9-20-19 Getting away with murder
The percentage of murders solved in the U.S. has fallen from 91 percent in 1965 to 61.6 percent in 2017—one of the lowest “clearance rates” in the Western world. Some criminal justice experts theorize this is the result of an estimated 2,000 to 4,000 active serial killers who are literally getting away with murder.
9-20-19 Ban assault weapons
56% of Americans support banning assault weapon sales, while 38% are opposed. 43% favor a mandatory assault weapon buyback program, while 53% are opposed.
9-20-19 O’Rourke: Yep, let’s grab their guns
Beto O’Rourke has finally exposed “the unspoken truth” behind Democrats’ gun-control policy, said David Marcus in TheFederalist.com. For decades, the party has insisted the federal government wouldn’t seize gun owners’ weapons. Then, during the third Democratic presidential debate last week, the former Texas congressman issued a “loud threat” to do just that. “Hell, yes,” he said when asked about his proposal for a mandatory buyback of assault rifles. “We’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47, and we’re not going to allow it to be used against your fellow Americans anymore.” Afterward, Democrats criticized O’Rourke for “bad politics”—not for completely ignoring Americans’ constitutional right to own guns. “Wherever this fight over gun control leads, at least today we know where we really stand.” O’Rourke “just handed Republicans a massive political gift,” said Chris Cillizza in CNN.com. Though he has virtually no chance of getting the Democratic nomination, the National Rifle Association and its Republican allies will use his comments “to stoke fear and anger in their base.” Recent mass shootings—including the one that killed 22 people in O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso, Texas—may have shifted public sentiment in favor of more gun control. But raising the prospect of government confiscation just gave the GOP “a club to bash the eventual nominee” and an excuse for President Trump and Senate Republicans not to support any new laws—not even mandatory background checks. So what? said Charles Blow in The New York Times. For years, gun control advocates have limited themselves to half measures for fear of upsetting gun-rights extremists. Assault weapons made for war have no place in civilian hands. Finally, a Democrat “is speaking openly, passionately, and honestly” about how “to stem our epidemic of gun violence.”
9-20-19 Stephen King
It was only a matter of time before Stephen King’s world intersected with ours, said Anthony Breznican in The New York Times. In King’s 61st novel, The Institute, a telekinetically empowered 12-year-old is taken from his family and held in a prison camp with other uncommon children. As King was writing, he was aware that migrant children at the U.S. border were being separated from their parents and held in cages at the direction of President Trump, and that some were dying in custody. But the 71-year-old dean of American horror insists that his idea for this novel dates back decades, and that the story speaks to human nature, not current events. “I’m not a person who wants to write allegory like Animal Farm,” he says. “But if you tell the truth about the way people behave, sometimes you find out that life really does imitate art.” Though he’s best known for the monsters he’s created (Webmaster's comment: But he didn't create the one in the white house!), King has always been just as interested in how people overcome fear. So The Institute’s protagonist, Luke Ellis, allies himself with other gifted young captives to resist the shadowy organization that holds them. “I wanted to write about how weak people can be strong,” King says, and one way is through friendship. “It sounds saccharine sweet if you just say, ‘Friends make things better,’” he says, “but when you tell a story, people understand.” And for all the terrors in King’s books, said Xan Brooks in TheGuardian.com, he maintains faith that the bad in people, though a persistent source of many of our fears, need not triumph. “Most people,” he says, “are good. More people are anxious to stop a terrorist attack than to start one.”
9-20-19 What really threatens our way of life
Incoming European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen has adopted the mindset of the far right, said Lieven Sioen. The former German defense minister has created a new EU role, the “vice president for protecting our European way of life,” whose occupant will handle migration policy. The obvious implication is that migrants somehow threaten our way of life, and that we must bolster “a white, Christian Europe against a Muslim and African invasion.” That is the thesis of Hungary’s far-right prime minister, Viktor Orban, who shut his borders in defiance of the EU during the 2015 migration crisis and has since rejected almost all those seeking asylum in his country. Our way of life is indeed under attack—but from people like Orban, not desperate refugees. Our European values are embodied by “the liberal constitutional state as it developed in the West, based on free elections, the rule of law, and universal human rights.” But Orban and his acolytes want to replace liberal democracy with authoritarian rule, by banning civil society organizations, controlling the media, and politicizing the courts. There’s been so much outrage over the new post that Von der Leyen is sure to backtrack. But the very fact that she made this mistake bodes ill for her five-year term as Europe’s top bureaucrat.
9-20-19 The civil rights activist who helped plan the Montgomery bus boycott
As the wife of the Rev. Dr. Ralph Abernathy, one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s closest allies, Juanita Abernathy often welcomed civil rights leaders into her home in Montgomery, Ala. But she was much more than a host. She taught voter education classes, housed Freedom Riders, and helped arrange the yearlong Montgomery bus boycott, which began after Rosa Parks refused to give up her public bus seat to a white man and was arrested. Abernathy designed the elaborate carpool system that got black workers to and from their jobs, some traveling in cars from a local funeral home. The boycott resulted in a Supreme Court decision that banned racial segregation in public transport. “I started when there were no cameras and no newspapers writing nice things about you,” Abernathy said of her activism. “But we kept going.” She was born in Uniontown, Ala., “to a family of prosperous, rural dairy farmers and cattle owners,” said The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. As a teenager, Juanita once asked a white grocery store cashier to have a clerk—also white—carry her shopping bags to her car. When the cashier said the service was for whites only, Abernathy responded, “Well, if the boy can’t take my groceries to the car, then I guess he’ll just have to put them back on the shelves.” That defiance earned her threats from local whites, but endeared her to her future husband. In 1957, the Ku Klux Klan firebombed Abernathy’s home while she was inside with her toddler daughter, said The New York Times. “Both escaped unharmed.” Undaunted, she attended the 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. “It wasn’t about me,” she said. It was about “justice and equality…?for all of God’s children.”
9-20-19 Gay in South Korea: 'She said I don't need a son like you'
In South Korea, being LGBTQ is often seen as a disability or a mental illness, or by powerful conservative churches as a sin. There are no anti-discrimination laws in the country and, as the BBC's Laura Bicker reports from Seoul, campaigners believe the abuse is costing young lives. It was a company dinner that changed Kim Wook-suk's life as he knew it. A co-worker got drunk, slammed the table to get everyone's attention and outed 20-year-old Kim. "It felt like the sky was falling down," Kim told me. "I was so scared and shocked. No-one expected it." Kim (not his real name) was fired immediately, and the restaurant owner, a Christian protestant, ordered him to leave. "He said homosexuality is a sin and it was the cause of Aids. He told me that he didn't want me to spread homosexuality to the other workers," says Kim. But worse was to come. The restaurant owner's son visited Kim's mother to give her the news her son was gay. "At that moment, she told me to leave the house and said I don't need a son like you. So I was kicked out." Like so many other LGBTQ teenagers in South Korea, Kim Wook-suk had spent years carefully and quietly trying to hide his sexuality. He was raised by a devout Protestant mother and taught that being gay meant burning in hell. He listened fearfully in church as the pastor preached that homosexuality was a sin and encouraging it would bring disease. That's not an unusual sermon in a country where around 20% of the population belong to conservative churches. But despite being fired and made homeless because of his sexuality, he holds out hope South Korea can change. He proudly showed me his T-shirt with a special rainbow logo on it, one that calls for an anti-discrimination law. He believes this law will one day enable the LGBTQ community to come out into the open safely. It may also save young lives. A survey of under-18's in the LGBTQ community discovered that almost half - around 45% - have tried to commit suicide. More than half (53%) have attempted to self-harm. These figures have prompted the LGBT rights organisation Chingusai - Between Friends - to run a helpline.
9-19-19 Kidnap and torture on the US border
Thousands of people are stuck on the Mexican side of the US border after changes in policy have made it more difficult for asylum seekers to enter the US. The Trump administration says these policies are working to stop migration on its southern border and that Mexico is responsible for their safety. But could its policies be putting thousands of people in direct danger?
9-20-19 Muslim men blame racial profiling for flight cancellation
Two Muslim men in the US have demanded an investigation after they say they were subjected to racial and religious profiling on a flight home to Dallas. Abderraoof Alkhawaldeh and Issam Abdallah allege their flight was cancelled because crew members did not feel comfortable flying with the men. "It was the most humiliating day of my life," Mr Abdallah told reporters. An American Airlines statement said "concerns raised by a crew member and a passenger" forced the cancellation. "American and all of its regional partners have an obligation to take safety and security concerns raised by crew members and passengers seriously," the statement read. Mr Alkhawaldeh and Mr Abdallah made the allegations in a news conference organised by the Council for American-Islamic Relations and broadcast on Facebook. On 14 September, both men were booked to travel from Birmingham, Alabama home to Dallas, Texas on an American Airlines flight operated by regional carrier Mesa Airlines. They were travelling separately, but recognised one another from the local Muslim community and waved to each other on board. An announcer said the plane was delayed, and Mr Abdallah went to the bathroom. When he came out, he said a flight attendant was standing by the door "like she was eavesdropping". Shortly afterwards the crew told all passengers that the flight was cancelled and they had to disembark the plane. Mr Alkhawaldeh said he heard one attendant telling a passenger this was for security reasons. Once off the plane, the pair said they were approached by a plain-clothes man, uniformed officers and later by an FBI agent. This agent took Mr Abdallah into a private room and allegedly asked him his name and about his job, and said his luggage would be searched again. When Mr Abdallah asked what was happening, the agent allegedly said airline staff had called the police and told them they were "not comfortable flying" with him. The reason, the agent allegedly said, was that Mr Abdallah "went to the restroom and... flushed twice". According to Mr Abdallah, the agent apologised to him and said he could go and catch his rescheduled flight. "I felt [they were] discriminating against my ethnicity, my religion," Mr Abdallah said.
9-20-19 Colt suspends AR-15 rifle production for civilians
US gun manufacturer Colt has said it will suspend the production of sporting rifles for consumers. Those include the AR-15, a semi-automatic rifle that has been used in several recent US mass shootings. Colt says it remains committed to the right to bear arms, but that the US market is already saturated with similar weapons. It will focus instead on fulfilling contracts for customers in the military and police, it added. Colt's decision is unlikely to make it more difficult for people to get hold of semi-automatic weapons, as many other manufacturers make similar rifles, observers say. "The fact of the matter is that over the last few years, the market for modern sporting rifles has experienced significant excess manufacturing capacity," Colt's chief executive officer, Dennis Veilleux, said in a written statement. "Given this level of manufacturing capacity, we believe there is adequate supply for modern sporting rifles for the foreseeable future." The AR-15 has been used in several recent mass shootings, including in Newtown, Connecticut, and in Orlando and Parkland, Florida, The New York Times reports. Earlier this month, Walmart announced it would stop the sale of some types of ammunition following recent shootings, including one at one of its stores in Texas that left 22 dead.
9-19-19 Los Angeles: Why tens of thousands of people sleep rough
Los Angeles is known worldwide as a city of glamour but on a visit this week, US President Donald Trump said its growing homelessness problem could "destroy" it. So how did LA end up in this situation? You do not have to walk far in Los Angeles to see people sleeping rough. Many spend their nights in temporary shelters, or other places not meant for human habitation - on the street, in an abandoned building, or a transport hub. The number of homeless people in Los Angeles has grown by 33% over the past four years. Every night, nearly 60,000 Los Angeles County residents are homeless, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority has found. A total of 85% of Los Angeles's homeless people are adults without children, 70% are male, and 44% are black, even though they account for only 8% of Los Angeles residents. And Los Angeles has the largest number in the United States of homeless people who do not sleep in emergency shelters: 1. a fifth sleep in tents and makeshift shelters. 2. a quarter sleep in the open. 3. 30% sleep in vehicles that are often decrepit and inoperable. Money is at the root of the city's homeless crisis - jobs that pay too little and housing that costs too much. Half of homeless people say they do not have housing because they lost their jobs and cannot pay rent. Only 21% of new homeless people in the city report having a mental disability compared with 55% of those who have been homeless for longer, suggesting rates of mental illness go up as people are homeless for longer. Blue-collar workers in Los Angeles were able to earn middle-class wages and buy homes until the Cold War ended, nearly 30 years ago. The government cutting back on military expenditure meant the national defence industry, which was centred in Los Angeles, shrank by more than half. Well paid jobs were replaced by minimum-wage jobs.
