface, Noor Noor and Terry Burns don't have much in common. The former is a 28-year-old student at Cambridge, getting a degree in environmental conservation that he plans to use back home in Cairo, Egypt. The latter sells lawn ornaments and homegrown vegetables out of her house in the rolling farmlands of Jamestown, Pennsylvania, population 617. They've never met. But Noor and Burns are linked by the global trade in nonlethal weapons, a growing industry that burst into the headlines when asylum-seekers were tear gassed as they tried to cross the US-Mexico border. Noor's first interaction with the weapon was on 25 January 2011, the first day the Egyptian uprising took hold in Cairo's Tahrir Square. At 20 years old, he'd been at political demonstrations before, but he'd never seen this many people in the streets and never a group this diverse. The regular use of tear gas - that was new too. "At the beginning, it was greeted almost with curiosity: 'Will this gas really make you cry?'" Noor said. Getting gassed by security forces trying to dispel the protesters didn't just make him cough and cry, though. It made his stomach clench up. He saw others pass out; some fell to the ground, convulsing. "I thought it was called tear gas; I had no idea it was called 'choke you to death and run around blindly gas,'" he said. Security forces gassed protesters on the first day of the uprising and continued for months. Noor made it his mission to try and pick up the tear gas canisters and throw them away from the crowds, wearing a thick glove he brought to Tahrir Square just for this purpose. He got to know the canisters well. Some of the canisters, he noticed, bore the brand name Combined Tactical Systems, an address in Jamestown, Pennsylvania, and the words "Made in the USA."

12-16-18 Nicaraguan police 'beat' journalists protesting at office raid
Nicaraguan police are reported to have kicked and beaten several journalists who were protesting against raids on their offices. The journalists were outside a police station in the capital Managua, complaining that raids on the offices of a news website were illegal. Witnesses said riot police armed with batons dispersed them with force. Nicaragua has been rocked by months of protests against President Daniel Ortega. The anti-government protests were declared illegal by Mr Ortega in September following five months of often violent clashes in which hundreds of people were killed. He accuses protesters of planning a coup against his Sandinista party government. In Saturday's confrontation, a witness quoted by Reuters said at least seven journalists from international and national media were grabbed and kicked by police. They included Carlos Fernando Chamorro, who runs the news website Confidencial. He accused the police of acting without any justification. Mr Chamorro is the son of former Nicaraguan President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro who led an anti-Sandinista coalition in 1990 to defeat Mr Ortega in elections. Police called the journalists "coup plotters" and chased them, threatening to confiscate their equipment, witnesses said. "Three officers beat me. They kicked me in the leg trying to knock me down," said Néstor Arce, a journalist at Confidencial. (Webmaster's comment: Trump would love to authorize beating journalists as he has shown himself doing so on social media!)

12-16-18 John of God: Brazil 'faith healer' considered fugitive
A Brazilian faith healer accused of sexually abusing more than 300 women is now considered to be a fugitive. Joao Teixeira de Faria - known as "John of God", failed to comply with a court order giving him until 14:00 (1600GMT) on Saturday to turn himself in. A dozen women have come forward in Brazil to accuse the prominent self-styled spiritual healer of sexually abusing them at his clinic. He is based in the central town of Abadiania but has followers worldwide. Mr Faria's lawyer, Alberto Toron, said he would report to the authorities but did not say where or when. Mr Toron said he would file an appeal on Monday. A Dutch photographer, Zahira Leeneke Maus, told Globo TV that he had manipulated her into performing sex acts and then raped her. In a statement to Globo, Mr Faria's office strongly denied the allegations. It said the 76-year-old had used his powers to treat thousands of people, and "vehemently rejects [allegations of] any improper practice during his treatments". Nine Brazilian women, who remained anonymous, also told Globo TV that the self-declared healer had abused them on the premise of transferring his "cleansing" energy. Some said they had been seeking a cure for depression when the alleged abuse took place. The related O Globo newspaper later said it had spoken to two more women with similar allegations.

12-15-18 Obamacare: Texas court rules key health law is unconstitutional
A federal judge in the US state of Texas has ruled that a key part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as Obamacare, is unconstitutional. Twenty states argued the whole law was invalidated by a change in tax rules last year which eliminated a penalty for not having health insurance. President Donald Trump said the ruling was great news for America. The law's provisions will, however, remain in place until an appeal is heard at the US Supreme Court. President Trump promised to dismantle Barack Obama's landmark 2010 healthcare law, which was designed to make medical cover affordable for the many Americans who had been priced out of the market. But despite his Republican Party having majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the ACA is still operating. However, in 2017 Congress did repeal the requirement - the so-called individual mandate - that people buy health insurance or pay a tax penalty. Mr Trump took to Twitter following the judge's ruling in Texas. He also urged incoming Democratic Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to "pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare". The ruling came a day before the deadline for Obamacare enrolment for the coming year. Two Republicans - Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his Wisconsin counterpart Brad Schimel led the legal challenge. Sitting in Fort Worth, US District Judge Reed O'Connor noted that a $1.5tn tax bill passed by Congress in 2017 eliminated the tax penalties which anyone who failed to obtain health insurance had to pay. He ruled that the individual mandate was now unconstitutional. As the individual mandate was an "essential" element of the ACA, the whole of Obamacare was therefore unconstitutional, Judge O'Connor said. Ms Pelosi described the ruling as "cruel" and "absurd" and said it would be repealed. She said it exposed "the monstrous endgame of Republicans' all-out assault on people with pre-existing conditions and Americans' access to affordable health care". Mr Schumer, meanwhile, said the ruling appeared "to be based on faulty legal reasoning and hopefully it will be overturned". He said that if it was upheld in the higher courts "it will be a disaster for tens of millions of American families, especially for people with pre-existing conditions". (Webmaster's comment: Millions will be bankrupted and millions will die early if this anti-human ruling is supported.)

