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Updated: 16 min 26 sec ago

Nigeria’s Ruling APC Party Splits Over President Buhari

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 12:43

VOA – ENGLISH

Nigeria’s ruling party has split after a faction declared that it no longer supports the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, threatening his hopes of a securing a second term in an election scheduled to take place this year.

A group of politicians who were part of the All Progressives Congress (APC) told a news conference in Abuja late on Wednesday they had formed a new faction, led by former Buhari ally Buba Galadima and called Reformed-All Progressives Congress (R-APC).

“The APC has run a rudderless, inept and incompetent government that has failed to deliver good governance to the Nigerian people,” Galadima, national chairman of the R-APC, said, describing the new faction as the authentic representatives of the APC.

Liberty University Students Object to Movie on Trump Prophecy

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 12:39

VOA – ENGLISH

A book about an alleged prophecy describing Donald Trump’s win as U.S. president is being produced as a movie by Liberty University, but students at the Christian college are pushing back on the film.

The production, in which Liberty University students are technicians, editors and set decorators for class credit, tells the story of Mark Taylor, a retired firefighter from Orlando, Florida. Taylor said in 2011 God told him Trump would become president of the United States. Trump won the election in 2016.

“This movie could reflect very poorly on all Liberty students and Liberty University as a whole,” states an online petition called “Cancel the Liberty University Film Programs Heretical Film Project,” created by Liberty students.

The author’s “claims to have received prophecies directly from God … do not align with the Bible’s message,” states the petition signed by more than 2,000 respondents.

Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Virginia, partnered with Christian filmmaker Rick Eldridge, owner of Reel Works Studio in Charlotte, N.C., to produce the book, which was published in July 2017.

Liberty University staff contends that this has been an excellent learning experience for students in cinematic arts at the university.

“We think this feature-length work experience is unique to our department among film schools,” said Stephan Schultze, Liberty professor of cinematic arts and director of the film. “This distinction gives our students a skill set that makes them ready for the workforce upon graduating.”

Movie production experience

Students agree they have gained hands-on experience working on the movie production. But some said they object to the alleged prophecy and the message.

In their online petition, they cited a later interpretation of the Bible, 1 John 4:1, that suggests believers “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

“We should be very wary of modern-day prophets,” the petition says. “Mark Taylor has claimed God told him that electing Trump will save the world, which is unbiblical at best and heretical at worst.”

“Liberty’s mission statement and purpose is to be a light on a hill and to train champions for Christ,” the petition continues. “Openly supporting both a ‘modern-day prophet’ and Trump as a school does not convey this mission.”

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. is an outspoken Trump supporter and was appointed to the Trump Task Force for Higher Education in 2017.

Schultze said the Liberty students who worked on the film served in positions that usually go to people with at least five years of experience in the film industry.

The Liberty students pushed back, saying they were “of the distasteful opinion that the producer had only come to Liberty to make his film because he could get free student labor that would significantly lower the cost of making the film,” according to a source who asked to remain anonymous. “Many of us felt used at times, which was another reason why we petitioned against the film in the first place.”

Students were given other options to working on the prophecy film, but those were of lesser experience, the source said. Well into the making of the film, students said, “it became clear … after the initial script reading and the many rewrites … the film did have a political agenda, which we were against.”

Biopic-style film

Schultze said the film is a biopic that “chronicles real-life events, following a fireman [Taylor] suffering from PTSD who believes he has heard a message from God, that Donald Trump will be the next president.” He did not respond directly to whether he thought the film was heretical but said he would “advise people to watch the movie first.”

“I think the film will be well-received, and people will be inspired to know that our students have created a narrative film whose quality is strong enough to warrant a national theatrical release on more than 1,200 screens,” he said.

“This is been a great experience for students, and I believe it will provide them with the edge they need for employment upon graduating,” Schultze added.

He said that Liberty University did not receive or pay any fees in exchange for the movie being produced there. He said there was a “cost benefit to student involvement,” but there was also “a risk to engage newly skilled labor still in a steep learning curve. It all evens out in the end because additional shooting days are required for the teaching process to take place on set. Our students’ education is a huge benefactor in the process.”

Students contested that the experience had enhanced their learning.

“Many do not want this movie on their resume and some are even considering … dropping out,” the student petition said.

Eldridge of Reel Works said he wants the film’s message to resonate with its viewers.

“We hope that they will be inspired by all that is great about our country,” Eldridge said of the audience in an email to VOA.“All the while we hope that they will be entertained by the story and the many voices who will speak during our reflective conversations after the dramatic story.”

Ex-Malaysian PM Najib Charged with Corruption

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 12:36

VOA – ENGLISH

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has been formally charged in connection with a multi-billion dollar scandal involving sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

Najib was charged Wednesday in a lower court with three counts of criminal breach of trust and one count of corruption, a day after his arrest at his home by agents with the country’s anti-corruption commission. The 64-year-old ex-prime minister is accused of siphoning $10.4 billion from SRC International, a former unit of the troubled 1MDB.

Najib pleaded not guilty to the charges during Wednesday’s hearing. He was released after posting a $250,000 bail and ordered to surrender his two passports.

The trial is tentatively set to begin next February. Each of the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse after his release, Najib said he looked forward to the trial, as it would give him a chance to clear his name.

Najib is at the center of a probe into allegations of embezzlement from 1MDB, which he created while in office. The U.S. Justice Department says a total of $4.5 billion was looted from 1MDB, some of which allegedly landed in Najib’s personal bank accounts.

The scandal led to a stunning electoral loss in May of Najib’s National Front coalition, which had ruled Malaysia uninterrupted since gaining independence in 1957.

