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

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


1-31-20 Means test
The Supreme Court voted this week to let the Trump administration apply stricter scrutiny to poor immigrants and deny them green cards if they’re likely to use public-assistance programs. In a 5-4 decision, the conservative justices lifted a nationwide injunction, imposed by a federal judge in New York last year, that blocked the White House from expanding “public charge” rules to penalize immigrants who use safety-net programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, or housing assistance. Lawsuits over the means test will continue to go forward, but immigration authorities can apply the new rules as the suits continue. Neil Gorsuch, one of the court’s conservative justices, used the case to lambaste lower courts for issuing “‘nationwide,’ ‘universal,’ or ‘cosmic’” injunctions such as the one used to stop the means test, arguing that in effect they’ve let individual courts set national policy. (Webmaster's comment: Should be titled "Just Being Mean.")

1-31-20 Voting discrimination
Arizona violated the Voting Rights Act by crafting election laws to suppress minority turnout, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week. The Republican-controlled state legislature banned “ballot harvesting” in 2016, prohibiting voters from letting campaign workers or other nonfamily members deliver their early ballots. Lawmakers said the change would prevent fraud, but the 9th Circuit ruled 7-4 that Arizona had “contrived” that rationale to outlaw a practice used overwhelmingly by Democrats in a state that has become increasingly competitive. The judges ruled that Arizona’s “long history of race-based voting discrimination” and legislators’ implausible claims about their motives demonstrated that the true intent of the state’s regulation was to disenfranchise Latinos, Native Americans, and African-Americans. The court also struck down a law that made ballots cast in the wrong precinct invalid, a rule that disproportionately affected nonwhite voters.

1-31-20 Where did you get this money?
A Detroit man who successfully sued his employer for racial discrimination says his bank called the police on him when he tried to cash his settlement checks. Sauntore Thomas, 44, says a teller at his local TCF Bank asked him “Where did you get this money?” and called the cops. Thomas is now suing TCF for racial discrimination.

1-31-20 Go worship elsewhere
Ageism, after a Methodist church in Minnesota asked members over the age of 60 to worship elsewhere for 18 months while it tries to woo a younger congregation. After all, Rev. Dan Wetterstrom explained, “Jesus said we are called to reach new people.”

1-31-20 Why criminal records should be expunged
Nearly one out of three Americans has a criminal record, said Nila Bala. Many of these people will be held back for the rest of their lives by a single mistake, since employers routinely run background checks and will not hire someone who’s had a single conviction or even an arrest. Being unemployable perpetuates the “shame and isolation” people feel when they are trying to turn their lives around after mistakes made at a very young age. It also leaves them mired in poverty and dependency. Their children and families are also negatively affected, continuing the cycle that often leads to another generation turning to drugs or crime. Tens of millions of Americans are currently caught in this trap. This is why Pennsylvania enacted “Clean Slate” legislation in 2018, which automatically seals any arrest record that does not lead to conviction, and most conviction records if a person stays crime-free for 10 years. A bipartisan movement is pushing for other states to adopt this legislation as well—and conservatives should support it. Stigmatizing people for life helps no one. But giving them a chance to reinvent themselves as contributing members of society “supports families, and makes communities safer.”

1-31-20 Home of ‘The Base’?
The leader of the American white supremacist group The Base apparently runs the extremist outfit from Russia, an investigation by The Guardian revealed last week. The group shot into the headlines last month when seven alleged Base members were arrested by the FBI and charged with plotting to kill anti-fascist activists and to stage terrorist attacks at a gun-rights rally in Richmond, Va. Documents passed to The Guardian by a whistleblower indicate that The Base—an English translation of al Qaida—is headed by Rinaldo Nazzaro, alias “Norman Spear” and “Roman Wolf.” A former New Jersey resident who ran a security-consulting business in the U.S., Nazzaro is now thought to live in St. Petersburg with his Russian wife. The Base, which recruits members online, wants to start a race war in the U.S. and establish a white homeland in the Pacific Northwest.

1-31-20 Nazis in uniform
Hundreds of German troops—many of them members of elite commando units—are suspected of involvement with far-right groups, Germany’s Military Counterintelligence Service announced this week. The agency said 14 soldiers were discharged last year for extremism, including eight neo-Nazis, and some 500 more were under investigation. The number of suspected extremists in the Special Forces Command is proportionally five times higher than in the rest of the military. The investigation began in 2017 after army officer Franco Albrecht was found to be leading a double life, posing as a Syrian refugee and planning a terrorist attack that would be blamed on asylum seekers. That set off fears of a “shadow army” of extremists within the military, explained counterintelligence head Christof Gramm, but he added that his investigation had found no such conspiracy.

1-31-20 Criticizing Israel
The Trump administration has opened an investigation into an incident of alleged anti-Semitism at UCLA—one of the first such inquiries since the president extended the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s protection to Jews in December. The incident involved a guest speaker to an anthropology class who sharply criticized Israel for alleged atrocities and ethnic cleansing against Palestinians.

1-31-20 Auschwitz: Playing politics with a Holocaust memorial
The 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz should have been a moment for solemn reflection, said Sabine Müller in Germany’s Tagesschau.de. But when dozens of world leaders gathered in Israel last week to commemorate the arrival of the Soviet army at the Nazi death camp, they used the occasion to grandstand and squabble. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, at least, said all the right things. Speaking at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem, Steinmeier said Germany took full responsibility for the “industrial mass murder of 6 million Jews” in the Holocaust—1 million of whom died at Auschwitz. “I wish I could say that we Germans have learned from history once and for all,” Steinmeier said, adding that he couldn’t, because anti-Semitism is again on the rise. Last October, an armed neo-Nazi tried to storm a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle, killing two people when he couldn’t gain entry. “The perpetrators are not the same,” Steinmeier said, “but it is the same evil.” These were worthy words, unlike those spoken by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who “hijacked the commemoration” for political ends. He urged world leaders to unite against his arch-enemy, Iran, calling Tehran “the most anti-Semitic regime on the planet.” Russian President Vladimir Putin used his speech to wage “information warfare,” said Edwin Bendyk in Polityka (Poland). He began spreading lies in the weeks before the anniversary, absurdly suggesting that Poland was responsible for starting World War II—and glossing over the deal that Stalin struck with Hitler in August 1939 to carve up Poland. In his Yad Vashem speech, Putin didn’t mention Poland by name but claimed that the Nazis wouldn’t have been able to build death camps without the cooperation of local people. Auschwitz is located in Poland; “the allusion is clear.” Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, meanwhile, wasn’t even at the Israeli event, having boycotted out of pique that Putin got to speak while he did not. Duda left a statement insisting that Poland was a victim of the Holocaust, not a perpetrator.

1-31-20 Warning the U.S.
Philippine President Roberto Duterte said last week that he will terminate the deal that lets American troops operate in the country unless the U.S. restores the visa of a close Duterte ally accused of human rights violations. As national police chief from 2016 to 2018, Philippine Sen. Ronald dela Rosa directed Duterte’s brutal anti-drug crackdown, in which officers killed thousands of suspected drug dealers and users. Duterte has given the U.S. a month to restore dela Rosa’s visa or he’ll tear up the Visiting Forces Agreement. “I’ll end that son of a bitch,” he said in a speech. If the VFA is scrapped, said political scientist Jeffrey Ordaniel, “it will be virtually impossible for the U.S. to preposition troops, defense equipment, and supplies” if trouble erupts in the South China Sea.

1-31-20 What Percentage of Americans Smoke Marijuana?
In a July 2019 Gallup poll, 12% of U.S. adults said they smoke marijuana, a percentage that is essentially unchanged since 2015. The July 2019 Gallup survey found that the likelihood to smoke marijuana varies significantly by gender, age, and political ideology.

  • Men (15%) are more likely to smoke marijuana than women (9%)
  • At 22%, 18- to 29-year-olds are the most likely age group to smoke marijuana -- about twice as likely as those between the ages of 30 and 64, and seven times as likely as adults older than 65.
  • Liberals (24%) are six times more likely to smoke marijuana than conservatives (4%), and twice as likely as moderates (12%).

1-31-20 Wilbur Ross says Coronavirus could boost US jobs
US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross has said the deadly coronavirus outbreak in China could be positive for the American economy. During a TV interview Mr Ross said: "I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America". The rapid spread of the disease has raised fears about its impact on the Chinese economy and global growth. The comments have come under fire from critics of President Trump's administration. In response to a question on Fox Business News about whether the outbreak is a risk to the US economy Mr Ross said: "I don't want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease." "The fact is, it does give business yet another thing to consider when they go through their review of their supply chain... So I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America," he went on to say. Later the US Commerce Department echoed his comments: "As Secretary Ross made clear the first step is to bring the virus under control and help the victims of this disease." "It is also important to consider the ramifications of doing business with a country that has a long history of covering up real risks to its own people and the rest of the world," a spokesperson said. The remarks have been heavily criticised, with Democrat congressman Don Beyer taking to Twitter to question finding business advantages during the deadly outbreak. Economists have also queried Mr Ross's comments. Simon Baptist from the Economist Intelligence Unit in Singapore told the BBC that the comments struck him as "weird". "Companies are not going to make serious and long-term investment decisions on the basis of an outbreak of a disease that might last three to six months," he said. He argued that the virus is more likely to have a negative impact on America rather than a positive one: "In fact, the US is going to be a net loser because despite everything, China is still a big market for the US, so if the Chinese economy slows significantly that's going to have a blowback effect on the US as well."