12-14-18 Prison reform: A bill that reduces sentences
Finally, something both parties can agree on, said Charlie Kirk in FoxNews.com. “America is locking up too many people, for too long, and spending too much money on them.” It costs about $81 billion annually to house and feed the nation’s 2.2 million incarcerated people in “correctional facilities” that often do not give them the skills they need when they’re released so they don’t return to crime. That’s why most congressional Republicans and Democrats and President Trump all support legislation called the First Step Act. The bill reduces mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent offenders and implements “educational and rehabilitation programs” aimed at lowering recidivism rates. The bill easily passed the House, and after a frustrating delay, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) this week said he would call a vote before year’s end. At last, Congress has realized “more prison does not always mean less crime,” said Bloomberg.com in an editorial. “Perhaps most important,” the bill will also fund research on what works, and what doesn’t, in turning convicts away from crime. Reform is “desperately needed,” said Keith Wattley in NYTimes.com, but this bill does far too little. The number of people eligible for the bill’s provisions is “shockingly small”—about 4,000 in the federal system, which itself represents less than 10 percent of the U.S. prison population. It also omits prisoners convicted of violent crimes from reforms, when research shows they are the most likely to benefit from educational and therapeutic programs that help them not return to crime. Sorry, but where is the evidence that we “over-incarcerate”? asked Rafael Mangual in TheHill.com. “There is an enormous amount of crime” that goes unsolved every year, for which no one is arrested or sent to prison. Last year alone, police failed to resolve almost 7 million serious property and violent offenses. That would suggest we actually under-incarcerate. When people are caught and convicted of crimes, said Jason Riley in The Wall Street Journal, First Step would give judges far more discretion in handing out sentences. Is that really reform? “There’s a reason judicial discretion was pared back” in the 1980s and ’90s. Judges were defying sentencing guidelines and releasing “predatory criminals” prematurely, creating “revolving-door justice.” We all want to give deserving inmates a second chance, but not at the expense of “the law-abiding poor” who can’t afford to move out of high-crime neighborhoods.

12-14-18 A nation of crooks
Nearly 1 in 2 American adults have had an immediate family member go to jail or prison for at least one night, according to a study from Cornell University. One in seven adults has had an immediate family member imprisoned for at least a year.

12-14-18 Misinformation and Truth
. If there’s a word that defines the year 2018, says Dictionary.com, it’s “misinformation.” An unintended consequence of the Information Age, misinformation—and its cousin, deliberate disinformation—is a rising flood tide of lies, delusions, and blind, adamant belief that imperils our ability to govern ourselves. The pollution pours in from Facebook and other social media, Russian troll farms, and a White House that denies that objective truth exists. Did Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman order the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi? “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t,” President Trump said, shrugging off the CIA’s evidence-based conclusion that he did. When asked why his client wouldn’t testify in the Russia investigation, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani explained, “Truth isn’t truth.” There’s no way to determine who’s lying and who’s not, Giuliani and his client insist. Truth is inherently partisan. It’s whatever you prefer to believe. To see where this leads, consider Vladimir Putin’s Russia—the world’s leading practitioner and exporter of Orwellian propaganda. In a chilling piece, The Washington Post this week examined how Russia is aggressively undermining the West’s concept of truth. (See Last Word.) When the Kremlin was caught using a chemical weapon to poison a Russian double agent in Britain, Putin’s disinformation machine pumped out a stream of conspiracy theories: Maybe Britain did this to make Russia look bad! After being bombarded with lies on state TV and social media, most Russians either believed Britain was behind the poisoning, or said, “It could have been anyone.” The goal of such propaganda, experts told the Post, is to create doubt about the obvious—to flood the zone with so many alternative explanations that people “begin giving up on the facts.” Sound familiar? This may be foolishly optimistic, but my wish for 2019 is that the word of the year will be: “Truth.”

12-14-18 Migrant caravan: US to investigate after child dies in custody at border
An investigation has been launched after a seven-year-old girl died while in the custody of the US Border Patrol. The Guatemalan child, named as Jakelin Caal Maquin, was detained last week after crossing the US-Mexico border with her father, officials say. It was earlier reported that she died of dehydration, but border officials insist the pair had access to food and water while they were in detention. A government watchdog will investigate before releasing a final report. The death of the girl has bought renewed focus on President Donald Trump's hard-line immigration policy, and onto the migrants who are travelling from Central America to the US border. The migrants say they are fleeing persecution, poverty and violence in their home countries. Many say they are aiming to settle in the US despite warnings that anyone found entering the country illegally will face deportation. According to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the girl was apprehended with her father for illegally entering the country on the evening of 6 December. She was then screened and found to have no health issues. It says she was held in a location that had food, water and toilets before she was loaded onto a bus with her father ahead of a 94-mile (151km) journey to the nearest Border Patrol Station. But the girl began vomiting while on the bus, officials say, and later stopped breathing. When the bus arrived at the Border Patrol Station she received emergency medical attention and was revived twice before being flown to hospital in El Paso, according to the CBP. It says she died there after suffering a cardiac arrest and was diagnosed with brain swelling and liver failure. (Webmaster's comment: Killing off immigrants one child at a time.)

12-14-18 U.S. Border Patrol arrested 51,856 people
The U.S. Border Patrol arrested 51,856 people on the Mexican border in November, a 78 percent increase from the previous year and the highest level for the Trump presidency so far. Of those arrested, 25,172 were families traveling with children.

12-14-18 94 school shooting incidents
There were 94 school shooting incidents in 2018, according to data from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, the highest number on record. That’s a 60 percent increase over the previous high, set in 2006. The NPS database tracks “each and every instance a gun is brandished, is fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason.”

12-14-18 Wisconsin's Scott Walker strips incoming Democrat's powers
Wisconsin's outgoing Republican governor has signed bills to strip powers from his Democratic successor. The measures curb the authority of incoming Democratic Governor Tony Evers, who won last month's election. Democrats say the legislation is a naked power grab, but Republicans argue it will balance the legislative and executive branches of state government. Similar laws are being considered by another Republican-controlled legislature in Michigan. Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, signed the bill on Friday less than a month before he leaves office. "There's a lot of hype and hysteria, particularly in the national media, implying this is a power shift," the onetime 2016 presidential frontrunner told reporters in Green Bay. "It's not." But Democrats question why Republicans felt no need to adjust the balance of powers while they exerted total control over the levers of state government over the past eight years. Mr Evers, who beat Mr Walker by one percentage point in the election, said in a statement: "Today, Governor Walker chose to ignore and override the will of the people of Wisconsin. "This will no doubt be his legacy." The bills - passed during a so-called lame duck session this month - will force the new Democratic governor to seek permission from the legislature before seeking changes to various programmes. Furthermore, his ability to address early voting and voter ID laws will be limited - crucial provisions in a swing state that President Donald Trump only narrowly won in 2016. It will also prevent the governor and his Democratic attorney general from making good on campaign promises such as removing the state from a lawsuit against Obamacare. (Webmaster's comment: More anti-democratic rulings by the Republicans.)

12-14-18 A hero revealed as a villain
Why are Poles still making excuses for pedophile priests? asked Magdalena Sroda. The latest clerical abuser to be unmasked is the late Monsignor Henryk Jankowski, who became famous in the 1980s as a member of the Solidarity anti-communist movement. Jankowski, it turns out, had raped multiple young girls, even allegedly impregnating one who went on to kill herself. Later, he turned to boys, inviting them into the rectory and plying them with alcohol, chocolates, and all the perks of foreign aid he had access to as a high-ranking Solidarity member. The scene recalls the debauchery “of the Roman Emperor Tiberius,” who kept a garden of pleasure boys. Now that the allegations have finally come out, outraged Poles are demanding that a Gdansk monument to Jankowski, who died in 2010, be torn down. But those in power insist on downplaying his crimes. Bernadeta Krynicka, a legislator with the ruling Law and Justice party, actually said on TV last week, “A priest is a man, not a saint, and has the right to commit certain sins.” Experts cluck sympathetically about pedophilia as a sickness. Can’t we leave the psychiatry to the doctors, the defense to the courts? In a civilized society, “the condemnation of priestly debauchery, depravity, and cruelty should be a normal instinct.” Unfortunately, in today’s Poland, “it is not.”