Since his ouster, Najib has been barred from leaving Malaysia and questioned by the government’s anti-graft agency along with his wife, Rosmah Mansor.

Malaysian police announced last week they had seized nearly $275 million in cash, jewelry and luxury handbags in raids on properties linked to Najib. The inventory included 12,000 pieces of jewelry, 567 handbags, 423 watches and 234 pairs of sunglasses. The most expensive item was a necklace worth more than $1 million.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who led the coalition that defeated Najib, has reopened investigations into the 1MDB scandal which his predecessor shut down.

Pakistani Tribal Areas Secure Long Sought Promise of Equal Rights

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 12:00

Pakistan’s upper and lower houses of parliament have passed a historic bill giving the long suffering tribal areas equal rights and ending a destructive legacy left over from the era of British colonial rule. The British ruled Pakistan for 200 years leaving a class system based on discrimination that has largely been in place since Pakistan’s independence from India in 1947.

“Today the house has approved a historic bill, which will have very positive effect for Pakistan,” Prime Minister of Pakistan Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said regarding the bill. The new law largely affects Pakistan’s lawless Northwest region which is infamous for being a sanctuary for harboring militants that do battle against America in Afghanistan. The region has a large number of Pakistani army personnel staffed in the area to combat the militants, including the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. For decades, the citizens of the Northwest region bare the brunt of the violence and displacement due to army operations.

“This is a historic day for us. We have been demanding our basic human and legal rights. And, today our dream finally came through,” Malik Sangeen Khan Mehsud said. Mehsud is from South Waziristan, a part of Northwest Pakistan a region seen as a trouble spot.

Laws in the colonial era denied basic legal rights to members of Pakistan’s tribal area, which included, the right to a fair trial and the use of collective punishment against tribes and family members of those accused of crimes. War in Northwest Pakistan exploded in 2004 with the Pakistani army attempting to drive out the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and similar groups three years after 9/11 and the American invasion of Afghanistan.

The Taliban and Al-Qaeda have long used the largely remote areas of Pakistan to cross into Afghanistan where they attack U.S and allied troops, causing a spike in casualties in 2010 and 2011 among allied forces. In the first days of the 2004 Pakistani army operation, 376 militants were claimed killed by the army. But with the latest numbers being available in May of 2017, 500,000 residents have been displaced due to the violence.

“With its capricious system of justice and lack of full political representation, the tribal areas had become an embarrassment of the country’s elected leadership,” Brooking’s institute fellow, Joshua Ward said regarding the issue.

Armed with nuclear weapons, Pakistan is seen as an important but controversial ally in the fight against terrorism. However, it is also seen by some as being complicit with Taliban affiliates and is accused of harboring Al Qaeda’s Osama Bin Laden, killed on Pakistani soil by American troops in 2011.

The bill in the lower house passed 229 to 1. Pakistan’s Senate approved the bill a day later, and the Prime Minister said he supported the law.

Ultimately, the Pakistani government made the right move in granting tribal areas the same rights as other areas of the massive country.  Pakistan, after all, is correctly seen as a vital partner in fighting terrorism and creating and maintaining stability in a critical part of the world.

Links to sources:

  1. New York Times Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/24/world/asia/pakistan-tribal-areas-rights.html
  2. New York Daily News: http://www.nydailynews.com/newswires/news/world/pakistan-senate-approves-bill-give-tribes-equal-rights-article-1.4009196
  3. VOA: https://www.voanews.com/a/in-nw-pakistan-army-offsensive-causes-massive-number-of-displaced-perons/1961989.html
  4. The Borgen Project, information for war in Paksitan: https://borgenproject.org/war-in-northwest-pakistan/

 

 

 

The Carjacking of Democracy Since Reagan

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 11:45
link

Part of the reason Trump won the Presidential election was that the Democratic Party sold out the middle class. Yes, everybody knows this and everybody told me they know this. But the real underlying problem is that the Republicans have now moved even further to the right, becoming bigger jerks, so they could get their hands on even more of America’s colossal corporate money. That is how it all started.

During the 2016 elections, the Democratic Party wanted us to accept the status quo because they had been on the take too. Times were better than George Bush Jr. had left them and I think Hillary did not want to insult the Obama economic legacy. I believe it was this strategy that cost Hillary the election.

Yes, I voted for Hillary but the people who lost their jobs, the down and out, weren’t looking for the status quo. They wanted change and a revolution, that’s what Donald Trump promised. Trump has even tried to deliver something, even though, in my opinion, he’s actually made things worse. But to the people who support him all they want is someone who will make promises and try.

I’m not saying the Democrats are completely to blame, I remember the Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner blocking everything President Obama tried to pass. The Republicans made their best efforts to block everything except for the car industry and banking bailouts.

The Republicans cost our country billions of dollars in job growth throughout Obama’s presidency and I still think they should be prosecuted as traitors for playing partisan politics during a time of national crisis. Their aim was simply to win at all costs and to make the Democrats look ineffective.

Among the most important and biggest of the economic development bills that was killed was a bill that Nancy Pelosi tried to pass that would have given corporations tax breaks to move back to the states and produce goods here, a bipartisan issue. That bill passed the House of Representatives but John Boehner and his Republican colleague in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, were focused on a policy of delay and destroy towards any Obama policy that might help the American people.

Actually the Republican Party made a pact on the day of President Obama’s inauguration to block any and everything the Democrats would try to pass under Obama. Obama remained calm, cool and collected under a consistent flow of the most heinous forms of bigotry and hate. He wasn’t a wild civil rights leader and he proposed no extreme policy changes in any direction except for gradual reforms towards making the country more fair, honest and dignified.

