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The Evolutionary Perspective
Daily Archives: February 17, 2017
Posted: February 17, 2017 at 1:53 am
Published: February 16, 2017 | By Nick Hanson-James
Zimbabwe is facing an imminent crisis that will require an international humanitarian response in the near to medium-term future, with appropriate security measures for humanitarian workers. The dire economic situation precipitated, according to economists, by disastrous indigenisation policies that have choked foreign investment, the exhaustion of Foreign Exchange reserves and a collapse in commodity prices, combined with an estimated 80% unemployment rate, the worst drought in 35 years and outbreaks of communicable diseases paint a bleak future for Zimbabweans. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) predicts that 4.4 million Zimbabweans may not have enough food to eat this year. Humanitarian assistance will be the only hope for millions but will involve considerable operational difficulties.
Robert Mugabe, President since 1985, is now 93 and in failing health. With no nominated successor, political jostling and infighting have broken out in his ZANU-PF party ahead of the presidential elections planned for 2018. A familiar pattern of ZANU buying votes with gifts of land and food to the party faithful has started, with a ban on demonstrations in Harare. Of greater concern, the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) is divided; since independence, the ZNA has been the primary agent to maintain order and civil stability. As its grip on power splits, the prospect of escalating civil disturbances and a potential military coup become more likely.
There are signs of change: social media campaigns have highlighted Zimbabweans dissatisfaction with the government, while Church groups have voiced their concerns; NGO contact with such groups is likely to come under scrutiny, so discretion should be exercised. Government crackdowns are underway, and the detention and mistreatment of activists have increased 50% this year. A social media law has been passed that allows the state to seize smartphones, laptops or other devices that allow Zimbabweans to communicate. NGOs in Zimbabwe must be aware that communications may be monitored, and IT equipment may attract attention from the authorities. Informers report any social media activity deemed anti-ZANU to the government. NGOs should make contingency plans for the detention of staff, but should also prepare for a rapid deterioration in national security. NGO workers in Zimbabwe have also reported that South African border guards will now only issue five day stays for travellers from Zimbabwe, rather than official visas, and furthermore, long delays at border crossings are the norm. This should be factored into any plans relating to evacuation by road.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) stated in 1985 that Zimbabwes health system was amongst the best in the developing world. 30 years later, healthcare in Zimbabwe has broken down. Healthcare facilities are running below 30% of their capability, with chronic shortages of drugs and medical staff. The prohibitive price of medicines from private suppliers means that: 64% of Zimbabweans are unable to access healthcare and curable ailments are often fatal. Accessing the cash to pay for drugs is difficult.
Running water is only available in urban areas for one or two days per week; families have taken to storing 20 and 50 litres of uncovered containers of water, increasing the risk of water- and mosquito-borne diseases in towns. Authorities have issued typhoid and cholera alerts. Experts predict that with the arrival of the rainy season this situation will worsen, as drinking water becomes contaminated. In 2008, 100,000 Zimbabweans were affected by an outbreak of cholera with 4,000 recorded deaths; if this reoccurs, the crippled healthcare system will collapse.
Organisations intending to work in Zimbabwe should ensure that they have supplies of medicines at their disposal, as these will be hard to access in-country. These should include analgesics, water purification tablets, antibiotics and rehydration kits. With an estimated 15% HIV infection rate, PEP kits should be kept for use both by international and local staff. Plans for medical evacuation to South Africa should be made for more serious illnesses.
Withdrawing money from banks involves queuing for several days (people sleep on the streets to save their places), and when banks do hold cash, withdrawals are strictly rationed to US$ 200 per day for organisations and US$ 50 per day for individuals. Informants have reported the theft of forex directly from their organisations accounts by the authorities. To mitigate this, exact amounts of forex to cover specific costs should be made from overseas, and the money transferred to the recipients as quickly as possible. In such economic conditions, organisations have strengthened their standard operating procedures (SOPs) for handling cash, due to the added risks of crime.
With the price of commodities falling in international markets, the government finds itself backed into a corner. ZANU abandoned the Zim$ for the US$ in 2009 to counter the effects of hyperinflation. However, Foreign Exchange reserves have been exhausted paying the salaries of civil servants and the security forces; in July the government was unable to pay employees and a general strike paralysed the country. In November 2016, the government issued Bond Notes to replace the foreign currency in everyday transactions. This has already sparked further demonstrations and social unrest given that the effects of hyperinflation are still fresh in the populations memories. Journalists are already reporting a rise in extra-judicial detentions and the torture of detainees.
Police are now reduced to extorting money from drivers at roadblocks by imposing fines to buy food or to contribute towards the payment of their colleagues salaries. Organisations have advised that to avoid fines being imposed at roadblocks, ensure that vehicles are fully serviced and compliant with traffic regulations (e.g. carrying required equipment). While this may work in some instances, organisations will need to discuss their policy towards corruption and put the relevant SOPs in place.
Fuel and Logistics
The situation is rapidly deteriorating and in February 2016 the government declared a national state of disaster. The cost of food is rising due to the drought while fuel supplies are dwindling and shortages of petrol make transport difficult. NGOs have found that purchasing fuel coupons that guarantee access to reserved supplies is the only way to guarantee to be able to operate. These coupons are also used as an unofficial second currency as foreign exchange bank notes become scarcer. Humanitarians operating in Zimbabwe should be aware of the logistical challenges posed by roadblocks and fuel shortages that make operating in more inaccessible areas such as Matabele Land (where much humanitarian activity is concentrated), much more difficult. Aid workers should be aware of the logistical limitations when working in remote areas and factor this into their planning.
