Category Archives: International

Amazon Rainforest is On Fire

By: Jessie Yeung of CNN

Fires are raging at a record rate in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, and scientists warn that it could strike a devastating blow to the fight against climate change.
The fires are burning at the highest rate since the country’s space research center, the National Institute for Space Research (known by the abbreviation INPE), began tracking them in 2013, the center said Tuesday. 
There have been 72,843 fires in Brazil this year, with more than half in the Amazon region, INPE said. That’s more than an 80% increase compared with the same period last year.
The Amazon is often referred to as the planet’s lungs, producing 20% of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere.

It is considered vital in slowing global warming, and it is home to uncountable species of fauna and flora. Roughly half the size of the United States, it is the largest rainforest on the planet.

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Leaked Executive Order Draft Shows Potential Problems For Internet Freedom

By: Jon Queally of Common Dreams

Civil liberties groups are warning of a major threat to online freedoms and First Amendment rights if a leaked draft of a Trump administration edict—dubbed by critics as a “Censor the Internet” executive order that would give powerful federal agencies far-reaching powers to pick and choose which kind of Internet material is and is not acceptable—is allowed to go into effect.

“If these reports are a trial balloon from the White House, then it’s time to pop it.” 
—Chris Lewis, Public Knowledge
According to CNN, which obtained a copy of the draft, the new rule “calls for the FCC to develop new regulations clarifying how and when the law protects social media websites when they decide to remove or suppress content on their platforms. Although still in its early stages and subject to change, the Trump administration’s draft order also calls for the Federal Trade Commission to take those new policies into account when it investigates or files lawsuits against misbehaving companies.”

While Politico was the first to report how the draft was being circulated by the White House, CNN notes that if put into effect, “the order would reflect a significant escalation by President Trump in his frequent attacks against social media companies over an alleged but unproven systemic bias against conservatives by technology platforms. And it could lead to a significant reinterpretation of a law that, its authors have insisted, was meant to give tech companies broad freedom to handle content as they see fit.”

Following reporting on the leaked draft, free speech and online advocacy groups raised alarm about the troubling and far-reaching implications of the Trump plan if it was put into effect by executive decree.

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Trump Could Be Charged After He Leaves Office

By: Betsy Woodruff & Sam Brodey of The Daily Beast

Special Counsel Robert Mueller told Congress on Wednesday that he did not exonerate President Trump and that he could, in fact, be indicted after he leaves office. And he hinted that he believes Trump’s written answers to questions may have contained falsehoods.

In a curt exchange with Colorado Republican Rep. Ken Buck, the former special counsel said the Justice Department’s legal rules don’t shield Trump from criminal charges after he’s out of the White House. 

“Could you charge the president with a crime after he left office?” Buck asked.

“Yes,” Mueller replied.  

“You believe that he committed––you could charge the president of the United States with obstruction of justice after he left office?” Buck asked.

“Yes,” Mueller replied.  

House Judiciary Committee Democrats, including Rep. Jamie Raskin, nodded excitedly through the exchange—the closest Mueller came to explaining the significance of his refusal to exonerate the president in his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction by the White House. It followed a similar, shorter exchange earlier with the Democratic Judiciary chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler. 

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HPV Vaccines has significantly cuts rates of cancer causing infections

By: Jessica Hamzelou of New Scientist

The HPV vaccine appears to be working. Countries with vaccination programmes are lowering the rate of virus infection, precancerous lesions and genital warts in girls and women. Boys and men are benefiting too, even when they aren’t vaccinated.

That’s the conclusion of a review of 65 studies across 14 high-income countries, including 60 million people, over eight years. “Our results provide strong evidence that HPV vaccination works to prevent cervical cancer in real-world settings,” says Mélanie Drolet of Laval University in Canada, who led the work.

HPV vaccination programmes are currently running in around 115 countries, says Marc Brisson, also at Laval University, who co-authored the study. It is too soon to measure how these programmes might impact rates of cervical cancer, so the team looked at rates of HPV infection and the incidence of precancerous lesions and anal and genital warts, which can result from infection.

The team found that, between five and eight years into a vaccination programme, the prevalence of two strains of HPV that the vaccine protects against dropped by 83 per cent among teenage girls and 66 per cent in women aged 20 to 24. The prevalence of the virus also dropped by 37 per cent in women aged between 25 and 29, even though most were unvaccinated.

The incidence of anogenital warts also dropped – by 67 per cent among girls aged 15 to 19, and 54 per cent in women aged 20 to 24. Diagnoses of anogenital warts was reduced in unvaccinated boys and men too – by 48 per cent in boys aged 15 to 19, and 32 per cent in men aged 20 to 24. This suggests that vaccinating girls and young women can protect boys and men too, thanks to herd immunity, says Brisson.

The team also looked at the incidence of precancerous lesions in girls and women. Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) is the term given to abnormal cervical cells, which can be diagnosed as CIN1, CIN2 or CIN3. The latter two can develop into cervical cancer if untreated.