That bill that Speaker Pelosi tried to pass makes a lot more sense than the 1.5 trillion dollar tax cuts Trump made. Trump’s tax breaks are simply a more extreme repeat of what Reagan did before he ruined the middle class and later had to raise taxes to fix the massive debt buildup.

A lot of the bad blood between the two parties started with the ill intentions of Newt Gingrich who not only wanted to win politically but wanted to demonize and ostracize the Democratic Party to oblivion. Prior to this political thug, politicians would regularly eat, workout and drink together, but no more. Modern Republican politicians consider themselves above the rank and file Democrats and would have no such relations or regard for politicians of low moral standing.

Again the sad thing is it’s we and our families who pay the price while these unscrupulous men play their games. Sometimes I even think the rich want the economy to be bad on purpose. For example, longtime Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan made sure there were always people out of work. 4-5% unemployment was the policy goal, about 12 million Americans, so there would be low inflation and the business community would be in the driver’s seat.

If things are crazy and chaotic the rich can do whatever they want with less resistance, and ultimately the filthy rich are fighting a two front war. They hate the idea of inflation and fight it with all their might so they can keep the value of their current assets. Most importantly, they are hell bent on accumulating all future income and, since Reagan, they have done a cleanup job of this endeavor. It’s debtors and poor people that benefit from inflation especially if your wages go up. So yeah, as Bernie Sanders has said the system is rigged.

Dictatorship Thwarts Belarus Opposition Rally in Minsk

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 17:46

VOA – ENGLISH

Authorities in Belarus have thwarted the opposition’s attempt to hold a rally and have detained several activists.

Tuesday’s crackdown in the Belarusian capital of Minsk reflected President Alexander Lukashenko’s intolerance for dissent despite his recent overtures to the West.

Nikolai Statkevich, an opposition leader who challenged Lukashenko in the 2010 election, was detained outside his home. Several other activists were rounded up by plain clothes police as they attempted to gather for a rally marking Belarus’ Independence Day.

The holiday was marked by a military parade.

One of the activists who attempted to organize the protest, Alyes Abramovich, said its goal was to show solidarity with political prisoners.

Lukashenko has ruled the ex-Soviet nation of 10 million since 1994, cracking down on dissent and free media and maintaining Soviet-style control over its economy.

The First Ever Woman Mayor of Mexico City Elected

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 15:07

VOA – ENGLISH

Mexico City has elected a woman mayor for the first time in history, local politician and scientist Claudia Sheinbaum, according to exit polls.

Sheinbaum, 56, won the election to lead North America’s largest city with between 47.5 and 55.5 percent of the vote, according to an estimate by polling firm Mitofsky.

A woman had previously served as mayor of the capital on an interim basis — Rosario Robles, from 1999 to 2000 — but Sheinbaum, who holds a doctorate in physics, is the first woman elected to the post.

Sheinbaum surged into office on the coattails of the anti-establishment leftist who looks likely to win the presidential race, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

She was among the first politicians to leave Mexico’s established left-wing party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), and join Lopez Obrador’s breakaway, Morena, when he formally launched it in 2014.

The following year, she won an election for district mayor of Mexico City’s Tlalpan neighborhood, Lopez Obrador’s own district and one of the 16 “delegations” that make up the sprawling capital of more than nine million people.

That was her launch pad for her mayoral campaign.

But her rapid political rise has not been without controversy.

Her district was one of the areas hardest hit by the earthquake that devastated central Mexico on September 19.

A private elementary school in the district collapsed in the quake, killing 19 children and seven adults inside.

It later emerged the district had granted dodgy construction permits to the private school’s owner — who is today on the run from the law — allowing her to construct an apartment for herself on top of the building, which destabilized the structure.

A group of victims’ families has brought criminal charges over the case, and wants Sheinbaum to face investigation.

She has been the target of unrelenting anger from victims’ families and their sympathizers — including on election day.

“Murderer!” a protester shouted at her after she cast her ballot.

Sheinbaum vehemently denies responsibility, and accuses her opponents of exploiting the tragedy for political gain.

South Korean Basketballers Arrive in North for Sports Diplomacy

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 15:03

VOA – ENGLISH

A group of male and female South Korean basketball players will play their North Korean counterparts in a series of games aimed at furthering the growing ties between Seoul and Pyongyang.

A delegation of 50 male and female players landed in the North Korean capital Tuesday, led by Unification Minister Cho Myung-gyon and several government officials. The two sides will play four matches between Wednesday and Thursday before the South Koreans return home on Friday.

There is no word on whether North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, an avid basketball fan, will attend any of the games.

The mixture of athletics and diplomacy continues a trend that began when Seoul accepted Kim’s offer to send a group of athletes to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in February. The move led to a set of diplomatic breakthroughs, including two summits between Kim and President Moon Jae-in.

The last time the two Koreas played each other in basketball was in 2003, which took place in Pyongyang in a gym built by South Korean conglomerate Hyundai.

High-Tech Fake Videos Draw Increased Scrutiny and Controversy

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 15:01

VOA – ENGLISH

Hey, did my congressman really say that? Is that really President Donald Trump on that video, or am I being duped?

New technology on the internet lets anyone make videos of real people appearing to say things they’ve never said. Republicans and Democrats predict this high-tech way of putting words in someone’s mouth will become the latest weapon in disinformation wars against the United States and other Western democracies.

We’re not talking about lip-syncing videos. This technology uses facial mapping and artificial intelligence to produce videos that appear so genuine it’s hard to spot the phonies. Lawmakers and intelligence officials worry that the bogus videos — called deepfakes — could be used to threaten national security or interfere in elections.

So far, that hasn’t happened, but experts say it’s not a question of if, but when.

