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Here’s who bankrolls the fight against marijuana legalization

VICE News - 6 hours 14 min ago

Even by the usual standards of politics, this election’s campaign against marijuana legalization has made strange bedfellows. The largest donors to the various anti-weed political groups around the country include a billionaire casino tycoon, a woman who believes in reefer madness, a drug-crusading former U.S. ambassador, cops, prison guards, booze merchants, and a pharma company that sells the powerful painkiller fentanyl.

A majority of Americans favor legal pot and pro-legalization campaigns have overwhelmingly outraised the opposition. Supporters in the five states set to vote on recreational marijuana had a war chest of $30 million as of Oct. 20, compared to just $6.6 million for their rivals, according to campaign finance data collected by the nonpartisan site Ballotpedia. The disparity comes largely from California, where proponents of legalization measure Proposition 64 have outraised their foes $18.1 million to $2 million.


Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, the largest anti-legalization group in the country, said the cash gap is “not surprising” and “always what we expected.” He noted that much of the pro-legalization money in California has come from entrepreneurs seeking to capitalize on what is projected to be a $6.5 billion market for marijuana by 2020.

“These guys don’t care about ending the war on drugs,” said Sabet. “They care about making money.”

But looking across the country, it’s clear that self-interest — and the fear of lost profits — also fuels the effort to keep weed outlawed. Tied for the largest single donation to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, the campaign against the state’s recreational marijuana proposal, was $500,000 from Insys Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company known for selling the painkiller fentanyl in the form of a sublingual spray. The company and some former employees have faced lawsuits and criminal charges over the way the drug was marketed.

Insys has said it opposes legalization because federal regulators have not approved marijuana for medical use and because the proposed law “fails to protect the safety of Arizona’s citizens, and particularly its children.” But the company is also developing products that use pharmaceutical cannabinoids, a synthetic version of marijuana.

Sabet, whose organization coordinates anti-legalization campaigns nationwide, tried to distance the broader movement from Insys, saying his organization’s funding comes from a range of sources. “I’m not actively going to pharmaceutical companies and saying ‘Give money to this; otherwise it’s going to compete against your product.’ Maybe I should, but I’m not going to do that,” he said.

“We get all of our money for these campaigns from individual donors, many people who lost family members to drug abuse, including from marijuana,” Sabet said. “We don’t get a penny from corporations or a penny from opiate manufacturers.”

The nonprofit group will not disclose its finances until its 2016 tax filings, but it has also formed state-level PACs to fight the various legalization campaigns, and information about those PACs’ donors is already publicly available.

One of Sabet’s most generous individual donors is Julie Schauer, a wealthy art enthusiast who lives in the Washington, D.C., area. Through her family’s trust, she has contributed more than $1.3 million to the organization’s efforts to defeat California’s recreational marijuana proposal, given at least $30,000 to the campaign against Nevada’s proposed legal weed law, and donated another $25,000 to defeat the pro-pot effort in Massachusetts, according to an analysis of state campaign finance filings by VICE News.

Schauer did not respond to an email requesting comment and Sabet said she “doesn’t want to speak to the media.” But she has made her views on marijuana public on several occasions. Tom Angell, founder of the pro-legalization group Marijuana Majority and a reporter for Marijuana.com, uncovered 2-year-old comments Schauer posted on the website OpenSecrets in which she blamed mass shootings and terrorist attacks, including the Boston Marathon bombing, on the perpetrators’ marijuana use.

Schauer’s largesse for the anti-marijuana movement has been eclipsed only by Sheldon Adelson, founder and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, a gambling empire that includes 10 casinos in the U.S. and Asia. Ranked as one of the world’s richest men by Forbes, Adelson has contributed a combined $5 million this election cycle to efforts to stop legal weed in Nevada, Massachusetts, Arizona, and Florida. Adelson previously contributed $5.5 million to defeat Florida’s medical marijuana measure in 2014.

Representatives at the Sands Corporation and Adelson’s charitable foundation did not respond to requests for comment about the donations. Sabet suggested that Adelson isn’t motivated by business interests, noting that he “lost a child to drug abuse,” something Adelson’s wife has spoken about publicly.

Aside from Adelson, Florida’s largest anti-weed donor — contributing $1 million — is Mel Sembler, chairman emeritus of the Sembler Company, a commercial real estate firm. A major Republican fundraiser, he served as the U.S. ambassador to Italy and to Australia. Sembler and his wife, Betty, are cofounders of the Drug Free America Foundation, a group that supports drug-testing students, opposes taking a harm-reduction approach to drug addiction, and claims that “crude” marijuana is not medicine.

A spokesperson for the Sembler Company directed a request for comment about Sembler’s stance on marijuana to Sembler’s personal assistant, who did not respond. Sembler wasn’t the only prominent anti-pot donor who seemingly didn’t want to discuss the topic — multiple requests for comment for this story went unanswered.

“Most [donors] would like to remain anonymous,” said Sabet. “They don’t want the limelight. They care about the issue; they let me take the bullet. They’re not people anybody knows.”

Any fear of blowback hasn’t stopped businesses and executives with a national profile from bankrolling anti-weed campaigns. Ernie Garcia, chairman of used-car vendor DriveTime, donated $250,000 to the cause in Arizona, and the moving and storage company U-Haul added another $25,000. Carol Jenkins Barnett, whose father founded the Publix supermarket chain, has contributed $800,000 to defeating Florida’s medical pot initiative.

In Massachusetts, one industry in particular has joined forces against the state’s recreational marijuana proposal. A wine and spirits wholesalers association kicked in $50,000 to the opposition campaign, and a beer distributors group added another $25,000. Local pubs, including McGreevy’s, a prominent Boston establishment that bills itself as “America’s first sports bar,” have contributed lesser amounts. McGreevy’s and the Lower Mills Tavern in the city’s Dorchester neighborhood both donated $1,000 to the cause — a move that hasn’t gone over well with some customers who have vowed to boycott.

In some cases, opponents of pot ballot initiatives claim to support drug policy reform — just not full-blown legalization. Lauren Michaels, legislative affairs manager for the California Police Chiefs Association, which donated $20,000 to the campaign against Prop 64, noted that her organization supports medical marijuana in the state but opposes the proposed recreational system because “there’s much less oversight and accountability for complying with state regulations.”

A number of other law enforcement groups have contributed to the anti-Prop 64 campaign, including $25,000 from the Peace Officers Research Association of California, a coalition of more than 66,000 law enforcement members, and $5,000 from the prison guards at the California Correctional Supervisors Organization. Michaels said the police chiefs believe Prop 64 will do little to curb the black market and say it would put more stoned drivers on the road. Like Sabet, she pointed to money pouring into the race from the weed industry.

“The people who are supporting the initiative, it’s a business investment for them — of course they’re going to invest money,” Michaels said. “The people opposing it are essentially people connected to their communities. They’re not going to have large amounts of money. We weren’t surprised or daunted in any way. That’s just the reality.”

