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

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


2-24-20 Coronavirus: Rapid spread raises fears of global pandemic
Fears are growing that the coronavirus outbreak could reach pandemic scale as more cases emerge around the world. Most infections are in China but other nations like South Korea, Italy and Iran are battling the virus, which causes respiratory disease Covid-19. A pandemic is when an infectious disease spreads easily from person to person in many parts of the world. Worldwide stock markets saw sharp falls because of concerns about the economic impact of the virus. China said it would postpone the annual meeting of the National People's Congress next month, to "continue the efforts" against the coronavirus. The body, which approves decisions made by the Communist Party, has met every year since 1978. About 77,000 people in China, where the virus emerged last year, have been infected and nearly 2,600 have died. More than 1,200 cases have been confirmed in about 30 other countries and there have been more than 20 deaths. Italy reported three more deaths on Monday, raising the total there to six. The proportion of infected people who die from Covid-19 appears to be between 1% and 2%, although the World Health Organization (WHO) cautions that the mortality rate is not known yet. On Monday Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain reported their first cases, all involving people who had come from Iran. Officials in Bahrain said the patient infected there was a school bus driver, and several schools had been closed as a result. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned on Friday that the window of opportunity to contain the virus was "narrowing". Paul Hunter, professor of health protection at the University of East Anglia in the UK, echoed his fears, saying the spike in cases outside China was "extremely concerning". "The tipping point after which [we lose] our ability to prevent a global pandemic seems a lot closer after the past 24 hours," he said on Monday.

2-24-20 Covid-19: Our chance to contain the coronavirus may already be over
The global spread of covid-19 seems to have exploded in recent days, with outbreaks revealed in Iran and Italy and a massive increase in cases in South Korea. Tedros Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, has warned that such cases “show that the window of opportunity we have for containing this virus is narrowing”. In fact, it may already have shut. On 21 February, epidemiologists warned that we are failing to detect two-thirds of infected people travelling globally, “potentially resulting in multiple chains of as-yet undetected human-to-human transmission outside mainland China”. Some of those chains have now been detected, and, ominously, many cases can’t be traced to their source. Iran has reported 28 cases, but this appears to be a large underestimate because two people who have just flown from Iran to Canada and Lebanon have been found to be infected. Unless people who exit Iran by air are massively more likely to be infected than those who don’t, Gergely Röst of the University of Szeged, Hungary, says it would take 1600 to 2400 cases in Iran to produce two infected travellers – more than any official count so far in a country other than China. This is especially worrying, says Andy Tatem of Southampton University, UK, as broader travel records show Iran has “strong connections to countries, such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, which have weaker health systems”, meaning they might not detect or contain the virus. Christl Donnelly and her colleagues at Imperial College London have worked out how many infections countries have detected per passenger flight from China. While some countries, such as Singapore, have detected most of the infected travellers epidemiologists calculate they should be getting from China, many haven’t. Donnelly’s team found that, on average, countries are detecting only a third of expected cases. “We have decided not to comment on other countries individually,” says Donelly, although the WHO has been informed.

2-24-20 Tyranny is fueling the coronavirus pandemic
Authoritarian states are incompetent and corrupt. n the other side of the world, one of the worst disease outbreaks in modern history is simmering. As of Friday, what is being called "coronavirus" (this is actually a name for a family of viruses including the common cold; medical experts are calling the actual virus in question COVID-19) had supposedly infected 75,567 people in China and killed 2,239 of them. Outside China, another 1,152 cases had been reported in 26 other countries, causing eight deaths, including recent outbreaks in South Korea and Iran. The director general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Friday: "Our window of opportunity [to stop the outbreak] is narrowing." It remains to be seen whether China and other countries will be able to control the outbreak. But one thing is clear: Authoritarian political systems are lousy at dealing with disease pandemics. We see this in China today and in the United States as well. COVID-19 originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and as Laurie Garrett writes in Foreign Policy, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) horribly botched its initial response to the coronavirus outbreak: "China now faces international vilification and potential domestic unrest as it blunders through continued cover-ups, lies, and repression that have already failed to stop the virus and may well be fanning the flames of its spread." One primary reason the Chinese government failed to contain the outbreak is because corruption and incompetence are inherent features of tyrannical rule. The CCP can't point to democratic elections to obtain the consent of the governed, so they instead rely on techniques like a massive patronage machine to cultivate loyalty. Political reliability is a major prerequisite for filling any of the millions of positions in the vast Chinese bureaucracy, which tends to inculcate a culture of blind order-following, telling one's superiors what they want to hear, and leveraging one's position for personal advantage. Americans should not take much comfort in our somewhat-less authoritarian system. The Trump regime's style of rule bears all the marks of typical tyrannical rule — the bureaucracy stacked with corrupt idiot stooges, the legal system corrupted to protect the president and his cronies from facing criminal charges, and inconvenient information denied by a howling propaganda apparatus.

2-24-20 Belgian city of Aalst says anti-Semitic parade 'just fun'
A Belgian city has defended as "just fun" a carnival featuring caricatures of Orthodox Jews wearing huge fur hats, long fake noses and ant costumes. Israel, Jewish groups and Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès were among many who strongly condemned the costumes in Sunday's parade in Aalst. Some critics said likening Jews to ants was similar to Nazi anti-Semitism, which persecuted Jews as "vermin". The Aalst mayor's spokesman told the BBC "it's our humour... just fun". Peter Van den Bossche said "there isn't a movement behind it" and "we don't wish harm to anyone". "It's our parade, our humour, people can do whatever they want," he said. "It's a weekend of freedom of speech." Aalst lies 31km (19 miles) northwest of Brussels - the heart of the EU - and is run by the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), a nationalist party pushing for Flanders independence. The city drew much criticism for parading caricature Jews last year - so much so that it was dropped from Unesco's cultural heritage list in December. After the outcry, Aalst itself had asked to be taken off the list. Unesco - the UN's educational and cultural agency - was also satirised in the parade on Sunday. Other floats mocked UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Brexit, climate activist Greta Thunberg, and Jesus Christ on the cross. There were also people parading in Nazi SS uniform - despite the fact that, in World War Two, the Nazis deported about 25,000 Jews from occupied Belgium to the Auschwitz death camp, where most were murdered. In Sunday's parade some caricature Jews posed with a mock-up of the Western Wall - often called Jerusalem's Wailing Wall, a holy site for Jews. It was labelled "the wailing ant", in Dutch "de klaugmier". The Dutch for "wailing wall" is "klaagmuur". "This doesn't encourage anti-Semitism; the reaction last year was over the top," Mr Van den Bossche said. "Two hundred percent it's not anti-Semitic." (Webmaster's comment: Anti-Semitism is coming back all across Europe. Sooner or later death camps will follow.)

2-24-20 Hunters: Jewish groups criticise Holocaust portrayal in Amazon show
Several Jewish groups have criticised Amazon for fictitious depictions of the Holocaust in its new series Hunters. The online retail giant has also been denounced for allowing the sale of anti-Semitic propaganda books. David Weil, the producer of Hunters, has defended the series and Amazon said it was "listening to feedback" about controversial book sales. Hunters, a 10-part drama series, follows a team of Nazi hunters in 1970s America. The show, starring Al Pacino, has been accused of bad taste and "Jewsploitation" for its depiction of fictional atrocities during the Holocaust. Around six million Jews were killed across Nazi-occupied Europe during the period from 1941-45. In one scene, inmates of Auschwitz concentration camp are forced to kill each other while being used in a game of human chess. Mr Weil, whose grandmother was a Holocaust survivor, said while Hunters was "inspired by true events", it was not a documentary series and never purported to be. He said he decided to fictionalise events in the series because he did not want to misrepresent the suffering of real people. "After all, it is true that Nazis perpetrated widespread and extreme acts of sadism and torture - and even incidents of cruel 'games' - against their victims. I simply did not want to depict those specific, real acts of trauma," Mr Weil said. "If the larger philosophical question is, can we ever tell stories about the Holocaust that are not documentary? I believe we can and should." Auschwitz Memorial, a charity that maintains the former camp as a historical site, accused the programme makers of "inventing a fake game of human chess" in an act of "dangerous foolishness". Karen Pollack, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, told the BBC such portrayals risked fuelling Holocaust denial, and lent a tone of "flippant entertainment" to the programme. "We have a real responsibility to protect the truth of the Holocaust," said Mrs Pollack, "particularly as we're moving away from living history, the survivors are few and frailer."

2-23-20 'Mad' Mike Hughes dies after crash-landing homemade rocket
A US daredevil pilot has been killed during an attempted launch of a homemade rocket in the Californian desert. "Mad" Mike Hughes, 64, crash-landed his steam-powered rocket shortly after take-off near Barstow on Saturday. A video on social media shows a rocket being fired into the sky before plummeting to the ground nearby. Hughes was well-known for his belief that the Earth was flat. He hoped to prove his theory by going to space. Saturday's launch was reportedly filmed as part of Homemade Astronauts, a new TV series about amateur rocket makers to be aired on the US Science Channel. The project had to be carried out on a tight budget. With the help of his partner Waldo Stakes, Hughes was trying to reach an altitude of 5,000ft (1,525m) while riding his steam-powered rocket, according to Space.com. In the video of the launch, a parachute can be seen trailing behind the rocket, apparently deployed too early, seconds after take-off. In a tweet, the Science Channel said Hughes had died pursuing his dream. San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said its officers were called to a rocket launch event at around 14:00 local time (22:00 GMT) on Saturday. The sheriff's office said "a man was pronounced deceased after the rocket crashed in the open desert". Hughes' publicist confirmed to US media outlets that it was the pilot who had been killed. Darren Shuster, a former representative for Hughes, told TMZ the daredevil was "one-of-a-kind". "When God made Mike he broke the mould. The man was the real deal and lived to push the edge. He wouldn't have gone out any other way! RIP" he said. Mad Mike and his assistants built the homemade rocket in his backyard, spending around $18,000 (£14,000). The rocket uses steam ejected through a nozzle for propulsion. The daredevil, who lived in Apple Valley, made headlines internationally when he announced his intention to prove his theory that the Earth was flat. (Webmaster's comment: Absolutely Nuts! Why would the Science channel even pay any attention to this nut case!)

2-22-20 Hanau shooting: Why Germany’s far-right AfD is blamed over racist violence
The murder in Hanau of nine people of foreign heritage has shocked Germany and sparked heated debate about the root causes of far-right xenophobic violence. Politicians and voters from across the political spectrum are pointing the finger at one party: the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). It is Germany's biggest opposition party, with 89 seats in the 709-seat Bundestag (lower house). It also has MPs in all 16 regional parliaments. "The AfD is the political arm of hate," said prominent Green Party politician Cem Ozdemir. Lars Klingbeil, general secretary of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), called for the AfD to be put under surveillance by the security services. Conservative Christian Democrat (CDU) politician Mathias Middelberg says AfD politicians have coarsened the debate, and that this is contributing to right-wing extremist violence. The AfD is not accused of direct involvement in the bloodshed, and the party has condemned the Hanau attack. But AfD leaders refuse to accept that the killing was motivated by a far-right ideology or that the attacker might have been influenced by racist rhetoric. They say the man was simply a disturbed individual with psychological problems. Hanau was the third major far-right attack in Germany in nine months. Last June a senior CDU politician, Walter Lübcke, was shot dead because he supported refugees. And in October a gunman tried to carry out a massacre in a synagogue in Halle. He was only prevented by his own incompetence and inability to smash down the synagogue's wooden door. In his frustration he killed two passers-by. In 2016 an 18-year-old man killed nine people in Munich in a mass shooting that was initially falsely labelled as an Islamist terror attack. The perpetrator was in fact a right-wing extremist who targeted teenagers of non-German descent. In all four cases the attacker was an unstable solitary individual, radicalised by racist hate speech and far-right ideology online.

2-21-20 Fear and uncertainty as coronavirus outbreak spreads
Public health officials in China and the West scrambled to slow the spread of the new coronavirus this week, amid growing fears that a global pandemic may be impossible to stop. The respiratory illness has so far infected more than 75,200 people and killed at least 2,006; more than 98 percent of all cases have occurred in China. Authorities there said the spread of the epidemic appeared to be slowing, but with the number of cases outside China surging, health experts warned against optimism that the disease might be peaking. At least 47 infections have been reported in Europe and more than 70 in Japan. Pandemic fears jumped after the Westerdam, a cruise ship that was repeatedly turned away from Asian ports over coronavirus fears, disembarked more than 1,000 passengers in Cambodia. Those passengers then headed to airports; one, an American, tested positive upon reaching Malaysia. “This could be a turning point,” said William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University. A second cruise ship docked in Japan, the Diamond Princess, reported more than 600 cases. Some 300 Americans on board, including 14 who’d tested positive, were airlifted to U.S. military bases, where they will be quarantined for two weeks. That brought the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. to 29, but experts say the total number is likely far higher. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the FDA, told Congress that the U.S. is detecting “25 percent of cases at best.” Asha George, head of the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, said the country may ultimately see “hundreds of thousands of cases.” The virus has unleashed a “political maelstrom” that threatens Chinese President Xi Jinping, said the Financial Times. In an unprecedented display of defiance, ordinary Chinese have vented their anger online over the government’s mismanagement of the crisis, silencing of whistleblowers, and willingness to lie “to its citizens to save face.” Beijing’s authoritarian might and ability to marshal resources on a vast scale have lifted millions of its citizens out of poverty. But as wealth grows, people “thirst not only for material well-being but also for dignity.”We face “many huge unknowns” about the virus, said The Guardian (U.K.). We don’t know how long it lingers on a contaminated surface, for example, or how infectious people are before showing symptoms of the disease. But uncertainty is no excuse for inaction. Now is the time to take measures to head off “pandemics that could catch us off guard in the future.” We could start by improving health services in poor areas of Asia and Africa. “Outbreaks of deadly new diseases—wherever they emerge—are not someone else’s problem.”