“I expect that here in the United States we will start to see this content in the upcoming midterms and national election two years from now,” said Hany Farid, a digital forensics expert at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. “The technology, of course, knows no borders, so I expect the impact to ripple around the globe.”

When an average person can create a realistic fake video of the president saying anything they want, Farid said, “we have entered a new world where it is going to be difficult to know how to believe what we see.” The reverse is a concern, too. People may dismiss as fake genuine footage, say of a real atrocity, to score political points.

Realizing the implications of the technology, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is already two years into a four-year program to develop technologies that can detect fake images and videos. Right now, it takes extensive analysis to identify phony videos. It’s unclear if new ways to authenticate images or detect fakes will keep pace with deepfake technology.

Deepfakes are so named because they utilize deep learning, a form of artificial intelligence. They are made by feeding a computer an algorithm, or set of instructions, lots of images and audio of a certain person. The computer program learns how to mimic the person’s facial expressions, mannerisms, voice and inflections. If you have enough video and audio of someone, you can combine a fake video of the person with a fake audio and get them to say anything you want.

So far, deepfakes have mostly been used to smear celebrities or as gags, but it’s easy to foresee a nation state using them for nefarious activities against the U.S., said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of several members of the Senate intelligence committee who are expressing concern about deepfakes.

A foreign intelligence agency could use the technology to produce a fake video of an American politician using a racial epithet or taking a bribe, Rubio says. They could use a fake video of a U.S. soldier massacring civilians overseas, or one of a U.S. official supposedly admitting a secret plan to carry out a conspiracy. Imagine a fake video of a U.S. leader — or an official from North Korea or Iran — warning the United States of an impending disaster.

“It’s a weapon that could be used — timed appropriately and placed appropriately — in the same way fake news is used, except in a video form, which could create real chaos and instability on the eve of an election or a major decision of any sort,” Rubio told The Associated Press.

Deepfake technology still has a few hitches. For instance, people’s blinking in fake videos may appear unnatural. But the technology is improving.

“Within a year or two, it’s going to be really hard for a person to distinguish between a real video and a fake video,” said Andrew Grotto, an international security fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University in California.

“This technology, I think, will be irresistible for nation states to use in disinformation campaigns to manipulate public opinion, deceive populations and undermine confidence in our institutions,” Grotto said. He called for government leaders and politicians to clearly say it has no place in civilized political debate.

Crude videos have been used for malicious political purposes for years, so there’s no reason to believe the higher-tech ones, which are more realistic, won’t become tools in future disinformation campaigns.

Rubio noted that in 2009, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow complained to the Russian Foreign Ministry about a fake sex video it said was made to damage the reputation of a U.S. diplomat. The video showed the married diplomat, who was a liaison to Russian religious and human rights groups, making telephone calls on a dark street. The video then showed the diplomat in his hotel room, scenes that apparently were shot with a hidden camera. Later, the video appeared to show a man and a woman having sex in the same room with the lights off, although it was not at all clear that the man was the diplomat.

John Beyrle, who was the U.S. ambassador in Moscow at the time, blamed the Russian government for the video, which he said was clearly fabricated.

Michael McFaul, who was American ambassador in Russia between 2012 and 2014, said Russia has engaged in disinformation videos against various political actors for years and that he too had been a target. He has said that Russian state propaganda inserted his face into photographs and “spliced my speeches to make me say things I never uttered and even accused me of pedophilia.”

Judge to Decide Fate of Jailed Burma Journalists

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 14:58

VOA – ENGLISH

A court in Myanmar will rule next week whether two journalists for the Reuters news agency will face trial for allegedly breaking the country’s secrecy laws by reporting on the Rohingya crisis.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, are accused of breaching the Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.

The pair has been held in custody since their arrest in December and are accused of being in possession of leaked sensitive material linked to a military crackdown in crisis-hit Rakhine state, home to Myanmar’s minority Muslim Rohingya population.

Their detention has prompted an outcry among international human rights groups.

Defense lawyers asked the judge at a pretrial hearing Monday to drop the charges, saying the prosecution had failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove their case.

“Journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were the victims of an orchestrated scheme by some members of the security forces to trap them and silence truthful reporting,” defense lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told the court.

The reporters were meeting with two police officers they say they had never met before in northern Yangon. The men later told relatives that they were handed some papers, then were arrested almost immediately.

Human Rights Watch again called for the release of the journalists.

“The authorities [in Myanmar] have turned to tactics long-favored by past military juntas — locking and persecuting those exposing the truth,” the rights watchdog group said.

Reuters President and Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler said this was a “critical juncture” in the case.

“Freedom of the press is essential in any democracy, and to charge Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo under these circumstances, without any proof of their having done anything unlawful, would seriously undermine Myanmar’s constitutional guarantee of free speech,” Adler said in a statement.

Towards a Sane Legal Treatment of ‘Magic Mushrooms’ Psilocybin

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 14:34
A Julia set, a fractal related to the Mandelbrot set – link

Two groups sponsoring upcoming ballot initiatives in Denver, CO, and Oregon aim to eliminate penalties for “magic” mushrooms which contain the psychedelic psilocybin this year. In our democracy ballot initiatives can be the most effective form of democracy as they minimize the distorting effects of money politics on legislatures.

If approved the Denver version on this year’s ballot seeks to decriminalize mushrooms, whereas in Oregon’s initiative (in 2020) a more “medical” approach with doctors and therapists is sought. Neither initiative intends to fully legalize, a la marijuana, but nevertheless this is a promising turn of events.