Cops and prosecutors will have jobs whether weed is legal or not, but Mason Tvert, spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that is coordinating and financing legalization campaigns across the U.S., noted that millions of dollars worth of anti-narcotics funding are potentially at stake. And whether the campaign contributions are coming from a pharmaceutical company or a prison guard union, he said, keeping marijuana illegal often boosts donors’ bottom lines — and ensures that nonviolent users and suppliers will keep ending up behind bars.

“These people are trying to basically allow the continued criminalization of thousands and thousands of adults in order to continue making money,” Tvert said. “That’s kinda shady.”

Russia just announced a nuclear missile capable of destroying Texas

VICE News - 6 hours 27 min ago

Vladimir Putin likes to portray himself as a man’s man. That often means riding a horse with his shirt off, hunting in the Siberian Tyva region, holding a big gun with his top off or fly fishing, you guessed it, with his top off. Therefore it comes as no surprise that Russia has built a new nuclear missile — known as Satan 2 obviously — which is big enough to blow up the whole of Texas.

On Tuesday, Russia released the first photos of the new nuclear missile. The Satan 2 (or the RS-28 Sarmat to give the missile its less terrifying name) will replace Russia’s current nuclear weapon, the SS-18, which is now almost 30 years old, built during the final years of the Soviet Union and not capable of matching today’s sophisticated missile defence systems. During a period of strained relations with much of the West, Russia seems to be looking to beef up its weapons system. President Putin recently suspended a treaty with Washington that would have seen Russia dispose of Plutonium originally intended for nuclear weapons.

To get a sense of the power and capabilities of Satan 2, it’s best to look at the figures:

  • 10,000the number of kilometres Satan 2 can travel, according to the Daily Mail, meaning it can reach all of Europe, as well as the east and west coasts of the U.S.
  • 7 kilometres per second is how fast the Satan 2 can travel, meaning it could reach London from Moscow in under 6 minutes
  • 40 megatons, which makes it 2,000 times more powerful than the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during world war 2
  • 16 nuclear warheads meaning it would be capable of destroying an area the size of Texas, or the whole of France.
  • 2018when the new missile is expected to go into service.

To put the potential of the new weapon in perspective, here’s what former assistant secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy Dr. Paul Craig Roberts said about the original Satan rockets:

“One Russian SS-18 wipes out three-fourths of New York state for thousands of years,” he wrote in a blog post. “Five or six of these ‘Satans’ as they are known by the US military, and the East Coast of the United States disappears.”

Former CIA chief David Petraeus: “The Islamic State knows they are going to lose”

VICE News - 6 hours 36 min ago

A shorter version of this segment originally aired Oct. 19, 2016, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

“The battle that really matters is the one that follows the defeat of the Islamic State, and this is the battle over governance,” former four-star general and CIA Director David Petraeus told VICE News correspondent Josh Hersh. Petraeus resigned from the top CIA post in 2012 after it was revealed that he shared classified information with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, with whom he was having an extramarital affair.

“It could take weeks,” he said. “The question is how long can they resist in Mosul? These guys know they are dead men walking. The Islamic State knows they are going to lose.”

More than a week after coalition forces launched the offensive against the IS stronghold, Iraqis have fled Mosul by the thousands. The Debaga refugee camp in northern Iraq is already home to 30,000 displaced Iraqis, with hundreds more arriving each day as the offensive continues.

The hunt for wild ginseng in Appalachia’s semilegal and highly lucrative market

VICE News - 6 hours 52 min ago

Wild American ginseng roots can be worth hundreds of dollars per pound, thanks to hungry markets in Asia where the plant has been prized for its healing powers since ancient times.

It’s native to Appalachia, where locals have been “hunting” it for generations, and operating in the shadows. But when prices skyrocketed to $1,300 a pound in 2013, a lot more people started to get interested, and started harvesting the roots before they were ready — putting the native population at risk.

One woman’s journey from ISIS slave to human rights activist

VICE News - 8 hours 9 min ago

Lamiya Aji Bashar is adjusting to her new life in Europe after escaping IS captors who held her as a sex slave for two years in Iraq.

Today, Bashar dares to feel safe again — happy, even. I feel “very happy” now that I am “liberated,” the 18-year-old told VICE News through an interpreter in Brussels two weeks ago.

She has been jointly nominated for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought — the EU’s annual award for defenders of human rights and freedoms. Since her escape from IS-occupied territory in April, and amid a strenuous recovery program in Germany, where she now lives, Bashar’s been working with fellow Yazidi human rights activist Nadia Murad — also a former IS captive and now a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador for Survivors of Human Trafficking. The two are being acknowledged for their work advocating for the plight of the Yazidi community, an Iraqi religious minority persecuted by IS. Previous recipients of the Sakharov Prize include jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi and Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynecologist who treats people who’ve been raped by Congolese rebel forces. Bashar, though, never wanted any of this. She’d give it all up to return to her former life.

“This prize could be a reason that other nations will think about our mothers and sisters who are still in captivity and still suffering.”

In early August 2014, she was one of about 6,400 Yazidis “disappeared” by marauding IS militants from her home in Kocho, near Sinjar, Iraq, according to the Kurdish Regional Government. Bashar’s ordeal was particularly heinous. Just 15 when she was first trafficked and raped, she said her captors told her their actions were “halal,” meaning permissible under Islamic law.

Until her escape earlier this year, she had been sold five times to IS men of Saudi, Syrian, and Iraqi origin — the last one, a medical doctor from Mosul, she said. 

According to the Kurdish Regional Government, 3,543 women in total went missing during IS’ takeover of Sinjar.

Bashar was beaten regularly, put to work as a house slave for her captor’s family in Raqqa, and forced to work in an explosives warehouse, where she made suicide vests using a chemical paste infused with small metal components, or “pieces of iron,” she recalls.

IS continues to terrorize her family to this day. Her older sister Shaha remains captive in Raqqa, and a few weeks ago, an uncle received a call from an IS militant there offering to sell her back for $40,000 — without her four children.

Shaha was taken at the same time as Lamiya, alongside their parents and two brothers. Her four young children — two girls and two boys— were taken with her, but they’ve been kept apart during their years in IS captivity.

“The Daesh fighter spoke with my uncle; we couldn’t pay, and also we couldn’t trust him,” Bashar said, using the Arab term for the terrorist group. “And my sister said she would not come alone without children (sic).”

“I am afraid” for her safety, said Bashar, but “I want that these areas be liberated from Daesh.”

IS fighters have been contacting Yazidi families and NGOs of late, offering to sell back family members, most of whom are women. “I know of five or six cases,” Dr. Mirza Dinnayi, the director of Air Bridge Iraq, a charity assisting trauma victims, told VICE News. He added that there are likely many more.

Falah Mustafa Bakir, the Kurdish minister of foreign affairs, said he had heard of other similar cases. “We will do everything to rescue them alive,” he told VICE News. “It’s not about ransoms; we’ll do whatever is possible to rescue them alive.” The “whatever” includes using satellite imagery and information-sharing to locate and save as many Yazidi women and girls as possible.