2-21-20 Epidemics: A disease of the disinformation age
The new coronavirus is the first global pandemic to unfold on social media, said Karen Hao and Tanya Basu in the MIT Technology Review, and it has not gone well. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization called the virus an “infodemic” because of the “overabundance of information—some accurate and some not.” Social media has helped some journalists get “a more accurate picture of the situation” inside China than state media has provided. And several Chinese doctors used the internet “to raise alarms about the severity of the situation,” before being swiftly censored by Beijing. Unfortunately, the rapid spread of misinformation also “sets the coronavirus apart from previous viral outbreaks,” such as SARS in 2003. WHO has been working with Facebook, Twitter, and China’s Tencent and TikTok apps to staunch the flood of fake posts, including claims that Shanghai has been “shut down” and that the virus can be cured by cannabis. But they are fighting against an “avalanche of content.” China’s last big epidemic happened before the emergence of WeChat, China’s preeminent social network, said Mary Hui and Jane Li in Qz.com. When SARS broke out in 2003, the Chinese government could create a “virtual news blackout” that kept the early cases of the virus secret for months. “Now, the sheer amount of information shared every minute by internet users in China means that it’s impossible for the state to maintain a watertight seal on what’s posted online.” Make no mistake—the wave of “relatively free information sharing” has not changed the system of information control in China, said Han Zhang in The New Yorker, “but it has temporarily overwhelmed it.” Dr. Li Wenliang tried to issue warnings online about a new virus in the city of Wuhan in December, weeks before the outbreak was made public. He was silenced by the authorities, and his death from the virus this month, at age 33, triggered mass outrage online. A phrase “unthinkable on the Chinese internet,” the hashtag #WeDemandFreedomOfSpeech, even began trending.

2-21-20 Quid pro quo?
President Trump suggested last week that if New York wants to have its access to federal trusted-traveler programs reinstated, his former home state should drop lawsuits and investigations into his administration as well as his businesses and finances. The Department of Homeland Security announced earlier this month that it was halting New Yorkers’ access to Global Entry and other programs that expedite airport clearance for preapproved travelers because of the state’s Green Light Law, which allows undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses. But just hours before a meeting last week to discuss the block with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Trump tweeted that “New York must stop all of its unnecessary lawsuits & harrassment [sic]” and “build relationships.” State Attorney General Letitia James has issued subpoenas for Trump’s financial records and is pursuing multiple investigations into the Trump Organization.

2-21-20 Kelly: No longer silent
John Kelly has jumped off the Trump train, said Kevin Cullen in The Boston Globe. In a speech at Drew University, President Trump’s former chief of staff broke ranks with his former boss and defended Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a decorated war hero who was pulled from the National Security Council and escorted from the White House in retaliation for his impeachment testimony. Vindman “did exactly what we teach them to do,” said Kelly, a retired Marine general. “We teach them, ‘Don’t follow an illegal order.’” Kelly also defended the news media, called migrants “overwhelmingly good people,” and said Trump was naive for thinking he could persuade North Korea to give up nuclear weapons. Trump fired back on Twitter, saying Kelly was in “way over his head” as chief of staff and has a “military and legal obligation” to “keep his mouth shut.” Actually, the reverse is true: Kelly is warning Americans that “Trump is an insecure, vindictive man who retaliated against a career Army officer who literally bled for his country.” The chatter generated by Kelly’s words has “largely avoided the most important point,” said Greg Sargent in The Washington Post: “Trump’s former chief of staff fully validated the case against Trump that got him impeached.” Kelly made it clear he believes Trump subverted U.S. policy on Ukraine’s defensive fight against Russia to his own political ends and that Vindman was right to object. Kelly gave voice to an even greater heresy, said Chris Cillizza at CNN.com. He said the media “is not the enemy of the people,” and warned that those who only watch Fox News are just reinforcing their beliefs and aren’t “informed citizens.” It was a “powerful” rebuke of the blatantly pro-Trump network Republicans say they trust more than any other.

2-21-20 Full disclosure is no longer required
After Sen. Bernie Sanders suffered a heart attack, he promised to release “comprehensive” medical records. But when he was recently asked on Meet the Press when the public would see those records, said John Harris, the 78-year-old Sanders said, in effect, “Go to hell.” Sanders’ response—once you release medical records, he said amid a cloud of obfuscation, “it never ends”—demonstrates how President Trump has transformed the relationship between the press and public officials. For decades, candidates have faced strong pressure to disclose information about their health, their tax returns, and even their personal behavior. Refusing to comply with this transparency norm “came with a high cost,” as major networks and newspapers would call out candidates for evasiveness. But in the Trump era, a “seismic shift” has occurred. Trump has gotten away with his refusal to release tax returns, respond to subpoenas, or answer reporters’ questions, and the news media has lost much of its power “to set the agenda and enforce minimum standards of public conduct.” If Sanders can get away with running for president without telling voters about the extent of his heart disease, he can thank the man in the Oval Office.Description

2-21-20 Federal laws waived for border wall
The Trump administration said this week that it will waive federal contracting laws to fast-track construction of 177 miles of border fencing in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. The government has already used waivers to sidestep environmental impact reviews for fence construction. But in a first, the Department of Homeland Security will now waive 10 procurement laws, including a requirement to hold open competition for contracts and give losing bidders the chance to appeal. “It’s equivalent to buying a car without seeing a sticker price,” said Scott Amey, general counsel of the Project on Government Oversight. The White House expects 94 miles of barriers to be built this year, bringing Trump closer to his goal of erecting 450 miles of wall on the Mexican border.

2-21-20 Migrants are easy prey
A staggering number of migrants waiting in Mexico for their U.S. asylum hearings are being abducted and brutalized, according to a Doctors Without Borders report. In an attempt to reduce asylum claims, the Trump administration in 2019 changed U.S. policy to require non-Mexican migrants to wait in Mexico for their immigration court hearings. Some 57,000 people have had to wait for months south of the border. Of those migrants waiting in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, the report says, 75 percent have been abducted for ransom by criminal groups, and 45 percent have suffered violence or rape. “It’s become big business,” said local pastor Diego Robles. “It’s a way for the drug cartels to diversify.”

2-21-20 Exile in Tijuana
Migrants from far beyond the Americas—the ‘extracontinentales’—have converged on the border city hoping to be let into the U.S., said journalist Jack Herrera in Politico.com. Now they may have no way to leave. If you go early in the morning to the plaza in front of El Chaparral, the border crossing where a person can walk from Mexico into the state of California, you’ll hear shouts like “2,578: El Salvador!” and “2,579: Guatemala!”—a number, followed by a place of origin. Every day, groups of families gather around, waiting anxiously underneath the trees at the back of the square. The numbers come from La Lista, The List: When a person’s number is called, it’s their turn to ask for asylum in the United States. These days, the most common place-names shouted are Michoacán or Guerrero, Mexican states where intense cartel violence has sent thousands fleeing northward—occasionally, the list keepers will call Guatemala, El Salvador, or Honduras, countries where pervasive poverty, gangs, drugs, and femicide have done the same. But every so often, the name of a more far-off country is called. In the span of two weeks late last year, list keepers called out numbers for people from Russia, Armenia, Ghana, and Cameroon. Asylum seekers from Congo crossed, as well as Eritreans. One day, the list keeper called out “Turquía!” and a Turkish family rushed forward to claim their spot. The family was escorted by Mexican immigration officials over the walkway into the United States, where they told Customs and Border Protection agents that they had, like everyone else, left their home country fleeing for their lives. These people were the lucky ones. They had managed to persist in Tijuana, waiting until the day they finally heard their numbers called. Others haven’t been so fortunate. With The List’s queue regularly stretching longer than six months, many migrants fall victim to predatory robbery, kidnapping, or murder before they can find refuge; for others, the wait in one of the most dangerous cities in the world is simply unendurable.

2-21-20 Plot against Muslims
German police announced last week that they had foiled a far-right terrorist plot to stage simultaneous mass-casualty attacks on mosques, politicians, and asylum-seekers. In raids across the country, police arrested 12 men—including one of their own officers who’d been suspended for suspected neo-Nazi links. “It’s shocking what has been revealed here,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Björn Grünewälder. “There are cells here that appear to have become radicalized in such a short span of time.” The suspects had a stockpile of weapons that included guns, grenades, crossbows, and even spiked maces. Muslim groups have asked for police protection at mosques. “We should not have to use private security companies to protect our congregations,” said Aiman Mazyek, chair of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany.

2-21-20 United Kingdom: Labour Party splinters over trans rights
Britain’s opposition Labour Party is supposed to be picking a new leader, said Jack Maidment in the Daily Mail, but instead it has “descended into civil war over trans rights.” After the election debacle in December, when it lost dozens of long-held seats in working-class areas to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party, Labour was clear that its far-left leader Jeremy Corbyn had to be replaced. But instead of debating how to win back lost voters and tacking to the center, it is now threatening to alienate women. Of the party’s three leadership candidates, two—Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy—have signed a radical 12-point plan drawn up by a previously unknown group of trans-rights activists. The plan calls for anyone who doesn’t believe that trans women should be allowed in all women-only spaces—domestic violence refuges, women’s prisons, restrooms—to be expelled from the party. It specifically calls out two left-wing groups, Women’s Place UK and the LGB Alliance, as “transphobic organizations” whose members must be shamed and shunned. In response, thousands of female Labour members tweeted their anger under the hashtag #ExpelMe. Labour is preparing “a witch hunt” against feminists like me, said Janice Turner in The Times. We don’t want to discriminate against trans women. But are we really not allowed to say that there are certain spaces that should be free of penises? Can’t we discuss concerns about early diagnosis of gender dysmorphia, for example, or the fairness of male-bodied athletes competing in women’s sports, without being labeled bigots? It’s telling that it took Labour months of agonized soul-searching before it expelled the anti-Semites in its ranks, said Suzanne Moore in The Daily Telegraph, yet the party is now eager to drum out uppity women. I guess “to tell women we no longer have the right to autonomous organization has always been the aim of the dude bros who run Labour.”

2-21-20 Russia meddling to help Trump win re-election, US lawmakers hear
US intelligence agencies have warned that Russia is attempting to help President Donald Trump get re-elected in November, US media report. The comments came in a closed-door briefing to the House Intelligence Committee on 13 February, officials told US outlets. President Trump was reportedly enraged, complaining that Democrats would use the information against him. He replaced his acting intelligence chief, Joseph Maguire, on Thursday. The New York Times reported that Mr Trump was particularly angry that Adam Schiff, the Democrat who led the impeachment proceedings against him, was at the briefing. During the House intelligence briefing, Mr Trump's supporters argued that the president had taken a hard stance with Russia, and that European ties and security had been strengthened as a result, the newspaper added. Mr Schiff later tweeted that if Mr Trump was in any way "interfering" with the sharing of information between US intelligence agencies and Congress regarding foreign interference in the election process, the president was "jeopardising" attempts to stop it. Mr Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives but acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate over charges stemming from an earlier inquiry into Russia's alleged role to help him get elected in 2016. Mr Maguire was a favourite to be nominated for the permanent Director of National Intelligence (DNI) post, the Washington Post said. However, the paper said the president changed his mind when he found out about the briefing, and what he called the "disloyalty" of his staff. The president announced this week that Mr Maguire would be replaced by Richard Grenell, the US ambassador to Germany and a Trump loyalist. Two Trump administration officials told the New York Times that the replacement of Mr Maguire, so soon after the contentious briefing, was a coincidence. Democrats criticised the president for appointing Mr Grenell, who has previously played down the extent of Russian interference in the last election, and has celebrated the rise of far-right politicians in Europe.

2-21-20 How much will Medicare-for-all save Americans? A lot.
It's primary season, and most political coverage has been obsessed with who is going to win and take on Donald Trump in November. Policy issues which got wide discussion in 2019, like the merits of Medicare-for-all, have been pushed off the front burner of the news stove (though it did get some typically superficial discussion in the most recent Democratic debate). But academic research in that area has not stopped. And over the past few months, several studies have examined one of the key questions on Medicare-for-all: namely, would it save American society money? The unanimous answer is yes. Putting everyone on a world-class universal Medicare program — with no premiums, no deductibles, no co-insurance, and almost no co-pays, paid for with taxes — would leave most of us with more money in our pockets. And other research demonstrates that there would probably not be a giant increase in health care use if it is passed. To be fair, a few commentators have been keeping the discussion going. John Oliver, for instance, provided a quite good breakdown of Medicare-for-all in his show Last Week Tonight: Overall, it's a great piece. However Oliver is far too wishy-washy on the cost question. He notes that some studies have found enormous savings, and even the libertarian Mercatus Center found a small cost improvement. However he notes that some studies predict higher spending, especially one from the Urban Institute which found dramatically higher spending, and concludes it's impossible to say what might happen on costs. "No one can possibly know for sure," he says. "There are just too many variables involved." But this simply isn't so. To start with, as Matt Bruenig explains at the People's Policy Project, the Urban Institute study has major problems. Most importantly, they did not actually study the Medicare-for-all bill sponsored by Bernie Sanders. Instead they substituted their own plan in which reimbursement rates are assumed to be 15 percent higher than in the Sanders plan. That's why their cost estimate is so high, but it simply has nothing to do with what the actual bill in question might do if implemented. Furthermore, they seriously underestimate the potential administrative cost savings for hospitals (relying on a fact sheet from a lobbyist group), and simply assume "utilization," or use of medical services, will dramatically increase (more on this later).