Although many medically successful studies were done in the 1960s, politics and the war on drugs kept psychedelics stigmatized and out of the lab until the last decade or so. Since then, a renaissance of medical research less concerned with the harms of these drugs, for it is well established the harms are vanishingly small, seeks to understand how and why they are so effective in the treatment of psychiatric conditions. These include major depression, PTSD, end of life anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and various addictions.

Drug harms in the UK: a multi-criteria decision analysis – link

Keep in mind there are no cures for any psychiatric illness, just varyingly useful treatments, and no new antidepressant has been invented in several decades. The legitimization of psychedelics promises to be a game changer for several crucial fields of psychotherapy.

Humans have been successfully using psychedelics (“mind manifesting” in Greek) in mushrooms for thousands of years in places as diverse as the Americas and Siberia, and still do in some places. There’s an underground culture of radical therapists working illegally on the above medical problems now. Unfortunately this tends to come with a bunch of shamanistic woo-woo, but the drugs themselves are far from placebos or fake medicine.

And the game must be changed: the long effects of psilocybin require a full day’s therapy rather than a 21st century 50 minute session. This is a vital constraint going forward as our system is not designed for that kind of dynamic. Nor are drug companies very interested in a medication which patients don’t have to take every day for years.

Although the “trip” takes five to ten hours, the benefits to the patients can exceed many months. For treatment of some mental disorders, changed perceptions and methods of thinking can last years.

If you don’t know what they do, trying to get an understanding of psychedelics from the mass media is akin to studying baseball statistics in an effort to learn how to scuba dive. General media coverage has improved lately but most media, right and left, repeat urban myths, half-truths and hand-me-down falsehoods.

Responsible places to learn the medical facts are at psychedelic-library.org or maps.org and various neuroscientists have a number of TED talks available. For the more educated and interested, scientific papers and raw data are published online, usually for free.

Hallucinogenic psychedelics work on the neurotransmitter serotonin 2A which affects all sensory perception. Note although psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD and mescaline differ in chemistry and effect to some degree, essentially they are very similar. Hallucination in this context is more an altered perception of reality, time and ego than seeing non-existent dancing pink hippopotamuses or other folkloric myths.

Emotionally, fMRI studies liken the tripping state to deep meditation and it is routinely described (as much as one can) as a quasi-religious awe inspiring experience people rarely forget. The mechanism of this is the quieting of the brain’s default mode network, a constellation of brain areas responsible for self, ego and identity. The vast majority of experiences reported in the literature and anecdotally by hobbyists are memorable and positive.

Due to a lack of effect on the neurotransmitters D1/D2 dopamine and endorphins, no psychedelic is addictive. This is in contrast to the seductive, repetitive and compulsive allure of drugs such as opiates, cocaine, nicotine and alcohol whose addictions act with D1/2 on an area called the VTA: ventral tegmental area. Psychedelics are not carcinogens or tetratogens (causing birth defects) in humans. Regarding overdose, it’s technically incorrect to say one can’t theoretically overdose to death on them, but it is a fact that nobody ever has.

A final warning: psychedelics aren’t for everyone. Some patients, particularly schizophrenics, are strongly urged to avoid them for a variety of reasons. And there are many healthy individuals who simply don’t like the idea of their mental structure of reality being shaken up. They are absolutely not something to play with on a dare or a whim.

Those tempted to experiment free-lance on their own, however, should be aware of some important facts. The first is legal: terrible prison sentences are routinely handed out for sale or possession of psychedelics in non-research settings. The actual medical harm of all our forbidden chemicals, psychedelics particularly, doesn’t map on to their legal treatment though. If anything the severity of sentencing works inversely to the respective harms of Schedule 1 (prohibited) drugs.

Second is the “set and setting” proviso. Many “bad trips” are actually the result of bad set and setting: where and how one takes them. These are incredibly powerful drugs and once you take them you’re strapped in for the entire ride. The presence of a therapist, guide, or experienced trusted friend is vital, “set” wise. Regards “setting,” a relaxed day in a very safe place is not only recommended, but essential.

The science has been solid for a long time but as usual the politics are decades behind it. As often with public policy, it is a battleground where perceptions and misguided policy cries out for scientific rationalism. To do so could change millions of lives for the better.

VIDEO: Innovative Algorithm For Participatory Decision Making Online

Sun, 07/01/2018 - 10:00

This video explains how the business intelligence tool Ethelo can be used in the participatory budgeting process. Ethelo offers a new kind of blockchain-based voting for groups, communities or other organizations. The Vancouver, British Columbia-based company was founded by entrepreneur, mathematician and inventor John Richardson.

The company claims broad potential for its product, saying that the “platform offers customer insights, stakeholder insights, community insights, strategic insights, and operational insights to various sectors such as consulting, corporate social responsibility, technology, health, finance, not-for-profit, property management, development and planning, government, and cross-sector.”

The nonprofit connected to the company Ethelo.com is Ethelo.org and they have some interesting projects that you might take a look at. They published this video recently showing how the innovative Ethelo Decisions product and the algorithm behind it works:

VIDEO: A Chat With Heads of Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine Parliaments

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 21:20

Analysts are divided over how to respond to growing challenges facing the people of Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Russia. People with direct influence over government policy rarely participate in an event (in English) like the video here that includes a discussion with the current speaker/chairs of three different countries. The discussion is part of a PR drive that included a meeting with US President Donald Trump this week as the three leaders promote the Parliamentary Assembly, a new so-called “interparliamentary assembly” launched by their three governments.