Since 2008, an estimated 5,000 Zimbabweans have left the country each day. There are approximately four million Zimbabweans living abroad, most illegally in surrounding countries where their presence is creating socio-economic pressures on, and tensions with, local communities. The majority work in the informal, low-wage sector. Their financial remittances are low and have had little effect in bolstering Zimbabwes economy while pressuring the economies of its neighbours. Host governments have now started to expel Zimbabwean migrants. If large numbers of migrants return to a country unable to support them, then the stage appears to be set for a humanitarian crisis with the potential to destabilise both Zimbabwe and its neighbours. At the moment, there is no incentive for Zimbabwean diaspora to return to Zimbabwe. However, if forced repatriations increase, then the potential for social instability, combined with the increased pressure on limited resources, may well lead to civil disturbance in many areas of the country. This should be factored into any evacuation or crisis response plans.
Zimbabwes position appears grim. Zimbabwe has become internationally isolated due to its internal and external policies and has burnt its bridges with agencies such as the International Monetary Fund, that could have offered possible lifelines. The humanitarian community should prepare to intervene and operate should Zimbabwes fragile systems finally collapse, in what will be a challenging and difficult environment to operate in.
Sources and Further Reading
Why Zimbabweans are spending the night outside banks, BBC, 9 November 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-37910072
Zimbabwes Government Prepares to Defend Itself, Stratfor, 4 August 2016, https://www.stratfor.com/sample/analysis/zimbabwes-government-prepares-d…
No cash, no cure: Zimbabwes hospitals buckle amid economic crisis, The Guardian, 14 July 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/14/no-cash-no-cure-zimbabwes-…
Zimbabweans Facing Difficulties in Accessing Health Care, Voice of America, 17 May 2016, http://www.voazimbabwe.com/a/zimbabwe-access-to-healthcare/3334353.html
Interviews with key informants
Zimbabwe, MSF, undated, http://www.msf.org/en/where-we-work/zimbabwe
Zimbabwe, SABC, undated, http://www.sabc.co.za/news/tag/Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe, International Rescue Committee, undated, https://www.rescue.org/country/zimbabwe
The Zimbabwean, undated, http://thezimbabwean.co
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Posted: at 1:53 am
Looming Black Swans Could Hurt 2017 Stock Market Forecast
The current social and political conditions could lead the world economy to disaster. The financial markets have never been more susceptible to disruptive events. Yet the stock market forecast for 2017 has not taken the biggest risk into account.
This is nobodys fault, because no stock market forecast can possibly foresee the biggest risk. Most everybody can make a correct market prediction, even without knowing a thing about a stock, but nobody can predict a black swan event. The very nature of a black swan is to elude everyone, including Nostradamus himself.
The black swan theory, or the theory of black swan events, is a metaphor. Its a term to describe the concept that a heavy-impact event comes as a surprise to the observer. Once that happened, the event is rationalized in retrospect. The theory was developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to explain the weaknesses of such things as a stock market outlook or a stock market forecast.
High-impact events such as a black swan are not just rare and difficult, if not impossible, to predict. They play a disproportionate role compared to normal expectations in the context of history, science, technology and finance. A black swan event can only be recognized after the fact.
Heres what this means for where the stock market is headed. Geopolitics is key. Thus, it is important to increase the awareness of firms operating in international markets today, even more than in the past.
In 2017, the Venezuelan default and the growing tensions between the U.S. and Iran could be traumatic, leading to a potential collapse of oil prices and another war in the Middle East. Raw materials could be subject to extreme fluctuations in 2017.
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran and the risk of a default in Venezuela may push up oil prices, possibly to unsustainable levels for emerging economies. Further, the situation in Ukraine and Russia is even more difficult to predict now.
During the Barack Obama presidential administration, it was clear that Washington sided with Ukraine, but President Donald Trump wants to improve ties to Moscow. That could encourage the latter to turn the situation back in its favor. Such tensions could boost the prices of industrial metals, given the strong role both countries have in mining.
Barclays Bank PLC has come up with a chart outlining some of the potential black swan events, as summarized below. Note, the threat type is what is affected by the potential black swan event. So, in the case of oil, its price would go up if the U.S. and Iran clash. The black swan in that case would be the spark that leads to the clash.
There is no way to assess the probability of such periodic rare events using scientific methods. By definition, a black swan event has a very low probability of occurring. Iteludes mathematics and statistics. Thus, an airplane crashing into the World Trade Center on September 1, 2001 was a black swan event.
Arguably, the discovery of how to make fire was a black swan, as was the big bang of the Big Bang Theory. In the purely financial context, black swans are rare. The 2007/2008 financial crisis was not a black swan, for example. It was all too predictable to those who had access to the information, or those willing to consider it.
Yet, most investors who work 40 hours a week have little time to check every detail that could affect their portfolios and retirement savings. To themthat is, to most peoplethe 2008 subprime crash certainly had the impact of a black swan. By stretching or altering the definition of black swan, we can analyze them to see where is the stock market headed.
A true black swan will make mincemeat of any stock market prediction. But the more liberally defined black swan event, described above as a heavy-impact event, can be very useful.
It turns out that 2017 will be a year dense with such heavy-impact events.