9-19-19 Trump might embroil American troops in a disastrous war to help a murderer
A war with Iran would be one of the most senseless disasters of the 21st century. Here's why. Is President Trump about to start a war with Iran? It appears disturbingly possible, with Saudi Arabia blaming a recent attack on an oil installation on that country, and Trump behaving like a paid Saudi lobbyist. He recently announced yet further sanctions on Iran and mused about doing more "dastardly things" in retaliation. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flat-out declared the attacks were an "act of war."The whole conflict with Iran is just one of many ongoing atrocities caused by American imperialism — and if it breaks out into all-out war, might well be the worst one of the whole 21st century. The Iran battle is considerably more senseless than the average modern U.S. conflict, and that is saying something. For one thing, it should go without saying that the Saudi regime is about the least trustworthy source of information on planet Earth. It is a merciless, repressive dictatorship whose leader, Mohammad bin Salman, reportedly personally arranged the torture and murder of a Washington Post columnist (who was also a permanent U.S. resident), and for his body to be chopped into bits. What's more, the Saudi regime — with full American backing — has also deliberately caused the worst humanitarian crisis in the world in Yemen. Tens of thousands of people have died, and millions more are going without food and medicine. Saudi forces are paying and arming Al Qaeda as part of their war strategy. Iran denies that it carried out the recent attack, while Houthi forces in Yemen have claimed responsibility. If anything, the Saudis are the least credible voice of the three. Any sensible U.S. leader would therefore want at a minimum a detailed investigation conducted by a respected third party before making any decisions. I absolutely would not put it past the Saudi regime to present fake evidence, or carry out a false flag operation. (Notably, in a Wednesday presentation, the Saudi military accused Iran of being responsible for the attack, but not carrying it out themselves.) But let's suppose for the sake of argument that Iran did make the attack — which did not kill a single person — happen. That does not remotely mean the U.S. should jump into the fight on behalf of Saudi Arabia. For one thing, Saudi Arabia started it — indeed half the point of their grotesque butchery in Yemen is to stick it to Iranian proxies. If they insist on destabilizing the entire region to fight Iran in a quest for regional dominance, let them do it on their own. And such a fight would almost certainly be a catastrophe. As I have argued before, Iran is enormously more formidable than Saddam-era Iraq and, contrary to the glib pronouncements of The New York Times' Bret Stephens, could well sink a lot of U.S. ships if it comes to a naval battle. If Iran did carry out or enable this most recent attack, it could be a threatening signal — a way of saying that if Saudi Arabia doesn't back off, then they will instantly destroy their refining capacity, wreck the Saudi economy, throw global oil markets into chaos, and perhaps trigger a recession. It wouldn't be hard! Given the balance of power, the sensible option here is to avoid open war. If the U.S. wasn't run by a doddering lunatic, it might even have a positive role to play brokering a peace between the two sides. Instead it has inflamed the conflict by taking the Saudi side at every turn, even while they were carving up an American resident like Thanksgiving turkey. Trump has backed the Saudi war in Yemen (following in President Obama's footsteps, it should be noted), then abrogated the Iran nuclear deal for no reason, then ratcheted up sanctions on the country for no reason, then erupted in rage when Iran announced it would no longer abide by the terms of the agreement Trump had already torn up. And now Trump is poised to make things worse still.
9-19-19 School shootings: Sandy Hook parents' haunting video warning
The families of children killed in the Sandy Hook mass shooting have put out a haunting video, showing how "back to school essentials" can be used to survive a school shooting. It starts out normally enough, with kids showing off their new bags and snazzy folders. The mood shifts, when one boy puts on his headphones and fails to see people behind him running from gunshots. It ends saying "school shootings are preventable if you know the signs". The video has been published by Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit organisation led by the families of children killed at the Sandy Hook primary school in Connecticut in 2012. On 14 December 2012, 20 children - aged between five and 10 - and six staff members were killed at Sandy Hook when a gunman opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle before killing himself. The video changes suddenly from smiling kids showing off their new trainers and skateboards at the start of the new school year, to them using those same items to escape gun violence. "We don't want people to turn away from it, so pretending it doesn't exist is not helping to solve it," said Nicole Hockley, whose six-year-old son Dylan was killed at Sandy Hook. "At the end, the girl with the phone gets me every time," she told NBC.This year, by 19 September - the 263rd day of the year - there had been 302 mass shootings in the US, according to the Gun Violence Archive. If the current trend continues, 2019 is set to be the first year since 2016 with an average of more than one mass shooting a day. To protect against potential violence, one US school is being rebuilt with concrete barriers in hallways so students can hide from bullets. Mark Barden, co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise, says he refuses to accept school shootings as "our new normal". "This is what our kids are having to think about now, and they shouldn't be. There is nothing normal about kids being shot, being hunted in their school."
9-18-19 Richard Dawkins: How we can outgrow God and religion
We met with the renowned evolutionary biologist and controversial atheist to hear about science and beauty, Twitter, vegetarianism, pernicious religions, and his cautious sense of optimism. FEW scientists have acquired such a high public profile as Richard Dawkins – and maintained it amid such controversy. His first book The Selfish Gene, published in 1976, launched him to fame as a populariser of evolutionary biology. Eight books and 30 years later, he wrote The God Delusion, which reinvented him as a ferocious advocate for atheism. He chose his subjects well: during his writing career, evolution and religion have emerged as fronts in an increasingly vicious culture war between what he would characterise as the forces of darkness and superstition and those of enlightenment and reason. Both lionised and demonised for his strident views, he is once again stepping into the fray, bringing his lifelong passions for evolution and secularism together in his 15th book, Outgrowing God: A beginner’s guide. You’ve written another book about God: Yes, Outgrowing God, which is for young people. Teenagers, let’s say – and young people up to about the age of 99 as well. It covers a lot of familiar Dawkins territory, not just God but also evolution. Why did you feel that people need more on these topics? I want to encourage people to think for themselves. I’ve always felt rather passionate about breaking the cycle as each generation passes on its superstitions to the next. If you ask people why they believe in the particular religion that they do, it’s almost always because that’s how they were brought up. I’ve long wanted to try to break that cycle while being keen not to indoctrinate, because that’s of course what we criticise religious people for doing.
9-17-19 What it's like to be a rabbi in a time of rising anti-Semitism
'Just because there's hatred out there doesn't mean that we should diminish our identity' This wasn't something they taught in rabbinical school. Rabbi Lindy Reznick studied the Torah, Jewish law, and ethics, and even spent a year learning all three in Israel, but never listened to a lecture or wrote a dissertation about how to lead a congregation during a time of rising anti-Semitic violence and increased public hate speech. "I never imagined that the challenges I'm dealing with today would be the challenges I was actually going to face," Reznick tells The Week. The world has changed in the decade since she completed her studies. Last summer, Reznick became the rabbi of Congregation Emanu El in Redlands, California, about an hour's drive from Los Angeles. The reform congregation's roots run deep in San Bernardino County, with services first held in the 1850s before an official charter was granted in 1891. Reznick is the first female rabbi to head Emanu El in its 128-year history. "It's something that I've always wanted," she says. "To me, it's a calling, it's not just a job." Growing up in Santa Monica, Reznick never felt different; the westside of Los Angeles has a sizable Jewish population — some religious, others secular and cultural — and while she knew about anti-Semitism, it wasn't something she experienced. Now, she's had to navigate her congregation through waves of anti-Jewish violence — the shooting in October at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue, which left 11 people dead, and the shooting at Chabad of Poway on April 27, where one woman lost her life after stepping between the gunman and her rabbi. The Anti-Defamation League says the Tree of Life shooting was the deadliest attack against Jews in United States history. The FBI's most recent data on hate crimes is from 2017, and that year, of the 1,749 known victims, 58.1 percent were Jewish. In its 2018 audit of anti-Semitic incidents, the Anti-Defamation League found there were 1,879 attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions, the third-highest year on record since the organization began tracking in the 1970s. "It's hard," Reznick says. "There's a lot of fear, a lot of fear of expressing our Judaism outwardly, a lot of fear about presence in the synagogue and in Jewish life. My goal with my community and with fellow Jews I meet is to say just because there's hatred out there doesn't mean that we should diminish our identity. If anything, we should be out in the community more, educating, reaching out, teaching, talking to people."
9-17-19 Most Americans Say Segregation in Schools a Serious Problem
A majority of Americans say that racial segregation in U.S. public schools is a "very" (21%) or "moderately serious" (36%) problem. A slim majority of whites (52%) consider school segregation a serious problem, but the view is even more widespread among U.S. blacks (68%) and Hispanics (65%). Democrats (75%) are more than twice as likely as Republicans (35%) to say that segregation in schools is serious, with the views of political independents falling about halfway in between.
- Nonwhites more likely than whites to say segregation is a serious problem
- Small majority says government should take action to reduce segregation
- Busing is the least favored proposal to reduce segregation in schools
9-16-19 Purdue Pharma files for bankruptcy in the US
US drug-maker Purdue Pharma has filed for bankruptcy protection, as part of efforts to deal with thousands of lawsuits that accuse the firm of fuelling the US opioid crisis. The company's board approved the Chapter 11 filing on Sunday. The move is designed in part to resolve more than 2,600 lawsuits filed against Purdue over its alleged role in the opioid epidemic. Last week, the firm reached a tentative deal to settle most of those lawsuits. Purdue had been facing legal action from thousands of cities and counties across the US. The lawsuits claimed that Purdue and its owners, the billionaire Sackler family, had aggressively marketed the prescription painkiller OxyContin, while at the same time misleading doctors and patients over addiction and overdose risks. The drugmaker has reached a deal with 24 states and five US territories, but another two dozen states remain opposed to the proposed settlement. In a statement reported by Reuters, members of the Sackler family said: "It is our hope the bankruptcy reorganisation process that is now under way will end our ownership of Purdue and ensure its assets are dedicated for the public benefit." Chapter 11, a section of the US Bankruptcy Code, postpones a US company's obligations to its creditors, giving it time to reorganise its debts or sell parts of the business. Under the terms of the deal, Purdue is to be dissolved and the money raised - estimated to be about $10bn-$12bn (£8bn-£9.7bn), including a minimum cash contribution of $3bn from the Sackler family - will go towards settling the lawsuits. The Sacklers have also offered an additional $1.5bn from the eventual sale of Mundipharma, another pharmaceutical firm owned by the family. (Webmaster's comment: There is criminal liability here so why has no one been arrested and charged?)