1-31-20 Family sue after being kicked off flight 'for body odour'
A Michigan family removed from an American Airlines flight in Miami when staff claimed they had body odour are suing the airline. Yehuda Yosef Adler, his wife Jennie and their young daughter were removed from the flight to Detroit last January. They claim staff made comments about their Orthodox Jewish faith. American Airlines said the decision to remove the family was not based on religion. They claim customers complained about Mr Adler's odour. The lawsuit, filed in Texas, cites defamation, emotional distress and discrimination relating to religion. Mr Adler claims his family had been sitting on the plane for no more than five minutes when a member of staff told them there was an emergency and they needed to leave the aircraft. When they left the plane, Mr Adler alleges staff told him the pilot was removing the family because of body odour. The lawsuit says a staff member "made a disparaging and derogatory statement telling the Adlers that he knew Orthodox Jews take baths once a week." The Adler family then approached people at the boarding gate asking them if they could smell any bad body odour. They said they asked 20 people but not one said they could detect a smell. Mr Adler also said they showered that morning. They were provided with a hotel room and meals and were placed on a flight to Detroit the next morning. But they were without their luggage as it was not removed from their original flight. A statement from the airline to Fox News said: "The Adler family was asked to deplane after multiple passengers and our crew members complained about Mr Adler's body odour. The decision was made out of concern for the comfort of our other passengers. "None of the decisions made by our team in handling this sensitive situation were based on the Adler's religion." (Webmaster's comment: This had nothing to do with body odour. It was only because they were Jewish!)

1-30-20 Your most pressing questions about the new coronavirus, answered
Scientists are racing to unravel the mysteries of a new coronavirus that has infected thousands and sparked global concern — triggering many questions from researchers and the public alike. In this rapidly evolving epidemic, many unknowns remain. Here’s what we know so far about the new virus, called 2019 novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV. We will update these answers as more information becomes available.

  1. What is 2019-nCoV? Coronaviruses are one of a variety of viruses that typically cause colds. But three members of the viral family have caused deadly outbreaks.
  2. When did the outbreak start? Chinese officials notified the World Health Organization of a pneumonia-like disease with an unknown cause in 44 patients on December 31, 2019.
  3. Where did the virus come from? Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they originate in animals and sometimes leap to humans.
  4. What are the symptoms of a 2019-nCoV infection? An infection can cause fever, cough and difficulty breathing, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  5. How infectious is the virus? Researchers don’t yet know for sure. But since 2019-nCoV has never infected humans before last year, it’s likely that everyone is vulnerable to infection with this virus.
  6. How does it spread? Although initial Chinese officials initially reported little evidence of human-to-human transmission, it is, in fact, how it’s now spreading (SN: 1/10/20).
  7. How far has it spread? Most of the thousands of people with confirmed diagnoses of the new virus are in China. But several other countries — 17 as of January 29 — have also confirmed isolated cases of the disease, many of whom had just returned from a trip to China.

1-30-20 Coronavirus: What it does to the body
Fighting the new coronavirus has been a battle against the unknown for doctors. How does it attack the body? What are the full range of symptoms? Who is more likely to be seriously ill or die? How do you treat it? Now, an account by medics on the front line of this epidemic, at the Jinyintan Hospital, in Wuhan, is starting to provide answers. A detailed analysis of the first 99 patients treated there has been published in the Lancet medical journal. All of the 99 patients taken to the hospital had pneumonia - their lungs were inflamed and the tiny sacs where oxygen moves from the air to the blood were filling with water. The first two patients to die were seemingly healthy, although they were long-term smokers and that would have weakened their lungs. The first, a 61-year-old man, had severe pneumonia when he arrived at hospital. He was in acute respiratory distress, meaning his lungs were unable to provide enough oxygen to his organs to keep his body alive. Despite being put on a ventilator, his lungs failed and his heart stopped beating. He died 11 days after he was admitted. The second patient, a 69-year-old man, also had acute respiratory distress syndrome. He was attached to an artificial lung or ECMO (extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation) machine but this wasn't enough. He died of severe pneumonia and septic shock when his blood pressure collapsed. This does not mean the death rate of the disease is 11%, though, as some of those still in hospital may yet die and many others have such mild symptoms they do not end up in hospital. Live animals sold at the Huanan seafood market are thought to be the source of the infection, called 2019-nCoV. And 49 out of the 99 patients had a direct connection to the market. Most of the 99 patients were middle-aged, with an average age of 56 - and 67 of them were men. However, more recent figures suggest a more even gender split. The China Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 1.2 men were infected for every 1.0 women.

1-30-20 US teacher suspended after casting children of colour as slaves
A teacher at a US elementary school has been suspended after casting two of her pupils of colour as slaves in a school play. They were to be whipped by other children as part of the play featuring fifth graders - 10 or 11 year olds. The parents of a mixed-race girl, aged 10, complained to the school and other officials in Hamden, Connecticut. Carmen and Joshua Parker are calling for diversity training for teachers in the district. Ms Parker did not think the play was an appropriate way of teaching children about slavery, and she was concerned about how black people were portrayed in it, she is quoted as saying by the New Haven Independent website. "The scene starts with nameless slaves [number] one and two getting push "I was trying to make sense of the whipping of the children, the children were going to be whipping the slaves," Mr Parker told local TV. Ms Parker - who moved from Georgia to Connecticut to become assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University to research racism in medicine - said no teacher at her daughter's school in Georgia would have assigned that play to students. The teacher, who is white, has been placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of an investigation. A local schools official said the play was not a part of the curriculum, and that it had not been approved by the district. Ms Parker said blaming the teacher was not the solution. "Teachers are not the scapegoat for a system that is clearly broken and has been suppressing minority voices and the voices of those with disabilities," she told a local education committee on Tuesday.

1-30-20 US-Mexico border: 'Longest ever' smuggling tunnel discovered
US officials say they have discovered the longest smuggling tunnel ever found on the border with Mexico. Stretching for 4,309ft (1,313m), the tunnel had a lift, rail track, drainage and air ventilation systems, and high voltage electrical cables. The passageway connected an industrial site in the Mexican city of Tijuana to the San Diego area in California. There were no arrests made or drugs found. Authorities did not say who they suspected of being behind the tunnel. But Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, described by the US government as one of the largest drug-trafficking organisations in the world, operates in the area. Its founder and long-time leader, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, is serving life in prison in the US. t has an average depth of 70ft (21m) below the surface, with the tunnel being 5.5ft high and 2ft wide, US Customs and Border Protection said. It was not clear how long it took to build it. "The sophistication and length of this particular tunnel demonstrates the time-consuming efforts transnational criminal organisations will undertake to facilitate cross-border smuggling," Cardell Morant, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego, said in a statement. Several hundred sandbags were discovered blocking a suspected former exit of the tunnel in San Diego's Otay Mesa industrial warehouse area, the statement added. The main tunnel had an incomplete offshoot. More than a dozen sophisticated tunnels have been found on California's border with Mexico since 2016. The second-longest tunnel in the US, found in San Diego in 2014, was 2,966ft long, the CBP said. US President Donald Trump has made building a border wall one of his key priorities, saying it is needed to tackle illegal immigration and drug trafficking. But officials say most drugs are smuggled through legal ports of entry, hidden in privately-owned vehicles or transporter lorries, mixed with other goods.

1-30-20 Trump's wall: High winds blow over section of US-Mexico border fence
A new section of President Donald Trump's signature wall along the US-Mexico border has been blown over in high winds, US officials say. Steel panels from the fence in the town of Calexico, California were knocked down on Wednesday morning. The concrete used to anchor the 30ft-tall (9m) panels in place had not yet dried. Gusts of around 30 mph (48 km/h) were reported at the time, the US National Weather Service said. The fence is part of the Trump administration's ongoing construction project to stop illegal migration across the 1,954 mile-long (3,145 km) US-Mexico border. On Tuesday, Mr Trump boasted at a campaign event in New Jersey that the wall was "going up at record speed". A day later, high winds blew a section of newly installed panels against trees lining a road in Mexicali, a city on the Mexican side of the border. "Luckily, Mexican authorities responded quickly and were able to divert traffic from the nearby street," US Border Patrol agent Carlos Pitones told the LA Times. There was no damage to property or injuries, Mr Pitones said. Pictures from the border show construction workers with a crane apparently attempting to fix the fence, which appears lopsided. When visiting a section of the wall in California last year, Mr Trump described its concrete and steel slats as "virtually impenetrable". The project has been hampered by legal challenges from the beginning, but it has made progress, albeit slowly. Earlier this month, the Trump administration said it had built around 100 miles of new wall. Much of this, however, has replaced existing structures. Mr Trump announced his intention to use Pentagon funds for the wall last February, after a 35-day government shutdown triggered by his demand that congressional Democrats approve funding for the barrier.

1-29-20 Can the coronavirus outbreak be contained?
Scientists are racing to answer questions about 2019-nCoV that might help control its spread. Since a new coronavirus outbreak began in December, Chinese officials have placed millions of people under quarantine, and international airports are screening travelers for signs of the illness in an effort to control its spread. But as scientists learn more about the new virus, which causes pneumonia, it’s unclear how effective these strategies will be at halting the epidemic. Cases of the virus, for now called 2019 novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, have rapidly increased since the outbreak was first announced. There are 4,587 confirmed cases of the disease in 16 countries, including 16 health care workers, as of January 28. At least 106 people, all in China, have died. U.S. officials are monitoring 110 people across 26 states for signs of infection, such as fever, cough and shortness of breath, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced January 27 in a news conference. Those being monitored include people who recently traveled to Wuhan — the city at the center of the outbreak — and others they had direct contact with. So far, five people in the United States have tested positive for the new virus; 32 have tested negative. In response to the spiking case numbers, more than 50 million people in China are currently under lockdown, likely the largest quarantine in modern history. Although quarantine and isolation were effective strategies to end the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, outbreak, it’s unclear whether similar methods will be as effective for the new virus. Researchers are now scrambling to answer unknown questions about 2019-nCoV that might help control efforts, such as figuring out when people are contagious and how much the virus is changing as it passes from person to person.

