Category Archives: History

Gene Editing The Next Social Divide

By: Emma Court

Gene editing is one of the most promising new approaches to treating human diseases today. 

It also raises “enormous” ethical questions, Bill Gates recently warned, and “could make inequity worse, especially if it is available only for wealthy people.” 

“I am surprised that these issues haven’t generated more attention from the general public,” he said in a December blog post, adding that “this might be the most important public debate we haven’t been having widely enough.” 

Gene editing allows scientists to make powerful, precise changes to a person’s DNA, typically to fix a defective gene.

Ethical concerns about what the approach might be used for have long existed, but it came to a boil recently when a Chinese researcher said he had played a role in creating the first genetically edited babies. 

Gene editing has already taken place in humans in the US as a one-time treatment for disease. But unlike those efforts, the Chinese scientist’s work would allow genetic changes to be passed down to other generations. It quickly sparked backlash, with many researchers describing the project as concerning and unethical. 

Gates’ warning, released as part of the billionaire philanthropist’s 2018 wrap-up, appears to have been prompted by that recent news. 

“I agree with those who say this scientist went too far,” Gates said. “But something good can come from his work if it encourages more people to learn and talk about gene editing.”

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Climate Change Deniers Are Becoming A Danger To Society

By: Jennifer Rubin

Imagine during the Cold War that one political party, in the face of overwhelming evidence that the Soviet Union was engaged in espionage against the United States, had a nuclear arsenal pointed at the United States, kept Eastern Europe under its thumb and imprisoned dissenters, refused to consider the Soviet Union a danger — of any sort — to the United States or other Western democracies. And they would offer no credible evidence to the contrary, but rather assert that it was all a hoax. Besides, they’d insist (with no evidence) that it was too expensive to address the challenge posed by the Soviet Union, a danger which they claimed didn’t exist (So how expensive could it be? Don’t ask!). Actually, you don’t have to imagine this scenario. Many on the left have made arguments along these lines, and many on the right have responded by saying they were fuzzy-headed, in denial or captive of interest groups.

That is essentially what is going on, only with the parties flipped, in the climate-change debate. Climate-change denial has become as necessary to one’s right-wing identity as aversion to immigration, opposition to most abortions and a disbelief that sexual harassment and assault are widespread. Just as rejecting geopolitical reality became a requirement of inclusion in far-left circles, climate-change denial is a must for those who want to remain in the Trump fold.

On what basis do they deny climate change? President Trump says he knows a lot about science, so believe him instead of all the scientists who work for the federal government. Others seek refuge in the fantasy that there is reasonable doubt as to the existence of climate change or the severity of the problem, citing fringe characters without expertise on the subject. Those who know better or suspect climate-change denial is irrational (but are too cowardly to confront know-nothings who dominate the party) are willing to string along with the mob, even at the expense of endangering the country and the planet. Republican senators from Florida and Texas, where their constituents’ lives and property are threatened by the rising sea levels that result from rising temperatures, won’t admit the origin of the problem. They simply want bailout money each time another disaster strikes.

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Elon Musk Explains What Fuels Him

By: CNBC

Elon Musk has become infamous for his extreme work schedule.

When he was ramping up production of the Model 3 Tesla, he put in as many as 120 hours in a week. He slept at the factory because he had no time to go home. He called 2018 “the most difficult and painful year of my career.” “[I]t was excruciating,” he told The New York Times.

In late October Musk finally said he was working a much more manageable schedule of 80 to 90 hours a week.

This from a man who is already worth more than $20 billion, according to Forbes.

So why does Musk push himself? To hear Musk tell it, he is trying to save planet Earth. Literally. Musk wants Tesla to be successful so the world moves away from driving cars that run on petroleum-derived fuel.

“Tesla is incredibly important for the future of sustainable transport and energy generation. The fundamental purpose, the fundamental good that Tesla provides is accelerating the advent of sustainable transport and energy production,” Musk said told Recode’s Kara Swisher. “The success of Tesla is, by far, the biggest forcing function for the other car makers to get into … electric cars.”

Providing alternative methods for mass transportation that do not depend on petroleum-derived fuel is key to slowing global warming.

“Yes. It’s very important for the future of the world. It’s very important for all life on Earth. This supersedes political parties, race, creed, religion, it doesn’t matter. If we do not solve the environment, we’re all damned,” Musk told Swisher.

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U.S. Pulls Out Of Syria as Isis is Defeated

By : BBC

The Pentagon said it was transitioning to the “next phase of the campaign” but did not give details.

Some 2,000 troops have helped rid much of north-eastern Syria of IS, but pockets of fighters remain.

It had been thought defence officials wanted to maintain a US presence to ensure IS did not rebuild.

There are also fears a US withdrawal will cede influence in Syria and the wider region to Russia and Iran.