2-21-20 How Hollywood movies saved a gay Russian teenager
As a gay teenager in post-Soviet Russia, Wes Hurley breathed a sigh of relief when his mother married an American and they moved to the US - but he soon discovered his stepfather, James, was violently homophobic. This led to strained relations, until James underwent an unexpected transformation. Wes Hurley's earliest memory is of his drunk father hitting his mother. He was only four years old and too young to really understand what was going on, but sometimes he would daydream that he was watching a movie. He'd put his hands up into a square frame, imagining that through the lens he created with his fingers, his life was a movie. "My parents would be dancing and singing, and I'd imagine a fun, eccentric movie version of my life. Or they're fighting in a fun movie way. Not real fighting," Wes remembers. His parents soon separated, and he was brought up singlehandedly by his mother, Elena, a young prison doctor. Elena was unconventional. She wasn't shy about voicing her anti-communist views, she was the only member of her family who wasn't anti-Semitic, and couldn't understand the virulent hatred people around her felt towards gay people. She always stood up for what she believed was right, and made her opinions known. This rubbed off on her son as he grew up in the late 1980s in the port city of Vladivostok, on Russia's Pacific coast. "It was a dark time, but it was a really exciting time for me too. Our country was broken. They were teaching us Communist propaganda, and I'd stand up and say, 'You're teaching us lies,'" Wes later recalled. Nobody had seen the break-up of the Soviet Union coming, but in 1991, when Wes was 10, it began to unravel, collapsing for good at the end of December. "It was amazing," Wes says. "I remember we were at a neighbour's apartment. They had a colour TV. Everybody was just glued to TV and radios because it was like a thriller. Nobody knew what was going on exactly. It was an exciting, inspiring, scary moment." At first things started to improve. There was more freedom, more food, and to Wes and Elena's delight, an influx of pirated American movies.

2-20-20 The Democrats gave Mike Bloomberg what he deserved
The new contestant in the 7,000th Democratic debate, which took place in Las Vegas on Wednesday night, was former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who got on the debate stage by spending 400 million dollars, and most of the key discussion focused on his candidacy and his record. Practically the whole field united to savage Bloomberg. Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Bernie Sanders all attacked him more aggressively than any candidate has attacked another at any previous debate, and Bloomberg was all but helpless before the withering assault. Though he has bought off dozens of Democratic politicians and think tanks, it seems like all but one of his competitors are not at all keen on their party being bought wholesale by a billionaire oligarch. The most riveting moment of any Democratic debate so far came almost immediately, when Warren nailed Bloomberg on his appalling record of sexual harassment, racism, and plutocratic corruption: I'd like to talk about who we're running against — a billionaire who calls women 'fat broads' and 'horse-faced lesbians.' And no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump, I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg. Democrats are not going to win if we have a nominee who has a history of hiding his tax returns, of harassing women, and of supporting racist policies like redlining and stop-and-frisk … Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another. Later, when Bloomberg tried to deflect a question about allegations of workplace harassment, Warren pounced again: "He has gotten some number of women — dozens, who knows? — to sign non-disclosure agreements both for sexual harassment and for gender discrimination in the workplace. So Mr. Mayor, are you willing to release all those women from those non-disclosure agreements, so we can hear their side of the story?" (By the way, the total number is at least 64 women as part of 40 different lawsuits.) Bloomberg again tried to deflect, arguing that the agreements were made to protect the privacy of the women involved. "They decided when they made an agreement that they wanted to keep it quiet." Biden then joined in, pointing out the obvious fact that this is not what NDA agreements are really about. People take the money, and in return they agree not to discuss the horrible event. It's basically hush money, and the American people deserve to know the truth. "All the mayor has to do," Biden said, is tell those people, "'You are released from the nondisclosure agreement.'" Bloomberg still did not agree to release the agreements, but he was completely nonplussed by the exchange. He clearly was not prepared for these rather obvious questions, perhaps because he is a cloistered plutocrat surrounded by yes men and toadies, or perhaps because there is no defense at all. He appeared very much like what he in fact is — a very rich man who is likely facing bitter, unfiltered criticism to his face for the first time in years.

2-19-20 737 Max: Debris found in new planes' fuel tanks
Boeing's crisis-hit 737 Max jetliner faces a new potential safety issue as debris has been found in the fuel tanks of several new planes which were in storage, awaiting delivery to airlines.The head of Boeing's 737 programme has told employees that the discovery was "absolutely unacceptable". A Boeing spokesman said the company did not see the issue further delaying the jet's return to service. It comes as the 737 Max remains grounded after two fatal crashes. The US plane maker said it discovered so-called "Foreign Object Debris" left inside the wing fuel tanks of several undelivered 737 Maxs. A company spokesman told the BBC: "While conducting maintenance we discovered Foreign Object Debris (FOD) in undelivered 737 Max airplanes currently in storage. That finding led to a robust internal investigation and immediate corrective actions in our production system." Foreign Object Debris is a technical term that covers any substance, debris or article that isn't part of a plane which would potentially cause damage. The revelation is the latest in a string of problems affecting what was once Boeing's best-selling plane. The aircraft has been grounded by regulators around the world since March 2019. It was banned from flying after two separate crashes killed 346 people. The US regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), told the BBC that it was monitoring the plane maker's response to the new issue: "The FAA is aware that Boeing is conducting a voluntary inspection of undelivered aircraft for Foreign Object Debris (FOD) as part of the company's ongoing efforts to ensure manufacturing quality. "The agency increased its surveillance based on initial inspection reports and will take further action based on the findings," it added. Boeing said it didn't expect the issue to cause any fresh delays to the 737 Max's return to service, which the company said could happen by the middle of this year. (Webmaster's comment: It's still profits first, safety second!)

2-19-20 Students protest against LGBT teachers' resignation
At Kennedy Catholic High School in Washington State, crowds gathered after two recently engaged LGBT teachers left their jobs. The school says English teacher Paul Danforth and gym teacher Michelle Beattie "voluntarily resigned" but parents and students there believed it was due to their sexual orientation. The school has declined to give any further comment on the matter.

2-19-20 German far-right AfD accused of handing out 'racist' colouring book
A group of far-right politicians is being investigated by police in western Germany over allegations that they distributed a racist colouring book. A regional group for the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party allegedly handed out the books at an event in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Police said the group had been accused of sedition (incitement). Prosecutors and the state's parliament are also reportedly looking into the matter. However, the AfD parliamentary group dismissed criticism of the book as an "attack on the freedom of art and satire". The AfD, Germany's largest opposition party, has grown in popularity in recent years but has been condemned for its extreme views on immigration, freedom of speech and the press. The book appears to show caricatures of men brandishing guns under a Turkish flag and women wearing headscarves in a swimming pool. In one illustration, a knife can be seen pointing menacingly towards people in a swimming pool. Titled "North Rhine-Westphalia for colouring in", the book was allegedly given out at an AfD event in the city of Krefeld last weekend. An activist who attended the event to protest against the AfD told the BBC he was shocked by the contents of the book. The person, who did not wish to be named, said the book was akin to "fascist propaganda". The AfD parliamentary group described it as an "art book with satirical sketches on the situation in the country". But politicians from other parties in the state condemned the book as racist. Thomas Kutschaty of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) accused the AfD of inciting children "with its inhuman ideology". On Wednesday, the state parliament said it would check whether the AfD had used funds improperly to distribute the book, according to German newspaper Westdeutsche Zeitung. The anti-immigration and anti-Islam AfD has MPs in all 16 of Germany's state parliaments. Nationally, the AfD has 89 seats in the lower house of parliament (Bundestag), out of 709 in total, making it the largest opposition party. It is considered to be stronger in ex-communist eastern Germany than in western states like North Rhine-Westphalia.

2-18-20 FW de Klerk and the South African row over apartheid and crimes against humanity
FW de Klerk, the last white man to lead South Africa, has apologised for "quibbling" over whether or not apartheid was a "crime against humanity", but the row has revealed old wounds, writes the BBC's Africa correspondent Andrew Harding. The past is still raw in South Africa. Mr De Klerk's apology was an attempt to calm a fortnight of increasingly furious debate after he made comments that many interpreted as an attempt to rewrite history and play down the seriousness of apartheid. In a statement issued through the De Klerk Foundation, the 83-year-old expressed regret for "the confusion, anger, and hurt" his remarks might have caused. Two weeks ago, in an interview with the national broadcaster, SABC, the former president said he was "not fully agreeing" with the presenter who asked him to confirm that apartheid, the legalised discrimination against non-white people, was a crime against humanity. Mr De Klerk went on to acknowledge that it was a crime, and to apologise profusely for his role in it, but he insisted that apartheid was responsible for relatively few deaths and that it should not be put in the same category of "genocide" or "crimes against humanity". At first, South Africa seemed to shrug. Mr De Klerk, who shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela after helping to negotiate an end to apartheid, is a peripheral figure in the country these days, and his potentially polarising comments seem to pass unnoticed. But that changed last Thursday when, as a former head of state, he attended parliament for President Cyril Ramaphosa's annual State of the Nation address. Members of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party interrupted the president and demanded that Mr De Klerk be removed from the chamber. "We have a murderer in the House," said EFF leader Julius Malema. He said that Mr De Klerk was an "apartheid apologist… with blood on his hands". An hour-and-a-half later, President Ramaphosa was finally able to begin his speech, and the EFF's aggressive delaying tactics were widely condemned - by the governing ANC and other opposition parties - as an outrageous, shameful stunt.

2-18-20 Mike Bloomberg is not the lesser of two evils
I will not vote for Mike Bloomberg in November if he is nominated. To start with, it is not at all obvious that Bloomberg would even be a better president than Trump. As Alex Pareene writes at The New Republic, he is a right-wing authoritarian with nakedly racist views who constantly violated civil rights laws during his time as mayor of New York City. He locked up thousands of protesters during the 2004 Republican National Convention (where he gave a speech warmly endorsing George W. Bush, and thanked him for starting the war in Iraq), and a judge held the city in contempt for violating due process law. He created what amounted to a police state for New York Muslims, subjecting the entire community to dragnet surveillance and harassment, and filling mosques with spies and agent provocateurs. The city had to pay millions in settlements for violating Muslims' civil rights. (All this did precisely nothing to prevent terrorism, by the way.) As Nathan Robinson writes at Current Affairs, he drastically escalated the infamous "stop-and-frisk" program in New York, in which innocent black and brown youths were jacked up by cops literally millions of times. Ninety-nine percent of the stops found nothing, and many police used it as a handy pretext to vent their racist prejudice. At its peak in 2011, there were more stops of black men than there were black men in the entire city. And because it was mainly young men being targeted, some were stopped dozens of times. Innocent people were routinely beaten senseless. Bloomberg justified the policy with straightforwardly racist collective guilt. In a 2015 speech, he said "it's controversial, but first thing is, all of your — 95 percent of your murders, murderers and murder victims, fit one M.O. ... They are male minorities, 15 to 25." These statistics are hideously inaccurate. In reality, the relatively few whites stopped under stop-and-frisk were more likely to be carrying weapons, and as The Atlantic's Adam Serwer points out, after the program was halted, crime continued to fall unabated. The whole thing was completely useless — unless the point was to constantly remind black and brown New Yorkers that they were second-class citizens. Bloomberg also espouses the racist theory that the financial crisis was caused by government efforts to reduce prejudice in home lending — thus scapegoating minorities to deflect blame from the real culprit, Wall Street oligarchs like himself.

2-18-20 William Barr is not the problem
Even if he resigns, Trump will still work to compromise justice. I don't know if Attorney General William Barr will bow to a new pressure campaign to get him to resign. But I do know that whether he leaves office or whether he stays, it doesn't matter: As long as Donald Trump remains president, the Department of Justice will be compromised. The fish rots from the head, after all. The effort to force Barr's resignation has picked up a great deal of steam in the aftermath of Trump's successful push to get federal prosecutors to reduce their sentencing recommendation for his crony, Roger Stone. More than 2,000 former officials of the Department of Justice — a mix of both Republicans and Democrats — have signed a letter urging Barr to step down. "Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies," the officials said in the open letter, adding: "Mr. Barr's actions in doing the president's personal bidding unfortunately speak louder than his words. Those actions, and the damage they have done to the Department of Justice's reputation for integrity and the rule of law, require Mr. Barr to resign." Donald Ayer, a former deputy attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, added his support to that effort on Monday, with an Atlantic article also calling on Barr to resign. "Bill Barr's America is not a place that anyone, including Trump voters, should want to go," Ayer wrote. "It is a banana republic where all are subject to the whims of a dictatorial president and his henchmen. To prevent that, we need a public uprising demanding that Bill Barr resign immediately, or failing that, be impeached." Fine words. But Barr's resignation would be meaningless. He isn't Trump's first attorney general, remember. That distinction belonged to Jeff Sessions, the former U.S. senator from Alabama who was among the first prominent Republicans to endorse Trump's 2016 presidential run. He was rewarded with stewardship of the Justice Department — and immediately set about implementing the new president's pro-police anti-immigrant agenda. For his troubles, Sessions was rewarded with little but Trump's contempt. Behind closed doors — and sometimes even in public — the president mocked the attorney general's diminutive stature and Southern accent. He even reportedly called Sessions a "dumb Southerner."