The first of these foreseeable black swans concerns the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It took years to negotiate and achieve, but it also took just one signature from Donald Trump to terminate the U.S.s participation. That was no black swan, however. Trump said he would scrap the deal during the election campaign.
The scrapping of the TPP will have consequences; it could spark a cascading chain of high-impact events. Given the global impact of these events, they will affect the stock markets. They can also produce a black swan, but we can only examine and predict events as the conclusion of ongoing processes.
To be clear, the end of the TPP is a hugedeal. Major investment banks like Goldman SachsGroup Inc (NYSE:GS)and the World Economic Forum (WEF)which just met at Davos a few weeks agofeared this. The reason for their worry is that, at the stroke of a pen, Trump has inaugurated a new era of protectionism.
Protectionism will be a major threat to the world economy in 2017. The risk that Trump would ditch the TPP agreement was well known months before the U.S. election. The TPP is such a threat because it compounds the effects of the Brexit which, while not a black swan per se, are unclear. Its not even clear whether the U.K. will go along with it.
The TPP and Brexit are mere reflections of the protectionist trend that should concern all investors. They reflect the fact that populist movements are strengthening. Yet, all the while, the migration crisis continues and the risk that many fear is another series of terrorist attacks. Again, these are not black swans in themselves, but they provide the basis for one.
Meanwhile in Asia, there is another known risk that could produce predictable and unpredictablehence black swanrepercussions. Chinas economy could implode because of unsustainable levels of debt. The Chinese debt bomb could slow Chinas economy and become an obstacle to global economic growth.
The geopolitical realm has within it the seeds of many risks for humanity in 2017. These include terrorist attacks and the inter-state conflicts resulting from the rising problems of regional and global ungovernability. International institutions will need to negotiate and work together to solve geopolitical and economic problems in 2017.
The geopolitical litany of risks with black swan potential is unprecedented in 2017. The closest period like this that comes to mind is World War 1. The worlds superpowers were experiencing a protectionist-fueled suspicion of each other. Meanwhile, rapidly changing technology on one hand and rapidly advancing revolutionary social movements on the other mixed to create economic and political TNT.
The black swan component that nobody could have predicted was a young man in Serbia called Gavrilo Princip. He murdered the archduke Franz Ferdinand, sending the spark that set off the TNT. That event on June 28, 1914 was unpredictable, and its timing and context produced World War 1, the risks of which had become rather obvious in the first decade of the 20th century.
That odd sensation that many investors get every day now reflects a similar scenario today. The next Black Swan event might be that one that sparks World War 3.
In 2016, Russia, South Africa and many other countries have withdrawn from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Meanwhile, China has refused to accept the ICCs verdict on the territories in the South China Sea.
Trump has threatened to terminate the contract with Iran. Even if an agreement is reached over Syria and ISIS is defeated, the sentiment that produced the latter movement and the tensions in Syria remains. It will not simply vaporize.
ISIS might be gone, but its ideology has the advantage that anyone can adopt it. The mixture of dissent and mistrust that is brewing among the world powers has already paralyzed the United Nations (UN).
Meanwhile, the European Union (EU), which was formed after World War 2to act as a guarantee that no such war could break out again, has began to disintegrate.
Among the factors contributing to geopolitical tension is a deficit of trust. Countries accuse each other of interfering in their internal affairs. Look no further than the allegations from the U.S. Democratic Party that Russia interfered in the November presidential election to ensure that Trump would win.
In effect, nobody has proven that Russia was behind the WikiLeaks release of the John Podesta e-mails. But the media, many Americans, and others around the world have blamed Russia, fueling the mistrust among nuclear superpowers. In such an atmosphere, any number of events could turn out to be black swans for the next major international conflict.
Black swan events would only reveal themselves in retrospect after analysis of the one cause that sparked it. That is, if any analysts live to study it. Such black swans may result from the socio-economic risks like mass migration, the critical increase in inequality, and the polarization of society along ethnic, religious and cultural factors that could seriously complicate the situation in 2017.
The results of the U.K. Brexit referendum and the U.S. presidential election have shown that such factors seriously affect the situations in different countries. Then there is an escalating arms race involving the United States, Russia and, now China.
The risk of a black swan in the arms race context could certainly play on the explosive geopolitical context. The current arms race involves military robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). Drones are merely an early generation of the military-technological evolution.
Robot soldiers are no longer the figment of a science-fiction writers imagination. In 2017, we are already bombarded by technological risks. Consider cyberattacks alone. These can take the form of fraud and data theft, defects in software that can cause a failure in the energy sector (nuclear reactor meltdown), transport, communications, etc.
Moreover, the rapid development of new technologies and robotics will make human labor increasingly obsolete. The fact that this coincides with an ever-growing population presents huge risks for unemployment and social instability. Therefore, it is the perfect storm for massive social unrest.
On top of that are otherrisks, such as natural disasters. These are virtually impossible to avoid. For all other risks, we can study processes and developments, trying to make sense of them. At best, we can predict what systems could be affected by a black swan event, although nobody knows what form this will take.
The very unpredictability of black swans is the stuff of intense philosophical debate. The unexpected is what moves the world forward (or backward). The advent of the Internet was a black swan. Designed as a military communications and security tool, nobody could have foreseen the role it has come to play in modern life and business.
Life rarely works exactly as you plan it. We must learn to live with uncertainties and deal with the unexpected. Black swans are reminders that, despite the combination of technological wonders, forecasting tools, and organizational devices, we are not able to defeat nature and chaos.