12-14-18 Nuns’ gamble
Bowing to outraged parents, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles endorsed criminal charges this week for two nuns accused of stealing as much as $500,000 from a Catholic school. Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper and Sister Lana Chang retired earlier this year from St. James Catholic School, where Kreuper had worked for nearly three decades, most recently as principal, and Chang for 20 years as an eighth-grade teacher and vice principal. A routine audit revealed that tuition, fees, and donations had been siphoned off for at least 10 years. The nuns apparently used the money for trips to Las Vegas casinos. They admitted to the theft and were placed under “canonical restrictions” by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, which committed to repay the funds. “We’ve not been sleeping,” said Debby Rhilinger, who put five children through St. James. “Sister Lana preached to those eighth-graders every day that there are consequences to your actions.”

12-14-18 Everyone has a religion
“Everyone has a religion. It is, in fact, impossible not to have a religion if you are a human being. It’s in our genes and has expressed itself in every culture, in every age. By religion, I mean something quite specific: a way of life that gives meaning, a meaning that cannot really be defended without recourse to some transcendent value, undying ‘Truth,’ or God (or gods). Even today’s atheists are expressing an attenuated form of religion. Their denial of any God is as absolute as others’ faith in God, and entails just as much a set of values to live by—including, for some, daily rituals like meditation. We are a meaning-seeking species.”

12-14-18 Cannabis: Big Tobacco joins the gold rush
Altria, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, made its first move into the budding marijuana industry last week, said Tiffany Kary and Kristine Owram in Bloomberg.com. For $1.8 billion, Altria bought a 45 percent stake of Toronto-based marijuana producer Cronos, “on a simple premise: Cannabis is growing fast, and cigarettes are not.” With smoking rates in America falling and an increasing number of states legalizing pot, Canada, which legalized marijuana in October, becomes a “large laboratory for the nascent industry.” Altria also said it would kill two of its vaping products, fueling talk that a deal with vape-industry king Juul may be in the works.

12-14-18 Migrant caravan: Girl dies in custody after crossing Mexico-US border
A seven-year-old girl who illegally crossed the Mexico-US border with family died hours after being taken into custody, US officials say. The Guatemalan girl, who arrived in the US last week as part of a group of migrants, died of dehydration and shock, the Washington Post reports. AP news agency quotes border officials as saying she had not had food or water for several days. Thousands of migrants have travelled from Central America to the US border. The migrants say they are fleeing persecution, poverty and violence in their home countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Many of them say their goal is to settle in the US despite warnings by US officials that anyone found entering the country illegally will face arrest, prosecution and deportation. The US Border Patrol confirmed that an accompanied girl aged seven had died after experiencing fever and seizures while in its custody for eight hours on Thursday of last week. The girl, whose nationality was not given, was flown to hospital in El Paso where she suffered cardiac arrest and died within 24 hours. A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson sent condolences to the girl's relatives, saying US Border Patrol border "always takes care of individuals in their custody and does everything in their power to keep them safe". "Unfortunately, despite our best efforts and the best efforts of the medical team treating the child, we were unable to stop this tragedy from occurring," the spokesperson added. "Once again, we are begging parents to not put themselves or their children at risk attempting to enter illegally." (Webmaster's comment: The beginning of child deaths at our Mexican borber. Whatever happened to American generosity and helping the downtrodden? It does not really exist anymore does it?)

12-13-18 America has a problem with proportionality
And we almost never talk about it. ne of the police officers who ripped 1-year-old Damone from his mother's arms in a Brooklyn social services office really put his back into it. He searched for a good grip on the baby's body and, having acquired it, started jerking his own body up and out, making a yanking motion I've used to tear a stubborn weed from my garden. This is not a motion I can imagine using on a child. Perhaps if Jazmine Headley, the woman desperately holding on to Damone, were not his mother but his kidnapper, the yanking would have made sense. But reality is not so dramatic. Headley is Damone's mom, and her violent treatment at the hands of New York City police officers was reportedly initiated over the piddling "offense" of insisting she could sit on the waiting room floor because all the chairs were full. The encounter was filmed and Facebooked, picking up views and outrage as a ghastly new example of police brutality. And beyond the visceral reaction the video engenders, what makes this story so instinctively galling is the lack of proportionality. Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez communicated as much when he announced Tuesday that he would not pursue any charges against Headley because the "consequences this young and desperate mother has already suffered as a result of this arrest far outweigh any conduct that may have led to it." She is not the only one to suffer this way. America has a problem with proportionality. Our criminal justice system excels at making that failing obvious, because proportionality is integral to justice. It's particularly important in retributive justice systems like our own (whether retribution is our best option is a question I'll leave for another day), where without proportionality we may find ourselves exacting punishments that go well beyond "an eye for an eye. Proportionality is also vague and debatable. We can agree on the principle while differing on the details, and our use of punishments with no restitutionary connection to the crime exacerbates this confusion. It is easy to see the proportion, say, in requiring a thief to repay his victim for a stolen item. But how should a theft be measured in jail time? How many months or years are proportionate to taking a television or burning down a house? We can't convert crimes to prison sentences like inches to centimeters, so we argue about what's proportionate.

12-13-18 Hungary 'slave labour' law sparks protest on parliament steps
Protests have broken out in Hungary after the country's parliament passed new labour laws, which have been labelled "slave labour" by opponents. New rules mean companies can demand up to 400 hours of overtime a year and delay payment for it for three years! Police used tear gas against crowds on the steps of the parliament building on Wednesday night as crowds gathered. Opposition politicians had created chaos inside, blocking stairways and blowing whistles to disrupt the votes. They were also angry over a second vote to create a new system of administrative courts controlled by the minister of justice, which critics fear will not be independent. The parliamentary speaker, unable to reach his podium, was forced to open the session from the floor instead. Despite the disruption, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's overwhelming majority in parliament pushed the change through. Hundreds of protesters - one estimate suggested up to 2,000 - gathered outside the building late on Wednesday to protest against the "slave labour" amendment, while hundreds of police protected the entrance. Police in riot gear, forming a human barrier, used tear gas against the crowd when a small number of protesters attempted to push their way past. It followed a weekend protest over the proposed change, where crowds gathered calling for higher minimum wages, rather than an increase in overtime. In Hungary, the law previously allowed for companies to demand a maximum of 250 hours of overtime in a given year. But for someone who works eight-hour days, the new amount of 400 hours is the equivalent of an hour of extra labour every day, an extra day's work every week, or 50 extra days each year.