Both the Pentagon and the White House statement said the US had started “returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign”.

The Pentagon said it would not provide further details of what that next phase is “for force protection and operational security reasons”.

The White House said the US and its allies stood “ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary, and we will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists territory, funding, support and any means of infiltrating our borders”.

What has been the reaction?

Israel said it had been told the US had “other ways to have influence in the area” but would “study the timeline [of the withdrawal], how it will be done and of course the implications for us”.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on state-controlled Channel One TV that the US decision could result in “genuine, real prospects for a political settlement” in Syria.

Pulling troops out of Syria had long been promised by President Trump.

But the announcement may have taken some of his own officials by surprise. 

Last week Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat IS, told reporters at the state department: “Nobody is saying that [IS fighters] are going to disappear. Nobody is that naive. So we want to stay on the ground and make sure that stability can be maintained in these areas.”

The state department abruptly cancelled Wednesday’s daily briefing after the withdrawal was announced.

One of Mr Trump’s supporters, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who sits on the armed services committee, called it a “huge Obama-like mistake”.

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Giraffes Make Endangered Species List

By: India Today

Two subspecies of giraffes were recently added to the list of “critically endangered” species for the first time ever, as per athelatest report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which administers the world’s official endangered species list.

The next slots after ‘vulnerable’ are ‘endangered’, ‘critically endangered’, ‘extinct in the wild’, and ‘extinct’. Thus, if we do nothing about it, giraffes could become extinct in the wild in the medium-term future.

There are nine subspecies of giraffes. Five of them are declining in numbers, two are improving, and one is stable, reports the New York Times.

Another subspecies living in the Horn of Africa — called the reticulated giraffe – was listed as “endangered”.

Even though the Kordofan giraffe and the Nubian giraffe are now critically endangered, the West African and the Rothschild’s giraffe species have seen an increase in their numbers, leading to an upgrade in their conservation status.

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A National Day of Mourning in America for President George HW Bush

photos courtesy of CBS News live event coverage.

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America as a nation celebrated the life of POTUS #41, George HW Bush in a funeral service most befitting for a President.  The flawless service would make any American proud as it represented the 41st President with dignity, respect, honor, and royal class.  The musical performances were excellent along with each speaker who resonated with the tone of loyalty, family, friendship, and devotion to country exemplified by President George HW Bush.   There are those who did not agree with his politics or decisions, however, most everyone in America and abroad would agree that he upheld his office as President with dignity and respect.

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The passing of President George HW Bush and the passing of the Hon. John McCain earlier this year marks the end of an era in America when soldiers dedicated to country held political office to uphold the constitution for the betterment of America and her people.  President George HW Bush called for a kinder and gentler nation, and although he only served one term as President he made many notable accomplishments including; the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), the clean air initiative with Canada, and support of health reform for all Americans.

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President George HW Bush and his family are political royalty in America.  They are undeniably privileged, yet ruled with a heart for all people, not just other privileged.  Perhaps the Last Great Soldier-Statesman, we honor his service as a President and Patriot.

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Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family, friends, and to all of America for the loss of a true American President.

Links to more about President George HW Bush:

 

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America’s Religious Affiliates Are On a Steady Decline

By: Jean Hopfensperger of Star Tribune

The men and women relaxing on yoga mats recently at a Minneapolis meditation center didn’t know it, but most belonged to the fastest-growing religion in America — none at all.

They included a former Lutheran who left the church because the Bible clashed with science, a former Catholic who became leery of its teachings, a former Baptist uninspired by Sunday services, a young man raised with no religion.

They reveal a major force behind the empty pews in churches across Minnesota and the nation. Nearly one in four Americans now declare themselves unaffiliated with any organized religion. An estimated 56 million strong, and growing, there are more of them than all mainline Protestants combined.

The church experience that was central to many of their parents’ lives has lost relevance and credibility.

“I can’t imagine that only one religion has access to the pearly gates,” said Lisa Pool, explaining her church breakup after class ended. “I realized there are all kinds of different paths to being a good person.”

The surge has Minnesota religious leaders wrestling with implications for the future of their churches, the future of Christianity. More than half of U.S. churches now see fewer than 100 worshipers on weekends, and they’re getting older, reports the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

Particularly alarming is the plunge in church membership by people in their 20s and 30s. One in three are now churchless, according to the Pew Research Center. Faith leaders are racking their brains over how to reach these adults who may never step under a steeple.

“We are [all] worried,” said the Rev. John Bauer, pastor at the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis. “We all know it’s an issue, but don’t know what to do about it. It’s clear we can’t rely on the old ways of doing things for this next generation.”