2-18-20 The unlikely friendship saving Egypt’s synagogues
Two Egyptian women have come together to save the country's lost Jewish heritage. Magda, who is Jewish and Marwa, who is Palestinian and Muslim, meet weekly to clean, rescue and repair books, synagogues and cemeteries. The Jewish community in Egypt shrank after the Israeli-Arab conflict in 1948. Many were exiled or felt forced to leave. With hardly any Jewish people left, the friends are battling to preserve the country's lost Jewish heritage before it disappears forever.

2-17-20 Crossing the border to go to school in the US
Ana Fernanda and Ana Luisa Bernal are 16-year-old twins and juniors in high school. Since kindergarten, they've crossed an international border every single day to go to school. The girls live in Mexicali, Mexico, with their mother but, being born in the US, they're able to cross to get an education in English in Calexico, California. Like many other transborder (or "transfronterizo" in Spanish) children studying in a different country, the twins embark on their daily journey very early in the morning.

2-17-20 Young people in Poland are rediscovering their Jewish roots
Poland's Jewish population had almost disappeared by the mid-1970s, but there is a revival of Jewish life in democratic Poland today. Kasia Leonardi was 21 when she discovered her Jewish roots. Marta Leonardi, her sister, had begun researching the family history and realized their grandparents on both sides were Jewish. The sisters were raised in a mainly atheist household in Krakow, Poland. Kasia initially greeted the news with some ambivalence, while Marta enthusiastically explored her newfound religion. The Leonardis are far from exceptional in Poland. Young people discover they are Jewish all the time, says Poland's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich. The legacy of the Holocaust hangs heavily over the Jewish community — about 90 percent of Poland's Jewish population was killed during World War II. For the remaining community of a little over 380,000 Jews, hiding their religion became a survival tactic. Zofia Radzikowska, 84, is well known within Krakow's Jewish community. She was 4 years old when the war broke out and her memories of the time are vague. But she vividly recalls the arrival of German soldiers in Krakow. "I especially remember what happened after the Germans entered Krakow because my father lost his shop. My mother also lost her place of work and we had to leave our flat because some Germans came and told my father that we have to move." Radzikowska's mother managed to secure false documents, changing their name and religion. They fled to a tiny village outside of Krakow, and told neighbors that her father had gone to fight in the war. Mother and daughter pretended they were Catholic. Her father could not. "He was a man. Every man, every Jewish man was circumcised," Radzikowska said. After the war ended in 1945, Jewish survivors who returned from the Nazi concentration camps told Radzikowska's mother that they had seen her father in Auschwitz. He had not survived. Radzikowska doesn't hide her religion any longer but said it took a long time for her to openly observe it. Many survivors never did. Under communist rule, Poland's Jewish community was further persecuted. If you wanted to observe your religion it made good sense to leave "post-Holocaust Soviet-occupied communist Poland," Schudrich said. "Not all the Jews left. Those who stayed mostly agreed with those who left: Stay Jewish, leave communist Poland, stay in communist Poland, stop being Jewish." Poland's Jewish population had almost disappeared by the mid-1970s. Historian Dariusz Stola said it looked like the history of Polish Jews was about to end — it's a miracle to see a revival of Jewish life in democratic Poland today.

2-15-20 Why being gay in Russia is about 'love and passion'
Jon and Alex, a gay couple from Russia, share an intimate moment at a small apartment in St Petersburg.This secret glimpse into their private lives was captured by Danish photographer Mads Nissen and received the prestigious World Press Photo Award in 2015. But while people across the globe were admiring Nissen's work, life for Jon and Alex was only getting more difficult. Members of the LGBT community in Russia say social stigma and risk of physical attacks have increased since the country approved the law banning 'gay propaganda' in 2013. And for Jon, now that Alex is not alive, the picture is also a symbol of painful struggle and, ultimately, loss. If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this film, you can get advice and information here.

2-14-20 Controversial psychology tests are often still used in US courts
A third of the psychological tests used in US court proceedings aren’t generally accepted by experts in the field, a study has found. “A clinician has the freedom to use whatever tool they want and it’s the wild west out there,” says Tess Neal at Arizona State University. Neal’s team looked at the validity of psychological assessments commonly used in US courts. Assessments were used in a range of circumstances, from parental custody cases to the determination of a person’s sanity or their suitability for a death sentence. In a custody case, for instance, a psychologist might be asked to assess whether a parent is responsible enough to care for their child. Neal’s team first looked at the huge range of psychological tests currently used in courts, according to 22 previous surveys of forensic mental health professionals. “There’s way more variety out there than we realised,” says Neal. The researchers found that 60 per cent of the tests used in US courts hadn’t received generally favourable reviews of their scientific validity in widely accepted textbooks such as the Mental Measurements Yearbook. And 33 per cent weren’t broadly accepted by psychology experts, according to nine previously published reviews of the field. The most problematic tests are usually those that are too subjective, says Neal. For instance, the second most common assessment used according to previous surveys was the Rorschach inkblot test, in which people are asked what images they see in abstract patterns. This has been widely criticised for letting clinicians interpret responses based on their own impressions of a person. “There are questions about its scientific underpinnings,” says Neal. Another problematic personality test asks people to complete sentences where only the first few words are given, which again is thought to be too subjective.

2-14-20 Coronavirus: Fake flyers in Los Angeles target Panda Express
Fake flyers telling diners to avoid Asian-American restaurants because of the coronavirus are among a spate of recent racist incidents linked to the outbreak, say California authorities. Coronavirus fears have spread even though the US has seen just 15 cases, over half in California. This week in Los Angeles bullies accused an Asian-American student of having the virus and badly beat him. The coronavirus has now reached 24 countries outside China. Anxiety and misinformation related to the virus have fuelled anti-Asian prejudice, Los Angeles authorities said at a press conference. "Many may be quick to assume that just because someone is Asian or from China that somehow they are more likely to be carriers of the virus," said Robin Toma, executive director of the LA County Human Relations Commission. A Los Angeles Asian-American schoolboy accused by bullies of having the virus was taken to the hospital after being beaten. "He went to the hospital originally and went to the emergency room," Mr Toma said. "They were taking MRIs to ensure he didn't have a concussion or other harm." There has been just one case of the virus reported in Los Angeles County, which has a population of 10.1 million. But in the Los Angeles area, flyers with counterfeit seals for the World Health Organization (WHO) have been posted. They advised residents to avoid Asian-American businesses like Panda Express because of the coronavirus. In the nearby Alhambra area, 14,000 people have signed a petition urging school closures over the virus. And in a now-deleted Instagram post on "managing fears and anxiety", the University of California, Berkeley health services department listed xenophobia as a "normal" reaction amid a virus outbreak. The prejudicial attacks could worsen given the possibility that the virus will spread in US communities in the coming weeks, said Mr Toma. Similar incidents have been reported worldwide, including Canada, the UK and France. But coronavirus cases are not rising dramatically outside China, the WHO has said.

2-14-20 Trump’s victory lap: Let the vengeance begin
It was “the political equivalent of one of those mob-movie montages where the don’s enemies are gunned down to the accompaniment of an operatic score,” said Max Boot in The Washington Post. In the days following last week’s acquittal in the Senate on two articles of impeachment, an “unchastened, unchained, and unhinged” President Trump launched a blatant “campaign of revenge.” The ugliness began at the usually nonpartisan National Prayer Breakfast, where Trump dismissed a plea from Arthur C. Brooks, a renowned conservative and Catholic convert, for Americans to put aside partisan bitterness and heed Jesus’ call to love your enemies. “I don’t know if I agree with you,” Trump said as he took the podium, and unleashed a startling tirade against the “very dishonest and corrupt people” who voted to impeach him. He accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of lying when she said that she had prayed for him. “I doubt she prays at all,” Trump sneered. In a clear shot at Sen. Mitt Romney—the lone Republican to vote for conviction—Trump condemned people who use their faith “as justification for doing what they know is wrong.” Later, Trump attacked impeachment manager Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) as a “vicious” and “horrible” person who had “not paid the price, yet.” Hours later, Trump fired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman from the National Security Council (NSC) and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland for testifying at the House inquiry. Vindman, who earned a Purple Heart in Afghanistan, was escorted off the White House grounds with his twin brother, Yevgeny, an NSC lawyer who was guilty only by association. “This is what happens when a sociopath gets away with something,” said Michael Gerson, also in The Washington Post. Trump’s “unholy outburst” at the prayer breakfast shows what grave danger America is in. Having survived the Russia investigation, and now House impeachment, he clearly “feels unchecked and uncheckable.” Clearly, “there are no guardrails” left, said Paul Brandus in USA Today. The day after Robert Mueller finished his investigation by giving muted House testimony, “this most lawless of presidents made that now infamous call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky” in which he asked for “a favor”—an investigation of Democrats that would help Trump win the 2020 election. As the election approaches, what will an “unfettered” Trump do?

2-14-20 Justice Department bends to Trump in Roger Stone case
Four prosecutors withdrew in protest from the Justice Department’s case against Trump confidant Roger Stone after President Trump lashed out in defense of his onetime campaign aide and the Justice Department undercut their sentencing recommendations. Stone was convicted last November of lying to Congress about the leak of Russian-hacked Democratic campaign emails, and of pressuring a witness to do the same, in a case that grew out of Robert Mueller’s investigation. The DOJ had initially recommended that Stone serve seven to nine years in prison, following federal guidelines. Hours after Trump called that “horrible” and a “miscarriage of justice,” top Justice officials said they’d been blindsided by the “grossly disproportionate” recommendation by the prosecutors, and the department cut its recommended sentence down to three to four years. The House Judiciary Committee has called on Barr to testify in March, and the questioning is expected to include the decision to overrule career prosecutors. The White House denied pressuring the DOJ, but Trump tweeted, “Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control.” The president also denounced the “Mueller scam” and the “rogue prosecutors” who “cut and ran” by resigning, and suggested that the judge in Stone’s case, Amy Berman Jackson, is biased against Trump aides. Trump also revoked his nomination of Jessie Liu, a former U.S. attorney who oversaw the Stone prosecution, to a top Treasury Department post. Trump was defiant in the face of criticism, telling reporters he has “the absolute right” to intervene in Justice Department decisions. (Webmaster's comment: Goodbye to the Rule of Law.)

2-14-20 Seceding from reality
In a naïve moment, said Charles Sykes, I wondered if the news that Donald Trump’s “fleecing of taxpayers by charging the Secret Service exorbitant rates might make a difference with Trump’s base.” The Washington Post has obtained records showing that Trump’s company is charging the government as much as $650 a night for agents to stay at his private clubs while guarding him, despite claims that only housekeeping costs would be passed on. (See U.S. Map.) This Swampy corruption has put millions of taxpayer dollars in the president’s pocket—but “of course it wouldn’t matter.” That’s because Trump’s fans now live in “an alternative reality bubble.” Most Trumpists now get their information from Fox News and Facebook, not “The Fake News Media.” They are often unaware of unflattering stories, or are immune to them because they’ve deeply internalized Trump talking points—“witch hunt,” “hoax,” “bias,” etc. They will tell you that thanks to Trump, “leeches and layabouts are no longer stealing from ‘us.’” Tell them that Trump is bilking taxpayers, that his trade wars have badly hurt farmers and manufacturing, or that he’s run up $1 trillion deficits, and they say, “Fake news!” To believe in Trump is to believe in anything you wish.

2-14-20 The hidden economic crisis
Despite the rosy economic numbers of recent years, said Annie Lowrey, many Americans are being bled dry by “the spiraling cost of living.” Call it “the Great Affordability Crisis.” Take a close look at where families’ money goes and you can see why in the 2010s “for millions, a roaring economy felt precarious or downright terrible.” Housing costs have outstripped wages in roughly 80 percent of America’s metro regions, and even in rural areas there’s been a jump in the number of households spending half or more of their income on housing. Young people simply can’t afford to move to areas where the best jobs are. Then there’s health care. Soaring premiums, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs are “casting millions into debt.” College tuition has skyrocketed, and student-loan debt is “a trillion-dollar stone placed on young adults’ backs,” with nearly 50 million adults working off debt loads. Finally, child-care costs have leaped 2,000 percent in the past four decades, putting a crushing burden on young families. In other wealthy countries, child care and education are “public goods,” and no one goes bankrupt because they get sick. Until we muster the political will to follow suit, “the Great Affordability Crisis hides in plain sight.”

2-14-20 President storms congress
Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele led heavily armed soldiers and police into the country’s Legislative Assembly building this week, to demand that lawmakers approve a $109 million loan to buy equipment for security forces. Taking the seat reserved for the head of the congress, Bukele led a prayer for the troops and threatened to dissolve the legislature unless it approved the funds within a week. The sight of troops in the assembly—in a country that suffered a military dictatorship and civil war in the 1980s and early ’90s—drew a rebuke from the nation’s supreme court. Bukele, who was elected as an outsider last year, says his policy of increasing police and troop deployments has substantially lowered El Salvador’s homicide rate, which had been one of the world’s highest. (Webmaster's comment: Behavior coming soon to America. Will be endorsed by Trump and the Republicans.)

2-14-20 What next? Fascists in government?
Germany has taken another step toward the normalization of fascism, said Stephan Hebel. Thomas Kemmerich of the centrist Free Democratic Party briefly became premier of the state of Thuringia last week by accepting the support of lawmakers from the ultraright, xenophobic party Alternative for Germany (AfD). After a huge outcry and a condemnation from Chancellor Angela Merkel, Kemmerich stepped down the next day. But the consensus that has existed since the end of World War II, that the main German parties must shun extremist parties, has been shattered. Sure, the AfD deputies who supported Kemmerich—including state party leader Björn Höcke, who echoes Adolf Hitler with his talk of racial suicide and population replacement—were democratically elected. But then, so was Hitler. Our grim history teaches us that “formally democratic decisions can pave the way for the enemies of democracy.” The state parties that threw in their lot with the AfD—the Free Democrats and Merkel’s own center-right Christian Democrats—decided that allowing a leftist government to come to power in Thuringia would be worse than lying down with the ultraright. Those of us who still believe in German democracy can take heart at the reversal of this outrageous result. But we can never again assume that there is a “middle-class consensus” against fascism.

