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« Reply #3120 on: Oct 10, 2018, 04:07 AM »

Meet the trillions of viruses that make up your virome

The Conversation
10 Oct 2018 at 07:10 ET                   

If you think you don’t have viruses, think again.

It may be hard to fathom, but the human body is occupied by large collections of microorganisms, commonly referred to as our microbiome, that have evolved with us since the early days of man. Scientists have only recently begun to quantify the microbiome, and discovered it is inhabited by at least 38 trillion bacteria. More intriguing, perhaps, is that bacteria are not the most abundant microbes that live in and on our bodies. That award goes to viruses.

It has been estimated that there are over 380 trillion viruses inhabiting us, a community collectively known as the human virome. But these viruses are not the dangerous ones you commonly hear about, like those that cause the flu or the common cold, or more sinister infections like Ebola or dengue. Many of these viruses infect the bacteria that live inside you and are known as bacteriophages, or phages for short. The human body is a breeding ground for phages, and despite their abundance, we have very little insight into what all they or any of the other viruses in the body are doing.

I am a physician-scientist studying the human microbiome by focusing on viruses, because I believe that harnessing the power of bacteria’s ultimate natural predators will teach us how to prevent and combat bacterial infections. One might rightly assume that if viruses are the most abundant microbes in the body, they would be the target of the majority of human microbiome studies. But that assumption would be horribly wrong. The study of the human virome lags so far behind the study of bacteria that we are only just now uncovering some of their most basic features. This lag is due to it having taken scientists much longer to recognize the presence of a human virome, and a lack of standardized and sophisticated tools to decipher what’s actually in your virome.

Here’s a few of the things we have learned thus far. Bacteria in the human body are not in love with their many phages that live in and around them. In fact they developed CRISPR-Cas systems – which humans have now co-opted for editing genes – to rid themselves of phages or to prevent phage infections altogether. Why? Because phages kill bacteria. They take over the bacteria’s machinery and force them to make more phages rather than make more bacteria. When they are done, they burst out of the bacterium, destroying it. Finally, phages sit on our body surfaces just waiting to cross paths with vulnerable bacteria.

 They are basically bacteria stalkers.

It’s clear that there’s a war being fought on our body surfaces every minute of every day, and we haven’t a clue who’s winning or what the consequences of this war might be.

Viruses may inhabit all surfaces both inside and outside of the body. Everywhere researchers have looked in the human body, viruses have been found. Viruses in the blood? Check. Viruses on the skin? Check. Viruses in the lungs? Check. Viruses in the urine? Check. And so on. To put it simply, when it comes to where viruses live in the human body, figuring out where they don’t live is a far better question than asking where they do.

Viruses are contagious. But we often don’t think about bacterial viruses as being easily shared. Researchers have shown that just living with someone will lead to rapid sharing of the viruses in your body. If we don’t know what the consequences are of the constant battle between bacteria and viruses in our body, then it gets exponentially more complicated considering the battle between your bacteria and their viruses that are then shared with everyone including your spouse, your roommate, and even your dog.

Viruses keeping us healthy?

Ultimately, we need to know what all these viruses in the human body are doing, and figure out whether we can take advantage of our virome to promote our health. But it’s probably not clear at this point why anyone would believe that our virome may be helpful.

It may seem counterintuitive, but harming our bacteria can be harmful to our health. For example, when our healthy bacterial communities are disturbed by antibiotic use, other microbial bad guys, also called pathogens, take advantage of the opportunity to invade our body and make us sick. Thus, in a number of human conditions, our healthy bacteria play important roles in preventing pathogen intrusion. Here’s where viruses come in. They’ve already figured out how to kill bacteria. It’s all they live for.

So the race is on to find those viruses in our viromes that have already figured out how to protect us from the bad guys, while leaving the good bacteria intact. Indeed, there are recent anecdotal examples utilizing phages successfully to treat life-threatening infections from bacteria resistant to most if not all available antibiotics – a treatment known as phage therapy. Unfortunately, these treatments are and will continue to be hampered by inadequate information on how phages behave in the human body and the unforeseen consequences their introduction may have on the human host. Thus, phage therapy remains heavily regulated. At the current pace of research, it may be many years before phages are used routinely as anti-infective treatments. But make no mistake about it; the viruses that have evolved with us for so many years are not only part of our past, but will play a significant role in the future of human health.The Conversation

David Pride, Associate Director of Microbiology, University of California San Diego and Chandrabali Ghose, Visiting Scientist, The Rockefeller University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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« Reply #3121 on: Oct 10, 2018, 04:08 AM »

Australia to 'Absolutely' Exploit and Use Coal Despite IPCC Warning


Australia's coal-loving lawmakers dismissed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) warning to phase out the polluting fossil fuel by 2050.

In a recent interview with SkyNews, deputy prime minister Michael McCormack said Australia will "absolutely" continue to use and exploit its coal reserves regardless of what the IPCC report says.

Australia is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, with relentless drought, deadly wildfires and devastating bleaching at the iconic Great Barrier Reef. At the same time, Australia is one of the world's largest coal exporters, accounting for 37 percent of global exports.

In the major United Nations report on Sunday, the world's top climate scientists said that limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C will stop catastrophic global warming and help prevent Australia's imperiled coral reefs from destruction.

However, McCormack insisted to SkyNews that the government will not change its policies "just because somebody might suggest that some sort of report is the way we need to follow and everything that we should do."

Coal mining, McCormack said, is very important to Australia because it provides 60 percent of the country's electricity, 50,000 workers and is its largest export.

He added that he has not "seen anything that's going to replace coal in the near future" and maintained that coal will be an important part of the energy mix for more than 10 years.

Environment minister Melissa Price, who used to work for the mining industry, further advocated for coal and suggested the 91 scientists behind the IPCC report were wrong in their findings.

"I just don't know how you could say by 2050 that you're not going to have technology that's going to enable good, clean technology when it comes to coal," she told ABC's AM program. "That would be irresponsible of us to be able to commit to that."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison maintains that Australia will meet its Paris agreement targets to reduce carbon emissions by 28 percent from 2005 levels, even though the IPCC report advised it would need to be closer to 45 percent, according to ABC.

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« Reply #3122 on: Oct 10, 2018, 04:14 AM »

Dire Climate Warning Lands With a Thud on Trump’s Desk

By Mark Landler and Coral Davenport
Oct. 10, 2018

WASHINGTON — A day after the United Nations issued its most urgent call to arms yet for the world to confront the threat of climate change, President Trump boarded Air Force One for Florida — a state that lies directly in the path of this coming calamity — and said nothing about it.

It was the latest, most vivid example of Mr. Trump’s dissent from an effort that has galvanized much of the world. While the United Nations warned of mass wildfires, food shortages and dying coral reefs as soon as 2040, Mr. Trump discussed his successful Supreme Court battle rather than how rising seawaters are already flooding Miami on sunny days.

The president’s isolation is not just from the world: In California, New York, Massachusetts and other states, governments and companies are pushing ahead with regulations and technological innovations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

That bottom-up activism is a source of hope for those who have watched in despair since last year when Mr. Trump declared he would pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord. But experts say it is no substitute for the world’s largest economy, and second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, turning its back on the fight.

“You have this enormous discrepancy between the White House and, essentially, everyone else,” said Johan Rockström, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “The leadership in Washington is really moving against the whole agenda.”

The United Nations report paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought and says that avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.”

It describes a world of worsening food shortages and poverty; more wildfires; and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 — a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population.

Among climate-change scientists, there were increasing fears that Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris accord, which at first seemed a lonely act of defiance, may embolden other countries to leave it as well.

In Brazil, voters are on track to elect a new president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has vowed to withdraw his country, the world’s seventh-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, from the pact.

Mr. Trump’s announcement last year prompted a show of solidarity from the other 194 countries that signed the accord, not to mention American political and business leaders who rallied under the slogan, “We are still in!” But to populists like Mr. Bolsonaro, Mr. Trump’s demands that the United States be given a better deal could prove appealing.

“To the extent that we get these narrow-minded, so-called nationalist, populist leaders, we could have a big problem,” said John P. Holdren, who served as President Barack Obama’s chief science adviser. “Brazil, with its huge area of forests, is going to suffer terribly from climate change.”

Beyond the domino effect, Mr. Holdren, who is now a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, said there were other immediate costs to what he called “the squandering of U.S. leadership on an acute global issue.”

Mr. Trump, who has mocked the science of human-caused climate change, cut the American contribution to a global fund that supports climate mitigation and assistance efforts in developing countries by two-thirds, to $1 billion. He has tried to cut government funding of climate-related research — an effort that Congress has so far resisted.

The White House issued no public response to the United Nations report, which was issued Monday in South Korea at a meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders.

“Not today,” said Bill Shine, the White House communications director. “It’s a Kavanaugh night.”

After Mr. Trump returned Monday from Orlando, Fla., where he spoke to a convention of police chiefs and referred to the hurricane now approaching that state, he attended a White House ceremony to swear in Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh as an associate justice of the Supreme Court.

A spotlight on the people reshaping our politics. A conversation with voters across the country. And a guiding hand through the endless news cycle, telling you what you really need to know.

Following the ceremony, Lindsay E. Walters, a deputy press secretary, said, “The United States is leading the world in providing affordable, abundant and secure energy to our citizens, while protecting the environment and reducing emissions through job-creating innovation.”

She noted that carbon dioxide-related emissions declined 14 percent in the United States from 2005 to 2017, while they rose 21 percent globally during the same period.

On Saturday, an American delegation in South Korea joined more than 180 countries in accepting the report’s summary for policymakers, but a statement from the State Department added that it “does not imply endorsement by the United States of the specific findings or underlying contents of the report.”

The report “is quite a shock, and quite concerning,” said Bill Hare, an author of previous Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports and a physicist with Climate Analytics, a nonprofit organization. “We were not aware of this just a few years ago.”

The authors found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, or 1.5 degrees Celsius, above preindustrial levels by 2040.

The Paris accord set a goal of preventing warming of more than 3.6 degrees above preindustrial levels — long considered a threshold for the most severe social and economic damage from climate change. But the heads of small island nations, fearful of rising sea levels, had also asked scientists to examine the effects of 2.7 degrees of warming.

Without aggressive action, many effects that scientists once expected to happen further in the future will arrive by 2040, and at the lower temperature, the report shows.

“It’s telling us we need to reverse emissions trends and turn the world economy on a dime,” said Myles Allen, an Oxford University climate scientist and an author of the report.

To prevent 2.7 degrees of warming, the report said, greenhouse emissions must be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and by 100 percent by 2050. It also found that use of coal as an electricity source would have to drop from nearly 40 percent today to 1 to 7 percent by 2050.

“This report makes it clear: There is no way to mitigate climate change without getting rid of coal,” said Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at Duke University and an author of the report. Mr. Trump has vowed to increase the burning of coal.

“It makes me feel angry when I think about the U.S. government,” Mr. Shindell said. “My kids feel like it’s their future being destroyed.” He watched as the grounds of his son’s high school in Durham, N.C., and the roads around it flooded last month after Hurricane Florence.

Dr. Allen said there was little question the report will be ignored in Washington. “The current administration doesn’t seem interested in it all,” he said, although he added that as a scientist, he takes the long view.

“One way or another,” he said, “the facts do win out.”

Mr. Trump encouraged scientists recently when he nominated Kelvin Droegemeier, a well-respected meteorologist who is an expert on extreme weather, to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The post had been vacant since Mr. Trump took office.

But it is unlikely that Mr. Droegemeier will change the president’s views on climate change, and other influential aides are hardly going to challenge him.

For example, the Trump administration’s counterterrorism strategy, released last week, made no mention of climate change as a cause for extremism. The Obama administration regularly cited it in threat assessments because of its effect on migration and the competition for food and water.