After several failed attempts, Bashar finally managed to escape from IS captivity in April. It began when she gained access to a phone, which she used to contact an uncle, who directed her out of Hawija, where she was being held. She was assisted by a smuggler in Mosul whom her uncle had arranged to deliver her to another family in government-controlled territory. They walked all through the night. She traveled for over 24 hours with another young Yazidi woman, before an IED exploded close to the front line, killing her friend and badly injuring Bashar. She was saved by her smuggler.

Today, she lives with permanent facial scarring and the total loss of sight in her right eye.

Soon after her escape, she traveled to Germany to undergo crucial surgery to save the sight in her left eye. She continues to receive laser treatment for the scars on her face, as well as vital psychological support.

In Germany, she joined two of her sisters and stepmother, all of whom suffered similar fates while in IS captivity. They all continue to receive trauma-recovery care. Bashar’s German visa runs out in February, but her family has begun a process that would eventually give them permanent residence. In the meantime, she hopes to start school again.

Bashar may long for a return to the childhood that was stolen from her, but she’s also mindful of the upcoming prize for which she is nominated, and its significance. She hopes the prize will shine a light on her village’s plight and its perseverance. “This prize could be a reason that other nations will think about our mothers and sisters who are still in captivity and still suffering,” she told VICE News. “It is not only for me; it is for all my village and Yazidi women and girls.”

The Sakharov Prize winners will be announced on Oct. 27. 

Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio charged with criminal contempt while running for re-election

VICE News - 8 hours 26 min ago

Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, has been formally charged with criminal contempt for flouting a federal judge’s orders in a 2007 racial profiling case.

If convicted, the 84-year-old lawman, who calls himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” could face up to six months behind bars. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton signed the official misdemeanor count on Tuesday.

Arpaio’s harsh anti-immigrant stance and record of targeting Latinos, outspoken support for Republican nominee Donald Trump, and unconventional cost-cutting measures at the Maricopa County Jail, such as making inmates sleep in tents, have made him a controversial national figure. He’s now running for a seventh term as sheriff in Arizona’s second-largest county.

A federal judge ruled in 2013 that Arpaio and his department routinely relied on racial profiling and unlawful detention of Latinos while conducting immigration sweeps — and had continued to do so in spite of a 2011 court order to halt the practices.  

Having a misdemeanor count on his record won’t prevent Arpaio from serving as a sheriff in the future, but the ordeal may hurt his chances of reelection.

The longtime support that the sheriff has enjoyed appears to be dwindling, according to a recent poll conducted by the Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News; Arpaio has a little over 31.1 percent of the vote of those surveyed, compared to Democratic challenger Paul Penzone, with nearly 46 percent.

Penzone told the Associated Press that Arpaio’s situation was “another example of the sheriff putting his own personal objectives ahead of the best interest of the community at our expense.”

Arpaio’s campaign manager said the charges were part of a larger conspiracy by President Obama’s government to discredit Arpaio. “The Obama Justice Department continues its efforts to influence the election for Sheriff of Maricopa County,” Arpaio’s campaign said in a statement shared with local station KNXV. “The Department’s actions in the last 30 days before the election are further attempts to sabotage Sheriff Arpaio… It is clear from the timing that the Department of Justice is merely a political tool of the administration.”

Arpaio’s legal troubles haven’t come cheap. County taxpayers have so far spent an estimated $48 million on Arpaio and his agency’s defense throughout the nearly seven-year racial profiling case, the Arizona Republic estimated. That number is expected to hit $72 million by next year.

LGBT group in Northern Ireland can have their cake (and eat it, too)

VICE News - 8 hours 32 min ago

Cake decoration seems like an odd thing to divide a society, but it’s causing a major rift in Northern Ireland.

On Tuesday the Belfast Court of Appeal ruled that the family-owned Ashers bakery discriminated against Gareth Lee, a member of the city’s QueerSpace collective, by refusing to honor his order for a cake decorated with a picture of “Sesame Street” characters Bert and Ernie and a slogan in support of equal marriage.

The case had dragged on for nearly two years. In May 2014, Lee went to Ashers and ordered the cake. Karen McArthur, a member of the family that owns the bakery, initially took the order, but after talking with her husband, she decided not to fulfill the order, telling Lee that Ashers is a “Christian business.”

Lee took the case to court that November and won, with the court saying that decorating a cake with a slogan was not tantamount to promoting the message, and that the bakers must have known Lee was gay, and hence had discriminated against him. The case has rattled on since, with the Christian Institute backing the McArthurs and many secular and gay rights activists supporting Lee and QueerSpace.

But this week’s judgment looks final, ruling that refusal to decorate a cake with a pro–gay marriage slogan is discriminatory.

“The benefit from the message or slogan on the cake could only accrue to gay or bisexual people. The appellants would not have objected to a cake carrying the message “Support Heterosexual Marriage” or indeed “Support Marriage,” the court’s decision read. “We accept that it was the use of the word “Gay” in the context of the message which prevented the order from being fulfilled… Accordingly this was direct discrimination.”

Tehmina Kazi, a human rights activist in the Republic of Ireland, and former executive director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, agrees. She told VICE News: “A profit-making entity cannot turn away business on grounds of conscience UNLESS the message being promoted is:

  1. Unlawful.
  2. Violates the company’s terms and conditions (which themselves have to be compatible with other laws).”

Rachael Jolley from Index on Censorship took a different perspective. “Free speech includes both the right to speak — but also, crucially, the right not to speak — or be forced to speak in support of views or opinions with which you disagree,” she told VICE News.  

Meanwhile, the Christian Institute is using the judgment to reiterate its calls for a “conscience clause” in Northern Irish equality legislation, which could open the way for, say, Christian fundamentalist bed-and-breakfast owners to refuse rooms to gay couples.

The religious divide in Northern Ireland is notably stark, yet this ruling could, ironically, bring hard-line Protestants and Catholics together over their shared interest in preventing the passage of a same-sex marriage law.

Padraig Reidy is editor of LittleAtoms.com.

The International Criminal Court could soon crumble in Africa

VICE News - 8 hours 32 min ago

South Africa caused an international stir last Friday when it announced its plans to withdraw from the International Criminal Court after filing official documents with the UN. The country claimed its association with the court was at odds with the African nation’s efforts at building sustainable peace in the region. Its decision immediately set off fears of an African exodus from the ICC. And on Wednesday, The Gambia gave credence to those fears, becoming the third African country this month to announce its intentions to pull out of the ICC, after South Africa and Burundi.

South Africa has a long and difficult history with human rights and many fear that this move could be an enormous setback for the country. Activists and legal experts have greeted the decision with horror, saying the move could send the country back to the dark days of apartheid, leaving citizens without “any mechanism for accountability and justice for war crimes or genocide.”