12-12-18 2018 'worst year for US school shootings'
This year, 113 people have been killed or injured in school shootings in the United States. That's the sobering finding of a project to count the annual toll of gun attacks in schools. At the beginning of 2018, Education Week, a journal covering education in the US, began to track school shootings - and has since recorded 23 incidents where there were deaths or injuries. With many parts of the US having about 180 school days per year, it means, on average, a shooting once every eight school days. Another database recording school shootings says 2018 has had the highest number of incidents ever recorded, in figures going back to 1970. That database, from the US Center for Homeland Defense and Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), uses a different way of identifying gun incidents in school, and says this year there have been 94. The idea behind the year-long Education Week project was to mark each shooting - so that attacks should never come to seem "normal" and that every victim should be remembered. But it was also an attempt to fill in the gaps in knowledge, because while there was intense media coverage of multiple-casualty shootings, there was much less clarity about the attacks happening across the country each month. Lesli Maxwell, assistant managing editor of Education Week, said this year has "definitely been an outlier" with two large-scale school shootings, which have contributed to such a high annual loss of life. Seventeen people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. At Santa Fe High School near Houston, Texas, there were 10 killed, with both gun attacks carried out by teenage boys. "This year also stands out because of all the activism that followed Parkland, with students leading the charge," says Ms Maxwell. These included a shooting at a primary school in Virginia last month, when a parent collecting their child was shot in the leg when a gun in the pocket of another parent was accidentally fired. Or in March in a high school in Maryland, when a 17-year-old teenager shot and injured two students and then, after he was confronted, killed himself. One of the injured, a 16-year-old girl, died a few days later. The shootings are a bleak list of teenagers, guns and innocent victims. The perpetrators are as young as 12 but are mostly 16 or 17. (Webmaster's comment: The slaughter of the innocent continues!)

12-12-18 Pope demotes two cardinals over sexual abuse scandals
Two cardinals facing allegations linked to sexual abuse have been removed from Pope Francis's inner circle, the Vatican said. Australia's George Pell and Chile's Francisco Javier Errazuriz will no longer sit on the Council of Cardinals, set up by the pope as an international advice body. The pair were absent from the last meeting of the group in September. A spokesperson said the Pope wrote to them both in October to thank them. Cardinal Pell, who remains the Vatican treasurer, faces trial on sexual abuse charges in Australia - accusations the cardinal strenuously denies. His Chilean colleague, Francisco Javier Errazuriz, faces accusations that he covered up alleged child abuse while serving as Archbishop of Santiago, claims he also denies. Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya has also left the group, spokesman Greg Burke said. The 79-year-old recently retired from his role as archbishop of Kinshasa, and has not been implicated in any scandals. The group, known as C9, has no plan to immediately fill its three empty seats, Mr Burke reportedly said.

12-11-18 Trump rolls back decades of Clean Water Act protections
The Trump administration has taken aim at removing environmental federal protections for wetlands and isolated streams from pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a proposal redefining US waters under the Clean Water Act. Farm and agriculture lobbyists have pushed for these changes since 2015. But environmentalists say they could result in contaminating millions of acres of waters with pesticides and other agricultural pollutants. The proposal seeks to remove protections on "ephemeral streams" - which only appear after rainfall - and wetlands not directly connected or adjacent to large bodies of water. The replacement regulation would not change protections for large bodies of water and neighbouring wetlands, and any state-imposed rules will also be unaffected. The changes would replace an Obama-era regulation, but the wetland protections impacted date back to the George HW Bush administration. Announcing the proposal on Tuesday, Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler described it as "an end to the previous administration's power grab". Mr Wheeler said the changes clarified what waters the federal government had jurisdiction over while respecting "the primary role of the states" in managing environmental resources. He added that the Obama-era definition of federal waters was "about power over farmers, developers, landowners". "Our goal is a more precise definition that gives the American people the freedom and certainty to do what they do best: build homes, grow crops, and develop projects that improve the environment and the lives of their fellow citizens."

12-11-18 Trump's border wall broken promise
The president promised to make Mexico pay for his ridiculous wall. He failed. Now he's holding the government hostage. It was one of the first promises Donald Trump made when he declared his candidacy for president, one he kept repeating as an applause line to raucous crowds throughout his campaign: He was going to build a wall along the Mexico border. And not only that: He promised Mexico would pay for it. "I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I'll build them very inexpensively," he said in 2015. "I will build a great great wall on our southern border and I'll have Mexico pay for that wall." It was a bad promise back then. It's a broken promise now. Two years into Trump's presidency, the wall still doesn't exist — though he keeps lying about that simple fact — and Mexico is understandably no closer to picking up the tab. So now, President Trump is looking to the American taxpayers to do the job that Mexico won't, asking Congress to pony up $5 billion so he can finally start building his precious border barrier. If he doesn't get what he wants, Trump says he'll shut down the government when funding expires Dec. 21. Let him. Trump thinks he holds all the cards with voters on the immigration issue, and it's true that his base responds positively to calls for increased border security. But his attempt to pressure House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) into helping him secure the $5 billion is failing — liberal Democrats might go into open rebellion if they did so. Trump simply doesn't have the leverage he thinks he does. (Webmaster's comment: He's nothing but a big mouth!)

12-11-18 Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018 honours journalists
Killed and imprisoned journalists - "The Guardians'" - have been named 2018's "Person of the Year" by Time. Four different Time covers feature journalists from around the world. Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in the Saudi embassy in Turkey earlier this year, appears alone in one, while staff from the Capital Gazette, the US newspaper where five people were killed this year, feature in another. Pictures of Maria Ressa, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo appear on the final two. Ms Ressa is the editor of Rappler, a Philippine news website critical of the country's leadership, while Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were imprisoned in Myanmar for investigating the massacre of Rohingya Muslims. According to Time, they were chosen "for taking great risks in pursuit of greater truths, for the imperfect but essential quest for facts, for speaking up and for speaking out". Last year, the magazine named "the Silence Breakers" - women and men who spoke out against sexual abuse and harassment - as its "Person of the Year". (Webmaster's comment: Journalists are now under full-blown assaults for free speech reporting. The assaults are encouraged by nation's autocratic leaders like Trump.)

12-11-18 Two nuns admit embezzling cash for Vegas gambling trips
Two nuns who worked at a Catholic school in California have admitted embezzling about $500,000 (£396,000) and using it to gamble in Las Vegas. Sisters Mary Kreuper and Lana Chang took the money from St James' Catholic School in the city of Torrance, near Los Angeles, to spend in casinos. The pair, who are said to be best friends, took funds from an account holding tuition fees and donations. The sisters, who recently retired, have expressed remorse for their actions. Mary Kreuper was the school principal for 29 years, while Lana Chang worked as a teacher for about 20 years. They are thought to have stolen the money over a period of at least a decade to spend on travel and gambling. On Monday, St James' Catholic Church said the nuns had expressed "deep remorse" over their actions, adding that while the police had been informed, no criminal charges would be brought against the pair. (Webmaster's comment: Why Not? They are just as guilty of a major crime as any punk kid who steals $500,000. Being sorry is not enough!)