2-14-20 Let them be raped and die
At least 138 people whom the United States deported to El Salvador have been killed there, and dozens more were sexually assaulted, according to a report from Human Rights Watch. Most of the deaths took place within a year of their return, some within days. The gang-plagued country has one of the world’s highest murder rates, and the number of its citizens seeking asylum in the United States grew nearly 10-fold between 2012 and 2017. Only about 18 percent are granted asylum.

2-14-20 US election 2020: Buttigieg sexuality becomes campaign issue
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg's sexuality has become a campaign issue after a radio host questioned if voters would pick a man "kissing his husband on stage". Firebrand conservative Rush Limbaugh said Democrats must realise America is still not ready to elect a gay man. Mr Buttigieg's Democratic rivals leapt to his defence, and President Donald Trump said he would vote for a gay man. Mr Limbaugh was last week awarded a top civilian honour by the president. On his radio show which is nationally syndicated to millions of listeners, Mr Limbaugh on Wednesday imagined Demcorats' deliberations over who to vote for. He said: "They're saying, 'OK, how's this going to look? Thirty-seven-year-old gay guy kissing his husband on stage, next to Mr Man, Donald Trump.'" If elected, 38-year-old Mr Buttigieg would be the first openly gay US president. He is the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a city of just over 100,000 people. Mr Buttigieg did not directly address the radio host's remarks during an event in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Thursday night, but said: "I'm proud of my marriage. I'm proud of my husband." His campaign declined to comment. President Trump was asked in an interview with a Fox News journalist on Thursday if he would be open to voting for a gay candidate. "I think so," the Republican president said. "I think there would be some that wouldn't, and I wouldn't be among that group, to be honest with you. "I think that it doesn't seem to be hurting Pete Buttigieg." According to Pew Research, the proportion of Americans in favour of same-sex marriage is at 61%, a number that has levelled out in the last few years after steadily rising for a decade. Former Vice-President Joe Biden, who has been beaten by Mr Buttigieg in the first two votes of the presidential primary season, in Iowa and New Hampshire, lashed out at Mr Limbaugh. He said on ABC's daytime chat show The View on Thursday: "It is part of the depravity of this administration… Pete and I are competitors, but this guy has honour, he has courage, he's smart as hell."

2-14-20 How Florida criminalizes honest work
Be grateful, Florida, said Christian Britschgi, your local police have saved you from the dangers of unlicensed plumbers and tile-layers. In an extensive undercover sting, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office arrested 118 handymen for operating without a license. The deputies posed as homeowners to hire the workers, who “would be lured to one of five homes, where undercover deputies filmed them performing or agreeing to perform prohibited tasks like painting or installing recess lighting.” Yes, you heard that right: These criminal masterminds agreed to perform tasks like painting, “preying on innocent homeowners”—the cops’ words—who needed their walls painted. For this they were arrested, booked, and are now potentially subject to a 12-month jail sentence; eight repeat offenders can be charged with a felony. Here’s the way these stings really work: The police frequently hire a handyman “on the pretext of performing work that doesn’t need a license.” Then when the workman gets to the site, the cops badger him to do something else, such as laying tile, that only a licensed contractor can do. And then when the handyman agrees, they nab him. This isn’t about “safeguarding the welfare of consumers,” it’s done to “protect incumbent businesses and government licensing revenue.” And while Florida’s police are entrapping plumbers, real criminals commit real crimes.

2-14-20 'Too many white people in here': race row at US college
A viral video showing a black student at the University of Virginia asking white students to leave the campus diversity centre has sparked a debate over race. "Frankly, there's just too many white people in here," the student says in the clip posted on Wednesday. The incident has divided students and commentators on Twitter. Some argue that minorities at the predominantly white school should have their own space. Others said the student was exhibiting "racist intolerance". The row has touched a nerve at the institution, which was largely built by slaves, in a state that has struggled to reckon with a legacy of racism. In response, the UVA administration has said that the centre is "open to all members of the university community". The video was posted by conservative group Young America's Foundation. In the clip, a black student is seen calling for attention before making an announcement. "This is a space for people of colour, so just be really cognisant of the space you're taking up because it does make some of us [people of colour] uncomfortable when we see too many white people in here," she says. "Frankly, there's the whole university for a lot of y'all to be at, and there's very few spaces for us so keep that in mind," she says. A majority of the 16,777 undergraduate students who enrolled at UVA in the 2017-2018 school year were white, while only six percent were black, according to university data. "Being a person of colour at a predominantly white institution is exhausting sometimes. The pressure and stress that often comes with being the only Black person in the room can be extremely taxing," wrote UVA student Charles Snowden on Twitter. "She does not want to segregate the school," he wrote, referring to the student in the video. "She just wants a space where she can escape those pressures." Renovations to the diversity centre were completed four days before the video was posted, part of a wider UVA effort to "support diverse communities". In May, UVA President Jim Ryan approved a $500,000 (£380,000) project to fund the centre, as well as spaces for Hispanic, interfaith and LGBTQ communities.

2-14-20 No to married priests
Pope Francis has nixed a proposal to allow married men to become priests and women to become deacons in the Amazon, a region with so few clergy that Catholics there can go years without the opportunity to attend Mass. Last fall, after a three-week summit, Amazonian bishops had recommended those changes, triggering criticism from conservative Catholic groups who warned that such reforms would weaken the priesthood’s celibacy requirement and damage church traditions. In the new paper titled “Beloved Amazon,” Francis didn’t even mention the proposals, instead urging bishops to send missionaries to alleviate the shortage of priests, and to incorporate indigenous traditions into local rites.

2-14-20 Getting into the Kingdom of Heaven
An Ohio minister says he plans to sue the NFL over its racy Super Bowl halftime show. Minister Dave Daubenmire claims Shakira and Jennifer Lopez’s “soft-porn performance” may prevent him from “getting into the Kingdom of Heaven.” Furthermore, said Daubenmire, when “you go on a porn website, you’re not looking for 50-year-old women.”

2-14-20 Christian, Muslim, Atheist OK
More than 90% of Americans say they would be willing to vote for their party’s nominated candidate if he or she happened to be Jewish, black, Hispanic, Catholic, or a woman. 66% said they’d vote for a Muslim, and 60% for an atheist. Only 45% said they’d be willing to vote for a socialist.

2-14-20 Trump fires back at attorney general's criticism
US President Donald Trump has tweeted he has "the legal right" to intervene in criminal cases after his attorney general complained White House tweets were making his job "impossible". In his post, Mr Trump also denied he had ever meddled in any cases. America's top law officer William Barr on Thursday asked Mr Trump to stop his tweets, saying he would not be bullied. Mr Barr spoke out after Mr Trump renewed his attack on the criminal trial of his ex-adviser, Roger Stone. Prosecutors had recommended Stone serve a stiff sentence, but Mr Trump tweeted that was unfair. On Friday morning, Mr Trump ignored the attorney general's plea for a tweet embargo. Mr Barr - who has been accused of bowing to presidential pressure - said on Thursday that President Trump "undercuts" him by tweeting, making it "impossible for me to do my job". "I think it's time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases," Mr Barr told ABC News. "I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me," he added. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the president should listen to Mr Barr's advice. "If the attorney general says it's getting in the way of doing his job, the president should listen to the attorney general," the Republican senator told Fox News. There was widespread anger this week when the Department of Justice said it planned to reduce the length of the prison sentence it would seek for Stone, a long-time friend of the president. Stone was convicted in November of obstructing an investigation by the House Intelligence Committee into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Federal prosecutors had initially recommended that Stone should face seven to nine years in jail for trying to thwart the investigation. (Webmaster's comment: Our new government by Thugs and not by Law duke it out. Trump is emulating how Hitler became a dictator 80 years ago.)

2-13-20 Sanctuary counties: Inside Virginia's gun rights resistance
Democrats swept to victory in Virginia last year after campaigning on stricter gun control laws. Weeks later, the backlash began. The Culpeper County 2A Facebook group had five rules. Rule one was "Get Busy - Follow the Action Plan and take the necessary steps to protect our rights. Sharing memes isn't enough. We need coordinated action." Rule two was "Do Not Give Up - We're in the fight of our lives. Act accordingly. Never surrender." At some point in late January the rules changed, and rule two became "No racism". But the basic purpose remained: Culpeper County 2A (the 2A stands for Second Amendment) was founded with the aim of resisting gun control bills working their way through the Virginia state legislature. Similar groups are springing up across the state. Dozens of towns and counties are passing resolutions declaring themselves "second amendment sanctuaries" - a term borrowed from the "sanctuary cities" immigration movement of several years ago. The resolutions vary from county to county, but they broadly declare support for the second amendment and label the proposed state gun control laws as invalid. Democrats won control of the Virginia House and Senate in November for the first time in 24 years, and they immediately proposed a raft of gun control measures from universal background checks to restrictions on high capacity magazines. The bills came as no surprise - the Democrats had campaigned heavily on gun control, backed by funding from activist groups which comprehensively outspent the National Rifle Association in its home state. Democratic candidates were responding to a growing clamour for gun control that began with the mass shooting of 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007 and was amplified last year when a municipal worker slaughtered 12 people in Virginia Beach. When they won, the Democrats turned their proposals into bills and promised a wave of progressive legislation. Weeks later, the backlash began. Nearly 200 Virginia municipalities have now passed second amendment sanctuary resolutions, turning the old Confederate capital into a kind of frontline once again. The driving force behind the resolution in Culpeper County was Patrick Heelen, a local attorney who founded the Culpeper County 2A group.

2-13-20 Authoritarians aren't like Mao anymore. They're like Trump.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration continued its post-acquittal abuse-of-power bender by brazenly interfering in the sentencing of Russiagate figure Roger Stone. Following the ouster of key impeachment witness Alexander Vindman and his twin brother Yevgeny from their White House postings over the weekend, and the firing of Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, the president is practically daring anyone to stop him. These developments are dangerous not because the fate of the republic hinges on how many years the execrable Stone spends in prison or the future employment prospects of the Vindman brothers but rather because of the precedent that they set about how presidential authority will be wielded. What President Trump has done goes beyond these individuals, and beyond even the never-ending Russia scandal that started it all and which still supplies the president's basic motive to cover things up. We are no longer in the realm of politics, since there is no conceivable political benefit to exacting revenge on executive branch employees. We are well beyond corruption, because the president's economic interests would be much better served by letting Stone whither in jail and allowing the Vindmans to continue with their work. What is happening is that President Trump and his allies are conducting a stress test of our tolerance for nakedly despotic practices. And we are failing it not only because we don't really understand what authoritarianism is or what it feels like, but because the president's indecencies are carefully calibrated to touch no one other than their intended targets. Authoritarianism is frequently misunderstood in the United States, to our detriment. In the collective imagination, it is associated with tanks in the streets and dramatic moments of confrontation between the wielders of tyranny and its resisters. We think of gulags and purges and mass murder, and with good reason. The very worst kinds of authoritarian regimes were responsible for human suffering on previously unimaginable scales during the 20th century.

2-13-20 The Don seizes the Justice Department
Trump is doing to the judicial system what he did to the Republican Party. The closer you get to President Trump, the closer you get to prison. Roger Stone, the president's longtime friend and former campaign adviser, is living proof. On Monday, he was sentenced to seven to nine years in prison for crimes he committed relating to Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. That night, at 1:48 a.m., our law-and-order president tweeted, "This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!" The next day, in a total coincidence, the Department of Justice changed its mind and said that Stone deserved "far less" than the previously recommended sentence, prompting four prosecutors to withdraw from the case and one to resign in protest. Hours later, Trump tweeted, "All starting to unravel with the ridiculous nine year sentence recommendation!" If there's one thing we know that Trump hates, it's long sentences. On Twitter and to reporters, Trump berated the prosecutors, a juror, and the judge presiding over Stone’s case. More ominously, he said he has the "absolute right" to tell the Justice Department what to do, but claimed he "didn't speak" to anyone there about Stone. He didn't have to speak. He tweeted instead. On the same day he mourned Stone's imprisonment, Trump suggested that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman be disciplined for testifying truthfully about his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The president wants to penalize non-perjury and decriminalize perjury, punishing truths and rewarding lies made on his behalf. After denying that he told the Department of Justice what to do about Stone's case, Trump tweeted congratulations to "Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought." He admitted that the Department of Justice was his political operation. Trump is doing to the judicial system what he did to the Republican Party: ethic cleansing.

2-12-20 The rule of law is dead
Trump's post-impeachment campaign to assert unlimited power. We are watching the rule of law collapse in real time. It is no surprise that President Trump on Tuesday meddled in the federal case against his friend Roger Stone — who is convicted of sabotaging an investigation against Trump himself — declaring that a nine-year sentencing recommendation by Department of Justice lawyers was "very unfair" and adding that he "cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!" It is no surprise that the Department of Justice — led by Trump's unendingly faithful servant, Attorney General William Barr — responded to Trump's tweet by reversing itself, instead recommending that Stone serve only an "unspecified" amount of time in prison. And it is no surprise that these events occurred in an atmosphere of Trumpian house cleaning. There were reports that Jessie Liu, a former prosecutor on the Stone case, had her nomination withdrawn for a job at the Treasury Department. The president on Tuesday also suggested that the military conduct an inquiry against Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, whose only apparent crime is telling Congress the truth about what he witnessed during the Ukraine scandal. At the same time, the White House reportedly planned to withdraw its nomination of Elaine McCusker to be the Pentagon's comptroller — because McCusker resisted the president's efforts to delay military aid to Ukraine, the act that started the scandal. Add Tuesday's events to those of last Friday, when Vindman and his brother were fired, along with Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the EU, and America has experienced two "Saturday Night Massacres" within a week. The message to the federal workforce is clear: Mess with the president or his friends, and your career will suffer. Trump is like a bizarro world version of Diogenes: Instead of a ceaseless search to find the last honest man, he instead is doing everything he can to expel all traces of integrity and honesty from American governance. Right now, he is succeeding.