Diagnoses of CIN2 and CIN3 decreased by 51 per cent among 15 to 19-year-old girls between five and nine years into vaccination programmes. Incidence of these lesions in unvaccinated women, on the other hand, increased over the same period.

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Reparations Debate Takes Place In U.S

Compliments of BBC

Some witnesses said reparations would damage the relationship between white and black Americans, while others said it was imperative to achieve justice.

Several Democratic White House hopefuls have taken up the idea of reparations.

But Republican leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear no reparations bill will pass while he controls the Senate.

The House of Representatives judiciary subcommittee on the constitution, civil rights and civil liberties said Wednesday’s hearing would examine “the legacy of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, its continuing impact on the community and the path to restorative justice”.

Lawmakers considered a bill proposed by Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson-Lee to set up a commission to study the question of reparations for slavery.

Hundreds of people lined up outside the hearing venue and filled the overflow room to watch.

What are the arguments against reparations?

Republican witness Coleman Hughes, an African-American writer and New York student, argued during the hearing that such restitution “would insult many black Americans by putting a price on the suffering of their ancestors”.

“If we were to pay reparations today, we would only divide the country further, making it harder to build the political coalitions required to solve the problems facing black people today.

The second Republican witness, African-American former NFL player Burgess Owens, also rejected the idea, saying: “What strangers did to other strangers 200 years ago has nothing to do with us because that has nothing to do with our DNA.”

Congressman Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, was booed as he spoke against “the injustice of monetary reparations from current taxpayers for the sins of a small subset of Americans from many generations ago”.

The hearing was held on Juneteenth, which commemorates 19 June 1865 when Texas slaves finally learned they were free, two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

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Could Depression Be Linked To Derailment?

By: Christian Jarrett of Readers Digest

We move house, change jobs, begin new relationships, yet most of the time, most of us still experience a thread of inner continuity – a constant feeling of me-ness that transcends the various chapters of our lives. Indeed, there’s evidence that having a stable, constant sense of self and identity is important for psychological wellbeing. However, this thread can rupture, leading to an uncomfortable disconnect between who we feel we are today, and the person that we believe we used to be – a state that psychologists recently labelled “derailment”.

Now in a paper in Clinical Psychological Science a group led by Kaylin Ratner at Cornell University has explored the possibility that derailment both precipitates, and is a consequence of, depression. After all, people with depression often struggle with motivation, losing the will to pursue goals they previously held dear. They also frequently withdraw from their relationships and social roles. All of these changes could trigger sensations of derailment. Or perhaps derailment comes first, with the inner disorientation leaving one vulnerable to depression. Surprisingly these questions have been little studied before now. “We nominate derailment as a new feature of the depressive landscape and underscore the need for greater empirical and practical attention at the crossroads of mental health and human development,” Ratner and her team write.

The researchers recruited nearly a thousand undergraduate students and asked them to complete measures of depression and derailment four times over the course of an academic year. The recently developed 10-item derailment measure was based on the students’ agreement or not with statements like “My life has been headed in the same direction for a long time,” and “I did not anticipate becoming the person that I currently am.”

The team found that the students’ scores on depression and derailment were relatively stable across the course of the year. Also, students’ derailment and depression symptoms tended to correlate at each of the measurement time points – implying there may well be an association between the two. In terms of cause and effect, and as the researchers predicted in advance, higher depression scores at an earlier time point tended to presage increases in derailment scores later on. However, in what they described as a “curious finding”, higher derailment scores earlier in the year actually tended to herald a decline in depression symptoms later in the year.

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Millennials Succumb To The Perfectionist Culture

By: Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D. Of Psychology Today

The idea that millennials are narcissists who can’t apply themselves to their work has gained popular recognition despite evidence to the contrary. Because their parents coddled them, so the argument goes, an entire generation of young people has become unable to fend for themselves. Additionally, because parents and teachers rewarded the millennial children for every effort, no matter how small, these young people growing up in the late 20th and early 21st century became unable to deal with any type of setback. When it comes to millennials, then, generation-bashing seems to be the popular mindset.

Labeling a generation with a name and then assuming that every member of that generation has the same personality has its dangers. Were all members of the “Greatest Generation” great? Are all Baby Boomers now fighting off the aging process, unwilling to accept the inevitable changes that occur in later life? Did they all turn on and tune out when they were young people? Are all Gen-X’ers equally stressedand miserable now? When they were younger, were they all slackers who rebelled against everything their parents did? Whatever generation you classify yourself as occupying, when you think about the people who are roughly the same age as you are, do you see each and every one of you as the same?