South Africa is to quit the International Criminal Court. The ICC's been accused of bias against African countries. https://t.co/CXBfVV8kuN pic.twitter.com/blhWeU1Mbx

— BBC Africa (@BBCAfrica) October 21, 2016

The withdrawal

On Friday, Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane officially notified the United Nations of the intended withdrawal from the ICC. The process will take about a year.

South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has called the decision unconstitutional and appealed to Constitutional Court for a hearing on the legality of the move.

Legal experts worry the move will leave South Africa without the necessary tools to prevent the most heinous crimes taking place. “It makes no sense. Peace and justice are not mutually exclusive,” Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, executive director of Southern Africa Litigation Centre, told VICE News. “South Africa comes from a very dark place in our history and if [the ICC] existed during apartheid that would have been a very useful tool for us.”

“The withdrawal by South Africa is a major blow to human rights in South Africa and in Africa in general.”

He added: “There is no guarantee, with us withdrawing from [the ICC], that there will be any mechanism for accountability and justice for war crimes or genocide.”

The ICC wants South Africa to reconsider its decision to withdraw from the court, urging it to talk with the other countries involved before making a final decision.

At a press conference on Monday in Senegal, Sidiki Kaba, president of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC, said that he would seek to bring all sides together at a planned meeting in the Hague next month.

What is the ICC?

Its function is to prosecute criminals when national courts are unwilling or unable to do so, though investigations can also be referred to it by individual countries and the United Nations Security Council. It prosecutes only the most serious offenses, including genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.

Since it came into force in 2002, the ICC prosecutor has officially opened investigations for 10 situations and indicted 39 individuals. In nine of the 10 investigations, the country in question was in Africa.

Reasons for departure

Though the official line is that the ICC is at odds with the country’s attempts to build a sustainable peace in Africa, there is another factor at play.

Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir was indicted by the ICC in 2009 and 2010 for war crimes and genocide in the Darfur region. When he arrived in South Africa in June 2015, the SALC brought an application for his arrest to the High Court and a warrant was issued. However, the government facilitated his departure before he could be detained, according to Ramjathan-Keogh.

Since then the South African government has challenged the application before the Supreme Court, which it lost, and now is challenging it further in the Constitutional Court.

Ahead of a planned hearing on November 22, it appears the government already knows the outcome. “It seems that they are aware that they will lose the Constitutional Court appeal and the position will be clear that they failed in their obligations,” Ramjathan-Keogh said.

“Major Blow to Human Rights”

By removing itself from the ICC, South Africa could soon become home to many unsavory characters, human rights groups worry.

“South Africa may become a haven for serious criminals and [this decision] poses a long term threat to the ability of the country to deal with serious crimes,” said Arnold Tsunga, the Africa director of International Commission of Jurists, a group which has worked extensively on international justice issues – including the ICC – in the recent past.

“The withdrawal by South Africa is a major blow to human rights in South Africa and in Africa in general,” Tsunga told VICE News.

Is the ICC Racist?

Several African countries have suggested that the ICC is inherently biased against African nations. The fact that nine out of the 10 investigations the court has taken up have focused on African countries would appear to give that claim some credence.

However, six of the nine cases the ICC pursued began at the behest of the governments themselves, the court’s lead prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, noted.

Will Other Countries Follow Suit?

One already has — The Gambia’s announcement that it intended to withdraw from the ICC came less than a week after South Africa’s. On Wednesday, Gambian Information Minister Sheriff Bojang called the ICC “an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of color, especially Africans.”

According to R-Keogh, other countries likely to leave in the near term include Namibia, Uganda, and Kenya, which is unsurprising, given that the country’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, said in 2013 that the court was “race hunting” on behalf of its benefactors and being used as a tool to oppress Africans.

Russian warships headed to bomb Aleppo will no longer refuel in Spain

VICE News - 11 hours 10 min ago

A flotilla of Russian warships en route to the Mediterranean to take part in the Aleppo bombing campaign won’t be refueling in the Spanish port of Cueta.

Russia withdrew its request to refuel on Wednesday after outcry from NATO, politicians and military figures that Spain had granted permission for the eight-strong group of vessels, led by Russia’s lone aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, to dock in the port to refuel and take on board supplies.

Spain was already reconsidering whether to allow the refueling given international outcry over Russia’s role in the bombardment of Aleppo, an act that France and the UK have categorized as a war crime.

“Given the information which appeared on the possibility that these ships would participate in supporting military action in the Syrian city of Aleppo, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested clarification from the embassy of the Russian Federation in Madrid,” Spain’s foreign ministry told the BBC.

The Russian Embassy confirmed the request to refuel had been withdrawn.

Ceuta is a Spanish enclave which sits on the tip of Africa’s north coast, across the Straits of Gibraltar from mainland Spain. It is part of the EU, but its NATO status is not clear. Russian ships have been docking here for years, and since 2011, up to 60 Russian vessels have refueled in Ceuta.

NATO had warned the Russian warships could be used to target civilians in the besieged city of Aleppo and it has been monitoring the movement of the carrier battle group which departed northern Russia last week, passing through the English Channel earlier this week.

The vessels are expected to pass through the Straits of Gibraltar on Wednesday en route to the eastern Mediterranean, where alliance officials fear they will launch fighter bombers to hit northwestern Syria early in November.

The aircraft carrier, which is believed to have 15 fighter jets on board and 10 helicopters, is accompanied by a nuclear battle cruiser, two large anti-submarine warships, and other support vessels. They are expected to join 10 Russian vessels already stationed off the coast of Syria.

NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg had warned that warships could be used to target civilians in Syria: “We are concerned and I have expressed that very clearly about the potential use of this battle group to increase Russia’s ability and to be a platform for air strikes against Syria.”

Correction: Obamacare Premiums Are Going Up About 0% For Most People

Mother Jones - October 25, 2016 - 10:46pm

Data! You want data! Sure, Obamacare premiums are going up and so are the subsidies. But how much are the subsidies going up? The chart below—which I want everyone to look at because it was a pain in the ass to create—shows this for the 15 states with the highest premium increases:

As you can see, subsidies are increasing more than premiums in every state—and by quite a bit. This comparison data is for a 27-year-old with an income of $25,000, and comes from Tables 6 and 12 here. (Arizona is literally off the chart: premiums increased 116 percent and subsidies increased 428 percent.) Here's the same chart for the 15 states with the smallest premium increases:

There are plenty of caveats here. Premiums and subsidies will be different for different kinds of households. Upper middle-class families don't get any subsidies at all. And this doesn't tell us what the average net increase is, once subsidies are accounted for.

However, it gives us a pretty good idea that for a substantial majority of Obamacare users, the net amount they pay for health insurance in 2017 isn't going to be much more than it was this year. For many, in fact, it will be the same. For those who shop around, it's quite likely to be less.

Bottom line: if your income is low enough to qualify for a subsidy, there's no need to panic over the Obamacare premium news. The higher premiums will help stabilize the market, and the cost will be covered almost entirely by Uncle Sam. Your pocketbook is safe.