2-12-20 Bloomberg said in 2015 'all the crime' is in minority areas
Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg said police should focus on minority neighbourhoods "because that's where all the crime is", according to audio from 2015 that has resurfaced. The former New York City mayor also told a think-tank that male minorities perpetrate "the real crime". The billionaire last year apologised for backing stop-and frisk policing as he launched his White House campaign. A new poll places Mr Bloomberg at third place in the crowded Democratic field. Stop-and-frisk is a practice where the police stop, question and search people on the street to try and find weapons and other illegal items. In remarks to the Aspen Institute in Colorado on 5 February 2015, Mr Bloomberg is heard saying: "It's controversial, but first thing is, all of your - 95% percent of your murders, murderers and murder victims, fit one M.O. [method of operation] "You can just take the description, Xerox it and pass out to all the cops. They are male minorities, 15 to 25. That's true in New York. "It's true in virtually every city. And that's where the real crime is. You've got to get the guns out of the hands of the people that are getting killed." He added: "Put those cops where the crime is, which is in the minority neighbourhoods. So this is - one of the unintended consequences is, people say, 'Oh my God, you are arresting kids for marijuana that are all minorities.' Yes, that's true. Why? "Because we put all the cops in the minority neighbourhoods. Yes, that's true. Why do we do it? Because that's where all the crime is." He continued: "And the way you get the guns out of the kids' hands is to throw them against the wall and frisk them." According to the Aspen Times newspaper, Mr Bloomberg's aides had asked journalists not to air footage of his remarks. US President Donald Trump, who reportedly views Mr Bloomberg as a serious threat to his prospects of re-election in November despite deriding him as "Mini Mike", tweeted the audio clip on Tuesday. Critics pointed out that the Republican president has himself been a vocal supporter of stop-and-frisk policing and has previously been accused of racism.

2-12-20 Pope Francis rules against ordaining married men in Amazon
Pope Francis has ruled against ordaining married men in the Amazon region as a means of addressing the shortage of Catholic priests. Bishops backed the measure last year, but the decision needed the Pope's approval to be implemented. Catholic priests are required to abide by the rule of celibacy upon ordination except in cases where married Anglican ministers have converted. Celibacy is seen as the devotion of one's life to God. The conservative wing of the Catholic Church - particularly in Europe and North America - has spoken out against the idea of married priests, arguing that this could lead to the global abolition of celibacy. A statement from the Vatican said: "The Amazon challenges us, the Pope writes, to overcome limited perspectives and not to content ourselves with solutions that address only part of the situation." The Pope said there was a need for ministers who can understand Amazonian sensibilities and cultures from within. He urged bishops to "promote prayer for priestly vocations" and to encourage those who want to become missionaries to "opt for the Amazon region". In October last year, a synod of 184 bishops met at the Vatican to discuss the future of the Church in the Amazon. It was argued that older, married men should be allowed to become priests. However, they would need to be men who are particularly well-respected and would preferably come from the indigenous communities where they intend to work. It is estimated that at least 85% of villages in the Amazon are unable to celebrate Mass every week as a result of a shortage of priests. Some are said to only see a priest once a year. Bishop Robert Flock of San Ignacio, a remote diocese in the Bolivian Amazon, told the BBC's Newshour: "The Pope simply kicked the can down the road. He doesn't even mention the recommendation of the possibility of married deacons being ordained as priests which was what the synod conclusions had suggested. "The Catholic Church moves slowly in certain areas and this is one of those that could have caused terrible divisions in the church," he added.

2-11-20 Boy lifted off floor in police chokehold
Dekyrion Ellis, who is in ninth-grade, said that he was lifted off the floor by a support resource officer at his high school after he had been involved in an altercation with a classmate. Jake Perry, an officer at Camden High School in Arkansas, is under investigation for use of excessive force and has been placed on leave. Police chief Boyd Woody said in a statement: "I will not tolerate misconduct from my officers and this matter will be dealt with accordingly and I will be transparent in doing so". The use of chokeholds has been banned by many US police forces. Last summer, the NYPD fired the officer involved in the high-profile 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner. His dying words - "I can't breathe" - became a rallying cry at protests against excessive use of force.

2-11-20 Holden Matthews: Man admits burning churches to raise 'black metal' profile
A 22-year-old man has pleaded guilty to intentionally setting fire to three African-American churches in the US state of Louisiana. Holden Matthews, 22, admitted to starting the fires to raise his profile as a "black metal" musician, prosecutors said. He burned three Baptist churches in the Opelousas area over 10 days beginning in late March 2019. He faces 10 to 70 years in jail when he is sentenced on 22 May. On Monday, Matthews entered several guilty pleas for federal and state charges. The three churches Matthews admitted to torching had predominantly African-American congregations. Federal prosecutors did not specify whether there was a racial element to Matthews's crimes, but hate crimes were among the charges he pleaded guilty to. Matthews, the white son of a local sheriff deputy, set fire to those churches "because of the religious character of those buildings", they said. "His disgraceful conduct violated the civil rights of the church's parishioners and harmed their communities," said assistant attorney general Eric Dreiband. On Monday, Matthews pleaded guilty to four federal criminal charges, including three of intentional damage to religious property. He has also pleaded guilty to six charges at state level. The three Baptist churches he targeted were St Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre (on 26 March), Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas (on 2 April) and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas (on 4 April). Each church was razed to the ground by the fires Matthews lit, prosecutors said. No-one was injured, as it was the middle of the night. During his plea hearing, Matthews said he specifically targeted those churches. He did so because he sought to emulate church burnings carried out by black metal music fans in Norway in the 1990s. In the 1990s, at least 50 Christian churches in Norway were attacked by arsonists in the name of black metal, a subgenre of heavy metal music. Varg Vikernes was among the most infamous black metal musicians to be convicted of church arson in this period.

2-10-20 Native burial sites blown up for US border wall
Native American burial sites have been blown up by construction crews building the US-Mexico border wall, says a lawmaker and tribal leaders. Authorities confirmed that "controlled blasting" has begun at Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a Unesco recognised natural reserve. Raul Grijalva, a Democratic congressman, called the destruction "sacrilegious". The government failed to consult the Tohono O'odham Nation, he said. Environmental groups also warn of the damage being done to the local underground aquifer, as well as to migrating wildlife in the remote desert region about 115 miles (185km) west of Tucson. Officials say the aim of the project is to construct a 30ft-tall (9m) steel barrier that runs for 43 miles on the national park land. The United Nations designated Organ Pipe as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976, calling it "a pristine example of an intact Sonoran Desert ecosystem". Mr Grijalva, the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, represents a district that encompasses the area, which shares 400 miles of border with Mexico. He toured the burial sites at the Organ Pipe, known as Monument Hill, last month, and was told that O'odham people buried warriors from the rival Apache tribe there. "What we saw on Monument Hill was opposing tribes who were respectfully laid to rest - that is the one being blasted with dynamite," Mr Grijalva said. In interviews with US media, he called the Trump administration's conduct "sacrilegious" and said the environmental monitor that the government assigned to the project would do nothing to mitigate the cultural damage. One area contained artefacts dating back 10,000 years. Tribal chairman Ned Norris Jr told the Arizona Republic that even though the land is now controlled by the US government, "we have inhabited this area since time immemorial." "They're our ancestors. They're our remnants of who we are as a people, throughout this whole area. And it's our obligation, it's our duty to do what is necessary to protect that."

2-9-20 Switzerland votes on LGBT discrimination proposal
Voters in Switzerland have been going to the polls to decide on a proposal to make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sexual identity punishable by law. Discrimination because of race or religion is already illegal in the country. Now members of Switzerland's LGBT community hope they too will get legal protection. But opponents of the new law argue it could restrict free speech. "Many Swiss people tend to overrate how modern our country is," explains Anna Rosenwasser of the Swiss Lesbian Organisation. She points out that on the Rainbow Map of 49 countries' respect for LGBT rights, Switzerland ranks just 23rd. "It might be rich, but it's really not modern yet. We have no laws concerning public discrimination based on sexual orientation." To support her argument that the lack of legal protection causes harm to the gay community, Ms Rosenwasser cites suicide rates: "Amongst queer people in Switzerland, it is five times higher compared to heterosexual people. That's quite something, it shows how we are not feeling safe yet." "We don't even know if jokes about gays will be allowed," Benjamin Fischer of the right-wing Swiss People's Party told Swiss television. "Some say yes, some say no they will be punishable. We live in a country with freedom of expression, people should be allowed to think and say what they like, even if it's a bit stupid or tasteless." There is opposition too from some religious groups. Although Switzerland's reformed church has backed the new law, the Swiss Evangelical Alliance, which has significant support in rural areas, is sceptical. "Our churches see the marriage of a man and a woman as the only couple they want to marry," explains the general secretary of the alliance, Marc Jost. "We just want to be free to say: 'Ok, we want to privilege the marriage of a man and a woman.' And we don't want to be at risk if we share this opinion, and treat other couples in a different way."

2-7-20 Only if God asked me
A Montana lawmaker is refusing to retract his claim that the U.S. Constitution requires that socialists “either go to prison or are shot.” Republican state Rep. Rodney Garcia is also refusing bipartisan calls for him to resign, with Montana’s GOP leadership calling his remarks “reckless and un-American.” The “only way I would give my resignation is if God asked me to,” said Garcia.

2-7-20 Expanded ban
Six new countries will be subjected to President Trump’s crackdown on immigrants—including Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation. The U.S. announced the expanded immigration-ban list, which also includes Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, and Myanmar. In addition, would-be Sudanese and Tanzanian immigrants will be barred from the green-card lottery. The countries allegedly fail to meet “baseline” security criteria, though critics say Trump is acting on his 2016 pledge of a “shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” All six countries have substantial Muslim populations; the predominantly Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar has been fleeing from genocide. Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama said his country was “blindsided” by being included. Trump previously complained of Nigerians overstaying visas, saying they’d never “go back to their huts.”

2-7-20 Opps
President Trump’s planned border wall will require hundreds of gates that must be kept open for months every summer to prevent flash floods from damaging or knocking it over, U.S. border officials have admitted. Last week, a section of wall erected to replace an older barrier in California blew over in high winds, landing in trees on the Mexican side.

2-7-20 Land-mine rollback
In a rare formal condemnation of the U.S., the European Union this week criticized the Trump administration’s decision to scrap restrictions on the American military’s use of anti-personnel land mines. Unlike all of its NATO partners, the U.S. never signed the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. The Obama administration did limit the use of mines to the Korean Peninsula in 2014, but the Trump administration reversed that ban last week, saying it wanted “to give our military the flexibility and capability it needs to win.” The EU said the order “undermines the global norm against anti-personnel mines,” which “has saved tens of thousands of people in the past 20 years.” Land mines can kill civilians decades after they were laid; nearly 7,000 people were killed or injured by mines in 2018.

2-7-20 Don’t sanctify nukes
The Russian Orthodox Church wants its priests to quit blessing nuclear bombs. Priests in Russia have long splashed holy water on arms, but in recent years critics have argued that it is inappropriate to sanctify weapons of mass destruction that kill indiscriminately. A church commission was set up to look into the practice, and it recommended this week that clerics stop blessing nukes and instead focus on seeking divine protection for soldiers. Under President Vladimir Putin, the church has become an important arm of the state and has a close relationship with the military. The armed forces are currently building their own cathedral in a military park outside Moscow; it will be one of the tallest Russian Orthodox churches in the world.

2-7-20 Race to Dinner
Liberal white women in Denver are paying $2,500 for “Race to Dinner” parties, at which two women of color challenge them “to own their racism.” Co-founder Saira Rao, who is Indian-American, says she “spent years trying to get through to white women” in polite conversations and “got nowhere.” The dinners are more effective because they’re more confrontational, Rao says. “Let’s try to shake them awake,” she says.

2-7-20 Lite "em if you got 'em
A Tennessee marijuana enthusiast lit up a joint in the middle of a packed courtroom, took a deep drag, and then began pontificating about the importance of legalizing weed. Spencer Alan Boston, 20, was in Wilson County criminal court on a simple drug charge when he approached the bench and calmly lit up. A court officer handcuffed him almost immediately and led him away through what was later described as a small cloud of smoke. “We deserve better,” Boston told onlookers. “One of the craziest things I’ve seen,” said Sheriff Robert Bryan.