12-11-18 Why are so many countries now saying cannabis is OK?
Around the world attitudes towards the use of cannabis are shifting. Mexico's new government plans to legalise recreational cannabis use, as does the incoming government of Luxembourg. Meanwhile, New Zealand's leaders are considering a referendum on what their approach should be. As public opinion - and that of governments - changes, it seems increasingly likely that other countries will follow, raising questions about how they work together to manage the use and supply of cannabis. What has led one country after another to move towards a relaxation of their laws and, in many cases, outright legalisation? It was only in 2012 that Uruguay announced it would be the first country in the world to legalise recreational cannabis use. In large part, the move was aimed at replacing links between organised crime and the cannabis trade with more accountable state regulation. Later the same year, voters in Washington State and Colorado became the first in the US to support legalisation of the drug for non-medical use. Under President Barack Obama, a critic of the US-led war on drugs, the US government stepped back from enforcing federal laws and effectively gave states a green light to explore alternatives. Eight more states and Washington DC have since supported the legalisation of recreational cannabis and penalties are softening elsewhere. The use of the drug for medical reasons is allowed in 33 of the 50 states. In many ways the jury is still out on the effects of legalisation on society and individuals' health, but there is no question that public opinion and government policy has softened. The tide has crept across the Americas, with Canada legalising the sale, possession and recreational use of cannabis nationwide in October.

12-10-18 'Troubling' video shows NY police grabbing child from mum
New York City police are investigating an incident in which officers grabbed a baby from a mother during an arrest in Brooklyn. The video, shared on Facebook on Friday, shows police dragging 23-year-old Jazmine Headley across a floor as she yells: "They're hurting my son." She was arrested for refusing to leave a social services centre, police say. City public officials have condemned the actions and demanded answers from the police department. The New York Police Department (NYPD) confirmed that the department and Human Resources Administration (HRA) police have opened a review into the incident, in a statement emailed to the BBC. NYPD said the footage was "troubling" and the review will "include examination of all available video of the incident". The Facebook video has since received over 200,000 views and sparked public outrage over yet another case of alleged police brutality. The incident began on Friday at an HRA office in Brooklyn, where residents can apply for public assistance services like food stamps. Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, told reporters on Monday that Ms Headley had been waiting at the office for four hours to sort out daycare for her son. Ms Headley took a seat on the floor with her baby as there were no chairs, Ms Schreibersdorf said. A security guard asked her to move but there was nowhere to go. The two broke into a row and the guard called the cops. The NYPD officers on scene also asked Ms Headley to leave "numerous times", the police statement said. When she refused again, HRA peace officers dragged her to the floor as police attempted to arrest her. In the recording, officers can be seen grabbing at Ms Headley's baby, trying to pull him out of her arms as they restrain her. She shouts repeatedly: "They're hurting my son." An officer then points what appears to be a taser at Ms Headley as she says, "I'm begging you." (Webmaster's comment: She's black! She has no rights! No one cares!)

12-10-18 Anti-Semitism pervades European life, says EU report
Anti-Semitism is getting worse and Jews are increasingly worried about the risk of harassment, according to a major survey of 12 EU countries. Hundreds of Jews questioned by the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency said they had experienced a physical, anti-Semitic attack in the past year, while 28% said they had been harassed. France is identified as having the biggest problem with anti-Semitism. Germany, the UK, Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands also saw incidents. The Vienna-based FRA paints a picture of synagogues and Jewish schools requiring security protection; of "vicious commentary" on the internet, in media and in politics; and of discrimination at school and work. The report comes weeks after a gunman murdered 11 people at a synagogue in the US city of Pittsburgh. (Webmaster's comment: The United States probably tops all EU countries for hatred of Jews.) Six years after its initial report, the FRA has surveyed Jews in the 12 EU states where most Jews live. The report says anti-Semitic abuse has become so common that most victims do not bother reporting the incidents. Among the findings:

  1. 89% of the 16,395 Jews surveyed considered anti-Semitism online a problem in their country
  2. 28% experienced some form of harassment for being Jewish in the past 12 months; 2% were physically attacked
  3. 47% worry about anti-Semitic verbal insult or harassment and 40% about physical attack in the next 12 months
  4. 34% have avoided Jewish events at least occasionally because of safety fears
  5. 38% have considered emigrating in the past five years over safety fears

A startling 95% of French Jews see anti-Semitism as either a fairly or very big problem. France has been subject to a string of jihadist attacks, including the killing of hostages at a Jewish supermarket in Paris. This year alone 85-year-old Mireille Knoll, who escaped the Holocaust, was murdered in her Paris flat and an eight-year-old boy wearing a kippah (skullcap) was attacked in the street by teenagers. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has spoken of a 69% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the country, which has Europe's biggest Jewish population of around half a million. He said a national network of investigators would be created to fight hate crime, and a school taskforce would be sent to help teachers tackle anti-Semitism in the classroom. Over 80% of those surveyed saw anti-Semitism as a serious problem in Germany, Belgium, Poland and Sweden. Last month, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germans had become almost accustomed to Jewish institutions requiring police guards or special protection. Sweden, meanwhile, has seen one of the sharpest increases in perceptions of anti-Semitism in the past six years, along with the UK and Germany.

12-7-18 Life expectancy: A nation afflicted by despair
America remains a rich and powerful nation, but millions of our citizens are “wracked with grief and despair,” said David French in NationalReview.com. Stark evidence of that paradox was provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest annual report on American life expectancy, which showed our average span either falling or stagnating for the third consecutive year. The last time we saw a downward trend in life expectancy, America was fighting World War I and suffering through a flu pandemic that killed 675,000. Now drugs and suicide are mostly to blame. The overdose rate is up 356 percent since 1999, and the 2017 death toll—70,237—“far outstrips the total American fatalities in Vietnam.” For a large swath of our population, the family structure has broken down, amid rampant divorce, children being raised out of wedlock, and young men unable to find jobs that support a family. “We’re facing not so much a drug problem as a heartbreak problem,” said Mona Charen, also in NationalReview.com. With families and social bonds crumbling, an AARP study found one-third of Americans reported chronic loneliness. Isolation is a state “about as deadly as smoking.” The life-expectancy decline is far worse in rural America, said Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post. There—where unemployment and poverty rates are higher—the suicide rate is almost twice that of urban counties. President Trump “owes his presidency to rural Americans,” but other than offering them cultural resentment and scapegoats, he’s done nothing for them. In fact, he’s further hurt them with a devastating trade war that shut Chinese markets to U.S. farm products and cost farmers billions.