Therefore, its impossible to have an accurate stock market forecast based on black swans. But we can still analyze and pay attention to the kinds of risks from where black swans might arise, or where they may have an impact.
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Turkey purge: dark cloud of oppression hangs over country’s universities – Times Higher Education (THE) (blog)
Posted: at 1:51 am
A select group of top Turkish academics has become the latest casualty of the countrys state of emergency. Some 330 academics were among the thousands of public sector employees purged by an emergency decree issued on 7 February.
Such decrees are now part of life in a country that is still traumatised by last years coup attempt, which claimed hundreds of lives. The state of emergency put in place swiftly in its wake grants sweeping powers to the authorities. Indeed, a large number of drastic rulings that would have been near impossible in normal times were introduced,including the closure of 15 private universities and the abolishment of the vice-chancellors elections nationwide.
The primary target of the early decrees was the Gulen movement led by Fethullah Gulen, the Islamic cleric based in the US members of whom were behind the coup attempt. The numbers were staggering: by November 2016, more than a 100,000 people were dismissed from public service including one-third of all judges and more than 100 generals. Despite their scale, these operations did not face much opposition in the early stages. What was more alarming for most was the extent of infiltration by the Gulenists into the higher echelons of power, particularly in the army and the judiciary.
Yet the purge on 7 February caused outrage.This is primarily due to who was in the firing line.Among the names were some of Turkeys top academics based in the countrys most established institutions. For example, brahim Kabolu, a leading constitutional law specialist who I am currently collaborating with on a book about constitutional reform, has been dismissed from Marmara University. Others included Murat Sevin, another leading constitutional law expert; Yksel Takn, a top political historian; gel ktem Tanr, the countrys first specialist in neuropsychology, as well as almost the entire faculty of the department of theatre at Ankara University.
It became immediately clear that the newly dismissed included many who could not be linked to violence in any shape or form, much less to a terrorist plot the official accusations underlying many of the previous dismissals. One common feature of 115 of the 330 expelled scholars was that they were all signatories to a peace declaration in January 2016 that criticised the security operations in the southeastern part of the country and called on the government to resume talks with representatives of the Kurdish community in hope of achieving peaceful solution.
A good number of those who were dismissed have also been vocal opponents of the governments increasingly authoritarian stance and of the proposed constitutional changes that will be voted on at the forthcoming referendum on 16 April.
Academia in Turkey is no stranger to such purges on political and ideological bases. Indeed, they were repeated with such regularity in the past that most, if not all, prospective academics in the country view the risk of dismissal as part of the job; almost like the risk of accident for someone considering a genuinely dangerous profession. Korkut Boratav, a veteran, has said poignantly this week: the 1940s purge dismissed my father from academia, the 1980s [one] dismissed me, and todays decree dismissed my last assistant.
Even so, the current situation is much worse than the mass exodus from universities in the early 1980s. There is nothing surprising about a military regime being ruthless over freedom of thought, freedom of speech and, hence, against academia. The tragedy of the current crackdown is that it is taking place under a civil and democratically elected government which, ironically, came to power on a manifesto promising to advance democratic rights and freedoms.
However damaging the dismissals are for the academics in question and they are extremely damaging they are worse for current and future generations of students. I know this from personal experience as a student of economics at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara in the mid-1980s. When we arrived in 1984, universities had become skeletons of their former selves in the aftermath of the military coup.
A large number of academics had left in protest over the treatment of their colleagues. The METU economics department that I joined, which used to be home to one of the strongest economic history teams before 1980, had lost all its economic historians by the time that we enrolled and was unable to appoint anyone in the field until the mid-1990s.
It is not just the loss of academics, either. Even as a supposedly carefree student, you could almost taste the oppression pervading every aspect of university life, hanging over you like a dark cloud. An environment where there is fear over speaking out is no place for teaching the value of critical thinking.
Although most of those expelled in the early 1980s returned to academia later, having successfully appealed against the expulsion decision an avenue not yet open to the currently purged the masses of students who had completed their studies in the meantime had lost out permanently.
Students today will lose both through missing out on being taught by some outstanding academics, and also because higher education is transformed into something completely different in such authoritarian periods. The end result will be generations of graduates who have to settle for what is on offer, without questioning the merit of what is presented to them, and who have to accept knowledge as a given rather than seeking the truth.
It is only to be expected that a society made up of individuals ready to accept whatever is fed to them would also be a place where alternative facts can flourish.
Gulcin Ozkan is a professor of economics at the University of York.
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Posted: at 1:51 am
In his new book, The Deplorables Guide to Making America Great Again, Fox News host and radio talker Todd Starnes proudly declares himself an irredeemable deplorable. He writes (with characteristic humor and directness), Mrs. Clinton matter-of-factly dubbed half of Donald Trumps supporters a bunch of xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic bigots. Im surprised she didnt say we hated puppies too.
Starnes connects being a worthwhile deplorable with traits he also associates with the duties of citizenship:
To this Starnes adds marching orders:
In other words, make yourself an upstanding participant in your society and community even as others are ridiculing and diminishing you.
But the sting of being shouted down as subhuman is not unique to a particular religion or political party. Certainly as a Jew born in the 20th century the notion of being dehumanized and threatened based on a rigid self-serving philosophy is something that resonates with me deeply.