“I don’t think climate change is a cause of international terrorism,” said the national security adviser, John R. Bolton.

For all that, scientists said that they saw a few rays of sunshine amid the clouds. A Democratic takeover of the House would raise the odds that Congress would continue blocking cuts to research. And despite his criticism of the Paris accord as “very unfair” to the United States, Mr. Trump has left the door open to staying in the deal, if the terms were improved.

“I have been of the opinion all along that we can definitely see the U.S. back in the Paris agreement, even under Trump,” Mr. Rockström said.

Legally, he noted, the United States cannot formally withdraw from the pact until 2020, and the agreement’s terms are voluntary.

“He can sit there in the White House and draw up his own plan,” Mr. Rockström said.


Coal Is Killing the Planet. Trump Loves It

Scientists issued a new alarm on the devastating impacts of continued burning of fossil fuels. But the Trump E.P.A. keeps propping up coal.

By The Editorial Board

The editorial board represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section.

Oct. 10, 2018
NT Times

If we keep burning coal and petroleum to power our society, we’re cooked — and a lot faster than we thought. The United Nations scientific panel on climate change issued a terrifying new warning on Monday that continued emissions of greenhouse gases from power plants and vehicles will bring dire and irreversible changes by 2040, years earlier than previously forecast. The cost will be measured in trillions of dollars and in sweeping societal and environmental damage, including mass die-off of coral reefs and animal species, flooded coastlines, intensified droughts, food shortages, mass migrations and deeper poverty.

The worst impacts can be avoided only by a “far-reaching and unprecedented” transformation of the global energy system, including virtually eliminating the use of coal as a source of electricity, the panel warned.

Yet President Trump, who has questioned the accepted scientific consensus on climate change, continues to praise “clean beautiful coal” and has directed his Environmental Protection Agency to reverse major strides undertaken by the Obama administration to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. This is unbelievably reckless. In addition to undermining the fight against climate change, the president's efforts to prop up the dirtiest of all fuels will also exact a significant toll on public health, on the hearts and lungs of ordinary Americans.

The E.P.A.’s bedrock mission is to protect public health and welfare. Its basic tools are 50 years of federal clean air and water laws meant to limit Americans’ exposure to environmental poisons and pollutants.

Every so often an administration comes along that seems to forget this mission. We have one now. Andrew Wheeler, the agency’s acting administrator, is clearly a great improvement in moral terms over his ethically challenged and thankfully departed predecessor, Scott Pruitt. Mr. Wheeler’s ideology and policies, however, are much the same, weighted in favor of the industries Mr. Wheeler once represented as a handsomely paid lobbyist, and against the health needs of Americans. Like the president he serves, Mr. Wheeler displays little concern for climate change and its epochal challenges.

Donald Trump simply doesn't grasp the content nor the importance of the biggest global issue facing the world today. He lives in his own imaginary world that suits himself, the result of never having to grow up and face the world without his father's help. For this crisis facing humanity today, Donald Trump is totally incompetent.

The latest example is a proposal his agency sent to the White House for review and approval that would, in broadest terms, greatly devalue the public health benefits of reducing air pollution. The proposal is specifically aimed at a 2011 finding by the Obama administration that when the agency devises rules to control a particular pollutant — mercury, in this case — it must take into account not only the compliance costs to industry but the additional health benefits that arise from the reduction in other harmful gases like soot and smog that occur as a side effect. Though the health benefits of controlling mercury alone were quite small, and the costs to industry large, those costs were outweighed by savings to the country in annual health costs and lost workdays when the co-benefits were factored in.

The Wheeler proposal would disallow any calculation of these side benefits and allow only those associated with the regulated pollutant. Mr. Wheeler promises that existing mercury emissions limits will remain in place. He also acknowledges that industry has already invested billions of dollars on new technology to comply with the mercury rule, and that many companies have done so. But weakening the foundation on which that rule was promulgated could invite lawsuits to overturn it entirely, and — even more ominously — could make it easier for the Trump administration or a like-minded one to ignore important ancillary public health benefits when devising other environmental regulations in the future.

So chalk up another win for Robert Murray, the far-right Trump confidante and chief executive of the Murray Energy Corporation, a big coal producer for which Mr. Wheeler served as an attorney and lobbyist. Mr. Murray requested the mercury rollback as one of 16 items on a wish list he presented last year to the Trump administration. He is one of several coal barons who lobbied the administration to revisit the cost-benefit rules to set a precedent for future regulations.

Near the top of Mr. Murray’s to-do list, higher even than mercury, was the repeal and replacement of the Clean Power Plan, a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s strategy to fight global warming. Here, too, Mr. Wheeler has faithfully delivered, and here, too, he and his agency have given short shrift to human health.

The Clean Power Plan was aimed mainly at reducing carbon dioxide, the principal global warming gas, from coal-fired power plants. But like the mercury rule, it would also, as a collateral benefit, have reduced other dangerous pollutants like smog and soot. In so doing, the Obama administration calculated, it would prevent 1,500 to 3,600 premature deaths per year by 2030 and would provide other beneficial health effects. By contrast, as Lisa Friedman of The Times discovered, the Trump administration’s laughably weak replacement plan would cause (by the Trump E.P.A.’s own calculations) as many as 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030, as well as 15,000 new cases of upper respiratory disease and billions of dollars in new health care costs, mainly from an increase in fine particulate matter linked to heart and lung disease.

At the time, Mr. Wheeler’s lieutenants told everyone not to worry, that the agency had other rules to control these and other life-threatening pollutants. Among the optimists was William Wehrum, the agency’s chief air pollution officer, who is glad to have another chance to undermine the nation’s clean air laws after failing to do so during his previous stint in the George W. Bush administration. “We have abundant legal authority to deal with those other pollutants directly,” he declared.

As it happens, however, these other legal authorities are also at risk. As The Times’s Eric Lipton reported, the Trump replacement plan would also have greatly weakened another E.P.A. program known as the New Source Review, a plan that has had an enormously beneficial effect on air quality in this country and whose demise would allow many of the nation’s dirtiest power plants to keep running without installing new pollution controls.

What we are dealing with here, in other words, is a bit of a shell game — hard to follow, costly to the public, satisfying to those who are running it. We are also dealing with people who won’t let inconvenient forecasts about death and disease deter them from their appointed goal of satisfying Mr. Trump’s pro-coal agenda, and who also seem eager to keep such forecasts hidden. Late last month we learned that the E.P.A. planned to dissolve its Office of the Science Advisor, the latest of several steps beginning under Mr. Pruitt to diminish the role of scientific research in policymaking.

Nobody really expected a new policy direction from Mr. Wheeler, who was once consigliere to Senator James Inhofe, Congress’s most outspoken climate change denier. But in Mr. Wheeler’s insistence on a narrow, even cramped, reading of the nation’s landmark environmental laws, he is ignoring science and threatening the public health and welfare.

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« Reply #3123 on: Oct 10, 2018, 04:19 AM »

Dutch appeals court upholds landmark climate case ruling

New Europe

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A Dutch appeals court on Tuesday upheld a landmark ruling that ordered the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 percent by 2020 from benchmark 1990 levels.

The Netherlands, known for its historic reliance on windmills and ongoing use of bicycles, already is working to cut emissions, but the court said that the country needs to do more. "Considering the great dangers that are likely to occur, more ambitious measures have to be taken in the short term to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to protect the life and family life of citizens in the Netherlands," the court said in a statement.

The original June 2015 ruling came in a case brought by the environmental group Urgenda on behalf of 900 Dutch citizens. Similar cases are now underway in several countries around the world. Cheers and applause rang out around the packed courtroom as Hague Appeals Court Presiding Judge Marie-Anne Tan-de Sonnaville rejected the government's appeal.

The ruling came a day after the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued an urgent report saying that preventing even just an extra single degree of heat in Earth's climate could make a life-or-death difference in the next few decades for multitudes of people and ecosystems.

Marjan Minnesma of Urgenda hailed the Dutch ruling as a significant victory that will boost similar legal initiatives elsewhere in the world. "We won on every single point. And it was a very good explanation of the urgency of what is necessary and that states in industrial countries should do between a 25-40 percent CO2 reduction," Minnesma said after the ruling.

She said the court "clearly said that climate change is a very urgent problem with enormous risks so the state should do at least the minimum." Since the original judgment, a new Dutch government has pledged to reduce emissions by 49 percent by 2030, but it has yet to nail down exactly how to reach that target and how to foot the bill. Urgenda argues that the government — and other countries — need to do more sooner than 2030 to prevent serious consequences of climate change.

Minnesma had a few suggestions for lawmakers, such as lowering the maximum speeds on some Dutch highways and shutting down coal-fired power stations. The government announced earlier this year that it plans to shuttering two of the countries five coal-fired power plants by 2024 and the remaining three by 2030.

Greenpeace urged the government to move faster. "This statement means that all coal-fired power stations in the Netherlands must be closed more quickly," said Faiza Oulahsen, campaign leader for climate and energy with Greenpeace Netherlands.

The government appealed the original ruling, saying that it effectively meant a court was formulating government policy. But the court rejected that argument, saying that judges must uphold international treaties such as the European human rights convention to which the Netherlands is a party.

In a statement following Tuesday's decision, the government said it would study the ruling "with an eye on possible further appeal," but at the same time pledged to carry out the court's order. It said a recent assessment suggested that the target of a 25 percent reduction of emissions by 2020 "is within reach."

The U.N. panel on climate change said Earth's weather, health and ecosystems would be in better shape if world leaders could somehow limit future human-caused global warming to just 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (a half degree Celsius) from now, instead of the globally agreed-upon goal of 1.8 degrees F (1 degree C).

To limit warming to the lower temperature goal, the world needs "rapid and far-reaching" changes in energy systems, land use, city and industrial design, transportation and building use, the report said. Annual carbon dioxide pollution levels would have to drop by about half by 2030 and then be near zero by 2050.

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« Reply #3124 on: Oct 10, 2018, 04:21 AM »

New research shows the world’s ice is doing something not seen before

Do you know how an ice sheet can move? You’ll find out below.

John Abraham

In this warming world, some parts of the planet are warming much faster than others.  The warming is causing large ice bodies to start to melt and move rapidly, in some cases sliding into the ocean.

This movement is the topic of a very new scientific study that was just published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.  The Arctic is warming much faster than other parts of the planet and the ice there is showing the signs of rapid warming.  This fact has serious consequences. First, melting ice can cause sea levels to rise and inundate coastal areas – it also makes storms like hurricanes and typhoons more destructive.  Melting ice also causes a feedback loop, which can cause more future warming and then more ice loss.

It should be noted that there are different types of ice.  Some ice floats on water and is called sea ice.  When it melts, the ocean water level hardly budges because the ice is already in the sea displacing liquid water.  But, sea ice is really important for this feedback loop I mentioned above.

Other ice is on land and may be a large ice sheet or a smaller glacier.  These ice bodies sit atop the land and “rest” there.  In some cases, they extend out off the land and into the ocean where they partly float on liquid water.  When this land ice melts, the liquid flows into the oceans and can cause significant ocean level rising.

So, the importance of ice depends on what type it is, where it is located, and how fast it is melting. And this brings us to the new paper.

The researchers looked at a type of high latitude glacier in their study.  These glaciers hold enough water to cause about 1 foot (about a third of a meter) in sea level rise. Typically, they exist in cold and dry areas, where snowfall is limited.

How do glaciers move?  Well really by either sliding over the underlying bedrock or surface that they sit on, or by deforming and stretching under their weight. The colder glaciers tend to move by the deforming and stretching process.  Glaciers that have wetter and more temperate regions involve more sliding.  But regardless of how they move, these glaciers, particularly the glaciers that have both cold and temperate parts, experience surges in their motion.  These surges are short duration times where the glacier moves a lot.  During a surge, ice is redistributed from one part of the glacier to another region.