9-15-19 Virginia removes requirement to declare race on marriage forms
Couples in the US state of Virginia will no longer have to declare their race in order to get a marriage certificate, its attorney-general says. Mark Herring issued new legal guidance after three couples filed a lawsuit calling the statute "unconstitutional" and "reflective of a racist past". Some options on forms included Aryan, Moor, Octoroon and Mulatto. A lawyer for the couples welcomed the move but said they wanted to fight on to remove the law altogether. Mr Herring issued the guidance in emails on Friday to legal clerks and the media. Marriage licence applicants can now choose to opt out of the question stating their race. Mr Herring said in a statement: "We were happy to help quickly resolve this issue and get these couples what they asked for. These changes will ensure that no Virginian will be forced to label themselves to get married." He said the guidance followed the principle "that statutes should be construed to avoid any conflict with the constitution". He added: "I appreciate the courage these couples showed in raising this issue, and I wish them all the best in their lives together." The three couples in the lawsuit are Brandyn Churchill and Sophie Rogers; Ashley Ramkishun and Samuel Sarfo; and Amelia Spencer and Kendall Poole. Lawyer Victor M Glasberg filed the lawsuit on their behalf and said it should continue until the law was ruled unconstitutional. He told the Washington Post the new guidance was "welcome, it's much appreciated, and it's the right thing to do as an initial response. But the statute is obnoxious and... we need to get rid of the statute". Ms Ramkishun told the paper: "It doesn't resolve the fact that there's still a law in place in Virginia. The state could change its mind at any point in regards to whether the race question is optional or not." Mr Churchill told the BBC that when he and Ms Rogers applied for a licence in Rockbridge County they found that "many of the categories were outdated, offensive racist terms which have no place in the 21st Century. We said we were uncomfortable and left". Virginia is one of eight states in the US with the legal requirement to identify race prior to marriage.
9-14-19 Sackler family 'funnelled $1bn into different bank accounts'
The billionaire Sackler family "funnelled" at least $1bn (£800m) to different banks, including accounts in Switzerland, officials said. The Sacklers own Purdue Pharma, which is accused of fuelling the US opioid crisis through drugs like OxyContin. Purdue is currently facing legal action brought by more than 2,000 plaintiffs, including almost two dozen US states. Forbes estimates the Sacklers are worth $13bn, but many states claim the family has more money hidden abroad. New York State Attorney General Letitia James said that she has requested records from 33 financial institutions. However, the $1bn in wire transfers were revealed in records from just one institution. "Records from one financial institution alone have shown approximately $1 billion in wire transfers between the Sacklers, entities they control and different financial institutions, including those that have funnelled funds into Swiss bank accounts," Ms James said, confirming claims first reported in the New York Times. She did not name the financial institutions involved. In response, a spokesperson for Mortimer DA Sackler, a former board member for the company, said in a statement to US media that there was "nothing newsworthy about these decade-old transfers, which were perfectly legal and appropriate in every respect". "This is a cynical attempt by a hostile AG's office to generate defamatory headlines to try to torpedo a mutually beneficial settlement that is supported by so many other states and would result in billions of dollars going to communities and individuals across the country that need help," the spokesperson added. It was reported on Thursday that Purdue Pharma reached a tentative multi-billion dollar agreement to settle the lawsuits against it. According to the draft agreement, the Sacklers are expected to give up control of Purdue Pharma and personally contribute $3bn to the settlement. (Webmaster's comment: 200 dead everyday and no criminal procedings. Slakers need to be in prison!)
9-13-19 Autos: White House, DOJ fight deal to cut emissions
The Trump administration launched a legal war last week against California and much of the auto industry, “punishing two of the major opponents of the president’s efforts to roll back Obama-era regulations,” said Zack Colman in Politico?.com. Four automakers—Ford, Honda, BMW, and Volkswagen—signed a deal with California in July to cut their cars’ greenhouse gas emissions. Now federal agencies have moved to strip California of its long-standing right to set pollution rules, and the Department of Justice has launched an antitrust probe of the carmakers. Auto manufacturers signed on to the standards in part to avoid having two sets of rules, one for California and another for the rest of the United States. While the deal calls for “less of a reduction than required by the Obama rules,” it has run into scorn from President Trump, who derided the “politically correct Auto Companies.” The legal assault “represents a striking escalation of pressure” from the administration. The role of the Justice Department in particular elicited fury from Democrats; former California Gov. Jerry Brown said it “smacks of Stalinism.” By opposing cleaner cars, the Trump administration is once again “fanning the flames” of global warming, said The New York Times in an editorial. But what’s really objectionable is the use of the Justice Department in “a nakedly political abuse of authority.” The DOJ says the four automakers may have colluded by collectively agreeing to California’s tougher standards, “which could result in higher prices for new cars and trucks.” Yet the same DOJ had no issue with T-Mobile’s acquisition of Sprint, a deal more “likely to harm mobile phone customers and workers.” The difference? Those companies didn’t defy and embarrass Trump. The president is making it clear he“will use the power of the state to bend companies to his will,” said Joe Nocera in Bloomberg?.com. If the automakers had joined together to sign on to Trump’s plan, instead of California’s, would the administration’s “antitrust minions” be launching an investigation? Obviously not. Trump is attacking the automakers to further his war with California, which voted overwhelmingly against him, and it’s put automakers “in an awful spot.” Companies need to know they can count on the rule of law. Instead, they know they can be investigated “for political reasons” by a government of “thugs.”
9-13-19 Will Trump deport U.S. workers too?
“Reliance on public benefits has become a fact of life” for many hardworking Americans, said Brigid Schulte. “Global economic shifts, tax policies, technology, waning union power, and the prioritization of corporate profit over wages” have eroded the value of our working-class jobs. The Trump administration seeks to deny citizenship to immigrants who accept public assistance such as food stamps and Medicaid. The administration says it wants immigrants who “can stand on their own two feet.” But if the same rules applied to all Americans, lots of working citizens would be fighting to stay here. A 2016 study found that more than 70 percent of all non-elderly public beneficiaries are working families or individuals, not unemployed people. Nearly half hold full-time jobs—many as fast-food workers, child-care workers, or home health aides. Indeed, even 23,000 military service members rely on food stamps each year, one reason “the Defense Department fought—successfully—to exempt active-duty military and reserve forces from the new public charge rule.” More and more people are turning to safety-net programs because the economy is stacked against them. “Corporations are foisting the burden of supporting workers—regardless of their country of origin—onto taxpayers, and government is acquiescing.”
9-13-19 Corruption: How Trump pockets public funds
President Trump’s corruption has reached “absurd and Veep-esque” proportions, said Tim Miller in TheBulwark?.com. The latest example of his brazen grifting was his “suggestion” that Vice President Mike Pence and his retinue rent rooms at Trump’s golf resort in Doonbeg, Ireland, while attending official meetings in Dublin—more than three hours away. Recently, the president proposed his resort in Doral, Fla., as the site of next year’s G-7 summit, and he’s spent upwards of $100 million in taxpayer money on 200-plus golf outings to his properties. That’s all on top of the “tens if not hundreds of millions” corporate executives, evangelical organizations, and at least 22 foreign governments have spent at his Washington, D.C., and other hotels “to curry favor.” Do Americans understand Among Trump’s allies, in fact, “it has become almost mandatory to hold events at Trump properties so the boss can dip his beak,” said Paul Waldman in The Washington Post. Since Trump’s inauguration, Republican campaigns and organizations have spent nearly $5 million at his properties. Attorney General William Barr just booked the Trump International Hotel in Washington for a $30,000 holiday party he’s paying for himself. If you want to work for this president, or enjoy his favor, you better “open your wallet. Trump demands tribute.” So far, Trump’s “use of higher office for personal enrichment” has been obscured by his “flashier scandals,” said Matt Stieb in NYMag.com. But Pence’s Ireland trip, as well as allegations that Trump ordered the Air Force Guard “to throw money toward” his Turnberry golf course and hotel in Scotland, could bring matters to the forefront. Congress is now investigating why the military spent $11 million for fuel at a debt-ridden airstrip 30 minutes from the resort when it could’ve been bought “substantially cheaper” at an allied base. The suspicion is that Trump is keeping “a key travel hub” for his Turnberry property afloat with Air Force money.
9-13-19 ‘Sharpiegate’: Is Trump at war with reality?
Every day the president supplies fresh evidence of “how spectacularly ignorant, vainglorious, and obsessive he can be,” said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. But Trump’s Sharpie-doctored map of Hurricane Dorian’s path should make it “into the Smithsonian.” The saga began last week, when Trump tweeted that Alabama and four other Southern states “will most likely be hit (much) harder” by the hurricane than previously forecast. Dorian, by that point, was already veering north, and the Birmingham branch of the National Weather Service quickly reassured residents that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.” Being constitutionally “incapable of admitting even the slightest error,” Trump produced an official NWS map of Dorian’s likely route onto which someone—he said he didn’t know who—had drawn a crude loop in black Sharpie that extended Dorian’s path to touch a corner of Alabama. Given the actual devastation wreaked by the hurricane, Trump’s Sharpie high jinks “might not seem like a big deal,” said Michael Cohen in The Boston Globe. But this bizarre episode comes from the same deep flaw that led Trump to insist that millions of illegal immigrants voted in the 2016 election, that North Korea’s tyrant Kim Jong Un is willing to denuclearize, that Russian election interference was a hoax, and that China is paying the tariffs his trade war has imposed on Americans. Trump’s “frightening inability to accept and acknowledge reality” is a “recipe for disaster.” Trump was indeed wrong, said Chas Danner in NYMag.com. By the time of his fateful tweet, forecasters had said that Alabama was conclusively out of danger, and he needlessly frightened state residents. More troubling still is that to hide his error, Trump clumsily altered an official weather map—a crime punishable by 90 days in jail—and then ordered government staff to cover for him. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross reportedly threatened to fire officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration if they didn’t support Trump’s original tweet—which several reluctantly did. That triggered a fierce backlash among forecasters inside and outside of NOAA, with one 40-year weather service employee saying he’d “never, ever felt political pressure on a goddamn weather forecast.” He added: “We’re in true banana republic territory.”
9-13-19 Death and devastation in Bahamas after Dorian
More than 70,000 Bahamians were left homeless and pleading for food, water, and other assistance after Hurricane Dorian’s Category 5 winds flattened two of the country’s islands, leaving them strewn with beached boats, splintered houses, and dozens, possibly hundreds, of bodies. Amid reports that Bahamians were not getting enough emergency aid and were trying to flee the Abacos and Grand Bahama islands, President Trump said the U.S. would not welcome evacuees without proper documentation, warning of the risk of admitting “very bad people,” including “drug dealers” and “gang members.” Hours earlier, Customs and Border Protection acting chief Mark Morgan blamed “confusion” after more than 100 survivors without U.S. visas were ordered off a ferry traveling to Fort Lauderdale. He said Bahamians could enter “whether you have travel documents or not.” Adding to the confusion, the Department of Homeland Security later said evacuees traveling by ship required valid passports and travel visas, while visa waivers could be granted to some who fly to the U.S. Dorian left parts of the Bahamas looking like “nuclear bombs [had been] dropped on them,” said Mark Green, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development. USAID pledged $2.8 million in humanitarian assistance, and the United Nations $1 million. While Dorian mostly missed the U.S., some 135,000 people on North Carolina’s Outer Banks lost power and hundreds of homes were flooded. In the Bahamas, relief efforts face immense logistical challenges, with airports and roads torn apart. “It is impossible to prepare for an apocalypse,” said Bahamian Health Minister Duane Sands. Even “in the wake of disaster,” Trump can’t curb his scorn of “people from largely black countries,” said Eugene Scott in Washington?Post.com. We got a taste of this bigotry in 2018 when the president reportedly told a bipartisan group of lawmakers that he didn’t want any more immigrants from “shithole countries,” adding, “Why do we need more Haitians?” For our president, skin color seems to be a deciding factor in whether a person fleeing devastation and misery deserves aid and sanctuary.