It all begins with the abrogation of free speech; falsely defining it as the freedom of only your views being heard. Absent is true dialogue; replaced by open ridicule. The Nazis branded their disabled victims as useless eaters. Starnes responds defiantly to the demeaning deplorable branding with concrete plans for participation.
Starnes also provides a moral code for deplorables to live by, a way to overcome the marginalizing of others. You dont have to kowtow to the so-called arbiters of public morality, he writes. Dont bend the knee to these people anymore. If someone as brash and occasionally offensive as Donald J. Trump could win the White House, surely you can speak up in your house, your neighborhood, your school system, your city. Remember, the country cant be saved by one man on Pennsylvania Avenue. It takes all of us rowing in the same direction.
Starnes provides the rallying cry and organizational tools for Deplorables. And when I think of Deplorables I of course mean not just Christians, not just vilified Trump supporters, but all of us who at one time or another have been diminished or marginalized for our views. Who doesnt relate to a mean putdown or mischaracterization based on a preconceived notion or negative generalization. We are all of us Jews, all of us Deplorables, all of us humble before the eyes of God.
What we can do about it is bond together, rise up and cast our vote, rejoice in our otherness and our freedom in unexpected ways. Starnes, for instance, celebrates the presence of Chick-fil-A in New York City despite a call for a ban on the chain chicken joint by Mayor de Blasio (who Starnes says eats pizza with a fork). Starnes proposes Chick-Fil-A be the official Deplorable poultry, steeped in corporate values and the Christian faith of its founder. I would of course prefer kosher chicken as my official food, maybe Empire or Schnitzel Express.
Beyond eating chicken, argues for a populist community and religion-based uprising to resist government oppression. It is not the first time such a call is being made and it wont be the last. But it is a refreshing reminder of what every doctor knows – that our bones and arteries and even our hearts and brains all look the same under the microscope, no matter what our critics suppose.
Marc Siegel MD is an internist in New York. His most recent book is The Inner Pulse; Unlocking the Secret Code of Sickness and Health.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.
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Posted: at 1:51 am
Christophobia: A Global Perspective
North Korea's government is that of a communist dictatorship. Of its 25,405,000 residents, some 300,000 are Christian. The reasons cited by OD for the government's ruthless persecution of Christians are two: communist oppression and dictatorial …
Posted: at 1:50 am
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.
In a sharp break with the Obama administration, which distanced itself from harsh anti-drug rhetoric and emphasized treatment for drug users over punishment, President Trump this week reverted to tough drug war oratory and backed it up with a series of executive orders he said are designed to restore safety in America.
Were going to stop the drugs from pouring in, Trump told law enforcement professionals of the Major Cities Chiefs Associationon Wednesday. Were going to stop those drugs from poisoning our youth, from poisoning our people. Were going to be ruthless in that fight. We have no choice. And were going to take that fight to the drug cartels and work to liberate our communities from their terrible grip of violence.
Trump also lambasted the Obama administration for one its signature achievements in criminal justice reform, opening the prison doors for more than 1,700 drug war prisoners who had already served sentences longer than they would have under current, revised sentencing guidelines. Obama freed record numbers of drug traffickers, many of them kingpins, Trump complained.
And in a sign of a return to the dark days of drug war over-sentencing, he called for harsher mandatory minimum prison sentences for the most serious drug offenders, as well as aggressive prosecutions of drug traffickers and cracking down on shipping loopholes he claimed allowed drugs to be sent to the U.S. from other countries.
In a New Hampshirecampaign speechduring the campaign, Trump called for more treatment for drug users and more access to overdose reversal drugs, but there was no sign of that side of the drug policy equation in Wednesdays speech.
On Thursday, Trump backed up his tough talk with action as, at the Oval Office swearing in of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he rolled out three executive orders he said were designed to restore safety in America, but which appear to signal an increasingly authoritarian response to crime, drugs, and discontent with policing practices.
The first, which Trump said would reduce crime and restore public safety, orders Sessions to create a new Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Policy, which will come up with strategies to reduce crime, including, in particular, illegal immigration, drug trafficking and violent crime, propose legislation to implement them, and submit a report to the president within a year.
The second, regarding transnational criminal organizations and preventing drug trafficking, directs various federal law enforcement agencies to increase intelligence sharing and orders an already existing inter-agency working group to submit a report to Trump within four months describing progress made in combating the cartels, along with any recommended actions for dismantling them.
Im directing Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to undertake all necessary and lawful action to break the back of the criminal cartels that have spread across our nation and are destroying the blood of our youth and other people, Trump said Thursday.
The thirddirects the Justice Department to use federal law to prosecute people who commit crimes against police officers, even though they already face universally severe penalties under existing state laws.
Its a shame whats been happening to our great, truly great law enforcement officers, Trump said at the signing ceremony. Thats going to stop as of today.
The tough talk and the executive orders provoked immediate alarm and pushback from human and civil rights advocates, drug reformers, the Mexican government, and even the law enforcement community. The apparent turn back to a more law-and-order approach to drugs runs against the tide of public health and public policy opinion that the war on drugs has been a failure.
In areport released Friday, dozens of senior law enforcement officials warned Trump against a tough crackdown on crime and urged him instead to continue the Obama administrations efforts to reform the criminal justice system. The report was co-authored for Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration by former Dallas police chief David Brown, who won wide praise for his response after a gunman killed five of his officers last year.