12-7-18 Trump’s GOP: The party of white grievance?
Before Donald Trump, Republicans primarily appealed to racially bigoted whites through code words and symbols, said Jelani Cobb in NewYorker.com. “With Trump, the racism is out in the open.” Consider the victory last week of Mississippi Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith in the state’s runoff election for a U.S. Senate seat. Hyde-Smith won over Democrat Mike Espy, who is black, despite a video showing her telling a supporter she’d gladly sit “in the front row” of a public hanging. Voters also learned that Hyde-Smith—who was enthusiastically endorsed by Trump—graduated from a private “segregation academy” set up to circumvent Brown v. Board, and called Jefferson Davis’ old home “Mississippi history at its best!” Outside Mississippi, said Samuel Sinyangwe in Vox.com, other Republicans also “ran on racism.” Florida Gov.–elect Ron DeSantis warned that his black opponent, Andrew Gillum, would “monkey up” the state. In Georgia, Gov.-elect Brian Kemp boasted that he drives a pickup truck so he can round up “criminal illegals.” Deny the obvious if you like, said Max Boot in The Washington Post, but “neocons” are taking over the GOP. Not neoconservatives, mind you—“neo-Confederates.” Hyde-Smith may seem like an extreme case, having once dressed as a Confederate general and waved a Confederate battle flag. But Corey Stewart, the defeated GOP candidate for Senate in Virginia, called Confederate history “what makes us Virginia”; Kemp recently refused to take down “the biggest Confederate monument in the world,” and the flagrantly racist Rep. Steve King of Iowa—a state that fought for the Union—has displayed a Confederate flag on his desk. Even when not waving the Dixie flag, Republicans have signed on to Trump’s strategy of “pandering to white grievances.”

12-7-18 Wisconsin GOP aims to weaken incoming Democrats
Lame-duck Republican state lawmakers in Wisconsin approved sweeping legislation this week that will strip the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general of key powers, in what Democrats called an assault on democracy. The bills passed by the GOP-dominated legislature limit the ability of Gov.-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General–elect Josh Kaul to fulfill campaign promises to protect the Affordable Care Act and boost infrastructure spending. The legislation will also restrict early voting, prohibit Evers from unilaterally making the Capitol a gun-free zone, and lock in a work requirement for Medicaid recipients. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the moves were necessary because Republicans “don’t trust Tony Evers right now,” while Assembly Speaker Robin Vos added that “we are going to have a very liberal governor who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what many of us believe in.” Evers promised to challenge the bills in court if outgoing Republican Gov. Scott Walker signs them into law. “We’re not going backwards in time to revote this election,” he said. “I won.” As lawmakers debated and voted on the legislation, hundreds of protesters streamed to the Capitol chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” and carrying signs reading “GOP Grinch Stealing Democracy.” Activists accused the Wisconsin GOP of attempting to preserve one of America’s most lopsided gerrymanders: Republicans secured 63 of 99 assembly seats in the Nov. 6 election, even though Democrats won 54 percent of votes.

12-7-18 The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul From the Revolution to the Civil War
Though Andrew Delbanco’s new history of the run-up to the Civil War is “a truly great book,” one reads it with “rising horror,” said Alan Jacobs in The Weekly Standard. The Columbia University historian forces us to look directly at our young nation’s original sin—slavery—and imagine what it was like to witness and recognize its evil effects in real time when easily half your fellow citizens were blind to that evil. In Delbanco’s telling, the problem of runaway slaves exposed a profound division in the country that existed from the nation’s founding. While the South had no monopoly on racism, it’s unlikely there ever would have been a “United States” if Northerners hadn’t accepted a clause in the Constitution establishing that no slave could escape slavery by fleeing to a free state. And then the compromises got worse. Little of the information revisited by The War Before the War is new, said Jennifer Szalai in The New York Times. “The light it sheds, however, most definitely is.” How and when, after all, should a nominally united people reconcile irreconcilable values? And when is compromise wise and when is it cowardice? Congress’ passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made it difficult for white Northerners to ignore the costs of compromise, because it obliged them to turn in runaways. Because it also denied captives normal trial rights, it also made free blacks vulnerable to slave catchers. The strength of Delbanco’s book lies in its evocation of the human cost of these policies, said David S. Reynolds in The Wall Street Journal. Though he includes many “thrilling” escape-and-rescue episodes, he also shares stunning tragedies. One fugitive slave, Margaret Garner, slit her 2-year-old’s throat rather than allow the girl to be captured and returned to slavery.

12-7-18 Poll watch
Offered a list of traits defining what it means to be a “real American,” 90% of respondents picked “treating people equally,” 88% chose “taking responsibility for one’s actions,” 81% picked “accepting those of different racial backgrounds,” and 80% said “supporting the U.S. Constitution.” Having been born in America, at 49%, and having lived most of one’s life here, at 45%, came in lowest.

12-7-18 Migrant camp shut
The city of Tijuana shuttered a migrant camp close to the U.S. border this week and moved its 6,000 occupants some 10 miles south, because the sports complex housing them had become overcrowded, flooded, and unhygienic. Health experts said respiratory diseases, chicken pox, and lice were rampant at the shelter, which was a temporary home for many of the Central Americans who recently trekked to the U.S. border in a caravan. They are being relocated to a former concert venue that will be run by the federal government and is further from the border. In one of his first acts since taking office this week, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador signed a pact with Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala to create jobs in Central America, which they hope will help stop residents from fleeing north.

12-7-18 Murder charges for a cop
Former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was indicted on a murder charge last week for fatally shooting an unarmed black man in his own apartment. In September, Guyger, 30, returned from her shift dressed in uniform and went into 26-year-old Botham Jean’s unit, directly above her own, where she shot him in the torso. Guyger, who is white, claims she mistook the apartment for her own and thought Jean was a burglar. Lawyers for Jean’s family say his neighbors heard someone banging on the door before shots were fired. Guyger was dismissed from the police force after initially being charged with manslaughter, which sparked citywide protests demanding harsher charges. An attorney for Guyger said the murder charge resulted from “a tremendous amount of outside political pressure” and “a tremendous outpouring of vindictive emotion towards my client.”

12-7-18 Officers convicted
A Philippine court sentenced three police officers to 40 years in prison each last week for the 2017 murder of a 17-year-old boy, the first such convictions for killings explicitly encouraged by President Rodrigo Duterte as part of his war on drugs. Nearly 5,000 people are thought to have been murdered by the police, and many more by unofficial militias, since Duterte came to office in 2016 telling citizens and police to “go ahead and kill” drug users and dealers. Officers routinely claim their victims pulled guns and resisted arrest. But in the slaying of teenager Kian Lloyd delos Santos, surveillance camera footage and forensic evidence proved they were lying. Human rights activists aren’t celebrating the convictions yet: Duterte has promised to pardon any officer convicted of murder during the crackdown.