2-7-20 The national debt: A ticking time bomb?
America is “headed toward a crisis,” said Tiana Lowe in WashingonExaminer.com. The Treasury Department reported last week that the federal deficit swelled to more than $1 trillion in 2019 for the first time since 2012. Even more alarming was the report from the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicting that $1 trillion deficits will continue for the next 10 years, eventually reaching $1.7 trillion in 2030. That means that the total federal debt will balloon to $31.4 trillion over the next decade, pushing the debt-to-GDP ratio to 98 percent, or the highest since World War II. And this wave of red ink is hitting us during boom years, when the country’s deficits should be shrinking so that we can borrow and spend money to stimulate the economy during the inevitable recession to come. There’s little doubt who’s to blame, said John Cassidy in NewYorker.com. After campaigning on a promise to pay off the entire deficit, Trump has run up “vast amounts of new debt” to finance a military buildup and the $1.5 trillion tax cut in 2017. Unfortunately, this relentless fiscal stimulus has achieved little, despite the president’s claims of stewarding “The Greatest Economy in American History.” Last year, GDP grew 2.3 percent, nowhere near the 4 percent Trump promised, and the CBO now predicts a steady decline to 1.5 percent by 2025. Americans should be “absolutely furious,” said Jordan Weissmann in Slate.com. Republicans preach frugality with a Democrat in the White House, but burn money every time they’re in power. Just watch: If Trump loses, Republicans will “rediscover their old-time faith in fiscal prudence and start shrieking about how the U.S. is on the road to becoming Argentina or Zimbabwe.” Don’t blame the Trump tax cuts, said Jake Novak in CNBC.com. The U.S. Treasury just booked a record quarter in tax revenue: $806.5 billion. “If tax revenues are rising, then tax cuts can’t possibly be the reason for rising federal debts.” It’s out-of-control spending that’s the cause. Still, when the deficit bill comes due, said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial, there’s little doubt that the poor will end up paying for our profligacy. Rather than cut defense or “the vast tax giveaways and subsidies” for the rich, fiscal conservatives will target “safety net programs” like Medicaid and food stamps. That would be redistributing wealth in the cruelest possible way—“from the impoverished to the well-to-do.”

2-7-20 Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy
David Zucchino’s gripping new book revisits “one of the most disturbing though virtually unknown political events in American history,” said Fergus Bordewich in The Wall Street Journal. In 1898, four years after a biracial fusion ticket took control of Wilmington, N.C., the state’s largest city, white supremacists mounted a coup in which they shot and killed at least 60 black residents. The headquarters of possibly the nation’s only black-owned daily newspaper was torched, the population swung overnight from majority black to majority white, and the insurrectionists lied for years about what triggered the violence. To Zucchino, a veteran journalist, the massacre, which achieved the only coup in U.S. history, becomes a “grim but fascinating” coda to Reconstruction. The coup didn’t occur in a vacuum, said Louis Masur in The Washington Post. Democrats across North Carolina had been determined to fight back against “Negro domination” after widespread victories for the fusionists in 1894. The Raleigh News and Observer spread lies about runaway crime and corruption in Wilmington, and when Wilmington’s Daily Record, a black newspaper, published an editorial that spoke bluntly about consensual sexual relationships between white women and black men, white-owned newspapers kept reprinting it for months to stoke outrage. Rifles were transported into the city to arm the white population, and on Election Day, Democrats across the state stuffed ballot boxes and drove black voters away from the polls. Two days later, at least 1,500 white men joined the planned siege. The 1898 coup wouldn’t be the last occasion on which a massacre of black Americans was characterized as a race riot, thus blaming the victims, said Ben Steelman in the Wilmington Star News. It was even reported that the siege had preempted a planned violent black uprising—another lie. In the end, 2,100 black citizens were chased from the port city, Wilmington’s black middle class was destroyed, dozens of people lay dead, and “no one seemed to care,” said Eddie Glaude in The New York Times. One of the coup’s leaders was anointed the new mayor that very day, and the News and Observer’s contemptible editor became U.S. Navy secretary. If you think this is only history, read Zucchino’s closing interviews with some of the descendants of the perpetrators and victims. “Memory and trauma look different depending on which side of the tracks you stand.”

2-7-20 Meet the cannabis chef leading a culinary revolution
The legal cannabis market in the US is booming and edibles - food that contains cannabis - are becoming increasingly popular. The country's first cannabis cafe recently opened in Los Angeles, although cannabis-infused food cannot currently be made on site. Andrea Drummer is the co-founder and one of the nation's leading cannabis chefs. But she started out life as an anti-drugs counsellor.

2-7-20 Russian reporter Milashina, who exposed Chechen gay purge, attacked in Grozny
A well-known Russian journalist and a lawyer have described being beaten up by a gang in a hotel in the Chechen capital, Grozny. Yelena Milashina, who exposed the kidnap and torture of gay Chechen men, was in Grozny with Marina Dubrovina for the trial of a local blogger. She said the pair were set upon by a gang of men and women in the lobby of the Kontinent hotel. Police were investigating the incident, the local human rights council said. In her statement to police, posted by Milashina on Facebook, the journalist said she saw the attack as linked to her professional work as she had been threatened by Chechen authorities before, and by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov personally. "It was co-ordinated, orchestrated," she told BBC Russian on Friday. "These were thugs, provocateurs; female thugs carried out this punitive attack. They were young women, girls, and the men were standing close by and giving them instructions." The pair were treated briefly in hospital and reported the incident to Chechen authorities. It happened shortly before midnight on Thursday and was filmed by the attackers, the paper said. Milashina told police that she and Ms Dubrovina were returning from a cafe across the road from the hotel when they saw more than 15 people in the lobby, including a man with a camera. As the pair waited by the lift, they were approached by some of the group and one of the women accused them of coming to "defend Wahhabis". "A second woman asked me who we had come to defend. I didn't get a chance to answer, before she hit me hard in the face. "After that the whole crowd started to beat me and Marina Dubrovina; they grabbed us by the neck and head, threw us to the ground, smashed our heads against the marble floor with great force, which left me with bruising and injuries. Then they kicked me hard in the stomach and yanked my hair." Human rights activists and the monitoring organisation OSCE called on the authorities swiftly to investigate the attack.

2-6-20 Jameela Jamil announces she is ‘queer’ after backlash over TV role
Jameela Jamil has announced she is "queer" after receiving criticism for being cast in a new LGBT-interest show. US broadcaster HBO announced on Tuesday that the actress and model would be a judge on its new unscripted voguing contest Legendary. The news prompted an online backlash from people who said The Good Place star was not representative of the black LGBT community. That prompted her to issue a statement addressing her sexuality. Opening with "Twitter is brutal", she explained that she identified "as queer" and had previously struggled to discuss the topic because "it's not easy within the south Asian community to be accepted". She mentioned that nobody in her family was "openly out" and that "it's also scary as an actor to openly admit your sexuality, especially when you're already a brown female in your thirties". The term queer is both embraced and frowned upon. Having been seen as derogatory, it is being reclaimed by some non-heterosexual people who say they don't identify with more traditional categories of gender identity and sexual orientation. Jamil went on: "This is absolutely not how I wanted to come out," adding that she was logging off Twitter for the time being "because I don't want to read mean comments dismissing this". She told critics: "You can keep your thoughts." Last March, when one Twitter user asked if she wanted to come out as queer, she replied that she was "on the spectrum but I do lean more towards boys". Voguing is a genre of dance that originated in New York in the late 1980s. It was founded by black and Latino LGBT people, many of whom were disowned by their families for their sexuality and gender. It came to mainstream attention through Madonna's 1990 hit Vogue and the accompanying video, as well as the documentary Paris Is Burning. It has long been seen as a movement of LGBT resistance.

2-6-20 The silent epidemic of America’s problem with guns
Mass shootings dominate the national conversation on gun control, but two thirds of gun deaths are suicides. How do you solve a problem hardly anyone talks about? The night Brayden died was a cold, clear night in Helena, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Montana. Snow had fallen lightly on the city and lay drifted around the houses. Brayden was in his bedroom with his mother Melissa, watching reruns of his favourite TV sketch show. Across town, Brayden's best friend Kase was with his own mother at the home of a family friend. By that point, in early February 2016, Brayden Schaeffer and Kase Dietrich had been friends for nearly half their lives. They met aged nine, when Brayden joined late at the local high school in Helena and needed someone to show him around. Brayden was a bright-eyed boy with a wide, toothy smile and a fondness for practical jokes. Kase was a quiet boy with a shy manner. He was drawn to Brayden's easy confidence. The boys began hanging out every day, at school and after school, growing closer with time. Seven years went by like that, until, aged 16, Brayden and Kase were living a few miles apart in Helena, filling long summer days with each other's company — playing basketball, swimming at the lake, or driving aimlessly in Brayden's black '91 Chevy pickup. On a rare day they didn't see each other they texted, exchanging hundreds of messages over the years. That night in February was no different. Kase texted to say he'd left a pair of jeans at Brayden's house; Brayden replied saying he hadn't finished his homework. Kase pulled his friend up on the homework. "Dude, you need to do that," he wrote. "Don't fail school". "I won't dude," Brayden wrote back. "Okay, just making sure," Kase replied. It mattered to Kase that Brayden kept it together. Kase's own future felt uncertain — his father was in prison and his mother had moved him from home to home, always fighting to make rent. He had dropped out of school the summer before, aged 15, and was working in a taco restaurant. Brayden was like a brother to him; the two boys looked out for one another.

2-6-20 Germany AfD: Thuringia PM quits amid fury over far right
A German state premier elected with the help of the far-right AfD says he is resigning to pave the way for fresh elections. The election of liberal leader Thomas Kemmerich in the eastern state of Thuringia prompted national outrage. "Resignation is unavoidable," he said. For years Germany's main parties have shunned Alternative for Germany (AfD). Chancellor Angela Merkel - whose own party also backed Mr Kemmerich - called Wednesday's election "unforgivable". The AfD has grown in popularity in recent years but has been condemned for its extreme views on immigration, freedom of speech and the press. Wednesday's vote was described as a political earthquake as it was the first time the AfD had helped form a government in Germany, breaking a consensus among the main parties never to work with extremist parties. Mr Kemmerich has now announced he will seek new elections in the state, "to remove the stain of the AfD's support for the office of the premiership". He will need a two-thirds majority to dissolve the chamber and bring about a fresh vote. Despite the AfD having broad support in Thuringia, the state election in October was won by the far-left Die Linke. And the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) had just 5% of the vote, barely scraping into the local parliament in the state capital, Erfurt. But on Wednesday, in the secret vote to pick the leader of the government, Mr Kemmerich of the FDP beat Die Linke's leader Bodo Ramelow by 45 votes to 44 - thanks to votes from the AfD. Mr Kemmerich also got votes from local MPs in his FDP and Mrs Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), prompting outrage from critics, who said the two centre-right parties had apparently made a pact with the far right. Mr Kemmerich insisted there had been no co-operation with the far right and accused the AfD of carrying out a "perfidious trick to harm democracy".

2-4-20 Coronavirus outbreak not yet pandemic, World Health Organization says
The deadly coronavirus outbreak that has spread from China does not yet constitute a "pandemic", the World Health Organization (WHO) has said. A pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease, according to the WHO. At least 427 people have died with more than 20,000 confirmed cases around the world, most of them in China. More than two dozen nations have reported cases but, so far, no confirmations have been made across Africa or Latin America. On Tuesday, three more Asian countries - Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand - confirmed infections among citizens who had not travelled to China. Officials say 425 people have died in China and one in Hong Kong. One death has also been confirmed in the Philippines. The new coronavirus causes severe acute respiratory infection and symptoms usually start with a fever, followed by a dry cough. On Monday, China's top leadership admitted "shortcomings and deficiencies" in the country's response to the outbreak, which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, Hubei province. The rare admission came from the Politburo Standing Committee, which called for an improvement in China's emergency management system and ordered a "severe" crackdown on illegal wildlife markets, where the virus is thought to have emerged. Sylvie Briand, head of WHO's Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness division, acknowledged that there was rapid spread of transmission in Hubei but said the situation "currently" was not a pandemic. She praised how Chinese authorities had responded to the outbreak, voicing hopes that the world could "get rid of this virus". She also stressed the importance of tackling unfounded rumours. "When you deal with an epidemic, you rapidly see that in addition to the epidemic of diseases, we often have an epidemic of information. And this is what we call 'infodemic'," she said. "And so we have realised over time that this infodemic could be really an obstacle for good response and hamper effective implementation of counter-measures."

2-4-20 Mila: 'No regrets' for French teen targeted for criticising Islam
A teenager has sparked a national debate about blasphemy in France after an Instagram post calling Islam a "religion of hate". Mila, 16, posted her comments online after receiving homophobic abuse from a Muslim commenter. She received death threats and has not attended school since. But Mila has refused to back down, saying in her first television interview that she "wanted to blaspheme". She has since deactivated her Instagram account. The post has sparked a huge debate in France over freedom of speech. The country has no national blasphemy laws and has a rigidly secular constitution. Police initially opened two investigations: the first into whether Mila was guilty of hate speech, and the second into her online attackers. They have since dropped the hate speech case as Mila was expressing a personal opinion on religion and not targeting individuals. Appearing on the Quotidien programme on the TMC channel, Mila apologised for insulting people who practise their religion "in peace" and said she regretted the "vulgarity" of her words and their spread online. But she defended her remarks. "I have absolutely no regrets about what I said, it was really my thought," she told the interviewer. Mina said her life was "clearly on hold" amid the controversy. She had to leave school because of the threats against her, saying she could have been "burned with acid, hit, stripped naked in public or buried alive". On Monday, education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said that authorities were trying to "return her to school peacefully so that she can have a normal life". The controversy began on 18 January, after Mila did a live broadcast on her Instagram account. After speaking about her sexuality she was called a "dirty lesbian" by a Muslim commenter. In response, Mila posted an attack on Islam. "I hate religion. The Koran is a religion of hate," she said, before using stronger words to attack Islam. "I am not racist. You cannot be racist towards a religion. I said what I thought, you're not going to make me regret it."