1-29-20 New coronavirus looks set to cause a pandemic – how do we control it?
The new coronavirus may be about to go global. Speaking at a press conference earlier this week, Gabriel Leung at the University of Hong Kong said that without “substantial, draconian measures limiting population mobility” – even greater than the unprecedented transportation shutdown that China has already imposed – epidemics outside China “may become inevitable”. It could be too late. Leung and other epidemiologists calculate that there are far more cases in China than doctors have diagnosed, and by next week there may be 200,000. Computer models suggest that, as with flu, Ebola and SARS, travel restrictions may have little impact. One epidemiologist, however, thinks there may be hope in the variable way the virus is thought to spread, based on its close relatives SARS and MERS. Officially confirmed cases of the virus climbed to 5974 cases today, in 31 of China’s 33 provinces, up from 291 in three provinces a week ago. But that is likely to be a massive underestimate. Several research groups have used computer modelling to calculate a factor called the R0, the average number of people who catch the virus from each infected person, at between two and four. Data from clusters of cases also makes it possible to calculate the “generation” time that it takes an infected person to start transmitting the virus at eight days. But plugging those numbers into standard epidemic models reveals that something doesn’t fit, says David Fisman at the University of Toronto in Canada. “Cases, R0 or generation time have to be wrong,” he says. He thinks case numbers are too low, because it took doctors time to learn to diagnose the disease. He suspects that the explosive rise in cases of recent days is mostly due to improved case finding and diagnosis. Moreover, people with milder symptoms who don’t go to hospital and get tested may still add to the epidemic by transmitting the virus.

1-29-20 Dissatisfaction with democracy 'at record high'
Dissatisfaction with democracy within developed countries is at its highest level in almost 25 years, according to University of Cambridge researchers. Academics have analysed what they say is the biggest global dataset on attitudes towards democracy, based on four million people in 3,500 surveys. The UK and the United States had particularly high levels of discontent. "Across the globe, democracy is in a state of malaise," report author Roberto Foa said. The study, from the University of Cambridge's Centre for the Future of Democracy, has tracked views on democracy since 1995 - with the figures for 2019 showing the proportion dissatisfied rising from 48% to 58%, the highest recorded level. "We find that dissatisfaction with democracy has risen over time and is reaching an all-time global high, in particular in developed countries," Dr Foa said. The research, covering 154 countries around the world, is based on asking people if they are satisfied or dissatisfied with democracy in their own country. Data for some countries goes back to the 1970s and the long-term picture recorded a steady upwards swing of the pendulum towards more satisfaction with democracy through the last decades of the 20th Century. This was an era of the collapse of Communist power in Eastern and Central Europe and the apparent ascendancy of Western democracy - with "global sentiment" appearing to be supportive of the rise in democracy. But over the past decade, this appears to have shifted steadily in a more negative direction - with rising dissatisfaction. The study suggests this could reflect political and social reverberations of the "economic shock" of the financial crash of 2008 and disquiet from the refugee crisis of 2015 and "foreign policy failures". It warns of a loss confidence in democracy and says the rise of populism is not so much a cause but a symptom.

1-29-20 Maryland police officer charged with murder in killing of handcuffed man
A police officer in the US state of Maryland has been charged with murder in the fatal shooting of a man who had been handcuffed inside a patrol car. Corporal Michael Owen Jr, a 10-year police force veteran, shot William Green, 43, seven times on Monday night in Temple Hills, police say. Police were responding to calls that a driver had struck multiple cars and was suspected of being intoxicated. The shooting of Green, a father of two, was condemned by rights campaigners. Green's family have vowed to fight for justice. According to the Prince George's County Police Department, Cpl Owen and another officer were sent to the area - a suburb of Washington DC - at about 19:20 local time on Monday (00:20 GMT Tuesday). After being advised by witnesses, they approached Green who was in a car nearby. Green was removed from his car, handcuffed and placed in the front seat of the patrol car as the officers waited for a drug recognition expert. Cpl Owen then entered the patrol car and sat next to Green. A short time later, Green, who had his hands behind his back, was shot seven times for reasons that were still being investigated, according to police. The officers provided medical help to Green, who was taken to a hospital where he later died. "I have concluded that what happened last night is a crime," police chief Hank Stawinski told reporters less than 24 hours after the shooting happened. "There are no circumstances under which this outcome is acceptable." Cpl Owen did not have a body camera, and the police force said they were in the process of equipping all officers with it. He was charged with second-degree murder, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, first-degree assault and use of a firearm to commit a violent crime. Cpl Owen was involved in another shooting in 2011, Mr Stawinski said. He was taken into custody and it was not immediately clear if he had a lawyer.

1-28-20 The lie of the immigrant welfare queen
A Harvard University study recently found that people in Western countries, including America, have succumbed to many restrictionist myths. The right-wing campaign against immigration, in other words, has worked. But that doesn't mean that immigration advocates should despair. The study's findings suggest that to the extent that they can make the case that immigrants don't need handouts to succeed, they have a shot at turning public opinion around. The study, conducted by Political Economy Professor Alberto Alesina and and Economics Professor Stefanie Stantcheva, administered online questionnaires to 24,000 respondents in six countries — U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, and Sweden — with the explicit aim of studying legal, not illegal, immigration. That is something that everyone, except for the most hardline restrictionists, allegedly favors, especially in America. But on literally every count — the levels of immigration, the composition and basic characteristics of immigrants — negative stereotypes abound. About 3 percent of the world's population lived outside its birth country in 1900. And 3 percent does so now. By any objective metric, the modern age has experienced no historic flood of immigration. But restrictionists have been beating the drum of "mass immigration" so long that people have come to believe it as true. In every country, the study found, people vastly overestimate the number of immigrants present. For example, in America, legal immigrants constitute about 10 percent of the population. But what is the average perception? Thirty-six percent — or a whopping 22 percent above the total combined share of immigration — legal and illegal, which is about 4 percent of the population. Every group — educated, uneducated; rich, poor; liberal, conservative — has fallen for this myth. What's more, people also seem to have a warped idea of where immigrants come from and who they are. Americans in particular tend to overestimate the share of North African and Middle Eastern immigrants, particularly Muslim. Indeed, Muslims are 10 percent of all immigrants (or less than 2 percent of the total U.S. population) but the study's respondents commonly believed they were 23 percent. At the same time, the respondents underestimated the share of Christian immigrants, systematically exaggerating the cultural distance between themselves and immigrants. Such misperceptions extend beyond the cultural characteristics of immigrants to economic ones as well.

1-28-20 NPR reporter barred from Mike Pompeo trip after tense interview
The US state department has removed an NPR reporter from the press pool for Secretary Mike Pompeo's upcoming foreign trip, days after a tense interview with another NPR journalist. The radio network said it was not given a reason behind Michele Kelemen's ban. A press representative said the decision amounted to retaliation. The state department has not commented. In Friday's interview, Mr Pompeo was asked repeatedly about Ukraine and ousted US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. National Public Radio reporter Mary Louise Kelly asked him whether he defended or should have defended Ms Yovanovitch, whose removal was a key factor leading to the impeachment of President Donald Trump by the Democratic-led House of Representatives last month. Kelly said that, after the nine-minute interview, she was taken by a Pompeo aide to his private living room where he shouted at her, cursed repeatedly and asked: "Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?" According to Kelly, he asked her if she could find Ukraine on a map, to which she said "Yes". "He called out for his aides to bring him a map of the world with no writing, no countries marked," she said on NPR later. "I pointed to Ukraine. He put the map away. He said, 'People will hear about this'." The exchange in the post-interview was not recorded. Kelly, a veteran national correspondent who has recently reported from Iran, said the aide had not said the conversation was off the record, and that she would not have agreed to it. NPR confirmed that Kelemen, who has covered the state department for nearly two decades, would not be allowed to travel with Mr Pompeo on the government flight to Europe and Central Asia. The trip starts on Thursday. In a statement, Shaun Tandon, head of the State Department Correspondents' Association (SDCA) said: "The State Department press corps has a long tradition of accompanying secretaries of state on their travels and we find it unacceptable to punish an individual member of our association."

1-27-20 New coronavirus may be much more contagious than initially thought
A deadly new coronavirus has now reached at least 13 countries. As of Monday 27 January, there are 2794 confirmed cases of the virus, while tens of thousands of people are being kept under medical supervision around the world. Eighty-one people have died with the virus, according to latest reports. More deaths are predicted to follow. The virus can spread before symptoms show, China’s health minister Ma Xiaowei said on Sunday, which means it will be more difficult to limit transmission between people. There are confirmed cases of the virus across Asia, and in the US, Australia and Europe. So far, all cases outside China seem to be in people who have travelled from Hubei province, where the outbreak began, or the surrounding area. But we are likely to find out if the virus will start spreading in these countries in the coming days and weeks. Confirmed cases have been reported in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, the US, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, France, South Korea, Vietnam, Canada and Nepal. All of the recorded deaths have so far been in Hubei province. The scale of the outbreak will depend on how quickly and easily the virus is passed between people. Using data collected up to 18 January, it appears that, on average, each person infected with the virus passes it to between 1.5 and 3.5 other people, according to an analysis by Natsuko Imai and her colleagues at Imperial College London. Using similar estimates, Robin Thompson at the University of Oxford predicts there is a one-in-three chance that a person who brings the virus to the UK will pass it on to others in the country. That estimate is based on data collected from the beginning of the outbreak. Thompson hopes that, as countries step up measures to control the spread of the virus, the chances of this happening will become less likely.

1-27-20 Mike Pompeo is a disgrace
His undiplomatic behavior proves he truly isn't qualified to hold the title of secretary of state. Here is a modest proposal for future presidents of the United States: Secretaries of state — who act as the nation's chief diplomat — should actually be diplomats. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has neither the education nor the instincts of a diplomat, a flaw that becomes apparent nearly every time he encounters a female journalist. So it was last week when he was interviewed by NPR's Mary Louise Kelly and she asked him questions about President Trump's Ukraine scandal. Pompeo cut the interview short, and then — according to Kelly — privately and profanely chewed her out. He even challenged her to find Ukraine on a map. And then, when the incident was publicized, he attacked her integrity and smarts. "It is no wonder that the American people distrust many in the media when they so consistently demonstrate their agenda and their absence of integrity," Pompeo said in a statement released by the State Department. This kind of behavior is boorish, bullying, misogynistic, and needlessly offensive. It is anything but diplomatic. That is no surprise. Pompeo serves a president for whom bullying is more than a tool for getting things done — it appears to be his raison d'etre. Over the weekend, Trump tweeted an apparent threat against Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who has served as one of the leaders among the House impeachment managers. At the same time, a recording emerged of a 2018 dinner in which Trump ordered the end of Marie Yovanovitch's term as ambassador to Ukraine with the words, "Take her out." Trump can't fire somebody without sounding like a cheap movie mobster ordering a hit. But the truth is that Pompeo doesn't need Trump's influence to be a jerk; his own ability to negotiate situations sensibly and peacefully is questionable. Resolving disputes without playing tough guy isn't really his thing. Pompeo went to West Point — as we've been told repeatedly, he graduated first in his class. He earned a reputation as a hawk during his time in Congress, particularly where Iraq was concerned. And when Trump came to office, Pompeo went to work running the CIA, a job that includes overseeing drone attacks and other covert operations against America's enemies. As secretary of state, he urged the assassination of Iran's General Qassem Soleimani. The entirety of his public service has been spent in arenas where disputes are often settled with violence, or threats of violence.