9-13-19 The real price of Trump’s wall
Now we see the “collateral damage” of President Trump’s obsession with building a border wall, said The Washington Post in an editorial. Trump is seizing $3.6 billion in congressionally approved military construction funds to build 450 miles of wall in defiance of Congress, using the dubious national emergency he declared at the southern border as legal justification. That includes hundreds of millions of dollars allotted to build and renovate schools for children on American military bases. “Sorry, kids: Mr. Trump wants his wall—the one it turns out Mexico is not paying for.” Planned improvements at the U.S. Military Academy’s engineering center have also been scrapped. All told, 127 projects have been effectively defunded in nearly half the states. America’s overseas territories and bases have been hit the hardest. Puerto Rico will lose $400 million earmarked for five hurricane repair projects. “More than $700 million was snatched from sites in Europe, mainly for projects designed to protect the continent from Russian aggression.” So far, most Republican lawmakers have sheepishly accepted the president’s blatant power grab. This sets a terrible precedent. Someday, a Democratic president will seize defense funds or farm subsidies for his or her own pet projects.
9-13-19 Trump down in polls
President Trump’s approval rating sank to 38%, down 6 points from July, amid growing fears that the trade war will trigger a recession this year. 60% of Americans fear that a recession will happen in the next year. 46% approve of Trump’s handling of the economy, while 47% disapprove. Only 30% of women and 36% of independents approve of Trump’s overall job performance. Description
9-13-19 Mass shooting increases
Sixteen of the 20 deadliest mass shootings in modern history occurred in the past 20 years, with eight of them happening in the past five years, according to Justice Department data. During the 1970s, mass shootings killed an average of 5.7 people per year, rising to 21 people in the 1990s and 23.5 in the 2000s. The average is now 51 mass-shooting deaths per year.
9-13-19 Gun control: Walmart takes a stand
Walmart just put Washington’s response to gun violence to shame, said Patricia Murphy in RollCall.com. With lawmakers “missing in action,” the nation’s largest retailer is taking concrete steps to protect the public in the aftermath of last month’s horrifying mass shooting at its El Paso, Texas, store. The company announced that it will stop selling ammunition for handguns and assault-style rifles. Walmart had already taken assault-style weapons and handguns off its shelves, and now will sell only long-barreled rifles and shotguns, which are mostly used for hunting. Walmart is also asking customers not to openly carry firearms in its stores, even in states where it’s legal to do so. CEO Doug McMillon called on Congress to pass “commonsense” gun legislation, and at least debate banning assault weapons. If only Congress or the White House would show this kind of leadership. Actually, Walmart is following the will of the people, said Brandon Tensley in CNN?.com. While conservative lawmakers continue to block meaningful gun control in the name of “real America,” polls show the majority of Americans want stricter gun laws, with 66 percent now supporting a ban on assault weapons. Sadly, our democracy has become so dysfunctional that we must depend on Walmart to regulate itself. Don’t give Walmart too much credit, said Alex Shephard in NewRepublic.com. “Once the most hated retailer in America,” Walmart is in the middle of an effort to rebrand itself as a good corporate citizen, especially compared with Amazon. Mass shootings threaten those efforts, because until recently, Walmart was part of any conversation about the gun economy. Walmart “doesn’t want to lead the gun debate. It wants to exit it.”
9-13-19 Video games and violence
Recent mass shooters gunned for ‘high scores.’ Are violent video games to blame?
- Why the focus on gaming? As the country struggles to find an explanation for mass shootings, many elected officials have pointed a finger at violent video games.
- How violent are today’s games? Grand Theft Auto, one of the top-selling franchises ever, with 285 million games sold, is notorious for letting players “free roam” around a city (based on Los Angeles) and kill random people.
- Are shooters usually gamers? Some are—the Columbine High School killers played the first-person shooter Doom—but just four of the perpetrators of 33 mass murders at U.S. schools between 1980 and 2018 were known to be video gamers.
- Do games inspire violence? About 40 percent of Americans think so, yet researchers have spent decades mostly failing to demonstrate such a link.
- What do critics propose? States and the federal government have had limited ability to regulate video games since 2011, when the Supreme Court struck down on First Amendment grounds a California law restricting the sale of ultraviolent games to minors.
- What is gaming’s defense? Advocates say video games have served as a scapegoat for real-world violence since the 1970s.
- Overlapping cultures: Three mass shooters this year announced their attacks on 8chan, which first rose to prominence in 2014 as a place to discuss video games.
9-13-19 A tighter squeeze at U.S.-Mexico border
Efforts by President Trump and Mexico to deter migration to the U.S. border appear to be working, as Border Patrol arrests there fell to 51,000 last month, a 30 percent drop from July. After threats of steep tariffs from the Trump administration if it didn’t enhance immigration enforcement, Mexico deployed 25,000 National Guard troops to its borders. Asylum seekers who cross the U.S. border are now sent back to Mexico while their claims are processed, and Mexico has bused some of them 750 miles south. Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said, however, his country would not agree to a Trump administration request that Mexico accept designation as a “safe third country” for Central American asylum seekers. That would require migrants to apply for permanent asylum in Mexico rather than asking to be admitted to the U.S.
9-13-19 Ronstadt’s life on the border
Linda Ronstadt is a child of the borderlands, said Michael Schulman in The New Yorker. The Rock & Roll Hall of Famer was raised in Tucson, just north of the U.S. border with Mexico. Her grandfather was a Mexican bandleader, and Ronstadt’s parents had friends on both sides of the border. In her childhood, Mexicans and Americans would cross freely back and forth to eat and shop and go to each other’s weddings, baptisms, and parties. She’s horrified by the region’s militarization. “I feel filled with impotent rage,” says Ronstadt. “I grew up in the Sonoran Desert, and the Sonoran Desert is on both sides of the border. There’s a fence that runs through it now, but it’s still the same culture. The same food, the same clothes, the same traditional life of ranching and farming.” Ronstadt, who now lives in San Francisco, had to give up singing a decade ago because of a debilitating form of Parkinson’s disease. When she was still able, she worked with the Samaritans, supplying food and water to migrants crossing the border. “You meet some guy stumbling through the desert trying to cross, and he’s dehydrated, his feet are full of thorns, cactus,” she says. “Then you see this Minute Man sitting with his cooler, with all of his water and food and beer, and his automatic weapon sitting on his lap, wearing full camouflage. It’s so cruel.”
9-13-19 Un-Christian charges
Jerry Falwell Jr. has allegedly exploited his presidency of Liberty University, the largest Christian college in the world, to help family and friends profit, Politico.com reported this week. “We’re not a school,” one employee said. “We’re a real estate hedge fund.” Past and present Liberty officials told Politico of a pattern of self-dealing, including the awarding of $130 million in contracts to a construction company owned by a friend of Falwell’s. Falwell also allegedly had the university buy a shopping center, then hire his son’s company to manage it. Officials also said Falwell bragged about his penis and his sexual exploits with his wife, Becki; he once hired Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to suppress racy photos. Falwell reportedly turned to another fixer to bury photos of him clubbing in Miami. Falwell says that his long-standing public support for President Trump has brought on an “attempted coup” by disgruntled employees, and has called for the FBI to investigate.
9-13-19 Fewer Americans insured in 2018
The number of Americans with health insurance declined last year, the first time since the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010, the Census Bureau reported this week. An estimated 27.5 million people—8.5 percent of the population—lacked insurance, 1.9 million more than in 2017. The jump came mainly as the result of cuts in coverage by Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Experts said it also reflected the Trump administration’s efforts to subvert the ACA, including cutting the budget used to promote the program and eliminating a subsidy for insurers that held down premiums. Repealing the tax penalty for going without insurance—the so-called “individual mandate”—may also have been a factor. About 15 percent of the country was uninsured before the ACA.
9-13-19 Banning Harry Potter books
After consulting with Vatican exorcists, the pastor of St. Edwards Catholic School in Tennessee has banned the Harry Potter books from the school library. “These books present magic as both good and evil, which is not true,” the Rev. Dan Reehill wrote to parents. He warned that “the curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells” and risk “conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.” Description
9-13-19 No gay superheroes
The mayor of Rio de Janeiro ordered a police raid on the city’s International Book Fair last week to seize copies of a Marvel comic that featured a kiss between two male superheroes. “Books like this need to be packaged in black plastic and sealed,” said Mayor Marcelo Crivella, an evangelical Christian who proclaimed he wanted to “defend the family.” The comic, Avengers: The Children’s Crusade, was published in 2012 and features a panel in which the heroes Wiccan and Hulkling—who are in a committed relationship—embrace fully clothed. Police didn’t find any copies of the comic, and the raid triggered outrage; Brazil’s largest newspaper, Folha de São Paulo, published a large front-page photo of the kiss. Comic book store manager Lidiane Rodrigues said Rio police should focus on “assaults, drugs, gangs. There are a lot of things more dangerous than a book here.”
9-13-19 There is no ‘gay gene’ to predict sexuality
The largest-ever study into the link between sexuality and genetics has found that there is no “gay gene” that determines a person’s sexual orientation. Instead, same-sex attraction appears to be driven by a complex mix of genetic, cultural, and environmental influences—just like many other human traits. “It’s effectively impossible to predict an individual’s sexual behavior from their genome,” co-author Ben Neale, from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, tells CBSNews.com. Homosexuality and bisexuality are a “normal part of variation in our species.” The researchers examined the genetic profiles of nearly 480,000 people in the U.K. and U.S.—about 100 times more than any previous study into genetics and same-sex attraction—who were also asked whether they had ever had a same-sex partner. The scientists identified five specific genetic variants associated with same-sex behavior, including one linked to the biological pathway for smell and others connected to the regulation of sex hormones. Overall, genetics accounts for 8 to 25 percent of same-sex behavior, when thousands of tiny variations across the whole genome are taken into account, researchers concluded. Sexual orientation “is influenced by genes but not determined by genes,” said researcher Brendan Zietsch. But genetic variation does appear to have a stronger influence on same-sex behavior in men than in women, suggesting that female sexuality is more complex.
9-13-19 Beto O'Rourke reports Texas legislator over rifle 'threat'
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke has reported a Texas lawmaker to the FBI after he tweeted that his assault rifle "is ready for you". Republican legislator Briscoe Cain's tweet was deleted by Twitter after the Democrat called it a "death threat". Mr Cain tweeted after Mr O'Rourke called during a live TV debate on Thursday night for a ban on semi-automatic rifles. He stated his plan to confiscate some types of guns. "Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15," Mr O'Rourke, a former Democratic Texas congressman, said on the debate stage in Houston. "My AR is ready for you Robert Francis," tweeted the 34-year-old Republican, using Mr O'Rourke's legal first name. AR stands for Armalite rifle. Mr O'Rourke responded: "Clearly, you shouldn't own an AR-15 - and neither should anyone else." Some Texas lawmakers criticised the tweet, which Twitter took down, saying "it violates our rules for threats of violence". Mr Cain later hit back on Twitter, calling Mr O'Rourke "a child". A spokesman for Mr O'Rourke said the Texas state legislator had been reported to the FBI. In 2018, police were called to remove Mr Cain from the state Democratic convention after he showed up with a pistol and pro-gun pamphlets, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. Mr O'Rourke has made gun control a key plank of his White House campaign since 22 people were killed in a rampage at a Walmart in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, last month.