Bernie Sanders Is the Most Popular Politician in America

Mother Jones - October 25, 2016 - 7:49pm

One of the tightest House races in the country this year is in New York's Hudson Valley, where Democrat Zephyr Teachout and Republican John Faso are vying to replace retiring GOP Rep. Chris Gibson. Faso, a former assemblyman and pipeline lobbyist, and Teachout, a fiercely anti-fracking Fordham law professor, are natural rivals. But it's the flood of outside money that has defined the race. The latest effort: a new spot from the National Republican Congressional Committee, attacking Teachout as an ally of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders:

As a narrator explains that Teachout is supported by "socialist senator" Bernie Sanders, the actress playing Teachout reads a book called Socialism for Beginners (shouldn't an actual socialist already know what socialism is?). The ad has it all: a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker, a Bernie Sanders mouse pad, a photo of Sanders and Teachout together—even a pair of Birkenstocks.

There is one major flaw with this message, though: Bernie Sanders is super popular. As of this writing, he is the most popular politician in America. His favorable ratings are two points higher than those of President Barack Obama (who is currently enjoying his highest numbers in 45 months). They are 10 points higher than Hillary Clinton's. They are 19 points higher than those of both Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

Those are just the national numbers. There is good reason to think that in New York's 19th Congressional District, a slightly-Democratic-leaning area where the Vermont senator traveled to campaign with Teachout last month, Sanders is even more popular. Sanders won the district overwhelmingly in the April primary, with 58 percent of the vote—one of his best districts in the state.

Tweet of the Day: Most Obamacare Users Won't Pay Much More For Coverage Than They Did Last Year

Mother Jones - October 25, 2016 - 6:45pm

This is from a guy who works for a healthcare advocacy group in New Mexico:

Just got off the phone w/ a consumer who was crying bc she couldn't afford a 25% increase. With subsidies, her premium went down 1%. https://t.co/KYR4uhW6tC

— Colin Baillio (@colinb1123) October 25, 2016

Getting panicked calls all day about premium hikes. Every person I talked to was shielded by subsidies or on employer plan. #headlinesmatter

— Colin Baillio (@colinb1123) October 25, 2016

I don't want to minimize the pain that this year's premium hikes are going to cause for a subset of insurance buyers. But the vast majority of low-to-mid-income Obamacare users are eligible for federal subsidies—and as premiums go up, so do their subsidies. They may end up paying a bit more in 2017 for their health coverage, but probably no more than a few percent.

So yes: headlines matter. Or, at the very least, the first few paragraphs of news stories matter. Coverage of this issue should make it clear that the average price people pay will go up much less than 25 percent, and for low-income folks it probably won't go up at all.

Long Haul Truck Drivers Are Scarily Close to Being Put Out of Business

Mother Jones - October 25, 2016 - 6:26pm

Last week, a self-driving truck delivered 50,000 cans of Budweiser from Loveland to Colorado Springs. This was obviously meant as a big FU to Coors, since the route "coincidentally" took all this frosty Bud right past Coors headquarters in Golden, Colorado. Most people, however, are interpreting this event as merely technological: it represents the dawn of the era of self-driving trucks. Tim Lee comments:

According to Otto’s blog post on the trip, “our professional driver was out of the driver’s seat for the entire 120-mile journey down I-25, monitoring the self-driving system from the sleeper berth in the back.”

But this doesn’t mean the nation’s truck drivers need to start working on their résumés. Technology like this may eventually displace human truck drivers, but the tech is several years away from causing mass unemployment. The key reason is that Otto’s self-driving technology is initially limited to highways. When the truck reaches ordinary city streets, it hands control over to a human driver to handle tricky traffic situations. This means that even after a truck is outfitted with Otto’s self-driving technology, it will still need a human driver in the truck.

Hmmm. "Several years" sounds ominously near-term, so truck drivers might want to start worrying about their jobs right now. Beyond that, there's a way this could put truckers out of business well before that. Here's how.

Pick a route that has a lot of truck traffic. Let's say, Chicago to Cleveland. Outside of each city, you build a big truck depot and dispatch center. In Chicago, teamsters drive the trucks from the city out to the depot. Autopilots drive the trucks to the Cleveland depot, where a driver gets in and takes the truck to its destination. Rinse and repeat. The job of a truck driver is to drive back and forth from destinations in the city out to the depot, which they can do five or six times a day. Trucking firms save a ton of money even though the autopilot is designed for highway driving only.

Building the depots would be cheap and easy, since you don't really need much there. It's basically just a dispatch center. You could pretty easily have hundreds of them dotted across the country near all of our biggest cities. The only thing that would stop this from happening is the knowledge that they'll only last a few years before they're put out of business by fully automated trucks that can go from dock to dock with no human intervention. Either way, truck drivers are in big trouble.

Here's My 11-Word, 1-Chart Plan for Fixing Obamacare

Mother Jones - October 25, 2016 - 2:21pm

There's been a lot of talk about "fixing" Obamacare lately. Here's my two-step plan:

  1. Increase the subsidy levels.
  2. Increase the penalty for not buying insurance.

That would pretty much do it. I could add lots of other small-bore things that need some tweaking, but why bother? These two things would do most of the job—and Republicans will never agree to them. They won't agree to any of the small-bore stuff either. So take your pick. You can support a detailed 11-point plan for Obamacare that will never get passed, or you can support my 11-word plan that will also never get passed.

But since we're all lightweight wonks around here, we should take a guess at how much we need to change the subsidy and penalty levels to make everything work. Basically, Obamacare's big problem is that not enough young people are ponying up for insurance. To fix this, we need to get to a point where it's cheaper for young people to buy insurance than it is to pay the penalty. This can be done by either increasing subsidies or increasing the penalty. Here's my swag at what it would take:

You could increase subsidies by 100 percent and leave the penalty alone, or you could increase the penalty 250 percent and leave the subsidies alone. Or you can pick any point in between.

In reality, you could probably get by with smaller numbers, since nearly everyone will sign up if the penalty is within shouting distance of the net premium cost. You don't have to literally make the penalty as high as the premium cost. I also assumed silver coverage in this chart, and you can assume lower numbers if you're happy with kids buying bronze coverage.1

Anyway, that's it. This chart is my proposed Obamacare reform. It represents something of an upper bound, and I imagine that someone who has actual working knowledge of all this stuff could do a lot better. Call your congressman today and demand that this chart be made into law.

1I'm not, especially, which is why I went with silver.

We Live in a Gentlemen's C- Universe

Mother Jones - October 25, 2016 - 1:27pm

Physicist Eugene Wigner is the author of a famous paper called "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences." Brad DeLong comments:

We are all, potentially, the Friends of Wigner. It has always seemed to me that anyone with the empathy and imagination to think of him or herself as one of the Friends of Wigner is then driven inescapably to either "quantum mechanics is totally wrong wrong wrong wrong and just predicts well for incomprehensible reasons" or "many-worlds". There really are no other alternatives, or at least what alternatives there are are even stranger.