Decades of experience have convinced us of a sobering reality: Todays crime policies, which too often rely only on jail and prison, are simply ineffective in preserving public safety, the report said.
The presidents crime plan would encourage police to focus on general lawbreaking rather than violent crime, the report said. The Justice Department already spends more than $5 billion a year to support local police, much of it spent on antiquated law enforcement tools, such as dragnet enforcement of lower-level offenses and Trumps plan would repeat this mistake, the officials wrote. We cannot fund all crime fighting tactics.
Drug reformers also sounded the alarm.
This rhetoric is dangerous, disturbing, and dishonest, said Bill Piper, senior director for national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. We have had a war on drugs. It has failed. Tough talk may look good before the cameras, but history has taught us that cracking down on drugs and building walls will not stop the supply or use of drugs. It mostly causes the death and destruction of innocent lives. Trump must tone down his outrageous rhetoric and threats, and instead reach out to leadership from both parties to enact a humane and sensible health-based approach to drug policies that both reduce overdose and our countrys mass incarceration crisis.
Most public health experts argue that the prohibitionist approach to drugs has been afailure.They point to research such as a2013 studyin theBritish Medical Journalthat found that despite billions spent on drug prohibition since 1990, drug prices have only decreased and purity increased, making getting high easier and more affordable than ever before.
These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing, the authors conclude.
Public health analysts also point to research showing that between 1991 and 2001, even when the drug war was in full effect,rate of illicit drug useamong teens rose sharply, while their cigarette smoking rate fell off a bit and their alcohol use dropped sharply. The substances that are legal for adult use were less likely to see increases than ones that are prohibited, the analysts point out.
Mexican Foreign Affairs SecretaryLuis Videgaray also chimed into note that there wouldnt be any Mexican drug cartels without American demand for drugs and to remind Washington that its not just whats being exported from Mexico that is a problem, but whats being imported.
For years, from the Mexican perspective, people say, OK, the problem with drugs that its creating so many violence, so many deaths of young people in Mexico is because theres demand for drugs in the U.S., Videgaray said. We happen to be neighbors to the largest market for drugs. From the American perspective, its just the other way around, he said, adding that both countries need to get past the blame game.
If the U.S. is serious about helping Mexico disrupt the cartels business model, it needs to stop the southbound traffic in cash and guns.
We need to stop illegal weapons flowing from the U.S. into Mexico, Videgaray said. We always think about illegal stuff moving through the border south to north, but people forget that most guns and were not talking small guns, were talking heavy weapons they get to the cartels and create literally small armies out of the cartels.
Human Rights Watch reactedto a comment from Attorney General Sessions at his swearing-in ceremony that crime is a dangerous permanent trend that places the lives of American people at risk, by noting that crime is down dramatically by all measures over the past 20 years despite a slight increase in violent crimes between 2014 and 2015. There is no dangerous permanent trend in violent or non-violent crime, it noted.
AndAmnesty International swiftly reactedto the executive order calling for new federal penalties for crimes against police.
Law enforcement officers face unique hardships and challenges due to the nature of their work, said Amnestys Noor Mir. Authorities are already able to vigorously prosecute crimes against law enforcement officers, and there is no history to suggest that officers are not fully protected by current laws. This order will not protect anyone, and instead it creates additional penalties that could cause people to be significantly over-prosecuted for offenses including resisting arrest.
There is a better way, said Mir, but that would require going in a radically different direction than where the Trump administration is headed.
This order does nothing to address real and serious problems in the U.S. criminal justice system, he said. Relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve could instead be improved by investing in reform of the criminal justice system and better training for officers. Police already have laws protecting them, but there is no federal standard for the prosecution of officers who unlawfully kill civilians. Implementing a standard for lethal force in line with international standards will protect both police and civilians.
The Trump administration has outlined an approach to drugs and criminal justice policy with dark Nixonian and Reaganite underpinnings, promising more, more, more heavy-handed policing, more swelling prison populations, and morenot lessdistrust and suspicion between police and the communities they are supposed to serve and protect.
In typical Trump fashion, his brash, draconian approach to the complex social problems around crime and drugs is creating a rapid backlash. Whether the rising opposition to Trump can rein in his authoritarian impulses and regressive policy approaches to the issue remains to be seen, but a battle to stop the slide backward is brewing.
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President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) and Deputy President William Ruto. (Photo: Beveryne Musili/Standard)
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto have declared war on Kenyas drug lords. The two made the declaration in Mombasa, which in international circles is perceived to be the golden gate for drugs from Asia and South en route to Europe and US.
Listening to them you are left with no doubt they have a list of suspects and the dragnet is closing in. The declaration was made at the Coast, which has suffered two misfortunes. One is the radicalisation of the youth and relocation to Somalia to train with Al Shabaab.
Secondly, many families have suffered the agony of seeing their children sink into drug abuse and eventually die an excruciating death in the grip of heroine or cocaine.
One painful case was a former Mombasa Kanu supremo whose drug addicted son once interrupted his press conference only to ask for Sh200 presumably, for the next dose. There is no illusion that Kenya has a strong, well-connected network of drug traffickers. The US Government in 2010 gave a list of suspects to then Minister for Internal Security, George Saitoti.
He read it to Parliament and they were the familiar people Kenyans call pharmacists; The Boss John Haroun Mwau, Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho, Kiambu Governor and former aide of Mr Mwau, William Kabogo, Nairobi Senator Mike Sonko, businessman Ali Punjani and the usual culprits the Akasha brothers; Baktash and Vijaygiri. Last month, the two brothers were extradited to US in handcuffs and on a chartered plane.