9-12-19 Trump immigration plans: Supreme Court allows asylum curbs
The US Supreme Court has allowed the government to severely limit the ability of migrants to claim asylum. The policy bars people arriving at the US southern border from seeking protection if they failed to do so in a country they passed through en route. Legal challenges continue but the ruling means for now it can be enforced nationwide. The plan will affect tens of thousands of Central American migrants who travel north, often on foot, through Mexico. Mexico said on Thursday that it disagreed with the ruling. The Trump administration unveiled the new asylum policy in July but it was almost immediately blocked from taking effect by a lower court ruling by a judge in San Francisco. Curbing migration levels has been a key goal of Donald Trump's presidency and forms a major part of his bid for re-election in 2020. He hailed the Supreme Court's decision as a major victory. The change will affect non-Mexican migrants trying to enter through the US southern border. This includes, but is not limited to, those from Central American countries who have made up the vast majority of those seeking asylum so far this year. Some 811,016 people were detained on the south-western border up until the end of August 2019, and of these, nearly 590,000 were from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The majority arrived with at least one other family member. Many of those arriving are fleeing violence or poverty and travel north through Mexico until they reach the US border. Upon arrival, they must pass a "credible fear" interview to seek asylum in the US, which most do. The rule change means they would fail had they not claimed asylum in another country they had first passed through. The rule will also affect smaller numbers of African, Asian and South American migrants who arrive at the US southern border and seek asylum - many after taking extremely dangerous journeys. The American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the ruling, argued it drastically limited those eligible for asylum.
9-12-19 US to ban flavoured e-cigarettes after hundreds get strange illness
US President Donald Trump announced on 11 September that he has directed the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban the sale of flavoured e-cigarettes. This comes after six people have died as a result of an unexplained lung illness, and more than 450 people across the US have been reported to be ill after using e-cigarettes. However, it is not known if there is actually a link between flavoured e-cigarettes and the illness. Trump made the announcement during a meeting with the head of the US Department of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, and the head of the FDA, Ned Sharpless. The FDA said in a statement that the details of the ban will be formalised and announced soon. “Today president Trump announced that the Food and Drug Administration will be finalising guidance that removes all flavoured e-cigarettes from the marketplace,” said Azar in video announcement, adding that tobacco-flavoured e-cigarettes will still remain available as they are sometimes used by people who are trying to quit smoking traditional cigarettes. There is little scientific evidence that flavoured e-cigarettes are medically more dangerous than other e-cigarettes. Additionally, some of the people who have been ill also said their e-cigarettes contained cannabinoid products, such as THC, which could be to blame. “It appears that cases were mainly seen in young users of e-cigarettes who bought bootlegged products illegally that contained cannabis ingredients,” Lion Shahab at University College London told the Science Media Centre. ““Flavours are therefore unlikely to be the cause of ‘vaping lung disease’ and banning them would not have prevented this recent outbreak.” One of the biggest concerns with flavoured vaping products is that they are marketed to teens, said Azar. A recent FDA study found that vaping drastically increased among high school and middle school students between 2017 and 2018. “We’ve got to stop it or we’re going to have a whole generation addicted to nicotine,” said Azar.
9-12-19 Huawei chief offers to share 5G know-how for a fee
Huawei's chief executive has proposed selling its current 5G know-how to a Western firm as a way to address security concerns voiced by the US and others about its business. Ren Zhengfei said the buyer would be free to "change the software code". That would allow any flaws or supposed backdoors to be addressed without Huawei's involvement. The US and Australia have banned their networks from using Huawei's equipment. The UK is still weighing a decision. Huawei has repeatedly denied claims that it would help the Chinese government spy on or disrupt other countries telecoms systems, and says it is a private enterprise owned by its workers. One expert, who had previously cast doubts on Huawei's claims to independence, said the idea of it helping another country's business to compete represented an "extraordinary offer". "Perhaps the explanation is that Huawei recognises that it is unlikely to be able to bypass the efforts the Trump administration is putting into minimising its scope to operate in North America, Western Europe and Australasia," said Prof Steve Tsang from Soas University of London. "But it's difficult to see Nokia or Ericsson being interested in buying it. And it's also difficult to see how an American company would be able to reassure the Trump administration that it's absolutely top notch American technology. "And if they can't do that, why would they want to spend tens of billions of US dollars on something that will quickly become out-of-date." Huawei's founder Ren Zhengfei made the proposal in interviews with the Economist and the New York Times. It would include ongoing access to the firm's existing 5G patents, licences, code, technical blueprints and production engineering knowledge. "[Huawei is] open to sharing our 5G technologies and techniques with US companies, so that they can build up their own 5G industry," the NYT quoted Ren as saying. "This would create a balanced situation between China, the US and Europe." Speaking to the Economist he added: "A balanced distribution of interests is conducive to Huawei's survival." A spokesman for Huawei has confirmed the quotes are accurate and the idea represents a "genuine proposal". At present, Europe's Nokia and Ericsson are the main alternatives to Huawei when it comes to networks selecting what 5G cell tower base stations and other equipment to install. South Korea's Samsung and China's ZTE are other alternatives. But while American firms including Cisco, Dell EMC and Hewlett Packard Enterprise have developed 5G-related technologies, the US lacks an infrastructure-equipment specialist of its own. Beyond the licensing fee, Huawei could benefit because it might convince Washington to drop restrictions that currently prevent it buying US-linked technologies for its own use.
9-12-19 Lovers of Modena skeletons holding hands were both men
Researchers have found that a couple of skeletons known as the Lovers of Modena, because they are holding hands, were both men. The researchers could not determine the sex of the skeletons when they were found in Italy in 2009 because they were badly preserved. But a new technique, using the protein on tooth enamel, revealed their sex. The actual relationship between the skeletons from the 4-6th Century AD remains a mystery. The researchers say the two adult males were intentionally buried hand-in-hand. Some of the suggestions for the link between the two skeletons are that they are siblings, cousins or soldiers who died together in battle, study author Federico Lugli told Italy's Rai news site (in Italian). Researchers suggest that their burial site could have been a war cemetery. The researchers from Italy's University of Bologna said in Scientific Reports that the findings had profound implications for understanding funeral practices at that time in Italy.
9-12-19 US gun laws must be stricter, say business chiefs
The leaders of 145 US companies have sent a letter urging Congress to enact stricter gun laws as pressure builds on lawmakers to respond to gun violence. The letter calls on Congress to expand background checks and create new ways to prevent access to firearms. It follows mass shootings in California, Texas and Ohio that left dozens dead. Signatories included dozens of tech companies, such as Airbnb and Uber, as well as media and financial firms. Also signing his name was Joshua Kushner, head of Thrive Capital and brother to Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor. "Gun violence in America is not inevitable; it's preventable," the business chiefs wrote in the letter. "There are steps Congress can, and must, take to prevent and reduce gun violence." An average of 100 people a day are shot and killed in the US. Polls have shows that nearly half of all Americans expect another mass shooting to happen soon. Businesses have long avoided the controversial subject, but in recent years a spate of high-profile attacks at schools and festivals have pushed them into the debate. Retailers, including most recently Walmart, have limited or banned gun sales and asked the public not to carry weapons openly in their stores even where legally permitted. In Wednesday's letter, the business chiefs from companies such as Levi Strauss, Pinterest, Bain Capital, Gap and Brookfield Property Group, called the situation an "urgent public health crisis". "Doing nothing about America's gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable and it is time to stand with the American public on gun safety," they wrote. It remains unclear whether Congress will act. This week, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives took up bills that seek to remove guns from people deemed a risk, ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and prohibit people convicted of violent hate crime misdemeanors from possessing firearms. But the Senate, which has a Republican majority, has stayed quiet on the subject, and US President Donald Trump has waffled on his position.
9-12-19 The gun control balancing act
Can the government curb gun violence while still respecting civil liberties? Is it possible to crack down on gun violence without cracking down too much? That may seem like an odd question, but it's a reasonable one. There is a good chance the Trump administration will soon tell us what gun control measures it supports — any new initiative will likely involve expanded background checks — and in what is surely a coincidence of timing, this announcement comes shortly after America observed the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. The gun massacres of our era can often feel like 9/11 all over again, only on a smaller — but more frequent — scale. They represent a genuine emergency, and the government properly has a role in responding. But the same was true after the 2001 terror attacks, and the Bush administration didn't just react to that event — it overreacted. Gun control advocates should observe this history, and proceed with caution. After the 9/11 attacks, the federal government under President George W. Bush crossed previously uncrossable civil liberties lines. Surveillance of the public was greatly expanded. Terror suspects were held indefinitely without trial. Some Americans found themselves disallowed from boarding planes, with no explanation or effective process of appeal. The country's framework of individual rights and government restraints was upended, and it still hasn't entirely recovered. That is why gun control advocates should emphasize civil liberties at every step of the journey. It is the right thing to do, but it is also just good politics — most gun owners would welcome new restrictions aimed at protecting the public. An approach that appeals to those owners could also curb the power of the National Rifle Association to play its usual obstructive role. There are a few simple principles gun control advocates should follow. The first is to enshrine due process rights at every opportunity. There are proposals for "red flag laws," for example, that let police get court orders to seize guns from people considered a harm to themselves or others. Such laws have proven effective in states where they have been adopted. But the government shouldn't be able to get a court order on its own say-so: Gun owners should get a chance to argue their case in court — and to appeal those decisions as well. "This is the government depriving people of their property," said New York State Sen. Brian Kavanagh, who wrote that state's red flag law with such protections in mind. "When you do that, you have to be careful." The second principle is to discourage unilateral action by the executive branch. Gun control advocates will probably find that principle frustrating, because Congress is so often where their efforts come to a premature end. But it is problematic when presidential candidates like Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) promise to unilaterally impose gun control regulations if Congress doesn't pass them in the first 100 days of her administration. Power grabs made with good intentions are still power grabs, and they are almost always bad ideas. At the very least, the Harris proposal would create a Constitutional crisis.
9-11-19 More Blaming Extremism, Heated Rhetoric for Mass Shootings
Americans think there is plenty of blame to go around for the mass shootings that have become commonplace in the United States, but two factors are getting more blame than in the recent past. 1. 79% now say the spread of extremist views on the internet bears a great deal or fair amount of blame, up from 57% in 2013 -- a 22-percentage-point increase.
2. The majority, 58%, blame inflammatory statements by politicians or commentators, up from 37% in 2013 -- a 21-point increase. The increase may also reflect a wording change, as the 2013 question only asked about inflammatory statements by political commentators, whereas this year's wording asked about statements made by political commentators and politicians.
- Mental health system faulted by 83% for not flagging dangerous people
- Blame on extremist internet views has risen from 57% in 2013 to 79% now
- 58% blame inflammatory political rhetoric, up from 36% in 2013
9-11-19 What's behind a vaping illness outbreak in the US?
There's no denying that vapes and e-cigarettes are huge right now, with nearly three million UK users. Vaping - which involves inhaling a mix typically made of nicotine, water, solvents and flavours - is seen as an alternative to smoking which can help you quit, but its safety is still not entirely known. But over in the US, the potential health risks are in the spotlight, where this year there have been 450 reported cases of lung illness tied to vaping. There have also been at least six deaths across 33 states. One of the most shocking stories was of 18-year-old Simah Herman, who posted a picture of herself online after waking up from a medically induced coma. After receiving treatment for pneumonia and lung failure, she wants to warn others against using vapes and e-cigarettes. Simah's story, and that of other vape users, have raised questions about how safe vaping is and how well regulated the industry is. Health officials at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who are responsible for protecting public health in the US, have been trying to identify what's been causing these problems. According to a 2016 survey, there are about 10 million vapers in the US and nearly half of those are under 35, with 18-24-year-olds the most regular users. It comes then as little surprise that many of the 450 people affected are young people, with an average age of 19. The symptoms people have reported experiencing include severe pneumonia, shortness of breath, coughing, fever, fatigue and respiratory failure - where your body either can't break down oxygen, produce carbon dioxide, or both. The result is that your lungs stop working and breathing becomes difficult. Those affected used a number of different devices from vaporisers to smaller e-cigarettes and a variety of different brands of liquids and cartridges. The FDA has now collected over 120 samples to test for different chemicals, including nicotine, cannabinoids, additives and pesticides.