The authors in this study observed such a glacier surge.  It happened at an outlet glacier that is mainly of the “cold” type in Russia.  At the Vavilov Ice Cap on October Revolution Island, the authors find it “is undergoing extraordinary acceleration and thinning but displays no previous evidence of surging.”  The authors write,

    the 300-600 meter thick 1820 square kilometer Vavilov Ice Cap is frozen to its bed over the majority of its area, apart from a region along its western margin where basal sliding is potentially important for faster flow.

In 2010 the ice in the region began to accelerate and the next year, crevasses were observed that matched the patterns of ice acceleration. The researchers were able to watch this surge in ice motion in real-time using satellite images. They could track the motion and show the incredible speed of flow.

What caused the rapid motion? This is an important question because if the motion is caused by human warming, we can expect the behavior to be repeated elsewhere as temperatures rise.  Importantly both air and ocean-water temperatures could be a factor.  One potential cause is surface meltwater.  The top of the ice can melt, and liquid water then can flow downwards, into the ice through cracks and holes.  This flowing water can precondition the ice for rapid motion.

This fact may be a contributing cause to the motion.  Basically, the melted water lubricated the ice/ground interface causing more sliding and more friction.  The friction caused some of the bottom ice to melt and released more liquid water, and a cycle had begun.

The researchers also took measurements of elevation to better understand areas where ice was becoming thicker or thinner.  In addition, they studied the forces that exist within the ice itself to help elucidate the cause of the increased speed. Obviously, this is an evolving area of study and all of the questions have not yet been answered.  However, I was impressed when I read that even though these types of surges are becoming more common, what the researchers observed in Russia was still unique.  They describe the rate of ice loss at Vavilov as “extreme.” The authors also point out,

    It is startling that the Vavilov Ice Cap, until recently, an apparently stable ice cap with an almost entirely frozen bed that is almost entirely above sea level, is able to rapidly discharge such a large proportion of its ice in the ocean over such a short period.

So, to answer the question, how fast is it moving?  In 2015, it reached speeds of up to 82 feet in a single day. It currently is sliding 15–35 feet a day. For comparison, that is much faster than the average 2 inches per day we would see with no surge events.

The takeaway message is that once we thought these large bodies of ice responded slowly to changing conditions.  But this research shows us differently.  It shows that ice sheet can move quickly and once we pass a threshold, they may be hard to stop.  This finding makes it more crucial for us to slow down global warming before it’s too late.

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« Reply #3125 on: Oct 10, 2018, 04:23 AM »

Earth's climate monsters could be unleashed as temperatures rise

Graham Readfearn

As a UN panel prepares a report on 1.5C global warming, researchers warn of the risks of ignoring ‘feedback’ effects

10 Oct 2018 23.07 BST

This week, hundreds of scientists and government officials from more than 190 countries have been buzzing around a convention centre in the South Korean city of Incheon.

They are trying to agree on the first official release of a report – the bit called the Summary for Policymakers – that pulls together all of what’s known about how the world might be affected once global warming gets to 1.5C.

What will happen to coral reefs? How will extreme weather events and droughts change? What about heatwaves? And then, what are the different “pathways” that economies could choose to keep temperatures to 1.5C?

On Monday morning, the summary document is expected to be released, and there will be a cascade of headlines around the world.

The report, being pulled together by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was one tiny part of the Paris climate change agreement.

As things stand, if you add up all the things that the 190-plus countries have committed to do as part of that Paris deal, global temperatures will probably go well above 3C.

We’re already at 1C of warming, so the extra half a degree isn’t far away – many scientists will say it’s already locked in, while others say there are plausible ways to stabilise temperatures at that level.

But in August, one of the world’s leading scientific journals – the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – published a “perspective” article that has become known as the “hothouse earth” paper.

There was no new science in the paper and while it was speculative, it did raise fundamental questions about the ability of governments around the world to stop the Earth from spiralling into a “hothouse”.

    I think the dominant linear, deterministic framework for assessing climate change is flawed
    Will Steffen

One of the report’s authors, Professor Will Steffen, of Australian National University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, talked me through it.

The problem lies with “feedbacks” – in the “supplementary information” attached to the paper, Steffen and colleagues actually listed 10 of them. With each, they include estimates of how much extra CO2 and temperature they could add once you hit about 2C of global warming.

For example, the ability of the land and ocean to keep soaking up CO2 could weaken, giving you an extra 0.25C of warming. Dieback of trees in the Amazon and subarctic could give us another 0.1C.

Permafrost, which is already starting to defy its name by not being all that permanent, could release ever more methane and carbon that might add a bit more warming again (0.09C is the estimate there).

The point is that once you add them all up, you get close to 0.5C of warming by the end of the century. Given we’re already at 1C of global warming, that makes the job of keeping warming “well below 2C” or even holding it at 1.5C much, much harder than it already is.

And there’s the rub.

While governments have the means to affect how much CO2 gets released through policies that radically cut the use of fossil fuels, it would be much harder to get a grip on thawing permafrosts, mass forest collapses or the loss of polar sea ice.

By failing to get a grip on a thing that’s feasibly under your control, we end up risking the release a whole gang of other monsters that we can’t.

This gets us to another big issue, says Steffen, because climate models don’t include some of these feedbacks. In essence, the warmer things get, the less reliable the models become. He tells me:

    “I think the dominant linear, deterministic framework for assessing climate change is flawed, especially at higher levels of temperature rise.

    So, yes, model projections using models that don’t include these processes indeed become less useful at higher temperature levels. Or, as my co-author John Schellnhuber says, we are making a big mistake when we think we can “park” the Earth System at any given temperature rise – say 2C – and expect it to stay there.”

For those who understand the idea of a carbon budget – where scientists have calculated how much CO2 you could emit before hitting certain temperature rises – it looks even meaner than before if Steffen and his colleagues are right.

But as they also point out, several of these feedbacks might have “tipping points” that then set off a cascade of other issues. Steffen says:

    “Even at the current level of warming of about 1C above pre-industrial, we may have already crossed a tipping point for one of the feedback processes (Arctic summer sea ice), and we see instabilities in others – permafrost melting, Amazon forest dieback, boreal forest dieback and weakening of land and ocean physiological carbon sinks.

    And we emphasise that these processes are not linear and often have built-in feedback processes that generate tipping point behaviour. For example, for melting permafrost, the chemical process that decomposes the peat generates heat itself, which leads to further melting and so on.”

For the record, Steffen thinks the assumptions in climate models that cuts in fossil fuel emissions will deliver relative cuts in temperatures “is OK for perhaps lower temperature rises of 1.5 or 2C” but beyond that, he’s sceptical.

The paper has received a bit of pushback from scientists, largely, it appears, because of the sensational headlines it attracted.

For example, Professor Richard Betts, of the UK’s MetOffice, has a measured perspective that’s well worth a look.

Dr Glen Peters, an Australian scientist and climate modeller based at the Centre for International Climate Research in Norway, also thought some of the media coverage went too far with the doomsday vibe.

But he told me that while it was true that many of the feedbacks in the paper were not well covered by climate models, this was partly because they were not that well understood. I’ll leave you with his thoughts:

    “The hothouse earth paper conjectures that many of these feedbacks may interact like a domino effect, lead the Earth system to spiral out of control to reach a new steady state very different from today, and these processes may even start if we are successful at meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.

    “There is also an important timescale question, are we talking decades or millennia, and that is very important for how society may respond. While all the claims made in the hothouse earth paper are justified, we simply don’t have the data to verify if those claims are true. While the paper put in plenty of language to indicate its exploratory nature … many headlines and statements went too far, indicating we had already gone too far and there was no turning back.”

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« Reply #3126 on: Oct 10, 2018, 04:41 AM »

Taylor Swift breaks political silence to endorse Democrats in US midterms

Singer writes on social media that she now feels very differently about voicing her political opinions

Steph Harmon
10 Oct 2018 06.45 BST

Taylor Swift has made her first foray into US politics, publicly endorsing two Democrats for the upcoming midterm elections, while aligning herself to fight for LGBTQ rights, gender equity, and an end to the “terrifying, sickening and prevalent” racism in the US.

“In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now,” Swift wrote on social media on Sunday night, in a plea for her young fans to register and vote. The post accrued 360,000 Instagram likes within the first hour.

“I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country. I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG. I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent.

“I cannot vote for someone who will not be willing to fight for dignity for ALL Americans, no matter their skin color, gender or who they love.”

In the post she backs Democrats in the key state of Tennessee, saying she “cannot support” Marsha Blackburn, the Republican candidate for the Senate who was endorsed by Donald Trump last week, and has voted with Trump almost all the time. (“I’m politically incorrect and proud of it,” the arch conservative said in her 2017 Senate announcement video.)

Tennessee is a key race in the mid-terms. While the state is historically Republican, the Senate polls are close: Blackburn is locked in a battle to hold the seat for her party against the comeback of former governor and bipartisan Democrat Phil Bredesen.

“As much as I have in the past and would like to continue voting for women in office, I cannot support Marsha Blackburn,” wrote Swift, who has drawn criticism for being one of the only pop stars who never came out publicly against Trump. “Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me.”

    KB (@KaraRBrown)

    If you had told me two years ago Kanye would be running around in a MAGA hat while Taylor Swift was endorsing democratic candidates, I would have smacked you to the ground and stolen your wallet for wasting my time.
    October 8, 2018

“She voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape. She believes businesses have a right to refuse service to gay couples. She also believes they should not have the right to marry. These are not MY Tennessee values,” Swift wrote.

Swift instead endorsed two Democratic candidates: Bredesen for the Senate, and Jim Cooper for the House of Representatives. Cooper is also considered bipartisan, a member of the Blue Dog coalition of conservative democrats.

“Please, please educate yourself on the candidates running in your state and vote based on who most closely represents your values,” Swift implored. “For a lot of us, we may never find a candidate or party with whom we agree 100% on every issue, but we have to vote anyway.”

After Swift’s kind words, Bredesen’s campaign said: “It’s clear that Governor Bredesen’s message of working together to get things done is resonating with Democrats, independents, and Republicans throughout the state.”


Spike in voter registrations after Taylor Swift pro-Democrat Instagram post

Musician says Marsha Blackburn’s Congress voting record ‘appalls and terrifies me’

Laura Snapes
10 Oct 2018 09.35 BST

The US voter registration service has experienced a spike in numbers after Taylor Swift – long silent on partisan issues – expressed her support for two Democratic candidates and encouraged her 112 million Instagram followers to register to vote in time for next month’s US midterm elections.

Kamari Guthrie, the director of communications for vote.org, told Buzzfeed News there were 65,000 registrations in the 24-hour period after the singer posted her statement to Instagram on Sunday.
Sign up for the US morning briefing

Swift focused her post on the Senate race in Tennessee, where she is registered to vote. She stated that although she had previously voted for women in office, she felt unable to support the Republican Senate candidate, Marsha Blackburn. “Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me,” she said, adding that she would be voting for the Democratic candidates Phil Bredesen for Senate and Jim Cooper for House of Representatives.

Of the 5,183 voter registrations in Tennessee this month, at least 2,144 occurred after Swift posted her statement to Instagram on Sunday, said Guthrie. The state’s deadline for voter registration is today, 9 October, which may also have contributed to the rush. There were 2,811 new Tennessee voter registrations in September.

In her post, Swift affirmed her commitment to the fight for LGBTQ rights and described the “systemic racism” towards people of colour in the US as “terrifying, sickening and prevalent”. She encouraged her young fans to educate themselves on their local candidates and “vote based on who most closely represents your values”.