1-27-20 'They are invaders': Brazil indigenous group takes on mining giant
As Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro seeks to authorise mining in indigenous reserves, a conflict with 12,000 members of the Mura indigenous group over a big potash mine in a remote area of the Amazon rainforest may forewarn troubles that lie ahead, report Sue Branford and Thaïs Borges from Autazes. The company wanting to open the mine is Potássio do Brasil, a subsidiary of the Canadian conglomerate Forbes & Manhattan. Potash is an important fertiliser used heavily by agribusiness. In 2010 Potássio do Brasil discovered huge potash reserves in the municipal district of Autazes, 112km (70 miles) east of Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state. It quickly announced its plan to open a vast $2.5bn (£3.25bn) potash mine. By a stroke of good luck for the mining company, the potash reserves are located beside the Madeira river, a waterway used to transport soya from Brazil's largest soya-producing state, Mato Grosso, to ports on the Amazon for transhipment on to China and Europe. "Instead of travelling empty back up the Madeira River [to the soya farms in Mato Grosso], as happens today, the barges could go stacked full of potash," explains Guilherme Jácome, project development director at Potássio do Brasil. This would make the mine highly cost-effective. Potássio do Brasil quickly obtained authorisation from Brazil's mining agency to drill exploratory wells and began prospecting in 2013. But then the indigenous communities woke up to what was happening. Speaking beside one of the exploratory wells, located on what the Mura claim is ancestral land, Aldinélson Pavão, the leader of the village of Urucurituba, could not hide his indignation. "I am 47 years old," Mr Pavão said. "I was born here and brought up here. My parents and grandparents too. So I won't be told by Potássio, that comes from outside, that this land isn't ours. It is our land and they are the invaders."

1-27-20 Harsh peer reviewer comments disproportionately affect minorities
Excessively scathing, mean or critical comments received through peer review may have more of an effect on women and ethnic minority researchers. An anonymous survey of more than 1000 scientists found that these people were more likely to question their scientific aptitude after receiving such comments, whereas white men were more likely to say that they didn’t see unpleasant comments as reflective of their scientific ability. Peer review involves scientists anonymously assessing the work of other researchers as part of the processes of publishing journal papers and choosing which research proposals to award funding. Sometimes, peer review comments can be personally hurtful. To investigate how often this happens and the effect such comments may have, Nyssa Silbiger at California State University and Amber Stubler at Occidental College, also in California, surveyed 1106 researchers from 46 countries and 14 different science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Silbiger and Stubler asked specifically about peer review comments that are “unprofessional”, which they defined as either lacking constructive criticism, directly targeting a scientist rather than their science or being “mean-spirited”. Out of those who responded to the survey, 58 per cent said they had received such comments. Those reported included “what the authors have done is an insult to science” and “this paper is simply manure”. Some reported comments that directly suggested a career change, such as “you should look closely at a career outside of science”. Others reported comments that were overtly sexist, such as “the first author is a woman. She should be in the kitchen, not writing papers.” Another comment reportedly read: “Despite being a woman, [she] was trained by several leading men in the field and is thus likely adequately prepared to lead the proposed research.”

1-27-20 Auschwitz 75 years on: Holocaust Day prompts new anti-Semitism warnings
Holocaust survivors and international leaders are honouring victims of the Nazis at the former Auschwitz death camp, amid calls to fight resurgent anti-Semitism. The presidents of Israel and Poland - Reuven Rivlin and Andrzej Duda - laid wreaths together, 75 years after Soviet troops liberated the camp. About 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Mr Rivlin warned of "voices which spread hate" and threaten democracy. "Our duty is to fight anti-Semitism, racism and fascist nostalgia - those sick evils," he said. He and President Duda laid wreaths at the Death Wall, where the Nazis shot thousands of prisoners. The vast Auschwitz-Birkenau camp complex, in Nazi-occupied southern Poland, was the regime's most notorious killing centre. Thousands of Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, Gypsies (Roma) and other persecuted groups also died there. Nazi Germany murdered about six million Jews in its campaign to dominate other races and nations. This may be the last major anniversary where so many survivors are able to attend. There is widespread concern about high levels of anti-Semitic intimidation and violence in several countries and the proliferation of hate speech on the internet. In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke at a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary, including additions to a wall of remembrance for 77,000 Jews deported to concentration camps from France. The Shoah Memorial was renovated, with 175 extra names and 1,498 more birth dates added after research in Holocaust archives. "The return of this anti-Semitism is not just a problem for Jews. It is a problem for all of us. It is the Republic's problem," President Macron said. More than 200 survivors travelled to Auschwitz from across the globe to mark the 75th anniversary. Many wore blue-and-white scarves - a reminder of the striped prison uniforms that victims wore in the concentration camps. A woman who was born in the camp a few months before liberation, 75-year-old Jadwiga Wakulska, said "my mother was holding me in her arms as a four-month-old child, as she was standing in line to the gas chamber.

1-26-20 Three women who were part of a quiet resistance against the Nazis in Berlin
In the heart of Hitler’s Nazi Germany, ordinary people worked tirelessly and at great risk to themselves to help those whose lives were threatened. Among them was Ruth Winkelmann, who witnessed 16 members of her family being taken away to concentration camps. She managed to live in a garden shed for two years, hiding her Jewish heritage. Elisabeth Charlotte Gloeden – known as Liselotte or “Lilo” – along with her husband Erich, hid Jews in their home in Berlin, before arranging safe passage for them out of Germany. The couple’s efforts went undetected until 1944 when they took in General Fritz Lindemann, who was being hunted by the Gestapo for being part of the plot to assassinate Hitler. And finally Felicitas Narloch, who provided shelter to a Jewish woman who arrived on her doorstep asking for help. She was was just a teenager, but says "anyone would do the same."

1-26-20 China coronavirus 'spreads before symptoms show'
A new coronavirus that has spread to almost 2,000 people is infectious in its incubation period - before symptoms show - making it harder to contain, Chinese officials say. Some 56 people have died from the virus. Health minister Ma Xiaowei told reporters the ability of the virus to spread appeared to be strengthening. Several Chinese cities have imposed significant travel restrictions. Wuhan in Hubei, the source of the outbreak, is in effective lockdown. The infections were at a "crucial stage of containment", Ma Xiaowei said. Officials announced that the sale of all wildlife in China would be banned from Sunday. The virus is thought to have originated in animals, but no cause has been officially identified. In humans, the incubation period - during which a person has the disease, but no symptoms yet - ranges from between one and 14 days, officials believe. Without symptoms, a person may not know they have the infection, but still be able to spread it. This is a significant development in our understanding of the virus and the lengths China will have to go to stop it. People with Sars (the last deadly coronavirus outbreak to hit China) and Ebola are contagious only when symptoms appear. Such outbreaks are relatively easy to stop - identify and isolate people who are sick and monitor anyone they came into contact with. Flu, however, is the most famous example of a virus that you spread before you even know you're ill. We are not at the stage where people are saying this could be a global pandemic like swine flu. But stopping such "symptomless spreaders" will make the job of the Chinese authorities much harder. There are still crucial questions - how infectious are people during the incubation period and did any of the patients outside China spread the disease in those countries before becoming sick? And why did China's National Health Commission say the transmission ability of this virus is getting stronger?

1-25-20 How social media misinformation wins — even if you don't believe it
Disinformation is propaganda. It can also be incredibly effective, even when we know it's not true. Almost 15 years after Stephen Colbert introduced the term "truthiness" into the modern lexicon, news consumers find themselves awash in a deluge of misinformation, fake news, and alternative facts. The problem is two-fold: if disinformation fits their already established worldview, people believe it. At the same time, if disinformation doesn't fit their worldview, it affects people's views of those sharing it. Either way, it contributes to widespread political divisiveness and pits Americans against each other. At this point, we're all familiar with the prevalence of misinformation online. For instance, as the Australian bushfires raged, the hashtag #arsonemergency blamed arson — not climate change — for the blazes. Researchers at Queensland University of Technology identified that many of the accounts pushing the arson narrative were trolls or bots. During the 2016 election, the Russian Internet Research Agency created hundreds of fake Facebook pages with names like "Blacktivist," "Born Liberal" and "Army of Jesus". There's every reason to think they'll work from the same playbook during the 2020 election season, as evidenced by the reported recent hacking of the Ukranian gas company with ties to Hunter Biden. Facebook, used by 70 percent of American adults, recently stated the company would not attempt to sort through the veracity of claims in political advertisements. To be sure, the billions of global social media users on all platforms need to be careful with the information they consume and share. Fact-checking websites such as snopes.com or politfact.com can help discern outright falsehoods. Sites such as All Sides help illustrate how different news outlets frame their stories. For Twitter users, bot detectors such as botometer or bot sentinel allow anyone to see what conversations bots are pushing.