2-4-20 Homeless US student population 'highest in over a decade'
The number of homeless students in the US is the highest in over a decade according to a new study. Most of the 1.5 million homeless schoolchildren stayed with other families or friends after losing their homes. But 7% lived in abandoned buildings or cars, the report by the National Centre for Homeless Education showed. It is often caused by job insecurity, unaffordable housing, domestic violence and recently the opioid crisis. Living without a fixed address seriously impacts children's education and health. Less than a third of homeless students were able to read adequately, and scored even lower in mathematics and science, the report showed. The most recent data was recorded in 2017-18 and was more than double the nearly 680,000 homeless students reported in 2004-05, the director of National Centre for Homeless Education told the New York Times. The research measures the number of children in schools who report being homeless at some point during an academic year as as such does not show the total population of homeless young people in the US. Homelessness is a growing problem in the US, usually linked to the national housing crisis. Millions of people spend more than half their income on housing, and many report they cannot afford to buy a house. Increasing rents and a housing shortage has forced thousands of people in California to live in caravans or inadequate housing. A changing economy, with factories closing down or the rise of the insecure gig economy, also leaves parents unable to pay rent. The opioid crisis, in which almost 2 million people are addicted to prescription drugs, is also causing some families to break up or children to be removed from their homes. A disproportionate number of homeless youth are LGBT, according to University of California Williams Institute. Nearly seven in 10 said that family rejection was a major cause of becoming homeless, and abuse at home was another major reason.

2-3-20 Economic impact of coronavirus outbreak likely to eclipse SARS crisis
The economic shockwaves of the Wuhan coronavirus look likely to eclipse the 2003 SARS crisis, as shares in China fell dramatically and analysts downgraded their forecasts for the country’s growth. The Shanghai Composite index fell by 8 per cent today, the largest daily drop for more than four years, despite the Chinese central bank saying yesterday it would inject $174 billion worth of liquidity into markets. As the number of infections in China climbed to more than 14,000, UK-based analysts Oxford Economics today cut its 2020 forecast for the Chinese economy from 6 per cent to 5.4 per cent. The group expects global GDP growth this year will be hit by 0.25 percentage points. By comparison, the SARS outbreak cost about 0.15 per cent of global GDP. Ben May at Oxford Economics says while there is much uncertainty over the eventual impact of the coronavirus, it will likely be worse than SARS, because China’s share of global trade has grown since 2003 and the immediate response by Chinese authorities has been stronger. “There’s been much more lockdowns on people and restrictions on business than with SARS,” he says. While emergency flights evacuating Japanese, US and European citizens from China have dominated news bulletins in the past week, one big impact will be on demand for jet fuel. Many domestic and international flights have already stopped. The price of the global benchmark for crude oil, Brent, has fallen to just below $60 a barrel, cancelling out the gains it made after the US killed a top Iranian general last month. The coronavirus is likely to have a much bigger effect on aviation than the SARS outbreak in 2003, because there are so many more Chinese taking to the skies. In 2003 there were 86 million annual Chinese air passengers; today there are more than 600 million. Oil analyst Wood Mackenzie said it expects the virus will lower global oil demand by more than 100,000 barrels a day on average in 2020. Global demand is around 102 million barrels a day. The group said it anticipates a “severe and one-off impact to China’s demand for jet fuel”.

2-3-20 Coronavirus: China accuses US of causing panic and 'spreading fear'
The Chinese government has accused the US of causing "panic" in its response to the deadly coronavirus outbreak. It follows the US decision to declare a public health emergency and deny entry to foreign nationals who had visited China in the past two weeks. There are more than 17,000 confirmed cases of the virus in China. Some 361 people have died there. Outside China, there are more than 150 confirmed cases of the virus - and one death, in the Philippines. On Monday, a study by a Chinese virologist said a pneumonia outbreak associated with the coronavirus had likely started in bats. The outbreak took its toll on Chinese shares when markets reopened on Monday following the Lunar New Year holiday. The Shanghai Composite index closed nearly 8% lower, its biggest daily drop for more than four years. On 23 January, the US ordered the departure of all non-emergency US personnel and their family members from the city of Wuhan in Hubei province, where the virus originated. Less than a week later, the US allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel and relatives of US government employees from China. On 30 January, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global health emergency over the new virus. Following this, the US ordered the departure of all US personnel family members under the age of 21 in China. Any US citizen who has been in Hubei province will be subject to 14 days' quarantine upon returning to the US. On Monday, Hong Kong said it was suspending from midnight local time (16:00 GMT) 10 out of 13 border crossings with mainland China. Various countries have imposed varying travel restrictions and other preventative measures. The body that represents some of the world's largest cruise ship operators, the Cruise Lines International Association, announced on Monday that passengers and crew members who had recently travelled to China would not be allowed to board vessels.

2-3-20 Economic impact of coronavirus outbreak likely to eclipse SARS crisis
The economic shockwaves of the Wuhan coronavirus look likely to eclipse the 2003 SARS crisis, as shares in China fell dramatically and analysts downgraded their forecasts for the country’s growth. The Shanghai Composite index fell by 8 per cent today, the largest daily drop for more than four years, despite the Chinese central bank saying yesterday it would inject $174 billion worth of liquidity into markets. As the number of infections in China climbed to more than 14,000, UK-based analysts Oxford Economics today cut its 2020 forecast for the Chinese economy from 6 per cent to 5.4 per cent. The group expects global GDP growth this year will be hit by 0.25 percentage points. By comparison, the SARS outbreak cost about 0.15 per cent of global GDP. Ben May at Oxford Economics says while there is much uncertainty over the eventual impact of the coronavirus, it will likely be worse than SARS, because China’s share of global trade has grown since 2003 and the immediate response by Chinese authorities has been stronger. “There’s been much more lockdowns on people and restrictions on business than with SARS,” he says. While emergency flights evacuating Japanese, US and European citizens from China have dominated news bulletins in the past week, one big impact will be on demand for jet fuel. Many domestic and international flights have already stopped. The price of the global benchmark for crude oil, Brent, has fallen to just below $60 a barrel, cancelling out the gains it made after the US killed a top Iranian general last month. The coronavirus is likely to have a much bigger effect on aviation than the SARS outbreak in 2003, because there are so many more Chinese taking to the skies. In 2003 there were 86 million annual Chinese air passengers; today there are more than 600 million. Oil analyst Wood Mackenzie said it expects the virus will lower global oil demand by more than 100,000 barrels a day on average in 2020. Global demand is around 102 million barrels a day. The group said it anticipates a “severe and one-off impact to China’s demand for jet fuel”.

2-2-20 Coronavirus: First death outside China reported in Philippines
A man has died of the coronavirus in the Philippines, the first confirmed fatality outside China. The patient was a 44-year-old Chinese man from Wuhan, in Hubei province, where the virus was first detected. He appeared to have been infected before arriving in the Philippines, the World Health Organization (WHO) said. More than 300 people have died in the outbreak so far, the vast majority from Hubei. More than 14,000 people have been infected. The US, Australia and an increasing number of other countries have barred the arrival of foreigners from China and are requiring their own citizens to be quarantined. The number of coronavirus cases worldwide has overtaken that of the similar Sars epidemic, which spread to more than two dozen countries in 2003. But the mortality rate of the new virus is much lower, suggesting it is not as deadly. The man travelled to the Philippines from Wuhan, via Hong Kong, with a 38-year-old Chinese woman who also tested positive last week, the Philippines Department of Health said. Officials said he was admitted to a hospital in the capital, Manila, where he developed severe pneumonia. The man is thought to have had other pre-existing health conditions. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the WHO representative to the Philippines, urged people to remain calm: "This is the first reported death outside China. However, we need to take into mind that this is not a locally acquired case. This patient came from the epicentre of this outbreak." According to local news outlet Rappler, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the patient was "stable and showed signs of improvement", but his condition deteriorated rapidly over 24 hours. "We are currently working with the Chinese embassy to ensure the dignified management of the remains according to national and international standards to contain the disease," Mr Duque said, adding that the man would be cremated.

2-1-20 Fearing detention, undocumented immigrants seek ways to appoint guardians for their children
Activists, lawyers, and immigrants across the country have been trying to find solutions. Many undocumented immigrants in the U.S. have been living with the threat of deportation for years — and those who are parents have an additional fear: What will happen to their children if they're detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement? People across the country have been scrambling to find an answer to that question. "It's something very — I don't know how to say it — very desperate, that we might be separated from our children," a mother named Maria said in Spanish. She didn't want to provide her last name because she and her husband are undocumented. Maria moved from El Salvador to Central Falls, Rhode Island, nearly 20 years ago. Her husband came from Guatemala. When U.S. President Donald Trump took office, their daughter was 6, and their son was 7. People began to talk about Trump's immigration policies. Maria and her husband worried about what would happen to their children if they were caught by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Usually, when a parent is detained or deported by ICE, their kids go into state custody. State welfare officials may place children with other family members, or the kids may go into the foster care system. "We had to see what to do for them to stay with someone else — it had to be someone familiar," Maria said in Spanish. So, how does a parent do that? Turns out, a lot of people have been asking that question. "To be honest, we did not have an answer," said Elisa Ortiz at the Appleseed Network — a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C., that works on social justice issues. They started looking into this in 2017. "We thought at the time that it would be easy," she said. "And we quickly figured out within a couple months that that was pretty much impossible."

2-1-20 Huawei comes between U.S. and allies
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson "defied U.S. hawks" this week to let Huawei build part of the U.K.'s next-generation phone network, said Gordon Rayner at The Daily Telegraph (U.K.). The U.S. has lobbied Europe heavily to ban equipment from the controversial Chinese telecom company. But such a ban could delay the rollout of advanced services by as much as three years. Ultimately, Johnson concluded that "the potential risk to national security posed by the Chinese telecom giant was outweighed by the estimated £126 billion ($164 billion) boost to the economy" of having the 5G rollout proceed as planned. Huawei has "made considerable technological progress" in recent years, said Ina Fried at Axios, and China is exerting its own pressure on European countries that are wavering. It has threatened, for instance, "to close off a key market for German auto exports" if Germany passes on Huawei. "Like it or not," Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser said last week, "they are a year or two ahead." The U.S. insists that Huawei is dangerous, but even Trump's own Cabinet agencies can't agree on how, said Ana Swanson at The New York Times. Last week, the Commerce Department withdrew its proposal to close a loophole allowing some U.S. companies to sell products to Huawei, after "officials in the Defense Department and other agencies argued that it would actually undermine national security," pushing Huawei to source chips from competitors in Korea or Taiwan. The Commerce decision "appears to be an admission of defeat in the U.S.-China tech war," said David Goldman at the Asia Times. Trump's effort to block Huawei's access to U.S. chip technology backfired: "Taiwanese companies who for years had begged for Huawei's business are now flooded with orders." U.S. firms are petrified that "Chinese companies will retaliate against export controls with a price war for high-end chips."

2-1-20 Tanzania 'anti-gay' force official Paul Makonda banned from US
A top Tanzanian official who launched a surveillance squad dedicated to hunting down gay people has been banned by the US from entering the country. The US state department said Paul Makonda, the administrative chief of the capital Dar es Salaam, was involved in "gross violations of human rights". His immediate family members have also been barred from visiting the US. A crackdown on freedom of expression has been on the rise since President John Magufuli came into office in 2015. Human rights groups also accuse Mr Magufuli of repressing political dissent, detaining human rights activists, and muzzling the media. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on Friday that Mr Makonda's ban came amidst concern about the "deteriorating" state of human rights in Tanzania. "[Mr Makonda has] also been implicated in oppression of the political opposition, crackdowns on freedom of expression and association, and the targeting of marginalized individuals," a statement from the US state department said. It also accused him of being involved in "gross violations of human rights, which include flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons". When Mr Makonda - an ally of President Magufuli - launched the anti-gay surveillance force in 2018, he said that he expected international criticism for the move, but added: "I prefer to anger those countries than to anger God." Homosexual acts are illegal in Tanzania and many gay, lesbian and transgender people are forced to hide their sexuality as a result. Meanwhile, also on Friday the US added Tanzania to an expanded list of countries whose citizens are barred from obtaining certain types of immigration visas.

2-1-20 The long road to fatherhood for gay men in China
Before Qiguang Li could pass through customs and step onto U.S. soil for the first time, he faced a three-hour detention where he learned that he needed to be more candid about his identity. It was September 2015, after a long flight from Shanghai to Los Angeles. Li came with another man, Wei Xu, who asked a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer whether the two of them could go through the border screening together. "What's your relationship?" asked the officer. They said they were friends. "Then you can't." So, Xu went first and passed the screening. He forgot one important thing though: Li's travel documents were in Xu's bag. Li, 37 at the time, spoke poorer English and couldn't properly explain to the officer what had happened. After a while of anxious waiting, Xu returned to the checkpoint to look for Li, still unaware of his mistake, and they were both sent to a room for additional screening. In the secondary screening room — commonly referred to by Chinese travelers as the "small dark room" — Xu and Li waited almost three hours, believing that they would be denied entry. An officer asked them why one's documents were in the hands of the other. Xu kept explaining that they were very close friends, until at one point the officer asked, "Are you two partners?" "Yes," Xu admitted. And then everything changed. Xu learned that if they had said they were partners from the beginning, they would have been allowed to go through border control together, avoiding all the drama. "But we felt kind of ashamed to say that," he recalls. The unexpected incident was the prelude to a carefully planned trip into another country where their sexuality was much more accepted than at home. There were a few other things they didn't mention to the CBP officers. Li and Xu, a gay couple who have been together since 2007, would walk out of the airport, get married two days later in Los Angeles, and, more important, start their journey toward parenthood.


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for February 2020

Atheism News & Humanism Articles for January 2020