Her statement drew criticism from the Donald Trump. On Monday, the president told reporters: “Marsha Blackburn is doing a very good job in Tennessee. She’s leading now substantially, which she should. She’s a tremendous woman. I’m sure Taylor Swift doesn’t know anything about her. Let’s say that I like Taylor’s music about 25% less now, OK?”

Bredesen thanked Swift, tweeting: “I’m honored to have your support and that of so many Tennesseans who are ready to put aside the partisan shouting and get things done. We’re ready for it.”

Swift is performing her song I Did Something Bad at Tuesday night’s American Music Awards in Los Angeles. She has made few appearances at awards ceremonies since the release of her 2017 album, Reputation. She is nominated in four categories: artist of the year, favourite pop/rock artist, favourite pop/rock album (for Reputation) and tour of the year for the Reputation stadium tour.


'She just ended her career': Taylor Swift's political post sparks praise and fury

Endorsements of Democrats blasted by Republicans, white supremacists and Trump, who now likes her music ‘25% less’

    Taylor Swift Instagram post causes spike in voter registrations

Erin Durkin in New York
10 Oct 2018 23.31 BST

When pop megastar Taylor Swift praised two Democratic candidates in her home state of Tennessee, she broke a years-long policy of keeping her politics to herself.

Her endorsements drew much praise but also a fierce backlash. Some white supremacists who have formed an odd cult following around the singer cried betrayal, while some more mainstream fans said she should have stuck to her music.

On Monday, Donald Trump joined in, saying he now liked Swift’s music “about 25% less”.

Criticism is nothing new for Swift, whose political silence has drawn just as much vitriol as her decision to speak out.

In an Instagram post on Sunday night, Swift threw her support behind Phil Bredesen, candidate for Senate, and Jim Cooper for the US House.

She wrote: “In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions. I feel very differently about that now. I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country. I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG.

“I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent.”

Swift, 28, has previously stayed scrupulously neutral, frustrating many liberals. She has said that as a young woman whose expertise is in music, she does not feel right influencing her fans’ politics.

“I don’t talk about politics because it might influence other people,” she told Time magazine six years ago. “And I don’t think that I know enough yet in life to be telling people who to vote for.”

On the day of the 2016 election, she urged fans to vote but did not reveal how she would cast her own ballot. “Who is Taylor Swift voting for?” was a top search on Google.

She inched closer to revealing a liberal orientation when she tweeted support for last year’s Women’s March, saying: “So much love, pride, and respect for those who marched. I’m proud to be a woman today, and every day.”

That wasn’t enough for critics, who questioned why she didn’t attend. One writer called her comments a “craven” way of “reducing the political protest to a girl power party”.

Swift’s public neutrality allowed fans to project views on to her. She developed a following among white supremacists, who held her up as the ideal of white femininity. The singer’s lawyers went after one blogger. Critics wondered why she wouldn’t publicly denounce neo-Nazi fans.

Swift even sparked controversy with a short Instagram post marking her birthday at the end of 2017, where she said she “couldn’t have asked for a better year”. Those who saw little to celebrate in the first year of the Trump presidency begged to differ.

So it was no surprise that Swift’s decision to finally wade into politics sparked backlash of its own. Those rightwing fans, for one, were incensed.

“Oh yay! Another literally retarded celebrity the left can fawn over while we make fun of her and them for being retarded,” wrote one poster on the often-controversial online message board 4chan.

“Taylor swift just ended her entire career lmao,” [sic] another poster wrote. A third chimed in: “Guys I think those fucking cultists who tortment [sic] us killed Taylor Swift and replaced her with a brain dead non-playable character. Those fuckers have gone too far this time. I will defend the honor of my lady Taylor Swift and find a way to return her to normal.”

Mainstream Republicans were also displeased, posting a response promising she would not be able to, in the words of one of her hits, “shake it off”.

“If you haven’t heard, multimillionaire pop star Taylor Swift came down from her ivory tower to tell hardworking Tennesseans to vote for Phil Bredesen,” said the post by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Charlie Kirk, president of conservative group Turning Point USA, tweeted: “You just endorsed a Democrat in the Tennessee Senate race with a ridiculous statement saying Marsha Blackburn, a woman, is against women. You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.”

Later, Trump told reporters: “Marsha Blackburn is doing a very good job in Tennessee. She’s leading now substantially, which she should. She’s a tremendous woman. I’m sure Taylor Swift doesn’t know anything about her. Let’s say that I like Taylor’s music about 25% less now, OK?”

Swift found support as well. Spinal Tap director Rob Reiner said on Twitter: “A big shout out to Taylor Swift for speaking out. You can single handedly change this country. Impress on your fans how critical and powerful their voices are. If you get them to the polls on Nov 6, everything you care about will be protected.”

Bredesen thanked the pop star, tweeting: “I’m honored to have your support and that of so many Tennesseans who are ready to put aside the partisan shouting and get things done. We’re ready for it.”

The Democrat also taunted his opponent with lyrics from Look What You Made Me Do, a hit on Swift’s last album, Reputation.

“@VoteMarsha, look what you made her do,” Bredesen tweeted at Blackburn. “@taylorswift13 doesn’t like your little games and she wants Tennesseans to know that you’ve been in the swamp long enough. It’s time for some fresh air up in Washington.”

Swift’s history with rapper Kanye West – who memorably interrupted her speech at an awards show and has become a prominent Trump supporter – also provided plenty of grist for delighted Democrats.

Scott Dworkin, co-founder of the anti-Trump Democratic Coalition, wrote: “Taylor Swift just took the mic from Kanye.”

Celebrity endorsements, however, do not always guarantee an edge. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was supported by Jay-Z and Beyoncé in Ohio, Bruce Springsteen in Pennsylvania and Jennifer Lopez in Florida. All three states went for Trump.


Taylor Swift sets new American Music Award record, urges people to vote

10 Oct 2018 at 08:24 ET                   

Taylor Swift, straight off a controversial dive into U.S. politics, was the big winner at the American Music Awards on Tuesday where she used her platform to again urge her fans to get out and vote.

The 28-year-old pop singer won a record fourth artist of the year trophy at the fan-voted American Music Awards, beating rappers Drake and Post Malone, as well as Britain’s Ed Sheeran and rock band Imagine Dragons for the top prize.

She also picked up three other awards, for best female pop artist, best tour, and best pop album for “reputation,” the biggest seller of 2017.

On Sunday, Swift provoked a storm by breaking her silence on politics and announcing she would vote for two Democrats in Tennessee in the U.S. congressional midterm elections in November. Her comments drove a spike in voter registration.

On Tuesday, the “Fearless” singer told the American Music Awards audience in Los Angeles and millions watching at home to go and vote.

“This award and every single award given out tonight is voted on by the people. And you know what else is voted on by the people? – The midterm elections of Nov 6. Get out and vote,” Swift said when accepting her trophy.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, New York rapper Cardi B, brought down the house with an exuberant performance of dance hit “I Like It” with J.Balvin and Bad Bunny.

Cardi B, who has had a breakout 12 months, was also named favorite hip-hop/rap artist, but she lost the best new artist category to Cuban-born Camila Cabello.

Other winners included Post Malone (male pop/rock artist), Khalid (male soul/R&B artist), and country star Carrie Underwood, who accepted her 13th American Music Award.

Boy band BTS became the first Korean group to win an American Music Award, taking the trophy for favorite social artists.

Glady Knight led a tribute to Aretha Franklin, who died of cancer in August at age 76. Other performers included Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez and Missy Elliott.

Some of music’s top stars, including Drake, Ed Sheeran, Beyonce, Ariana Grande, Rihanna and Kanye West, were absent on Tuesday. West was snubbed in the nominations while Beyonce, Rihanna and Grande got just one nomination each.

Apart from Swift, the show was largely politics free.

Host Tracee Ellis Ross sported a white T-shirt for part of the evening saying “I am a voter,” and presenter Billy Eichner, best known for the TV comedy “Parks and Recreation,” urged the youth audience to register to vote.

“You can go to vote.org, like Taylor Swift told you to,” Eichner said.

Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Leslie Adler

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« Reply #3127 on: Oct 10, 2018, 04:44 AM »

War took a heavy toll on her family. Now she is fighting … for Afghan democracy

Zakia Wardak is part of a wave of mostly young politicians prepared to fight powerful vested interests at the ballot box – despite all the dangers

Emma Graham-Harrison

Zakia Wardak’s family has been fractured and diminished by long decades of war in Afghanistan. Soviet forces killed her father four decades ago, Americans seized and tortured her husband two decades later and her brother was murdered in the capital this past summer.

Yet, somehow, she has not abandoned hope. Relatives abroad begged her to join them after the latest killing. Instead, convinced that Afghanistan can still change, that the peaceful country of her childhood memories can be reclaimed, she has taken a tentative step into the dangerous, notoriously corrupt arena of Afghan politics, running for a seat in parliament.

“There’s a lot of injustice going on, particularly affecting the younger generation,” said Wardak, a successful engineer who virtually shuttered her business several years ago to focus on health and women’s rights. “If you have a seat in parliament, you can raise people’s voices.”

The odds are stacked against her. It is still not clear if the 30 October vote – widely seen as a trial run for an even more high-stakes presidential poll next spring – will go ahead.

The election is already more than three years overdue and mired in controversy. Some opposition leaders want further delays so that biometric checks on voter identity can be brought in. Officials have already quietly dropped plans for a vote in one key province, eastern Ghazni, without bothering to inform voters or provide an explanation.

If the poll does take place elsewhere, voters and candidates alike would be targets for militant attacks, and the results would almost certainly be skewed by serious corruption.

“If it’s a clean vote I think I will be one of the winners, but I am concerned about what happens on election day,” Wardak said at campaign headquarters. “There is a lot of money involved, a lot of rich candidates and people who have different types of support.”

Yet she is not alone in her conviction that democracy, though embattled, can still work in Afghanistan and a fight against powerful vested interests can be won. She is part of a wave of candidates, mostly young professionals and entrepreneurs, running in defiance of security concerns and long, bitter experience of parliament as graft-ridden and ineffective.

Many came of age after the Taliban were toppled in 2001, including the 33-year-old entrepreneur Hamed Warasta. “It’s time in Afghanistan for the younger generation to do something,” he said, in the headquarters of the conglomerate he built up after a childhood as an impoverished refugee, which supplies everything from printing paper to military uniforms.

“At some point we have to stop just relying on our own elders. It’s the moment for us to prove ourselves to them and the nation.”

The election comes at a difficult time. The country has been convulsed by waves of extreme violence, with deaths of civilians setting grim records this year and so many soldiers killed that security forces casualties are now classified information.

The Taliban control more territory than at any time since they were ousted from power, and threaten swaths of the country beyond their main bases. In August militants rampaged for days through Ghazni city, only 44 miles from Kabul, as the central government seemed paralysed by indecision and incompetence.

Meanwhile, Islamic State has spread its murderous sectarian violence into a country that had been spared at least that one poison amid its other miseries.

Although there is more focus on peace talks than there has been for many years – from both Afghans and their US backers, and the Taliban – efforts have slowed as elections draw closer. The Taliban have less incentive to deal with an administration that may be replaced in months and negotiations are a gamble for officials facing an election.

That threat of violence makes campaigning hard. Given that bombers have recently targeted schools and sports clubs, rallies are a huge risk both to candidates and those attending. Venues and security are also expensive in a city where 800 candidates are vying for fewer than 40 seats. So Wardak, who describes her campaign as “grassroots activism”, aims to meet influential community figures in small groups and has organised volunteers to reach out to their peers.

“To reach people I talk to them face to face and tell them what I have done,” she said. “I also have a big crowd of young people who knock on doors with my biography to discuss my campaign, a group of elders who go to the mosque and say I am the right candidate, and professionals who speak to other professionals.”