The people whom Prof Saitoti named in Parliament in 2010 have denied the charges, including Mr Mwau who is fighting to get back his assets and cash, to the tune of millions of dollars frozen by US authorities.
ALSO READ: War on narcotics: Ring exposed as dirty money, drugs seized
Mr Joho meanwhile has asked Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto to go for the main culprits, insisting he was not a pharmacist. But it is important to note the third reason why the President and his deputy made their declaration on drug cartels in Mombasa.
It was not just to get the message closer to Mr Johos ear but also a political strategy to pluck some feathers from the wings of his rising popularity in the region and in Raila Odingas Orange party.
It probably can be argued that Mr Kenyatta is keen on slowing Mr Johos star but for Mr Ruto, you can safely bet he wouldnt mind breaking the Governors leg as part of the effort to clear the stumbling blocks to his 2022 race. It happens that the Mombasa governor who is also battling questions about his university degree, has been on the lip in Coast as either a serious contender after 2022 or a bankable running-mate with deep pockets.
The war against drugs isnt an easy one because even for those named by the late Saitoti, the claims against them have been very speculative. The drug cartels have survived regimes.
They mutate and adopt well to changing circumstances. They have strong connections in the police, Judiciary and the Executive.
We may never know whether the chopper carrying Saitoti and his Assistant Joshua Orwa Ojode was brought down over the Ngong Forest, but we must take cognisance of the fact that drug cartels and Al Shabaab were mentioned as likely suspects. But there was also talk of mechanical failure or human error.
But even as we wish the President and his deputy luck in this war we also have a duty as good citizens to point out that politicising this fight on drugs is the first indicator it is not going far. After all, drug traffickers must surely be on both sides of our politics, with loyalty to no one in particular but the protection of their wealth and the camouflage of their operations.
ALSO READ: Why war on drugs fires up our soft political underbelly
They also suffer no indignity, so long as the money is coming. Remember that the senior Akasha and the lord of them all, Ibrahim was brought back a dead man in a sealed coffin. The pathologists removed the naked body, put it on a slab at City Mortuary, then turned it round to take pictures of every mark in the body. They also took fingerprints.
The Government had to be 100 per cent sure this was not a decoy but that he had indeed died in the hands of a cycling assassin in an Amsterdams street coincidentally named Bloedstraat (Blood Street).
Reports suggest that he was taken out by a rival group over a deal gone sour in the Sodom and Gomorrah of The Netherlands. Next, you hear that his sons have taken over, with rumours that they too, even got to killing each other in battle to control his businesses.
That is how enriching and bewitching this business Mr President and DP is. These cartels will fight back and when you forewarn them they just lie low, like antelopes, but just for a while.
They also have connections right through the arms of government and as usual, they buy their loyalty, through well-connected people. We can be sure that some of them are even secretly financing both your party and the Opposition for that is their survival strategy.
Yes, go for them but go the whole hog, not along party lines. You lose the confidence of the Kenyans when it appears you have 100 arrows in your quiver, one of them poisoned, na umetengea just one suspect.
ALSO READ: Joho opens up on drugs claims
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Lets not make it harder for law enforcement to use civil asset forfeiture to fight the war on drugs.
Most people are oblivious to that war, though it rages around us continually. Worth an estimated $120 billion a year, illegal drugs smuggled from Mexico might well be the greatest foreign threat to our national security. Beyond a doubt, its the one killing the most Americans.
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To get a first-hand look, I recently visited a drug task force that operates out of a county courthouse in southeast Oklahoma. In one room was a just-arrested drug mule and more than a million dollars worth of marijuana. In another was a photo of an 18-year-old Oklahoma girl, dead of a drug overdose. It was haunting, how her still-open eyes stared straight into the police camera.
Her case was not especially outrageous. No, the outrage is that cases like hers are so commonplace. Thats every day, shrugged the officer who showed me the photo from a new case that morning.
Its easy to make civil asset forfeiture sound like an un-American, police-state scenario. Although assets may be seized without first obtaining a drug-related conviction, the reason for no conviction is no trial. The reason for no trial is the drug mule posts bail and is never seen again.
Oklahoma law enforcement may not seize someones homestead in the case of a drug bust involving local citizens. And despite what youve heard, if an officer sees a bag of cash in a car, absent other evidence he will not seize it.
If cash is seized, it has to wind its way through a tedious government process before eventual distribution among the state, county and municipal agencies having overlapping territorial jurisdiction. And boy, do they need that money.
Not for salaries, though. Those come from local funds supplemented by federal Justice Assistance Grants made to the states. Every year for the past three years JAG funding has declined, most recently by 18.5 percent.
Rather, income from asset forfeiture covers only operational costs: bulletproof vests, clothing, radios, tires, gasoline and, rarely, a new vehicle. A radio can cost $4,000. Thanks to changing technology standards, upgrading radios is a requirement. Believe it or not, a bulletproof vest decomposes and is warrantied only for three years.
Seizing a drug mules vehicle is problematic. If he drives a rental car, the agency is considered innocent and gets its vehicle back. Alternatively, drug runners often drive someone elses car. The required procedures to gain title can require years of effort. The task force I visited still had vehicles seized more than two years ago. Sometimes their value is so low, its just not worth the trouble.