1-25-20 The battle over voting
Democrats accuse the GOP of trying to discourage millions of citizens from casting ballots. Is that true? Since the 2010 election, 25 states have instituted new restrictions that make it harder to vote. The measures include shorter voting hours; the shuttering of polling places in minority neighborhoods; new limitations on early voting, especially on college campuses; new voter identification laws requiring a state-issued photo ID to cast a ballot; and new restrictions on Election Day registration. All these provisions, Democrats say, have a very distinct goal: to suppress voting among constituencies that tend to vote Democratic, including blacks and Hispanics, the poor, young people, and shift workers. Georgia, for example, has adopted an "exact match" system that rejects a voter's registration form if the name on it differs from the person's name in the state system by so much as a hyphen, apostrophe, or middle initial — a law that critics have wryly termed "disenfranchisement by typo." Other states have conducted campaigns to purge voters who have not voted in consecutive elections, or have moved or failed to reply to mailings. From 2014 to 2018, 33 million voter registrations were purged nationwide. "It's shocking," said Dr. Daniel A. Smith, chair of the political science department at the University of Florida. "We don't ask gun owners to fire their weapons every two years and revoke their licenses four years later if they don't." Republicans claim the efforts are necessary to combat voter fraud. Numerous studies, however, have shown that fraud — especially impersonating someone else — is extraordinarily rare. After the 2016 presidential election, in which 136 million votes were cast, law enforcement officials in 34 states found a total of eight credible instances of fraud. Conservatives also argue that routine purging of voter rolls is necessary to remove those who are dead or have moved away. A 2012 study by the Pew Center on the States found 24 million registrations that were either invalid or inaccurate. Claims that voter registration purges are partisan and unfair, said David Harsanyi, a senior writer for the National Review, are "destructive scaremongering meant to undermine American belief in the veracity of our elections."

1-25-20 Why China’s LGBT hide their identities at Lunar New Year
China is marking the annual Lunar New Year holiday, which for most people means getting together with family and loved ones. This year, the celebrations have been overshadowed by the new virus sweeping the country, which has meant many people won't or can't travel home. But some members of China's LGBT community have always dreaded the holiday period, because going home means being confronted with unwelcome questions. "For some parents, it's the end of the world when their children are queer," said Fan Popo, a filmmaker, writer and activist from Shandong, earlier this week. "I am already seeing people complaining when they get home," he told the BBC earlier this week. "They are being asked by family members about when they are getting married." Homosexuality has been legal in China for more than two decades and the Chinese Society of Psychiatry stopped classifying it as a mental disorder in 2001. But same-sex marriage is not recognised, and some LGBT people still struggle for acceptance, especially when it comes to close family members with traditional expectations. A report by the United Nations Development Programme in 2016 found no more than 15% of LGBT people in China come out to their close family members. "Some people who have already come out successfully are proud," Xie Xiao, a member of CINEMQ, a queer cinema collective based in Shanghai, told the BBC. "Meanwhile some people are scared to death of whether their family members know anything about their sexuality." In recent years a number of big companies have shown their support for the LGBT community in China - and for the potential market the community offers. In 2015, e-commerce giant Alibaba staged a promotional event to send seven same-sex couples to the US so that they could marry. And Nike has been known to sponsor T-shirts at the Shanghai Pride run. Tim Hildebrandt, associate professor at London School of Economics' Department of Social Policy, said Chinese companies were waking up to the LGBT market in the same way the West has.

1-24-20 Now China no longer needs us
China was the clear winner in the past two years of trade negotiations, said Zachary Karabell. “At best, the Phase 1 agreement” signed last week by President Trump “modestly revises the status quo before Trump came into office.” The main takeaway—China’s pledge to increase its imports of American goods by as much as $200 billion over the next two years—barely restores China’s agricultural purchases to where they were before 2017. “If one of your main customers boycotts you and then agrees to start buying again but buying less, it would be disingenuous to announce that they had promised to buy more.” Meanwhile, our small gains on intellectual property protections are now barely relevant. “China conceded on intellectual property because it now cares far more about developing its own than stealing from the United States.” The main effect of the trade war was to reinforce China’s sense that the U.S. “was no longer a reliable economic partner.” With China shifting to a consumer economy, the U.S. “could have continued to benefit from China’s economic rise.” Instead, the U.S. has ceded whatever leverage we might have had and speeded China’s push to “build a domestic economy and military that are immune from the coercive whims of the United States.”

1-24-20 Trump: The rant that stunned his Cabinet
Americans know that President Trump often acts like a “middle-school playground bully,” said Joe Klein in The Washington Post. But in a new book, entitled A Very Stable Genius, we get a jaw-dropping example of Trump at his worst, as he launched an “astonishing verbal assault” on his national security team. The incident occurred six months into Trump’s term, when former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and national security adviser H.R. McMaster convened a meeting between the president and the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon to educate him about the importance of America’s strategic alliances. Feeling that he was “being patronized,” Trump went ballistic. He demanded to know why the generals weren’t charging allies for “our soldiers” and military bases. “We should make money off of everything!” he yelled, berating his Cabinet as “losers” and “dopes and babies.” In an insult that left the military brass looking down at the table, the red-faced president shouted, “I wouldn’t go to war with you people.” The episode at the Pentagon is but one in a book that reads like a “comic horror story,” said Dwight Garner in The New York Times. Other passages reveal that Trump once implored Tillerson to help get rid of a law prohibiting U.S. companies from bribing foreign officials to win business, and that during a trip to Hawaii Trump “appeared to have no idea” about what happened at Pearl Harbor. Trump once told an astonished Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “It’s not like you’ve got China on your border,” despite 2,500 miles of shared frontier. Trump is not the only one who comes off badly in this book, said Paul Waldman in The Washington Post. Tillerson, Mattis, and other administration officials had a patriotic responsibility to sound the alarm on “how dangerous Trump is” and how utterly unfit he is for the presidency. Instead, they remain “shamefully silent” to this day.

1-24-20 Getting away with blatant self-enrichment
Donald Trump has pulled off what no president in history has done, said Anita Kumar: “fusing his private business interests with America’s highest public office.” Trump has made a mockery of his 2016 pledge to abstain from doing business while in the White House, leveraging his office to funnel millions of public dollars to his properties and creating a vast web of potential conflicts of interest. “The intersections between Trump Inc. and President Trump are everywhere.” To curry favor, conservative groups have spent more than $8 million at Trump properties since 2016, and T-Mobile executives stayed at Trump’s D.C. hotel while seeking approval for a merger. Foreign governments rent condos in his buildings, and state-owned companies in China, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea have built Trump-branded golf courses and condos. Trump himself has spent one out of three days as president at one of his own properties, charging taxpayers millions for not only the frequent flights but also the rooms used by aides and the Secret Service. In response to congressional investigations and lawsuits, Trump has dismissed the Constitution’s emoluments clause as “phony,” and insists the public doesn’t care. If he continues to get away with milking the presidency, he will be proved right.

1-24-20 Turning back migrants
There were violent scenes on the Mexican-Guatemalan border this week as Mexican security forces pushed back hundreds of Central Americans trying to enter the country and head north to the U.S. National Guard officers wielding plastic shields blocked the migrants when they tried to cross a bridge over the river that separates Mexico and Guatemala. Migrants then tried to ford the river but were repelled by troops firing tear gas. Mexico once let caravans of migrants freely traverse the country, but changed the policy following threats of sanctions from President Trump. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said migrants should only enter the country legally, because if they go undocumented, “the criminal gangs grab them and assault them.”

1-24-20 Claim delayed
The Supreme Court denied a motion this week to review an attack on the Affordable Care Act before the presidential election. House Democrats and 20 Democratic-led states had pushed for an “emergency” appeal, hoping to draw voters’ attention to a Republican lawsuit that could gut the health-care law. The Trump administration argues that because Congress reduced the tax penalty on individuals who don’t buy insurance to $0, the rest of the ACA should be invalidated. In December, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the individual mandate is now unconstitutional, but didn’t address whether it can be “severed” from the statute. District Judge Reed O’Connor of Texas ruled in 2018 that the entire law must go, staying his decision pending appeal. Democrats said the case poses a “severe, immediate” threat to millions of Americans, but the Supreme Court could now take years to weigh in.

1-24-20 One-way ticket
Immigration officials defied a judge’s order this week and sent a student back to Iran who’d been granted a visa to attend Northeastern University. Shahab Dehghani, 24, was detained at Boston’s Logan International Airport, and NBC News reports that he was deemed to have family connections to individuals “intricately involved” in a terrorist organization. At least 11 Iranians with valid student visas have been blocked from entering the U.S. since August, amid growing military tension with Iran. Dehghani’s attorneys filed an emergency petition, and Judge Richard Stearns ordered a 48-hour stay before a hearing. Nevertheless, Customs and Border Protection agents put Dehghani—who previously studied in Boston from 2016 to 2017—on a plane to France. Stearns said he couldn’t compel CBP agents to bring Dehghani back to the U.S. “I don’t think they’re going to listen to me,” he said.

1-24-20 Investigating the investigator
Pope Francis has ordered an investigation into a sexual abuse allegation against Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, who himself was tapped last September by the Vatican to investigate an abuse scandal at the diocese in Buffalo. Mark Matzek, 56, alleges he was repeatedly abused in the 1970s by the late Rev. Albert Mark and by DiMarzio when he was a parish priest in Jersey City, the Associated Press reported this week. DiMarzio said he’d be “fully vindicated” by the probe. His investigation into accusations that the Buffalo diocese let an abusive priest remain on the job led to the resignation of Bishop Richard Malone last month. Matzek seeks $20 million in compensation, suing at the start of a two-year “look back” period in New Jersey that exempts sexual abuse victims from the statute of limitations.

1-24-20 Supreme Court may allow public aid to religious schools
The Supreme Court appeared ready this week to knock down state rules that block government aid to religious schools, a potential watershed victory for the Christian right. The court’s five conservatives seemed to side with the Trump administration during oral arguments for Espinoza v. Montana, in which three low-income parents claim their rights were violated when the state excluded religious schools from a 2015 state tax credit program. The Montana Supreme Court ultimately struck down the entire program, saying it violated the state constitution’s ban on taxpayer dollars supporting religious education, even indirectly. Thirty-six state constitutions have “no-aid” provisions similar to Montana’s. Chief Justice John Roberts compared the parents’ plight to racial bias. “How is that different from religion, which is also protected under the First Amendment?” he asked. The case could have far-reaching consequences, as the court increasingly expands the ability of faith-based institutions to receive taxpayer dollars. In 2017, for example, the justices ruled 7-2 that a Lutheran church in Missouri could use public funds to resurface its playground, with Roberts calling the state’s restrictions “odious to our Constitution.” Montana’s tax credits were meant to benefit private schools in general, but the bulk of them ended up going to religious schools. Now that the program has been eliminated, several justices questioned whether the issue is still relevant. “I am having trouble seeing where the harm in this case is,” Justice Elena Kagan said. “There is no discrimination at this point.” That has things exactly backward, said Rachel Laser in WashingtonPost.com. “Private religious schools don’t adhere to the same nondiscrimination laws that public schools do.” Those schools have denied admission “because a student or parent is LGBTQ,” and fired teachers “for being pregnant and unmarried.” Funding religious institutions while giving them exemptions from laws they don’t like “is not equal treatment—it’s religious privilege.”