Included in the discussion are Speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova Andrian Candu, Chairperson of the Parliament of Georgia Irakli Kobakhidze and Chairperson of the Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada Andriy Parubiy. Georgia’s Irakli Kobakhidze actually made the first public announcement interparliamentary assembly during the event in the video below. Some of his remarks were published on the Parliament of Georgia website:

“We have built the successful cooperation especially in the Parliamentary format. We have established the Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine Parliamentary Assembly and I believe it to be successful. In September, Tbilisi will host he first session of our Parliamentary Assembly to trigger the successful cooperation between the three countries… All three countries share the problem of territorial integrity. Georgian regions – Abkhazia and Tskhinvali are occupied. Ukraine and Moldova encounter the same problems. It once again reveals importance of our joint efforts and resources and joint fight to protect our interests and the principles of the international law…”

“…We are consistent in our efforts to make our countries the NATO and EU full-fledged members. This is our key foreign policy priority, which is reflected in the Parliamentary Resolution of 2016 adopted shortly after the Elections. The document underlines that EU and NATO integration is the key foreign policy priority of Georgia. Besides, the Resolution underlines that USA is the key strategic partner of Georgia…”

“We share the common challenges mostly related to the regional problems and Russian aggression. All three countries share the problem of territorial integrity. Georgian regions – Abkhazia and Tskhinvali are occupied. Ukraine and Moldova encounter the same problems. It once again reveals importance of our joint efforts and resources and joint fight to protect our interests and the principles of the international law…”

“…We are consistent in our efforts to make our countries the NATO and EU full-fledged members. This is our key foreign policy priority, which is reflected in the Parliamentary Resolution of 2016 adopted shortly after the Elections. The document underlines that EU and NATO integration is the key foreign policy priority of Georgia. Besides, the Resolution underlines that USA is the key strategic partner of Georgia, which means that our country has the clear vision in foreign policy terms. We have the clear vision related to EU and NATO integration…”

“…Georgia undertakes the pragmatic policy towards Russia but at the same time, we have the clear red lines related to our Western integration and occupation of our two regions. We actively undertake non-recognition policy. De-occupation is our major national goal for which we shall be consistent in our efforts. As to the policy towards Russian Federation – we have been through the greatest aggression. We undertake the pragmatic policy facilitating to achievement of higher level of domestic stability and security and now, we contribute to the regional security and stability. This is the role Georgia plays in the region today…”

“…Human rights state in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali is grave. Humanitarian situation is also grave and the citizens residing in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region encounter significant problems on daily basis. Kidnapping became the regular. Recently, Georgian peaceful citizen was murdered in Tskhinvali, which evidenced that the conflict in these regions is not protracted. Sometimes, people forget that this conflict brings death to the citizens, it entails human rights violation. That is why it is important to attach attention of international society to these problems. It is not a protracted conflict but it brings death, abduction and human rights violation on daily basis…”

The conference, held in Washington DC and titled “The Frontlines of Freedom: A Conversation with the Speakers of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine” was detailed in the event invite write-up by the Atlantic Council which hosted the discussion. The Atlantic Council is generally regarded and referred to as a premier Washington ‘think tank’, whatever that really means:

Please join the Atlantic Council for an event entitled The Frontlines of Freedom: A Conversation with the Speakers of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine on June 28, 2018 from 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Atlantic Council headquarters (1030 15th Street NW, 12th Floor, West Tower Elevators).

The countries of Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine stand at a crossroads. Perched between Russia and the West, they have chosen a path of economic and political reform and closer relations with the West. They face substantial challenges dealing with the systemic legacy of the Soviet period as they pursue reform, while facing Kremlin interference in their affairs and occupation of their land.

Recognizing the common nature of the challenges that they face, the Speakers of the parliaments of the three nations have established a joint forum to promote cooperation and to better explain to their citizens and their allies abroad how they are addressing these challenges.

At this public panel, Speakers Irakli Kobakhidze of Georgia, Andrian Candu of Moldova, and Andriy Parubiy of Ukraine will describe the outcome of their visit to Washington and their vision for the future of their countries.

Can the three countries act together? In what ways is the current system in their countries too repressive? How can working together help enact meaningful democratic reforms? These are some key questions going forward. The event video includes an introduction by Atlantic Council Executive Vice President Damon Wilson and was moderated by Dr. Michael Carpenter, the Senior Director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. Carpenter is also the Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. The video is about 90 minutes. Take a look:

Protesters to Trump: Women and Children First!

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 19:59
Byzantine mosaic of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child at the Southwestern entrance of the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul, Turkey – link

600 women were arrested for civil disobedience at the Senate Hart Office Building. They symbolically wrapped themselves in thermal blankets to represent the shelters the refugee children have to live in. I remember the dark day Trump was inaugurated. I did not watch, but I watched the youth running through the streets, the emotionally devastated kids carrying flags and banners. Yeah they broke some things, but the bigger picture here is they were there to protest the evil to come.

Who is anyone to judge? How many hearts have been broken by the separation of families in the latest fascist maneuver of the president catering to his base and his political constituency? If this president and administration would put a toddler in a cage, nobody is safe in his Nazi world and at the present he has too many ties with this type of character including Jeff Sessions, Stephen Miller, the Mercer family and Steve Bannon. And besides the removal of the First Amendment is exactly what this president wants to take away, so we can feel completely helpless and forgone.

I praise the women and children of courage and conviction who had the foresight and strength to endure the act of protest at the Senate Hart Office Building and the subsequent arrest. The government continues to arrest and prosecute people who were lawfully protesting, just to beat us down.

The thing about justice is that the punishment should fit the crime. Jeff Sessions had Desiree Fairooz thrown in jail for laughing at him at his Senate confirmation hearing. Hell I’d laugh at him too. But please, remember there’s more of us than there is of them and you guys, the protesters, are standing on the right side of history!