9-11-19 'Everyone said I was crazy': the black ballet pioneers
The Dance Theatre of Harlem was the first classical ballet company to focus on black dancers. It was founded by Arthur Mitchell in a converted garage in Harlem in 1969. Virginia Johnson was one of the first dancers to join the company and is now its artistic director.
9-10-19 Nearly Half in U.S. Fear Being the Victim of a Mass Shooting
In the wake of two August mass shootings that claimed the lives of 31 people in one weekend, Americans are more worried about themselves or a family member being the victim of a mass shooting than they were after two previous massacres. Currently, 48% of U.S. adults are "very" or "somewhat" worried, compared with 39% in 2017 after one gunman killed 58 people in Las Vegas and 38% in 2015 after a San Bernardino shooter left 14 dead. (Webmaster's comment: Thanks to Trump's support of white supremacists and white supremacy!)
- 48% worried about being victim of mass shooting
- Women, younger adults and Democrats continue to be most worried
- More than 10% have avoided large crowds or bought weapon because of worry
9-10-19 We're still not very good at predicting the weather. Politicizing it doesn't help.
The weather has always been political. From Bible stories that describe divine forecasts of flood and storms, to the correlation between rainfall and political assassinations in ancient Rome, the ability to anticipate and respond to weather-related phenomena has long been understood to make or break leaders. For modern examples, look no further than the fallout after Hurricane Katrina, or the urgent fight currently taking place over climate change. But only very recently has the uncertainty of weather prediction also started to be exploited for political gain. On Sept. 1, President Trump infamously claimed that Alabama "would most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated" by Hurricane Dorian, a statement that was then refuted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), then defended by the agency, and is now the subject of an internal investigation and a growing scandal involving Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. While the whole snafu snowballed into a kind of theater that was almost comical — involving doctored maps and rage tweets — the underlying implication of the whole affair is much more worrying: That the inherent unknowableness of a forecast can be a political tool, too, and one that can carry deadly consequences if not taken seriously. "This is the first time I've felt pressure from above to not say what truly is the forecast," one anonymous employee at the national meteorological agency said. Predicting the weather is something America is surprisingly not great at. Compared to European weather computer models, NOAA in particular tends to be more prone to error — most devastatingly, in the case of its estimation that Hurricane Sandy would weaken out over the ocean, while in reality over 200 people died after the storm strengthened as it turned back into New York. The agency is also plagued by bureaucratic deficiencies ranging from a 40-year-overdue software update to concerns that interference caused by a 5G wireless network could set NOAA back "several decades" in its ability to model weather patterns (not to mention the president's attempts to severely slash its budget). As a result, there can be a lot of wiggle-room around NOAA's estimations, if you suddenly find yourself, say, needing to support a gaffe you made: Hurricane Dorian might not actually be on track to hit Alabama, but hey, it could!
9-10-19 Trump Dorian tweets: Weather staff 'faced sacking threat' over Alabama
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had threatened to fire senior staff at the federal weather agency unless they backed President Donald Trump's claim that Hurricane Dorian might hit Alabama, the New York Times reports. It says this led to last week's statement by the agency, disavowing an earlier position by a regional office that the US state was not at risk. The commerce department has dismissed the newspaper's report as "false". Alabama was not hit by the storm. Dorian had earlier battered the Bahamas, killing at least 45 people. However, the local authorities have warned that the final death toll could be staggering. In an Oval Office briefing last Wednesday, President Trump updated the US public about the approaching powerful storm, showing a forecast map by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from 29 August. The map looked almost identical - but close observers soon spotted a difference. The chart had a black loop marked around Alabama that was not on the original version. White House spokesman Hogan Gidley later confirmed the map had been altered with a black felt-tip pen, known as a sharpie in the US, but did not say who made the edit. Mr Trump earlier tweeted that several states, including Alabama, "will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated". But the National Weather Service (NWS) in Birmingham, Alabama, responded just a few minutes after Mr Trump's tweet that the US state "will not see any impacts from Dorian". The NWS is part of the NOAA, which in turn is the branch of the commerce department. Now the New York Times cites three people familiar with the issue as saying that last Friday Mr Ross had threatened to sack top NOAA employees unless they publicly backed Mr Trump's position. The newspaper says that threat led to an unusual - unsigned - statement by the NOAA later on that day, saying that Hurricane Dorian "could impact Alabama". The statement described the position by NWS's Birmingham office as "inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time". (Webmaster's comment: Science and facts don't matter anymore, only Trump's opinions!)
9-10-19 Margaret Atwood's The Testaments' anti-science world is a grim warning
Thirty four years after The Handmaid’s Tale and a hit TV show later, Margaret Atwood’s intriguing sequel, The Testaments, highlights the power of narrative. “Who would have thought that Gilead Studies – neglected for so many decades – would suddenly have gained so greatly in popularity?” muses a fictional future historian in The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. It reads like a tongue-in-cheek reflection of reality: some 34 years since Handmaid was published, the dystopian novel has had an unforeseen resurgence in popularity following a hit television series – among other adaptations – and inspired global protests about reproductive rights. In the Republic of Gilead, a puritanical, theocratic society that has replaced the US, fertility rates are in free fall, the result of chemical and radiation exposure due to environmental desecration. Grotesque birth defects and stillbirths – termed Unbabies – are common, and childhood cancer is on the rise. To redress the declining birth rate, the eponymous Handmaids are women farmed out to powerful men whose wives are unable to have children, for the purposes of procreating. (Officially, male infertility does not exist.) Abortion is outlawed, the doctors who perform them executed. The Testaments widens the lens on the world introduced in The Handmaid’s Tale to encompass both the upper echelons of the Gileadean regime and the view beyond its borders. Set 15 years later, the sequel introduces a generation of girls, including one of the book’s three narrators, Agnes Jemima, who have grown up as “precious flowers” requiring protection, in a society in which their worth is predicated on both a notion of chastity and the ability to reproduce. Contrast this with a Canadian girl of the same generation, initially known as Daisy, for whom the piousness of Gilead is “weird as fuck”, the republic “a terrible, terrible place, where women couldn’t have jobs or drive cars”.
9-9-19 Virginia couples challenge laws requiring them to declare their race
In the US state of Virginia, couples must declare their racial background from a long list of options including "Aryan", "Moor" and "Octoroon" before getting married. A lawsuit is aiming to put a stop to this. The suit, filed by lawyer Victor M Glasberg on behalf of three couples, describes the statute as "unconstitutional" and "reflective of a racist past". Mr Glasberg has also written to Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, urging him to "do what must be done to get on the right side of history". One of the couples involved - Brandyn Churchill, 27, and Sophie Rogers, 23, of Lexington, Virginia - is hoping to have won the case by the time they get married next month. But they have meanwhile asked for an injunction so that they will not be a denied a marriage license by the clerk for refusing to have their race recorded. The complaint has been brought against the Virginia State Registrar, the Arlington Circuit Court clerk and the Rockbridge Circuit Court clerk. However in the letter to Governor Northam, Mr Glasberg notes that he has sued the defendants "solely in their official capacity". He adds: "I do not believe any of them supports the statutory requirement at issue." The other two couples involved are Ashley Ramkishun and her fiancé Samuel Sarfo and Amelia Spencer and her fiancé Kendall Poole. In the documentation all state they wish to get married in Virginia but not if they "must label [themselves] with a race in order to get a marriage license". Ms Rogers told the BBC: "We got engaged in July 2018. In Virginia you have 60 days to apply for the license before the registry. We applied for our license in Rockbridge County and went to the clerk's office on 3 September. The clerk tried to fill out the application without the race question filled for us but the computer wouldn't let her." Mr Churchill added: "Many of the categories were outdated, offensive racist terms which have no place in the 21st century. We said we were uncomfortable and left." Virginia is one of eight states in the US with this legal requirement to identify race prior to marriage.
9-9-19 German parties outraged as neo-Nazi elected small town mayor
Senior politicians in Germany's ruling parties have voiced anger at the election of a neo-Nazi as mayor of a town in the central state of Hesse. Stefan Jagsch of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) was elected unanimously by seven councillors in Waldsiedlung, near Frankfurt am Main. Mr Jagsch won because no rival stood against him. The small town has about 2,650 residents. The NPD has survived efforts to ban it, but is seen as "anti-constitutional". Local councillors representing Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), its governing partner the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) all voted for Mr Jagsch. "The NPD candidate filled the vacuum," said Markus Brando, the SPD leader in Altenstadt, which encompasses Waldsiedlung. But senior party members have condemned the move, with CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer calling for the election to be cancelled. Its secretary-general, Paul Ziemiak, said "the election of a member of a party which pursues anti-constitutional goals is a disgrace". SPD Secretary-General Lars Klingbeil tweeted his outrage too: "The SPD has a very clear position: We don't co-operate with Nazis! Never! That goes for the federal level, regions and districts. The decision in #Altenstadt is incomprehensible and unjustifiable. It must be reversed immediately." Mr Jagsch has promised to "work for the interests of the town and continue to work constructively and across parties". The main far-right opposition party in Germany is the Alternative for Germany (AfD). The NPD is much smaller and has only won seats in regional assemblies. In 2017 the German Constitutional Court ruled against a ban on the NPD, saying the party was "anti-constitutional" but did not appear capable of overturning Germany's democratic order. (Webmaster's comment: Nazis moving into power in Europe, one town at a time!)
9-9-19 A year of being gay and legal in India
India's Supreme Court struck down a colonial-era law that criminalised homosexuality on 6 September last year. One year later, a member of the LGBT community talks to the BBC about whether anything has changed.
9-8-19 It's time to create a libertarian ecosystem that doesn't welcome racists
It is a lie, Tim Carney argues at the Washington Examiner, that "conservatives are just a bunch of racists." And yet, he adds, "conservatives need to do a better job convincing the racists that it's a lie." I am far from the first to issue this appeal. The Cato Institute's Jonathan Blanks, himself black and libertarian, has written compellingly on the topic for Libertarianism.org and elsewhere, identifying a "longstanding libertarian habit of downplaying racism as a fact of life for minorities in the United States." Blanks levels much of his critique at libertarians' irresponsibly incomplete narrative of American history, which too often entails "looking backward to better times" of smaller government and freer markets while neglecting what else was happening then. For those "who must look to bills of sale and property lists to find our ancestors," Blanks writes, "the look back is with much less yearning." Libertarian failure (or refusal) to recognize the non-state function of racism in American society today likewise makes our movement unappealing to black and other minority Americans regardless of the value of our ideas, Blanks continues. And some libertarians' willingness to partner with anti-statists of any stripe is also much to blame. This is best exemplified, of course, by the disgraceful "paleolibertarian" strategy of the 1980s and 1990s (in which some libertarians pursued "an open strategy of exploiting racial and class resentment to build a coalition with populist 'paleoconservatives'"), but it is not entirely absent from the present movement. See, for instance, this appalling post from former a Libertarian Party vice-chair, made in defense of his decision to appear on a white nationalist podcast. This sort of thing does not only turn American minorities away from libertarians. It also turns racists toward us. And just as Carney says to conservatives, it is incumbent on libertarians to create an ideological ecosystem that doesn't welcome racism. Our movement must make exceedingly clear that we are not congenial to white nationalism, even if the white nationalists happen to agree with us about the welfare state. (This should not have to be said!) As Carney notes, this is not for the sake of reputation. It's about doing the right thing. We should be actively making the libertarian movement a hostile environment for racism.