Au contraire. I consider quantum mechanics to be evidence that we are all constructs in somebody else's virtual reality. All of the peculiarities of quantum mechanics are easily explainable if the universe is merely a computer-generated world subject to the whims of a programmer.

The only question left is why the programmer has created such a world. Whimsy? Amusement? As a test of some sociology theorem? Bad design?

Perhaps the last one is most likely. In reality, quantum mechanics is a desperate, ugly patch glued onto a poorly working universe by a stressed freshman at 2 am. Basically, the poor kid waited until the last minute, as freshmen everywhere do, and hadn't really understood much of the text for the required "Plenum Creation and Maintenance" class. The result was a mess that kept falling apart even for small taus of only a few billion years. One thing led to another, and eventually the whole project became a Rube Goldberg monstrosity of black holes, 11 dimensions, wavicles, arbitrary speed-of-light caps on velocity, and observer-induced wave collapse as a last-ditch way of reducing the computing power needed to run it.

In the end it received a gentlemen's C- from a sympathetic professor. That's the universe we live in.

Guantanamo guards have high rates of post-traumatic stress, exclusive documents show

VICE News - October 25, 2016 - 12:54pm

Just a few weeks into her deployment as a medic working with detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Navy corpsman Nichole York started having nightmares.

“I was being attacked by detainees,” she said of the dreams she had during her nine-month deployment in 2010. “I had nightmares where they would somehow get ahold of me and grab my hair and slam my face off a steel door.”

Navy corpsman Nichole York on the day she left for Guantanamo Bay in February 2010.

York felt totally isolated and often afraid; to cope, she started drinking heavily. But her experience of suffering, largely in silence, was hardly unique among the 28,000 troops who have served at the U.S. military prison since it opened in 2002 to indefinitely detain captives in the “war on terror.”

Between 2008 and 2011, the joint task force that operates the detention facility secretly evacuated at least 19 troops who had worked in detainee operations due to severe “behavioral health reasons,” according to an Army Institute of Public health study obtained exclusively by VICE News.

Watch VICE News Tonight for more on Guantanamo troops’ experience with post-traumatic stress, Tuesday, Oct. 25, at 7:30 ET on HBO.

This study, combined with two internal military reports on the mental health of troops and interviews with two former Guantanamo guards, show that the invisible wounds of war largely associated with combat-related deployments also affected troops who worked at the detention facility. President Obama has said he still hopes to close the prison, located in an isolated corner of the 45-square-mile naval base that overlooks Guantanamo Bay in southeastern Cuba, by the time he leaves office. At its peak, Gitmo held 779 detainees; today, 60 remain.

For years, journalists have tried to obtain information from the military about whether Guantanamo personnel suffer from post-traumatic stress during and after their deployments. The military never supplied any figures, but in 2010 the Army Institute of Public Health conducted a behavioral health study at the base after a number of troops were evacuated. A year later, two reports were prepared. The findings, which have remained secret until now, paint a dire picture of deteriorating mental health among personnel who served there.

The study found that of the 1,422 troops who were surveyed, 565 developed behavioral health conditions and showed signs of post-traumatic stress that were directly associated with their Guantanamo deployments. Nearly 300 who were screened, or 1 in 5, were considered a “high [behavioral health] risk,” meaning they had suicidal thoughts or a behavioral health condition, such as anxiety or severe depression, requiring “intensive medication management and/or therapy.”

The study noted that the Army did not pre-screen soldiers to determine whether they suffered from behavioral health conditions before they were sent to work with detainees, though it also found that 75 percent of the troops who were evaluated did not have pre-existing behavioral health conditions before arriving at the base. (The Navy, on the other hand, did conduct pre-screenings.)

The highest rates of positive screening for behavioral health conditions were found among Army and Navy troops whose work required them to have “routine detainee exposure” — interacting with detainees for an hour or more per day. The study said that within the Army, troops who worked in detainee operations “had greater positive screenings for suicidal ideation, severe depression & trouble sleeping,” while Navy troops showed “greater positive screenings for severe PTS [post-traumatic stress], aggressive behavior & problematic alcohol use.”

Forty-four percent of personnel surveyed engaged in “potentially hazardous alcohol use,” according to the study, and that use was “highest” within the unit that worked directly on detainee operations. Forty-four percent of those in the Navy specifically said their deployment was “harming my relationship with my spouse/significant other” and exacerbating stress associated with 12-hour work shifts.

The severity and rate of behavioral health conditions affecting Guantanamo troops — aside from alcohol use — was on par with U.S. troops who served at detention facilities in Iraq.

VICE News obtained the reports from United States Southern Command, which oversees the joint task force that operates Guantanamo, in response to a 3-year-old Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

The study found that the stress troops experienced during their average nine-month deployment was due in part to poor living conditions — troops felt the detainees received better food than they did, and 82 percent of Army and 60 percent of Navy troops surveyed said that overall, detainees were treated better than they were. Troops also cited an inability to “react” to detainees’ verbal and physical abuse, and inadequate training prior to being sent to Guantanamo as contributing to their stress.

Andrew Turner, a Navy petty officer first class when he was discharged, served at Guantanamo in 2009 and 2010. Both he and Nichole York were members of Task Force Platinum, the military unit that works out of the infamous and top-secret Camp 7, where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and 14 other former CIA captives are held. Both York and Turner said they had no idea what Task Force Platinum was before they arrived, and that they did not receive any special training to deal with the high-value detainees.

Andrew Turner at the Northeast Gate of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in the spring of 2010.

“We were taught how to do forced cell extractions,” said Turner, now 43, referring to a procedure in which guards in riot gear restrain and remove a combative detainee from his cell. “We were taught how to cuff detainees in different ways. We had a few days of combatives training, which is the Army’s version of mixed martial arts…. I felt incredibly unprepared and very vulnerable.”

VICE News made numerous email and telephone queries over the past month to spokespeople for the Army, the Navy, and the Department of Defense seeking comment on the Army Institute of Public Health study and the treatment of troops before and after their deployment to Guantanamo. Those spokespeople directed us to Capt. John Filostrat, a spokesman for the detention facility. When VICE News asked Filostrat about the study and York’s and Turner’s deployments, he said he could not answer questions about individual service members nor could he answer questions about the study because he was not familiar with it.

Turner and York spoke with VICE News about their Guantanamo experience in the hopes that it would encourage current and former Gitmo troops who suffer from PTSD symptoms to seek diagnosis and medical treatment. Because they worked at a top-secret camp whose location and operational procedures are highly classified, neither Turner nor York would discuss individual Guantanamo detainees with whom they interacted or the extent of their work with Task Force Platinum. No other member of Task Force Platinum has ever spoken publicly about Camp 7.

Turner initially thought his deployment to Guantanamo would be a “cakewalk,” he said. He wasn’t alone. According to the study, before being sent to Guantanamo, 70 percent of troops surveyed “perceived the assignment as less stressful than a combat deployment.” But once they got to work, only 40 percent still believed that — and among the troops who interacted directly with detainees, the share was even smaller: 25 percent.