When President Trump Falls For Prank Call

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 18:26
link

VOA – ENGLISH

A comedian made a prank call to the White House and within two hours received a call back from President Trump who was on Air Force One. John Melendez, the comedian, had told the White House he was Senator Bob Menendez, who is a Democrat from New Jersey.

Melendez, who is known as Stuttering John, said on his podcast that he talked to the president for about three minutes and never told Trump that he was not the senator.

The comedian said he has talked to Trump at least 20 times as Stuttering John on The Howard Stern radio show and could not believe Trump did not recognize his voice.

“I was just talking in my Long Island accent,” he said.

In a recording of the conversation on the comedian’s podcast, the president who thinks he is talking to the senator, offers his congratulations on the politician’s acquittal in a bribery case.

Trump also talked about working together on an immigration bill. The comedian responded with “I am Hispanic.”

Melendez told CNN, “All they had to ask me is what party affiliation is Senator Menendez or what state is he a senator of and I would not have known. But they didn’t ask me any of this.”

A White House official said the president wants to be “accessible to members” of Congress and sometimes “mistakes like this happen.”

Reforming Eritrea Includes Ending Indefinite National Service System

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 18:21

VOA – ENGLISH

A UN Investigator finds a persistent pattern of human rights violations in Eritrea severely restricts the fundamental freedoms of its citizens through punishments that often have fatal consequences. Sheila Keetharuth has presented her final report as Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea to the UN Human Rights Council.

Sheila Keetharuth says there have been no improvements in Eritrea’s human rights situation since she began her mandate as Special Rapporteur six years ago.

The main violations she identified then, she says, persist to this day. These include arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention, indefinite military or national service amounting to forced labor. She describes a host of other abusive practices that deprive people of their fundamental rights of freedom of expression and assembly.

“I call on Eritrea to put an immediate stop to the indefinite national service and to arbitrary arrest and detention,” said Keetharuth. “It should immediately release all those arbitrarily detained especially children, women, the elderly and prisoners of conscience.”

Eritrea’s system of indefinite national service often lasts for decades. The conscripts include boys and girls as young as 16, as well as the elderly who are used as forced labor. Forced military conscription is the main reason why young Eritreans flee to other countries seeking asylum.

Keetharuth is particularly critical of the country’s harsh prison conditions. She says prisoners are kept in overcrowded cells where food is inadequate and bad. She says access to fresh air and natural light is limited and poor nutrition and lack of health care often leads to death in custody.

“The Eritrean authorities intentionally use conditions and regime of detention as a means of torture or in support of other methods to increase the pain and suffering of inmates to achieve specific objectives,” said Keetharuth.

Eritrean charge d’affaires, Bereket Woldeyohannes poured scorn upon the Special Rapporteur’s report saying it was destructive, lacking in objectivity and impartiality. He appealed to the Council to bring to an end, what he called this unfair and counter-productive process and experience.

Massive March to Protest Violence Against Ugandan Women

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 18:16

VOA – ENGLISH

The U.S. and French ambassadors joined dozens of Ugandan demonstrators in Kampala on Saturday to protest against what they say is rising violence against women, including murder, rape and kidnapping for ransom.

A flurry of unsolved killings and kidnappings has erodedUgandans’ trust in the security forces. Since early last yearthe bodies of more than 20 women have been dumped on roadsidesin Kampala.

The failure of police to issue an annual crime report since2013 has fueled suspicionthey are trying to conceal the scaleof the problem.

Protesters wore black T-shirts and carried posters bearingthe names and ages of women who had been raped and killed incases that remain unsolved.

“I want this march to raise awareness about what’s goingon,” Stephanie Rivoal, French ambassador to Uganda, toldreporters at the march.

“When women are killed, sometimes they don’t attract the sameattention as when men are killed. I am here to make a statementthat women’s lives matter in the same way as men’s lives,” she said.

Critics say the police devote most of their resources andattention to thwarting opponents of Uganda’s long-servingPresident Yoweri Museveni instead of
detecting and deterring crimes against women.

In a particularly high-profile case, Susan Magara, adaughter of a wealthy businessman, was kidnapped in February inKampala. Her body was found two weeks later, even after thekidnappers had been paid a ransom, according to local media.

In a speech this month, Museveni accused some members of thesecurity forces of conniving with criminals and announcedmeasures including the collection of DNA from all Ugandans tohelp curb surging crime in the East African nation.

Police spokesman Patrick Onyango said Saturday’s march wasunnecessary.

“I think the organizers want to harvest political capital, because all crimes that they talking about where women victimshave been involved … we have investigated them and arrestedperpetrators,” Onyango said.

On Finding Teachable Moments From the Trump Era

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 16:55

My greatest fear is that we have not resolved the very issues that led to Trump’s election. We have spent the greater part of the last two years yelling into a cyber hole and creating more divisions. Trump’s politics are about creating a rhetoric around his larger than life persona. What he fails to see is the consequences of that persona on the greater populace, winding the ideas of authoritarianism, autocracy, and rhetoric of division. While his base may see his ideas as fact or truth, it rarely is. However, we cannot deny that he is for his base, an expert on both his ideology and his alternative facts.

He is winning this war of ideas, though. His policies are being passed and the very people who voted for him based on remaking the Supreme Court are happy in their decision. Ignore the rhetoric, enjoy the distinct alteration of the Supreme Court into a conservative and insular body intent on upholding a stringent interpretation of the Constitution.

America is now being called dangerous, creating comparisons with undemocratic countries and corrupt regimes across the world. Are we really the country that they are talking about in the news? Is this really who we are?
While we seek to determine how rhetoric Trump espouses has changed the course of our country, historians may very well reflect that it was a blip on the radar. However, many perceived turning points in history are exactly like this, a point where a country must understand how it got to this point and what it can do.