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Stan Lee Marvel Creator Passes At 95

By: Mike Barnes of Hollywood Reporter

Stan Lee, the legendary writer, editor and publisher of Marvel Comics whose fantabulous but flawed creations made him a real-life superhero to comic book lovers everywhere, has died. He was 95.

Lee, who began in the business in 1939 and created or co-created Black Panther, Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Mighty Thor, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Daredevil and Ant-Man, among countless other characters, died early Monday morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, a family representative told The Hollywood Reporter.

Kirk Schenck, an attorney for Lee’s daughter, J.C. Lee, also confirmed his death to the Associated Press.

Lee’s final few years were tumultuous. After Joan, his wife of 69 years, died in July 2017, he sued executives at POW! Entertainment — a company he founded in 2001 to develop film, TV and video game properties — for $1 billion alleging fraud, then abruptly dropped the suit weeks later. He also sued his ex-business manager and filed for a restraining order against a man who had been handling his affairs. (Lee’s estate is estimated to be worth as much as $70 million.) And in June 2018, it was revealed that the Los Angeles Police Department had been investigating reports of elder abuse against him.

On his own and through his work with frequent artist-writer collaborators Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others, Lee catapulted Marvel from a tiny venture into the world’s No. 1 publisher of comic books and, later, a multimedia giant.

In 2009, The Walt Disney Co. bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion, and most of the top-grossing superhero films of all time — led by Avengers: Infinity War‘s $2.05 billion worldwide take earlier this year — have featured Marvel characters.

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Is Gerrymandering Killing Democracy?

By: Zachery Roth of Daily Beast

Thousands of would-be voters at risk of being disenfranchised by ultra-strict registration rules. A draconian ID law that could keep Native Americans from the polls en masse. New measures targeting voting by college students. A Hispanic-majority city that moved its lone polling place out of town. 

As the 2018 campaign nears its end, experts who track voter suppression saythis is the worst it’s been in the modern era. In fact, making it harder to vote, especially for racial minorities, now appears to be—with the possible exception of stoking fear over a group of desperate migrants still about 700 miles from the Texas border—the single most important plank of the GOP’s strategy.

Aside from likely giving Republicans an undeserved boost in several key races, the drive to restrict voting has reached a scale that should raise serious questions about the democratic legitimacy of our elections. And alongside the extreme Republican gerrymander—currently the only reason why the party has even an outside shot at holding onto the House—it represents a massive structural obstacle to Democrats ever achieving the power their popular support deserves. In other words, Republicans can only win by rigging the game. 

Georgia has grabbed many of the headlines. Secretary of State Brian Kemp reportedly put around 53,000 registrations—70 percent of them from African-Americans—on pending status because of minor discrepancies with the information on state records.

The difference could be as trivial as a misplaced hyphen or a missing middle initial. Those on pending status are supposed to still be able to vote by showing ID, and two late-breaking court rulings softening some of the rules may help. But given the likely level of confusion that’s been kicked up, how it all will play out is anyone’s guess.

Kemp also has aggressively purged Georgia’s voter rolls, raising serious concerns that eligible voters have been wrongly removed. Since 2016, he has scrapped over one in 10 names. And in the four years before that, he purged 1.5 million, twice as many as in the previous four years.

The likely chief beneficiary of these strict policies? That would be Kemp himself, the Republican locked in that super-tight race with Democrat Stacey Abrams, who’s bidding to be the nation’s first ever female African-American governor. Oh, and just for good measure, back in 2014 Kemp, on flimsy evidence, launched an aggressive investigation into a voter registration group serving mostly minority voters that Abrams had founded, significantly stymieing the group’s work.

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Pipe Bombs Are Sent To Clinton, Obama, and CNN

By: William K. Rashbaum

Pipe bombs were sent to a number of prominent Democrats, including former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, sparking an intense investigation on Wednesday into whether a bomber is going after people who have often been the subject of right-wing ire.

CNN received a similar bomb, addressed to Mr. Obama’s C.I.A. director John Brennan, touching off a mass evacuation of the Time Warner Center in Midtown Manhattan, where the network is located.

A law enforcement official said the devices were similar to one found Monday at the home of George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist and liberal donor.

None of the devices harmed anyone. Law enforcement officials said they were investigating whether all the devices were sent by the same person or persons.

Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama, Mr. Soros and CNN have all figured prominently in conservative political attacks — many of which have been led by President Trump. He has often referred to major news organizations as “the enemy of the people,” and has had a particular animus for CNN.

The device sent to CNN was in a manila envelope addressed to Mr. Brennan, a harsh critic of Mr. Trump. The president revoked Mr. Brennan’s security clearance in what was seen as an act of retribution.

The envelope’s return address bore the name of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman and a former Democratic National Committee chairwoman, according to a person who saw a photograph of the envelope. The device sent to Mr. Soros was in a similar envelope also with a printed return address label with her name.

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