York was 20 years old at the time of her deployment in 2010. When she arrived on the island and discovered she would be working with high-value detainees — and that she was the only female medic on Task Force Platinum — she wept.

“We got in our temporary rooms, and I was the only female,” she said. “I literally sat there and bawled for three days…. I kind of thought like, where the fuck am I, and what the fuck is gonna happen? Or what did the Navy get me into?”

Even though her deployment did not entail physical combat, “mentally [and] emotionally, it’s combat.” She says she has nightmares to this day about being attacked by detainees.

Turner, however, did suffer physical harm during his deployment. Just two weeks in, his hand was crushed during a forced cell extraction when he and a team of guards tried to prevent a detainee from slamming his own head into the concrete floor of his cell.

“I was so fucking scared, and I still have nightmares of that day,” Turner said. “I was trying to keep that fear down inside me. That was the only way I could deal with it. To just be twice as tough as everybody else, when really inside I was scared to fucking death…. You just didn’t know what was coming around that next corner, and it was 99 percent boredom and then 1 percent just pure, unadulterated craziness.”

Andrew Turner shortly after his hand injury.

Turner never regained full use of his hand; the injury effectively ended his military career.

York and Turner’s combined 15-month deployments to Guantanamo have left them with profound psychological scars; Veterans Administration doctors diagnosed both with PTSD.

“Each day I’ve got to figure out how I’m gonna function, and it sucks,” Turner said. “I didn’t have to do that before. I don’t like crowds; I used to not have any problem with them, but now they cause me to have a little bit of a panic issue. Loud noises [and] really bright lights kind of can cause me some issues. These are all things that weren’t going on before I went on that deployment.”

Both York and Turner said they were aware that Guantanamo had a facility that assisted troops with emotional and psychological stress but that seeking treatment there was not encouraged and carried stigma. It wasn’t until they both returned to the mainland that they realized something was wrong and they needed help. Their spouses pushed them to get it.

A spokesperson for the Guantanamo facility said anyone on the joint task force can take advantage of counseling on the base to deal with depression and stress through the Joint Stress Mitigation and Restoration Team.

The Army public health study recommended that Southern Command work with the joint task force to “revise pre-deployment training to be more mission-specific, better preparing troopers mentally and emotionally for what to expect by making the training.”

Additionally, the study recommended the military pre-screen all troops prior to their deployment to Guantanamo to identify pre-existing behavioral health conditions in order to prevent “those at increased risk for negative behavioral health outcomes from being assigned” to the base.

“This would, in turn, likely reduce the number of soldiers evacuated from [Guantanamo] for behavioral health conditions,” the study said.

Filostrat, the Guantanamo spokesman, would not confirm whether the study’s recommendations were implemented.

Read the documents in full:

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Donald Trump Knows Nothing About His Own Businesses

Mother Jones - October 25, 2016 - 12:34pm

With only 14 days left before Election Day, it hardly feels worth it to highlight Donald Trump's latest public declaration of ignorance, but I have another point to make about today's Trump Follies. Here is Donald on Obamacare:

Well, I don't use much Obamacare, I must be honest with you, because it is so bad for the people and they can't afford it. And like, for instance, I'm at Trump National Doral in Miami, and we don't even use Obamacare. We don't want it. The people don't want it, and I spend more money on health coverage, but we don't use it.

The obvious point to make is that Trump obviously has no idea what Obamacare is. He's apparently under the impression that it's some kind of option that employers can choose as group insurance for their employees. Ha ha. What an idiot.

And that's true enough. But did you notice something else? Once again, Trump has made it clear that he has no idea how his own businesses are run. This is hardly the first time, either. As near as I can tell, Trump's job as CEO of the Trump Organization is to (a) watch a lot of TV, (b) appear on a lot of TV, (c) make command decisions about what kind of marble to use in the bathrooms, and (d) threaten to sue people who get in his way. Beyond that, he appears to play no real role in running things.

This explains, for example, his promise last year to release his tax returns. He made that promise because he had no idea what was in them. It was only later, when someone on his finance team apparently pointed out what they contained, that he reneged on his promise. It also explains his frequent business failures. He was in love with the Plaza Hotel but had no idea what it was worth or how to run it. He loved the idea of owning an airline but had no clue about the shuttle market. He loved the casino business, but was entirely ignorant about casino operations. He loves to play golf, but doesn't understand the business of golf. Etc. He's spent his whole life diddling around in businesses that seemed interesting, but without knowing anything about them or understanding how to run them.

His presidential campaign is the same thing. He thought it sounded neat to run for president but had no interest in how campaigns are actually run. If he ever became president, it would be more of the same. He'd run the country the way he runs his golf courses: making windswept exits from helicopters to deliver grand statements, and then quickly losing all interest. At best, things would toddle along without catastrophe if he picked decent people to run things. At worst, he'd pick fellow con men who would embroil him in endless scandals that made Teapot Dome look like a child's lark.

Luckily, we'll never have to find out.

Good Thing Cats Are Adorable, Because They Get Away With a Lot of Crap

Mother Jones - October 25, 2016 - 12:03pm

Few creatures are as cute, cunning, or controversial as the common household cat. Despite their taste for blood, enigmatic demands, and unpredictable mood swings, cats have managed to claw their way into homes, hearts, and Youtube channels like no other domestic animal. While these stealthy creatures are much better at stalking than being stalked, it's believed there could be anywhere from 600 million to 1 billion house cats worldwide. On the most recent episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast, Indre Viskontas sits down with cat enthusiast and science writer Abigail Tucker to discuss her new book, The Lion in the Living Room, and to explore the complicated role cats have in ecological systems across the globe.

Here are 10 of the best cat facts from our interview with Tucker. We've mixed in some adorable cat videos, because—let's not kid ourselves—that's the whole reason you clicked on this post. You're welcome.

1. Cats are stalkers.

And they're really good at it. Unlike their ferocious lioness cousins that hunt in packs to take down prey, domestic cats use a solo stalk-and-ambush style of hunting that requires more brains than brawn for calculated, well-timed pounces. It's this stealth that makes them so efficient at snagging even the most deft of critters.

2. American house cats consume the equivalent of 3 million chickens every day.  

#fatcat #cat #cats #anchorage #alaska #alaskacat #moose #pensivekitty #pensivecat #catbelly #sittingcat #redleather #hungrykitty #hungrycat #hungry #whitebelly #cutekitty #cutecat #catsofinstagram #catsitting

A photo posted by Moose E (@mooseyfatcat) on Oct 22, 2016 at 10:10pm PDT

3. The average Australian cat eats more fish than the average Australian does.

#catfishing #cat

A video posted by Paul (@fellhose) on Oct 23, 2016 at 10:41am PDT

4. More house cats are born every day than there are wild lions in the entire world.

If African lions could reproduce at the same rate as their domestic brethren, they'd probably have an easier time getting off the endangered species list. Lions typically only rear 2-3 cubs over a two-year period, but female domestic cats can become pregnant at just four months old and produce an average of 8-12 kittens a year. That's a lot of kitty litter.