Looming over all the confusion and fears for the parliamentary vote is next year’s presidential election. President Ashraf Ghani took power in a controversial compromise cobbled together after a 2014 poll marred by widespread allegations of fraud.

No one expects a clean fight this spring, with control of the country at stake. Afghanistan is already one of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to Transparency International, and power brokers hoping to gain or hang on to lucrative positions will throw huge sums at the campaigns.

A new voter registration system suggests spending has already begun, with the numbers signing up to vote “too good to be true”, according to the Afghanistan Analysts Network thinktank, which picked through statistics from the new electoral roll.

Among the suspicious details were an unprecedented enthusiasm for voting in conservative areas where turnout has traditionally been low and many registration centres could not open because of violence.

“Several of the highest rates of registration can be found in some of the most insecure provinces,” the analyst Scott Worden wrote. “Four – Paktia, Nimruz, Nangarhar and Nuristan – saw more than 100% of their estimated eligible voters registering.”

Still, western countries funding the elections insist both the parliamentary and presidential polls will happen. Without elections that donors can claim are credible, the flow of foreign military support and aid funds that sustain the Afghan government may falter.

“Everyone agrees they are not going to be perfect,” said one senior diplomat. “But I think they will be better than people expect.”

It would be easy to describe the coming year as critical for Afghanistan. It is an adjective overused for many years by foreigners who dropped in on brief military and diplomatic tours as troop numbers swelled then were cut back down.

In reality, the country has long lived on the brink of catastrophe. “I hate this phrase ‘critical period’. Since my first memories, things have always been very sensitive [in Afghanistan],” said a former Afghan security official.

Conflict has plagued the country since 1979 and the violence is exacerbated by poverty, illiteracy, industrial-scale opium production and widespread addiction. The civil war has gone through so many iterations that there are few enemies that have not been allies in the past, or allies that were not once enemies.

The US once embraced the mujahideen as freedom fighters when they battled the Soviets; now their Taliban heirs are waging a fierce jihad against American forces. Meanwhile, Russia stands accused of arming the insurgency, though it denies funding militants.

While those cycles of violence have often bred despair, history may also serve as a spur towards peace. The US is weary of a war that is now its longest ever, and its western allies now also accept that – despite overwhelming advantages of money and technology – they must talk to the Taliban.

“The main issue is that no one is going to win this militarily,” said one senior western diplomat.

Seventeen years after the first US soldiers invaded Afghanistan, this might seem like stating the obvious, but it was barely five years ago that Barack Obama claimed America’s war in Afganistan was “over”, and David Cameron declared “mission accomplished”.

As the Afghan government grapples with shrinking territory and America’s growing impatience, senior officials have also made greater overtures to insurgents, declaring a unilateral ceasefire that prompted the Taliban to respond in kind over Eid.

The first official break in fighting since 2001 was hugely popular. For three days Taliban foot soldiers flooded into cities for ice-cream and selfies and urbanites with government links returned to homes in insurgent-controlled areas that had been off limits for years.

It showed that the Taliban could control its fighters and that ordinary people on both sides were desperate for the fighting to stop. Now they just have to hope they can get through the elections safe, and with a leadership – whether new or renewed – that can build on the promise of those brief, heady days.

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« Reply #3128 on: Oct 10, 2018, 04:47 AM »

Huge numbers of stillborn babies 'may have been missed'

Hundreds of thousands of deaths a year are not being recognised in international estimates, research suggests

Nicola Davis

Hundreds of thousands of babies who died in the womb could have been missed out of international estimates on stillbirths, research suggests.

According to figures for 2015, an estimated 2.6 million babies a year worldwide are stillborn – dying at a point in pregnancy when most babies would survive outside the womb.

However, while the World Health Organization recommends countries collect stillbirth data from 22 weeks of pregnancy onwards, only data from 28 weeks or more is used for international comparisons and estimates.

Now research published in the Lancet shows this threshold means a huge number of stillbirths that occur earlier in pregnancy are not being recognised, with data from Europe revealing international estimates could be around 50% higher, at least for high-income countries, if stillbirths from 22 weeks are included.

“This work was to emphasise how many parents’ losses are not being acknowledged by the standard rates and also to look at stillbirths at those early in gestation,” said Dr Lucy Smith, first author of the research from the University of Leicester. “If we don’t have data on them, we can’t look at how we can design interventions to reduce those early gestation stillbirths – and they may have different causes of death, or different patterns.”

The study examined national data from 19 countries across Europe, and looked at stillbirths at different gestational ages from 22 weeks between 2004 and 2015.

Stillbirth rates varied from country to country – particularly before 24 weeks – and a handful of countries included late terminations in their data. Three, including England, did not have data for stillbirths before 24 weeks.

Nonetheless, the findings reveal that in 2015 alone more than 3,000 stillbirths occurred in Europe between 22 and 28 weeks of pregnancy, accounting, overall, for 32% of all stillbirths at or after 22 weeks.

The authors say gestational age used for international comparisons and estimates should be lowered to 24 weeks, and that countries should do better at collecting data from 22 weeks to allow researchers to better probe trends.

Prof Joy Lawn, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who co-authored an accompanying commentary, said global figures for stillbirths could be 30-50% higher than current estimates if stillbirths from 22 weeks gestation are included.

“People have this idea that stillbirths are just meant to be and they happen quietly and nobody counts them. [But] we can count them, we can compare and it is a huge number,” she said, adding that many stillbirths are preventable.

“Part of the problem for stillbirths, especially the earlier ones, is if we don’t count them and don’t look at the trends, people don’t invest in changing them.”

But, she added, comparing data from 22 weeks could be difficult for low-income countries where babies are less likely to survive outside the womb at early gestational ages, and where data collection is already challenging.

Separate research, also published in the Lancet, explored the possibility of reducing the rate of stillbirth, based on raising awareness of foetal movement – an approach that has shown promise in Norway.

“One in 200 pregnancies ends in stillbirth in the UK and [it’s] clearly devastating for absolutely everybody involved and the wider family as well,” said Prof Jane Norman, first author of the study from the University of Edinburgh.

The study, involving 33 hospitals and more than 400,000 pregnancies over a two-year period from January 2014, investigated the impact of encouraging women to be aware of the movements of their baby in the womb and report any changes quickly so prompt identification, management and, if necessary, delivery of babies at risk of stillbirth could be carried out, with clinicians also given boosted advice.

However, after taking into account factors including maternal age, the researchers found the programme produced no significant reduction in the rate of stillbirths at 22 weeks gestation or later.

With the expectations high at the outset, the researchers say the study was not geared to confidently show only a small benefit, that not everyone might have stuck to the new programme, and that women might already have been looking out for reduced foetal movement.

The team say awareness and reporting of reductions in foetal movement is still important – it is already part of the NHS Saving Babies’ Lives Care Bundle.

But Lawn said the study suggests better monitoring of pregnancies is required by healthcare services.

“When a baby is in utero and they stop moving, you have probably already missed the event. The critical thing is more surveillance in pregnancy,” she said, adding that it is important women don’t feel blamed or stigmatised for a stillbirth.

But, she said, falling rates of stillbirths suggest improvements can still be made: “It is not ‘if this doesn’t work, nothing works’.”

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« Reply #3129 on: Oct 10, 2018, 04:54 AM »

Hungary's homeless fear they are Viktor Orbán's next target

A ban on street sleeping from the rightwing government comes into force next week

Shaun Walker in Budapest
Wed 10 Oct 2018 08.24 BST

Many countries have struggled to deal with the issue of homelessness but Hungary may be the first to put a constitutional ban on living on the streets. From next week, being homeless in Hungary will violate the constitution.

Activists fear the move could be the start of a political campaign against homeless people by the rightwing government of Viktor Orbán, which has previously focused heavily on the apparent threat posed to Hungary from refugees and migrants.

“The government has realised they can’t play the migrant card endlessly because there are obviously no migrants in the country. Migration issues can still be useful for national campaigns but for local issues they need a new scapegoat,” said Gábor Iványi, a Methodist priest who runs homeless shelters in Budapest’s eighth district.

Under the new rules, people “caught” being homeless who refuse to go to shelters when prompted by police will face enrolment in a compulsory work programme or jail. They may also have their belongings confiscated.

The homeless are a visible part of Budapest’s cityscape, sleeping in parks and underpasses. Iványi said the number of beds at shelters in the city was inadequate. One of his shelters has dozens of simple metal bed-frames crammed into each room. In winter, when the 130-bed shelter houses up to 300 people on some nights, yoga mats are spread on the floor.

Many homeless people say the city’s homeless shelters are so poor that they prefer to stay on the street.

“They’re full of lice and once you get lice it’s very hard to get rid of them,” said Erik Jeczkel, a 47-year-old who has been homeless for 20 years. He lives on the street, scavenging for food in bins. “The district police have beaten me up a few times. They put on gloves so they don’t leave any bruises. They try to move you on to the next district, so it’s not their problem any more.”

The Hungarian government’s legal crusade against homelessness has been going on almost since Viktor Orbán became prime minister in 2010. Then, the interior ministry made it easier for the city authorities to remove homeless people from the streets, but the constitutional court ruled the measure unconstitutional.

In response, the government used a trick it has used on multiple occasions when its legal initiatives have been thwarted: it simply changed the constitution. An amendment made it illegal to sleep rough in the vicinity of cultural and other important sites, effectively making homelessness illegal in large parts of Budapest.

“There are many countries where there are debates over criminalising homelessness, but as far as I know Hungary is the only one to deal with it in the constitution,” said Bálint Misetics, a sociologist and housing rights activist.

The previous legislation gave police an authorisation to move people on, while the new amendment, which comes into force on 15 October, puts a universal prohibition on homelessness in direct phrasing.

Orbán’s spokesman Zoltán Kovács said the Hungarian government spends more proportionately than many governments in western Europe on homelessness, and said it was absurd to call the new law heartless. He provided statistics showing that the government’s budget for care services for the homeless was 9.1bn forints (£25m) in 2018, which includes funding for shelters run by charities.

“There’s no such human right that you can live on the street, because the street is for everyone. So you need at least certain rules,” he said.

However, the language around homelessness in much of the debate is distinctly lacking in compassion. “They behave and act in a way that is disturbing for other people and is polluting the streets. They make normal use of public areas impossible and generate fear and disgust in normal people,” said the mayor of Budapest’s 10th district, Róbert Kovács, in a request for government intervention to tackle his area’s homeless problem.

Iványi, who baptised two of Orbán’s children but has long since fallen out bitterly with the prime minister, accused the government of taking a wrong-headed approach to the problem: “In most cases homelessness is not a choice. It’s as much of a nonsense as criminalising being ill.”

Many homeless people are struggling with mental health issues and addiction, but there are many who have fallen behind on mortgage repayments and found themselves falling through a flimsy social safety net.

A long-term unemployed homeless person receives 22,800 forints (£63) in benefits per month, while those on a government sponsored work programme receive 54,000 forints, with which it is hard to rent even a room in Budapest.

Ilona Faras, 55, said she had been homeless since the 1990s, sometimes living in shelters and sometimes on the street. “I have had a number of jobs cleaning shopping centres or cafes but when I have money I’ve given it to my children. I can’t afford to rent anything,” she said.

Misetics said it was pointless to talk about homelessness as purely a law-enforcement issue: “In Hungary there has been a lot of discussion about criminalisation but I am yet to hear a government official talk about any other aspect. You cannot solve homelessness when there is no social safety net and it is almost impossible for someone who become homeless to get out of it. You need social workers, not policemen.”