1-24-20 Pro–gun rights activists rally in Virginia
Virginia’s Democratic-controlled legislature pushed ahead with a package of gun-control laws this week, after 22,000 gun-rights activists from across the nation—many dressed in camouflage and carrying military-style rifles—gathered outside the Capitol to protest the planned restrictions. Fears of violence ran high in the days before the demonstration. The FBI last week arrested three members of a white supremacist group called The Base who allegedly hoped to spark a race war by shooting civilians and police officers at the rally. The potential presence of extremist groups led Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, to temporarily ban firearms from Capitol grounds. But the hours-long demonstration in Richmond unfolded peacefully, with protesters chanting “We will not comply” and “USA! USA!” After taking control of the state government last fall for the first time in 26 years, Democrats promised to swiftly enact new limits on firearms. The package working its way through the legislature includes bills that would impose universal background checks and a one-handgun-a-month purchase limit, and allow the temporary confiscation of firearms from people deemed a threat to themselves or others. The bills have rankled many rural residents in a state that’s long supported gun rights, and over 100 municipalities have declared themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries.” But Democrats said they were responding to the concerns of their constituents, many of whom demanded action after 12 people died in a mass shooting in Virginia Beach last year. “You will see sensible gun violence prevention legislation pass this year,” said Democratic Del. Alfonso Lopez. Let’s call this rally what it really was, said Will Bunch in The Philadelphia Inquirer: “An outbreak of terrorism on American soil.” Wearing face masks and carting “enough firepower to defeat the Ukrainian army”—one man packed a military-grade .50-caliber sniper rifle—this armed gang aimed to terrify lawmakers. In part, they succeeded. One legislator took shelter in a safe house after being bombarded with “death threats from these ‘patriotic Americans.’”

1-24-20 Russia: Putin’s plot to stay in power
Russian President Vladimir Putin “no longer has an understudy,” said Ukrayinska Pravda (Ukraine). That is the most obvious takeaway from Putin’s announcement last week of a constitutional shake-up and the subsequent mass resignation of his government. Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev—a Putin sidekick since the 1990s who obligingly served as placeholder president from 2008 to 2012 when his boss bumped up against presidential term limits—has now been shunted to a new role as deputy head of the nation’s security council and is no longer considered Putin’s automatic successor. Under Putin’s constitutional proposals, presidential powers will be somewhat curtailed, with the national legislature choosing the prime minister and the government. The State Council, up until now a largely decorative body, will get unspecified new powers. These changes are likely Putin’s bid to preserve his authority when his final presidential term ends in 2024. Which post he will then assume is uncertain, but he could be following the path set out by Kazakh dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev. After nearly 30 years as president, Nazarbayev transferred authority to the obscure Security Council and then assumed leadership of that body. Today, in Kazakhstan, the new president “is forced to agree with Nazarbayev on all key appointments and decisions.” (Webmaster's comment: A new dictator comes to power!)

1-24-20 Tell us what happened to Wallenberg
Seventy-five years after his disappearance, we still don’t know the fate of the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust, said Irwin Cotler. Raoul Wallenberg, a non-Jew who was stationed at the Swedish Embassy in Hungary during World War II, is considered one of the Righteous Among the Nations because of his exceptional courage. Before he arrived in Budapest in July 1944, “some 440,000 Hungarian Jews had been deported to Auschwitz in 10 weeks—the fastest, cruelest, and most efficient mass murder of the Holocaust.” Over the next six months, Wallenberg rescued 100,000 Jews, by issuing diplomatic passports, setting up diplomatic safe houses, and warning Nazi generals that they would be executed for war crimes if they bombed Budapest’s ghetto. Yet “he was not himself saved.” The Soviets, who entered Hungary as liberators in January 1945, sent Wallenberg to the gulag and claimed he died there two years later. International inquiries, though, found compelling evidence that he was alive in the 1960s and possibly lived into the ’80s. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was in Israel this week to speak at the International Holocaust Commemorative Forum, should open the archives and tell us the fate of this “hero of humanity.”

1-24-20 Man uses warm coffee to rescue kittens frozen to ground
A quick-thinking oil worker in Alberta, Canada, used warm coffee to rescue kittens frozen to the ground. He was able to find them a new home after sharing the rescue story on Facebook.

1-22-20 How black activism has been shaped by tech and data for 100 years
An exhibition and new book trace the battle, fought via infographics and social media platforms, to make black communities in the US visible through technology. DECADES before the creation of social media and the birth of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, early adopters of the internet were using precursors of email, user forums and the web to organise black communities in the US and beyond and push for racial justice. In his book Black Software: The internet and racial justice, from the AfroNet to Black Lives Matter, Charlton D. McIlwain at New York University highlights the lives and histories of those pioneers who explored and used the internet for digital activism, creating a space for the African American community. McIlwain has made excellent use of his position as the founder of New York University’s centre for critical race and digital studies. In the book, he combines first-person interviews with historical online and offline correspondence and other archive materials to bring the stories and perspectives of these forgotten figures to light. Over five decades, beginning in the 1960s with the rise of the civil rights movement in the US and the start of the computing revolution, McIlwain traces a path from this “vanguard” to present-day activists, campaigners and organisers. In the first half of the book we learn how black entrepreneurs, engineers, information technicians, hobbyists, journalists and activists connected with each other, using new technologies as they emerged: bulletin board systems and the Usenet network in the 1970s, file-sharing and CD-ROMs in the 1980s. The Universal Black Pages, a comprehensive online directory of African American-related internet resources, was launched in July 1994. McIlwain describes its rise and fall, along with websites such as NetNoir and AfroNet. This was an experimental era, which ultimately fell victim to the dotcom bust in 2000. In the second half of the book, McIlwain delves deeper, back to the origins of the computing revolution, showing how the technology was put to use to “set America’s principles of white supremacy loose to run amuck in new computational systems”.

1-24-20 Second US coronavirus patient is examined by robot
A second person in the US has been diagnosed with the coronavirus, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced. The patient is reportedly a woman in her 60s who had returned home to Chicago from Wuhan in China - where the outbreak began - on 13 January. The woman is in isolation in hospital and is stable, state officials say. Globally, there are more than 800 confirmed cases of the virus, which has killed 26 people in China. The patient felt symptoms after she returned home and was admitted to hospital "where infection control measures were taken to reduce the risk of transmission to other individuals," the CDC said in a press release. Health officials in Chicago are "investigating locations where this patient went after returning to Illinois and are identifying any close contacts who were possibly exposed". The first case of the infection was detected on 21 January in Washington state in a man who had recently returned from Wuhan. On Thursday, Washington state officials said they were monitoring 43 people who were deemed "close contacts" of the patient for any signs of symptoms. Close contacts are deemed to be anyone who was within 6ft (2m) of the patient. The patient - a man in his 30s - is to have only limited contact with hospital staff, and is being examined by a robot, doctors say. The robot has the ability to check the patient's vital signs and has video-cameras build into it. It is manipulated by medical staff inside the isolated chamber of the hospital's pathogen unit. So far the 16 doctors and nurses that interacted with the man at the Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, have showed no sign of illness, said Dr George Diaz, section chief of infectious diseases at the hospital. There are 63 patients in 22 states being investigated for signs of the rare respiratory illness, the CDC told reporters in a conference call on Friday. US officials warn that there are no vaccines for the coronavirus, which is thought to have begun in animals before being transferred to humans, and there is no specific treatment plan.

1-24-20 What are the symptoms of the new coronavirus and how deadly is it?
At the end of 2019, health authorities in China alerted the world to a potentially new virus that had caused pneumonia in a handful of people in Wuhan since mid-December. The number of cases has since exploded, with more than 600 cases confirmed as of 23 January. The virus has been confirmed to be a new coronavirus, in the same family as SARS and MERS. Coronaviruses are common, and typically cause mild respiratory symptoms such as a cough or runny nose. Some are more dangerous. SARS, which infected more than 8000 people, was responsible for 774 deaths during an outbreak that began in 2003. MERS, which was first identified in 2012, is even more deadly – around 34 per cent of people infected with the virus die. People who have been diagnosed with the virus tend to have a fever and cough, and some have difficulty breathing. The symptoms appear to set in at some point between two days and two weeks after the person has been exposed to the virus, according to health authorities. Health authorities in China have sequenced the genome of the virus and have shared this information, allowing groups around the world to be able to test for the virus. There are no specific antiviral treatments for the infection, so those with the virus are treated for their symptoms. The World Health Organization told journalists this week that the agency is still working to pin down the source of the virus. But many of the first confirmed cases were in people who had visited a food market in Wuhan. The market, which sells live farmed and wild animals, has since been closed and disinfected. The same genetic analysis suggests that the virus may have developed the ability to jump from snakes to people thanks to a mutation in a gene for a protein. If the virus was secreted in the animals’ faeces, this could have become aerosolised and breathed in, some researchers speculate.