Countries, like individuals, must come to a decision about its direction and ideologies it holds dear. While we can spend inordinate amount of time pointing out the coded language and immoral practices of the Trump administration, very few Trump supporters care. They care that their version of reality is validated through Trump’s presidency. Politics is not about who has the best ideas, it’s about who has the most persuasive argument. It’s about time Democrats took a page out of the Trump playbook and were absolutely convinced of their rightness and made no apologies about it. Or maybe we’re at that point.

No one can save America from itself. No one can predict its future. I have no words of wisdom for the time we are going through. Just that history will reflect unkindly on this period and consider it a turning point in our history, where we cease to be a nation of immigrants with an idea of meritocracy and instead, we are a nation of individuals with a chaotic and myopic view of its identity. It’s like America is reliving its adolescence without regard for the consequences.

Because no one has been able to explain or offer reason for the ascension of Trump, no one can offer an answer to what we should do. I’ll leave it up to the political operatives. But, figuring out America’s own psyche may be the first step towards finding an answer. The most important part may be unlocking America’s history for teachable moments about its future.

Private Prison Lobbying Is Paying Off Under Trump

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 14:40

From the Center for American Progress, an “independent nonpartisan policy institute that is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans”:

The administration will dole out billions of federal taxpayer dollars to for-profit companies in order to implement President Donald Trump’s executive order, according to a new CAP column. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is proposing to add 15,000 beds at an annual cost of more than $2 billion, or $5.6 million per day, to detain families—a sixfold expansion of current family detention capacity.

The unprecedented expansion of resources to jail families seeking asylum represents the entire cost of President Trump’s FY 2019 detention bed budget. The biggest winners will likely be the largest private prison companies, including GEO Group Inc. and CoreCivic—which have donated large sums of money to President Trump and members of the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.

What’s worse is that private prison companies routinely provide substandard care, failing to adhere to detention standards around health care; prevent and respond to sexual assault; protect LGBT people from abuse; provide sufficient nutritious food; and enable access to legal services. Inadequate medical care was a contributing factor in half of the deaths that occurred in these detention centers.

“With a significant return on investment, it’s safe to say that the power of private prison lobbying is paying off,” said Sharita Gruberg, associate director of CAP’s LGBT Research and Communications Project. “Rather than waste taxpayer dollars to reward private prison companies, the Trump administration should protect children from the trauma of family separation and family incarceration.”

The column recommends the use of alternatives to detention and barring members of Congress who decide which contracts will be awarded from accepting contributions from special interests. This would help to ensure, for example, that private prison companies are not unduly influencing the appropriations process.

New Film Explores Everyday Voices Amid Congo Conflict

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 14:27

VOA – ENGLISH

“To grow up as a child in Congo, according to God’s will, is to grow up in paradise,” Col. Mamadou Ndala says in the opening scenes of “This Is Congo,” a film making its theatrical release Friday in the United States.

Strolling outside the eastern city of Goma where he is stationed, Ndala adds: “Perhaps because of the will of man, growing up in Congo is to grow up in misery because of these endless, unjust wars imposed on the people.”

Congo has been in the headlines as it faces its latest outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, and as a long-delayed presidential election is set for December. Dozens of armed groups continue to wreak deadly havoc on the vast, mineral-rich nation.

“This Is Congo,” directed and filmed by former photojournalist Daniel McCabe, gives an insider’s view on the diverse lives behind the headlines. It follows four people — a military commander, a mineral dealer, a tailor and a high-ranking, anonymous military intelligence officer — to show the humanity in the middle of crisis.

Traveling around the Kivu regions in the east, McCabe sought to explore the root causes of conflict in Congo. He ended up on the front lines of fighting between the army and M23 rebels as they marched into Goma in 2012 and were pushed out the following year. He gained unprecedented access through Ndala, the film’s main subject.

Though filming mostly took place in 2012 and 2013 the scenes of fighting appear timeless, reflecting Congo’s continuous upheaval as some soldiers are recruited by ever-changing rebel groups and later reintegrated back into the army, which is poorly organized and badly paid.

“This is a revolving cycle of conflict,” McCabe told The Associated Press. “The film to me is about the banality of war and the corruption of man. Our hope is that the audience can identify with the characters.”

Another of the four main characters is Mama Romance, who turned to selling gemstones to support her family, eventually sending her children to good schools and breaking the cycle of poverty. The dangerous work, as she crosses borders to sell, shows how entrepreneurial Congolese make money from the rich mineral resources around them. Often the proceeds from exports never trickle down.

“This Congo” also follows Hakiza Nyantaba, a tailor who has been displaced for years by conflict, as he ekes out a life at the kind of camp that is home to many Congolese. As of January 4.5 million people had been displaced, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

“It seems God has forgotten us,” Nyantaba says.

McCabe honors his resilience.

“There are displacement camps where people have been living for 20 years. It’s unfathomable,” the filmmaker said.

Alleged corruption by officials and mining companies in part drives the fighting in Congo, which has trillions of dollars of mineral deposits ranging from diamonds and zinc to copper and tin.

“This is Congo” makes clear that civilians are the victims.

McCabe, who clearly adores the complexities of Congo, said he wants the film’s viewers to “dig up more information on their own . read more books, have more interest in the area.” He urged people to “broaden their gaze.”

The film premiered in September at the Venice Film Festival but will release on Friday in theaters in New York City, Los Angeles and other U.S. cities. It also is being released on the BBC in the UK on iTunes in more than 70 countries.

“This is Congo” also will screen in Goma on July 15 on the closing night of the Congo International Film Festival.