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« Reply #3130 on: Oct 10, 2018, 04:58 AM »

Alleged Saudi hit squad linked to Jamal Khashoggi disappearance

Details of alleged team, including forensics expert, listed on flight manifests leaked to Turkish media

Martin Chulov in Istanbul and Bethan McKernan
Wed 10 Oct 2018 11.33 BST

Saudi special forces officers, intelligence officials, national guards and a forensics expert were allegedly among a 15-man team tied to the disappearance in Istanbul of the high-profile dissident Jamal Khashoggi, it has been reported by Turkish pro-government papers.

The details of the alleged hit squad were listed on flight manifests leaked to Turkish media on Tuesday night. Social media profiles of some of the alleged suspects link them to elite arms of the Saudi security apparatus.

The revelation comes amid a claim that the Saudi team that flew to Turkey brought with it a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi. “It was like Pulp Fiction,” a Turkish official told the New York Times. Suggestions that Khashoggi was killed and his body then mutilated have gained wide circulation in the week since he vanished, and Turkish officials continue to insist he met a brutal fate when he stepped through the doors of the diplomatic mission.

The alleged involvement of a forensics expert adds weight to the suspicions. The passenger manifest, obtained by the pro-government Daily Sabah paper, also lists a senior intelligence officer and two Saudi air force officers.

The Saudi team is said to have arrived at Istanbul’s Atatürk airport last Tuesday on two planes, one of which landed in the pre-dawn hours, and the second in the early afternoon. Airport security officials now say they checked all bags that the Saudi teams took with them from the consulate to the airport and say there were no suspicious items in any of the items loaded on to the jets for their return journeys to Riyadh.

Officials also say they had become aware that Khashoggi may have been kidnapped before the second plane had departed, and monitored seven Saudis in a waiting room as they checked their luggage for a second time. When nothing unusual was discovered, the plane was allowed to leave.

It was reported on Tuesday that the six cars that left the consulate, several hours after Khashoggi had entered, stopped for several hours at the nearby Saudi consul general’s residence, a site that has now become a focal point of the investigation into what happened to him.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has promised a transparent investigation into Khashoggi’s fate. However, many officials who provided information earlier in the inquiry, were on Tuesday refusing to speak, citing political sensitivities.

Khashoggi was last seen a week ago entering the consulate in Istanbul to get documents related to his forthcoming marriage.

The disappearance of the acclaimed columnist and senior adviser to previous Saudi regimes has rocked Washington, where he had been based for the past year as a columnist for the Washington Post, and struck fear through establishment circles in Riyadh, where the 59-year-old had been a popular figure. He was one of the few public intellectuals to openly critique the new administration of the crown prince, and heir to the throne, Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudi government has denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance and said he left the consulate via a back entrance.

On Tuesday, his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, used an opinion piece for the newspaper to appeal to Donald Trump for help to “shed light” on the disappearance. “I also urge Saudi Arabia, especially King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to show the same level of sensitivity and release CCTV footage from the consulate,” Cengiz wrote.

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« Reply #3131 on: Oct 10, 2018, 05:00 AM »

How to grapple with soaring world population? An answer from Botswana

Botswana has one of the fastest falling fertility rates. As global population expands, there are lessons to be learned

Nicola Davis in Gaborone and Gasita, Botswana
Wed 10 Oct 2018 06.00 BST

At the end of a dusty road in the southern African hinterland sits a small concrete building with an orange door. It is a structure so modest and remote that it is hard to believe it could hold lessons for addressing one of the world’s biggest challenges.

The unit is the medical hub for Gasita, a village of 2,000 people in the south of Botswana. Inside one of the rooms, pharmaceutical supplies are neatly stashed on shelves while a photograph of the country’s president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, is propped up on a counter next to a window that is ajar, letting in a warm breeze.

Outposts like these – offering family planning services, contraception, education – have helped bring about one of the world’s most remarkable demographic shifts. In a continent where fertility rates are the highest in the world and populations are soaring, Botswana has a different story to tell.

Fifty years ago, Botswanan women would have seven children on average. Now they have fewer than three. It’s one of the fastest falling fertility rates anywhere in the world – a dramatic decline that merits scrutiny.

The world’s population is on track to hit 8 billion in 2023, and almost 10 billion by 2050. Sub-Saharan Africa is set to grow faster than anywhere: there were 1 billion Africans in 2010, but that number will grow to 2.5 billion by 2050.

Some have warned that this growth risks “driving civilisation over the edge”, a controversial view given that it is rich countries, not poor, that lead the way on consuming the world’s resources.

But enabling women to control their fertility – a move that almost inevitably leads to them having fewer babies – is not just about a tussle over resources, or the environment: it brings enormous ramifications for women’s health, education and employment – with knock-on effects for society and the economy.
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So what did Botswana get right?


In a ground floor office at the University of Botswana, in the country’s capital of Gaborone, Dr Chelsea Morroni considers the issue. “Everyone is always asking how did this happen?”

An expert in international sexual and reproductive health at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Morroni has lived in Botswana with her family for five years. As founder and director of the Botswana Sexual and Reproductive Health Initiative, she spends her days delving into issues around fertility and contraception.

But Morroni says understanding Botswana’s dramatic fertility decline involves teasing apart a complex web of factors.

“There’s been a huge amount of change in Botswana,” she says, pointing out that since Botswana became an independent country in 1966 the landscape developed quickly, with high levels of economic growth and development of both healthcare infrastructure and education infrastructure, enabling young women to become educated and have employment opportunities.

“All of those things on the macro level are really important to fertility declines anywhere in the world,” says Morroni, whose work is part of the Botswana UPenn Partnership: a collaboration between the Botswana health ministry, the University of Botswana and the University of Pennsylvania.

But the country made more direct strides, too. “Botswana also was very proactive in the early years in establishing a family planning programme, so in setting up a programme that was far-reaching in terms of its geographical reach, providing access to most people in the country to a range of contraceptive methods,” says Morroni.

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« Reply #3132 on: Oct 10, 2018, 05:18 AM »

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow identifies ‘the Holy Grail’ of evidence on Trump Org’s backchannel with Russian Bank

Bob Brigham
Raw Story
09 Oct 2018 at 22:47 ET 

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dexter Filkins appeared on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Tuesday to explain his bombshell new report in the New Yorker on the mysterious web traffic between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank in Russia.

Filkins explained how he wrote the story and “got to talk to the scientists who looked at the data, they wrote up a report, I have the report.”

“It took a long time, but I was able to kind of do a deep dive into this very vexing question,” he explained.

Maddow praised him for his “storytelling ability” trying to explain such a technical mystery.

“It wasn’t spam, it wasn’t malware, it wasn’t email. So what was it?” he wondered. The scientists “thought for instance, maybe it was something called ‘foldering,’ when you type a draft and you don’t send it, and then somebody else can sign on, read the draft, write another draft, you can read that.”

“So the email never goes anywhere?”

“It never goes, exactly,” he replied. “There is a DNS lookup, and it’s logged, and that’s of course the records we had.”

“Not so many fingerprints, but they do leave DNS records,” he noted.

“So the content of the communications remains the Holy Grail here?” Maddow wondered.

“If there were communications, this is just metadata,” he noted.

Filkins noted that if special counsel Robert Mueller has gathered more data, he would be able to identify the exact person who shut down the Trump server after The New York Times asked Alfa Bank’s DC lobbyist for comment on the arrangement.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LO3DN0lOdAE


‘What more evidence do you need?’: MSNBC panel explains Trump campaign’s backchannel communication with Russian bank

Bob Brigham
Raw Story
10 Oct 2018 at 21:50 ET                   

MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes on Tuesday revisited one of the strangest stories of the 2016 presidential campaign — the curious electronic communication between a Trump Organization computer and Russia’s Alfa Bank.

“About a week before the 2016 election, journalist Franklin Foer published an explosive story in Slate on suspicious web traffic between a domain tied to the Trump Organization and a major Russian bank,” Hayes noted. “The bank and the Russian campaign both denied report, so provocative and the data behind it so murky, that a lot of people including us at ‘All In’ decided to keep our distance.”

“Now, almost two years later, with the mystery of whether the Trump campaign criminally conspired with Russia still unsolved, the New Yorker is revisiting the story with an extensive investigation into that cryptic web traffic,” Hayes explained. “Consulting with experts who ruled out almost every benign explanation for context between a Trump server and a Russian bank.”

“There was a whole series of suspicious, very circumstantial pieces of evidence and data that suggested it was a covert communication channel,” explained Franklin Foer, who broke the original story.

Hayes drilled down on one “mysterious” aspect of the scandal.

“So The New York Times is reporting on the story, they contact the Alfa Bank, the Moscow bank, the Trump organization domain gets shut down after The Times contacted Alfa Bank’s representatives, but before the newspaper contacted Trump,” Hayes noted. “That is pretty weird.”

“I mean, what more evidence do you need?” asked The Atlantic‘s Natasha Bertrand. “It’s very, very obvious.”

“And it’s really Occam’s Razor here, the fact we’ve still not been able to rule out the idea that was a covert communication channel, two years after the fact, that no one has come forth with a plausible explanation for why this is happening, why it’s one of three organizations communicating with the Trump server in the months leading up to the election is completely remarkable,” she noted.

Bertrand suggested the lack of interest in Foer’s story, “just shows the lack of imagination, really, that we were operating with, in the months leading up to the 2016 election.”

She cited the Steele Dossier as another story that seemed incredible at the time, but that we have been revisiting ever since it was first reported.

WATCH: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwPsEoQn81s


WATCH: Disinformation expert concludes there were ‘multiple teams’ on Trump campaign seeking foreign help

Bob Brigham
Raw Story
10 Oct 2018 at 20:21 ET                   

Cybersecurity expert Malcolm Nance appeared on MSNBC’ “Hardball” on Tuesday to dissect the new report that former Donald Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates sought proposals from an Israeli company to manipulate social media during the 2016 election season.

Nance is the author of the 2018 book, The Plot to Destroy Democracy. His book The Plot to Hack America: How Putin’s Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election was published in September 2016, just before the election.

Host Chris Hayes noted the proposal read like “a smaller scale version of the social media campaign that Russia ultimately carried out to benefit Trump and disparage Hillary Clinton. Thirteen Russians were indicted last February for that effort, which included the fraudulent use of fictitious online personas.”

“If you look at the timeline, this conversation took place in March 2016,” Nance noted. “This is just about the exact same time that the Democratic National Committee was discovering that their servers had been hacked into, that George Papadopoulos was out meeting with suspected members of Russian intelligence, and the rumor that Hillary Clinton’s emails were in the possession of the Kremlin, were being floated all around at this time.”

“I think that there were multiple teams,” he concluded. “We’ve already seen evidence that there were multiple teams in the Trump camp, and their sphere, that had been looking for information related to Hillary’s emails, related to psychological warfare and influence warfare operations and what the Russians and Israelis call ‘perception management techniques’ to find and manipulate voters.”

“What do you think, how does it fit into the jigsaw puzzle of Russian collusion — Trump/Russian collusion?” Matthews asked of the Israeli effort.

Nance explained that from the intelligence perspective, the question would be what motivated Gates’ actions.

“That means he had a conversation with someone — or heard a directive from someone — to go out and find this information,” he predicted.

“What’s interesting is Trump had already had Cambridge Analytica for over a year, Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon were on the board of the company, already carrying out these operations,” he reminded. “Which means there was something more — specific — they wanted and this side group was out to try to help them acquire that information.”

“Another key point to this is, Robert Mueller went to Israeli with Israeli authorities and they tore Psy-Group apart,” he noted. “They interviewed everybody, went there, seized computers and documents.”

“This group is a black hole in the story of which we can only learn more and see whether they were actually tied to Moscow in some way or just an independent operation that trump funded,” he added.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exoQuJWBGHw


MSNBC panel burns down Nikki Haley for draconian UN work: She violated her ‘core values’ to please Trump

David Edwards
Raw Story
10 Oct 2018 at 14:07 ET       

While most cable news pundits were praising Nikki Haley on Tuesday, a group of guests on MSNBC pointed out that history may not be kind to her performance as ambassador to the United Nations.