My visit convinced me that, far from having a free hand, law enforcement almost has its hands tied. If you look at this as a war, this is not a war we are going to win, an officer told me.
But wait, theres more: 80 percent of nondrug crimes burglary, theft, domestic violence trace to the criminals addiction to drugs or alcohol. And, therefore, so are the resulting burdens on society like divorce, foster care, prison crowding and treatment expense.
A vote to make civil asset forfeiture more difficult, one could argue, is a vote to make Oklahomas social problems worse.
Maybe our Legislature should mandate a $5,000 fine for transporting drugs in a vehicle that you dont own, and make the fine due when posting bail. Thats a simple step based on the facts on the ground. It would take traffickers money and use it against them.
Civil asset forfeiture alone will not win the drug war. But it helps keep our officers on the front lines.
Scott Pendleton is a former international journalist and president of an IT solutions provider in Tulsa.
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Posted: at 1:50 am
The Iowa Gambling Treatment and Prevention Program (IGTP) The Office of Problem Gambling Treatment and Prevention works to reduce the harm caused by problem gambling by funding a range of services for Iowans. These services include: outpatient counseling for problem gamblers, concerned persons and family, housing services for problem gamblers in treatment and with no other housing options, financial counseling including budgeting and debt reduction plans and a state-wide help line that provides information and referral services. In addition, the program funds prevention and education services for schools, community groups, casino employees, and other at-risk groups.
Responsible Gaming Education Week-August 3-7Responsible Gaming Education Week (RGEW) was created by the AGA in 1998 to increase awareness of problem gambling among gaming industry employees and customers and to promote responsible gaming nationwide. Find ideas for events and programs on the American Gaming Assocation Website.
National Problem Gambling Awareness Month Of MarchThe National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) is pleased to present the National Problem Gambling Awareness Month (NPGAM) campaign, a grassroots public awareness and outreach campaign. The goal of this campaign is to educate the general public, and health care professinals about the warning signs of problem gambling and raise awareness about the help that is available both locally and nationally. [Theme: Have the Conversation] See suggestions forIowa’s National Problem Gambling Awareness Week on their website http://www.ncpgambling.org
Problem Gambling Resources in iowaNCPG website listing assessment tools and additional resources
Download the 2016 NPGAM Guide The NPGAM Committee created this guide as a tool for planning your activities during the month.
Apps to use ‘freemium’ model, aim for young players amid daily fantasy stumbles
Online Library on Problem Gambling – from Responsible Gambling Council
Pathological Gambling: A Critical Review (1999) – read full-text of monograph online
Gambling in California- informative chapters on “Gambling in the U.S.”, “History of Gambling in the U.S.”, “Why Do People Gamble?”, “Economic Impact of Gambling”, and more.
Read more here:
Posted: at 1:50 am
February 16, 2017 3:26 PM By Colin Dunlap
PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) Rob Matzie!
What a guy.
Hes a man after my own heart and certainly after the hearts of many who just want to place a couple bucks down on a game and dont feel the need to deal with a bookie or some seedy, off-shore racket.
I dont know much about politics. Actually, I dont know much about politics by choice its complicated, convoluted and Ive never had much of an interest in it.
All that said, I know this much, I can get behind State Rep. Rob Matzie if for nothing more than his logical stance on one thing.
He wants to bring sports betting to Pennsylvania.
And I ask, fundamentally, who would be hurt by this?
Who would suffer?
How would this be a bad thing in the least?
Seems to me, the only people who would be hurt by what Matzie wants to institute are the people acting crooked right now the illegal bookies and people of that ilk who make much of the profits in an industry that reportedly pulls in billions (largely illegally) in the United States annually.
You see, State Rep. Rob Matzie, who is from Ambridge, introduced legislation Tuesday to allow sports betting in all licensed casinos in Pennsylvania. Those include the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, The Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Washington County and the Lady Luck Casino at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Fayette County.
There are still a ton of hurdles at the federal level but, in truth, its a needed start.
To be 100 percent forthright, I have never placed a sports bet outside the state of Nevada. I save such endeavors for the sports books of Las Vegas, places that are heavenly to a sports fan.
The bright lights, the zillion screens, the beers and the action on everything – oh man, those sports book. They are a slice of utopia smack dab in the middle of the Nevada desert.
Thats why its so puzzling to me why I can walk into one of the aforementioned Pennsylvania casinos and see people gambling plopping dollar after dollar into slot machines or playing table games and I cant for the life of me understand why a college football Saturday cant be met with a $20 three-team parlay. I dont know. Im a person who can control myself, I set a budget, plan to lose all I bet and just have a little more fun when theres money riding on a game. Its that simple for me.
I envision a time on the way home from work when I can shoot into Rivers really quick on an autumn Friday and lay a few bucks on some college games for the following day and the NFL card on a Sunday. Man, that would be a wonderful way to add just a little spice to the weekend.
And, again, I would bet nominally, just well within my budget as a bit of a hobby thats why Im not seeing any problem with anything.
The bill Matzie introduced is expected to be assigned to the House Gaming Oversight Committee for future consideration.
But I ask, again if we are already gambling in Pennsylvania, wouldnt this just be the best thing going if we could add sports gaming here? I know Id love it.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 The Fan. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his bio here.
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Mornings, 5:40 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Colin grew up in Sharpsburg and Aspinwall and attended Fox Chapel Area High High School. He graduated from West Virginia University and then came back home to write for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. While th…