9-8-19 Catherine McKenna: Canada environment minister given extra security
Canada's environment minister says she has been assigned a security detail because of abuse she has received both online and in person. Catherine McKenna said in one recent incident a man in a car pulled up alongside her and her children, swore and called her a "climate Barbie". In Canada, government ministers rarely need high levels of protection. The move comes as other environmental activists, particularly women, report increasing levels of abuse. Climate change has become a major issue in Canada's federal election in October, with the two main parties taking opposing views on the subject. Ms McKenna said she would now have extra protection at certain times, but did not give details. "There are places, yes, that I have to have security now and I don't think that's a great situation," she said, quoted by Canadian Press news agency. "I'm someone who is trying to do my job, live my life, and talk and engage with people, and it makes it harder. I'm not going to let this stop me but I wish it would stop." Online abuse has been going on since she was elected, she added, but in recent months public confrontations have become worse. She said she had received messages that included sexualised insults and threats against her family. In person she has been called an enemy, a traitor and a "communist piece of garbage". "The vocal sexism and hateful comments that are directed to people who work on climate change is unacceptable," she told AFP news agency. Two years ago Canadian Conservative MP Gerry Ritz apologised to Ms McKenna after calling her "climate Barbie". As the climate change debate rages, many activists have found themselves the targets of threats and abuse. Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who inspired a global movement, recently completed a voyage across the Atlantic on board an environmentally friendly yacht - but faced a barrage of attacks along the way. (Webmaster's comment: Male brutes will attack any woman for any reason.)
9-7-19 Toronto 2019: Susan Sarandon voices support for assisted dying
Susan Sarandon has voiced her support for assisted dying after taking on the role of a terminally ill woman. The actress's new movie Blackbird sees her play a mother named Lily who gathers her family to tell them of her wish to die. "It's an individual choice," the actress told reporters at the Toronto Film Festival. "Everybody has the right to make a decision without your family members being charged with homicide. "You should be able to be surrounded by those people." Eight states have legalised medically assisted suicide in the US, with Maine likely to follow suit when a new law comes into effect later this year. The issue is controversial but is now being more openly debated in light of the country's changing demographics. "There's so many baby boomers now, this is something that's being discussed more in the United States," Sarandon said. The term "baby boomers" refers to the generation born between the end of World War Two and the mid 1960s. They currently represent nearly 20% of the US population. The sudden spike in births across those two decades was down to a combination of factors - such as adults starting the families they had been putting off during the war, as well as the prosperous economy. That generation is now reaching retirement age and therefore many are experiencing the health problems that often come with being older. "I think taking on this process of letting go of your body is something that takes a lot of thought," Sarandon said. "It's not just ending your life but being able to end your life with dignity and without pain. And I think anybody that has had a family member who has really suffered is very interested in and pro having that choice." She added: "The fact of the matter is, if you're wealthy, you'll always have access to things that are controversial, just like abortion. If you're wealthy, your doctor will make sure, whether it's upping your morphine or whatever, that you're not suffering. It's not something that's new."
9-7-19 Hurricane Dorian: Hundreds flee chaos in storm-ravaged Bahamas
Hundreds of Hurricane Dorian survivors have fled the Bahamas as thousands more anxiously await evacuation from the devastated islands. The hurricane tore through the islands earlier this week, leaving a trail of destruction and a humanitarian crisis in its wake. The official death toll rose to 43 on Friday, but is expected to increase further, officials told local media. With aid efforts under way, many survivors are scrambling to evacuate. On Friday, crowds desperate to leave amassed in their thousands at ports in Great Abaco and Grand Bahama, two of the worst-hit islands. Frustrations mounted as survivors, carrying what few possessions they had left, complained of "chaotic" and slow evacuations. As Gee Rolle, 44, waited for a private boat with his wife, he criticised the government, telling the Associated Press "only animals can live here". Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis, speaking to survivors at the port in Abaco, called for calm and promised more free transport. Later on Friday, Mr Minnis confirmed the death toll had risen to 43, up from 30. In a statement he said: "The loss of life we are experiencing is catastrophic and devastating." Now a category one hurricane, Dorian is currently churning along the Atlantic coast of North America, towards the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. Earlier on Friday, hundreds who refused to evacuate Ocracoke Island in North Carolina were stranded when the hurricane made landfall. On Friday, many of the evacuations were carried out by private boats and planes, as the Bahamian government awaited the arrival of other transport. Helicopters and boats had been deployed but could be delayed by severe flooding, the Bahamian Health Ministry said. Around 250 evacuees left Abaco on a boat bound for the Bahamian capital, Nassau. National Voice of the Bahamas radio reported that another boat with hundreds aboard was on its way.
9-6-19 Mike Pence: Hotels, chlorinated chickens and pride flags on Europe trip
Mike Pence spent this week meeting US allies in Europe but a row over his stay at one of President Donald Trump's hotels and questions about his stance on gay rights caused a distraction on the vice-president's tour. Here's what happened on his whistlestop trip of Poland, Ireland, Iceland and the UK, which proved that American politics definitely does not stop at the water's edge. The main purpose of Mr Pence's visit to Ireland, the White House said, was to show US support for the peace process in Northern Ireland, now under sharp focus in the Brexit debate. But almost as soon as he landed he was facing criticism over his choice of accommodation. For the visit, Mr Pence stayed in Doonbeg, an Irish village with a population of less than 1,000 at a golf course hotel owned by the president's company. The hotel required a 181 mile (292km) cross-country flight to Dublin, where Mr Pence held meetings with the Irish government. Mr Pence also faced ridicule after a senior White House aide suggested that his lunch with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and his partner proved that the vice-president is not "anti-gay". LGBT advocates were not won over. Mr Pence has a history of supporting anti-LGBT policies, signing a religious freedom law as governor of Indiana that would allow businesses and individuals to discriminate people based on sexuality. Following outcry, he later signed an amended version. Mr Pence next travelled to Iceland, accompanied by an extensive security detail featuring military jets and armed guards. Icelanders said the move was out of step for a country of just 350,000 people that is frequently ranked the most peaceful in the world. "The scale of Pence's visit, not least the security arrangements, are greater than ever seen in Iceland before," said RUV, Iceland's national broadcast service. The scope of the vice-president's security demanded local adjustments. According to the Associated Press, the Reykjavik Metropolitan Police requested backup from neighbouring towns and villages to gather the manpower required by Mr Pence. US authorities also needed special permission to carry firearms, as the elite "Viking SWAT" team members are the only Icelandic forces allowed to carry guns. (Webmaster's comment: Anti-gay, lining pocket, warmonger invades peaceful Europe!)
9-6-19 Does America have a moral imperative to stay in Afghanistan forever?
This is what hawks always get wrong about America's national interest. fter 18 years of waging war in Afghanistan, the Trump administration is attempting to pull back. But critics have responded with outrage. What's the point of trying to reach a deal with the execrable Taliban? How can we contemplate abandoning the Afghan government when the country could be plunged into civil war or worse? The implication of these objections is clear: Eighteen years has been insufficient. The U.S. should be willing to guarantee Afghan security and stability — including playing Whack-a-Mole with Taliban insurgents — with no end in sight. Anything less than such an open-ended commitment is tantamount to a surrender — and surrendering to America's enemies should be considered unacceptable, no matter the cost in blood and treasure. There's just one problem with this line of reasoning: It's based entirely on a single false premise, one that has helped to justify every American military intervention since the collapse of the Soviet Union. To understand it, let's start with Afghanistan. If we define American interests narrowly, to involve defending the American homeland from attack and the country's most vital strategic relationships with its allies and trading partners from interference by rivals and adversaries, the case for staying in Afghanistan is incredibly weak. The country is poor, feeble, on the other side of the planet, and no longer serving as a base of operations for terrorists with the capacity to launch international attacks. Even with significantly fewer troops in the country, the U.S. military will retain the capacity to strike quickly and decisively against any terrorist groups with international ambitions that seek to re-establish themselves. But this isn't how critics of withdrawal think about our presence in Afghanistan. Instead, they make their case by referring to what they believe will happen once American troops leave the country. The Taliban are continuing attacks on civilians, Afghan forces, and American soldiers even as peace talks are underway. It's quite likely those attacks will accelerate once we withdraw, leading to the eventual overthrow of the Afghan government, civil unrest, and the return of the Taliban to power. The Afghan people would be abandoned, left to languish under the same theocratic tyranny that oppressed them before the American invasion of 2001. And that is morally unacceptable. (Webmaster's comment:We have no moral imperative to be in any country except our own. The reason we are in these other countries is to further our corporate interests at the expense of the inhabitants.)
9-6-19 Americans Skeptical of UFOs, but Say Government Knows More
While relatively few Americans believe aliens have visited Earth, the majority thinks the government knows more about UFOs than it has said. As an internet campaign called "Storm Area 51" has nearly two million people pledging to break into a highly secure military base later this month in the hopes of uncovering possible secrets about UFOs, a recent Gallup poll finds two-thirds of Americans believe the government knows more about the subject than it has conveyed.
- Two-thirds in U.S. say government knows more than it's saying on UFOs
- One-third thinks some UFOs are actual sightings of alien spacecraft
- Residents of the West show highest belief
9-5-19 San Francisco council calls NRA 'domestic terrorist organisation'
The San Francisco city government has formally labelled the pro-gun lobbyist National Rifle Association (NRA) a "domestic terrorist organisation". The condemnation of the most powerful gun-ownership advocacy group in the US was unanimously passed on Tuesday by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. It follows a shooting attack against the Gilroy Garlic Festival, south of the city, which killed three in July. Democrats have often blamed the NRA's rhetoric for fuelling mass shootings. The resolution says the US is "plagued by an epidemic of gun violence" and accuses the NRA of using "its considerable wealth and organisation strength to promote gun ownership and incite gun owners to acts of violence". "All countries have violent and hateful people, but only in America do we give them ready access to assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, thanks, in large part, to the National Rifle Association's influence," the resolution says. The bill also urges the city and county to reconsider its relationship with companies that do business with the NRA. The NRA responded by calling it a "ludicrous stunt" that is intended "to distract from the real problems facing San Francisco, such as rampant homelessness, drug abuse and skyrocketing petty crime, to name a few". District Two Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who wrote the resolution for the Democrat-controlled city, said, "the NRA has it coming to them". She told KTVU-TV: "The NRA exists to spread dis-information, and knowingly puts guns into the hands of those who would harm and terrorise us." She told the station that she began writing the resolution after the attack against the Gilroy Garlic Festival in which a gunman killed three people before killing himself. The resolution was met with fierce criticism from conservative Republicans, who oppose most efforts to restrict private gun ownership, and disagree with many of the policies passed by one of the most liberal cities in the US.
9-5-19 What lockdown drills mean for my 1st-grade classroom
Lockdown drills are commonplace in America right now because of the horrific reality of school shootings. Whether they ultimately help our children is still up for debate, but one thing is for sure: We have to do them right when we do them at all. And doing them right means being honest, calm, loving, reassuring, and protective. That's a teacher's job, after all. But this is a disingenuous way to frame such a drill. And animals roaming the school can be a scary thought, too. The truth is that even young kids know what we're doing in these drills: We are practicing what to do if someone comes into the school to kill us. Students might not always say it, but they know. And even if they don't know the horrible details — that the weapon will be a gun, that it will most likely be wielded by a radicalized white male, that it will probably be 1,000 times more terrifying than anything they've ever experienced — they know something is deeply amiss. So this time, when this child asked me why we were doing a lockdown drill, I answered more directly: "In case there's a dangerous person in the school somewhere, when we hide and turn off the lights, that person will think the room is empty." This may not be entirely true, but it serves its purpose while also being honest enough to pass muster. "But what if they get in?" the student asked. And this is the tricky part: Sometimes kids need specifics. "What do they want to do with us?" "We have amazing security guards," I said, "who have been trained to stop people from coming in." "But why do they want to hurt us?" The kids gave me the type of undiluted, complete attention that I wish they'd use for math lessons. It's incredibly difficult to articulate to kids why a sick man would want them dead. So I said this: "It's ok to feel scared and confused. I will be here the whole time, alongside you, and ask me for anything you need. We are together, and I know what to do. I don't really know why someone would want to hurt us, but what's important is that we are in the safest place in the school. We have done everything a school can do to be safe and protect ourselves."