Although many pundits lauded Haley after she announced her resignation on Tuesday, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell and her guests reminded viewers that Haley had backed many of the Trump administration’s most draconian policies.

“When we think about the Republican Party and where the Republican Party is right now,” Mitchell explained. “And the fact that she went through the Muslim ban, migration crisis, immigration, separation of children, cancelling all Palestinian refugee aid — all of it — as well as hospital relief to Christian hospitals serving Arabs in East Jerusalem.”

“I mean, there are so many policies that are contradictory to what many believe would be her core values,” the MSNBC host added. “And she’s managed to do this without an abrupt breach.”

“She’s managed to keep enough distance from the White House, from the controversy and fury over a lot of these policies,” Boston Herald Washington Bureau Chief Kimberly Atkins observed. “By and large, she’s been a unified person, she’s been onboard with the Trump agenda.”


The GOP mask has slipped off — and Republicans have been exposed for who they really are

Amanda Marcotte, Salon - COMMENTARY
10 Oct 2018 at 16:12 ET                   

The past month has been excruciating, especially for survivors of sexual violence and those who support them. As happened previously with Donald Trump and Roy Moore, it was predictable that Republicans would not simply fall in line behind Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when he was credibly accused by multiple women of sexual abuse. Beyond that, their devotion would soar as Kavanaugh showed himself to be an entitled, overgrown frat boy who resorted to red-faced screaming and lying at even the hint that his history with women would be examined.

Now the celebration of Kavanaugh’s confirmation is taking a tone that is both overtly misogynist and winkingly approving of violence against women. The hashtag #Beers4Brett soared on Twitter, as Kavanaugh’s newly minted fans toasted the beverage that fueled his alleged assault. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, Fox News anchors and right-wing writers joined in the fun of turning beer into a symbol to spite abuse survivors. A major theme on the thread was conservatives reveling in the idea that Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s main accuser, and other anti-rape activists were suffering and crying.

(Ford is still reportedly unable to return home, due to the harassment.)

Other Republicans, while not openly celebrating the pain of the many assault survivors who protested, have nonetheless encouraged this sort of overt misogyny by painting the survivors and their allies who protested Kavanaugh’s confirmation as out-of-control harpies who need corralling. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called them a “mob.” Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky contrasted the man-pleasing demeanor of pro-Kavanaugh women with the supposedly unruly behavior of feminists. Trump falsely said that anti-Kavanaugh protesters were paid, an accusation that echoes ancient misogynist myths that women lie about rape for attention or financial gain.

This whole situation is gutting, but there is one silver lining: The mask is off. The pretense that conservatives don’t hate women has been ripped away and the right, drunk not on beer but on gloating about this huge victory in the war on women, is showing what it really thinks and feels about these issues. It’s ugly, but at least it’s out in the open.

The rise of anti-rape activism in the past decade has been met with a great deal of resistance from the right. There’s especially been resistance to the idea that colleges and universities should do more to discipline students who commit sexual violence or who sexually harass their fellow students.

But right-wing pundits have been effective at concealing the true source of this hostility, using bad faith arguments about false allegations — which are exceedingly rare — to drum up public hostility towards women who speak out or toward efforts by schools and workplaces to keep their environments free of harassment and violence.

To be sure, a lot of Republicans are feebly maintaining the pretense that the Kavanaugh fight is about “false” allegations, but the real concern — fear that we will start taking allegations seriously, because the vast majority are true — is now laid bare for the public to see. Pundits and politicians are openly telling women to stay silent or be accused of being whiny babies.  By blocking a thorough investigation of the Kavanaugh allegations and insulting the survivors who protested in the halls of the Capitol, Republicans sent a clear message: They don’t take sexual assault seriously as a crime; they think victims should shut up and go away.

Feminist pressure has led to a situation where mainstream media treats sexual assault and harassment as very serious matters, so much so that it’s easy to forget that many Americans still blame women for provoking male violence, rather than blaming  men for committing it.

The Ohio case that gained national prominence in 2012, known as the Steubenville rape case, is mostly remembered now as one where justice was done, because two teenagers were found guilty of assaulting a girl who was passed out from drinking at a party. But it’s worth remembering that injustice is why the story rose to national prominence in the first place. The case was such a searing indictment of the way that far too many Americans view acquaintance rape not as a crime, but as a sporting way to punish and humiliate women for flouting strict gender rules about chastity and sobriety.

The Steubenville case made the news because the victim was dangled out in front of the community as a hate object, a girl who had it coming for drinking and going to parties with boys. This nastiness started with the kids themselves, who made a spectacle of her suffering on social media, with one boy even uploading a video where he laughed and joked, “They raped her quicker than Mike Tyson raped that one girl.”

But, as the New York Times reporting showed, this attitude didn’t stop with the kids. Football coach Nate Hubbard told the paper that the girl was just using the rape as “an excuse” for her drinking. The reporter had to offer anonymity to people who objected to efforts to protect the rapists, because they were so afraid of retaliation.

These ugly attitudes still persist in many communities, as the soaring enthusiasm for Kavanaugh among Republicans in the wake of the allegations demonstrates. The New York Times published a profile on Monday of  Mississippi voters from both parties in which a Republican woman, Crystal Walls, shared her attitudes about how women need to suck up sexual violence and keep to themselves.

“Maybe she needs to talk to some servicemen that really understand PTSD,” Walls said when talking about Christine Blasey Ford, before adding that “if it affects you that bad” the answer is to keep it private in counseling, instead of speaking out.

She also defended Trump mockery of Ford, saying, “I did laugh.”

Right now, much of the mainstream media is interpreting this overtly misogynist backlash in horse-race terms, highlighting the alleged Republican electoral advantage resulting from conservative fury at feminists and defense of the male prerogative to hurt women. But that kind of coverage obscures the immense emotional and cultural impact of this moment. The hatred of women is laid bare for all to see, and many who previously rejected the idea that misogyny is this widespread are reeling in shock.

We must hope that this impact of this moment will linger, and people who were previously snookered by the idea that the Kavanaugh debate was about “false allegations” or “due process” will understand that was always nonsense. Feminists aren’t for false allegations, and they have never opposed due process. In fact, feminist demands have been for more due process, precisely because victims are often stopped from getting any hearing for their accusations at all.

The Kavanaugh hearing exposed this reality, as feminists were quite clearly the ones demanding a full investigation and a full process in which all witnesses would be heard, and the Republicans and their base of sexual-abuse apologists were the ones hiding information and refusing to engage a process that might uncover the truth.

No doubt within a few months the pretense that “no one” supports sexual abuse will be restored. We will once again be expected to pretend that there’s some other reason for all this hostility towards anti-rape activism, all this hand-wringing about the #MeToo movement going “too far” and all this resistance to schools disciplining rapists and harassers.

But as has happened in the past when Anita Hill stepped forward to accuse Clarence Thomas, or when the Steubenville case registered in the national consciousness, or when a tape of Trump bragging about how he likes to “grab ’em by the pussy” was released, a not-insignificant group of people who heard the wake-up call will stay woken up. The right-wing mask will be back in place, but some people won’t forget what they saw when the mask slipped. Every time this happens, the percentage of Americans who see the truth grows larger. One day, it will be large enough to overcome.


The Supreme Court just imperiled an at-risk Senate Democrat’s re-election — Here’s what you need to know

Matthew Chapman, Alternet
10 Oct 2018 at 00:51 ET   

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court denied an emergency request to reverse an Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that reinstated a set of draconian North Dakota voter ID restrictions — restrictions which disproportionately impact Native Americans living on tribal lands, and which could threaten the re-election of Democratic incument Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

The denial, issued by Neil Gorsuch, was 6-2, with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan dissenting, and Brett Kavanaugh — who was only just sworn into office after a bitter confirmation fight — not taking part.

North Dakota is unique among states in not having voter registration at all, meaning that voters are confirmed solely by presenting identification that proves their residency. But the new law, enacted by the Republican-controlled state legislature in 2017, places new restrictions on the type of state-issued ID that is acceptable: specifically, North Dakota voters must now present a photo ID card that bears a residential street address.

That could be a serious problem for thousands of Native American voters who live on tribal lands, because many of them do not actually have residential street addresses. The Postal Service does not deliver directly to many tribal reservations, so many state-issued tribal ID cards simply bear a P.O. box, which will not be sufficient under the new law.

A federal district court previously blocked the law from taking effect after Native American groups sued, and North Dakota conducted its primaries without it. But the Eighth Circuit reversed the lower court in September — and with the Supreme Court refusing to intervene, the law will now take effect for the general election.

Native American voters whose tribal ID cards do not show a residential street address will not be completely without options. They may be able to call their local 911 coordinator, register the location of their address, and have a document mailed to them bearing that address, which can then be used to supplement their ID. But early and absentee voting has already started, and the new rules are bound to create mass confusion, potentially causing thousands of people to stay home or bring the wrong identification.

This, indeed, was Ginsburg’s main complaint in her dissent. “The risk of voter confusion appears severe here because the injunction against requiring residential-address identification was in force during the primary election and because the Secretary of State’s website announced for months the ID requirements as they existed under that injunction,” she wrote. “Reasonable voters may well assume that the IDs allowing them to vote in the primary election would remain valid in the general election. If the Eighth Circuit’s stay is not vacated, the risk of disfranchisement is large.”

Heitkamp is already facing a tough election fight against GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer, who currently leads her in all polls. She won in 2012 by a margin of fewer than 3,000 votes, and Native Americans make up a huge portion of her voter base. Absent a broad awareness and organizing campaign to help people obtain the required documents, the court decision could be a disaster for voter turnout.

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« Reply #3133 on: Oct 11, 2018, 04:07 AM »

A Future Where Everything Becomes a Computer Is as Creepy as You Feared

By Farhad Manjoo
NY Times
Oct. 11, 2018

More than 40 years ago, Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft with a vision for putting a personal computer on every desk.

No one really believed them, so few tried to stop them. Then before anyone realized it, the deed was done: Just about everyone had a Windows machine, and governments were left scrambling to figure out how to put Microsoft’s monopoly back in the bottle.

This sort of thing happens again and again in the tech industry. Audacious founders set their sights on something hilariously out of reach — Mark Zuckerberg wants to connect everyone — and the very unlikeliness of their plans insulates them from scrutiny. By the time the rest of us catch up to their effects on society, it’s often too late to do much about them.

It is happening again now. In recent years, the tech industry’s largest powers set their sights on a new target for digital conquest. They promised wild conveniences and unimaginable benefits to our health and happiness. There’s just one catch, which often goes unstated: If their novelties take off without any intervention or supervision from the government, we could be inviting a nightmarish set of security and privacy vulnerabilities into the world. And guess what. No one is really doing much to stop it.

The industry’s new goal? Not a computer on every desk nor a connection between every person, but something grander: a computer inside everything, connecting everyone.

Cars, door locks, contact lenses, clothes, toasters, refrigerators, industrial robots, fish tanks, sex toys, light bulbs, toothbrushes, motorcycle helmets — these and other everyday objects are all on the menu for getting “smart.” Hundreds of small start-ups are taking part in this trend — known by the marketing catchphrase “the internet of things” — but like everything else in tech, the movement is led by giants, among them Amazon, Apple and Samsung.

For instance, Amazon last month showed off a microwave powered by Alexa, its voice assistant. Amazon will sell the microwave for $60, but it is also selling the chip that gives the device its smarts to other manufacturers, making Alexa connectivity a just-add-water proposition for a wide variety of home appliances, like fans and toasters and coffee makers. And this week, both Facebook and Google unveiled their own home “hub” devices that let you watch videos and perform other digital tricks by voice.