1-24-20 WHO says China’s coronavirus outbreak isn’t a global emergency yet
The Chinese government has locked down several large cities to stop the virus from spreading further. The outbreak of a novel coronavirus in China has not yet risen to the level of a global public health emergency, the World Health Organization said January 23 — even as the death toll and number of people sickened rose steeply from just days ago. Since the virus emerged in December in the central Chinese city of Wuhan (SN: 1/10/20), it has killed at least 17 people out of 557 confirmed cases in China and at least six other countries, WHO said. That’s already double the number of cases reported by Chinese officials just two days earlier, though the jump may be a result of more robust monitoring. Still, China has responded by putting several cities under lockdown in hopes of containing the virus. “Make no mistake, this is an emergency in China,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a news conference. “But it has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one.” So far, there is no evidence for human-to-human transmission outside of China, though “that doesn’t mean that it won’t happen,” Ghebreyesus said. About a quarter of patients develop severe pneumonia-like symptoms, though most of the 17 deaths occurred in patients with preexisting health conditions, he said. Declaring a “public health emergency of international concern,” or PHEIC for short, would give the WHO director-general more leeway in recommending responses to the threat, including suggesting travel or trade restrictions. Those recommendations aren’t legally binding, but the declaration can encourage greater cooperation among governments and public health officials. The global health watchdog introduced the PHEIC designation after the 2002/2003 SARS outbreak that killed 774. Since then, only five emergencies have been declared: the 2009 influenza pandemic, the 2013–2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, a 2014 outbreak of polio, a 2016 outbreak of Zika (SN: 2/1/16) and the ongoing Ebola outbreak in Congo (SN: 7/17/19).

1-24-20 China coronavirus: Lunar New Year subdued as outbreak spreads
China is marking the Lunar New Year, one of the most important dates in its calendar, while concerns grow about the coronavirus outbreak. As millions go home for the holidays, travel restrictions have been expanded to 13 cities - home to more than 36 million people - in Hubei province, the centre of the outbreak. There are currently 830 confirmed cases in China, 26 of whom have died. Wuhan, where the outbreak began, is rapidly building a new hospital. The city - home to around 11 million people - is struggling to cope with the increasing number of patients. State-owned news outlet Changjiang Daily said the 1,000-bed hospital could be ready by 3 February. A total of 35 diggers and 10 bulldozers are currently working on the site. The project will "solve the shortage of existing medical resources" and would be "built fast [and] not cost much... because it will be prefabricated buildings", the outlet said. Videos have been circulating on social media, reportedly taken by Wuhan residents, showing long queues at local hospitals. Travel restrictions vary from city to city. Wuhan is effectively on lockdown: all bus, metro and ferry services have been suspended, and all outbound planes and trains cancelled. Residents have been advised not to leave, and roadblocks have been reported. Ezhou, a smaller city in Hubei, shut its railway station. The city of Enshi has suspended all bus services. City officials in the capital, Beijing, and Shanghai have asked residents who return from affected areas to stay at home for 14 days to prevent the spread of the virus, local media report. Authorities have also shut major tourist sites including the Forbidden City in Beijing and a section of the Great Wall, and cancelled major public events in other parts of the country. Shanghai's Disney Resort is temporarily closing, as are McDonald's restaurants in five cities.

1-24-20 China coronavirus: The lessons learned from the Sars outbreak
In March 2003 it became clear a mysterious and previously unknown disease was starting to spread around the world. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) went on to infect more than 8,000 people and kill almost 800. Many of those it infected, including doctors, went from having flu-like symptoms to severe pneumonia within days. The virus spread to 26 countries and China was criticised by the UN's global health body for concealing the scale of the outbreak. Now, 17 years later, the spread of a new deadly coronavirus is reviving memories of Sars and putting global scrutiny back on to the Chinese government. China has responded with tough measures, including effectively quarantining millions of residents in cities. But has its response gone far enough? And what lessons did it learn from the deadly Sars outbreak in 2003? Sars posed a huge challenge to China both as a public health crisis and a political one. The World Health Organization (WHO) was first alerted to reports of severe and unusual cases of pneumonia in the country's south in February 2003. Local officials said more than 300 people had become sick. Despite initial openness, other local government officials appeared to play down the risk or suggest the mystery threat was contained. Analysts who studied the Chinese response said the issue soon disappeared from the spotlight. Investigations later showed the first infections appeared in Guangdong Province in November 2002, but it took months for the scale of China's Sars crisis to be exposed. Physician Jiang Yanyong alerted the international media in April that the Chinese government was drastically understating the Sars threat. Advice was circulated to hospitals and the director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even issued an unprecedented apology over the spread. "Our medical departments and mass media suffered from poor co-ordination," Li Liming told a news conference. Combating Sars was complicated because of uncertainties about how it was spreading. The WHO issued its first global alert on 12 March 2003 after a patient hospitalised in Hanoi, Vietnam led to handfuls of medical staff becoming sick. Hong Kong's Department of Health also confirmed outbreaks of respiratory illness among its hospital workers.

1-24-20 Coronavirus: What are viruses? And how do they spread?
Concerns are growing that the recently-detected coronavirus may spread around the world. The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine's Dr Rosalind Eggo explains how that can happen.

1-24-20 Detroit bank calls police on black man depositing cheque
A US man is suing a bank in Detroit after employees called the police when he tried to deposit cheques at their branch. Sauntore Thomas had attempted to put in money he had won after settling a racial discrimination lawsuit against his former employer. But the bank allegedly said they would have to verify the cheques. As Mr Thomas waited, the police arrived. TCF bank has since apologised to Mr Thomas in a statement. "Local police should not have been involved," the statement read, according to the Detroit Free Press. "We strongly condemn racism and discrimination of any kind." The bank said they could not validate Mr Thomas's cheques and said they take extra precautions when large sums of money are involved. But Mr Thomas, a US Air Force veteran, is now suing the bank. "They discriminated against me because I'm black. None of this would have happened if I were white," he told the Free Press. His lawsuit says he faced resistance for "banking while black", the New York Times reports. Mr Thomas, a Detroit resident, had successfully settled a lawsuit he lodged against his former employer for a confidential amount, and went to TCF bank to deposit the cheques. He had held an account at the bank for almost two years. But when he tried to open a savings account for the money at the Livonia branch, staff said they would need to verify the cheques. The assistant bank manager - herself a black woman - went to a backroom, before returning and telling Mr Thomas their team member who verifies cheques was not there. She allegedly asked him how he got the money. Ten minutes later - after Mr Thomas said he would wait in the lobby for the staff member to return - four police officers arrived. "I didn't give them any type of indication that I was getting upset," he told Buzzfeed News, mindful of high profile cases in which black people have been killed by police officers. "I wanted to make sure I stayed as level-headed as possible, because I wasn't going to be the next person on the ground saying, 'I can't breathe.'"

1-24-20 Neo-Nazi Rinaldo Nazzaro running US militant group The Base from Russia
The American founder of US-based militant neo-Nazi group The Base is directing the organisation from Russia, a BBC investigation has found. Rinaldo Nazzaro, 46, who uses the aliases "Norman Spear" and "Roman Wolf", left New York for St Petersburg less than two years ago. The Base is a major counter terrorism focus for the FBI. Seven alleged members were charged this month with various offences, including conspiracy to commit murder. The group - founded around July 2018 - gains followers online, communicates using encrypted messaging applications, and encourages members to engage in paramilitary training. The leader's real identity had long been a mystery. However, multiple images and videos of Nazzaro - taken over several years in both the USA and Russia - show the man known to be The Base founder, who goes by the two aliases. He has previously used photographs of himself when promoting the group online. Last year Nazzaro was listed as a guest at a Russian government security exhibition in Moscow, which "focused on the demonstration of the results of state policy and achievements". A video posted online in March 2019 shows Nazzaro in Russia wearing a t-shirt bearing an image of President Vladimir Putin along with the words "Russia, absolute power". We traced Nazzaro and his Russian wife to an upmarket property in central St Petersburg purchased in her name in July 2018 - the same month to which the FBI dates the creation of The Base. Records show that, before moving to Russia, Nazzaro ran a company registered in New York that offered access to a "network of security professionals" with expertise in intelligence, counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and psychological operations. A website for the firm - Omega Solutions - once stated: "Our associates have worked with various government and military agencies, including multiple wartime deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan". (Webmaster's comment: We need to lock this human scum up and throw away the key!)

1-24-20 Huge rally as Iraqis demand US troops pull out
Huge crowds have taken to the streets of Iraq's capital, Baghdad, to demand that US forces leave Iraq. Powerful Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr earlier called for a million people to join Friday's march, close to the US embassy in the capital. Iranian-backed militias are among those protesting in the city. The US killing of the top Iranian military commander, Gen Qasem Soleimani, on 3 January at Baghdad airport has fuelled tensions. Also assassinated in the US drone strike was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi who had commanded the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia group. Iran responded to Gen Soleimani's assassination by carrying out a ballistic missile attack on two airbases housing US forces in Iraq. The US later said there were no US casualties in the 8 January attack. But just hours after the strike, Iran's armed forces fired two missiles at a Ukrainian passenger plane over Iran's capital, Tehran, by mistake, killing all 176 people on board. Protesters started to gather in central Baghdad early on Friday, and several hours later, the area was packed with people. Many carried Iraq's national flags as well as placards denouncing the US military presence in Iraq. The demonstration threatens to eclipse a separate protest movement involving mainly young people who for several months have been demanding a complete overhaul of the Iraqi government, says the BBC's Martin Patience in Baghdad. Earlier this month, Iraqi lawmakers passed a non-binding resolution calling for foreign troops to leave the country. Some 5,000 US soldiers are in Iraq as part of the international coalition against the Islamic State (IS) group. The two airbases targeted by Iran are in Irbil and al-Asad, west of Baghdad. The assassination of Gen Soleimani - head of the Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds Force and architect of Iran's policy in the region - was a major escalation in already deteriorating relations between Iran and the US. (Webmaster's comment: Our troops have no right to be there!)

1-24-20 Mexican police push back hundreds of US-bound migrants
Police in southern Mexico have forced back a group of around 1,000 migrants, mainly from Central America, trying to enter the country from Guatemala. Officers with shields and batons pushed the group that left Honduras last week hoping to reach the US border and, eventually, seek asylum. This was their third attempt to cross into Mexico. The Mexican government is under huge economic and diplomatic pressure from the Trump administration to stop migrants from reaching the US southern border. Hundreds of people have already been deported back to Honduras.