9-4-19 Pentagon diverts $3.6bn in funds for southern border wall
US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has granted $3.6bn (£3bn) in Pentagon funding to be redirected to help build a US-Mexico border wall. The money will fund 175 miles (280km) of construction and will force 127 military projects to be put on hold, he told lawmakers in a letter on Tuesday. Building a border wall was a major campaign pledge of President Trump but it has faced significant opposition. Tough action on immigration also forms a central part of his re-election bid. Mr Esper's letter did not use the term "wall" but the border barriers described are likely to be cited by Mr Trump as evidence of progress as he gears up for the vote in 2020. Last July, the Supreme Court handed Mr Trump a victory in a related case, saying that the national emergency he issued in February allowed him the power to use $2.5bn in defense funds for wall construction while the matter proceeds in courts. Mr Esper's letter did not say what projects are being suspended but a Pentagon spokesman said about half the money will come from domestic projects and the rest from overseas construction, which will be tapped first. Democrats argue that by diverting funds to fund the wall, the Trump administration is attempting to circumvent Congress' role in forming budgets for government agencies. Democrat Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said it showed Mr Trump "is willing to cannibalise already allocated military funding to boost his own ego and for a wall he promised Mexico would pay to build". The American Civil Liberties Union promised to seek a court order to block "the president's abuse of emergency powers to secure funds for a wall Congress denied".
9-4-19 Walmart changes gun policies after shootings
Walmart is to stop sales of some types of ammunition following recent shootings, including one at one of its stores in Texas that left 22 dead. The head of the company said it would discontinue sales of some bullets that can be used in assault-style weapons, and those used in handguns. The move comes amid increasing pressure on the company, often cited as the largest firearms seller in the US. Chief executive Doug McMillon said the company had been "listening". "It's clear to us that the status quo is unacceptable," he said in a note to employees and published on the firm's website. The firm also said it would discontinue handgun sales in Alaska, the only place it still offered such weapons. The firm asked customers at Walmart and its Sam's Club stores to stop carrying firearms openly, even in states where it is legally permitted, saying such actions have caused fear and evacuations. Mr McMillon said: "We know these decisions will inconvenience some of our customers, and we hope they will understand." Celebrities and politicians, including several Democrats campaigning for president, praised the firm's decision. But America's gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, called the changes "shameful" and said the firm would lose business. Another major US retailer joined Walmart on Tuesday. Kroger changed its policy by "respectfully asking" customers to stop openly carrying guns in stores where state laws allow it. Jessica Adelman, group vice-president of corporate affairs, said in a statement that only authorised law enforcement officers should be carrying weapons in Kroger outlets. Walmart's chief executive, who also called on the US Congress to pass stricter gun laws, said he expected the changes to reduce the firm's share of the ammunition market from about 20% to a range of 6% to 9%. The company will continue to sell hunting rifles and shotguns, and much of the ammunition for those weapons, he added.
9-4-19 Mississippi wedding venue refuses interracial pair over owner's Christian faith
A US interracial couple was turned away by a wedding venue because the owner said their union went against her Christian beliefs, video shows. The footage was filmed at Boone's Camp Event Hall in Booneville, Mississippi, by the groom's sister who met the woman about the rejection. During the exchange the owner says the decision was because we "don't do gay weddings or mixed race". The owner apologised in a now-deleted Facebook post. The video was first reported by website Deep South Voice, and quickly went viral on social media. LaKambria Welch said her brother and his partner were first told in an email the venue was not prepared to host the event. So Ms Welch went down in person to find out more. "First of all, we don't do gay weddings or mixed race," says a woman in a grey shirt, identified as the venue's owner by US media. Asked why not, she replied: "Because of our Christian race, I mean our Christian beliefs," adding: "We just don't participate. We just choose not to." When asked what passage of the Bible informs that belief, the owner adds: "I don't want to argue my faith." The exchange prompted the City of Booneville to release a statement condemning "these types of discriminatory policies". The Facebook page for Boone's Camp Event Hall was taken offline following the video's release, but later re-opened on Sunday to post a lengthy apology before being closed again. In the post the owner said she had been taught as a child that people were meant to stay "with your own race" but that after consulting with her pastor she now realised nothing in the bible prohibited interracial marriages. She continued: "To all of those offended, hurt or felt condemn [sic] by my statement I truly apologise to you for my ignorance in not knowing the truth about this. My intent was never of racism, but to stand firm on what I 'assumed' was right concerning marriage."
9-4-19 Racism in football: Twitter defends abuse policy after Premier League players targeted
Social media platform Twitter says it has "taken action" on "more than 700 examples of hateful conduct" in the past two weeks after several Premier League players were racially abused. Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba and Chelsea forward Tammy Abraham are among those who have been targeted. The online service says it will "continue to take swift action". Twitter's most recent report says it took action against 7% of reported cases of abuse or hateful conduct. Twitter said it had also met "directly affected" clubs, the Professional Footballers' Association and Kick it Out in an attempt to "tackle the issue collectively". "This vile content has no place on our service," it said in a statement. "We want to play our part in curbing this unacceptable behaviour." But United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard have been among those asking for social media companies to do more to curb racist behaviour on their platforms. In response to their meeting, Kick it Out said it had agreed a number of future steps, but added: "What the public need most is Twitter to show decisive leadership and deliver concrete action for change." Pogba, Abraham and United forward Marcus Rashford were all abused on social media platforms after missing penalties for their clubs.According to its most recent transparency report from July 2018 to December 2018, of the 11m accounts reported for abuse or hateful conduct across the platform as a whole, Twitter took action against 7% of them. Compared to the previous six months, reports of abuse or hateful conduct rose by 31% but action against them dropped by 9%. Twitter says it has a range of enforcement actions, including account suspension. Following their meeting, Kick it Out said it had agreed a meeting with police and the Crown Prosecution Service to "develop an efficient approach to identifying and punishing" offenders.
9-3-19 Big Pharma Sinks to the Bottom of U.S. Industry Rankings
The pharmaceutical industry is now the most poorly regarded industry in Americans' eyes, ranking last on a list of 25 industries that Gallup tests annually. Americans are more than twice as likely to rate the pharmaceutical industry negatively (58%) as positively (27%), giving it a net-positive score of -31. The restaurant industry is rated most positively.
- New low in Americans' net ratings of the pharmaceutical industry
- Restaurant, computer industries continue to have the most favorable ratings
- Images of electric and gas utilities, oil and gas industry at new highs
9-2-19 Strong support for Trump linked to willingness to persecute immigrants
In the years since Donald Trump took ofice as President of the United States, he has often used incendiary language when discussing immigrants, Muslims and various other groups. Hate crimes have been on the rise in the US since 2015, and a recent review by ABC News found Trump has been invoked in at least 36 criminal cases of violent acts, threats or allegations of assault. But it has been difficult to quantify the extent to which his language has really inspired or triggered such crimes. Now a study has found that people who strongly identify with Trump say they are more willing to commit violence against immigrants. When you identify with a person’s values and views, you usually still consider these as separate from yourself, says Jonas Kunst at the University of Oslo in Norway. “But when you experience what we call fusion, the boundaries overlap like a Venn diagram, and you can lose your sense of self a bit.” Fusion is a visceral feeling of oneness. Kunst and his colleagues found that this type of identification may play into hate crimes. They ran seven studies among white Americans, each with hundreds of respondents. Kunst says the team chose this group to study because white Americans commit about half of all hate crimes annually in the US. To find people who strongly identify with Trump, they specifically studied white people affiliated with the Republican party, who account for the majority of Trump’s supporters, he says. Four independent researchers told New Scientist the study is robust enough to trust the findings. The team first asked people how much they identified with Trump, using a common psychological measure for identity fusion. Then they asked questions about which behaviours these people would be willing to engage in. In one scenario, respondents were told to imagine that a law had been passed outlawing Islamic cultural organisations, and then asked how likely they would be to report members of such organisations to the police, support the use of physical force to find them, and even personally use physical force to track down and detain them. People whose identities were more fused with Trump were more likely to say they were willing to commit violence in these scenarios.
9-2-19 Ku Klux Klan donation account suspended by PayPal
PayPal suspended an account used to raise funds by one of the US's largest white supremacist groups six days after it was first flagged by an anti-bigotry campaigner. The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan had promoted the account via a donation page on its website. PayPal acted on Friday after others picked up on the issue and urged it to block the recipient. The US-based firm faces criticism for not resolving the issue more rapidly. PayPal previously pledged to "evaluate all sites" brought to its attention that involved the use of its service to fund the KKK and other organisations advocating racist views. "I have tonnes of concerns that PayPal is not able to act quickly and decisively on hate groups," Nandini Jammi, from the internet-based group Sleeping Giants, told BBC News. "There are some examples of them acting in a fairly timely manner. "But they're not applying [their anti-hate policy] in a consistent enough manner." A spokesman for PayPal said: "Due to our legal and data protection obligations, we cannot comment on any specific PayPal customer's account. "We carefully review accounts to ensure our services are used in line with our acceptable use policy and take action as appropriate. "We do not allow PayPal services to be used to promote hate, violence, or other forms of intolerance that are discriminatory." The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan's website said it was seeking funds to help pay for the postage of newsletters and other materials to its supporters and to organise public rallies. Ms Jammi said she had discovered the page while preparing for a presentation to the Turing Festival in Edinburgh last week. She said it was "alarmingly common" for white nationalist groups and personalities to raise funds via a range of legitimate online payment and advertising platforms.
9-1-19 Texas shooting rampage leaves seven dead
At least seven people were killed after a gunman went on a shooting rampage in west Texas on Saturday. Police say the mass shooting, the second within the state during August, began with a traffic stop between the cities of Midland and Odessa. The gunman shot at least 20 people, including motorists and passers-by. At one point, he abandoned his car and stole a US postal truck. Police eventually shot dead the man, who has not been named, near a cinema. The motive of the gunman, who was white and in his mid-30s, remains unclear. The shooting occurred exactly four weeks after 22 people were killed by another gunman in the Texan city of El Paso. An infant aged 17 months was struck in his face by a bullet fragment and airlifted to hospital, Odessa's Medical Center Hospital says. At least one person remained in a life-threatening condition on Sunday, according to police. Saturday's incident began just after 15:00 (20:00 GMT) after two Texas Department of Public Safety officers pulled over a vehicle on a Midland highway, police said. The driver then opened fire on the officers before driving away and shooting at other people in several other locations. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he was "horrified to see such a senseless act". Texas Governor Greg Abbott said: "We will not allow the Lone Star State to be overrun by hatred and violence. We will unite, as Texans always do, to respond to this tragedy." In a tweet, US President Donald Trump said he was being kept informed about the shootings. Later, Vice-President Mike Pence said he and the Trump administration remained "absolutely determined to work with leaders in both parties in Congress to take steps that we can address and confront this scourge of mass atrocity in our country". (Webmaster's comment: Trump will do nothng that his White Supremacist support base will not like and Pence will pray! A lot of good that wiil do!