Despite the fallacy of assuming that everyone born in the same era has the same characteristics, there is some truth to the notion that everyone who lives in a certain historical era is affected by what’s going on around them in the world at large. Social and political influences create a certain socially shared reality, and their effects trickle down to your very own neighborhood, school, and family. When you’re in the process of defining your identity, these effects might shape your very sense of self. With this idea in mind, University of Bath’s Thomas Curran and York St. John University’s Andrew Hill (2019) used a research method involving generational comparisons to explore social trends in perfectionism. The British researchers believed that the “tougher social and economic conditions” (p. 410) faced by young people now, as compared to their parents, might be creating an environment that fosters the need to be perfect during their formative years.

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Atmospheric Carbon Levels Are Reaching Dangerous Levels

By: Jon Queally of Common Dreams

Atmospheric levels of carbon registered 415 parts per million over the weekend at one of the world’s key measuring stations, a concentration level researchers say has not existed in more than 3 million years – before the dawn of human history.

Taken at the Mauno Loa Observatory in Hawaii by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the measure continues the upward trend of atmospheric carbon concentration that lies at the heart of the global warming and climate crisis:

415.26 parts per million (ppm) CO2 in air 11-May-2019 http://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/  First daily baseline over 415ppm

Writing on his Informed Comment blog Monday, historian Juan Cole said that life on Earth in that pre-historic era, known as the Pliocene Period, is not a place humans would recognize:

In the Pliocene, it was much hotter.

In the Pliocene, oceans were much higher, maybe 90 feet higher.

That is our fate, folks. That is what 415ppm produces. It is only a matter of time, and some of the sea level rise will come quickly.

Amsterdam, New Orleans, Lisbon, Miami – the list of cities that will be submerged is enormous.

Elsewhere online, reaction to the unsettling milestone was met with a mix of frustration, alarm, and fresh demands for urgent action to address the crisis.

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Mexico Wants To Decriminalize Drugs With The Help of U.S.A

By: Jason Lemon of Newsweek

Mexico’s president released a new plan last week that called for radical reform to the nation’s drug laws and negotiating with the United States to take similar steps.

The plan put forward by the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, often referred to by his initials as AMLO, calls for decriminalizing illegal drugs and transferring funding for combating the illicit substances to pay for treatment programs instead. It points to the failure of the decades-long international war on drugs, and calls for negotiating with the international community, and specifically the U.S., to ensure the new strategy’s success.

“The ‘war on drugs’ has escalated the public health problem posed by currently banned substances to a public safety crisis,” the policy proposal, which came as part of AMLO’s National Development Plan for 2019-2024, read. Mexico’s current “prohibitionist strategy is unsustainable,” it argued.

The document says that ending prohibition is “the only real possibility” to address the problem. “This should be pursued in a negotiated manner, both in the bilateral relationship with the United States and in the multilateral sphere, within the [United Nations] U.N.,” it explained.

Drug reform advocates have welcomed AMLO’s plan. Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told Newsweek that the Mexican president’s plan “reflects a shift in thinking on drug policy that is taking place around the world, including here in the U.S.”

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Instagram To Hide Likes

By: Hamza Shaban of Washington Post

Instagram will test hiding the number of likes and views that photos and videos receive — a central aspect of its platform — to rein in competitive tendencies and make the experience a little “less pressurized.”

Instagram’s head, Adam Mosseri, said the change is designed to minimize the stress of posting online, where users can fixate on how many likes their videos draw. “We want people to worry a little bit less about how many likes they’re getting on Instagram and spend a bit more time connecting with the people that they care about,” he said Tuesday during Facebook’s annual developer conference, F8.

In the test run, which will roll out in Canada this week, the Facebook-owned site will display user posts as it would normally, but people scrolling through the feed won’t see like counts. Account owners will still be able to check the tallies on their own photos and videos by clicking through a prompt.

Mosseri said the experiment is part of a broader effort to rethink the fundamentals of how Instagram works and create a more welcoming experience. The company also is testing a redesigned profile page that de-emphasizes follower counts. “We don’t want Instagram to feel like a competition, we want to make it a less pressurized environment,” he said.

The psychological drawbacks of social media use have gained more attention in recent years, with parents, consumer advocates and even tech companies pointing to its potential to increase anxiety and social isolation. Technologists also have taken issue with popular social media platforms that place engagement metrics at center stage, encouraging users to maximize those figures by spending more time on the site and perpetuating a feedback loop of notifications and social validation.

Though shielding like counts might curtail strategic efforts to punch up engagement numbers on Instagram, other troublesome aspects like social exclusion won’t be addressed with the change, said Karen North, a professor at the University of Southern California with expertise in social media and psychology. Young people might still feel left out, or worse, if they see their friends posting from parties and other social events without them, and then read the comments that follow. Neither is directly tied to likes, she said.

Hiding the counts could potentially introduce new problems for users, such as diminishing the feeling of camaraderie from liking a popular post tied to a social cause or a massive in-joke. “While we can focus on the negative side of comparing likes, it is also true that people enjoy the game of supporting a post, a friend or an influencer,” she said.

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