12-7-18 Wiccans outnumber Presbyterians
Wiccans, who now outnumber Presbyterians in the U.S., according to a report in ChristianPost.com. Wicca, which encompasses a number of pantheistic belief systems, including witchcraft, now has 1.5 million adherents, compared with 1.4 million Presbyterians.

12-7-18 New Mexico not a state
A New Mexico couple who applied for a marriage license in Washington, D.C., were delayed because the clerk thought New Mexico was a foreign country. Gavin Clarkson says the clerk refused to accept his driver’s license as ID and asked instead for his “New Mexico passport.” The marriage bureau later apologized for the clerk’s failure to recognize “New Mexico’s 106-year history as a state.”

12-7-18 Road accidents biggest killer of young people - WHO
Road injuries are now the biggest killer of children and young adults worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The organisation published figures that also reveal Africa has the worst rate of road traffic deaths in the world. Its report says many African and South American countries still do not have sufficient speed limit laws. But it also highlights that global road death rates relative to the size of the world's population are stabilising. Car accidents are now the leading global cause of death amongst children and young adults aged five to 29 years old, the report says. It contends that says more people die from road-related injuries than from HIV/Aids, tuberculosis or diarrhoeal diseases. "These deaths are an unacceptable price to pay for mobility," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO's director-general. "There is no excuse for inaction. This is a problem with proven solutions." (Webmaster's comment: And the United States is running 50% higher at 15/100,000 than Europe at 10/100,000.)

12-7-18 Consecrated virgins: 'I got married to Christ'
Jessica Hayes bought herself a wedding gown, a veil and a ring. But when she stood at the altar facing the bishop during a solemn religious ceremony, there was no groom by her side. She was getting married to Jesus Christ. Ms Hayes, 41, is a consecrated virgin - a vocation taken by women within the Catholic Church who wish to give themselves as brides to God. Even within Catholicism, consecrated virgins are little-known - partly because the vocation was only publicly sanctioned by the Church less than 50 years ago. During the consecration ceremony, the candidate - who wears a bride-like, white dress- makes life-long chastity vows and promises never to engage in sexual or romantic relationships. The women also wear a wedding ring - a symbol of their betrothal to Christ. "I often get asked: 'So, are you married?'" says Ms Hayes, who is one of this year's BBC 100 Women. "I usually just reply with a really brief explanation that I am similar to a religious sister, that there's a total commitment to Christ, but that I live out in the world." She is one of 254 "brides of Christ" in the US, according to the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins (USACV) - whose day jobs range from nurses and psychologists to accountants, business women and fire fighters. There are at least 4,000 consecrated virgins in the world, according to a 2015 survey, and the Vatican says there has been an upsurge of vocations "in very diverse geographic areas and cultural contexts". Unlike nuns, consecrated virgins do not live in enclosed communities or wear special clothes; they lead a secular life, have jobs and support themselves. There is no such male equivalent in the Catholic Church. (Webmaster's comment: And they complain about same sex marriage. What about No Sex Marriage?)

12-6-18 Study: Half of US adults have had close family member jailed
Nearly half of all US adults have had an immediate family member incarcerated at some point in their lives, according to a new study. Researchers also reported one in seven adults have seen immediate family incarcerated for over a year, with minorities most impacted. The study by criminal justice non-profit FWD.us and Cornell University surveyed over 4,000 American adults. Over 2 million Americans are currently in prison in the US. The report estimates 64% of US adults have had someone in their family spend at least one night in jail or prison. The study's authors said it pointed to a nationwide "incarceration crisis". "These numbers are stunning, all the more so if you think of them not as numbers but as stories like mine," Felicity Rose, FWD director said in a foreword to the report. "One of the worst parts of growing up with a father in and out of prison was the isolation and shame I felt," she added. One in five US adults has had a parent incarcerated, according to the study, resulting in serious financial and emotional consequences. The study said that 113 million US adults have had an immediate family member incarcerated. At the time of the research, 6.5 million adults said an immediate family member was currently in jail or prison. One in seven adults have had a spouse incarcerated; one in eight have had a child locked up. And only one in four are ever able to visit an incarcerated family member. There was no difference in incarceration rates along political lines, but the researchers did find that people of colour were most negatively impacted. African American adults were 50% more likely than white Americans to have had a family member jailed, and three times as likely to have family jailed for 10 years or more, found the research. Latino adults were 70% more likely than white Americans to have a loved one incarcerated for over a year. Low income families were also disproportionately affected, with adults making less than $25,000 (£19,000) a year 61% more likely to have family incarcerated than those earning over $100,000 a year. And 54% of jailed parents were the breadwinners of their families. Incarceration rates were highest in the southern and western states, with residents 60% more likely to experience family incarceration than people in the northeast. (Webmaster's comment: Maybe they should stop breaking the laws and start leading decent lives!)

12-6-18 America has a rare chance at prison reform. We can't let it slip away.
The First Step Act is not the stuff of criminal justice reformers' dreams. The bill, which was designed in part by President Trump's son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, is accurately named — a limited but not unimportant stride toward making our prison system more reasonable, humane, and just. The bill's main concern is sentencing reform, giving judges greater discretion in sentencing for some future convictions. It also makes retroactive a prior sentencing reform law and slightly expands the circumstances under which inmates can, through good behavior and participation in educational programs, earn earlier transfer to pre-release custody, which can help them better reintegrate into society and avoid recidivism. If passed, First Step will only apply to the federal prison system, which means about nine in 10 of America's 2.1 million inmates won't be affected. That incrementalist approach has earned First Step wide support, including that of President Trump, which means we currently have a narrow window of opportunity for meaningful, if admittedly limited, criminal justice reform at the federal level that may never open again for the next two to six years of the Trump presidency. The trouble now is Trump's interest appears to be waning. This is not especially surprising. It has been months since Kim Kardashian West appeared at the White House in all her celebrity glory to beg Trump's mercy for Alice Marie Johnson, whose life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense he later commuted. Football players kneeling to protest police misconduct have largely faded from the headlines. Kushner may be doing his best to keep the old man on track here, but from Trump's reality TV perspective, the prison reform story arc is just about played out. If there is any drama left in the plot, it is unfortunately to be found in opposition to the First Step Act from the right. The most strident — and dishonest — voice here is Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a Trump administration ally with an authoritarian streak rivaled only by his enthusiasm for war.