Snug as three kittens in a rug. ❤️

5. Cats cannot live on rats alone.

While it's common to find cats in alleys where rats are prolific, that's not actually because the cats want to feast on the rodents. As Tucker explains, what's actually happening is that cats and rats are feeding on the same resource: trash.


#rat #cat #catrat #ratcat #unlikelyfriendships

A photo posted by Dogs & Money (@dogs_and_money) on Aug 17, 2016 at 10:49am PDT

6. Cats don't meow to each other.

They only meow to us. It's just one of many ways they bend us to their will.


#SiLuxusRagdolls #ragdollkitten #ragdoll #ragdollcat #hungry #starving #starvingcat #nokibblejustmeat #meowing #loudkittens #gimmemyfood #haha #catstagram #catsofinstagram #ragdollsofinstagram #ragdoll_feature

A video posted by Tina Si'Luxus (@tina.si.luxus) on Oct 21, 2016 at 1:26am PDT

7. Cats are Native to West Africa and the Near East.

Today, however, they flourish on every continent except Antarctica.


#catstagram #catmap #map #cat #catsofig #power

A photo posted by Alexis Oltmer (@alexisoltmer) on Jun 19, 2016 at 1:33pm PDT

8. Your cat is probably carrying a deadly brain-dwelling, baby-blinding parasite.

Toxoplasmosis is caused by a single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that's transmitted through, among other things, cat feces, and can cause seizures and severe eye infections in people with compromised immune systems. Cleaning the litter box, touching anything that's come in contact with cat feces, or ingesting contaminated soil, fruit, or vegetables (you know your garden is just a giant litter box, right?) are just a few of the ways Toxoplasma can find its way into your system. While complications are rare (pregnant women and infants are at a higher risk), more than 60 million people in the United States may be infected—most don't experience any symptoms.


#cat #cattoilet Focky

A photo posted by Silvia Campos (@silvia_cmcampos) on Sep 22, 2016 at 1:26pm PDT

9. Cats are classified as an invasive species.

As mysterious, brilliant, and fluffy as they are, cats have developed quite the wrecking-ball reputation. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Felis catus is one of the 100 worst invasive species on Earth. The list includes non-native species that "pose a major threat to biodiversity," agriculture, and human interest.


#cat #cats #croatia #pag #otokpag #catinvasion #catparty #campingcar #hills #hungrycats #waitingcats #partycats #loadsofcats #instacats #velebit #catswarm #catcar

A photo posted by Volker von Choltitz (@grottenboy) on Oct 8, 2016 at 7:01am PDT

10. Love them or hate them, cats have mastered human-animal relations like no other species.

They have us wrapped around their paw and they know it.


Happy 7th birthday to Downey!!!! #catbirthday

A photo posted by Tiffany R. Bloom (@figglyboogles) on Oct 21, 2016 at 12:07pm PDT

To hear more about how Felis catus became what Tucker calls "the most transformative invaders the world has ever seen" (as well as America's most popular domestic pet), check out the rest of the the Inquiring Minds episode.

Inquiring Minds is a podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas and Kishore Hari, the director of the Bay Area Science Festival. To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. You can follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook.

Karl Rove's Group Injects Scare Tactics Into New Hampshire Senate Race

Mother Jones - October 25, 2016 - 11:35am

New Hampshire voters came home last night to find an alarming warning in their mailboxes. Voting for Democrat Maggie Hassan in her Senate race against incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte, they were told, would essentially mean voting for terrorists to target their children. The large glossy mailer warns on the front that radical Islamic terrorists are searching for their next city to target:

The crosshairs motif continues on the inside, which bashes Hassan for supporting the Iran nuclear deal and emphasizes—over a silhouette of a woman and a young girl walking hand in hand—that terrorists are "searching for soft targets...": The back of the mailer shows yet another crosshairs over an American flag outside a home, paired with a warning that terrorists are an imminent threat and support for Hassan could put "our families at risk":

Where did the money come from to create the provocative mailer? We'll probably never know. According to the fine print at the bottom, the mailer was sent by One Nation, a politically active 501(c)(4) nonprofit, also known as a dark money group. According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, One Nation was taken over earlier this year by operatives from American Crossroads, Karl Rove's outside money operation.

Federal Election Commission records show that One Nation paid about $44,000 for the mailer, but as a nonprofit organization, One Nation will never have to disclose who donated the money to fund the mailer. It's not clear whether One Nation has sent similar mailings in other states, though FEC records show the group is spending money on mailers in Nevada, Indiana, and North Carolina.

Are Bonds Opaque and Confusing Because They Have to Be?

Mother Jones - October 25, 2016 - 11:02am

A few days ago Brad DeLong tagged a piece by David Warsh that promises to be a preface of sorts to a 14-part series about some new research into the nature of finance and the origins of the Great Recession. It actually looks pretty interesting, but I confess I'm a little unclear about one of its central points.

As we all know, one of the problems the Great Recession uncovered was the brave new world of rocket science derivatives, which were so complex that no one truly knew what they represented. Warsh suggests that this is no accident:

Stock markets existed to elicit information for the purpose of efficiently allocating risk. Money markets thrived on suppressing information in order to preserve the usefulness of bank money used in transactions and as a store of value. Price discovery was the universal rule in one realm; an attitude of “no questions asked” in the other.

....This new view of the role of opacity in banking and debt is truly something new under the sun. One of the oldest forms of derision in finance involves dismissing as clueless those who don’t know the difference between a stock and a bond. Stocks are equity, a share of ownership. Their value fluctuates and may drop to zero, while bonds or bank deposits are a form of debt, an IOU, a promise to repay a fixed amount.

That economists themselves had, until now, missed the more fundamental difference — stocks are designed to be transparent, bonds seek to be opaque — is humbling, or at least it should be. But the awareness of that difference is also downright exciting to those who do economics for a living, especially the young. Sufficiently surprising is this reversal of the dogma of price discovery that those who have been trained by graduate schools in economics and finance sometimes experience the shift in Copernican terms: a familiar world turned upside down.

I can't do justice to the whole idea in an excerpt, but this gives you a taste of Warsh's thesis. But it confuses me. Certainly he's right that mortgage-backed securities of the aughts were astonishingly opaque, but why does that lead us to believe that bonds, in general, "seek to be opaque"? For most of the 20th century and before, bonds were considerably simpler than the derivatives of the 21st century. The value of a corporate bond depended on the likelihood of bond payments being made, which in turn depended on the profitability and overall growth prospects of the firm. The value of a company's stock also depended on the profitability and overall growth prospects of the firm. If you knew one, you knew the other. Bonds, in general, were no more opaque than stocks. And none of this had any relation to bank money, did it?

Maybe this will all be explained later. If Warsh is arguing that the transparency of the debt and equity markets have changed over the past decade or so, that's one thing. But if he's arguing that they've always been fundamentally different, then I have some questions. I hope he answers them over the next 14 weeks.


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