You might dismiss many of these innovations as pretty goofy and doomed to failure. But everything big in tech starts out looking silly, and statistics show the internet of things is growing quickly. It is wiser, then, to imagine the worst — that the digitization of just about everything is not just possible but likely, and that now is the time to be freaking out about the dangers.

“I’m not pessimistic generally, but it’s really hard not to be,” said Bruce Schneier, a security consultant who explores the threats posed by the internet of things in a new book, “Click Here to Kill Everybody.”

Mr. Schneier argues that the economic and technical incentives of the internet-of-things industry do not align with security and privacy for society generally. Putting a computer in everything turns the whole world into a computer security threat — and the hacks and bugs uncovered in just the last few weeks at Facebook and Google illustrate how difficult digital security is even for the biggest tech companies. In a roboticized world, hacks would not just affect your data but could endanger your property, your life and even national security.

Mr. Schneier says only government intervention can save us from such emerging calamities. He calls for reimagining the regulatory regime surrounding digital security in the same way the federal government altered its national security apparatus after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Among other ideas, he outlines the need for a new federal agency, the National Cyber Office, which he imagines researching, advising and coordinating a response to threats posed by an everything-internet.

“I can think of no industry in the past 100 years that has improved its safety and security without being compelled to do so by government,” he wrote. But he conceded that government intervention seems unlikely at best. “In our government-can’t-do-anything-ever society, I don’t see any reining in of the corporate trends,” he said.

Those trends are now obvious. It used to be difficult to add internet connectivity to home devices, but in the last few years the cost and complexity of doing so have plummeted. Today, off-the-shelf minicomputers like the Arduino can be used to turn just about any household object “smart.” Systems like the one Amazon is offering promise to accelerate the development of internet-of-things devices even further.

At a press event last month, an Amazon engineer showed how easily a maker of household fans could create a “smart” fan using Amazon’s chip, known as the Alexa Connect Kit. The kit, which Amazon is testing with some manufacturers, would simply be plugged into the fan’s control unit during assembly. The manufacturer also has to write a few lines of code — in the example of the fan, the Amazon engineer needed just a half-page of code.

And that’s it. The fan’s digital bits (including security and cloud storage) are all handled by Amazon. If you buy it from Amazon, the fan will automatically connect with your home network and start obeying commands issued to your Alexa. Just plug it in.

This system illustrates Mr. Schneier’s larger argument, which is that the cost of adding computers to objects will get so small that it will make sense for manufacturers to connect every type of device to the internet.

Sometimes, smarts will lead to conveniences — you can yell at your microwave to reheat your lunch from across the room. Sometimes it will lead to revenue opportunities — Amazon’s microwave will reorder popcorn for you when you’re running low. Sometimes smarts are used for surveillance and marketing, like the crop of smart TVs that track what you watch for serving up ads.

Even if the benefits are tiny, they create a certain market logic; at some point not long from now, devices that don’t connect to the internet will be rarer than ones that do.

The trouble, though, is that business models for these device don’t often allow for the kind of continuing security maintenance that we are used to with more traditional computing devices. Apple has an incentive to keep writing security updates to keep your iPhone secure; it does so because iPhones sell for a lot of money, and Apple’s brand depends on keeping you safe from digital terrors.

But manufacturers of low-margin home appliances have little such expertise, and less incentive. That’s why the internet of things has so far been synonymous with terrible security — why the F.B.I. had to warn parents last year about the dangers of “smart toys,” and why Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, has identified smart devices as a growing threat to national security.

An Amazon representative told me that the company was building security into the core of its smart technologies. The Connect Kit, the company said, lets Amazon maintain the digital security of a smart device — and Amazon is very likely to be better at security than many manufacturers of household appliances. As part of its cloud business, the company also offers a service for companies to audit the security of their internet-of-things services.

The Internet of Things Consortium, an industry group that represents dozens of companies, did not respond to an inquiry.

Mr. Schneier is painting government intervention not as a panacea but as a speed bump, a way for us humans to catch up to the technological advances. Regulation and government oversight slow down innovation — that’s one reason techies don’t like it. But when uncertain global dangers are involved, taking a minute isn’t a terrible idea.

Connecting everything could bring vast benefits to society. But the menace could be just as vast. Why not go slowly into the uncertain future?

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« Reply #3134 on: Oct 11, 2018, 04:09 AM »

Cannabis Oil vs. CBD Oil: Health Benefits and Legal Considerations

By Stephanie Garr

The topic of cannabis (marijuana) has become far less taboo in recent years, but there are still many misconceptions—and fears—about its use as a medicinal plant.

Cannabis is still an illegal product in most countries and can be difficult to obtain. More importantly, it is challenging to study.

Still, an increasing amount of evidence has found it could offer significant benefits for patients with chronic pain and even cancer.

This article looks at what cannabis oil is, how it differs from CBD oil, and what the science is saying about its potential.
What is Cannabis Oil?

Cannabis oil is an extract from cannabis (marijuana) plants that contains several cannabinoid compounds that bind to receptors in the brain and body.

Cannabis is one of the world's oldest cultivated plants, with its use dating back some 8,000 years ago (1).

As of now, more than a 100 of its active compounds have been detected, but there are two that have been studied the most:

    Cannabidiol (CBD): This is the active ingredient in CBD oil that has been shown to display anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor effects.

    Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): This is the substance in marijuana that is most known for getting you "high."

While the term "cannabis oil" may be used to describe any cannabis-based oil (like CBD oil or hemp seed oil), it typically refers to the specific extract that contains all components of marijuana, including THC.

Summary: Cannabis oil is an extract from cannabis (marijuana) plants. It contains all active ingredients in the plant, including CBD and THC.
Cannabis Oil vs CBD Oil ... What's The Difference?

Unlike cannabis oil, which is typically made from marijuana with a high THC percentage (typically at least 50%), CBD oil does not contain this mind-altering compound.

In other words, CBD oil does not get you "high," but could offer some helpful benefits.

Many natural health proponents have been touting CBD oil and its potential to relieve chronic pain, reduce anxiety and depression, and alleviate cancer symptoms, among several other benefits.

Because it doesn't contain THC, CBD oil is legal in all 50 states of the U.S., Canada and all of Europe (except for Slovakia).

Summary: Unlike cannabis oil, which is typically made from marijuana with a high THC percentage, CBD oil does not contain this mind-altering compound.
Is Cannabis Oil Illegal?

Because it contains THC, cannabis oil can only be purchased in an area where marijuana is legal or can be prescribed.

In the U.S., marijuana is legal for both recreational and medicinal use in nine states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, along with Washington, DC.

Thirty states have legalized medical marijuana for medicinal use. These include the nine mentioned above, along with:

Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia.

Summary: Since it contains THC, cannabis oil can only be purchased in areas where marijuana is legal or can be prescribed. This includes 30 U.S. states.
Benefits of Cannabis Oil

Because of its long-held status as an illegal Schedule I drug, research on cannabis has been limited.

Fortunately, a growing number of studies on cannabis have focused on its potential health benefits, mostly regarding appetite, nausea and pain.

Cannabis oil would likely offer similar benefits as CBD oil. However, it's possible that its addition of THC could provide further benefits.

THC is a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory and anti-emetic (prevents vomiting).

Using the whole marijuana plant versus part of it (like with CBD oil) could also provide extra synergetic effects. This however, is difficult to study.

There are currently a few licensed cannabis-based drugs on the market including:

    Dronabinol (Marinol) / Nabilone (Cesamet): Both are synthetic forms of THC used to counteract nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, and to stimulate appetite in AIDS patients.

    Nabiximols (Sativex): Contains an equal amount of THC and CBD and used to relieve symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) and pain in cancer patients.

    Epidiolex: A concentrated CBD oil used as an anti-seizure medication for children with epilepsy (2).

Cannabis Oil for Cancer

Many cannabinoids, including THC and CBD, have shown some anti-cancer effects.

Most significantly, cannabinoids may have the ability (at least in test tube studies) to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells and promote the death of cancer cells by apoptosis (3).

That said, while THC has shown promise in cancer studies, it's also shown the potential to suppress the immune system and enhance tumor growth (4).

Clearly, much more research needs to be done to determine how cannabinoids, at specific concentrations, may work best for cancer treatment.
Cannabis Oil for Pain Relief

Cannabis oil is a potent anti-inflammatory and can provide significant pain relief, likely more so than just CBD oil.

In fact, THC was shown to have 20 times the anti-inflammatory potency of aspirin and twice that of hydrocortisone (5).

THC has been found to reduce pain in patients with cancer and MS, and cannabis treatment has proven effective for those with fibromyalgia (6, 7).

Summary: Research on cannabis has been limited, but is quickly growing. Cannabis oil would likely offer similar benefits as CBD oil, but may offer even greater potential with the addition of THC, which is a proven pain reliever and anti-inflammatory.
Side Effects of Cannabis Oil

It can be difficult to obtain certified cannabis oils that provide specific concentrations and guarantee purity.

Some cannabis oils may even contain up to 75% THC (Cool.

Commercially produced cannabis oils for medical purposes are most dependable since they will have controlled concentrations of CBD and THC.

The addition of THC in cannabis oil will cause some side effects, including:

    The feeling of being "high"
    Tiredness and fatigue
    Reduced memory and learning ability
    Increased heart rate
    Increased appetite.

It's also noteworthy to mention that CBD actually helps control the psychoactive effects of THC, so a good balance of both may be important.

Summary: It can be difficult to know the concentrations and purity of cannabis oil products, so you will likely not know how much THC and CBD they contain. The presence of THC will cause you to feel "high," and may also lead to fatigue, reduced memory and increased appetite.
How to Make Cannabis Oil

Although cannabis oil has only started to find legal status in certain areas, plenty of people have been handcrafting their own for some time.

If you're able to obtain cannabis legally, you can easily make your own version of cannabis oil, which allows you to control the amount and type of cannabis used.

Canadian cannabis expert Rick Simpson is often cited for his groundbreaking work creating a cannabis oil, now referred to as Rick Simpson Oil or RSO.

He made his own cannabis oil to help treat his skin cancer, and has shared this recipe here.
Cannabis Coconut Oil

Another way to consume cannabis oil is with cannabis coconut oil.

The saturated fats in coconut oil help preserve the cannabinoids, making it a more potent and effective cannabis product.

Cannabis-infused coconut oil can be used topically, consumed on its own or used as a cooking oil just like normal coconut oil. You can also put it into capsules for measured doses.

This site offers a good recipe for cannabis coconut oil.

Summary: If you're able to obtain cannabis legally, you can make your own version of cannabis oil at home. Cannabis coconut oil can also be made and consumed on its own or used topically or as a cooking oil.
Should You Try Cannabis Oil?

The benefits of CBD oil are well established, but it's possible cannabis oil could be even more effective.

The addition of THC, the compound that also gets you "high," could offer greater anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and pain-relieving effects.

Because cannabis oil uses the entire marijuana plant, there may also be some other synergetic effects involved.

However, the state of cannabis' legality has severely limited its research opportunities. Fortunately this is rapidly changing.

Early studies have found that cannabis treatment has helped patients with chronic pain, cancer, MS, AIDS and fibromyalgia.

As of now, cannabis oil is still difficult to obtain, and is legal for medicinal use in only 30 U.S. states. It's also not regulated, so it's hard to know how much THC you may be getting.

If you're looking for a similar and safe alternative—and one without the "high"—you may want to seek out CBD oil first.

Stephanie is a certified nutrition consultant. She graduated from the University of Iowa with degrees in journalism and psychology in 2003, and later studied holistic nutrition at Bauman College in Berkeley, California.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Diet vs Disease

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