1-23-20 First suspected cases of the Wuhan coronavirus in the UK
Three people are being tested for a coronavirus in Edinburgh, and a fourth possible case is thought to be in Glasgow. If these are confirmed, they may become the first known UK cases of the novel coronavirus that has recently emerged in Wuhan, China. The virus can cause fever, difficulty breathing and pneumonia. So far, there have been nearly 600 reported cases of infection and 17 deaths. Most cases have occurred in China, but cases have also been reported in other countries, including Japan and the US. The four people in the UK with suspected infections are thought to all be Chinese nationals. One is a student at the University of Edinburgh. “The situation will be pretty similar in pretty much all UK cities with a large number of Chinese students,” says Jürgen Haas, head of infection medicine at the University of Edinburgh. “It’s not too surprising. My suspicion is that there will probably be many more cases in many other cities in the UK.” In a statement to the UK Parliament today, health minister Matt Hancock said there is an “increased likelihood” of UK cases of the new virus, but that the risk to the public is low. He said the UK’s chief medical adviser has concluded that the country is prepared and well-equipped to deal with any cases that may arise. Hancock added that only essential travel to Wuhan is advised. “Since yesterday, Public Health England officials have been carrying out monitoring of direct flights from Wuhan city and all passengers on direct flights from China will receive information on what to do if they fall ill,” he said.

1-23-20 Can wearing masks stop the spread of viruses?
One of the abiding images of any virus outbreak is people in surgical masks. Using them to prevent infection is popular in many countries around the world, most notably China during the current coronavirus outbreak where they are also worn to protect against high pollution levels. Virologists are sceptical about their effectiveness against airborne viruses. But there is some evidence to suggest the masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions. Surgical masks were first introduced into hospitals in the late 18th Century but they did not make the transition into public use until the Spanish flu outbreak in 1919 that went on to kill over 50 million people. Dr David Carrington, of St George's, University of London, told BBC News "routine surgical masks for the public are not an effective protection against viruses or bacteria carried in the air", which was how "most viruses" were transmitted, because they were too loose, had no air filter and left the eyes exposed. But they could help lower the risk of contracting a virus through the "splash" from a sneeze or a cough and provide some protection against hand-to-mouth transmissions. A 2016 study from New South Wales suggested people touched their faces about 23 times an hour. Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, said: "In one well controlled study in a hospital setting, the face mask was as good at preventing influenza infection as a purpose-made respirator." Respirators, which tend to feature a specialised air filter, are specifically designed to protect against potentially hazardous airborne particles. "However, when you move to studies looking at their effectiveness in the general population, the data is less compelling - it's quite a challenge to keep a mask on for prolonged periods of time," Prof Ball added. Dr Connor Bamford, of the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine, at Queen's University Belfast, said "implementing simple hygiene measures" was vastly more effective. "Covering your mouth while sneezing, washing your hands, and not putting your hands to your mouth before washing them, could help limit the risk of catching any respiratory virus," he said.

1-23-20 'Birth tourism': US steps up scrutiny of pregnant visa applicants
The US Department of State has unveiled new rules to deter pregnant women from travelling to the US to give birth. The policy takes effect on Friday and is intended as a crackdown on what is known as "birth tourism". Under the rule, pregnant women applying for US visitor visas may need to prove they have a specific reason for travel other than giving birth on US soil. Nearly all children born in the US gets automatic citizenship - a law US President Donald Trump has criticised. His administration says the new travel policy is necessary to safeguard US national security and public health. Mr Trump has sought to limit immigration to the US, and has previously questioned the US constitutional amendment that grants citizenship to "all persons born or naturalised in the United States". Conservatives have long decried so-called anchor babies, born in the US to parents who are seeking to live in America. The practice of obtaining a visa to the US on the basis of having other US relatives is known as "chain migration, or family reunification", a policy that has also been criticised by Mr Trump. The new rule applies to visitors seeking B visas, which are issued to non-immigrants. It allows consular officials to deny a visa to any individual whose "primary purpose" in obtaining such documentation is to give birth there. "The final rule addresses concerns about the attendant risks of this activity to national security and law enforcement, including criminal activity associated with the birth tourism industry, as reflected in federal prosecutions of individuals and entities involved in that industry," the Department of State said. "The birth tourism industry is also rife with criminal activity, including international criminal schemes," the policy adds. It also tightens rules on those wishing to enter the US for medical treatment.

1-23-20 Trump rolls back US water pollution controls
The Trump administration is set to scrap protections for America's streams and wetlands, repealing Barack Obama's Waters of the United States regulation. The move, expected Thursday, will dismantle federal protections for more than half of wetlands and hundreds of small waterways in the US. The White House says the change will be a victory for American farmers. But critics say the change will be destructive - part of Mr Trump's wider assault on environmental protections. Under the new regulations, landowners and property developers will be able to pour pesticides, fertilizers and other pollutants directly into the nation's waterways for the first time in decades, after millions of miles of the country's streams and wetlands lose protections. The administration's new rules, expected to be finalised today, replace the Waters of the United States regulations put in place during the Obama administration. Mr Trump vowed as soon as he took office to repeal the regulations. The president has angered environmental activists and conservationists since he took office by siding with the agriculture and mining industries in rolling back environmental protections. Speaking at the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual convention in Texas on Sunday, the president called the existing waterways rules "disastrous". "That was a rule that basically took your property away from you," he told the assembled farmers. The White House says that farmers will be a primary beneficiary of the change. Farmers rejected the protections, claiming they were too broad and required the industry to go to great lengths to protect small bodies of water on their properties. But the administration's own data shows that real estate developers and those in other non-farming industries are poised reap the greatest rewards was the president's rollback, by applying for permits to encroach on previously protected waterways, the Associated Press reported. The new rules are already facing court challenges from environmental groups and Democratic-led states. "This will be the biggest loss of clean water protection the country has ever seen," Blan Holman, a federal water policy specialist at the Southern Environmental Law Center, told the New York Times. "This puts drinking water for millions of Americans at risk of contamination from unregulated pollution. This is not just undoing the Obama rule. This is stripping away protections that were put in place in the '70s and '80s that Americans have relied on for their health," he said.

1-23-20 Holocaust: World leaders attend forum in Israel
World leaders are attending a forum in Jerusalem to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. More than a million people, mostly Jews, were murdered there by the Nazis during World War Two. Opening the event at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Israel's president warned that anti-Semitism and racism continued to be a "malignant disease". The Russian and French presidents will also make speeches. Polish President Andrzej Duda refused to attend in protest at not being invited to speak, unlike his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who he has accused of distorting the history of the Holocaust and the war to attack Poland. The Fifth World Holocaust Forum is the largest diplomatic event in Israel's history. More than 40 dignitaries are attending, including Mr Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, US Vice-President Mike Pence and the Prince of Wales, who is making his first official trip to Israel. The organisers said the focus would be on fighting anti-Semitism today. In his speech, President Rivlin thanked the leaders "for your commitment to remembering the Shoah [Holocaust], for your commitment to the citizens of the world, to those who believe in the dignity of man". He told them that their countries should not take for granted the common values that people fought for in World War Two, such as democracy and freedom, saying that Jewish people "remember because we understand that if we do not remember then history can be repeated". "Anti-Semitism does not only stop with Jews," he warned. "Racism and anti-Semitism is a malignant disease that dismantles people and countries, and no society and no democracy is immune to that."

1-23-20 Auschwitz: How death camp became centre of Nazi Holocaust
On 27 January 1945, Soviet troops cautiously entered Auschwitz. Primo Levi - one of the most famous survivors - was lying in a camp hospital with scarlet fever when the liberators arrived. The men cast "strangely embarrassed glances at the sprawling bodies, at the battered huts and at us few still alive", he would later write. "They did not greet us, nor did they smile; they seemed oppressed not only by compassion but by... the feeling of guilt that such a crime should exist." "We saw emaciated, tortured, impoverished people," soldier Ivan Martynushkin said of liberating the death camp. "We could tell from their eyes that they were happy to be saved from this hell." In less than four years, Nazi Germany systematically murdered at least 1.1 million people at Auschwitz. Almost one million were Jews. Those deported to the camp complex were gassed, starved, worked to death and even killed in medical experiments. The vast majority died in the Auschwitz II death camp - known as Auschwitz-Birkenau. Six million Jewish people died in the Holocaust - the Nazi campaign to eradicate Europe's Jewish population. Auschwitz was at the centre of that genocide. When the Nazis came to power in 1933 they began to strip Jewish people of all property, freedoms and rights under the law. After the German invasion and occupation of Poland in 1939, the Nazis started deporting Jewish people from Germany and Austria to Poland, where they created ghettos to separate them from the rest of the population. In 1941, during the German invasion of the USSR, the Nazis began their campaign of extermination in earnest. Nazis spoke about their invasion as a race war between Germany and Jewish people, as well as the Slavic population and the Roma. Groups of German soldiers called Einsatzgruppen set out across newly conquered lands in Eastern Europe to massacre civilians. By the end of 1941, they had killed 500,000 people, and by 1945 they had murdered about two million - 1.3 million of whom were Jewish. Behind the lines, Nazi commanders were experimenting with ways to kill en masse. They feared that shooting people was too stressful for their soldiers, and so came up with more efficient means of murder.

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

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

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

1-20-20 Woman charged for running over teen 'because she was Mexican'
A woman has been charged with attempted murder after telling police in Iowa that she deliberately drove into a girl because she appeared "Mexican". The victim, who is 14, sustained "numerous injuries" in the incident. Police say she was struck while walking to a local school, near Des Moines, on the evening of 9 December. They initially appealed for the public's help in identifying the hit-and-run before Nicole Marie Poole Franklin was arrested. "Investigators determined that this incident was an intentional act, not an accident," Clive police said in a Thursday statement announcing the attempted murder charge. Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Police Chief Michael Venema said he was "shocked" by the suspect's admission. "Franklin told investigators that she ran the girl over because she was, in her words, 'a Mexican'," Chief Venema said. "She went on to make a number of derogatory statements about Latinos to our investigators." "I want to say, in the strongest terms possible, that there is no place in our community, or any other for that matter, for this type of hatred and violence," he added. The 42-year-old was already being held in a jail over a separate assault allegedly committed the same day, police said. The bail amount for the attempted murder charge has been set at $1m (£770,000) and police say they are looking into the possibility of filing hate-crime charges. The victim suffered concussion and severe bruising but has since returned to school, AP reports.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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