12-5-18 Festive Satanic statue added to Illinois statehouse
A satanic group has added its own statue to a series of displays in the government building of the US state of Illinois to mark the festive season. Placed between a Christmas tree and a menorah, the four-foot sculpture depicts a snake coiled around an outstretched arm holding an apple. It's the first display sponsored by the Chicago chapter of the Temple of Satan. The state government said the temple had the same right as other religious groups to have a display. "Under the Constitution, the First Amendment, people have a right to express their feelings, their thoughts," Dave Druker, spokesman for the Illinois secretary of state, told the State Journal-Register. "This recognises that." The move has been criticised on social media by Illinois Family Action, an anti-abortion pressure group. Past decorations in the statehouse rotunda, in the state capital Springfield, have included a "Festivus" pole - a reference to a fictional holiday which was the subject of an episode of the sitcom Seinfeld. Founded in 2012 in Salem, Massachusetts, the Temple of Satan describes itself as a non-theistic group that aims to "encourage benevolence and empathy among all people". It says its uses satanic imagery to promote the separation of church and state and to campaign for "practical common sense and justice". It has 15 official chapterhouses in the US, the biggest of which is based in Michigan. (Webmaster's comment: It's the same as any religion. They all believe in supernatural beings which do not exist.)

12-4-18 Capitalism is working as designed
Sky-high inequality is what it does best. David Leonhardt of The New York Times has made a shocking discovery: Capitalism isn't delivering the goods for the working class! By Jove! Thus he concludes that capitalism "isn't working." He argues this is due to business leaders becoming selfish and forgetting their social responsibility. And to be fair, it's nice to see liberal business journalists writing frankly about the profound economic dysfunction that has gripped the United States for decades. But capitalism as such is working as designed. Capitalism is a pretty nebulous concept, of course, and people use it to mean a lot of different things. However, there is a set of bedrock ideas that have generally defined the system over the years. They are: private ownership of the means of production (that is, factories, land, raw materials, tools, etc); a class of workers who must sell their labor to get income; and the price of that labor, as well as those of all goods and services generally, being set through markets. We might call this classical or laissez-faire capitalism, as developed in the 19th century. This system has basically never existed in its purest state, so we can think of it as an ideal that states can approximate to a greater or lesser extent. And like all systems of political economy, it produces a justifying ideology: classical liberalism back in the 19th century, or neoliberalism today. An important design feature of classical capitalism is that it only distributes income to workers and owners of capital. It displaced feudalism by driving the peasants off the land, which previously (for all its other gruesome characteristics) served as a sort of safety net by allowing for some subsistence agriculture. If one couldn't work and had no wealth, one starved — which is why early capitalism was widely and correctly seen as a brutal, inhumane system. An important empirical characteristic of classical capitalism is that it automatically creates extreme inequality. This happened in Britain and the United States during the Industrial Revolution up through the Gilded Age, and as Thomas Piketty writes in Capital in the Twenty-First Century, it took the Great Depression and two shattering world wars to cut down inequality, through confiscatory war taxation and outright destruction of wealth. (Webmaster's comment: Capitalism - Screw everyone but me!)

12-4-18 Migrants jump border fence in Tijuana to try to reach US
About two dozen migrants climbed over the border wall separating Mexico from the US near Tijuana on Monday. While some ran to evade capture, most handed themselves in to border guards. The attempt to cross into the US illegally came just days after the migrants were transferred from one temporary shelter to another after it had become unsanitary. Thousands of people have left Central America for Tijuana in the hope of crossing into the US. They arrived in mid-October after having travelled more than 4,000km (2,500 miles), much of it on foot. The group, dubbed "migrant caravan", has been camping out in a sports complex turned into a temporary shelter by the local authorities. Last week city authorities bussed them to a concert venue that now acts as a federally run shelter, 14 miles to the south. Officials said conditions at the Benito Juárez sports complex on the border had become untenable after parts of it had flooded. They told the migrants food and medical services would no longer be provided there. Having spent a month trekking towards the United States, many of the migrants are growing frustrated at the long wait that faces them at the border. Many say they are fleeing gang violence in their home towns and want to apply for asylum based on "credible fear", while others are hoping for better job opportunities in the US. Applying for asylum at a border post can take months and with US officials restricting the number of applicants to between 40 and 100 a day at El Chaparral port of entry in Tijuana, the migrants could be stuck for months or even years in the shelter.

12-3-18 Emantic Bradford Jr: Alabama man 'shot in back' by police
A man wrongly killed by police in an Alabama mall was shot three times from behind, an autopsy has revealed. Emantic Bradford Jr, known as EJ, was shot in the head, neck and hip at the Riverchase Galleria in Hoover, Alabama. Police had identified him as the gunman in the shooting of an 18-year-old man and 12-year-old girl last month. But they later admitted they were mistaken and have since arrested another man. Erron Brown, 20, handed himself in to police. According to an autopsy requested by Bradford's family, a police officer shot the 21-year-old three times from behind. Benjamin Crump, the lawyer representing Bradford's family, reportedly told a news conference that based on the autopsy, "this officer should be charged with a crime". "There's nothing that justifies him shooting EJ as he's moving away from him." The officer responsible has been placed on administrative leave, and an investigation is under way. However, authorities have given scant details about the case, and are refusing to release body camera footage of the incident. (Webmaster's comment: On administrative leave? How about arresting him for murder!)

12-3-18 No hate crime charge for 'kill a Mexican' attack in Utah
A legal loophole means a Utah man who allegedly battered a Latino father and son while shouting "I'm here to kill a Mexican" cannot be charged with a hate crime, say officials. Alan Dale Covington, 50, is accused of brutally beating Jose Lopez, 51, and his son Luis, 18, with a metal bar. Federal hate crime laws exist, but in Utah only non-serious assaults can be classified as hate crimes. Police say Mr Covington's mental health issues complicate the situation. A Salt Lake County police log said the suspect walked into the Lopez Tires mechanics' garage in Salt Lake City on 27 November with a metal pipe. He declared he was going to kill someone before attacking. The family told the Salt Lake Tribune that Mr Covington had been shouting slurs before the attack, saying "I hate Mexicans" and asking if the Lopez's were "part of the Mexican Mafia" prison gang. He hit Luis first, knocking him unconscious, the family said. When Jose tried to protect his son, he was hit as well. Luis remains in hospital recovering from serious injuries. On a GoFundMe page to raise money for the family's medical bills, Jose Lopez's daughter Veronica wrote that doctors had to operate on her brother, using a titanium plate to hold his "shattered" face together. Her father had eight stitches in his arm and bruising to his back, she added. According to county records, Mr Covington faces eight charges, including two felony counts of aggravated assault on top of drug and weapon charges. But under a much-debated Utah state law, only misdemeanour-level crimes can be charged as hate crimes, not more serious felony offences. "Whether this was a hate crime or not is not even an issue for me to bring to the table - I don't have a statute that allows me to do it," Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill told the BBC. (Webmaster's comment: Protecting hate crimes by law!)


95 Atheism News & Humanism News Articles
for December 2018

Atheism News & Humanism Articles for November 2018